I’m pretty sure I mentioned that I started UCLA’s year-long Certification in Mindfulness Facilitation program back in January. And, wow, it’s been a whole lot of learning so far….In so many ways. And we’ve only just begun (I’ll be sharing more details in future posts, so stay tuned)!
One of the program’s requirements is to write a 1-2 page paper every two weeks on an assigned topic. Our latest assignment entailed describing one of our meditation sessions—so, I thought I’d go ahead and share it here with you, as well. For those who might be new(er) to meditation, it’ll give you an idea of how you might consider working with thoughts as they arise.
One technique I use is called “mental noting” or “labeling.” Science has proven that noting or labeling a thought as it arises regulates the emotional circuitry in the brain, creating a calming effect in the body and giving separation from the thought. I find the technique quite helpful. Perhaps you’ll find it helpful, too! 🙂
“Noting in meditation has many functions. The primary one is keeping the meditator present – sometimes it is called an ‘anchor’ to the present. The mind is less likely to wander off if one keeps up a steady stream of relaxed noting. If the mind does wander, the noting practice can make it easier to reestablish mindfulness.
Another function of noting is to better acknowledge or recognize what is occurring: the clearer one’s recognition, the more effective one’s mindfulness. Naming can strengthen recognition. Sometimes this can be a kind of truth-telling, when we are reluctant to admit something about ourselves or about what is happening.
A third function of noting is to help recognize patterns in one’s experience. A frequently-repeated note reveals a frequently-recurring experience. For example, persistent worriers may not realize it until they see how often they note ‘worry’.
And fourth, as described above, mental noting gives the thinking mind something to do rather than leaving it to its own devices.
A fifth function is disentangling us from being preoccupied or overly identified with experience. Noting can help us ‘step away’ so that we might see more clearly. For example, noting ‘wanting’ might pull us out of the preoccupation with something we want. This may not be immediate, but by repeatedly noting ‘wanting, wanting,’ one may be able to be aware of the wanting without being caught by it. As an antidote to drowning in strong emotion or obsessive thinking, mental noting is sometimes called a ‘life preserver’.
Noting can also help maintain a non-reactive form of attention. Calmly and equanimously noting what is happening, we are less likely to get caught up in emotional reactions….Noting helps us to see mindfully while remaining free of what we see.
The tone of the inner voice that notes may reveal less-than-equanimous reactions to what we are trying to be mindful of. The noting may sound harsh, bored, scared, hesitant, or excited, to name just a few possibilities. By noticing and adjusting the tone, we may become more balanced and equanimous.” (quote from the Insight Meditation Center)
And here’s my meditation play-by-play… 😉
February 19, 2014
I sit down in the wicker chair outside. Place a small, rectangular pillow in the small of my back. Slip out of my flip-flops and feel the dirt beneath my feet. Pressing “start” on the Insight Timer app on my iPhone, I leave the phone on the ground as the bell DINGS.
Closing my eyes, I adjust my posture. Straighten my back. Intertwine my fingers and place my hands in my lap.
I hear the sounds of birds singing. Feel the warmth of the sun on my body. The wash of air on my face from the gentle breeze.
Scanning through my body, I feel a slight tug of sadness in my heart—a dull ache pulling at my chest. I sit with it for a moment, allowing it to just be. Holding space for tears if they need to fall. But they don’t….
The tug fades. I hear an airplane overhead. My mind starts to wander.
I bet the cat’s going to escape at some point. He’s going to bolt out the door when one of us isn’t careful. I wonder if he’ll keep running, or if he’ll want to come back…
I notice myself worrying and say so in my mind.
And then I redirect my attention to the sensation of my breath. My chest rising and falling. I can feel my heart beating in my chest. My body feels warm.
I notice that I’m conscious of being conscious of what’s happening during this meditation…
I notice a desire and a sense of striving to remember what’s happening as it’s happening. I start thinking about the possibility of picking up my notebook and starting to write down my stream of consciousness as I’m experiencing it. Or maybe record myself talking into my iPhone mic to capture my thoughts.
No I shouldn’t do that. That doesn’t feel right…
I notice I’m judging what “right” means. That I’m using the word, “shouldn’t.” How I don’t want to do this assignment “wrong…” Then I notice I’ve drifted off again.
The call of a crow in the distance. My toes throbbing in the heat. The feeling of my beating heart beat.
“Sit down Jennifer. Thank you for coming… We’ve been looking forward to making these meditations happen…” I hear these words as I watch the scene of an upcoming meeting unfolding in my imagination.
I catch myself.
What if I can’t do this? What if I’m terrible at facilitating mindfulness?…
My body feels warm. Too warm. I want to take my fleece sweatshirt off.
I wonder how much longer it’ll be before the bell rings and if I’m going to swelter in the heat—or if I should just stop meditating and take my sweatshirt off.
I notice how I want to squirm and move away from the discomfort. How every molecule of me wants to move. But I remain still.
How am I going to remember all this?… Maybe that’s not the point.
I feel the impulse again to start writing all this down. I notice my desire. The fear beneath it….
A siren wailing off in the distance. A trash truck dumping cans down the street…
I can feel my pulse quickening – my heart beating faster. The sun’s heat no longer feels soothing but suffocating…
I take a deep breath. Then another.
The sound of cars whooshing by on the freeway off in the distance. More birds singing. My belly rising. The red and blue amorphous blobs I can see behind my eyelids. The breeze brushing against my face.
Then my insides feel quiet. Like they’re floating.
The sound of the bell reverberating. Relief. Then anticipation. I pause for one last deep breath.
And open my eyes.
You might have heard me talking, in one form or another, about the book I’ve been working on for the past nine months. It came to “be” after returning from my first nine-day silent meditation retreat this past May….
As I was reintegrating back into my life in L.A., I felt moved to journal about my struggle to maintain my sense of compassion during the retreat (for both myself and others). And, while I was writing about my experiences, I felt a palpable and unexpected sense of purpose—so strong, in fact, that I was, literally, struck by sudden tears of gratitude and joy when I realized that I wasn’t just writing about my experiences for me…. I was writing about them to share with others.
In 20+ years of journal writing, I’d never experienced anything quite like that moment.
Nine months later, I’ve officially set up my very own small press, HOWD Media. And The Mindfulness Diaries: How I Survived My First Nine-Day Silent Meditation Retreat is now officially available in paperback and as a Kindle ebook. It’s been a long road, but I’ve SO enjoyed the journey… And now I’m very excited to be sharing the result with you! 🙂
My marketing strategy is to roll the book out slowly. So, before I start promoting it to the masses, I’m offering the Kindle ebook for FREE to friends and supporters. This free ebook promotion on Amazon begins TODAY (Monday, Feb 24th) and ends at midnight (PST) TOMORROW (Tuesday, Feb 25th). You can download your free ebook by visiting the book’s page on Amazon here.
Your feedback is incredibly valuable—and greatly appreciated. So, once you’ve read the book, please consider writing a short review on Amazon and/or Goodreads to help spread the word (you’ll also find links to do so in the back of the ebook)….The more reviews a book gets the more successful it has the chance to be!
Here’s a short blurb:
The Mindfulness Diaries: How I Survived My First Nine-Day Silent Meditation Retreat
Jennifer Howd had been building a mindfulness practice for two and a half years before taking on the challenge of her first nine-day silent meditation retreat. In this debut memoir in “The Mindfulness Diaries” series, she chronicles the humorous—and often harrowing—adventures of the dueling inner voices that emerge in the silence: one intent on focusing on the seemingly negative aspects of her experiences, and the other on helping her see the positivity that can come from them.
Illuminating for those who are new to mindfulness and resonant for those with established practices, The Mindfulness Diaries: How I Survived My First Nine-Day Silent Meditation Retreat is a vulnerable, touching, playful peek behind the curtain into the mind of a woman learning how to befriend herself.
Thank you so much for your support—and please feel free to pass this promotion along to any of YOUR friends….
It doesn’t matter how or when you end up starting the journey toward mindfulness. We all have different entries onto this path. What matters most is that if it calls to you—please listen. Because it might just end up saving your life….
I’m pretty sure it saved mine.
If you’ve read my first post, then you have some “insight” as to how I first came to find mindfulness. And, yes. There’s a lot more to the story—a decent chunk of which I intend to share in this blog…. But, instead of beginning from the beginning, let’s start from one of the major turning points….
The year was 2009. I was four-years into a mostly-toxic (and often abusive) relationship, living in a new city I didn’t understand, jobless with no immediate prospects, completely terrified—and too disconnected from myself (and reality in general) to do anything about any of it. Strings of screaming matches with my then-girlfriend, massive panic attacks and consistent bouts of debilitating depression were my “normal.” I honestly didn’t believe things could get much worse.
But, of course, they did….
Things came to a head one afternoon when verbal lines were crossed—and then a physical line was obliterated.
Standing there, in the middle of our Hollywood Bungalow’s front yard, blue and red lights flashing…. Tears streaming down my face…. Watching her drive off in the back of that cop car…. I felt like I was standing in the middle of a Lifetime movie of the week. But as surreal as the moment seemed, the reality of it was impossible to ignore.
How the hell did I end up here?…
I woke up the next morning, and the answer was crystal clear: I hadn’t been paying attention to my life.
Ever since my mom passed away (in 2001), I’d been too dazed and confused by the endless slew of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, additional self-medication and self-denial—to truly be aware of the choices I’d been making and how they were effecting my life (and others).
I knew I had to take an honest look at myself in ways that I had previously been too afraid to do. I also knew that if I didn’t do this—I might end up dead….
I immediately embarked on the process of observing, examining—and then attempting to clean up my life…. I left my relationship, got myself into a domestic violence support group and started attending weekly meditation sits at a local meditation society.
None of it was easy. Most of it was downright painful. But, I stuck with it…and within three months of group therapy, regular meditation practice and gut-wrenchingly honest introspection, something inside of me started to shift. I started seeing myself in new ways.
And, moment by moment, my life started to turn around….
Within six months, I was formally sitting at least once a week and practicing yoga regularly.
Within eight months, I was attending weekly individual therapy. And I was prescription and recreational drug-free.
Although it might seem hard to believe, looking back at that “Lifetime movie of the week moment” in 2009…. I’m grateful it happened.
Because I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t.
The “acute” adversity I faced was what it took for me to finally start finding my truth.
Almost 5 years later, I’m in a happy, healthy relationship with the partner of my dreams. I’m following my passions. And I’m finally on the path to not only finding my truth—but to actually living it….
“Adversity is the first path to truth.” -Lord Byron