Here I present to you my list of things one might expect when beginning mindfulness practice– the obvious, the unexpected, and the downright frightening. As I’m still relatively new at this, please add in your own in the comments! (I’m talking to you, J.)
1. It’s not easy.
You probably knew that was coming, and if you didn’t… now you do. I often hear the metaphor that the brain is like a monkey: it swings about from thought to thought, staying nowhere for too long and rarely sitting still unless it’s asleep. I don’t know enough about primate behavior to say whether this is an apt metaphor or not, but I would say that the brain is like a particularly expensive bar of soap: however much you try to hold it tight, it slips out of your hands and makes a racket bouncing and sliding all over the shower floor. You go to pick it up and *slip*, there it goes again. The harder you grip, the more likely you are to drop it. Once you learn to hold it gently or even put it down and let it be does it stay put. Namely, if you think you’re going to be able to focus on your breath for 20 minutes without deviation, pay attention to each negative thought that arises throughout the day, you’re very, very wrong.
2. It shows you just how much you berate and abuse yourself.
If I were to tell someone else the things I tell myself, I’d have no friends and likely be sued for slander. “You fucking idiot, what did you do that for? You must be the most useless piece of shit within a hundred mile radius. Get your act together for God’s sakes!” Yeah. Try saying that to your girlfriend without getting slapped.
3. It is seriously painful.
Mindfulness does not simply entail an awareness of thought; it’s an awareness of speech, of action, of self, and of the body. Once you develop a mindfulness of your body, you might just realize how damn stiff, sore, and achy you are, especially if you’re an athlete. Most of us do not sit or stand with proper spinal alignment at all. We lift from our backs instead of our legs, we hunch over for most of the day and hike up our shoulders, and we carry an incredible amount of tension in locations that shouldn’t be doing any work at all (e.g. the forehead.) Once you develop a mindfulness of your body, you may begin to realize just how screwed up your mechanics are. And it fucking hurts.
4. Meditation is painful, too.
Chances are if you’re developing a mindfulness practice, you’re also trying to sit for a period of time each day. It feels fine for five or ten minutes. Soon your body figures out that it’s not slouching like normal and activating muscles it’s not used to activating. What the shit? A soreness creeps across your shoulder blades. You try to align your spine as best as possible. Your butt starts to ache even through the cushion. You give in and shift around a little. Your knees start to get annoyed at pretending they’re feet and holding some of the body weight. Why do you think monks and other meditators do yoga or qui-jong to supplement their practice? Because if nothing else, the body would get so fucking stiff otherwise. (*Insert boner joke here*) And don’t get me started on the emotional pains that arise, but that’s pretty well known. Only now you get to deal with old issues while your body is complaining. (Now go sit. It helps. Trust me.)
5. Nature is super fascinating and occasionally orgasmic.
Grand vistas blow our minds whenever we come across them. The Grand Canyon, the Alps, sunset over the desert… it’s all incredibly lovely. But once mindfulness has taken a firm enough root (either consistently or just during those few days on retreat), the little things become grand. That flower is fascinating and unique, and its colors are breathtaking. Birdsong is just as beautiful as Tchaikovsky. The feel of rain on your skin is sexier than soft and biting kisses.
6. It’s easier to deal with life’s curveballs.
Because suddenly we notice how precisely it’s affecting us, and we know how to adjust our attitude accordingly. We can return to the present, to our breath, to that really bizarre realization that Right Now In This Exact Minute If I Close My Eyes Everything Is Okay.
7. It’s harder to deal with life’s curveballs.
Because now we are keenly aware of the instinctual response fighting with the wise response. Just because we know how to adjust our response doesn’t mean that we can do it in an instant. The dichotomy between What I Want vs. What Is The Best Intention goes from a skirmish to a full out war with your karma hanging in the balance. (And no, likely not karma as it’s commonly discussed today. The original concept of karma. Go look it up, you lazy ass.)
8. There’s no going back.
Once you start practicing mindfulness and notice the benefits of that attentiveness, it’s nearly impossible to go back to saying Fuck It All. (No one has developed that pill yet: Fuckitol, the closest thing to a coma you’ll ever feel. Kudos to Robin Williams for that one.)