Lessons from September’s Mindfulness Challenge

I’m late to update you all on the lessons I learned in September by practicing mindfulness. September was a busy work month for me. I spent most days writing, so I had little motivation to write for fun.

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I finished up the challenge by spending the last weekend in September without clocks. I took down or covered up all the clocks around me, including on my phone! I spent Friday evening through Sunday totally time-free.

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The point of going all weekend without being able to tell the time was to be more in touch with myself: sleep when tired, eat when hungry, etc. What I found after doing this was that I really did feel more in touch with myself, and allowing myself to operate according to my own body’s schedule kind of took some of the pressure off. I felt a general sense of easiness – like I didn’t have to do anything but check in with myself and act accordingly. That was nice. But it was also helpful that I didn’t have much going on that weekend, and I wonder if someone who has an active social life or kids would find the experiment to be rejuvenating or stressful. I personally liked it. I couldn’t make it into a lifestyle, especially because scheduling anything with anyone is virtually impossible if you can’t set a specific time, but as an occasional break, I think I wouldn’t mind doing it again.

In general – here are some of the overall lessons I’m taking away from September’s challenge:

#1: Life is full of noise. 

We are surrounded by noise! I learned this every time I had to meditate during September. I would settle myself down and begin to meditate, but would always be astounded by how incredibly noisy everywhere was. Even if it’s relatively silent there is still noise – planes flying overhead, the sound of traffic, the sound of birds, people walking by, someone in the house watching TV. This is something that, eventually, became so overwhelming to me. In my quest for silence, I could never really find it. Even during my moment in nature, it was still noisy. Now, I’ll take the noise of birds and breeze over the noise of a dump truck any day of the week, but I longed for the absence of sound. At one point, I actually put in ear plugs during my meditation so that all I could hear was my breath going in and out. Even then, I would hear the ringing in my ears. Everywhere, at every moment, there was sound!

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#2: Meditation can quiet the noise.

I eventually found that, as noisy as the world is, I could eventually drive it out during meditation. Not only would I quiet down my noisy mind, I eventually quieted the noisy world. By focusing on my breath and trying to calm everything down, eventually things got quieter. There were still noises, but I didn’t really register them. In other words, I couldn’t find the absence of sound, but I could find silence.

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I know, right?

#3: Yoga is okay, I guess.

I’ve never been a huge fan of yoga, which I briefly explain in this previous post. But I’ve been doing yoga more and more over the past couple of months, and it can be really nice as a form of meditation and a way to quiet the world. I don’t think I’ll start up yoga as a form of working out, but doing it to get in touch with my breath and my body has been quite nice. I’m going to take a yoga class over the next couple of weeks to keep up with the meditation aspect. But I don’t think I’ll become a yogi anytime soon.

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All things in moderation

#4: Habits are hard to break. 

In my last post I wrote about behavioral links – behaviors that, through the force of habit, I tend to do together. Well, even after a month of consistently challenging those links, I am still struggling with them. I suppose they took a while to get cemented, and cement breaks down really slowly. I know that my habits will take a long time to break down, and that I’ll have to continue using these mindfulness tools to make that happen.

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This is totally a metaphor for my life…

#5: When I feel the least able is when I need mindfulness the most.

There were so many moments in September when I didn’t want to meditate or when I was getting so utterly tired of not being able to multitask. I mentioned earlier that September was a busy work month for me, filled with lots and lots and lots of writing and intellectual theorizing. I wanted so many times to just veg out with some popcorn in front of the TV, and I would get so irked that I couldn’t do it. But then the challenged forced me to interrogate what I was really after: relaxation and turning off my brain (and a snack!). By forcing myself to ask, “What am I really seeking in this moment?” I was better able to give myself what I needed in a conscious, deliberate way. Likewise, there were moments when I really, REALLY wanted to multitask. I often wanted to check my email while riding the bus. I would think, “Ugh, it would be so much more efficient if I could get that out of the way!” But, again, I had to reflect on myself and my state of mind in those moments. I had to ask myself why I wanted that kind of efficiency, if there was something stressing me out that made me resent the few minutes I had to sit on the bus listening to music. I could usually find the motivation that was causing me that stress, then I could meditate on it. I would imagine it was a tight, knotted ball of string somewhere in my body, then I would breathe and imagine that with every out-breath the knots slowly loosened. That was enough to help me get through a frustrating moment, but the same stressful feeling would return again the next day (or a few hours later!). Each time something like that happened, when I started to resent the challenge, is when I knew I needed the challenge the most. When working through each of those moments, I knew I was doing myself a favor.

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That’s it for September’s challenge!

Thank you to Julia for thinking of such a great challenge for me.

Stay tuned, I’ll be posting about October’s challenge later tonight! 

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