One of the difficulties I’ve encountered over the years in learning how to meditate, or practice mindfulness, has been the busyness of my mind. This is a common concern for many people.
The practice of mindfulness not only addresses this but welcomes it with an attitude of acceptance. Yet those with mental illness can struggle at an entirely different level.
I am one of those people.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (or OCD) can vastly alter the landscape of a person’s mind. It took me a long time to recognize that the reason everything in life felt harder for me was because of the incessant noise going on inside my head. Wrestling with intrusive thoughts can be brutally exhausting on a deep psychological level. For me, chronically questioning myself has just been a way of life.
When I began opening up to my pain, it shifted from me listening to myself (mindfulness approach) to having an active conversation. Where I’d previously only gained a handful of mindful moments over the years; through the conversation of pain, a sort of natural mindfulness began coming to me.
Though mindfulness teachers discourage having goals, this was my linear reality, and I think it merits mentioning.
At this time in my life, there was a gritty determination in me to run into the center of my proverbial storm instead of away from it. This storm was my chronic pain. All my pain. Not only the physical suffering but the mental and emotional suffering that goes along with it.
It was as if I was placing all these hurting parts of me into a demon. She was my demon and I was done looking away. I was gripping her, clutching her really—with both hands, in a fierce chokehold, chanting: You and me, you and me, you and me. I refused to leave or move or walk away until she told me why she was here. I was done being afraid.
This was my declaration. This was the shift.
Pain had become the film over which I experienced everyday life. I wanted to change the narrative and let it be used for good somehow. This meant casting all my preconceived notions aside.
I began inviting the pain to speak for 10-30 minutes a day. Sometimes I would listen to music if I felt it helped but a lot of the time I enjoyed being silent (which was also unusual for me.)
I had no agenda other than to listen and hold space for whatever parts of me were in pain that day.
Understanding that the pain had something to say did not mean I would immediately receive answers, however. It simply meant that the pain needed to be heard. Sat with. Held.
Wanting to fix the pain or see immediate results can often stifle more important prolonged results, which are deeper truths that can take time to work their way to the surface.
Every time old programming would crop up in me, through self-judgment and impatience, I could start to recognize that this was me attaching specific expectations to my practice. By losing myself in these things, I was losing sight of the real magic, which can always be found in “non-doing.”
Non-doing is a difficult energy to appreciate and an even more challenging one to harness. Non-doing is another way of describing the energy we use to enter into a place of acceptance or openness, or a space of mindfulness as the observer of “self.” We can use this energy to have a more open mindset to difficult experiences that we might otherwise have felt closed off to.
Non-doing can become incredibly crucial to the healing process because it taps into a different type of energy. Non-doing is an energy that activates versus our everyday energy of being active. Being active is the ingrained response we have to manage or control a problem. Activating identifies and observes the problem without necessarily doing anything about it.
As someone with OCD, there is an incessant little voice in my head that is always telling me I should be doing something about everything. The problem is that the mental noise surrounding doing can become so overwhelming that it accomplishes the very opposite of productivity.
By listening to pain or better said, activating love for my pain (in this case my OCD) I began to recognize that my OCD was creating a constant state of depleted energy in me. On the surface, it initially seemed to be the driving force to “being active” but upon closer investigation, I could see that my OCD was actually causing me to experience the exact opposite of that; a form of mental paralysis that would, at times, hinder my productivity!
There are two things that I truly feel cannot be stressed enough about non-doing. Number one: It is everything. It’s how we shift from talking about powerful concepts like self-love and self-acceptance to actually engaging with these energies on a personal level. Number two: It’s not easy to move from active to activating energy, through any type of practice. It can require some heavy-lifting-Jedi-mind-trick-training, yo!
To clarify, I’m not peddling some rigorous spiritual regiment. Forget all that noise. When I first began this practice, I was hanging by a thread, emotionally and physically, and in desperate need of an energetic recharge.
What I am referring to however, is a lifetime of ideologies, indoctrinations, and social constructs that quickly become subconscious entanglements.
We don’t always recognize the magnitude of these entanglements or the impact they have on us, but we can recognize going in that these things will take time to unravel. We can adopt an attitude of kindness towards ourselves because we recognize that it’s been a lifetime of subconscious programming we’re working to undo!
Image Credit: Gobelinus Regius (on Pinterest)