When beginning to practice mindfulness there is an issue that comes up repeatedly. When I teach the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program I immediately introduce the formal practice (meditation) and the informal practice (mindfulness in everyday life).
Formal and Informal Meditation
The formal/meditation practice involves periods of silence and stillness that are used as the backdrop for developing present moment attention. The informal practice of mindfulness in everyday activity involves by definition…movement and usually a good deal of sound although not necessarily sound.
Stillness And Silence
There are four categories of response to these two approaches. Firstly there are those who can’t tolerate stillness and silence, secondly there are those that prefer stillness and silence, thirdly there are those who can tolerate both and lastly there are those who can’t tolerate either.
Obviously when looking down the road it is considered preferable to be comfortable with both. However, it is my observation that although I teach both if someone is having great difficulty with one, I will emphasize focusing on the other until gradually both can be embraced.
To insist on one over the other is rigid and self-defeating in a situation that calls for flexibility and compassion. Mindfulness can be difficult enough for a beginner and it seems to me that taking the course of least resistance at first is the better part of valor. It is very important to feel as though progress is being made in order to sustain the level of commitment and enthusiasm necessary to continue.
Resistance Usually Found With The Stillness And Silence
The greatest resistance is usually found with the stillness and silence. A hint as to why can be found with the Wikipedia definition of restless leg syndrome:
“Restless legs syndrome (RLS) also known as Willis-Ekbom disease (WED) or Wittmaack-Ekbom syndrome, is a neurological disorder characterized by an irresistible urge to move one’s body to stop uncomfortable or odd sensations. It most commonly affects the legs, but can affect the arms, torso, head, and even phantom limbs. Moving the affected body part modulates the sensations, providing temporary relief.
RLS sensations range from pain or an aching in the muscles, to “an itch you can’t scratch”, an unpleasant “tickle that won’t stop”, or even a “crawling” feeling. The sensations typically begin or intensify during quiet wakefulness, such as when relaxing, reading, studying, or trying to sleep.
Additionally, most individuals with RLS suffer from periodic limb movement disorder (limbs jerking during sleep), which is an objective physiologic marker of the disorder and is associated with sleep disruption. It can be caused by low iron levels.”
The giveaway is “The sensations typically begin or intensify during quiet wakefulness, such as when relaxing, reading, studying, or trying to sleep.” This is essentially describing a condition similar to the stillness and quiet of meditation. Although there can be a neurological disorder I think it is much more common that in stillness and silence we confront our adrenaline addiction.
For anyone who has been stuck in stress for a period of time, you are very familiar with how it feels to be addicted/sensitive to your own adrenaline. When embarking on reversing that situation it becomes even more obvious when being still and silent. In time, as the nervous system normalizes and the adrenaline factor goes away it is much easier to tolerate the still, quiet times.
That’s why movement and activity are the better emphasis in the beginning for those who are most sensitive to the adrenaline factor. So it is important to be flexible and compassionate with yourself as you are discovering the best doorway to learning mindfulness, all the while keeping in mind that eventually we want to be present in all situations.