(or: What I’m learning about myself from my mindfulness-based stress reduction class.)
Next week is the 8th and final MBSR class. And in last night’s class, we had a discussion about what has come up for us over the past 7 weeks; what we’ve learned or noticed about ourselves.
My experience with mindfulness has been… different than I expected. I think I had this idea that once I trained my mind to be aware, I would be able to constantly access that sense of well being and contentment I felt at my time at Kripalu, and it would just spill over into my life and make me more zen.
Basically I think I hoped it would make me a different person in 8 weeks.
(That hasn’t happened, in case you’re wondering.)
What has happened, though, is that I’ve discovered a few things about myself which contribute to my stress.
First is the fact that I overbook my life on a regular basis. I didn’t realize just how many things I take on, and so whenever I feel overwhelmed, the next question I have to ask myself is, How can I simplify?
One of the most interesting things I’ve discovered about myself in the past 8 weeks, though, that I am hypersensitive.
Which is shocking, because I don’t think of myself as a sensitive person at ALL. But it’s clear by my reactions that a lot of things are Too Much for me to handle.
I can’t, for example, handle a lot of noise; even if it’s a couple of kids having a fun time, it puts me on edge.
I can’t have a conversation with my husband which I am not prepared for. As soon as he asks me, Can we talk about something? I am on edge and I completely shut down and can’t hear what he has to say. It doesn’t even matter the topic – I expect the worst and cannot engage in any sort of meaningful discussion.
In fact, I actually spend most of my waking days on alert, waiting for something to happen. And with ANY indication – no matter how small – I get defensive and protective of myself, immediately ready with blame (the best defense is an offense!) or silence (Shutting Down is one of my biggest coping strategies).
I have never, ever, EVER considered myself sensitive. I’ve always been the responsible one, the strong one, the outgoing one.
When this noticing came up, I felt this strong need to CHANGE it. I thought holy crap, I need to fix the fact that I am sensitive to everything and shut down and am basically a control freak because I can’t handle anything! That’s BAD!
So, there’s another noticing too. I have this need to change things I don’t like. Immediately. And if I can’t actually change it, then I have to come up with a PLAN to change it, so that at least I have some hope of it changing in the future.
I have seen all of these noticings play out in the past year and a half with my struggling with my career choice.
Every. Last. One.
I dislike my career, therefore I must change it. I can’t change it, so okay, I need a PLAN to change it. I can’t figure out a plan to change it? Gah, Karen, you suck. Why did you even CHOOSE accounting as a career? For security? Oh good grief, what a crock. What do I do, what do I do? I don’t know. I DON’T KNOW.
Cue shut down.
I’ve been listening to my classmates talk about the fact that once they’ve become aware of their patterns, they also see a space where they feel like they can take back control and CHANGE their patterns.
I’m not there yet, I’ll admit it.
What I am just doing now is using words to label what I’m doing. Whenever I get overwhelmed and I realize I’m shutting down, I say, Too Much! and take a break from it. Or when I realize I’m in a controlling mindset, I label it My Fix It! Strategy and try and stop and allow it to just be. And I’m trying to really pay attention to when I’m labeling things Good or Bad so that I can try to let things just be.
That’s really my practice, moving forward – to just let my feelings and experiences be just be as they are, without trying to change them or manipulate them or modify them or manage them.
And I think I now understand why people say It Is What It Is all the time. I always hated that phrase, for myriad reasons probably all related to my noticings above.
But really, sometimes it IS what it is.