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Stop Listening and Pay Attention! Experience > Content


For the self-improvement inclined, there is often a phase of searching. Searching for the right class, the right book, podcast, therapist, the list goes on. This search is important for educating ourselves, igniting motivation, and maybe meeting other like-minded people.


Speaking for myself, I have found it easy to get stuck in this searching phase, constantly taking in new information yet, doing little to nothing to put those ideas into real “in-the-field” practice. Just the tacit belief that the next piece of information will change my life! But I don't think information alone ever does.


In regard to meditative, mindful, spiritual, contemplative development (whatever you would like to call it), I believe there is a limit to how much we learn on an intellectual level. On the experiential level, however, there is no ceiling.


As the metaphor goes, one cannot get full by reading the restaurant menu; you actually have to taste the food and eat! Likewise for meditation, reading about it will only whet our appetites. Only after doing the meditation - experiencing our life directly - can we then taste the fruits of the practice.


So, this brings me to what I’d really like to dive into here. There is a kind of general experience of life, one could say. And then there is a DIRECT experience of life, which can also be called sensory clarity. There’s a lot of different terminology we can use here. The unconscious life versus a conscious life. Being asleep versus being awake.


Either way, we can think of each category as being on opposite sides of a spectrum, one side is little to no awareness of our moment-to-moment experience, and the other is full, pristine awareness of our moment-to-moment experience.


The ability to experience life directly is supported by the practice of mindfulness, or simply, fully knowing/sensing what is happening in real-time.


4 everyday examples of learning from direct experience


1. COMMUTING



Recently driving home from work. I made the intention to watch my mind (and the road) for the 20 minute - mostly freeway - commute. My mind wandered a lot. Yet, I never knew this until AFTER the fact. How could your mind tell you what’s going on in the present moment if it is your mind itself that has “wandered” away. It’s not there to tell you you’re not there!


It did not matter where my mind had wandered. When I would “wake up” from this daytime reverie, I noticed a subtle tension in - and elevation of - my shoulders, along with some tightness in the muscles around my eyes and the back of my neck. The emotional residue left behind from a busy mind.


In contrast, when I remained with the sensate experience of driving (i.e. the feeling of my body’s weight in the chair, the sounds around me, the feeling of my hands and arms in motion and touching the steering wheel, the majesty of the pines on the distant horizon, and so on), feelings of calm and peace followed suit.


Conclusion


There seems to be an inextricable link between my thoughts and my emotions (no matter how subtle that emotional tone may be). Could it be that I am more responsible for my own emotions than is the world around me?


2. SLEEPING


Of course, relaxing is optimal for sleep. And doing is antithetical to relaxing. So, trying to sleep is misleading because trying suggests doing!


Unable to sleep, I went through a number of remedies. I tried a loving-kindness meditation. I listened to a podcast. I counted my breaths. Nothing was working! Finally, I stopped trying, and in just a few minutes I was in dreamland.


Conclusion


Effort is in direct contradiction to relaxing. Sometimes (often?) striving to reach a goal increases the distance from it, like the way more sand falls from your hand the harder you squeeze.


3. COMMUNICATING


Recently, I was feeling nervous getting ready to call an old friend on the phone. I hadn’t spoken with him in years, but I wanted to take the first step toward reconciling a friendship that had long been dying. Thoughts rampaged through: He’s going to think this is weird. We don’t even have anything in common any more. I’d bet he doesn’t really want to be my friend anymore. Then I felt fear, anxiety, and anticipatory embarrassment coursing through my body.


Then, like ripe fruit ready for harvest, the worried thoughts dropped to the earth. I did not do anything to make this happen. In fact, I stopped doing something. I stopped worrying. Instead of paying attention to the

worrisome thoughts, I shifted attention to the feeling of the emotion in my body.


Conclusions

  1. When I believe and give into negative storylines, I feel worse. When I feel the emotion directly and allow it to be there, it does not last very long at all and I feel better sooner.

  2. Pay attention to the very instant/moment a strong emotion vanishes, which is different than distracting oneself from an emotion so we no longer feel it. Remember that feeling for future recall.

4. SIMPLIFYING


Listening to a podcast while washing the dishes, the audio buffered and the sound cut. There was about a 15 second respite of relative silence during which my shoulders dropped and my body softened. When the podcast began playing again, I felt the enjoyment of intellectual stimulation but my body returned to a subtle state of tension (largely unnoticed)


Conclusion


Simplicity is powerful. Constant entertainment is not necessarily good for my well-being. Washing dishes can be enjoyable in and of itself, assuming I am present. Very possible that various tensions in my body go unnoticed throughout each and every day.


I hope you were able to relate on some level with these examples, and that they can be supportive in noticing the difference between thinking about mindfulness and actually practicing it. And as I learn these kinds of lessons over and over again, as I am convinced there is no end to the number of insights and lessons we can learn from living an engaged life rather than a passive one.


This could very well mean that we inquire deeply about this very life: What is getting in the way of connecting to life in a deep and meaningful way? What is keeping us from stopping and feeling our feelings? How can we live more in line with how life actually is, rather than how we think life is?


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