Lesson 1: Don’t be too hard on yourself
Within the Flow editorial team, I was pretty much the only one who had not yet followed the eight-week Mindfulness course. Naturally, I had heard and read a lot about it. And I had even managed to make three Flow Mindfulness specials, together with Irene, even though I hadn’t done the course. As a result, I secretly felt like a bit of a mindfulness-pro. After all, I already knew pretty much what mindfulness is all about: trying to be in the here and now more often; not to pay attention to those unwanted thoughts, but to let them go; and to accept your thoughts and feelings—even if they aren’t as nice as you would want them to be—without judgement. What’s more, for a long while I thought I was doing just fine without having followed a Mindfulness course: wouldn’t I cycle through through the dunes or walk in the woods when my mind was racing, or sink into a comforting hot bath when it all got a bit too much for me? In other words, I knew how best to clear my head and how to be kind to myself.
Yet it began to bother me more and more. Because I kept hearing—with envy—colleagues and friends talk about what new insights mindfulness had brought them. How they were able to put an end to those little worries that gnawed away at them. And how they dared to accept those unpleasant feelings because they’re simply part of life and will always leave just as easily as they came. Something that wasn’t working so well for me on a more frequent basis. Thoughts kept returning, a bad feeling would linger for longer. After a busy period, I found it would take longer for me to feel relaxed. And then I understood: hearing and reading about mindfulness is something quite different from experiencing it.
And so recently, I cycled my way on a weekday evening to my first Mindfulness lesson. I met my fellow students (who seemed pretty okay to me) and did the infamous raisin meditation (which I found just as stupid as everyone had predicted). During the body scan exercise, I fell asleep. For quite a while. I wasn’t hit by any life-changing insights that evening. It could have been because I was also fairly preoccupied with observing everyone else. And with listening to an opera singing lesson that was taking place downstairs from us. And with what I thought of the teacher. All of which I reckon I wasn’t supposed to be doing. But I thought it would be okay, to be so distracted on my first night. Because, after all, not being too hard on yourself, having self-compassion, is also part of mindfulness isn’t it?
Alice is the Managing Editor of Flow International and the Flow Specials.