Tonight we started our class. I’ve been really excited about it since I registered a few weeks ago, but as the time approached, little waves of ambivalence started to wash over me. I started to really get that I had committed myself not just to going to a cool class, but to 45 minutes of practice every day that we aren’t in class. That is not a small time commitment. Especially if I want to do it at a time that I’m not sleepy. Hmmm, I’m not sure such a time exists. And I started to wonder whether I will “have to” give up reading time that I’m really enjoying these days. Of course it is something I’m choosing–so it is more a question of whether I will choose to give up reading time or blogging time or sleeping time in order to have the regular practice time that I am sure that I need in order to make this a habit I can continue beyond the 8 week course. In a way, I’m glad that the ambivalence did come out, since I’d be a little suspicious of too blind an enthusiasm going into this.
So class: It’s 2 and a half hours with a little break. Tonight was sort of going over the map of the territory–what we are committing to, what we will be doing, who is in the class, and so on. And it included one longer period of sitting meditation, and 2 little rounds of a practice called “20 Breaths.”
The instructor is a medical doctor at Penn who also teaches the course to med students, nurses, interns, etc. One thing I have noticed is that people who do mindfulness in a serious way seem to have a lovely way about them. They really do the accepting, non-judgmental thing without seeming syrupy. There is a light touch about them, that I really like. I’ve seen it in some Buddhist monks from Asia and in mindfulness trainers here. I really value the ability to bring that stance to the world and to interactions with people. I hope that it is a matter of the training cultivating this spirit in people, rather than a matter of people who are already that way being the ones who stick with it. It is a way I would like to be able to be more often in the world. We will have to ask people in my world whether the course helps me become more of this sort of person (Husband, you get to chime in in the comments section on this as we get to the end of the training)!
I noticed a few things tonight. One is that I don’t give myself credit as I should for getting somewhere with earlier self-directed attempts to train myself in meditation. I actually am better at being in the moment in a sitting meditation than I was years ago. My mind wasn’t particularly jumping around in two of the three practice exercises we did tonight. Things that have at times been hard (like breathing in anything like a natural way when focusing on breathing) came easier tonight than I expected them to. Equally interesting was the exception. The last practice we did before the end of the class, I had already begun to let the future leak in. I was thinking about whether most people parked in the lot I did, whether the door would be unlocked on that side, a few other things (all in the course of 20 breaths!). Oh and I breathe faster when I’m distracted like this. All interesting info for me to be aware of. I want to keep an eye on the pull to prematurely move to the next thing I’m going to be doing when I’m in other contexts. It feels like I’m more vulnerable to inattention as transitions approach.
The other thing I’m noticing is that it is worth listening to instructions for the practices multiple times. I seem to focus on or understand the instructions in a different way at different times.
So where am I a little over an hour after the first class? I’m still excited and curious, but in a calmer more focused way than before the class started. I’m a little intimidated by the commitment, but not to the degree that I feel any urge to avoid. Rather I have some energy to get down to work, and to plan how to incorporate this new piece into the minutia of my day. I’m curious, for example, whether doing the 20 breaths exercise (which we are to do 4 times a day) might be a nice transition between patients, to help me be more fully done with the prior experience and more fully present for the coming one. I will experiment with that this week and see what it is like.
So just to give a sense of what we are doing, the homework this week is a 29 minute sitting meditation daily, plus 4 rounds of 20 breaths daily, plus several chapters of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living, which is the book I read forever ago, that inspired me to search for a class like this that I could commit to. It will be fun to reread it now!