Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose,
in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. — Jon Kabat-Zinn
As my loyal readers (you know who you are!) may remember, I see a biofeedback therapist every week. Actually, I’m lucky enough to see two biofeedback professionals: Susan Antelis, Director of Biofeedback, Mental Health Counseling & Creative Arts Therapy PLLC, and Cindy Smalletz, who is studying biofeedback under Susan’s direction.
At the beginning of every session, we do a check in. This week, I told them that I had experienced two migraine-free days. Then I mentioned that the Muse,* a meditation tool that I’ve been using for the past month or so, is helping me to be less judgmental, at least when it comes to meditation.
Muse is a headband that reads your brain signals. According to the Muse website,
Muse gives you feedback about your meditation in real time by translating your brain signals into the sounds of wind. When your mind is calm and settled, you hear calm and settled winds. When your mind is active the winds will pick up and blow.
Also, birds sing and chirp when your mind is calm.
Muse generates a report that you can view on your cellphone at the end of each meditation session and saves them so you can compare your progress over time. I’m a Type A personality, so I’m very much driven by results. And the results showed me two important things:
- I’m staying “calm” or, as I like to call it, “in the zone,” for far longer periods than I did when I first started using Muse.
- Sometimes I’m “in the zone” even when I think that my mind is wandering.
The second point is the one that made me realize how self-judgmental I have been with regards to my meditation. I have been practicing mindfulness meditation for years. The basic instruction is to focus on your breath. When you notice that your mind has wandered — and it will…repeatedly — simply bring your attention back to the breath.
During some meditation sessions, I feel as if I have a constant subliminal monologue running through my mind. It’s as if my attention is divided between my breath and thoughts that I can barely hear, like talk radio playing quietly in another room. As a Type A personality, I want to meditate “perfectly,” as if there is such a thing. I want my mind to hone in on my breath and not deviate at all. Of course, as any meditation teacher will tell you, meditation isn’t about not deviating from the breath. It’s about being aware (mindful) that you are thinking, planning or daydreaming, not judging the fact that you were doing so and gently returning to the breath.
Muse is helping me to become less self-judgmental by providing objective data that clearly refutes that my mind is drifting. I suspect that, after years of mindfulness practice, I simply “catch” myself the moment that my mind starts to drift and return my focus to my breath. So I’m less likely to allow the initial thought to turn into a planning session or daydream.
Susan Antelis told me that many migraine sufferers are judgmental. As a rule, we tend to be extremely sensitive, and being judgmental is a reaction to being overwhelmed by stimuli. We see, hear, smell and feel everything. This rings true for me. Not only am I self-judgmental but, by nature, I am judgmental of everyone and everything. One of the times that I notice it the most is when I’m walking on a crowded sidewalk. When I’m in a crowd, I tend to take other people’s “rudeness” personally. If they cut me off, stop abruptly, walk too slowly, text while walking…I consider them to be rude.
While it may be true that some of these individuals are rude, it is more likely that, like the Dalai Lama says, they are “innocent.” They simply have no idea that their actions are inconveniencing me or anyone else.
I react to them the way that I do because I feel overwhelmed. I feel threatened. What if I run into someone who is texting and they get angry? What if someone runs into me and knocks me down?
It’s easy to see that being judgmental is a character defense, not a character defect. My mind is simply trying to protect me from dangers real or imagined.
Years ago, I memorized the following passage from AA’s Big Book:
And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.
Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417
Whenever someone blocked the subway doors, shoved their backpack in my face or did anything else that I perceived (judged) to be rude, I would recite this passage in my mind, concentrating on the last three sentences. They weren’t the problem. My reaction was.
My initial impulse is to react, to judge. But my reaction doesn’t stick with me as long as it used to. In the past, I would have carried the guy with the backpack’s “rudeness” around in my head all day. Today, it’s a blip on the radar thanks to awareness and acceptance.
Do you have a tendency to judge yourself and others? How does this character defense affect your life? What tools do you use to lessen its impact?
* This is not a paid endorsement. I am not in any way associated with the manufacturers of Muse.