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Mindful : June 2017
Am I Doing This Right? Here’s the latest installment in our ongoing series of helpful answers to common meditator questions. Steven Hickman, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist and Executive Director of both the University of California San Diego Center for Mindfulness and the nonprofit Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. I once farted in the meditation room. It was a relief, but I was mortified. Everyone laughed. What’s the protocol for a thing like that? So that was you? I always wondered which poor soul was the source of that scandal- ous flatulence. You do realize why everyone laughed, don’t you? It wasn’t because you’re the first one to ever inadvertently let loose with an embarrassing bodily noise, but because we’ve all been there at one time or another. The echo chamber that is a quiet meditation hall can cer- tainly amplify those rumblings in a remarkable way though, huh? The truth is that the laughter is an expres- sion of common humanity. We’re all human and we all have experienced something of the sort, and that’s really the point. Embarrass- ment is the near end of a spectrum that has shame on the other end. And shame is that feel- ing that if anyone knew a certain thing about us, they wouldn’t love or respect us any more. And that one unfortunate burst of gas then becomes the “big reveal” of our imperfection as a human being. One could even say that we are actually bound together by your humiliating gassiness. We laugh because we truly know your pain and shame and can relate to it. We aren’t laughing at you, we’re laughing with you. Of course we’d prefer to be laughing just a little bit farther away from you in that moment, but even that, like gas itself, will pass. Is there a trick for getting past the voice that says, “You don’t have time to meditate. You don’t need it anyway. Just take it easy.” You need to start by consid- ering the source. This is the voice that vacillates between reacting to every arising urge and impulse, no matter how fleeting or capricious, and maintaining the comfort and predictability of the status quo. But the funny thing is that what’s being whispered in your ear at these moments of doubt or impetuousness are really just thoughts. Ran- dom neuron firings. Brain secretions. They aren’t facts, just ideas to be considered, hypotheses to be tested. Perhaps you could simply notice that these thoughts are arising. “Oh, I’m having the thought that I don’t need to meditate. Hmm. Look at that.” Then you can stay connected to your intention to meditate, which got you onto the cushion in the first place. How does this fleeting thought—be it when your knee feels sore or the phone rings—measure up to the commitment you made to take good care of yourself and cultivate a closer rela- tionship with the important things in your life? True, maybe you really don’t have time to medi- tate. But maybe you’re just having the thought that you don’t have the time. There’s a big difference between the two. When you can see the thoughts as just things to consider and not imperatives, you can make choices that align with what is important to you and not just what seems important at the moment. Perhaps then you can experience the freedom of awareness. June 2017 mindful 41 PRACTICES | the mindful faq