Friends with this horror in my head?


I went to a learning mindfulness class this morning. It was the first of an eight class introductory series on the practice of mindfulness. 15 people had signed up for the class, which was to start at 9:15. By 9:13, only 6 of us were there. One guy showed up 15 minutes late. It happens, even when we try not to be late.

We all took yoga mats, set them on the floor, and sat down. I noticed the same dynamic in most introductory classes: everyone lined up in the back of the class room. I understand on an intellectual level why people do this, I've done it myself in the past. What I don't really understand is why adults do it in a classroom setting for classes they have chosen to take. Which means you should be completely unsurprised that I sat near the instructor, and talked directly with him. It's one of those, "wow, this is outside my comfort zone, I best go all in," sort of things, I guess.

To start, the instructor asked us to introduce ourselves, and tell him why we were in the class. I introduced myself, and said, "Curiosity. As an on-again, off-again practitioner of meditation, how is mindfulness different?" I was/am also interested in how the mindfulness is presented in a structured, group class. Six of the remaining people answered, "Same here, curiosity." I found that somewhat amusing.

After a bit of mindfulness introduction, what it is, what it isn't, and how we were going to learn to be more mindful, we had a three minute, don't-move-a-muscle, eyes-closed mindfulness session where we sat as still as we could. In the reverse of the previous order, I was asked last how'd it go. Pretty much everyone before me struggled with the lesson, focusing on this itch or that itch, that muscle ache, this lopsided something or other. I had noticed that I swallowed twice, and was uncertain if "don't move a muscle" meant, "including the diaphragm," of which mine was moving out and in. The instructor talked briefly about the somatic nervous system (under voluntary control) and the autonomic nervous system (involuntary control, such as breathing and heart beat), and that breathing didn't count as muscle movement in this exercise.

I didn't struggle to keep still for the three minutes, spending the time being aware of my lower body, starting with my toes. In three minutes, I had made my awareness journey to my ankles of both feet. I hadn't noticed any itch or muscle fatigue, so either I'm doing better than I thought I was in my on-again-off-again practicing (I am doubtful of this), or I was lucky to come to rest in a good position (unfortunately, I am doubtful of this being luck). Uncertain on this. Upside, the stillness was only three minutes: not really that long.

After our discussion, we tried another stillness, this time for five minutes. Instead of concentrating inward, we were to concentrate on sounds. Sounds are good for practicing mindfulness, as they happen and are gone. To be mindful is to be aware in the moment, not as a recognition a few moments/minutes after. This time, everyone's experience was easier, despite the longer duration. First, everyone knew what to expect. Second, and more importantly, everyone was able to concentrate on the outside (hear that person walking by, oh that's the espresso beans being ground, and that's Justin on his go-kart zipping by), instead of on the inside (oh, wow, my elbow itches, is that a hair tickling my face?).

One woman commented that she enjoyed the moments of silence, when the only noise to be heard was the air conditioner. When someone walked by or made a loud noise, she admitted irritation at the break in the silence. Nearly everyone attempted to identify the sounds.

When the instructor came around to me, I commented that, again, it wasn't difficult for me, but that I did not like the silence, because my tinnitus flared, and all I could hear was the different frequencies. The high pitch ringing matching few sounds, the low pitch humming blending sometimes with the air conditioner frequency. I struggle with silence, because I will never hear it again.

The instructor looked at me with a smile. "I, too, have tinnitus, and it is my best friend."

I sat up straighter and leaned forward. I can make friends with this horror in my head?

"How? Oh, god, tell me how." I asked.

"Because it's always there. I always have something to hear."