A recent study undertaken by researchers from Harvard and the University of Virginia had surprising results: more often than not, men would rather give themselves a slight shock treatment, than have to sit alone with their thoughts. (This "Wired" news article summarizes the study’s findings as does this article from the University of Virginia).
People argue that we need to be able to multitask; that we are social beings; that of course people feel like they are losing it when they are left alone to do nothing - this IS torture! Or is it? Is there value in removing stimulation once in a while to deal with ourselves? I touched on this in an earlier post; even students can benefit from learning to deal with boredom.
I recently spent a week living in silence with strangers. At first, it did feel a bit torturous for my mind (“What am I doing here? Why does that guy slurp his tea in the most irritating way possible? I should have chosen the yoga retreat!”). But after giving it a fair shot, I will say that the practice of mindfulness, and “insight meditation” or Vipassana opened my eyes to some simple (but not always easy) techniques to live with more presence and start to deal with the mind.
As Jon Kabat-Zinn (professor of Medicine and founding Director for the Centre for Mindfulness at UMass) writes:
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity and acceptance of present-moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. If we are not fully present for many of those moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives, but also fail to realize the richness and depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation.. It is the direct opposite of taking life for granted.
I have begun to understand this as accepting every moment and state, exactly as it is right now, without wishing it away. This is easier when the states are happiness, excitement, enthusiasm. But when those states and feelings are of irritation, fear, sadness, anger, loneliness.. it’s more difficult to sit with them and give them their moment. But they need their moment too.
I won’t bore you with the details of my week in silence. It was tough, but wonderful. I will share some takeaways I aim to continue:
1) Disconnect routinely - it felt like a gift to be off of texting, calling, FB, Instagram, and email. Once a week? for a couple hours a day? Something!
2) Recognize (or mentally label) the types of thoughts that are patterns - remembering, fantasizing, planning, doubting. Acknowledge them without judgment.
3) Listen. Really listen to people when they are talking. Don’t give advice unless people are asking for it.
4) Be kind to strangers (rather than judging the woman who pushed past you on the subway or the cop who pulls you over (argh!)). Everyone has a story; I heard some heartbreaking ones from ‘strangers’ I will never see again.
5) (tied to 1) In disconnecting, make room for actual quiet time every day.
For more information on the Insight Meditation Society visit: http://www.dharma.org/
A passionate educator.. on a quest for a schooling model to love!