The whole way through, I’m narrating this in my head
For the last couple of months, I’ve been trying out the meditation thing — largely through an app called Headspace. I’m not terribly far into it yet, so I can’t give a full review, but the short form is that it’s a secular program developed by a former Buddhist monk that guides you through the basics of meditation. It starts off with a free series called “Take 10,” which is ten days of ten-minute sessions; then if you subscribe, it moves on to “Take 15” (fifteen days of fifteen-minute sessions), followed by “Take 20” (you can guess how that one goes). After that it expands into other stuff — the “Discovery Series” and so on — but I can’t tell you about those because I haven’t started them yet. The program does require you to take everything in order, but I can understand why; fifteen minutes is a non-trivial step up from ten minutes, and likewise twenty from fifteen, so working your way up to it isn’t a bad idea.
Because I’m only a little more than a month into the program, I can’t say much yet as to what it’s done for my mental health. But one thing I can say: it has exposed just how deep-seated my instinct to narrate is.
The largest portion of each session is spent focusing on your breath and letting go of other thoughts — or trying to. My mind, of course, immediately identifies this as prime Thinking About Story time. So I gently take it by the hand and lead it back to my breathing . . . until it wanders off again . . . so back to the breathing we go . . . and after a while it gets the idea, sort of. Whereupon it begins narrating my experience of focusing on my breathing. It isn’t really possible to make a story out of “this time my shoulders rose more than last time, and my exhalation was slower,” but god damn if my brain doesn’t try. And it thinks about what I’m experiencing — difficulties with not thinking included — and starts crafting the blog post in which I will tell you all about it. You have no idea how many times I’ve written this post in my head. (I have a faint hope that actually writing it will head this tendency off at the pass, but it is a faint hope indeed.)
It’s actually kind of hilarious, watching my brain scrabble for a way to narrativize what’s going on. I knew I was the sort of person who will run imaginary conversations in my head, or mentally compose blog posts, or whatever, but I underestimated just how much my thought processes are bound up in telling the story of what I’m thinking about. Turning that off is haaaaaaaaaaaaard. By which I mean, I basically haven’t succeeded yet.
This is not unrelated to my difficulty with the mindfulness thing in general: focusing on my physical experience of something, rather than thinking about other stuff while I do it. I live very much in my head, with all my imaginary friends (i.e. my characters), and if what I’m doing doesn’t demand my attention, I tend to daydream. I can focus when it’s something like karate; that’s detailed and intensive enough that I can sink my thoughts into muscle and bone and breath. But without a focal point like that, not so much.
So I keep practicing. One of these days I’ll get a handle on it . . . right?