Browsing the archives for the comfort tag.
Subscribe via RSS or e-mail      

Tips for Easier Meditation at Tiny Buddha


A blogger at the Tiny Buddha blog offered a post called “8 Ways to Make Meditation Easy and Fun” at the other day, and while part of me is still saying “I reserve the right to disapprove of excessive comfiness in meditation,” all in all this post gives me several guidelines I can use, not to mention a little commiseration on the “think the world of meditating but don’t do it as often as I might like” situation (which I’m sure is unique to the blogger and myself).

Recommendations include a hybrid nap-meditation, a 100-breaths meditation, a micro-meditation, and others. I’m always interested in good meditation resources, since I’m really not particularly expert at it (and yet I get a lot out of it even fumbling through as I do). If anyone has other good resources on the subject to suggest, please comment!

No Comments

Why Inconvenience Is Essential to Change


Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You look at your life and decide you need to change something. It might be eating healthier foods, getting your papers organized, or not watching so much TV. At first you’re excited about it, especially when you try it out and you actually start to make some progress. Things are going well.

Then a problem crops up. Maybe you’re invited to dinner and the menu is so far from your healthy eating list, you can’t see it from there without a high-powered telescope. Or you have an important engagement in the evening and don’t get home until 10:30–too late to easily do your filing for the day. Or you find out there’s a marathon of your favorite show ever airing over the weekend.

What often happens to us in these situations is that we make an exception. It’s so inconvenient–nearly impossible, we sometimes tell ourselves–to keep with our program that we can make one completely reasonable exception. And then another exceptional situation comes up, and another, and pretty soon we realize we haven’t been making progress at all and give up in despair.

When this happens, it isn’t that the universe is against us: in fact, this is exactly how we should expect things to go if we try to break a habit. By definition, doing things by habit means taking the easy road, and so breaking a habit–or forming a new one–means taking the difficult road.

To put it another way, habits aren’t made and broken by only changing our behavior when it’s convenient to do so: the real changes in our behavior come when we have to push really hard to maintain our new intentions. It doesn’t take much effort or thought to, for instance, keep up with filing papers when we have plenty of time and no interruptions. The real test–and the time when we have the greatest opportunity to change our own mental processes–comes when things get inconvenient, when we’re tired, distraught, distracted, embarrassed, busy, or when we don’t have all of our materials or tools on hand. When we choose to say “I’m going to stick with my goals anyway” in this periods, we become able to change even deeply-ingrained habits. But when we wait for change to become convenient, we’re likely to be left waiting a very, very long time.

By the way, one of the best ways to deal with inconvenient situations is to plan ahead of time for them: see “How Preparation Enables Stronger Willpower.”

Photo by all-i-oli

No Comments

Finding Comfort in Uncomfortable Situations

Handling negative emotions

The other day I was in a dentist’s chair for two hours. There was drilling, grinding, polishing, glueing, grafting, washing, suctioning, and so on, and it became clear to me pretty early on that either I would find a way to relax or I’d be very uncomfortable for quite some time.

Fortunately, I realized that I had several tools from my research that could be helpful to me, and using them, I found I was able to be very comfortable the whole time. Some of the thanks goes to my dentist and dental assistant for their professionalism, but all the professionalism in the world doesn’t make it comfortable to have a needle pushed into the roof of your mouth–whereas other strategies can make this a bearable experience.

So here are the tools I used. These strategies are useful whenever it’s necessary to just wait through something that may be uncomfortable–not just appointments with the dentist–for instance plane takeoffs if you aren’t comfortable flying, or an overcrowded commute on a bus or subway.

1. Directing thoughts
Realistically, we don’t have many choices by the time we get to the dentist’s chair. Sure, if something seems to be going wrong that we think the dentist might be missing (an unusual situation), there might be a reason to raise one hand and make noises of distress, but that happens almost automatically, and other than that, we generally need to just sit still and open wide. Some uncomfortable situations require us to think and react, and those are not the kinds of situations I’m addressing in today’s article.

Knowing that there are no choices to be made, it becomes clear that “Oh no, this is going to hurt!” or “I can’t stand that drilling noise in my skull!” or any other negative idea is not going to be helpful, because negative thoughts are only helpful as indicators to help us change our behavior.

So it helps us to redirect our thoughts, in a way similar to how we might redirect a child who’s getting worked up about something that isn’t really causing problems. The basic technique amounts to “OK, but look at that over there!” We don’t have to squelch our negative thoughts, but we can acknowledge them without letting them drag us in. “Oh no, this is going to hurt!” can be followed up with “Yes, but then again, I seem to have survived everything that’s ever hurt in the past” and then focusing on something more interesting and pleasant, like plans for the weekend, a favorite book or movie, or whatever kind of thing keeps you interested.

2. Simple meditation
It’s easy to tense up in uncomfortable situations, but often a simple breath meditation can offer relief. To do this, don’t change your breathing itself, but instead focus your awareness lightly on breathing in, that moment of change when you go from inhaling to exhaling, breathing out, and the other moment of change when you go back to inhaling. It’s difficult to keep this up for a long time–though practice helps–but even with multiple interruptions or distractions can make the rest of the world recede while we become wrapped up in this serene activity.

3. Pay more attention, not less
As strange as it seems, often much of our suffering when we experience pain is fear of the very pain we’re experiencing, or of its consequences. After all, pain itself, like negative emotions, is just a signal that something might be going wrong. Pain is something that has developed because it’s useful to our survival: it helps us get clear of things before they cause too much damage. Unfortunately, sometimes we experience pain when things are actually fine, and at that point the more primitive parts of our brain panic. The more we try not to feel pain, the scarier it becomes.

So one useful approach when feeling pain is to really pay attention to it rather than mentally running away. What does it actually feel like? The process becomes a kind of meditation focused on the pain itself. This doesn’t make the pain go away, but surprisingly, it can relieve a lot of the suffering associated with it.

4. Keep the end in mind
It sometimes helps, when going through something difficult, to remember why you’re doing it. This is only useful if there’s something good waiting for you as a result, but this is often the case. Focusing on the relief a medical procedure will provide, on the friends or family waiting at the other end of a turbulent plane ride, or on the house you’ll eventually get to live in once you’ve filled out the unending paperwork for the loan can make an uncomfortable situation much more liveable by taking you out and placing you in a happier future.

The photo (which is not of me) is by The Doctr

No Comments

Shouldn’t We Just Do What Comes Naturally?


Last week I was helping teach a newer student at Taekwondo class, and was showing her a stance she hadn’t done before, in which the body faces in one direction and the feet point in two other directions. “If it feels weird,” I found myself saying, “then you’re doing it right.”

There’s a reason for this: the muscles that help a person stand like that aren’t ones that get much use, so it takes some time and some practice before the new position becomes comfortable. But this stance is very useful in Taekwondo, and what feels weird at first gradually becomes comfortable and habitual.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often heard advice like “just listen to your body,” with the assumption that if we just do what comes “naturally,” we’ll get the best possible result. And there are advantages to that kind of approach sometimes. First mindfulness and self-knowledge are key components of self-motivation. And second, if nothing gets in the way, often our bodies send us useful signals.

But there’s also a serious problem with just doing what comes naturally: what feels “natural” to us is a combination of instinct plus habit, and habit can transform all kinds of behaviors. Our eating cycles, our romantic preferences, the way we do our work and interact with other people, and pretty much every other complex behavior we have is built on natural inclinations, but only under layers and layers of past experiences and accustomed behaviors.

This is due to our “neural plasticity,” which means that the brain is constantly rewiring itself so that repeated behaviors and experiences feel more and more natural and come more and more easily. This means that if I eat doughnuts every morning, eating doughnuts is likely to start feeling very comfortable, normal, and necessary for me–even if it’s completely out of synch with what my body actually needs. And if I get used to taking a run every day after work, then that will get increasingly easier and more comfortable. The same is true for returning phone calls, doing homework, getting into arguments, watching TV, meditating, or any other good, bad, or netural habit. How long will that take for a habit to form? According to this study, it varies a lot, but something that’s done daily will be likely to turn into a habit some time between 1 and 7 months after we start. (If it’s not done daily, it will take much, much longer.)

So if we want to change a behavior, to redefine what comes naturally, there are two key steps we can take.

1. Work out the broken ideas we might have that are getting in our way, a process cognitive psychologists call “cognitive restructuring,” and

2. Deliberately set up and practice behaviors that feel weird at first.

Photo by crowolf

No Comments

%d bloggers like this: