Mindfully letting go
In my last blog I wrote about my own experience with this, and explored in particular the idea that trying to solve the problem of holding-on with our minds, by willing ourselves to let go mentally or physically – come on you must, do it, relax! – was actually counterproductive. After all, it’s our minds that do all the holding on; controlling, pushing away certain experiences and chasing after others, sorting and sifting life, judging and fearing, trying to make things run the way we want them to.
Expecting to find a way of letting-go with the mind, expecting the mind to solve that one, really doesn’t work. I know, because I tried for many years. The only way we can really let go is to move away from the thinking, controlling mind and into the breathing, being body, into our direct experience in the moment and our direct experience of creating. In this blog I’ll be sharing an embodied mindfulness practice that we can use to do this, and in the final part of this series, I’ll be exploring ways we can use this practice as a strategy for dealing with the holding-on that inhibits our creative flow.
Our first and best strategy for letting go is to develop a practice of embodied mindfulness. When we notice that our experience is dominated by thinking, whether this is during a period of sitting meditation, whist we’re creating, or during any other moment in out life, we can take a breather, and come back into our direct, felt experience in the body. We bring our attention back to the feeling of the breath moving in and out of the chest and belly, and we pay attention to the feeling of our feet on the floor, and the sensations in our hands. We don’t try and stop thinking – that would be the mind trying to control itself. We don’t berate ourselves for thinking – that would be the mind judging itself. We just shift our attention into the felt experience.
We can use the felt sensations of the breath, and the feelings in our hands and feet as easy, accessible points of contact at any time that we feel we’re getting too caught up in our head, or when we notice that we’re trying to hold on too tightly to our experience – no, no, it’s got to be like this not THAT! We can do this even when we’re in the middle of writing a poem, or drawing the scene before us. By mindfully focusing on breath, hands and feet we effectively shift gear, breaking the chain of thinking, reacting, thinking, reacting that prevents us from peacefully letting go into our experience in the moment.
This shift of gear comes fairly easily to me now because I’ve been doing it for many years, but it didn’t at first. However the more we do it, gradually retraining our brains in the patterns of letting go, then the easier it becomes. The mindfulness practice below will help you start to notice the difference between being in the mind or in the body and to shift gear.
- Settle yourself with your breath, noticing the in and out of it and how it physically feels to breathe. Follow your breathing all the way in and then follow it all the way out.
- At some point your mind is going to wander off and you’re going to start thinking. (It happens to all of us.) When you notice that you are thinking, can you notice what it feels like to have those thoughts whirring around? When I’m thinking too much my head often feels very buzzy, fizzy and over-energised, and when there’s a lot of it this is a felt experience that is quite uncomfortable, and very unrestful. It’s what I often call ‘feeling up in my head’ or ‘busy head’.
- See if its possible to notice what thinking feels like for you and particularly what thinking too much feels like in your head. It may take a period of practising before you can notice this – you might not be able to recognise it at first, or ever, so don’t worry if that’s the case. It’s just interesting to note if you can.
- When you attempt to do this you’ve already made a start by shifting your attention to the actual physical sensations of over-thinking in the head rather than the thoughts themselves. But now take if further, pay attention to the actual physical feelings in the head – starting with your cheeks and lips. Can you feel the sensations there?
- How about your scalp? The jaw? And other places? This is further shifting your attention into the body, into being with your felt experience.
- As much as possible just open to the sensations that are in the part of the head that you’re focused on. Do as little as possible. Apply the minimum amount of effort to stay with the experience. This is a process of opening and being aware, then relaxing. Opening and being mindful, and relaxing. Just rest with it lightly, simply being in the body, and with the experience in the body.
- If you notice any sense of tightness, holding or contraction in the body or mind, don’t try and do anything about it, instead just take a deep breath in and sigh it out, and see if you can find a sense of spaciousness around it, or a sensation elsewhere instead. This approach is particularly useful if you discover an experience of pain, tension or discomfort.
- If you discover you’re thinking again – just come back to the sensations in the head, cheeks, lips, scalp, jaw etc
- Once you’ve become accustomed to the physical sensations in your head, you could keep shifting your attention lower and lower to include the rest of the body, bringing your awareness into the neck, shoulders, chest, down and down, resting with your experience in different parts of your body right down to your toes (this is sometimes called a body scan). Finally you could try and get a sense of your felt experience in the body as a whole.
- Wherever you’re focused, practice opening to receive, rather as if you are a giant satellite dish, picking up signals. See if you can keep this subtle sense of opening and receiving, rather than seeking out and finding.
- Let the sensations come and go without trying to control them, notice the flow and just keep receiving, noticing, allowing.
This way of being in and with the felt experience in the body is one that minimises the amount of holding on the mind does, and over time allows us to build new habits of letting go. At first you may notice that your mind tries to get a hold again by judging how you’re doing the practice for instance, or making wild leaps of association with what you’re focusing on now and some other time and place, or it might just get bored – really, we’re doing this AGAIN? If this happens, just return to your focus on the physical sensations in the body. Of course the mind will still be involved to some extent, helping you to stay focused and absorbed, but the way it’s involved will feel very different, and body and mind will start to feel much more connected, so that you no longer feel ‘up in your head’ but rather inside a ‘knowing body.’
Next week, I’ll explore how we can use this embodied mindfulness to deal with common experiences of holding on and inhibition when we’re creating. In the meantime, just keep practicing letting go into the body and opening to what you discover there. Go well.