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Be Mind(ful) of the Gap!

A personal view on the Benefits of Meditation.

The long and winding road up the Gap of Dunloe, Co. Kerry. 

A couple of weekends back, I took part in an Adventure Race. It’s one I’ve done a few times over that last few of years through beautiful parts of County Kerry (Southern Ireland), starting and finishing in the town of Killarney. It’s an excellently run event by the team at Quest. After having some bulging disc issues earlier this year, it was great to be back out there, albeit still a little nervous in fear of an injury setback. One of the most gruelling parts of the race is the cycle through the Gap of Dunloe (pictured above) and then onto Moll’s Gap. The road zig-zags seemingly forever and, in many parts, it’s near impossible to keep the forward momentum going. For those that have scaled it, on bike, foot and even car, they’ll know what I’m referring to. It’s tough.

If you’ve ever tackled something similar in your own adventures, either cycling or running up a steep hill/mountain, you might have found yourself looking up to see where the incline levels off, longing for the pain to ease at the summit. This was definitely something I’ve done in the past. Thinking, once I got there, the torture I was going through would subside and I’d be able to enjoy the freewheeling downhill on the other side, wind in the face and all that! Unfortunately, by focusing on the peak, and realising that the end is not so close, the pain seemingly intensified. The thinking and grasping for that release at the summit only made it worse.

Strangely, this time round, it was different. As I began to move up these inclines, and looked up way into the distance, seeing dot-like bodies slowly moving towards the top, and just about to feel the familiar pain kick it, I stopped myself. In that second, I had a great sense of awareness of what that thinking and grasping would lead to. Nothing good. More pain. Definitely not benefiting me in that moment. In a fleeting instant, it dawned on me that putting my focus on what was ahead, up the winding road, and how tough it was, would just make me suffer more.

What happened next was very interesting. I had a bit of a realisation. I’m not calling it a moment of enlightenment, as it probably seems pretty obvious now looking back, but at the time it was something new for me. In the next second, it was if my subconscious served up a suggestion. Something deep within emerged, maybe from something I’d listened to, or read at some point in the last few weeks, about dealing with grasping for an object (in this instance the top of Moll’s Gap). An urge to ‘stay with the now’ came to me (probably in the voice of Eckhart Tolle if I’m being honest). My awareness overrode my thinking. An idea came to mind to count to Ten. Follow my breath and count to Ten. Reflecting back now, I recall at points in my running days, while out jogging and struggling hard, I’d count to Sixty over and over. I think I read it was something the Marathon Runner, Paula Radcliffe, did when she was feeling the pain. So, I decided to count out to Ten pedals. Five each side. One to Ten. Again, One to Ten. Again, again and again. It had an immediate impact. It brought me right back into the present. Kept me focused. And I felt nothing (almost). The pain was gone, practically. The grasping disappeared. Just focusing on one pedal after the other. Over and over. Up and up. Over the next ten minutes, I overtook many others who had decided to walk up the last few twists and turns to the top. I just kept going and counting. As I was doing it, so much of the reading and listening on meditation, mindfulness, and present moment awareness became so clear and made so much sense. Once I stopped grasping for the future state, and just concentrated on the right now, things became easier and calmer.

As I carefully descended Moll’s Gap back towards Killarney (I crashed on this part last year), I felt that I had just experienced a very practical benefit of meditation and mindfulness. One that came to me when I was in a tough spot. Twelve months ago, I did the same race, the same hills, and didn’t have the presence of mind on the way up the Gap. I was focused on the top. Striving to get there. Not enjoying the journey as much. Focusing on the destination. This time round, it was different. That’s progress.

Since then, I’ve been reflecting on how many other situations in my day to day life have improved or benefited since starting to practice mindfulness and meditation. There have been a lot so I felt the urge to document it and share. All you have to do is Google ‘Benefits of Meditation and Mindfulness’ and you’ll find a plethora of information that detail on the physical and psychological positives. And taking a quick glance at any that come up, I’d have to I agree. Most of it is scientifically proven, so it must be right!

From my personal perspective, since starting a daily practice of mediation, lots of things have improved. I’ve reduced my anxieties levels, I catastrophize less, my self-awareness and self-confidence have improved (no way would I have shared this a couple of years back), and my reaction response to tough and frustrating situations have become much more controlled. Situations like every day road rage, extreme anger at people not indicating in time or at all, or that feeling you get when you realise you’ve put a door on the wrong way on an IKEA wardrobe way too late in the process are much easier to deal with! 

Don’t get me wrong, I still have bad days. I still get worked up, anxious, and sometimes even wonder why am I doing practicing mindfulness at all when it’s not ‘WORKING’. But, I’ve noticed that these bad days are less and less frequent. When they do occur, or when something annoying or frustrating happens, I don’t get lost in negative thoughts around it to make it worse. I do become aware of it quicker and, I manage to return to a more balanced normal (whatever that is) state much quicker than in the past. I can vividly remember some mornings, getting up to face the day, knowing that it would involve multiple meetings back to back with high pressure and competing priorities and I’d start to panic. The mind would race, thinking about what could happen. Or instances when something minor like a throwaway comment would piss me off leading to me ruminate on it for the rest of day, and generally just let things get on top of me. 

Thankfully, I’m find myself not wasting time or energy on these scenarios as much anymore. Much like what happened in that instant on the climb in the race, I notice that I become aware of my thought pattern quicker, can see what’s unfolding, and allow time to accept it. I’ve come to learn that the Ego is at play lot here and there is a lot of egoic activities happening when we are experiencing these frustrations. The ego is the part that wants you to react. It’s an area I’m doing a lot of reading on and becoming more aware of (mainly thanks to Eckhart Tolle’s Audiobook, I’m getting there. Check out the book ‘A New Earth’, it’s great).  So much, however is still a work in progress for sure. But it’s progress nonetheless. 

So, I’d like to be clear, if you hadn’t realised it already, I’m far from a guru on this subject. I’m really only scratching the surface on this world. Yet, I’m seeing more and more positive signs. Week by week, I’m sensing progress. I’m getting better at understanding the ego, consciousness, connection to objects and the like.

One other learning that I did want to touch on before finishing up. I’ve been talking a lot about this subject over the last year and really enjoying hearing from others on how it’s working (or not) for them. One thing I hear a lot from others when starting to practice mindfulness is the ‘I’m not doing it right’ observation or frustration. I totally get it. I’ve been there and sometimes still find myself wondering if I’m doing it right (by the way, that’s your egoic mind again messing with you… it’s just trying to sabotage your enjoyment). It’s totally normal to have that feeling at the start and it will probably be something that crops up for however long you meditate for. When you begin, it’s tough not to get distracted by your thoughts. Your mind is in the habit of thinking (way too much probably) for years and years. You’re not going to slow it down that much after a few five-minute sessions of meditation. In fact, it’s almost impossible to focus on one thing for any length of time. Even for the most seasoned meditators. The fact is you’re not in control of what you think. You might think you are but for the vast majority of time, you’re not. I’m stealing from Eckhart Tolle again here. He compares the mind to the digestive or circulatory systems in your body. Autonomous. It’s working without your help. 

So, give yourself a break. If you can notice yourself thinking and wondering off at all, that’s a great start. Bring things back to your focus point and start again. The more you do it, the more you’ll notice the wandering and the quicker you’ll notice it. Then just bring it back, and back again, and again. And that’s it. Just do it. Don’t expect rapid results. It’s a marathon, not a sprint- or in my case an adventure race. The fact you’re doing it at all is, again, progress. 

I’ll to leave you with a few bullets that help me keep this whole mindfulness and meditation practice in perspective:

· Try to have a Daily Meditation Practice – you need to keep building up the strength of your meditation muscle like any other part of your body you’re working. It will tone up!

· Try different approaches (some examples here) but stick with each one for a couple of weeks at least.

· YouTube has endless amounts of free videos you can try – I like Jon Kabat Zinn as a starting point for guided meditation or Vipassana (Breathing) meditations.

· Don’t put yourself under too much pressure – just stick with it and things will start happening. Others might notice it in you before you do yourself.

· Start small and build up the duration of your practice – 3mins, 5mins, 10mins, etc.

· Reflect on things you notice – improvements, reactions, calmer in situations – start a journal to keep a log of what you notice, progress you’re making, what works and doesn’t!

· Immerse yourself in the topic – read, listen, and understand.

· You will still have tough days where you feel it’s a waste of time. These days will become less frequent. Keep at the daily practice.

· Commitment – Set yourself a goal of doing it every day for more than two weeks.

I know I’ve left out a lot here, even though it’s a lengthly post! Perhaps in a follow-up post, I can dig more into specific areas if there are some questions that come up. I genuinely hope you enjoyed reading it. If you even get one small takeaway from it, that would be great.

I’d love to hear your feedback on the above and if there are other areas of interest you’d like to discuss.

I discuss Meditation and Mindfulness with almost every guest I have on my weekly podcast. Some episodes have it as the main them. Check out list of episodes already released on my site here – www.robofthegreen.ie/episdoes/

Make it a great one,

Rob

Originally published at www.robofthegreen.ie/blog/

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