Like everyone else, I’m absorbing this week’s mind-boggling events.  Here’s some mindful commentary on how we might try to boggle with their effect and weight.

Let me start with an orienting, three-layer frame for defining our experiences that I find useful in learning to meditate. There’s a bit more about this right in the first Chapter of Practical Mindfulness, but I’ll summarize it here.

Stuff happens.  Each and every experience is an inter-action of individual and circumstance, a kind of collision. In PM, I refer to it simply as a “bump.” 

So, layer 1: bumps happen; that’s experience, whether it’s a kiss, a a kick in the ass, a sonic moment of blissful Mozart or a clever rap, or a cellphone notification that our Capitol is being ransacked.

To layer 2: for individuals, each bump generates a reaction though four realms of our conscious selves: physical, emotional, thought, and awareness itself.   Bumps do this, regardless of the particular ability of those bumping entities for awareness of the event. My nickname for that cascade of our reaction(s): the “spin.”  We self-aware creatures have a capacity, mindfulness, available to observe that spin in whole, and also, with some practice, in those component aspects.

Finally, layer 3: as creatures with more highly developed capacities for awareness, memory and analysis, we can have secondary reactions to and judgments about that “spin.”  Yes, we have spins about the spin.   Freud called them defenses; Skinner, conditioned reactions.  “Backspin” is a snarky nickname I use here.

Backspins develop from conditioning and experience over a lifetime and are also well worth attending to and knowing well. Mindfulness, cultivated by meditative practice, operates here too — offering us the opportunity to take this layered experience and break it down, examine, and adapt to it.

So… bump. Spin. Backspin. The bump of a kiss begets a sexual/flirty spin, and perhaps a backspin of guilt that it’s not one’s spouse.  The bump of a kick generates gluteal pain and grievance at the prankster, and maybe a backspin of humiliation or shameful recognition of one’s own past harm of others.

Bump. Spin. Backspin… what of January 6?  It’s not my place or goal to advance political opinions here, though like any of us, I have my own developing conclusions in terms of the fragile state of our union.  But perhaps this framework can help you with understanding your own experience.

Here’s mine. The bump rolled out in slo-mo disorder, coming as it did out of the intensity of feeling regarding electoral change the night before and then in progress on the Congressional floor. Then, an unanticipated plot twist.  There was hard-to-fathom recognition that a mob was incited to rage, then marched, then pushed through barriers and went about a bloody-minded ransacking of our seat of government.

(A side lesson: every experience 3-step occurs not in a vacuum, but in the setting of one’s current state and “ecosystem.”  The uncertainty and tension of “2020, Bonus Edition” likely alters/heightens our current reactions.)

My own bump was a stutter-step one, gluing to internet updates in between patient visits all day, trying to stay present and helpful in the clinical work, sometimes directly to help comfort the parallel shock unfolding in the mind of my therapeutic dance partner.  “Goodbye,” and then instead of a progress note to write or voicemail to check, I pivoted to another bite of jaw-dropping coverage, data, images.

The spin for me was clear: the opening act of a Kubler-Ross-sponsored, five-scene drama of metabolizing a change, a loss:  “shock and denial,” per Dr. K-R’s first step of her useful grief structure.  It was that first scene of disbelief and threat-brain fight/flight, quickly advancing to scene two, grievance.  Uncomfortably restless, I needed some reality-testing bad enough at one point to mask up and blunder out of my office suite, next door to a clinic, and blurt out, “can you believe this?” to the receptionist sitting there. (Her fearful eye widening and a nodding, “right?” helped.)

Hustle back to my desk, screen and a brief, intuitive breath and check of my state. The muscles were tighter.   The heart hurt.   The neurons upstairs pumped memories of my own first grand witness of the Capitol Rotunda as a kid, then many times in college and still later as a parent, proud to see my boys’ wonder match my own. The juxtaposition of those fond memories clashed with the primal behavior I was witnessing.   My attention capacity was jittery, contracted.  As a number of others have since related to me, there was a familiarity of experience, especially of that tunnel-vision and tightened mindscape, to the awful morning of 9/11.

So, yeah.  There’s some spin for you.

My backspin, reactions to and snap judgments of my own radioactive state, reflected the yo-yo-ing intensity of the events.  A blitz of rage and grief in the snippets of news detail I could cull in each inter-session interlude, followed by a reflexive sense I needed to not carry that into the next video visit.  A patient awaited with his or her own troubles for and expectations of me.  There was some shrugging acknowledgement that effective attention on my part was going to be aspirational at best on a day like this.

Yet I also had some gratitude that I had something productive to do, comforting and consoling others.  I suppose that I needed something to counteract an itch to react, to counterpunch, maybe to mirror the destruction in DC and to my memory, now contaminated with a new reality.  Backspin defends, as I imagine Sigmund would say.

That backspin part is what evolves the most in meditation.  We really can’t change the bump at all; our reflexive spin on that bump, not much.  But in sitting with the full experience in awareness, even in memory, we can understand the spin and initial judgmental backspin, and soften the sharp edges of the hurt that may be there.  We may even uncover some surprising routes to adaptation, to cope with the uncertainty of what is and to consider some fruitful, compassionate action.

I hope this helps.  Take care and stay safe.  GCS

#PracticalMindfulness #meditation #mindfulness #physician #nononsense  #meditationforbeginners #learntomeditate

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