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  • Writer's pictureElfreda Manahan-Vaughan

The Difference Between Mindless and Mindful, what daily meditation did to my internal dialogue.

The Difference Between Mindless and Mindful – what daily meditation did to my internal dialogue.

Inside my head there is a demanding individual who passes comment on everything, tells me I’m stupid, worries about making mistakes, upsetting people, looking foolish and not being liked. Sometimes I listen to her, I didn’t know she was there for a long time because I actually thought, she was me. I am so glad I have found the space to know the difference now. This is the what the difference between Mindless and Mindful means for me.

In the grand scheme of things, I haven’t been meditating formally very long. I only started to formally meditate about 8 years ago. I had engaged in other guided meditations and unbeknownst to myself I was using it with students but I called it guided relaxations. Actually siting down, to formally practice, didn’t start until the end of 2009, and a regular daily practice took a bit longer, a common occurrence when people first start to meditate. I am now classed as a long-term meditator, in scientific research terms, as I have completed between 1000 and 10,000 hours of meditation, less than that is considered beginner and over 10,000 is a yogi, although you also have to have a 3 year retreat under your belt for that one. You can check out more on this in Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson’s book Altered Traits.

My main practice has always been some form of Mindfulness or Vipassana. I meditate every day for at least an hour but most days I do two sittings one an hour and a second for 30 minutes. Sometimes I go all out and do between two and four hours but that doesn’t happen too often. The changes that occurred in me were subtle at first and sometimes there were huge leaps in my practice and other times it seemed like nothing was happening at all. Recording the changes in a journal when I trained as an instructor was hugely helpful as it forced me to really pay attention to how each meditation went and what I noticed afterwards. I had to do this every day for 6 months, you really get to know yourself doing something like this and you also become aware of the negative self-talk that tells you it’s too much of a challenge or you are too tired, or nothings is happening so what’s the point.

Some of the most notable changes that have occurred for me is the changes to my self-talk and my ability to be aware of it as I’m speaking, this is often referred to as the Watcher. I never realised how much internal dialogue I had until I noticed it was gone one day. I often refer to this as ‘the day I went deaf’. Of course, I didn’t go deaf but I did experience a profound silence that was totally new and although it was still elusive and not always present, I knew I had the capacity to experience it again.

As, I write this there is cat on my lap vying for my attention, it is hard not to be pulled into the present moment when your wrist is being licked as you type.

So back to the silence, when I meditate now I find there are large periods where I simply experience my breath. Other times I find myself planning or preparing things in my mind, that was my default for years, or I get caught up in a dialogue about something that happened or is about to happen. Like I said, I didn’t know I was such an internal talker until it was gone. I would talk through everything, movies, as I read, attending courses, while people were talking. Internally I was probably one of the rudest people you could meet and I didn’t even know it. Thankfully, now I can stop myself quickly as soon as the chatting starts. Sometimes I’m off on a tangent before I realise but, more often than not, I catch myself before any real discussion begins. It was only yesterday, as I prepared the dinner, that I noticed I wasn’t thinking at all, I actually had the faintest whisper of song and nothing else. Of course, noticing means I’m thinking again but at least I notice now, I never did before.

The other change to my internal dialogue is subject matter. My thinking now is more practical and less critical. I find myself to be kinder so, the judging myself has stopped. Now I am more accurate in my assessment of what I am doing, more forgiving of my mistakes and much more open to feedback. This is quite a relief. I am definitely becoming more mindful and I have the different meditations I practice, to thank for that.

I know above I said I was classed as a long-term meditator but to me I am still a beginner. I teach it because I love it and because it has changed my life but I know I can never stop practicing and learning and as the months and years go by new changes will emerge and the better I will be at being in the present moment, that’s the plan anyway.

Thanks for reading, Elfreda

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