Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better

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I recently ran a workshop for legal professionals, with one of the participants talking about her experiences of increased agitation and irritation during formal mindfulness exercises.

It’s useful to note that this is a fairly common experience, and is actually a helpful pointer to the nature of our minds. It may be that if you’re experiencing significant levels of agitation when practising sitting meditation, that this could reveal something important about the way you engage with your own experiences – particularly those experiences which you don’t automatically perceive as pleasant. It may be that meditation is not in fact increasing your sense of agitation, but is actually revealing it to you. Many of us habitually react with agitation and annoyance toward our own experiences, but remain unconscious of this in the busyness of everyday life.

We all use a variety of coping strategies to numb ourselves to the things we wish to avoid: food, alcohol and drugs, television, social media and general busyness mean we never really have to sit with things we perceive to be unpleasant. It can be a surprise when we stop and turn inward and see in technicolour how much judgement and resistance we bring to much of our experience.

If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed with judgement and agitation in your mindfulness practice, the easiest way to manage this is to simply not engage with these thoughts and emotions. To simply note that agitation has arisen, and to let it be as you return to your chosen object of attention – usually the breath or body. And to do this as many times as is necessary over the course of your practice period. What you’ll start to notice is that these feelings have less of a hold on you, the more you practice not engaging with them. In doing this, you’re building your muscle of equanimity – the ability to be with all of our experiences – pleasant, unpleasant and neutral.