Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mindfulness v. OCD

Thanks a lot, rocks.  Thanks for getting in my way all the time.  Don't you have anything better to do?  Some place better to be?  Get your own awesome life so you can stop intruding on mine.  Oh, that's right.  You're a rock.  You can't.
An idea that I have often found helpful lately is an analogy related to mindfulness.  I have to admit, often when you are in the trenches, when you are in the throes of anxiety and so on, mindfulness, the practice of just allowing yourself to have thoughts, to let them come and go without placing judgment on them, can seem like a joke.  When I am freaked out, the recommendation to just have the thought that sparked the anxiety and resist performing compulsions seems like a long shot.  Actually, it seems worse than a long shot.  The notion seems absolutely ridiculous.  It's like trying to bail yourself out of a sinking ship using a teaspoon.  Aka, it seems like a solution that is doomed to fail.

However, when I do allow myself to practice mindfulness (usually when I am not on the verge of panic) it can be very helpful.  Sometimes if I give it a chance and buy into the concept even when I am really upset about something, it can also be helpful then.  But sometimes it's hard to grasp the meaning of mindfulness, especially when my mind is consumed by the OCD "problem" in front of me.  It can seem like esoteric cosmic jargon, psychologist speak that sounds great in theory but, when in crisis mode, seems an awful lot like someone handing you that teaspoon and telling you to bail out the ship that's already well on its way to sinking.

What recently made the concept of mindfulness a little easier to wrap my mind around and buy into was an analogy one my therapists reminded me of.  This analogy, the idea that "water bears no scars," was apparently taken from a book of the same name.  The analogy goes something like this:  when a stream comes upon a rock in its path, it doesn't halt or dwell on the obstacle, nor does it turn around and head the other direction.  Instead it flows around the obstruction in its path, moving around it smoothly and gracefully.  It passes by the rock, accepting that it is there and moving on despite its presence.  The water may have been temporarily diverted but it comes together on the other side and moves onward in its course, onward as if the rock were never there.

Though I am not usually fond of embracing the rather fluffy, zen, "just love and be at peace with yourself" sort of self-talk, I have to admit that I really like this concept.  (Then again, I love extended metaphors in general so maybe I do have a soft spot for some of that stuff.)  This metaphor for dealing with your problems as they arise, flowing around them without pause or over-analysis, helps me apply and understand what can sometimes seem like a rather dry, wordy explanation of mindfulness and how to apply it.  Sometimes when I have a thought or a feeling that seems to require analysis, action, compulsion, or some other sort of halt or change of course, thinking of this idea of water flowing past a rock helps me to move on, to continue doing what it is I am doing despite OCD's attempts to disrupt my movement.  The thought, the feeling, the desire to perform a compulsion may still be nagging on me, but if I just move forward those thoughts, feelings, and desires will eventually fade as they are replaced by others further along down my path.

Anyways, I have been thinking about this trusty stream/rock analogy more lately as some of my rituals have begun to seem a bit less mandatory.  When I am on the cusp of making a decision as to whether or not I will engage in a compulsion, imagining the water flowing around its obstacle without stopping can make it easier to skip the compulsion and move on.  If I just keep going, even when an unwanted thought or feeling suddenly pops up in my path, then eventually I will come back to feeling alright on the other side.  Temporarily parted, the waters will reconnect and move forward again if I just let them.  I may not feel "right" at that moment, but I will again if I just keep moving.

3 comments:

  1. I love this analogy too and thank you for sharing! I also can relate to the whole idea of mindfulness working great when you're not in the throws of an OCD induced anxiety spike. When I was reading this post I thought to myself "Exactly - Yeah right - how in heaven's name am I supposed to just let the thoughts/feelings be there when I feel like I'm about to explode from panic and I'm in the middle of work (insert any other inconvenient time in here)." I will continue to practice. :o)
    And I will definitely remember the water over rocks analogy.

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  2. thanks for sharing - it now helped me with my ocd - good analogy

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