Neurodiversity and Mindfulness
By: rachel hardy
Neurodiversity and Mindfulness
One of the things I’m passionate about is honoring uniqueness and differences in the ways our brains and bodies are wired.
Many folk struggle with mindfulness practices, and assume that the struggle means they need to just try harder. While honoring the truth that mindfulness is a practice and a discipline, it’s also important to recognize that we don’t all think, work, operate, or function in exactly the same ways. And it’s important to recognize this uniqueness in approaching mindfulness and practices such as meditation.
Sometimes, the challenges in accessing meditative states may have to do with past trauma or stress held in the body and nervous system. If the body has been the site of trauma, abuse, or boundary violation, the survival processes involves creating “management strategies” (often unconscious) to navigate the pain of being in a body that feels unsafe, uncertain, or threatening, every day.
For some people, going inward is going to feel profoundly scary, for this reason. Or, the fear of going inward may be unconscious, and there is simply an overpowering reaction to jump out of the mindful state. Trying to force into this is never the answer. (Trying to “force” anything is never a path to true healing).
Trauma is not the only reason that it may be a challenge to sit still, focus on the breath, or close the eyes and go inward. We’re also just all different! We all have unique strengths in our channels of expression and how we operate. For many artists and creatives, the deep work space is the most profound connection to source. Pro level athletes often report a sense of being “in the zone”, a profoundly connected state. The bottom line is that our bodies and minds are wired to operate in different ways, and we can honor that.
What are some ways we can create greater allowance and space for our unique mindfulness practice and lean into our strengths?
- Notice and honor the varieties of our experiences and ways of knowing and being in the world.
- Lean into the witness presence. Be the observer of your experience and notice what happens as you meditate or practice.
- Explore different kinds of meditation or mindfulness practices. Focusing on the breath is one common practice, but there are many ways of practicing mindfulness. You might choose to explore sound, movement, exercise or moving meditation, or being immersed in a creative practice or hobby.
- Work with different adjustments to your nervous system such as eyes open, closed, or in a soft and easy gaze, resting on something in your environment.
- Lean into curiosity rather than judgment. When we can truly be in the curiosity state, we activate different parts of our brain that help us create something new rather than regurgitating the old. No matter what the experience- as long as it’s tolerable to be with- being curious about your body’s reaction from a soft, compassionate place can always be the gateway in.
- Pendulation. In Somatic Experiencing, one of the practices we use is pendulating our attention between different things. If being inward in the body is too much, you might explore allowing your attention to rest on something easy or pleasant in your environment. Take it in fully and with enjoyment. Then, gently move your attention inward to the body and explore for a long moment. And once again, gently bring your attention back out to the environment and the pleasant awareness. In moving back and forth between these experiences, we open up some space in the nervous system.
- Expand the possibilities for mindfulness. Whether you are cooking a meal, washing dishes, sorting emails…can the next hour of your life be a mindfulness practice? What might you discover in allowing the attention to fully rest in whatever you are engaged in? Allowing yourself to pause frequently, to be fully aware of your surroundings and experience, can help to deepen this in.
- You are your own authority. If you find that a program, teacher, guru, or peer pressure (whether live or virtual) is pushing you into something that does not feel aligned or is causing undue stress in your body or mind, take a pause. Regroup. Take a step back, notice your body’s reactions without judgment, acknowledge your uniqueness, and remember that you have the authority to advocate for yourself and your own healing and growth needs. Be you.