According to the Oxford English Dictionary the Definition of anticipation is: “The action of anticipating something; expectation or prediction.” Examples of which would be:
‘her eyes sparkled with anticipation’ or ‘they manned the telephones in anticipation of a flood of calls’
Today, I caught anticipation as it arose. Let me set the scene for you.
I was laying in bed, about 6 o’clock and had enjoyed a reasonably peaceful sleep. When I awoke I had an overall feeling of peace and deep physical comfort. However, in a single moment I felt it change both in my body and mind. I saw from nowhere anticipation arise. As explained in the OED definition above, anticipation is explained as and expectation or prediction that something will occur. In other words you’re waiting for something to happen.
This ‘waiting’ causes not only the mind to start working out what it ‘thinks’ is going to happen, it also triggers a response in the body, a response pattern. Tara Brach, Buddhist Psychologist, has defined these possible responses as fight, flight or freeze. Each of these have a different feeling tone and a different mind state that is ascribed to it.
This morning the feeling and the body reaction was very clear, and more importantly very visceral. Initially the body was very relaxed, I was laid on my back, eyes closed and I was breathing with ease. However as soon as I started to become more aware that I was no longer asleep the body started to change.
That’s where insight number one occurred. The bodies feeling tone changed first. The body slowly started to vibrate from the inside, a subtle deeply buried shake and the feeling radiated out from my chest area. Even though the vibration was very low level and very subtle the feeling started to radiate quickly from my chest to my shoulders; my shoulders to my abdomen and eventually from my abdomen into leg muscles.
It is at this point that something else occurred. The mind started to become active and I started to recognise something else about the situation. Insight number number two occurred at this stage. I saw what was occurring, clearly and with focused awareness. What was also evident was that in my awareness there was a gap between my initial awareness of wakefulness and the arising of the state that was causing my body to react. I could see and feel the stages of emerging experience as it was happening.
At this stage insight number three occurred, that of mental noting. Mental noting is the practice of catching thoughts, that is mental states or physical reactions and giving them a name. In noting, you label what is happening in such a way that you catch it at the moment of arising or very near the moment of arrival. In labelling you ascribing a word that describes or defines what is being brought up in you. It can be any word as long as it is almost a ‘thoughtless’ response and is not triggered from a position of over thinking or analysis. In other words, the word ascribed to a thought or feeling is generated in a detached way and describes the emotion, thought, feeling, etc. without any layering of a personal nature. For me the word to describe the physical response today was anticipation.
Anticipation as a word came to me very clearly, and without any pre-thought all pre-analysing. It was at this point insight number four occurred.
I had a reactive and a very physical response to the vibration that was occurring in the body. After the vibration started and the label was assigned, a new sensation in my body slowly starting to occur. A protective layer in a physical sense occurred and it took the shape of gold plated armour covering me. Now this may sound odd and before mental health services are called i will go on to define what I mean.
I have always been acutely aware of my physical body and my physical responses to situations both positive and negative. I have always lived a life with an acute awareness of how my body responds and reacts to the world and the environment around me. Therefore, i knew it wasn’t unusual for my body to react in such a distinctive and strong way especially if the stimulus was frightening or exciting in nature. However this was a very subtle and perhaps neutral situation so the response was very dramatic when it occurred.
As already stated, I am aware of my body’s reactions however I have often been unable to get a mental grasp on to this physical response that is happening as it is either too over-powering i.e. the stress response is too strong or too subtle, like in previous instances of anticipation. My body normally has the lead on what insight there is to make about a situation and normally I can’t seem to mentally decipher what is happening. In other words whenever my body was physically triggered my mind and my body would spin out.
However my body, in this newly ‘seen’ situation was clearly armouring.
So back to the unusual physical response I had. My body, once the labelling had been expressed, immediately started to wrap itself in sheets of armour from my shoulders to my wrists, my chest across my sternum down to my abdomen and then from thighs down my legs. Fine, beautifully polished, gold plated armour. The wrapping that slid over my skin and encasing my body was viscerally real. The definitive thing that struck me about all of this was that it wasn’t just a visual representation in my mind, like a dream. No, this was a physical response that my body was living and it was one that was indeed very real. I could feel it upon my skin. This by all intents and purposes was a real physical experience.
This bodily occurrence superseded a change in my mind state and this wrapping of my body was a form of protection. This armouring, I have concluded, surely must have been deep down psychologically a protective response. Anticipation, leading to defence. In this instance a freeze situation (referring to the previously stated physiological reactions that occurs in response to perceived threat). However in protecting me i have concluded that it was also restricting me in some way. No longer was I open and receptive, free and fluid, I was trapped in a protective case of my own making and as a result was less that myself to the world around me. The protective layering I had put on, for a legitimate reason, no longer allowed me to be open and free, it was ceasing to offer its intended protection because in reality the protection I thought I needed was not required.
What was I trying to protect myself against and what purpose was this suit of armour actually trying to achieve? There was no immediate threat nor was there any ‘clear and present danger’, therefore the armour was as useful as a paper hat in the pouring rain.
The insight acquired from this one episode has been a profound revelation. It has shown me that protecting myself against unseen and unreal foes is folly and that it is something that we as individuals can end up doing to ourselves. I have also realised that any protective behaviour that we undertake needs to be of use and not just something that we do due to reactivity. There may indeed be an underlying fear that is yet to emerge from the depths of my psyche however protecting myself when peace is already present is an incredible waste of time, effort, and emotional energy.
So to recap the four key stages of insight that occurred for me were:
– There was awareness of the body. I was present in my body 100%, aware of how I was feeling and what that sensation felt like from a ditachd perspective.
– There was awareness of thought, which after the body started to change its ‘state’ enabled me to work on noting.
– There was awareness of a change in bodily sensation and the bodies feeling tone. I was not only aware of the body before the change but still aware after and importantly still present for it.
– Finally, There was a physical and mental protectiveness that occurred which took the form of a virtual armour, althought it felt very real. This was also generated soley by me and came from within.
All of this happened over a period of a few minutes, while the subtle changes etc occurred within seconds. This was the first time that I can remember that I was present and aware of both body and mind in such an emmersed way. It was also the first time that I had seen it so clearly that I was able to afford it space. Through the power of mindful awareness I was able to observe the rising of, and changing of, bodily sensation as well as my mind patterns. This was truly a profound experience. It showed me that mindful awareness is something that allows you to see your deepest behaviour patterns in a clear and focused way and although I couldn’t change what was occurring I didn’t actually want to. In fact I realised to try to change it for something else and to perhaps alter it doesn’t allow you to go beyond the behaviour pattern itself. By being been able to get nearer to those things that sit deep down under the ‘reaction’ and are perhaps tricky for you, affords you the chance to see the root cause. This way you are more likely to be able to affect what happens as you can get to the source rather than tinkering on the surface and perhaps undertaking a futile exercise. By being present with the moment I was able to delve into the deeper reason why armouring was occurring simply by letting the whole processevolve. By passing through the experience itself you start to see into the reasons behind certain behaviour patterns and responses. In my case armouring occurred, and protectiveness of what was to come came up, and I sat with it now. The why’s and wherefores are for another time. All I know is that it came from a sense of anticipation. Anticipation of what? I do not know, however in that moment anticipation triggering me into a real response and for the first time. I saw it in all its glory. It was indeed a very beautiful experience.