We all feel restless on occasion. But restlessness wreaks more havoc on our lives than we realize—primarily because we seldom recognize restlessness as restlessness when it arises.
Have you ever experienced the urge, when meditating, to get up and do something else? This is actually restlessness, and a crucial part of your mindfulness practice involves both recognizing and handling restlessness.
Why? For one thing, restlessness doesn’t occur only while you meditate. It can be a frequent visitor during your regular activities too. When you don’t recognize restlessness for what it is, it controls your life, pulls your strings, and motivates you to engage in unproductive and maybe even unhealthy behaviors.
People who experience a lot of unrecognized restlessness often find it hard to complete tasks. They may have a history of half-completed projects. Restless folks typically get bored easily and may flit from one task to another, one job to another, or one relationship to another. Meanwhile, they berate themselves for not having more stick-to-it-iveness. They typically overbook their schedules to compensate and then end up feeling totally overwhelmed. They may also be adrenaline junkies one minute, and then closet absconders the next.
Restlessness often motivates us to engage in unhealthy escapist behaviors too, such as gaming, vegging in front of the TV or computer, incessant reading, compulsive shopping, or abuse of alcohol, drugs, or sex.
Unchecked restlessness will inevitably drain you—both energetically and emotionally.
You experience restlessness in your mind, in your physical body, and in your emotions. Restlessness can originate in any one of these three areas initially, but, in a matter of seconds, it can overtake your whole being—mentally, physically and emotionally.
The more you begin recognizing restlessness during your formal meditation practice, the more you will discern how much it infiltrates your daily life. But you must recognize it first!
The Restless Mind
Have you ever had any of these thoughts while meditating?
- Get me out of here!
- I can’t stand one more minute of this!
- If only I could get up.
- I’ll just meditate later.
- I need to …(check my email, pay the bills, make a call, …)
If any of these sound familiar, then you have experienced restlessness of the mind.
Mental restlessness usually makes the mind feel jumpy, busy, skittering about, and even crazed when at its worst. It is akin to a fly buzzing around your head that you just cannot seem to catch. In fact, the more you try to arrest a restless mind, the busier it seems to get.
The Restless Body
When restlessness hits during a formal meditation period, your body will feel compelled to move. You may find yourself shifting, fidgeting, quivering, jumping, shaking, or rocking back and forth. In extreme cases, you may even experience overwhelming tightness, muscle spasms, shortness of breath, or feel as though your heart is slamming against your chest.
If you get caught off-guard by restlessness, your emotions will be unpleasant and difficult to bear. Imagine being forced to sit still while watching a mosquito bite your arm repeatedly. This is what intense restlessness feels like. You want to get rid of the offending “mosquito,” but, unfortunately, something or other prevents you. As a result, you feel tremendous resistance to the present moment.
Emotions that may accompany restlessness include anxiety, fear, anger, boredom, irritability, discontent, and an overwhelming desire to escape your current feeling state. In severe cases, you may even experience panic attacks.
Practice recognizing restlessness when it arises. Notice how it manifests in your body, heart, and mind. Once you’ve learned to recognize its symptoms, you can begin to address restless and its roots mindfully.
Learn how to handle restlessness: Arresting Restlessness (Part 2) »