It’s early morning and you’re on your way to meditate when you abruptly turn around and get back in bed. Or maybe it’s mid-day and a few minutes into your focused-attention mindfulness practice your monkey mind catapults you out of your seat to check for a text message. Perhaps it’s the end of the day and you fall asleep listening to the guided mindful body-scan practice, it being easier to drift off than to remain attentive to the sensations in the body. These may be signs of having scheduled practice at inopportune times or when exhausted, in which resistance is somewhat futile. It may also signal that the resistance is fertile.
You may be familiar with the term “ick.” It’s that visceral feeling of aversion that prompts you to turn away from your experience. It appeared in the 1995 Friend’s episode “The One with the Ick Factor,” and 10 years later in the New York Times Op Ed titled “The Ick Factor,” where William Safire traces it back to the 1920 novel, “Bulldog Drummond,” where a character asks: “Can it be that my little pet is feeling icky-boo?” It’s been applied to food and feces, and more recently has landed back where Friends placed it — in relationships. In 2017, Olivia Atwood referred to “the ick” when describing her abrupt termination of a relationship on the reality show, Love Island. In each of these scenarios, the ick is an internal guidance system in which resistance signals the wisdom of turning away.
Along with the relationships you have with other people and objects, the term can be applied to the relationship you have with your brain. Remember the time you tried to do those mental calculations, keep track of all those names, or crack that brain teaser, and it felt as if your brain hurt? That “ick” may signal the very reason to stay the course as a way of exercising a “cognitive” muscle. Doing so, you may further develop and refine that skill thanks to your brain’s ability to rewire in response to your experience — a form of self-directed neuroplasticity. Some of these changes may be limited to the very thing you are doing, while other changes may transfer across a larger swath of cognitive and emotional benefit. Mindfulness practices may involve the latter, offering robust benefits across many domains.