I don’t know if it’s just the winter drying out my skin or if it’s all in my mind, but lately, every time I sit to meditate, I get one itch, that leads to another itch, that leads to another. I’ve been struggling with this for a while now, so I decided to try out the feature on the 10% Happier app where you can ask a meditation teacher a question.

I received a thoughtful response from “Joshua,” essentially saying that it is a choice you can make whether or not to give in to the itch. Option A is to stay with the discomfort with a sense of curiosity. Option B, to consciously turn the attention to a more pleasant sensation occurring simultaneously. Option C, the nuclear option, is to scratch, but mindfully. Encouragingly, he said, “With practice, the discomfort usually lessens, and our capacity to just be with unpleasant experiences gets stronger.”

I suppose this lesson is the one that we runners put ourselves through each week when training. The day-to-day discomfort that comes up during running is like an itch. As long as it’s not the concerning pain of an injury, it’s usually just a fatigue or a soreness that you can A.) lean into and fully experience, B.) distract yourself with the scenery or your headphones, or C.) make a conscious decision to walk or cut the run short to save energy for the next runs to follow. The most difficult option yields the greater reward in the end, but there’s always another day.

As I tried to put this into practice today, I had a particularly challenging meditation session amidst the clatter of the afternoon with easily recognizable noises from within and outside of the apartment taking my focus away. I was working on a meditation to count my breath in 10s, but I kept having to start over before I reached 3. But then, I recalled Sharon Salzberg‘s voice from a recorded meditation I did earlier, urging self-compassion in the moments that require refocusing. The anger at myself and the noisy world subsided. The itch settled.

Lesson learned: The body will itch and the mind will think, but the breath is always there to return to.

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