The Paradox of Hyper-vigilance

MINDFULNESS: The Paradox of Hyper-vigilance

DId you know that hyper vigilance is often a result of lack of appropriate vigilance? It is the result of the learned pattern of not orienting to the environment. Paradoxically, it is as though it has become unsafe to look around and notice if you are safe. It makes sense - there is no need to be hyper-vigilant when you know what is around you - you know, to the best degree that someone could know, what is a threat and what is not. When you don't know these things, everything becomes a threat.

In meditation that integrating the nervous system, orienting is done by actually looking around the room. The sometimes silly-feeling activity of looking under the chair, over the shoulder, looking at the faces of those in the group - giving your lower brain and nervous system a chance to assess safety so that it would be ok to turn inwards. In yoga classes that don't have this understanding, I remember being told "you should not know the color of the person's mat next to you". Actually, that's not the way humans work...and thats especially bad for anyone with any problem with anxiety or hypervigilance. You definitely should know the color of their mat. It would help even more to know their name!

In life, this paradox of hyper-vigilance can come in around information. We can become very concerned with the contents of a letter (or the mail in general) - so concerned that it becomes difficult to open the letter! Or sometimes we become hyper-vigilant because there is a question we need answered. Or something we need to say that will help us understand what we are feeling. We are afraid to ask (we feel too unsafe to assess if we are safe, but assessing if we are safe is the only way we could ever feel safe!)

There will always be things we can't know. However there are usually even more things that we could know but don't want to look at. This paradox points to the idea that knowing is better, looking is better. It may be a matter of timing - of when is the right timing to learn what someone is thinking, rather than continuing to mind read. Or it may be as simple as scanning more with your eyes while driving. It may mean letting a child explore the edges of the room and touch things before coming into the actual reason they are in the room. It may mean breaking a shyness and asking someone's name.

You could also interpret this as that our imaginations are way more crazy than reality. It is truly in the nervous system as well. Coming into the present moment through the details allows us to operate from present moment fact rather than fear. And start to trust ourselves that we can act appropriately - taking action if there is danger, and, if there is not danger, letting the nervous system calm down.