Hi all:

I wanted to tell you a bit about what I’ve been doing over the last few days. I went on holiday to see my parents, in Barcelona, but when I came back I attended a retreat organised by Dr Russell Razzaque, a consultant psychiatrist who works in a PICU (Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit) in London. The retreat took place at the Carmelite Priory in Oxfordshire (a lovely and secluded place with great views of Oxford), and its remit was to offer training to a number (26 plus the organiser) of psychiatrists on Mindfulness.

The grand Meditation Hall of the Burmese Buddh...

The grand Meditation Hall of the Burmese Buddhist Temple, Singapore. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to Wikipedia (yes, I know, but’s it’s a brief definition):

Mindfulness as a psychological concept is the focusing of attention and awareness, based on the concept of mindfulness in Buddhist meditation. It has been popularised in the West by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Despite its roots in Buddhism, mindfulness is often taught independently of religion.

Clinical psychology and psychiatry since the 1970s have developed a number of therapeutic applications based on mindfulness for helping people suffering from a variety of psychological conditions, and research has found therapy based on mindfulness to be effective, particularly for reducing anxiety, depression, and stress.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness_(psychology)

I had been reading about Mindfulness, even tried some of the guided meditation audios provided on-line, but found it a bit difficult to make full sense of it by myself, or get any idea of how well, or badly, I was doing.

Although there’s a growing body of research on the use of Mindfulness (and Mindfulness based therapies, like Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy and Acceptance Cognitive Therapy) as a therapeutic approach, I must confess I was more interest in it for its own effects on myself, or in recognisable parlance for my own ‘professional development’.

We had a number of talks and instructions as to what Mindfulness was or could do, but most of the stay was focused on practice. We had 24 hours of silence (including not only not talking to each other, but not reading, writing, using the phone, social networking or any other ways of communicating), and engaged in plenty of exercises of meditation, including sitting meditation, standing meditation, and walking meditation (that as quite a few participants noted, and I also thought, because you walk very slowly backwards and forward in the same stretch it makes you look like a very slow zombie), mindful observation (observing a raisin for 5 minutes and then eating it and trying to notice all flavours, sensations, texture in another five minutes) and mindful eating.

The focus (as I understand it, and as you see I’m no expert) of mindful meditation is the breathing. You focus on your own breathing, or a particular part of your breathing (we were trying to focus on our abdominal breathing and a particular point of the abdomen) and whilst meditating, every times thoughts came to our heads, we acknowledge them, let them go, and focus back on the breathing. It is a mode of acceptance. Yes, we have thoughts, and we might be distracted by them, but should not feel bad about it. It’s normal, it’s natural; we contemplate the phenomenon and go back to the breathing.

It is an attempt to try and swift the balance we have of allowing our rational and conscious mind to take over, with its worries, its anxieties, etc. One of the quotations I liked (not sure I can live by it but…) is: ‘thinking is overrated’. We might have silly, bizarre or weird thoughts, but they are not all we are. We are the context and the thoughts live within, like fishes in the sea (we’d be the sea), or passengers in a bus (we’re the bus and our thoughts the passengers).

We started the sessions with 10 minutes meditation sessions that increased up to 20 minutes and we would do the three types of meditation in a row; we would be doing periods of 1 hour by the end of the second day.

How did it feel? Well, I don’t know. Thoughts come to your head, but you are just supposed to contemplate them and let them go, and it’s Ok if you get distracted, you just go back to your breathing and acknowledge that happened. There’s no judgement of that being good or bad. Not easy to do. Or rather, yes, after a while you might get better at letting the thoughts go and trying and focus on the body and sensations. It’s a very strange feeling and I understand it takes practice.

I can’t say if it’s for me or not. Russell’s advice is that before you can recommend it to other people (Mindfulness itself, other techniques based in it might be useful and can be run without that much experience) you should be a seasoned practitioner yourself, and his suggestion was to make meditation a routine, and if we manage to keep going for 100 days in a row, then we can consider ourselves practitioners. I guess like other things that become habits, it requires commitment. I have started with it, downloaded an App: called Insight Timer (www.insightimer.com) that allows you to not only keep a log of your own meditation but also connect with other people and I’m intending to have a go. I’ll keep you posted, but as a concept I found it very interesting and can see how it could be helpful to some people.

For more information about the organisation that Dr Russell Razzaque has created, check here:

www.mindfulcollege.com

Although it has mental health practitioners in mind, it offers interesting information about therapeutic uses, where to go for retreats, research…so have a look!

Thanks for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it or are interested (or have plenty of experience that want to share) please, like, comment, and share!

Zazen cushion used by Soto-zen school.

Zazen cushion used by Soto-zen school. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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