As you will remember I told you that I was going to participate in NaNoWriMo this November and that would not let me much time for original content so I would be sharing some of my old posts. (Yes, I keep writing. I think it’s going well, but at the rhythm I’m going I won’t know for sure until I reread everything…:)
A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from Juliette Forster who thought I could be interested in sharing her post/resource about Mindfulness. As you’ll know there has been a fair amount of research about the benefits of Mindfulness in recent (and not so recent times).
I agreed and I thought I’d take the chance to remind you about two previous posts I had written discussing my personal experience with Mindfulness (I continue to practice it, just in case you wondered).
Here is Juliette’s introduction:
Mindfulness has become the latest mental health watchword, with more and more healthcare professionals as well as patients regarding it as something to be taken seriously rather than a flash in the pan treatment that has no basis in scientific fact or research. Whilst it is true it uses some techniques that are grounded in Buddhist meditation, that’s not the whole story. For more information on this interesting topic, you can read on here.
And here I bring you my two previous posts (but if you don’t have time, just check Juliette Foster’s post).
I wanted to tell you a bit about what I’ve been doing over the last few days (this was in September 2013). 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 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.
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:
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. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
- 10 Easy Steps To Establishing a Daily Meditation Practice.(elephantjournal.com)
- Beware the Psychiatrist – A Journey to Well Being(strongfitfabulous.wordpress.com)
- Health And Spiritual Exercise (ebloag.wordpress.com)
- Meditation + for Adult ADD (ask.metafilter.com)
Today at Sarvodaya’s Early Morning meditation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You’ll remember a few weeks back I wrote a post about my experience during a retreat organised to teach Mindfulness to a cohort of psychiatrists. I’ll add the link at the end of the post, just in case you didn’t see it (or you want to refresh your memory. Not that I’m saying it’s the most memorable post ever written on the subject but…).
I thought that I’d probably be back to talk more about it. As I explained, to be considered a ‘practitioner’ by the College of Mindful Clinicians you had to practice mediation continuously, every day without a fault, for 90 days. So far, I haven’t failed a day. I got a message that I had reached 30 days last week. (As I review this post on the 4th I’ve gone over 40).
How am I finding it? Well, as I said in my first post, I wasn’t sure if it would be for me. I still don’t know. Some days I realise by the end of the meditation that my mind has been wondering all the time (or it feels like it), others, not so much. More recently I’ve been trying some of the guided meditation routines, as I find it easier to try and focus my mind on what the person is saying, and I’ll keep on checking. Interestingly enough, through Insight Timer I got a message of thanks this week (I think it was Tuesday) when somebody thanked me for meditating with her. It was a nice detail.
Life has ways of putting you to test. Today (27th of October, as I write posts in advance and schedule them when I can) was one of those days. I had agreed to do psychiatric assessments out of hours and somebody called me to ask me to do one. I’m going to be leaving my job in the next few months and it was the last thing I wanted to do, but didn’t think I could say no as I had offered and forgot to withdraw the offer. Who else were they going to find on a Sunday? Broadband wasn’t working, so could not let people know what I was doing. I had to go shopping in a hurry because shop would not be open when I came back. The assessment itself proved a bit problematic, but we eventually reached a resolution. In the meantime I had managed to connect via phone and been not very kind to somebody who caught me on a bad moment. I got home, tried to do something I had been working on yesterday (and spent some money on too) and realised it would not work. And then, of course, my printer run out of ink and when I went to change it, I had two cartridges that were the wrong type. I might try to return them, but have no idea where the receipt might be after all this time. Nothing major, but enough to put me in a bad frame of mind.
PemaChödrön: At the Omega Institute, May 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When I visited Hay-on-Wye (yes, I’ve also written a post about that too), I bought a book by Pema Chödrön, called ‘When Things Fall Apart’. Her works had been recommended at the retreat and I thought maybe this was the time to have a look. I’ve only read a few chapters but she encourages us to look at things and stay with things when they are irritating, collapsing around us, and cause us fear. Not running away from them will make us more aware of ourselves and who we are. Not necessarily happier, but I guess more us, and maybe we’ll learn to be kinder to ourselves, and with that, to others.
She mentions the story one of her teachers used to tell when asked about fear. He explained how his own teacher encouraged him to confront things that made him afraid. One day he was going with two other students to a monastery and there was a huge dog chained by the door. It was pulling at the chain and appeared intent on attacking them. Suddenly the chain broke and the dog leaped forward running towards them. The other two students froze and screamed in fear. Pema’s teacher explained that he started running towards the dog. The dog was so surprised that it turned around, its tail between its legs.
As she writes:
‘We can meet our match with a poodle or with a raging guard dog, but the interesting question is — what happens next?’
In my case, I think I need to learn to say no rather than spend my life feeling aggrieved by things that I don’t need to do. I also need to be realistic with my expectations (of other people, sure, but mostly of myself). And I need to give myself some space and take it a bit easier… And, of course, check the type of cartridges I buy. Let’s hope broadband will be back once the storm is over…Or I can always change providers…
Thank you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it or it has made you think, please comment, share, like…And you don’t even have to click today (unless you want to read my previous post). (And update as I’m checking this before publishing it… The supermarket took the cartridges back. The broadband thing… seems to be a problem with the phone installation inside of my house, so nothing to do with the provider).
Here links to my previous posts:
- Pema Chodron – Working with Shenpa (Getting Hooked) in Meditation (findmedicalsolutions.com)
- How to Meditate – Pema Chodron (senecadrive.wordpress.com)
- Pema Chodron – Quote (juliajs530.wordpress.com)
- Pema Chodron (happybirthdayhappyface.wordpress.com)
- Tonglen meditation (meepolife.wordpress.com)
- Working with fear (thisjustin.wordpress.com)
- Fourth Meeting (trondheimbuddhistassociation.wordpress.com)
- Meditation is Not Religion or Spirituality – It’s Technology (religiondispatches.org)
- Power Down and Tune In to Solitude (billmoyers.com)
- Keep reading, I’ll keep writing! (And by the way, I did get the certificate and I’m now a practitioner).