This article is the second in a series by Nicholas reviewing an online Mindfulness Training he started just prior to Christmas.....
I hope you had a peaceful, relaxing and enjoyable Christmas?
For my part a quiet Christmas with close friends and family has been a healing experience after three successive festive seasons with various painful, stressful situations and losses. Periods of calm, gentle relaxation with others who have been easy company, has been nurturing, restorative and facilitated a general sense of well being.
Overall, both have given me an experience of a period of time whereby the noticeable absence of worries again suggests to me just how much previously experienced day to day stress and anxiety maybe coming from nothing other than self made pressures. Of course it is natural to react to difficult situations by taking action and making lists of things to do, however a list of things will only bring additional pressure and a resulting bodily response that adds to the already heightened experience caused by existing difficulties.
As is always the case when I spend time practicing and learning more about Mindfulness I find something new and helpful that makes the time spent both easier and more rewarding. As I start week three of the training it is during a meditation I notice throbbing in my head, it is something I’ve noticed many times before. Previously I’ve tried doing what I’ve been taught, namely paying it attention but the outcome has been for me to feel somewhat nauseous and it has led me to feel reluctant at times to practice. However this time, right at the moment when the nausea is starting to appear the facilitator, Ed, says something like “if you notice any unpleasant thoughts, feelings or bodily sensations you can try paying them attention or you might find it helpful to return your focus to your breathing". This I do and the pain and nausea disappears. Todays learning was a piece of “unlearning” - I had been holding an assumption that there was only one way to deal with difficult experiences during mediation but now these few words have released me from something that was certainly unhelpful.
And I am finding Ed and Tessa, the facilitators, to be perfect companions to the training. In the middle of the second week just at the point I noticed thoughts around how the training was not enough I received an email inviting me to a mid week video. It was as though they knew exactly how I would be thinking and feeling at this stage and hearing them talk about the successes and challenges of the exercises as I had also experienced of them was just what I needed. I was left feeling reassured that I was in fact on course, not alone in my experience of suddenly doubting whether the training was useful and not failing.
This week I read two articles published on washingtonpost.com
about Mindfulness, one from Neuroscientists again talking about how after eight weeks of practicing, changes to the brain can be seen in areas that they believe are helpful and healthy, meanwhile another article warns that Mindfulness is being “mindlessly” taken up by everyone when for some people it might not be helpful - in fact it might be unhelpful.
Mindfulness helps me to identify where stress and anxiety is leading me to do more than I need to, whether that is working, cleaning, eating, drinking, exercising, resting or like this week, paying attention to difficult experiences during a meditation. In other words it helps me to keep things in perspective and this is what I believe is most helpful. As a psychotherapist I’ve learnt and experienced many different approaches to gaining perspective but when I think of things that I have found helpful I would say that both therapy and mindfulness as it is taught and practiced today have been the most useful.
I’m still working through the Online Training so I will let you know in the next column what I think as I reach the end.