I’ve mentioned recently that I’ve been undertaking an 8 week mindfulness meditation course. It seems to be making a real difference and I will confess that I am feeling a bit evangelical about it at this point (almost 6 weeks in), so I wanted to share my experiences.
Life, eh? It gets crazy sometimes. Even when the outside stuff of the world isn’t too bad, the mind can be like a chaotic and colourful circus that can fool you and draw you into it’s high drama’s and bitter tragedies. In a nutshell, I was getting fed up of feeling bad-tempered and impatient and was caught in a trap of beating myself up about it. Though the Chicken was sleeping a lot better during the night, when she did wake I was really struggling to deal with it compassionately. Don’t even mention naps. I felt like she was doing it all on purpose. Which is clearly not the case, so I needed a dose of perspective, and something practical that was going to help me deal with the reds when they arrived. I needed to reclaim my role as ringmaster in the circus of my mind… or something. I was already doing an online CBT course which was helping me to understand how I arrived at that point – you know the one – where your inner teenager rears her tempestuous head and you just want to storm off and slam doors and you don’t even know where it all began? So anyway, mindfulness.
What the funk is it all about, y’all? The 8 week course involves daily meditations (6 days out of seven is recommended), a weekly ‘habit releaser’ as well as some additional mindfulness tasks, such as performing a everyday activity mindfully. The meditations progress gently each week building upon the skills you have acquired the previous week. Some meditations are carried over several weeks, so you get the opportunity to develop.
Shall I just have a nap instead? The meditations are about being aware so on the whole you are instructed to sit unsupported. I tried lying down one day and just fell asleep, which was nice, but not a habit I wanted to fall into if I was to make the most of the practice.
Gimme some space, man. The 3 minute breathing space is introduced fairly early, and this has been the most useful strategy. It can be shorter or longer, but it’s there as a tool to pull out of your hat anytime of day or night when you just feel you need that dose of perspective. I have used this countless times. Usually in the middle of the night when the Chicken is struggling to settle and she won’t let me leave the room! I’ve also done it at random times during the day and I find that helps me to connect with whatever I doing, rather than operating on autopilot.
This ain’t no floaty breeze in the park. Some days it’s been hard to fulfil the commitment especially as the mediations have become longer. My mind wanders a lot. Some days it can make the duration of the meditation seem really irritating and I just can’t get into the ‘swing of it’. I fidget with my position and those pesky thoughts just keep coming, and I just keep following them and before I know it the time is up. Other times, I am just genuinely tired, so it’s hard to focus. I found it useful to jot a few notes down at the end of the meditation, if I could recall where my mind had wandered off to. Supposedly these experiences are useful too, and while I can’t say I consciously understand that yet, I have felt so much better that I just believe that they are and go with it!
Love yourself. There is a strong element of kindness, compassion and non-judgement. Yes your mind will wander. It’s okay. That’s what minds do. The practice is about just that – practice. Training your awareness to notice where your mind wanders off to and gently bring it back to the focus of the mediation (often the breath, but not always.) I read somewhere that those who are ‘successful’ meditators are not expert in emptying the mind, but of starting again. Over and over.
It’s not about tuning out. If escapism is what you’re after, pop yourself off to the cinema or pick up a good book. This is about turning towards yourself. Negative emotions can be pesky and I believe modern media leads us to think that those feelings are not allowed. Other self-help strategies can sometimes promise that you can rid yourself of those emotions – the subtext if you don’t manage that? You’ve failed. You will never be ‘normal’. Mindfulness meditation encourages you to turn towards your feelings and treat them with compassion and acceptance. This part of the practice has been challenging – I guess because it’s the default to turn away from those experiences and be all British about things.
Be Here Now. The flip side of that is that you are encouraged then to experience the present moment. Life is a series of moments and if you can turn towards the beauty of what you are experiencing in this moment, rather than get caught up in what happened earlier, or worries about what may not even come to pass, then you can experience more moments of contentment. “True contentment comes not when the world is quiet and the mind is still, but when we simply accept that this is how things are now” or something.
New habits die hard… I hope. I have done meditation before, but another reason I like this course, is that it requires daily commitment for two months. I hope it is setting a new habit, rather than just being a passing phase. I hope that these 8 weeks are just the beginning. I’m educating myself about how my brain works on my thoughts and emotions. It doesn’t promise that in 8 weeks you’ll be all set. But after only three weeks I had already witnessed enough change to be on board with it. Easy to say now, I know, but I find this approach so empowering because it’s a positive action that I can choose to take.
So those are my experiences so far. I’m definitely feeling more positive, more insightful, less anxious, more patient, more motivated and I seem to have more time and energy. And it doesn’t feel like a conscious effort, it seems to be just there. When I do have ‘negative’ experiences I feel more able to accept them and move on, rather than ruminating and becoming dragged down by them.
Have you undertaken a course of mindfulness meditation practice? If you have done the same course as me – which parts have you found most challenging? Maybe you know of another resource to help get people started? Do you practice any other type of mindfulness or meditation? As usual, I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comment box below.