Before going I had certain, prejudiced I’ll admit, ideas about what Mindfulness might be and the ‘type’ of person who would attend. I’m not even vegetarian I thought, as I made my way to the first session with a fair amount of trepidation. I’m sure these people will be very earnest and we’ll have to chant and sit in the lotus position. Also, I had tried to meditate before and found it extraordinarily difficult, my mind racing all over the place and wishing I could be reclining on the sofa with a glass of wine – surely MUCH more relaxing.
I had sought it out for two reasons. Firstly, on the advice of a couple of people whose opinion I trusted and who knew me. When I said I feared it would be all hippy-dippyish they weren’t offended and assured me it was more robust than that. Secondly, a combination of a recent house move, extensive building work and a difficult period at work had left a residual feeling of anxiety. I would find myself worrying in the evenings about something bad being about to happen but not able to put my finger on what. I owed it to myself to check it out.
I warmed immediately to the tutor John. Physically, he reminded me of the actor Ian Holm – a very grounded, calm presence. He also offered counselling and I can imagine he would be extremely good at it – I felt myself wanting to pour out all my woes. (I didn’t, luckily!) He had a lovely self-deprecating air – he would listen to the plaintive tones of us who were finding it hard to concentrate (on not concentrating), asking how it was to be done and say something like, ‘I wish I knew...’
He was, in essence, one of us, but with the skills to turn the individual’s experience into a universal one for us all to understand.
We started as a group of ten. There was a range of ages and ‘types’ in the room (only one man). I did pick up a fair bit of anxiety or restlessness from the others, so that was obviously a determining theme. A few fell along the wayside as the weeks went on. This was no reflection on the course – examining one’s psyche in front of others is not an easy ride. The first casualties were a couple and it was not surprising they didn’t come back. You got the feeling that several people felt able to say things in the space that they wouldn’t to their other half – I know I did. However one member of the couple had a certain obstreperous streak. We did the ‘raisin’ exercise common to a lot of mindfulness courses, whereby you eat a raisin mindfully. One of them refused to eat it saying she was diabetic. John asked mildly if there was an alternative that would have been better.
‘ANYthing’, she said fervently, as if he’d tried to pour a vat of lard down her.
‘Like a chocolate biscuit’, someone quipped. ‘Yes’, she said fiercely, daring anyone to question the sense of a diabetic eating a biscuit.
We were each given a workbook with the theme for every week, with some very pithy thoughts on the theme, a sprinkling of poems, a space to record daily observations about our practice and the dreaded homework. No, the homework wasn’t that bad, but you always berate yourself for having not spent more time on it. Or perhaps that’s just me. Topics covered included the recording of Pleasant and Unpleasant Experiences, Thoughts Are Not Facts and Letting Be. We also received a CD to aid practice. The one I found most difficult was the Loving Kindness that we were meant to extend, not just to ourselves and loved ones, but to those people that had wronged you. That was a step too far for me. I was still boiling with rage at the actions of people in my past, but I know that’s my failing.
Each two hour session would begin and end with a meditation. In between we would share experiences from the week, plus discuss certain exercises in pairs. I did do a practice most days in between the weekly sessions – there’s nothing like an empty piece of paper remonstrating with you to get you going. And I did feel I had gained more insight into myself and tools to tackle situations. Not to mention a greater appreciation of things happening round me, RIGHT NOW and being ‘mindful’ of them.
I’ve not kept up my practice regularly since, despite John telling us that the brains of people who practised mindfulness for twenty minutes a day have been found to be larger! I know I should do it and writing this is prompting me to go and do some. You really wouldn’t think it would be that difficult to allot twenty minutes a day to sit in a quiet place and do nothing, yet it’s extraordinary the lengths we go to avoiding it. I do always take a Three Minute Breathing Space when I feel overwhelmed though. And my night-time anxiety has abated which is a great benefit.