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Mindfulness: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment..

*MBSR Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

Week One, Day One

Yesterday, I took my children to school, threw an old knitted blanket and journal in my bag and headed off for my first mindfulness session at a local community centre. To be honest, I’ve been familiar with the principles of mindfulness for a long time. When I think back over the years of being a Mental Health Nurse about how many relaxation classes I have run or how often I have sat with someone distressed or having a panic attack and helped them practice their breathing. Thinking about more informal kinds of mindfulness, I’m also thinking about how often when I worked on wards that I used to go for a walk with someone outside, even if just within the hospital grounds. I’m a big believer that fresh air and the outdoors is good for the soul, as well as for the stress levels. On a personal level too, I think I really started to be interested in mindfulness a couple of years ago when I fell in love with photography and especially nature photography. Being outdoors and in the moment, really observing nature and its kaleidoscope of colours and sounds is something that I find incredibly relaxing and exploring nature with the intention of capturing it on camera really helps me to focus my mind on being in the here and now. I guess then that I’ve been acting mindful then for a long time, so its no surprise that I’d be drawn towards participating in a formal course in it.

So I went along yesterday, with a curiosity rather than any great expectations. I’d like to think that if I get really into the practice of formal mindfulness, otherwise known as meditation that it will be something that will help me with my own resilience and energy levels. I know that I can be terrible at just being still and I’m usually flying around trying to get a million and one things completed asap. I’m also terrible at unwinding at night and after putting my children to bed, I am often up till the early hours. I like to tell myself that it’s because I’m a night thinker and that I have my most creative moments late at night and this might be partly true. However, its also no comfort to me when the alarm rudely goes off early the next morning!

So back to the class, I was really surprised by what a diverse bunch of people had turned up. It seemed that everyone had different reasons for being there, but what struck me when we introduced ourselves was how many of the group were ex NHS Staff. Something to think about there perhaps..

The first day was very much an introductory session. We learned how to eat a raisin mindfully and I must admit, I’ve never till now focused on the texture, smell and taste of a raisin for such a prolonged period of time. We also practiced some meditation techniques, during which I felt myself drifting away and had to keep bringing myself back to the room. I also found myself feeling increasingly chilly, so the blanket came in very handy.

Before I knew it then, it was time to say goodbye to everyone until next week. We were given a course book and some homework, which basically involves practicing mindfulness and writing about it every day, which is where this journal comes in.

I’ve decided to blog about my journey with mindfulness for two reasons. Firstly, because this is about my own self development. I thought that I would capture my reflections digitally because I know that there is a chance if I write my thoughts down in an exercise book, there is a good chance I will either lose the book or my daughter will take over it as her latest sketch book. It’s an 8 week course, so expect lots of reflections. However, I have promised myself that I’m not going to commit more than half an hour each day to the writing and I’m not promising myself that I will manage every day. Some accounts are likely to be retrospective ones.

Secondly, I think that mindfulness is a positive way of managing stress in this frenetic world that we all live in. It might not work for everyone, but I think that its good to have different tools to draw on. If my ramblings are useful to anyone else considering mindfulness then thats a bonus and if you do stumble on my reflections, then I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences, positive and negative. I’m still at the curious end of the spectrum with it all, so would love to hear what others think too.

Week 1, Day 2

I’ve been working at home today, so the perfect opportunity to complete my homework from yesterday. The guided material suggested that I meditate for 40 minutes, but I will be honest and say that I managed about twenty minutes. I found myself a nice, comfortable space to lay on my sofa and a mindfulness playlist on spotify. I thought that the music would help, but in hindsight I don’t think it worked for me. Within about 10 minutes, I was completely sick of listening to whale music and the sound of crashing waves. I don’t think it helped that I had my phone next to me either, as I found myself absently flicking through social media pages after twenty minutes. Tomorrow going to be a challenge because it’s the weekend, but I’m going to somehow try to find myself some space in the evening. Meanwhile, I did practice mindfulness while in the car later in the day. By focusing in on my music and really tuning in more closely to the different layers of sound, it  did feel like more akin to a meditative experience and I found that I appreciated the beautiful sound of this track on a different level.

I also found this interesting article on Mindful music, which is worth a read

Week 1, Day 2

Today was always going to be a challenge. Saturday mornings are always busy, as our children both attend weekend clubs. However, I did have an interesting conversation with one of the Mums at the club my daughter attends. We were both reflecting on how busy life can be and particularly how it can be different to compartmentalise work and home if you’re self employed as it all tends to overlap and compete for attention. We discussed how lists can be a very effective way of managing work tasks and about the sense of achievement you get once everything is ticked off! Again, I must admit that my lists are often in my head. However, I do use   Trello as a digital tool for managing my projects and think I might start to add some general lists as a separate Trello board as well.

This afternoon, I did attempt some formal mindfulness meditation and this time, I found myself a quiet space, rather than listening to music. I noticed immediately that I was breathing really rapidly and from my chest, so it was actually really relaxing to take time to concentrate on breathing properly . Again, I think I’m going to need to practice clearing my mind as I did find that various thoughts kept drifting into my head about the week ahead. I set my alarm for twenty minutes, as decided that this was more realistic for now. However, I was interrupted after ten minutes by my children’s excited squeals about something happening downstairs, so that was todays mindfulness practice done and dusted.

Week One, Day 3

Today, I’ve been practicing informal mindfulness, as we’ve been over to Ravenscar to see the grey seals up close and in their natural habitat. I would highly recommend a visit!

Access to the beach is steep, but well worth it to watch these beautiful creatures and their pups, lounging around on the rocks and playfully swimming in the sea.

It was such a beautiful experience that being in the present was fairly effortless. The only distraction being the high tide, which curtailed me from visiting for longer.

The walk back up to the car was fairly exhausting because of the steepness of the cliffs, but my daughter entertained me with her imagination, believing that the flags on the nearby golf course were an indication of pirates being close by. This was confirmed in her mind when we spotted a ship in the distance.

i think people get hung up on mindfulness being about formal meditation. For me the practice of being outside and feeling connected to nature can be the most relaxing and peaceful experience of all.

Week One, Day 5

My reflection today is that I have been feeling more grounded since I started my mindfulness course. I’ve been kinder to myself, exercising more , drinking less coffee and sleeping better too. Perhaps it is just coincidence, so I’m going to observe over the next few weeks to see if there’s an emerging pattern.

Feeling grounded to me is about being more present in my body as I spend a lot of time in my head. Of course, not everyone wants to feel grounded and I see that. Needing to escape from physical or emotional pain might make a person feel more compelled to drift away. For me, I think this is one of the reasons why we should exercise caution with mindfulness. As the concept and practice of mindfulness surges in popularity , there is a danger that it could be seen as the panacea, where stress and anxiety management are concerned. To understand that it’s an approach, rather than a blanket solution and that it takes experience and skill to practice it effectively, especially if that practice involves teaching others is essential in my opinion. I’ve read a few interesting articles recently about the pro’s and con’s of mindfulness particularly as a stress management intervention and I think some really valid points are raised.

Interesting radio programme on mindfulness here

So, I remain curious and open to the potential of mindfulness practice for my own development and as a useful skill for clinical practice.  I feel that we should neither dismiss and invalidate people who believe in mindfulness, nor advocate it as a universal approach.

Week One, Day 6 and 7

I’ve had no time at all to practice mindfulness and thats ok because mindfulness as a philosophy is about being kind to yourself and being in the present, rather than always striving.

Week 2, Day 1

Back to class and it has been interesting to hear from the group about how mindfulness is going for everyone. There seemed to be a bit of consensus that its been really beneficial for everyone, but in so many different ways.

Today we learnt about the seven pillars of mindfulness:

You can read more here

One thing I have learnt today is that I don’t need to train my mind not to think during mindfulness practice, but to be more aware and accepting of my thoughts and to recognise any patterns in my thinking. This is good news, as I’ve had a few revelations while practising mindfulness this last week. I have also found that I’ve been more productive and creative because I’ve been paying attention to my thoughts whilst still.