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Is Life Trickling Through Your Fingers? The ‘Real’ Week #1

Life on AutopilotHow often do you have those little lapses in memory?  Maybe you blank on 5 minutes of the drive home from work or even drive straight past your exit on the highway.

Or perhaps, like me, you end up standing upstairs on the landing where your desk used to be, with a cup of tea in your hand, when your ‘new’ office is downstairs right beside the kitchen!

Habits, and these autopilot moments, extend our working memory freeing up valuable capacity in our conscious mind for more important thoughts.  But if we’re not careful habits can surreptitiously start to dominate our lives and we can end up spending way too much time running on autopilot and totally missing huge chunks of our own lives.

Habits are formed from repetitive patterns of behavior and also of thinking.  So not only do we repeat patterns of behavior mindlessly, but we can also repeat patterns of negative thinking over and over – brooding on all that ‘bad’ stuff that leads us in ever decreasing circles and spirals down into depression, misery and negativity that leave us feeling permanently exhausted, guilty-ridden, frantic and totally disconnected from our lives.

Over the next 8 weeks (or so) I’m practicing the mindfulness course laid out by Mark Williams, Professor of Clinical Psychology, in his book co-written with Danny Penman – Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world.  My aim is to learn how to thrive in this frantic world.

This first week focused on relearning how to focus my awareness on one thing at a time.  ‘… relearning how to bring awareness to everyday activities so that you can see life as it is, unfolding moment by moment.’

The first activity was to develop my ‘RAISIN MIND’ by repeating the raisin meditation I did a couple of weeks ago.  Holding – seeing – touching – smelling – placing – chewing – swallowing – and being aware of the after effects.

I have to admit I skipped this as I’d done it so recently.

The second activity was to develop my MINDFUL AWARENESS OF A DAILY TASK.  You can pick whatever suits you so I picked brushing my teeth.  I had to pay careful attention to all the sensations each time I brushed my teeth over the week – the movement of the toothbrush in relation to the teeth, the flavour of the toothpaste, moisture in the mouth, foam of the toothpaste, muscle movements to spit etc…

I managed that one a couple of times, though I wasn’t the best at remembering to focus each time I brushed my teeth.  Perhaps my forgetfulness also came from the fact I have sensitive teeth so brushing them isn’t always the most pleasant of sensations!  So not the best task to choose in the first place.

Next was the HABIT RELEASER.  This week it was all about changing chairs – at home, at work, wherever.  We’re all creatures of habit so this was meant to be all about noticing how my perspective changed when I change chairs.

I swapped from the couch to an armchair in lounge.  I swapped sides with my husband and swam on the opposite side of the lane at the pool.  I also made an effort on conference calls to move away from my desk chair and go sit in the armchair in my office.

Did I feel any different?  Not much.  It just felt a little awkward and a bit different.

Finally I had to do the MINDFULNESS OF THE BODY AND BREATH MEDITATION at least twice a day.  It’s a guided meditation, about 8 minutes long, that came with the book on a CD.  You can do it sitting or lying – but pick a posture that best supports your intention to stay awake!  Yep – I know how hard that can be!  The book told me to focus on the big picture and the spirit of the meditation and not get lost in the details.

This meditation gets you to focus on a single thing that’s always with you – the breath.  You take it for granted and yet you can’t live without it.  It doesn’t need you to do it consciously or control it.  It provides a natural, gently moving target, while grounding you in the present moment.

Your breathing is a sensitive indicator for your feelings – relaxed and calm you’ll likely breathe deep and slow – stressed and frantic you’ll breathe fast and shallow.  It acts as an anchor for your attention and an easy point of return when your mind wanders.  Focusing on your breathing allows life to live itself for a bit and you don’t have to rush to control it and ‘put things right’.

The meditation was broken in to three parts: settling in to position; bringing awareness to the body; and finally focusing on the sensations of breathing.

So how was week #1?

Well I managed to do the meditation most mornings and evenings for 8 days.  I actually added a day as I missed a session or two due to travel and meetings.

The meditation had almost addictive quality on the first couple of days.  I wanted to drop work and try it again all day and looked forward to the next session.

I found it a real challenge to find the right position to meditate – it had to be relaxed enough and yet not so relaxed I fell asleep.  I tried sitting, lying, various chairs, the floor and a hotch potch of cushions.

In the end the best seemed to be sitting on a thin pillow in the classic crossed-legged position on the floor.  Oh I hated having to confirm to that stereotype!  But I still got distracted by my back hurting even in that position.  It was the best of a bad lot.

From session 1 I felt a sense of calm and relaxation after each meditation.  My mind did wander, though not always as much as I expected.  I think the novelty of it all and my curiosity kept my attention, at least the first few days and the 8 minutes went by in a flash.  Overall I certainly felt calmer and even my husband noticed that my behavior had changed by the end of the week.

It was certainly harder to concentrate in the mornings – especially if I tried to meditate very early.  Some mornings my mind felt like an unruly, supercharged toddler racing around the room after a huge dose of sugar!

The toddler was a bit calmer in the evenings – she was still fighting, but definitely mellowed quicker.  Though after a long tiring day my mind sometimes jumped around like crazy.

Overall the meditation seems to get harder as the week went on.  I know the whole thing isn’t about ‘making progress’ or ‘getting better’ or even achieving some special ‘state’.  So perhaps it was just a bit of boredom with all the repetition setting in?  I could certainly recite the script of the guided mediation by heart if anyone wants to hear it.

Over the course of the week I became much more aware of where there was tension in my body.  I quite suddenly on day 2 became aware of a pain in the muscles of the left side of my jaw.  Once I was aware of the tension in the muscle I could consciously work on relaxing it.

By the end of the week it felt like my body was the over eager kid at school.  Bouncing up and down in her chair, waving her arm high in the air, saying – Miss, Miss, Miiiiiiiissss… Dying to get attention from teacher a.k.a. my mind.

This body and breath meditation seemed to open a channel for my mind and body to communicate.  With my body taking the opportunity to grab my attention during these meditations.  I caught glimpses of a connection.

So onward and upward to week #2.  Let’s see where this mindfulness journey takes me next.

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

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4 responses to “Is Life Trickling Through Your Fingers? The ‘Real’ Week #1

  1. Pingback: Is There Any Body There? Mindfulness Week #2 | GATEHOUSE THIRTEEN

  2. Pingback: Breaking Those Ever Decreasing Circles: Mindfulness Week #3 | GATEHOUSE THIRTEEN

  3. Pingback: Struggling to Not Struggle: Mindfulness Week #4 | GATEHOUSE THIRTEEN

  4. Pingback: Accepting the Present: Mindfulness Week #5 | GATEHOUSE THIRTEEN

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