Mindfulness, 18 months on

A year and a half since I did a self-guided MBSR course, I reflect on the benefits, and an ever-evolving meditation habit

Zafu web18 months ago I did a self-guided MBSR* course

Then I did it again! (*MBSR is the standard 8-week meditation course, short for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.) Each attempt to do the course was imperfect, but I really enjoyed it. It’s quite hard to stick to something by yourself, so the second attempt was a little more diligent, with 45 minutes of meditation every day for nearly 6 weeks of the 8-week course.

I did it in Summer, and did most of my meditations outside in a lovely leafy cemetery near my house, or on my balcony, and that really helped me to find it enjoyable and rich.

Though of course, I do meditate sometimes amid the toy-scattering and object-chaos of a family home, which is a process of sitting on a cushion trying to rise above the sense that someone’s attempted a burglary using a sci-fi centrifugal whirlwind to assist them. Cemetery is easier. It just is. I know that’s not the point, and acceptance and presence and all that, but when you’re learning, bluetits help.

Do I believe in Mindfulness?

Sometimes people ask that. What does that mean: There’s nothing much to believe in… Do I believe that awareness and getting slow and silent sometimes are of top priority importance? Definitely. Do I believe it works to workout your consciousness in this quiet way? Yes I do. Am I stress-reduced? Sometimes, yes. More often, I hope.

I really like this (free) MBSR course (find it here). Mindfulness is very unesoteric, unmystical, and it really spells out the benefits of meditation. I’d really recommend you do it in a group if you can, though, because the initial commitment – that you do, unquestioningly, or rather, with suspended disbelief and healthy scepticism, 45 minutes of meditation every day for 8 weeks and then evaluate what it’s brought you, is a tough one to hold just yourself to.

I’ve been helped along by a few extra materials:

  • Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn’s CD set, Mindfulness for Beginners – for some reason I find the explanations in this, and the meditations, really vivid and full of humanity and humour. It really cheers me up to listen to it and I find myself agreeing, and finding new wisdom in it, every time I listen. Here he talks a bit more about the principles of Buddhism and how they manifest in Mindfulness as well, so if you’re curious about Buddhism, then this connects the dots.
  • Headspace app – I’ve done the first, free, 10 sessions of 10-minutes. I think I felt a little impatient because a) I’m not by now a total beginner, and b) Andy, who narrates the meditations, wasn’t such a compelling speaker as Jon K-Z, who if you haven’t guessed I’m like, totally in love with. Kabat-Zinn! Kabatt-Zinn! I can’t spell it but I love the guy! No seriously, though, the Headspace app is worth a whirl. One thing I LOVE about it are the little explanatory animations. The images from them have really stayed with me: like the metaphor of watching your thoughts being like sitting by a road watching traffic. And these cartoons do give a lightness – after all, let’s not take this meditation stuff too seriously, too heavily, let’s not let ‘getting deep’ mean we’re weighed down by depth.

A journey into conscious eating

Probably the place where I’ve put he most energy over the last year, (since I’ve been doing training to be an Eating Psychology Coach), is to become a conscious and present eater. This is mindfulness practice in action. I’m not just talking, by the way, about eating slowly and savouring every bite (like in the famous Raisin Meditation), but about not numbing out, distractedly snacking all day, overeating, bingeing, creating cycles of guilt… I’m talking about disentangling some serious eating shit.

I’m talking about using some of the things for eating that Mindfulness talks about in depth: presence, acceptance, non-judgementalness, patience, opennesss to learning, accepting and listening and noticing what’s inside you, trusting, non-attachment to negativity or not getting tangled up in beating yourself up for bad behaviours – and probably most importantly, the possibility of turning a little compassion onto our own misbehaving selves. I’ll write about what Mindfulness and solving eating problems in a post up shortly.

I’ve basically taken about 45 minutes to eat breakfast for the last few months. I know it sounds absurd, but I realised I was never going to learn to slow down with food unless I made it a real priority to practice slow for a while. I’ve made it a special time of day. Now it’s sunny, I sit on the balcony when my infant is asleep, soaking in the outdoors, the rays, admiring my wonky attempts at gardening, tasting it all.

Learning to go slowly is a really challenging practice. Like, one of the simplest, but one of the hardest; one of the most fundamental.

What next?

  1. If I have the opportunity between infant-caring, I’ll definitely convene and facilitate a group here in Berlin to do self-guided MBSR together. I don’t care how many times I do it. It’s all about the childcare arrangements!
  2. I might try the next level of Headspace… you have to subscribe. I don’t want to take on too much, but I haven’t really given it its full experience yet or met it at my level. They offer meditations for specific topics, like ‘anxiety’ or ‘procrastination’ or ‘how to stop worrying about your mortgage’, and that appeals to me. I just made the last one up.
  3. I got a meditation cushion for Christmas, and plonk my butt on it from time to time.
  4. I still go to yoga.
  5. I come back to my breath when I’m stressed. I acknowledge my stress more. I take a much wider view of what stress is, see it coming. I am absolutely not stress-proof, or a ‘relaxed person’ to live with. That wasn’t why he married me, evidently.

Am I more present?

Who’s counting? Yeah! I am! Sometimes I’m not!

I check out of my life, and I notice, and I go back in. I’m out, I’m back. Out, and back. I like to think I have more returning moments, more noticing moments than ever before. That’s all it is, the moment you realise you’ve distanced yourself from yourself, from your real experience, from your children, from your heart, from you real life. Just noticing, more often.

I try to force things less.

I’m a little more non-striving. I like the idea of trusting that life unfolds. I’m working to try to reframe my double-decade existential life purpose crisis in a way that’s about Being and not about Doing.

I’m looking for places to give back.

I’m 4% less egotistical. Have you noticed? (No, cos I don’t write about anyone but ME). Do my family notice? No, cos it’s just part of being a parent, that you learn to give yourself willingly. For busting up  my ego a little bit, I’m eternally grateful to my children.

I’m a more mindful parent

I try to be present. I try to switch off my devices and check in with them, even for a few minutes at a time. I’m learning. I’m terrible at it, there always seems to be a pressing little chore I should be doing instead. I try to engage my intuition and not just stage-manage all the putting on of shoes and socks from dawn till dusk.

I’m more curious about (and more tolerant towards) spirituality

I’ve read some pretty woowoo books since I did MBSR. And eventually not minded heavily Christian, or heavily New Age, rhetoric.

‘Consciousness’ opened the door of more questions: what is the detached intelligence in that silence, the blue sky above the thinking burble? Is there inner wisdom that comes in that conscious space? Is that what other people are talking about when they talk about soul, etc? I’m undecided. I’ve enjoyed holding these new questions. It makes me understand my spiritual friends a bit more. It makes me open to some more esoteric ways of thinking, and that’s a fine place to find yourself.

You don’t have to go as far down that road as I have, if you do MBSR. That is absolutely NOT part of that course, just a trajectory I’ve taken.

I’m a tiny bit slower. Impatiently so.

You can’t rush awareness, awakening. You can’t quicken the process of stepping out of time into the present moment. You can’t hurry up slowing down. Listening doesn’t increase just because you shout at yourself that you need to do more of it. You can’t force unfolding, evolution.

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If you did the MBSR course a while ago, how’s it sitting with you now? Are you still sitting with it (your meditation cushion) or has Mindfulness filtered into other areas of your life? Do you need to ‘practice’ it or does it come naturally? Get stuck into the comment section below.