2020 was not restful- not even for "mindfulness teachers". The year began with devastating bushfires and progressed to COVID -19. 2020 was a year of uncertainty, change and grief for the world. A year where I found ithelpful to have a mindfulness practice. But why
The difficulties we are facing are real and frightening, with global consequences in the present and for the future. Mindfulness certainly cannot fix the difficulties we are facing but having mindfulness practice does offer a way to approach these stressors that we are facing and to be less knocked around by distress.
So what is mindfulness ?
Jon Kabbat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction speaks about mindfulness as being, “an awareness that emerges through paying attention, on purpose in the present moment, nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience”. So to be mindful you need to pay attention to the present moment in a particular, accepting (non-judging) way.
When you are mindful you can have a mindful moment (state), be habitually mindful (trait), do activities mindfully (informal mindfulness),or engage in mindfulness practices like meditation (formal mindfulness).
Formal meditation is a bit like weightlifting. It trains our figurative attention muscle. When yo begin to learn meditation, it is difficult to sustain attention but this capacity grows with practice and will lay a good foundation for being more mindful.
What does paying attention mean?
Let's take one example. 2020 has been the year of paying attention to the news. Have you noticed a tendency to do this more than once a day? Has this been helpful? I usually find that too much news, particularly when it is repetitive can be addictive but not helpful.
A daily mindfulness practice means that you are more likely to become aware of what is affecting you in your life and how you are reacting to it.
In my daily meditation practice, I noticed the growing tension in my body and the news related thoughts whirring through my head. When I notice this I can both begin to relate to my thoughts differently and take practical action, adjusting my life so that I could stay informed of the news with reduced impact.
What if I don’t like what I experience when I practice mindfulness?
I’d be rich if I got a dollar for every time someone said to me, “I can’t do mindfulness or I just don’t like it”.
You might be doing a mindfulness practice and noticing joy, fear, agitation or boredom. Not only does this feels uncomfortable but the you are asked to get to know the felt sense of these unpleasant experiences with acceptance. It does sound increasing well being.
So why would you want to accept what's feels bad?
During COVID we have seen all sorts of ways of coping. Drinking too much, binging on Netflix or news, and eating of course…who has those COVID kilos? When stressful events take place, we often try to avoid our experience of the stress, or alternatively get completely caught up in it and are unable to see past it.
Training in mindfulness tends to reduce our tendency to avoid and distract. This is better for our wellbeing - more adaptive most of the time. This training in non-avoidance is instrumental in Increasing well being. It helps when dealing with difficult experiences of depression and anxiety.
And more good news.
Mindfully paying attention will also let us notice subtle, good things in our lives that could otherwise go under the radar. During this COVID time, I’ve noticed the joy I get from peoples’ gardens as I walk the dog. I have walked past these gardens for years but never appreciated them so much.
Many of the positive things that happen in life are just a little bit nice, not amazing. If you are not actively noticing these moments, you can miss them and life is made up of many such moments.
Mindfulness is something that cannot be learned through words alone, it must be experienced.
Experience is often richer than words. You can't compare the taste of really good gelato with a description or picture of gelato. Mindfulness is no different. I can tell you about the benefits of learning to be more mindful – how it can help with stress, depression, feelings of anxiety, attentional difficulties or managing pain -but that's not the same as having the experience.
Learning mindfulness to reduce stress.
There are many ways to explore mindfulness. There are courses such as the 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, retreats and apps.
Most face-2-face retreats are not running at present due to COVID and online retreats are demanding for beginners. Apps can be helpful, particularly helpful for maintaining an established practice. If you are wanting more support than an app, MBSR is the gold-standard mindfulness course, that has been heavily researched. It provides structure and support.
What happens in an MBSR course?
In MBSR we do plenty of practice, participate in exercises, have rich discussions, and look at bringing mindfulness into daily life in a very practical way. The classes are supportive, informative, stimulating and enjoyable. The course is well researched, evidenced based and your teacher should be accredited and experienced- make sure you check! An 8- week course is harder than a short course and asks more of you, but offers a different experience from something smaller.
Headrest MBSR in Marrickville.
Our next 8-weekcourse begins Tuesday, Feb 16, 2021, 6:30-9:00 PM. We have now moved back to ZOOM to ensure safety and maximum course continuity for participants Go to www.headrest.com.au for more information.
If you are interested please book least a couple of weeks before the course begins to ensure that it will go ahead or earlier to ensure that you do not miss out. Our early bird discount ends Jan19.