This week was my last session for my MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) course which is sad. I was really enjoying quietly hanging out with a group of people I barely knew in various states of mediation and mindfulness. The course had been 8 weeks and with each session being 2.5 hours. This amount of consistent practice was starting to reveal the benefits from mediation that everyone speaks about but I’d never seemed to achieve.
Before these new and valuable lessons get diluted and mushed in with daily life I wanted to write down a few of the most profound so I can come back to this blog and remind myself of what I learnt. It's also important to remember that this is a practice. Like anything else in life that you want to get good at, you need to repeat it regularly and with purpose. I mean, shit, the Dalai Lama still has to meditate everyday to keep his skills sharp.
Rumination occurs when you have constant and repetitive thoughts about something; typically a problem or situation. The rumination train is what we jump on when we get caught up in one of these thought whirlwinds. As far as I’m concerned I can replace the word ‘anxiety’ with ‘rumination’. They basically feed off each other creating all sorts of self doubt, dread and worry. I can go from having a great day to feeling like my world has totally collapsed by jumping on the rumination train. The trick is to realise that you're on the train in the first place.
When I realise that I’m starting to leave the station, I have an opportunity to jump off. I can acknowledge that I’m starting to get caught up in this particular thought and in 99% of cases I don’t need to be there. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is using the STOP technique. Rumination (or worrying) is a fruitless endeavour that causes more harm than good. Especially if you're reflecting on events that have already happened and can’t be changed.
My sister has the best Harry Potter analogy for this with Dumbledore's Pensieve. D uses his wand to extract a thought out of his head - I appreciate he then flies in for a closer look, which could sound like rumination but just forget about that second part for a moment - it's about removing the thought. Consequently Alice (who also LOVES Harry Potter) mentioned the same thing about removing a thought from her head like Dumbledore. It’s a great visual and now when I find myself jumping on the train I imagine removing that thought and whisper “Ruminos”. A play on ‘Lumous’ being the famous HP spell for creating light!
We all know that life is hard. There will always and forever be pain in our life which we have no control over at all. What we do have control over is whether we suffer or not. This is not to say you need to be cold-hearted about painful events, on the contrary events need to be acknowledged and faced, despite the pain one feels. Not wanting to experience painful emotions and ignoring them leads to all sorts of undesirable outcomes.
When we recognise that a difficult experience is present and allow and acknowledge that it's here, we can then take a closer look at our reaction/resistance. By investigating what our body is doing, our emotions and thoughts as well as the stories that arise we ultimately create space between ourselves and the event. It's in this gap that we give ourselves the best opportunity to accept and move forward because sadly, this is not the last painful event you’ll have to face.
I have to repeat this for myself because practice is the only way to benefit and get better at mindfulness and mediation. There is no quick fix, no magic pill. This is something that needs to be nurtured and tended to much like a garden for the rest of my life. Luckily practice doesn’t have to be a 45 minute body scan every day, it can be small moments of mindfulness. Trying to do simple daily tasks more mindfully, like eating breakfast or in my case, making the school lunches. I like to alternate mindful movement with exercise by running some mornings and doing yoga on others.
It worked out nicely that I happened to get an apple watch a few weeks before the course started so I had already started to bring mindful movement into my exercise routine by doing yoga videos on the fitness+ app - Jonelle is my favourite. On a side note, I’ve quickly become addicted to ‘closing my rings’ and find myself doing a quick 20 minute yoga session at 9pm at night just to hit my targets. As much as I fought against getting an apple watch it is actually a huge catalyst in being probably the fittest and healthiest I’ve ever been! Damn you Apple!
The most important thing with practice is setting yourself up for success. If you're a morning person, do something in the morning. Gamifying my life with an apple watch works for me so I build it into my practice. There really is no right or wrong, the most important thing is to show up everyday in some way or another.
While my course has finished I’m excited about moving forward with this new found understanding of myself and what I’m capable of. I think everyone should do an MBSR course at some point in their life. It had just the right balance of science and woo woo for my liking and to be honest it feels like the only chemical free option available for maintaining and celebrating these big old brains and bodies of ours.