I can’t believe how quickly this week’s session has come around. I arrive early this week and have my pick of the seats. I deliberately sit somewhere new and have people either side of me that I’ve never spoken to before. Julie encourages us to mix like this which is great because it means the group are all quite comfortable with each other. This is important because we are now sharing our thoughts and feelings and I think the more honest we are, the more we get from this experience.
We begin with a Guided Reflection practice where we think about our weekly mindfulness practice and consider any difficulties we’ve had. I usually go to my home office which is upstairs in my house to practice. It is no coincidence that this is the farthest area away from my family. The chances of being disturbed are much lower and because it’s essentially my room, it also feels like a safe and comfortable place to unwind. I have a small couch which is not too comfortable so I normally sit on that with good posture and my feet flat on the floor. This help to keep me in ‘a state of curiosity’ which keeps my mind open and inquisitive.
Following this, we split into small groups to experiment with various mats and cushions we could use during our practice. I try a meditation stool which I initially think will hurt my knees but in fact it turns out to be very comfortable. I then sit on a mat with a cushion under my bottom. The meditation cushions are a bit like beanbags but much sturdier. My legs are crossed and my fellow students comment on how flexible I must be as my knees are almost hitting the floor. I find this hilarious as ‘flexible’ is certainly not a word I’d use to describe myself but this seems to be the optimum position for me. The other ladies are not impressed with the cushion method and much prefer the meditation stool. It’s very interesting to see how we have our own preferences and I realise that you definitely need to put your assumptions aside to discover what actually suits you the best.
We regroup and discuss our progress over the last few weeks. We take it in turns to give a short summary of how often we practice and any obstacles. There are a couple of common themes that come up. Firstly, most of us feel guilty that we don’t commit more time to a daily practice. Someone says it feels like homework (which I suppose it is) and although we know it’s good for us, it’s still an effort to give it our attention. Julie reassures us that this is common and as long as we are continuously trying to improve then we will feel the benefits. She explains that it’s a bit like an athlete who trains every day. There needs to be dedication and commitment and only by actually doing the practices will we see a transformation. I suppose if you think about how long it takes to transform your body then it makes sense that improving your mind needs the same time and attention.
Another difficulty that some people are experiencing is just being able to ‘switch off’ and I suspect that this is a common reason for doing the course. Technology and the need to ‘have it all’ and ‘do it all’ means that we are leading these lives that are a continuous bombardment of pressure and responsibility. When I worked in a corporate office years ago I would check my email twice a day at my desk in between meetings. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like now for your boss to have access to you 24 hours a day via your smartphone. Even for stay at home mums there’s no escape as social media is a constant reminder of things we should be doing for our children or buying them. It’s good to hear then that some group members have found it very rewarding to consciously live in the moment by enjoying family time or being out for a nice drive.
Again, Julie informs us that it’s completely normal to feel like we are always in demand from someone or something and this leads us nicely into our next exercise. We do the ‘Settling, Grounding, Resting with Sound Support’ practice which is where we use nearby sounds to bring us back from distraction. I find my mind wandering and then as predicted I am aware of the noise of the gym nearby. This allows me to anchor myself and continue with a clear mind. This happens another couple of times and when we end the practice I feel like I’ve just come out of a deep sleep. It’s a strange sensation and when we have a group discussion another lady calls it ‘trippy’ which I agree is a good description.
Next, we do a 3 minute meditation that Julie advises us will be useful when we are busy or feeling stressed. This short practice will help us to build up our mindfulness every day and if we are unable to find 3 minutes in a day for ourselves then we really do have a problem!
As the week goes on, I add the 3 minute meditation to my to-do list and do it every day. If I haven’t done it by the end of the day then I do it before going to sleep. I find this much more manageable than the longer practices although ultimately these are my long term goal. I even do the Felt Sense of Kindness practice again and it certainly seems easier than last week.
At the beginning of the course, Julie advised us that a big part of mindfulness is being kind and having compassion for ourselves. Although I wouldn’t admit to being very critical of myself, this week I have caught myself in quite a few negative thoughts that have drifted into my head about my appearance and what other people think of me. I’m not sure if these thoughts normally hide in my subconscious and are escaping or if I’m just having a bad week. Either way, I deal with them by giving myself a good talking to and change the negative into positive thoughts about the people who love me.
Another change I’ve noticed is in the way I spend my time this week. I’m normally very obliging and would do anything for anybody. This sometimes leads to me feeling overwhelmed by my workload and a bit resentful towards others. I’m naturally a very giving person and I’ve realised that it’s all too easy for people to take advantage of this. At an event I’m arranging this week, I’ve actively passed on tasks to other people when I would normally do them myself. This is undoubtedly something I can do regularly that will have a positive impact on me. I realise that self-care doesn’t just stop at mindfulness but also that by being generous to others I’ve been short changing myself. I’m going to bear this in mind and over the next few weeks, I’ll be on the lookout for any other life-changing opportunities.