As I arrive for this week’s session, I’m in good spirits. This is the halfway point of the course and it seems everyone is feeling upbeat. We are all very relaxed settling into our seats and making easy conversation with our neighbours.
The first task of the night is Mindful Walking. I get a bit excited at the prospect of going outside as it’s a sunny evening but it turns out that this is an indoor beginner's exercise. We walk at a snail’s pace in a large circle around the room and begin by consciously placing one foot at a time. I use the mantra ‘lift, move, place’ for each foot which is surprisingly tricky. My balance is tested immediately and I realise that when I’m normally rushing around, I never give a thought to the work my body is doing.
Because we are walking in a line, I’m restricted by the people in front of me who seem to be going even slower than I am. Julie suggests that some people may want to start a new walking circle that goes a bit quicker. I resist the urge to do this as I want to test my limit here. I’m feeling a bit impatient and it’s exactly like the feeling you get when you’re stuck behind a slow driver. I can get quite frustrated when this happens so I’m assuming if I can master this then it will translate into my daily life.
I’m breathing steadily and feeling calmer when I’m aware of the noises in the room. You can hear people’s feet and bones creaking and one of my knees is making a clicking sound. I focus on the soles of my feet to see if I can connect with the floor. I notice that my legs feel heavy and one of my heels makes more contact with the floor than the other. It’s very bizarre to suddenly notice these little things that must occur regularly but I’m obviously too distracted to notice. I’m thankful that we’ve done this practice inside as we must look a little bit silly in our sedate circles but I decide to try some mindful walking the next time I’m out with my dog and I’m looking forward to trying it outside during our Retreat day of practice with my fellow course members.
Next, we do the mindful practice of ‘Settling, Grounding, Resting with Breath Support’. This is similar to the practice we did last week except that instead of using sound for support, we rely on our breathing. I find this particularly difficult and am aware of endless distraction. It feels like the longest 20 minutes ever and I’m glad when it comes to an end. I’m not really sure why I find it difficult and I think perhaps I’m just not in the right mood. When the group has a chat about the experience, I’m relieved to hear that others have struggled in the same way and that this is normal and is just what our minds do, they get distracted.
Some people prefer this method of breathing and again I realise how different we all are. Julie explains that there will also be times when this technique is more appropriate to use. She explains that the practice of mindfulness is not about clearing our minds, making the mind go blank or zoning out. It’s about being aware of our present environment and our thoughts and reactions. It’s realising you that you can just ‘be’ in the moment without worrying about the future or reliving the past. Even living in the present is difficult for me and I’m the first to admit that when things are going well, I can begin to look for problems or complications.
As human beings we will always have negative or worrying thoughts and it’s vital that we know how to deal with them. Julie tells us that giving such thoughts time and attention means they can multiply and lead us down a destructive thought path. Often this leads to fraught emotions and we behave accordingly which is never a good thing for ourselves or others. It is just as bad to ignore these or to try to bury them inside of us as this can lead to other mental health issues.
I’m a bit confused at this point. If we can’t give negative or worrying thoughts our attention but we can’t ignore them, then what do we do with them? Julie informs us that we simply acknowledge them and then 'let it go' or use a phrase such as ‘sad thought’ or ‘angry thoughts’ rather than engage with them and train ourselves using our chosen mindfulness support to come back to the present moment. A lady asks if this is still the case in times of ongoing stress when we can be consumed by negative thinking. Julie explains that we should still follow this process and by doing it regularly, our minds start to settle and the space between negative thoughts expand so that you are no longer overwhelmed by the situation. This makes sense to me and I’m impressed with myself later on when I can relay all this to my husband.
My week continues well and I continue to practice mindfulness every day even if it is just a short meditation. I practice eating mindfully one evening and I even try some mindful walking in my garden (when my neighbours are out!) until I get the hang of it.
I am however faced with the biggest challenge of the past 4 weeks when I remember I have a dental appointment. It’s a bit of a cliché and it may not seem like a big deal to others, but I have a genuine terror of the dentist. I have used every excuse in the book to avoid going for over a year despite having a hole in my tooth. Ironically because I’m being a bit kinder to myself these days, I have decided not to put this off any longer as I know there will be consequences to my health.
A childhood trauma means that as soon as I’m in the waiting room I am a nervous wreck. The smell and the sounds are like sensory overload and I can feel my breathing getting shallow. I sit down and take a few deep breaths. By the time I go in for treatment, I can feel a cold sweat coming on and I wish I could disappear. Instead of braving it out like I normally would, I have a chat with the dentist about how I’m feeling and he reassures me that we’ll take things slowly. I need a filling replaced which takes about 30 minutes. A previous dentist once told me to breathe after he realised I had been holding my breath for about four minutes. Remembering this, I concentrate on my breathing for support exactly like we did on the course this week.
Although I had previously struggled with this, this time it helps to keep me calm and relaxed in what is normally an awful situation for me. As I hear the noise of the drill, I can see why it is better to concentrate on my breathing rather than using sound for support. Before I know it, my tooth is fixed and I can leave. I make another appointment for next week and I’m grateful that I had mindfulness to help me with this one.