Unwelcome ghosts on a mindfulness daylong practice

 

Warning: long post featuring dodgy artwork and some exercising of demons.

This was a little while ago now. Most of our practice group came together, with a handful of others who had also experienced an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, to spend a day practicing together in silence. For me the greatest struggle turned out not to be the silence or new group members but the venue. We were using “Exeter Castle” which is hoping to make a name for itself as a historical city centre events venue. The problem is that until recently it housed the Crown Court and judges chambers. Despite knowing this, and my history with these buildings, I didn’t think it would be a big problem.

My first visit to these court buildings was as a small child (my guess is less than 5 years old) when my parents were divorcing.To keep me entertained my social worker took me for a walk around the adjacent Roman wall. Then I was called in to a big dark office with a large desk so that the judge could ask me who I wanted to live with.

Some twenty years later I had also watched Peter work as a barrister at the Crown Court before we married and occasionally met him for a tea in the snack bar. The snack bar was a little sanctuary, small and cosy, a brick-built shed really. The sort of thing you don’t see any more, tea in polystyrene cups, whether you were a witness or a barrister, fruit cake, biscuits and probably anything in a sandwich as long as it was toasted – you get the picture.The main Crown Court building (featured image) in contrast was hierarchy and formality on a grand scale. Full of ushers in their long black robes, uncomfortable looking policemen waiting to give evidence and barristers strutting about in their wigs and gowns with their court papers under their arms.

One of the old court rooms was our space for the mindfulness day. Thank goodness the dock, the jury benches and the steps down to the cells had all gone. On the face of it a large open space with high ceilings, huge windows and patio doors giving on to the gardens (and my favourite, the Roman walls, plus a great view of the prison). Someone had put up a large, and probably very expensive mirror, and a wrought iron light fitting from which they had suspended billowy white voile curtains which draped out into the corners of the rooms. It was meant to say “events venue” but I was still seeing court room.

So someone thought in this events venue what would be a good idea would be to refit the court holding cells as toilets. So, just in case you hadn’t caught the atmosphere of fear and intimidation, there was a chance to take a seat in a very small oppressive cell.

The executive decision making centre might have been saying “we can do this” but the archaic brain said “nah” and about ten minutes into each practice I was zoned out. What was lovely was when they had levelled up the floor they had installed underfloor heating which I can highly recommend for a body scan! We did a seated practice, mindful movement, a body scan, mindful walking, more seated practice and something I ducked out of, in favour of a bathroom break.

I finished the day with my executive decision making centre wondering what was wrong with me. As we came out of our silence one of our group revealed that she had had a eureka moment at lunchtime – marvellous my dissatisfaction did a prompt transformation into self-criticism, splendid.

I am reliably informed that my unease and the pervading feeling of fear was down to my childhood experience and the zoning out was the archaic part of my brain trying to protect me. I already had a picture of a section of the Roman wall and to exercise some demons I have done some drawing ( be warned I got a D in ‘O’ level art). I thought it might help to look at how that child felt. I also went back to the castle gates to get a shot of the main Crown Court building, the feature image.
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Thich Nhat Hanh (2008) The Miracle of Mindfulness. London: Rider

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140 pages, a very manageable length. I felt that this would be an interesting follow-up to an 8 week MBSR course. This book was borrowed from the fabulous Devon Recovery Learning Community library 😀

A major focus was on using the breath to anchor our mindfulness practice and if this is something you are struggling this may provide some helpful ideas. Similarly with mindfulness of thoughts and thinking. There are also some practical ideas on sitting positions and a suggestion for how to structure a day of mindful practice very simply at home.

I grappled with Chapter 5 and the concept of the five aggregates and to be honest failed to grasp this. Undeterred I carried on reading.

The chapter on exercises in mindfulness has a number of suggestions and some ideas for contemplations, akin to loving kindness or compassionate meditations. There may be a reason why I had to smile when I reached “Compassion for the person you hate or despise the most” – no, really, yep afraid so.

I particularly liked the image in Chapter 4 of a pebble dropping into a river, sinking through the water and settling in the sand at the bottom of the river as you settle into your practice and into your body. As the pebble rests on the sand it is neither pushed nor pulled by the river. This is something that really caught me and I will integrate into my own practice.

Overall an interesting read that you can skim, dip in and dip out of or as I did and read cover to cover. Definitely a helpful supplement after a taught mindfulness course.

 

 

Mindfulness based stress reduction wk 4 – the physical barometer

Refllecting on the halfway point in our course:

The physical barometer. This grows out of noticing where sensations are experienced in the body during unpleasant experiences. I’ve mapped mine out above. If you want to tune in to your own physical barometer, the abdomen can be a helpful place to start, investigating whether sensations in the abdomen change during challenging events.

Still struggling with the breathing spaces / responsive pauses. I get swept along by the moment and only afterwards think ahh a responsive pause would have been helpful there.

I am learning to love the bodyscan – who would have guessed. You spend the first two weeks of the course thinking this is boring / dull / irritating then when you move on you find yourself missing it.

Adherence to home practice can be too tight, as well as too loose. Humm! That was me I wanted so much to engage with the course I was pushing too hard.

My ability to find pleasure in day to day life has definitely increased.

Susie had to have the last word and says after her initial view that mindfulness sucks (as it involved turfing her off the duvet) she is also learning to love the bodyscan 🐾 💤

Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) course wk 3

This is the first week I have really struggled with the homework. It isn’t called homework- we are “invited” to do home practice. This week it is three breathing spaces each day and one longer practice, alternating between the body scan and mindful movement. It is the breathing spaces  I find hard, my mind is still flitting about when I am trying to bring it back to focusing on my breathing. We are also keeping an unpleasant events diary, helping to understand the mind-body connection.

How do other people find mindful movement? I find it is easier to stay present than during the body scan where my mind skips off somewhere after the legs and rejoins the party here and there after I retrieve it from rehashing and rehearsing…

Our teacher has created a safe space and the group is lovely but still a little quiet. The venue is really unusual, it was a wool drying shed from when the city’s wealth owed much to the wool trade.

My mission is to build my resilience ready for my return to adult nurse training. I’m determined to throw myself into this course having attended a mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) course in 2011. I found that helpful and working on the principle of revisiting what has worked before, here I am.