I previously reported on how my initial attempts at mindfulness were going during the first half of a course of mindfulness-based stress reduction. Rather belatedly, here are some thoughts how the second half went:
Week 5: On the bus from Cork to Dublin I attempt some more body scan (slowly paying attention to different parts of one's own body). A captive audience to my own mind, I run through a full bodyscan a few times-I think I'm getting the hang of it. Or at least I'm becoming more accepting of my mind-wandering.
Week 6: At class, an exercise in compassion. Initially we think about compassion for ourselves and others we care about, then for people we encounter in our daily lives we don't know (I think of a few staff I see in a shop). Then the tricky one: compassion for someone who we don't get on with. We're told this doesn't have to be someone who's done us wrong-it could just be someone we're distant from. Ever in search of challenge I pick a randomer who knocked a book out of my hand in the street and threw it over a nearby pub.
Another idea is to start using a self-compassion mantra. When a day-long bout of nasty sickness hits on Friday I am in need of a mindful approach to how I feel-I come up with the simple "I am doing well". When I get headache I find that focussing closely on my head makes me wonder if what I feel is REALLY pain or more of a dull pressure near the skull.
Week 7: At this week's class we are doing a mountain and a lake meditation. The meditations involve imagining either a mountain or a lake. You think of how they persist over time, retaining their essential selves despite the wind, rain, snow and sun that wash over them over the years. Then one imagines becoming this mountain or lake. We are seated in chairs; I have a feeling one might feel slightly more mountain-shaped sitting in the lotus position. It's tricky initially to move from visualising the mountain to try to think of actually embodying it. I find my imagination wandering to the scene from "Fantasia" where a mountain is actually a huge demon.
For some reason (maybe a practice effect?) I find it easier to imagine myself as the lake. I feel myself melt into the back of the chair, flattening out against the bed of the water. I can picture someone jumping into the lake, visualising how they descend below the surface, where the great depth of the lake becomes apparent.
I have a lot of songs in my head (particularly doing the mountain meditation). It's something I knew before beginning this mindfulness course, but it's something that seems to persist even as the practice continues. Of course, this does come back to the point that it's not necessarily about having an EMPTY mind. What still concerns me more is that I do still find a certain impatience with the body scan-when thoughts of things I want to do creep in I find myself moving through the scan more quickly.
Looking through the online course, as well as the mountain and lake meditations, they highlight some ways of dealing with interpersonal conflict. Some of the advice given here about forgiveness may be easier to hear than to practice. (Particularly if someone throws your book over the book, uurrr).
Week 8: The focus is on developing one's own practice. Some suggestions from the mighty Kabat-Zinn include a focus on one's breath. He also suggests lying in bed just after waking up to focus on breath (not likely for me-I wake up early most days and jump straight out of bed to avoid getting groggy). His closing remark is that the real meditation is your life. (It reminds me somewhat of the idea that Mass is not about being a good Catholic just for an hour or so on a Sunday). Being mindful is something you can do just you set time aside to meditate, but it can also be a more pervasive approach to one's psychological life.
Indeed, one aspect of practice I do find myself having some success is in drawing on mindfulness when confronted with a stressor. I can be prone to ruminating on negative thoughts when faced with stress (often going off on a tangent of negative things to think about that are irrelevant to what set me off in the first place). Bringing my awareness back to the present-either my physical self or even just my immediate surroundings-is a good way to interrupt any cycle of stress.
Mindfulness and the mind
Mindfulness update weeks 1-4