About eight years ago my NHS stroke psychologist recommended “Mindfulness For Health – A practical guide for relieving pain, reducing stress and restoring well-being” By Vidyamala Burch and Dr Danny Penman. I took this advise and brought the book which includes a CD of guided meditations. I read the first couple of chapter, but not much more than that. I certainly did not engage in the book as an eight week programme as the authors had intended. I did listen to and try following some of the ten minutes meditations, but only periodically and mainly when I was feeling overwhelmed , stressed out, or trying to get a grip of pain. In short I only listen when I was trying to relaxed. I continued to do this on and off over the last eight years. I have a variety of other guided meditations that I have listened too, even enjoyed over the years, but never felt any real benefit from. So as a result this only reinforced my misconceptions about meditation, being something beyond me, something I was to distracted to master. Although I have finally found a new perspective.
So what changed?
Firstly I actually read the book. Week by week and followed it as an eight week program. Engaging in it fully, prioritising daily practise. This time with a more open mind, less self-doubt and less expectation or idea of what I thought should be happening. Like so many other people I believed that mediation was a practise used to seek spiritual enlightenment, requiring the ability to clear the mind, to disengaged from personal suffering and see the world through kinder eyes. All things surely unobtainable from simply listening to the odd guided mediation. I remember being so defensive when my stroke psychologist suggested mindfulness, when she would try to discuss the benefits of mindful meditation and lifestyle. In fact I remember on occasion being damn right angry that she could even suggest that a few breathing exercises, present moment activities and guided mediations could have any positive impact on managing my constant pain and all-consuming negative mood. Looking back now I know it was these attitudes that stopped me engaging in the book suggestions and from giving it a real go. It is such a shame that wasn’t able to see past my own doubt and disbelieve to read and follow the book and explore mindfulness more fully ,as I have this year, instead of rejecting without truly trying it. But rather than dwell on that facts of past mistake, instead I am going to simply be grateful. That due to my hip operation at the end of last year, I decided to revisit the suggestion to giving mindfulness consideration as another tool to managing pain. The more I actually read of the book, the more my misconceptions dissolved, and more my interests were sparked, leading me to read every post, every blog that popped up on my social media, every magazine article that I have fallen upon. I have also now read other books including ‘The Catrophorophe’ by JonKabat-Zin. The more I begun to fully understand the principles of mindfulness, the more I wanted to make time to practise it in daily life, and in turn the more I do this the more I am in my opinion reaping the benefits. Not the benefits I might expect but benefits none the less.
Twenty to Forty minutes mindful meditation and adding being mindful during day-to-day routines has given me the tools to step back a little, look and re-examine my situation. Not from a the perceptive of fear, emotion or thoughts of what has happened or what will happen in the future. But to just look at what is here in this moment. Good or bad, in pain or pain-free, without fighting against the negative or being defensive to what I find, nor clinging on to good stuff trying to clutch it with both hands in fear it will not be long-lasting. I am learning to just look, take time to just be and see who I am now, today in this moment.
I realise now why meditation is classed as a practise, like mastering the art of illness, it take time and daily practise even when you don’t feel like it, even when it seems pointless. Living with illness rather than being controlled by it take practise. Some days you are better at it than other days, mindfulness is exactly the same. I am not sure exactly when it happened but once I started to practising daily mindfulness, it started to seep into every single part of my life. Into my relationships, my home life, my perceptions of leisure, of pleasure, my work and my feelings towards work and how I am choosing to live my life. Readjusting my perspective ever so subtly, but in ways that can never been undone or changed back. Bringing benefits to my overall feeling of wellness and happiness. I am able to look at things through more positive eyes. Less pulled down by negativity, that was only ever created and fuelled by my own thoughts.
Mindfulness isn’t a cure to pain.
Practising Mindfulness has not brought me a cure to my pain, fatigue, It has not turned back time, so I am no longer a stroke survivor with multiple invisible difficulties. Nor has it transformed me into a goddess of calm and tranquillity or eradicated all negative thoughts and feelings. I am not saying that mindfulness is a magic formula for, health, wealth or happiness forsaking all else. However, it is becoming an invaluable tool as I strive towards wellness and feeling of wellbeing within the reality of my circumstances and one that I becoming very fond of. For example starting everyday with twenty minutes mindfulness set the day off on the right foot. Helps me recognise what I may or may not need to give an extra helping hand to throughout my day. I think that taking time everyday has helped me make some life changing shifts in the ways I perceive myself, my health, my limitations and the directions I want to take my life in.
I have worked hard both on my physical and mental health over the years to try to overcome some of my difficulties. I have tried many self-help and complimentary health options to assist my medical ones. Yet despite my positive ‘can do’ attitude, I have previously viewed some of the my limitations as unchangeable, restrictive and allowed negative thoughts and feelings to fester, and at time dominate my life. Impacting my happiness and overall feeling of wellness. Looking at things through mindful eyes means that I focus on the moment, on today. So I can now see that there are different ways to experience the limits imposed by my body. As well as the stresses, strains and negativity of modern life and how I choose to respond to them. I am now able to find good things even in the most difficult days.
Would I recommend practising mindfulness? absolutely. I think we would have a kinder society if we were taught this along with other life skills from a young age. But I also know from my own failed attempts in previous years, you have to be in the right mind-set. One where you are truly open to self-improvement and don’t want or expect a quick fix without effort. Mindfulness is definitely a practise that you gain most from when you make it a part of your every day routine, in the same way we all make time to eat, clean our teeth and shower. Do I think mindfulness alone has transformed my life? No, I think it is a piece of a very big jigsaw puzzle. That has taken me a long time to find the all the pieces for, even before I was able to start putting them together to make a nice picture. But I can also that it will continue to be a part of my daily activity going forward. Maybe not in exactly the same way. as I am already exploring different methods, activities. I am starting to move away from guided meditations and starting to include silent meditation. As like anything we practise overtime it changes and evolves.
Normally at the end of my blogs I suggest things that you might want to try, that have been helpful to me. But as a novice in this areas, I don’t think I am qualified to do this in any real depth (Yet) advice or to offer you any examples of mindful practises or activities to try out. However, what I would say is if you suffer chronic illness and pain buy ‘Mindfulness For Health’ by Breakworks and with an open mind do the eight week programme. If it’s stress and strain you are dealing with look at their other publications, such as ‘Mindfulness For Women’. I have am going to order ‘Mindfulness For Creativity’ to add to my tool box. to continue my ongoing exploration and study of mindfulness.
Take time to read blogs and social media post. Follow people living mindfully, by simply looking at the #Mindfulness on twitter and I can promise you a font of information will appear, as well as some inspiration people to follow. Read articles on it, buy magazines that are filled with suggestions and focused on wellbeing. My absolute favourite at the moment is ‘Breathe’. Upload an app to your phone , I have all my guided meditations on my phone, so I can use them anywhere I go. ‘Headspace’ is a great app, that offers you a free ten-day trial, introduces mindfulness, through three minute mediations and informative animations. Everyone can spare three minutes regardless of how busy life is. What I am saying is, just try it and like me if at first it doesn’t fit, try it again later down the road. Because like it does for me, it might help you start each day with a better perspective. Help navigate the chopping waters, the stresses, and help manage the self made worrries floating around your mind. Whilst also highlight all the good that exist in today. Guiding your thoughts away from what has passed, what hasn’t happened yet and what may never happen. In simple terms it may just help to improve your overall feeling of wellness and well-being, regardless of what pain you are in today.