I’ve observed at a drop in mindfulness group I used to go to that some severely anxious people who came and didn’t come back. I could tell that sitting in silence with their pain was not working for them at all. They had too much pain and perhaps had expectations that mindfulness would eliminate it for them. Maybe even they went off thinking they weren’t very good at it.
It got me pondering on my own levels of anxiety and the type of mindfulness I practice, particularly when stress levels are high and restlessness pervades my body. There is no way I will put myself through sitting in silence with that pain.
I may if I’m a little calmer manage to listen to a guided meditation in the background. By John Kabat-Zinn or Tara Brach. There are many others too. I feel warmed by their soothing company in the background and feel supported.
But mostly my practice consists of taking many short moments throughout the day. This is the Dzogchen method of mindfulness practise. Many interruptions of the thought stream, the inner narrative throughout the day.
Sitting on the loo, we might have a short moment, breathe in and out, and gently let go of thoughts.
Getting dressed in the morning, we can do the same. Walking to the car. Driving the car. In the middle of conversation with someone. In the supermarket check out. Any time at all during the day.
One of the reasons I stopped going to my mindfulness group was due to the teacher going round us all and asking how our practice was going through the week. By that he meant sitting on a cushion or chair for half an hour or more. I did not like to be held to account this way as this type of meditation just doesn’t work for me. Not at the moment anyway.
It isn’t helpful for some people with anxiety and some with more serious conditions such as trauma or PTSD or depression to sit in silence and dive further into their pain. I think the dangers of mindfulness need to be discussed more. Mindfulness takes you on a path of no return, to a great place, but before that place much has to be faced and felt, especially if there is a lot of pain in the persons background. This needs a tender thoughtful approach to those with serious mental health issues in my opinion.
Often for those people some sort of movement based mindfulness is more helpful, like mindful walking, or short moments taken many times a day. Mindful walking in a park, being aware of the senses is an effective introduction to show people that the present moment between thoughts is a safe place. And that thoughts can be observed.
And even then, perhaps something like CBT counselling would be best to come first before an introduction to mindfulness.
So I will continue with my short moments. Catching myself in the car when thoughts are whipping up a catastrophe that probably won’t happen but which can have me physiologically stressed up to the eyeballs if I believe the thought.
I can instead say ‘hello little thought, I hear your fears, thank you for your contribution, and I let you go now gently’. No judgement, no self condemnation. Just noticing and letting go, noticing and letting go over and over and over. It works.
Those of us who have easily activated amygdalas due to early experiences can find some solace and safety when we learn to sooth ourselves. And we have to find out own way of doing this. Take risks yes, but be gentle with ourselves and monitor what feels good carefully.