Mindfulness, starting a journey
Why explore mindfulness
I’m a classic geek with an ever active mind. I’m constantly fidgetting around or wanting to get on with the next task and not relaxing. It has to be a really interesting film to fully catch my interest or I’m on my phone looking up info on IMDB or playing a simple pointless game.
There’s always something I want to read about, which usually ends up with a rabbit hole run around wikipedia and blogs. So easy to start off reading up on plant based diets for long distance runners and end up on 17th century European dictators an hour later (or at least it is for me)
Work doesn’t help much either. Spend all day trying to research new solutions in depth, but constantly having to context switch as new tasks come in (each claiming a higher priority than the last) so by the end of the day I’ve closed a lot of tickets, but not made much progress on the big tasks.
By the end of the day my mind is still racing and trying to plan how to fit the things I’ve missed today into tomorrow. This either keeps me awake while trying to sleep, or stops me dropping back off to sleep when I wake up at 3 am
This isn’t stress (been there, had the counselling), but it does lead to me feeling constantly tired which then means I don’t recover properly or always have the energy to put into things properly. And as an over 40 athlete this shows up in slow runs and injury. So this was starting to get into the same category of losing weight and stretching, of something that needs to be sorted if I wanted to get as fit as possible
So what to do about it? Mindfulness has been all over the media over the last couple of years. Work even offered a session on it.
There did seem to be a lot of ‘woo’ claims attached to it though. As a bit of a skeptic who likes proper quantitive evidence on things some of them did seem a little away with the fairies. I’m happy to believe it helps settle the mind, but fixing physical ailments I’m not so sure. But there seemed to be enough behind it to make it a worthwhile try.
It did mean that I spent a bit of time working through a lot of reading, YouTube watching and other research to find a course I was happy with.
Strangely the most offputting part of a lot of the sessions I tried was the coaches voice. So many wanted to affect a breathey dream like vocal which just didn’t sound natural. This distracts me while I’m trying get into the session. There also seemed to be a cross with these proponents of Mindfulness and those pushing woo like claims
The other thing I didn’t like was a lot of the visualisation style sessions. I don’t have a hugely visual mind. I tend to see things more as a description rather than an actual picture in my mind. Or I get caught up in details and the abstract images become something from memory which then drags me into memory rather than the moment. A commonn visualisation was waves rolling in and out on a beach, which I’d fill in with details of canoe trips from my youth.
Eventually I settled on one of the big mindfulness courses, HeadSpace, for these reasons amongst others:
- A 2nd hand book meant I got the philosophy/story behind it up front
- The guide’s voice didn’t grate on me
- No woo benefits were on offer
- Minimal visualisation, mainly focused on physical feelings
- A decent free trial
I signed up and worked through the 10 free sessions to make sure it was what I was after. The course started of with the basics and worked through the basics. I found the explanations nice and clear, and the reassurance that I wasn’t meant to be seeing visions of floating great,just to feel calm and present for the time I was practising.
Mindfulness training the mind
Throughout the course they talk about mindfulness as being something you have to constantly work on to become better, talking about thinking of the brain as a muscle. So you need to think of it as something like running where you need to keep up with it.
With real life kicking in and stopping me practising for a couple of weeks I can certainly confirm this. Going from quite happily meditating for 15 minutes at a time, after 2 weeks I found that keeping a mindful state for more than 5 minutes took a lot of effort. So to really get the mindfulness benefit you do need to keep up a little and often.
Mindfulness, finding the time
This is something I’ve still got to work on. To start with I was doing my 15 minutes each evening after the final chores of the day before going up to bed. This worked well as I was nicely relaxed for bed and it didn’t interrupt any of our home routines. But that’s exactly the spot most likely to get skipped after a hard day or a social night out.
I need to start doing it when I get free time and not be so stuck on a rigid timetable.
From mindfulness to meditation
Well, to be honest there isn’t much difference between the 2 that I’ve seen so far. The idea of sitting in quiet reflective complemtation features in both.
Once I’d worked through quite a bit of the HeadSpace course I found that the app was adding less to my practice. There was a short intro and a recap, but for most of my 15 minutes I was sitting there with nothing but my own mind to work with.
So I moved over to a simple timer app. You don’t need a special timer app despite what the App store says. The only thing I would recommend is that it has a gentle alarm. I don’t want to come out of a meditation to a blaring klaxon, it’s a little bit jarring!
So has Mindfulness fixed everything?
Not completely, but it’s certainly improved things and given me some tools to use when things go wrong. I need to get better at keeping on doing it when things are getting tough. If a work project is eating up a lot of time and causing stress, then I don’t feel like meditating. Which is stupid as it’s when it’s going to be of most use. Like running I need to work on doing it a lot so it becomes second nature. If I need to do a run, I’ll head out into the snow or the rain, so why shouldn’t I meditate when I’m stressed or feel I don’t have the time? It’s the same action I need to build up.
So I still feel like I’m taking baby steps, and I need to put more effort and work in to get to where I want to get to.