Mindfulness as a concept is lovely to discuss and think about when motivated, chemically and energetically well and in the company of others who like to talk about mindfulness and the suchlike over coffee really fast. Trying to do it is another matter. Particularly when frazzled or in what is described by practitioners as being in ‘autopilot’.
I have spent the past few hours walking, and reading at the same time (my version of mindfulness), Ruby Wax’s ‘A Mindfulness Guide For The Frazzled’. If anybody is going to introduce me to mindfulness then it has to be Ruby. She’s beautifully and openly insightful about her experiences of frazzle and she speaks to me through the frazzle I too fry in frequently, to really start to open me up to its benefits, but all with humour and sparkle and slathers of love and honesty.
As a child I tried praying, being brought up that way, and of course would only tend to pray when something awful seemed to be happening or when I really wanted something. Needless to say on the whole my prayers weren’t answered- I didn’t get the shiny bike but my parent’s didn’t divorce and they stayed alive (two of my childish concerns). Occasionally a pious grownup might chime that we need to pray on good days as well as bad, but unfortunately I never mastered that (erm, note to self…nurture gratitude…). As an adult in moments of crisis I still might try the odd prayer which can slow the heartbeat and create space but i’m more likely to hurriedly reach for my headspace app or google a panic meditation on utube (shout out to Michael Sealy, Tara Brach and Jason Stephenson- your loving recordings have rescued and soothed me on many a night of cold panic). Or I will try the trusted breathing techniques which help, but often I find it’s too late because I’ve been swept away into the frenzy of overthinking, confusion, panic and what feels like madness which can take days to recover from in the worst case scenario. I suppose all that cortisol smashing wildly about the body sets all sorts of domino effects into motion: not eating; self criticism; voices; insomnia and so on.
It is said that mediation and mindfulness can be as effective as medication (such as anti depressants) if used regularly and that it can actually change the brain a bit. I’ve never really tried hard enough to find out, being an impatient soul. I have been led by the storm or the calm to wherever it takes me; dragged like a leaf in a storm or a car in a tsunami from pillar to post and waking up, sometimes what feels like weeks, months or years later, thinking.. wtf happened there.
My mistrust or lack of commitment to mindfulness I suppose comes from a fundamental fear of acceptance. In a post I very unmindfully typed and spurted out yesterday on this theme, I did at least pin point what I can’t bear about mindfulness- it’s is having to accept the unacceptable, like Dean Martin said in favour of drinking ‘I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. They wake up in the morning and that’s the best they’re going to feel all day.’
Today in a lovely aforementioned coffee and mindfulness chatter with a friend, I told him so much: that being mindful means accepting your bones and beating heart without fear or with the fear even; accepting the horrors essentially; the voices and the sadnesses and the body in all its bathos. These very things are what put me for one in a hellish place- if the energy, chemicals and whatever makes me feel good/ bad are unaligned. Then, the body, the voices, the blood, the heart, the past, the future…. all gather in a frenzy which is akin to the wild beating of disembodied drums beating wildly in a black forest in a horror movie about witchcraft and sadism (I’ve not actually seen such a one…but Twain probably had a short story like that).
Anyway, Mindfulness…. I really ought to give it a real try and not with coffee or chatter or even reading about it and walking at the same time, but actually really try it. I need to silence the fear that being mindful will make me dull or die; anything has got to be better than incessant recurrent slides into the hell that is overthinking and so on.
I will say that on my journey with Mindfulness so far – having read and dipped into it and been encouraged to do it in a sustained prescriptive way, for some years- I have started to notice a lot more; or watch, when I remember to, the thoughts (or voices as they become when out of control) and occasionally I manage to actually achieve this state of watching rather than becoming the thoughts or being dashed down by the voices. Ruby Wax captures the essence of this aspect of mindfulness beautifully and evocatively and persuasively in chapter 2 of her book:
I think of the relationship we have with our own mind as being the same as a rider with their horse. Sometimes the horse (the mind) wants it’s freedom to gallop or eat ferns and so it rips the reins out of your hands, dragging your arms out of their sockets as it does so. To bring mindfulness in: you feel like, if you jerk on the reins, your mind will probably resist you even more, but if you gently pull back on them, making that clicking cowboy sound with your tongue, and saying ‘Woah, boy,’ gradually your mind will slow down, obey you and then you can (horse) whisper, ‘Thank you.’ If your mind wats to run away with you and you violently try to pull it back, it will buck you off and bolt. If you treat yourself with compassion and resist obeying your demanding thoughts, they become quiet.
Ruby’s writing is so delicious that I would like to continue to type out the rest of her book because it had me laughing out loud on the bus and that’s always a good thing, however, just read it instead if you need persuading about Mindfulness. I’m only on chapter 2 and borrowed the book from the library and while I have about 16 books on the go at the moment and unsure if i’ll finish any of them, this one I do intend to work through with fierce determination. Anything to actually stop me from actually being mindful myself ho ho. But really, I hope that I gain something from it as i’m still hurtling about trying to get better from the yo yo effect of continued episodes of depression.
Onwards and upwards comrades.