A couple of nights before the group met last week, residents of Edinburgh and neighbouring parts of Scotland encountered the most dramatic storms we have seen in quite some time.
We met online for a session on mindfulness, firstly defining mindfulness as:
“The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally to things as they are” (Kabat-Zinn).
Group members spoke about their experience of mindfulness, some people commented how that they had sometimes found it hard to get into and hard to relax because of continually worrying. Some had found it useful and wanted to practise more exercises. We discussed how even slowing down the breath can help to calm our threat system.
We considered where our minds had predominantly been this morning before the meeting, whether in the past, present or the future, and where our minds were normally. We agreed that for the most part, being presently minded was most useful to us. Dwelling too much on past events could lead to rumination and low mood. Overthinking the future with all it’s unknown and uncertainties-especially during this pandemic, could create high levels of catastrophising and anxiety.
Being grounded in the present moment allows us to be focused, present and have joy in the moment. Mindfulness then, is acquiring the great but simple art of just noticing where we are, and possibly who we are, right now. Mindfulness also just watches where our mind goes off to, where it may drift and wander. When we are aware of this we can have more control over not being pulled in rumination or catastrophising or worry.
Because of the storm, internet connections were a bit intermittent, so some group members lost momentary connection with the group and had to connect back in again. Maybe this is a parallel with what can happen with mindfulness, where we drift off in thought and perhaps lose contact with our conscious mind for a moment, but then we notice and actively connect back to ourselves in the present moment. This is precisely what mindfulness is, noticing where our mind goes; sometimes it goes away because it needs to attend to something else.
We used an exercise today to practise being aware of our ‘self’ observing our thoughts, feelings, sensations and motivations. Learning to observe these parts allows us to step back and objectively realise that we do not need to be taken over by an emotion or thought process and we can start to take a little more control of our state by increasing this awareness.
It is maybe important to acknowledge that dwelling in the present may sometimes be painful and stressful if we are in crisis. However, a self-compassionate response to our pain with empathy, understanding and caring for what we need in the moment may help us to face rather than avoid difficult times.
It’s like all the chaotic energy firing around in a thunder storm, it needs be discharged to find ground and be earthed. Likewise for us, sometimes the way to calm the storm is to put our feet on the ground and take a few deep breaths and see where we are and what we need right in this moment.