The positive benefits of mindfulness are being confirmed by science, this is one of the reasons that I’ve decided to take a course on mindfulness offered by the Brussels Mindfulness Institute. The course is based on the mindfulness programme developed by the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. It is based on mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, part of the third wave of evidence-based cognitive behavioural therapy techniques.
I’m here because I can’t ask my clients to do something I’m not prepared to do myself. That’s the reason I give, and in part it is true. There are also aspects of my behaviour and personality I want to change and develop. I know that this will be a challenge, working on being in the moment, without judgement, isn’t as easy as it sounds.
I’m not new to meditation and mindfulness techniques. I’ve regularly attended yoga in the past, and tried to establish a meditation practice at home. The best way to establish or change behaviour is to make it a habit and have lots of support around you. This is the attraction of the course; twelve liked minded people discovering what it means to be more mindful. Together we will face the challenges of establishing a practice by sharing our successes and failures.
Taking time to arrive and using our senses to discover something we already know
Before the introductions, we start with a small practice, breathing in deeply through the nose and forcedly out through our mouths. Allowing ourselves to arrive and reduce the anxiety of being in a room full of strangers.
Out of the twelve people sat in a circle of chairs, two come from the same country, the others a typical mix of Brussels internationals from across Europe and the world. All of us listening to each other’s reasons for attending our eight-week mindfulness course. Others want a better way to handle the stress of work or to be more present with their children, or want to understand themselves better or want a way to quiet an overactive mind.
We close our eyes and a small object is placed in our palm. We are told to take some time to use all our senses to study it. Suddenly grows in weight as I focus all my attention on it; I feel its presence in the palm of my hand. Rolling it around between my forefinger and thumb, it feels rough, delicate; with my nail, I can feel ridges and valleys.
“Smell it.”, comes the instruction.
Bringing it up to my nose, I breathe in an earthy sweet smell. I already think I know what it is, but part of mindfulness is to suspend judgement for curiosity, so I gently squeeze it and listen to it squeak in protest. We are then allowed to open our eyes to discover that we’ve all been exquisitely examining for the past few minutes. A raisin! Placing it on my tongue, I move it around my mouth, and the texture changes. It is less rough now, softer, but the ridges and valleys are still present. My mouth fills with saliva and I finally allow myself to bite, slowly chewing to savour the taste.
“How was it?” asks our instructor. “I normally grab a handful of these and quickly eat them without a second thought” one of us volunteers, “ but this was like eating a meal”.
What are the challenges of mindfulness?
The rest of the class passes with us discussing what mindfulness is and what it isn’t. It is not a relaxation technique, it is not about being without thought, and unfortunately, it does not need to be pleasant. Mindfulness, we are told, is about being here, in the present, even when that present is unpleasant.
Ultimately mindfulness is about practice; constantly bringing your mind back to the here and now every time it wanders off to the past or the future. Establishing our practice outside of the course will be our challenge; fitting in our exercises and reading into already busy lives. Three days later, I’ve already struggled to find the time to do my guided meditation, but I’ve been fitting in the exercises whenever I can. Today after exercising at the gym, I found a spot in the corner, closed my eyes and started to focus on my breathing, the post-exercise glow adding a sense of calm and peacefulness.