Over the past few weeks I have been trying to practise Mindfulness on a daily basis. I have been following the eight week course ‘Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’ by Penman and Williams as best I can. I have attempted to incorporate Mindfulness into my daily life in the past, but over the last few weeks I feel I am gaining a deeper understanding of Mindfulness and how transformative it can be.
I am at a crossroads: for the first time in my adult life I am not working towards a clear educational or professional goal. I have been in full time education or working in the social sector (mainly teaching) since I was eight. Those years could be perceived as very successful: top grades at A level, a 2:1 from Cambridge University, Head of Department at a school by the age of 25. And now I am living at home with my parents and my 7 month old daughter. Society would view that as a failure, label it as emotional burnout or a breakdown perhaps. Alternatively, I view it as finally waking and stepping off the conveyer belt that was taking me through the conventional trappings of success: a bigger house, two cars, wardrobes full of clothes, expensive holidays, a cleaner, expensive childcare…
It has not been an easy process to reach this conclusion. We live in a society where we are exhorted to take control of our lives. If we want to be thin then we should sign up to this class, buy this food, read this book. If we want to be happy we should do this course, buy this piece of furniture, live this lifestyle. As Williams and Penman write: we believe ‘we have to be in control.’ Therefore when we are depressed or suffering from anxiety we feel we have to take control of the situation. This usually involves rational thinking: going over the problem ‘logically’ again and again and again. But this only results in a negative downward spiral as we struggle against the quicksand of our depression to use Williams’s fantastic metaphor. To be mindful is to step to one side and observe our feelings, acknowledge them for what they are and, in a gentle, kind way, choose to focus back on the here and now whether through mindful breathe, movement, drinking a cup of coffee or listening to a particular sound.
As I finish this post I have had a hard few days for various reasons. I have been struggling with feelings of doubt, guilt and self-loathing. I have found it harder to approach mindfulness practice with the optimism and positivity I felt a week ago when I started the post, but that is part of the journey. All I can do is experience my experience: these last few days have not been a result of any failure of mine they are simply how things are. Mindfulness is a constant process of re-minding yourself to be in the present moment regardless of whether you are calm or anxious; happy or sad; positive or negative. The prefix ‘-re’ in Latin means ‘back’ or ‘again’ so to ‘remind’ is to bring your mind back. Again and again and again. When thoughts, feelings and sensations overwhelm us all we can do is gently draw our mind back like we might a small child who has wondered off and needs to be guided home.
I bought a book for my daughter which opens with the sentences: “Sometimes you’re happy. Sometimes you’re sad”. I feel this is a message we need to be reminded of as a society more often. Our airbrushed, consumer driven society would have us believe that constant happiness is achievable provided we can create the perfect circumstances for ourselves but this is not the case. Mindfulness can enable us to enjoy the happiness and sit quietly and gently with the sadness acknowledging its presence and not berating ourselves for allowing it to happen.