An Introduction to Mindfulness by Sagara
Hello there! My name is Sagara and I teach mindfulness at Sunderland Recovery College. What you have been reading is my introduction to mindfulness.
The mindfulness I teach is based on over 25 years of lived mindfulness experienced which I have used on a personal level to bring about a more positive and less painful engagement with life.
I have also taught mindfulness extensively for over 20 years.
My approach to mindfulness may be a little different to other approaches. I hope you get something from it.
A quick Google search will reveal plenty of other teachers out there if you don't.
What is Mindfulness?
What is Mindfulness
Mindfulness really is quite simple. I like to use another word for it. That word is Awareness.
Awareness is something we all already have. It is not something we need to add on, or go looking for. It is not something we lack or are deficient in.
If you stop and check for just a few moments, you can immediately prove to yourself that you are aware.
Take a moment and choose something to look at. Just look at it for a few seconds. (You could look at it while counting to three).
Can you see that by just looking at it you are aware of it?
It isn't like you have to do anything really!
The awareness is already present.
Even without deliberately looking, we are seeing all the time.
Seeing just happens.
Awareness of the visual field just happens.
This is true of all the senses. All the senses are in operation all the time.
You can test this too.
Take a moment just to listen. You can hear sounds can't you?
What can you hear?
How about feeling the body - the touch sense? You are aware that the body is warm or cold aren't you? Can you feel that the body is touching the ground?
Or the seat? Or your clothes?
This is also true of the taste and smell senses - though they may not be as obvious to notice. Take some time out to notice that your senses are always there.
And in this way you can begin to realise that awareness (or mindfulness) is something you already have.
How easy is that!!!!
The Difficulty with 'practising' Mindfulness
What are thoughts?
There is something else that we can be aware of apart from the senses.
And that is our thoughts,
Our thoughts appear as words or images in our minds.
You can test this too.
Try and remember a place you have been to from the past.
Notice if you see a picture or a video of that place in your mind.
Maybe also you hear some words?
Like "that was the beach where I went to when I was four and spent all day looking for fish in the rock pools".
Or think of a celebrity.
Again, maybe you see their face (or image in your mind).
And maybe some thoughts.....
"That's Tom Cruise ... I like/don't like him because...."
And so on.
How Thoughts Work
What you have just done is be aware of your thoughts.
But the problem is that most of the time we are not aware of our thoughts.
Instead we get taken away by the story they are telling.
Thoughts are really good at telling stories. And these stories seduce us into listening to them.
And they run and run and run.
So with the above example, it might go something like this:
"That's Tom Cruise ... I like like him because he always makes good films .... I remember watching Top Gun when I was 17 with Michael.... that was a great film ..... I wonder what Michael is doing now ... maybe I will give him a ring .... maybe we could go to the cinema .... Top Gun 2 is coming out soon ... i wonder if booking has opened yet......"
And so on....
One thought following another, weaving a story that simply takes us away into an imagined world.
The 'Problem of Thoughts'
The reason I say that it is an 'imagined' world is because none of this is happening now.
What is happening now is the senses.
What you see, hear, feel, taste and touch are happening now.
The world of thought is sometimes called a 'dreamworld'.
Because what is imagined never comes true.
Not in the way it is imagined anyway.
But just to clarify....
It IS true to say that thoughts are happening now.
But the story they are weaving is NOT.
The main problem with our lives and the reason that we suffer is that we take this imagined world to be true.
We believe the story that thoughts are telling us.
And we pay very little attention to what is ACTUALLY happening now.
A Perspective on Mental Health
Mental Health and Thoughts
The whole problem of being involved in what is imagined (our thoughts) rather than what is happening (our senses) becomes amplified when those stories become destructive.
So rather than commenting on Tom Cruise, or being creative in some way, they start to tell stories about OURSELVES which are unhelpful.
When this is the case, the story that thoughts are telling could be something like:
If I go out the house people will laugh at me.
Nobody likes me
I will never get better
I am not safe
I don't deserve to he happy.
And often much much worse
Then, emotions also play their part......
Accompanying such thoughts is always some kind of painful contraction in the body which makes these thoughts seem more real.
And in order to avoid the painful sensation in the body, thoughts tend to speed up and create more stories.
Which creates further sensation.
And takes us further takes us away from what is real.
Embedding us deeper into the more destructive story.
Getting Back to Mindfulness
The Key to Mindfulness
The key to getting back to mindfulness is coming back to the senses.
It is not that we need to develop mindfulness as such. More that we need to come out of the story of thought into the natural occuring awareness that we experience.
And this is why if you are disturbed by thought, you will often be given grounding exercises.
Because when you focus on the senses, you are here now with what is actually happening.
In the beginning stages of mindfulness practice this is really what we are trying to do
Here is the process:
We get involved in the story of thought.
Then we notice that we have got involved in the story of thought.
We bring ourselves back to the senses.
And then we get taken away again into the story of thought.
And the cycle begins again.
But as we practice this again and again, we get better at noticing when we have been taken into thought.
And we get more skilled at bringing ourselves back.
Slowly we come to understand that being in the story of thought is not something we HAVE to do.
And we come to see that the story they weave isn't actually REAL.
So we start to spend more time in a state unburdened by the story.
And more time just being, unassailed by anxious or depressive thoughts.
Being Kind to Ourselves
Trauma and Mindfulness
Many of us have trauma held in our being.
For some this may have been an isolated event. For others it can be more complex from repeated events.
And for some of us we have trauma simply in the sense that we were unable to process what was happening to us when we were young.
In all cases, we have feelings 'inside' of us that we have not felt and are unwilling to feel.
And the avoidance of these feelings are the reason we default to thought.
So part of mindfulness is bringing these feelings into the open and allowing them to be felt.
But this should always be done with care, under the supervision of a skilled practitioner.
For this reason, compassion is essential.
If you have unprocessed painful emotion, it is no wonder you are going into the story of thought. And no-one has ever really told you how to deal with such destructive thoughts and painful emotions.
So please be kind to yourself.
Go steady and start to practice bit by bit.
The path is often long and there can be a lot of fear involved. But every time you practice, you build a resource.
Mindfulness as a resource is a wonderful thing. Because it gives you the tools to stay with your experience, even when painful.
You are the Sky
When you first start practicing mindfulness you may feel you are in the heart of a storm.
It may feel dificult to get any space from the emotions and thoughts that appear within you. But with continued practice you will find that you develop space around them.
And that space will increase and increase until one day you will realise you were never really in the storm at all.
And that you are - and always have been - the vast blue sky.
The following exercises are direct methods of bringing you back to the senses and can be used at any time:
Remind yourself of who you are now. Say your name. Say your age now. Say where you are now. Say what you have done today. Say what you will do next.
Name 5 things you can see right now. Name 3 things you can hear right now.
Find and name 5 things of different colours in your field of vision.
Focus on one object. Name 5 qualities about it. Say them out loud if possible, or to yourself in your head.
Pick one interesting object in your field of vision. Trace its outline with your eyes, as if you were drawing its lines.
Stop and listen. Notice and name what sounds you can hear nearby. Start with the closest or loudest sounds. Gradually move your awareness of sounds outward, so you are focusing on what you can hear in the distance.
Name one sound close. One sound far away. And one sound in between.
Listen to one sound and notice when it changes or ends.
Smell and Taste
Find an object close to you and smell it. Decide if you like the small and rate it one to ten.
Smell Two pasrts of your clothing. Notice the difference. Which do you prefer?
If you have something you can eat, place it in your mouth and allow yourself to savour the taste.
Take ten slow breaths. Focus your attention fully on each breath, on the way in and on the way out. Say the number of the breath to yourself as you exhale.
Get up and walk around. Take your time to notice each step as you take one, then another.
Stamp your feet, and notice the sensation and sound as you connect with the ground.
Clap and rub your hands together. Hear the noise and feel the sensation in your hands and arms.
Wear an elastic band on your wrist (not tight) and flick it gently, so that you feel it spring back on your wrist.
Here are some meditation audios that you can use to relax. Try them out and see which works for you. You can also Google 'Mindfulness Meditation' and quite easily find hundreds of videos or audios to try. Find one that you like and then try to stay with that for a number of days.
The Body Scan
Here we bring our awareness to the sensations of the body in order to bring us away from the story of thought and into the present moment.
Gather & Release
This practive starts with a Body Scan and then uses a mental image to guide us to relive any stress we may be holding onto in our hearts and minds.