What: Mindfulness combines a form of Eastern meditation with elements of Cognitive Therapy in an eight session programme. The practice helps us to see more clearly the patterns of the mind and teaches us to stay in the present moment, rather than reliving the past or pre-living the future.
Origins: It was developed by Prof. Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal & is closely based on Jon Kabat Zinn's Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction programme (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre
In April 2009 I began participating in a MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) course; the course itself lasts a period of 8 weeks with dedicated (hmm perhaps not always!) home practice forming an integral part. Mindfulness for me has proved to be a blessing and an inspiration; ahem and yes, I really did just say that! I mean, how often amidst the rush & tear of our daily lives do we actually take time for ourselves; time to appreciate our thoughts, feelings, movements - distinguish the facts from our fiction.
What is this thing called 'Mindfulness'?
"Being able to make judgments is necessary. We need to assess situations & people; but sometimes we find our minds proliferating unhelpful thoughts, ideas & emotions. As we try to think our way forward, our thoughts go round & round. We have too many thoughts about too many things - how things 'should' be or have been what we 'should' do or not do. We find it hard to make decisions; or we decide to do one thing & find ourselves doing another. Mindfulness is achieved through getting to know ourselves, what we are actually experiencing and engaging with it, rather than being caught up in what we want our experience to be - or not to be. If we can be receptive to what is actually happening for & in us, then even the very simplest of experiences become richer & more rewarding - it gives us a new perspective from where we can better judge what's really meaningful & important to us" - MBSR Information September 2008
The Main elements practiced in the course are:
- The Body Scan: In which you lie relaxed on the floor and pay specific attention to each aspect of your body - starting at the toes and working your way up to the face (at which point I always get an annoying itch on my nose!) This technique helps to build an awareness of what it actually feels like to be in our own body: its sensations; its niggles; as well as its annoying itches!
- Sitting Meditation & 3 minute breathing space - pretty much exactly what it says on the tin! A key aspect of mindfulness is being kind to yourself - cultivating an essence of compassion; so when random thoughts flit through our minds whilst meditating; (which they undoubtedly do) we are taught to simply acknowledge them, perhaps even give them a name (for example... 'thinking', 'planning', 'worrying') and then let them go.
- Walking Meditation - this involves slowing everything down, being completely in-tune with our body & its movements. I'm still struggling a bit with this one! I recently attended a silent retreat and the 'mindful' walking proved a big deal; for the majority I was ok; but occasionally I glanced around and had to stifle a giggle - everyone looked like they were floating! Almost like a scene from Cocoon - a very surreal experience.
- Qi Gong - This uses gentle breathing techniques and slow, graceful movements to develop qi; it's often confused with the martial art - Tai Chi, but is slower; more controlled and focuses predominantly on the qi (energy flow). Personally I struggled with this as well to begin with; I felt really uncomfortable but now...well now things have dramatically changed. On the Cliff tops overlooking the sea; on hill tops whilst out walking; I'm finding this exercise a complete joy and it enables me to focus my attention on the mind/body connection along with its energy fields - 'Yo Mr Mayagi...ah Daniel San... don't forget to breathe...very important'.
Though I jest (often) the practice of mindfulness brings with it a great sense of peace, stillness & tranquility; the ideal to free oneself from inner suffering. This notion was reaffirmed on completion of the 8 week course; as we were each handed a bracelet. The bracelet, a simple red bead on a black thread, had been sent from a land far away where things are most definitely far from simple.
When we consider South Africa we have visions of Safari; roaming carnivores; and vast savannahs; however there is an altogether different side to this great country; a side depicting the harsh reality of everyday life here.
Set amidst a backdrop of the scenic mountains of KwaZulu-Natal; lies a forgotten community; a community much like many others. This is home to a population of 23,000 people whose daily fight for survival is exasperated by conditions of extreme poverty. At one of the highest rates in South Africa, 47% of its pregnant women are infected with HIV/AIDS; whilst 80% of the community is unemployed and the nearest medical treatment facility is 10 miles away; a journey made on foot. In this community hunger is widespread; many grandmothers provide the sole care for their orphaned grandchildren.
Working modestly in a valley in Northern KwaZulu-Natal is an inspirational community initiative. Woza Moya has 22 Community Care Workers who attend the needs of the 600 families they visit; they offer food and simple medicines, emotional support and practical guidance to those in need. The Woza Moya project works also to support the hundreds of orphans whom are at risk of being sexual abused and those children who are struggling to nurse their dying parents.
It was through this Community Care Project that the idea for 'Thought on a Thread' originated - a simple principle that encapsulates the profoundest of connotations. Having received mindfulness teaching themselves the community decided to create these identical threads so as to feel connected and share feelings of kindness with those wearing them throughout the world. Mindfulness practices everywhere are now presented with this little red bead & black thread to remind us to...
- Explore - This is our physical connection with the present; feeling the ground beneath our feet & the air against our skin
- Breathe - Be able to feel & appreciate the rise and fall of our stomach; the flow of breath as it travels in & around our entire body - how this breath can be held; cradled and then simply let go
- Connect - By touching the bead we are able to feel our connection to the present and a connection to those throughout the world wearing identical threads with a kindly awareness.
To me, this bead symbolises a fundamental kindness which is somewhat absent in my daily life; a kindness that I hold towards myself & others; a kindness I have only begun to touch upon by connecting with & exploring mindfulness.
More information can be found at: www.thoughtonathread.co.uk
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank sincerely those who shared my experience of mindfulness & from this day forth I wear my 'thought on a thread' with pride, compassion & "always with kindly awareness".