MBCT Week 4
It’s hard to believe that we are already half way through the course. Thank you all for your commitment and willingness to turn up and explore mindfulness with me!
This week we looked at our progress and explored difficulty - particularly the themes of aversion and attachment to our expereinces. We noted how we don’t want certain negative experiences (like distracting thoughts) and we want more of other positive experiences (like a quiet mind). The key learning here is that in wanting more of the “good stuff” and pushing away the “bad stuff” we can get ourselves into trouble. Mindfulness is about sitting with “what is” and acknowledging that life often is not “happy” or “perfect” and that our experiences may not always be pleasant. The learning here is that by sitting with an experience regardless of whether it is perceived to be pleasant or unpleasant we gain a sense of space around it. This space is where we can access our powerful resources to cope with life; whatever it brings.
You may think of the mind a little bit like a room. That room contains pleasant and unpleasant thoughts. By opening the windows and allowing the breeze to flow through you can create some lightness around those thoughts. The pleasant and unpleasant things may still be there but we have space around them to view them with perspective.
Here’s a little reminder of what we covered, a link to the recordings and some home practice suggestions :)
WILD GEESE: A mindfulness poem:
Please find below a recording of each of the sessions (not my voice).
The sitting meditation (with sounds and thoughts)
Why we do it!:
This meditation reveals the similarities between sounds and thoughts, in that both sounds and thoughts appear randomly. Both sounds and thoughts can trigger emotions that can easily cause our minds to become hijacked. For example, you might hear a song that you last heard many years ago and immediately the feelings of what you were doing and who you were with might come up. These might be happy, jealous or angry thoughts. The point is that sounds come to us randomly and have the power to bring us off into the past or even into the imaginary future. The point of this meditation is to learn to watch what happens as you become aware of sounds. What feelings emerge? Try and label the feelings without going into detail. It is enough to say, “oh, that’s a sad feeling” or “that’s a jealous feeling”. Again as with all of the other meditations we invite you to see whatever thoughts emerge as just thoughts. They are not you. See them as mere clouds passing over the sky, some big, some small. Invite yourself to view these thoughts with wonder, curiosity, kindness and acceptance. In this meditation try and see the thoughts as they emerge, how long they stay around before disappearing and being replaced by some others.
The emotional brain
The brain classifies the world into things that will hurt you or help you stay alive. Everything that you do in your life is based on your brains motivation to minimise danger and seek out reward.
A part of the brain called the “limbic system” scans information coming in via our senses and prioritises what you need to pay attention to and what needs to be avoided. In prehistoric times, this part of the brain was used to alert you to the fact that the shape in the bushes was either a lion or a fruit bush. Not having a limbic system would be detrimental to our survival!
Emotions that we experience such as happiness and curiosity are attachment emotions. Sadness, Fear and Anxiety are avoidance emotions. The limbic system is constantly making avoidance and attachment decisions. These decisions happen without thinking, within a fraction of a second and often without you being aware that it is happening.
When your limbic system becomes aroused you are even more likely to respond negatively to situations. You will look at the negative and take even fewer risks than normal. The limbic system, which is always on the look out for danger, looks for even more danger when faced with threats.
An example of this is being called into a meeting with your boss and getting a negative review. On leaving the office you automatically become aware of other employees staring at you and this has a further effect on your emotions.
This week we will start to move outside this circle and watch the thoughts and their associated emotions and bodily sensations as they appear. We are not seeking to engage with those thoughts (what we called Negative Automatic Thoughts or NAT’s) but just watch them. You were able to identify a few of your own NAT’s in the exercise where we circled our anxious or depressed thoughts.
Remember the story of the mathematician who couldn’t solve the problem until he thinking about it? The moment he stopped trying to solve the problem the answer came! Its the same with our feelings. Thoughts do not FIX feelings. However by stepping back and observing the physical feelings and thoughts that we have in difficult situations we can find peace and access our inner resources for coping with them.
As you learn to become more skilful in viewing these thoughts as merely thoughts and not you, it will enable you to gain some time to decide what to do with them. This week has been largely about developing this skill.
This week try and listen to the mindfulness of sounds and thoughts once (I know its a longer one). Also practice the 3 minute breathing space AT LEAST once a day. You won’t regret it. Use the emergency version if you’re in a tricky situation.
I hope you find this all helpful. Any questions please ask!
I look forward to seeing you next week.