Post 7 – Meditation, mindfulness and me

Management, music, medication, mindfulness, meditation, macaroons and minimalism. Seemingly words starting with M are important to me (look another one).

Management of depression, rather than recovery is the word I now use, from an acceptance that depression is part of but not a definition of me.

Minimalism is not a medical treatment. It’s an approach to life which I am exploring and may post something in future on which parts of help me.

Music is very important – listening and dancing inanely too that is. (Sticking with M – Meat Loaf for lyrics to misquote at any opportunity and Muse for air guitar moments)

This week is about mindfulness and meditation. They are treatments I have chosen to embrace, unlike medication, which I initially resisted. That will be a future post as I would like to explore medication in more detail.

Medication works on me, whereas meditation and mindfulness require work from me.

For people with depression it can be especially hard to follow meditation and mindfulness, given you need energy and motivation, which depression steals away. [As an aside, I dislike the word ‘depressives’ – people with depression are simply that: people with depression. People with other serious illnesses don’t get labelled in the same way. ]

This is my personal experience of how mindfulness and meditation help with my anxiety and depression management. For some people these may work in other ways or mean something different. They may not work for some people. And you do not have to suffer from depression to get benefits.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is heavily promoted and marketed, in the press, books, smartphone apps and numerous websites. Ignore the marketing and consumerism angles, as that often misses out the true meaning. There are many neuroscience reports and research articles which highlight the benefits, albeit more research is ongoing and its acknowledged that in some specific instances it may not enable the quoted benefits.

The British Psychology Society defines mindfulness as ‘ paying attention in a non-judgemental way to the experience of here and now’. A lot of the material I have read and learnt from bring compassion and curiosity into that definition.

The banality of the everyday can become awesome.

My view. It has enabled me to see things differently. To stop and just observe, of the everyday things we take for granted. It has allowed self-compassion, to offset self-criticism and given me time to look at my intent rather than emotional driven action or reaction. To me compassion is a critical addition. When was the last time you congratulated yourself and actually accepted that feeling? Or when you made an error told yourself it was fine, as you would to another person?

Science view. There is a lot of positive research and neuroscience to back up the benefits. Studies of the brains of people meditating even just for a short period show changes (activity, size and connections) in the brain regions associated with decision making (prefrontal cortex and cingulate cortex), memory (hippocampus) and emotional regulation (prefrontal cortex and amygdala). Research suggests the benefits can be:

  • more focus and being less prone to distraction
  • heightened awareness of the body
  • increased emotional control and ability to cope with unpleasant emotion
  • a changed view of the self

In a previous post I talked about trying to look at things with child-like awe, with a renewed curiosity of seeing things. At the same time I try to pay attention to the emotions that the observation brings. That’s what this means to me. Notice the words trying and try – it’s hard, you have to work at this! Here’s an example :

I looked at the sky and noticed the vapour trail of an aeroplane. Some of my thoughts and emotions- I was saddened by the damage to the environment, but with awe that humans could design and build a thing that could transport many people , hundreds of miles, travelling at immense speed. Then thinking about those on board – perhaps an excited family going on holiday, a person nervous on a first flight, a doctor travelling to present at a medical conference on some amazing discovery, a bored business man, a relative travelling to a funeral. To spend a few minutes thinking like that was something I never did before. It helped me see something very common in a different way.

Meditation

Meditation is an integral part of mindfulness, given it helps focus on the present. It’s been a cornerstone of many religions for many centuries, but I use a secular form. The ability to stop and focus on the present, considering your thoughts in a useful way (on that reflection train not the rumination train!) is challenging to do and rewarding. Just doing ten minutes of being still, not doing anything bar listening to your breathing and guiding your thoughts back to the present can provide benefits of calmness and reduced stress.

What could be a more simple way to help your health than by just pausing and breathing ?

Or as Dr Danny Penman brilliantly sums up : “You will need : a chair; a body; some air; your mind. That’s it.”

I have only just started to scratch the surface of meditation and am hugely looking forward to a Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy course starting shortly. Developed by the University of Oxford, the workshops will be run by my therapist, consisting of a small group of people with depression and anxiety. I am excited for two reasons – to deepen my use of mindfulness and meditation and to do so within a small group of people experiencing similar as I am, supporting each other as we learn.

Being DAB

To help me be mindful I considered what values or words represented it for me. They were Balanced, Aware, Deliberate. As an acronyms BAD is not so great and the immediate image was Michael Jackson singing ‘Bad’. I reversed to DAB.

When I shared this with my therapist she said ‘Ah, like the dance move?”, which she briefly demonstrated, in response to my confused look. This highlights two things – it never ceases to amaze what you learn in therapy and that my therapist is far more up to date with dance moves than I am.

Back to the point. DAB worked as an acronym for me as it tied in with my artistic attempts, so I imaged dabbing paint onto canvas. The final visualisation was of a Buddhist monk, performing calligraphy, carefully considering very move of the brush. So if I want to check, I think what approach is DAB? That is, to consider the intention of what I am doing, are my emotions balanced and being aware of the present, not being distracted.

Some days I am not DAB at all (far from it on a bad day), some days I am novice at DAB. But it helps and that’s what counts for me.

Oh yes – macaroons. I am partial to a chocolate covered one with a coffee.

Have a weekend full of curiosity and wonder, Chris

Related websites

Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World [http://franticworld.com]

University of Oxford Mindfulness [http://oxfordmindfulness.org/]

For those still confused by the dab dance thing [https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dab_(dance)]

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