Posted by: cg00n | February 9, 2011

Mindfulness vs. Depression & Anxiety: 2/4

Happy Mental Health Day!  CBC celebrated with a short news piece directly related to this posting.   I, on the other hand, bring you part 2 of the continuing series of reports on the eight-week course I took late last year.

Access other parts of the course coverage:

Week 3 – Mindfulness of the Breath.

Mindfulness of breath meditation was presented more formally this week as a skillful means to deal with problems.Focusing on the breath brings us back to the here and now.  The breath is always available as an anchor to the present moment.

This week we were introduced to walking meditation.  It is somewhat easier for most people, especially if you are agitated and restless since this form involves movement.  Instead of focusing on the breath what you do is to pay attention to the physical sensations in your feet as you walk, every little detail as you move your weight from one foot to the other, balance (or fail to), swing your leg and so on.  Normally you don’t pay much attention to what you see or hear while walking but we were asked to do a little extra.  From time to time we had to focus on what we were seeing but not think about it:  just see whatever was there without judgment or evaluation.  For example, I might look up and see a collection of slender, vertical poles evenly spaced in a row with a horizontal piece running along the top.  If I allowed myself to think about this I would call it “a fence” but as soon as I did that my instructions were to return to basic walking meditation again.  It must have looked pretty weird to anyone watching us wandering around the parking lot.  The point of the exercise was to practice noticing forms without thinking about function.  This ability is useful in separating thoughts from the trains of thought and interpretations that so often follow and which may be unwanted.  You want to be able to see a thought as just that:  nothing more.

Another form of movement meditation we tried involved standing in one place and moving our bodies and arms in a prescribed manner.  In this case we are supposed to pay attention to the niceties of the movements, much as we would focus on the feet during walking meditation.  Our emotions often show up as body sensations:  tension, discomfort, pain in various places.  The repetitive movement exercises help us to notice these feelings.

The third form of meditation introduced this week was the 3 minute breathing space.  Obviously this is a very short form of mindfulness of breath meditation intended to be practiced frequently during the day, to help keep yourself connected to now which is really the key point of this whole course.  First you try to become aware of the present moment by adopting an erect and dignified posture as you would for any other sort of sitting meditation.  Then acknowledge and register your experience in terms of thoughts, feelings and sensations.  Do this to the best of your ability even if you don’t like your current experience.  Then transfer your awareness to your breathing and watch your breath for a little while.  Gradually expand your awareness to include a sense of your body as a whole.  Finish the process when about three minutes has elapsed.

The purpose of all this is to stay connected to what is happening right now and to observe without being involved.  It helps to think of yourself in the third person (“he is cold”, “she is thirsty” etc.) or to think passively (“pain is here”) rather than making the experience personal.  Awareness without judgment is basically an objective view of what is happening.  Noticing subtle shifts in thinking and awareness is a part of this process.

Remember:  don’t just do something:  sit there.

Homework:

  • practice each day…
    • movement exercises
    • 10 minutes sitting
    • 20 minutes walking
    • 3 minute breathing space 3 times
  • record unpleasant events as they happen
  • read chapter 11: Dealing with Distractions 1

Week 4 – Staying Present.

We continued to work on staying present for whatever is happening right now, no matter how bad or distracting it might be.  This is necessary in order to notice our automatic reactions (typically spacing out, hanging on or aversion) so that we can instead respond mindfully  in more skillful ways.

Many people use the movement or walking  practices as a transition into sitting meditation.  It is easier than just plonking oneself down on a chair and trying to sit still, especially if you are agitated.  Being agitated is not necessarily bad, up to a point:  one can look at a crisis as an opportunity to practice

The next topic of discussion was how to tell if you are on the edge of a depression or anxiety episode.  Many people in this state experience  very specific thoughts, such as:

  • I feel like I’m up against the world
  • I’m no good
  • I’m always thinking about what I should do
  • No one understands me
  • I’ve let people down
  • I don’t think I can go on
  • I worry continually about big and small problems
  • I’m afraid I’ll make a mistake in front of others
  • My life’s not going the way I want it to
  • I’m so disappointed in myself
  • Nothing feels good anymore
  • I’m continually thinking “what if”
  • I can’t keep my mind on one thing
  • I’m afraid something bad will happen to me or my loved ones
  • I wish I were somewhere else
  • I can’t stand this anymore
  • I hate myself
  • I’m worthless
  • I wish I could just disappear
  • I feel restless and on edge
  • I’m a loser
  • My life is a mess
  • I can’t put worry out of my head
  • I’ll never make it
  • I feel so helpless
  • Something has to change
  • There must be something wrong with me
  • My future is bleak
  • I feel pressure to do things perfectly
  • I can’t finish anything

Some of these “Automatic Thoughts” will probably sound very familiar.   Put a check mark against those which occur often and double-check those that are particularly disturbing.   When you notice a double-check thought pop into your consciousness perform a 3-minute breathing space meditation.  It is important to learn not to just dismiss the thought:  let it just sort of remain floating there while you bring your awareness to what is happening in the present moment.  Watch what happens objectively.  You may not feel a whole lot better but you are more than your thoughts and feelings.  This is a way to avoid being dragged under by them.

Homework:

  • on alternate days practice:
    • 20 minute sitting meditation
    • 20 minute walking meditation
  • each day practice:
    • 3 minute breathing space & coping with unpleasant thoughts
    • movement meditations
  • read chapter 12: Dealing with Distractions 2

Next episode: weeks 5 & 6

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Responses

  1. Good stuff!


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