Posted by: cg00n | March 4, 2011

Mindfulness vs. Depression & Anxiety: 3/4

Where did the last month go?  Whatever happened must have been fairly painless because I can’t recall anything really bad happening.  My two latest lumps (one positive, one negative) have been gone for a couple of weeks and the stitches came out yesterday.  I thought you might be amused to see how they look before the surgeons hack into them:

On the left we have the positive, growing melanoma lump on my inside calf and on the right the negative, probably-scar-tissue lump on the outside. I can’t wait to find out where the next one will be!

Now, back to the plot.  The 8-week course table of contents:

We now continue with…

Week 5 – Allowing and Letting Be.

[Note:  I actually missed this session due to another lumpectomy.]

Long day of mindfulness (1pm – 6pm)

The session started with a “Carrying your Depression exercise” using trash cans or some similarly awkward-to-carry object.

  1. Walk around carrying the trash can at arms length, getting the dirt and smell of it as far away as possible.  Note how this becomes tiring after a while.
  2. Now walk around holding the trash can close to you.  It may be less pleasant but it is also less tiring.

Holding a dirty trash can close may be unpleasant but it is “clean pain”:  the only bad part is the trash can itself.  Holding it at arms length ultimately results in more discomfort due to effort:  this is “dirty pain”.  The question to consider is: “Am I willing to experience something I don’t want if doing so is necessary to getting unstuck from depression and anxiety?”

Another variant of meditation, Allowing and Letting Be, came next.

  • there are 2 parts to this: mindfulness + acceptance
  • acceptance is the part that really helps to prevent relapse but this is built on a foundation of mindfulness:  being present.
  • rather than pushing away negative feelings and thoughts accept them; watch them; hold them close; study them.
  • trying to fix problems can lead to a negative feedback loop if a fix is impossible
  • notice when the mind keeps returning to the same negative place and use allowing and letting be.  breathe into the sensation and repeat: “It’s OK. Let me feel it”.

To try a “test run” of this style of meditation, start with the usual sitting meditation and watch the breath for a few minutes.  Then bring to mind an unpleasant experience, something that bugs you but keep it small to start with! Don’t try to work with some unmitigated catastrophe the first time you try this.  You may need to push larger concerns away until you are familiar with the technique.  Let the experience occupy your awareness without thinking about it or trying to solve the problem:  just let it be.  Watch any thoughts about this that may arise: examine them, decide if they are accurate (e.g. “if this goes on I will scream”; really?)  Also notice any sensations that may arise:  these may be non-mental  products of the unpleasant experience.  Allow all this to happen without rejecting it or thinking about it.

Accepting and letting be can be incorporated into a coping version of the 3 minute Breathing Space meditation introduced in Week 3.  This variation is very useful for dealing with moments of great stress during the day:

  1. Become aware of the present moment by adopting an erect and dignified posture.  Acknowledge and register your experience right now.
  2. Transfer your awareness to your breathing and watch your breath.
  3. Gradually expand your awareness to include a sense of your body as a whole and especially to any sense of discomfort, tension or resistance.  Breathe into any such sensations and on the out breath, say to yourself: “It’s OK, whatever it is.  Let me feel this.”
  4. Finish the process when about three minutes has elapsed.

Homework:

Week 6 – Thoughts are Not Facts.

Study your thoughts with gentle interest and curiosity rather than simply reacting to them.  In particular, if you get familiar with habitual unhelpful thoughts it becomes much easier to break out of a vicious circle that may lead to depression or anxiety.

Program for Negative Thoughts:

When a negative thought arises examine it from the following points of view.  After each step go back to breathing for a few breaths.

  1. Perhaps I am confusing a thought with a fact
  2. Perhaps I am jumping to conclusions
  3. Perhaps I am thinking in black-and-white terms
  4. Perhaps I am condemning myself totally because of one thing
  5. Perhaps I am concentrating o n my weaknesses and forgetting my strengths
  6. Perhaps I am blaming myself for something that isn’t my fault
  7. Perhaps I am judging myself
  8. Perhaps I am setting unrealistically high standards for myself so
    that I will fail
  9. Perhaps I am mind reading or crystal ball gazing
  10. Perhaps I am expecting perfection
  11. Perhaps I am overestimating disaster

And now a wise word or two from Michael J. Fox:

I may be different from other people, but someone told me that the
growth of happiness is in direct proportion to your acceptance, and
in inverse proportion to your expectation.

Homework:

Next episode: weeks 7 & 8

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