Mindfulness-the Journey of the Caterpillar.
This blog is a reflection of my first session along with nineteen other people with Huw Griffiths of Bath Mindfulness this past weekend. I had chosen to embark on the mindfulness journey having read a lot about it online and in books, and many trainers and coaches often refer it to. So putting my Sherlock Holmes hat on and engaging my open and very enquiring mind I set off to the Oriel Hall here in Bath for my first session.
There were twenty of us, and Huw started the session by talking about the relationship that goes on in our brains between the ‘reptilian’ and the ‘emotional’ brain and how they talk to each other through feelings and how this impacts on the ‘thinking’ part of our brains causing among other things ‘worry’. He talked further about the ‘plasticity’ of our brains, that being our capacity to learn. This learning is created by the ability to absorb continually and discern and make judgements. He continued by stating that the only reality we have is the moment we live in right now. Yesterday is history tomorrow is a mystery etc. Our moment right now is where our attention should be, attention is not thought, thinking is not awareness, attention stops thought, we should be aware and pay attention to the moment we are in right now. I was captivated.
So the first of many exercises got underway, each of them focussed on the breathing, or ‘the breath’ as Huw referred to it. We were told to close our eyes, and breathe in deeply three times. To focus on the moment, here, in the room, with everyone else, at this time, at this moment. Once we had done this we were to continue in this ‘state’, focussing on the breath, if our minds wandered into thoughts or ideas (and they would and did) then there was to be no judgement, just think of a piece of silk, pull on the silk and bring yourself back to the breath. We repeated this again only for about ten minutes, and during this time, a few loud noises could be heard outside. Nothing abnormal about that you might say, but as I was focussing so much on my own ‘moment’ and my own ‘breath’ it may as well have a been a bomb going off. It was truly so disruptive to my state of mind. Clearly this stuff was having an effect.
Huw talked through some things Jon Kabat-Zinn, an acclaimed author whose book I later bought when I got home, and then we were to do it all again, this time with our eyes open. Well a third open, and focussing on a vase of flowers. It was harder this time, but once again Huw’s velvety hypnotic tones lead us back to the breath and again I found myself in the moment and feeling pretty good about it.
Huw then took us through the challenge of staying focussed on the breath, and to train ourselves with constant practice the art of being in the moment without distracting thoughts getting in the way. The longer we can focus on the breath the better, and he informed us that Buddha said true enlightenment was achieved in the same time it took for a caterpillar to travel from the centre of ones forehead to the end of ones nose. This was the duration of time we should all aim for with our focus on the breath.
We had to experience mindfulness from the other senses now and Huw gave each of us a simple raisin to hold. We were asked to get to know our raisin. I was just getting to know my breath, now I needed another friend? Well OK “hello little raisin”. We had to be aware of the texture, the smell, then and the taste by holding it first in our lips then our mouth, for quite some time. It was quite something to explore this little raisin. Huw asked us how many times we had rushed through something and not truly savoured or appreciated the experience. Could we really appreciate just how much something as simple as a raisin could offer, at this time, right now, right here in this moment? We then ate the raisin.
Next it was about mindful walking, now at this juncture, I must point out that many people might have had enough, and I would not have perhaps taken this very seriously or been complete sceptics about this mindfulness thing. Take my word for it, you have to give yourself to it, be open to it, and it will make a difference. There is something about giving yourself permission to experience something like this. So mindful walking, a stance you adopt whereby you are very aware of your breath, and every step you take, be it forward, backward, sideways whatever. We were told not to think about where we were going, but just to walk. So we walked, and we breathed, and we were all very aware. Not self-conscious, no, just very aware and in the moment. For fifteen or so minutes we just walked and it was simply wonderful. Huw explained later that taking time to just do nothing and be in the moment, focussed on the breath with no distracting thoughts or judgements was hugely beneficial. As someone who is constantly on the go, and only sits down to catch my breath or to think about what I am going to be doing next, this was odd, a waste of time almost, but as I practiced, it was beginning to make so much sense. Taking just fifteen minutes a day to do this could make me more productive, calmer, more considered, more in the moment.
Finally we were in for the big finale. The Body-Scan. We were asked beforehand to bring a mat and cushion and comfortable clothes. We all lay down on our mats and closed our eyes, whilst Huw once again helped us find the breath, no thoughts, no judgement, just the silken thread bringing us back to the breath. His hypnotic tones weaved their magic as he asked us to focus first on our feet, then up to our shins and so on, around our shoulders and back and head. This continued for almost thirty minutes although it could have been five minutes or five hours, I was totally out of it, well not out it, I was in the moment, aware, with my new best friend, my breath. It ended with Huw playing a kind of musical instrument that had an equally hypnotic quality and when it finished I can truly say I had never felt so relaxed, yet so alert. The only way that I can liken it to anything is after a good workout when you feel great on the endorphin or when you eat something that you know is doing you so much good from the inside.
I left the hall in a haze of euphoria, looking forward to the eight-week course I have embarked on in May. I arrived home really believing that I had done something very worthwhile, just for me. That mindfulness has amazing benefits for my work, my home and my overall mental wellbeing. The practical applications of mindfulness are boundless, from coaching and mentoring people, to management of stress and anger, which are the most obvious, but also to doing other things like weight training in the gym, or focussing on an assignment. Right now whilst working on this blog, I have been aware of the moment, my breathing and actually being present. My dog has just brought muddy paws in from his latest digging expedition and I am now aware of that, but hey, I am new to this!