8 unexpected lessons from my 8 week mindfulness course
This article was written by Luminate’s
lovely Account Manager and Wellbeing
Consultant, Sophie North, about her
recent foray into mindfulness.
I, like many people, am no stranger to a guided meditation.
I’ve dipped my toe into various meditation apps (Calm’s Sleep Stories are a regular fixture in my household) and have been lucky enough to attend many one-off guided sessions with our fab Luminate mindfulness practitioners. But I wanted to take a deep dive into mindfulness to understand a little more about how I could incorporate it into my day to day. So, at the end of the summer last year, I embarked on an 8-week intensive open mindfulness course.
The course I chose was based on a combination of both the MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) and MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) models and is usually delivered in-person in a central London venue.
No prizes for those of you that saw this coming, but my course was being delivered virtually so, alongside introducing my own home practice, I gathered with my fellow mindfulness students for a two-hour practice over Zoom once a week.
I learnt a lot about mindfulness, meditation and my relationship to both over the course of the 8 weeks, so I thought I’d take some time to share some of my lessons here…
1. Virtual training really is incredible and opens up a world of opportunities
I feel like this shouldn’t have been a learning experience for me (Luminate have been delivering their training virtually throughout the pandemic, so it really shouldn’t have been new to me!) but I was so struck by how lucky I was to be taking part in a class that had attendees in Belgium and Luxembourg as well as London.
It was so great to connect with people that I likely wouldn’t have come into contact with if I’d attended the class in person, and to be able to learn from them and their experiences too.
2. Mindfulness vs. Meditation
I think, all too often, we can get caught up in the pressure of meditation – that we need to be completely zen for hours on end, sitting in comfortable silence and ignoring any and all distractions around us.
But, for me, I found a really great benefit in focusing on the mindfulness part over the meditation.
Mindfulness is “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,” and so we can take opportunities to be ‘mindful’ throughout the day – of our experiences, what we’re seeing/hearing, of how we feel – without the need to be sitting in silence, cross-legged on the floor.
For me, the best thing to come out of my engagement with the course was my ability to be aware of the way my mind and body felt and to feel like I am in control of my mind, rather than my emotions running me. Even when a meditation practice was interrupted multiple times by a busy brain, it was really helpful to be able to take a step back, acknowledge this and recognise that that’s OK! That self-acceptance allowed me to be able to move through my day better, without the pressure of self-judgement.
3. It’s important to find your groove!
I learnt very quickly that visualisation exercises are really not ‘my thing’, and that a body scan (where the attention is rotated, slowly, around the body – usually from the feet up or the head down – and each part is taken into the mind’s attention in turn) is basically as far away from my thing as something can physically be.
It was really helpful to find my groove (for those interested, a breathing meditation is my thing) and enjoy a meditation that felt like a treat.
4. But also to test your comfort zones and keep exploring things
As with many things in our lives, our tastes change and are moulded by our experiences, our interactions, etc. For some of my classmates, a body scan was their absolute favourite practice and just because I don’t find enjoyment out of a body scan, that’s not to say there isn’t merit in taking the time to continue to explore the practice. And hey, it wouldn’t be in the spirit of mindfulness to discount that practice altogether!
For me, the “non-judgmentally” part of mindfulness is the trickiest part to master. We’re so used to labelling things as good or bad, enjoyable or horrible, and that’s a difficult habit to break. However, in pushing my comfort zone and encouraging myself to keep exploring things even when they weren’t my favourite, I could recognise my feelings towards the practice, identify any temptation to avoid it and either give myself the space to do so, or challenge myself to give it a go anyway.
5. It’s better to take 5 minutes to practice than get caught up in the ‘requirement’ to practice for a certain amount of time
In his book, ‘Unlearning Meditation,’ Jason Siff explores the concept of meditator’s guilt, saying:
“when we learn how to meditate, we try to do the instructions perfectly, setting high standards for ourselves… We consequently experience periods of failure and inadequacy, along with the occasional moments of success, but it all adds up to guilt at not meditating often enough, not doing it well enough, not being the ideal meditator.”
This really resonated with me, and I definitely felt periods of ‘failure’ throughout my 8-week experience. But, on reflection, taking the time for myself every day is an incredible achievement – whether it was for the 45 minutes that the course required, or just 10 minutes because that’s all I could fit into my day. It’s important for us to be kind to ourselves, give ourselves a break for not being ‘the ideal meditator’ and see meditation as time taken for us; something to look forward to in our day, rather than something to berate ourselves for.
6. I can be on my own
I have always had a chronic and persistent need to be around others and never on my own.
Well, that might be an overstatement but, in all seriousness, I generally do prefer to be with other people than in my own company. There’s something about being stuck with your own thoughts and feelings that can be really uncomfortable and tricky.
This was before I spent 8 weeks practicing being on my own and noticing my own thoughts and feelings. I now feel a sense of freedom being able to take time in my own head and body and investigate feelings/thought patterns/ways of being with interest… but I still can’t wait for all the social gatherings later this year!
7. And I don’t mind silence!
As part of the 8-week course, we ‘attended’ a full day’s silent retreat. I retreated to my spare room and shut the door to my partner and needy cats for the duration of the day.
We were encouraged to avoid talking or doing anything that took us away from being present in the moment with our thoughts and experiences throughout the duration of the day. That meant no phones, no reading, no Netflix, just me and various mindfulness meditations.
My mother delights to tell me of her vivid memories of my childhood attempt at a sponsored silence, which I managed for all of about 30 minutes, and the game that we used to play in the car, “let’s see who can stay quiet for the longest” – I was never made for silence. But it was actually really refreshing to be able to take the time just to myself, without distraction and relish in the alone time rather than fearing it!
8. Mindfulness in the everyday
As with Siff’s meditator’s guilt above, I think it’s really easy to feel you’re not an ‘authentic enough’ mindfulness practitioner because you don’t spend hours every day sitting in uncomfortable positions, breathing slowly to the sound of gong music. But actually, one of my biggest takeaways from my 8-week experience is how lovely it’s been to bring moments of mindfulness into my every day.
Whether that’s taking time to really enjoy a slice of cake, purposefully enjoying the feeling of the sun on my face, really listening to my cats purring or slowing down the process of making a cup of coffee to be aware of each step. It’s helped me slow down and experience moments rather than just living through them.
If you would be interested in discussing mindfulness webinars, longer mindfulness programmes, or guided meditations for your employees, please do give us a shout on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0203 637 7417.