Mindfulness is a learnable skill. It is a capacity we all possess, by virtue of being human. Mindfulness can enable us to free ourselves from distressing thoughts, which can be overwhelming and lead to low mood, stress, worry, anxiety and unhelpful habits.
The rationale behind these Mindfulness Meditation Audios, can be illustrated through the ‘tiger task’, detailed below.
- Close your eyes and form an image of a tiger. Simply do nothing with the image for 2-3 minutes. The key is to neither try to change the image, nor stop it from changing. Allow it to have a life of its own and observe what occurs.
- Having completed the first exercise, again close your eyes and form an image of a tiger. This time, however, take 2-3 minutes to attempt to suppress the image of the tiger. The aim this time is to avoid thinking about the tiger (Robertson, 2010).
When left alone, thoughts and images naturally pass through awareness. Thoughts and images fleet through our minds like clouds passing across the sky, or leaves on a stream. In the second exercise above, you may have noticed that the more you attempt to suppress thoughts and images, the more you focus attention on the very thing you wish to suppress. Automatic thoughts come spontaneously, naturally fading from our mind when we do not engage with them. However, becoming overly-preoccupied with a certain topic, inhibits the thoughts from naturally passing through our stream of consciousness.
Essentially in the practice of Mindfulness one is responding to the situation, feelings or sensations rather than reacting. In the words of Jon Kabit-Zinn ‘You cannot control the waves, however, you can learn to surf’.
MINDFULNESS -COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS
The following are important points which will aid your Mindfulness practice.
‘My mind won’t go blank, what is wrong with me! Am I doing it wrong? My mind keeps wandering’
That’s okay. The human mind naturally remains alert. That is natural, that is the way our mind works. Our mind contains thousands of thoughts a day (estimated between 12,000 – 60,000 thoughts a day). The mind stays active when using Mindfulness. Automatic thoughts come spontaneously, naturally fading from our mind when we do not engage with them. However, becoming overly-preoccupied with certain thoughts inhibits the thoughts from naturally passing through our stream of consciousness. Accepting unhelpful automatic thoughts and feelings as harmless, recognising that they
are transient, aids one in becoming detached from them. Gently escorting your attention back to the ‘here and now’, back to the breath, is central to the practice of mindfulness.
‘Am I not supposed to be thinking about the past and future?’
Mindfulness is a useful way of responding to negative thoughts. Naturally the mind wanders to the past or the future. This is useful, if we wish to learn from experience or indeed if we are organising something for the future. However, for many people, with the pressure, strains and expectations of modern living many thoughts relating to the future or the past can be unhelpful and are in fact taking away from experience, reducing contentment and happiness. For many people when their mind wanders to the past, it can be to thoughts of ‘I should have done this’, ‘I shouldn’t have done that’ and ‘if only’. If the mind wanders to the future, it is often to ‘what if’ thoughts, thoughts of worst-case scenario (catastrophising). Too frequently, we ignore much of human experience, ruminating on and rehashing the past in our minds and/or worrying about the future. Mindfulness is a way of training the brain to respond to those thoughts that are limiting. Mindfulness is useful when you find your mind is wandering to or dwelling upon negative, unhelpful thoughts.
‘When I use Mindfulness, I am not sure if I am doing it right’
Mindfulness is not about attempting to achieve a particular state. It is an awareness that emerges when we focus attention on particular aspects of our experience in the present moment. It is simply about calmly observing, what presents itself in the present moment, allowing the experience to unfold. It is an individual experience. There is no right or wrong.