Tuesday, 26 January 2010
More on Mindfulness
It's a strange job being a therapist sometimes. The work has a peculiar collective rhythm to it, of odd coincidences. In that however many people I see, they seem to come in groups of need. In that, say a few people all needing bereavement care or whatever after weeks of having no-one all turn up with that particular issue. And it also sometimes seems to tally with what ever I've been working on in myself.
The weirdest time this happened was very soon after my ex husband had walked out on me, so I'm going back 15 years ago now. I was very battered and bruised emotionally from his totally unexpected leaving me for someone else.
I was though still coming to work and dealing, probably very badly at the time, with whomever was sent my way. I was referred this man, who wanted help dealing with his feelings as he came to terms with having an affair, whilst married. It took my breath away, as I was struggling coming to terms with being the wife. I decided when we met for his session that I couldn't in all honesty give him therapy, I wanted to kill him!
Instead I suggested that we talk as two people about our experiences of what was happening in our lives to see if we could help each other make any sense of what our partners were doing or feeling. It was a very liberating hour for both of us. He suddenly understood why his wife was so angry, and why he felt as he did in need of magic fairy dust, better known as sexual infatuation. For me it was listening to an adulterer talking through his need for something outside the humdrum existence that was his marriage. The need to feel that life wasn't over as he became consumed with passion for someone else. We never saw each other again it wasn't needed or appropriate as it wasn't therapy in the strict sense. But I think it was therapy for both of us in that we both went away from our conversation understanding another perspective that was impossible in our own damaged relationships.
So the theme recently has been Worry. Client after client coming in worrying about worrying. Hating how their feelings preoccupy them. Trying to escape from the feelings and ending up fearing them and therefore getting hooked into fear. Which in turn exacerbates into increasing anxiety and at it's worst into full blown panic attacks.
Now of course this is something I've been aware of looking at in myself. I can control my anxiety, and have never had a full blown panic attack as I understand what is happening to my body and can stop the panic taking over. I have been looking at how when a destructive thought comes in my head, how incredibly tough it is to shake off, the feeling/fear is I will never feel any different. This I know to be nonsense!
So what I have been teaching my clients is mindfulness. That is the ability to be here in the present moment. When we get into a place of anxious thinking we are projecting our fear in to the future: Nothing will change / life will always be this bad/I won't be able to cope/ I haven't got any more strength to deal with anything else; and so on.
When we get in this mind set we have no future other than this awful one we are currently trapped in.
This however isn't true.
And by starting to practise mindfulness we can change our thinking so that we stop this circular and destructive thinking.
How I do this is to do an exercise out loud in front of my clients, they of course, as when I do it for myself do not need to do it out loud!
I think about how my body is feeling, starting with my feet; as in I can feel my feet on the floor, I can feel the backs of my legs against the chair, I can feel my hands clasped in my lap, or however I'm sitting/lying etc. I work my way up my body till I get to my head. Then I ask myself what I can see, hear, smell. When I have answered these questions I am grounded physically and sensorily in the moment. And I ask myself how I am, what am I feeling. I then observe this feeling I don't change it I just sit with it for a moment.
I then thinking back to my body, suppose I've said the my leg is uncomfortable as it's crossed over the other, then I move it. I prove that I have power over my body to make it more comfortable. So I ask myself if I can do the same with my mind. Could I do something to shift this feeling. The answer is always yes.
It might be that simply acknowledging my state of mind has been enough to move that feeling. It could be that I need to let my feelings out in having a cry or shout. It could be that my getting up and doing something as simple as making a cup of tea I shift my feelings.
The theory behind all of this is to do with neuroscience, which I don't have nearly enough knowledge of to explain to anyone! But I do know that our brains can get stuck in a pattern which by doing a different task moves the synapses in the brain which makes us feel immediately different.
The moment we are in is the only time we will ever be in that moment, it makes sense to me to use that knowledge to stop the difficult emotion taking a grip on my or anyone elses mind.