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.


Zan said...

Great post as always. I've come to realise this more and more, you can change the pattern and you can do it pretty much immediately. Sometimes it's easier said than done.
I've found that acting 'as if' works too, forcing your lips in to a smile and at the same time thinking/acting as if you were happy.. You put on a role, and eventually you'll feel it too.

Thanks for another great post =)

Helen said...

.. how very wise!

Angela Recada said...

What a fabulous post! Everything in it spoke to me today, but most especially the last two paragraphs.

Thank you for taking the time to write it!
Years ago I wrote down something someone on a TV program said. It was something I knew to be important, something which I knew deep down to be true. I still have that piece of paper, which is at least 18 years old by now. On it I wrote, " Do one thing different. It can change your life." But I never really understood it fully until this week, I think.


miss*R said...

absolutely brilliant post... and being in the present moment.. yes, yes, yes.. something I am learning to do !!

miss*R said...

that must have been very difficult for you to sit with the client and listen to his reasoning.. I have been through that also many years ago. I have healed and can look back and see a story unfolding to bring me where I am today

and just recently my son..an awful time but of course I know that time heals

Ribbon said...

Yes I know from experience that staying conscious as often as possible as opposed to acting on autopilot makes for a more comfortable life.

Great post.

best wishes

PS... I think that this may be my first visit here and I've arrived via another blog.
I'm enjoying my time here :)

lakeviewer said...

You have an easy way to explain difficult things. This was such an example, an exercise in mindfulness to get over our anxiety moments. Thank you.

Sorrow said...

beautifully written..
How is that book coming?

Mel said...

Indeed, well written.....

And I found myself laughing--not at the 'worry' piece, but that bit about the exact 'stuff' finding you that you're needing to get in order.
I dare say that's been my experience as well.
I figure G-d has a very good sense of humour--letting me know that I don't have time to piddle fart around with getting my own stuff in order. If I don't--I cheat them and I certainly cheat me.

I consider it a swift kick in the arse from the Big Guy. LOL

tattytiara said...

Mindfulness is something I've been working on for some years now. I'm very, very happy with the progress I've made, yet still baffle at how much distance I've had to travel just to be right here right now.

Walker said...

Wow, I don't want your job yet we all have it in some small way don't we.

I friend of mine recently ended his relationship with his partner and I asked him how something like that affected his work.
He said it didn't.
Why don;t I believe him.
He's a marriage chancellor.

Airing thing aloud gives new perspective to issues.
Kinda knocks the wax out of your ears to get get to hear the whole issue and now just what you want to hear.

Great post

Pam said...

Wise post Mandy.Telling your truth is always healing. The opportunity to be heard very necessary. Your post reflects the importance of this in everyone's life.It's a journey for all of us isn't it...and it is how things manifest physically that must always be factored in I guess.Grief,anxiety and worry take such a toll,more so as we age, and it is necessary to know exactly how to deal with these things.Along with being heard and understood,resilience is such an important factor. How is there a way to exercise resilience muscles as much as we do others at the gym!!Practice I guess?

SE'LAH... said...

great post. stopping by from Soul Aperture to say HI.

one love.

日月神教-向左使 said...