It’s not often that you get to hear what Mindfulness is from the perspective of a course participant, so here it is directly from Pam:
Mindfulness is a term many have heard by now. Some may understand it to be the latest fad in naval-gazing, others may see it as the new fix or cure. I've asked friends and family (including those on a spiritual path)what they think mindfulness is, and they said that it's meditation, or another way of mastering our thoughts. We've all got our ideas about it.
At a taster session I went to last autumn, that was run by Anna Zannides, she talked a little about the practice of Mindfulness. We did a sitting meditation and I experienced walking with awareness through all my senses. I left there feeling more alive! Why, how you might ask. I was more aware of myself in the fullness of my environment. It was like stretching out and feeling muscles I didn't know I had.
I was initially drawn to go to the taster session, having searched for a way to stop thinking and acting on automatic - like a mechanical hamster on a wheel. I was looking for a way to stop taking so much of myself and my life for granted.
At the first session of my 6 week course with Anna, she asked: what is an unstable mind? Some answers thrown out might have included;
Someone who's off the wall
A person who is highly strung
An over sensitive person
I don't know what the other participants actually said, because I wasn't really listening. I was too busy figuring out my own reply which I eagerly offered.
"Being easily influenced and swept up with other people's opinions and circumstances," I said. My reply was based on criticisms from my daughters: for not listening to them and not admitting my shortcoming. Of course I had my reasons and justifications over the years, for not listening, (usually too much on my plate, or some variation of that). Nevertheless I took on the guilt.
Anna listened to the group's offerings and said that a busy mind is an unstable mind. There in Anna's answer, was my confirmation: I was definitely in the right place.
"So what's a stable mind?" Anna probed. I pictured myself sitting squarely with legs crossed and eyes closed in the middle of a hurricane; it is said that the centre place is calm and still. I shared my thought-picture with Anna, who responded carefully. Many people have the idea she said, that we must be like Buddha - but we are human. She continued saying that we don't have to remove ourselves from the goings-on around us, or even the ones hurled at us, it's about us learning to calm ourselves in the midst of it.
"Even the Dai Lai Lama has said he can get angry or upset at times." Anna said smiling.
I was wrong, but I felt like I was in a safe space to make a mistake and learn from it. In my first class, I got clear about what is a stable and unstable mind. Learning how to observe what I think and feel, and the way I think and feel - with acceptance of where I am, is all on the path to becoming calm. This seems more do-able than the picture I was holding on to, the one with me sitting in 'the eye of the storm'.
With this distinction made, I knew that I would love the peace and stability that comes with more self awareness and acceptance.
Next, Anna told us to walk slowly round the room noting the shifts of pressure on the souls of our feet and the shifting weight of our bodies from the left-side to the right. She also asked us to notice feelings and sensations in our bodies.
I could feel the spongyness of my trainers as I pressed my heel down on the floor. I felt the tension in my ankles as I slowly shifted my weight from side to side. I felt a little anxious about bumping into the woman in front of me and thoughts about walking too slowly also came crowding in. Anna gave the group permission to accept all the thoughts and sensations that each of us had. It felt liberating to know there wasn't anything to get wrong.
For homework, Anna wanted us to observe our thoughts and journal them. That was the end of my first week's class. How did it help me? It's too early to tell. Mindfulness is not a magic trick, or superglue, or a band-aid plaster. During the session, I was stopped in my tracks to explore some of my thinking and to experience myself and my setting more fully. That's no small thing.
Anna is very down-to-earth and explained mindfulness with lots of real, everyday examples based on her experiences and learning. I feel stimulated and ready to learn more at the next class.