I can't even tell you how long diffrentcolours
has been telling me I should try the six-week introductory meditation course at the Manchester Buddhist Centre. I really can't, because I don't remember, but I reckon it must have started at least by the time I went off work with stress, almost exactly four years ago now. (It might have even been before that, because I remember thinking I couldn't necessarily commit to six Wednesday evenings in a row and that was probably because I was working shifts at the hospital.)
He'd tried it and clearly thought it was a good thing to do, so often when I told him about panic attacks and my anxiety being through the roof, he'd tell me again how good I might find it. I always agreed, but in that kind of way that I think a holiday would be good for me but can't ever plan one.
Then a few weeks ago in the pub, smescrater
mentioned this briefly -- he's done it before too, and was talking about trying it again -- and I got all excited in that way you do when something you heard about a lot for a while shows up in another area of your life. But rather than just another data point for the "oh yeah, that'd be a good thing to do" graph, he said a new course started a week on Wednesday and a few days later while I was walking out of a cinema I got a text from ejbigred
saying she'd registered me and paid for me (this was in the completely-lacking-home-internet days for me, so it was really sweet of her to sort it out for me). And the next Wednesday, the three of us turned up for the first session, easy as that.
Have I mentioned how much easier and nicer I find it to do stuff when my friends do it too?
I know a bit about mindfulness and some basic stuff: I was given leaflets about breathing and relaxation exercises in one of my abortive attempts at CBT and a couple of times helped other stuff run such sessions on the hospital ward where I used to work.
I had about as much knowledge as a person is likely to come across in their ordinary life while still having the minimum possible experience of actually doing it.
The leader of our first meditation class asked us what we were hoping to get out of the six-week course, and one of the things I agreed with the most was something like "having a reason to take time out for myself." I felt like I was paying for not just whatever I might learn, but for the six weeks of Wednesday evenings, with a particular place to go and time to be there. The smell of incense, the big rooms, the wooden floor, the well-worn mats and cushions on which we sit were all worth the price of admission to me, because these accoutrements of meditation in the Buddhist Centre give me the indulgence of not thinking about the stuff I usually think about: what else I should be doing, what will happen next, what should have happened already and didn't...
Andrew said the other week that I'd be a good writer of horror fiction, because my anxiety means my brain is making up dreadful stories all the time. He may have something of a point there...except they wouldn't frighten any readers because they're all very selfish stories: what if I screw this up? What if I lose what's important to me? What perceived fault can I berate myself for now? Time away from these kinds of thoughts is very welcome.
Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment non-judgmentally, we were told. Each of these three things -- awareness, keeping your thoughts from straying to the past or future, and avoiding judgment -- can be difficult in its own way, and is good in its own way too.
The one I find myself concentrating on is the lack of judgment. I think I'm pretty good at that when it comes to other people, but anxiety is all about judgment. Anxiety leads me to judge that, say, the people who love me are probably just on the verge of finding out how truly unlovable I am and shunning me accordingly.
But also I'm judgmental about
my anxiety: part of my mind steps back and thinks "that doesn't actually make much sense" or "what would I tell a friend who told me they were having such gloomy thoughts?" I try to keep a tight rein on some of my emotions and thoughts because that's how I've learned to keep the anxiety at bay: by distinguishing useless, unhelpful, damaging thoughts and feelings from helpful, useful, healthy ones.
I've been hopeless at actually practicing meditation in between classes. At the end of the first week we were told our "homework" was to meditate six days out of the next seven, if only for ten minutes. It seemed eminently doable, but I didn't do it once. I did, though, think a lot about the mindfulness bit as I was going about my day, which is also something we were encouraged to do.
I didn't really want to go on the second Wednesday, a couple of days ago, because I'd had a long day at work and I hadn't seen much of Andrew lately and I just wanted to collapse on the couch and go to bed early. But of course I went (the group seemed dramatically smaller this week, though) and when we were all sitting down we were asked what we learned last week and I was the first person to say something: "Mindfulness!" And from then on I was really happy I'd dragged my sorry ass there that evening.