I began to practice mindfulness around about 10 years ago. The consultant psychiatrist I was under the care of at the time was forever trying to get me to take up new ways of coping with depression associated with Manic Depression/Bipolar Disorder and I was forever trying to put him off. He knew that there was little chance of getting me to meditate because meditation was always associated with religion in my head (long story) and it was always a struggle. I, rather predictably, sighed and raised my eyes to heaven when he mentioned mindfulness and eventually agreed to try it as an experiment. He’d burned a CD for me with two guided meditations on it. He suggested, because I find sleep very difficult (another long story), that I try the lying down meditation towards bedtime. I was sceptical but promised that I’d try it and that I’d do it that night.
I remember switching the CD player on and being in dread of listening to 39 minutes of something I didn’t really want to do but I can’t remember the guided meditation coming to an end because I fell asleep. When I woke the next morning I realised that I’d had the best nights sleep that I’d had in years and that was enough to make me try the meditation a second time and to stay awake that time.
Mindfulness is not a relaxation technique (though that’s always been a good side effect for me), it is a way of being in the now. It places you in the second that you are living and not the one that has past or the one that has yet to come. It allows you to look back and learn from the past without living in it but also to look forward and plan without placing too much emphasis on future events. The technique is simple and anybody can learn enough about it to get some benefit from it. It’s more difficult to do when I’m manic but not impossible and always with a positive effect.
The guided meditations that I use are about concentrating on your body and knowing where each part of it is so that you can only focus on the now and what is happening in that time which is great but when you’re having a panic attack on a bus you can’t lie down in the aisle and go through a guided meditation – or not without the risk of getting sectioned anyway. Once you realise that you can kick start being mindful wherever you are then it all becomes really simple. My favourite way is to sip a drink and concentrate on how it feels in my mouth; the temperature, the texture, the taste and how it makes me feel. When I do that it is impossible to project out of the moment in any direction and it is less likely that I will be overwhelmed with anxiety. As I mentioned, one of the side effects for me is that I become more relaxed, so everything becomes just a little easier to cope with.
As you’d imagine, mindfulness is much easier to practice when I’m depressed and my mind offers less resistance but when I’m manic it is usually quite a different story. Recently though I’ve hit on a way of making manic energy more productive and being able to harness that through mindfulness – I bake bread. The kneading takes my excess energy and transforms it, as if by magic, into food which is wonderful but it also has a rhythm that takes over and becomes a mindful experience. The mania often does go on to develop into something nastier but for a while at least I can use the energy against itself. Sort of like judo for the mind, you use your opponent’s strength as a weakness.
Mindfulness isn’t a cure all and for some people it’s a doesn’t even come close to helping but, as has been proved to me, it’s well worth a shot. It’s something I’ve learned to build into my every day life for instance, when I go out with my camera I get lost in the taking of photos – that’s mindfulness and people probably do that without realising what it is. Meditation shouldn’t be about taking big chunks of your time in order to learn how to use time more wisely, it should fit in with your life and become a part of it and that is what mindfulness does. Try it – I dare you.
The University of Bangor in Wales have an excellent reputation in mindfulness, click here to see what they have to offer (includes guided meditation recordings).