This post refers to the 8 week mindfulness course in Mindfulness, a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic work. The book also has a website and blog: Frantic world
I don’t want to go into too much detail and give away the content of the book because I want you to experience it for yourselves (plus the librarian in me is very aware of copyright and the importance of respecting all the hard work the author has gone to). Here is my experience of the first week…
Week one: “Waking up to the autopilot”
This chapter is all about developing an awareness of the things that we do on autopilot.
Here are a few examples of things I regularly do without thinking:
- Eating (breakfast on the go, lunch at my desk, tea in front of the tv)
- Travelling to and from work
What would you add to this list? For me they tend to be things that I do frequently, things that I do so often that I have stopped paying any attention to them, things that have gradually disappeared into the daily routine.
The next step is to notice what you are thinking about while you are on autopilot. Chances are you will be thinking a million and one things without even realising it. Where did you leave your keys? Did you say the wrong thing to someone yesterday? What are you going to have for tea tonight? Must remember to get a birthday card at lunchtime. All this and more while you’re brushing your teeth (maybe your thoughts are slightly different?!) The important thing is that you aren’t noticing / enjoying the moment, you are living in the past and the future, all muddled up together. The problem is that when these constant thoughts become a habit, you don’t notice all the little stresses that build up until you reach breaking point.
When you reach the point where overload has seized up the conscious mind, it’s very difficult to reverse the process simply by thinking your way out, for this is like opening yet another program on the computer, overlaying it with yet another window. Instead you need to find a way of stepping outside the cycle almost as soon as you notice its begun” (pg 72)
By paying attention to the moment, I have been able to notice when thoughts start to get out of control or, more often than not, start to take a negative turn. For me this has been so helpful – by being able to spot the first negative thought, I can choose whether or not to pay it any attention. This has helped me to break out of the cycle of negative thinking – the type of thinking that goes a bit like this:
- “You’re feeling a bit jittery”
- “It’s probably because you have to get an earlier bus to work today”
- “A sure sign that you’re not really coping at work”
- “Probably won’t be long until you’re signed off again”
- “If you get signed off again, you won’t have the courage to go back in again”
- “If you lose this job you’ll never have the courage to get another one”
- “You’ll end up agoraphobic”
- “And what kind of life is that?”
All these thoughts can happen in the blink of an eye. The trick for me is to notice the first thought, e.g. “You’re feeling a bit jittery”, and then stop and ask whether this is true, and why this really might be. It could be that you’re tired, had too much caffeine, had too little caffeine… (And I’ve written my thoughts in the third person because these aren’t my thoughts, they are the whisperings of the anxiety monster).
I can now see that a thought is just that, a thought. It isn’t necessarily true, it is just something that has popped into my head. The trick isn’t to stop the thoughts, it is merely to notice them. It is my choice whether I decide to pay attention to it and act on it, or whether to decide it is an unhelpful thought and can be left to disperse. All thoughts come and go, like clouds, I don’t have to let them rule my life.
In the words of Gru from Despicable Me – Lightbulb!
And here is week 2.