When my therapist first suggested that I took a mindfulness course I thought she lost her mind, mostly because just the idea of attending any group was terrifying me and there was just no way I could do THAT, without really knowing what THAT was. It took quite some time but I finally caved and agreed to give it a try. The course that I attend might be slightly different from the regular once as this was one specially for autistics like myself. I would like to compare it to the regular courses but I can’t because I have no experience with them. I am still in the middle of it but wanted to explain what I am doing and how I am finding it so far.
Obstacle 1: going to the course
doing new things is always difficult for me, its not knowing what to expect that is really getting to me. It feels like jumping off a building and just hoping there’s a net to catch me at some point, its terrifying. New people are just as scary, thoughts like “how will they react to me?” “what is expected of me?” “I’ll act like a freak” will plague my mind and the only way to find out if they are realistic is jumping into the deep.
What kind of new-age crap is this ?
Was pretty much what I thought when I first looked into it and in my defence, on the surface it kinda looks like that. The origin of mindfulness isn’t new age, its quite old. It has its roots in Buddhism. I am not a spiritual or religious person at all, I am more seeing is might be believing if what I see makes sense. So you can say that I was sceptical about the whole thing and will keep questioning the things I learn because I need everything to make sense for me or I’ll just be confused. Most (if not all) courses are given in a religion neutral way, so that you don’t need to be or become a Buddhist to practice it. There are also been done a lot of scientific studies to the effectiveness of the method for several (mental) illnesses and complains. Here is a (probably incomplete) list of published studies, if you really want to get into it.
Obstacle 2: practice
the main reason I go to the course is I am not a very disciplined person, to really get the hang of it you’ll need to practice the meditations daily. I need someone that expects me to do it. Even tho the tutor would never tell me off if I don’t, the idea that I have to is enough. I have no self-discipline but am very faithful to my obligations. If I can stick with it when the course is over isn’t entirely sure but chances are better now I have experienced the benefits.
so, it works but how ?
When we sport or shop, our body is active, when we learn or puzzle the mind is active. When you want to give your body rest you sit or lay down but how do you give the mind a break ? Thought is a process that goes on and on, attempts to stop it will fail and will even tire because you trying to stop the unstoppable. Sorry but there is no off-switch for the brain, well a 9 calibre bullet might do it but I wouldn’t recommend that. The theory is that a focused mind is a rested one, instead of letting once thoughts bounce around from subject to subject or thinking about how to make world peace happen 24/7 you will be taught to focus your mind on something that is in the present like a breath. worrying is about the future or past, by focusing on something that is here and now you can stop worry in its tracks. The meditations can also help to improve concentration, to be better in touch with your body (by directing your focus to it. That is part one, by meditating you can learn how to give your mind a break and direction. Part two has more to do with how you approach the problems you face but also yourself, the principle is that its better to be kind and accepting then to be negative and fight against things you can not really change anyway. For example its raining, everyone knows you can’t stop the rain from falling. then you can do two things, getting frustrated or upset by thinking about all the things you wanted to do outside and why does it always rain when I want to do stuff and even the weather isn’t nice to me etc. or you can accept that its raining and either pick up an umbrella or do something inside. (the example is a bit extreme but it makes the point) neither one will solve that its raining but with the second you’ll be in a better mood then the first. Thoughts are regarded as just that, they are not good or bad they are just thoughts. Something you can just let pass by and doesn’t necessary need action or further attention. The same goes with feelings, you acknowledge that they are there and they don’t need to go away but also don’t need any more thought or attention. Even the worst of feelings and thoughts will go away again. This doesn’t mean you can’t change things that you find unpleasant but the idea is that you are in control of them rather then the other way around, if you are then the choice of what to do is yours.
Obstacle 3: kindness and acceptance
I think that most people would say I am a kind and tolerant person (at least I hope they do) but I am not always the same way with myself. And with reason, I found that I am so troubled by fears that I need to be strict with myself if I want to do anything. I am also a perfectionist, if I can find fault in my work, actions or even emotions I will find them and even make them more important then the things that did go right because these are the once I find should change, so they need more attention. I am a practical person, so if there is something that I don’t like I want to fix it, accepting that some things just are the way they are is quite difficult. I have also bettered myself in ways I didn’t thought possible before so what is to say I can’t do it again? Because I feel that those qualities have been helpful for me in my life, I find it hard to let them go, I am protective of them even tho I recognize they aren’t very helpful or even healthy.
what goes on behind closed doors?
Now we have had the theory, lets move on to how I am learning this new skill set. Every Monday afternoon I have lessons, the group is made up out of 7others the miss who will teach us and me, for this course this is a full group but other courses might have more people in it. The whole thing takes about 2 hours, about 80% of the time we are meditating, then a good 15% discussing the meditations we have done and how we did at home. The other 5 % is getting information and homework. We do the meditations sitting on chairs by a large table, other courses might choose to lay down on yoga mats. The discussions after the mediations are about how we experienced the meditations and if there where any obstacles we met when doing them. The instructions come from a book written specifically to learn mindfulness to people with a ASD (autism spectrum disorder) with the somewhat unimaginative title mindfulness for adults with autism. The book is written by Annelies Spek a clinical psychologist who has chosen autism as her field of expertise. The homework we get is a combination of reading the information in the book and practicing the different kinds meditations on a daily basis.
Obstacle 4: talking
you know when someone suddenly asks you “and how was it for you?” and you suddenly can’t find a word to describe the experience ? Well that happens to me a lot (now pack up that dirty mind and remember we are talking about a mindfulness course). Sometimes when given time I can kind of explain it other times I just fail to do so. I am well aware of this weakness what makes me insecure what is not helping the whole thing.
Tips and tricks.
Get all the information you need, its good to know where you getting yourself into.
Be patient, we all want direct results but it doesn’t work that way.
Make time, practising takes time and you have to be willing to make the time for it.
Be motivated, it will never work if you don’t really want to learn it.
In a group or on your own, choose the way that fits you best.