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Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

Mary poem

Why the Pressure Cooker?

At the end of the last post, I explained that what I wanted to understand was why, when I’d finished a boring but not My head cooking v2particularly dangerous process, in this case the renewal of our house insurance, it felt as though my brains were boiling.

I decided to place this matter before my subliminal mind and wait and see what popped into consciousness. This approach has worked many times in the past as long as I remain alert for the whispered hints that float up from the cellar of my mind.

Sure enough, late that night, as I was cleaning my teeth, I thought to ask myself again why I got so uptight. The answer came: it was partly to do with my sister Mary’s death.

I’ll need to explain that, I suspect.

Mary was 12 years old when she died in 1939, four years before I was born. My parents were in grief still, having had the war to cope with as well as their grieving process. To put it somewhat dramatically, it felt as though my mother’s anxiety about my health and my father’s broken spirit had imprinted a conviction on my soul that, because you never know how long you might live, time is infinitely more important than money.

Most of us, in this society, will be able sooner or later to earn again what we have spent. Time that has been wasted cannot be replaced. Once it is gone, it gone forever. So, to put it more materialistically, spending time trying to save small amounts of money/dosh/dough/loot, no matter how I try to rationalise it as prudent, violates the conviction branded on my brain in childhood.

And it is hard for me to look upon my personal ‘scripture,’ in which so much emotion has been invested, merely as a childhood script from which it would be right and helpful to detach my mind in the moments when it is screaming to be heard. This is what being mindful would require and I don’t think I’m quite that mindful yet.

The following day, though, I began to wonder whether this explanation, poignant as it seemed, was all there was to it. It would have been easy to accept the emotion-drenched story as a full account of the problem, plausibly painting the trauma as all that was needed to make me, its victim, the prisoner of this kind of over-reaction.

When I remembered to ask again, it soon became apparent that the Death and Dough part of it, though clearly powerful, was only the beginning. As often happens the problem was, in psychobabble, ‘multiply determined.’  I was equally determined to get to the bottom of it.

Notebook with Eye v2

The Full Five Dimensions

The subliminal mind obliged with a set of responses as I sat quietly by the garden table with my notebook in hand. Three more ideas surfaced.

I hate commercial Deadlines.

At first I thought it was all deadlines, but I checked with myself and remembered that producing pieces of work for a deadline has never really bothered me, anymore than completing blog posts on schedule is a problem. No, it’s definitely the deadlines imposed by big companies for their contracts or insurance companies for their policies, as in this case.

I know I regard most big companies as sharks who are out to extract from us without anaesthetic every dollar/penny that they can. But why was I so uptight just for that? I know they can’t really eat me. I do seem to be exaggerating the costs of failing to meet the deadline.

I remembered how I feel when the car service is due. It’s as though I believe that if I miss the date, when I get into the car the following day the engine will fall out. Maybe I have the same fears with house insurance – fail to renew on time and the roof caves in.

It was worth holding this crazed logic in mind as a possible factor.

But Deadlines were not the end of it. There were going to be five dimensions working hard to get my brain buzzing with this problem.

The whisper came through that the Devil of the fourth dimension was in the Detail.

I hate picking over details. This could be a temperamental issue. If you accept there is some validity in the Myers-Briggs typology and it’s not as flaky as astrology, then I am an INFP. True to form, I won’t bore you with what that means in detail.

I’ll cut straight to the chase.

A website describes one aspect of people with this personality profile: ‘The mundane aspects of life are of less interest to this type, and they are more excited by interesting ideas than by practical facts.’ That’s me to a ‘T.’ So, whether there’s anything in this personality typing model or not, the description is an exact fit. If it’s not a question of temperament, I’m not sure where the trait comes from.

I’m definitely a lumper rather than a splitter in terms of my instinctively preferred mode of operation. Always the big picture: never the nitty-gritty.

It’s also true though that the preference for ideas rather than practicalities might also relate to the money issue I described at first: money is just too mundane a thing for my abstraction-loving mind to be bothered with. This notion, if it is true, has clearly been reinforced by my childhood experience of my parents’ grief.

And, to be fair, also by the stories that came down through my mum about my dad. Apparently, during the depression, he had a butcher’s shop. When people came in who could not afford to pay for meat he gave it them on tick and eventually the business went bust because he never got most of the money in the end. It feels like a betrayal of his principles to get concerned about cash.

In short, to waste precious time going into detail about money was like selling your soul to the Devil. I could see the different threads forming a cord strong enough to throttle me. To complicate things, there is a baby in this bathwater – I really do believe that the love of money is the root of a great deal of evil and it’s hard to tell where this praiseworthy principle ends and a neurotic fecklessness masquerading as virtue begins.

Another possibility is that my kinaesthetic processing bias is at work here. I’ve dealt with this at some length in an earlier post so I won’t go over all that again here. In brief, it’s far easier for someone whose natural inclination is to work visually or verbally, to comfortably perform detailed analyses, nit picking over tiny discrepancies.

Someone like me, who likes to feel their way, has to work against the grain when scrutinising factual details. Only if someone’s life was on the line would I feel that the end justified the effort, for me at least. House insurance didn’t seem to qualify by that criterion, unless of course roofs really do fall in when you don’t pay on time.

We’re not done yet I’m afraid though we’re almost there.

Then there is an aversion to displeasing anyone.

This is rather like a Please Me Driver in TA terms. And what effect does that have?

I find it barely credible to say this, but it seems that even when it’s a call centre operator, whom I’ve never met nor ever will, I behave as though they held my life in their hands, as though if I irritated them too much, by some strange voodoo power, they’d do me serious damage. I really, really do not want to upset him or her. In fact, I’m like this with most people unless I’m angry or outraged. At such times I cease to care and speak my mind. So far, though, my survival at such times seems to have done nothing to convince me I could be as frank when I am calm.

I know that I am also exceptionally keen not to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I know where that comes from, but this is not the same. It’s upsetting in the sense of offending or displeasing that’s at work here. I’m not entirely sure where that comes from with such strength,  but I certainly had key authority figures in my childhood who were capable of kicking off even to an insultingly raised eyebrow or sarcastically curled lip on my part, not to the extent of getting physical but certainly of having a major strop. Silent disapproval and some kind of ban for as long as the sulk lasted were the usual consequences. Definitely something to be avoided if possible. It had to be a major issue for me to risk that.

Still, that possibility doesn’t seem to provide experiences of sufficient strength to explain my current aversion to the faint possibility of upsetting people hundreds of miles away. Myers Briggs trait theory suggests that INFPs loathe conflict of any kind and will go a very long way indeed to avoid it, so that could be in the mix as well, I suppose.

And there we have all the threads involved so far as I’m aware at the moment. Death, Dough, Deadlines, Details and Displeasing people, making it a 5D problem.

Does knowing all that help?

Once I add them all up in that way, I can see they would make a very potent cocktail, easily strong enough to knock my mind out of gear when picking over details which will then be raised as levers to dispute an insurance quote. Whether it really constitutes a correct explanation, rather than a convenient rationalisation for an embarrassing inability to deal calmly with the simple practicalities of life, is still not clear.

From a pragmatic point of view the key question is, ‘Does knowing this help me defuse their effects?’

I believe it might, as I can pick each element off one by one and use the mindfulness desensitisation process to take the powerful charge out of each of these elements, assuming they have been correctly identified. This is the process I described in an earlier post. I summarised its elements as the summoning up to consciousness of a troubling experience combined with a distractor activity that helps induce greater calm in the presence of the stress stimulus.

This would test whether these ideas are rationalisations rather than accurate explanations for why I get so uptight. I could try to defuse them all one by one and see where that leaves me. If nothing changes it would either suggest they were not the culprits, or that I was using the wrong remedy. I’d be inclined to think that the first explanation would be the best: I was backing the wrong horses.

So, I’ll be giving it a go and letting you know how I get on.

For now the main point is that mindfulness work enabled me to spot the problem and triggered this helpful analysis. Let’s see if it can take me one step further.

Who knows? If I manage to work through this lot successfully I might be ready to tackle my aversion to haggling.

Was that a pig I saw flying past my window just now?

pigs in sky

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Butterfly Magritte v2

Adapted from ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by René Magritte (from Magritte by Marcel Paquet, Taschen Edition)

Followers of my recent blog posts will know I have been practising mindfulness. I am using that word in the sense of what a novice with a butterfly mind does with this new skill, rather than what a master of meditation would achieve. Nonetheless, the process has taken me to some interesting places.

Recently I indicated that I would be returning to an example of difficulty, which illustrates how the process has not gone according to plan for me. For more details of earlier experiences click on the links in the top line. Nonetheless, mindfulness has triggered me to come at it from a different angle with some success, I feel.

I will not find it easy to go public in this way, even though I’m using a fairly shallow example of the problem. However, I feel the commitment I made in the Interconnectedness post is helping me keep my easily discouraged nose to this particular grindstone. Also my account of the following experience might prove of value to anyone else who has the same kind of problem.

Insurance Issues

So what’s the problem under the microscope right now?

Don’t laugh – well, at least not just yet – but it’s renewing our insurance – in this most recent case, the house insurance.

I know that this task would not be anyone’s favourite pastime, but to get really uptight about it? Surely not.

This is where I clench my jaw and bite the bullet. The process of renewing any insurance drives me to distraction.

How do I know this for sure? Well, this time, having achieved what is generally a fairly relaxed frame of mind most of the time as a result of both my morning meditation (done regularly for the last three years at least) and the mindfulness exercises I’ve blogged about, there was no mistaking the fact that my mind was in melt down after only an hour comparing the new policy with the old at renewal time, and speaking to an obviously inexperienced call centre employee.

Call centre (for source of image see link)

Call centre (for source of image see link)

The Phonecall

‘This is Arabella speaking. How can I help you?’ she asked slightly nervously, before pumping us for several minutes with the security questions on her screen.

‘I have several questions,’ I explained, ‘concerning the differences between the old policy and this new one. Is it OK to go ahead and ask.’

‘Of course,’ she replied doubtfully.

‘OK.’ And I took her through two or three simple questions concerning such fascinating technicalities as the ‘excess for water escape’ and the clause missing this time about frozen food, the last two of which she had to take to her supervisor one at a time, placing us on hold in the meantime to what sounded like an instrumental version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows.’

As it played I just about remembered to practice the mindfulness Breathing Space exercise to keep me grounded as my blood pressure rose.

I knew there was going to be trouble ahead. I was already shaping up to be what looked like the customer from hell on her first day in the job.

On her return Arabella responded to my last question.

‘Hello, Mr Hulme. I’ve spoken to my supervisor and the excess for water escape has been introduced by all insurance companies as we’re having a lot of extra claims recently.’

‘Right. Thanks,’ I responded as patiently as I could, but with a slightly raised pulse in anticipation of what I knew was coming next.

‘I’ve now got three other queries, and you probably need to wait till I ask them all before going to check with your supervisor.’

‘That’s all right.’

‘First of all, in terms of the limit under damage to property, the latest version has tripled the allowance. If we reverted to the old ceiling will that reduce the premium?’

‘I’ll just go and ask my supervisor.’

‘Please hold on just a moment. I have another two questions still that you might like to check out as well.’ She was clearly struggling: I was desperately trying to be calm and mindful.

‘Oh, all right,’ in a tone that suggested she might be worried about whether she could remember them all.

‘Secondly, there is another increase in the ceiling in terms of the total amount covered for contents. If we reduced that to the original level, would it also lead to a smaller premium? And last of all, the old policy covers us for money in the house and credit card loss, but there’s no mention of that in the new policy. Are we still covered?’

At which point, even though these were hardly earth-shattering considerations, either her nervousness or my impatience almost wiped out the connection and I could barely hear her answer above the crackle – and the music to while away her absence seemed to be coming from outer space.

On her return she crackled that there was now no credit card cover, money was covered under contents and they couldn’t change the new limits covered as the level was standard for this policy. When she picked up that we were still set on renegotiating the price, she suggested through the continuing interference that we would need to speak to the Loyalty Department and she could transfer us.

We agreed and were put onto a barely audible Hazel who offered to ring us back. When she did so very promptly, it rapidly became apparent that she was Sales and we had been speaking to the Loyalty Department already, so she agreed to transfer us back. I began to worry that I might have cost Arabella her job and wondered whether I should ask Hazel to recommend that she try mindfulness practice.

Sean then came on line, and I knew we had reached the point of finalising the price.

My head cooking with eyeDivision of Labour

My wife is brilliant at negotiating the price after this kind of detailed point by point comparison is over. We have agreed between us that I am usually the one to do this contractual grunt work, though, if truth be told, I’d rather sit miles away in a cafe in town with a coffee and a book while my wife does it all.

Doing the final deal, though, would be a fate almost worse than death. So, as I accept that it’s only fair to share the task, I handle the detail as best I can through gritted teeth with a pressure cooker brain.

I keep completely silent, though, while the deal is clinched. As an old-fashioned Englishman, I die of embarrassment simply listening as she beats down the price further and further until we end up getting a quote each time for less than the year before. By bringing in the equivalent policies we could get elsewhere and cheaper, my wife got more than £30 off the quote.

But that is not the problem I wish to deal with now. I don’t think I’ll ever overcome my conditioning about haggling in the time I’ve got left to live. In any case, the stress of dealing with that phobia would probably shorten my remaining days by at least half.

What I wanted to understand was why, when I’d finished a boring but not particularly dangerous process, it felt as though my brains were boiling and what, if anything, I could do about it.

I will be coming back to that next time when I look at the five dimensions of this problem that raised the temperature so high.

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bubbles

For source of image see link

Yesterday I was wrestling with my difficulty experiencing pure consciousness separate from some of its key contents. I felt there were other issues that it would be better to take up in this next post.

First of all, before I move onto another aspect, I need to register a discomfort with the idea of the observing ‘self.’ I want to keep an open mind about the exact nature of what I am experiencing at present. To that end, I am going to speak of the ‘Watching Mind’ to describe this aspect of my being. I’m sure it is an aspect of mind at least, though I’m not convinced yet it will be a self. I indicated in my first post on this process that I would be uncovering other aspects of mind as things progressed, so now we have the Watching Mind as well as the Writing Mind.

In terms of the Watching Mind, in repeating the ‘watching my thoughts exercise’ again later, it seemed that I experience my thoughts as emanating directly from my centre of consciousness as though I am blowing them like bubbles from a ring. As they float away, they come into my Watching Mind’s field of vision but by that time I may have been floating off on some bubble or other. When I am anxious about something, my mind is more like a geyser, with hot bubbles coming up constantly, disturbing the surface of consciousness so much there is no calm surface for reflection to float on.

Later I came to feel that the best image for my relaxed state is experiencing my thoughts as rain drops on a skylight. Sensations and perceptions are what I can see through the skylight. Thought, and to some extent feeling, is still my window of consciousness to which my observer is so closely linked that, when thoughts blur its clarity, it’s hard for me to stand back and watch them rather than be confused along with them, and they also distort what I am looking at in terms of perceptions and sensations. I have attempted to capture this and the effects of feelings such as anger and anxiety in the poem at the bottom of this post. None the less, as this spider photo shows, I’m catching many subtle details of the world around me, which is enriching my experience greatly. Just in case you’re wondering I did spend some time simply looking at the spider and its web before realising it might be good to take a picture for my blog. I’m not in Writing Mind all the time! 

Car Spider v2

I have faced some testing situations recently and every one has given me an opportunity to dig deeper into understanding how my mind’s weather works. I have seen them as problems to solve with the Fixing mind (I may come back to that new character in a later post), perhaps with some help from subliminal hints. I had not thought of them, not so much as puzzles to be solved but as opportunities to grow wiser, more compassionate and fairer by getting into ever deeper contact with my own mind, its nature and its responses. I will be returning to a more detailed examination of one of the simpler examples in a subsequent post.

I have spent too much time trying to second guess and interpret other people rather than seeing them as spurs to exploring the hinterland of my own consciousness for the treasures it contains that might lead me to truly understand what is going on. This would not necessarily solve it by changing the situation, so much as help resolve interpersonal conflict, and other problems too of course, by changing my whole understanding of an experience.

It was intriguing to note that as the days passed, I discovered that I was experiencing some faint leaks of emotion connected with one of the supposedly dynamite situations I had been using to try and elicit the strong reaction I was meant to be getting. Now I think that the Difficulties Exploration had lit a slow fuse on what was in fact a tiny firework left over from my original feelings about that particular situation.

A low key testing situation, which I was also experiencing at the same time as I was doing the exercise, eroded my remaining defences. This meant that, when I was asked to dig out some photographs relating to the ‘dynamite’ problem, the residual rip-rap kicked off. The meditation had worked, it seemed, but not in the way I had expected, nor perhaps in the way that had been meant by the authors. Certainly not with anything like the force I had been expecting for the reasons I have explained earlier in the first post of this pair.

Interestingly, going back to the exploring difficulties meditation again the following morning created a tension in my neck. I breathed into it as suggested by the CD that comes with the book. For me, tension in the neck, along with a feeling of not being able to get enough oxygen, seem to accompany moments of negative emotion and/or stress. This kind of stress, it seems, even interferes with the functioning of the Fixing Mind in its own domain, as we will come to see later.

It sounds like an attempt at self-guillotining, as though to detach my head from the feelings in my body. Not a good idea.

Better to look at other ways such as those I will be dealing with in a subsequent sequence of posts.

Skyblind v4

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Observer Objects Eye v2

The much earlier post on interconnectedness included a declaration of intent – I was going to seek a deeper understanding of the concept both by reading and by the practice of mindfulness, amongst other things.

So, once more I face the question: how have things been going in this latest phase of mindfulness practice derived from  Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s  book  on  Mindfulness?

Last time I shared how hard I was finding the Exploring Difficulties exercise. ‘Why were you so surprised?’ I hear you ask. I’m just hopelessly optimistic, I suppose.

The core problem, as I explained, was that I was finding it tough to park a problem on the work bench of my mind and then focus on the effects it was triggering in my body. I recalled that I am kinaesthetic rather than visual or auditory in my processing and remembered my last successful attempt at using breathing to connect with memories that seemed to be stored kinaesthetically.

Thought Train

I was considering looking again at the ACT version of this exercise where they use the analogy of standing on a bridge and watching the cars of thought pass beneath. This led me to go back and explore the whole ACT model again more carefully for the first time since I retired and recorded my enthusiasm for it on this blog.

As I did so it occurred to me that my problem with Exploring Difficulties may not be so much in me as in the fact that the method was not appropriate for my issues. The penny dropped that it shared its key characteristics with models of therapy used for treating PTSD, for example Eye Movement Desensitisation (EMDR):

Phase III Assessment

During phase III, the therapist will ask the client to visualize an image that represents the disturbing event. Along with it, the client will describe a thought or negative cognition (NC) associated with the image. The client will be asked to develop a positive cognition (PC) to be associated with the same image that is desired in place of the negative one. The client is asked how strongly he or she believes in the negative and positive cognitions to be true. The client is also asked to identify where in the body he or she is sensing discomfort.

Phase IV Desensitization

At this time, when the client is focused on the negative cognition as well as the disturbing image together, the therapist begins the bilateral gestures and requests the client to follow the gestures with their eyes. This process continues until the client no longer feels as strongly about the negative cognition in conjunction with the image.

The elements in common are the summoning up to consciousness of the troubling experience combined with a distractor activity that helps induce greater calm in the presence of the stress stimulus. This allegedly works well for those with readily accessible and strongly negative emotions connected with a clear experience. It may be, I reassured myself, that I had already done enough effective work on the troubling situations I was using to have defused them reasonably successfully.

Swaddled in this comforting assumption, I felt released to re-explore ACT quite freely.

There was much there to intrigue me but I homed in on one particular exercise in which we are asked to experience ourselves as the observer of our thoughts rather than, as in the Disidentification exercise I’ve mentioned before, simply learning to tell ourselves that we are not our thoughts, feelings etc.

I found it moving to read about the idea of experiencing my ‘observing self’ and, to my surprise, tears were in my eyes as I started to practice it at the dimpled-glass garden table in the afternoon sunshine, simply staring at the parasol pole and becoming clearly aware that I am not what I observe in the external world. Not too difficult that, of course.

Observer Objects Eye v3

I then moved from object to object on the table – my notebook, pen,  stylus, highlighter pen, iPad – to reinforce the same sense of separation before closing my eyes and trying to achieve the same awareness in relation to my sensations. This was relatively easy – the sense data from my body seemed to parallel the stimuli from my eyes.

My thoughts and feelings, however, were a very different matter. This was far more difficult and a sense of separation was only imperfectly achieved for fleeting moments.

It left me with a sense that there are objects and sensations that are very easily experienced as out there somehow. Then there seems to be a window or lens, of thought and feeling fused, through which I experience everything else and from which it is very hard to separate any kind of observing self.

The closest I can get is to imagine I am a mirror in which all this is reflected. It is still hard even then for me as mirror not to be entangled with what is reflected in that mirror. I have written intellectually about the mirror analogy many times, and am crystal clear it describes one aspect of the nature of consciousness very well. I have used it in conversation and in writing so often I thought I thoroughly understood it.

However, when the ACT book challenged me to experience the separation between mirror and the reflections in the mirror, I couldn’t or at least not for long and not strongly. I’m sure there are many of you out there wondering why I am making such a meal of what seems a doddle to you. All I can say is that I am telling it as best as I can as I am experiencing it, and nobody could be more surprised than I am that this simple idea is so difficult to put into practice.

I sense that until I can more consistently and more clearly experience the split between the mirror of my consciousness and what is reflected in it, I am not going to make much progress with mindfulness, so I’m going to work on that.

I will complete the issues raised at this point with a second post tomorrow which will fully explain the raindrops idea.

bubbles

For source of image see link

 

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The Liberator v2

Image adapted from Marcel Paquet ‘Magritte’ (Taschen)

The much earlier post on interconnectedness included a declaration of intent – I was going to seek a deeper understanding of the concept both by reading and by the practice of mindfulness, amongst other things.

Initial Impressions

So, how have things been going in this latest phase of mindfulness practice based on Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s book on Mindfulness?

Well, I’ve reached the practice which I thought would be the most fruitful and intriguing. It involves what they call Exploring Difficulty. The technique they suggest is to call to mind a problem or source of stress or upset. Once you have got the issue clearly in mind, you then shift the focus of your attention to the body and look for physical sensations that link to the experience you have called up to consciousness. They describe it as parking a problem on the work bench of the mind and focusing upon its effects on the body.

Pretty easy to do, I thought. Not so as it turned out. I’d bring to mind a problem situation and then scan my body for what the guidance said might be subtle traces of reaction.

Zilch.

Half the week was wasted as I tried to visualise various different testing situations as their spiel suggests. I had started with low key problems in case I got flooded and couldn’t cope. As time went on and the days past, I went for really heavy stuff. Still no trace of physical reaction. I was almost beginning to think I was either seriously dissociated or mildly psychopathic.

Then, I remembered. I don’t do visualisation. When I try to summon up a picture of anything that has ever happened to me, I get a virtual blank. There may be the faintest of possible traces of some visual aspect of the experience, but as a means of revisiting such situations it’s virtually useless. This relates, I’m sure, to the lack of visual awareness of my surroundings, described in an early mindfulness bulletin, that is my default state. I have to make great and conscious effort to notice the details of anything. I look carefully enough to slap a label on it then move my attention onto something else.

I switched to using my verbal memory which is usually a much more effective system, certainly as far as remembering what I’ve read is concerned. I summoned up memories of what was said, something I find far easier to do, though it was not as vivid as I thought it would be. This is perhaps because I don’t usually recall the exact words – rather I remember what I thought people had said – not quite the same thing and it doesn’t seem to work well for these purposes.

Certainly, this approach did engender very faint physical responses, but nothing proportionate to the distress I had originally felt and the traces evaporated rapidly as soon as I turned my attention to them.

Rebirthing Experience

I found myself reflecting afterwards and remembering my use of the continuous conscious breathing approach which achieved a major break through for me into a very early experience. I have blogged in more detail about this already for those who are interested.

Rebirthing was the name of the therapy which provided the experience that gave me this major break-through in self-understanding. The key was breathing:

Jim Leonard saw what the key elements were and refined them into the five elements theory.

The five elements are (1) breathing mechanics, (2) awareness in detail, (3) intentional relaxation, (4) embracing whatever arises, and (5) trusting intuition. These elements have been defined a little differently in several versions, but are similar in meaning. Jim Leonard found that if a person persists in the breathing mechanics, then he or she eventually integrates the suppressed emotion.

It was as though what is known as body scanning were linked to a continuous conscious breathing form of meditation. All the subsequent steps (2-5) took place in the context of the breathing.

robert_sessionI had found a therapist in Much Wenlock. I went for eight sessions and it was the last one that brought about the dramatic shift in consciousness.

The breathing had gone well as usual but this time, after less than half and hour, I began to tremble, then shiver, then shake uncontrollably. This was not a result of hyperventilation: I’d got past that trap long ago. She quietly reminded me that I simply needed to watch the experience and let go. Watching was no problem. Letting go was quite another matter. I couldn’t do it. I knew that it must be fear by now, but the fear remained nameless, purely physical. And this was the case for more than two hours of breathing. Eventually, we agreed that, in terms that made sense for me, Bahá’u’lláh was with me at this moment and no harm could befall me. There could be no damage to my soul and almost certainly no damage to my body. And at that moment I let go. Several things happened then that would be barely credible if I had not experienced it myself.

First, the quaking literally dissolved in an instant – the instant I let go – into a dazzling warmth that pervaded my whole body. My experience of the energy had been completely transformed.

Secondly, I knew that I was in the hospital as a child of four, my parents nowhere to be seen, being held down by several adults and chloroformed for the second time in my short life, unable to prevent it – terrified and furious at the same time.

This was not new material. I had always known that something like it happened. I had vague memories of the ward I was on and the gurney that took me to the operating theatre. What was new was that I had vividly re-experienced the critical moment itself, the few seconds before I went unconscious. I remembered also what I had never got close to before, my feelings at the time, and even more than that I knew exactly what I had thought at the time as well.

This all came as a tightly wrapped bundle falling into my mind, as though someone had thrown it down from some window in my heart. It didn’t come in sequence, as I’m telling it, but all at once. It was a complete integrated realisation – the warm energy, the situation, the feelings and the thoughts. And yet I had no difficulty retaining it and explaining it to the therapist. And I remember it still without having taken any notes at all at the time that I can now find. The journal entry recording the event is a single line – no more.

And what were the thoughts?

I knew instantly that I had lost my faith in Christ, and therefore God – where was He right then? Nowhere. And they’d told me He would always look after me. I lost my faith in my family, especially my parents. Where were they? Nowhere to be seen. I obviously couldn’t rely on them. Then like a blaze of light from behind a cloud came the idea: ‘You’ve only yourself to rely on.’

This was more like a preverbal injunction to myself for which my adult mind found words instantly. For the child I was at the time, it had been a white-hot blend of intolerable pain and unshakable determination. It shaped a creed that had been branded on my heart at that traumatic moment, and its continuing but invisible hold on me till the explosion of insight was why it had taken me so long to let go.

Kinaesthetic Consciousness

So, clearly under the right conditions I can find traces in my body of earlier painful experiences. It seems, though, as if trying to recreate them in my imagination by either word or pictures in order to gain that access doesn’t work very well. Rather than simply following the breath as a means of unhooking from my thought patterns, it seems that manipulating the breath unlocked the doors of memory in my body’s store.

I’ve known for a long time that my strongest modality is kinaesthetic. That’s why I usually do not enjoy museums much. I can’t handle anything. Only when I can touch an object will I begin to experience it fully and remember it well. And when I make use of an object I will remember it even better.

This creates problems for the purposes of this mindfulness exercise. I have never learnt how to tune into my body’s memories of past events from my head directly. Society has always prompted me to try and use pictures or words. And because I’m just about good enough at extrapolating from that in my subsequent descriptions, I have managed to disguise the flimsiness of the foundations, not just from others but from myself as well. My only way of tapping into my body’s memory store has so far been this breathing technique with ancient roots: a convenient label is breathwork.

The Thought Train

Thought Train

I was almost at the end of this period of practice and needed to decide how best to proceed. I was tempted to try the ACT version of this exercise using the analogy of standing on a bridge and watching the cars of thought pass beneath me, dividing them into three categories for subsequent recording.

It was after this point, when I decided to have a closer look at the whole ACT model, that things became even more complicated but very fascinating to me at least. It suggested that there might be at least one other reason for my failure to benefit from this exercise in the form I tried it.

I think I’d better come back to that in a later post as it opened up to conscious inspection by my Writing Mind previously untapped dimensions of experience.

Oh, and it’s probably worth mentioning, in case all of this seems far too fraught, that my moments of pure pleasure in the natural world are increasingly all the time. I may not be able quite yet to see my thoughts as simply clouds crossing the sky of my mind, but I can certainly appreciate the beauty of real clouds far more.

Sky

 

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Since practising mindfulness meditation more assiduously I came to realise that the fourth line from the end of the poem below was simply not fit for purpose. It was just not saying what I really meant and was bathetic in effect.  This is the improved version. The old one is still available for comparison at this link. If I needed a justification to continue meditation, in the absence of any other, this would do the trick!

Winter Song v6

 

 

 

 

 

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Sky-blind

Skyblind v4

Picture adapted from ‘The False Mirror’ by René Magritte in the Taschen Edition

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