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Holiday, friendship and “meditation retreat” (third post)

This is the third Moroccan blog post.  It introduces some ideas about mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), self-criticism and problem solving.

So yesterday we drove East and South from Marrakech across the Atlas - the road, our driver said, winding up to over 6,500 feet (about 2,000 meters) before heading back down to the plain that eventually after many kilometers will become the Sahara.

Lying, 45 minutes or so ago, in the last bed we'll sleep in for another five days, I thought again why I'm writing this series of blog posts about the trip we're making.  I've talked before about why it sometimes seems sensible to write about my personal experiences in this largely evidence-based blog. "Holiday, friendship and meditation retreat" describes this trip pretty well - particularly maybe, for me, the "meditation retreat" part.  I could equally well have focused these "reports" on our relationships, or on the landscape/culture/people of Morocco, or on effects of climate change.  I'm deciding though to particulary look at meditation, mindfulness and the mind ... with a good deal of other "chat" on the side!  So this morning when I woke and thought back over the previous day, I was aware both of recalling the events that had occurred and making judgments about them and also noticing the process of making the judgments. I remembered going with the others yesterday into a simple roadside restaurant to eat lunch out on a veranda. Lovely, sunlight, sparrows, good food. Then the bill came. It seemed clear that we were being over-charged. Of course they wanted a tourist rate rather than the rate they were no doubt asking from the many Moroccans who were also eating there. And several of the eight of us reacted in different ways to this. As someone who had done the trip before, I kicked myself that I hadn't followed the obvious process of checking what we would be charged before ordering the food - menus weren't a feature of the restaurant! And a feeling too that we are tourists, and we do have more money than most others here, and we had gone out onto the veranda and the seats with the best view, and it seems very appropriate that we should pay more.

But I also kicked myself, criticised myself, for not acting "responsibly" for the others, for what I saw as being stupid and a bit incompetent. Not a big deal, but aware this morning of this process. And in a problem-solving sense, this is fine. I'll be a bit more sussed next time and check out prices before ordering. Leaving a decent tip feels a better way of transferring money than feeling a bit stupid for paying excessively excessive rates! But more aware in bed this morning of the self-judging process. It's not just simple problem-solving. There's also a bunch of other tastes to it - for example, a wish that my friends think I'm competent, sensible, on top of things, a wish not to look foolish to them and to the local Moroccans. A memory too of coming here on my own age 17 hitchhiking through Morocco, and getting ripped off in a market in the North (Spanish-speaking) part of the country. I still remember a small boy looking at me dismissively as I left and saying "Gringo" (foreigner) with what seemed like considerable disdain. So the mindfulness of these levels of observation - what happened, interpretations of what happened, judgments about those interpretations, emotions entwined with the judgments, memories, plans, intentions. Judgments now too about the judgments. In some ways fine, but aware that this is the kind of territory that both classical meditation mindfulness teaching tackles and that it is also - typically in a more extreme self-critical form - the territory that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) tackles.

Subtle, skilful - how best to work with different thoughts and feelings at different times? It's possible that a focus on mindfulness might sometimes be counter-productive - for example when problem solving might be a more appropriate response. However forms of mindfulness are probably appropriate quite broadly, both for a variety of psychological difficulties and for wellbeing.

And now writing this - sensitive at times to these different mind levels - and too to the sound of dear Catero, my wife, in the shower, to the birds with their dawn chorus, to my body seated on the bed. Slowing down. In the initial section of their book "Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression", Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale talk a good deal about doing mode and being mode, and about the potential helpfulness of body and breath awareness for reconnecting us back into being and the present moment (their more recent book "The mindful way through depression" is well worth looking at too). I spend so much of my life in doing mode. This next five days can be an opportunity to anchor back into being more fully, to reconnect to myself, to "come home".


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