Using Williams & Penman's book "Mindfulness: a practical guide" as a self-help resource (4th post) - second week's practice
Last updated on 18th January 2012
Last week I wrote about "Using Williams & Penman's book ... as a self-help resource (3rd post) - first week's practice". It's time now to move on to the second week's practice described in chapter six - "Keeping the body in mind".
Read through this chapter (pp. 91 to 110). It's good stuff. Mark Williams & Danny Penman do an excellent job of highlighting the profound inter-connections between the body, thoughts and emotions. In fact, even using these words - body, thoughts, emotions - in this way is inaccurate. The connections & overlaps mean that the words actually describe things that interpenetrate and aren't really separate. I made this point last week when I referred to the three blog posts beginning with "Embodied cognition: posture & feelings" and I mentioned too Antonio Damasio's work with his central argument that "the body is a foundation of the conscious mind". Remember you are likely to get more from reading these important understandings if you chew over what you read. Do use a reflection sheet to help you do this if you think it might be useful.
Please also consider keeping a record of your practice. Remember that this is, in many ways, like a physical exercise programme. Just like exercise grows our muscles, so mindfulness practice grows our brains - see the paper published earlier this year "Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density". You need to put in the hours of practice. Sometimes you'll enjoy it and sometimes you won't. Many years ago my Thai mindfulness teacher used to say "The easy practices look after themselves, I'm interested in the practice sessions that are difficult". See one of my earlier blog posts for more detail on the value of "difficult practice sessions". Consider too repeating the short form of the "Five facet mindfulness questionnaire". How are you scoring - particularly on Non-Judge & Non-react? Remember a big bit of this meditation training is teaching our "inner critic" better "self-parenting skills". Our "inner child" responds much better to kindness & encouragement than to self-attack & disparagement.
So the key practice for this week is the twice daily "Body scan". It's a little more time-consuming than the first week's "Mindfulness of body and breath" meditation. It's so crucial to make the time for this. The ability to follow through on what it feels right for us to be doing, despite all the many different obstacles and alternatives that life will throw at us - this ability to follow through, to steer our "boat" by the inner compass of our values despite the many cross-currents is so hugely important. If all the mindfulness course taught us was to be better at self-regulation, it would still be vastly worthwhile. See the post "Self-control, conscientiousness, grit, emotion regulation, willpower - whatever word you use, it's sure important to have it" for much more on this crucial area. And the joy of it is that the mindfulness practice grows our ability to follow through on what's important to us in many other areas of our lives as well - see "Building willpower: it's like strengthening and nourishing a muscle".
The other practices for this second week are the "Appreciations exercises", bringing "Raisin mind" to another routine activity, and trying a "Mindful walk". Appreciation & gratitude are valuable and heart-warming. It's something happier people do well and learning to do it better helps us become happier. Mark & Danny describe a couple of appreciation exercises (see pp. 108-109). One asks us to note down "Which activities, things or people in your life make you feel good? Can you give additional appreciative attention and time to these activities?" Note body sensations, thoughts and feelings. What does happiness, or joy, or love actually feel like? Where do you notice them most in your body? Allow yourself to immerse in it, be washed by it, open to it. I've written extensively about this and it's valuable to understand more about the science and practice of appreciation and savouring. They suggest too a "Ten-finger gratitude exercise". Good to do. See too the suggestions about further "evidence-based" gratitude exercises half way down the page "Wellbeing, calming & mindfulness skills".
There is a request too to choose another routine activity to use as an awareness, "Raisin mind" opportunity during this week (see p. 77 for suggestions). And there is also a request to go on a "Mindful walk" (pp. 107-110). With practice, walking can become a meditation in its own right. And of course, physical exercise - like mindfulness practice - can boost our wellbeing so much. For now, the top new priority is establishing a good mindfulness meditation discipline. If you have a bit of spare "oomph" then reviewing and optimising your physical exercise practice is also immensely valuable - see, for example "15 minutes of exercise daily decreases mortality by 14% - and each additional 15 minutes gives 4% additional mortality benefit" with its many associated links. And being out in natural green surroundings affects us profoundly too - see "Landscape and human health laboratory - studying how nature affects us". So many enjoyable, great ways of feeling better! As the magnificent mystic Jalal ad-Din Rumi put it "Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."
And when you're ready to move on, see the next post in this series - "Using Williams & Penman's book ... as a self-help resource (5th post) - third week's practice".