5 things I learned from practising Mindfulness

Be present
Practise Meditation
Accept pain and suffering

I guess it probably does seem like the in thing. I started my journey in 2011, when a wonderful duo Elke Radewald and Dr Rutger de Ridder offered me the opportunity to participate in a pilot programme of MBSR at Whangarei Base Hospital. They were lovely people and it was a fabulous and at times slightly challenging opportunity.

What does MBSR stand for? It means Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and the practice was pioneered and promoted by Jon Kabat Zinn. In medical or clinical realms, the stress reduction is largely linked to dealing with and managing pain. For me, it was a golden opportunity that I will always be eternally grateful for being fortunate to participate in as it did indeed help me to accept and live with chronic pain.

There were about a dozen of us in the pilot and we all had different health problems that involved debilitating chronic pain that was interfering with normal life, at the time I was actually using morphine daily as well as high dose steroids to deal with an unusual presentation of inflammatory arthritis. The actual process involved active meditation and practising meditation on a regular basis and this proved to be very difficult for some of the clients to accept, they had significant pain stories and had often experienced discrimination and been challenged by health professionals about the “reality” of their conditions and they therefore were more keen to express their pain and frustration rather than practice mindfulness meditation. About 8 of us made it through to the end. By the end I was able to ditch the morphine. So for me the act of meditation and mindfulness successfully enabled me to accept and live with the pain I was experiencing.

How did it do that? Firstly I am not a clinician, so my answers here stem from my personal understanding and experiences and not scientific evidence based material. I think that the practice of meditation alters your biophysical responses. In a sense, it resets a balance and creates some form of internal homoeostasis. I think it might be the relaxation and controlled breathing that lowers blood pressure, heart rate and has a marked effect on chemicals released by the brain and their consequent uptake and for whatever reason this enables a resetting of the body’s pain sensory mechanisms. I had a flare of inflammatory arthritis that affected a significant number of joints and the simultaneous pain from this overwhelmed my pain sensory system, the pain was so great. Within the mindfulness training, it was made clear that the goal was to accept and embrace the pain, not an easy thing to learn how to do when all you want is for it to go away. However, it can be done.

By meditating and controlled breathing and accepting the pain I was able to experience one single pain-free breath and recognise it for what it was. One pain-free breath can be increased to two and so on. When one accepts that there are moments that are painful and moments that are pain-free one is able to let them go. Somehow by letting them go you reset the clock.

I still go back to active meditation when I experience periods of pain and still benefit from the training I received.

Did it work for everyone? In short no. People who live with chronic extreme pain are rarely understood in a clinical setting. Clinicians talk about numbers for pain and anyone who has experienced chronic pain would realise that a scale of 1 to 10 does not hold enough dimensions to accurately appropriately describe pain. People experiencing long-term pain, sometimes appear anxious, grumpy, depressed because chronic long term pain is debilitating and frustrating and destructive and yet clinicians often mistake these attitudes and moods as the cause or contributor to the pain rather than the effect. Most people with long term pain want to be able to tell their story, have someone listen and understand their pain and ultimately make it go away. So asking them to mindfully chew a raisin and accept and embrace their pain isn’t usually what they want to do or hear. Plus they want it to work NOW, this moment and the truth is it takes practice. So some people are unable to participate and give it a chance to work and this is no different than with some drugs and medications, which in truth don’t work for everyone either.

Life is based on suffering. I had a great enthusiasm for Buddhism in my younger years, but couldn’t deal with the natural position being set at suffering. I didn’t want to think that life was about suffering. I thought life should be about something more positive and optimistic than that. However, through being sick and at times extremely unwell I learned that suffering often is the base point on the scale and that what enables us to survive the suffering is to find the beauty and joy and pleasure in the single moment that is. This one moment might be the only moment, or the final moment or the most important moment and therefore we need to savour it and recognise it and value it for what it is. I learned to look for these moments and to cherish them and find them in as many places as I could. I think this is active mindfulness, and I think I learned to recognise it from the meditation and practice and the words of Jon Kabat Zinn.

Be present in the moment. I think part of me already recognised this. I remember when the girls were small there were times when they were ill and I was up in the night loving them back to life and I always cherished the moment realising that there would be a day when they were far away and I wouldn’t be able to care for them when they were sick and in need. However, through the practice and teachings of mindfulness, I realised that being present in the moment needed to be the default setting, not something that only happened on occasions. I have practised this and continue to practise this daily. It is about being cognisant of the very moment that you are in and seeing the colours and experiencing it completely without interference from brain buzz, brain drift, worry, white noise of the mind. It is about an ability to focus and concentrate on the exact moment as it is now. It requires conscious practice and conscious awareness.

In 2012 we were involved in a car accident that could have been significantly worse than it was. We were travelling down a country road and a van overtook us at 100km whilst at the same time a car pulled out of a side road on the opposite side of the road, it was a recipe for carnage and I could see it was going to happen. I had an awareness of the vehicle and the children in the car but knew that I had to remain calm and focus on the next few critical seconds and knew that regardless of what appeared to be happening around me I had to slow the car and stay on the road it was our only chance of survival.

The Van hit us full on and carried on going right past the front windscreen and over the fence and into the field where it rolled and ended up on its roof. I managed to stay on the road and slow to a halt, and we remained upright. We were alive and shaken but not hurt, the Van driver was also alive and well but his van was a write-off. I totally believe that it was the ability to completely focus on the moment and remain present that enabled us to stay upright and on the road and ultimately saved our lives.

Namaste. Love to you on your journey.

 

Alison Jean Hankinson.

 

Seaside sandcastles

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Isn’t summertime just grand

Children playing by the sea-shore

Building seaside castles in the sand

 

Poolside picnics we demand

Sand in sandwiches we deplore

Isn’t summertime just grand

 

Sun cream to give a safe tan

And stop our shoulders getting sore

Building seaside castles in the sand.

 

Sea breeze blows across the land

We can hear the ocean roar

Isn’t summertime just grand

 

Music mellow from the brass band

Across the pier soothing sounds soar

Building seaside castles in the sand

 

Collecting seashells and seaweed by hand

Decorating the creations we adore

Isn’t summertime just grand

Building seaside castles in the sand

 

Alison Jean Hankinson

For d’verse– an attempt at a villanelle…..

 

 

 

 

Familial traits, the signs we try to hide.

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God rest your soul

The sins of the father shall be forever imprinted on your weary brow

He filchered and fettled and frolicked in the sun

Leaving behind a string of homeless wives and penniless sons

These faults are incumbent on you and you will falter and fail

Unless you take heed of the signs and learn the lessons.

Give constancy care and compassion

Avoid adultery and count your blessings.

 

Alison Jean Hankinson

For d’verse poetics, the challenge was sign.

 

 

Bring out yer dead….

Black death blood and guts

Fleas on rats as big as cats

Summer death follows.

 

Alison Jean Hankinson

V0010682 A rat stowing away on a ship, carrying the plague further af

This is for d’Verse poetics we were asked to write a poem that was related to a sign or symbol and this came from my Year 7 teaching today, where the red cross on the door of a house meant the occupants had the plague and the cries on the street were “Bring out yer dead”.

The image is from Wikimedia.

The file from Wellcome images-

A rat stowing away on a ship, carrying the plague further afield. Drawing by A.L. Tarter, 194-.

Iconographic Collections
Keywords: Albert Lloyd Tarter

Summer sunset at Heysham

Window frames sweated

in the sticky heat of late summer’s evening.

Bats darted through the boughs of silhouetted trees.

The sky was bloodshot and the glassy surface of the sea

reflected the haze of a lazy Sunday.

Stars peppered the night sky like grape-shot.

 

Alison Jean Hankinson

 

The challenge for d’Verse  #35 this evening was to create a quadrille containing the word pepper to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sgt Pepper…

So this is my offering.

The images were from last night’s sunset as viewed from the upstairs of the house.

Fairground Fay

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Fay was away with the fairies

Loves lost dream and high as a coconut shy

She made devil may care seem tame

She made revelling and carousing her game

By daytime she was clean and bright as a button

But lamplight changed her demeanour

like a chameleon she was more of a wanton

One sultry summer night

She got into a fairground fight

And the Police had to pull her out of a fountain.

 

Alison Jean Hankinson

I think I used this one for humour. We were often referred to as POM’s when we were in the Antipodes. Prisoner of her majesty, as many of the early settlers, were actually from the convict ships sent from England. So even though Fay looked very respectful I wanted to share her darker side…

This is for d’Verse poetics. Our theme was mugshots.

 

 

Is Urban Walking a Sport?

So this is my sport and I have had to invent it for me. For many reasons like lack of coordination and skill and other critical factors like health and well-being.  I have had to develop my own sport where I can compete against myself. I call it urban walking. I do it with dedicated regularity, attempt an element of speed and finesse and probably walk many kilometres over the course of the average week. The general aim is for about 45 minutes to an hour about 5 times a week and I try to find circular routes and make sure they have a measure of incline and a rewarding and bountiful view. I think it must be a common sport because when I am on the promenade I find many others doing the same thing but usually in sportier attire than I.

It is a rewarding sport, the view and vistas change with the weather and the seasons and pathway travelled. I have my favourite haunts and my own little challenges along the way, do we need windswept today or are we more content to smell the flowers. Often my husband joins me in my urban wanderings and then it is more competitive, he has a slightly longer stride than I and he is always on a mission to push and exert and add a little extra challenge, sometimes it is I that lead the challenge following a day of solo exploration and I will encourage us to take a new path to add to our familiar routes. Our favourites always take in the seashore where we feel exhilarated and catch our breath as the wind blows cold and howls around our ears, we ride through our daydreams on the wings of gliding seagulls.

 

Rocks awash with waves

On the shoreline seagulls soar

Sweeping summer storm,

 

Alison Jean Hankinson.

This is for d’Verse…haibun Monday… we were asked to share on Sport so it might be a long shot but can I count urban walking as a sport?