My mind can be all over the place, jumping from one subject to the other during a wide range of random activities. I always liked being able to entertain myself with nothing but my own mind, my internal conversations and wanderlust inside my own head, thinking about the past, future and non-existing times, subjects, ideas and fantasies. This may sound like I am a crazy person, and maybe I am, to some degree (no harmful form of craziness), but it’s also human to do this, and have these thoughts. Although I like my herky jerky mind, and sometimes it’s ok to zone out during activities, it can also become an obstacle in some situations, work or even life. This is where mindfulness can help, or so I heard. So, when a good friend invited me to one of her courses I immediately said yes, not knowing exactly what to expect…

I found out that mindfulness isn’t about suppressing thoughts, but about enabling you to stand back and observe them consciously, paying attention on purpose, moment by moment, without judging. For those hesitant about therapy and tree-hugger like practices it can sound vague and woolly. But mindfulness is a practical, clinically proven approach. Practitioners argue that the brain’s habit of reliving past strains and worrying about possible future difficulties can become an obstacle to mental health. I wouldn’t take it that far for me personally, I don’t consider my mental health to be in bad condition, however, every now and then it would be nice to turn the thought factory off and get back in control. Becoming more aware of my own emotions and thoughts as they arise should give me more choice in how to deal with them!

Off I went to my first session… At just after 7.00 pm I found myself with 7 grown men and women lying on the floor trying hard to focus on my left knee. A peaceful, calm voice has already invited us to notice our feet and ankles with “kind curiosity” and is taking us further up through the body. “When your mind wanders, kindly guide your attention back to your left knee,” she tells us. It sounds easy, but it turns out to be quite hard! Lying on a blue plastic mat, with birdsong outside, sirens of a police car, door noises inside the empty elementary school, my mind isn’t that keen on being escorted anywhere. Instead, it’s wondering why I can’t focus my attention for more then 5 seconds. It’s wondering how I will be able to repeat this exercise and get better at it. It’s going over those conversations at work, my role there and what I would like to do, my future ambitions and dream job. It’s thinking about the Starship Enterprise and holodecks, if spiders have lungs, how birds find their way, that the word “bed” actually looks like a bed and, most disturbing of all, how it would look if we all decided to get a clown face tattoo. Ok, maybe I am ready for a psyche ward, because clearly I am all over the place, and I even don’t hear the peaceful calm voice anymore because my mind decided to think about anything else but my left knee!

According to Sanne and Iris, the trainers, this is all fine (phew!). They assure me that this exercise isn’t about relaxing, clearing the mind or filling the head with peaceful thoughts. The purpose is to be aware of physical sensations of the body and also simply to notice, these thoughts and what the mind does. We are apparently not suppressing it or emptying the mind, or making the thoughts go away.

These reflective rituals of the 40-minute “body scan” will sound all too familiar to people that already took part in a mindfulness training. The scan plays a central role in helping people to become more mindful: to live more in the moment and to spend less time anticipating stresses, or reliving disasters from the past. According to Sanne and Iris we will repeat this exercise a lot during the upcoming sessions, so there’s still hope for me to get better at this…

We were sent home with daily homework: progress sheets to fill in and a number of guided meditations (body scan) and exercises. On occasion I love it. And sometimes it feels tougher. The unpredictable cacophony inside my mind still bewilders me: all those thoughts, worries and ideas spinning around in there. However, this isn’t as uncontrolled as before since I now slowly start to notice when I start mind-wondering again, I am more aware of this taking place (and it takes place A LOT). The most impressive thing for me, perhaps, is that I don’t waste any time worrying about it. Being mindful seems to help me focus on what is useful for me and getting less frustrated about myself. If these are my findings only after the first two sessions, the whole course seems promising…

So, my suggestion for other chaotic minded individuals out there: give it a go and also take a holiday from your own herky jerky mind!

Would you like more information about the course I am doing? Visit the website of my friend Sanne and her  collegue Iris: Siris Mindfulness.