Hello! I know that over the last few weeks, I have been raving on about my Mindfulness course and now that it’s over, I want to share a few things I learned in the hope’s that it’s helpful for you aswell. There was a lot of information shared so I decided to do a three part series called: Mindful Monday (apologise for the cheesy name).
BUT before I delve into the lessons, a few notes.
Where was it taken? FutureLearn (FL) which I have used a few times and highly recommend a visit to see if anything peaks your interest. Full course name: Mindfulness for Wellbeing & Peak Performance, courtesy of Monash University.
Price? All courses on the site are FREE and some offer a participation certificate which you can purchase after completion of your course.
Can I join in the fun? YES. The course returns, Monday 23rd May so if after reading you find yourself curious to learn more, head over there and save yourself a spot!
What did it consist of? We were given lots of resources in the form of: videos / audio / pdf / web links. There were also recommendations for further learning and ways to incorporate what we were taught into our daily lives. One major way we were encouraged to do that was by keeping a journal (PDF so you can print it as many times as you wish!).
Alongside our journal, we explored different types of mediation and asked to note down our experience with them. It could also be used throughout the day to jot down thoughts we had, and as a reminder to sit with them for a while longer than we usually would, in keeping with a mindful practice.
Now onto the lessons.
Even though it was our first week we worked on a variety of topics from default mode, to multitasking and self-compassion. What exactly is default mode?
The distracted state of mind we go into when we are not mindful or engaged with the present moment. It is also associated with being on automatic pilot. FL
This really struck a chord with me as I am guilty of being in default mode maybe 80% of the time? Recently I have been working towards becoming more aware of when this happens, and I owe a lot of that to meditating. Along with this course, meditating has encouraged me to pay close attention to my thoughts and where they often wander to.
The next topic of conversation was multitasking. For years I was quite proud of my ability to do more than one thing at a time, now looking back on it I have a feeling it came from my student days, where the power to watch TV, be on the phone to a friend and write my essay was uh-mazing!
Until now. Today I realize that I wasn’t really doing anything good in that mind-set. In recent years the news that multitasking may actually be bad for us, is being spoken about more often than not. Usually technology is the first to be blamed for this, BUT if we can learn to use it effectively it’s not all bad news.
Technology used improperly can actually contribute to distractedness. It’s important that we start to use technology much more effectively, by for instance tuning off the alerts on our computer, doing one thing at a time, making sure we practice being attentive and focus rather than distracted. FL
Here’s what the course leaders had to say about multitasking: The term multitasking is actually a misnomer, it’s an illusion. The process information in serial, which means one thing after another, and we are psychically incapable of actually processing two complex stimuli at the same time.
Looking at it from that perspective it does make a lot of sense and breaking the habit is a little difficult but can be done.
Moving on from multitasking, our next lovely yet complex topic was self-compassion. Something we should all practice daily!
Just accepting the fact of our own humanity as it were and not having to beat ourselves up. The attitude of kindness to ourselves, makes it a little bit easier to step out in our day-to-day life and to be a little more patient and tolerant to others as well. FL
A lot of people are sceptical when they first explore mindfulness. Often they believe it to be a self-absorbing practice, however as the teachers reminded us throughout the course: Mindfulness starts being about us, but then naturally just starts to flow out of the qualities of attentiveness and compassion that we cultivate, start to affect the people around us in very positive ways.
So why don’t more people practice this way of living? Personally I have feeling it’s to do with early misconceptions about it, which I definitely had to begin with. I thought that it was all about chanting, sitting in (boredom) silence and you had to be vegan.
Today, I have come to understand that it’s not just about meditating, or your dietary choices. Those things are GREAT if that’s what makes you happy and YOU enjoy doing them, however it’s not the be all and end all of mindful living.
The practice in fact has an awful lot to do with self-talk and our relationships. How we interact with one another, how we view the world and the people around us is very important and all connected. Relationships and self-talk are mentioned in more depth later on.
To end the week, we were briefly introduced to a topic I didn’t really know much about beforehand and found pretty cool, Neuroplasticity. As if I wasn’t already fascinated by how our brains work. The teachers summed this up pretty neatly:
We have a use-it-or-lose-it brain. So anything we practice or cultivate gets hard wired with practice, practice, practice. Find out more about Neuroplasticity, here.
This week provided us with lots of information about the relationship between default mode and stress. How our minds can often respond to stress and the ways in which mindfulness can aid us in managing them.
When our attention wanders off into default mode it tends to get caught up in problem solving, since this is what the brain is largely designed to do. And at times this means constructive planning, remembering and thinking through what is happening. But it often means that we get caught up in worrying, dwelling, obsessing and quite caught up in judgement and self-criticism.
Mindfulness helps us recognise the stress response. Once we’ve noticed that it’s been triggered, we can start re-engaging our attention with what’s actually happening in the present, rather than to worry or dwell or react. FL
A subject that rarely makes an appearance in our adult lives is the power of curiosity! The main takeaway from studying this area was that, curiosity is one of the central qualities of mindfulness.
As we get older however, life gets faster. We start to engage with the world through concepts and ideas rather than directly through our senses. We also start to take things for granted. A leaf is now just a leaf and we don’t stop to notice the details. Thankfully curiosity is an innate quality and we never actually lose it. We just lose touch with it. So we can rediscover it at any moment if we actually train ourselves to do so. FL
The question now is how? The answer, by practicing every day to be in the moment, and by intentionally bringing a mindful attitude to whatever we are doing. At this point in the course we were asked to pick an everyday activity and try to do them mindfully for example: cooking, eating or walking.
If you’re walking you might want to pay attention to where you are walking. Your surroundings, the steps you’re taking and so on. When eating, focus on what you’re eating and ask yourself how it tastes?
Alongside trying to bring back curiosity into our lives, this was also the week we delved deep into flight or fight responses and how they can affect our health.
When we activate the flight or fight response a lot of changes happen; our circulation becomes hyper dynamic, the blood gets thick and sticky and ready to clot fast and metabolic rate goes up to help us to burn fuel faster than normal as a rapid release of sugars and fats into the bloodstream. FL
Unfortunately nowadays we have a tendency to get anxious and let our thoughts get so caught up in thinking about the future OR worse replaying the past over and over again, which activates our flight or fight response. An example of how we do this:
It could be 3’oclock in the morning and there’s no actual threat in the present moment but we’re activating this response because of what we can catastrophizing abut. That inappropriate activation response is not going to save our life. It’s the kind of stuff that makes us sick.FL
How can we help ourselves? By practicing mindful stress reduction, a tool that involves us noticing where our thoughts wander off to and once we get in the habit of doing that, gently bringing it back to the present moment, over and over again. This is where the theory we spoke of earlier Neuroplasticity really came in handy.
That’s it for today. I hope you learned something new OR this served as a reminder of something you may have forgotten. I would love to know you’re personal experiences with mindfulness and/or mediation?
Join me for some more Mindful Monday next week.