& Resilience Course
These are challenging times indeed, in the context of the Covid 19 situation. Many of you may be facing all sorts of challenges: anxiety, isolation, strained relationships, money worries, etc.
While we can’t solve these directly for you, we want to help you to support yourself through it. That’s exactly what this three-session course – delivered by Rising Minds on behalf of Quaker Social Action – is designed to do.
We believe that some wise application of mindfulness can help you navigate the choppy waters ahead. It’s about getting more ground beneath your feet. This is ultimately what mindfulness can do at times like this, so that you’re better placed to take good care of yourselves and make wise decisions for today and tomorrow.
Session 1: Ground beneath your feet
Introduction: what is mindfulness?
Let’s start with a brief overview of mindfulness – what, why and how. The starting point is a basic distinction between two modes of mind: autopilot (or doing mode) and intentional (or being mode). Autopilot evolved in our prehistoric past to keep us safe and functioning. It takes care of basic tasks and activities, and also alerts us to danger. It’s essential to our survival. It’s also highly useful in carrying out all our routine activities without us having to think about them, like getting dressed, walking, talking.
However autopilot mode isn’t so useful when it comes to solving complex tasks, including and especially those that involve complex and difficult emotions. Yet we use autopilot so often that sometimes we get stuck here, particularly when something happens that we perceive as a threat. This may be happening a lot at the moment in the current Covid 19 situation.
This is when it’s great to activate the other mode of our mind – intentional – located in our ‘clever’ neo-cortex. This part is better suited to the job of solving complex problems and emotions. It’s capable of highly sophisticated, analytical and imaginative thinking and problem solving.
This is where mindfulness comes in, because the best way to step out of automatic repetitive thinking and to step into intentional mode is to create a gap or space for awareness and reflection. And this is what mindfulness is all about. We use a simple ABC model of mindfulness:
Awareness: paying gentle attention in the present moment to your experience in your mind, body, and environment, without judgement. This helps create a gap or space for reflection.
Being with: having created space, this allows our brain and body to process our experience. The mindfulness approach here is to notice thoughts, emotions and body sensations, and to allow them to run through us without getting overinvolved in them. This opens up the possibility for the third step below.
Choosing wisely: by doing the A and B we open up access to the wiser parts of our brain where we can see things more clearly, and what’s in our best interests. This can include how to understand and process our current challenging reality and all its implications, and to make good decisions about what to do with our time and energy.
Applying this wisdom to our times
Establishing a mindfulness practice
Despite our current challenges – or perhaps even because of them - this is in fact an ideal time to establish or rebuild a regular mindfulness practice. In our experience, and for many other people, it’s really helpful to start your day with some meditation, mindful movement, or walking – even if only a few minutes. This can get your mind in the best shape for the whole day ahead. Of course, each of us has different rhythms of the day, so you may prefer a different regular time of day for your mindfulness practice. Whatever you decide, stick to this for at least 7 days at first to build the habit. Then feel free to experiment with different times of day.
Another way to make mindfulness an integral part of your day – and a new orientation to life – is to use lots of mini practices (like the mindful minute – see below). You can use these every time you transition from one activity to another. They are also really helpful when you notice yourself getting triggered by current anxieties.
Also, bring a mindful approach to more of the regular activities in your day. This can include things like brushing your teeth, having a shower, making a cup of tea, etc.
Routines and structure
Having good, regular routines and structures helps create more of a sense of control which can be very stabilising for the mind at times of uncertainty. So it’s worth spending time thinking about the regular shape of your day, to allow time and space for you to do what has to be done, and to relax, rest and enjoy interesting pursuits.
At the beginning of each day you can use your mindfulness skills to consciously plan your day ahead. You can also set aside brief moments for relaxed reflection throughout your day – giving your mind a chance to process what’s already happened, and checking in with yourself how you feel. Based on that, you can amend your day’s plan (where possible) – responding flexibly to your experience and energy levels.
There’s always a balance to be struck when building a new routine, including mindfulness. On the one hand, you need a bit of discipline and will to get some momentum going. On the other hand, you need to adopt a kindly approach if you don’t stick totally to your plan. You need to find your own way with this balancing act.
Suggested home ‘practice’
We invite you to do some regular mindfulness practice in between this session and the next one. It’s about building a new ‘muscle’ of awareness and just being more of the time, rather than doing/thinking:
1. ‘Waking up to yourself’ meditation: Follow the instructions on the audio meditation. (Every day, or as close to this as you can manage)
2. Mindful minute: several times a day, stop what you’re doing for 30 seconds or so. With your eyes open or closed; notice your body, and notice what you can see, hear, smell, taste or touch. Allow all of these things to merge into a general awareness of what’s going on right now in and around you. You can do this on your own, or listening to the ‘mindful minute’ audio track.
3. Do a routine activity ‘mindfully’: Pick a routine activity that you do every day – for example, brushing your teeth, or making a cup of tea. Instead of doing it on ‘autopilot’ as we normally do, try and get into more of a ‘being’ mode by bringing awareness to the physical sensations of the movements your body makes. Notice anything else coming into you through your senses: sounds, textures, light and colour, smells and so on. Bring curiosity and interest to how this routine activity feels different each time you do it, when you pay this special kind of attention.