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QSA Wellbeing 

& 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.

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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.

Session 2: Working with your mind

During these challenging times, you may be experiencing all kinds of difficult thoughts and feelings. You wouldn’t be alone. The good news is that mindfulness-based approaches offer some really helpful ways of working with these kinds of difficulties.

Noticing and changing patterns of thoughts

 

Your thoughts may feel like they are ‘the truth’, including the really unhelpful and difficult ones you may be having at the moment a lot. But the actual truth is that….thoughts are not facts. They are merely events happening in your mind: they come and go. This doesn’t mean that everything you think is wrong, or has no truth in it all. Rather, it’s a cue to help you start to relate to your thoughts in different ways.

 

Confronting unhelpful thoughts with cool logic often doesn’t work – it doesn’t get rid of them, but just puts them off for a while. The mindful way to loosen the grip of thoughts is to step outside of them, and simply watch them come and go in their own natural way. This is far more effective.

 

Here are some other tips for working with difficult thoughts right now:

  • Ask yourself where this thought takes you.

  • Remind yourself that your mind is like a good story teller

  • Imagine your thoughts as leaves floating down a stream.

  • Repeat the thought using a silly voice

 

The good news is that if you can simply notice these thoughts patterns, and get some distance from them, it’s easy and natural to encourage new and different thoughts to take their place.

 

Applying this wisdom to our current times

 

Reality check: using your wise mind to correct ‘scare’ stories

Mindfulness teaches us how to stand back a bit from our experience and gain a broader perspective. In particular, we can check if we are buying into any very negative storylines that are not completely in alignment with truth. How true are the things we are habitually thinking? What might be a more accurate version that doesn’t contribute to negative thinking and feeling loops?

 

Be vigilant around news and social media

It’s easy to get drawn into consuming a lot of news and social media at the best of times. At times of crisis, we may feel even more compelled to. That’s understandable, as it’s a very natural human need to want to know what’s going on. But it can be really helpful to take care about how much of this you engage with, as the constant repetition of bad or threatening news can be quite anxiety-provoking. One dose of news a day is enough right now.

 

Notice strongly triggering thoughts and write them down

It’s also really useful if you can find people to share those thoughts with. Chances are you’re not the only one to have had them.

 

Suggested home ‘practice’

 

We invite you to do some more regular mindfulness practice in between this session and the next one. This is about continuing to build your ‘muscles’ of awareness, and applying them constructively to your thinking processes:

 

1. ‘Working with your thoughts’ meditation: Follow the instructions on the audio meditation. (Every day, or as close to this as you can manage)

 

2. Three-step breathing space: This is a great ‘mini-meditation’ that is the human equivalent of rebooting a computer. You can do it several times a day if you like. Follow the instructions on the audio meditation.

 

3. Jot down some notes about how certain events are connected with habitual thoughts, emotions and body sensations. You can use the format of the table below to capture what you discover:

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The ‘movement meditation’

You don’t have to be completely still to practise mindfulness. This movement meditation does two main things:

  • Strengthens your ability to pay attention (concentration) and to bring back your attention (mindfulness)

  • Realigns many of the body’s muscles and joints, which helps to release stress in the body

 

Some helpful pointers about how to approach this meditation:

  • Focus on the physical sensations.

  • Notice how your mind relates to the sensations.

  • See if you can find an ‘edge’ for each movement.

Session 3: ‘Kindfulness’

Human beings are curious creatures: we have highly developed mental functioning and the capacity for extraordinary achievements. Yet we can also sometimes be our own worst enemies, and can be harsh and cruel towards ourselves (or others). This course doesn’t try to answer why this is the case. Rather, we’re interested in presenting some of the antidotes we can apply to alleviate the effects of our harsh inner critical voice.  

Dealing with difficulty: compassionate acceptance

 

In the previous session, we explored how to use mindfulness to work skilfully with your thoughts. Alongside difficult thoughts, you may also be experiencing difficult emotions and feelings. Again, you wouldn’t be alone. A lot of people are finding this at the moment. This truth can in itself help somewhat.

 

Mindfulness again has something vital to teach us about difficult feelings. The key here is gentle, kind and curious awareness of those feelings – allowing them to be there, without totally getting lost in them. This is all about acceptance. It doesn’t mean resignation, giving up or suppressing your feelings. Rather it’s about noticing how things actually are, then choosing to turn towards them and feel them deeply in your body.  This strengthens your ability to withstand difficulties and to recover from setbacks. This process of fully turning towards your feelings requires both courage and kindness towards yourself.

 

The paradox here is that if we can allow difficult feelings to be present, then they can have less hold over us. This can also help us avoid the ‘double-whammy’ of criticising ourselves for experiencing difficult emotions, when the truth is that it’s entirely natural and human to have them – especially during such turbulent times.

 

Self-kindness and compassion

 

The current conditions – though challenging – provide an opportunity to develop a really nourishing relationship with ourselves. This is an integral part of mindfulness. To be precise, in our experience, it’s actually a natural process that extends out of mindfulness. In other words, when you practice the core skills of mindfulness, this naturally leads to a more open, generous, and kindly approach to oneself (and others). But it’s also possible to consciously encourage and cultivate this way of being.

 

And BEING is the key word here. That’s because one of the most effective ways to be kinder to oneself is to take the pressure of oneself to have to constantly do or achieve things. There’s plenty of time for that, but often this comes at the expense of time to rest and just be. This is where meditation – among other things – is so valuable, because it teaches you to be more comfortable in the pure and simple ‘space of being’.

 

You can go even further in consciously cultivating positive feelings of kindness and wellbeing towards yourself – and then extending this to others. The ‘Kindness meditation’ is designed to do just this. It can be particularly helpful during our current circumstances, when many people feel alone, and are missing direct contact with loved ones.

 

Cultivating kindness towards yourself and others in these ways can feel like taking a long, warm bath that is healing, relaxing and life-affirming – and all without the need of any external support from anyone. We strongly recommend practising this approach right now. We know from direct experience how helpful it is at times of challenge.

 

Applying this wisdom during our current times: absorption in nourishing activities

 

Meditation and mindfulness are not the only tools available for developing a good relationship with oneself. This can also happen through all sorts of activities we can do throughout our day.

 

Of course, it’s true that the nature of our current lockdown is about restriction of our physical bodies: of liberty, movement, opportunity for certain activities, and physical connection with others. This is constricting and contracting. We don’t like that.

 

But this doesn’t have to mean our whole experience feels like this. While there is an outer lockdown, we don’t have to experience an inner lockdown too. So what could you do (or not do) to encourage an opposite movement in your mind and body? How could you allow a sense of opening up, letting go and expanding?

Like with the first two lockdowns, what activities and pursuits could support this? How might you allow yourself to get really absorbed in something – with attention, interest and enthusiasm? It’s about finding ways to give your mind a rest from repeatedly turning over really difficult things.

 

In fact, the current situation – when many of us will have so much more time at home, and away from social gatherings and events – could be for some of you a great opportunity to cultivate or rediscover home-based interests, hobbies and pursuits that you find really enjoyable and sustaining.

 

Suggested home ‘practice’

 

We invite you to do some more regular mindfulness practice. This is about continuing to build your ‘muscles’ of awareness, and applying them constructively to your lives:

 

1. ‘Kindness’ and 'Acceptance' meditations: Follow the instructions on the audio meditation. 

 

2. Three-step breathing space for kindness: Each time you notice you are giving yourself a hard time, you can step out of that critical mode by practising this mini-meditation to reconnect with your natural well-wishing towards yourself.

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