Sunday, February 10, 2013

Adventures in Mindfulness (part 1?)

So, I'm doing a mindfulness program through the health and counselling services at my university. This is the second mindfulness-based therapeutic program I've tried out through the same service, and I'm feeling optimistic. The previous one was helpful, to an extent, but there were things that didn't sit right with me, that I won't get into here and now.

Back to mindfulness. I've tried meditating before, but it hasn't been good for me. Clearing my mind of everything has sent me into a dissociative spiral, and/or brought up things that are too scary for me to handle when I'm in the vulnerable space that meditation seems to put me into.

Mindfulness seems different, though. It's about being physically aware, from what I can gather - the opposite of dissociation. Knowing where my body is, how it feels, and how my feelings manifest themselves physically. This particular program asks for a lot of homework, meaning that aside from sleeping I'll be spending more time on mindfulness than on any other single non-academic activity in a given week.

It's very odd being aware of my body. I've spent years and years trying to shut it down, because of the memories attached to it, or because of physical pain of various sorts. It was actually surprising to find that engaging with my body was not a painful experience. I can feel things, physically, that are not pain, without having to do anything to feel other than think about feeling. As in, in the past I've only felt non-painful sensations in my body if I intentionally work to bring them on, such as through exercise. Perhaps this is something that most people take for granted; for me, it is not. This sort of connectedness has stayed with me for a few hours after I do mindfulness exercises, so that I have a non-painful engaged body for extended periods of time.

People who have read far back on this blog remember my rants about how academics detach bodies from people. I'm beginning to rethink that approach, seeing how detached I've always kept my body and my mind, and how marginalizing that is. I am not entirely sure what I am trying to say here, but I am trying to say something about reconceptualizing interactions between the body and the mind.

Mindful eating is another battle. It seems that I have for years shut down to some extent if I have anything in my mouth, to avoid triggering myself. One part of our homework this week is to eat one meal mindfully. I hadn't even realized how detached I was from touch-related sensations when I was eating, until on successive days I had to mindfully eat a raisin, then an M&M. I've always tasted what I eat, but somehow I think I haven't been feeling the texture of foods, or acknowledged that something is touching something in my mouth. I'm not sure how to explain it.

I haven't had PTSD triggers in quite some time, but eating mindfully means engaging with how things feel in my mouth, which is triggering. I became very triggered after eating an M&M in the Thursday group - the one that isn't working quite as well for me, for other reasons - then had to run to class. It wasn't a good way to work through the day, and I may leave the Thursday group, partly because of needing self-care time afterwards and not having a chance for that with my class schedule.

I suppose I've buried lots of memories in my mouth. I'm working very slowly on this. Very slowly. Today, I ate a corn chip mindfully, then had to stop. I'll work up to bigger things, I suppose. We'll see how it goes.

An odd thing came up in our group session on Wednesday. We did an exercise where we had to visualize a well, drop a (visualized) stone into it, and see what came up, in terms of our reasons for being in the program. I'm not sure if I'm explaining this particular exercise very well. At any rate, the purpose I assumed I came for - the stone I dropped in - was healing. I'm on a healing journey, right? That's why I signed up for mindfulness. Ultimately the word that came out of the well was, oddly, productivity. At first, I thought that was a sign from my subconscious, or something, that I was done healing, and now had to channel my healing energies into more productive things, and focus on my work. After trying some of the exercises at home, especially the mindful eating, I've realized that there must be some sort of blended purpose. Part of me is obviously aspiring for greater productivity - that's obvious. I am often stunted in my work because of my anxiety, and mindfulness will help me focus, academically. But the healing isn't over. I'm not sure whether healing ever will be over, whether it is finite. I am hoping this is the last painful bit I'll have to uncover, but I am not certain. There is a lot of uncertainty here.

At the very least, I am accompanied in my at-home mindfulness practice, for the next week or so, by Mellow Yellow, the Laziest Cat in the World, who flops down beside me and imitates my posture when I do body scans. It is comforting and brings a sense of camaraderie.

This has been a lot of navel-gazing, and I feel like writing a post to publicly muse as to why I feel a need to make all this healing public - I do know that I feel a need to, but haven't put it into words. That's for another night, I think.

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