My search for mindlessness – sorry, mindfulness - begins

Judith Wills / 07 March 2014

Diet and wellbeing blogger Judith Wills makes a traumatic first attempt at mindfulness.

So I began my attempt at practising mindfulness – a form of meditation - this last week. I had to. The author of the best selling book on the subject, Danny Penman, assured me that it can help with a huge raft of human problems, from joint pain to stress to anxiety, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches – and much, much more, as they say. I feel confident it will also help me avoid stress/comfort eating. Kind of, pray, don't eat. You can buy many other long tomes on the subject but I, having a pathetic attention span for this kind of thing, printed out the shortened version of how to do it in 'five easy steps'. Here's what happened:

1. Sit on a straight-backed chair, or cross-legged on the floor. Well of course I chose the straight-back chair as I can't manage crossed legs on the floor – my hips are too tight, so when I tried, all I got was pain and anxiety and pins and needles, all of which put me in the frame of mind to GIVE UP RIGHT NOW.

2. Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensations of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.

Yes, got that. Worst part was the belly rising and falling as I inhaled and exhaled, as it rose just fine (in fact it was already risen even before I started breathing) but didn't do so well on the falling. I fear this may have something to do with the amount of fat lurking in the region.

3. When your mind wanders, bring it back to your breathing. Now this is hard. Let's face it, breathing is boring. But mind wandering is not boring. Do I want to stop it wondering at the audacity of the winter clematis I saw as I sat down, flowering just outside the bedroom window, in order to check I'm still breathing? Do I want to stop thinking about what we're going to have for lunch and trying to remember if I've got any Dijon in the larder? Do I wish to stop hoping that Ray Quinn wins Dancing on Ice and wondering if his tendency to cockiness will knock this hope on the head? All good stuff, let's be honest.

But heroically I bring my mind back to my laboured breath. But not until after a thought occurs to me. Should it really even be called mindfulness at all? Because what it really is, is mindlessness. It's trying to get you to think of nothing but your breathing.

4. Your mind may become calm, but this may not last long. You may feel fear, anger or stress. If you do, don't try to change anything. Return your awareness back to the breath.

Huh! Here I am, trying to rid myself of all these negative things as detailed at the top, but they're admitting it might not work, might even make me worse. I've to ignore the panic attack all this mindfulness is causing and get back to the breathing anyway. Huh. I'm getting annoyed.

5. After a few minutes, or longer if you prefer, gently open your eyes and take in your surroundings. Um. I didn't know I was supposed to have my eyes shut. So I shut them now and keep them closed for a bit. How long have I been here? Is it a few minutes? Will it be cheating if I open my eyes to look at my watch to check? I cheat, and discover I've been here on this chair with eyes shut for a total of one and a half minutes, though it seems much longer. Surely it will do? Did I open my eyes gently enough? The stress levels are rising. I try some fast, shallow mouth breathing (it's the naughty step for me) to try to stem the tide of rising anxiety, and view my surroundings as commanded. I should have vacuumed before I began, and tidied up the clothes strewn over a chair in front of me, and dusted the dressing table. Guilt levels rise, too.

I reckon I should have done some kind of pre-mindfulness course to prepare me for the trauma of my first session. I'm obviously going to be a hard case for mindfulness to crack. But fear not, I am going to persist as so very, very many people say it really works. It can only get better.

Chicory, pear and walnut saladAte for lunch:

Chicory, pear and walnut salad

Every time I remember this king of late winter salads, I feel really happy. It's a light and healthy but gorgeously flavoursome marriage of fruit, leaf, nut and cheese. To serve two, simply separate the leaves of a small head of chicory (add a few leaves of radicchio too if you like) and arrange on serving plates with sliced juicy pear (Comice is best) and a sprinkling of blue cheese (Roquefort, Stilton or St Agur are all nice) and some walnut pieces. Spoon over a dressing made from walnut or rapeseed oil, the juice of half a lemon, a teaspoon each of Dijon mustard and honey, and seasoning.

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