Part one: Body Scan nightmare
I’m pretty new to the idea of mindfulness. Until the last few months, my only experience was when I was in an acute day treatment unit, and we were forced to take part in what I now know as a body scan. *shudders*
Everyone was in the unit for a reason. I was being tested on some different med’s and so was fluctuating quite rapidly between mania, anxiety and depression. I was in the unit so I could be monitored during the medical transitions.
When the unit staff called us all in to a side room for the seemingly mandatory ‘meditation session’, I was feeling very anxious and did not really want to take part. But being the sheep that I am in unfamiliar situations I did it anyway.
We all had to lie down in the dark and listen to the recorded body scan on tape. The woman reading out the body scan was American and motherly sounding. The language used combined with the ‘relaxing’ plinky plonky music immediately reminded me of the scene in Donnie Darko where the class is made to watch ‘Controlling fear: Part one’
Cue negativity by association.
I tried to listen and focus, but one fellow meditater got up dramatically and left, obviously also struggling to see the sense in this forced exercise. A feeling of tension crept into the dark stuffy room, as we all heard staff try to talk the deserter back in. How relaxing.
Shouts of “this is stupid, I want out of this shit hole” were heard over the dulcet tones of “focus of awareness to move into the lower left leg—the calf, shin, knee, and so on, in turn”
Agitated and anxious, I started feeling tingling sensations in my limbs, as if they were about to float off into the stratosphere. At the time I thought something seriously wrong was happening to me (cue fight or flight) and I left out the back door quietly and ran to the nearest room I knew no one would find me in.
Part Two: Do it my way
When I learned a bit about DBT just before I started the course in July 2015, I learned that a lot of the teachings in Marsha’s book revolve around Buddhism ideals and in term meditation, and mindfulness. This really excited me as until now I had seemingly been living a very un-zen life. And who doesn’t want to find inner peace!?
The first DBT lesson I had I was told we would be doing a mindfulness practice before every 2 & ½ hour session.
“Ok fine, this doesn’t have to be like the unit, I’m in a new environment, i am way more stable and I have good support, time for another go at it”
Our DBT coach who led the practice, explained we would be doing a walking exercise. With the aim of acknowledging the thoughts (good and bad) that came into our heads, but not dwelling on them, living in the moment. She put on a timer for 3 minutes and we all shuffled around the table in the middle of the room, in silence.
I can’t say that this was a pleasant experience. My first DBT session. I had never met anyone else with BPD before, and here were 8 women, all with BPD, all beautiful and confident, and what was scariest, was they all knew each other, and I knew no one! After the shuffling around the table I felt a million times worse.
“Its body scan bollocks all over again”
a little voice in my head said.
After Months of sheeping through group mindfulness practices, I tried to do so some self-reflection, and I asked myself why I hated doing it so much.
My first ‘Hot thoughts’ were standard.
“Because I am a naturally negative person, because I’ll never be happy, because I am the spawn of Satan”
Blah Blah Blah. Shove them aside.
Then it occurred to me, Mindfulness sounded like it has to the power to unleash emotions in you that you weren’t even aware existed, and i was terrified of loose control of myself.
I don’t know if anyone has a phobia like this, but I’m scared to sleep in front of anyone apart from my boyfriend (other phobias are available) and for a long time i was not able to hug people, even my family or partner. Essentially, i was afraid of showing an emotion in front of people for the fear of appearing weak.
The feelings I was supposed to get from these practising mindfulness sounded really private and personal to me. I was scared of having them in front of people, with a timer on, and all along the prospect of spending the next 2 hours talking about peoples childhood abuse and trauma.
So armed with this new knowledge, I decided I was going to forgo group mindfulness. So I asked a few times if we had to take part in mindfulness at the beginning of the session. I was told in the most neutral and annoyingly positive of voices:
“We would ideally like you to do it as we think you will be able to benefit from the experience”
Not good enough. I’m not going to be a sheep.
After each mindfulness session, Our coach asks us how it made us feel, good or bad feedback welcome. I began to notice that not many people had positive things to say. So when it came to me to answer one morning “how did it make you feel?”
I told her. In my typical tactful style (it was not at all tactful).
That morning During the break, where all the girls go outside and smoke and bitch about ‘the system’, I apologised for voicing my rather polar opinion on group mindfulness.
I had been having mental images of them all falling off little clouds whilst in the half lotus position.
To my surprise they all thanked me for saying what they had all wanted to say themselves! So the next session I boycotted the body scan. And reinforced my thoughts on the subject to the coach, who seemed to understand.
Determined not to let this be the end of finding my zen, I started reading up about mindfulness practices I could do alone, at home, that did not involve timers or forced thoughtfulness. Most importantly that didn’t involve uncomfortably tingling limbs or shuffling like zombies.
I found a few ideas online, and through a period of elimination and using my intuition on what felt right and what felt wrong, I found and adapted a few mindfulness practices that have now become a staple in my weekly routine.
Throughout my mindfulness journey I was constantly being told what I should feel: relaxed, refreshed, and rejuvenated, at one with my mind. Until I found my own way of doing things, I felt nothing but pressured, patronised, anxious and forced.
My personal belief is that mindfulness is different for everyone, we all find our little bit of Zen in different ways. Some of the key elements of mindfulness are not judging yourself or others, finding ways of doing things that suit you, mindfulness is a journey and I think it should be up to you how you get there and what transport you use.
Thanks to Dan Roberts for his brilliant article on Hot thoughts, which i linked above but you can also find here.
P.S i realise meditater is not a word.