Last updated on 9th December 2011
So yesterday was the final evening of the eight session Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course. Most of us will go on to complete a full day's practice later as well. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the sixth session in "MBSR ... making time for reflection, and the overlap between mindfulness & conscientiousness". Last week I wasn't at the class as I was teaching myself - the final evening of a twelve session "Life skills for stress, health & wellbeing" course. I was then away for a four day residential peer group and I wrote the post "Is interpersonal group work better than sitting meditation for training mindfulness?".
One of a series of things that I have found it helpful to experience personally over this eight session training has been the difficulty of maintaining the practice when one misses one of the weekly classes. There are likely to be so many other demands in our lives, that it is a real challenge to keep the mindfulness practice high up on our daily priority lists. Meeting in the weekly class helps to do this, as too do keeping a practice record, using reflection sheets, and discussing (maybe in a pair exercise, and in the full class) how one has been doing. It's hard to follow through on, as a busy health professional, but it does make very good sense for trainers to contact course participants by email (or phone) pretty much immediately after they have missed a class. One can send any handouts that they have missed and, at least as importantly, discuss with them how their practice has been going and what the challenges are that they want to set themselves for the next week.
As usual at yesterday's final class, we began the session with a long guided practice - this time it was a body scan again. Then the discussion about the practice we had just done. Then a tea break - these chatty interludes have helped us gel more as a group. Good to find that people were already planning to meet for a meal together in a week or two's time. I strongly suspect that these informal tea break chats have made this kind of post-group initiative much more likely. I wrote in my post about the first evening of this course that I wanted to keep an eye on how these breaks developed as it might be something I would want to introduce into trainings that I run. Now, at the end of the course, my feeling is that mechanisms for strengthening relationships & learning between group participants is a good idea ... but (for the "Life skills" training) I'm going to stick to shorter two hour classes and try to build the relationships (as I already do) by giving regular discussion exercises in pairs and threes.
Finally we returned to the group room to do a series of (slightly rushed) review and where-from-here exercises. So how did this course go for me? I wrote right at the start of this training: So what are my "learning objectives" for the MBSR course? A.) At a personal level, I live life somewhat at 110%. There's lots that's good about this but definitely, at times, I miss the taste of the moment as I reach out for the next goal. I welcome the opportunity to explore "being" and "savouring" more. B.) I think I'm going to resent some of the time demands of the course - for example the initial request that we do long "body scans" each day. I suspect that during some of these exercises I'll be questioning the course design, whether it is time well spent, and feeling rather bored & irritated. No doubt there will also be other "opportunities" to face "unpleasant emotions/sensations" and this too can be an interesting & helpful personal challenge. C.) In general I'm a fan of mindfulness approaches, but I also question their limitations. I suspect that "mindfulness" is being over-stretched sometimes just now to cover therapeutic & wellbeing applications where it shouldn't be a first choice intervention. I welcome that the course is likely to help me become clearer where mindfulness best has its place. D.) In the Life Skills for Stress, Health & Wellbeing courses that I run, I introduce a number of mindfulness ideas & practices - as I do in one-to-one therapeutic work as well. I hope that participating in an MBSR course will throw up a series of ways that I can improve the helpfulness of my own teaching."
Well as far as A.) is concerned - "the opportunity to explore "being" and "savouring" more", I think I was doing better earlier in the course than later on, however there have been interesting and worthwhile changes. My score on the full version of the "Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ)" went up from the mid 150's before the course to the mid 160's after the course, with slightly better scores during the course than after it had finished. I tend to be pretty self-compassionate and internally aware anyway, so there was little room for change on Non-Judge and Describe. All facet scores improved a little, but this was a bit more obvious in Act-Aware, which is much as I'd hoped. Interestingly my scores on Observe only increased modestly. I think this is partly about the questions. Do I really want to dramatically increase my awareness of "When I'm walking, I deliberately notice the sensations of my body moving" or "When I take a shower or a bath, I stay alert to the sensations of water on my body" or "I notice how foods and drinks affect my thoughts, bodily sensations, and emotions". Mm ... tricky. I certainly want to pay attention to these experiences at times, but I also enjoy mulling over happy memories of the day, or planning, or noticing other people. I guess part of the reason for scores on Observe not going up more is that I only want them to go up modestly. In fact if I rescore the FFMQ as I would "ideally like to be", the total comes to about 170. For example, it's useful to be able to do some actions "on automatic" and I only want to pay attention to environmental sounds "sometimes".
As for B.), resenting the time demands/design of the course. Actually this wasn't much of a problem. I got up a bit earlier, let some other priorities get a bit behind, not a big issue though. With C.), hoping that the course would help me clarify where mindfulness has its place ... this was probably the best bit. I've spent hours & hours reading & writing about recent research on mindfulness. I already knew a fair amount, but now I feel much clearer about mindfulness, its application, its mechanisms of action, how it might best be taught, and so on. All this knowledge is provisional and changes with emerging research, but its great to have given this area so much time and thought ... and practice!
And with D.) "I hope that participating in an MBSR course will throw up a series of ways that I can improve the helpfulness of my own teaching" ... I think it has done. I certainly value the importance of underlining Non-Judge & Non-React for many of the people who come to see me trapped in rumination & self-criticism. This increased awareness will affect my teaching in groups. Possibly most interesting is an initiative I want to put together that involves being able to "add a module on mindfulness" to my one-to-one work. But more about this in next month's blog posts. For now, I'm very glad I did the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course. It was fun, challenging, intriguing, irritating, enjoyable and it encouraged me to chew into my understanding of mindfulness in ways that I'm confident will be helpful both for me and for the clients who come to see me.