As many of you know I have been going through an out-patient therapy program at a local mental health institution in Montreal. Monday’s and Friday’s consist of group therapy sessions that are heavy and loaded with emotion. We go around a circle and talk about our week, set therapeutic goals, and generally talk about what we’re struggling with. Tuesday’s are a psychoeducational group of some kind. They teach us therapeutic techniques, whether it’s visualization, setting values and goals, and learning how to make changes. Wednesday and Thursday we have physical activities that we’re obligated to participate in (for the non-athlete like me, this is a painful experience), and following that we do more psychoeducation.
The focus for many of these groups have centred around mindfulness. For the uninitiated, mindfulness is a practice whereby you accept, in a non-judgmental way, the thoughts and emotions that come into your mind. There are different techniques to practice mindfulness — like really paying attention to what you are eating. What are the tastes? How does it smell? What textures do you feel as you chew? Other strategies for mindfulness involve imagining your thoughts on various items and letting them float away. For example, pretend you’re holding a bunch of balloons and every time a thought comes into your mind, mentally write it on that balloon and let it go. The idea is that you acknowledge the feeling and let it go. It’s not about suppression but a general acceptance of the way you’re feeling and being.
In theory, this sounds like a great practice. I think we would all benefit from being more mindful of the world around us and the thoughts that spin through our heads. Except, what happens when it doesn’t work? I have been struggling with the idea of mindfulness because I can’t seem execute it. Speaking with my therapist on Monday, she said it takes practice but for an impatient perfectionist like myself — I need it to work, like, yesterday. My mindfulness practice ends up with me frustrated and giving up. First, I have a hard time acknowledging the thoughts that pop into my head. So, to theoretically write them on balloons and let them go is difficult when I don’t even know what I’m thinking about.
Ultimately, I think mindfulness would be useful to me but I feel like I’m stuck or blocked. I don’t know if this is a part of mindfulness, but I have started colouring intricate designs (thank you Sarah for introducing this to me). I pop my earbuds in and focus all of my energy into choosing colours and organizing the patterns in the picture. And for that short time that I am colouring, the negative monologue that is on a loop in my head stops and I’m able to breathe.
What do you think of mindfulness? Is it a useful technique? Are some of us hardwired for it to not work? Is it just a matter of practice? I’d love to hear your thoughts.