Enthused by my Massage Day experience, I recently completed an 8 week Mindfulness Course.
I’m hoping to teach it in schools, which I generally scope out when I’m shouting at the kids.
If you don’t know what Mindfulness is by now, Facebook furnishes daily aphoristic reminders next to pictures of flowers and the Dalai Lama sharing a burger with Russell Brand.
It’s the cultivation of total attention to the here and now, unsullied by the memory of making a tit out of yourself last Saturday night, and your plans to do the same every weekend for the rest of your life.
Naturally, that’s not how our former-monk teacher phrased it. He’d trained at a school that measures the gap in between words, then tasers you for inconsistencies. Even his invitation to leave the building for a coffee break felt like the pathway to a one-hundred year coma.
Every participant comment was welcomed with a congratulations for sharing, no matter how moronic and lacking in any quality whatsoever that might make it a valuable contribution to the public space.
‘I found meditating more effective after eating a bowl of Rice Krispies.’
‘How in Thor’s name is that going to advance the cause of the other human beings here?’ is something he never said.
As always, you (I) can’t resist judging fellow learners and jumping to conclusions that pleasingly activate the story-making area of the brain.
‘Staying with the breath’ invariably meant guessing Jo’s partner’s glad she’s out of the house for an afternoon picking up tips on being less of a psycho. Or wondering if anyone has ever told Kathy her laugh evokes antipathy. Or Tess that what she’s actually doing is having a nervous breakdown and locating the tingling sensation in her toes ain’t going to cover it.
Languorous Steve had an unintentionally funny turn of phrase. I particularly enjoyed the regaling of his new habit of nipping into the loos at work to focus when a colleague is pissing him off, so now they all think he’s crap at his job AND has IBS. Memorably, he also got carried away on a problems analogy that involved the nuking of ants sneaking in through his kitchen door with a glue gun to ‘stop the buggers coming back once and for all’.
At each of the four fortnightly sessions we delved more deeply into the moment, whingeing prodigiously along the way about how difficult/ boring/ fruitless/ annoying it was, no-one voicing the obvious that we were the ones who’d signed up for the privilege.
We heard that minds are essentially naughty, errant children you have to keep calling back, forcing to make eye contact, and encouraging to calm the hell down.
Home practice involved a series of CD’s on which Mr Monk called variously for attention to the body, the breath, sounds, and even thoughts, which many were using as a highly effective sleep tool.
Reporting back on it was an exercise in skilled lying, whereby one took the rule of dividing by a quarter the units of alcohol one consumes in a day in order to render one’s alcoholism palatable to one’s GP, and inverted it.
In other words, purported hours spent meditating were wildly over-calculated for public absorption, though it’s likely the upswell of group emotional anxiety greater than or equal to the week prior, made this fairly suss-able.
(Apart from chilled-out Audrey who, quite frankly, was ruining the beauty of this reflected misery.)
I love courses. I feel all Whoop-Whoop!-TED-motivational about them but this was a slow burner, like figuring out the tiny dots over time to get the big 3-D picture reveal at the end (though I never did get those).
Mindfulness is a life-long muscle you need to flex- an intention to nurture- more like learning the piano than an apple-falling-on-head epiphany.
You are training yourself to see, really see, what might be great; to put space in-between reactions and responses to what might not; to allow more and judge less; to sit with the uncomfortable.
But mostly to frustrate the living fibre out of person B who is losing the plot, as you smooth the creases out of your face with an oleaginous mental mixture of milk and honey.
The last session was a whole morning of meditations, of which my favourite was the Mindfulness of Walking.
A lost scene from Last Year at Marienbad, it featured every participant’s attempt to reconcile an urgency to reach the airy balcony area, with the task of putting one foot in front of the other in silent, slow motion.
In the end, it was the lost souls who’d taken a wrong turn on the way back to ‘Furniture Polishing Techniques’ in Room B who deserved our sympathy the most, destined as they are to spend the rest of their lives with a vague sense of unease, without ever being able to pinpoint why.
Post-course I realised I had been hoping for a game-changing perspective: deliciousness without the cream cake; transcendence pre-Enlightenment; ecstasy without the pill.
Turns out you have to start with the washing up, so I’ve got my Marigolds on for the long-haul.
Though I’d still pay good money to see our gentle monk freak out enough for him to feel just a tiny bit ashamed.