Wondering about the benefits of mindfulness and how our ‘Get Your Shit Together’ course can really help you out? Have a read of Bec’s first hand experience to see how the course has given her new insights, new skills and transformed the way she lives her life…
My first attempt at meditation was somewhat fruitless. I was studying law, and it was exam crunch-time. I found myself sitting in my apartment, feeling stressed to the extent where I could no longer concentrate. Having previously heard of the calming benefits of meditation, I googled meditation centres nearby and found that there was one within walking distance. I signed up to a course and before long was sitting in a dimly lit room with a group of strangers and a plethora of pillows, blankets and bolsters. We all sat in a circle; there was a brief introduction; then…… silence! We were to sit still. No fidgeting. Eyes closed. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing. At this stage my thoughts became even louder. That critical voice inside my head appeared. It asked what I was doing wasting my time sitting in a room full of strangers when I could be at home studying for the property law exam in less than a week’s time! I consequently became even more stressed and anxious, to the point where I just walked out halfway through! The leader of the meditation called me to ask if everything was ok and I simply stated that meditation was not for me. In hindsight, nothing had been explained to me and I had no idea what I was doing, let alone whether I was doing it right!!
Flash forward 5 years and I am now working as a full-time yoga teacher. My love of yoga began because of the tangible physical benefits it brings, however, I have recently started to notice a gradual mental shift too. This made me wonder about my failed meditation attempt, and whether it may have been time to give it another shot. I am so glad I did, as this time I can confidently say that I have seen results!
I first discovered The indigo project through a friend, and then saw an advertisement for a free workshop about the science of happiness. It claimed to speak of the scientifically proven benefits of mindfulness and meditation to our overall happiness and sense of self. I brought a couple of friends along, not really knowing what to expect. It ended up exceeding any expectations I could have had, and we all left the workshop buzzing! I needed to find out more about The indigo project! It was at that time that I noticed their 8-week meditation and mindfulness course. The name especially, ‘Get Your Shit together’ was the icing on the cake for me. I signed up.
This course was very different to anything one might imagine when one thinks of traditional meditation and mindfulness practice – especially if I was to compare it to my initial meditation experience. It was perfect for people like me as there’s no mention of religion, and there is nothing strict or traditional about it. Each week had a different focus and theme, and left us with ‘homework’ where we were to incorporate mindfulness practices into our lives. These ranged from mindful eating to mindful showering, and even mindful walking. I definitely needed practice on the latter, as I often am only thinking about where I’m going, and never stop to smell the roses, literally and figuratively!
The course was also quite different in that the organisers also opened up about their vulnerabilities which made us all feel more inclined to open up ourselves. The group consisted of about 10-15 people, and we all became really close by the end. It’s amazing what you can all share when you let your guard down. We’re all human and we all freak out sometimes! As many of us in our current society are not interested in religion, we at times may feel a spiritual void. This has for so often only been filled by religion, yet underneath is something universal and beneficial to all. A core value of The indigo project is to demystify meditation and mindfulness, what was previously the domain of religion, and this really resonated with me. I left feeling an overwhelming sense of calm, and connection to myself and my community.
I also particularly enjoyed the week on creativity. I had never really considered myself a creative person, but then re-examined why I thought that way. We can be creative in so many different ways, and with the right support anyone can do it! I have now tried to incorporate this into my life, and have even been to a painting class since! The course was definitely a transformation for me in the sense that it gave me skills that I have kept and continue to use on a daily basis.
This sparked my interest in positive psychology, which is at the core of The indigo project. Psychology has for so long focused on what’s wrong with people, rather than how ordinary people can thrive. Looking around for recent literature, I stumbled across a great book by Ruby Wax, called Frazzled. I remembered her as a comedian from the 90s. As it turns out she became interested in positive psychology to curb her depressive tendencies, and found such compelling results, she put her career on hold to study Neuroscience at Oxford University! As an introduction to mindfulness and meditation for the average joe, it’s a great read. As she’s a comedian, you can really feel the frustration she felt when first trying it.
The end part of the book describes her experience of a 10-day silent meditation retreat, and is hilarious. She can’t stand it at first, and already starts to make imaginary enemies with the other people, although no one is speaking to or interacting with each other. She particularly dislikes a guy who keeps his eyes shut in meditation long after the bell has rung for their next break. But then slowly she notices something transform. She becomes calm and notices everything around her in much more detail. The minimal food she eats tastes so amazing that she questions the recipe. At the end, she becomes that person who keeps her eyes closed after the bell has rung to signal the end!
I once heard a podcast which said meditating makes you feel about 10% better for that day. I would have to agree. It’s not a huge shift, but it is certainly noticeable. I do tend to feel a sense of calmness afterwards, and notice the beauty in simple things. A few times I’ve opened my eyes to see more vibrancy in everything around me. It’s the weirdest feeling, because sometimes you don’t really think you’re doing much by just sitting there!
The premise of mindfulness is that it brings us into the present moment. Most feelings such as anxiety, worry, regret or disappointment come from dwelling on the future or the past, and are very rarely related to one’s present situation. A statistic that has really stuck with me from the 8-week course is that we spend approximately 46% of our day lost in thought. I do agree that ruminating can occasionally be helpful for great epiphanies, but most of the thoughts that go around in our head are at best unhelpful, and at worst damaging to our sense of self. Not only that, we’re spending almost half our lives not actually living in the real world! In any event, my great epiphanies often happen after a good sleep, where I’m not consciously doing anything. Consciously dwelling on something may not be as helpful as simply slowing down. That’s why they say that meditation and mindfulness actually spark creativity and imagination.
I’ve learnt that the best way to bring yourself into the present is to focus on one of the senses, and the breath is usually the best way to get started. It’s a funny thing, the breath, the one thing that we cannot live without, yet we rarely notice. The mind has a tendency to focus on positive or negative, rather than neutral stimuli. The 8-week course helped me to understand that the main secret is to stop berating yourself for thinking you’re doing it wrong. Every time you notice that your thoughts have wandered off, it’s working! The act of noticing, and bringing the mind back to the breath is what it’s all about! There is really no right or wrong way to do it. Find what works for you. If you need to move and fidget, it’s ok! Many techniques are related to times and cultures that are different from our own, and it’s fine to put our own spin on it.
In her book, Ruby Wax gave a great analogy about why you should not get frustrated with yourself.
I think of the relationship we have with our mind as being the same as a rider with their horse. Sometimes the horse (the mind) wants its freedom to gallop or eat ferns and so it rips the reins out of your hands, dragging your arms out of their sockets as it does so. You feel like if you jerk on the reins, your mind will probably resist you even more, but if you gently pull back on them, making that clicking cowboy sound with your tongue and saying ‘Whoa boy’, gradually your mind will slow down, obey you and then you can (horse) whisper ‘Thankyou’. If your mind wants to run away with you and you violently try to pull it back, it will buck you off and bolt. If you treat yourself with compassion and resist obeying your demanding thoughts, they become quiet.
I believe people are always trying to be mindful anyway, whether they realise they’re doing it or not. People love activities such as rock climbing, other extreme sports, even a game of chess, because there is no past or future when they are completely immersed in what they are doing. These activities that people become so passionate and excited about generally involve a sense of being present with the body and immediate environment around them. Mindfulness allows us to access this feeling and emersion with the present, each and every moment in our daily lives. I still remember one of the happiest moments of my life during a camping trip in Canada, and now I see that it was because I really noticed everything around me with all my senses. The beautiful colour of the sky, the friends around me, the heat from the campfire, the guitar music we were all singing along to. I remember thinking at that time, I love right now !!!