Friday, August 21, 2015

Headspace and Mindfulness Revisited

The other day FD sighed, "You never blog about me anymore."

Mindful fishing

So I asked him (for a good offense is always the best defense), "Why do you bother wasting time fishing? You bring home nothing and the salmon at the store are bigger and better, and no worms are wasted."

I don't mention that the recent pic of a three-inch blue gill made me sad.

"It is relaxing," he says. "and allows me to spend some quality time with my grandsons and clear out my head."

So I wonder,
Might everything that holds our attention, that helps take our minds away from the stress and anxiety of every day life, be considered a mindfulness technique
I've heard people who downloaded the phone ap Headspace say that even five minutes a day, the minimum recommended dose of mindfulness meditation, is too hard to fit into their daily schedule. The process of mindful meditating is very easy if its essence is attending to one's breathing, becoming attentive to the five senses, and "watchful" of thoughts. Yet it feels like it should require some kind of warm up, maybe yoga clothes or something. A mat.

Not having gone farther than open Headspace, which calls for an email address immediately to continue, it might be presumptuous to recommend it. But my thinking is why not try it, at least until you have to plunk down the monthly fee, soon after the first ten days, pretty sure. I recommend it to those who like aps and have memory leftover on their phones, because a mindfulness ap has great potential as cognitive behavioral therapy. Of course you can  do it without a mat; almost anything can be thought of as mindful meditation with the right intent: walking, running, babysitting (maybe not when the baby is awake), shopping, gardening, whistling, even driving, although maybe driving isn't the best idea, unless you are being mindful of traffic. This is all about leaving judgments behind, losing the good/bad, sick/healthy, beautiful/ugly ways we look at almost everything.

Lose the labels, lose language if at all possible, and just live and experience life. No, that is not easy, but it has to be healing. That said, it probably won't make you rich, like they say on the radio in the Headspace interviews.

We can look at other behavioral applications that work, too, that also enable us to experience the moment to the fullest, do a comparative analysis. (They likely won't make you rich, either). Fishing, for example, is  a mindful sport. Because FD is relaxed merely reeling in a tangled bunch of string hanging from a pole, he can handle his thoughts, judge them less, because they don't upset him so much. He'll judge himself less, too.

There are other ways to get to this benign place. Once my nephew bought me a ticket to a new and trendy sensory experience, a pool, probably the size of a mikvah, encased in a soundproof, totally darkened room, designed to recall the womb, bring a soul back in time. He didn't know that I'm afraid of the dark, so he wasted $25.00, but I can see why he would think me a good candidate. Anything for nothingness. I think I still have the coupon somewhere.

So fishing works like that, and so does a sensory deprivation pool, probably, as does tennis and other sports, too!  How can anyone think about problems or anything else, when there is even a remote possibility of returning a ball well, perhaps even finding the racquet's sweet spot. It is all any tennis amateur cares about, really. Golfing is the same way, focus to connect well. (If only our focus to connect with people compared). And what is smacking a baseball, getting a hit or a home run, if not concentration upon the present, the speed of the ball, the arc of the pitch. Maybe all sports are mindfulness techniques, and maybe they are all recommended in the Headspace ap.

Therapists have always liked CBT because you don't need to change clothes, certainly, to work it. To counter a negative thought with rational thinking, for example, one might be in tuxedo. It is the same with mindfulness, which is probably best in comfortable clothes even in nothing at all, assuming we can lose our judgements, reservations. Who doesn't focus on the pounding of water on skin while in the shower?  Or the smell of soap, the steam? We can counter a negative thought in the shower, too, think how irrational it is to think we aren't as good as other people.

So why not put mindfulness into the CBT bucket, or shower, and put the CBT into mindfulness, even suggest the two can be one, if performed well, like most twos.

Wait, before we combine them (consider that done) a few more thoughts about meditation:

Mindfulness is marvelously adaptable, a flexible approach to feeling good, and it probably lowers blood pressure, but not cholesterol, because feeling good, a person who likes to eat is likely to just go for it, abandon a diet.

Also, we probably should mention at least one other meditative school, the Maharishi's meditation of the sixties, repeating a mantra, or even dharma, returning everything into white, as the Carly Simon song goes, to experiencing everything that is both inside and outside our selves. These are less flexible, compared to standing on the train on your way home from work and becoming mindful of your weight on your feet, or how fascinating it is that the brain does this job, balances you, not without help from a germy pole held tightly in your fist so you don't fall, a mindfulness exercise. Actually, the Maharishi wasn't a fool.

Long-time readers recall my reservations about mindfulness not so long ago. Someone suffering from severe anxiety had panic attacks at a mindfulness workshop. He asked me to give it the nod. Should he try it? Sure, go to the workshop. What have you got to lose? He suffered panic attacks at the first meeting and the instructor blamed him for doing it wrong.

Rethinking it now, of course anxious and depressed people (and who isn't) might likely to be even more anxious or sad in a group workshop, so many eyes in the room, so much new information to digest, instruction to execute. So we talk about that and much, much more at length in therapy, before shooing anyone off to a retreat, and suggest people are mindful of mindfulness training. Think of it as a weekend at a mental gym. Really want that?

But now, at least once a week, finding myself at that inevitable therapeutic impasse, because therapy is full of these, I'll bring up behaviors that define mindfulness as alternatives to whatever is holding us up, either negative thinking, ego-dystonic behavior, or emotional pain. These are the ABCs of CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy, fyi, affect, behavior and thought.

Because Aaron and Judith Beck got here first.

But they didn't say it quite this way.

A quick look at the basics (according to TherapyDoc who has read many books on the subject, if not opened the ap):

(1) attend to things inside, turn your attention to the rumbling of the stomach or heartburn, the feel of your socks on your feet (take 'em off if no one is around), whether or not you are hot or cold, how your breath feels inside your nose, the tiredness of your eyes, etc.

(2) attend to things outside of you, the ticking of a clock, the gurgling of an aquarium, the noise of the dishwasher or fan, the smells of cooking, the shadow of a lamp on the floor, the glow of the bulb inside the lamp, the different pieces of furniture in the room. Touch a person. Or if you are outside, watch the clouds in the sky for longer than a moment. Cloud-gazing is the original Rorschach test, so you can analyze what you see, what it says about you. It tells me that I really don't like giant ants.

(3) Keep on attending, watching, everywhere, all of the time. Be in the moment. If thoughts interrupt your discovery, watch them, too, even see them as words on a piece of paper, don't judge them or be upset about them, they are only thoughts, not real events, not happening right now. Sure, they may have happened, or might happen, but stay with what is outside of your brain, right now.

(4) Emulate others in the animal kingdom. Check out this bird, for example. No intention of letting anything bother him.
Nothing but mindful

(5) Emulate children. When they go to a rocky beach, they don't complain that it is too hot or too cold or there are too many people. They skip rocks on water, throw sand, consider what they can do with it, because there is so much! They search the earth and the sea just to see what they can find, right there in the moment, and this makes them happy.
Cloud-gazing mindful

Skipping stones-behavioral mindfulness
And they watch clouds, too.

They also play games.  Consider an adult version of freeze tag. Catch yourself thinking, doing or feeling something you don't like to feel, think, or do. Then freeze. In the game someone shouts freeze. So do that, shout freeze. 

Then take in all that sensory information we discussed in #2.

(6) Work your imagination. If you catch yourself thinking thoughts that feel mentally destructive, get creative, go to what you're going to make for dinner, what you might do in the evening or the next day, even think about what it would be like to take a vacation. Change your life story and make it into someone else's life story, more interesting, how you would see it in a movie, a romantic comedy. This can be hard, so let your mind wander to the places you know about, like what's in the fridge, what should be in the fridge, what music would be nice to hear, what you can do for someone else. Let these thoughts ascend, and the ones that upset you, deflate like lead balloons. See thoughts inside balloons that are losing their helium, coming down, down, down, until they are nothing but scrunched up pieces of blue, red, yellow and white rubber that might or might not have to be recycled.

Too much to ask? I hear that mats are only ten bucks.


There are many good books on mindfulness, try Buddha's Brain, by Hanson, and the mindfulness solution for pain, by Gardner-Nix,  (not that the book will necessarily take away your pain, but the idea is distracting).

the mindfulness solution for pain, by Gardner-Nix

Buddha's Brain, by Hanson