Since last weeks coping skills session I have been more aware of my emotions, which is the first step to controlling them. As I mentioned in last weeks post, “OCD & Emotions”, emotions are full system reactions that we have for a number of reasons. This is all well and good, but acknowledging that you feel crap isn’t going to help you feel better if you stop the process there.
Enter mindfulness and my little squidgy brown friend.
Mindfulness is about recognising your feelings and emotions and then taking a step back. It is purposefully paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgemental way. It’s not about trying to get anywhere, but simply being aware of where you are, and allowing yourself to be where and as you are. With respect to emotion, it is about becoming more aware of the emotions you experience as you experience them.
We spend most of our lives on “automatic pilot”, not really being aware of what we are doing. By practising mindfulness it can help us to become more grounded, more fully aware and present in each moment of life. As you can imagine this makes life more enjoyable, interesting, vivid and fulfilling.
It is important to remember that mindfulness also means facing up to difficulties, as in the long-term this is the most effective way to reduce unhappiness.
The idea is that mindfulness reduces stress as we are no longer on auto pilot. This means we don’t react negatively to events, thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations triggering old habits of thinking that are unhelpful, potentially leading to worsening mood or symptoms of stress.
By becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations from moment to moment, we increase the possibility of responding to situations with choice, rather than act automatically.
I was aware of this theoretically as I spent a lot of time reading around mindfulness and Buddhism last year (a page on mindfulness will be added to the resources section of OCD World soon), but it has been a while since I seriously practised it. How long? Well the last time I can remember was four months ago on a brake water in Stiges thirty four kilometres southwest of Barcelona, Spain. Pretty specific huh?
Seriously though, today reminded me that I defiantly need to get back into this calming, yet energising habit. Unlike my Hispanic dusk time beach session, most of my recent half-hearted mindfulness attempts have resulted in a short nap (naughty Chris!).
While I found today’s traditional mindfulness of breathing exercise useful, it was the raisin task that really ensnared me. We all looked puzzled as the group leader dished us each a solitary shrivelled blob. We were then instructed to mindfully observe our new prune friend with all five of our senses (yes I too was surprised that a raisin could make sounds!)
That was it.
Just me and a raisin.
A raisin and me.
For around five minutes.
The wonder of this exercise will only hit you if you try it for yourself, and I thoroughly endorse it. Go on . . . . head to your kitchen and grab a dried grape, sultana or current. Then just observe it. Focus your undivided attention on it. If your mind wonders, forgive yourself, then bring it back to the task at hand. Look at it, touch it, squidge it around by your ear to make sounds, smell it and finally after a few minutes taste it.
For all those people too lazy to do that, I will describe my sensory journey.
First of all it sat in the palm of my hand. I just stared at it sitting there. Stupid raisin. The traffic is quite load outside, I hadn’t noticed that before . . . drats I’m not thinking about the raisin.
There it is, just sitting there in my left hand. Actually I can’t really feel it, it’s so light. I give it a poke, and feel the sensation of it rubbing along my skin. Wait . . . are raisins usually this wrinkly, it looks really dishevelled.
I poke it further around my skin in bursts. Within moments on me stopping, it feels as light as a feather (well apparently as light as a single raisin). We studied this effect in biology at Uni, that your sense adapts to constant pressure . . . wait back to the raisin.
It seems to be leaving a little shiny trail of grease on my palm. Poke, poke, poke, stare.
I’m just gazing at it now, really observing is texture and dark browny faintly orangy colour. I wonder how many calories are in it, I want to eat it . . . back to observing with my eyes rather than my mouth. Stare . . .stare . . . stare.
My hand raises it up to my ear and I give it a squidge. Each time I squeeze and rotate with my fingers it gives off a little sludge. I have never heard a raisin before!!!
The tips of my finger and thumb grease up. I move them towards my mouth and bite the raisin in half. A burst of flavour hits my tongue, reminding me simultaneously of porridge breakfast and cake snacks. I pop the remaining half into my mouth.
Does one raisin usually have so much flavour? I could start a dietary revolution that involves playing with and fondling your food . . . back to the palate. Wait it feels slightly gritty in between my teeth as its skin brakes up unleashing a jelly like centre. I gulp it down, leaving a slightly sandy feeling and taste that lingers.
Wow. One raisin, five minutes and a new outlook on mindfulness.
By purposefully paying attention to the present moment, in this case a raisin, and allowing myself to be where and as I was, everything else began to fade away. I felt lighter yet more grounded in reality.
I’m sure to be practising mindfulness more often in the coming weeks, and sharing tips in the resources section right here in OCD World.