I have been teaching Mindfulness for over three years and although it is a buzz word now, I think many people are still unclear about Mindfulness. From my own experience, I see Mindfulness as a way of life, one that helps us live in the moment and frees us from the past and future stories we tend to live in.
The Origins of Mindfulness
In its purest form, Mindfulness has been practiced for centuries by Buddhists. Much of what we use in our Mindfulness practice originates from Buddhism, the meditation and focus on what is happening at the present moment is a fundamental element of Buddhist practice. What is important to remember is that Buddhism is often seen as a philosophy, one which is based on the study of the mind and firmly rooted in the belief that we can retrain our mind to be more present.
“In Mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Jon Kabat-Zinn is seen as one of the first to develop Mindfulness and introduce it in the West. He is an American professor, running a stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts. Jon Kabat-Zinn was a student of Thich Nhat Hanh and a practising Buddhist, he began to integrate Buddhist teachings with his scientific findings and developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program which is now offered worldwide to support people living with stress, anxiety, pain and illness.
Following the success of the others went on to develop specific programs for depression, namely the Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program and the Mindfulness Based Living Course (MBLC) for people who want to improve their well-being.
There is a plethora of research to support the impact of Mindfulness on improved mental health and well-being. In 2015 we saw the release of the Mindful Nation UK which collated years of research findings.
The Cancer Experience
From my experience of working with people living with Cancer, there are some very specific difficulties and challenges that we try to support through the use of Mindfulness.
I started working with people living with Cancer over two years ago, I’ve probably taught over 100 people so far. My groups are mixed, men and women, all ages, all ethnicities and religions. Cancer has not boundary. And although these people differ in so many ways, what they have in common is the trauma of Cancer.
For every single person diagnosed with Cancer, life changes the instant they hear the words “you have Cancer” And then there is a journey ahead of insecurity, fear, anxiety, stress, sadness, anger, denial and a whole host of other emotions.
We have become very good at diagnosing and treating Cancer, medically the advances have been impressive, although we have a long way to go still until we eradicate the disease completely. However what I see is that it is the emotional side of Cancer that can be devastating.
Many of my course participants are living in fear, the fear of survival, the pain of the treatment and if that goes well, then it’s the fear of reoccurrence. And all these emotions, these constant thoughts, are valid, Cancer is a traumatic experience for most.
I have worked with people who find that even after they have been given the all clear, they become depressed and can’t move on. This is a common symptom of Post Traumatic Disorder. Whilst they are in “fight” mode, they do not have the time to think about anything else but survival. When they come out of the system, no longer needing the attention of the doctors, nurses and even constant care from family and friends, they are faced with the reality of what they had to go through. They are
changed people and they may have woken up to their own vulnerability.
I can’t count how many times one of my course participants has said “I just want to go back to who I was before the Cancer” – and it is my job to help them see that that person has changed and often for the better because they have a renewed appreciation of life.
Why Mindfulness for Cancer?
The Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for Cancer course was developed by Trish Bartley at the University of Bangor in Wales. It is specifically designed to support people living with Cancer, Trish being a Cancer survivor herself has incorporated some very powerful tools for course participants.
I have been fortunate to attend an intensive retreat led by Trish Bartley and I deliver most of the course to my own groups.
In her book Mindfulness: A Kindly Approach to Being with Cancer Trish explains that “Mindfulness can offer you a way of relating differently with what you struggle with. The difficulties will not necessarily go away, but by being with them more gently, things may feel easier and steadier”.
And I think in this one sentence she captures one of the most important elements of Mindfulness in the context of Cancer. Often people living with Cancer find it difficult to offer any sort of kindness or compassion to themselves. They want to ease the pain of those close to them, so they mask their own difficulties. Or they feel guilt, anger and don’t know how to be softer to themselves.
Through Mindfulness we teach people to start putting themselves at the centre of their lives, often for the first time. We teach people to give themselves loving kindness, just as they would if they were caring for someone else.
“As you unfold, just keep on quietly and earnestly, growing through all that happens to you. You cannot disrupt the process more violently then by looking outside of yourself for answers that may only be found by attending to your innermost feeling” – Rainer Maria Rilke
Mindfulness is not a therapy in the conventional sense, it isn’t about talking about the story of Cancer constantly. It is about getting to know the stories in our mind, the ones we keep repeating over and over, that drive us insane. The what if’s and why me?
Mindfulness teaches us to accept what is present for us, with a gentle, kind approach and a letting go of fear of the future. Through meditation we learn to settle the mind when it dragging us into dark places, we learn to come back to now, the only moment that is real.
Before training to teach Mindfulness I taught in secondary schools in London and spent several years travelling the country supporting some of the most deprived schools in England. After my divorce, I found Mindfulness as a support for my personal struggles. I became immersed in the practices and way of life, eventually training to teach through the Mindfulness Association. I am a UK Listed Mindfulness Teacher, recently completed the intensive MBCT for Cancer course through the
University of Bangor. A large part of my work is with Cancer support centres in North London. In addition, I run Mindfulness courses to the general public locally. I run online courses and one to one sessions via Skype for those that prefer personal support. I work with organisations to bring Mindfulness into the Workplace.
If you want to find out more or join a course:
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07518018088