A brief, introspective overview
What, how, why? There certainly appears to have been a boom in the popularity of mindfulness in recent years. As an activity, it has much in common with Buddhist and meditational practices and is associated with the development of general wellbeing among both individuals and groups. It helps to ensure active, continuous, open and non-judgemental awareness being fully maintained from moment to moment. Supporters of this approach emphasise its usefulness in cultivating positive feelings and in alleviating various deleterious problems such as anxiety and stress. Both relevant guidance and well-directed assistance are recommended in order to reap the full benefits of its usage.
A note of caution: As with other therapeutic methods, mindfulness is not necessarily suitable of everyone. My personal opinions about the practice are not intended to suggest that it is a panacea for all situations, moods or challenges. I realise that there are those who will not enjoy or benefit from involvement. For instance: due to on-going setbacks, some may be too focussed on current difficulties and perceive them to be unsurmountable; others may be of an independent disposition and be resistant to joining in prosocial or collective activities. Differences exist and alternative strategies may well be more appropriate.
How can participation in activities relate to you as a caregiver? Perhaps you are interested in the potential of therapeutic outcomes but have never had the opportunity to become involved in a meaningful way. It may be the case that you think that engagement is only of value in specific situations. In reality, the relevance of taking part extends across a very wide range of contexts as suggested in the two scenarios outlined below.
Scenario 1: You are feeling a bit hassled. You wish to be more relaxed and more aware of your ability to cope with present-day anxieties or difficulties. Commitment within a group can enable you to have deeper insights about your role as a caregiver. Through connecting with particular sensitivities, you may find peace, steadfastness and wellbeing. An alertness as to how you might build on your strengths and an openness to innovative solutions could emerge.
Scenario 2: You are buoyant and confident with regard to your responsibilities. Life is worth living and you wonder why you felt so challenged and concerned about some previous issue which now seems to be rather trivial. Partaking in activities related to mindfulness can help you to become more cognisant of your inner self and clarify your contemporary lifestyle and aspirations. There is no exact formula to follow and, unless very exceptional circumstances prevail, no pressure or prescribed demands made on you.
What is involved? Participation can be undertaken in a range of different settings such as individually at home, in a group or through online involvement. Inputs can include guidance from a facilitator, musical interludes, the ringing of bells, or insights from a painting such as of a pastoral scene. Collective gatherings take many forms depending on circumstances. For instance, a truly fulfilling experience could be a mindfulness walk with companions in the open countryside.
A major aim is to ensure that everyone is in a good position to engage as fully as possible. Activities relating to inner responsiveness, breathing, relaxation and favourite interests – for example, reading, rambling, gardening or contemplating nature – may be included in private or communal sessions. Sometimes a specific concept or theme, selected by the facilitator, will be the focus of a meeting with participants absorbed in visualising a series of subjective occurrences. Imaginative use of new technologies enables remote inclusion for carers who, for various reasons, are unable to attend in person.
Comments which you might come across: Descriptions and expressions about experiences abound: “… creating an open, positive, intimate consciousness … regulating breathing and settling the mind … undergoing constantly changing and shifting sensations … resetting and refreshing … letting yourself find freedom from the demands of too much thinking … giving yourself permission to pause … being in touch with nature and landscape … appreciating the beauty and scents of flowers and shrubs … finding tranquility within ourselves and in relation to our neighbourhood and our planet … providing routes towards peacefulness (some might wish to substitute ‘roots’ for ‘routes’!) … delivering kindness and compassion in response to our needs.”
Such depictions and explanations highlight that the spirit of mindfulness is informal, warm, friendly, idiosyncratic and multifaceted. Much depends on the characteristics of inputs, pace, emotional reactions, context and the quality of contributions. (Cautionary tip: Some participants may feel cold during a session and for them it can be advisable to have a blanket or extra clothing available to keep warm.)
What are the potential benefits? The outcomes are often linked with a wide spectrum of features and attributes – peace of mind; improvement in outlook regarding everyday events; appreciation of the environment; better interactive relationships; and sensations of reward and satisfaction in helping others to cope with physical or mental issues. For harassed carers, mindfulness can enable them to face everyday challenges with greater emotional resilience and a deeper understanding of their value to society. Hopefully, they will discover ways of ‘knowing themselves’, building confidence and increasing their sense of belonging and self-worth.
Concluding remarks: As indicated already, these comments and reflections have been made in a personal capacity. I am fully aware that others may wish to debate some points with me. I look forward to listening to their views and insightful observations.
Acknowledgements: My thanks are due to Jo and Lucy, both knowledgeable and skilful facilitators, to Katy who has assisted them with very helpful support, and to members of their group for providing such splendid company.