I can't begin to describe my year so far, though my friends, family and followers, have a pretty good idea.
The great thing is that I've learned a lot about myself - and others. And that every single day, there are things in my life that I am grateful for. That is the great gift of Mindfulness.
Now I'm constantly being asked about Mindfulness.
Usually when I try to describe it, people look at me like I have two heads and suddenly understand why I've spent so much time in therapy!
No truly, Mindfulness is a practise that is difficult to explain or even teach unless you've done it yourself.
My instructors describe it as being like Buddhism without the religion. And they have said themselves, that they couldn't teach it, if they hadn't experienced it too. And these are traditional mental health professionals, who have gone beyond their original training, done their research, practised the exercises, and discovered that Mindfulness works.
Mindfulness is about embracing life; the good and the bad; and dealing with and accepting it.
In psychological terms it's part of ACT - Acceptance Commitment Therapy. It doesn't replace Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which is better-known in the western world, but for me, Mindfulness has changed my life.
Instead of avoiding the crap that brings us down, Mindfulness is about accepting it and sitting with it ... and then changing what you can, and accepting what you can't!
It is about trusting in the process, particularly in the early days. But the good news is that whether or not you feel Mindfulness exercises are benefitting you, they are still clinically proven to reduce stress, blood pressure, heart rates, and more.
It is about building new pathways in the brain. Truly. No matter what your age, no matter what you've done to yourself in previous times, you can stimulate a part of a brain that most people in the western world rarely use!
And it's an explanation as to why so many Mindfulness students are exhausted at the end of a day of learning/practising.
I remember sitting in day one of my class, where the psychologist running the program urged us to give it six weeks, and then if we still wanted to walk away, we could.
I wrestled with my mind that day, wanting to leave, but staying anyway. And that night, I was mentally exhausted! Drained. With no real benefit to be detected yet. Thank goodness it was my kids' week with their Dad, because I basically fell into bed at 7.30 pm ... but the great thing was I slept like a baby. Actually better than a baby, because they tend to wake up a few times either hungry or wet or worse!
My second week was just as difficult, and I mentioned this to my very up-front, non-touchy-feely psychiatrist. Even though it wasn't his thing personally, he urged me to continue, saying he had seen dramatic, inexplicable changes in patients who had completed the course.
Now this guy isn't one to waste anyone's time. He's very into traditional modes of treatment, yet he recommended I continue with the program. That was impossible to ignore.
I took the leap of faith and returned.
By week 3 I had my first 'A-Ha!' moment. And since then, I've had many more.
I've gone on to experience loads more crap in my life, but Mindfulness helps me to accept it and deal with it, rather than avoiding or ignoring it, as I may once have. It's incredibly empowering.
Even when my world appears to be falling down around me, I have relaxation and/or breathing exercises to call on, which immediately calm me and help me focus.
And when my world is running beautifully, I appreciate every single moment.
I find myself appreciating the beauty in my world, and even better, coping well when things get ugly. I givie myself permission to show myself the same 'loving kindness' I show others. It doesn't have to be anything big. It can be a hot, relaxing bubble bath when my arthritis is making my bones ache. It may be buying myself a cupcake, and enjoying every single bite, no guilt allowed.
It can be cracking up with my kids as I did last night, when my attempt at baking gluten-free French sticks turned out something akin to individual batons. So it was another Mummy Baking Failure, but did it really matter? "We can use them as weapons," giggled My 9, placing one breadstick at each door, in case of intruders.
Or when Miss 7 comes home upset she's torn a new pair of tights by falling over at school, I tell her it's no problem. They're just tights. We can get new tights, we can't get a new Miss 7!
It's a cliche but I get so much more out of life now that I live it mindfully. My relationship with my kids has improved ... and we were already extremely close. We do a lot of enjoying the moments together. When they are tense, I help them do a body scan or guide them in a relaxation exercise. They respond to it beautifully.
My killer breadsticks ... LOL