By Helen R in The Mighty.
In 2011, I was asked to participate in an experimental National Health Service course called Mindfulness for Depression. Back then, mindfulness was not yet mainstream. Adult coloring books promising instant zen had not yet landed on the shelves of Rymans, and living in the moment and paying attention were good ideas, rather than million dollar industries. I’d never heard of mindfulness, and the word instantly troubled me. I already felt full to the brim of “mind”; positively bloated with it, but I turned up at the clinic for the first session anyway and tried to keep my full mind open.
The course leader introduced herself as Doreen. She skipped around, all fringe and leggings, handing out meditation CDs to her skeptical looking participants. The theory, she explained, was that through mindfulness, we would learn to pay attention. I winced. I have always been wary of that phrase. I associated it with stern French teachers and huffy driving instructors. “Pay attention” meant the end of daydreams and the beginning of strained concentration on irregular verbs and clutch control. But I kept listening. If we pay attention to the world, she said, we can train ourselves to disengage from the direct experience of our thoughts and emotions – for it is in direct experience, apparently, that pain dwells. Without further ado, she asked us to cup our hands. She fetched a packet of what looked like raisins — yes, yes, they were definitely raisins — out of her gym bag and placed one in the center of each of our upturned palms. She did it somewhat reverently, as if we were at communion.
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