I sit cross-legged and straight-backed on a firm, sequined cushion. My eyes are closed, and if I smile a little it brings to mind images of serene buddhas, gold and silver shiny with lotuses in their hands.
I’m practising mindfulness meditation in the Vipassana tradition. Twice daily for thirty minutes I take time out to sit and quiet myself. This is my ninth weekend and I’ve not missed a session yet. I intend to do this for the rest of my life.
But why? I’m no shiny buddha holding a lotus, nor likely to become one. It’s arduous sitting on a numb leg focusing on my breathing or body sensations. It’s tricky fitting in meditation morning and night when the day’s tasks demand attention; when I’m tired; when other things are more fun.
My mind scatters here and there, planning tomorrow, remembering this morning, writing the shopping list, rerunning conversations. Back to the breath, back to the body.
The short answer is: peace. I want peace.
A longer answer is that I want to change my brain into one less cued to stress, anxiety and the aftereffects of trauma. I’m curious. I want to experiment.
For years I’ve read about mindfulness and contemplated a Vipassana-style ten day retreat. I liked the notions of being able to self-calm, to enter altered states of consciousness, to feel at one with the universe. On a more mundane level, the health benefits attracted me. Listening to the Health Report recently, it seems mindfulness meditation is gaining increasing credence. There’s even evidence it helps repair DNA damage.
But the way into the practice remained elusive. I tried meditating by counting the breath. I started yoga, listened to relaxation tapes, learned to visualise my ‘safe place’. These were all beneficial, but they were not a daily mindfulness practice.
Nor did a bookshelf stashed with the likes of Jack Kornfield and Thich Naht Hanh give me the tools I needed.
These came from an unexpected direction.
My thanks to the MiCBT Institute in Hobart. Mindfulness Integrated Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has been pioneered by Dr Bruno Cayoun, a clinical psychologist who’s melded the 2500-year-old Vipassana tradition with psychology practice to form a workable program for clients suffering a range of difficulties.
In my case, I wanted a solution to long-standing anxiety. Having found conventional treatments unsatisfactory, I was searching for something more inline with my personal philosophy, life-goals and felt experience. Antidepressants and talk therapy were not the answer for me. I disliked relying on a drug with dubious side effects, or on a therapist, however pleasant their company. I was unimpressed with offers of new pills to try without consideration of the root cause of my problem.
I knew that Western psychology had begun converging with Eastern wisdom about the mind. And here it was: a psychology practice in my hometown offering mindfulness as a method for tackling stress, trauma, and anxiety.
MiCBT has offered me a way in.
The program is graded, structured and evidence-based. I needn’t flounder alone trying to meditate from a book. I have a mentor of whom I can ask questions,and who explains to me, stage by stage, what I am doing and why. Elements of Western psychological treatments are incorporated alongside the meditation. Audio CDs initiate me into the techniques bit by bit.
The discipline to sit twice daily comes from me. I practice alone, and soon won’t need CDs to guide me. The knowledge that I follow a pre – trodden path and have support offers the structure and direction I sought.
And the benefits are measurable. I hear my friends saying, ‘You seem so calm’, and I can see from the weekly scales and questionnaires how I’m changing – how my brain is changing.
One day, I’ll embark on a ten-day silent retreat, but for now the twice daily smaller silences are a good beginning.