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What is mindfulness?

 
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I'm taking some Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) classes as my doctor says this will help with pain control.  Right now, the focus is on mindfulness.  

It seems to me that mindfulness is a bunch of boring meditations and body scans (which just remind me how much I hurt).  Maybe the class gets better soon?  

I'm beginning to understand that I haven't a clue what mindfulness is supposed to be.  How does it differ from my ability to hyper-focus and hyper-vigilance on my surroundings and task when crafting?  
 
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r ranson wrote:I'm taking some Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) classes as my doctor says this will help with pain control.  Right now, the focus is on mindfulness.  

It seems to me that mindfulness is a bunch of boring meditations and body scans (which just remind me how much I hurt).  Maybe the class gets better soon?  

I'm beginning to understand that I haven't a clue what mindfulness is supposed to be.  How does it differ from my ability to hyper-focus and hyper-vigilance on my surroundings and task when crafting?  



I actually have a big issue meditating in the "normal" way because it focuses on breathing and thinking about my breathing causes me great anxiety. So I practice mindfulness and to me, this is what mindfulness is:

When I'm driving and the skies are beautiful I take that moment to be grateful for the beauty around me and appreciate it.
When I'm with my family and the moment is just beautiful I consciously appreciate it and send my thanks for that moment of perfection.
When I'm feeling particularly good about myself I take that moment to mindfully appreciate what I have.

And when things are bad. When my leg hurts or my kids are awful or whatever is happening I take a moment to allow myself to acknowledge the suck, the temporariness of it and all the great things I have.


So I suppose mindfulness, to me, is acknowledging and, when necessary, redirecting my thoughts and life.
 
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To me mindfulness is like a deep breath. not hyper vigilance or attention but an overview of the moment. Some might call it the "NOW", a sensory experience that takes in everything that is around me at any one moment. It might occur during a moment where I am focused on a task but the task is part of the experience. The smell of the wood as I saw it, the sawdust grit that sticks to my sweaty forearm. the sound of the saw, the breeze, the sun, the wind almost an out of body overview of me at the moment
.
 
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So, vigilance and mindfulness... Both are about the present, about the input you're experiencing now.

Vigilance is awareness of the things around you. It examines, judges, prepares you for action.

Mindfulness is awareness of input from inside you. It.. notices.

What's going on in our feelings and thoughts affects our bodies. The other way round is true too.

The first couple times I wore a new T-back bra, I felt much more alert and aggressive than usual. It turns out the natural position for my shoulder blades when I wear that is the same position they move to when I drop into stance expecting a physical fight. The muscles tense and relax the same way. The internal sensation coming from my shoulder muscles was affecting my feelings and thoughts and could have affected my choices or how I dealt with people.

Tension, pain, pulse and breathing rate, hunger, all that stuff can influence us. Mindfulness gives you more choices and fewer unthinking reactions.
 
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To me, it is being "here and now", fully focused on the present moment and whatever activity I'm doing.

There is a lot of great books about mindfulness, but also it has become too popular, and some people have simplified and twisted this concept.
 
r ranson
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Flora Eerschay wrote:To me, it is being "here and now", fully focused on the present moment and whatever activity I'm doing.

There is a lot of great books about mindfulness, but also it has become too popular, and some people have simplified and twisted this concept.



The library has hundreds of books on the topic.  I chose the best looking 5 titles, but they are all about breathing and body scans.  They don't explain what I am trying to achieve.  

Could you suggest some titles?  
 
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The origin of the idea is "The miracle of mindfulness" by Thich Nhat Hanh.  It is a slim book, very worth a read.  Although he does describe physical breathing and meditation process, the part that resonates most with me is the philosophical, allowing yourself to just be in the moment you are in.  Neither dreading, nor anticipating nor ruing.
 
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Your question reminded me of this scene from the Peaceful Warrior:  


Highly suggest watching the whole movie too: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0438315/
 
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I have what they call a "monkey mind". My mind tends to be restless, spinning many times around the same subject, or worry. I compare is with a wild horse that is galloping after it was scared or stung by a nest of yellow jackets. It's unpleasant and not useful nor productive.

So, to me, mindfulness is when I consciously try to calm it down somewhat. Trying to focus on one thing only, calmly and without judgement. Easier said than done, but every time I kept a meditation practice, it helped me tremendously the rest of the day.

 
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r ranson wrote:The library has hundreds of books on the topic.  I chose the best looking 5 titles, but they are all about breathing and body scans.  They don't explain what I am trying to achieve.  

Could you suggest some titles?  



This is actually simultaneously simple and yet tricky to explain, but I'll give it a shot here.

The first thing is that you're not really trying to achieve anything with mindfulness, but at the same time, it isn't without purpose. Mindfulness is an exploration of how you experience reality by means of observing things that come and go within your inner space.

It isn't exploring consciousness in the same way academics do -- categorizing, dividing, analyzing, describing, labeling, modelling, etc. Instead, the practice explores consciousness by getting your mind dirty with whatever is coming up in the moment. A curious, open stance of finding out what's going to come up in this moment.

Being aware of the breathing and doing body scans are not in, of themselves, mindfulness. With breathing, you are allowing your awareness to relax into the breathing, without trying to control the experience -- cease chasing after pleasant experiences as they fade, allow unpleasant experiences to approach you. You are exploring the coming and going of breathing, of inhaling, exhaling and the changes those have with the thoughts, emotions, sensations that run through your body.

Similarly, body scans also explores consciousness as it relates to your body -- the tensions and memories held in your flesh, the stories and limiting beliefs anchored in there.

When combined with a philosophical or reasoned approach, it can be a powerful way of interacting with your own consciousness. It is also something that can be integrated with permaculture practices -- that is, exploring how your inner experiences and outer circumstances influence each other.

There are many good books, and many ways to talk about this. Every person needs something a little different, so it really is more about what is going to resonate with you. My favorite teacher for this kind of stuff is Adyashanti. Other people have gotten a lot out of listening to the recordings of Alan Watts. Daniel Ingram has a good book called "Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha", which despite its name, is more secular than religious. (The core teachings being "things come and go, they don't satisfy, they ain't you").

I suspect your therapist has you doing this because this exploration of experiencing consciousness, when combined with the CBT methods to "edit" your mental programmings will get you the therapeutic results you have asked for.



 
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r ranson wrote:I'm taking some Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) classes as my doctor says this will help with pain control.  Right now, the focus is on mindfulness.  



On the specific subject of pain management:

There is a state of consciousness when it is absorbed into something. This happens with one-point concentration exercises, but may also appear when someone goes into the "zone". In these exercises, awareness can become so absorbed into the concentration object that other experiential phenomena fades away. In deep states of absorption, there can be bliss. As much fun as that state can be, it is temporary.I have used something like this when I got my vaccine shot -- I stared at a dot on the wall. (I Know better than to look at the needle while it is being inserted). No bliss for me though.

There's a different kind of mental hack (so to speak) regarding pain that can be localized to a specific body part. By trying to precisely pinpoint with your awareness exactly where that pain is located in your body, what happens is that the general pain lessens. Instead of pain radiating out with consciousness writhing in agony, the specific spot feels painful and that's about it.

Relating this back to mindfulness practices, there is a distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is a physical signal (though I believe there is such a thing as emotional pain that is not easily localized in the physical body). Suffering, though, comes about from some part of the consciousness avoiding the experience of pain. There's quite a bit of suffering that is generated from the attempt to avoid pain.

If you're in pain all over ... well, that sucks :-)

There may be other options besides mindfulness, depending on why there is pain. For example, my wife's grandmother had pain all over, and could not take pain medication due to her health condition. As part of the pain management, she was advised to practice Tai Chi. She found a good group and it had helped her. Depending on what kind of pain, sometimes, learning how to move the body in a relaxed but structured way (like with Tai Chi) can help. When practiced correctly, the soft tissue is trained to take load and stress off of the joints and skeletal frame while maintaining a relaxed structure.

 
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Being autistic, I find I react to most meditation and mindfulness training rather differently to most people. I have, however, found the Insight Timer app *very* useful. There are hundreds of teachers with thousands of meditations available, many of them free. It's a great way to experiment with different teachers to see if you can find one who suits you.

I keep experimenting with 'new' ones, but I've found that Andrew Johnson is the one who I keep going back to.

I signed up for the free trial subscripion - you get 30 days if you sign up via the website rather than the app, which is enough to try out the courses. Just remember to cancel it again!

I don't feel qualified to say what mindfulness actually *is*, but I do know that his courses have helped me greatly over the last couple of months. And I'm usually totally incapable of anything resembling meditation!

There's a few available on youtube too. Here's a sample. Yes it does involve a sort of body-scan, but for me it works better than anyone else's.



He has his own website and app - andrewjohnson.co.uk where you can access *all* of his recordings and courses. He has one called 21 Days to Pain Control. No idea how effective it is, but maybe something like that could help you?
 
r ranson
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What I really like about CBT is that it provides tools that I can use in my daily life and words to describe my emotional weather.  I may not use them every day, but they are helpful for deailng with sudden stress.  

I not entirely certain this is the best place to put my energy right now as the problems CBT seems to be solving aren't issues in my life.  The feedback triangle of thoughts, emotions, action is not one I get stuck in very often and when I do, I find it's as easy as a cuppa tea to get out of it.  If this mindfulness thing is being in the moment with most of my brain paying attention to the thing I'm doing and the rest of the brain in free float idle mode (I call it backburner solution cooking mode) then all I have to do is pick up a needle and thread, or sit at my spinning wheel, or chop onions, or make tea, or garden, or get my camera out, or do anything that doesn't involve a glowing screen.  

But maybe mindfulness isn't that.  Maybe mindfulness is sitting and breathing and obsessing over how much longer until I can get up because my back is killing me...?

Most of the CBT exercises are skills I learned as a teen with different titles and window dressing.

A lot of the examples of "normal" the textbook presents are things I had no idea I was supposed to do?  Imagining what other people think of me?  Obsessing over past conversations?  That someone would say something other than what they mean and that I'm supposed to dedicate massive amounts of energy to figuring out the true meaning?  I ain't got time for that shit.  

...

The two things this is supposed to help with are pain control and sleep.

Pain - The body and mind are connected.  If the mind is agitated, then the body tenses and if we are emotionally stressed then the body gets ready for a flee or flight which releases lots of chemicals.  Muscles tighten, digestion goes wonky... all that stuff.  The way it's presented is that CBT provides some tools to help reduce the agitation of the mind and emotion which reduces the physical stress response.  Breaking the cycle there, instead of trying to drug the body.

I've done something like this with biofeedback about 15 years ago.  It worked really well, especially for period and gut pain which are directly intensified by the stress of being in pain (pain causes mental stress which causes muscles to tighten which causes more pain... horrible feedback loop... Biofeedback worked much better at breaking the loop than my usual go to the hospital and get a shot of morphine)

Sleep - I don't see how this is helping, but I do it anyway.  
But it's the same problem as always.  When I say to a doctor that I have insomnia, they assume it's thoughts that keep me awake.  They cannot hear that thoughts are not the problem.  It is SUPER EASY TO TURN OFF MY BRAIN AT NIGHT.  I go to a calm place, maybe reply a favourite movie in my head.  It's my body that cannot shut down.  I'll spend the whole night laying down being calm and daydreaming because worrying about not sleeping doesn't make it better (or worse), it is just boring.  

I don't know.

I keep doing the exercises because this is supposed to be helpful, but it feels like making a fancy mushroom omelette for someone who hates mushrooms and is allergic to eggs.  
 
r ranson
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In today's class, I noticed I'm not the only one having trouble.  It must be a common issue at this point in the course.
 
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Burra Maluca wrote:the Insight Timer app


Yes, another satisfied customer (using the free version).
I think mindfullness has been tossed around to mean a lot of different things, and that doesn't help.
Personally it means letting my anxiety-driven monkey mind take its chatter elsewhere, just notice it is there and watching it leave. Focusing on breath, although i could focus on other things, just choose breath to not focus on my own thoughts.

I suspect you might have read Dune. If you remember the Litany Against Fear ("I must not fear, fear is the mind-killer...."), there is a part of "I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing...."
That is mindfulness- observing what is happening, without judgment. You remain. In a certain sense it is very permie.
Might not be very relevant to your pain issues, but for someone with a very active inner voice that kindles anxiety it can be remarkable to let go of the emotion and just watch in a detached manner.
 
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My understanding of CBT is that is one of a family of therapies that work very well with restructuring the mind so it is not so reactive and get agitated. I am not sure what that has to do with physical pain management, and maybe that is a failure on my limited knowlege of CBT. I do know that there is no such thing as an unversial method that works equally well for everything, for all people, in every situation. There may be principles that can be distilled and applied broadly, but the specific method would change as it is applied.

I think there are better methods than CBT for what you want to achieve ... but who knows, I am wrong, and it is worth finishing the rest of the course to find out.

r ranson wrote:Sleep - I don't see how this is helping, but I do it anyway.  
But it's the same problem as always.  When I say to a doctor that I have insomnia, they assume it's thoughts that keep me awake.  They cannot hear that thoughts are not the problem.  It is SUPER EASY TO TURN OFF MY BRAIN AT NIGHT.  I go to a calm place, maybe reply a favourite movie in my head.  It's my body that cannot shut down.  I'll spend the whole night laying down being calm and daydreaming because worrying about not sleeping doesn't make it better (or worse), it is just boring.



If you are able to still your mind when going to sleep, you are doing better than the vast majority of the people living in modern, urban lifestyles. I know people who have been practicing mindfulness years in order to gain some kind of spiritual enlightenment, and are unable to reliably still their mind. You also have a fairly developed visualization and concentration skill if you can replay your favorite movie at length. Those are all powerful skills.

In your case, your mind is not agitated... but the body still remains agitated. Why isn’t the body following the mind? If it were me, this is where I pull out the tools I learned from other disciplines that work with the body so that the body can follow the mind. By remaining in calm abiding while you are aware of all of your body at once (so similar, but not exactly the same as a body scan), the body will eventually follow the mind to stillness.

Some things that might help with that:

(1) Learn to deliberately relax the muscles (when sleeping), and let it collapse to the point where you are aware of the sensation of gravity pulling on your physical body. You are remaining aware of the muscles while at the same time, disconnecting the voluntary excitatory muscles, and allowing those muscles to stop fighting gravity in order to support your frame. You start from the outside until the deep muscles can relax.

(2) Our bodies have to breath, so there is some kind of movement. Here, you are remain aware of the breathing while disconnecting the voluntary control over the breathing. By allowing the breath to absorb the mind, the breath can take the mind through all the little nooks and crannies of the body, and thus, the body will eventually start following the mind into stillness.

(3) There is a network of soft tissue that connects throughout the body. It wraps around each internal organ and threads its way through the muscles. They are not controlled through voluntary excitation, but oddly enough, they will respond to the mind. The Chinese call this network the “huang” within some specific body disciplines, and there is no equivalent name or concept in the modern, English-speaking culture. (The closest is something I read a couple years ago about the discovery of a “new” organ, the network of soft tissues that surrounds all the other internal organ; the researchers had not even come up with a name for it). This whole network converges on the diaphragm. The top of the diaphragm itself fuses with the pericardium, the protective sac around the heart. This network can be trained by strengthening the connection of body and mind, such that with every cycle of breath (movement of the diaphragm), this network can inflate and deflate, smoothing out tensions, help a bit with blood circulation and lymphatic movement.  Although it takes time to train, the little bit I have been able to do has helped with regulating the tensions and pain held in my body.

I know this sounds more the same: boring stuff to do at night. I think a better lens to view this though, is less about it being boring, and more about purposefuly resting and recovering the body. The lens in which you view this matters, because the body will follow the mind. If it is boring to you, and you see no purpose in it, then the body will follow that attitude that it is idling with no purpose. If this is a period of deliberate rest and recovery, then although not much seem to happen, there is a purpose. The body will follow that attitude that it is time to rest. Maybe it will start cycling down because it is not being asked to be ready to provide energy to do something, flush out stress hormones, start repairing and restoring in ways it couldn’t if it needs to be ready to go.

I know that in the permaculture practices, we can’t keep expecting the land to produce all the time. There are natural cycles of rest that happens. Winter is a time of low activity is needed before the burst of activity in Spring. Well, one’s own body is also a complex, interdependent ecosystem of cells that come together into something greater than the sum. It has its own feedback loops, reserves of bioenergy. Like soil that has been depleted, the body can be depleted too. The ecosystem have its own “pain” signals, same as the body. An ecosystem also has its own stress and recovery responses, same as the body. All the things you know about taking care of the land share principles with the skills for taking care of your body.

r ranson wrote:Pain - The body and mind are connected.  If the mind is agitated, then the body tenses and if we are emotionally stressed then the body gets ready for a flee or flight which releases lots of chemicals.  Muscles tighten, digestion goes wonky... all that stuff.  The way it's presented is that CBT provides some tools to help reduce the agitation of the mind and emotion which reduces the physical stress response.  Breaking the cycle there, instead of trying to drug the body.



Have you looked into alternative, holistic medical practices? For example, TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), CCM (classical Chinese medcine), Ayruveda may provide alternative treatment that are better for chronic conditions. Caveat: it also depends upon the practitioner. There are practitioners who look at your whole body system, observe and interact, use small and slow solutions, although they may not use those exact words and concepts. (There are also practitioners who use a more mechanistic, reductive approach, which won’t work as well as going to a mainstream doctor). Some practitioners are at the more secular end of things and others are at the more woo end of things.

I’m just suggesting these as something to consider. If your present course of treatment gets you in a better state of health, that’s great. If it does not, it isn’t the end of the road.
 
r ranson
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Sleep and the body scan.  I've done this since I was a kid - be aware of each individual part of the body (start with the left toes and move up), tighten the muscles, relax with an out-breath, continue.  This worked fine for sleep before puberty.  It still helps for nights when there is no sleep as it imitates some of what happens while I sleep so the body feels more rested in the morning.  

My body isn't restless.    It just won't sleep.  It is like a broken switch in the body that lets it go into sleep mode.  

One doctor theorized it is not producing a chemical needed to turn it off.  But we couldn't get the tests to find out what was missing.  I can get a fair amount of rest just turning off my mind and staying still, but not proper sleep.  

I do all the things.  I turn off screens at 4 pm.  I exercise, being careful to eat the right things at the right times, stretch, be calm, don't use the bed for anything other than sleeping, make sure the room is completely dark... on and on.  I do it all. I've tried all the over the counter herbs and remedies. Most of the "sleep" herbs have the opposite effect - like 60 coffees directly injected into my brain.  

 
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I have insomnia bouts now and again that sound a lot like that. I do the relaxation and breathing things, settle in, and ... that switch between relaxed and sleep just doesn't happen. And it can go on for up to a week at a time. My ability to do abstract thinking and math suffers, but everything else is normal. I end up filling the early am hours with a bit of reading or hand-crafts or something else quiet.

Is the lack of sleep itself causing you trouble?
 
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r ranson wrote:My body isn't restless.    It just won't sleep.  It is like a broken switch in the body that lets it go into sleep mode.  

One doctor theorized it is not producing a chemical needed to turn it off.  But we couldn't get the tests to find out what was missing.  I can get a fair amount of rest just turning off my mind and staying still, but not proper sleep.  

I do all the things.  I turn off screens at 4 pm.  I exercise, being careful to eat the right things at the right times, stretch, be calm, don't use the bed for anything other than sleeping, make sure the room is completely dark... on and on.  I do it all. I've tried all the over the counter herbs and remedies. Most of the "sleep" herbs have the opposite effect - like 60 coffees directly injected into my brain.  



Wow, that is really interesting! I'm sorry, I don't mean to dismiss any suffering you are going through. I get intrigued by strange anomalies like these, even if I run out of ideas. These edges are how I learn new things. I take it you have already tried melatonin and your body still doesn't sleep.

Not sure if you have tried this or it is helpful -- what about brain entrainment using binaural beats that drops you from alpha, to theta, to delta states? The reason I don't think it would be helpful even if your brain gets entrained into the delta state is because from what you are saying, you can already do something like that already without using equipment.

I knew of people in the weird spiritual circles I hang out in, who have quieted their mind to the point where they no longer dream. Their body goes to sleep, but the mind stays awake. They get rest, but they can instantly come back out into a waking state.
 
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Raven,

If you'd like a little more in depth view of insomnia from a Traditional Chinese Medicine approach, these are the first questions I would ask based on my studies of TCM:
What are the characteristics of the difficulty with sleep? There can be more than one at the same time (I've had 5 out of 6 myself).
1. Difficulty falling asleep
2. Difficulty staying asleep
3. Frequent re-awakening
4. Is sleep irregular or disturbed?
5. Is there excessive dreaming?
6. Do you prefer lying down facing a wall to sleep?

Difficulties with sleep are generally associated with the Heart in TCM. So if you also get rapid heartbeat, palpitations, anxiety, fear, etc. those are all associated with the Heart. Note that Heart is capitalized because it is not just the organ itself but a collection of functions roughly associated with the heart itself. There are herbs that are used for these conditions that aren't necessarily sedative but may be more nutritive.

There are other questions that can help to pinpoint what's going on from a TCM perspective but it's too detailed (and sometimes personal) to go into here. Message me if you're interested. There is also information online if you want to look into it more.
 
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r ranson wrote:Sleep and the body scan.  I've done this since I was a kid - be aware of each individual part of the body (start with the left toes and move up), tighten the muscles, relax with an out-breath, continue.  This worked fine for sleep before puberty.  It still helps for nights when there is no sleep as it imitates some of what happens while I sleep so the body feels more rested in the morning.  

My body isn't restless.    It just won't sleep.  It is like a broken switch in the body that lets it go into sleep mode.  

One doctor theorized it is not producing a chemical needed to turn it off.  But we couldn't get the tests to find out what was missing.  I can get a fair amount of rest just turning off my mind and staying still, but not proper sleep.  

I do all the things.  I turn off screens at 4 pm.  I exercise, being careful to eat the right things at the right times, stretch, be calm, don't use the bed for anything other than sleeping, make sure the room is completely dark... on and on.  I do it all. I've tried all the over the counter herbs and remedies. Most of the "sleep" herbs have the opposite effect - like 60 coffees directly injected into my brain.  



Are there any situations you can think of where you can't help falling asleep? For example: riding in a car, floating in a pool, watching tv in an easy chair, sitting in a tree, swinging in a hammock etc. If so, maybe that situation could be recreated at home.

When I have trouble falling asleep and mindfulness isn't working, I put on a "sleepy playlist" of sleepy music I have curated over the years of songs that make me sleepy. Sometimes it works better to focus on something external and familiar, like a sleepy song on repeat or audiobook. Sometimes focusing on my internal state or daydreaming is too stimulating, so the music works somehow.

Sounds like you are ready for "advanced" CBT! If you got a workbook for the class, skip ahead and see if anything interesting is ahead. If it's boring and painful, it's not working. It should be relaxing or at least a positive experience. But I think the point of CBT is that it is supposed to be tailored to each patients needs and how their mind is working. I guess a group class setting would be very basic skills, and it sounds like you have those already!

I don't remember where I learned this or if it falls under CBT. Specifically with nagging pain, I like to visualize the pain as some kind of creature like a gecko or something in my mindscape. This poor gecko is running around frantically trying to alert me to the pain/damage in my body. I hold the gecko, say something like "thanks for letting me know. I'm working on it. You can rest now" and set it on a leaf in my mind forest and imagine it settling in to just bask in the sun for a while. Sometimes I feel better, the pain is still there, but it seems less nagging, like it takes less of my attention. It's a little woo woo and you have to be into it for it to work, but it's the concept of accepting and befriending the pain as a part of you.

Sorry if those are things you've tried already. It's so frustrating to be an outlier!
 
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r ranson wrote:Sleep and the body scan.  I've done this since I was a kid - be aware of each individual part of the body (start with the left toes and move up), tighten the muscles, relax with an out-breath, continue.  This worked fine for sleep before puberty.  It still helps for nights when there is no sleep as it imitates some of what happens while I sleep so the body feels more rested in the morning.  

My body isn't restless.    It just won't sleep.  It is like a broken switch in the body that lets it go into sleep mode.  

One doctor theorized it is not producing a chemical needed to turn it off.  But we couldn't get the tests to find out what was missing.  I can get a fair amount of rest just turning off my mind and staying still, but not proper sleep.  

I do all the things.  I turn off screens at 4 pm.  I exercise, being careful to eat the right things at the right times, stretch, be calm, don't use the bed for anything other than sleeping, make sure the room is completely dark... on and on.  I do it all. I've tried all the over the counter herbs and remedies. Most of the "sleep" herbs have the opposite effect - like 60 coffees directly injected into my brain.  



Ohh insomnia. When I get insomnia streaks it gets bad like that and I have pretty much the same things to say. Getting really really exhausted physically has helped me, but even then there were times I couldn't pass out. If you can retrain the sleep triggers though... you might be able to get back into routine sleep. You've probably tried all the things... but since you didn't list it I'll add a few others too...

- Getting warm in the bath first, then falling asleep in a cooled room.
- Drinking warm milk before bed.
- If you can't fall asleep for a long time, get up, move around until you feel drowsy, relax and try again.
- Don't try to sleep if you're not sleepy.
 
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I'm going to struggle with the "be nice" rule here.

I'm a teacher. There has been a big push to bring mindfulness into classrooms over the past ten years or so. Unfortunately, no one seems to really understand what is meant by mindfulness - and what mindfulness is NOT. And the practitioners, who make their money coming in to schools and running courses on it, seem to feel free to shoehorn in what ever their person pet idea is. And they frequently stray into areas of biology and science in their claims for which they have no evidence or justification, beyond that it feels right to them. The upshot is that the pupils they are trying to engage see through them quickly and dismiss them as cranks.

Classic example. "When you drink water, make sure that you hold it in your mouth so that it can be quickly absorbed and help your brain". The science behind it is that studies show dehydration is linked with short term cognitive impairment. But 60 seconds of thinking shows that it does hold up as a claim. When you drink, all the water consumed is absorbed by your digestive system into your blood stream. If that were NOT the case then we would be pooping liquid.

The guardian did a good job of summarising the other underlying issue - mindfulness is a collection of coping strategies, but does nothing to help with underlying problems.

So, what exactly is this magic panacea? In 2014, Time magazine put a youthful blonde woman on its cover, blissing out above the words: “The Mindful Revolution.” The accompanying feature described a signature scene from the standardised course teaching MBSR: eating a raisin very slowly. “The ability to focus for a few minutes on a single raisin isn’t silly if the skills it requires are the keys to surviving and succeeding in the 21st century,” the author explained.

But anything that offers success in our unjust society without trying to change it is not revolutionary – it just helps people cope. In fact, it could also be making things worse. Instead of encouraging radical action, mindfulness says the causes of suffering are disproportionately inside us, not in the political and economic frameworks that shape how we live. And yet mindfulness zealots believe that paying closer attention to the present moment without passing judgment has the revolutionary power to transform the whole world. It’s magical thinking on steroids.

There are certainly worthy dimensions to mindfulness practice. Tuning out mental rumination does help reduce stress, as well as chronic anxiety and many other maladies. Becoming more aware of automatic reactions can make people calmer and potentially kinder. Most of the promoters of mindfulness are nice, and having personally met many of them, including the leaders of the movement, I have no doubt that their hearts are in the right place. But that isn’t the issue here. The problem is the product they’re selling, and how it’s been packaged. Mindfulness is nothing more than basic concentration training. Although derived from Buddhism, it’s been stripped of the teachings on ethics that accompanied it, as well as the liberating aim of dissolving attachment to a false sense of self while enacting compassion for all other beings.



Guardian - Mindfulness

Personally I find great value in the physical and mental relaxation that comes with yoga, but I prefer my self-therapy not bundled up with a bunch of spurious junk.

 
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It seems to me that mindfulness is a bunch of boring meditations and body scans (which just remind me how much I hurt).  Maybe the class gets better soon?  

I'm beginning to understand that I haven't a clue what mindfulness is supposed to be.  How does it differ from my ability to hyper-focus and hyper-vigilance on my surroundings and task when crafting?  



Mindfulness is Vipassana Yoga without the spiritual part. That is, an exercise intended to increase your mind focus, strength of will and your emotional control by achieving an enhanced state of mind. Almost any activity that requires heavy focus will help you to train focusing (sure, what you already do as heavy focus must work). However, while you are in a 'mindfulness' state you are able to think things differently, as if they were happening to another person and you can be more objective about things that are personal. You become somehow detached of your body.
Maybe I should clarify. While you are doing the meditation you might or might not be in a mindfulness state, but the more you work on it, the easier you will achieve this state. This is like being in 'the zone'. Once you are proficient with this state, you can switch to mindfulness with just a few breaths, and use it for your own goals.

These exercises begin with a careful awareness of your breath, since that's quite easy for most people but then you go on to other foci. You may focus on an object, on a sound, on a thought, even on the surroundings. Distractions in your mind will happen, and you will train how to dismiss them (this is the Vipassana method). When you exercise your muscles, the harder the exercise the more muscle you develop. Here it is alike. If you exercise mindfulness with something that it is too easy to keep focused (like counting numbers) then you aren't developing your skills that much, if you use a focus that is harder for you to focus on you will improve faster, but if you overdo it (meditating for too long), you can hurt yourself. Anything from 5 to 20 minutes per day is fine. In my case, the hardest focus is a black point in a white sheet.
One trick when your body hurts is to use your pain as the focus. Just hold your attention where it hurts, and as your thoughts start to wander, go back to your pain, for the duration of the exercise. After the exercise the pain will still be there, but you will handle it better, hopefully.

Does it really help with insomnia? I can't say. I've asked my wife, who suffers from insomnia since childhood, and it's worked a little bit in her case. One of her problems is that she gets stuck in a circle of thoughts, where she doesn't seem able to get out, and that prevents her from sleeping. But that's just the first stage. After some days of not sleeping, she becomes afraid of the sleeping time, which makes her nervous again, just at the thought of another blank night. Even when she is no longer turning her head around the things that prevented her sleep in the first time, she has entered a cycle of not being able to sleep well for some more days.
In a few cases she has had the experience you described, once she's calmed herself, back to her senses, but still not able to sleep, there comes the night, she's finally calmed and ready to sleep but sleep does not come. We think this is her body adapting to the new routine of not sleeping.
Since I know her, she's been taking pills for sleeping now and then. Apparently taking some mindfulness exercises has helped to prevent the first stages of her insomnia. With some more self-control, it is becoming easier for her to stop the train of thoughts that leads to the first nights of not being able to sleep, but she isn't always successful and keeps her pills as backup.

I'm no expert with insomnia. In fact I have the opposite problem, a very deep sleep, so I won't give you any advice on the issue.
I'd just say that meditation worked well for me for other issues I had, and seems to be doing some good to my wife too, and this is something that goes beyond the training of mind focus. Since then, I have switched to the traditional western way of meditation, mixed with some occult training, and it is suprisingly similar.
Even if you don't expect too much of meditation, just try for a few weeks without overdoing (the famous 21 days), and if you like the way you are changing, then keep at it.

 
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Also one here that battles bouts of insomnia, though not frequent enough to be causing sleep depravation.....yet.

It's been said elsewhere before and maybe reflects different interpretations of "mind", but I don't like the descriptor "mindfulness meditation".  For me, "mind" is that thing that can become very busy and unrestrained.  The mediation I learned was of a kind where focusing on one's breathing allows the anchor to then observe thoughts, feelings, and sensations *without* capitulating to an unhealthy rabbit hole of obsession they can lead you down.  The more you can observe those thoughts, feelings, and sensations as a "not you" aspect of your existence, the greater composure and better judgement can't be brought to bear in life during stressful situations.  So if, for example, you were to observe, while meditating, images and feelings induced by an incident of road rage earlier in the day, by 're'-observing these in the meditative state, you may over time find the positive outcome of this exercise applicable as well to other similar incidents in the future.  Moreover, as the technique encourages you to observe these thoughts, feelings, and sensations in a more detached 'observer-mode', it may surprise you how often seemingly unrelated thoughts enter the picture (from childhood, from other events or situations, etc) that possibly impact your response to the road rage incident in question.  Finally, ..... and I'm not sure if this really fits the description of meditation.....but as you observe these thoughts, feelings, and sensations in this more detached manner, it's almost as if you are having an open conversation with the different parts that become present within the meditation....the parts being thought, feeling, and sensation.  In some way and over time, I find these 'conversations' that occur between observer and the different parts to be somewhat powerfully 'metabolizing'...... digesting anxiety-inducing incidences (that become internal scripts) and reducing the influence they have over our lives accordingly.

Application to Insomnia:  Just as insomnia is the impediment to sleep, so is sleep the impediment to meditation. Most meditation practices I have read about are pretty firm about being well-rested and awake before meditating because there already is the propensity to nod off during a breath-focused session.  In an inverted manner, *using* breathing-focus at 4 am when the insomnia strikes has helped me fall back into sleep,....sometimes a complete sleep, but often one that requires additional return to the meditation.

....all just for what it's worth and hope there may be something of help here.
 
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Flora Eerschay wrote:To me, it is being "here and now", fully focused on the present moment and whatever activity I'm doing.

There is a lot of great books about mindfulness, but also it has become too popular, and some people have simplified and twisted this concept.



I agree. The way I see it is this: you can live in the experienced world or the world in your head. The experienced world is made up of touching, hearing, tasting, smelling and seeing. The world in our head is made up of emotions, thoughts, worries, fears, judgments, past, future...

For me, mindfulness is being alive here and now in the “real” world. Actually being present with what I’m doing instead of being a split pea with one half in the “real” world and one half in fantasy land upstairs. An example is washing dishes: you can focus on the dishes, hear the sound of the water, feel the slippery soap, see the junk being washed away on the “real” world, or you can go through the motions on autopilot and daydream in fantasy land while your body tries to get the job done. I guarantee you’ll enjoy the experience more if you’re present with it! Not to mention, the dishes will actually get cleaned and not need a rewash because you weren’t really there.
 
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For me, mindfulness is the practice of being with, what is. And I might clarify that to say, being with what ACTUALLY is.

Meditation on the breath is simply observing and being with the breath.

Body scanning is being with the body.

Both are potential observation points to be with everything else that arises in the body/mind when engaging in the practice. Emotions, thoughts, beliefs and body sensation all accompany our present moment experience.

Meditation provides a quiet space to observe what is here, now.

Similar to observation of the land and of nature. When we access our Witness, the awareness we are, we can disconnect from an identification with our own agendas, impulses, wants, and reactions and truly take in what is needed, what naturally wants to happen in the system.

One basic and highly effective way of attuning to what is present is to notice and become aware of what is happening in our bodies. Every emotion, need, thought, experience and belief has a corresponding sensation or way of living out through our body.

Noticing sensation, tensions, pain and deepening into how we actually experience that:  where, how big, what it’s qualities are, what’s connected to it, what it’s communicating or asking for connects us to what is. We deepen our awareness and understanding and begin to integrate that experience into our awareness rather than being in conflict with or trying to repress or disconnect from it.

Mindfulness is a practice of being open, receptive, not judging, allowing with compassion, attunement and a willingness to act in alignment with what is being asked for, what is needed. And it is a willgness to allow that aligned action to nourish us, a taking in of the nourishment and allowing ourselves to be satisfied. And finally, allowing ourselves to rest in that satisfaction, and integrating or allowing ourselves to organize ourselves around the knowing that our that we can see, act, and be satisfied. That there are no barriers between is and our needs being met, between us and our better selves.
 
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Mindfulness has been a great help to me with pain management since my body doesn't respond to pain meds in a typical way, like pretty much not doing anything at all. Also I have IBS and it's helped a lot with that too. In addition I've had anxiety since I was a tiny kid (some of my earliest memories at age 4-5) and mindfulness helps me de-escalate from panic attacks.

I first really learned about it while pregnant years ago and reading a book about mindfulness in pregnancy and childbirth. For me it's a lot about being aware of my body as a whole and as parts, controlling specific muscles to relax and tighten separately, and not fighting thoughts, emotions and feelings but kind of ushering them through my mind and out the door when they are negative/unhelpful.

That said, a few months ago I had a several weeks where my anxiety got super severe, couldn't eat or sleep, felt like I was about to go tumbling off a cliff every second of the day and night. All my tricks and practices with mindfulness didn't help much which really surprised me. It took the edge off and kept me from spiraling into a dangerous place but it didn't work the way I was used to. The cause was chemical/hormonal (I was pregnant) and a few weeks after having the baby, things became manageable again as my hormones became more regulated. I bring this up because I understand the insomnia problem. Before if I had insomnia it was my thoughts or an anchors feeling keeping me alert. During this recent time though, I could lay there and get my body super relaxed, turn all my thoughts off, just like I'm floating. And just NOT SLEEP! AT ALL! FOR DAYS! The doctor gave me sleeping pills with all these warnings to not drive and make sure my husband was there because supposedly I wouldn't be able to wake up if my other kids needed me but I could have been taking sugar pills for all the effect they had on me. I really have no advice for that except, at least for me, it was definitely a physical thing, chemical or hormonal, with my body and not mental. The only other thing that helped a tiny bit was walking outside in the winter air. Didn't help me sleep but it helped me feel more relaxed.

 
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Hi Raven

I am a huge believer in cognitive behavioral therapy.  I am much less of a believer in some pain clinics that that seem to want people to say “ I am in pain, but isn’t life wonderful anyway.”  I do believe in pain clinics that actually work to eliminate or reduce pain.

 
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r ranson wrote:

The library has hundreds of books on the topic.  I chose the best looking 5 titles, but they are all about breathing and body scans.  They don't explain what I am trying to achieve.  

Could you suggest some titles?  



The way I understand meditation and mindfulness is that if you are trying (to achieve anything) you aren’t doing it. You’re thinking and wondering about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and if you’re doing it “right”.

Never try. Trying requires doubt, hesitation, resistance, friction, a chance of failure…. Just be. Be with whatever it is at the moment. Be as you are now. If its fear, be afraid. If its joy, be happy. If its anger, be angry. If its pain, be in pain. Trying to change the way that things already are is 1. Impossible and 2. Arguably insane. In my reading and personal experience, when I sit and accept whatever it is, my attitude towards it and feelings about it change almost immediately.

But, to be totally honest, I am fortunate enough to have never really dealt with chronic pain or sleep issues. In theory, and in other people’s practices, mindfulness and meditation can help with pain and sleep. But I dont have those issues and so I cant speak to that. My wife sleeps like junk every night and whenever I give her advice she gives me that look that cuts like a knife. Kind of understandable since I’m inexperienced in that respect, but its worth a “try” in my opinion.

 
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