MINDFULNESS – Vanessa Lackford

Bude & District U3A live in the moment, just for an hour

It was evident that members who arrived at the monthly meeting at the Parkhouse Centre on 19 July feeling anxious, stressed or restless, were transformed one hour later after listening to the soothing tones of Vanessa Lackford, a qualified practitioner of mindfulness.  Vanessa explained that mindfulness grew as part of the Buddhist tradition but was only really incorporated in western thinking in the 1970s in a secularised version when Jon Kabat-Zinn used it in working with sufferers of chronic pain.  Mark Williams among others brought the practice to the UK and developed its use to treat depression and anxiety.  It is claimed it can be as effective as medication.

The technique, not unlike preliminary meditation practice, involves focusing only on the present moment, with concentration on the breath to gently ‘bring you back’ if the mind begins to wander.  In thinking about the past or fretting about things we could have done differently, we rob ourselves of the experience of here and now.  Likewise if, while doing the washing up, we are hurrying to get that out of the way so that we can sit down and enjoy a fresh cup of tea, we are incapable of realising the miracle of life during the time we are standing at the sink.  Thus we are sucked away into the future and we are unable actually to live one minute of life – so says Thich Nhat Hanh in The Miracle of Mindfulness.  Not everyone at the meeting was convinced by this, but being U3A, most were prepared to try out a brief exercise that Vanessa recommended for periods when a quick fix of calm may be required.

We were told to sit still with feet planted firmly on the floor and the back away from the back of the chair.  Lower the gaze and concentrate on the process of breathing, with freshness and curiosity about the process itself. Bring the mind back to awareness and focus on the breath, while being aware of the entirety of the body as we sit.  If we notice any tightness or tension, just acknowledge it, explore it and take the breath into that one place.  Just sit, says Vanessa; just be.  This short exercise took about three minutes with the end signalled by a gentle tap on the bell.

Most of those present found this quite calming and could well imagine that it might prove useful in stressful situations, stationary traffic for example, though less easy to apply to a busy checkout queue in Morrisons!

In the spirit of the U3A it appears that the new Dowsing group had had a vigorous response to requests for expressions of interest and there was to be an initial meeting led by an expert from Devon Dowsers who knew the ropes, or in this case the rods, on Tuesday 24 July.  Lynn Biggs announced that Nigel Tupper had offered to lead the new Local History group, and enquiries were being collated to gauge interest in Easy Walking and Folk Dancing.

Lindsey Sandilands