Mindfulness Q&A with Rebecca Crane

Rebecca Crane is an MBCT teacher and trainer, a Research Fellow within the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice, School of Psychology, Bangor University, UK, and author of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.

What can a busy person do to quickly and easily improve their mental health?

Being busy involves both activity and a state of mind. They are very inter-related – the outer activity of our lives is very driven by our inner state of mind. Training to integrate mindfulness into our daily life can support us to reduce and relate differently to the ‘chatter’ of our mind. This helps us to gain more ease and peace. Mindfulness also helps us to be more choiceful about what activities we give our energy to, and how we engage with these activities in everyday life. The busier we are the more prone we are to acting unwisely and therefore the more important it is to build in ‘mindful pauses’ through the day.

What are the first steps that someone who wants to change their relationship with challenging thoughts and feelings should take?

Changing our relationship with challenging thoughts and feelings is a process that involves sustained training. The first step is to notice how we are relating to them now. We often have deep habits of relating to them critically or with strong resistance which in turn perpetuates patterns of emotional distress. The noticing itself needs to be friendly so that we are not adding a layer of judging about the judging! Building a daily meditation practice offers us the space within which to recognize deep habits and to begin to relate to all our thoughts and feelings with friendly curiosity. In this way we are creating a more peaceful internal climate within our mind which will have positive effects for ourselves and those around us.

How does your tendency to make negative judgments about your experiences alter your overall sense of wellbeing?

The story that is often told in relation to this is the ‘two arrow’ story – immediately following the pain of being hit by an arrow we fire another arrow at ourselves. It is inevitable that difficult experience is part of our life. This first sort of pain is the ‘first arrow’, and one of our tasks is to learn to relate skilfully to these inevitable challenges in our lives. All of us are familiar with engaging in a range of reactions and behaviors that are largely driven by habitual resistance to this first arrow of pain. These ‘second arrow’ reactions that we fire at ourselves include getting angry, blaming ourselves or others, engaging in persistent negative thinking loops, eating comfort foods, isolating ourselves or using drink or drugs to numb the pain. These are all ‘second arrow’ reactions and they tend to create a climate of struggle in our minds. They are not wrong, but they will compromise our wellbeing if these strategies become our default way of dealing with difficulty. They create a climate of struggle, and through this make us more prone to anxiety, depression, stress and a range of stress related health problems. Overtime we can learn to relate more skilfully to the first arrow of pain so that we are not adding layers of difficulty to the inevitable pains of our lives.
Rebecca Crane talks about the impact of stress and how mindfulness can help

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, in the service of greater self-understanding, wisdom, and well-being. It involves suspending judgment as best one can, while recognizing how judgmental we usually are in any moment, and not judging the judging. Out of this comes greater clarity and stability of mind, as well as greater discernment regarding how easily we can be “caught” by our own mind states and body states and compound our confusion and our sense of suffering.

How can you tell if mindfulness is a good fit for you?

Mindfulness is a natural state of mind that everyone has experienced to some degree or other. For those who are interested in engaging in a training process to deepen and develop their capacity to be mindful there are a range of choices related to the level of depth and intensity of the process.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is an eight week training which involves regular attendance in a class along with engaging in daily home practice for 45 minutes per day. The teacher will check in with potential participants before the class starts regarding whether the course is right for them at this time in their life. We generally recommend that participants take the course at a time when things in their outer and inner life are relatively stable because the process requires a lot of engagement and can bring vulnerabilities into closer awareness. For those who feel that this isn’t the right course for them, or the right time for them to be engaging in a training of this level of intensity, there is a range of lighter touch training methods including digital apps and self-help books. These approaches also offer an introduction to mindfulness which will help individuals decide whether to engage in a more in depth course.

What are some key resources for improving mindfulness skills?

There are many resources – the following is a small sample:

  • www.bemindful.org – The Mental Health Foundation runs this website, which includes information on mindfulness, links to resources and a listing of mindfulness teachers within the UK. Universities offering mindfulness training include Bangor, Oxford and Exeter.
  • www.mindfulness-network.org – A not for profit company offering mindfulness classes, retreats and supervision for mindfulness teachers.
  • www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk – Offers mindfulness classes and retreats tailored to people with pain and illness.
Rebecca Crane talks about training for mindfulness practitioners

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