MiMo: How did you get into learning and practicing mindfulness?
CK: I found a book five years ago which focused on being in the present moment by Thich Nhat Hanh. Shortly after that I saw a book called ‘Mindfulness’ at the local WHSmiths whilst I was waiting for a train back in England. Both of these books made a real difference to the way I thought about life. They helped me feel better about the situations and experiences I was encountering at that time. Since then I have been learning and practicing mindfulness, with the pinnacle moment of my involvement in mindfulness occurring around two years ago when I fell sick with a long and tough illness. That period of my life is when my reading, understanding and practicing of mindfulness really took off. I have been practicing since then, but I wanted to make it a more habitual, automatic behaviour, as I sometimes struggled to create consistency and motivation about my practice. Now, thanks to the MBSR programme, my practice has become more automated, and even when I take a few days off and do not practice, it is easy for me to recommence.
MiMo: Tell us about your experience in the MBSR program.
CK: I learned a lot about my body. My awareness of the frequency and intensity of thoughts and emotions increased. My awareness of my body through breathing and stretching exercises also increased. I gained structure and discipline around my practices, in a gentle way. There was a sense of camaraderie and friendship amongst my group, which was a very enjoyable and motivating factor for me. It was enjoyable and I came away from each weekly session feeling happier, lighter, and more energised. The all day retreat was lovely, it was nice to be in nature with my new friends. I enjoy the recordings we can do in our own space, at home. I feel the home practice has been integral to this course. Erin is fantastic. Her voice is like honey. She has the patience of a saint, and she is so authentic, genuine and focused. I am creating the habit of doing mindfulness exercises again, and enjoying it. The MBSR programme helped my practice become more automated, relaxing, and habitual for me. This is the reason I chose to attend the 8-week mindfulness course.
MiMo: How has mindfulness contributed to your personal well-being?
CK: I find it more normal to practice, and I feel less resistance. I almost look forward to it now, whereas before I sometimes dreaded it. I am more calm and collected in dialogues with others, and am able to respond slower and more mindfully in situations which may have previously ignited strong emotion and non-mindful behaviour in the past. That has been a great benefit which I did not notice until I started being in the same situations as I had previously been in (prior to the MBSR) where things had not gone so well, and I noticed that I have been responding in a way I much prefer. I am proud of that change, and I attribute it to the MBSR programme. I have reignited my enjoyment of mindfulness, breathing, and observing. I am more mindful generally of my experiences. I also learned not to chide myself for having racing thoughts or strong emotions, I learned it is okay to accept these and to simply observe them without feeling the need to resist them. This is something I am still improving on, but now I feel that I really understand this notion, I feel I have a good foothold to continue learning to accept my thoughts and emotions without being negative about it.
MiMo: How has mindfulness supported you in your studies?
CK: I have been calmer and more productive in writing essays for my university course. It has helped reduce stress and stop me from putting so much pressure on myself. It has taught me to take breaks and take care of myself first and foremost over achieving things.
MiMo: How have you incorporated mindfulness into your daily life?
CK: I have been practicing regularly, and every time it makes me feel better going on into my day. I do 20-40 minutes in the morning, and as a treat sometimes I do some in the afternoon. I don’t do it every day, although this is something I am changing. I intend to do it every day going forward. It was a gradual journey but now it seems normal to do 40 minutes a day (if you had said this to me before the MBSR programme I would have baulked as I was impressed when I managed five minutes). It’s very cool that I see longer practices as good and normal. In addition I am more mindful of activities I do day-to-day, from walking, to sitting on the MRT, to cooking, to doing housework. I am able to spot when my mind is running away, and can usually bring myself back to a certain level of peace through practicing mindfulness in these moments.
MiMo: Any words of advice for people who are thinking about learning mindfulness?
CK: I would say, go for it. Don’t be afraid. It’s a gentle journey where, ultimately, you learn things without realising you have. Your brain will sneakily pick up the necessary skills you want, even if you think you are not getting anywhere consciously. You will subconsciously learn a lot, and it is these new behaviours that will pleasantly surprise you when you go about your day-to-day activities. You will also meet new and different kinds of people, who you realise are very similar to you in many ways. You will feel supported and encouraged, which are the two things I did not feel prior to enrolling in this course.
About Caroline King
Caroline is of Eurasian heritage and grew up in the UK. Her formative years were spent in Bristol, and she later studied modern European languages at Edinburgh University. As a language student she lived in Berlin, Milan and, later, Buenos Aires. She has a deep passion for travel, meeting people from different countries, and learning new languages. Having completed law school in London, she worked as a finance lawyer for 4 years both in London and in Singapore. She was living a full life and after a period of long hours and stress, she fell ill and was later diagnosed with M.E.. She has been on a fascinating journey of the self since that moment, and is looking forward to feeling her best again and reaching her full potential. She is currently enrolled in a Bachelor of Science in Social Sciences and Psychology as she has a keen interest in the brain, the mind-body connection, and people’s behaviours. She is also looking forward to developing her interests in public international law and human rights law.