Friday, 17 August 2012
Brains and Mindfulness.
I was at a lecture during "Think Week " in Oxford in February. The committee had very kindly nominated Survivors Voice Europe as their chosen charity, a great honour for us. It was even better because I was able to go to many of the talks, and the dinners, and I met some wonderful people , heard some inspiring talks. This particular one I had to admit, I was looking forward to, it included a professor of neuroscience, and I have a particular passion for neuroscience, especially since I have learned so much, vicariously from my colleague Kim, himself a dedicated neuroscientist. I am in awe of the human brain, and have been privileged to teach some of the neuroscience of addiction, in my "day job" Learning about the brain has answered many questions for me.
The debate was quite up there with all the other inspirational talks, but there was one "bug" that spoiled it for me , and that was the neuroscience professor herself, who although being very knowledgable, was also quite dismissive about some things she clearly had a "beef" with. Specifically, for me, was her dismissal (complete with wiggly fingered inverted commas) of "Mindfulness" . It would appear that she thought it a silly concept, much overused, and was quite scathing. I was so disappointed, not with mindfulness, but with her!
I guess she has never needed any kind of tools to help her make sense of the World around her, and I am pleased for her that she has not. I think it is very easy if someone has had a relatively "normal" life, has not had their education interrupted or destroyed by trauma, who has had good role models, or parents , teachers who have helped them learn the necessary life skills, who's life path has not been distorted, their brains damaged to be dismissive of these seemingly naive approaches. But for those of us who have not been so lucky, who have often spent our lives trying to find a way through , unskilled and with a huge burden, we have been grateful for many little snippets of wisdom, from whatever source.
There are lots of things that have helped me along the very rocky road to recovery, some I have discarded, having no further use for them, some, on closer inspection, have not fitted in with my beliefs, Some I have taken bits of, and left the rest behind, some I have mixed opinions about, some I have found to be even damaging, and some I wouldn't touch with the proverbial bargepole!
I make no excuses for the fact that learning "Mindfulness," has been something that has helped me enormously, and along with meditation, is still a source of refuge in my sometimes troubled mind. Leaving any "religious" connotation out of it, mindfulness meditation has been shown categorically to be able to calm down an agitated limbic system and improve cognition.
Have no doubt, I am a died in the wool atheist, I have no belief in any deity,and nothing I have seen in my 65 years has changed my mind,if anything it is reinforced on a daily basis, I do see the garden as beautiful without the need for fairies at the bottom of it, but in order to live in some sort of peace, to be able to function in the World, and not having the skills myself, I have borrowed some of the skills that I have been given by my addict friends, my Buddhist friends (actually Buddhists are atheists too! ) other abuse survivors, and anyone who is showing me their altruism by simply trying to do the next right thing. I have always been more impressed by actions rather than words, no matter how clever they may seem.
When most of my life was spent either having dreadful nightmares about the past, or fears for the future, the concept of learning to live in the "present moment " and practice loving kindness has been a life saving gift.
It has taken me a while to think about this, I was disturbed and wondered why I actually felt "belittled", it is only now, when something else came up to remind me that I was able to articulate what I had felt.
I am still in awe of science, the workings of the human brain, and its power, but thankfully now I am also able to see the beauty of other human beings helping each other and not dismissing anything that has helped them survive.