Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Towards The Still Point 4

Mindfulness Deepens us


Newly cut tree stump, Phoenix Park, February, 2009
I remember once attending some lectures by the late great William Johnston, S.J., on how to meditate.  This great Jesuit has written many books on the topic of meditation and mindfulness.  I remember someone asking the question as to whether one can get mentally disturbed persons to meditate.  As far as I can remember the answer was "no," though with some qualifications which I cannot at this juncture in time recall.  I am currently working with a young boy of 16 years of age at school - he has Asperger's Syndrome with comorbid OCD.  Unfortunately the OCD has the upper hand at the moment and his levels of anxiety are extremely high.  I have attempted to use meditation with him on many occasions just to get him to relax in himself, but mostly this has not really worked.  He is, as yet, far too agitated to engage in meditative practices.  His professional team from the HSE are of the opinion that it is only when the prescribed medicine kicks in can they begin his CBT therapy.  From my experience of working with this boy, they are indeed correct.

On a personal level mindfulness can disturb us, can literally shake our foundations and cause no little upheaval.  This is a fact I can readily agree with.  As we begin meditating a lot of material from the unconscious can and does come up.  But having lived through such experiences I can say that, while they may be disturbing initially, they can be very wholesome in the final analysis once they are properly integrated into the psyche.  Now, I have long been a reader (even a disciple) of Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustave Jung and many of the other great psychiatrists and psychotherapists since who owe so much to these founding fathers of therapy.  In general, I believe that these founding fathers got the main thing in mental health right, that is, that "making the unconscious conscious" is a goal of all psychotherapy and that the integration of both is also a supreme and wholesome goal.  Many psychologists realise that meditation in all its forms and incarnations, call these practices mindfulness or awareness or wakefulness or by whatever synonym you wish, is an important skill to develop which can and does help us in bringing about self-realization, self-actualization, integration or individuation or wholeness.

Getting Beyond Agitation

Mucky grass, Phoenix Park, February, 2009
Firstly I can only stress and underline here that proper medical attention and intervention is required when the person is agitated.  It is only when agitation has been stemmed that any form of talk therapy, art therapy or music or drama therapy can be used. 

I have found that simple physical activities can work with my ASD class.  I have been bringing my class of 6 first years to the P.E. hall for some simple games where they can learn how simple team games work, like passing a ball from one to another using various combinations of rules.  I luckily enough have the help of two other adults who are both trained SNAs.  To improve their proprioceptive awareness (that is the awareness of their bodies which many ASD students have difficulty with) we get them to roll on mats - a simple exercise which they all like.  What I am getting at here is that physical exercise is also good to get rid of certain forms of agitation associated with ADD, ADHD and ODD, and also with certain forms associated with ASD.  Now with the young man I have referred to above, physical activity like I have described is not enough.  However, it is also important that this young boy gets exercise, too.

Another thing that works with my students on the ASD spectrum is the use of stress balls and various other objects that they can manipulate.  Therefore, it is often a good thing to say buy say a box of tennis balls and give each candidate a ball for either hand, get them to close their eyes and concentrate on becoming aware of the pressure of their hands and fingers on the ball and attempting in their mind to get in touch with the texture and actual feeling of the balls in their hands.  You can have a bit of fun with this, too - I'll leave that to the reader's imagination!  Now tennis balls or even variously shaped stones can also be good to use even with neuro-typical mediators like you and me and the ordinary students in any class.

Allowing Feelings to Arise Within

Over the years I have found that various feelings can and do emerge, feelings that one may have repressed or suppressed over the years, when I meditate.  Some fifteen years ago I remember that I used to often end up becoming very sad and even used cry many times when I meditated.  This was not too surprising as my father had passed away in 1993.  However, in line with true meditation practices, I stayed with it and just observed the feelings as they were arising and flowing away in my body.  There was no use getting upset, I knew.  I just went with the natural expression of emotions in my body.  After all, that's what emotions are.  Maybe I'm being a little too obvious here when I say that emotion is really e-motion or the movement of natural energies around the body.  Other emotions that can come up are repressed anger, guilt or shame or whatever.  I do intend to explore each of these feelings in later posts when I write a little in this blog about the uses of CBT and especially REBT in Rational Emotive Education.

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