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Mindfulness in mental health and prison settings
Mindfulness in mental health and prison settings

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1.1 Experiencing mindfulness

To really grasp what mindfulness is, it’s important to have some experience of mindfulness practice for yourself. You can’t really get a sense of it just from reading about it. Here you will learn about a basic form of mindfulness meditation that you can try. However, many people find it easier – especially at the start – to have somebody talking them through the practice.

Activity 1 Trying out mindfulness meditation

Have a go at a mindfulness meditation from an app or website. There are lots of apps with audio meditation practices that you can download to your device.

Some of the popular ones at the time of writing are:

  • Headspace
  • Stop, Breathe, Think
  • The Mindfulness App.

If you don’t want to use an app, the following websites are run by some of the major mindfulness researchers and practitioners in the UK and the USA. These pages include a number of audio meditations that you can play:

Pick one audio practice from one of these apps or websites, and have a go at a mindfulness meditation.

When you’re finished, think of three words or short phrases that describe what the experience was like for you and enter them in the text box below. There are no right or wrong answers; just write what it was like for you.

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When mindfulness researchers Nugent, Moss, Barnes and Wilks (2011) encouraged a group of health professionals to do an activity similar to the one you just did, the kinds of things they said were that mindfulness enabled space to pause in life; that it deepened their relationships with themselves (through tuning into how they felt, for example); that it enabled them to observe things they wouldn’t otherwise have noticed (such as how tense they were), opening up the potential of changing these things; and that it was a way of paying attention that they could bring to any experience (not just to specific meditations like the one you did).

Participants in the study also said that being mindful often brought discomfort and uncertainty: that it wasn’t easy. Most accounts of people’s first attempts at mindful meditation include words like ‘boredom’, ‘pain’, ‘frustration’ and ‘anger’ more often than they do words like ‘calm’, ‘peace’ and ‘wisdom’, which we often associate with such practices. Quietly attending to ourselves doesn’t always bring peace. It often brings us face to face with things that we’d rather avoid. It is worth bearing this in mind when we decide to engage with mindfulness. We should be aware of the expectations that people tend to have, and the reality that most people experience.

You might ask yourself, if people’s experience of mindfulness can be quite negative, why engage with mindfulness at all? You’ll find out some answers to this question during this course, but for now it’s worth understanding that mindfulness is about becoming more able to stay with all of the thoughts, feelings and sensations that you have, easy or hard, rather than trying to get rid of the ‘negative’ ones and keep hold of the ‘positive’ ones. This is because, according to mindfulness, the capacity to stay with all of our feelings can help us to weather them when they are hard. Trying to ensure that we only have positive feelings often, paradoxically, makes us suffer more.

At this point you are invited to read a chapter from Mad or Bad: A Critical Approach to Counselling and Forensic Psychology(2017). Chapter 16, ‘Mindfulness’, was written by course authors Meg-John Barker and Troy Cooper for the Open University course DD310 Counselling and forensic psychology: investigating crime and therapy. Click on the link below to read this chapter before moving on to the next section.