In my previous post I gave an overview of my first session participating in the mindfulness course offered by the NHS Bristol CFS/ME clinic (link), this post will focus on one particular practice we did in this first session, one that I have aptly named: The Raisin!
This is quite a common practice, it is classified as an informal as you can do it with any food or drink as part of your day, my understanding is that an informal practice is one that you don’t have to set aside to do an activity specially, it is more about doing things that you do everyday mindfully.
We were each given a couple of raisins, we were told to really look, smell, listen, feel and taste them, simple right?
Well it is simple and I guess thats the point, actually stopping and taking notice of something we do without thinking, I know I spend a lot of time on auto pilot, going through the motions of life without ever stoping to smell the flowers so to speak.
Using all five senses
I knew what a raisin looks like a small wrinkly brown oval shaped thing, well when really looking at my raisins it did look like all of those above but what I had never noticed before was the different shapes, sizes and all the different shades of brown holding them up to the light I could see so many different shades, from yellowish, greenish and reddish tones.
Ever thought about what a raisin smells like, if like me up to this point that would be a big fat no, I was so surprised at how sweet it smelt, the smell of the raisins really created opinions amongst the group of dislikes and likes one member even said it triggered memories of christmas.
When it came to listening to the raisin however we all had a little giggle whilst holding them to our ears no surprise here the raisin made no noise, but when doing this practice with a cheeky glass of prosecco I noticed the different pings and tings of the bubbles.
Feeling the raisins I found most interesting of all, rolling each in between my fingers really concentrating I could feel the individual ridges, so of the raisins were much softer plumper than the others to the point rolling them in my fingers rolled out most of the wrinkles, others were harder keeping their integrity feeling much rougher to the touch.
On placing the raisins to my lips was like what I had experienced above but was like experiencing it in high definition, the soft plump ones rolled on my lips with easy squishing across my lips the harder ones almost felt spiky dragging across my lips.
Biting down the soft plump ones met very little resistance and felt juicy almost like they were bursting in my mouth, the harder more shrivelled ones met quite a lot of resistance on biting down and felt almost gritty.
So what did I take in from this?
So what did all this observation do to the taste of the raisin? I am quite partial to a raisin, I like them but on tasting these raisins that over the last five ten minutes I had bonded with, they tasted so much sweeter, I felt each chew and squish the juicy texture and sweetness of the soft plump one and the almost sour taste of the gritty hard ones.
During this process, drawing out an action that would usually take seconds, how did we notice our body’s react?
- Well firstly some of the group automatically when given their raisins ate them without a thought and had to be given more to do the practice
- many of us felt our mouths water when we had the food in our hands
- others tensed and felt awkward paying this much attention to something
- many of us laughed and smiled especially when trying to listen to the raisin
- one person even gagged due to their distain to raisins
For me one of the strangest feelings was that after all my concentration on my little raisin friends, after I had minced them up in my teeth, I had to consciously think and remind myself how to swallow, an action that you do hundreds of times a day that you often do without noticing, I actually had to think how to move my tongue and use the muscles in my throat to push the minced up raisin down.
Our thoughts on the practice
After all that, what were our thoughts on the practice we had just undertaken, as a group we had an assortment of thoughts:
- From how this thing had once been a grape and wondering what it’s journey had entailed to bring it to this
- How such a benial every day task such as eating became such an unusual experience
- Bringing up memories of other times such as christmas when we had eaten raisins
- Thoughts of disgust: why o why did it have to be raisins
- But the majority of us shared a common thought about the experience:
That it was weird but nice to slow life time so much to really take in the experience, using all our senses, ones we wouldn’t have expected to. To give something the time and focus, when in reality we usually do such task on auto pilot, we can truly say we ate with purpose and attention.
Our attitudes whilst doing one of our first mindfulness practices were that of :
- Open mindedness, but also that it was unusual and went against what we normally do
- Being serious, giving all our attention to the task at hand and giving it your full attention.
- A few of us showed judgment, by comparing our pre conception of a raisin to what was in front of us an treating the task with curiosity.
All of these attitude almost make up a definition of what mindfulness is.
So what does this mean?
The first step in mindfulness especially when doing informal practices, day to day things like eating, having a shower, getting dressed or even driving, is to notice when we are doing things automatically
It isn’t about doing everything in your life at a snails pace taking in every detail, as auto pilot can be very useful to do the mundane things in life, and quite frankly if we gave every task an aspect of our lives the attention we gave those raisins, we would be even more exhausted than we are now and we would never find the time to do all the things we need to do in a day.
So if the point isn’t to do this for every task what is it about?
Well it is about noticing when you are on auto pilot, and making a decision to carry on, on auto or to give it more attention, essentially mindfulness helps you to make a conscious choice.
If you liked this post you might want to check out some of my previous posts:
- What activity management means to me in dealing with my CFS/ME
- How are you? The not so simple answer to that not so simple question
- The benefits of movement for CFS/ME
- Stress, mindset and chronic illness