How long before Mindfulness works? Below is a transcript of the 2nd mindfulness FAQ session, presented by Brighton Mindfulness Centre, where Jon Wilde is interviewed by Gerard Evans and discuss the question “How long before Mindfulness works?”. The full one hour video can be accessed by clicking here for our main Mindfulness FAQ page. Other Mindfulness questions are answered in this and other videos on this site.
Gerard: That sort of leads nicely onto the question from Natalie in London. And although the question comes from Natalie this is quite a regular and common question I would say which is simply how long before it makes a difference. I think specifically in order to keep some kind of specifics here we should say the eight week course. How long before that makes a difference?
Jon: My answer to this is fairly predictable in that it depends absolutely on the individual. I don’t mind talking occasionally about my own personal experience. I pretty much took to mindfulness like a duck to water the first time I meditated. Because initially I started learning meditation from a book and that book was Finding Peace In A Frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny penman and I was about three weeks into that book. It’s an eight week course book; I was about three weeks into the course as taught by that book when it suddenly occurred to me that I might find a local teacher in Brighton where I was living at that time.
So I started meditating before I meditated under a teacher and my connection with it and my enthusiasm for it was born pretty much instantly. When I meditate for the first time I had a very very strong sense of coming home to something that I’d always longed for. That’s kind of how I look at meditation. And not everybody is like that. We all bring a different kind of sensibility to it. At the time my life was falling apart in many ways and there was a sense about me that perhaps I had nothing to lose. A friend had mentioned mindfulness to me and I thought well I need to try something because the life I’m living is unsustainable.
So I came to it with not a little cynicism. I mean there was quite a lot of cynicism involved to me and maybe that’s down to coming from the point generation as I did. Where the idea of meditation was more kind of regarded as more of a 60’s hippie thing. So there’s certain amount of resistance but there was also I think a certain amount of open heartedness that I thought well I’m happy to try this and for me the effect was almost immediate. Many people who struggled initially a little bit with meditation they felt it was something that was a bit of a chore and then perhaps they grow to love it. They learn to as I like to say fold it into their lives.
In terms of the 8 week course as with anything there is a percentage of people who start a course and then drop out that sometimes happens for all kinds of reasons. And not necessarily connected with whether they take to meditation or not. Sometimes people find that committing to a course perhaps they have overstretch themselves in terms of the time they’ve got and their family commitments or any number of things. So there’s a certain small percentage of people who don’t make it through to the end.
I think that people who go through the whole eight weeks of a mindfulness course I think it’s fair to say and I learned this through the inquiry from the talking that I do whether in a group or whether in a one to one situation that people’s feelings about how the course is going, how they take into meditation, how they are managing to find time to meditate and how it’s affecting their lives changes from week to week. Over the 8 week course it can be not always but it can be a really dramatic shift from week to week in terms of what people are discovering about themselves and about their relationship with thoughts. Their relationship to their own bodies. The way they relate to their partners, their children to the world in general to nature. Quite often it’s almost a case that from week to week the lens widens and widens and widens. I get a sense from people and it’s always incredibly heartwarming to hear how people are opening up to all kinds of truths about themselves. Quite often revelations about themselves in terms of how they relate to themselves in the world outside.
Gerard: I found that. I found stuff coming out of my mouth I didn’t know where it was coming from. Almost it was absolutely profound experience. I was just thinking that how long before it makes a difference is, to be there I wouldn’t hone in on how long but the bit I would hone in is what does making a difference mean because the minute I discovered the mindfulness course that made a difference in my head immediately. It didn’t mean my life suddenly changed from black to white or anything like that. First I got this positive that I was actually doing something about stuff I wanted to change. Improvements I wanted to have in the way I felt and so the minute I sort of started which was a bit out of my comfort zone as I’m sure it is for a lot of people.
But the fact that I’ve kind of committed to doing that was in itself making a difference really. And everything after that was just more like a snowball effect I suppose. But for me yeah how long before it makes a difference? Five seconds perhaps really in my personal experience but also I think maybe it’s worth pointing out that there is no sort of blinding flash where somebody is waiting to wander and all of a sudden you’re wearing different clothes and living in a different continent with a different personality.
Jon: No it’s much more subtle than that.
Gerard: Yeah it’s a very gentle process.
Jon: I think what I hear a lot is that not normally mindfulness isn’t the first thing that people have tried to combat anxiety depression or even that sort of vague rumbling under the floorboards that’s telling them that something is wrong with their lives and they can’t quite figure out why. Or people who are at some kind of crossroads or whatever is drowning them to mindfulness in the first place. They have normally tried one or two things quite a lot of self-help things quite often mentioned.
I think what quickly becomes apparent to most people is that mindfulness is very different. It’s not self-help at all. It’s not self-help as we know it. I think of self-help as something that normally perhaps you learn through book. That promises if you do X Y and Z then you will achieve A B and C in a certain amount of weeks. The problem with a lot of self-help is that it doesn’t really stick. I’ve seen people with great haven bookshelves full of self-help books. I’m not going to make generalizations about those books but I will say that the difference of people notice with a mindfulness course with a teacher is they feel engaged by it. They feel engaged and they feel quite inspired. And they’ve got the challenge of home practice and the thought of coming back next week and discussing how that went. And having someone in front of them they can ask questions.
and the very nature of an eight week course is that it’s a very gentle incremental slow incremental kind of progress if you like we’re by I don’t think anyone ever feels — no one’s ever give me the impression that they felt as though they’ve been thrown in the deep end. We don’t start with 45 minute meditations. The eight week course I think being brilliantly calibrated and fine tuned over the years since I guess it sort of first came into existence in the late seventy’s early eighties. It’s gone through a few permutations it’s now fairly established and there’s always going to be differences from teacher to teacher because teachers bring a different flavor to it. But I think the main thing is it’s something that if you’re engaged by it you’re likely to be really engaged by it. Because here is the beautiful thing.
I’m not going to give away how a mindfulness course starts because there’s an element of surprise about that. But suffice to say that your hand it’s something very every day and you are invited to spend a few minutes engaging with it. and it’s a wonderful start to the course and the reason why I think it’s such a wonderful start to a course is because that particular exercise as the weeks go by you start to realize that if you can be mindful about that one thing that’s introduced at the start of a course you can be mindful about pretty much anything in your life.
Gerard: It’s like a bedrock.
Jon: This is very simple stuff. This is one thing I can’t emphasise enough which is there’s nothing baffling about the concepts the ideas the notions that underpin mindfulness.
Gerard: Anyway your children could understand. Young children can understand.
Jon: A very small child can understand. For example bringing your attention to the breath and noticing that you’re breathing as you’re sitting and then if your mind wanders simply noticing that and then returning your attention gently and nonjudgmentally to your breath. That could be explained to a five year old and they get it.