The home practice during the first week of the course includes the nurturing and depleting activities exercise. This exercise is set out in Chapter 11 of our Mindfulness Based Living Course (MBLC) book which gives advice about how our mindfulness practice can support us in times of difficulty.
Reflecting on this exercise I become more aware of what activities deplete me. One of mine is working too hard for too long. Over the years this exercise has helped me to put some boundaries in place so that I do this less and less. It has also helped me move gradually to living more of a healthy lifestyle within which my mental and physical wellbeing can flourish.
The main nourishing activity is my mindfulness practice. Over the years I have made it more and more of a priority and devoted more time each day to practice. As Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of secular mindfulness in the west, says ‘Practice as if your life depends on it’ and as Rob Nairn, founder of the Mindfulness Association, says ‘Practice is the most important thing we can do in our lives’. When I first heard this, I didn’t believe it….I do now.
I recognise finally, that the most depleting thing I do is thinking ‘about’.
Thinking about what has happened and telling myself stories of self-pity or self-righteousness. These come with unpleasant emotions, sadness, anger, which cause me to suffer. More insidiously they reinforce the sense of ‘me’. Do you do this too?
Thinking about what might happen in the future, telling myself exciting or catastrophic stories. Again these come with emotions of desire or fear, which cause me to suffer and again reinforce the sense of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ at the centre of it all. I don’t think I am on my own in this?
Thinking about ‘why’. Again, resulting in stories, underpinned by an assumption that there must be a reason I can pin down. These stories come with feelings of frustration and a desire for control. Self-referential suffering again, ignorant of the truth of the unknowable complexity and interdependent and innumerable causes and conditions behind every experience.
Thinking about how to get things to turn out on my own terms. This comes with myriad stories about possible futures, compulsively planning responses to situations that may never happen. These stories fuel anxiety and fear. More self-referential suffering, completely out of touch with the reality of impermanence.
I feel exhausted even writing about it.
However, as my practice develops I begin to understand the futility of all of this thinking at a gradually deeper level. This makes it easier to let it be. Easier not to buy into the tantalising and desperately craved possibility of control or certainty.
The best thing I can do to cultivate understanding of the past, future or present is to simply observe my unfolding experience now, without expectations, agenda or interpretation. Trusting that whatever there is to know will be known. It is so counterintuitive, but so much less depleting and much more nurturing. I am also coming to recognise that this approach is also so much more effective and efficient!
Have a go at the nurturing and depleting exercise and see if you can remove some more doing and add some more being into your life and into your practice.
Gradually does it! Step by step.