When did you stop dancing?

12 May

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Yesterday at Swindon Festival of Literature began with a sleep at the Mark Williams Mindfulness events.

Now before you start thinking badly of Mark Williams, I’ll quickly explain that he led the Swindon Arts Centre audience in a meditation or ‘body scan’.

If you’ve ever done meditation / yoga or the like, you’ll know what I mean; close your eyes and think about each part of your body in turn, focus on your breath, etc.

Use your body to be in the here and now rather than the before, future and ‘what ifs’. It worked for me: after initial annoyance on the lack of leg room in the auditorium (DON’T get me started..!) I drifted off into unconsciousness. Bliss.

So – when did you stop dancing? This is the doctor’s alternative question to ‘how long have you felt sad?’ We can’t cure sadness (it’s part of our range of emotions; how much art would be made without sadness and human difficulty?) but it becomes a problem when it shuts us down, stifles and locks up our lives to the point when we just don’t feel like dancing anymore.

(Which reminds me that BBC 1’s The Voice had a profound moment last week. “What’s the point of pain,” mused mentor Daniel O’Donoghue, “if not to create great art?” Good thought, but at what point does it become emotionally exploitative?)

Mark’s calm soft voice gave us some choice quotes from other wise people: that humans weren’t “seeking the meaning of life – but the experience of being alive” and that we “live our lives leaning into the next moment, spend our whole life postponing it.”

Mindfulness is acknowledging that the mind can be counterproductive in everyday stress and sadness; ruminating and cycling the same thought over and over rather than accepting that sad and bad things happen – and moving on. It helps the mind not to get “involved in a difficult and toxic way.”

A one hour talk followed by a two hour workshop didn’t seem like three hours at all.

Both events were booked after a suggestion by Liz Gilvin and Lizzy Cambray of Ridgeway Mindful Psychology. The Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy course that Mark helped develop is now available on the NHS. Hurrah.

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