Clare College Cambridge

Mindfulness at Clare

What is Mindfulness?

Life, particularly Cambridge life, can be full of stresses: work, finance, relationships, social life, not enough time… While we may not be able to change those external factors, if we change how we react to them in ourselves we can give ourselves more space, more contentment, more open-heartedness. Mindfulness is being present with our experience in the moment as we live it, an awareness that lets us start to take control of how we respond both to our own thoughts and emotions and to what is happening around us, and to do so with more kindness towards ourselves and others. There is a large body of research now that shows that the practice of mindfulness changes the structure and functioning of the brain itself, leading to greater happiness and quality of life, and less stress, anxiety and depression. Anybody can benefit from practising it, not just those who are stressed or depressed. Although it takes time to learn and practise, it also gives time back: it makes people more efficient and gives them more energy.

If you want to know more about what mindfulness is and what it can do for you, the Mental Health Foundation has an excellent podcast  If you want more of a feel of how mindfulness can enrich life, you might listen to Richard Hunt’s eulogy for Jim Henson or ‘This is water’ .

Mindfulness courses

The aim of these courses is two-fold:

-        to give people a taste of meditation and mindfulness and the principles behind them. They include a range of different meditation techniques, including some which take a couple of minutes, or can be done while getting on with some other activity.

-        to think about the ways in which stress and other difficult emotions develop, and ways to avoid or reduce them and to deal with them when they are present. We discuss processes and strategies, not the specifics of problems. These are not therapy groups!

I have practised and taught mindfulness meditation for many years, including for the last five years in Clare, and as a tutor and DOS in Clare I also have a lot of experience of talking to stressed students. I've found that thinking through the problems, and the strategies for dealing with them, can make a very helpful difference, and adding in mindfulness techniques makes a bigger difference still. People who have done these courses (or at least the people who gave me feedback on them) have found they were able to use some of what they had learnt to real effect.

The course consists of seven sessions lasting up to an hour and a quarter, with an additional short individual session once during the course to give people an opportunity to discuss any questions they have in more detail than is possible in a group. It's best if people can come to all the sessions if possible. There is also some homework: meditation practice  every day, as far as you can manage it, some meditation exercises that take a couple of minutes or can be done while getting on with other activities, and some things to investigate about how stress or other difficult emotions (or their absence) affects you personally. 

After the course, those who want to continue and develop their mindfulness and meditation further can join an ongoing weekly group or the CU Mindfulness Society or a range of other groups. 

Courses for students 

I will be running two introductory courses this Michaelmas Term, one on Tuesdays at 5.30pm from 11 October - 29 November and one on Thursdays at 5.30pm from 3 November - 2 February with a break over the vacation. If you would like to come, please contact me at rmh1001@cam.ac.uk, telling me:
- why you’re interested
- if you have any mental health issues you think I should know about
- that you commit yourself to attending at least 6 of the 8 sessions and to practising meditation every day as far as you are able to. 
Please also contact me if you have any questions.

If you have already done a course with me and would like to continue, also get in touch.

Resources

3-minute breathing space

10 minute breathing meditation

10 minute kindness meditation (or longer)

Other meditations

A body scan meditation: good for mindfulness in general, and especially insomnia: www.archive.org/details/MCullenBodyScanMeditation; and there are longer and shorter versions of a body scan on the mp3 link from http://8weekmindfulness.com

Other versions of the three-minute breathing space: http://franticworld.com/free-meditations-from-mindfulness/ and on the mp3 link from http://8weekmindfulness.com.

Mindfulness of sounds and thoughts: http://franticworld.com/free-meditations-from-mindfulness/ and on the mp3 link from http://8weekmindfulness.com.

A very quick and easy set of mindfulness practices: www.mindincambs.org.uk/Docs/ThinkRight/Mindfulness.pdf.

If you want a very full DIY course that you can work through at your own pace, I'd strongly recommend Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Penman (Piatkus, 2011), which includes a CD of guided meditations. It's also in Clare library. You can find some of the meditations from the CD at www.franticworld.com/free-meditations-from-mindfulness/

Another good eight-week DIY course is Mindfulness in eight weeks by Michael Chaskalson (Harper Thorsons, 2014). http://8weekmindfulness.com has a link to the complete set of guided meditations from the book.

Disclaimer: These resources offer only a taste of mindfulness and meditation. The experience of most people is that the support of a meditation/mindfulness teacher and membership of a group is of enormous benefit in furthering the development of their skills and understanding.

Mindfulness aids for the computer

Computer breaks: these are freely downloadable programmes which regularly remind you to take a break from the computer, good for both body and mind:

Mac: www.dejal.com/timeout/

PC: www.download.cnet.com/Big-Stretch-Reminder-Program/3010-2129_4-10844515.html?tag=metaData;specsBox

Meditation bell (for adding into a computer break)

Programmes to help you control your internet use:

Mac: www.selfcontrolapp.com  

General: StayFocusd on Google Chrome

If you have any questions about any of the above or about mindfulness and meditation please feel free to contact me: Rachael Harris at rmh1001@cam.ac.uk