Mindfulness with Nerissa

Mindfulness for Children

mindfulness with children

Mindfulness as Louise Shanagher (Creative Mindfulness for Children) says is like two wings of a bird, on one wing we have paying full attention to the present moment and on the other wing we have compassion for ourselves - and everyone else. We need both wings to fly. However, mindfulness is also about 'showing up for life' and facing all the joys as well as the challenges and responding rather than reacting to what life throws at us. Thus we are able to embrace the whole of life with graciousness and dignity as well as with fun and laughter.

I have worked for the WEA for over 30 years and a few years ago they asked me to run some mindfulness courses working with those who were on recovery from substance misuse e.g. alcohol, drugs etc. Since that time I have also taught mindfulness to the unemployed, the homeless and those from a wide variety of backgrounds.

In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts to treat the chronically ill. This was the beginning of mindfulness as we know it in the West.

The overlap from the type of yoga I teach and mindfulness is huge, as Kabat-Zinn says in a talk he gave on The Art of Teaching Mindfulness: "Yoga is an incredibly powerful practice, it is deep thinking and a very big and important part of MBSR. It is a different door -same room." When I first started teaching yoga my brief was to make it accessible to everyone regardless of age, gender, religion etc. - and I continue to do this. I now include mindfulness in this category as well. Mindfulness like yoga needs to be available for everyone.

"Mindfulness is a pause - the space between stimulus and response: that's where choice lies." Tara Brach

Keeping Abreast

How mindfulness helped me to work with having a mastectomy

I earn my living as a yoga and mindfulness teacher and am also an aromatherapist. I work with a wide variety of groups some privately but mostly through the WEA (Worker's Educational Association) and at Leicester College.

It is February 2019 and I receive a letter for a routine mammogram; I look at the date and think that is really inconvenient so I cancel it and arrange another appointment. On the date in question I am at one place in the morning, I zoom to the Glenfield Hospital, have the mammogram, which is in a mobile, and then back to my next port of call. I do not give it a second thought! That was in the days when I thought 'zoom' meant going from one place to another - not sitting in front of a screen.

Within a few days I come home and there is this letter. It is a Tuesday; on a Tuesday I work at three different places and reach home about 2.30 pm, have a few hours at home in the afternoon and leave at 6 to teach pregnant women.

The letter says that I have abnormal cells in one of my breasts and need to go back to the Glenfield on the Friday. I have butterflies in my stomach and my immediate reaction is to phone a friend, but I stop and decide to sit with this news. I place my hand on my tummy, I notice the time. The butterflies last 3 hours. I write down my thoughts. I meditate. I sit and breath, I quieten my mind, I am present with this and begin to open myself to whatever is happening. I say to myself that at this point we do not know anything. These are thoughts not facts! Also I am one of the healthiest people I know -'I couldn't possibly have breast cancer!'. I then go and teach.

I say to pregnant women that are three important points that will get them through labour: firstly, to work with their breath and low sounds; secondly, to embrace labour but have an open mind; thirdly, 'you can do this - you can deal with any eventuality'. This also stands for the daily challenges that life gives us. This is where I found myself now.

I go to the appointment on my own. I optimistically park the car for an hour. I was the middle of running a mindfulness course whereby the following week I would be teaching a meditation on 'How to Deal with Difficulty'. I laugh quietly to myself as I see the irony. Throughout the morning I see the consultant, they do an ultrasound there and then and later a bioscopy. I see a range of people, more doctors, radiographers and nurses. Everyone is there with a friend or a partner. I am on my own. I didn't think to take anyone with me. At one point I go and see the receptionist and say that my car parking ticket runs out shortly. She is wonderful, she asks for my number plate and car details and tells me that the car will be fine.

The morning finishes 3 hours later with me seeing a young nurse in a room with sofas and pictures on the wall and flowers and rugs. It is very floral. She gives me loads of leaflets and booklets to read. She means very well but her voice is quiet and serious.

I need soup! I tell the receptionist and she says not to worry about the car. I go to the Glenfield cafe and sit with tomato soup; I breathe.

I drive home slowly, working with the breath.

On reaching home I write it all down.

Two weeks later I go back with my son, we are seen immediately. There are two doctors and two nurses. They want to take away a quarter of my breast including the nipple and aerola and follow it up with 3/4 weeks' radiotherapy. They want to do the operation within days. But I have already cancelled loads of my classes as I had the flu in the February (first time ever) and I don't want to cancel any of my classes. I put the operation back so everything is covered. I need time to go home and take it all in. I do not want to have a quarter of my breast removed. It seems so brutal.

I write it down, I meditate, I breathe. I have to drive a few days later out to a small village in Leicestershire where I work with a young woman with PMLD (profound and multiple learning disabilities). I do massage and passive yoga stretches with her. It is a 20 miles round trip. On the way I say to myself that I am resigned to this operation and then as the journey continues I think about the fact that in many countries throughout the world there are no mammograms and women in my position would just die and probably a long slow painful death. I breathe, I open my heart and I totally accept this. I am so accepting that I hardly tell anyone.

The operation is the day before Good Friday. I am due to go on holiday for a week the following day. I cancel the holiday. I prepare myself for the operation with breathing and relaxation techniques. I tell them I am not very good with anaesthetics. After the op I go home and rest for 10 days. I have a headache every single day (along with sickness this is what I experience after an anaesthetic). I have a little routine after the operation which involves meditation, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day, and listen to Jack Kornfield (writer and Buddhist practitioner) every morning and the radio in the afternoon and sometimes, depending on the headaches, I will read or maybe watch Netflix.

I go back to work and tell hardly anyone and attend the Glenfield on my own for the next set of results. I am 98% confident that everything will be fine but there is also a wide 2% prepared for anything. The appointment is at 8.40 am. I work at Loros the local hospice on Wednesday mornings doing massage, and as the Glenfield is up the road and I don't need to be there till 10, I think I can pop in and then go straight there. I am still waiting to be seen an hour later. I cancel Loros.

When I am seen there are again two doctors and I think three nurses. They tell me I now need a mastectomy and lymph nodes removed. I burst into tears and then I breathe. I leave the Glenfield and call a close friend on the way home. I come home and tell my son and burst into tears again. I work on my breath as he puts his arms round me.

In the afternoon I teach a general yoga class and then I am working at another venue where I am running a range of workshops consecutively for staff to boost and uplift their energy. I am teaching basic yoga, breathing and mindfulness. I laugh on the way there, again at the irony of the situation. I am very fortunate that I have a professional hat which I can put on to see me through. I come home and write it all down. I breathe.

I have opted for breast reconstruction at the same time so I need to see another surgeon. One of my woman friends insists on coming with me. She is amazing, she makes notes, she asks questions, she is 100% there for me.

The operation is the following week. I have to cancel everything and tell everyone. I am out of my comfort zone. I have had to be compassionate to myself and the compassion I now receive is without doubt totally and utterly overwhelming. I have had to let go in so many ways, by telling everyone, by cancelling my classes, by totally accepting the situation and I knew the only way forward was to turn and face it with my head held high.

I go down for the op at 1.30 and come back at 6.20 pm. Some of this is recovering time. I feel sick and have a headache. There are two drains from my breast. My son takes me home. I can do very little for two weeks whilst the drains are there, they are then removed and I need another 4 weeks to recover. Friends come and go, cards and flowers and food arrive. I am tired and in a lot of discomfort. I breathe, I meditate, I listen to Jack Kornfield. I am very very appreciative of the support. Before the op I set in place a cleaner, changing my sleeping conditions so that I could be next to the bathroom and arranging to go to have my hair washed once a week at a local hairdresser. I continue to be grateful for the skills that I am blessed to have and the wonderful people around me. I have been able to open my heart and travel this journey surrounded by those wonderful people.

As Jack Kornfield says:

"In the end these things matter most:

  • How well did you love?
  • How fully did you live?
  • How deeply did you let go?"

Nerissa Fields
Autumn 2020