Sunday, 26 February 2017

MindChoice Blog No.7

Mindfulness for Living Well with Cancer

Taster Workshop and 8 Week Course

I have been teaching workshops for the charity Breast Cancer Care for the last 2 years as part of their Moving Forward Course and I taught my first 8 week course in mindfulness at the Oxford Maggie Centre in 2012.  I am really excited to be hosting a workshop for Yes to Life in Oxford and a full 8 week course in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy especially adapted for people living with cancer.

I have found that even in a 30 minute workshop participants gain an experience of the peace and calm that is possible by coming to the present moment and begin to see how they may be adding to their own suffering with their habitual reactions to pain and illness.  For example, a pain in the body after you have had a diagnosis of cancer triggers anxious thoughts; we tend to tense up “what’s happening? Is it back? How long is it going to go on for?” These quite normal reactions create a cycle of suffering.  Mindfulness helps us develop a different relationship with pain and illness by becoming aware of this cycle and replacing the tension and resistance with more helpful responses.  We learn to let go of the struggle.

We are very fortunate to have 2 hours for you to experience and explore the benefits of mindfulness so that you have a real feel of whether this is something for you.  You will experience some simple meditation practices, have some practical tips and tools to take away and use in everyday life and when things become

I see mindfulness as a life tool for transformation, not just in how we relate to the challenges of living with a chronic illness like cancer but in how we relate to our thoughts and feelings, those around us and the lives we lead. Mindfulness opens up a space, so that instead of being on the treadmill of life, we find we have a choice and are therefore better able to take responsibility for ourselves. We begin to develop a kinder, gentler attitude to ourselves and our limits and to create space for what really brings us alive.  And even without changing anything in our lives, we bring more joy by simply being present for the good things, the enjoyable things.

I will always remember a wonderful young man who was dying of cancer and was in that first group at the Oxford Maggie Centre alongside his fiancĂ©e. They had both dreamed of their lives ahead.  He was understandably full of anger at his prognosis but at the same time wanted to enjoy the time he had left.  Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen Buddhist Master wrote a book called The Miracle of Mindfulness. To this courageous young man mindfulness was a miracle.  From the very first practice he did there was a great sense of relief.  He described how he had been completely stuck in his head with angry thoughts about his illness and that it was the first time in months that he had really been present and alive to what was happening during the meditation.  To him this was revelatory.

Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom. 
Victor Frankl

Peace is in the Present Moment

Just think for a moment, when you are stressed or can’t sleep what is happening, where is your mind? 

Yes, it is either ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. These thoughts affect our mood and behaviour. Yet, often we are unaware that our minds are even doing this – we are on automatic pilot.  We live on automatic pilot a lot of the time whether we are showering, eating, driving or walking we are frequently unaware of the experience of what we are doing – we are lost in our heads.  The risk of this, and if we talk specifically about living with cancer, is that we may be worrying about the future, stirring up anxiety and tension in the body and increasing any pain in the process.  But we also miss the enjoyable moments of our lives – being with our children or friends, listening to a concert or being in the beautiful countryside.

Looking at the diagram above, it is easy to see how we could give our nervous systems a break by allowing ourselves some time each day to be in the present moment.  We have the breath and/or the body to use as anchors to the present moment.  By focusing the attention on the sensations of breathing or the feel of the body sitting in a chair, the weight held by the chair, the feeling of the feet on the floor we come into the here and now – rather than in the virtual reality of our minds. Thoughts will soon come in again but we train ourselves to notice them and, without any judgement, guide the attention back to the breath or body.

There are numerous studies showing the benefits of mindfulness for people living with cancer. They show reduction of stress symptoms, enhanced coping and well-being, improved immune function and improved quality of life.  There is also something very powerful that comes from the shared experience of being in the group.  Furthermore, studies have shown that personal growth and healing is possible once we get below the surface of fear, anxiety and depression. Mindfulness is a vital practice for living with a chronic illness like cancer and coming to terms with loss and one’s own mortality.

If after the Workshop you feel inspired to take it further, then please see below for more information about the 8 week course.  The course dates are: -

Tuesdays 2.00 – 4.00 pm
Starting: 2nd May 2017
Ending: 27th June 2017
No session during half term 30th May
Full practice day Saturday 17th June

Course Structure

The course is taught in eight 2 hours sessions and a day of silent practice, and includes: -

         guided instruction in mindfulness meditation practices and mindful movement
         an opportunity to explore your experiences with these practices through group dialogue, to support learning and understanding
         a short breathing practice to use in times of stress
         theoretical teaching
         home practice of meditations and weekly suggestions for ways of integrating mindfulness into daily life
         CDs with guided meditation for home practice and weekly handouts to support learning

Participation is always at your own level of comfort

About the Home Practice

         Mindfulness is more a way of being than a technique and it is the regular daily practice (30 minutes) that increases the likelihood of being able to use mindfulness when times are particularly tough.

By committing to the daily practice, at least for the duration of the course, you give yourself the best opportunity to experience a difference in how you relate to what is happening in your life. You may be surprised!

To register call Yes to Life on 0203 222 0587 or email  They will send you a registration form to fill in and send back.  Following this, they will arrange a time for you to speak with me.  This is an opportunity to talk about yourself and the particular challenges you may be facing at the moment and to learn more about mindfulness and how it may help.  You will be able to chat about any concerns you may have which may help in deciding if it’s the right course for you or the right time to be embarking on it.  It is a challenging but at the same time life-enhancing course.

I look forward to practising and learning with you.

Clare McLusky

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