New Pathways through Mindfulness
by Karen Hansen
Every school morning as I entered the Primary School, I would take care to only step on floor tiles that were a slightly different colour to the rest. It wasn’t by choice – I HAD to do this! even though I was holding up a stream of fellow students in the process. Other behaviors, such as obsessive counting of lampposts, white lines on the road, tapping things 5 times etc., also began playing out in those formative years, and as I grew up and matured I learned to cope using sheer will power, yet feeling isolated in my personal struggle.
It wasn’t until I was in a bookshop in my mid-forties and my husband handed me a book about anxiety and said, “its probably time you looked at this”, that I realized how common anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) was, and felt less alone. Reading that book was a huge revelation for me, and I began reading many resources to educate myself on the topic.
Stress, trauma and challenging events have been the triggers for anxiety and OCD throughout my life, often with crippling effects. Many people think OCD is limited to repeated behaviors, however, it’s so much more. Intrusive and unwanted thoughts can wreak havoc with your mind, and even though I consider myself a strong person, the continual mental torment and the inner strength required to cope with it every minute of every day, was draining my reserves. As a result, I went through several periods in my life where I felt extremely low.
I would put on a brave act when I went out, but over time I began to be more reclusive. It took a great amount of mental resolve and energy to do normal tasks that people around me took for granted. Working part-time was becoming increasingly difficult to manage, and when I wasn’t at work I had no interest in going too far from home. I started avoiding social interactions and friendships. I felt helpless but I also knew I had to work through it for the sake of my lovely husband, 3 beautiful children, and my dog! It was during this time of suffering that ‘meditation’ came into my life.
I was living in Queensland when I signed up for a six-week Mindfulness-based Stillness Meditation course with a lovely local yoga teacher (melissashealingspace.com) who had studied to be a meditation teacher at the Yarra Valley Living Centre. She was so calm, and quite honestly it was the first time I realized that I was continually bombarded with incessant streams of thinking – my thoughts jumped from here to there, I was rarely present and really didn’t know how to be present. It was a wonderful beginning to my meditation journey, yet I still had so many questions, and so in 2014 [after watching “The Connection”], I decided to sign myself up for Module 1 of the MBSM teacher training course at the Yarra Valley Living Centre.
I decided to do the training because I wanted to understand the role of meditation for the mind in depth, and perhaps in helping myself, could help others ‘like me’ in the future.
Throughout my life, I have seen several doctors and mental health professionals. In the past I have often been prescribed anti-depressants and taken them for a period of time and then carefully weaned myself off but I kept searching for more answers.
The implementation of MBSM in my life has helped me incredibly. I meditate and use breathing techniques daily. I still have many challenging days, however, MBSM has given me a tool kit to cope. Along with slowing down the pace of my life, letting go of multi-tasking, eating healthily and getting plenty of rest and sleep, I feel hopeful and happy now.
After I graduated from module 1, I became interested in additional forms of ‘mindfulness training’ and that’s when I started line drawings. I started by drawing my favorite Kombi vans, and then – for no reason – I started drawing circles. I became curious about why I was drawing circles, and looked up the significance online – I was interested to learn that ‘mandala’ means ‘circle’ in Sanskrit, and that famous Swiss Psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, recognised that the urge to make mandalas emerges during moments of intense personal growth.
At first, my mandalas where full and complicated and not very balanced, but gradually they became spacious and I found my own style. I love simple bold lines – I find them peaceful. I get tremendous solace from quietly drawing mandalas in the peace and quiet. I feel and watch the line unfold. I draw every mandala after meditating, from a peaceful, contented and happy frame of mind.
My children encouraged me to start an Instagram account ‘purerelaxation’ to chart my drawing journey, and then a few months ago when I was completing Module 2 and Module 3 of my teacher training, several fellow students said they would love copies of my mandalas – either for themselves, their family members, or for use in their meditation classes, and so over the summer break, my daughter and I set up an Etsy shop. www.etsy.com/au/shop/PureRelaxationDesign
Getting public with all of my art was very challenging. I became so anxious when the Etsy site went live I almost couldn’t do it, but a voice inside kept urging me to do it ‘You have to get out there with this Karen, you can’t hide away anymore, it may help others.’
Sharing my mandalas as a form of personal mindful therapy, or as a meditative wall art for someone’s peaceful space fills my heart with so much joy.
I am so grateful for the meditation teacher training at the Yarra Valley Living Centre – it was one of the most helpful things I have done. Meeting Paul and Maia, Ian and Ruth was pivotal in me being able to move forward and enter into this later chapter of my life with greater mental peace. Their gentle kindness and explanation of the minds plasticity and ability to mold and change opened a world of possibilities for me.
My father now has Alzheimer’s and it has been terribly sad for our family to watch his mind crumble. In the book ‘Mindfulness for Life’ by Craig Hassed and Steven McKenzie – which talks about anxiety and dementia – they say that encouraging mindful-attention to what you are doing is very important. I am dedicated to learning how to rest my mind and become present both through my meditation practice and the drawing of mandalas.
I have heard the neural pathways in our mind being described as pathways in a forest that you start running down automatically, but that you can change paths using a variety of tools, techniques, and meditation. I would say, the paths in my brain are more like bobsleigh runs… great icy walls that I have to cut through to break the pattern and change my destination. It’s challenging but I now know that it is possible, and ‘everyday’ I have the whole MBSM tool kit to help me navigate a good and kind life with my family. Gradually the walls are melting and new pathways are taking their place.