Mindfulness and Psychosis

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Christine Entwistle & Amanda Hadingue in National Theatre of Scotland’s production of The Wonderful World of Dissocia, 2007. Photo: Telegraph.

Last night I went to see a production of The Wonderful World of Dissocia, written by Anthony Neilson. This tragicomedy explores a journey in which a young lady with psychosis shares her experiences with the audience. Characters include the insecurity guards, a vicious scapegoat, and a woman who is sent from the council to have all nature of barbaric acts performed on her, instead of others, to ensure that the number of victims falls, to one. There is a Lost Lost Property in which people queue to find their belongings (a lost hour, lost sense of humour, lost inhibitions etc). Whilst extremely funny in the most part, the play’s dark side is evident throughout, with the leader being ‘black dog’ and the characters representing some part of the experience of psychosis. I was deeply moved by this and it led me to think about the work I am currently producing and considering: the nature of mindfulness: how the mind works and how we connect to or distance ourselves from society and implicit in that what is regarded as ‘normal behaviour’.

As Artists we appear to have more permission than most to explore and express our feelings. Our creative outlets are only limited to the imagination and materials available. Dissocia is in dramatic terms what the Prinzhorn Collection is in Art. The fascination of wanting to ‘look inside’ the mind, experiences and imagination of those with different thinking patterns is a very human trait. We want to understand our own thought processes and feelings and we therefore need charts and spectrums and ways of measuring ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’. One gentleman I spoke with whilst working at Crisis was telling me that his homelessness was associated with being in and out of psychiatric hospitals and that he was more often an inpatient. He told me that he could not hold down a job because his brain ‘didn’t work properly’ and that he was scared of the streets. He represented so many others in the same predicament, let down by a system which would see people with mental health issues return to homelessness and desperation, further diminishing their resources and coping strategies.

I am at work in my studio, exploring where I fit into this. These pinches of clay are just tiny scraps. I was only interested in working on an area barely noticeable from most angles. The title ‘Little Pieces of Me’ is significant because these items are extremely fragile, they have no eyes and they exist ‘on the edge’. They also contain thumb and finger prints and are therefore ‘me’. I thought whilst I was working on them that each had some kind of identity, like different parts of a personality, different emotions. I was particularly moved when I lay one on top of another and they seemed to fit perfectly together. These two pieces of me (although clearly with identities of their own) were now in a relationship. This pleased me. Connections. Touch.

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Another piece I have been working on comes from an 8 week Mindfulness course which I attended. Weekly sessions raised a lot of different issues to do with thought processes and awareness. Consideration of how we have changed the way the brain needs to work and the we condition ourselves to live in the stress and anxiety areas of the brain, raising adrenalin levels and never quite coming down from this heightened agitation, moved me greatly and has driven much of the work I have been producing recently. The piece below (work in progress) is called ‘I Am The Mountain’ from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s meditation.

http://palousemindfulness.com/docs/mountain%20meditation.pdf

None of this matters to the mountain, which remains at all times its essential self. Clouds may come and clouds may go, tourists may like it or not. The mountain’s magnificence and beauty are not changed one bit by whether people see it or not, seen or unseen, in sun or clouds, broiling or frigid, day or night. It just sits, being itself. At times visited by violent storms, buffeted by snow and rain and winds of unthinkable magnitude. Through it all, the mountain sits.

extract of script adapted from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mountain Meditation

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The notion that thoughts pass like clouds, literally through the mind – and out again – is symbolic of letting go: of self compassion and recognition. The thoughts are experienced but they will pass.

By becoming the mountain in our meditation practice, we can link up with its strength and stability and adopt them for our own. We can use its energies to support our energy to encounter each moment with mindfulness and equanimity and clarity. It may help us to see that our thoughts and feelings, our preoccupations, our emotional storms and crises, even the things that happen to us are very much like the weather on the mountain. We tend to take it all personally, but its strongest characteristic is impersonal. The weather of our own lives is not to be ignored or denied, it is to be encountered, honored, felt, known for what it is, and held in awareness… And in holding it in this way, we come to know a deeper silence and stillness and wisdom. Mountains have this to teach us and much more if we can let it in…

extract of script adapted from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mountain Meditation

In summary, I have been thinking deeply about trying to let thoughts BE, and to express openly, without apology or over-analysis. This line is fascinating in terms of the people I have been working with recently, the play I have just seen and the work I am producing. ‘The weather of our own lives is not to be ignored or denied, it is to be encountered, felt, known for what it is, and held in awareness’.

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