Dr Paul Brocklehurst speaks about mindfulness and stuttering on a recent episode of StutterTalk. I’ve written about Paul before as he’s written a helpful introduction to mindfulness and stuttering (here) and runs the Stammering Self Empowerment Programme.
This is not directly related to mindfulness… but I recently carried out a research project as part of my studies at University College London into the effects of vibration on stuttering. You can hear about the findings as well as some wider discussion about fluency aids and approaches to stuttering therapy in the following podcast. Many thanks to Lee Millam at Pod Academy for giving me the chance to talk about my work.
I’ve been having an unusually difficult week with my stuttering. For all my attempts for be mindful of my stuttering and how I’m feeling while it’s going on, it has gotten to me a lot more than usual. I think I have built up a certain amount of resilience and acceptance – enough to keep my normal level of stuttering in perspective – but when my speech goes through a rough patch I don’t (yet) have enough of these things to keep level-headed and not feel negative about it.
I just listened to this recent episode of StutterTalk about ‘Working Through a Stuttering Rut’ and found it really helpful. One of the hosts on this episode had a really nice way of describing the way being in a bad block can distract you by making you feel less present / taking you outside yourself. She talks about feeling like you’re “zooming out” and then “zooming back in”. That is exactly it, and it’s really hard to stay mindful of what’s going on and keep your thoughts and feelings in check with all that zooming out and in! Well worth a listen:
This is taken from reflections by someone who attended a course in mindfulness meditation and stammering:
“When I’m focussing on raising my awareness of my speech after a period of not doing so, my stammer can sometimes get worse.”
Taken from ‘Stammering from the Inside‘
In Tibetan Buddhism there is a state of mind known as “cascade mind” or “waterfall mind”. It is the state of mind that anyone trying meditation for the first time (and plenty of us who’ve been practising for a long time) know very well – the mind trips and tumbles from one thought to the next, throwing up a seemingly-endless stream of thoughts like a cascade of water.
It can be infuriating and it can be shocking when we see just how the mind is working. Try as we might to return to the breath or whatever we are attempting to focus upon, we are pulled back to this discursive procession of thoughts. Many people reach this point and decide that meditation is not for them. “I can’t meditate… when I sit down to meditate my mind just won’t settle down, it’s just moving all the time” is a sentiment I’ve often heard. But I want to stress the value of seeing your cascade mind. Everyone’s mind can be like this – chances are you do not have a uniquely hyperactive mind, however much it might feel like that sometimes. The very fact that you have begun to notice how chaotic things are in there is a big deal and an important part of the process of developing mindfulness.
When we begin to notice the cascades of our mind it can feel like things are worsening. In truth, you have just become much more aware of something that is going on inside you all the time. Don’t be dispirited. Things feel like they’re getting worse but, in truth, you need to notice that waterfall of thoughts before you can start learning how your mind works, accept this and learn to work with it.
Going back to the quote above – when we begin to become more aware of our speech and those moments when we stammer it might well feel like things are going downhill. I suspect that things are not really going downhill. It’s the same frustration and shock we can experience when we are first faced with cascade mind. So, if you start to come up against an cascade mind while meditating or what we might call “cascade stuttering” when you speak, keep with it – you are getting somewhere!
City Lit in London (near Covent Garden) have just published their list of stammering therapy/courses for 2014/15. A couple of the courses incorporate mindful approaches to stammering, in amongst over techniques. You can find details about their excellent courses here or click the symbol below:
“One of the main reasons we listen poorly is because our internal noise levels are so turbulent and obtrusive that they mark most of what others are saying. Only bits and pieces of their message survive the barrage of our mental interference.”
The above is from Rebecca Shafir’s ‘The Zen of Listening’ and it is just as true of how negative thoughts and beliefs about our stuttering can stop us from objectively experiencing moments of dysfluency. By learning to look past these thoughts and beliefs and understanding our stutter better we can make our peace with it and find ways to ease its impact on our lives.
I came across a brief presentation by well-known specialist Barry Guitar (who I believe is himself a person who stutters) on mindfulness and stuttering. It ends with some personal reflections, which I thought were helpful:
- Mindfulness meditation is best as a daily practice.
- Meditation provides an experience of feeling time slow down. [It] enhances a sense of calmness.
- [A mindful approach to stuttering can mean that you welcome opportunities] to stutter so that you can observe it and work with feelings and behaviours associated with it.
I recently did an interview with Pam Mertz over at her excellent blog ‘Make Room for the Stuttering’. We talk about stuttering, training to be a speech and language therapist and mindfulness. You can listen here:
Just read a nice little article by Stefan Bogdanov entitled ‘Addressing Fear through Meditation: Zen and Stuttering‘ (2009). Bogdanov makes some interesting points, for example warning against starting ‘mindfulness mediation in order to achieve fluency’. Rather than acting directly upon our speech, Bogdanov argues, it can instead help us better understand and manage our ‘fears, ideas and expectations’ around stuttering.
I came across an excellent episode of Stuttertalk where Michael P. Boyle (speech and language pathologist and person who stutters) talks mindfulness and stuttering:
People who stutter ‘have challenges keeping up with their fluency strategies or their speech modification techniques, it’s very difficult to be able to transfer that to everyday life and it requires a lot of vigilance and monitoring… to use the techniques taught in speech therapy. So I think mindfulness can help us train our attention and expand our capacity to pay attention… and that’s very relevant for using certain speech modification techniques.’