At the end of January, I went to see Frazzled. Frazzled is Ruby Wax’s show about Mindfulness, held at Shanklin Theatre on the Isle of Wight.
The stage was set with a chair and a little Ikea-like table, and when the time came, Ruby Wax marched out carrying a clipboard. After a short introduction, she took her seat and explained the format. The first half would be in interview style, with Ruby asking herself questions. It was explained that we all need stress to keep us going, but at times it can become too much. Ruby then asked herself what Frazzled means, what mindfulness is and whether mindfulness changes you. A question that resonated with me is something I have talked about recently in my Slimming World series; ‘Why are we so mean to ourselves’
Talked about her own experiences, Ruby mused whether the behaviour of our parents influences how frazzled we become. She generalised that we each go through the stage of being a teenager with little to no fear but with age comes worry, rumination and resentment. Ruby was keen to differentiate between frazzle and mental illness and explained that whilst frazzle is homemade, mental illness is something else entirely. To explain, Ruby’s spin on what she thinks ‘frazzle’ is, is that in the ever-increasing pace of modern day life, we are always plagued by what is coming next. It leads us into a spin about where we are, what we are doing and what we need to achieve.
As if the pressure we put on ourselves isn't enough, there is now an overwhelming array of choice in life. Ruby asked us to imagine going to the supermarket and having to choose a toothpaste. Once upon a time you picked up toothpaste and moved quickly onto the next task, but these days you end up hopping agitatedly from one foot to another, wishing you knew which to pick from the vast display on offer. And thus our angst and stress become ‘the loop’. The mildly frazzled thoughts we have lead to more. Then we stress about the thoughts and then we stress about the stress. Consequently, our immune system begins to suffer.
Ruby told us that she is a big fan of computers and won’t have a bad word said about technology, however, as she explains, we built computers to save us time and now they absorb our lives. As humans, we are natural addicts and so what works for us also works against us; so how do we reboot? Ruby believes that, although who we are is a combination of genetics and experiences, ‘you can always change your brain’. Now, the sceptic may think that this is just the musings of a comedian, but Ruby has a masters in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and is so impassioned by the topic that she wrote a book about it.
Ruby described her first experiences of mindfulness and how she, along with many of us I suspect, felt it sounded too ‘vegetarian’. However, her research found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy produced the best results when it comes to taking the focus away from what is going on in the brain. As humans we don’t pay attention, flitting from one thing to the next without allowing sufficient time. By doing so, we miss so much of life. Mindfulness is about activating a different part of the brain by paying attention to something. When this is brought down to a sense, it means that the brain is unable to perpetuate ‘the loop’. It also means that we get into good habits and the good undo the bad.
To illustrate, Ruby asked the audience to think about what we feel when sitting in our seats. Not intrinsically but rather what we can sense. Ruby guided our thoughts to the sensation of our feet touching the ground, our weight in the chair and the scent of the card we each had on our seat when we arrived. She identified that our thoughts can wander whilst we do so, but as you catch yourself returning to ‘the loop’, bring them back to the senses. ‘Watch’ your thought and as they wander again, catch yourself and bring them back to the senses. This is the technique to keep your brain from straying back to that perpetual loop, regaining a sense of calm.
Ruby often mentioned cortisol, a hormone released in connection with response to stress. She talked about how mindfulness helps cortisol return to controllable levels but how this doesn’t work for everyone. Some want a magic pill and some are afflicted in ways that require specialist help. Mindfulness can help control the spiralling of ‘the loop’ and helps to bring a degree of focus and composure back to our everyday lives.
Mindfulness can be broken down to fit into our everyday lives. Many of us may feel that we don’t have time for mindfulness. However, when riding the tube, standing in a supermarket queue or waiting for a bus, we can use the time to think about our senses and pay attention to the things that we sense.
75 minutes into the show, as the interval got underway and Ruby took pictures with fans. As she signed copies of her book and chatted, I sat and reflected on the show so far. Ruby had effectively applied her infamous wit to a serious issue and provided an interesting and light-hearted insight into an effective treatment for modern day issues.
The second half of the show was Ruby sat centre stage. Here, she addressed the audience in an interactive setup by taking questions. For me, the first half was more enjoyable than the second. Perhaps microphone issues or the type of people in the audience, but it just felt a little bit awkward. Ruby has a very individual humour, is quick, sharp and certainly gives as good as she gets. Unfortunately, her responses didn’t quite fit the questions. Mulling it over, I wasn’t sure if her attempts at humour had overridden the humanity underpinning the questions being asked. She was, however, sensitive to the discussion being held and retaining a balance between sympathy and comedy when audience members are spilling their souls, must be a significant challenge.
Overall, the execution was good, but the second half seemed a little uncomfortable and without much flow, particularly when it abruptly ended. Having danced around in a garland and hula skirt to Cyndi Lauper's ‘Girl’s just want to have fun’, Ruby danced off stage. She briefly returned and bowed but then exited the stage and didn’t come back. This left the audience confused as to whether just that part of the show or the whole thing, was over. Then, the lights went up and we all realised that it was time to leave.
Tickets were £20. Although the detail was probably very minimal in terms of the subject as a whole, it provided an interesting overview. I had a vague awareness of mindfulness from my meagre dabbling with an app called ‘Headspace'. However, I am far from well versed and the show kept my attention and interest until the very end. The example exercises were very similar to those available on the 'Headspace' app. For those interested, 'Headspace' is certainly worth a try with 10 sessions available in the free version. More information about 'Headspace' can be found at www.headspace.com and a good starting point for information about mindfulness is www.bemindful.co.uk
Ruby's book is widely available but can be purchased through amazon.