Referring to somebody as ‘out of their mind’ is generally not intended nor received as a compliment. In fact, I expect that the title of this post would lead readers to anticipate another heavy read about the darkness of mental illness.
Not today folks.
Quite the opposite; today I’m talking about the benefits of taking yourself out of your mind. There are many ways that people seek to escape the stresses of daily life – legal and otherwise – to take themselves away from their thoughts and dramas; we all need a pressure valve that we can release sometimes.
Meditation’s what you need (apologies if you now have Roy Castle playing in your head for the rest of the day…); at least, more and more I’m thinking that it’s what I need.
In 2007, after my first recovery, I was very conscious that it wasn’t possible for me to live my life as if nothing had happened and continue as I had before. I’d learned and experienced a lot but I realised knowledge wasn’t enough; if I was to stay well I needed to use that knowledge and apply it in day-to-day life, I needed to do something different. As Einstein said:
“If you do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”
Something that I had repeatedly read and heard about being very beneficial was meditation.
When I take it upon myself to do something I like to do it right and for the most part I think I’m an all or nothing kind of person, I don’t like to do things by halves. Rather than buy a book about meditation I wanted to find a group, something to be part of. I soon found details of a local group, a Buddhist group that held regular meetings across the local area for people of all beliefs – or none – to learn about meditation and experience its benefits.
Now, amongst the hundreds of books I’d consumed over the preceding years I’d read a lot about various religions and felt an affinity for Buddhism, whose prescriptions for living I found to have a lot in common with modern psychological advice for living a fulfilling, mentally healthy life. Meditation is central to Buddhist practice and evidence repeatedly points to meditation’s benefits, in particular in calming the mind and directing attention away from your thoughts. I contacted the group and arranged to visit the local centre to find out more about the classes.
I’m not going to lie, I was reticent. I was looking to practice meditation but I wasn’t seeking to join a religious group, and upon knocking at the door of the Buddhist centre not knowing what to expect I half expected to find a cult keen to exploit a mind that was seeking comfort. I needn’t have worried, what I was actually greeted by was a lovely, friendly young woman who cooked me a stir fry and told me about the classes and her own story of how she discovered them and how they had helped her.
I started to attend weekly classes and from the outset it was clear that there was no imperative, no pressure to ‘believe’ in Buddhism, no tenets of faith that you were obliged to subscribe to; it was purely an opportunity to practice meditation, to contemplate the teachings, apply them to your own life and see if they made it better.
It did for me, no question about it, it did.
Meditation practice in its most basic form involves sitting comfortably, silently, clearing the mind and focusing on our breath and observing our thoughts, allowing them to come and go, without ‘attaching’ to them. It helps us to become a detached observer of our thoughts and to recognise them as merely thoughts, things that arise independently of conscious will; it helps us to realise that:
The main benefits of meditating for me were that it gave me a regular opportunity to experience calm within a busy life and this extended beyond the time spent doing the meditation practices themselves. With frequent practice, in my case ten to fifteen minutes per day, I found that it was easier to find calm within myself in busy and stressful times, making me less reactive to situations by creating a little space between events, my thoughts and my subsequent reactions to them.
Just because something is good for us it doesn’t mean that we stick with it. The following year, with the birth of my first child and a new job that included frequent nationwide travel, I found myself unable to commit to regular classes and my home practice dropped off too. I’d still go to classes when I could but without the regular commitment, I soon got out of the habit. I’ve picked it up again at times, although life as a busy single parent has stopped me doing much of anything that involves any kind of ongoing commitment.
Really though, it comes down to priorities. For the sake of the benefits I know that it offers it really isn’t too much to find ten minutes out of my day, and even if I miss the odd day, there is always the next one. A recent wobble has reminded me of the need to look after myself and do things that nourish me and help me to be my best self. Meditation is back on the menu.
Like anything, it’s only by making meditation a regular part of daily life that its benefits will be fully experienced. And it’s no good expecting some immediate, magical transformation into a zen-like master, standing calmly unwavering in stormy weather.
Too often we seek quick-fix solutions when times are hard without investing in ourselves by doing things that are good for us when the going is good – as anybody that wishes to lose weight will know, it’s much better to eat healthily on a day-to-day basis than to find a miracle diet that will lose the many pounds that have caught you unawares and crept up on your hips and belly while living the good life.
Similarly, it’s important not to give up if we don’t notice immediate results – if we’re training for a marathon we don’t expect to do one training session and turn into Mo Farah.
Documented benefits of meditation include:
* It reduces stress
* It improves concentration
* It encourages a healthy lifestyle
* It increases self-awareness
* It increases happiness
* It increases acceptance
* It slows aging
* It benefits cardiovascular and immune health
I’d say that was worth ten minutes of anybody’s day, wouldn’t you?
Matthew Williams, single father to two children and divorced ex-husband to an ex-wife, started the blog ‘Love, Laughter & Truth‘ in December 2015. The blog is an attempt to make sense of his rollercoaster life following depression, divorce, and his introduction to the weird – and sometimes wonderful – world of dating. He hopes that his writing will help others that find themselves dealing with similar challenges in life. You can find Matthew on his blog and follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
Image courtesy of freestockpro.com.