Meditation is fucking hard…

shutterstock_394542460

Sitting down in a not so comfortable position for an extended period of time and calmly focusing on your breath, all while emptying your mind of the stressful and chaotic shit we deal with on a daily basis is no walk in park. I’m a thinker, that’s what I do, I think and often overthink (maybe I should rethink that sentence..? Nah, fuck it). Sometimes I have productive thoughts but more often than not, they’re shitty. They usually catch me by surprise, sneaking up on me while I’m in bed struggling to fall asleep, at school attempting to get work done or when  trying to be present and in the moment with the people that I love.

Perhaps you can relate? I feel most people can. You see, we are ALL thinkers. It’s what makes us human. As far as evidence suggests, other species on the planet lack the ability to contemplate their existence, much less concern themselves with managing stressful deadlines at work, worrying about whether their partner really loves them or obsessing over how many ‘Likes’ they obtain on Facebook. We continue to worry about our never ending to-do lists, whether we are good enough for our careers and relationships and whether we measure up to the people who appear to be doing ‘better’ than us. We often adopt these unhealthy thought patterns and allow stress, worry and anxiety to become normalised into our daily lives.

No matter how often we have worrying or stressful thoughts, there is one simple thing we always seem to forget – they are just thoughts, nothing else. They come and they go and are gone as quickly as they arise. However, when we get caught up in our thoughts, things become problematic. Our minds have this annoying habit of fathoming up various scenarios and outcomes in order to cope with the uncertainty of the future. We all have this running inner dialogue that contemplates the events of the future, questions the events of the past or worries if we’re doing everything we can to be ‘good enough’ in the present.

shutterstock_536001130

Some examples of the thoughts we may have are, mental predictions of successes or failures; falling in love or being dumped like yesterday’s rubbish and getting promoted at your job or being fired and replaced by someone better looking and smarter than you. It’s SO easy to follow many of these thoughts down a rabbit hole and before you know it, you’ve created an alternative reality within your own mind. As a result of these self-inflicted thoughts and future predictions, we may exacerbate symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, which in turn can cause physiological responses such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and insomnia; which may have an impact on our overall mental state. In response to our persistent thoughts and stressful environment, practices such as mindfulness, meditation and yoga are increasingly being incorporated into the daily lives of many individuals.

The term ‘mindfulness,’ has become a bit of a buzzword recently. Mindful techniques like mindful eating, mindful sex and even mindful tooth brushing come up as results when searching online for ways to incorporate mindfulness into our lives. Book sales on the topic have risen also 13% in the past year and show no signs of slowing down. Additionally, on the scientific end of things, a recent systematic review and meta-analysis of studies using ‘mindfulness-based interventions to treat psychiatric disorders,’ found that there was an improvement in symptoms related to anxiety and depressive disorders. When compared with other methods of treatment, the review displayed that mindfulness based interventions (in the form of meditation) were superior to: no treatment (obviously), psychological placebo groups and other treatment methods (paper does not specify…). Furthermore, mindfulness based interventions showed promising results similar to first line treatments like cognitive behaviour therapy and medications for depressive disorders.

So what is mindfulness anyway? Mindfulness can be defined as a process of bringing ones awareness to the present moment by focusing on what’s occurring in that moment.  If you have never been exposed to the concept, you might think of it as some sort of religious practice or hokum, reserved for tree hugging hippy dippies, who have dreadlocks and bathe in patchouli. But I’m here to tell you it’s not. It’s for the stressed out 40 something year old working 10 hour days in a windowless office and commuting 3 hours a day. It’s for the single mother working 2 jobs in order to support her 3 kids. It’s for the University student stressed about exams and finances. It’s for the couple who have been married for 30 years and have lost interest in each other. I can give a dozen more examples, but what I am trying to get across is that meditation and mindfulness can be for everyone.

shutterstock_1017688321

Now I’m not here to tell you that focusing on your breathing, while sitting cross legged on an overpriced meditation cushion you purchased off Amazon is going to solve all your problems. But what it can do is make you more aware of your thoughts, feelings and emotions and help you become less reactive towards them and more accepting of them, and in turn be more accepting of your everyday personal circumstances. You don’t have to practice meditation to be mindful (though it often helps you to get established in the practice). Being aware of our breath, the mouth feel and taste of the food we eat, the soft touch from our partner and the feeling of our feet hitting the pavement as we run against a cool breeze, are all examples of being mindful. Emptying our minds so we can bring awareness to the here and now can help us realise that no thought is permanent, no heart break is forever, and our current circumstances are ALWAYS temporary.

Mindfulness can help us learn to accept and cope with our lives and circumstances; incorporating it into our daily lives can help us become less reactive and more resilient when things inevitably become shitty. For myself, it has helped me develop a greater awareness that my thoughts (whether they be realistic or not), largely determine my emotional state and the less I react to them, the greater control I have over them. I hope to share more of my experiences with meditation, mindfulness and mental health in future blog posts. So until then, breathe…

-*- Arthur Justin Serini -*-

If you want to read more on the topic:

The Guardian (2017). Sales of mind, body, spirit books boom in UK amid ‘mindfulness mega-trend’. Available here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/31/sales-of-mind-body-spirit-books-boom-in-uk-amid-mindfulness-mega-trend

Goldberg et al. (2018). Mindfulness-based interventions for psychiatric disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735817303847?via%3Dihub

 

Published by

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s