Introduction to Mindfulness & Meditation
Why does everyone keep talking about Meditation and Mindfulness when talking about Mental Health self-help? And what is the connection between the two?
Everyone knows that we can do things like get fresh air and exercise and follow a healthy nutrient filled diet and drink plenty of water to maximise our chances of good physical health. Its possibly only in the last 100 years that this has been something we think about consciously, the more we are faced with unhealthy with the arrival of more and more heavily marketed sugary and fatty foods and lifestyles that are so much more sedentary than they were 100 years ago.
So where does our mental health fit into this?
As above, it’s a fairly recent revelation that we can help our mental health, or at least become aware of our vulnerability and that of others by talking, sharing and reducing the stigma. Unsurprisingly, so many of the things that interfere with our mental health are of modern invention: mental stress from high pressure work, computers, the media, artificial light, traffic/transport worries, global warming, isolation, or social exclusions, money worries, the effect of medications and drugs are all things that disrupt our natural sleep patterns and to varying extents cause worry that we often feel we have little control over. Most people would rather not go back in time, but we have all heard our elders say at some stage ‘life used to be simpler’.
There is absolutely no doubt that mental illness and elements of ‘madness’ for want of a better word date back centuries, but perhaps of note in our 2020 world, is the sheer volume of people suffering to some extent with Mental Health worries, many experts would argue that in fact some kind of mental disturbance might be the most sane reaction to a world where we often feel over-loaded or perplexed by concentric circles….
‘Hey, we are not mad, the world is!’
We think about
Country & economy
The world’s warzones
The Natural disaster zones
Our planet and global warning
No surprises then that we feel a little stressed compared to the times deep in the past when people were oblivious of what was even happening in the next village. Imagine no phone no TV?
And where do #Mindfulness and #Meditation fit in?
Mindfulness is simply the act of living in the Now taking time out to step off the treadmill even just for a few minutes. It requires us to allow some time (and this can be built up from minutes to in some cases hours) to not think about the past and not think about the future. It requires absolute attention and focus on the present. This is why it’s popular to practice mindfulness whilst gardening, or cooking or playing music, or making things, though it is possible to apply mindfulness to any activity or relaxation, all it requires is absolute focus on the moment, so for walking it requires feeling the ground under your feet, feeling your body react to the air temperature and noticing what’s immediately present, without attempting to judge it, define it or describe it;
it’s like opening your eyes for the first time and seeing everything as fresh and new.
Mindfulness doesn’t come automatically to everyone which is why it can be useful to have some teaching, but for those who fall into it naturally it is a massive relief, as it feels like a more natural existence than constantly thinking about the past and the future.
If it’s a struggle to get into the ‘Now’, then meditation can help. Above I’ve described quite a few popular activities that combine with mindfulness, but notice I didn’t specifically mention relaxation as that can cause us to let our thoughts drift and before we know it we are daydreaming and thinking of past or future plans – anything but the present. Sometimes that can be nice to do, but meditation like mindfulness requires us to be completely in the Now.
So Mindfulness encourages us to focus on the NOW and the more we do that, the more we can live in the present without worrying, so it reduces unnecessary stress and worry over things in the past or future we have little or no control over.
Then why is everyone banging on about Meditation?
Meditation encourages us to channel our energy into our physical presence and away from our head, so that we are in a state of thoughtless awareness. It is like letting our mind drift from our brains which carry out our cerebral activities into our physical state of being which is our essence. It encourages us to sense who we are beyond our thoughts and allows us to develop a sense of who we are as a physical entity, one that is an entity of life and energy. I find it makes me feel weightless and with practice you feel the energetic field and the vibrational forces that we are, with more advanced stages allowing us to feel light, see light and sense the connectedness with everyone and everything. But for now lets focus on recharging and relaxation.
This is achieved using breath work to focus us away from our heads into our body. When we breathe our life-force oxygen, we feel our body respond by being charged up. The more we focus on this physical response whilst stepping away from the thoughts in our heads the more our mind has a chance to recharge. You know when you charge your phone it charges better when it’s switched off – our minds are just the same.
So why is the mainstream in ‘The west’ only now waking up to the benefits of meditation?
As you will know, many cultures have integrated meditation with prayer as part of their spiritual practice for thousands of years. So in the West our ritual was prayer, but that is not to say that early cultures spent much time in meditative reflection looking at the landscape, the sea, the stars and the fire. It was possibly something that was taken for granted.
Nowadays the realisation that meditation has benefits for mental health and healing is so compelling, that it makes sense to integrate it with mindfulness, so as not to limit it to religious and prayer ritual. The benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation are increasingly evidenced by experts in mental health and anecdotes from people with varying levels of depression and/or anxiety. Both practices can work independently but combine powerfully to help in times of trauma, anxiety and depression.
When I was learning the benefits of meditation, one of the most memorable moments was learning that if you have trouble sleeping, an hour’s session of meditation though awake, can compensate for loss of sleep. And even better, you only need one good night’s sleep to catch up on several nights and weeks of disturbed sleep. Both nuggets of info helped me relax and then suddenly I started sleeping better.
You can choose your own route to learning meditation, such as reading, watching videos, classes and practice.