Why aren’t we meditating?

Why aren’t we meditating?

Good excuses for staying stressed

It is true that we would all benefit from learning to meditate though many of us will have at best a shaky idea of what it is or how to do it. Meditating essentially means  being mindful of what is happening in the present moment, which sounds really simple, trite even? And yet, so few of us do it. Even the concept of meditation or mindfulness turns a lot of people off before they have even tried. Are you even still reading? There are a lot of ideas around mindfulness and meditation that are not especially helpful…

  • No, you don’t have to sit cross-legged in silence
  • No, you don’t have to empty the mind (it’s not a waste-paper basket)
  • No, you don’t have to be a clean living vegetarian monk/nun
  • No, you don’t have to set aside an hour every morning at dawn (5am DOES exist but you should really only acquaint yourself with this hour if you have a very young baby or a flight to catch)

One of the reasons so many of us don’t even get started with meditation is because we don’t know how to change gear.

Fifth to neutral doesn’t work

What we need to learn to do is change down a gear from how we feel at the end (or sometimes the beginning!) of a tough day at work, or with the kids, or trying to fit our studies, or spending a day alone getting our head around the change in identity that comes with retirement. Just one gear at the time. So that we start to feel more restful.

Resting is not the same as being asleep, or vegging out in front of the TV or whiling away hours on the ipad. Just because we are sitting still, does not mean we are resting. Nor does being active in the body mean the mind can’t be at rest, in fact for some of us, giving the body something to do can be more restful for the mind than sitting still. This ability to change gear, is the art of restfulness.

We have to think about what needs to be rested. Is it the body? Is it the mind? Is it both? And how do we start this process?

Delay tactics

If you delay that first gear change, to unpack your suitcase, scrape yoghurt of the sofa, send an important email, in short try to make life tidy and perfect BEFORE you relax, there is a very real risk, that it won’t happen. If you want to do something it HAS to take priority over something else.

Restfulness is about bridging the gap between the reality of what your day has done to your mind, body and soul and the peaceful place inside of us ( we just need to find it!)  And restfulness can be learnt. It is about prioritising those little segments of time that enable us to work out what kind of rest we need. It is unrealistic to expect yourself to fly in from a business meeting in Prague and be able to sit immediately at peace, with a still body and tranquil mind. It is unlikely that after a full day of looking after your beloved offspring followed by a parent consultation where you are told that the teacher is finding your child’s behaviour ‘challenging’ that you will be able to sit in Zen like peace the minute you get home. People have many different ways of effecting that first gear change ranging from punching a pillow whilst swearing, to lying on the floor having a quiet cry…..what you need depends on where you start, and it takes practice.  We can’t go from a hundred miles an hour to a full stop. Nor should we expect ourselves to be able to – enough with the beating ourselves up! If anything is going to propel us to early wine and mindless TV it is guilt. We are entitled to feel the way we feel. But we also have a responsibility to ourselves to drop down a gear, before we start taking out our shitty day on our nearest and dearest.

What are we afraid of?

So what’s so scary about resting? Why do we avoid stillness? Because in the stillness we encounter the feeling of emptiness. We can cope with anything, but most of us will struggle to cope with nothing. We fear emptiness which is why we fill our days and lives and homes and minds with meetings and activities and stuff and thoughts…anything to keep the dreaded emptiness at bay.  When we allow the body and mind to freewheel through a few moments of stillness, all sorts of things may come up that make us uncomfortable. Things that we have been using the ‘busyness’ to keep at bay. But they will pass. And when they do we will encounter emptiness. And instead of it being a place to fear, we find that it is the gateway back to a time when we felt inspired, a space where solutions to problems seem to come from ‘out of the blue’, and a vantage point that gives us a new perspective. Try it. What have you got to lose? Ten minutes of your life.

Why is resting so important?

Less than a hundred years ago our working day would most probably have made more demands on our body than on our brain. No surprise then that the combination of our unworked body and overworked mind makes it difficult for us to switch off.  As a result, humanity is suffering in a way and to an extent that is unprecedented in our history: record levels of anxiety, depression, insomnia and burnout (and that is only what is reported. As the stigma around mental ill-health lessens, hopefully more of us will ‘fess up to the struggles we are having and so be able to get the help we need).  Despite the cost to the individual of not being able to enjoy life, and not knowing why, and to society in terms of lost work hours and demands on the health services, this slide towards a less mentally well populace continues unabated. We can buy a gadget to tell us how many steps we have taken, how to breath, how to learn to run, and every book shop has rack upon rack of self-help books and yet we remain……stuck. Stuck with the mental anguish of not feeling fully engaged with life, despite our best efforts to help ourselves. Perhaps we need to learn how to take one step back before we take the next step forward by simply relearning how to rest. Learning to rest gives us the opportunity to halt the process of becoming increasingly stressed and potentially ill, like having a vaccination against burn-out (and by the way they are not called nervous breakdowns any more…it’s a ‘spiritual awakening’ according to Brene Brown)

In part two we will look at how to work out what sort of rest you need….

X Michelle

Photography by Peter Rodgers -aided and abetted by Suki the Saluki!

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