Throughout my life I have been pretty absent minded. It's never gone unnoticed, either. Over the years I've been reminded by friends and loved ones of just how irritatingly distant I can be; "Rich, you never listen", "Rich, are you with us?".
I think my parents thought I was deaf at one point. I have memories of my mother approaching my year five school teacher credulously proclaiming, "I think Richard has a hearing problem", only to be abruptly corrected, "No, Mrs Wigley, Richard has a listening problem!". I did struggle to concentrate at school. I'd often find myself caught in a daze, not being at all in the present moment. My head was often lost in thoughts as I stared out of the window, lost in a dream world of alternate possibilities, creating stories in my head, marvelling in creative thought, how I could one day become a footballer, or an actor, or a musician. It wasn't that I was a 'playing up', I just enjoyed the limitless possibilities my creative mind could muster more than paying attention to the tedious drone of spoon-fed algebra in class (or whatever else I wasn't paying attention to my entire schooling life).
The trouble is, this mindlessness carried through to my adult life, bearing severe consequences.
I loved having a creative capacity growing up, but I often used it to ignore the present moment. Some call it escapism. The trouble is, when you're not entirely present all of the time, not only do you miss out on wonderful, breath-taking moments, your mind can start to play tricks on you. You begin to believe in the stories you create in your head, rather then what is actually happening in the present moment. This can cause you to overthink things, question yourself a little too much, feel threatened in social situations when there is no threat at all, perceive things based on thought and not fact.
Our mind can trap us into irrational thought processes. We begin to invest and believe too much in our self-image and our stories. This is something that effects a lot of people and can lead to mental health problems. For some, this can lead to anxiety or depression. The Mental Health Foundation say that anxiety and depression are the most common mental health disorders in the UK and it's becoming a growing concern. It has taken me thirty years to realise that thinking too much causes me emotional distress.
I've discovered that there is however something that can help relieve you of your inner pain - mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a simple concept. It teaches us that the only thing that is real is the present moment. Anything in the past is gone, anything in the future hasn't happened yet. The only thing that truly matters is what is happening now. Our thoughts are just thoughts and the less we engage with them, the happier and more present we will become.
I've recently embarked on a mindfulness meditation course and this has worked wonders for me. I've picked up techniques that have helped me become aware of my breathing and my body rather than drift off into a dreamscape. The great thing is, mindfulness can be accessible to anybody!
It would be easy for me to say 'be mindful and you'll be less stressed'. I'll be honest, I still have lots of moments of mindlessness, but I'm able to identify these better now and bring myself back into the now. It takes a lot of practice and dedication, but for a massive gain.
So, why has it taken me so long to realise this? Why wasn't I taught mindfulness at school? How can we ensure that the next generation don't suffer from anxiety and depression?
I think it's vital that we encourage kids to unlock mindfulness from an early age. There's a real danger of frying the next generation's minds with the amount of exposure they get to the internet, social media, magazines, etc. Even if it's for just a few moments a day, we need to create ways to help young people pay attention to the now.
Things are changing though, mental health awareness has become more widely supported in recent years. The meditation app Headspace has recently launched a mindfulness app for kids. "Teach your child the fundamentals of meditation with simple, fun breathing exercises". There is also the Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP) a charity whose aim is to inform, create, train and support the teaching of secular mindfulness to young people and those who care for them.
This may sound counterproductive to some, but my advice to anybody suffering from mental health issues is to STOP THINKING. Even when the mind demands it. Ignore it, breathe and observe what is happening in the moment, good or bad. Don't judge it. Just let it be what it is. Experience life NOW, not in the past or future.