Mindfulness meditation has become quite a vital part of my daily routine, it's just as important as eating and exercising. Whilst the body needs looking after, so does the mind.
I recently wrote about an eight-week Mindfulness meditation course I completed that has provided me with meditation techniques, helping to bring myself into the present moment and not drift off into a barrage of my own, often unhelpful, thoughts.
Before starting the course I did a lot of research into meditation. I was determined to find ways of dealing with difficult or uncomfortable situations that make me feel anxious, stressed and can affect my self-esteem. This was part of a personal quest to find spiritual solidarity and peace with my own mind.
My inquiry led me to lots of different places and introduced me to meditation books such as Ekhart Tolles' 'The Power of Now' and 'Wherever you go, there you are', by Jon Kabat-Zin, two books I think anybody who is interested in mindfulness should definitely read. My search also led me to YouTube TED Talks by mental health advocates who have been able to deal with stress and anxiety using mindfulness.
All these insights were really helpful in giving me a greater understanding of the discipline, however, I soon discovered that in order to be mindful you have to dedicate yourself to practicing being mindful. It's no good talking about mindfulness if you are not BEING mindful and DOING things mindfully.
The mind has been conditioned to reward itself for being clever, for solving problems. It thinks that it can find a cure, or a solution to a problem by reading a book or watching an inspiring video. Yes, we can all learn something of real value by sharing knowledge, but it's the practicing that produces results and widens our field of awareness.
Mental health is clearly a really serious issue and it has started to receive more media coverage, particularly recently with the launch of the Heads Together campaign. It has sparked the intrigue of some of my friends in their quest to improve their mental health, but is it just the idea of mindfulness that they're attracted to? Have they ever actually practiced mindfulness? Have they ever meditated? Most likely not.
The actual idea of meditating seems a bit unfamiliar territory for some. Its roots in Buddhism may seem bit 'weird' and 'spiritual'. If you are a self-conscious person you may find it difficult to break away from your ego and open your mind to the idea of meditating in public. I often meditate on my lunch breaks at work, sitting on a park bench. At first I was a bit self-conscious. I thought people would be walking past me thinking, "What's this guying doing sat on a bench with his eyes closed?', but after a while I focused on what I was doing rather than other people. I focus on the moment, non-judgmentally, non-competitively, non-analytically. If you can do that for even a moment you are absolutely on the right track to better mental health and present-moment awareness.
I'd love to walk by one day and see more people practicing mediation. It's an ancient tradition, far older than the internet or television (which we value so highly), and we should celebrate it.
We should absolutely be talking about mental health well-being more, but what we should be doing EVEN MORE than that is being mindful. The whole world would benefit from human beings attempting to understand each other better, allowing room for more empathy and compassion. That shouldn't be viewed as just some 'airy fairy' utopian vision, a collaboration of mindfulness can help well-being on a global scale. Everybody would feel more mentally balanced with regular visits to the 'mind-gym'.
So how do we DO IT?
Well, you don't have to actually leave the house in order to get started. You can try out the Calm-Mind app which helps you focus on counting the breath. Great for getting started and dealing with stress or anxiety. You can download the free meditation app.
For anybody who is interested in a full mindfulness meditation programme, but again don't wish to do this in public, you can download this free course. Courses like this are great for home practice.
Books and videos are helpful, but there's a simple way to view mindfulness. To use a theatre analogy, I think meditation is letting the breath take centre stage in your field of awareness, allowing these thoughts, narratives and stories that keep arising to just sit in the wings. The thoughts are still there, but they aren't controlling you. It's possible to get to a point where you see thoughts arise, witness them clearly and then let them go. It's taken me a while to realise this and I'm still far from perfect, I will, no doubt, have lots of moments of mindlessness, but with practice I'm becoming more aware of myself and accepting of the present moment.
Just start with sitting and doing nothing on purpose.