To meditate or not to meditate

Between the ages of 7 and 12, I went to a school which turned out to be somewhat cultish, where every lesson began with meditation and chanting. For years after I left I didn’t meditate, to me it was just another school subject on my boredom list, like times-tables with with your eyes shut.

But when I was 19, I got ill, having been happy and fit and young, I suddenly couldn’t keep up with my peers, couldn’t get drunk and take drugs and share their trips. I found life generally an uncomfortable and hostile place to be.

And that’s when I really started to meditate. It won’t be news to any of you that meditation is a good thing, it’s so talked about that some newspapers have already been there, done that, moved on – I read somewhere “Meditation is so last year, breathing is what’s hot right now”.

How many of you meditate? There’s probably as many types of meditation as there are people who do it, and the numbers keep rising. All I know is that, for me, it works, it fixes problems in my body and mind and when they’re fixed, I tend to take the credit for myself, down a pint of mixed salty-sweet popcorn and break-up with meditation, “It’s not you, it’s me!” I say as I leave the film half way through and head out into the night.

And then, soon enough, I start to feel less and less healthy and able to cope, out in the cold. After nearly 20 years of falling in and out of love with meditation, what I do know is that I’m always at my best when I take a moment, at the beginning and end of every day and, ideally, before and after every meeting or task.

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Sometimes, if I’m out and about, I go into the loo (toilet), put down the seat, relax, feel my feet on the ground and my head gently balanced, like I’m being pulled up on puppet-strings. With this feeling of being held, I thank life for what it’s given me and will give me, whatever that is, and all the people and things in it, whoever they are, before letting my  mind go blank.

It’s then that I see if I can just go analogue, pure sweet, thought-free analogue for 5 seconds or 5 minutes, sometimes I might provide some white noise via a mantra or two, however long it takes to feel that gratitude and stillness again.

I’ve experimented with all sorts of meditation – starting with the Indian type, based on Sanskrit mantras, moved on to colour therapy and what’s called autogenic training, a form of self-hypnosis – in short, I’ve dabbled, dabbled in all sorts.

I don’t have a go-to type, it depends on what my mood is and what I need to get from the meditation. I’d argue that there isn’t a Mr or Mrs Right for meditators, everyone can find some kind of match in one or two or many. Whatever works for you.

Ingredients of a successful relationship

When I say ‘work’, I don’t mean happily ever after, but I do mean, over time, meditation can make your world generally OK, whatever challenges you and your meditating you, face together.

If everything is hunky dory already, then maybe you won’t see the point, or you’ll struggle to start meditation/struggle to keep it going, as I do; but I’d like to take this opportunity to remind myself and you that it’s best not to break up with meditation for these two reasons:

  • Habits are hard to make and easy to brake. There’re ALWAYS great times to be had in your meditating head, however happy your not-meditating head is.
  • The more you do it, the better it is – When you’re down or sick or those around you are, there’s no-one better equipped to help you than your calm, meditating self – and that meditating self will get stronger and stronger the more you meditate.

If you’d like to speak to me about meditation I’d love to hear you thoughts in the comments. Also, if you’re struggling with illness, I’d also be happy to share my experience of therapeutic meditation.

Many thanks everyone for your undivided attention!!

If you have 5 more mins

Try this simple autogenic exercise that’s been my dear friend these past 15 years:

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Find out more about meditation:

 

 

[Image source: Koncrete Pigs Webcomic]

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Taking my mind off to La Gomera

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After a week spent in the Canaries, at La Finca eco-retreat on the verdent island of La Gomera, I find I’m relaxed, happy and well nourished. The only images I have been exposed to have been 100% natural, organic, no added flavours or colourings.

My eyes have been feeding on a natural diet of flora, fauna, sea, sky and the odd statue, here and there.  I have drawn some pictures – a Whale, a tree, two Buddhas, some leaves, a frog playing a violin, some pond fish, a dolphin.

I have not been force-fed 200 marketing messages every hour, not mentally farting away my afternoons, as glossy mags,news, tweets, posts, ferment in my bloated brain.

On La Gomera I was free of this uninvited eye food, free to walk lighly without the constant call to eat or save or recycle or compost what I’d seen. I wonder if app developers have already come up with a mind-watchers programme, like weight watchers, complete with its own fit-bit that tracks how many visual calories you’ve consumed, giving tips for cutting down and making what’s seen and read less fattening and flatulence inducing…

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Back in London, this app, in analogue, would simply be a pair of human blinkers that would filter  ads on the escalator and other periphery visual onslaughts we unknowingly consume while on the go.

These human blinkers would probably have a company behind them: ‘BlinkedIn’. People could sign on to connect with like-minded BlinkedIners or BlinkInIdiots and share lots of images of what blank things you haven’t blinked@ that day 😉  #BlinkBlank

No doubt you’re already aware of the mushrooming ecosystem of ‘switch it off’ apps and new ‘old skool’ devices designed to cut down on sensory overload. But this is not just a tech problem. It cannot be switched off through an app or a device.

Its branches reach offline. It’s billboards, it’s newspapers, it’s endless supplements within supplements in the Sunday and Saturday news. It’s magazines, its more box sets and more telly and more sport everywhere, in the corners and centres and sides of our eyes, all the time.

In one 45-minute journey, the average London commuter is exposed to more than 130 adverts, featuring more than 80 different products. Only half of that information makes any impact, while unprompted we can remember none of the blur of adverts. In an entire day, we’re likely to see 3,500 marketing messages (Source: Guardian)

I’m not saying that we don’t need and like and even love some and/ all of these things, even some ads. I’m just repeating the ancient Greek maxim that still seems to stand the test of time ‘meden agan’ (μηδὲν ἄγαν) – ‘Anything in excess is too much’. We must be more aware. We must pay more attention to things, one at a time. Our brains, under the strain of sensory overload, start to shut down to conserve battery power, in self-defence, as any sensible computer would. This shutting down amounts to a growing inertia, disconnection from ourselves and what really makes us tick, both physically and mentally.

After just a week of so called ‘disconnection’ i.e. no wifi, no city, no TV, No news, pure visual detox, I felt completely rebooted and ready to start smaller, healthy doses of meaningful visual connection.  Now I’ve been back ‘in the world’ a week, I’m visually farting already, but my gut is stronger and digestion is, I think, more efficient. My visual blood-sugar is more stable, better able to cope with any force feeding/self-indulgent binging I might do to sweeten up tonight’s commute.

I’d thoroughly recommend a week on La Gomera, one of the quieter, most verdant of the Canaries. And while I’m on the subject of Islands and birds I’d recommend devoting some precious attention to ‘The Island‘ by Aldous Huxley, if you need a healthy complement to watching the flora, fauna sea and sky….

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Some final links, if you fancy risking more information overload…

Where to stay  – La Finca Argayall’s ‘ alternative, experimental and experiential community

Article –  how much we involuntarily see..

Article –  how our visual bellies are getting bigger and bigger

Article – 5 apps that switch you off