04 Nov Practising Stillness 2: Meditation.
I am not good at quiet. And I have had a tough time making friends with silence.
I am an extrovert. Okay, an extrovert who has suffered with depression, but an extrovert nonetheless. I like to be with people. I like to throw parties. I want to go to the pub and the theatre and round to your house for tea. I like to feel part of a community and be connected to the people who matter most to me, all the time.
And, although this is the way I am wired, a part of who I am, if I am not careful I can become a slave to it.
I can start to believe that because I get energy from being around people, I have no need for stillness.
I am not sure I have gained the whole world, but constant activity is probably my way of chasing the whole world.
Meaning, reputation, belonging. Same old, same old.
This constant chatter ensures I don’t have to listen to my spirit, or pay attention to the state of my soul.
It isn’t good for me.
Recently, as an antidote to the whirlwind pace we seem to live at, Matt and I have embarked on a journey of meditation, and mindfulness. When I reflect on that, I smile a wry smile, and I am pretty sure God does too.
Who’d have thought it? Not me. So much has changed. To my 25 year old self, meditation was for people who were a bit strange, or a bit (mouth the words) ‘new age’. It wasn’t recommended activity for the go-getting Christian young woman (was I ever that? doubtful). I was meant to cope, to keep on, there was stuff to do.
When I started meeting with my therapist (many moons ago), and she suggested relaxation/ meditation techniques, I was very skeptical. It all seemed a bit Paul McKenna, and a bit flaky (not that I was judgemental or anything). A bit hippy-dippy and only for people who could stand on their head for an hour. For those who chanted and wore tie-dye. I couldn’t see how practising meditation and quietening my mind would help me (be gracious, I was a bit of an idiot).
I have found, over the past few years, that it is incredibly beneficial. I don’t understand the science behind it, but it gives my brain a break from the relentless pace of thoughts and ideas. Recently I have started using the calm app. Calm is one of a number of meditation apps available for use with a phone, and it is very easy to follow. There is a programme of meditations (most about ten minutes long) you can use daily, or more specific meditations for certain situations (to help you sleep, or to calm anxiety).
There is (for me) no chanting, or emptying of my mind (as I was always warned there would be with meditation). I sit down, stick my headphones in and am led through a guided meditation. There is nothing mystical or magical about it. In many ways it is similar to a breathing class I went to at Liverpool Women’s Hospital before having my first baby. A way of telling my body and over-stimulated mind that it is okay, that it can slow down. Often I find I am far more relaxed afterwards, I am thinking clearly.
Madeleine L’Engle describes her interior world, or her subconscious, as her underwater world. The world of thoughts and ideas, or connections and creativity is under the surface. Amorphous, intangible, hard to get a grip on. Difficult to control and predict. Brilliant for inventing and dreaming, for inspiring creative practise. Not so great when your imagination or emotions start to dictate how you feel, your grip on reality, your ability to feel safe and loved.
And water seems to be an apt metaphor. A lot of meditation practitioners talk about your thoughts and the activity of your brain as a ceaseless current, a fast flowing river. I can find it too easy to get swept along by the force of this current without realising I am, or meaning to. And as I am swept out to sea, it is no longer me who is in control, I lose my footing, my grasp on the reality of the situation and my body responds accordingly. This can lead me into suffering from extreme anxiety, and sometimes panic attacks. It can make me feel overwhelmed and as though I am being tossed about on the waves. It is not nice.
Meditation, and relaxation techniques, have helped me stop feeling I have to dive immediately into the current. It shows me that I can remain in control and watch the thoughts flow past. I am not subject to the whims of my subconscious. I cannot stop myself thinking (that would be a little bit worrying), but I don’t have to jump on the back of every passing notion. I can observe rather than participate. The more I use this mindfulness meditation, the more volition I have. The calmer I feel.
All those good benefits and yet I still struggle to prioritise the ten minutes it takes. I find myself busying myself with making the dinner or responding to a message or email. As though if I take the ten minutes, to be present in the stillness, I won’t manage all that I have to do today.
Which is of course a lie. I don’t have to do it all, right now. There will be enough time. There is enough time. A time for every purpose someone once said. I can take the time I need for myself, to be well, to calm. I don’t have to react to every thing that shouts or jumps for my attention. I do not have to fear the quiet. I can choose to prioritise periods of stillness.
Sometimes I get it wrong, I go for weeks remembering to meditate or relax my mind like this. But rather than chastising myself, beating myself up for slipping off the stillness wagon, I am reminding myself , this does not mean that I have blown it. I can just pick up this practise and start again.
There is always time.