Had you told me ten years ago, that I would be reading around the subject of mindfulness, meditation and mental health I would most probably have laughed. Then, most probably had some sort of panic attack about being panicked. Or the fact I was talking to myself ten years in the future.
Mindfulness has gained a lot of traction as a scientifically proven method of controlling stress, overthinking and a whole host of other negative brain-isms. It’s not an easy road, but the end rewards, as we are told, are plentiful.
I am generally much calmer than I was, even last year, and a lot of this has been down to a doctors appointment that I had about four years ago. It followed a panic attack that I had experienced whilst working in IT Support, my line manager suggested I go to see my GP after a small meltdown.
My GP is an old-school type, his appointments are very swift. He gets irritated if you come along with a great long list of things, but he’s fine if he’s able to actually do something proactive.
He mentioned Mindfulness as an alternative to medication and gave me a self-referral to CBT. I went to the CBT but found out it wasn’t really for me. So decided to punt myself off in the direction of discovering what Mindfulness was all about.
There are tons of books, YouTube videos, retreats, courses, apps and all sorts that now exist to make us more mindful. Some are useful, others are not.
Apps like Headspace give you meditations to work through, voiced by the relaxing Andy Puddicombe who takes you through various things, it is super popular and it’s easy to see why.
Matt Haig has been a prominent voice in talking about anxiety and mental health issues, so has Aaron Gillies (TechnicallyRon on Twitter) who wrote his semi-autobiographical book about his life and anxiety ‘How To Survive The End Of The World When It’s In Your Head’ and of course the books are written by Jon Kabat-Zimm, the man whose research much of the secular mindfulness practice has been based on.
It is easy to get overwhelmed at the choice. I have a terrible habit of compulsively buying mindfulness books. It is amazing how many exist, and how many look at mindfulness through a myriad of lenses. But where do you start?
I have embarked on a few strange paths with learning about mindfulness. This includes a rather full-on Udemy course presented by a Scottish chap with varying degrees of facial hair, a few rather boring-assed books and many YouTube videos. My first introduction was via Eckart Tolle’s phenomenally good ‘The Power Of Now’ – a very rambling and spiritual introduction but, for me, it clicked. There is also the fantastic https://www.bemindfulonline.com/ which puts you in touch with people that can teach you mindfulness. And then there is also Buddhism, the Stoics… the list goes on.
I’ve just finished reading Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig, not just because it was easily readable, wonderfully written, but also because Matt doesn’t exclaim to be perfect. It spoke to me because it wasn’t being written by a master – it was written by someone who suffered from the extremes and who has largely conquered it, but at the same time he is still very grounded and humble.
Mindfulness practice is a life-long dedication, that we have to, you know… practice. The human brain is not naturally inclined to be mindful particularly, in fact, quite the opposite. It takes time. I have learnt this the hard way, by lapsing back into habits of negative thought, forgetting the stuff I learnt, then having to go back and re-learn it.
Our brains are still wired for a world with sabre-tooth tigers, threats and life-ending cliffs lurking around the next corner. Instead, we are faced with social media, images, expectations and the constant need to conform to the things we think we should. This is the modern sabre-tooth tiger. And we have to unlearn this natural instinct to be nervous.
I consider myself an eternal student. I will always be learning about how to control my brain. Some people find it super easy to just switch off, but others like me are programmed to mull, overthink and worry.