The role of meditation & mindfulness in therapy
Meditation is not for everyone, however, those who make time for it seem to be much calmer! For those who are interested, I can teach you how to begin to formulate a meditation regime as part of the therapeutic Journey.
As this is such a wide and diverse subject I thought I would outline some of the basic principles and examine some of the benefits that meditation and contemplation may offer us in this hectic life we lead and why it is a wonderful way to gently reduce anxiety and depression.
It might be useful to say at this stage that we are not professional mediators (although we do meditate daily) and we are not trained in meditation, so this is from a layman’s point of view, not a ‘Yogi Mystic Sage!’ (Nor a “peace and love man” hippy.)
I feel that meditation is a return to a mental (and physical) state, that is more akin to how we were designed to operate as animals. I don’t think my dog is thinking too much or worrying about how his hair looks, or if he left muddy footprints across the carpet, yet most humans do.
Most people have a mind full of stories about this and that, good and bad, what they want and don’t want etc. etc. And this cacophony of internal dialogue actually stresses our body. A simple way to look at this is from a dream, if we have a bad dream, we wake up all agitated or aroused, or if a person shouts at us we may get an emotional response and then follow that up with angry thoughts that make us feel stressed in some way. So it seems like the body responds blindly to what we hold in mind. Good thoughts equal good feelings and bad thoughts equal bad feelings. Therefore no thoughts equal no feelings and no stress on your body.
So at a primary level, we meditate to give ourselves a break from our own thinking and to offer our bodies a period of relaxation away from having to emotionally respond to all the thoughts we have.
Secondly, meditation offers us a chance to reconnect with ourselves and guide our focus to be more internal for a little while, because it is so easy to get hooked by work, relationships, family and all the things going on in our lives that distract us from maintaining a balance between our mind and our body.
I think the third reason to meditate is to find a neutral space where you can contemplate, or consider, the many different aspects of yourself or your life – a way to make time to mull things over without having to find an answer (like you would in the outside world). We see it as making the time to work on yourself, to consider what is important – and what the body may need, as opposed to, what the mind desires or craves.
There is a fourth reason too; and that is, it seems to us that stress, worry and general anxiety can ‘get stuck’ in your body, causing aches and pain and a whole range of psychosomatic illnesses, like eczema, IBS, migraine headaches, stiff shoulders, a sore back and general maladies like that. The very act of meditating or quieting the mind gives you a chance to release these ‘emotional blockages’ and keep the body healthy. In addition, deep states of meditation can be quite trippy when your whole focus goes internal and you finally connect with your body and these states can be very peaceful and profound.
How do I meditate?
We are told that there are dozens of ways to meditate, however, we are only going to explore the four types of meditation that we know and use ourselves:
1. Good old fashioned silent meditation
This is probably the hardest form of meditation for the beginner. The idea is to sit still, quieten the mind and just ‘be’ in the resulting silence. Looks good on paper – but it is ridiculously hard! As soon as you close your eyes the mind starts chatting away more loudly than before you started!
The gurus say “be the mountain and just observe the clouds (thoughts) and just watch them pass by, don’t interact with them.’ It has taken us about 5 years to become proficient at this form of meditation, and even now, we can only have complete inner silence for 5 or 10-minute chunks of time. Therefore, we don’t recommend this type of meditation for a novice because you will just frustrate yourself and wonder how you will ever stop your mind serving up all these unsolicited noisy thoughts.
Some people find this type of meditation easier if they focus on something like the flame of a candle or on their breathing, and if their mind wanders off they can bring it back to the object of their focus. When you are proficient at this form of silent meditation it is possible to undertake powerful ‘bodywork’ to gently release tension and emotional blockages in the body.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that we highly recommend and has the added bonus that it can be done any time, therefore, is good for people who find it hard to dedicate an hour or so each day. Mindfulness is an open eye meditation where you focus intently on whatever you are doing, you give 100% attention of mind and body to the task in hand – if you are painting a wall you slowly and deliberately dip the paint brush in the paint pot and take in all the textures and smells, then concentrate totally on where the brush glides against the wall and your mind is totally engaged on what you are doing. If you are driving along, then you place all of your attention on the whole driving experience and of your mind wanders off thinking about what is for lunch, then you bring it back to the task in hand.
After a while this mindful way of meditation can be expanded to a place where you are doing what you need to do, with no internal commentary and no need for anything to be any different than that which it is, if you get the desired outcome that’s good, and, if you don’t, that’s fine too. We see this as being present with life in a silent and accepting manner and leads to quite profound levels of calmness.
Another form of meditation is called contemplation and this is our favourite form of meditation, this can be done seated with your eyes closed or as an open eye exercise, perhaps whilst out walking. Here you choose a subject to ponder and let your mind propose a multitude of thoughts and concepts and you remain the observer of these thoughts in the context of the topic.
For example; you may choose to contemplate “Who am I?” and just watch your mind offer ideas such as, it is the body, or the mind, or the unconscious, or the conscious, or the ego – and you watch all these concepts from an observer viewpoint with no need to agree or disagree, as because you are detached with no need for an answer it is possible to explore your chosen topic from deep and meaningful new points of view, without any emotional reactions.
4. Future-directed contemplation
We also like to practice a form of meditation where (once you are relaxed) you explore emotions that you would like to alter within yourself, an example may be; wanting to shift from jealousy to trust – or from anger to calmness. Then you meditate on how it would feel to already have made that shift, and in the dreamlike meditative state you ‘try it on for size’ and see what it would feel like. You do your best to really imagine how it might feel, what you would do and what outcomes it may lead to in your life.
This offers two levels of positive reward, firstly, you are calmly making time to work on yourself and gently explore all the possible options and benefits for change. Secondly, more and more scientific proof is becoming available that shows our minds can’t really tell the difference between something we think and something we see – therefore, it is possible to rewire neural networks in the mind (change old memories and make new memories) by repeatedly ‘pretending’ that the changes have already happened, so, the more you imagine the future behaviour, the more you are rewiring your brain to think that it has already happened! We have had a lot of very interesting experiences with this type of meditation and use it frequently in our therapy sessions.
We feel that taking a little time each day to meditate helps all aspects of our well-being, and if you don’t have much time – there are a whole number of ways that open eye meditation can be incorporated into your day. Don’t stress about how long to meditate each day, anything from 10 minutes to an hour is better than none at all!
And we leave you with a famous quote that we use often;
“Half an hours meditation each day is essential, except when you are very busy. Because, then, a full hour is needed!