There has been a lot of debate recently over the impact that mindfulness and meditation have on people who practise these activities.
Some people swear it’s their salvation, others warn of the mental health damage they can leave in their wake.
So who can you believe ? Are mindfulness and meditation the key to happiness ? Or will they cause more mental health issues, bringing up horrible traumas that we have locked within us ? Is it all a fad, just another gimmick for us to spend our hard earned money on ?
I will attempt to answer these questions, but first I need to simplify what these terms mean to me. As you will find out, there are as many different explanations for mindfulness and meditation as there are people who practise them !
For me, mindfulness is just being aware of what’s going on. It is being aware of your thoughts, without becoming overwhelmed and consumed by them. It’s also being aware of your body, both your physical sensations and your emotional feelings. Many people describe it as sitting and watching your world happen, as if sitting by a stream while the water passes, or by the side of the road watching traffic flow. The key to mindfulness is NOT TRYING TO CONTROL things, just notice them and allow them to occur.
My understanding of meditation is clearing your mind of thoughts, and connecting completely with your body and environment around you. You can often have access to physical sensations that are hard to feel while trapped in a busy mind and being bombarded with external stimuli. Practicing meditation formally takes a lot of CONTROL.
So are these activities the key to happiness ? NO. They are the key to peace.
Peace and happiness are different, and this is why people who are mindful or meditate get frustrated, they are expecting happiness. Happiness is an emotion, and all emotions are fleeting. Just as one should not exist in anger and sadness ALL the time, one should not exist in happiness all the time either. I believe that is called mania or hysteria in the mental health world.
Will mindfulness and meditation cause us to relive old traumas ? YES. However, for me ,this was my goal.
I suffered mental health issues due to unresolved traumas for 20 years, and I suspect many other people do as well. I finally got to move on from decades of pain and repressed emotions, and started to regain memories that had been lost, both positive and negative. If you try meditation and mindfulness without learning about self-compassion and acceptance first, you will definitely become overwhelmed – because you will remember and feel your past, and some of it might not be pleasant. Many people are not able to investigate, cope, rationalize, be compassionate towards or completely let go of their past. Until you are able to do this, mindfulness and meditation have the potential to have the opposite effect as intended, and make you feel worse than you currently do.
Is it a fad, something else for people to spend money on ? YES and NO.
In a world of constant stimulation and a never ending quest for productivity, I think mindfulness and meditation are here to stay. Along with exercise and nutrition, they can help bring a little peacefulness to someone’s life.
Human beings will (and do) monetize EVERYTHING. This is disappointing, because people buy these apps and take courses and read books, without ever having the complete knowledge about what they are doing and why they are doing it. It’s the gaps in their knowledge that create the frustration, and when money gets involved – well money turns everything into mass produced, lower quality versions of the original.
So what is the verdict ?
Mindfulness and meditation helped me out of 20 years of depression and anxiety, but they didn’t do it alone.
I didn’t buy any expensive books or take any formal classes on the topics. There are so many free resources online and Youtube videos that are well done. I had an app, but I ended up deleting it. It seemed counter-productive for me to use technology to learn how to escape the constant stimuli provided by things like technology.
Self-compassion and acceptance were essential to my success with mindfulness and meditation, as acceptance allowed me not to judge myself while I was learning and self-compassion prepared me to deal with repressed emotions and memories as they became available.
I also don’t practise mindfulness or meditation as per specific “rules”. It doesn’t matter to me where my hands lie in my lap. I don’t fuss over whether I hold my breath for a particular number of seconds, or use my nose for inhalation or exhalation. I don’t follow any formalities, I don’t follow any sort of schedule or time frame for these activities in my day, and I don’t hold myself to any expectations or judge myself if I take a day (or three) off.
Perhaps many of you may say I am doing things completely wrong, and I might be, but whatever I am doing has helped me to find peace!