Meditation is something that has been a part of my everyday for as long as I can remember. Finding a place to meditate in London is a little bit of a challenge. Although that all changes when you get yourself out of your normal environment.
Rates of depression and anxiety are rising in the modern world. Andrew Oswald, a professor at Warwick University who studies wellbeing, recently told me that mental health indicators nearly always point down. “Things are not going completely well in western society,” he said. Proposed remedies are numerous. And one that is garnering growing attention is meditation, and mindfulness meditation in particular.
The aim is simple: to pay attention – be “mindful”. Typically, a teacher will ask you to sit upright, in an alert position. Then, they will encourage you to focus on something straightforward, like the in- and out-flow of breath. The aim is to nurture a curiosity about these sensations – not to explain them, but to know them.
It’s a way of concentrating on the here and now. It doesn’t aim directly at the dispersal of stresses and strains. In fact, it is very hard to develop the concentration necessary to follow your breath, even for a few seconds. What you see is your mind racing from this memory to that moment. But that’s the trick: to observe, and to learn to change the way you relate to your your mind. Here lies the route to better mental health.
Mindfulness is not about yogic flying. Moreover, it is not a fast track to blissful happiness. It can, in fact, be quite unsettling, as works with painful experiences, to understand them better and thereby get to the root of problems.