The past few years of my life have been rather difficult… to say the least. But if there has been one thing that has helped me cope (apart from the support from others), that would be mindfulness and mindfulness meditation.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness involves being conscious and paying attention to what is happening within the body and mind, in the present moment without judgement or reactivity. Being mindful means being aware of sensory impressions, thoughts, imagery emotions, urges and impulses and accepting these as natural processors of the mind. We become the observer, without identifying with the mind. It is like watching a stream of consciousness, without swimming in it and becoming involved and effected.
Mindfulness shares a number of core principles with the Eastern meditation technique Vipassana including equanimity and impermanence. These two notions or responses are really important to develop and understand.
Equanimity is a neutral response to our daily experiences. It is a state in which we are aware, balanced, calm and composed and neither feel disgust for unpleasant experiences and nor an insatiable craving for pleasant ones. The development of equanimity or an equanimous mind is important in living mindfully and being able to act less reactive and judgemental.
Impermanence is the notion and understanding of the changing and impermanent nature of all things including our own mental and emotional experiences. Realising and understanding impermanence leads to a less rigid view of life and oneself. This idea comes from one of the three marks of existence of Buddhism called Annica.
Quite often in life you do not have complete control over what happens and not all life experiences are going to be pleasant or go your ideal way (I am sorry to say), and this can evoke all kind of negative emotions. What we can control however is how we respond to these experiences, often this will be with anger, frustration, negative thoughts and emotions or we can learn to respond with more equanimity, calmness, optimism and positivity. This is obviously easier said then done, but surprisingly after a lot of training using a mindfulness meditation technique results have been quite significant for me personally. It does not mean you will never experience feelings of anger, negativity and frustration but you will not get caught up in these emotions and physically/emotionally react to them. You will be fully aware of these emotions, mindful, non-judgemental and non-reactive.
So how do you put mindfulness into practise?
You can simply make a conscious decision to become more aware, observant and present in daily life. Although this is a great start, practising mindfulness meditation is much more effective at training the brain to become more mindful. The daily training you do will eventually flow into everyday living. It will naturally become a part of how you live your life.
You can simply begin practising mindfulness meditation from the instructions found on the internet or by finding a mindfulness meditation group or practitioner. Or if you are really serious about training in mindfulness you can do as I did and do quite intensive training with a practitioner such a psychologist who specialises in mindfulness meditation training. Although I wasn’t very keen on seeing a psychologist, it was well worth the effort to have the support of someone through the intense 4 month training 40 minutes twice a day.
Another important part of understanding the notion of living in the present moment and detaching myself (as much as possible) from the ego (the mind) was reading the bookA New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Although living mindfully has not necessarily made a difference to the physical symptoms of my ME/CFS is has done absolute wonders to how I deal with it on a daily basis. No more crying, chucking tantrums and thinking dark, negative, destructive thoughts (which there is no doubt effect the body on a physical level.) Not only this but it has dramatically changed how I react to criticism, to my own thought processors and to daily life in general.