There is much talk about meditation and mindfulness these days. A couple of weeks ago Ruby Wax was in Bath to talk about her new book on how to be human, and recently I heard her being interviewed, together with a neuroscientist, on BBC Radio 4 about the benefits of meditation. John Humphreys remained sceptical.
In the 1970s, whilst I was living in Brussels, I joined the School of Philosophy, which claimed to help solve some of life’s problems, its teachings being based on universal spiritual principles. As part of the teaching, we were initiated into meditation. Aside from a short break, I have been meditating ever since.
At that time, I was very unhappy, suffering from depression and sometimes feeling suicidal. Meditation changed me from being very nervous and anxious to becoming very calm. I became much more centered and rooted in the present moment. All this took place over a period of time, of course.
I can only speak for myself, but I put down my good health, my equanimity (mostly), and the fact that my mental faculties are still intact, to this practice of meditation.
The other day the Skype system on my desktop broke down. I use it mainly for writing purposes. I had been planning to Skype with a friend, also a writer, to discuss the book I am writing. I was looking forward to it, not least because I was hoping to clarify some of my ideas on how to get it done.
I must admit here that internet problems send me round the bend, and my equanimity flies out the window!
For whatever reason, we could not connect. My friend said that I was not ‘on line’, I said that I was, since it was up on my screen. We spent several fruitless minutes on the phone trying to correct the problem. In the end, we gave up.
I am sure everyone recognises that feeling of frustration and powerlessness when confronted with the mysteries of modern technology.
My mind was in a turmoil, my heart was beating, I felt agitated and very upset. So I sat down and meditated. It took me probably ten minutes or more before my mind quietened down sufficiently for me to sit in a restful silence.
It then came to me to use this free space which was suddenly available to me. I went into Bath to do some shopping. I bought some special art paper that I needed, I went to the Body Shop to get some more toilet articles, and I bought a Clean Me Green detox kit from Neal’s Yard that I have been intending to use for Lent. All this in the space of an hour and I was able to get the next bus home. I spent the afternoon baking, and I made some Banana Bread using a new recipe I had been given. That felt good.
By the end of the day I was back to my normal self. The following day the IT man came, fixed my Skype problem, which wasn’t so difficult after all – its just a question of knowing how – and all was well again.
I am not saying that meditation is the only way of sorting out our problems, but what interested me was that during this period my mind went haywire, my thoughts were all over the place and I could not find the words I wanted. My mind had been broken into a thousand disjointed bits.
Dementia is such a current problem these days, more and more people seem to be suffering from it. They say it is due to our living longer, but I wonder if it is not due to the stressful lives so many of us lead nowadays. To my mind, meditation is a way of counteracting these stresses. It might even help to delay the onset of these diseases of the brain.
I am only a layman and so can only speak from my own personal experience.
From a secular point of view, mediation can be looked upon as a useful tool. But for me it has become a spiritual practice. Meditation has, in fact, been practiced for thousands of years, particularly in the East. Only now in the West is it slowly beginning to be recognised and acknowledged as a Way of life.
“Stillness within one individual can affect society beyond measure”
Father Bede Griffiths