I meditate. I don’t know why I have taken forever to let you all know that; I think I was waiting until I could be sure certain people had gotten bored with my blog and stopped reading. But I do practice meditation. I’m not trying to contact any higher power or commune with God (although I’ve tried that). I’m not even trying to overcome any particularly traumatic things in my life, because with the exception of losing a few family members I haven’t had a traumatic life. But I started practicing mediation when I was trying to resolve a great confusion in my life.
At some point in my life I had resigned myself to the idea of having a pet dog; I had resigned myself to moving towards the Sussex/Brighton part of the UK; I had resigned myself to living frugally and helping someone through their post-graduate degree; I had even resigned myself to taking up a second job as a personal trainer to cover what would undoubtedly be a big outgoing. I had resigned myself to all of this because the person I was doing it for was worth it; I loved her. And the word “resigned” in wrong because I became excited about doing these things for her. She, and these plans, accounted for the next two years of my life. I had gotten excited about it.
Let me clarify that this wasn’t going to restrain me, so far as I could see. I could still look for a job in the environmental sector; I wasn’t giving up on any ambitions to do this.
Then, suddenly, this life was ripped out from under me; we broke up. It was a seven-year relationship and I couldn’t tell you why it ended. We had both just got back from a very emotionally tiring and burdensome year in Thailand, we were both unemployed, we were both seeking refuge at our parents’ homes; we were both in limbo. And she broke up with me. This left me in a great unknown; I no longer knew what I was doing. I was confused and I was lost. I was also depressed, drunk and, after failing to distinguish between a weekend and a month, I thought it healthy to see a counsellor. I only saw the counsellor a few times.
I had lost sight of the fact I can feel happy for all sorts of reasons: revel in the happiness of others, self-confidence, appreciation, ambition, contentment, charitable works, delight, excitement etc. The things that make me happy are moral things; I cannot be happy if sad people surround me, I feel compelled to help them. But I could not imagine being happy again. I had lost the person who gave me the strength to get up in the morning and persevere with my crap-hole job, my degree and my duties of care to her; I had some of the richest and most delightful experiences of my life tainted and poisoned by the realisation and discovery that large amounts of them were a lie. I was living exclusively in the past, which was now dark and uninviting, and in the future, which was empty and cold. I did not see an out.
And that encouraged me to meditate. I practice Mindfulness Meditation. There are three distinct forms of this that I know of, and I don’t know their names (so I’m going to make the names up). This is them:
Appreciative Mindfulness Meditation
This is the one I practice the most often. I start by focussing on one thing in my life that I am happy about. Anything. The first time I did this I was desperate to think of something I might be happy about, and I eventually picked people in my life I was happy weren’t dead. Then I intentionally lose focus on that one thing and your mind slowly brings other things into focus. The exercise in this, as with all meditation, is to separate yourself emotionally from the thought; try not to emotionally respond at all. The point is to see your thoughts as they form and whither.
After the first few times I did this I had prepared an escape. Sometimes my thoughts went to dark places and I couldn’t remain emotionally separated, so I planned to have an escape. This, the one I practice the most often, is not meditation is the strictest senses. In the strictest sense meditation is about occupying only the present moment. This meditation allows you to dwell on the past and to expect the future.
Thought-Observing Mindfulness Meditation
This is almost the same as what I have called “Appreciative Mindfulness Meditation”, but you don’t start with a thought you intend to appreciate. You want to start, the best you can, with a clear mind. The closest I have ever gotten to starting with a clear mind is to start with a focus on the question “am I comfortable?” That’s kind of inevitable when you intend to sit still for up to half an hour. But the difference in the thoughts that arise is profound. Again, the idea is to try to see the thoughts that arise non-critically and unemotionally. Focus, dispassionately, on what arises in your consciousness when you try to remove all influence. The thoughts that arise, they are a focus on the present moment.
Sensational Mindfulness Meditation
Practicing this one is perhaps one of the most difficult. Again, step 1 is to find a comfortable position. But this time your focus is on the sensations that arise in the present moment. The comfort, the warmth. Sam Harris spoilt a few consecutive sessions of this for me by pointing out that you can’t feel the shape of your hands. When you focus on this fact through meditation, it becomes an increasingly weird realisation. Another thing you realise as you focus on your own senses is feeling the breathing process: where do you feel it? At the front of the nose; the back of the throat; in the rising and falling of the chest; can you feel the air currents in your lungs? As you continue you become aware of ever more subtle senses. A tingle you’ve never noticed before.
You become increasingly aware of yourself in the present moment.
This, and time, helped. There is always an out. There are always ways to be happy.