Meditation is way more than just relaxation

Do you ever feel like you’re constantly chasing after life? As though you’re not quite there yet, not quite where you want to be. Sure, there’s good things about your life, things you enjoy, things you appreciate. But there’s a lingering feeling that there’s always something else to do, someone or something that needs your attention? You hold your breath until the weekend or until some sort of release comes, but no sooner it comes, it goes. And maybe you’re left with an empty feeling that you can’t quite put your finger on, so you scroll through Facebook, put the TV on or just get on with the next thing. 

For me it can feel like being in a never ending relay race with myself. I’m holding the baton and there’s another version of me up ahead impatiently waiting to take it, so I can run on to the next point. Think back to the relay race on sports day at school, picture yourself in your brightly coloured P.E. kit for a moment (yes really, sorry). You’re standing on the spot, glancing back at your friend waiting for them to get to you. Maybe you’re looking back thinking they could probably hurry up or change their technique because that weird hop thing they’re doing isn’t really working. They probably would have got to you quicker. Then all of a sudden you’ve grabbed the baton and you’re off, trying with all your power to reach your mate up ahead, whose looking at you with that same look you gave your other friend a moment ago. Notice how in that race you’re either looking back or looking ahead, your mind was over there or over there. Notice how you felt (and yes, probably a very different feeling depending on your love or hate for P.E.) but no doubt your heart was beating pretty fast. You knew you couldn’t stand there for long, that wasn’t the aim of the game. So whether it was mixed with excitement or with dread, your heart rate went up, your body responded and your mind was everywhere but the place you were standing in. 

Our society is focused in this way, we’re geared to moving forwards. We’re good at moving forwards, it’s how we’ve survived. We’re so great at inventing, creating, fixing, solving, producing. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Until we live in this place of 'doing' so much that we aren’t here. When most of our thoughts are spent outside of where we are and we start to feel a constant backdrop of anxiety. Our physical bodies can be here but our minds might be elsewhere. And I totally get it, meditation can feel like a pointless exercise when you’re focused on ‘doing’. It can feel pretty alien to be in a state of receptiveness rather than action. 

When you ask somebody how they spend their ‘down time’, chances are they might tell you they have all sorts of ways of relaxing. They go for dinner with friends, they watch TV, read a book, go to the pub. But this relaxation is still a form of ‘doing’ and often they’re things that are externally focused. What I mean by externally focused is that they’re a chance to escape, to look out towards something that brings us joy. And again that’s great, sometimes. But with that comes a sense of losing touch with ourselves, with what’s really going on in our internal world.  

Meditation brings your mind, your body and your emotions to the place you’re at in the relay race, it brings you into the present moment. When you practice this, you’re not focused on looking back or looking forward but instead you’re here. In the present moment, the only place that actually exists. Not only that but you’re here with you. Not with the TV, or your friends or the external world, but with the internal, living, breathing thing that is you. A place of internal consciousness. A place that can seem pretty strange if you’ve spent most of your time elsewhere.   

There’s a lot of information out there on what practicing meditation and mindfulness can bring and I’ve seen these benefits not only in myself but in my clients too. The more you practice the more you can experience anything from stress relief, lower blood pressure, a decrease in anxiety, improved concentration, increased creativity, increased self-awareness, the list goes on. It’s worth remembering that it’s unrealistic to be in this state 24 hours a day. I might be a meditation teacher but I’m certainly not in a constant mindful state, if I was I probably wouldn’t be human. Everything that we’ve learnt, we’ve learnt for a reason. The way we behave is often a perfectly intelligent response to our situation, it’s helped us cope, it’s helped us survive. When life feels crap it’s nice to escape into something else. When we’re trying to work out what happened or what’s about to happen our thoughts go elsewhere. But what can happen is that we can get caught up in that relay race. Feelings of emptiness, numbness or anxiety can creep in, our selves can get lost amongst it all. What I teach is that meditation is way more than a form of relaxation- it’s a way to re-connect and re-awaken to yourself.