“Mindfulness isn’t difficult – we just need to remember to do it” – Sharon Saltzberg
Being healthy and happy is hard work! Obviously being a nutritionist, I definitely believe that good food, and eating comes as a foundation for good health – preferably, great, fresh, healthful food, beautifully cooked and ideally shared with friends! But we need to work on other aspects of our health too, obviously movement (exercise) and being outside and getting some sunshine, but the hardest thing of all is just stopping. Stopping might be another really important aspect of health, it turns out.
I remember being struck by a book I read many years ago called “Teach us to sit still” By Nick Parks – a great read, and beautifully written. Tim Parks is/was a very successful writer who writes about Italy, teaching in a prestigious Italian university (I say was, only because I am not sure if he still is), but anyway, the book is about how he is struck down by a mysterious pain which doctors tell him is his prostate playing up. Doctors tell him that he needs an invasive operation; he consults many learned physicians – he is offered, surgery, potions, and pills. As he is a writer, he is constantly under ever more pressing deadlines, fast and furious – he never stops, he is a whirl of “doing”. Finally, and I did read the book 12 years ago, so the details are a little foggy, he takes himself off to a pretty intensive 10-day silent retreat. No talking for 12 days (I’m not sure how that would work for me!) – well, the long and short of it is, the mystery pain which has rendered him at times unable to work, disappears. Cured. Gone. Well, obviously that is an anecdotal tale, but it showed him at least the vital connection that we often forget, between the mind and the body.
When we are busy with deadlines, work commitments, and troubling world events, the most difficult thing to do is simply to stop. We tell ourselves, and perhaps correctly that there will be severe consequences to just stopping – I say consequences because if you are working in a role with responsibilities, there are deadlines, colleagues, and work schedules that you feel might be out of control. Mindfulness (and other meditation-like techniques) don’t really get anything done and they feel like a total waste of time.
Well, my stopping started in August last year when I sought out Transcendental Meditation, after watching a video on YouTube (which I have written about previously). In short, the featured YouTube lady, in very trying circumstances, handled a situation with dignity and grace, a circumstance in which I would have resorted to biting or headbutting – a kind of “computer says no” moment on steroids. I was so inspired that I found her easily on the internet (she is a health practitioner, suitably enough). What was her secret? Turned out, Transcendental Meditation (TM). I have found all other meditation IMPOSSIBLE. I just can’t stick to it and find something much more interesting for my mind to flit to. I even start telling myself bad jokes. Anything to get out of it. I know it’s meant to be the thing, but I just can’t force myself. I just feel I try too hard with meditation. Anyway, having a teacher is a magical thing. TM is passed from teacher to student, and it is always handed down in this way. This for me was the mental shift I needed; I feel not least I would be letting my teacher down (who by the way is very hands-off – but is there if I need her). The other thing is the simplicity. TM is a mantra meditation. You repeat a word in your head, but just like any other thought that bubbles up. And you sit (not in a special way) and you repeat the mantra. Job done. No excuses. That is it.
The changes are subtle but there – when the light changes in September, and the longer Autumn nights start to descend into winter gloom, my mood normally follows, but this year for the first time I felt no bluing of my disposition. I think I am naturally optimistic but normally winter is really not my favourite season – however, this year, this year I danced through winter and into spring with new energy and enthusiasm. Well, I know that can’t be my nutrition (because I eat well all the time!) so it must be something else – and I going to pin colours to the TM mast!