‘I stress therefore I am’ appears to be the mantra of modern day society. It’s an unfathomable contradiction that in a time when medicine strives to prolong our lives we are driving ourselves to death much faster. Of course someone has to work to pay the taxes to maintain the hospitals to save us from ourselves.
When the time came to quit my last advertising job and care for my mother I was a nervous wreck. I was drinking a lot, my nails were gnawed to mere slivers and I had permanent indigestion. I’d been getting up at 5am, arriving home at 7:30pm and was asleep in front of the television by 9. When Mum got sick I was spending all my nights and weekends in the hospital.
But quitting work to care for her gave me an opportunity to slow down and smell the priorities. For too many years I’d watched my associates sacrifice their lives and their mental health in a quest to sell menial products to people who don’t need them and I no longer wanted to be a part of it. And so after devouring a few self-help books I decided to change my career and go back to studying while working a casual retail job. It was also the first time in 30 years that I stopped chewing my nails.
It is by no means a perfect situation. These days I stress about money and not living up to society’s ideals. It’s amazing how many people look unfavourably on those that choose not to participate in the rat-race or the cultivation of the perfect family. But I have learnt to control my stress by reading Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’.
At least I thought I had. Recently, when offered an interview for my perfect job, I went into total stress meltdown. My inner peace reacted by rocking back and forth in a wild-eyed fashion as all the stress I’d been avoiding came barrelling back. It took two aspirin and forced sleep to calm my shattered nerves and I resolved not to let stress get the better of me again.
I’ve always thought meditation was for those people with dreadlocks who smell bad and have zero disregard for their fellow man in their quest for free love. Well that’s not entirely true but any excuse to make fun of hippies. Meditation is just not a tangible enough thing for me and I’m baffled by what it achieves, but as a popular method for stress relief I thought it worthy of a go.
I was adamant not to spend money on this resolution and so I ransacked Mum’s new age collection and discovered a book, Barry Long’s ‘Meditation A Foundation Course’ and an ‘Angels and Guides’ chakra meditation CD. While Bazza’s advice on ignoring the myths surrounding meditation was pertinent (no need to ‘om’ or twist your limbs into the lotus position) I found his ‘removing the false self’ malarkey a little hard to swallow, but his book did provide a good foundation of what to expect.
I did my first meditation in bed before I went to sleep. With all Barry’s talk of how difficult it is to empty your mind I was shocked and appalled to discover how very easy it was for me, but in retrospect I think my thoughts of ‘oh my god, I’m so talented at this’ were just occupying all my brain space.
The next night I put on the ‘Angels and Guides’ CD but instead of relaxing tones was met with Mr Solemn Voice talking about war heroes, followed by a rendition of the Last Post and a number of Australiana themed tracks. I checked it three of four times before concluding that the CD had been mislabelled at the packaging stage. Instead I popped in a CD of relaxing music but my thoughts wouldn’t still and I was itchy all over, probably thinking of those poor diggers.
While doing my tax the next day, a particularly stressful endeavour indeed, I discovered that a quick meditation to clear my mind worked a treat. Meanwhile Mum found an old MP3 player filled with guided meditations and that night, sitting up in bed, a soothing lady voice instructed me to relax parts of my body while she intermittently rang a bell. Someone really needs to tell that lady her bell ain’t so relaxing! But nonetheless I found myself enjoying the meditation much more with a voice to guide my thoughts. Although as a natural sloucher I am bewildered by how people sit with their back straight to meditate as it’s neither relaxing nor comfortable.
My next meditation was a 20-minute guided VISUAL meditation where a male voice, accompanied by warm positive synth sounds, encouraged me to imagine myself in a beautiful garden while filling and surrounding my body with light. These visual meditations are much easier to respond to as the mind instinctively follows the instructions. Although I couldn’t help wondering if I’d start behaving like a chicken whenever someone clicked their fingers.
Finally, I completed a series of three visually guided meditations. The first I did during the day while sitting in a chair, drawing in the energy of the earth and the universe to achieve inner peace. My dog barking loudly a metre away was not especially helpful. The second was a five elements meditation and the last a chakra meditation.
There is an episode of Red Dwarf where the characters play a video game that makes all their wishes come true but Rimmer’s mind rebels and all he can imagine is bad things. My mind behaves in exactly the same way which has often lead me to wonder if this is the very definition of a pessimist and if it may be the cause of my continued bad luck. I found this distracting negativity began weaving its way into my meditations.
While I’ve enjoyed exploring meditation I can’t help but wonder if it’s responsible for my current feeling of being more scattered, listless and intolerant than usual with a nagging sense that something is missing, that I’m no longer quite anchored in reality, but this may just be the residual effects of that pesky flu.
Regardless I’m pleased to have another feather in my (skull)cap because if the universe has answers for me I’d bloody like to hear them.
Now I’m going to count backwards from ten …