Welcome to a weekly feature on my blog – Ben’s Zone. Written by husband… Ben. A foodie, coffee obsessed, ex-smoking, ex-drinking and Ridgeback loving Dad. Who is also seriously into his fitness. You can find him on the blog (mostly) on Sundays. Enjoy!
Mental health is a funny old thing. I’ll move heaven and earth to stay in good shape physically, dieting, getting up early to run in the rain, even (gasp) going to the doctors from time to time but I do comparatively little for my own mental health. I do things that have a positive benefit on mental health, but usually I’m getting this as a side effect of doing the activity for other reasons. Exercise helps me stay calmer and more focused, but I exercise because I like to run in the forest. Guitar playing allows me to be creative, which is good for the noggin and has a vaguely meditative aspect but I play guitar because I have secret dreams of being a rock star. I rarely, if ever, do anything for the specific improvement of my mental health. Until last week.
A couple of weeks back I was talking to a friend who, despite being a relatively sorted person, has been suffering from some anxiety. ‘You should try meditation’ I said, before opining on how my scant experience of meditating in a group some years back had been transformative, until I stopped doing it. I had a brief flicker of self awareness at that point and realised that I could probably do more for my own mental health than just telling other people how to improve theirs. So I got an easily available app on my phone and I started meditating again. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
I prefer guided meditation, silent meditation is difficult for me as I find my mind wanders and I start to fixate, guided meditation, even with big pauses between the guidance is easier for me. I have found that I can find 10 minutes a day to meditate relatively easily, even during half term. Initially I tried to do this just before bed but that’s not easy as it’s also when I feed Bo, so, for me, it’s better to do it just before I start work after my run.
I sleep better, like, tons better. It’s been par for the course for years for me to wake up throughout the night, it’s not been a huge issue for me as I go to the bathroom and then go back to sleep quickly. On days when I meditate I sleep through, I do wake up feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck, I put this down to having 3 kids and a busy job.
The weirdest thing I have noticed is that I am getting this awareness of my emotions and emotional state. I am not floating around in a state of grace, I am still bad tempered and intolerant however I also feel a sense of consciousness around emotions that is definitely new. It’s not like voices in my head but I do get a sense of understanding, yesterday I found myself reacting to something the kids had done and knew that it was because I was out of kilter about something else entirely. I’m guessing that this could be the tip of something really big. Some of the worst ‘decisions’ I’ve ever made have been resultant from me barrelling into a situation and acting on pure instinct, not questioning what I was saying or doing. It seems logical that if I can develop and awareness of my drivers and emotional state, I can start bringing intellect more into the picture and thus make better decisions.
So my two-week experiment has been a success so far, I shall keep up my meditation and see where it takes me. I do actually enjoy the process as well and feel a sense of physical and mental calm once I have done it. The practise itself is neither boring nor onerous. What I do find odd, and I’m at a loss to explain it, is that I never want to meditate, despite not minding it and despite seeing the positive benefits. A great man once said, ‘You don’t meditate because you want to, you meditate to become a person who wants to, that’s what discipline is.’ and that’s very true.