700 words for Epigram on Mindfulness
I didn’t know what mindfulness was until I became depressed.
When suddenly I found myself being struck by anxiety, panic attacks and depression of an almost indescribable nature, I instinctively turned to meditation as a way to soothe my mind. I had the ‘Headspace’ app of guided meditations on my phone purely by chance, and I decided to dive headfirst into a mental exercise I previously knew nothing about.
The headphones went on; I listened to a voice telling me to focus on my breathing, then count each breath from 1 to 10, then repeat. ‘If the mind wanders off’, says the teacher, ‘notice you’ve been distracted, and bring your attention gently back to the breath.’
I did this, and at first became frustrated. My mind was too busy – anxiety was making my heart thump like a jackhammer – depressive clouds kept dragging my attention where it ought not to go. But then, only a few days in, I came out of the exercise and gasped.
My anxiety had gone. My head was clear. However temporarily (and it was definitely temporary), I felt human again.
I went online and bought several books. Mindfulness: claimed by the NHS as proven to reduce anxiety, depression and all manner of mental illnesses. Developed thousands of years ago by first Hindus and then Buddhists, as a means of self-transformation. Claimed by many to have saved their lives.
So what actually is it? Well, mindfulness is a synonym for awareness. It means being totally in the present moment. If I am being mindful right now as I write this, then I am aware of the keys pressing under my fingers, of the sound of the tapping keyboard, of my body resting against the chair, of the thoughts that are passing through my mind as I work. I am aware both of what is happening around me and what is happening inside me.
This was absolutely key in coming to terms with my depression. In mindfulness meditation, you are taught to allow all feelings and thoughts in, and to observe them as if you are detached from them. Anxiety arises; but instead of trying to get rid of it, instead of getting angry at yourself for being this way, you simply allow it to rest there. You watch it, and you accept it. And then you can watch it go.
This is in brief how I began to deal with my anxiety. When panic came, as it did several times a day, I knew I could bring my attention back to the present moment and keep my mind safely away from the spiral of depressive thought that the darkness beckons you into.
PANIC – focus on the breath, and for God’s sake keep your attention there until it goes – 1, 2, 3, 4…
I began to meditate for longer periods as I became more adept at it, beginning with ten minutes and now thirty or even forty minutes when I have the time. In meditation, I confront myself head on. I watch my thoughts and feelings pass like clouds across the sky, and I often emerge from the exercise with my head clear.
Mindfulness is like a muscle that you must exercise. It must be practiced as often as possible, throughout the day. We do not meditate to escape reality: we meditate to confront it. And, more than this, the ideal form of life is meditation. Learning the habits of the mind is the first step to self-acceptance, emotional maturity and self-love. I became better at almost everything I did, because I was more focussed, more creative and more at one with myself.
Depression changed my mind in the most violent way possible, but mindfulness saw me through. The truth is that I cannot with all honesty say I know I would be here writing this if I had not learnt to meditate. It has opened the door to true happiness in my life.
As Thich Nhat Hanh says: ‘mindfulness is the foundation of a happy life’.