“I don’t know what to do”, I said to my girlfriend at the time.
I was living in Beijing, China, working a job that was becoming increasingly stressful.
I found myself anxious about going to work every day, thoughts crowding my brain as soon as my head hit the pillow to sleep, amplifying immediately after waking up.
Neither of us were happy and we knew something had to change.
The problem was, we didn’t know what – would moving to a new place or getting another job be enough?
Eventually, we decided to take some time out to travel.
Along with enjoying ourselves in Europe, we’d have more breathing space to consider our options.
Despite the relief of leaving my job, however, the anxiety didn’t immediately abate.
Society implies that psychological wellbeing is dependent on external factors, but when you recognise this illusion, it’s a shock.
After all, many of us chase tangible markers of success for a lifetime before we finally realise that they won’t make us happy and no amount of recognition and prestige will alleviate our suffering.
Wherever you go, there you are – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Although outwardly my circumstances had changed, I found my overthinking and anxiety remained.
I knew that if the one common factor in this dis-ease was me, embarking on self-reflection was necessary.
However, aside from journaling and generally mulling over my problems, I wasn’t sure how…
Until I found meditation, that is.
Fortunately, a friend recommended a good initial resource in the book, “Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World”, which contained an 8-week programme demonstrating excellent results in clinical studies.
After learning the basic premise that we are not the sum of our thoughts and learning to metaphorically stand back and observe my mental turbulence impartially, I jumped straight in.
Moving from simple awareness of breath, through to body scans and sound meditation, I gradually began honing my awareness skills.
Despite repeatedly being led astray by my thoughts, and the usual frustration that accompanies any new endeavour, I learned to recognise when it was happening, before gently bringing myself back to the present moment.
How meditation helped me
Education for adolescents doesn’t focus much on psychological or spiritual wellbeing, but along with physical health, it’s an essential component of a balanced, happy life.
By becoming more mindful, or aware, I was able to recognise when my thoughts were intruding on the present moment and becoming unhelpful or repetitive.
Previously I would have followed these thoughts attentively, allowing them to create deeper negative emotions which could easily overtake the day.
Rather than allowing thoughts to spiral uncontrolled, simple observation made them dissolve, preserving mental equilibrium.
Instead of making decisions from a place of anxiety and overwhelm, I was increasingly able to initiate calm and rational choices.
Coming from the smog heavy streets of Beijing, it felt like much of my mental pollution began to disperse, leaving clarity in its wake.
Post-meditation, I was able to think clearly about what I wanted to do, and although it wasn’t all rainbows and kittens from that moment on, I felt a new renewed sense of purpose.
I was also increasingly cognizant that what I actually did didn’t matter as much as how I did it, insofar as approaching it with the same degree of mindfulness.
Meditation has helped me in almost every way, and upon reflection, I can observe the effects.
It is, however, a practice which must be performed daily, at least in my personal experience, to keep to the sword of awareness sharp.
Experience the benefits of meditation yourself
The benefits of meditation are becoming more readily established.
Scientific literature is now percolating within the established medical community, with health practitioners increasingly recommending meditation to their patients.
If you’re suffering from anxiety or depression, consult with a trained professional to see if mindfulness meditation is appropriate and if there are any free courses you can attend.
If you simply struggle with overthinking and decision making or feel you need clarity around your life purpose, plan or future, give meditation a go.
10 minutes a day
It’s easy to find the time to meditate 10 minutes a day.
Forget having to consume every resource available. Just sit down and train your attention on your breath as you inhale and exhale.
Every time you lose focus, just bring yourself back to your breath.
I’ll wager that given enough patience, this practice could ultimately change your life for the better.