Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mindfulness: you're doing it wrong.

Ooh a bunch of rocks! I feel better already.
The mind boggles to consider the sheer multitude of intricate systems of woo that exist in the collective consciousness of white western society to deal with something so singularly devastating as being alive. They encompass much more than the obvious contenders like astrology, magic crystals and the law of attraction and run much deeper than the cardinal desire for meaning advertisers have learned to exploit to sell cars and potato chips. If you've trained yourself to be at all aware of how these mechanisms work and have learned to fight their powerful allure, you run the risk of becoming one of those annoying cynics who uses terms like 'woo' and has to fight their own installed impulse to break things in contexts like these:

This impulse can then become a significant handicap when confronted with the fact that a) you know your brain isn't functioning like it should, b) you've eschewed the drugs you know will help you because one of their major effects is to make you forget that you had any desire for meaning in the first place, much like meeting Morpheus and choosing the pill that lets you remain in the Matrix*, and c) you know some of this woo isn't woo at all but has been thoroughly researched by means of control group testing and fMRI imaging. You want to believe.

As one of the biggest fans of my own brain, I am fully aware of the magnitude of its power over physical reality, if only judging by its amazing talent for developing various psychosomatic ailments over the years. I know how effective a placebo response can be (which is why so many alternative treatments not only seem to work, but do), and that Dumbo's feather may have been one of the most powerful weapons in history. The trouble is that if you want these kinds of talismans to have any effect at all, you have to really believe in them. This is where your brain will fail you if, like me, you tend to tackle every challenge that comes your way by treating it like a Sudoku puzzle.

I've tried meditating for a while now, but I have to admit I haven't been very serious about it. The main reason being that I'm a disaster at everything that requires any amount of discipline at all, the other being that it is so excruciatingly boring. The only time I managed to somehow build up a 12 day streak of 10 minutes a day, I found that I was suddenly hyper-aware of my pants. That may have been a coincidence though.

I am, however, serious about getting better. I'm sick of letting my anxiety determine my options in life, and I've vowed to start living by the principle that doing something and sucking at it is always better than doing nothing at all.
So for the next couple of weeks, I am going to suck at meditating. I am going to suck at it daily, for a total of 40 minutes a day. It might not work, and I might have to get back on meds anyway. But the only way I will feel like a failure if that happens will be if I've failed to put in the work that might have improved my mental health in other ways (see also: regular exercise).

I'm dying to experience life again where the mere foresight of grocery shopping doesn't make me collapse in cold sweat like a heroin addict. I remember it can be quite lovely.

* Again, I am painfully aware of the possible consequences of making such a statement on a public forum. If you at all feel the urge to harm yourself or others, or are at risk of losing the stability in your life (home, income, relationships) and your doctor feels you should be taking medication, please take them. If you don't agree with your doctor, get a second opinion. Find a therapist you trust, and be honest to them. Talk to your friends. It's true that psychoactive medications are over-prescribed and are sometimes not the answer, but that doesn't mean you should try to white-knuckle it alone. And for goodness sake don't let some internet quack tell you what to do. Professionals are called that for a reason. Find one.

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