Well-being in practice
When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.Marcus Aurelius
DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional, and the views expressed are merely my own opinions based upon my own experiences. These should not be taken as a replacement for seeking professional medical advice, and I always advise that those struggling seek the advice of a qualified mental health professional.
I wish to begin by making one thing clear. Despite how it may seem, I sincerely believe that mindfulness is a fantastic tool. There are huge benefits to bringing mindfulness into our day to day lives, and I would not discourage anybody from partaking in it.
Having said this, I am certain you can see the “but” coming, I feel it is often over relied upon as a quick and easy fix for a bad mindset.
BUT SHAUN! HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT!? MINDFULNESS IS LIFE HACKS… IT’S ALL ALL THE RAGE ON INSTA!
I know, I know. Perhaps it is simply me being contrarian for clicks, but I honestly believe the way mindfulness is too often implemented isn’t the best method for improving our well-being.
You see, whilst the idea of detaching from all the messiness of the world around us and allowing ourselves to simply exist for a moment is great… It’s far from a fix all. In my experience, it has done very little to make any long term improvements to my overall mental health.
Yes, it has helped me to detach and unwind in the short term, but when push comes to shove, you can only hold back the noise for so long: and without dealing with the preexisting frictions between ourselves and that noise; mindfulness simply amounts to a distraction.
Take the way it is used by so many businesses out there. You see, as mental health has become more wildly spoken of, all businesses are seeking ways to show they care. Often this amounts to giving seminars on mindfulness, or making time for meditation. This is to help de-stress the work force and help maintain healthy productivity.
The issue? Well, for a moment you feel great. Refreshed and re-invigorated. But then you go back to the world of work, the busyness from which you’ve had a moment’s reprieve. The issues you initially had remain and you’ve done very little to rectify them in the long run.
Work through the stress, let the psyche suffer… it’s fine. When you get home you’ll apply a nice liberal helping of mindfulness. That way you’ll go to bed all relaxed. You’ll forget how fucking dire the other nine hours have been.
So what do I suggest?
Well you see, I feel that mindfulness is too focused on building a comforting disengagement.
“As you sit there, you may have some thoughts or stresses come to mind, just take note that they exist and let them fuck off… I mean float by. Don’t engage with your issues. Just think how great your ass feels against the floor.”Middle class person with a statue of Buddha
The problem is, real progress, real healing… It ain’t supposed to be easy or comforting. Take going for a sports massage. It hurts. It really fucking hurts! You pay some sick bastard to jab you where it hurts with their fist until it somehow fixes itself. It’s discomforting, but in the long run, you feel far better.
The mind is the same. It gets knots just like your muscles do. Over time, after years of stress and pressure it heals wrong. It causes friction and makes life hard. These knots need to be engaged with. Sometimes they have to be torn apart even, and allowed to heal anew.
This can’t happen through mindfulness alone.
This involves going deeper…
Obviously, tackling these issues is never simple and differs for everyone. Everyone is unique and responds to stimuli in different ways. Some people’s minds are quite malleable and susceptible to change. Others are rigid and may struggle.
The methods you use will vary based on the situation. Some may find talking therapies help, others hypnosis. Some may have deeper psychosis, and need the aid of medicines for them to reach a point in which they are even capable of engaging. There is no easy fix all.
That said, for those that want a practical method similar to that of mindfulness – perhaps you’re struggling with stress but don’t feel you require formal interventions – and simply want something you can try in order to give yourself a little nudge in the right direction, I do have something your can try.
Premeditation over mindfulness
The stoic philosophies shared many similarities with those of mindfulness. That said, they do have one slight difference. They instead focus on engaging more directly with your mindset and making positive changes. One method of doing this, can be through replacing your early morning mindfulness meditation with a bit of stoic premeditation.
This is discussed in great depth by Derren Brown in his book Happy: Why more or less everything is absolutely fine. He talks about how the stoics would take a moment in the morning, before they were engaged with the busyness of the day, to mentally prepare. This could take the form of a meditation, or simply an affirmation into one’s mirror, but the individual would need to repeat a set mantra to themselves in order to foster a healthy approach to the day.
Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill. But I, because I have seen that the nature of good is the right, and of ill the wrong, and that the nature of man himself who does wrong is akin to my own…
I cannot be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him: for we have come into the world to work together, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth.
To work against one another is to oppose Nature, and to be vexed with another or to turn away from him is to tend antagonism.Marcus Aurelius quoted by Derren Brown
This gives your mind a direction for the day from when it first awakes. It sets you on the right footing. Rather than awaking to negative thought processes, you start the day by planning the ways in which you’re going to positively engage.
Of course, your premeditation doesn’t need to take the same shape as Marcus Aurelius’. After all, you’re not him! You may have different frictions in your life you wish to prepare for.
A hypnotic twist…
I find it interesting that this method takes place first thing in the morning. When we are most relaxed and not yet fully awake. As such, I see many similarities between this stoic premeditation and modern self-hypnosis. Both involve being in a relaxed state, and both involve some form of post meditative (or post hypnotic) suggestion.
“I cannot be harmed by any of them” Marcus affirms to himself. This very much matches the kind of assertive suggestions one may repeat throughout hypnosis. There are multiple forms this suggestion may take:
I will remain calm, and totally at peace.
One may tell themselves when preparing for a particularly stressful day at work.
I will engage positively with any opportunities that appears before me.
They may say before engaging with some new, anxiety inducing situation.
You see, rather than focusing on relaxation alone, on distractions from external reality, you can shift the focus to internal preparation. To imagining a better mindset for the day. For preparing your reactions, and avoiding some of the inevitable friction.
So what do you think? Are you a strong believer in mindfulness? Or perhaps you agree with me that it’s overused?
However you feel, it might be worth trying out a more stoic approach and awaking to a bit of premeditation.
Who knows… It might just make a difference.
All the best,
For those interested in reading more on this topic, here is a link to purchase Happy by Derren Brown:
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