Last year a friend sent me a copy of a Mindfulness book (Mindfulness: Plain and Simple by Oli Doyle) she picked up in a cheap bookshop. At the time I was going through a bad period in my life and depression was getting the better of me: I was in my late-40s, single, in a dead-end job and could see no way of changing any of it. The lessons contained Doyle’s book resurrected those learned a decade before from some CBT counselling I’d had, and enthused them with a renewed vigour. Living in the present and remaining positive, and keeping that outlook fresh were important and paramount in maintaining strong mental health.
I’m now fifty, single, in a dead-end job and can see very few ways of changing any of it. However, I feel better: better equipped to deal with my present and what future remains to me; stronger in challenging my depression; and more positive about who I am. Understanding that I cannot change people’s minds and opinions about me and that any animosity aimed towards me is not about me per se has relieved much anxiety in my life and aided positive responses to difficult situations. I tend to drive a lot in my work. There is still a long way to go, but I can be a better person tomorrow than I was today by retaining that positive attitude. This, among other things, is what I have learned.
It took me some time to get a handle on Mindfulness. I saw it everywhere on social media. My reticence was caused by my suspicion of most things to do with organised religion. But this fear proved unfounded. Indeed, in a recent article in The Guardian (see: http://bit.ly/2fduDiJ), Suzanne Moore pointed out that Mindfulness was less a religious manifestation and more of an industry. Companies, Ms Moore says, are increasingly providing space for their hard-pressed high-flying staff to spend ten minutes of a working day “to quiet their minds”, and she suggests this increase in “self-help” is our reaction to technology.
Maybe it is. We do spend an awful long time staring at screens whether they are on a mobile or a desktop. Some of my friends (and me included) have bemoaned the detrimental effect of some social media on mental health and their general outlook on life. Can this continual exposure to this sterile, unfettered newsfeed be tearing us apart? Self-help strategies like Mindfulness, many companies and organisations seem to believe, are the way forward in combating this. However, long before the Internet revolution, in the early 1990s, I remember attending a two-day training course for youth works and educationalists in Buckinghamshire where one of the facilitators promoted something akin to Mindfulness. The reasons behind our paymasters being happy we heard this appear to be exactly the same reasons being brushed aside today.
Mindfulness is being employed to paper over the real problems in society. Low pay, a lack of real opportunity and choice, a lack of real hope, over-work and a poor work-life balance all lead directly to a weakening of mental health and an increase in stress levels. Only truly eradicating these issues can we see real and lasting progress in the mind-set of people of any social group. Yes, self-help will allow people to remain calm and strengthen their minds, but practicing meditation will not cure social ills. That needs political action.
Perhaps, though, with a calm, rational population able to meditate and “quiet their minds”, we might see a population ready and emotionally intelligent enough to call, and work, for an end to social conditions that are detrimental to our mental health.
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