Loads of your problems come from the stories you make up about what’s going on
Thoughts are your way of interpreting what’s happening in the world. They’re a best guess – and not always terribly accurate.
To illustrate this, imagine a wasp lands on you. You hate wasps, you tense up, get anxious, swat it, heart rate goes up. Irritated. What’s the reality here?
A tiny insect brushed your arm. The barest of fleeting sensations. The drama was created by the story in your head: Wasp! Fuck. It’s going to sting me! They always sting me. WASP! It’s gonna hurt! Fucking hate wasps the absolute wankers.
The story in your head determines whether you’re going to react calmly or run naked through your house snapping a tea-towel in the air. The meaning you give things – how you interpret what’s happening – makes a huge difference.
‘Real’ doesn’t always mean ‘true’
The thoughts in your head are real, as in they exist. But your reasoning, opinions or habitual way of thinking might be flawed and create inaccurate thoughts. For example:
There’s a weird vibe at work. You automatically assume:
You’ve fucked something up because you’re crap at your job
They heard what happened with Joanne at the Christmas party
They’ve discovered you’re stalking them on social media
That lie you told three years ago has made it into the local press
When any number of things could may have happened…
Someone’s distracted with their own tricky personal dilemma
There’s stuff going on you don’t yet know about – but it’s not about you
Someone else may have buggered something up
There is nothing weird going on at all
You are a meaning-creating creature. It’s in your human DNA. You tend to stick yourself in the middle of your own drama.
Making stories up helps you predict and prepare for what might happen. It’s a skill that keeps you safe from internet scams and being hit by cars.
Being hyper-vigilant like this can lead to endless, exhausting worry. You don’t have to react to every random thought that pops up into your head. Meditation shows the sheer tonnage of nonsense you think within the space of five minutes.
Serene-looking people on photoshopped beaches give a false sense of what it’s like to meditate
Meditation has something of an image problem. It’s either for monks in orange robes or beautiful people cross-legged in tranquil settings. It’s hard to imagine them holding down demanding jobs, dealing with sticky children or privately worrying about how much they’re drinking. They all look so calm and well-adjusted.
Your life may be more Sainsbury’s carpark than sunset beaches
You are unlikely to have a blissful experience of serenity when you meditate. Even if you were in these lovely locations, you’d probably still be thinking about work and wondering where you can get something for your urinary tract infection.
Meditating in everyday life is far more likely to be plonking the kids in front of the TV for three minutes while you sit on the loo and try to be mindful. At this point you would be forgiven for thinking that meditation isn’t living up to its Photoshopped ideals, and so you think you’re doing it wrong.
Meditation is noticing what is happening right now with interest and kindness. This is your real life and so it’s worthy of your full attention. Over time meditation can help you feel clearer and a bit more steady, regardless of any unglamorous events that try to put you off.
Clearly the most immediate and worrying concern that we all have about Covid 19 is that you or your loved ones might die of it.
Even if it doesn’t come to that, everyone is going to spend an awful lot of time dealing with how much their world has changed.
It also highlights an uneasy truth, that life is fundamentally uncertain. Most of us deal with this dilemma by ignoring it. We work hard, make plans for the future and when feeling less productive, we can get drunk, binge eat Cheetos and watch pornography. All in an effort to keep chaos at bay.
So when something as disruptive as a global pandemic takes over, it rubs your nose in life’s horrifying unpredictable nature. The virus has the potential to derail your entire life without so much as an apology. Losing one’s shit when this happens is a completely natural response.
This situation is a harsh reminder that your plans are just that; whims about what you want to happen in the future. Unfortunately stark reality doesn’t give a stuff about this.
All you can ever be certain of is the present moment. And meditation trains you to be steady right now, even in face of butt-clenching uncertainty.
Authors Note: This post has been really tricky because we are very aware of the fear and distress people are going through. Meditation can help with this and being ultra kind to yourself will support you through the chaos until things feel safer.
Showing affection isn’t something you talk about much in the pub
But bring to mind when someone decided to do something nice for you. Maybe a friend sent a text message to make you giggle before a interview or your brother gave an earful to someone who bullied you. Maybe a pal made you a cup of tea just the way you like it, even though to them it’s disgustingly milky.
They were thinking about you and it helped. That kind of thoughtfulness probably opened you up a little – allowed you to peep over your wall and lower your drawbridge. Do you care what they look like? How well off they are? Do you think about how well they have done in their career? Nah.
That’s because kindness kicks everything else’s arse.
All anyone really wants is to be happy. Even appallingly arrogant merchant bankers are in desperate need of kindness most of the time. But the fear of your actions being misinterpreted or rejected often stops you from reaching out. So maybe start small, include it in your meditation practice, then look for teeny opportunities to lift someone’s spirits.
Little bits of goodwill…
Be patient with someone who bores you.
Ask more questions.
Remember people’s preferences.
Stop thinking they dislike you.
Don’t read the Daily Mail.
Give the bus driver freshly-cooked sausages.
Remember everyone does things for a reason they think is okay.
Planting small seeds of kindness in your day builds momentum and releases you from the pressure of being a total tube the rest of the time.