It’s always in the present moment. That’s why placing your attention on how you’re feeling physically can have such a calming effect.
If you’ve tried to meditate even for a few seconds, you’ll know how exhausting it can be to keep up with your mind’s hyper-distracted gymnastics… jumping from thinking about the past to worrying about the future, all in a heartbeat.
One way to cut through the restlessness is to focus on the sensations in your body. Shut your eyes and focus on any physical feelings like pressure, tingling, heat or pain – even your indigestion counts here!
Your body only knows how to be in the present moment so it’s a super effective way to ground yourself and to stop your mind spinning out.
Try not to get wrapped up in thinking about your senses – just keep bringing your focus back to the tightness in your jaw or the tingle in your toes.
You really won’t feel like doing it, but you’ll learn so much more about yourself than you would from a more ordinary session.
Being properly hungover is a vivid experience. You’ll be acutely aware of your physical symptoms and your mental state is unusual. It’s best to meditate before your preferred damage limitation choices: full English, hair of the dog, painkillers… The more raw you feel, the more material you’ll have to work with!
Get right inside the pain
Sit down in a quiet, comfy place and set a timer for ten minutes. Be brave and focus on how you feel. Place your attention on your body. Where are the strongest sensations? What about the nausea your stomach? What is that really like? Is there a crest? Does it flash or it is more lurching? Are you clenched around your stomach, trying to control it? Can you make a little space around the feeling? If it’s too strong, back off a little to a more manageable place; maybe focus on your breathing for a few minutes. Then if you can, bring your attention back – has your experience changed at all?
If at anytime you need to go throw up, go right ahead. Try to make it to the sink first though. If you feel dizzy, maybe keep your eyes open and gently focused on a stable spot in front of you. Keep breathing.
Mentally, you’ll have a bunch of stuff going on. You probably have a headache or find it particularly difficult to focus. And there may be some emotional trickiness to deal with, too. Maybe you’ll be worrying over what you said about Brexit or there could be some ominous blank spots in your memory.
There might be some excitement going on – elation that you finally told someone you liked them or some enjoyable booze-induced bonding. You might still be drunk.
Put a little space around these feelings if you can and try to hold them with some gentleness.
There’s a tendency with hangovers to punish yourself because it’s ‘self-inflicted’. Bugger that nonsense.
It’s really important to see being hungover as an opportunity to be super-kind to yourself.
Get up carefully when your timer goes off.
Meditating with a hangover teaches that you can deal with your really unpleasant and uncomfortable feelings when your first instinct is to escape them.
Being present with yourself when you feel like shit means you’re less likely to resort to numbing or self-pitying behaviour, like drinking loads more or beating yourself up for getting so drunk.
Creating that space, becoming interested and kind to yourself, means you’re processing the feelings instead of storing them up and letting them fester. It’s a major life-enhancing skill.
Now go and eat a plateful of sausages and drink lots of water.
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.