Deborah Ross: A neurotic searches for inner peace
First time for everything: we all know that variety is the spice of life. But what happened when we challenged four writers to explore their untapped potential?
Saturday 19 June 2010
I worry. A lot. Worry, worry, worry, worry... sometimes, it's all I do all day, and now I am worrying about all the worrying I do, which is worrying, and a worry. I worry about work and money and family and the stuff I haven't done but should have done and the stuff I have done but shouldn't have done, as well as the damp in the kitchen and the tax man, who may be about to put me in prison and, of course, it never gets me anywhere. My mind is like a washing machine stuck on spin. And I can go at a worry from every angle. Is my teenage son doing drugs? If not, why not? Don't his friends like him enough to pass any his way? Worry, worry, woe and worry. I think I'd only need my crops to fail to have a hit country song.
This is why I want to try meditation because, I've always assumed, once you can meditate you can take a mini-break from yourself in a way that doesn't involve an entire wine box. I might even be able to worry about Afghanistan and climate change and endangered wildlife. Whereas now? I just don't have the time. Natterjack toads will become extinct and I won't have worried about them the once! I suppose I have thought about meditation ever since I was little and read a Famous Five book which kicked off with Julian, Dick, Ann, George and Timmy lying on their backs on the grass, while trying – and failing – to think of nothing. Or at least Julian, Dick, Ann and George were trying – and failing – to think of nothing. Timmy was the dog so he was probably thinking about meaty bones and sniffing at crotches. That's dogs for you, but then dogs don't have to pay VAT. Is it ever possible to think of nothing? Can you, even though the kitchen is damp and your teenager may or may not be doing drugs?
This is what leads me to London Meditation, and a penthouse in Camden, just round the corner from the market which used to be cool but is now a horrible place selling the same tat across 789 stalls. Oh boy, I even have to worry about Camden now. London Meditation is owned and run by Susann Herrmann, whose name has extra letters where you least expect them and who used to be a banker (boo!) but now isn't (hurrah!). Now, she is a clinical psychologist who employs "the wisdom of meditation" to teach people how to find some "peace". The session this afternoon is four hours long, and I am convinced I will get nothing from it. My thoughts are immensely tedious. If you had my thoughts you would keel over with boredom. I'm amazed I stay upright. But, golly, it's hard to let them go. Once, at phenomenal expense, I had hypnosis for giving up smoking and I could not be hypnotised. "You are hypnotised but you just don't know it," the hypnotist kept saying. I lit up as soon as I got outside. That's how hypnotised I was. Naturally, I hated myself for this. "That was money well spent," I said to myself. "Well done you!"
So, into the penthouse, where 10 of us have gathered for this "Introduction to Meditation" afternoon. There are, I discover, many kinds of meditation but today, Susann, who is tall and German but has a lovely soothing voice, will be introducing us to the "mindful" technique. This, apparently, helps you accept stressful scenarios rather than wrestle with them in a way that is the very opposite of mindful – ie, mindlessly – and also allows you to "live in the moment". Hang on... this "in the moment" business is just another worry, isn't it? What does it mean exactly? And what moment? Just this morning, I was in a rush and buying milk from the corner shop when the woman ahead of me, also buying milk, paid on a card. No one pays on a card at the corner shop! It's not allowed! I was incensed! So that was a moment, but why would I want to stay in it? Will all be revealed?
We start with five minutes of closed-eyed silence during which I try to think of nothing. Big mistake, as I then think of everything: all my old worries plus a few new ones, including "I'm bored already and there are still three hours and 55 minutes to go". Susann – so many 'n's, so little time – then leads us into a 60-minute guided meditation. This involves 15 minutes of being aware of our bodies and breath – "breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out" – followed by 10 minutes doing some bizarre swaying, and then, for the rest of the time, we have to get into a comfortable position – I lie down – and pay close attention to our breath (again!) plus all the different parts of our body: feet, lower leg, lower back, but not cellulite, thank God, or I'd still be there. (There is a lot of cellulite to contemplate – also a worry.) I nod off for a bit, which has to be bad, and I can't shake off the belief that everyone else is doing better than me, which also has to be bad, but at some point I do start getting it a bit and what I get is this: when a thought comes to you, any thought, you do not have to engage with it. You can wave it on its way. This, I think, is what "being in the moment" is all about; it's about having thoughts and "not wanting to judge or change them", as Susann puts it. It's about "not re-living the past or pre-living the future". It's hard to explain, particularly in 800 words – do you think it's not a worry, having to write this in 800 words? – but it does kind of work.
Before we go, Susann teaches us something called the "three-minute breathing space" which is "meditation for busy lives". You focus on your breath for one minute, the sounds around you for the next, and then, for the final minute, you greet every new thought with the following saying: "It's OK. Whatever it is, it's OK. Let me feel it." You can do this on the Tube, apparently. You can even do it when you want to punch people in the corner shop. Paying on a card! Whatever next?
I can't say I leave Camden transformed. And I can't say I haven't gone into panicked downward spirals of thinking since. But I am still practising the three-minute technique and can sometimes send my thoughts on their way without giving them the chance to beat me up. It's rather nice. Will I keep at it? I hope so, just as I hope my crops won't fail. They won't, will they? Oh-oh, here I go again...
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