MRIs, meditation and monkey brains: Mindfulness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

Happy Talk: Christine Manby wanted to switch off from the stresses of daily life. But she just couldn’t get into the right head space

Meditation, like knotting a cherry stalk with your tongue, is impossible for some
Meditation, like knotting a cherry stalk with your tongue, is impossible for some

A rainy Monday afternoon in June and I’m up to my knees in an MRI machine having my broken foot scanned. The kind, young radiologist offers me earplugs or headphones. I choose headphones. He asks what music I’d like to listen to while I’m in the machine. “Anything but Coldplay,” I tell him. “Good choice,” he agrees, then hands me something that looks like a stress ball attached to a thin tube. “If you want to stop at any time, squeeze this.”

He leaves the room to be safely out of the way when the magnetic bombardment begins. The gigantic machine is fired up and that unique MRI sound starts up: demented tweeting over a sinister bassline of grinding groans and dungeon-heavy clanks. Then the music starts seeping through the headphones at a frustratingly low volume. And while it’s not Coldplay it’s arguably worse. Folk-pop.

It’s cold. I can’t reach the blanket the radiologist put in place for such an eventuality. From where I’m laying it looks as though an enormous robot is swallowing me feet first. And I’m listening to the kind of ukulele-based music with whimsical vocals that sends me skittering out of cafes without finishing my cup of tea. I am seconds away from squeezing the emergency valve but that might only make the ordeal last longer. And then it comes to me, this is exactly the kind of situation in which it would be really, really useful to be able to meditate.

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