How many times in life has something happened that has upset you so much you are unable to stop thinking about it, picking away at the problem and giving it permission to take over your life. It doesn’t always have to be an obvious trauma inducing incident, it can be the little things, like the boss speaking to you in the wrong way, an unexpected bill that you can’t afford to pay or some incident in car with the driver sounding the horn at you when it was not your fault. It can also be big things, separating from a partner, an illness, major events that turn our life upside down.
To a greater or lesser extent, they all have the ability to stop us living our lives in the moment as we find it impossible to shake off the bad feelings that are caused by our thinking, when all we want is just to feel normal again.
If I had to look back over the years to what I regret, it would be all the time I wasted worrying and fretting over real or perceived hurts. Sleepless nights, tears and low moods because in most cases there was nothing I could do to change the situation, eventually with time the hurt would fade and I would store the event away ready to be brought back out anytime I was feeling down.
When I look back now, it all seems such a waste of time and energy, especially since the only person who was hurting was me. The perpetrator had walked away without a backward glance and had probably no idea of the hurt and pain they had caused.
When we get stressed over an event in our lives the first thing we have to do is decide if there something we can do to solve this problem. These types of problems are so much easier because you can bring your problem solving brain to the table and together you can work out a solution, a plan of action which will immediately make you feel better without actually having done anything at all.
But what can we do when there is no solution to the problem, there are no plans to make and no steps to take. We may be hurt, angry and upset but there is absolutely nothing we can do, except allow the problem to swirl around in our heads and threaten to engulf us with despair and injustice.
Just as an addict can only focus on whatever they use to soothe their thoughts, so a person holding onto resentment can only focus on the hurt that has been caused and no matter how hard we try it remains stuck in our thoughts and we cannot shrug it off. It can remain there for days, weeks, months and even years depending on the level of hurt that you felt. So how do we shake these thoughts off, how do we set ourselves free.
As Malachy McCourt said about holding a grudge and harbouring resentment:
“It’s like taking a poison and waiting for the other person to die”
One way we can start to bring our thoughts back under control is through meditation. Some of you may have already tried and given up, some may do it off and on but remain to be convinced. There are, however, proven benefits to meditation including reducing levels of stress and anxiety and these positive effects are backed by science.
In a 2011 study from the Harvard Medical School researchers examined the brains of 17 people before and after participating in an 8-week meditation programme. Brain scans showed an increase in grey matter in those parts of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and emotional regulation. Meditation has also been shown to reduce the level of the stress hormone cortisol which helps to make us feel more relaxed.
There are many different types of meditation but one that includes repeating a positive affirmation can help keep our focus of attention away from the problem we are mulling over.
So, why not give it a try, for the next 3 months set aside 15 – 20 minutes twice a day. If you can only manage once a day, then that would be a great start as long as you do it every day and cultivate a new habit.
If you are shouting at me right now, that you just do not have the time, then sit down and look at your day and decide what you can give up doing. Or better still get a friend or partner to look at your day and help you decide what you really don’t need to be doing. Take one thing out of your busy schedule for 3 months and discover how meditation can help you stop ruminating on all those anxious thoughts that cause sleepless nights and can lead to depression, loss of appetite and low mood.
Meditation is also great for helping fight addictions, and I recommend it to all my clients who have drug or alcohol problems as it can help both to reduce the associated cravings and to manage them better. It helps you to ride the wave of a craving without giving in to it. It is also great for preventing relapse for anyone who has successfully given up.
If you would like to try a little meditation, then there is no time like the present. Start by getting yourself into a comfortable position, preferably sitting up with your back supported. If you want you can set a timer for 20 minutes which will stop your mind wandering and wondering how long there is to go, like a kid on a long car journey constantly asking “are we there yet?”
Once you are comfortable start by focusing on your breathing, just become aware of it, just breathing in through your nose and out through your nose, feel it entering your body and leaving again and when you are ready close your eyes, relax your shoulders and unclench your jaw, let your body relax and repeat the following:
May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I find peace
And repeat 4 times
Then think of members of your family, one at a time and repeat the mantra again, 4 times for each person.
Then repeat it for all the other people you know as a group
Then repeat it for all the people you do not know
And then repeat it for the person who has wronged you. When we see that person in our minds eye, a person who we think we do not like because of the hurt they have caused us, it does not solidify our reasons for hatred. When we are wishing them happiness and good health, we can begin to forget the reason for the hatred and why we felt that way in the first place.
When we can understand that everyone, whether it is someone you love or someone who has wronged you, are only ever doing the best they can with the knowledge and understanding that they have at that moment. Then we can start to forgive and when we forgive, we do not set the other person free, we set ourselves free.