We’re getting close to the date when people make resolutions for the New Year. A great one would be to begin a regular mindfulness practice. Just a few minutes of mindful meditation each day could set you on the course to wellness and better management of mental, or any, illness. I’ve written about how to begin, and encourage you to start as soon as possible.
One caveat is presented by Williams, Teasdale, et al. in their book The Mindful Way Through Depression. If you are currently in the throes of an episode of major depression, you should wait until things are more settled and stable to begin. I think this applies to an episode of full-blown mania or psychosis as well. Mindfulness can help us recognize that our negative thoughts are not a true definition of ourselves. It enables us to focus on non-judgmental awareness of our current situation. Few things help us to better deal with a mind that drags us down, or alters what we know to be real. But this takes some practice. This practice is best undertaken when things are relatively smooth.
When a practice is established and consistent, meditation can help us keep our positive and healthy center and navigate the turmoil of difficult episodes. It can even help us predict when these episodes may occur, and allow us to intervene to prevent things getting out of hand. Self-attacking thoughts can be revealed as erroneous, and a more balanced mind can flourish. However, when a meditator is too inexperienced to release thoughts as they arise, sitting and focusing on the breath while labeling thoughts and letting them go may not work as well. Things can quickly spiral out of control and the very thoughts we seek to release can gang up on us and begin to hijack our self-definition. So, if you’re determined to begin meditating but you are presently suffering greatly, seek the medical and therapy interventions that work and return to meditation when things are more stable.
If things are more stable, please begin. It won’t take very long to train yourself to release thoughts as they take you from the present moment, and you will be better prepared to deal with the most challenging episodes when they occur. When your practice is established you can continue to meditate through those episodes. You will even find that as your practice deepens, debilitating episodes will occur much less frequently and may disappear entirely.
If you’re in the grip of an episode, hang in there. Draw on whatever strength you can muster and realize that there are a lot of us pulling for you. Reach out, because even though you feel alone, there are others prepared to help. Time for sitting still will come, but right now just protect yourself and know that you will have plenty of time to meditate. You likely have been through this before. Mindfulness will help, but today, be well.