Nobody in their right mind questions the need to look after their physical health – to exercise, get enough sleep and eat a healthy diet. As a society, we have a tendency to focus only on the physical, but it’s the mind that must come first.
It’s wonderful that mental health has begun to get some airtime in the form of mental health awareness weeks, mindfulness courses and other helpful interventions. It’s a promising start, but it doesn’t go far enough, as issues such as anxiety, stress, burnout and depression are all symptoms of an already unhealthy mind. Even if we don’t explicitly suffer from any of the above, the average person’s mind is out of balance. Let’s unpack this with four questions.
1/ Do you ever get triggered, derailed or upset by other people’s behaviour, adverse circumstances or bad luck? And do you think, if this issue alone was sorted out – an annoying colleague left the company you work for, for example – all would be well in the world?
When we are upset, we tend to look for a culprit to blame. The same incidentally applies to pleasant experiences. We overlook the inner cause of our distress. This is the first imbalance.
2/ Does your mind ever hold you back, be that at work or in day-to-day life, because you can’t sustain attention on something for long enough without becoming distracted or losing focus?
We tend to glorify these situations as “multi-tasking”. The truth is that in our modern, digitalised world, we all suffer from some degree of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – another mental imbalance.
3/ Have people noticed you have a tendency to be biassed, prejudiced or judgemental about certain events? In your mind, you know you’re right and struggle to see how nobody agrees with you.
Even righteous indignation is a symptom of mental suffering. Yet, when we fall prey to delusion – a complete misapprehension of reality – the mind is seriously out of balance. I’d go as far as to say that most of our perceptions are in fact skewed, but they can definitely be less so. This is the third type of mental imbalance.
4/ Do you ever over-react or react inappropriately through your actions, words or thoughts when someone or something triggers anger, resentment or frustration?
There’s a difference between reacting and responding, and they even have different neural correlates in the brain. When we experience knee-jerk reactions, our sympathetic nervous system is aroused and in stress mode, and we suffer what has been called an amygdala hijack. This, too, is a sign of mental imbalance.
You might justify all this simply as part of being human. But there’s a crucial problem here. If your mind is tormenting you through any of the above, you don’t have a chance in hell of experiencing any sustainable form of wellbeing. And what could you wish for more than that?
“Contrary to what you might think, it does not necessarily mean spending hours sitting on a cushion (although I would say it is tremendously useful if you really want to see the benefits) or adding another activity to your to-do list”
This is where meditation comes in. The Sanskrit word for it is “Bhavana”, which simply means “cultivation” – the cultivation of the mind. Contrary to what you might think, it does not necessarily mean spending hours sitting on a cushion (although I would say it is tremendously useful if you really want to see the benefits) or adding another activity to your to-do list.
It means learning to cultivate desires and aspirations that are conducive to your own wellbeing and to that of the people around you; learning to be discerning and mindful of what you are choosing to attend to at any one moment in time; understanding the difference between what is objectively occurring and what we are projecting onto reality; and maintaining an introspective awareness of our emotional landscape and reactions.
These are four different aspects of mental balance, each of them indispensable to our sense of mental wellbeing. So let me ask you again: can you really afford not to meditate?
Words by Dr Clara Seeger PhD
Dr Clara Seeger PhD is an experienced coach, corporate facilitator, speaker and author who has been practising mindfulness and meditation since 2012. She is the author of Mindfulness at Work: Learn to be Mindful in Seven Simple Steps (Hachette UK, 2016), a practical and neuroscience-based introduction to mindfulness in the workplace.
Dr Seeger works with people either on a 1-2-1 or group basis to help them cultivate greater mental balance in order to achieve higher levels of sustainable wellbeing. If you’d like to explore the subject of this article further, you might be interested in her upcoming two-day London workshop “Meditations for a Balanced Mind” from February 1, covering all four dimensions of mental balance theoretically and through meditation. Contact her for more details at [email protected].