Monday, 2 August 2010

mindfulness and mortality

It's tedious when someone buttonholes you with the Answer To It All, so I won't do that. It's also tedious if you already know about the Answer and someone still insists on sharing her unrequested enthusiasm! Nevertheless...

If you suffer from a chronic condition that causes you pain; if you suffer from depression (you'll know that's more than feeling a bit fed up sometimes...); if you feel over-stressed, prone to panic attacks, and have high anxiety levels; if you are scared of death, or as I've been arguing, more likely to be more scared of the annihilation of your sense of identity, then:

Mindfulness may be able to help. It may not suit you. It's not a magic bullet. It's surprisingly hard work. It's not an instant thing, you have to work at it. It's not a cult. It's not excessively expensive (a once-a-week eight week introductory course is the typical structure, and I paid less than £200.)It doesn't promise instant enlightment, magic transformation or super-powers. (I already have superpowers, which is why I know exactly what you're thinking...) It does not require you to follow a set of supernaturally-directed beliefs, it's not a religion, but it shouldn't interfere at all with your religion if you have one. It doesn't have a set of difficult jargon designed to exclude outsiders. It doesn't have the superficially attractive trappings of a different and exotic culture, it's not "cool" - it's the Plain English version. All these things I like about it.

I don't get any cash for recommending it, which is a slightly less attractive aspect of it from my point of view, but should reassure you.

OK, so that's the typical British habit of defining a thing by negatives, before moving in very slowly and cautiously towards what it is.

Interlude: Why I did the course, why I am practising it: I help with non-religious funerals, and talk to many bereaved people.This is not gloomy or depressing work, and I don't regard myself as a morbid person,but it is difficult and demanding, occasionally stressful, and very draining sometimes. It also brings you regularly and face to face with the simple fact of mortality.

Most of us celebristers are not in the first flush (in fact not so far from the final flush) which is probably a good thing, because life experience, e.g. having been bereaved onself in the natural order of events, ought to make us more sensitive towards the bereaved people we're trying to help. Well, I hope that's true of me, anyway. But it does mean that my own mortality is a little more often in my awareness. I think an afterlife is, er, extremely unlikely (I'm being polite, and were it likely, I find it a most unappealing idea),so I am facing the eventual end of ME-awareness. Now, ME is often a pain to me, doesn't do as well as she should, and so on, but is the only ME I've got.

So how to deal calmly with all this, how not to rush round in a sweat trying to write "Anna Karenina part 2" with one hand whilst cleaning out the gutters,recording chart-busting songs, and learning to cook world-class beef rendang with the other hand, before it's too late? i.e. how not to worry about time slipping by, how not to be "wild with all regrets," how to hold it all in balance, how not to pretend I'm 21 again, how not to behave like a complete arse?

Mindfulness certainly helps. It helps with the occasional stresses of funeral work, it helps with the dread of annihilation, it helps with the inevitable aches and agues of age. It is calming, and it helps me be more tolerant (yeah OK I know, but you should have heard me before mindfulness...)

What is it? Well, hopefully, if you're really interested, you'll steam off round the internet and find out. Nevertheless, on the off chance that you're as lazy as me, I'll tell you a bit more about it (or at least how I see it) next time.

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