(Article en français ici)
“He who has seen the present has seen everything, that which happened in the most distant past and that which will happen in the future.” Marcus Aurelius (6 ,37)
« Just breathe », « Have you ever tried to breathe? », « Do you know stomach breathing? », « Ok, but do you know how to really breathe? », « It’s ab-so-lute-ly mind-blowing, you’ll see! ». Here’s what I heard from (well intentioned) people when I told them I had trouble sleeping, I was anxious 24/7 and I suffered from nervous dizziness. « Yeah, I mean… I do breathe » I answered them. « I don’t see how breathing is gonna help me » I thought. « You know what? Actually, I don’t want to breathe, it’s gonna make me dizzy again, so I’m gonna pass, thanks… » my subconscious whispered.
One day, it is my doctor’s turn… He tells me to read what Christophe André has to say about something called mindfulness. Great… I’m not convinced but I still appreciate the fact that a physician (a French one at that!) recommends a method which is usually quickly associated with « alternative (i.e. bullshit) medicine ». He earned my respect just for that!
Then again, a few weeks later, I was drawn by the hubbub of a conference on the link between genealogy and hair (yes, it does exist) on the second floor of a book shop. I was wandering around the bookshelves (just close enough to eavesdrop, you know… casually) and the letters just appeared before my eyes: « Christophe André ». So, we meet again! I have not thought about you since… my doctor mentioned your name. I open the book, it’s quite heavy, I go through the pages, I read without even really meaning to and the little voice inside me says (for the first time in my life) « Buy it! ». So I did.
Days after days, chapter after chapter, I get sucked in this book. I religiously read things I already knew or just intuitively guessed but this time they are printed in black and white and arranged in words by another human being! At the end of the book, I take the meditation CD out of the end cover and get down to it.
I meditate, for the first time in my life. I have to focus on my breathing. Nothing else exists, except my breathing. More precisely, my breath… just right now. My previous breath is not anymore. My next breath is not yet. You let go of the past, you do not anticipate the future. Only counts: now.
It is quite hard to reach this state for someone who has a little bike running 24/7 in his/her head… But it is not about « not thinking at all » (which is, btw, impossible) but to focus your attention on a moving thing (which helps your thoughts to hang on to something). You have to observe and let go of the thoughts which might distract you from the exercise. You have to take a step back and look at the waterfall instead of being under the flow. You have to look at your thoughts the way you look at soap bubbles in the sky and stop identifying yourself to/merge with them. All of this must be done with absolute kindness towards yourself: without any judgement on your performance (« I failed », « I can’t seem to do it », « It was great, let’s do better next time! ») and zero criticism about the nature of your thoughts. Finally, you need to have… no goal whatsoever: it will not solve all your problems in the blink of an eye and no miracle solution will come out of it instantly. We do not give you fish to fry, we are teaching you how to catch fish.
Mindfulness meditation is to refocus on the present time, without any purpose (#reminder). More precisely, you have to concentrate on your breathing. Then on your body sensations. And finally, on the sounds around you. Many meditation versions exist according to different topics: love, gratitude, altruism, relationships, etc. And many online applications can help to meditate every day and discover new themes.
This technique allows your mind to be more stable. Your mind is like a snow globe you just shook, you have to get still and wait for the snowflakes to come down to see the scenery inside. It is just like a puddle: you just messed with the water, you have to wait for the dirt particles to settle down to see things clearly again. You have to wait for the return to order. Meditating is useful to clear your mind, give yourself a little presence for once (and then to the world) and differentiate « react » from « respond » (read the damn book I’m telling you).
I’m not going to lie to you, at the end of my first session, nothing happened really. I just got back to my busy day. But, when the time to sleep came… And I managed to fall asleep, which had been so difficult for me for weeks at this point… And I did not make the connection between my session and my miraculous falling asleep right away.
For the record, it is in the late 1970s that Jon Kabat Zinn first wanted to apply the benefits of buddhist meditation to a medical and secular environment. The 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme is born to fight against depression, anxiety, stress and emotional disorders (all info available online). In this book, Christophe André focuses on mindfulness meditation as he has been using it personally for many years but also professionally, as a psychiatrist in Sainte-Anne hospital in Paris, to help (among others) his depressed patients to get better and not relapse. Every chapter begins with a masterpiece to invite you to considerate a few things first.
If I’m telling you all this, it is to demonstrate that even if you do not believe in it at first, you can always find something in it.
Ideally, you must meditate every single day. Even just a few minutes are enough. A lot of studies show meditation has many benefits. Psychologically of course, but physically and neurologically too. Some benefits are even visible thanks to MRI!
I know how it is (too) easy to think that we do not have « just a few minutes » to meditate or to not want to go and disrupt a general anxious state we are already managing in the back of our mind. And yet… It is a daily practice.
« Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed. » Saint Francis de Sales