One of the most powerful and tested way of maintaining control over our thoughts, mood and state of mind is the practise of meditation. Mention meditation and it probably brings to mind the image of bearded Indian gurus sitting atop a Himalayan mountain in the lotus position chanting mantras. But the fact is that increasing numbers of people in the west are starting to awaken to the very real benefits that meditation can have on their everyday lives.
Phoenix founder Andrew Cowie has credited the practice of meditation with saving his life following a prolonged period of depression and stress-related illness. He says: “Meditation taught me how to still my thoughts and stop ruminating over things which had happened in the past and what might or might not happen in the future. You can’t prevent thoughts from jumping into your head but you can choose whether or not to indulge them. Meditation taught me to view my thoughts as if they were a train sitting at a station platform. It’s fine to stand on the platform and look at the train but if it isn’t going to your chosen destination then you don’t want to get on board. Similarly, you don’t have to let your thoughts take you to dark places that you don’t want to go. You can observe them without letting them carry you away.”
After first encountering meditation through a stress-management class, Andrew was so profoundly moved by how effective it was that he began to delve deeper into the types of meditation practised throughout the world, including sound and colour work, Buddhist mindfulness practises and the pranayama techniques of the Indian yogis. He’s been able to incorporate all these methods into the arsenal of techniques used by the Phoenix programme.
Meditation can help with:
Stress is one of the great epidemics of the modern age. We live in a society that is over-anxious and burdened with worry. The financial crises of recent years have taken a huge toll. An austerity-driven agenda of relentless cost-cutting has led to vast swathes of job losses, zero-hours contracts, mass unemployment plus burgeoning workloads and longer hours for those “fortunate” enough to have kept their jobs. The cost of living has continued to rise whilst wages have been squeezed, leaving many people worse off than they were a decade ago.
To put it bluntly we’ve become trapped in our fight-or-flight mechanism which our ancestors only used as a response to life-threatening situations. We’ve become like cars which have been driven with the accelerator pedal rammed permanently to the floor until the engine blows. That’s what happens to your body when you ignore the early warning signs of stress and try to keep battling on at full throttle. Don’t ignore those warning signs. They’re there for a reason. The smoke coming out the engine is trying to tell you something. It’s time to get help. Meditation can help us to break the habits of unhelpful rumination and worry so that we can slow down, become more grounded and start to live our lives with a greater sense of internal peace and harmony.
MANY people suffering from stress or anxiety also have depression and it’s extremely common for the two conditions to go hand-in-hand. Some people still think that depression is trivial but they’re wrong. Depression is a real illness with real symptoms, and it’s not a sign of weakness or something you can “snap out of” by just “pulling yourself together”.
The main thing to realise is that you’re not alone. Many famous people have battled depression, such as JK Rowling, Buzz Aldrin, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Jim Carrey and actor Robin Williams whose tragic death in 2015 catapulted the subject into the public eye. One of the biggest problems faced by sufferers is the fact that depression is an invisible illness. Unlike, say, a broken leg, the effects aren’t visible to the casual observer. But that doesn’t make it any the less of an impediment. If anything, it makes it worse because there’s little support or sympathy. Meditation can help by making us less self-critical and more accepting of who we are and what we are.
Because of our increasingly stressful lifestyles, more and more people are turning to forms of substance abuse to make themselves feel better, but the tragic reality is that alcohol and drugs only ever make things worse. Yes, they might provide us with a very brief and temporary sense of euphoria or stress relief but these effects will soon wear off and leave us feeling even worse than we did before. Addiction takes many forms – it’s not just about smoking, drinking or drug use but also gambling, shopping, computer gaming and even Smartphone addiction. We’re living in a culture of instant gratification which leaves us constantly wanting more. No matter how much you have, you’ll always be chasing the next product, the next model, the next iPhone, the next car, the next job or the next episode of a TV show. Our binge culture has left us addicted to the feelgood chemicals serotonin and dopamine and we’re constantly looking for more of whatever gives us our personal hit. Here at Phoenix we have a strong track record of working with addiction and with helping young people in particular to break bad habits and turn their lives around. Meditation is one of the key tools in the Phoenix arsenal, helping our clients to find a greater sense of internal harmony and wellbeing without dependence on external sources of stimulation.