Mindfulness and Mental Health
Last Monday we had our first event in collaboration with the Hearing Voices Network,
a mental health organisation The Mindfultrail Project aims to support.
This is a peer group of people who experience voices, visions, or have other extra-ordinary perceptions. Some may have had a medical diagnosis, such a schizophrenia, some may have not.
In this group, people can freely share their experiences without fear of judgments, diagnosis or stigmatisation.
I believe there is therapeutic wisdom in this, because as it often happens, when they start having unusual perceptions, people may feel a lot of resistance towards their own experience, and they try to suppress it.
In peer groups individuals feels accepted for what they are because they can share their experience, as it is.
So, while the system of medical diagnosis, labelling, and “cure” can create distance and can contribute to resistance, division and stigmatisation, peer groups may help the person reintegrate his disowned parts into a new sense of self that is acceptable to live with.
If others are able to accept the experience without resistance, the person may allow himself to accept it as well.
If one awareness is not enough, many may suffice.
This “welcoming environment”, is what, internally, a meditator should aim for, when practicing mindfulness: an open field of non-judgement awareness of what already is.
Therefore, for me, mindfulness and mental health go together.
This may go against mainstream psychology, but I believe that suffering is caused
by the lost connection with our essence, the empty space of awareness.
I do not believe that mental suffering arises from what we think.
It comes from a loss of space.
So I believe that mental suffering is in the conscious, not in the unconscious.
Is the quality of awareness that matters, not the nature of the thoughts we are having.
The voice already is. What you do with it is key.
If the awareness is not strong, mental afflictions occupy the whole field of attention,
and, out of control, keep replicating.
Perceiving something, and immediately judging it.
Then resisting the judging.
In a continuous loop.
This is where we get lost.
And this is the cause of mental suffering, which is resistance to what is.
All happens unconsciously, without any notice of it.
In this fashion, the mind wastes most of its energy in friction,
always in resistance to itself.
The organism ends up deprived of energy, to the point of developing an illness such as depression, a chronic lack of vitality.
No energy to deal with the simple acts of life.
I believe, then, that we all stand on a “curve of sanity”.
On one side you have the zen master (total awareness, little afflictive thoughts), on the other, the person in psychosis (total afflictive thoughts, little presence).
“Normal” people fluctuate between these two states according to situations, times, or areas of their lives that can trigger certain mental states.
How to maintain a good mental health state then? With mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the capacity to bring a non-judgemental awareness to mental events.
If the awareness is strong, it does not matter what the story is about,
and the seer will not be swept away by it.
No matter how ugly, or beautiful, or enticing, the story is.
Awareness is neutral and, if strong, can take care of anything.
This reminds me of the story of Ram Dass who gave a good strong dose of LSD
to his teacher Ramana Maharshi to try.
When he took it, he was totally unfazed by it. No reaction.
This is the stillness that can take care of everything,
even green dragons!
So we do not have to believe the story we tell ourselves.
This is not something that we can do at once.
And not just when meditating on the pillow.
It is a continuous process that we must bring into daily life.
Every time we must recognise where we stand.
Are we believing our story entirely or are we watching it from a state of awareness?
Do we only see the story or also the space of awareness that embraces it?
Do we see the sky or only the clouds?
Recognising the sky as sky, and clouds as clouds
is the only way to be free from mental afflictions.
So that we do not just depend on today’s weather.
This way, we won’t get trapped too long in the psychotic side of the curve.
We will get to spend more time in the saner part.
Every time we use our awareness to snap out of the story, recognise our forgetfulness as forgetfulness, we are of great service to humanity.
We are recognising resistance, and making the unconscious conscious.
When we take care of our resistance, nobody, including ourself, has to suffer because if it.
When we help the tension ease, we align ourselves with the whole Universe, with its direction towards dissipation, towards total relaxation, towards higher entropy.
And not towards creating more pain,
which is resistance
to how things are.