Somewhat ironically, I was prevented from writing this post last week by a noisy house and a noisy mind. It was one of those weeks where I felt like I had requests coming from every which way, deadlines crashing headlong into deadlines, and endless lists both on paper and in mind.
As a result, my brain was too busy, too noisy…going over tasks in finer and finer details, whispering little wisps of doubt that I’d ever get things done, and rehashing reminders ad infinitum.
I was in dire need of some quiet.
Haven’t we all been there?
And so, this week, I say ssshhh…I’m going to try some quiet.
Last month I committed to reading something different (yet again) and as a result, explored the possibility that meditation might help calm my hyperactive mind a little. The book was Quiet the Mind, an illustrated guide to meditation by Matthew Johnstone. I was also extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to chat to Matthew about the book, about health and well-being and about meditation itself.
Quiet the Mind (Pan Macmillan) is a straightforward step-by-step guide to calming the mind through meditiation. In addition, it provides some real stop-and-think moments about just how busy we are, and the effect that this is having on us on a daily basis.
“Modern society has made ‘sitting still’ even more difficult with its tempting mantra of always ‘being connected’. Cable TV, the internet, smart phones, social networking, twittering, blogging, email, texting – all profound and useful breakthroughs in technology but they have gobbled up our every waking moment with the need to be doing or saying something. And then you have your day-to-day life on top of that.”
Guilty as charged…
Interestingly too, the book itself also does a great job of highlighting the dangers of negative internal dialogue, something I’m sure many of us struggle with from time to time.
Matthew Johnstone, as a follow-up to his earlier works I Had a Black Dog and Living With a Black Dog presents a solution to many of these modern day maladies:
“There is a simple solution that can make you calmer, more focused, more present and happier. It has been proven to reduce stress, improve metabolism, reduce pain, lower blood pressure, improve respiration and enhance brain function. It costs nothing, and all you have to do is…NOTHING.”
‘Nothing’ is of course mediation and Quiet the Mind offers a beautiful, illustrated guide to basic meditation. It assumes nothing, is to the point, practical and sensible.
I had a chat to the author, Matthew about his most recent book….
Can you tell us a little about how this book came about?
Really it all started in 2005 with the publication of I Had a Black Dog, an illustrated book of my experiences of depression. I’d been working in advertising, and I guess I just didn’t really have the mental fortitude for the work that I was doing. I worked more and more, I didn’t want to let anyone down. I became very stressed, and eventually very depressed.
I was quite desperate to find a way through this situation, the depression, to find a way to get better, to get back to normal.
I came to realise that there’s no silver bullet. There was no way to simply get back to my old lifestyle, instead I had to change my lifestyle. It was in fact a potpourri of things that ended up helping; I learnt to communicate clearly and effectively, to rest well, to exercise regularly and to quiet the mind, through mindfulness and mediation. I think this book is a natural extension of that.
Is it fair to say then that mediation plays a major role in your own life?
Yeah, I think so, and so much more so now. I’ll give you an example…
The other day I had a huge list of things to do, and I was really, really tired. When I’m really tired, I’m a bit like a bruised apple…you know, your brain just feels bruised? So I kept on looking at my huge list and thinking ‘I don’t feel like doing any of it…’
I thought I’d stop, and meditate, so I went into my bedroom, put on my noise-cancelling headphones and meditated for 45 minutes. When I came back out the other side, it was like a completely different day. I had real clarity and I managed to get through my tasks relatively easily from that point. For me, it’s largely about uncluttering the mind. It brings clarity, brings you into the moment.
Some people think meditation is a bit flaky, too hippy, a waste of time, but for me, I waste far less time after I’ve meditated. It’s a bit like putting on a coat, which you carry around with you for the rest of the day.
Interestingly though, meditation is a bit like exercise in many ways, particularly in that when you most need it is when you least feel like doing it. It is good to remember that it can really pay off.
It all sounds like a great idea, but a lot of us are very time poor and a quiet space is often difficult to find. Do you have any suggestions for those might struggle to get 30 minutes to themselves?
Of course it can be difficult to fit meditation in sometimes, but most research will tell you that it can be up to two times as effective as sleep, so one thing you might be able to try is to get up, first.
If you can, if you’re able to get up half an hour before everyone else and while it’s quiet, meditate. If you meditate properly and regularly, you’re not going to miss out on that sleep, and you’ll find that it’ll improve your outlook, improve your connection with those around you and help you be more positive throughout the day.
You might also be able to fit it in in the evening, although I find that it’s best not to do it right before bed. For me meditation is a bit like having a shot of expresso, so it’ll keep me awake if it’s too close to bedtime. Rather, once the kids are in bed, take half an hour, remembering that meditation is not just about sitting and relaxing, it’s about sitting with intention.
I think using an illustrated format is very suitable for your subject matter, but it is a little different – almost a picture book for adults. What made you choose this format?
When I first pitched I Had a Black Dog six publishers rejected it. Who’d ever heard of an illustrated book about depression? That little book is now in twenty different countries!
I think a picture is worth a thousand words, and illustrations can articulate a message so much faster than words alone. I know this from having worked in advertising, pictures can just suck you right in and quickly.
When I created Quiet the Mind I did so in such a way that meant you could understand it pretty much without reading the copy, from the illustrations only. Funnily enough, when I was researching this book, I found that there were hundreds and hundreds of books on how to meditated, and I wondered at the time just how something that is relatively simple has become so complex? Why would it require so much explanation?
If you can put it in a visual context, and give people visual metaphors that they can think of themselves when they’re working on their meditation, then they’re half-way there.
As a parent, I’m always looking for resources to help my kids learn and live. Do you think meditation is just for adults, or can it be useful for stressed out kids and teens?
In my work I see totally stressed out, burnt out kids. There’s so much pressure on kids these days, the game has really changed for them.
Kids I’ve worked with in schools seem very receptive to the idea of meditation, or at least some down-time, quiet-time during their day to collect their thoughts.
With meditation, there is no harm in it for anyone, all it requires is a little commitment and a bit of time, and it can be of great help – for adults or kids.
Finally, what’s next?
At the moment, I’m doing a column for The Daily Mail, which is based on my Alphabet of the Human Heart. It’s the ‘Alphabet of Love’ and I’m working on it with James Kerr. It’s taking up a lot of time at the moment, and I’m sure that when it’s done, we’ll probably turn that into a little book.
I’m also very interested, in the phenomenon of technology, particularly social networking. I’ve very interested in looking at the effect that it is having on us, and on our children.
At the end of the day, I tend to find that one piece of work leads to another, basically…the story continues.
I’m pleased to be able to offer one reader a copy of Matthew’s Quiet the Mind this month.
All you need to do is:
1. Leave a comment on this post, or
2. Visit our Facebook page and leave a comment,
…and tell us what you do to quiet your mind.
I’ll draw one winner at random on Wednesday , 21.3.12. As usual, you’ll have 4 days to claim your prize or I’ll redraw.
I can’t wait to hear some of the ways that you relax, calm yourself, take time out.
Buy your own copy of Quiet the Mind, at the TBYL Store!