Mindfulness at St Nich’s
The prominence of mental health problems has grown in recent decades, to the point where it now appears to have become an epidemic in Western societies. The charity MIND estimates that one in four of us will experience serious mental health ‘issues’ at some time during our lives and the NHS is having to devote huge sums of money in trying to deal with the effects. The chances are that you have people close to you who are suffering mental health crises.
It could be argued that we all suffer from mental health ‘issues’ since none of us can claim to be happy all of the time and it is merely a question of degree. Indeed, many of us may well be suffering from depression or anxiety without even being aware of it. Our coping mechanisms are usually sufficiently strong to enable us to avoid being seen as acting irrationally and thereby being classed as ‘having a mental health issue’.
The good news for all of us is that exciting advances in the neurosciences are demonstrating that these crises can be cured or avoided and the physiology of the brain altered by natural means. Obviously, our personal circumstances and the challenges that life throws at us affect our mental health, but studies show that they actually play a surprisingly small role in our overall well-being. Of far greater importance is the way that we are able to deal with these challenges.
The claims made for millennia by proponents of meditation as to its benefits for our well-being are now being proven and scientifically explained by neuroscience. Studies of the brains of those who have attained mental mastery have demonstrated radically different physiology, with much greater activity in the areas of the brain associated with stress coping mechanisms and happiness.
These findings are gradually being translated into medical practice, to the point where meditation and mindfulness are being encouraged as part of the solution to the mental health crisis. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is now the officially preferred first course of action rather than the prescription of anti-depressants, since it is recognised that, although the latter may be very useful in relieving the symptoms, they are not capable of altering the mental processes which lead to the crisis. Resorting to the drug without resolving the cause of the problem, more often than not, leads to long term dependency on the drug, with all the side effects that this entails. Unfortunately, uncovering and overcoming the mental processes and habits which lead to our mental health problems is a much more complicated and expensive process than prescribing drugs. Many doctors faced with patients pleading for instant solutions will still rely on anti-depressants as a first option.
Putting the science into practice
Bearing all of this in mind, we can be grateful that the Reverend Philip Lamb of St Nicholas Church is running a meditation group upstairs at the Parish Hall on Thursday evenings. He has found meditation to be of great value in his own life and believes that it can greatly enhance our state of well-being, no matter what our current predicament may be. The group welcomes people of all persuasions and Reverend Lamb reports that it has attracted people from many different backgrounds, including atheists, agnostics, Pagans, Christians and Buddhists. There is no charge to join the group, only a donation box, the proceeds of which all go to the homeless as a way of developing ‘loving kindness’.
Whatever your current state of health may be and whether you are new to meditation or not, we would recommend that you give this group a try and take what could be a significant step on the road to true, lasting happiness. In this age of instant gratification, the results of meditation for some will be too subtle to discern, but as a long term strategy for our well-being, science is demonstrating that it is probably the best option we have.