WHAT WOULD YOU RATHER ...
Meditate? Who, me?
Perish the thought.
If you happen to be someone who would prefer to give yourself an electric shock than be stuck in your head, take heart.
You are not alone.
OR NO ACTIVITY AT ALL?
A study conducted at Harvard and Virginia universities aimed to establish whether people would prefer to do an unpleasant activity then no activity at all.
The results, published in the prestigious journal Science, showed just how far people will go to avoid introspection.
A battery of 11 experiments involving more than 700 people were conducted at the psychology department of the University of Virginia. Participants were asked to be alone in a sparse room with their thoughts for just 6 to 15 minutes.
Easy? Oh no.
SOME PEOPLE JUST PREFER ELECTRIC SHOCKS
In one experiment, some people preferred to self-administer electric shocks, by pressing a button, rather than doing nothing at all.
These same people, by the way, had previously said they would pay money to avoid receiving the painful jolt.
One enthusiastic gentleman gave himself a total 190 shocks.
Men were the worst offenders.
64 percent of men, compared to 15 percent of women, opted for the shock option.
The lab psychologists were surprised at the findings.
By way of explanation, they speculated it could be because human beings, when left alone, tend to dwell on what’s wrong in our lives.
We are compulsive problem solvers.
It doesn’t feel good to reflect, if you don’t have the skills to support the activity.
A SIX WEEK INTERVENTION
Fast-forward to a story from a graduate of a 6-week mindfulness meditation course.
After a lifetime spent suffering from anxiety, 40-something Julie Myerson confided in her GP. He recommended a six-week mindfulness (MBCT) course at the Maudsley hospital in south London.
That’s right, only six weeks.
For Julie Myerson, it changed everything. It gave her the tools to manage her errant mind, and its ability to drive her to hell and back.
Julie wrote about her experience, and the debilitating anxiety that proceeded it, in an article in the Health & Wellbeing section of The Guardian in 2014.
“The first sitting-down meditation was excruciating.
A whole 40 minutes sitting in a chair and doing absolutely nothing, while Dr Ruths talked us through it. I was bored, restless …
“We were sent home with daily homework: progress sheets to fill in and various guided meditations on CDs. I did mine diligently – I wanted, very badly, to get better.
But I was also beginning to remember why I'd resisted the idea of meditation for so many years: it was difficult, dull and uncomfortable. What was the point?
Quite how this changed – but change it did, and profoundly so – is hard to say.
Somehow, somewhere, across those six weeks, something happened inside me – in my head? my body? my soul? – and I began to understand.
Sitting still became a boon and a comfort, even a luxury, rather than a threat or an irritation.
And the present moment, right here, right now, began to seem a very comfortable (and comforting) place to be, bereft of dread and full of the possibility of peace and calm.
"Most importantly, I seemed to be developing a whole new relationship with my thoughts.
It wasn't that they'd really changed … but I could see that they were simply that: thoughts.
I did not have to judge them, act on them or indeed do anything very much about them. They did not … have the power to undo me.
Only someone who has suffered from chronic, debilitating anxiety will understand quite how exhilarating this realisation felt.
I had made peace with the workings of my mind. I was no longer afraid of myself."
To be (alone) or not to be- Julie's experience contrasts strongly with that of the study participants.
The University psychologists hit the nail on the head with their observation: "The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself".
Those of us who have had the opportunity to learn and practice meditation will not be shocked.
copyright Shakti Burke
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