To stay mentally healthy, we need to accept the reality as it is, not as we’d like it to be

“Vipassana is the art of living, not the art of escaping” — S.N. Goenka

In Vipassana meditation one of the core concepts is the fact that everything changes constantly. And the meditation technique teaches you to deal with change within the framework of your own body. While being comfortably seated, you observe the sensations in your body and train the mind not to respond to everything you feel. When you’re getting more experienced in the technique, your mind becomes subtler and you’ll become aware of the fact that everything in your body is moving. It’s a weird experience at first because we hardly ever listen so carefully to our bodies like that.

What I like about Vipassana is that it gives you an opportunity to feel what’s been scientifically proven already: almost everything in our lives is composed of tiny pieces or particles. The particles which make up matter are atoms or molecules. They’re in constant motion, so they consist of energy. The chair you sit on, the table you lean at, the laptop you type on, the book you read, but also your own body is all made up of particles. The movement of those particles can be felt when you focus the mind on observing the sensations in stillness, without distractions from the outside. In a ten-day Vipassana retreat, these circumstances are created to give you a glimpse of that experience.

The theory behind this is simple and straightforward: everything is changing constantly and instead of resisting the change, you need to accept it because it’s the reality. Not to say that with acceptance comes inaction, on the contrary: embracing reality as it is, not as you’d like it to be, opens the doorway to action. Resistance makes you tired and leads to passivity. Acceptance makes you strong and leads to conscious decisions. We need the latter very much now. And it means we need to turn our gaze inward instead of waiting for things to change on the outside.

How to do that? The first step in Vipassana is the focus on the breath and that’s what you can start with today. Our breathing tells us a lot. Is your breathing superficial and shallow or deep and long? One isn’t better than the other, but it probably says a lot about the state of your mind at the moment as well. In a yoga class that I attended recently, the teacher explained how the quality of the inhalation might say something about whether you’re able to embrace life fully, and the quality of the expiration about the capacity to let go of things. And if you’re having a hard time holding the breath in between it might say something about finding it hard to lose control. I can’t confirm this from a scientific point of view, but it’s worth observing your own breath more often.

Our respiration connects the mind with the body and as we’re spending so much time in our heads nowadays — even more since the pandemic started and our work shifted to online — it’s important for our health to balance things out. Observing your breath without reacting and trying to change it can be a good practice to come to terms with the current state of the world. Don’t resist if your breathing is going too fast or too slow to your concern, and at the same time don’t get all enthusiastic if the breathing goes smoothly and deeply, just observe and accept however the respiration is going.

And apply this to what is happening in the world right now. Observe the events, observe the news about the events and accept the reality that is. Don’t react to everything that comes your way, whether it’s commenting on social media posts or putting yourself on the defensive in a conversation you have with someone. Instead of reacting to things that happen in your life, you’ll learn how to act and do things differently. So it doesn’t mean to just observe reality and accept as if nothing will ever change. It means to observe, accept and from that place of embracing the facts, act to make a difference.

When it’s about racism for example we tend to react to everything that is happening with our emotions. Whereas if we’d observe the fact that it is happening, accept that this is our reality (not denying that our society is racist) we then are able to take conscious action to change the racist system.

And the same with the pandemic. If we resist the situation we’re in, we bring our bodies and minds in a state of imbalance, causing fatigue, irritation and more negative emotions. Let’s just observe how this global situation affects our lives and accept that this is what it is. Once we do that there will arise a feeling of stability and belonging from within ourselves and we’ll become stronger to take certain actions. Not with the goal to change a global pandemic because you can’t control that, but for example to make our own lives better. Take more breaks from your laptop and social media, work with your body in doing exercise in the park outside, baking a cake, spend time gardening or sowing and be there mentally for others who need support.

And at the same time inform yourself in a deeper way, not by consuming all the different opinions on social media, but to do some proper research in finding the right sources and create a deeper understanding of what is going on.

The world is constantly changing and the future is uncertain. Not just now, but it always is. Once we learn how to deal with that within the frameworks of our own bodies, starting with the breath, we can train our minds to become more resilient. And resilience is needed to stay mentally healthy.

If you’re feeling mentally fatigued and need some new inspiration for your work or tips on how to deal with remote working I’m offering an inspiration session (by donation).

Exploring the solutions to the lack of inclusion in journalism, focusing on decolonising journalism and discussing whiteness, Eurocentrism and objectivity.