“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Blaise Pascal, 1654
We all like to think superheroes are the pinnacle of childhood dreams, the ones plated in metal armour who can fly and fight. But here on planet earth, where 8 billion of us live in the real world in our daily grind, there are no superheroes, just people who are struggling to make it from one day to the next. Eeking out an 8-12 hour work day existence.
Within that existence, we face a multitude of examinations and challenges; I have found that facing them head-on is paramount to living a good life. That is why one of the best things I ever did with my life when things got difficult was picking up a mind exercise that changed my life, meditation. We know it now as mindfulness, but in its purest form, it’s simply just sitting alone in a room, silent with your thoughts. I have been practising this daily regimen for over ten years every day. It hasn’t been easy. In the beginning, it was particularly difficult. When I started mediation, it pushed me to my limits; it brought up discomfort I knew I had but didn’t want to confront. I was essentially looking at myself but not in a mirror. Yet after the first few months, when I was able to calm the distortion, everything around me started to shift.
Many thoughts in different shapes and tones arose, and I became a witness to them. But instead of trying to clear my head of these thoughts, I became friends with them and watched them pass. Like sitting on the side of a canal and watching this steamboat putter along. Each thought had a shape. They each possessed an emotion. Once I became an observer, I wasn’t following those feelings anymore; I was merely just a witness to those thoughts.
That process changed my life from someone who inhabited their instincts to someone who became more aware of them.
I still struggle with meditation, and I still get impatient, angry and irritable; those things never go away. I still see the thoughts and feelings and transgress them. I get frustrated about that, but I try and become aware of that process too.
I am not seeking enlightenment or some whole transcendence. It would be nice, but we know that lofty ideal is still out of reach for many, including me.
What I am talking about is an ordinary everyday superpower which I was surprised I could cultivate that I sometimes took for granted. It is simply the act of being aware. What does awareness mean? It merely means you possess knowledge or perception of a situation. What I didn’t know back then before meditation that I am in awe of now is how hard stories were always working on my body and mind. My world shifted once I realised this.
Sometimes when I got angry or found myself in an irritable situation, I became aware of it, similar to witnessing your ego committing these egregious acts. It didn’t mean I stopped doing it, I commit these acts every day, but I became aware of it and went back to the drawing board to start again. That is why for me, meditation is a non-negotiable act. It is the same act as having a shower and sleeping.
I believe we all must find the courage to sit with ourselves because our body is made up of all types of narratives. It’s incredible how many negative thoughts I noticed that I possessed when I was not aware of them. And I believe we need to be aware of the harm we drown ourselves in.
The other superpower I have found that I possess is the capacity for empathy, which is better than X-ray vision or flying. Somehow science tells us that if you meditate, you build the muscle for compassion and empathy. It’s a superpower that would benefit many people worldwide, especially with all the turbulence we face.
Many impressive scientific resources tell us how profound meditation is for you. One recent piece emerging from the British Medical Journal mentioned that regularly practising meditation helped regulate the gut microbiome and had the potential to lower anxiety, depression, and heart disease.
From changing the topography of your brain to mitigating some of the worse effects of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Hundreds of papers support these claims; you don’t need to be religious or spiritual to sit and do this.
In light of studying meditation, we are still at the early stages of this scientific inquiry. Many scientists see how, when we meditate, different parts of our brain light up, like our limbic system and pre-frontal cortex. These are indicators that something profound and reformative is going on. It is working on you, and we know it is good.
For me, it’s not about solving all the problems in your life, it’s not about finding enlightenment, it’s just about giving you respite so that you can take the edge off, and if you develop a superpower whilst doing it along the way, then why not.
Reading list that helped me: