Meditation – it’s something we all know we should do, but so many find they can’t! On one hand, yes, it’s a discipline which requires practise – very few of us can just do it straight away! On the other hand, if we’re living in a high level fight, flight, freeze state, we simply won’t be able to calm that “monkey mind”, as I recently heard it referred to.
So, if you have PTSD or even high levels of anxiety, being prescribed a meditation practice without resolving the underlying issues will usually make the practice frustrating and often ineffective. The best case scenario here would be that, if you exert a huge amount of effort and discipline, you may find it helps you manage. But let’s face it – some people with PTSD feel so unsafe that they can’t even close their eyes, let alone turn off their inner alarm bells and find internal calm. It’s impossible unless the cause has been addressed and resolved.
This is not only the case for people living with PTSD. Anxiety, depression, extreme stress and the sense of not being safe is a spectrum. Even without PTSD or trauma-related stress that monkey mind can be extremely powerful and insistent. It’s a survival response – deep and primitive.
PTSD & MEDITATION – relaxation response
A study mentioned in Herbert Benson MD’s book, “The Relaxation Response”, noted that meditation on a group of ex-military did have a positive effect. The positive effects lasted whilst the men were doing the meditations twice daily, and disappeared as soon as they stopped. Nothing was resolved. A helpful management technique in this instance? Yes. A solution? No.
AND FOR THOSE OF US WHO DON’T SUFFER THE ‘BIG STUFF’
I am a keen meditator and have been since my 20’s. I had a fab childhood, loving parents and was given wonderful opportunities. And yet, even with a childhood no one could consider traumatic, I picked up ‘stuff’. I accumulated ideas and baggage which didn’t serve me. We all do! After I resolved that stuff from the past, WOAH! Meditation was oh so much easier! I was able to find that expansive please of peace so much more effortlessly and quickly. Do I still need to exercise mental discipline? Yep, sure! Some days more than others, and it remains a practice. But it’s a practice where the monkey can be tamed. I don’t have the sense that I’m fighting it all the time.
So what I’m saying is, anyone can have a monkey mind! You don’t have to have PTSD for your monkey mind to have been activated and very hard to switch off!
And… anyone can meditate and experience the extraordinary benefits of it – once the past ‘stuff’ has been resolved.
MONKEY MIND AND NEURAL NETWORKS
This week a client came for her second session with me. At the beginning of the session she said that when she tried to think the “old thoughts” she used to think – you know, those thought bunny burrows the mind likes to revisit and rehash and retravel! – she couldn’t go there. She said it was like there was a block which wouldn’t allow her to think that damaging, undermining thought material anymore.
Huh! Her monkey had been redirected! Was this through effort of will? No! Her neural networks had begun to shift and change through a very different way of working. We’d collapsed some networks which had, in the past, sabotaged her, and built new ones which served her.
This isn’t directly in reference to meditation and the monkey mind, but it’s the same idea. The underlying issues must be dealt with first. Need it take months and months, or years and years? No!
If you’re someone who believes “I can’t meditate”, consider getting some help to shift the obstacles so that you can. Meditation is a most life-affirming, wonderful, powerful practice.