The Self Aware Silly Season
By Séamus Anthony
Okay … I’d better own up. After another super fun, not-exactly-self-disciplined evening, I am this morning, feeling pretty gosh-darn shabby. What can I say? Such fun friends!
Thankfully, these days I have learned not to beat myself up too much about my own nefarious behaviour and have plenty of knowledge about the ways in which to counteract the battering we tend to give ourselves during the Silly Season that is upon us.
Surprisingly, the most powerful of these tools is not a potion, pill or regime – not even that all-Australian hangover cure, Vegemite on toast – but simple self-awareness.
Head on a Stick Syndrome
Years ago, before I took up meditation, I had very little body awareness.
I like to joke these days that I was like a “head on a stick”; by this I meant that as far as the old me was concerned, the body was a thing I needed to hold my head up. I was aware that it had other pragmatic utilitarian uses, but these were, by and large, automatic activities that I gave little thought to beyond simple concepts like ‘Me hungry–food go in belly’ or ‘Me tired—time for bed’.
I most certainly never gave any thought to the fact that my hard-workin’, hard playin’ ways were adversely affecting my general sense of well-being. My mental stability was on the slide, but I simply had never thought that this might be, at least in part, due to the fact that I was working hard at it 60 hours a week, then going out drinking all night almost every night.
I smoked cigarettes from breakfast until bedtime, and supplemented this with the odd ‘university cigarette’ throughout the day. I usually had my first beer with lunch and kept them coming in from there at a gradually escalating rate until, late at night, I fell over, hopefully somewhere near a bed (I didn’t really mind whose).
As far as I could rationally assess, my life was great. I enjoyed my job; it had a future – I was about to buy the business; I had quickly made a lot of friends in an exciting new city; I was 26, confident, and popular with the ladies. I was also somehow finding the time to pursue my passion (singing in a band).
But I was cracking up, losing it. I couldn’t stand to be alone, and I felt like my head was coming unscrewed. I was increasingly so depressed that I would drink and smoke more and more each day to try and cheer myself up. I’d even get a nose full of whatever white powder was going around when I could. But nothing was helping; my mind was becoming more and more disturbed every day and I knew it.
Those close to me knew it too.
I’m a pretty perceptive observer of other people. I can generally read faces, voices and body language quite accurately. Reading those around me, I was noticing the signals they were sending: Dude, you’re off the rails, mate, and it’s a worry.
It probably seems pretty easy for you, and for me now, to read this and see what the problem was. I was destabilising my mind by working and partying too hard. The drink was going into my stomach, the smoke was into my lungs, but the negative ramifications (the most immediate ones anyway) were manifesting in my mind. If I was going to make myself feel better I would need to cut right back on the stress and the substances.
But I didn’t know this. I wasn’t tuned in enough to see the writing on the wall. All I knew was that I was unhappy and so I went looking outside myself for answers: a bookshop.
Magic Bullet Meditation
Ironically, my outward search for a magic bullet or a panacea to instantly solve my depression problems brought me to the concept of meditation. I read a couple of books about it, and then a couple more, taking in a few different viewpoints on the subject, until I eventually decided to give it a go. To my relief it showed quite early signs of doing the job. I found myself feeling calmer and less angst-ridden after meditating for a while. It wasn’t easy, but the longer I stuck at it the better the results. Soon I was well on the road to some kind of recovery.
I discovered a new awareness of my body. I became acutely aware of how physically ill I actually felt; how much my lungs hurt from all the smoking, how much my body ached from all the stored stress in my body, how much my insides were struggling to cope with the constant dowsing in alcohol they were being subjected to.
This newfound awareness of the way my body felt was at first a bit of a hindrance–or so I thought. Here I was trying to be mentally healthier, but the very technique that was facilitating this improved mental stability was also causing me to become acutely aware of every little feeling in my body–not just when I was meditating either mind you, but all through my days (until I was drunk again that is).
I had no choice but to concede that my lifestyle was responsible for my mental strain, and take steps to improve the situation. I decided to take a break from working overly hard, didn’t buy the business and instead worked part time in a position of little responsibility for the next year or so. I went on a health kick, following a naturopathic diet for six months that cleaned out my system, and an exercise regime that rebuilt my strength and fitness. Soon my health and well-being levels were back at a peak.
And why? Because I had found a way to increase my self-awareness, and self-awareness contains the seeds of great personal power. Being truthfully aware of one’s situation gives you the power to make informed choices. When I became aware of the extent that my full-on lifestyle was having on my body – and how this is then linked to the health of my mind, I became empowered with the knowledge of how to fix my situation (that of feeling mentally unwell).
How to Meditate if You Have ADHD
So meditation is a great way to increase self-awareness – this is a proven and well documented fact – but meditation is not everybody’s cup of tea. Some people find it boring, some find it uncomfortable, some find their minds go haywire–the opposite of what they wanted to try meditation for! All of these feelings towards or during meditation are normal and in fact part of the process, but having said that, the truth is there are always going to be those who don’t feel that they really ‘get’ meditation enough to bother to continue with it. This is okay; firstly because healing is not a matter of right and wrong or of things we ‘must’ do, and secondly because there are many ways that we can learn to become more self-aware.
Similar to meditation, but for some, more enjoyable, are the moving meditations, popular forms of which are Tai Chi, Yoga, Chi Gong and the martial arts of Asia. These all involve calming the mind, moving the body, and turning your attention inwards to focus on the inner body and mind. Or you could just go for a walk on the beach by yourself, taking in the air and the sights and sounds, allowing your mind to relax of its own accord.
When we learn to meditate or to do one of the moving meditations described above–or indeed if we increase our awareness by any other means–we become attuned to the vibrations of our own energies as they fluctuate and dance. This in turn gives us the ability to monitor our moods, our reactions, our stress levels, our ups-and-downs from a mentally clear, emotionally detached perspective. From there we can take steps to improve our lot by avoiding stressful situations, or by remaining aware of our negative tendencies and effectively controlling them. For example, if you were inclined to get stressed out every time a deadline approached at work (who doesn’t?) but had the ability through increased self-awareness to mentally ‘step away’ from your stressful emotions while the situation was occurring then you would be in a position of great personal power. You could learn techniques, like deep breathing or stretching (there are many others) to help you to release the negative chi that was upsetting your emotional balance, in turn enabling you to calm down and deal with the situation in a relaxed, even joyous manner. You know how some people seem able to cope with stressful situations with a smile on their face? You too can learn this skill simply by radically increasing your own self-awareness.
Self-awareness is power; the power to choose your response to any situation. If you can find a method of monitoring your own chi flow, of recognising and predicting the emotional response patterns that you typically follow from moment to moment as the events of your life unfold, then you hold in your hand the key to massive self-empowerment. If you have been ‘getting in your own way’, sabotaging your own happiness and success, then it is most definitely recommended that you find a technique to develop some measure of heightened self-awareness.
Right, now I’m off to take my own advice … and to drink about 40 litres of water while I’m at it!
Séamus is a writer, musician and entrepreneur