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I had a meditation teacher once who always used to say, “We’re all essentially quite neurotic. Enlightenment is simply a reflection of how well we know that neurosis.” It’s an interesting idea and one that I’m frequently reminded of. I sometimes wish that people could see what goes on in the clinic, to be reassured that far from being completely crazy, they are actually surprisingly normal. I think that sometimes there can be a temptation to assume that we are the only one feeling a certain way. It can be hard to believe that other people would indulge or suppress thoughts and feelings in the same way as us. After all, the patterns in our mind feel so unique and personal. We tend to live so internally (in our own heads) that we forget that very often other people are experiencing exactly the same thing.
Sometimes when I point this out to people they say “Yeah, but mine is especially bad...you will never have met anyone with anxiety/depression/anger/addiction/insomnia as bad as me!” And of course it’s true to say that we’re all on a sliding scale with these emotions. But it’s extremely rare that I meet someone who is truly off the scale altogether. And this is important, because in acknowledging that we all struggle with thoughts and emotions in a very similar way, we start to feel a little less isolated. At the same time, we also start to develop a greater sense of empathy.
It’s the nature of the mind to be a little crazy sometimes...or even all of the time! But remember, meditation is not about trying to dial back the craziness. It’s about understanding the craziness—knowing it, watching it, having some perspective around it so that you can relate to it in a way that feels comfortable. Of course, when you learn to do this, some of that craziness may start to settle down a little and perhaps even disappear altogether. But that part of the process is really out of our control, so it’s probably not worth spending too much time dreaming about it.
So next time you feel as though you might be losing your mind, try taking a closer look by stepping back (contradiction in terms intended) and watching the madness of the mind with a bit more perspective. Remind yourself that if you’re experiencing it, then someone else is also be experiencing it—of that you can be certain. I think there’s something very reassuring in that. It helps us to take things a little less seriously, perhaps to even laugh at our own madness once in a while.
If you’d like to share your own thoughts with me via Twitter, then please feel free to follow @andy_headspace.
Andy Puddicombe is a registered clinical mindfulness consultant and a former Buddhist monk. He is the author of Get Some Headspace and is the founder of Headspace, a project that aims to make meditation accessible and easy-to-learn. To check out Headspace and try our free 10 day trial (Tricycle readers get 25% off a yearly subscription), you can click here.