4 ways to find fulfilment
We’ve spent years trying to suss our sense of inner peace and happiness, yet modern life and expectations can leave us feeling frustrated, impatient and desperate to perfect our psyche and polish our personalities. Here, we offer ways to counter the ill-effects of a stretched modern life:
1 Stop trying to meditate
Meditation; it’s the solution to our modern, frenetic world, right? The theory is appealing but, in practice, we’re struggling to ‘tune out’. Convinced by the theory, we’ve listened to the experts, read all the books, and we’re really focusing on nailing it, but that’s where we’re going wrong.
‘I don’t use a specific technique, nor do I rely on any set of instructions,’ says meditation expert Fabrice Midal, author of The French Art Of Letting Go (Seven Dials, £12.99). ‘My aim is not to become wise, or calm, or patient. I have no aim, no objective, not even the idea of starting or finishing the day in any particular state of mind.’
With a quarter of a century of meditation behind him, and 15 years teaching the techniques, this may seem odd, but it works. ‘I see beginner meditators confused as they haven’t been transformed, nor do they even feel less stressed. They then wonder if they haven’t concentrated hard enough, or have failed to detach themselves from their thoughts.’
But that pressure is the antithesis of meditation. Instead, the goal is to stop trying so hard. ‘Deep down, meditation is quite simply the art of being,’ explains Midal. ‘Stopping, giving ourselves a break, no longer running but remaining in the present and anchoring ourselves in our bodies.’
His advice? ‘Sit down. On a cushion, or a chair, it doesn’t matter. Are you awash with thoughts? So be it. I don’t force myself to empty my mind – that can lead to an uncontrollable flood of images and worries. Instead, I acknowledge what is happening, taking my thoughts as they come. I don’t dissect them, nor do I push them out. I consider that all my thoughts, all my perceptions, are a part of meditation. Ultimately, I don’t do anything. I just am,’ he adds.
Think of it not as closing down, but opening yourself up to the world through your senses; feeling your feet on the ground, your hands on your thighs, your clothes on your skin. Hear, see, feel, breathe. Breathing requires no effort. Meditation should be the same.
2 Stay kind
The past couple of years have created real division. Our coping strategy? Looking after number one, because if the word around us is going crazy, we can at least maintain some personal equilibrium. Unfortunately, though, it’s backfired; ‘It’s tempting to retreat into “in-groups”. Disappointed by the beliefs of others, we’ve attempted to “expel” them from our worlds, but that just fuels an “us and them” mentality creating more disconnection and ultimately anger fed by collusion and a personal sense of anxiety,’ says psychologist Shona Cameron. And with that division and anger comes anxiety – rates of which have soared by a third since 2013.
Now, we need to flex our empathy muscle, slowing down to listen to others around us, helping them feel seen and heard – whatever their view. That doesn’t mean giving up on our beliefs, but it does mean not surrounding ourselves with only people who share our outlook (hello, Twitter feed echo chamber). We need to spend time with healthy critics; people who love us but don’t mind telling us the truth. We also need to give ourselves permission to be imperfect, and value ourselves anyway because, when we do that to ourselves, we can extend it to others.
‘When faced with tension, division and discomfort, apply the non-violent communication (NVC) process, which has four key components: observations, feelings, needs, and requests,’ says Cameron. ‘First, describe objectively – no criticism – what is happening, then describe the feeling it is stimulating in you, state what need of yours this is linked to, and finally make a request for what to do about it right now.’ Here’s an example: ‘When you said that (observation), I felt upset (feelings) because I care about our friendship (needs), so can we just start this conversation over? (request). It’s hard to be truly disgusted or annoyed with someone when you allow yourself the time to understand their perspective. ‘When you lose that annoyance, you lose the anger, too,’ adds Cameron.
3 Find an outlet
The average Hong Kong citizen clocks up a 50-hour working week, making them one of the hardest-working nations in the world, and with that comes stress. Their solution? Special ‘Ikari Areas’ where they can smash up domestic goods to unleash their inner rage in a safe environment.
‘Smashing up things sounds fun, but in reality it doesn’t healthily dissipate anger, it can fuel it,’ says psychologist Emma Kenny. ‘But we do need an outlet for rage, because swallowing it up isn’t a healthy way to deal with it.’
So what’s the right thing to do? Of course, if you can breathe through the stress and find inner calm, that’s the best option, but often you need a release. ‘Exercise is one of the best outlets; running, walking, or releasing pent-up energy during an exercise class. Writing down what’s on your mind in a stream of consciousness is another winner, walking around the block and saying it out loud another. Cooking – particularly anything that requires kneading can give you a positive outlet, taking a cool shower is beneficial, or if all else fails, head to the bottle bank and launch those empties!’ adds Kenny.
Read more: 6 stress-busing Pilates moves
4 Stop constantly ‘doing’
A downside of our endless quest for self-improvement is that we’ve lost patience. We only think we’re achieving if we’re ‘doing’, we only think we’re recovering from a knock if we’re ‘moving on’. We want to learn a new language in three months, meet a new partner six weeks after a split. We ask, ‘What can I do to feel ready to move on?’ when what we need is to stop. We want an exercise to do, a book to read, an action to try, when what we need is to do is give ourselves permission to live out sadness rather than struggle against it.
‘It means building deep down, on rock and not on sand,’ says meditation expert Fabrice Midal. ‘We’re ashamed to admit – even to ourselves – that we experience desire, anger, or disappointment. If we do encounter these feelings, we think that we can’t ‘really’ be happy. But negating our painful emotions, and resenting feeling or expressing them, essentially entails refusing a part of our humanity, which is made up not just of joy but also of sorrow, imperfection, distress, and dark moments. We’re ashamed to cry in public, but we are moved when others dare to.’
We need to afford ourselves the same care and lack of judgement. ‘When we are most exposed, most genuine, when we don’t cheat, only then do we find the possibility to truly connect with others. It’s as if taking a risk is required for a real heart-to-heart connection,’ he adds. So how do we do that? By changing our approach. ‘Don’t be perfect, be ambitious,’ says Midal. ‘Accept your failings, ignorance, and imperfections. Just do your best, based on who you are, and on the reality you have in front of you.’