A calming reminder of the value of finding silence for focus and creativity amid the uncertainties in the world around us.
Gaelle Wormus describes her personal journey into the world of meditation and explores the opportunities that it provides during a time of disruption and uncertainty.
I have always been attracted to meditation, however it was always going to be a thing for when I had more time in my life, when life would be less chaotic or noisy, when I would have the perfect space or the perfect state of mind, fewer parties or hard deadlines.
Well, guess what? It hasn’t happened of course. Now the mother of two young boys, building an ambitious career, teaching, farming and loving the outdoors, my life is not calm, peaceful or less busy, and probably will never be.
The real question that I needed to answer was: how do I do it all with presence and efficiency without stress and the feeling of being overwhelmed?
When a friend of mine told me that meditation was just what I needed, I said thank you but no thank you! I have never been able to sit still emptying my head of all thoughts while I have so much going on!
Later on, I was again advised to meditate to manifest more synchronicities and be more creative with adapting to the changing situation of my work life. This particular technique that was suggested, convinced me.
It involves stillness but not emptying my head. Rather, it supports focusing my thoughts on four topics in consecutive phases. There are no beliefs to adopt or guru to follow. It is a simple method. While structured, it still allows enough flexibility to make it my own. What attracted me the most was that it is based on brain science and more particularly the activation of certain brain waves that are generally unutilized during the day, creating an imbalance, which results in stress, feelings of disconnection and fatigue(1,2).
I wish I had known about this when I was a student, because now, as a teacher, it serves me by lowering my stress, grounding with my students and listening to them with more focus and calm.
Whatever your experience with meditation has been thus far, I am here to tell you that it has become the best tool ever to help me get through this lockdown period. You might be scared, feeling insecure, your mind is overworking all the possible scenarios for the future, you cannot predict what will happen and it is frightening! You wonder if what you are studying is even the right path. If the economy will be back up and running when you graduate. In the midst of a huge crisis, our priorities can become clear, only if we take the time to question our choices and reflect on our lives.
It took me a few repetitions to begin to enjoy it. At first I would feel restless laying down in my bed wanting to scratch my head or nose and my only progress was measured by how long I could pass this “resistance test”. I learned later that it is actually the biggest obstacle that people have when they start meditating, and it is easily explained by your brain freaking out because it is a new experience. In short, when you are not sending messages to your brain by staying still, because it is unusual, it sends you some scratching messages to make you move again. When your brain starts to understand that you are safe, even if you don’t move, it stops and allows this new experience in, which enable you to activate low frequency brain waves called Alpha, Delta and Theta(3,4).
Studying online or having to teach remotely is an adaptation to make right now. Are you constantly distracted by social media, notifications and calls? Do you feel that at the end of the day you haven’t been productive at all? You are now more isolated than ever, walking from your bedroom to your kitchen, to your bedroom again, to your living room. Motivation is low when learning, memorizing, teaching or interacting through a screen with people. Meditation can speed up any learning skills you have to develop right now, enabling you to adapt more quickly, efficiently and with more confidence. It can bring clarity and show you the right path you need to pursue.
During the COVID-19 slow down period, you pretty much have only two options:
- The first one is to sedate your brain with TV shows, chemicals and distractions in order to not feel the uncomfortable feelings that this situation brings up and wait for it to pass, and for everything to go back to normal. Without any judgement, I completely respect and understand why you would take this option. Indeed, you have been told that feeling sad, angry and depressed is negative, you have been told that if you express it to anybody it will bring them down, you have been told that you have everything to be happy, so damned it, BE HAPPY! Smile, and you will feel better…most importantly shut up about it! Fake it until you make it! When we watch a movie, we can cry, feel love or anger in empathy with the characters and it feels good to feel with them while nothing is happening in our lives…because feeling is living! Watching a movie is almost like jumping into a different reality, we adopt one of the characters and feel what they feel. Their courage, their fear, their heroic actions…. In the meantime you don’t feel your feelings and the benefits are very short lived(5)…
- The second option is to utilize this time to develop your inner self. You can learn more about yourself, accept being uncomfortable about the things that are obviously not working anymore in your life and be willing to find your new normal. Growth only happens with some degree of discomfort, but it doesn’t have to paralyze you. Feeling these intense emotions like depression, sadness, overwhelming anger, etc., in this stage is common. With meditation you can alchemize them, understand them, take the lesson you need and move on to your new reality(6). While the world is on pause, we can observe our lives with a critical eye, everything is laying in front of us, the good and the bad. Thanks to the limited motion we can close our eyes and listen to our heart. It has always been there, but with the hubbub around you, you might not have heard. Will you decide to choose this option in order to find your alignment and creative ways to adapt easier to this new world? If so, keep reading.
As humans, meditation has always been part of our societies, mostly in the form of prayers. While we develop more and more studies in neuroscience, the increase in publications linking the benefits of meditation to brain health is blatant. It is shown to be able to increase your Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ) in a very short period of time(7). In the context of mathematics, you might want to consider meditation as a practice to train your most valued tool: your brain. Indeed, like the scientist in a lab, you need tools to perform your experiment. Your untrained brain is by nature highly distractible, never still and always moving from one thought to another. “Meditation cultivates your mind as a tool – steadies it, sharpens it, gives you practice in controlling it. It allows you to run reliable experiments in your head (which is what math is, sort of) (8).
I often experience downloads of ideas and creativity when I meditate. I believe that if you are working on a complicated mathematic problem, by meditating on it you can unlock some clues to solve it faster and with more creativity.
In addition, if this COVID-19 situation is bringing up fear for the future, questions about your educational path, financial stress, questions about certain relationships then I know that you can improve your mental health thanks to meditation. This will help you be more productive in solving the problems that you are facing right now, being in math or in your own life. You will find answers that are aligned with your authentic self, and that will lead you to happiness, success and confidence, while finding clues to progress within your field.
Be aware that it is easy to use a guided meditation to escape once more your reality, sedate your brain and have feel good hormones running through your body. I believe in the power of your inner voice to guide you through your mediation. While a guided meditation is great at first to help you direct your thoughts, after a while if you want to find your core, connect better with yourself, your creativity and develop magic synchronicities, stay still in silence and listen to your inner voice with a structured meditation.
Holistic career consultant
- Dadashi M, et al. (2015). Effects of increase in amplitude of occipital alpha and theta brain waves on global functioning level of patients with GAD. nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4741268/
- Gladding, R. (2013). This is your brain on meditation. [online] Psychology Today. Link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/use-your-mind-change-your-brain/201305/is-your-brain-meditation
- Lagopoulos J, et al. (2009). Increased theta and alpha EEG activity during nondirective meditation. ink: 1089/acm.2009.0113
- Neuro Feedback Alliance, [online] Understanding brain waves, link: org/understanding-brain-waves/
- Bayraktaroglu, D., Gunaydin, G., Selcuk, E., & Ong, A. D. (in press). A daily diary investigation of the link between television watching and positive affect. Journal of Happiness Studies. Link: 1007/s10902-018-9989-8
- Tara Bennett-Goleman, 2002, Emotional Alchemy: How the Mind Can Heal the Heart, Harmony.
- Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves 2009, Emotional intelligence 2.0,Talent Smart
- Luke Wollcot, 23r November 2011. Contemplative education; math and meditation [online] Link: https://blogs.ams.org/mathgradblog/2011/11/23/contemplative-education-math-meditation/?fbclid=IwAR1n8GpAmM-WwpE2WzVqXyY00XS6lKmY_3i5XbllPXcGkDmHyWUBh8qqBsg