Find your zen

Looking for those brief pockets of calm in the storm

For many people, meditation is an effective way to clear the mind of distracting thoughts and find inner peace. In recent years, mindfulness apps like Headspace and Calm have brought the practice of meditation to the masses. However, meditation isn’t for everyone - and the act of meditating isn’t the only way to find that peaceful state.

I’m not a meditation expert, but I have dipped in and out of the Calm app over the years. At some stages in my life, I found meditation to be really helpful and I still recommend it as a way of dealing with panic and anxiety. But in recent years, I’ve opted for other ways of zoning out.

Practice makes perfect

In order to feel the benefit of meditation, as with any routine, you have to make it a regular practice. You’d not embark on the Great North Run without any training, so don’t expect to be able to meditate your way out of a panic attack without putting the groundwork in first.

Contrary to popular belief, meditation isn’t about clearing your mind of all thoughts. It’s about creating distance between you and your thoughts and recognising that they are just that… thoughts. You can visualise your thoughts as balloons or clouds passing by, and gently nudge your attention back to your breath.

But, what about if meditation just doesn’t work for you?

You don’t have to sit cross-legged on a cushion to find a meditative state and the calmness that comes with it.

Running and cooking are the two activities that I personally find calming. I’ve only been running for a year, but I am currently training for the Great North Run (you can donate to my fundraiser for Pancreatic Cancer UK here). A lot of my time spent running is just agony, I huff and puff away and wish it was over. But every so often, I find myself in a confident stride, where my thoughts are relatively at peace, and all I am thinking about is the next step. Just like how the majority of meditation is spent bringing your attention back to the present, with just brief moments of actual calm, running is mostly torturous with pockets of elation. There’s probably a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

Feeding the soul

When it comes to cooking, this is the only thing that really makes me feel close to my Mam, who passed away in April 2019. She cooked everything from scratch and, at a very early age, she taught me the basic foundations of cooking without a recipe. She could look in the cupboard and assemble a meal, even if she was missing some key ingredients, she’d always create something delicious. And that’s the kind of cooking I do, too.

We own a lot of recipe books, but it takes a lot of effort for me to actually follow a recipe. This takes the fun and, ultimately, the meditation out of cooking and turns it into a chore. I have a Rolodex of recipes in my head that I learned from my Mam, and I typically always cook a vegan version of something she taught me.

The meditation comes in the form of chopping vegetables, stirring sauces, tasting dishes, and other acts that involve engaging the senses and focusing the thoughts on the task at hand.

I asked the Twittersphere what they found to be meditative, and I was overwhelmed with the responses. Whether you’re looking to find your zen or just curious about what other people do to zone out, here are some of the replies:

As always, you’ll find me on Twitter @ContentByTheSea or reply to this email for a confidential chat. Wishing you all a calm Wednesday!

📚 The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton - Often compared to Daisy Jones and the Six, this is the story of an unlikely rock ‘n’ roll duo set in the 70s. Highly recommend the audiobook as there’s a huge cast of voices and it’s more like a play than a book.

📺 The White Lotus (HBO) - Reminds me of Succession, but I have even less of an idea about what’s going on.

🎉 It was my hen party on Saturday and we had a fabulous time making cocktails and singing our hearts out at karaoke!

That’s all from me this week, see you next Wednesday for more ramblings about mental health, work culture and the internet.

Ellen x

Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:

10 August: The fear factor

3 August: You shall not pass

28 July: Recharging your mental battery

21 July: How much is too much to share

14 July: We’ve got to talk about Twitter

7 July: Meet my poison parrot

30 June: Memes are the best medicine

23 June: Backup plan

17 June: The sun always shines on TV

10 June: Practical tips for panicky people

3 June: Sciatica strikes back

26 May: Looking after yourself is hard