We are all busy busy busy these days. Even those of us now of retirement age seem to find ourselves with little time to spare.
Some of us are still working, some are active volunteers and some have family members who need looking after. One way or another, our days seem very full.
And everyone tells us it would be better if we slowed down.
Or at least, we should find some time in our day when we slow down for a period, taking our mind away from our worries and our bodies away from all the activities in which we are engaged.
The most frequently suggested way to slow down seems to be meditation or mindfulness. In the last five or so years, these have come to be recommended everywhere.
This really hit home to me when I was urged to undertake meditation by a senior hospital doctor, as a means of coping with a difficult pain. He even recommended a particular app for my mobile.
Meditation can be guided or unguided. Guided meditation means that you have somebody – perhaps a person or perhaps a podcast – who talks to you about your breathing and your thoughts. It helps you to focus.
Alternatively, you do it solely on your own. Or, for that matter, in a group meditation session.
Some people swear by meditation and feel that it makes all the difference to their day. Personally – and I know I am not alone here – I find it very hard to do.
They tell you to empty your mind, to think of nothing, but I find that impossible. I lie there and I try to think about nothing, which isn’t nothing, it is something.
Then I try again – but find myself suddenly wondering if the washing machine has finished its cycle or whether we have enough milk for the morning. This is definitely NOT meditation.
I know it takes time and practice and perhaps you would love meditating, but it’s not really for me. I use some guided meditations for putting me to sleep, but as a general rule, I am not really very good at it.
Other Means of Clearing the Mind
And then I began to think it all through. Years ago, meditation may have been the only simple way to clear your mind and divert you from daily chores. But we are lucky – we have many others.
Let me mention a few. You may have others.
We tend to think of yoga as a form of exercise and it certainly does stretch all sorts of muscles – and take you away from other day-to-day activities. But, if done properly, it is also a means of focussing the mind on the activity at hand and therefore of clearing it of all other worries.
Indeed, the very word yoga in Sanskrit means ‘yoke’ and is intended to convey the union of body and mind into a higher liberation.
It often incorporates certain breathing exercises, but even in their absence, the practise of yoga is intended to bring about some sense of mental peace.
Some would argue that the same effects arise from traditional forms of exercise, such as running. Or dancing. They involve the body, of course, but do take the mind to another place.
I have never heard anyone compare doing puzzles with meditation, but I think it is not such a wrong analysis. These activities also take your mind clear away from your day-to-day worries, while stopping your body from running around.
These may be old-fashioned but complex jigsaw puzzles (not the 100-piece ones, intended for children), which became very popular during lockdown. You spread out all the pieces and concentrate so hard on finding the right ones that you cannot think of anything else. Because of this, it is very relaxing.
I am not personally a fan of spending my time this way, but I know if I were to be doing such puzzles, I would forget the washing machine and the milk. Mind cleared, body rested.
Sudoku and Other Number and Letter Puzzles
These days, there are many kinds of paper and pencil puzzles, getting increasingly complex. In the old days, there were only crossword puzzles. They all seem to be especially popular with older people.
Although I work with words all the time as a writer, I have never really liked crossword puzzles, but I do like both codewords and, particularly, sudokus.
Doing all these types of puzzles is enormously absorbing. You completely forget everything else. No time to worry about the washing machine.
I tend to do two or three sudokus as part of my pre-sleep routine and find that they inevitably lead me to forget other issues on my mind.
Explicit meditation or other activities, they all cause you to slow down.
Have you tried meditation or mindfulness? Did it help you to slow down? Have you tried yoga? Has it helped clear your mind of worries? Do you do sudoku or other puzzles? Would you agree they have an element of meditation?