A theme throughout the last few pages has been that the brain is no longer something that can be left to run seamlessly on its own. In pre brain injury day to day life we remain mainly unaware of our brains and what they are doing, which is amazing when you consider the billions of neurons that are firing around every second. As a result of this lack of awareness when something goes wrong with your brain it’s very hard to ‘locate it’, to feel how it is doing and what it needs to get better.
If you are going to help yourself you do need to be able to get in touch with your brain and play a role in its management and support and bring about change. The best way by far that I have found to do this is through meditation. Primarily because to actually ‘get to’ your brain to need to tune out a lot of things that will be preventing you from getting there, you need to get enough quiet in your sub conscious and conscious minds to mean you have a clear path to your brain.
There are many aspects to life after brain injury which leaves you in situations you never thought you would be in pre brain injury. Whilst I was never against meditation, or had written it off as being ‘hippy nonsense’, it wasn’t something that appealed to me. As far as I was concerned I didn’t have time to sit down and hum to myself, I judged my quality of life by how much I could do in a day.
However I now live in a world where I often yearn for the next time I will be able to spend 15 minutes in meditation for my overall well being, and also if I have to make a difficult decision in work or at home and my head is spinning then just 5 minutes meditation can create an environment that allows me to think clearly and make a well judged decision. Ironically since the brain injury it is through meditation that I am now able to fit so much more into the day than before I started doing it. I am able to be more settled and consequently more efficient, more controlled, more assertive and more effective.
However although I normally yearn for an opportunity to meditate I also sometimes dread it, when I get really wound up and am tired then meditation is such a battle, and trying to calm yourself down is incredibly difficult and draining and sometimes frustrating. However despite the fight I know that it is the right thing to do for those around me and managing to pull yourself out from the darker moments is an incredible feeling, as the contrast is so stark between you pre and post meditating.
If you look up meditation on Wikipedia it is about 15 pages long. It is a broad term with a long history and lots of different disciplines. The most ‘on trend’ form of meditation at the moment is called ‘mindfulness’. All the different disciplines have their own theories and techniques when practicing. In terms of my experience I think that for brain injury you need to take from a range of different techniques as you have different challenges and are looking for different outcomes.
It has only worked for me in the context of the bigger picture. It wouldn’t have been nearly as effective if I hadn’t spent time learning about trauma, or if I didn’t understand the different functions of the brain and its historical context.
The first port of call is always to try and clear your mind of all distractions. To a brain injured mind this is a challenge like no other. To actually get your mind to be totally quiet is incredibly difficult, it does a long time to get to a place where it is really beneficial simply because it is a skill and it gets better with practice. The first stage is very frustrating as trying to just get some peace in your head seems impossible, however the extent of the reward is in keeping with the difficulty in getting there and is immense. I had had three years of constant chatter before I started meditation and that first time I cracked it for about a minute was amazing, silence has never been sweeter!
I then had a range of different goals from the process. Firstly as I started to be able to get more calm I was able to locate things inside my head, you can feel the parts of your brain that are wound up so tight they are at breaking point and try and focus on relaxing and soothing that area. You can locate the parts that do feel scared and confused and give yourself some reassurance.
Overall you can help your brain to re activate that natural calming and soothing mechanism that has been overridden by your response to trauma.
You can calm down the endless barrage of random thoughts, reactions and general chaos and create a mind that is able to actually react to things in your immediate environment, to have a degree of consistency, to feel, dare I say it, something close to ‘normal’ again! I found I could actually listen to music and enjoy it, get lost in it, same with films or a good view.
It is a struggle and it is 3 step forwards and two steps back but you do move forward over time and it actually gives you a sense of control. From this comes confidence and belief and that is really important. Especially after a prolonged time of having no sense of control as this is very scary and has far reaching consequences for your overall well being.
As you get better at it you can calm yourself far quicker so just a few 10 minute sessions during the day can be enough to make a huge difference.
I think it is important to note that whilst being incredibly helpful to me meditation is obviously not going to fix you, have a read of the page called 'making hay' for a summary.