PEACE OF YOUR MIND
Sydney Morning Herald February 25th 2012
Meditation need not involve New Age waffle and incense, writes FIONA TUITE.
Dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt, Matthew Johnstone doesn’t look like a meditation guru. He isn’t bald, claims to know nothing of chakras and has never been to an ashram. But he has written and illustrated Quiet the Mind, a beginner’s guide to meditation.
Johnstone is the creative director of the Black Dog Institute, which raises awareness of mood disorders. He discovered the benefits of meditation when he was working in advertising and took a course to cope with stress.
”Advertising is like a never-ending sand dune,” he says. ”You get to the top and fall back to the bottom. There are never-ending deadlines and there was pressure to be creative, win awards, be relevant and contemporary.”
Twenty years later, he says his life is definitely better when he meditates than when he doesn’t: ”It’s like cleaning the windows and turning down the volume.”
Illustrated by Johnstone in the style of a beautiful children’s picture book, Quiet the Mind is a kind of ”Meditation for Dummies”. ”People often have a bit of fear of the unknown and associate meditation with airy-fairy, fringy-hippie stuff. They don’t want to waste time. I wanted the book to be pragmatic.”
It’s his fourth book on mental health, including the best-selling I Had a Black Dog. Quiet the Mind states that in 24 hours, humans can process up to 70,000 thoughts. This continues during sleep, equating to a different thought every 1.2 seconds, or two thoughts for every heartbeat.
Johnston says many people don’t realise meditation can be as simple as focusing on breathing for 10 to 20 minutes in a quiet place. That’s it.
Using a word or mantra can be a useful way to focus on the breath. A mantra might be two words or one word with two syllables. It should sound gentle and can mean nothing at all.
When the mind starts to wander, which it naturally will, he recommends not getting upset. Instead acknowledge the thoughts, then let them go.
”Think of your thoughts as a flock of dozing sheep; if one makes a run for it, send out the sheepdog to gently bring it back.”
Johnstone believes meditation helps people feel calmer, happier, more engaged and able to achieve. ”[It has also been proven to] improve metabolism, reduce pain, lower blood pressure, improve respiration and enhance brain function,” he says. ”And it costs nothing, and all you have to do is nothing.”
Meditation alone is not a guaranteed path to wellbeing, of course. Lifestyle factors are also crucial. The Black Dog Institute’s work is building awareness of the importance of resilience and mindfulness, and how exercise and acupuncture can promote a positive state of mind.
While Johnstone says he’s reluctant to be the poster boy for depression, he is trying to live by example. ”I’m a recovering perfectionist,” he says. ”I’m not a guru – I’m just someone with life experience and want to share what helped me.”
Quiet the Mind, by Matthew Johnstone (Pan Macmillan, $19.99) is published on Thursday.
On your marks …
- The breath is the key.
- There are no good or bad, right or wrong ways to meditate.
- Be kind to yourself.
- Observe thoughts, then release.
- A mantra makes the breath go round.
- Do what works best for you.
- Be proud of yourself for giving this a go.
- Don’t meditate riding a bicycle.