Question:

Hi Andy,

I’ve been meditating for almost a year now and have found the Headspace app to be a wonderful tool for helping me cope with life’s constant challenges, however we are currently experiencing a family illness which is very stressful and the outcome of which is unpredictable.

Do you have any tips on staying in the present, even when the mind seems to be constantly racing with all the uncertainty of the future and all the possible outcomes, especially when dealing with an illness?

Andy’s answer:

So sorry to hear about your situation. My thoughts and those of all the team here at Headspace HQ are with you and your family.

When I read a question like this I am always reminded of just how long meditation has been around. These days, the benefits of meditation that are usually emphasized tend to be quite results driven, whether that’s increased performance, improved sleep or reduced stress levels. These are all very good reasons to meditate, but in many ways they are really just side effects of the practice.

If we look a little deeper, we see what connects us to our relatives 2-3000 years ago. Meditation was relevant then as it is now, because fundamentally the human condition has not changed all that much. We are born into the world, we face many challenges while we live, we almost certainly experience illness at some stage – both ourselves and those around us and, eventually, inevitably, both we and those we love pass away. This is the human condition, it is what connects each and every one of us.

When we begin to examine this journey we see that life is full of uncertainty, even when we are all well. But when someone we love is sick, it becomes very challenging to be at ease with this uncertainty. Intellectually we understand that we have little or no control and yet the mind wants to do something to change the situation. Intellectually we know that everything is changing all the time, that nothing stays the same, that it is part of life, and yet the feeling we experience is one of resistance.

So there is this tension between what we know intellectually and what we feel in our body and in our mind. Meditation helps us to bridge this gap, to move from a place of intellectual knowledge to a place of experiential feeling. So, rather than putting lots of effort into wishing the situation was different, instead we put our energy into simply being with that other person, supporting, helping, reassuring them and making sure they know we are there for them.

Likewise, we start to notice our resistance to change and begin to feel a greater sense of appreciation for each new moment. So it becomes a journey we are on together, day by day, discovering what is new and meeting each and every moment afresh. If we can do this, then we will experience an increasing sense of confidence, in being at ease with both comfort and discomfort, difficulty and joy.

So make sure you take some time out each day. The app is full of practical steps on how to keep up a regular meditation practice and how to be more mindful throughout the day.

In the meantime, warm wishes from us all,

Andy and the team