WriteSide with Brendan Kelly
You tried to meditate every day for your book, The Doctor Who Sat for a Year. How difficult was it?
It was hard at first to find time in the day. The key is to make it a habit in your day, then it becomes easier. I would do it early on in the day before I started work when it was as quiet as possible.
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Is meditation part of your treatment in your work as a psychiatrist?
Yes, I have prescribed meditation for patients. There is a new emphasis on psychological self-management. Meditation is a form of mindfulness. It means being utterly absorbed in the moment. In meditation, we focus on our breath.
So what does all this meditation lark involve anyway?
I sit on a chair for 20 or 30 minutes. I'm not usually in the lotus position. When I am comfortable, I do what I call a body scan. I think my way through my body slowly from my head down to my toes. Then I gently count my breaths - counting to 10 on the in-breaths, and then 10 on the out-breaths, and then 10 on the turn of the breath. At that point, the outside world quietens a bit.
I tried it in the pub, but I got funny looks. How did you feel after a year just sitting there?
It increased my awareness of my own mental state, particularly my awareness of how I can get irritated by something unimportant, like paper getting stuck in the printer or people cutting in on me in traffic. I think it makes you calmer. It also increases concentration. By sitting and not focussing on things for a while, you can focus on things better. We should all say a Buddhist proverb to ourselves: "Don't just do something. Sit there."
And did you learn from your contemplative cat?
We do have a meditative cat. She is capable of far greater calmness than me. While I am distracted and restless, she just sits there calmly looking at me.
If you weren't a meditative psychiatrist, what would you be?