Since I established a regular meditation practice, I have not been hospitalized for psychotic mania or depression. I haven’t even had a life disrupting episode of mania or depression. This is significant because before meditation I was hospitalized six times and my life was a wreck.
Of course it’s not just the meditation. I still take my meds and participate in psychotherapy. I don’t think meditation will ever completely replace these other therapies for me or for anyone else with serious bipolar disorder. But when I added meditation to these primary therapies I got better.
I recently was interviewed by the International Bipolar Foundation in a webinar on meditation and mental illness. You can see that here.
In that interview I describe how I use mediation to predict oncoming episodes of mania or depression, and how I’ve taught that skill to others who have achieved the same success at managing their own mental illness.
This ability to predict moods adds to the mood leveling benefits of a regular, disciplined meditation practice.
However, I’m extremely critical of the “mindfulness industry” and its insistence that meditation is good for everyone in every instance. I’m also critical of the use of apps and guided meditation in practice.
Meditation is an extremely simple skill that, once learned, should be practiced in silence. Only without the distraction of an app or guide can you truly encounter what’s happening in your body and in your mind and truly sense your moods and their consequences.
A guide can help you learn the basic technique, but that should only take some basic instruction. After that, you’re on your own.
You just have to be careful when you begin meditating. Practice will help a seasoned meditator get through a serious episode of mania, depression or anxiety. But a person without a regular, disciplined practice should not begin meditating while in the throes of a difficult episode. The risk of dangerous rumination is too high.
I also think that, while self-care is important, and meditation can be a key part of that self-care, the mindfulness industry places too much emphasis on self-absorption. We live best when we serve others, so focuses of meditation should be to both support ourselves and those who help us; and then to serve and to help everyone else.
That’s why meditating in a community can be so rewarding. Sure, most of the time one practices is spent alone in silence. But the experience of meditating with others is soul-cleansing.
Find a church, temple, or mosque (they may call it centering prayer), or a community group, or a Buddhist center, or a yoga studio that has silent, group practice and try it out. The sense of community in such groups is wonderful. If you can’t find a group, get together with a couple of friends or family members and practice together. It will bring you closer.
Many people stay away from meditation because the focus and teaching seem based exclusively in eastern spirituality, and it offends their own sense of faith.
But the western religious cultures of Christianity, Judaism and Islam have rich meditation and contemplative prayer traditions as well. And these methods are just as effective and transformative as anything from the east.
My work with Practicing Mental Illness promotes meditation as a key adjunct therapy in the treatment of mental illness. When you’re relatively stable give it a try. And stick with it.
Just remember, a disciplined practice of at least 20 minutes a day is necessary to reap the positive results meditation offers. It will take a few weeks of practice to fully get into it and feel the benefits. If you stop practicing, the results go away.
Little else will serve up the health and spiritual benefits of meditation. There are many types of meditation to choose from, so try a couple in your search to find one that yields the most good for you and those in your life.
At times meditation is relaxing and at times it’s challenging. It can give you a clear picture of your moods, and help you manage your moods. It’s not always a pleasant experience. But it has helped me, and I’ve seen it help others.
What else can give you all of that for just a little time of focus, for free?