LAST week, out of the blue and for no apparent reason – apart from the threat of anarchy over the water charges and a woman I heard in a local shop refusing to pay for a plastic bag muttering “Enda Kenny” under her breath - my blood pressure soared. Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But apparently it was ever so slightly farther from the borderline than it was the last time I had it checked out.
Nothing to worry about really, except that I’m an incurable hypochondriac and fret unnecessarily every time I get a rush of blood to the head.
“You need to practice mindfulness,” a friend advised, when I admitted that I couldn’t bear the thoughts of a multinational drugs company making any more money out of my fluctuating blood pressure.
Mindfulness! My mind is so full at the moment that there isn’t even room to practice, I said. But hey, what the hell is mindfulness anyway?
“It’s on the new Junior Cert curriculum,” I was informed. And then, as if to add even more gravitas to the subject, she told me that Katy Perry and Gwyneth Paltrow, and a host of other celebrities who actually do my head in even more than the threat of anarchy, all practice mindfulness.
Stressed out teachers, who will be on the picket line in a few days, if somebody doesn’t listen to them, are not only expected to mark 40 per cent of their own pupils exams free gratis, but they’ll also have to teach mindfulness, if you don’t mind. In my opinion, the teachers are striking for the wrong reasons. Whatever about the demands of the new Junior Cert, the majority of the latest recruits to the profession are existing on a pittance, working a few set hours a week, without any job security and forced to fork out a fortune to the Teaching Council and the unions, neither of which seems to be unduly concerned about their plight. I have no idea why teachers aren’t striking for justice for their less privileged colleagues or why the Junior Cert situation should be considered more pertinent than the poverty facing many young second level teachers.
Anyhow, back to the mindfulness! I did a bit of research and found that the biggest industry in the country at the moment is not agriculture. It’s the relaxation industry. If anything happened to the relaxation industry we wouldn’t just all go mad, there’d be mass emigration again. Because everybody is so stressed out and so overwhelmed by too much work and too many long hours at the office, the factory or the classroom, there’s a therapy centre of some kind or other springing up in almost every community and even in workplaces. Within a radius of ten miles of where I live, I could avail of a whole range of relaxation techniques if I had a mind to do so, from head massage to transcendental meditation and from yoga and tai chi to aromatherapy. Now the VECs or the Educational Training Boards, as they are termed, are teaching mindfulness.
All the techniques claim to be able to induce a sense of calm, joy and even ‘profound inner happiness’ in an ever growing clientele, but so far I haven’t noticed the effects on the community in general. In my opinion, people are getting more frantic and more hysterical by the minute. Last week, gardai had to be called to a toy shop, when the store ran out of the most coveted ‘made in China’ Christmas doll and everyone I meet is looking for fight. Clearly the yoga and the head massage and the deep breathing aren’t working.
Back in my day, when we had every reason to be filled with anxiety, the only time any of us would ever even consider taking a deep breath would be when we were about to clobber someone.
I even tried to practice transcendental meditation when it was introduced to my home town in the 1970’s, but I found the repetition of a mantra more tiresome than relaxing and anyway I was afraid I’d end up levitating in public. I even had Indian head massage once in the course of duty, and while it was a very pleasant experience, my head was still all over the place the next day. I’ve never tried yoga, but someone told me I could injure myself if I tried it on my own. Music and art therapy are out of the question because I can’t draw and I’m tone deaf to everything except John McCormack. Vision imagery has possibilities for me, but apparently that also involves taking a deep breath before picturing the idyllic scene that will keep my blood pressure under control.
My only hope then is mindfulness. It’s not going to be easy though, maybe even impossible. I’m going to have to learn to become fully engaged in the present moment, without analysing or over thinking in any way. I’m going to have to let go of the past and stop worrying about the future. If I’m not careful, I’ll fall asleep or, worse still, I could get too fully engaged and never emerge from the present moment.
Now I have nothing against relaxation techniques or the people who provide the services. My only worry is that none of them are getting to the root of the country’s emotional turmoil. There’s a reason for the increasing levels of stress in the population, and companies that magnanimously provide yoga and music therapies for their stressed out employees might be better off trying to remove the cause of the stress in the first place.
As for Junior Cert mindfulness, I have no idea how the teachers are going to teach, or mark it, if they themselves can’t find a moment to relax.