The comedian and mental-health campaigner explains how realising that everyone feelings crazy led to writing A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled
A little background on my oeuvre: about nine years ago I wrote a show called Losing It. It was conceived because Comic Relief put big posters of me around the UK that read: One in four people have mental illness, one in five people have dandruff, I have both. I had assumed it would just be a small photo, so I was a tad surprised by their extra large size. I decided to write a present and feign those were my advertising posters. I took my illness on the road and sold a lot of tickets for the next few years.
Wherever I took the present, after the interval, I let the audience have a turn to speak and speak out they did. Sometimes Id have to turn out the illuminations to get them to stop talking. I realised from these discussions that everyone feelings crazy, which inspired me to write a new volume and present, Sane New World, to be determined exactly why that was. Why can we run the Hadron Collider and yet cant operate our own minds? We have no manual now and never did. We have to work, breed, die, fight gravity, get smart, stay slim, be nice all with utterly no notion how or why.
The problem is there are a number of evolutionary hiccups that were never ironed out; glitches in the mothership. Portion of our brain still functions as if it is hundreds of thousands of years ago and we havent yet learned to adjust our dials for the 21 st century. Rather than going on bitching about the shortcomings of being human, I thought Id find out what we can do about it and thats how I came to write A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled.
Frazzled shouldnt be confused with stress. We require stress otherwise no oomph, and no oomph means no civilisation. We never would have stood up on two legs without it still an impossible feat in six-inch heels. Frazzled is a whole new thing: being emphasized about being emphasized, usually for something weve manufactured under our heads. Unanswerable theories, like: Why am I a failing? Not even Einstein had an answer to that one.
I personally wanted to learn how to de-frazzle and, even more urgently, find a method to defuse my depression. After much research, I found out mindfulness and cognitive therapy( called MBCT) had the best results, as far as empirical evidence goes, in dealing with stress, depression and nervousnes. The word mindfulness gives me the same vibes as dream-catchers and lentils, but Oxford University offers a masters programme in MBCT so I thought there must be something to it. So I took the course, wrote my dissertation, spun it with comedy and boom, then got a volume and show out of it. Thats killing multiple birds with one stone.
In my volume I present my own six-week mindfulness course with the blessing of Mark Williams, my prof at Oxford and co-creator of MBCT. With my program you dont “re going to have to” perch on a gluten-free cushion, you can do the exercises anywhere, anytime; in the gym while pumping the pecs, or while eating a chocolate-chip cookie( or both at the same day ).
Even if you dont like the M-word, the practice gives you the skill of focusing your attention where you want it focused. When you are surrounded by constant distractions, as we all are these days, thats a gift; attention is our most precious commodity, yet it is the very thing we give away most freely. I think of mindfulness as get the hell out of there a bucking bronco and bringing it to tranquility by pulling in the reins gently. If you jerk them, the pony will tear your armpits but, if you give it a quiet pat, the pony will eventually cool down and obey you. We know how to reboot our computers when they overload and we need to learn how to reboot our minds when they near their tipping point.
I discuss use mindfulness with your children, teaching it in schools, use it in business. This is the only way I know to be able to navigate the noise and, as a bonus, be able to visit the present a very rare destination. If you think being present voices fluffy, ask yourself how much fund you expend trying to get there? If you are able to sit back and enjoy the ride rather than racing to reach the finishing line fastest, that is my definition of happiness. The rarest commodity of them all.
When you use mindfulness, you learn to accept things the way they are without trying to change them. It is the gateway to the shit happens school of enlightenment. Everyone wants things to be better, but they largely arent, so what are you going to do about it? Have a hissy fit? This is a hard one to swallow, but swallow it you must if you want to go to sleep at night. As the commentator, you witness the good, the bad and the ugly without dedicating a running commentary on whether you like what youre watching or not. Once “youre starting” doing that, youve lost your seat on the sidelines and is likely to be sucked back into the crossfire of words.
Heres a little metaphor to help you understand your thoughts. Picture your mind as a bottle of clear water with sand at the bottom. When its agitated by thoughts or impressions, its as if youve shaken the bottle: the sand disperses and the water is now murky. When you hold the bottle still, the sand settles, just as your mind settles when you watch thoughts rather than reacting to them. As I told, you cant think your way out of an emotional problem; the effort it takes to find out why you feel the way “youre feeling” always makes things worse. Its like being trapped in quicksand: the more you struggle to get out of it, the deeper you sink. You have to accept that you cant halting the thoughts, but you can stop what happens next.
More about the book
It is impossible to deny her enthusiasm and personal trauma, her will to be well and compassion for fellow sufferers. Helen Davies, Sunday Times( paywall )~ ATAGEND
Buy the book
A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax is published by Penguin at 8.99 and is available from the Guardian Bookshop for 6.99. More details about the Frazzled tour can be found here, and more Frazzled Cafes spaces for safe and anonymous conversations for the frazzled will launch in April.
Read more: www.theguardian.com