I've used this metaphor before, and I think it's true in the general sense: taking care of your mental health deserves time every day, in the same way basic preventative care of your body does. If you're telling me you're too busy for self-care, that's essentially the same as saying you're too busy to brush your teeth, to which I (and the person who invented this metaphor) say: "gross".
That being said, for reasons to be discussed in an upcoming blog post, I've been looking into what the actual research is around meditation, and let me tell you: it's a bit disappointing.
To state the obvious: many people find it unpleasant. When the pitch is "it promotes mental well-being", that really stinks. It is, for many people, an exercise in deliberate boredom, and practice in being boring themselves – consider how you would think of someone if you sincerely believed a lack of thought would be better than the thoughts they have. I'm not saying it's never true, but what terrible life would that be? And why not try a more active replacement? It sort of begs the question, would all people who meditate be better off trying to do something that requires focus but would cultivate comfort over time in the repetition? Using a pogo stick seems like it's too easy, you'd get used to it. Is the ideal therapy attempting to speedrun video games? It certainly seems preferable, if my understanding of meditation is correct.
But let me be clear: I meditate. Not quite every day, but most days. I'm not one of the quarter of people who experience anxiety and fear when doing so. But when Wikipedia slammed me with a "there is insufficient evidence for any effect of meditation on positive mood, attention, eating habits, sleep, or body weight", let me tell you: I started wondering if that was a massive waste of my time.
But it might not be. If you have trouble sleeping, you might recall having intensely intrusive thoughts in the middle of the night. I suspect this experience is a much less intense version of the same thing occurring to people with OCD. Meditation ought to be good practice for taking thoughts and letting them drift out of your mind. I'm not sure, and the research quality here is terrible, but I suspect it could help, probably helping most with people who have extremely mild experiences of these intrusive or persistent thoughts.
If there's a better theory of the mechanism of meditation, please, dear reader, tell me.
But if I'm not woken up in the middle of the night I'm basically okay. And if I can't get better sleep, a better mood, or better focus, it really does seem like a waste of time.
So now I have 15 minutes a day free in my schedule. And I have an idea of what to spend that time on – wanting to keep the time set aside for mental health serving that same purpose seems good. The analogy with brushing your teeth really isn't bad. But that's for tomorrow's post.