In response to a question in a discussion on meditation and mental illness. Finally The Conversation becomes one for me... hope I haven't pushed to 'boat' too far and shut down the conversation with my middle class/educated claim about research in this field...oh well will know tomorrow if these people get too busy or I have simply accidentally negated their discussion space...
Okay this one specifically to James but also to the other academics discussing this topic. One could say that meditation is simply relaxation but I think the tenor of the discussion is about its efficacy in treatment for mental illness. Thus, as I mentioned before this is not my area of PhD studies (I am doing Creative Writing and writing a novel), it happens to be one of my "hobby horses". Too often people without mental illness study and speak for people with mental illness. And whilst I cannot speak for others, especially not for sufferers of extreme psychoses, I have lived with these patients for several weeks at a time on numerous occasions. Ethics does not allow me to use their experiences for my own research; however I can make general observations and relate the differences to my own experiences.
Relaxation is fantastic.. no matter how one achieves it... through physical activity, immersing oneself in a book, listening to music, or gardening and painting... however, meditation is the active decision to enter (or attempt to enter) a state of calm and relaxation. So why does this work for me as patient?
In my depressive state, my mind is active, constantly spiralling out of control with negative self-talk, reframing my past experiences in the bleakest light, and projecting that feeling forward if I can conceive of forward at all. When in mania it is as the disease name suggests the polar opposite... my self talk is grandiose, expansive and totally unrealistic in the same sense. I do not consciously want to come down from here... the colours are intense, the aromas more so, the sounds so sharp... every bird tweet is a thing of beauty and wonder, even the sound of the wind is magical... why would any rational human (even non-patient) want to say good bye to this? It is enervation at its extremes and we know that inevitably the crash will be horrendous to the hole dug by the "black dog". It is no way to live a 'normal' life... so what can we do?
Learn to establish wellness, and a form of self-awareness that means we mobilise our resources. We need to meditate first (as painting just allows the driven mania to express on the page). We need to learn to quieten our mind... to shut out external aural stimuli and internal self talk before we can enter a state 'normal' people equate with relaxation.
And from what I have been told by other patients with immediately more debilitating conditions such as schizophrenia and allied psychoses, they cannot shut out the noise and voices... they are already outside, not internal self-talk. Sometimes they are even externalised to the extent that 'real' people or personas are screaming the abuse at them... the quietness of the yoga space just allows them an amplified space to be heard.
So why tell you all this. I truly want to be a part of an NMHRC or ARC working with experts in their fields (multi-disciplinary) to research this topic. And why me? With the ethics clearance procedures at the Universities and Medical Institutes, the researchers interview 'subjects' and then present empirical data analysed into a cohesive academic narrative Consistent with disciplinary specificity... what that means in practice and please do not be offended, is that educated middle class people filter the data through a number of social, cultural and semantic lenses first. The voices of the patients become lost or translated and no longer have the immediacy and dare I say it, even emotive/evocative power of ethnographic research data.
I want in. My whole life is committed now to bringing the patients voices into the spotlight, publically and academically. I can only ever speak as me, on behalf of me... but I know my lived experience has validity as data in this space. If any of you or in best scenario... all of you put up a multi Institutional-interdisciplinary grant app in 2012 and beyond... I can be interviewed for this role... and most definitely itching to be so.