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I have been involved in the playing, creating, and teaching of music for more than 26 years. Alongside my passion for music, I have had a real interest in the cognitive side of things, and why sometimes my brain isn’t always on my side.

I’ve suffered with anxiety and panic attacks for many years and had failed to really understand what caused them.

I’m sure I’m not alone in questioning my abilities on my chosen instrument, how I should be better. I have suffered with the pursuit of perfection or nothing, and when it’s not perfect, giving myself a hard time about it.

The global pandemic provided an opportunity for me to try meditation again

I’d read books, watched videos of people making it look so simple and easy, as well as using self help apps. I didn’t know if I was doing it right, and I wasn’t sure who to ask.

I wanted to be good at meditation. It really appealed to me. I practised, like I practised my instrument, but I simply didn’t know. “Close my eyes, sit in a comfy position” … and then what? Just sit for a bit? Would it just “happen”? What would happen? I sat in a room with my eyes closed for a bit. Well done me... I think?

I was approaching meditation like I did playing my instrument, as if there was a yardstick to measure everything against, but that didn’t seem to work for this.

The global pandemic provided an opportunity for me to try again, as there on the pages of the MU website was the Wellbeing section, offering guided meditation sessions via Zoom. I joined up, not really knowing what it was going to be like.

I’m a shy person, so for the first session I didn’t have my camera on, and instead I opted for a placeholder picture of Batman. “No one will mess with me then”, I thought.

The session started, the teacher introduced herself as Shukri Devi, and I instantly felt at ease.

After the session I was buzzing, I’d actually meditated

The first exercise was to close our eyes and count our thoughts. “Do what? Count my thoughts? Really? But I have a lot of thoughts!”

The session flew by. It was difficult to keep my eyes closed and not fidget for the 20-minute guided session, but the guidance by Shukri was so reassuring that I managed.

I did my best, I counted, and yes, there were a lot of them: “When will I work again?”; “I wonder how many everyone else is having?”; “What’s the right number of thoughts to have?”; “Was that a thought I just had about wondering if that was a thought I just had?” 30 seconds felt like a long time.

23 I think I got. Was that the right number? Was that too many, too few, what was the right answer?

“Who had more than 10 thoughts?” Shukri asked. Some brave people who had their camera on raised their hands. “Great” was the reply. Oh no, I had twice that many, I’ve failed, already.

“Who had more than 20?” Again, some more brave people raised their hands. “Great.”

Hold on, I got 23 and that was “Great”? Did I do it right?

There wasn’t a right answer. Whatever number I had got to would have been “great.” This exercise was designed to draw attention to the activity which is happening all the time in our minds.

The session flew by. It was difficult to keep my eyes closed and not fidget for the 20-minute guided session, but the guidance by Shukri was so reassuring that I managed.

After the session I was buzzing, I’d actually meditated. Maybe not very well, but I’d made a start. It was so much easier to do it in a live group. It was then that I felt a little sad. I’d enjoyed it so much but wasn’t sure I was ready to take on the world of meditation on my own, but I didn’t need to. There was another class, same time next week.

Finding out others were just like me was so freeing

A few weeks in and my camera was on. I looked forward to seeing the names and faces who were also on this journey of discovery with me. I gained the confidence to speak up and participate in the sessions. I asked questions.

Many questions other people asked were things I was struggling with too. Finding out others were just like me and that I wasn’t broken was so freeing. It really has become a highlight of my week and I look forward to every session. It was so much easier to learn this way.

My anxiety is so much better

You may think you can’t do it, or it’s too difficult, but with her guidance you really can.

The content will be different, but the voice is there. My anxiety is so much better, and the panic attacks have all but gone.

Am I fixed as it were? I still have the voice in my head saying “I’m not good enough”, “‘you will never be Steve Jordan so just quit” or “you need to be better”, but I now realise that everyone has that voice. The content will be different, but the voice is there. My anxiety is so much better, and the panic attacks have all but gone.

Shukri and the Ascension meditation technique have helped me realise that the voice isn’t always right. Shukri often says “you are not your thoughts” and this really resonates with me.

Being able to distance myself from that voice has been a real game changer.

The skills I have learned during these classes have been transformative - I can't thank the MU or Shukri enough

Not just for my playing, but in all areas of my life. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. I can’t thank The MU or Shukri enough. This mediation class helped to get me through the pandemic, and it is continuing to be life changing.

If you have even the slightest interest, I urge you to come along to a session.

If you have even the slightest interest, I urge you to come along to a session. It’s a supportive group of people, all there to enjoy a little slice of peace in what can seem like a very topsy-turvy world. You don’t need any specialist equipment, or clothing, just an internet connection and an open mind.

View and book onto all of our health, safety and wellbeing events, including the Guided Meditation sessions.

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Ben Haines

Ben is a professional musician. He has played drums since graduating and continues to do so with original and cover projects around the country. Ben works weekly with a CIC project in North Solihull called Black Train Music who offer accessible live music and community music projects. He also writes music for a German Sync agency and will release his third collection of music this year.

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Deadline Approaching for Funding From Alan Surtees Trust 

The Alan Surtees Trust makes up to four awards of £2,000 annually to support performers aged 16 to 30 with projects rooted in, or influenced by, folk or traditional music of all cultures. The deadline for applications is April 30.

Published: 15 April 2024

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