When Prince Harry recently discussed his need for a daily meditation ritual to battle burnout, the trolls predictably came out of the woodwork to mock him and his efforts to prioritize his mental health. Ironically, it’s those with the most to gain from meditation who attacked the Duke of Sussex for talking about how he’s used this ancient practice to combat stress and anxiety.
It’s hard to imagine Prince Harry being bothered by the pushback he receives nearly every time he dares to speak publicly about his mental health. Meditation can encourage compassion.
After all, heightened self-awareness, reducing negative emotions and increasing patience and tolerance are three of many possible advantages of meditation highlighted by the Mayo Clinic. So the trolls have made Harry’s point for him: Society is suffering from a dearth of compassion and is in desperate need of mental health intervention. We see this starkly with every vitriolic and petty response to his efforts.
This response inevitably involved the ludicrous accusation that the prince has never known a day of hard work, obviating any need to take time for himself. Of course, these attacks willfully overlook his experience in the military, his commitment to injured service personnel through his Invictus Games Foundation and his work supporting Sentebale, which helps young people living with HIV/AIDS in Lesotho and Botswana.
Prince Harry shows support for military at Intrepid ceremonyNov. 11, 202101:53
But it’s more than the unfair insults hurled at Harry that I find rankling; it’s also the way they dismiss the practice of meditation itself. I myself turned to meditation during an emotionally volatile time in my life and found it transformative. Belittling meditation not only trivializes its science-based outcomes, but also might dissuade others who could greatly benefit from it.
Nearly one decade ago, I was a full-time student facing job insecurity and a host of unknowns related to my professional and personal life. At the time, I’d also been trapped in a cycle of familial abuse that had begun to take its toll on my mental health. I was chronically stressed and had experienced depression for the first time. I felt like a shell of a person, and I could see the impact of my declining mental health on my relationships.
There was little about my external situation that was in my control to change. But with meditation, I was able to learn how to manage my response to the stressors that threatened my emotional well-being. With just 10 minutes of daily practice via a popular guided meditation app I downloaded on my phone, I learned how to become better attuned to my body and mind’s responses to difficult circumstances.
Within a couple of weeks, I felt calmer and less agitated — a reduction in anxiety is a well-known research-based outcome of regular meditation, as is a greater sense of well-being and happiness. And in addition to its slew of emotional benefits, researchers at UCLA suggest that people who meditate “have less age-related atrophy in the brain’s white matter,” with possible implications for cognitive decline and dementia. My 10-minute practice expanded to 30 minutes or, on a good day, 45 minutes. I feel less settled on days that I don’t make the time to meditate.
Thanks to meditation coupled with therapy, I also became easier to be around, as my formerly chaotic relationship with stress no longer negatively impacted my interactions with others. As Harry pointed out in his comments, made during an event hosted by the California-based personal coaching company BetterUp, for which he serves as chief impact officer, meditation can mean external circumstances become a lot easier to deal with. “The outer work becomes so much easier once you get to grips with the inner work,” he said.
And the British royal is far from the first person to tout the importance of meditation in the pursuit of mental fitness. According to Psychology Today, “meditation is a practice that’s part of all major world religions,” dating as far back as 5000 B.C. Recently released data highlights that 200 to 500 million people meditate globally, an estimate that includes more than 14 percent of Americans.
He’s also far from the first celebrity to speak to its benefits. Oprah Winfrey, Tracee Ellis Ross and Beyoncé Knowles are just three of a long list of celebrities who have publicly spoken about their use of meditation to sustain their emotional well-being. Entrepreneur Tim Ferriss told Forbes Magazine that 90 percent of the top performers in the arts, sports and business that he interviewed for his book “Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice From the Best In the World” had “some type of morning mindfulness or meditation practice.” His work suggests that meditation can benefit everyone — including those at the top of their fields.
As discouraging as it was to see the animosity leveled at Harry for his open and helpful comments, it’s hard to imagine him being bothered by the pushback he receives nearly every time he dares to speak publicly about his mental health. Meditation can encourage compassion toward others, particularly for those who, through their unkind behavior, are showing just how much they are truly suffering.