Will Meditation Help?

I keep taking Jon Kabat Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living to the bathroom with me. I know it deserves better.
 
I'll spare you the details about my toilet regimen. I’ll just say I’m not getting very far. The book is 603 pages long. Carrying it back and forth is itself a work out, which is good. But I’m still on the introduction. In fact, the new introduction to the old introduction. Nearly nowhere. Perhaps it’s not the best path to meditation.
 
It might not surprise you that people have been suggesting Yoga and meditation to me for my entire adult life. That’s standard code for you need to calm down. I like running around, and looking around, and thinking about other things. But right now I can’t run, so it seems a perfect time to read 603 pages on the benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

I love mindfulness, particularly the theory of mindfulness. On a scale of 1 -10, I consider myself well over a 5. Cancer has been helpful, forcing me into a self-awareness I didn’t realize I wasn’t aware of.
 
I keep asking about meditation for beginners - unenthusiastic, resistant beginners - but have yet to receive the quickie I’m looking for. I need a Change Your Life in 3 Deep Breaths pamphlet. I’m willing to take three deep breaths three times a day, if it will do the trick.
 
Here’s the problem. You can’t be forced into meditation, or into a meditative state. You have to desire it. I don’t. Well maybe I have a vague theoretical interest in being the kind of person who would choose meditation over, say, coffee or an episode of Call the Midwife (my latest.) I know it’s not an either or choice, but it kind of is. I’m told meditation can be an acquired taste. I’m not convinced.
 
Meditation seems to me like a waste of time (unlike Netflix) - my time, not yours or anyone else’s. I’m not judgy about it. I envy the ability to turn inward and slow down. Still you must have seen some of those people who claim to embrace a deep meditative practice? Namaste, and you’re in my fucking way you asshole. I don’t care if you’re dropping your old mom at the senior’s centre. Seriously, this activity is not for everyone.
 
For me, learning meditation seems as pleasurable as reading user manuals. I don’t want to get there, I just want to be there, with the bbq or the TV or the lamp, or the mantra already set up. I operate on a need-to-know rather than a get-to-know, basis. Maybe I should take the cue from all those folks who keep suggesting meditation, and decide that I may actually need-to-know.
 
A friend recently sent me two links - one to a study about the medical healing powers of meditation, and the second, an MBSR course. I assumed the former to be true (although they were talking about psoriasis and I have cancer), and I clicked on the latter.  As soon as I read: Nine 3 hour weekly evening sessions, and a 7 hour weekend day group. One hour every day, six days a week for practice of mindfulness techniques... I panicked.
 
I’d like to start with someone like Morgan Freeman guiding me through 2 to 3 minute meditations. Then he can make me some 10 minute tapes, then 20. Any suggestions for other first steps are welcome.
 
It’s hard that so much is hard. It would be great to have some place calm, restorative, and perhaps even curative to go and recharge. But the catch is that meditation requires patience. Cancer has offered a fair amount in the way of personal growth but patience – not on the list.

Comments

Aviva
I could go into a long history of my experiences with meditation, the mindfulness course and yoga but I'll give you the executive summary, and cut to the chase so to speak. I am an over involved business executive who was forced much as you have been to take stock of my habits due to significant health issues. First it was rheumatoid arthritis 15 years ago and then a serious land long standing experience with mental idleness including severe anxiety and depression leading to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder with a severe depressive component. Finally a year ago this month I was diagnosed with active prostate cancer. Fortunately it appears to been caught in time. Each of these adventures is a story in itself.

With the arthritis I soldiered on despite debilitating fatigue and prided myself in never missing a work day. The mental health issues forced me to stop my life and at its worst put in bed for days/weeks with depression and with a fear of the city and every event with the anxiety.

With the onset of anxiety, in addition to medication,I began to try yoga and took clases regularly, then took the mediation class and a relaxation course (similar) and regularly played meditation tapes and actively relaxed and distressed.

My journey has been a very long one and not in a straight line. Old habits are hard to break and these activities require discipline.

For me what I learned that may be most applicable to you is that I have found yoga practice is preferred to meditation. Over the course of an hour I find the 'monkey mind' as Buddhists describe is difficult to manage and one's mind wanders all over the place. Mediation tapes and background music and chanting have helped.

Yoga on the other hand requires your mind and body to focus on poses, breathing and holding these poses and consciously experiencing the effect gravity has on your muscles, joints, flexibility while being engaged trying to maintain the pose. For me the attendance in a live class provided direction and more importantly the energy of others in the room. We are after all a social species. I now take restorative yoga which uses props and cushions to help in posing as my joints are not very flexible.

In summary, yoga with actions and focus on activity, class members and the guidance of a teacher along with the need to attend a time and day of the class works for me. Not to say I don't have lapses in attendance but it is what works for me. I might suggest reading about meditation or any relaxation techniques does not replace doing and can put you off before you even try. There are also many ways to get into meditation without the full blown class. For example yoga classes most usually include a pre and post quiet or meditative time called Savasana of only 5-15 minutes a perfect introduction to mindfulness. Another option is to try more massages, another time of rest, focus on self and the experience of pleasant body sensations.

Experiment with these techniques as the evidence clearly shows they fill the body with valuable hormones and biochemicals such as endorphins the body requires to maintain health vs the unhealthy effects of cortisol, and the inflammatory biochemicals associated with stress and disease.

As a psychiatrist told me as we considered electroshock treatment, daily exercise was the key to my health. Another example of how body and mind techniques improve physical and mental health.

I have not read many of our blogs but consider other elements in your health regimen such as nutrition. Western medicine segregates the body into discrete units such as the brain, digestive system, the skeletal system etc while eastern medicine considers the body and mind as a whole, every system is linked to each other and impacts the other.

Best wishes on your journey to restored health and the discoveries you make along the way.

Geoff

I'm new to your blog today, but I'll be back.
The Zinn book is great as an audio book.
Also try Katie Byron - Loving what is.
God Bless you honey. I joined your army today.

Try Exercise 2 here:

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART00521/three-breathing-exercises.html

Shortest meditation I know of, and really does relax one (well, me, anyway, and at least a bit). Dr. Weil is right that one has to do it for some number of days/weeks before its effect is significant.

Good luck.

My wife is the one with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. For that and other reasons, I decided to take a mindfulness meditation class. I'm one class from finishing an 8-week program. Overall, I've found it to be helpful, and last night when a new wave of fear swept through I found myself going to a room to meditate for a few minutes. I have to say that the course has been much better than simply trying it on my own - though the concepts are simple, the instructor has been invaluable in reinforcing those concepts over and over and over agin. I have to agree that I find yoga (we do a low-stress mindfulness version) to be very useful - it is only one form of meditation that we do. By the way, we are not expected to have our minds go blank - we focus on breathing and accept other thoughts calmly. Overall, not a panacea, but very useful.

Aviva, enjoyed your candid description of being diagnosed with cancer - "cancer as comeuppance" I too experienced the guilt / shame feelings while not understanding how they arrived. No cancer in my family as well. I retired from my job in pastoral care three years ago - a job in which I enjoyed doing guided meditation with desiring folk- some palliative- extremely fulfilling work. Now that I am facing life/death issues myself I am scrambling to figure out how to manage fear, anger, doubt, dualistic thinking and literally purpose in my life-certainly not able to quiet myself to meditate. I am reading "the untethered soul" by Michael Singer and think it is brilliant I do relate to your description of taking ages to get through even first part of book (chemo brain) but little by little I am persevering I appreciate your writing style- open, honest, courageous, raw, reflective!! Keep up the good work and wish you realization of your dreams.

I find all the standard books on meditation awful! It's like trying to read through fog. Maybe I'm just impatient, but I want them to get to the point and explain what to do.

There are two writers who do this well:

1) the author of the blog Melancholynoma ( on Wordpress), who summarizes it clearly
http://melancholynoma.wordpress.com/2011/01/28/mindfulness-vs-depression...

2) Dr. Marsha Linehan, in breaking down the components of mindfulness skills into 3 things you need to do and three or four ways how to do them. See the Core Mindfulness section of her 1993 Skills Training Manual for Dialectical Behavior Therapy. She is a Zen master, and she knows how to break down concepts into teachable components.

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