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Sunday, August 23, 2015

MEDITATE. Do I Have To?

Truth 1:  not all things are for all people.

Truth 2: we are living in a very compressed world at the moment.  And as I've said in prior posts, our central nervous systems (CNS) are on overload (guaranteed).  Physiologically speaking, a taxed CNS means lower immunity, and a much higher susceptibility to disease.  Of course, one's mental health and overall well being is drastically effected, impacting one's personal life and work performance.  Personal and cultural interventions are required.

Meditation in the last 15-20 years has been the trending panacea for the ills of stress.  And I'd be the first one to promote it, (mostly) enjoying a 38 year meditation practice, having taught meditation and having had it at the center of my work with others for over two decades.  I've been around long enough to find, meditation (as we think of it, sitting on a cushion in a quiet room) definitely is not for everyone.  I wish it was.  But it's not.

So, let's think.  What does the CNS require to stay my body healthy during trying times?  What is it about meditation that covers this territory?  What are other options if meditation is not for me?

Tree of Life stone/metal work.  Sid Saiyyed Mosque, 1573
A little physiology lesson to start:  The CNS is made up of the SNS (Sympathetic Nervous System, "flight or fight" response") and the PNS (Parasympathetic Nervous System, "rest and relaxation" response).  Ideally, these are in harmonious relationship.  But, in today's world it's rare this is the case.  The SNS is on overdrive related to this earlier mentioned cultural compression most everyone is experiencing, added to the electromagnetic over stimulation of technology and media, added to the often poor food/fluid intake, laced with GMO, pesticides, overprocessing, toxic air and environment conditions etc, added to the high anxiety of family, neighborhood, community, country, world events.  And if you aren't experiencing any of these at the moment, just get in your car and go for a drive (all that stop and go and the traffic!) or open the paper and your SNS will do what it does, kick in.  It's on overdrive.  Believe me.  The PNS can't get an impulse in edgewise.  It doesn't have a chance.  Even the rest periods at night, we're still expected to have, are not restful.  Insomnia is a huge problem.  People today sleep 20% less than they did 100 years ago, more than 30% of the population suffers from insomnia, including 40% to 60% of people over the age of 60, 90% of people who suffer from depression also experience insomnia, and approximately 10 million people in the U.S. use prescription sleep aids.  We have a sleeping problem, we are not getting the rest we need.

Our relaxation is not relaxation in the least.  For many, it's vegging on the couch watching a movie.  Or hanging on Facebook for a few hours after work, playing phone games or obsessing over word puzzles.  This is just more electromagnetic stimulation and mental gymnastics.  We never stop going; and many of us wear this like a badge of honor. It's not.  It's distracting foolishness.  It's wearing our body's systems down, creating conditions for disease to move in.

So, back to what does the CNS require to stay my body healthy during trying times?  We need to give the SNS a break and allow the PNS to deploy.  Meditation is a wonderful groundwork for this.  It brings stillness to a series of moments.  Helps us see and experience the separation from the busy mind and other parts of myself.  It slows the SNS down and encourages the PNS to do its thing.  It's a great practice-- if you can do it.  If you can't, other tools must be used.

Rest and Relaxation can be found in a lot of places, meditation doesn't have a corner on the market here.  Playing is a supreme place for some r&r.  Playing for adults is very individual.  How do you have fun (good, clean fun not involving substances)?  Engaging in a creative process is not only fun, but often elicits a meditative response.  Again, this is very individual.  Creativity doesn't necessarily require art supplies.  It can be making a garden, re-thinking a use of an empty room, fooling around with a recorder (musical instrument or auditory machine).  Writing an entertaining letter (do people still write letters?), decorating a child's stool, even scrapbooking.  Six of the top 20 books selling on Amazon are adult coloring books.  Coloring is a great decompressor and it's immediate and they say, it's a contender with meditation for getting into that still, quiet place in oneself.  Pull out those watercolor pencils and go to town!  Let go of control and illusions of a perfect product, just enjoy your senses.  Explore. Risk. Fail. Triumph.

painting:  Peter Vihelmlisted
Handwork like knitting, crocheting, sewing and needlepoint are rhythmical and repetitive, hence meditative in nature.  They bring the energy down into the middle of myself (unless the patterns are tricky and require a lot of mental attention).

Exercise is the number 1 stress buster.  Catch two fish with one net (two benefits from one activity) and do QiGong, TaiChi or Yoga.  All 3 practices are meditative in nature, work with creating deep breath work (meditation!) in the movement sequences.  Imagination is key in especially yoga and Qigong.  Poses in yoga have imaginative names that inspire more of me to participate (i.e. Warrior I, Pigeon pose,  Downward Dog) and Qigong integrates imagery as part of layered sequences.  The third fish is they're all really fun to do, once you relax into it. These are "low impact" exercises, so your cardiologist and physical therapist will love you for doing them.  Swimming is low impact as well.  Doing laps gives you the opportunity to get into "the zone" (meditation!). Again, it's rhythmical and repetitive, it's exercise (!).  A lot of fish with one net.....

photo credit: Tianzhan Chen
Many people say Great Nature is their church, their temple their 'resting' place.  If this is so for you, surround yourself with trees, get a fish tank or table-top water fall for the office.  Enter the magnificence that is nature.  If this is where you find your breath,  resonating with the slowness of the Mother in your midst, than here is where you must be a good deal of time. Not just weekends, not just holidays-- several days a week.  Nature's impact is fast, but its penetration is slow; unless you give yourself some generous time there.  Nature works in layers (like meditation).  But you have to give yourself time there.

Yes, giving oneself time.  This is the key in all these practices, including meditation. This is the obstacle.  All of these practices require a discipline, a commitment.  They require a shift in perspective.  Do you have to meditate? Shrugging off instituting a meditation practice because it's not your thing is one thing.  But we can't shrug off the connection that is inherently right in myself that I'm missing.  Choose your rest and relaxation path, your direction and embrace it.  Your health and well being depends upon it.

The Peace of Wild Things,  Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.  For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

1 comment:



  1. Hi admin,

    I read your blog, Its really awesome, I have also a blog which is related with you, which is about anxiety awareness.
    The higher your level of consciousness, the higher your anxiety awareness level may be.
    If you have strong anxiety awareness, you are probably highly aware of your thought patterns, knowing they are not serving you well, but lack the understanding of how to be released from them.
    anxiety awareness

    Thanks,

    uzzal

    ReplyDelete