A Better Way

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Okay–first a confession. This is a reposted blog. I have been taking my meditation practice to a deeper level and wanted to write about that. But. I am still working on what is an incredibly personal journey and not ready to put it out into the world. Next posting, I promise. In the meantime a better way to stress reduction than the above instructions:

Want to make some one who is stressed out really blow a fuse? Tell them they need to learn how to meditate and calm down. Yet, when stress begins to affect health, isn’t this exactly what should be done? If you want a fun challenge, become a health educator and try to “help” someone in this situation:

Meet Joe and Jane Stressmore. Both have a lot of excess weight around their midsections. Joe has high blood pressure and borderline diabetes. Jane has chronic low back pain, problems with urinary incontinence, and diabetes. Neither has been able to lose weight, no matter what program they try. It all comes back and then some. Their doctor has them on several medications, which has helped alleviate some of their symptoms, but the side effects are problematic. Neither sleeps well, both are working full time, and there is no way they can exercise, eat well, and certainly not “slow down.”

Metabolic Syndrome is associated with chronic stress and the release of a the hormone cortisol. Stress hormones are helpful when the stress is physical and short lived, but when it is not, these hormones have a detrimental effect on our bodies, resulting in more imbalance, more stress, and more problems including disease symptoms like Joe and Jane are experiencing. Medicine doesn’t fix the underlying problem–although it does help keep it from becoming life threatening (hopefully).

Meditation is often recommended as an alternative approach to reduce chronic stress and the symptoms associated with it. Numerous scientific studies utilizing biofeedback techniques have tracked its effectiveness and the body/mind connection. Everyone enjoys the feeling of being rested and relaxed. Wellness and health practitioners (even doctors!) know that Joe and Jane would actually begin to FIX their health problems by reducing the release of cortisol through relaxation techniques and lifestyle changes.

Most yoga classes end by teaching a bit of deep relaxation and meditation. Many of my students like this part of class best. Aside from any reflection on my teaching abilities, I am always a bit taken aback by the fact that their favorite part of class is when we are doing nothing at all. Why go through an hour and a half of class when the best part is the last five minutes? Couldn’t we just do nothing at home? Why don’t we?

I think the answer is that we have no idea how. Life in the twenty first century doesn’t exactly encourage stillness. In today’s families, both parents usually work, children have full schedules with school and after-school activities, even our dogs have “play dates” so they can socialize, at least with other dogs, since the humans are too busy to play. Generally, any “down time” becomes an escape, via television or other distraction, rather than true meditation. Taking a moment to stop, breath, and be fully present just isn’t in the cards. And it will take something far more compelling than a doctor’s recommendation or a scientific study to convince us to even try.

Matthieu Ricard’s book, The Quantum and the Lotus compares the realities of physics and the mind. Just as subatomic particles exist between the spaces, our truest sense of ourselves is found between the spaces of our thoughts. If we never stop and find space, we don’t fully know who we are and what we might become. Joe and Jane are good people. Their health struggle is not who they are; and it is most likely not how they want their lives to be defined.

Here is the cool thing: in quantum physics, particles are not bound by constraints like time and space. Those little buggers break all the rules. That’s science, folks. If you think it’s bogus, get a PhD in physics (like Ricard) and test it yourself.

Here’s the other cool thing: we aren’t really bound by time and space, either. If you think that is bogus, become a Buddhist monk (like Ricard) and spend a few years experiencing it.

When we take–even a tiny bit–of time to be present “between the spaces” we step out of time and space. We learn to let go–even at tiny bit–of that which binds us. You probably know someone who defies what we think of as “rules:” the skinny coworker who eats like a horse, the neighbor with a sick wife who still helps his elderly parents mow their lawn, the couple who always participates in fundraisers for good causes and don’t seem to have that much money…I KNOW you know someone that fits into at least one of those categories.

Letting go of our expectations of the future and our delusions of our past creates the opportunity for breaking the rules that bind us and stress us out. Ricard calls it living in the freshness of this present moment. To me, that single phrase is more compelling than any stack of medical studies or advice from my doctor. I want to rewrite the rules that have brought me down and find my true destiny in this life. So do my yoga students, and I feel sure that Joe and Jane want it, too. Meditation begins with that desire. The next step is to breathe. Simple enough so far, right? The great news is that is the whole process. Be present and breathe. You can do it no matter where you are.

So rather than doing meditation because it is good for you, maybe do it because you are secretly the kind of person that likes to break the rules. See what happens! Put your mind to doing nothing at all and notice what gets accomplished! And remember, don’t do it ‘cause I told you to. Do it because your destiny should be defined not by what limits you, but rather by what liberates you.

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