by Patricia Wagner
A pleasant starting point in the process of becoming naked to oneself is to learn and practice mindfulness meditation.
We’re going to be tuning in to our inner radio broadcast. We must first reduce the static in order to hear this broadcast clearly. Through such a simple act, we will approach the possibility of discovering hidden layers of imbalance which contribute to illness. When we gradually remove our masks, which had fooled no one but ourselves, we can approach the magical place where total health resides.
With our complete restoration always before us as the final goal, this initial step of practicing a simple form of meditation will provide instant gratification through the reduction of stress, anxiety, depression, and physical pain.
Think of mindfulness meditation as a rewarding preliminary to what will later follow. To paraphrase Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, members of the orchestra must first tune their instruments before playing their part in the symphony. So first we shall tune up. In so doing, over time, we shall gain sharper inward vision and greater peace in the moment. We will be positioning ourselves to eventually explore quite potent mind-body-spirit approaches with potential for total reversal of disease.
“In a serious or life-threatening illness, there can be many layers of imbalance concealing the depths where healing exists. Each layer is like a mask hiding the self from itself. . .”
–Deepak Chopra, M.D.(Perfect Health – The Complete Mind Body Guide)
What this implies is that if we are to heal, we must first calm ourselves so that in the silence we will recognize the layers of false beliefs of which Dr. Chopra speaks. Then we must change our beliefs even though the prevailing logic of our culture and upbringing, our frequent conversations with our fellow patients, or our doctor’s pronouncements, reinforce these false beliefs!
Based on the incontrovertible evidence from science which we have already discussed in earlier articles, we can no longer doubt that our bodies can heal if we do not obstruct them. However, as Gregg Braden puts it, “Changing our beliefs may be the most difficult thing that we do in our life.” (From The Spontaneous Healing of Belief)
Do you find this daunting? Dr. Hans Moolenburgh refers to the potential turning point we seek in this way: “I’ve seen advanced cases in which people flipped an internal switch, as it were, and were cured against all odds. Based on more than half a century of practical experience, this much is clear: You can do more than you think. A lot more.” (From You Can Do More Than You Think – published in Dutch by Lemniscaat)
Will you begin the journey with me now? It starts with only the smallest of efforts and the potential of the greatest payoff one can imagine.
Let’s begin with the definition of mindfulness meditation:
Mindfulness meditation is simply paying attention in a particular way: purposefully, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.
Over thirty years of Western research suggests that this form of meditation is particularly useful in the treatment of pain, stress, anxiety, and depression. This practice is known to turn down the volume of these mind-numbing forms of “static,” which are perhaps as familiar to you as they once were to me.
According to Andrew Newberg M.D., “if you stay in a contemplative state for twenty minutes to an hour, your experiences will tend to [affect] your nervous system in ways that enhance physical and emotional health. Antistress hormones and neurochemicals are released throughout the body, as well as pleasure-enhancing and depression-decreasing neuro-transmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Even ten to fifteen minutes of meditation appears to have significantly positive effects on cognition, relaxation, and psychological health.” (How God Changes Your Brain)
As those amongst us who already meditate know, there are several approaches one can take. Mindfulness meditation, although derived from Zen Buddhism, has become the darling of the psychotherapeutic community because this meditation style no longer has religious or cultural connotations.
For those who are new to meditation, do not let this discourage you from adding whatever spiritual touches are meaningful to you. For example, consider beginning each session by offering an opening prayer for divine assistance, and closing your session with a prayer of gratitude. In addition, feel free to enhance your meditation area with fragrant incense, a glowing candle, fresh flowers, uplifting artwork, or photographs of loved ones. Or perhaps you will find, as do I, that using prayer beads in cadence with the movement of my breath is uplifting, as well as a way to gauge the passing minutes without opening my eyes.
We often make meditation sound very complex and arcane. Actually, I think you will find this to be quite an intuitive, natural, and pleasant experience.
Here’s how to do it:
(1) Find a quiet and private place that you can return to daily at about the same time each day.
(2) Sit in a chair or lie on the floor with your back straight but not stiff. You may either close your eyes, or half-close them gazing steadily at a fixed point close by and below eye level.
(3) Become aware of your breathing, focusing on the sensation of the air moving in and out of your body as you breathe. Feel your belly rise and fall, feel the cool air entering your nostrils followed by the warm air leaving. Notice the differences from one breath to the next.
(4) After observing your breath for perhaps a few minutes, you may notice that your thoughts shift your focus away from your observation of your breath. Just watch every thought come and go, whether a worry, a fear, an anxiety, hope, or a “to do list.” Think of these as passing waves on the ocean of your mind. You needn’t ignore or suppress the thought. Simply note it, remaining calm, and return to observation of your breath. If you find that you’ve become carried away by your thoughts and don’t even recall how this happened, simply note it without judging yourself or judging the nature of the thought and reset your focus on your breath. Don’t be hard on yourself. This is a normal experience for all who meditate.
(5) As the time comes to a close, gradually become aware of your surroundings and get up gently. Observe how you may have changed.
(6) Make a habit of this practice. You may wish to begin with 5 minutes daily and gradually increase this to up to 50 minutes.
Simple, is it not?
It is often said that one “practices” meditation, as though there were an unattainable state of perfection that could be reached if only we weren’t so poor at execution. This is not a fair conclusion. Accept that it is the nature of mind to continue to operate, and do not castigate yourself for this. Eastern Masters call this the “monkey mind” for good reason.
Over time you may notice that your mind retraces its steps down recurrent trails of thought on issues that you normally do not deliberately bring into the foreground of your thinking. Just make a note of this. Perhaps the impact of some of your previously reoccurring thoughts will diminish due to your repeated observation of them, but if not we will introduce more powerful techniques in time.
You will likely find that during this self-discovery process you will experience positive physical and psychic changes. You will likely feel both immediate, and ever increasing, ever lingering effects from your meditation practice: less stress and anxiety, a lifting of depression, and a lessening of both physical and emotional pain.
Since we can’t all sit down as friends and learn this together, I encourage you to view this workshop. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., a molecular biologist who became a student of Zen Master Seung Sahn, is the founder of the Center of Mindfulness in Medicine, The Stress Reduction Clinic, and a founding member of the Cambridge Zen Center.
And so, as we begin to open our minds to the possibility of our return to the vibrant and shimmering health we once had, I ask you to remember:
“The mind exerts the deepest influence on the body, and freedom from sickness depends upon contacting our own awareness, bringing it into balance, then extending that balance to the body. The state of balanced awareness. . . creates a higher state of health.” — Deepak Chopra, M.D.
I encourage you to open the door to improved quality of life, which begins with this simple act of self-awareness. In future articles we’ll walk through that door and beyond to techniques for re-imagining our health and our very lives. I hope that you will find, as I have, that once you begin the Universe becomes your teacher. Blessings until next month.
© Patricia Wagner and MPNforum.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Patricia Wagner and MPNforum.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.