Excision Surgery to remove the malignant melanoma and the dysplastic nevus is scheduled for next week, March 28th, 2019… the day before my 58th birthday. I keep thinking I am okay, not nervous or worried, but my behaviors say differently.
I was in pain a few days ago so bought a bottle of amaretto. In a 24-hour period, I drank the entire bottle. When I was done, I thought, “Hmmm, this is not a good way to cope,” so called my therapist and had an emergency session with her that night. She offered other ways of coping… distraction being the main one… playing more in Second Life, writing more and finding a good book to read.
(Please don’t tune out the next section!)
I considered calling the psychiatrist for some anti-anxiety meds, but thought that wasn’t a good strategy for a former addict either. Instead, I bought Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
When I was in all that liver pain, I meditated a lot, but when the pain was pretty much gone, I stopped (like a goofball). Now, here I am again, needing to meditate and I am having to relearn the skills I knew so well not so long ago. I am not worried, but BE-ing in the moment (did you who meditate chuckle like I did?) and going with where I am and doing it. Talk about the Beginner’s Mind!
In anticipation of next week’s surgery and not using pain meds afterwards to help with pain management, I am going to stay “In the Moment” and meditate to work through the pain I will surely have. Although I am not trying to anticipate it. laughing I sound like an advertisement for MBSR.
As you read through this and the articles I’ve shared, one of the most important things is to breathe and let go of any stress/tension you feel building because of the instructions. You do not… WILL not… be doing everything at once, so allowing yourself grace for the learning and ongoing practice (the Be-ing) of Mindfulness is really good for your spirit. Even I work at Mindfulness. Even Buddhist Monks practice (the act of learning a new skill) Mindfulness. There is no “end” to show you have completed the task for the rest of your life, no test at some tangible end. It is an ongoing experience like breathing. Seeing it as the waves in the ocean can help a lot… they come and go, unbidden, but in a rhythm that does not cease.
So it is with Mindfulness.
There are several avenues to Mindfulness. It seems each teacher has a different way of explaining how to do it. What ends up happening is we take bits and pieces from the ones that resonate, creating our own unique style. If one person’s description makes no sense, look at the next and see if that adds to your own need for information.
The Path to Mindfulness…
There is no Mindfulness without Meditation,
nor is there Meditation without Mindfulness.
Even as I said there is no end goal, there are pieces that are required (and that word can be stressful, but you will see in a moment it does not need to be). I could have put any number of these pieces together in another order, but it makes no difference as I explain because they super-impose themselves onto each other. So, in no particular order:
The “Goal” of Meditation (the Definition of Mindfulness)
The purpose of a (Stillness) Meditation session, one path into Mindfulness, is to empty one’s mind, bringing your thoughts directly to your breathing. Sounds like such a simple concept, but takes a lifetime of practice that never ends (like the ocean’s waves).
It is this attention to breath that we do in our private Meditation sessions, that we also do when we are walking down the street, when someone annoys the crap out of us, when we are scared or anxious or angry. Or when we are changing a diaper, showering ourselves or sitting and reading a book.
While it can seem like its own activity at first, taking a lot of concentration while ignoring the actual life activity at hand, it quickly becomes a soft hum in the background of our waking lives.
Even doing it (as we learn) for a very short time gives immense relief from difficulties going on around us. It brings us back to “our Center”; that which is Divine in us all. For you, that might be Allah.
Note: As you read, you will see there are a variety of types of Meditation. Typically, new folks concentrate on Mindfulness Meditation and Stillness Meditation… mostly those two combined. There is another you might find helpful that I love, and that is Guided Meditation. When I struggle with doing a solo practice, Guided Meditation often helps me to let go of the pain. There are an endless supply of Free Guided Meditations both in regular Google searches or on YouTube, Amazon Music, in Amazon Prime (tv) and Netflix. Do not think too hard on the other kinds of Meditation at the moment, just the 3 I mentioned above.
Non-Judgment is a main cornerstone of Mindfulness. I am sure you have a certain definition in your mind about what non-judgment entails. With Meditation, it takes on a broader meaning.
As you Meditate (which I will elaborate on in a moment), you’ll find your head filled with thoughts. THIS IS NORMAL! We all have our heads just stuffed full of thoughts, feelings and plans. Do not ever ever ever berate yourself for having random thoughts floating through your mind as you learn, try and practice meditation. We all have them! Forever. There is never a time thoughts are not flowing through our heads. Not even for the most practiced of Monks, ALL of us have this experience when Meditating.
Especially in the beginning, people can get very frustrated with this phenomenon, this “intrusion” of thoughts, disturbing our practice of Meditation.
The opposite, however, is true; without the thoughts, one would not have the Meditation to practice. Recognizing them is exactly what is supposed to happen! The moment you recognize a stray thought, that is the exact moment you have become Mindful. It might only last that second, but you have, for that fleeting moment, been Mindful. So beautiful!
When you recognize the random thought in your mind, instead of seeing them as annoying or terribly distracting, it serves us much more to… see the thought/feeling… say hello to it… even hold it for a moment if you need to… and then set it free to float away once again. I see the thoughts as clouds or soap bubbles floating around, some coming closer, others stay far away. As they come into my direct attention, those are the ones I admire, then release, returning to my breath.
You will, as all of us have, sometimes spend your entire Meditation session in thought. Thinking, planning, saying, “When is this over!?” to yourself. I encourage just shaking your head and laughing about how intrusive your thoughts have been and try again in a awhile.
It is the ebb and flow of thoughts, their presentation, your recognition, then their release, moving back to breath, that is the very definition of Mindfulness Meditation.
Time to Practice
You will read in most places that your Meditation should be at least 20 minutes long. 20 minutes can seem extremely daunting at first, so just shoot for 2-3 minutes and gradually, at your own pace, work your way up to 20 minutes. It could take a year to get there. Who cares!? This is your walk, no one else’s.
At least once each day, you will set aside a minimum of 10 minutes, even if you are only doing 3 minutes, setting the scene in your body and mind walks you towards the actual breathing. Those minutes are without the TV on, without answering your phone and hoping you have no one knocking at the door. If there are interruptions you have no control over, just start again when you can. No judgment, no getting angry at the interruption or person who knocked. A gentle thought of love towards them moves your practice forward.
Making time for Meditation can seem daunting at first, but if you are able to recognize the ritual as a great few minutes of Self-Love, you will soon grow to welcome the time apart from your harried life.
Timing Your Session
I’ve found several wonderful free apps for Meditation Timers. Most are bells, chimes or gongs, but there are some with music as well. Googling “Meditation Timers” brings up many choices. I have one on my computer and one on my phone.
An amusing, pretty universal, action seems to happen, especially as we are learning our way around these practices. We all seem to be intensely curious about 1) how long we have been doing the Mindfulness (thereby dragging us right out of it!) and 2) how much more time we have before we are finished. Time either flies or is interminably long. While non-judgment is important, do your best to recognize the urge to open your eyes to see the time as one of those stray and passing thoughts. This does get easier with time.
I found removing my watch and turning the clock around helpful at first, depending only on the timer. Otherwise I was half inside and half with one eye on the clock. Not so peaceful.
Where Are the Benefits Already?
In the beginning, many, many, if not most, of us find great resistance to practicing Meditation. We often look for any distraction we can find to avoid it. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NORMAL and, I believe, a required part of the process.
Recognizing the resistance, chuckling to yourself, then doing the Meditation, is an enormous success and one to be very proud of. Each time you cross this hurdle, you remove some of the future struggle towards practicing.
Just like there is no end to practicing, no end to the intrusion of thoughts, so too is there no delineation between practicing and Mindfulness having an effect on your behavior and life. The first time you sit quietly, breathing, you have already created a monumental shift in your Universe. There may be moments of recognition (“Oh! I breathed instead of wanting to throw a book at the wall!”), but more often, the effects are subtle and cumulative. One day, you will realize things have shifted and you will probably think, “Wow! When did that happen?”
It happened when you sat quietly that first day. It’s happening this very second as you read through what I have written!
I will share a couple of articles about HOW to actually do the breathing and practice Meditation. Those are the technical parts. I wanted to share with you my own learning curve specifically so you could see what the possibilities were, but mostly, that this is an amorphous experience and to not expect any concrete outcome. Ah, but those things along with monumental changes in your life.
Does this make sense? I would be shocked if any of it did!
I love all of you so very much. Have fun with your new activity, your new thoughts, your changes in behavior and allow utter confusion to wash over you at times. It is absolutely normal… you are absolutely normal… well, actually, I think you are absolutely amazing!
If you ever have questions or want to share your thoughts or experiences, feel free to talk or write to me.