The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind. – Caroline Myss
About a year ago, I began meeting with a pain psychologist hoping I could learn how to manage my pain enough to function reasonably well, and do it without drugs. I didn’t want something that would only cover the symptoms. He told me it would be hard work but I would be learning some valuable tools. I felt relief because it was the first time in a long time I didn’t have drugs pushed towards me. Someone in the healthcare community finally listened to me (I mean really listened), heard me, understood me and supported me. Wow!
At first, I anticipated being coached and refreshed on some deep breathing techniques. Instead, we started with “meditation” – mindfulness meditation. I was surprised because I had never tried meditation before, and I didn’t understand how to do it. I thought, “What does mindfulness really mean?” I pictured myself in nature sitting in the typical meditation fashion, eyes closed and uttering “ommmmm……ommmmm……”
Wrong! The method we went over was guided and focused more on the breath – basically, close your eyes and pay attention to the feelings throughout your body as you slowly inhale and exhale. You will become more aware of physical sensations that you normally wouldn’t notice. If you find your mind wandering, move the focus back to your breath… I left the session with a CD on mindfulness meditation for pain by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I understand he is the go-to person when it comes to mindfulness meditation. My assignment was to listen to the CD and practice everyday.
This technique definitely did not feel normal to me, but that was understandable given I was a novice. I attempted the meditation several times. My mind would wander…every few seconds…with an assortment of thoughts and images racing through my head. I would catch myself wandering – and then come back to the breath. Within a short time…my body would feel very heavy…and I would fall asleep. This happened over and over again. The goal is NOT to fall asleep; it doesn’t work if you fall asleep! Meditation is very difficult, to say the least. For a person who was always on the go, sitting and focusing on the breath, or letting my mind relax for just five minutes is hard. It takes a lot of time and work to change a long time pattern. I kept trying it, and I often became frustrated because I wasn’t connecting with it. That’s not a good reason to give up on meditation, though.
There is no doubt in my mind that meditation is beneficial, and powerful! I realized that relaxation and stress reduction were benefits, but I also wondered what else it accomplishes. Well, I learned in later sessions how strong the mind/body connection is – such as how emotions affect the body, and vice versa. The mind gets wounded and needs to heal, just like a physical wound needs to heal. The whole person needs to be healed, not just a part of a person. Mindfulness meditation is one method that helps with understanding that connection. It makes sense to me.
Although I don’t mindfully meditate as often as I should, it is still my base. I need something that I can always come back to. My mind still wanders, but not as often as before. Those I talked with who meditate say it really works for them, and they each use different techniques. In the meantime, I continue to search for and try different methods hoping something will click. However, I learned from a recent session that finding something you can get lost in is a type of meditation. For example, certain music, artwork, or photographing nature, flowers, bees, butterflies, etc. are things that I enjoy and helps distract from the pain. That’s why you see a lot of nature shots now in both of my blogs. Perhaps that is a big part of my meditation.
An important part of meditation is to be patient and non-judgmental. Don’t judge yourself, just observe. Trust the process and be open to what happens. We talk a lot about mindfulness in my sessions. Powerful stuff! So, I’d like to share more of what I have learned so far about mindfulness meditation. The list is continually growing:
- Reduces stress.
- Provides a relaxing situation. It decreases the emotional part of pain which is the suffering. Suffering can increase pain.
- Helps you study your body, be more intuitive about what is going on in your body, and examine it.
- It is a measure of objectivity and distance. You are able to observe yourself better without judgment and negativity, and not get caught up in the drama. Just notice what is happening without negativity taking over.
- Makes the unconscious process more available. You are openly aware without negative thoughts clogging the mind.
- Helps you be in the present – not dwelling on what happened in the past or worrying about what will happen in the future.
- Decreases negative emotions. These emotions make suffering worse .
- Is a method of self-exploration.
- Helps you learn self-observation skills.
- Provides more emotional availability.
- Provides more awareness of physical sensations.
- It’s a multi-functioning tool, like a Leatherman tool.