The Benefits of Meditation

The Perks

Let’s talk about the perks of meditating. You’d be amazed by the many benefits of this ancient practice. In an 8-week study, a meditation style called “mindfulness meditation” reduced the inflammation response caused by stress. Ever experienced stress?

I thought so.

Furthermore, research has shown that meditation may also improve symptoms of stress-related conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, and fibromyalgia. 

Another study found that people who completed a meditation exercise experienced fewer negative thoughts in response to viewing negative images, compared with those in a control group

Meditation can also increase your ability to focus.

How?

First, let’s look at how meditation works. Because your task in meditation is to focus on one thing instead of letting your mind wander, it conditions your mind. You’re building your focus muscle. This helps you feel more in control of your mind. Ever walked into a room and wondered why you’re there? Meditation helps you feel less like you’re losing it.

Meditation can make you kinder. In “Loving Kindness Meditation”, you think kind thoughts about others, starting with those you love, and, with practice, advancing to those you’re not so crazy about. For example, the thought “May she be at peace” actually helps you feel more loving, or at least, more tolerant.

See For Yourself

If this sounds too airy-fairy to you, go to PubMed.org and research “meditation and telomeres”. Then comfort yourself by reading about your telomeres. These are the caps, somewhat akin to the caps on your shoestrings, on the end of each of your chromosomes. The more your body ages, the shorter your telomeres become. Aside from the aging process, stress shortens your telomeres. So, stress is not innocuous. It can affect the number of years you have on this planet. 

Meditation protects your telomeres. Check out the research.

The average meditator doesn’t look like a monk sitting atop a mountain, or even Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree.

News flash…the average meditator looks like you.

A Distraction Hack

The Biggest Distraction

It’s easy to get distracted these days. There’s little respite from the media. If you’re even a touch obsessive, it’s hard to turn off the TV …if only for fear of missing something. It kind of reminds me, as I’ve said before, of the scene in “A Clockwork Orange” where the guy is forced to watch what they wanted him to see.

The problem with TV is it kidnaps at least 50% of my focus. This is okay when I’m folding clothes. But any activity requiring more than 50% focus, like reading directions, cleaning the litter box, paying bills, talking on the phone, or especially reading, is half- baked with the TV blaring in the background. In fact, talking on the phone becomes a battle of the talking heads if I happen to be watching a News channel. 

Bottom line, there are many things vying for my attention, and it’s become increasingly more difficult to focus. I’m at the point I need to memorize my morning and evening routines so I don’t leave out a step.

The Magic Elixir

So, what’s the magic elixir to cure my lack of focus without a drastic reduction in TV? After all, this isn’t Lent. I don’t want to actually give up TV. I just want to be more efficient.

The answer, in my mind, is Meditation. Meditation trains your brain to focus. It’s like a magic pill, and it’s free!

They say if aspirin came out today, no one would be able to afford it. We tend to take it for granted, in the same way we water down our respect for freebies as potent healing modalities. In this way, we’ve drunk the kool-aid.

Meditation is a freebie…a potent freebie, and one of the benefits is an increased ability to focus.

Not only is it easy on your pocketbook, it’s an easy process. You simply find a quiet spot, set a timer for 5 minutes (if you’re a beginner), and focus on your breath or a word, such as “one”, or any word that won’t lead you down a trail of other thoughts.

Of course, other thoughts will interrupt you because the brain is always percolating with thoughts. That’s what the brain does. You’re simply harnessing, or in other words, training the brain by limiting it to one thought, or one focus, for a brief period.

This is your mental gym. It requires concentration. But the benefits are off the charts. And one of the coolest benefit is how meditation beefs up your immune system

In my next blog I’ll explain how, and go over the other benefits. 

So powerful…so cheap…so cool!

Stay tuned.

Spiritual Musings

My Beliefs

It’s that time of year, Easter, and being so, I find myself thinking about spirituality. 

I’m not a churchgoer per se, but since I grew up Catholic and attended Mass at least six days a week, I’ve accumulated a quorum of prayers, incense, and sore knees.

At the ripe age of 11, I decided that reincarnation made more sense to me than any other explanation. 

In my mind, one life wasn’t enough. I could see the disparity between rich and poor, intelligent and not-so, and the many other differences between people.

 Why did some people suffer while others seem to skate through life untouched? Even at 11, I could sense the intrinsic unfairness of this. If kids care about anything, it’s about fairness. What child hasn’t shouted, “But that’s not fair!”.  

Many religious scholars claim there’s just one life. We live. We die. That’s it.

 But, if one life is all there is, where did original sin originate…in the womb? This wasn’t rocket science, just a simple if-then statement.

What Happened Next

As I grew older, I became interested in world religions. As a therapist, I was drawn to the practice of meditation. This is where I noticed a correlation between the Virgin Mary and meditation.

Interestingly, when the Virgin Mary appears to people, usually children, she requests people say the Rosary each day.

One day it dawned on me that the Rosary is actually a meditation, much like Transcendental Meditation.

Around that time, I attended a workshop in Santa Fe NM, and to my surprise, during one of the sessions, in walks the Dalai Lama with his entourage.

I quickly realized this was a once in a lifetime event for me, so I became ultra -attentive. I regarded this as a synchronistic event.

 His message was about compassion. I started taking the practice of meditation more seriously. If it was good enough for Mother Mary and the Dalai Lama, who was I not to hold it in high esteem?

But what was in it for me? 

The Remedy

Meditation is a balm for anxiety. I have always had a moderate degree of anxiety. My childhood was marked by a high degree of unpredictability, which acts like fertilizer for the development of anxiety. My counseling practice should be called Anxiety-R-Us.

 I’ve been drawn to any practice, no matter how conventional or “out there”, that relieves anxiety. Trust me, I’ve tried all I deliver on myself first. I consider this the acid test. I’m like Mikey. If it works for me, I’ll share the secrets.

I’ve run into people who don’t know their blood type, but I learned mine during physiology class in high school. I’m Type A. The other day I read that people with Type A blood are more likely to have higher levels of cortisol, and therefore, higher levels of anxiety. I’ve also read having Type A blood increases your risk of getting Covid. I know I SOUND like someone with anxiety.

All to say, I don’t think it was an accident that I ran into the Dalai Lama, and heard his message. God must have said, “Send in the big guns for this one.”

So, it’s Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection…for us, a reminder that every day is a Resurrection. Every day is a new chance. 

That’s good enough for me.

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Pain…Why?

Pain

I’ve been thinking about the purpose of pain…physical pain. Yes, we have emotional pain and psychic pain, but they seem to be more lingering and chronic, while physical pain is acute.

 It gets your attention.

My Pain

Most of my pain, historically, has been in my abdomen and head. I’ve suffered from migraines since I was thirteen. As a teen I had really painful menstrual cramps, and later in life, gallstones stuck in my bile ducts (I don’t wish this on anybody). 

Your Pain

I’m sure you have a similar list of extremely painful maladies. Maybe your pain turns up in a different body part. It doesn’t matter. Pain is pain. 

Pain shouldn’t be a competitive sport. “My pain is worse than your pain,” is a fallacy. It’s a way of dissing the pain of another. It shows an ignorance of the fact that an individual’s pain threshold is unique to him or her.

Watching Netflix or eating a chocolate bar doesn’t soothe it. It’s like the universe whacking you with a 2-by-4. It’s like a voice from within saying, “Sorry to do this to you, but you ignored the previous three warnings I gave you.”

Taking Responsibilty

In some instances, I believe this is true. I know eating dark chocolate will give me a migraine. I know how many glasses of wine I can consume without a hangover. Sometimes, it is the two- by -four speaking when I make dubious choices.

Let’s Ask the Universe

On the other hand, does pain necessarily have to be a punitive retribution from the universe? Maybe there’s a higher purpose. 

I can’t say I have the answer as to what that higher purpose might be. But I believe one exists. God is always intentional, and that intention is positive…at least in my book. My lack of answers doesn’t negate it. 

My Take

But, here’s my take. I think, other than being a warning that something needs attention, I think it’s a call for attention. 

There’s nothing like pain to bring you into the present moment. That’s the purpose of meditation, actually, but my mind tends to wander a lot more while meditating than it does during a migraine. When I have a migraine, I’m focused on the migraine.

So, maybe one of the purposes of pain could be to bring us into the present. If this seems too Machiavellian, and you have another theory, please share. 

I’m listening.

I’m Preoccupied!

The Problem

I don’t know about you, but I’m often preoccupied with something other than what I’m doing at the moment…sound familiar?

I remember my car wreck in the suburbs of Denver. It was totally my fault. Thankfully, no one was critically injured, but all the same, it was both unsettling and costly.

When I told my mother about the accident, her comment was, “You were preoccupied.”

She was right on, because, ironically, moments before the wreck, I was angrily telling my sister, who was riding shotgun, to please put on her seat belt. So, yes, I was preoccupied.

Doing the Dishes

This morning, while doing the dishes, my mind gave me a wake- up call.

I heard the thought, “Just do the dishes”. I actually enjoy the process of doing the dishes because I love the feel of warm water on my hands. I usually have cold hands. Every migraine sufferer knows cold hands can be an indication your blood vessels are awry.

My Life Review

I believe we’re each shown a review of our lives when we die. So, what would I see in my life review? I can imagine God telling me I’d missed half my life because I wasn’t even there for it.

It happened without me. I was preoccupied.

Our minds are like wild horses, always on the move. I admit I create my own blocks to mindfulness. A few weeks ago, my TV remote was on the blink. In the morning, I love to turn on the TV, eat breakfast, and read the news. I usually have a choice. Hear the bad news on TV or read the bad news in the paper. 

While I was awaiting the new remote, I was without TV. I had absolutely no distraction while reading the paper. I could be totally present. 

Was I happy?

Nope. Something was missing. Focusing on just one thing felt vaguely distracting. I became preoccupied with my dissatisfaction. Have you ever been reading an article and suddenly realize you’ve been totally somewhere else in your head? 

This was me. So I started the entire article from the top. Thank you, preoccupation.

I could always take little stickies and post them on the faucet, the shower, and the newspaper.

Or…I could simply remind myself to be more mindful.

Maybe then God will tell me, ”You were there for the whole enchilada!”