171 Days And Counting

Meditation

Meditation (Photo credit: RelaxingMusic)

Today, I am celebrating 171 consecutive days of meditation. As I wrote in this post, I’ve meditated on and off for years, but never quite committed to it. The thing is that I never needed studies to convince me that a regular meditation practice is beneficial. I’ve been my own test subject. There is no doubt in my mind that sitting on a regular basis has a positive affect on my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing. Yet, if you are anything like me, the knowing and doing are very often outweighed by outer influences.

Thinking back, I find it ironic that, based on studies, research and direct evidence, the very things that should have caused me to embrace meditation, for example, stress, anxiety, a lack of focus and concentration, a mind filled with never ending thoughts and other burdens. In addition, fibromyalgia made sitting in one position very painful and it was impossible to focus on the breath while my body was screaming in agony. I found a plethora of ‘reasons’ not to meditate. Sitting in stillness was a dream that eluded me repeatedly.

Near the end of 2013, i was beginning to regain control over pain. In my case, fibromyalgia manifests itself with, among other things, daily pain. On a scale of 1-10, my pain level hovers around a 5–every single day. For the preceding 4-6 months, my pain level had routinely hovered between 8 and 9. This, for months on end.

With my pain level returning to normal levels, and the coming of a new year, I felt it time for me to take action to repair the damage that constant, intractable pain caused both to my body and psyche. Thus, at the end of the year, I set an intention to begin a daily meditation practice both as a declaration of ‘taking care of me’ and as an antidote to the barrage of thoughts in my mind.

In all candor, at the time, I had no reason to believe that it would turn out differently than it had in the past. In hindsight, I now recognize that there was a major difference. In the past, I approached the intent to mediate with my logical mind, with considerable attention to its notable health benefits. I find that the thinking mind, that which separates us from lower life forms, is subject to profound degrees of both brilliance and wisdom. Yet, it is also feeds our fears, insecurities, self-doubts and any number of negative emotions. If allowed to, it can led us astray as had been the case when I bought into the multitude of ‘reasons’ that, in the past, made it easy to quit meditating.

When I choose to resume meditation months ago, I was fed up with following the advice of my head and choose instead to rely on the feelings in my heart. Following my heart, I made the intention to return to meditation, and I felt ready to confront the obstacles and hinderances, including the pain. Unlike all of my past failed attempts, I’ve meditated successfully for 171 days.

Although I am in every way, a meditation novice, after some reflection, I realize that there are factors that are instrumental in helping me to maintain a consistent meditation practice. They are by no means intended to supplant the advice of more experienced or expert meditators, but they are observations that are based on my personal experience.

  • Pick a style of meditation that works for you. There are many types of meditation practices, even “laughing” meditation. It is important that you choose a type that you like. }Just note that It may not come immediately and may require some trial and error.) Just because I prefer focusing on the breath, does not mean it is the practice that is well-suited for you. Do your research. Either obtain a good book describing the various types of meditation or put your research skills to work on the internet. (If you hew to a method that is not your conscious choice or one that is not right for you, you are most likely to give up the practice.) Even after choosing one, if you find that it is not your cup of tea, try another. Ultimately, you want to find a practice that you enjoy and can envision maintaining.
  • Approach your practice with joy, as opposed to a duty. Think about it. What is your mindset about those tasks that you feel obligated to accomplish? At some point, we become resentful and must force ourselves to complete them. On the other hand, think about those activities that we enjoy doing. We look forward to them because they bring us inner peace, calm, satisfaction and other positive feelings. Instead of obligation, we feel pleasure and an air of excitement at the prospect of doing them.
  • Pick a specific meditation schedule and stick to it. Doing so, allows both your body and mind to integrate the practice into your day. As you begin to practice, be mindful of how long you choose to practice. Do not commit to sitting every day, if you don’t sincerely believe it to be feasible. It is better to begin slowly, and over time, to build up to where you which to be. Otherwise, you run the risk of giving up out of frustration because you misjudged your ability to maintain your chosen schedule. Once you are practicing on a consistent basis, your body will begin to crave meditation. There is a point when you realize that you are no longer wrestling yourself to the cushion; it becomes as natural as brushing your teeth.
  • Remember the mantra ‘begin again.’  When I first began meditating, I was advised to think of my mind as an endless blue sky, and my thoughts as clouds passing through that sky. The aim of the type of meditation that I practice is to simply note those “thought” clouds as they pass by, and to resist the urge to attach to them. For example, a thought enters your mind reminding you that you need to go grocery shopping. In the best case scenario, you acknowledge that thought and let it go as it floats on by. If, however, your response to the thought is to begin visualizing your grocery list, you’ve attached to the thought and your attention is no longer focused on the meditation. Once again the mantra ‘begin again’ comes into play. When you realize that you have attached to a thought, simply bring yourself back, for example, to your breath and ‘begin again.’ No judgment, no recrimination, just ‘begin again.’ At the beginning or on particularly stressful days, you may find yourself beginning again numerous times, but like in falling down, it is the getting up and beginning again that matters.
  • No two meditation sessions are alike. Like life in general, some meditation sessions come easier than others.
  • Those days when you feel most like skipping your practice, are in fact, the times when you most need to practice. Over the last three months, pain from fibromyalgia, migraines, a sinus infection, a couple of really bad colds and depression, gave me serious pause to skip practice. At one point, I was too sick to even sit up. It would have been so easy to give in to the temptation to skip practice. I mean, they were valid reasons, right? At least, that is what my ‘thinking’ mind assured me. Fortunately, my heart brought me to the cushion and I never regret it. Nevertheless, on those days, 5-15 minutes may be more realistic and doable than my normal 50 minute practice. The goal is to show up for whatever time that you can manage, even if it is only for 5 minutes.
  • Don’t compare your meditation practice to that of others. Meditation is not a competition, and as I said earlier, your meditation choice and experience are most certainly to be different than that of another meditator.
  • If possible, find a meditation partner. Given that I live outside of Austin and for health reasons, it is impractical for me to join a group meditation in town. So, I had to come up with a creative solution. As it happened, I learned that a Facebook friend meditated as well. She lives in Illinois and I in Texas, but we agreed to come together at a predetermined time to meditate together. It works beautifully. Knowing that Jen is counting on me and is meditation at the same time, provides me additional incentive and motivation to meditate, even though, we are miles apart.

You might find additional helpful information in this blog post in which I wrote about my meditation routine.

In sum, sitting in meditation becomes less about what you should do and more about what you must do for yourself. For a Type A personality like myself, the stillness required for meditation, is a welcome change. The mental to-do list evaporates and I give myself permission to stop to embrace the stillness and the moment. It is a gift that I give myself–one that I treasure.

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Pain, Pain Go Away

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At this very moment my thoughts are hazy. Try as I might to fill my mind with positive thoughts, they return, again and again, to the pain coursing through my body. It is burning, searing and throbbing its’ way over my entire body. Like an invisible thief, it comes, demanding my attention — much like an insistent child seeking to be recognized by its’ mother. I am the mother and fibromyalgia is the child, in this case, unwanted and unloved.

Fibromyalgia is an unannounced visitor — one who refuses to leave. Much like childbirth, the pain of fibromyalgia is often indescribable. It is difficult to communicate pain that overwhelms your mind and body to such an extent that you’d do anything, give anything, for a mere five-minute reprieve. Yet, all the prayers, hopes and pleas go unanswered.

For the uninitiated, the American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association states that fibromyalgia “produces widespread pain, disturbed sleep, and exhaustion from head to toe. [] Fibromyalgia means pain in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons—the soft fibrous tissues of the body. Although the muscles hurt everywhere, they are not the only cause of the pain. Instead, the diffuse, body-wide symptoms are greatly magnified by malfunctions in the way the nervous system processes pain.”

Symptoms vary from one person to another, and in many cases, it can take years for patients to receive a correct diagnosis. Although I can discuss my symptoms ad nauseam, the pain is the most prominent and has had a far greater impact on my life than any other.

When I began my journey with fibro (the shortened version of fibromyalgia), I worked, traveled, gathered with friends, entertained and generally lived my life as normally as possible. I am an attorney, and at the time, I was an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas. In that capacity, I defended the state and its’ employees against primarily, claims of civil rights violations. Mine was a busy and active practice, and I loved my job.

Even then, however, pain was a given. I largely controlled it with pain medications and yoga–day in and day out. Everything that I did in my role as a litigation attorney, I managed to do under the weight of fibromyalgia pain. I believed that as long as I was performing my job at my usual high standard, I could continue to do the job that I loved.

As time passed, my pain level grew to the point that I had to take more and more pain medication just to survive from day-to-day. The medications were the only thing that allowed me to do my job. With them, I traveled extensively, met with clients, interviewed witnesses, took depositions, appeared at hearings, and most importantly, managed my case load.

Unfortunately, there came a time when the pain became too great, and the work, that I loved, suffered. The pain consumed my thoughts. I’d lie on my office floor praying for it to end. I’d say to myself, “Take it five minutes at a time,” but before long, I was thinking in one minute increments. Still, the pain overwhelmed me.

I remember the last case that I tried before I resigned. It was a jury trial in a Dallas federal court. Although the specifics of the case are a blur, I clearly remember the pain. In the midst of questioning witnesses or even conferring with the judge, I was gripped with pain. Repeatedly, I lost my train of thought, and frantically worked to get it back. During court recesses, I would lie down on a bench in the back of the courtroom, hoping to allay the pain. Stubbornly, it remained.

I loved being a trial attorney and for 14 years, I was successful at it. I rarely lost a case and I adored my clients. The pain changed all that. My work suffered, and although few people noticed any difference, but i did. Soon, I was forced to admit the cold hard truth. I could not deny it any longer. I was unable to adequately do my job and this was unacceptable to me. After conferring with my doctors, I took a leave of absence. The plan was that we’d use the time to regain control over the pain. I never returned, and haven’t practiced since.

And, so it goes, the pain remains. The intensity ebbs and flows, but it is never far away. Sometimes, it is a faint whisper that lulls me into thinking that I am once again in control. All too often, however, it is a roaring tsunami, pulling me under, and overtaking everything in its’ path. It is during those times that all I can do is hold on, resting in the knowledge that like everything else, this too shall pass.

With Gratitude For All

Cover of "Giving Thanks: The Gifts of Gra...

Cover of Giving Thanks: The Gifts of Gratitude

This is a post that I wrote a couple years ago. Today, I was preparing to write a Thanksgiving post, when I happened upon it. After reading it through, I realized that it perfectly expressed my present feelings. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, I offer it to you as my way of showing gratitude for you, whether your country celebrates the holiday or not. Gratitude is not a once a year day, it is meant to be practiced every day. So, with this post, I say “thank you’ for being such a blessing to me. Thank you for joining me on my journey. Have a blessed day.

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As I rush to and fro in preparation for this week’s holiday feast, I stop and consider the meaning of giving thanks, that is, the meaning of gratitude. According to wikipedia, “Gratitude, thankfulness, gratefulness, or appreciation is a feeling or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive.” For most of us, it is quite easy to give thanks for the good things that happen in our lives. No, the difficulty arises when we consider our thoughts and feelings about those things that we deem “bad,” for instance, illness, a lost job, or the death of a child, spouse or close friend.Granted, these are no zippity do dah moments, but they too have undoubtedly  left us with some underlying “benefit” that may or may not have manifested itself as of yet.

For years, I have dealt with the  scourge of fibromyalgia– constant pain, depression, insomnia and more. I resigned from my 14 year job as a State’s defense attorney because my fibro symptoms adversely affected my work. It was impossible to concentrate on the case at hand while in excruciating, unrelenting pain.  There were too many days when I made it to work, only to lay writhing on my office floor. So for me, fibromyalgia is my nemesis, that one thing that I find it difficult to give thanks for. Yet, in most of clarity, I can see that the benefits are there.

Not too long after I went on disability, my mother had a stroke. She has always been in perfect health, so it was quite a shock. After she left the hospital, the options were a nursing home or our house. There was no question that  she would stay with me and my husband.  The thing is that had I still been working as an attorney, it would have been impossible for me to welcome my Mom into our home. I travelled constantly and was always trying cases in one Texas city or another. I was out-of-town more often than not. My disability became a benefit, because it allowed me to be there for my mother when she needed me. I am grateful for that.

We can’t pick and choose those things that we are grateful for. When we begin giving thanks, it is for everything that has gotten you to where you are today. As Oprah Winfrey writes, ” Gratitude for the whole journey of my life–not just everything that had gone right, but the things that had not.” I have to remind myself of this every single day.

I wish you and your loveds a safe and happy Thanksgiving. Blessings, Lydia