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Time to meditate?

November 16, 2009

Today I’m going to try to scratch the surface of a huge topic: making time for things you know are good for you, and will help you heal. This has been one of my concerns for a while, but has taken on even more importance lately. Not only have I been trying to learn to take care of myself better (as I’ve written about here a couple of times lately), I’ve been seeing more results from meditation and know that spending more time on it would help a lot.

A post is probably coming up, on some of the ways in which I’ve found meditation practice helpful in learning better emotional regulation, preventing and sailing through depression, dealing with “anxiety” from sensory issues and PTSD triggers, and coping with chronic pain. For now, I’ll just say that I know it’s doing me a lot of good in all these areas, but still have a hard time making myself slow down enough to do sitting meditation. Moving meditation is helpful, but it needs balanced.

I’ve been trying to come up with words to wrap around this complex of ideas for a while, and got a further nudge today. Through a link from FWD/Forward, I ran across an excellent (and very timely) piece by Karen Brauer: The “Usefulness” Factor. I’ve been struggling with a lot of the same things for years now, partly thanks to our old friend disability shame.

I refer to this as the “usefulness” factor. It is much easier to derive satisfaction in life if you feel you contribute meaningfully in some way. This can be quite a challenge if, prior to the circumstances that sidelined your career, you were accustomed to saving/changing lives or were incredibly physically active…
But that does not mean you have become useless. It is very easy to fall into the trap of believing that, especially when people say things like, “it must be so nice to be home all the time and do nothing!” It is not particularly nice to have no impressive answer when people ask what you do all day, but if you are able to ignore that and realize that everyone is on this earth for a reason, you are on your way to finding a new sense of purpose. Maybe not a financial one, but perhaps a spiritual one, which is even more important.

My situation is closer to DH Kelly’s, in What do you do? (which I remembered and finally tracked down in the BBC’s Ouch! archives). I have held a few jobs, but my disabilities became painfully obvious in college, and I have only had one (short-lived) paid job since then. With the emphasis on paid work in our society, how do we respond?

It wasn’t that my life had been empty before, rather that it just hadn’t occurred to me that any of my pursuits were worth mentioning, not compared to other people’s proper jobs. I had written poetry and pieces for charity magazines, I had painted pictures, composed songs and ran an online support group, as well as trying to finish my education, but I hadn’t recognised “What do you do?” as an opportunity to talk about any of these things.

I also identified very strongly indeed with Jane’s experience in comments (can’t find a direct link to that one, unfortunately), over at Bipolar Recovery:

One of the things I constantly struggled with is the psychic pressure that I was supposed to be doing something with myself. I was supposed to somehow getting a degree when I had in fact dropped out of school. I was supposed to settle down and have a relationship and make grand kids yet I was insane! I wanted to own more things, more clothes, better apartment, etc. while making shit for wages. It was like a script that kept telling me I was a failure for not doing those things.

I had to give up wanting things and the program I had inside me to *do* things with myself.

By surrendering my life to simplicity, I reclaimed a lot of energy, removed stress and anxiety. By giving up, I actually gained. I gained peace and room to think and breathe about who I really was and what I really wanted versus what I was programmed to want or need.

I think this is a problem for a lot of us who, as Melissa put it in the next comment, “have been pressured to be certain things. And I’ve felt the weight of not being good enough, and the feelings of inadequacy that come from being raised in a dysfunctional family.” I’ve dealt with a lot of conflicting demands, and have persistently had very little idea what to do with myself; then I’ve beaten myself over the head for Not Trying Hard Enough to figure out what to do. Whatever I end up doing, I am painfully aware of the potential for Letting Other People Down, the fear of which has also tended to paralyze me. All of this is another way to continue inflicting psychic self harm on ourselves, in some cases. (Thanks to Jane for bringing that idea home; it’s sneakier and a lot of the time does more harm than the straightforward physical type.)

Not surprisingly, when I first read about existential psychology, I thought that it might be very helpful. What I read of Viktor Frankl‘s perspective, in particular, looked very applicable to people who had lived through any kind of trauma; he was a Holocaust survivor who emphasized “finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most sordid ones, and thus a reason to continue living”. Most of us haven’t lived through the same level of trauma, but that’s still a theme in a lot of our lives, AFAICT. Lately, I’ve been finding inspiration from non-Western philosophers rather than Heidegger or Kierkegaard, but have been working on a very similar wavelength.

How does all this tie in with the theme of not making time to do things we know will help us, such as meditation? If we feel compelled to stay busy for the sake of doing something, lest we be considered “lazy” or “not trying hard enough”, we’re unlikely to find/make the time to do things that actually help us. This is an important companion to stopping hurting ourselves.

Michael Tlanusta Garrett, in his deceptively simple Walking on the Wind, devotes a chapter to the question of balancing “being” and “doing”. Both are necessary for our overall health–physical, mental, and spiritual. “And what happens when we run out of things to do? Well, this rarely happens. But when it does? We just find more “things” to do! It’s like drilling a hole in water–only, in this case, we act as if the value of our existence depends upon whether or not we succeed.” Ouch.

He also points out that a lot of this frenzy of activity is something we use, mostly without realizing it, to keep from having to examine our inner world too closely. I know that I have been prone to doing this.

This works in with what he calls “The Rule of Opposites”, and the insights/lessons he derives from it:

1. Opposites are extensions of themselves, like two opposing hands of the same body; one opposite implies the other.
2. We choose our own (discordant) opposites wherein we are the true source of the difficulty we experience.
3. Everything serves a meaningful and important function in our lives.
4. Asking the right questions, instead of asking for the right answers, allows us to know the function rather than the effect of our choices.
5. Questioning our assumptions allows us to recognize underlying meanings or truths and the relative value of choices made.
6. Understanding underlying truths eliminates any need for discord in our lives.
7. Through choice of perspective and appropriate action, we are free to balance ourselves as we see fit.

Yes, this also bears some similarity to certain Buddhist philosophical/psychological ideas. Thich Nhat Hanh approaches this sort of thing from a slightly different direction. I’d recommend reading both of them. Michael Garrett offers some very incisive commentary on these insights, well worth reading if you can see this playing out in your own life.

It’s uncomfortable as hell, but I can see that this “taking time to relax and meditate, when I know it helps me in a lot of ways” vs. “buzzing around like a dyspraxic hummingbird, and exascerbating my physical pain” is one of those conflicts I’m setting up for myself, in my own head. Even looking at why this is happening, it’s still proving hard to break out of this pattern. Part of this is probably a form of inertia, since my nervous system seems prone to that. Change is also uncomfortable, even if you know that it’s likely to be more pleasant than the status quo. That’s on top of the more usual barriers pointed out in a rather good Finding Time to Meditate piece, which offers some good practical suggestions. (Though I do suspect that some of the “deeper” factors are also keeping a lot of people in a rut of busyness, while they try to rationalize this away.)

On the whole, I would go further than Karen Brauer did: ‘If you can ask yourself, “am I doing the best I can with what I have to work with?” and the answer is “yes”, then you have found your usefulness factor. Keeping yourself as functional as possible will go a long way with you being at peace with your situation.’ Closely examining what you describe as “doing your best”, not to mention what constitutes a “functional” human being, will bring you closer to peace with any situation you may find yourself in.

I’m running out of steam here, but this subject is quite the mindfull. 🙂

Edit: One important bit that I’d intended to mention more than in passing is the perceived difficulties of spending much time on meditation and other recovery activities if you’re not living alone. This is definitely something I’ve thrown up as an obstacle, in much the same way as some people’s perceived need for silent conditions for meditation. I am married, with a lot of animals in the house, and do have an extra set of responsibilities there. What’s mostly been getting in my way? Not separating real responsibilities from the kind perceived through that (hurtful) “Not Letting People Down, possibly through Laziness”, “showing that you’re not Useless” filter. In short, through trying to keep up a bizarre front of being capable in ways that I’m just not right now. If everyone’s needs are taken care of, there’s not a problem. That includes your own needs.

It’s helped me some to look at things in terms of physical therapy and rehab after an injury. Getting myself straightened out surely falls on the same priority level. Very directly, in the case of the dystonia-plus-accumulated-injuries “fibromyalgia” pain, but the emotional regulation part is just as important. I know full well that I’ll be more capable and easier to live with if I continue to work on that, and less likely to really Let Other People Down. To do that, I have to place as much importance on my own needs as on those of the people around me. Again, it’s all about duyukta

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2009 6:04 pm

    I’m still processing what I just read. What I can say is WOW!!! Thank you for taking the time and effort to write such a powerful and meaningful, and life changing piece.

    With the support of my wife, three years ago I finally listened to my soul’s voice and started the journey that lead me to my calling as a healer/massage therapist. I’ve discovered I have the gift of healing touch. I’m looking forward to developing my healing energy gifts further. I’m also looking forward to going down the road of meditation and self rediscovery. 🙂

    Again, I thank you for taking the time to write such a wonderful piece. It was truly a joy to read it.

    Best regards,
    Denson Malone

  2. November 21, 2009 1:59 pm

    Urocyon, I think you are right on target. Conflicting thoughts and emotions are a very elemental type of suffering. Meditation as well as just talking through the conflicts, as you did, are both very helpful. There’s a new book out called Smile at Fear that’s got some really great passages such as:


    When mind and body are joined together properly, there is a sense of joining heaven and earth. This comes from the sitting practice of meditation, to begin with. We have to sit and slow down. The disicipline of meditation is both training the mind and training the body. In the discipline of meditation, we have both a constant posture of uprightness, which is the quality of body, and a means of relating with the greater depth of space, or experiencing great openness, which is working with your mind….When mind and body are synchronized in your life and practice, there is very little chance for neurosis of any kind to arise.

    From “Joining Heaven and Earth,” pages 75 to 76, in SMILE AT FEAR: AWAKENING THE TRUE HEART OF BRAVERY, available from Shambhala Publications.

    Smile at Fear

    Chogyam Trungpa was a great meditation master who was also paralyzed on his left side from a car accident. I think completely accepted his injury and actually used it in many different ways to benefit his students.

    All the best to you,



  1. Pain and sensory management through mindfulness, Part 1 « Urocyon's Meanderings

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