Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Two weeks ago I talked a little about meditation. I didn't post last week because I was on vacation. This week I'm going to share a few techniques I've found useful. I have no expertise or certification in the practice. I have 20 years of personal experience, so take what I say with that in mind. Remember my idea of meditation is really just spending some time alone with your thoughts and noticing; whatever that means to you. I prefer sitting meditation in the fairly traditional sense but I have also found similar benefit in other activities. I used to be a pretty serious cyclist and I have definitely reached a reflective place being on a bike for extended amounts of time. Also, as a musician, there is a certain meditative quality to playing, though in an ensemble setting it is a much more active group meditation. I just got home from a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico and while I am by no means a serious fisherman I can definitely see how an activity like that can be very meditative. 

The first technique that I use is a connection with my breath. This can be as simple as just regulating our breath with a simple count on the inhale and exhale. Basically exhale fully. Inhale and count the time it takes to inhale. Match your exhale. Wash, rinse, repeat. In yoga this is called sama vritti breathing or equal breath. There are a whole variety of breathing exercises and I won't go into them here. What I will say is that whenever I find myself in the process of finding a meditative place or needing to re-center myself I go straight to focusing on breath. 

Connection with breath can also be used in movement activities. In yoga this is called vinyasa. Breath syncronized movement. A connection with breath can be part of any activity. I have runner friends that talk about it. I know I used to do it cycling. It can really be part of any activity.

The next step for me is to let my mind do what it does. Some accounts of meditation call it a quieting of the mind. The problem with trying to quiet the mind is the act of trying is getting in the way. What I do instead is "try" to get out of the way and let my mind go where it may. In this place I just notice. One of the benefits I find of this activity is it allows me to experience thoughts as almost a third person observer. One visual metaphor that I've enjoyed is thinking of thoughts as leaves falling off a tree into a stream. As the thought comes just observe it, then watch it "float" away in the stream. At first I thought this metaphor was a little new age touchy feely but I have really come to enjoy it.

Another interesting technique is to do the opposite and try to focus on sounds in the environment. I find this easiest to do if there aren't any prevailing sounds like a lawn mower or construction noise. An activity I enjoy is to try to direct your hearing to different distances from your body. Start with noticing body sounds, then room sounds, then house sounds, then street sounds, then beyond. You can hear some pretty crazy stuff.  You also notice that there are lots of sounds around us all the time that we filter out.

I'll tell a funny story. I get frequent MRIs of my head and spine as part of the aftermath of my brain surgery and monitoring of lesion activity as a result of MS. Anyone who has had an MRI knows they are loud. Really loud.  Also many of the sounds they make are similar to the sounds we've been conditioned since birth to equate with danger. All manner of siren type sounds. The machine even shakes and vibrates. The sounds are also rhythmic which makes it interesting to try to sync breath with them. The techs will "narrate" the MRI basically introducing each scan. I've had so many I just tell them to plow through it and skip the talking. About 3/4 of the way though the 45 minute test they come and inject me with a gadolinium contrast to see if there is any new tumor or lesion activity. In order to do this they have to take you out of the machine for a minute. Now, often people are a little anxious about the whole thing and I can see why but I actually have grown to enjoy them. You are forced to spend 45 minutes alone with your thoughts. So the funny part. The tech comes in and rolls my little bed out of the machine and I am in a pretty deep meditative state and he says "are you actually relaxed in that thing?"  My reply... "yup."   

So I offer to you my thoughts on meditation. It is not a big thing and there is no wrong way. For me the most distracting thought I can have is "am I doing this right?" If there is no wrong way then guess what... you are.       

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