Posted by: cg00n | November 30, 2009

November 30th and all’s well

I thought I’d better get around to posting something here before rumours of my demise reached pandemic proportions.  The big news, such as it is, is that I am still alive and currently quite healthy.  There has been no new news from any doctors:   my visit to Dr. D, as expected, yielded no nasty surprises but no miracle cures either.  I have yet to hear from Dr. R about getting my leg nuked; it would be nice to get that over with but there is not much I can do to speed things along.  Nothing significant to report from my most recent CT scan and no new bumps or lumps to be found either.   You can skip the rest of this if you’re just checking up on me.  ‘Bye 🙂

Those of you who want to know about the weather or who are in need of sleep, read on.

November has been beautiful here.  It is as though summer was simply delayed by a few months.  True, we have had some cooler weather (frost on the windshield in the morning) and some rain but today it is once again partly sunny and 15˚C.  I did walking meditation for half an hour on the back deck yesterday just before sunset and felt wonderful afterwards.

My state of mind has also been pleasantly upbeat and pretty stable. I have even been enjoying some computer programming lately which I think is a really good sign.  Not merely do I feel like doing it and that it is a worthwhile activity but I can actually summon up the necessary energy and concentration to make it happen.  Such episodes have been rare indeed over the past couple of years.  I attribute a great deal of this improvement to the mindfulness and meditation  that I have been doing.  I don’t want to come across as some kind of rabid, evangelical Buddhist or some new-age nutcase  but it has been so good for me that I am going to spend a few paragraphs trying to convince all of you to try it too.  P thinks I should write a book about my experience which I may try if I live long enough.

It was back in the late ’70s that a good friend talked me into trying Transcendental Meditation.  For the (then) huge sum of $60 I took a course and was prescribed a mantra, a sort of nonsense word on which to focus my attention for 20 minutes twice daily.  I managed to keep it up sporadically for a few years.  After that I only got around to it if I was feeling really agitated:  it was wonderfully calming.  In the early ’90s P and I took a course in Tai Chi for a few weeks.  This turns out to be (among other things) a form of moving meditation.  Your mind is totally focussed on what you are doing, precisely how you are moving and so forth.  Once again, it is a very calming exercise and it helped me crawl my way through some very dark times (for me) in the mid-90’s.  However, Tai Chi required me to remember a lot of detail (the moves, the sequences thereof) and after lapsing for a few months I never managed to pull it together again.  All of this is by way of saying that I didn’t come completely cold to mindfulness meditation.  It was, in many ways, a natural extension of a path I have followed several times in my life.

When the floor dropped out of my life 18 months ago I quickly realised that my state of mind (SoM) was going to be at least as important as a cure for cancer to my future quality of life.  In the early days I spent a lot of time doing TM which was, as always, calming but seemed to do little to dispel the pervasive anxiety.  Fortunately I was referred to a very good psychiatrist, Dr. C.  Unlike my previous brain care specialists she does a lot more than merely “talking me through” stuff or prescribing pills.  My first exposure to mindfulness meditation was at her suggestion.

Full Catastrophe Living is the book upon which the course was based and I highly recommend it.  A group led by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the course which uses meditation as a tool to change the way your mind works by allowing you to observe the background chatter and exercise some control over it.  In my case there are two forms of chatter that pose a problem:  the kind that feels as though there is more going on than I can cope with and the kind that drags me into morbid speculation about unpleasant future events.  The latter is especially nasty because it can so easily bring on an anxiety attack.  During basic mindfulness meditation you concentrate on breathing, just feeling the air moving in and out of you lungs and nose, your belly and chest rising and falling.  Without gritting your teeth you try to keep your attention on this simple action.  Every time you notice that you are thinking of something else you mentally label this (e.g. by sub-vocalizing the word “thinking”) and move your attention back to breathing.  Doing this for 20 minutes a couple of times a day over a few months will probably make a big difference to the background chatter level in you head because it helps to form a sub-conscious habit of paying attention to what is happening right now, rather than to all the other random thoughts that flit through your mind.  In other words, the benefit of mindfulness meditation (over and above TM, for example) is the long-term changes it helps to bring about.

Quite a bit of scientific and psychological research has been done on this stuff over the last few decades and mindfulness is now a quite well-respected form of therapy for many  neurotics like myself.  You don’t have to be neurotic in order to benefit, of course, which is the whole point of this posting.  I suppose if you’re already an incredibly focussed person it won’t make much difference but for the rest of you (and I know you’re out there!) it is a simple way to gain control over many aspects of your life and avoid (or at least mitigate) a certain amount of unpleasantness.  I pretty much guarantee that it will result in more calm in your life and a much greater sense of contentment.

So there.  Feel free to ask questions etc..

Finally, pickings from the media over the last few weeks:

Hang in there and enjoy the Christmas scramble.

 

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Responses

  1. Pleased to hear that the weather and your illness both cooperated this fall, making it a peaceful and enjoyable season. We also had a lovely fall that at times felt like an extended summer. However, it ended abruptly a week ago with a wet snowfall, that almost halted rush hour traffic. The subsequent cooler temperatures that amazingly rose for a day so everyo’s rose for the Grey Cup. Focusing and deep breathing are remarkably effective … it even works for the incredible pain of giving birth!

    I had forgotten that they were going to nuke your leg another time. Reading about the infusion made me think it was enough to make anything that stirred shrivel up and diminish to nothingness.


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