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Taking a Zen Approach to Diabetes

by Glenn M. Callaghan, PhD

There is absolutely nothing wrong with remembering the past or planning ahead. These are incredibly useful things our mind can do for us. However, sometimes our mind pulls us all over the place and keeps us from being here, in this moment, a place where we can make choices about our lives. This of course relates directly to making effective choices in managing diabetes and other aspects of our self-care.

Stop. Breathe in. Breathe out. This next part of our basic Zen practice is to slow ourselves down and become more present in this moment. Breathe. Become aware of your own breaths. Notice yourself breathe in and then exhale. Really focus on this. You can try doing it with your eyes closed, if that is helpful, or do it with your eyes open. It doesn’t actually matter. Do what works for you. You can do this reading a computer screen, sitting in your car (keep your eyes open for that one!), walking, eating, wherever. Notice the feeling of the air coming inside your lungs. Notice how the air feels as it leaves your body. Take nice, slow, regular breaths. In other words, slow down.

Remaining in the present moment
As you do this practice of noticing your breaths, notice that you are here, right now, in this present moment. This is you, right here, breathing. This is you becoming present to your life. In this moment, all things are possible. This moment allows choice; it allows you to be fully you.

As your mind begins to pull you back to the past, to things you should have done, as it pulls you to the future to what you need to do or become, focus on your breath. Allow yourself to fully notice those breaths in and out. If it helps to count them, you can do that. If it helps to say “in” and then “out” to yourself, try that.

Stop. Breathe in. Breathe out. Be here, now, and notice that the chaos begins to drift. At least for a short while. Notice that your mind can start to become calm.

As you do this, you may begin to notice thoughts come, and then they go. As a thought appears to you, you may want to try to see what happens if you let it just sort of exist there without jumping on board with the seeming reality of that thought. “I should go do laundry right now. It’s really piling up.” OK, there’s a thought. Let’s see what happens when you let that go and come back to it when you are done with this.

Try to notice your feelings. Notice the physical sensations in your feet, in your hands, in your shoulders. Notice how your clothes feel on your skin. Notice how you are sitting, standing, or lying. Try to notice the emotional experiences you are having. See if you can let those come to you, and then leave on their own, without acting as if they are real, as if they need to be gotten rid of, made larger, or otherwise made more real than they are in that moment.

Our thoughts and feelings are a gift. They are part of what makes us uniquely human. Many times when we listen to our thoughts and feelings, it can be very helpful. However, when we act as if our thoughts and feelings are real, things that can hurt us or things that we must have, this can sometimes cause us pain. When we can notice our thoughts and feelings, experience them as they come to us, let them go as they will, sometimes we are free to continue to be here and present in our lives. Feelings and thoughts, like all of our human experiences, are impermanent. They will come and go as long as we do not try to attach ourselves too strongly to them. This process is what some people call awareness: Stop. Breathe in. Breathe out. Be aware.

The practice I am discussing here can also be understood as meditation. It takes many, many forms, and it can be as basic as this. (For more information on meditation, check out the article “Meditation and the Art of Diabetes Management.”) No matter how you define this process or act of meditation, it can be very helpful in getting you “unstuck” when you feel you are in a jam with your thoughts and feelings.

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