Meditation Update

In June 2013, I started meditating regularly. I wrote then that meditation is supposed to reduce stress, increase energy, and improve focus. It might also open doors to spiritual growth. A year and a half later, it may be working.

I’m still a terrible meditator. Thoughts keep pouring in when I’m trying to be quiet. It is getting better, though. I’m now up to 25 minutes twice a day, and I see some differences in my life.

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Some of these benefits might appeal to you: I’m more peaceful, more relaxed, less easily upset when things go wrong. I take a longer view of things now and see a bigger picture. What used to be catastrophes now seem more like bumps in a long road. I don’t worry about the past or future as much as I used to (which was all the time). The reduced stress part is definitely happening.

I’m not sure about improved focus and energy. I’m sleeping a lot, but I have almost finished a new book of healing stories, which took some focus. You can see some of these stories on my website.

My blood pressure is down to low-normal after having been pre-hypertensive (140/90) for a couple of years. I haven’t noticed any improvement in my multiple sclerosis symptoms, though. I’m still not walking more than a couple steps; still in the bathroom all the time with a weak bladder. That is unfortunate, because I hoped I could recommend meditation as diabetes management.

Actually, I still can recommend it. A Thai study from 2007 found that people who meditated immediately after breakfast lowered postprandial (after-meal) glucose levels 20–30 mg/dl. That makes perfect sense, because people are often stressed while eating, which raises glucose.

Joe Nelson, MA, LP, wrote in this article,

Research studies suggest that practicing meditation regularly helps people reduce their bodies’ responses to stress by lowering blood pressure, slowing heart rate, reducing oxygen intake, and changing the brain waves to a more relaxed state. Moderating the stress response is also likely to lower blood glucose levels.

Meditation can also help with self-management. Nelson says,

You will learn how to take your time to think through your actions before acting…you will begin to notice that the decisions you make are more thoughtful. The likelihood of grabbing for chips or ice cream becomes lower, and the possibility of going for a walk increases.

If you’re interested, read his whole article here. It has good suggestions for getting started and dealing with the barriers that will likely come up.

Getting started
Many people find meditation scary, like it’s some kind of exotic mind control. It’s not. Usually you just sit there and focus on your breathing (mindfulness), or on a single word (mantra), or on an object. When thoughts come, just let them go and return to your breathing, mantra, or focus object.

At first, this might seem completely impossible. It seemed that way to me; thoughts just came so fast that I despaired of ever stopping them. Lisa, my meditation teacher at the time, said “Everybody thinks that. Just keep practicing. Very gradually, the thoughts will start to take longer breaks. When thoughts do come, it gets easier to let them go.”

Even with months or years of practice, not every day is good. Last week I had a painful day where I made some bad decisions, then beat myself up for them. I wound up snapping at other people, which I almost never do. After a few hours of feeling stupid and bad, I was able to bring myself back to reality. I had made mistakes. Everybody does, but it’s no big deal, and I’ll do better next time.

I think that before I started meditating, the bad feelings would have gone on a lot longer.

Meditation has led to spiritual growth for me. When my brain chatter eases up a bit, other parts of the mind can be heard. This is where creativity comes from. These usually hidden parts see the world as much more connected, eternal, and whole than the chattering brain does. You will like hearing from them, but it takes time.

Having a teacher or a book helps. I alternate Tuesdays between two meditation classes, one Buddhist and one Christian. I really can’t see any difference between the two in what they are saying. Hearing about spiritual things or scientific things changes the focus of the meditation. It gives you some big pictures to focus on.

Back in 2013, Lisa told me meditation “has brought me states of ecstasy, joy, and peace, and has brought huge amounts of love into my life.” I haven’t got much of that yet, but I’ve felt enough to know it’s possible. I just have to keep practicing.

Meditation might be a New Year’s resolution for you. If you’re interested, check out Joe’s article or other sources, or find a meditation class near you. Nearly every place has a few now.