Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Meditation: Does It Matter? How Hard Is It?

In a previous blog entry I spoke of how I think it is often useful to BEAM LOVE.  The M in BEAM might stand for "Mission" as suggested by Mara or "Meditate often" as I suggested in that blog entry and in "Keeping  Cool Under Pressure."  While I think having a mission or purpose is very important, I am inclined to think that meditating often is even more important.

So, why do I think meditating often is so important?  In my experience, meditation is much more than a way of achieving profound relaxation which is, indeed, often a significant benefit.  In my experience, meditation can also be a method for connecting with an expanded or perhaps universal consciousness that has awareness and understanding of far more than my own limited experiences can possibly allow me to perceive, much less understand.  Am I saying that by meditating I can access answers to otherwise impossible conundrums? Perhaps, but not exactly.  There have been times when after meditation, I have seen a problem from a different angle or, if you will, with new eyes.  It has often seemed as though my capacity for attention to details that were previously overlooked has been enhanced and my ability to see previously unseen patterns has emerged like lighting a candle in the darkness.

Several years ago I traveled to Texas to the Southwest Vipassana Meditation Center where a group of other folks of all ages and backgrounds and I were somehow drawn for a 10-day, silent retreat.  It is an isolated spot about 40 miles from Dallas.  As I recall, the first three days were very difficult for me, primarily because I wanted to do it right and because my mind could not seem to get quiet despite meditating from 4:30 in the morning until 8:00 in the evening with breaks for meals and toileting.  There was instruction given in the evening by the teacher from 8:00 until 9:00. On about the fourth day, though, my mind chatter began to dissipate. I found that I could breathe in from the top of my head and breathe out through the bottom of my feet, or the reverse.  As my breath moved,  I noticed not only the sensations in and around my nose and upper lip but also the sensations that emanated from the surface of my entire body, one section at a time as my attention moved to a particular body aspect.  If there was an itch on the side of my left knee, I would notice it when my breath passed my knee and not notice it again until the next breath again passed that same spot.  Other thoughts were strangely absent most of the time.  It was as if my mind was in neutral while my attention was nearly totally  focused on breathing and on the surface sensations of my body.  It was as if my mind had slowed almost to a stop.  The effect was very peaceful.  I felt at once both open to all that was within and all that was without; almost totally free of judgment.

Upon subsequent exposure to people in the Dallas International Airport, I felt more in an observation mode than was usual for me.  As I now recall it, just being, without judging, seems the best description of  my state at that time.  When my son picked me up at the airport in Raleigh, he said he had never known me to appear so peaceful.

Following that retreat, I continued to meditate often but not for so long each day.  It was, however, long enough to provide a kind of maintainable equilibrium for quite awhile.  Gradually, however, I spent less and less time in meditation and more and more time immersed in the day-to-day pressures that seem to me to accompany most of us on our journeys from birth to death, all of them usually amounting to very little when remembered from a distance.

So, does the practice of meditation really matter?  As I see it, meditating often is a way of experiencing internal and external validation and acceptance and a way of being sufficiently peaceful that listening to learn all that Universal Mind has to teach becomes a greater possibility.  For me,  meditating often definitely matters.

And how hard is it to meditate?  My perspective now is that meditation is as easy as paying attention to my breathing. It doesn't require special agility or equipment.  Many different techniques can be very effective at bringing about the various benefits.  A very simple approach that I like is to sit quietly with my head and spine erect, both my feet firmly on the floor, my eyes gently closed, my hands placed either on my knees, in my lap, or on  my chest, one over the other, while breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth.  As I breathe in, I think only "in;" and as I breathe out, I think only "out."  This can be done for 5 minutes or much longer, and my experience is that just doing it once or twice a day is more important than the length of each session.

How does my description of my experiences with meditation compare with yours? Please consider sharing your own meditation experiences and the meaning your meditation practice has had for you.  From my perspective, there is so much we can learn from one another.

More on Vipassana can be found at or on meditation in general at

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"O Peacock-Feathered Dreams": A Story of Validation and Acceptance

Several years ago on a fall afternoon after spending an hour in meditation while sitting on our covered, screened porch as it rained steadily in the surrounding woods, something happened which I had never experienced before nor have I sense.  I saw in my mind's eye two words written in white letters on a black background, almost like credits on a movie screen.  The words led me to a specific page on a web site in India.  The page was in Hindi; but after a time, I discovered someone who translated the page into English. It turns out to have been a story entitled, "O Peacock-Feathered Dreams."  I think it is a beautiful story of a husband coming to understand his wife in a new way, followed by his validation and acceptance of her. It has subsequently been an inspiration to me and to others with whom I have shared it. I offer it here for your consideration.

O Peacock-Feathered Dreams

By Ms Seema Shafaq

"Loosely translated" by Parmesh

This is the story of a woman told in first person. She has a troubled childhood, and remembers that she would seek escape from the harsh realities by tuning off and looking at the skies, and fantasizing that the clouds are taking the shapes she desires.

Thus when she grows up, all she wants to retain of her childhood days are the clouds in the sky, the mist of the mornings. When her traumatic childhood events would come to haunt her, she would close her eyes, and live in her dear dreams. Her husband Raman, finds this very disconcerting, and would ask her, 'Why always these fantasies!'

How can he ask me after knowing everything, she feels. Once she murmurs to him, 'Let's make love in front of a beautiful temple.' He was very hurt. 'How can I make love to you in a public place?' She says, 'It is possible, everything is possible in dreams; just close your eyes!'

One night, Raman holds her in both hands and says affectionately, 'Darling, please do not take me amiss, but I think we should consult a psychiatrist. Is it okay that you are living in a world of your dreams?' She is devastated. He holds her to his heart. In shivering tones, she says, 'How can you understand? You grew up in a house which had lots of doors and windows; I grew up in a small house, which had lots of open squares - huge open spaces, where strong winds would lash from all sides. I had no protection, except a piece of a cloud. I have been using this cloud as a blanket. Whenever I have shed tears in my innumerable times of distress, not one drop has fallen down; it has been captured by the piece of cloud. Do you know, Raman?

What we call as rain, is actually the tears of countless people. They also must be having pieces of cloud, which, when completely full, squeeze themselves.... and people say, 'See it's raining!'

My dearest, in this rain, if the peacock did not spread its rainbow-hued wings, how would this life be? How will the festivities of Diwali and Dassera pass? In these dreams I have held my father's hands, whom I have never seen in real life. How can I leave these? Children of broken homes have only these peacock-feathered dreams as their legacy, my dear Raman....they have nothing else!'

Her voice is getting broken. Raman barely composes himself, gets water for her and turns to give it to her, when he finds she is lying near her son, dozing. He wants to wake her to give her water, buts stops short...he does not want to disturb her dreams.  He places the water on the table and turns off the light.

The End....or perhaps just the beginning.

There's more to tell about the words I saw that led me to the web site, about the web site itself, and about Parmesh; but I will save those stories for another day.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Long-Term Care Insurance and Other Reflections on Growing Older

This morning I reviewed information on long-term care insurance supplied to me by my insurance agent. Libba and I have to make a decision within two weeks about which policy to purchase in order to avoid a premium increase due to Libba's impending birthday for insurance purposes (her actual birthday is not until late May).  In addition to the cost of insuring that we can afford to be taken care of should we be unable to provide for our own ADLs (activities of daily living like feeding ourselves, bathing, turning over in bed, getting dressed, brushing our teeth, sitting on the commode, and cleaning ourselves after a bowel movement), it contained a page entitled "Exploring the Myths of Long-Term Care." It begins with, "Advances in medical and health care technology are enabling us to live longer.  While it is encouraging, an extended life brings with it the increased likelihood of experiencing a long-term illness.  To effectively preserve our dignity and freedom of choice tomorrow means carefully considering our options today."

Well, carefully considering the potential for becoming totally dependent on someone else for some of my most basic needs is not such a pleasant prospect and seems unlikely to hold much hope for preserving my dignity and freedom.  While I am currently strong and vigorous, I remember an uncle who could not walk down a short flight of steps without experiencing terror over a potential fall.  I also recall the agony expressed by my grandmother when a physical therapist was attempting to loosen her contracted joints following a stroke.  A younger friend with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)* also comes to mind. He is locked inside a totally immobile body with absolutely no way to communicate with his caregivers.  He can feel an itch but has no way of communicating his desire to have the itch scratched.  I hope he has been able to find some way of turning off awareness of discomfort through some kind of profound meditation, but he may be more likely to be entirely insane but with no way to even scream or grimace.  There is no way of knowing his state of mind unless he can communicate through ESP, which I suppose may be possible. It is hard for me to think about my friend's tragic condition and usually don't as a result.

So, what do I think it will be like for me if I grow old enough to experience the almost inevitable ravages of age? Will my condition become horrifying in some way?  Will my friends have difficulty thinking about how bad it is and avoid me or pity me or talk to me in condescending ways, not out of lack of caring but out of their own discomfort with what seems all too possible for any of us to experience some day? Dignity and freedom, indeed! Is either truly possible in the face of severe debilitation?  I also think of some of my patients who are young enough and healthy enough but who are plagued by delusions which prevent them from living independently, much less from enjoying life.

Depressed yet?  I have to say that for me the prospects of losing my physical and mental agility could be very depressing if focused upon as a definite inevitability.  It seems to me that the only way to prevent a sense of despair over what may eventually be my plight is to validate the tragedy of these conditions and the fear associated with imaging having them, accept that some things about life cannot be changed, and live in the present moment as effectively as I possibly can.  I think effective, present-moment living includes being conscious, enjoying what there is to enjoy about each moment as it unfolds, accepting what is, and meditating often (BEAM for short).

I plan to keep in mind this BEAM prescription next week as I pay my first premium for long-term care insurance.  May the "golden years" of each of us be enriched by building upon our positive life experiences, and may we not be too burdened by our fears of the very real potential for experiences of pain and diminished capacities that may await us.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Prayer: Magical Thinking Or A Transforming Shift in Consciousness?

It has seemed to me for a long time that a significant difference in perspective when it comes to a religious belief has frequently been one of the most difficult subjects to discuss with some people. In this entry I will express some of my perspectives on personal prayer.  It is my intention to do so in a manner that will allow others who hold different beliefs about personal prayer to receive what I have stated and consider it with a minimum of defensiveness.  Please let me know after reading it whether you think I have likely succeeded in this effort to get my point across without invalidating the perspective of others.

Over the last several years I have come to experience personal prayer as extraordinarily powerful in transforming the world around me.  Is this merely wishful thinking, or is there a shift in consciousness that has immediate and far ranging effects? If you are reading this entry with a hope to find a definite answer to this question, I expect you will be disappointed.  On the other hand, you may read something that resonates for you in such a way that how you think about this question is altered slightly in one direction or another.

Ultimately, it seems to me, that each of us has within us the potential for believing that there is a power greater than we that can have a direct effect on our lives, the decisions we make, and the unfolding circumstances we find ourselves experiencing. As I see it, though, believing something doesn't necessarily make it so. Having said that, it surely seems to me that what we believe is true effects significantly how we interpret our life experiences and effects profoundly the decisions we make. I think that if we believe a particular task or goal is impossible to accomplish or achieve, then we are not very likely to attempt to do that task or pursue that goal. So, I think that what you already believe is possible through prayer or meditation is likely to influence whether you think my assessment of the effects of personal prayer has any validity or relevance for you.

Nearly every day, many times during the day,  I pray this prayer, "Dear God. If it be your will, please increase the beneficial energy associated with my being and completely transform the detrimental energy into beneficial energy.  And Dear God, if it be your will, please adjust the frequencies of all the energy systems known and unknown to me so that the highest and best for all concerned may be the result. And Dear God, if it be your will, please help me to be an instrument of your peace today.  In deep gratitude, I pray." In my experience, even when prayed silently, there are immediate effects on me and on the people around me; at least so it seems to me.

There have been many times when chaos has seemed to be prevailing in a personal or professional setting prior to my prayer; and within seconds of the prayer, there has been a marked change in the apparent level of emotional tension associated with the situation.  On one occasion my wife Libba was very distressed with me about something and was telling me so in what seemed to me to be a very angry manner.  I silently prayed as I have described; and she immediately paused, took a deep breath, and said more calmly, "Let me say that differently." 

On many other occasions there have been similar situations with similar results.  In one instance in the emergency department I was asked to do a psychiatric evaluation on a young man who had become psychotic while in his freshman year of college and was acting in a bizarre manner.  When I approached him, he said in a very deep and ominous voice, "I have the boy, and you cannot have him."  My immediate response was to pray out loud this same prayer for energy balance.  He immediately ceased to be agitated; and in a normal voice and manner before leaving for the inpatient unit, he asked me to continue praying for him which I agreed I would do.

On another occasion two years ago as I was driving home from the hospital and had been praying my prayer for the highest and best for all concerned, I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice to take some pictures of this beautiful fall foliage that would include some birds among the leaves."  It was a simple thought upon which I did not dwell after thinking it.  Eventually I arrived home; and upon stopping in my driveway, a male cardinal flew to the spruce tree immediately adjacent to the car.  He got my attention.  I then looked up at the dogwood tree above the spruce and saw perched on a limb among the fall foliage a barred owl which I proceeded to photograph.  Was this an answer to my prayer?  Does the peace that seems to occur so often following my prayer come as a direct result of my prayer?  What do you think? 

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