Saturday, May 17, 2008

Growing a steering wheel for one's brain

Lately I've been crossing paths often with the idea of meditation.

My personal take on meditation is that on the one hand, I've always been somewhat reluctant to commit to anything that has any whiff of religiosity about it, while on the other, everything I ever have read about meditation suggested that at its fundamental level it is inherently secular, and biologically, neurologically friendly, which I find attractive.

I was not indoctrinated into any religion as a child, never attended church, usually headed off the other way from any setting where altars were part of the decor. I did succumb, however, to the Maharishi craze when it passed through where I was living in 1972. I took formal instruction and "sat" for awhile (a month or two at most). The meditation consisted of resting while sitting up and silently repeating a "word" given to me by the instructor in a formal private ceremony (which I stomached bravely), a word that meant nothing whatsoever in English, just a sound.

I can still remember the word ("ah-eem"), but don't recall noticing any change in myself at all. I dropped the whole process after awhile. I was/am easily bored I suppose, which is likely the whole "problem" I've had with meditation. Since then I have steered pretty clear of any committed sitting meditation on any sort of recurring quasi-permanent basis that involves being around other people.

Shortly after I became a meditation failure I learned about yoga from Ruth Richards, another physiotherapist in the hospital where I worked at the time. She was considerably older at 55 (I was a tender 22), was Danish, had been through WWII in Britain, was married to, then had become widowed by a UK man involved in the military. She seemed exotic, slightly tragic, wise, worldly, elegant and beautiful. She was a yoga practitioner and taught me the basics - how to breathe, what to feel for.

I began practicing yoga, on my own, from a book; every day for two years I spent at least an hour in my own body, focusing on every small sensation, breathing into, being with, and inhabiting every cubic centimeter of my entire body, feeling, registering, appreciating mounting improvements in my relationship with my body, my movement, my physicality.

I do not recall why I stopped. Bored again probably. But the feeling of knowing/ knowing how to feel and sense, physically, kinesthetically, has stayed ever since, right to this day.

It has helped me focus in on things that actually do matter to me, like getting the right "feel" in my work of manual treatment of pain. I can sit for several minutes without moving, breathing carefully, fully relaxed, even while exerting considerable physical force through my arms if need be, feeling with my hands, feeling for changes in someone's body tissues that tell me favorable change is happening in their nervous systems. I've done this all day long, for years. I've learned to get "me" out of the way, and let my own nervous system and that of my patient "communicate" in whatever way is required, to help that change along. Kinesthesis, whether it's auto- or applied, is so wordless it lends itself well to this deeper kind of attending. I practice this daily or nearly daily as part of my manual therapy practice, and try to teach it to the people I treat, so they can treat themselves.

After having become a manual therapist and learning to feel and control my own nervous system well enough to be able to use it to help other people with theirs, I came full circle back to learn there was meditation for dealing with pain, called Mindfulness Meditation. I wrote about this before, here.

Just a few days ago a new person joined BrainScience Podcast Forum, Delaney Dean, who is a meditation enthusiast and teacher, among other pursuits. She provided a MindHacks link (this one - thank you Vaughan), which contains a link to a great article on meditation, which was really supposed to be the point of this blog post...

Here is a link to the abstract of Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation by Lutz et al., and a link to the paper itself, a 7 page pdf.

I love the first sentence:
"Meditation can be conceptualized as a family of complex emotional and attentional regulatory training regimes developed for various ends, including the cultivation of well-being and emotional balance."

Indeed it can. Indeed it can. So much so that even "I", this rudderless construct of a self that has managed to cobble itself together over time and change, could be persuaded by my nonconscious processes to take it up, maybe for real this time... but I won't hold my breath. Which is part of the point of learning to meditate, or so I've heard..

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