04 October 2011

"Trying to Meditate" Is an Oxymoron

I have used the language myself, and so when I read it on a blog recently, I was reminded of what odd things we say and think about meditation.

"I tried to meditate but it didn't work."
"I really struggle to meditate ..."

The odd thing about meditation is that if we try, or worse yet, struggle, to do it, we are dooming ourselves to failure.  It's just so different from most other endeavors in our lives, which have been full since pre-school of exhortations to simply try harder, to grapple with, to grasp for.  Yet we might as well try to grasp Jello as to grasp meditation.

Meditation is about allowing, surrendering, accepting.  I have a meditation CD I like very much (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's "A Gift of Silence").  In the course of one of the meditations, Sri Sri says that the minute we focus on our tension - and that is exactly what we are doing when we "struggle" to meditate - we are making it worse.  His instructions are to simply be aware of the tension without judgment or emotion: accept that it is there and continue with the meditation.

What Eckhart Tolle says is also helpful.  He uses the phrase "resistance to what is" when he talks about what the mind/ego does to create suffering. 

"The pain that you create now is always some form of non-acceptance, some form of conscious resistance to what is." 

When we meditate, if we do not resist what is - muscle tension or discomfort, scattered thoughts, restlessness, the sudden rising of emotion - and replace the judgment

"Rats!  There I go again, thinking about work." 
Why can't I just meditate?  What is wrong with me?"

with simple naming

"Here is tension."
"This is scattered mind."

we are then able to allow ourselves to slip into the meditative state.  And it does not matter - it truly does not matter - if, after a meditation session, we feel as though we spent 18.5 of the 20 minutes naming tension and scattered mind.  This, too, is a matter for simple acceptance.

How does this relate to pain management?  In several ways:
  1. A regular practice of meditation or prayer or relaxation is essential to good pain management.  What the body in pain wants to do is tense up to fight or run away from it.  This may be helpful for acute pain, but it becomes quite a problem for chronic pain, as muscle and emotional tension or stress only make the pain worse.  To the extent that we can reach for the tools that quiet our pained bodies, minds and spirits, we are managing the pain at the very least by not making it worse.
  2. If we have learned to accept tension and difficulties during meditation, we have skills that can be transferred to managing pain.  I have written about this in other posts, and I think it's one of the most difficult pieces of pain management to take in: allowing, observing and/or accepting our pain is the beginning of managing it.    Having practiced this sort of acceptance during meditation or centering prayer, we are better able to use it when we are in pain.  Accept that it is and then get on with pain management practices.
  3. Surrender.  Acceptance.  These are spiritual principles that cut across religious and philosophical boundaries.  There are many, many wise ones from whom to quote, so what follows is intended only to be a short list of examples and not exhaustive in any way.
  • Buddhism: I especially like the way Tara Brach writes about "radical acceptance."
  • Hinduism: The concept of karma is the context for acceptance in this link.
  • Christianity: Jesus often instructs us not to worry, to look around and see how even the lily is clothed, even the fall of the sparrow is noted by God.
  • Native American spirituality: Simply reading the lines on this link, I get the feeling that to live as so surrendered a part of the natural world is to not even need the concept of surrender.
Speaking of accepting, my head is beginning to ache, and that means I cannot look at the computer any longer.  I will continue this post in a few days.  Now, it is time to rest.

I would love to hear from you.  Please use the Comment link below (and note that I am having trouble with my computer and have been unable to post comments on blogs lately, even my own, so will not reply), or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

1 comment:

  1. This is wonderful. Thank you, Carol!

    It was only when I learned how to watch my pain that I began to get some detachment and bits of relief and hope and ease. It is another way of experiencing the body and very powerful, but I never know if my pain will get stronger or lessen. Usually it gets stronger as I watch it and then in time it eases and I find myself able to breathe deeper and soon more full in my heart and less angry and hopeless. Meditation is a wonderful tool to use with chronic pain.