Finding Inner Calm and Deeper Wisdom

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Archive for the ‘pain management’ Category

Almost Sleeping

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Zen meditation is such a beautiful way of dealing with insomnia. Some practitioners actually look forward to insomnia if it ever happens, because that is a perfect time for practicing. More often than not, staying in the meditative state for a while will prepare you for sleep very nicely. And you may fall asleep while meditating.

But what if that doesn’t work?

There are times when you’re exceptionally stressed, and your mind is out of control. Or perhaps you’re dealing with pain you can’t escape from. In those situations, it seems like meditation just won’t work.

That has happened to me. A few years ago, I had a head injury that created a severe headache for about seven months. It was the worst pain I’d ever known. During that time I accepted that I was likely to die from it. Worse of all, the pain wouldn’t let me sleep. But during that ordeal, here’s what I discovered I could do to get some rest:

I would lie down and get in the most comfortable position that I could find and relax as much as possible. Then I would try to enter the meditative state. Some of the time it would work for a few seconds, sometimes for a few minutes. Occasionally I would get some lessening of the pain, but not always. But if I kept after it, the times I could keep my mind still would gradually lengthen. And I’d do that over and over.

During some of the periods of meditation, the headache pain would fade just a little. Then it would come charging back a few minutes later. Over and over, I’d repeat the attempts to meditate, and gradually I would find the pain would back off just a bit. Then at some point I would come fully awake and realize that three hours had gone by without my noticing it! The pain had not ever completely disappeared, but I had somehow escaped it for a while in a way I can’t fully explain. And while I might not have actually slept, it was something close enough to sleep that it gave me some rest.

I wonder if that sorta sleep I discovered during those months might have saved my life. It turned out months later, when the surgeons went in and fixed the problem, they said I might have been close to dying, indeed. Without all those hours of meditation and near-sleep, I might not have stayed around long enough to find the healthcare wizards who fixed me.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

April 6, 2019 at 4:27 pm

How I Go To Sleep

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SleepingGirl

So many people have difficulty getting good sleep. I’m astounded at the huge industry of sleeping pills and other aids. I’ve never used sleeping pills in my entire life. You might think I’m just lucky. But there’s a little more to it than that.

Typically, when I go to bed at night or take an afternoon nap, I fall asleep in about ten or fifteen seconds. People have asked me how I do that. So for the last few nights, I “watched” myself during the process just so I could describe it.

Oh by the way, a short answer to that question is: Many decades of regular meditation practice and training my mind. But a thorough answer takes a few more words.

When I’m headed for bed, I usually start my mental “falling asleep” process well before I actually hit the sheets. I might be brushing my teeth or taking my clothes off, but I’m winding down the thinking machine. I’m telling myself, “Okay, now is not the time to be worrying about things. Let’s slow the mind down. Just quit thinking.”

That is the first part of my secret: actually preparing the mind for sleep well before bedtime. Maybe it’s the decades of self-training kicking in, but as I slow the mind down, I can sense the heavy feelings of tiredness, fatigue, and low energy flowing downward into my whole body. Thus, with my thinking mind very near to stopping and the body already aching for rest, I’m close to falling asleep by the time I slip into the sheets.

Settling into bed, I’m letting my body find the most comfortable position for sleep. For me, this is already a well-practiced position that minimizes pain and suffering from my old body and a few old injuries. Everybody needs to know his own body and how it can best be positioned to minimize aches and pains. So, unless I’m dealing with  unusual bodily stress, getting myself positioned for dropping off to sleep takes me only a couple of seconds.

And now, it’s time for my “mini-meditation” that I use for going to sleep. Once again, this is where the many years of meditation practice pay off. My mind does a relaxation scan in one or two seconds, and I can feel my body going limp from top to bottom. At this point, the world around me is beginning to disappear. Sleep is near.

Now I focus my remaining consciousness on watching my breath and my heartbeat. The breath is already slow and relaxed, and now it is gradually slowing even more. I can feel my heart beating in my chest, and I also notice it in my fingertips and my temples. The heart rate is also slowing, and I can detect a lower blood pressures. And that is usually the last thing I’m aware of. I am asleep. It is a deep dreamless sleep.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

September 14, 2017 at 11:31 am

Spirituality Makes You a Better Person

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Not only does attaining true spirituality make you a better person, but your whole experience of life will improve. You learn to live on a higher level than ordinary human consciousness. At least in that respect, your life becomes a kind of paradise.

Being spiritually aware gives you abilities and advantages not available in the ordinary human state of mind. You can live more distant from your ordinary human existence—when and if you choose. You can insert a filter between you and your outer day-to-day human life. You can even insert a filter between your spiritual self and your own body. These filters are very useful when you are dealing with illness or difficult circumstances. Or they can help you just enjoy the life you have.

Most people use drugs and alcohol as their filters to temporarily get away from a life they don’t like. But when you discover your own spiritual state, you can do the same thing—a lot better—and with none of the ugly side effects of booze and drugs.

I sometimes chuckle to myself when I talk about the spiritual state and advocate Zen meditation. Some of my unenlightened contemporaries in the psychology profession think of this as a kind of mental illness. I think there’s even a DSM code for it. That is hilarious.

Above, I wrote discover your own spiritual state. From a writer’s point of view, I feel a need to expand on that. But if you’ve followed this blog very long, then you’ve already read enough about that. So I won’t. This morning I just don’t feel like repeating myself. In addition, I’ve also put what I know about real spirituality in a couple of ebooks available on amazon. (See sidebar to the right.) The one titled Living in Zen is free from today through this coming weekend.

Attaining spirituality is described by Bodhidharma as discovering your deepest self-nature. That is when you discover who you are and what you are at the deepest levels of your being, all without the masks and delusions created by your conscious mind. Discovering your self-nature is one of the first steps and is the most important step to Enlightenment.

Prison or Paradise?

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I live day-to-day inside a paradise or a prison—depending upon what day it is. And/or what conditions I’m living in at the time.

The body can be a wonderful place. Its joys and pleasures are the subject of much of the world’s music and art. Eating a delicious meal, being intimate with a lover, spending time in nature—I could fill up the rest of this page with the joys of living life.

The body also can be a torture chamber. It is subject to sickness and diseases that inflict horrible pain and suffering. As soon as you reach adulthood, the body has already begun breaking down from aging. Its various failures begin to limit the joys and pleasures you otherwise might enjoy. Organs and limbs no longer work like they once did. You can’t eat this or that, and you can’t do many things you used to do. If you’re fortunate, your slowly deteriorating body gives you good days and bad days. Your chief focus is to get through the bad days and taste the joys—as much as possible—of the good days.

It gets worse. The older you get, the more bad days you have, and the fewer good days. Dammit, old age sucks. On some of the baddest of the bad days, you think about how nice it might be to be released from your body. To be free of your bodily pain and limitations. How wonderful it might be to move on to whatever comes after this. Of course, you don’t know for sure what comes afterward—if anything. But the chances are good that you would at least be released from this bodily torture.

So now, after all this whining and complaining, what am I offering you in return for reading my blathering? I always feel compelled to offer something useful—something positive—in return for reading my stuff. Okay, here it is: It’s Zen.

More specifically, it’s the Original Zen that was taught by Bodhidharma.

So here’s a question: What if I had to make a choice between all the pain meds and anti-inflammatories the doctor could give me—versus my Zen practice? Which would I choose? If you’ve read much of my stuff, you know the answer to that.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

August 7, 2015 at 1:13 pm

Practice My Own Preaching?

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For many years I’ve tried to teach and show people how Zen meditation can be used to block pain. I mentioned it a few times elsewhere in this blog, and I’ve also written about it in my books.** Essentially, pain happens in the body, but it is experienced in the mind. If you can train your mind to not notice pain, then at the least it will hurt less—and perhaps you can learn to ignore it altogether. I’ve been using that little Zen trick for decades.

Ah, but there’s pain—and there’s PAIN.

During the last few days of April, I started having headaches behind my right eye. The pain began during the night but gradually went away in late morning. I usually meditated until I was able to sleep. But the length and intensity of those headaches increased to the point where, by May 1st, I decided to see a doctor. Over the next six weeks I saw five doctors: my family physician, an opthamologist, a neuropthamologist, a neurosurgeon, all in Florida, and finally my family doctor in Virginia.

All had slightly different guesses as to what the problem is, but no proof came back from any test including two MRIs. And the doctors have no solution that works. The medications they suggested did not diminish the head pain except for one that put me into a sort of mild coma—rendered me practically incapable of thinking. Thus far, medical science has failed me completely. And now, that headache has been non-stop for over three weeks. If you’ve never had unending pain for an extended period of time, you may not know that it tears you down, mentally, physically, and emotionally. It can make you have ideas you might otherwise have never considered.

Bottom line: Does my meditation work in this case? No, not very well. And not all the time. However, it does work some of the time, and it nearly always helps me diminish the pain enough so that I can sleep—even though it’s not the best sleep I’ve ever had. I’m learning that blocking pain from out in the body is a little easier than blocking it inside my own mind. Perhaps the Universe is challenging me to improve the depth of my practice.

So yes, I am practicing what I preach. Doing so appears to be the only means I have of managing this pain without resorting to strong narcotic pain-killers—which none of the doctors has recommended yet. I hadn’t really considered that I have no acceptable alternative other than Zen meditation until I began writing this post.

The truth is this: If I weren’t well-practiced in meditation, I’d have very few long-term choices, and at least one of them would be very ugly.

———-

**In the “First Secret” chapter in Original Zen, see the heading “Leave Your Body.”

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

June 19, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Do You Want to Learn Meditation?

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There are several hundred books that might teach you how to meditate. But 98% of the people who want to learn meditation can’t do it. Why? It’s actually not difficult, but I think a lot of would-be teachers make it too complicated. Let me give you a shortcut that works. Using this method, you can learn to enter the true Zen meditative state in a week or two. I guarantee it.

The primary definition of the true meditative state is stopping all thought. But the adult human conscious mind is difficult to train (to not think), especially when the training didn’t start in early childhood. I’ve found a way to get the mind to quit thinking—even if only for short periods. However, as soon as you do it for a short time you’ve broken the barrier and then all you need is practice.

Here’s what to do: Go buy a good meditation cushion so that you can sit on the floor with your spine erect and straight. Also, get a pair of sound attenuating earmuffs, you know, the over-the-ear sound cups that decrease noise by 26 dB or more. You want the ear protectors so that you can’t hear anything. My hardware store sells pretty good ones for about $20. Get in a comfortable sitting position on your cushion and put on your ear protectors.

Close your eyes. Keep your spine straight, relax every muscle that you can (without falling over), and let your breath and heartbeat gradually slow down. As your body and mind get calm, begin noticing your breath. Don’t control your breath. Let the body breathe as it wants to. Voila! Now, you are using your mind to “watch” your breath.

Continue noticing the breath with your mind and then begin listening for your heartbeat. As you get very quiet, and with the earmuffs blocking outside sound, you will soon notice that you can hear a repetitive pshhhh, pshhhh, pshhhh sound that your blood makes as it travels through the arteries into your head.

Here is where the magic begins. As you continue to use your mind to watch (that is, notice) both the breath and the heartbeat, you will find that your mind is too busy to think. Essentially, you are tricking your overactive, out-of-control mind into a kind of busy work that keeps it from thinking. The main point to this is that noticing is totally different from thinking. As soon as your mind’s attention is focused only on noticing your breath and heartbeat, you have achieved the Zen state.

Of course, as soon as you start thinking about what you are doing, the exercise no longer works. Poof! The Zen state disappears. Thinking about the magic stops the magic. But it’s not a problem. Just take a few breaths, relax, and start over. It’s a simple trick. Try it a few times every day. You’re on your way to becoming a Zen master.

What Is Happiness and Why Do I Want It?

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Happiness is something we all want. The desire for happiness is hard wired into the human nervous system. We all want it. But it seems to come in different forms for different people. What is it exactly?
On many occasions, I’ve noticed that I was especially “happy” and, some of those times, I’ve taken the time to go inside myself to see what was going on to create the condition. Here are some samples from just within the last month:

One: Lying on the beach in the warm sunshine, listening to waves lap on the shore. Two: Putting my book down and listening to a soft symphony playing in the background. Three: Pausing whatever I’m doing to notice my breath and heartbeat. Four: Cruising my bicycle through a path in the woods. And five: The most common instance was sitting on my meditation cushion with my mind stilled.

From forty years ago, I remember a few periods of sublime happiness after using marijuana. Another noticeable occasion (only once) was after taking a powerful pain killer following surgery. While the chemical approach to happiness is bad for many reasons, I want to be honest about the times I remember when it happened for me.

Looking back, what is the most common thread of all these experiences? I’ve tried drilling down inside myself many times to answer that question And the answer I found was simple: My mind was stilled. Bingo.

Slowing the body and mind down, and then stopping my mind from thinking produced a condition that I identify as happiness. Some people will laugh at me and say, “Well, of course, you dummy! Everybody knows that.” Other people won’t get it at all and won’t agree with me, because they have other reasons and conditions they associate with happiness.

Thus, my answer may not be for everybody. But it might work for you. From my experience, getting into the pure meditative state (however you may choose to do it) is the most common means of creating “happiness.”

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

March 11, 2014 at 10:11 am