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Use Your Loneliness

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I hate to feel lonely. Don’t you?

Believe me, I have had some long stretches of loneliness in my lifetime. But in recent years, I’ve managed to solve that problem almost entirely. I say almost, because I’m not a hermit, and for my own mental health I need to have people around me some of the time. Or maybe a lot of the time. And, I especially need a life partner for several reasons—but now is not the time to discuss that.

What I discovered was How to Use Loneliness. And how to stay emotionally stable and even happy when I am lonely. It was a stepwise learning lesson for me. Here, I’m going to describe the first level of how I escaped the pain of Loneliness and its twin problem: Depression.

My huge discovery was using writing alternated with meditation. It was huge for me. It might not work for everybody, but it should work for most people. It’s so simple. I should have thought of this fifty years ago. Here’s what I do when I’m lonely.

Step one, believe it or not, is actually recognizing that I’m lonely. Sometimes I’ll mope around for a while, not feeling very good about life, then I’ll have a eureka moment. And recognize that I’m lonely!

Step two: I grab a pad of paper and a ballpoint. I start writing about whatever is on my mind. Or whatever in life is troubling me. Or maybe, I’ll just start writing about a favorite topic that energizes me.

Step three: When I reach a point in the writing where I can’t think of what to write next, I stop. I grab a favorite cushion and sit in Zen meditation for a while. That usually lasts no longer than twelve to fifteen minutes. Sometimes it will last longer, especially if I’m having a bad case of the blues.

Step four: Repeat the writing and meditation until I feel better. Or it’s time to take a shower and take a walk. Or read an interesting book. Or maybe treat myself to a healthy lunch. Or have a date with a special friend.

Why does it work? Writing is an excellent form of self-therapy. Writing will often let one part of your mind express something that another part of your mind didn’t know. Then, the meditation will let your mind process that knowledge and help heal a part of the mind that was hurting.

Another benefit of this process is that it turns loneliness into aloneness—which is being alone but feeling better about it.

Let me know if this works for you.

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

Give Your Mind a Rest

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Many people experience depression during the period from Thanksgiving through New Year. A lot of that depression comes from worrying about the same old things over and over. Money, relationships, obligations, or whatever. The human conscious mind often operates like a rat in a roundhouse, going round and around, stuck in the same pattern of worry and misery.

You can reduce your misery and suffering by stopping the rat and forcing it to take a rest. And then, you can make it go in a different, more productive direction. You just have to train your mind to behave better. The first goal is to teach your conscious thought machine to quit tormenting you.

Zen meditation is a practice of allowing the conscious mind to rest. Zen won’t solve the problems that you worry about. But it will give you periods of temporary rest. Which is also good for your mental health. And it will get you more focused and better prepared for tackling your problems.

Keep this in mind: The Zen state consists of being wide awake, aware, but without thought. This is often difficult for us as typical Westerners to attain. It takes practice. If you’ve been practicing Zen meditation for a long time and you’ve gotten good at it, then you’re very fortunate. Put your skills to good use. If you haven’t developed your practice, start now. Quit putting it off. Start today.

For a practical quick start guide, take a look at the chapter Techniques for Practicing Zen in the ebook, Original Zen, available on amazon.com.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

December 15, 2014 at 12:37 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.

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**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