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Mindfulness & Meditation: An Introduction

Finally! Here’s an explanation of mindfulness meditation and the practice of mindfulness in general. The post is long but worth sticking with. (I think so at least!)

Mindfulness = Paying Attention
Mindfulness is captured by simple terms:

  • Paying attention
  • Being, not doing
  • Present moment awareness
  • Being “here”

Easy ideas, complicated concepts. The ubiquity of multitasking is an excellent example of the challenges. Home, work, play, school, friends, family… There’s so much to think about and it all fights for attention. With our minds everywhere at once, they are often far from our actual lives.

The UCSD Center for Mindfulness, part of the medical school’s psychiatry department, gives this definition:

[Mindfulness] is a quality, which human beings already have, but they have usually not been advised that they have it, that it is valuable, or that it can be cultivated. Mindfulness is the awareness that is not thinking (but that which is aware of thinking, as well as aware of each of the other ways we experience the sensory world, i.e., seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling through the body).

Mindfulness is non-judgmental and open-hearted (friendly and inviting of whatever arises in awareness). It is cultivated by paying attention on purpose, deeply, and without judgment to whatever arises in the present moment, either inside or outside of us. By intentionally practicing mindfulness, deliberately paying more careful moment-to-moment attention, individuals can live more fully and less on “automatic pilot,” thus, being more present for their own lives.

How is mindfulness part of meditation?
Meditation can be broken into two basic categories: Concentration and mindfulness. Until my recent introduction to mindfulness, I’d always thought of meditation as concentrating on clearing one’s mind or focusing on a narrow idea. To me, mindfulness seems the opposite.

What I love about Western medicine’s approach to mindfulness meditation is the focus on becoming aware of your body, to be rooted in what you are experiencing. Having felt that my body has “betrayed” by giving me migraine and chronic daily headache, I am amazed by all the good it does.

That said, mindfulness meditation also involves paying attention to negative sensations (i.e. pain). I’ve long been a fan of burying my nose in a book to distract myself. Paying attention to the pain, nausea and vertigo is indescribably difficult. I get frustrated nearly every time. Tears and yelling are not uncommon. But I keep practicing and, like with any knew skill, it becomes a little easier each time.

This approach fully acknowledges that the mind wanders. In fact, one of the CDs I use says that the nature of the mind is to wander. Thinking of it this way makes it easier to let the thoughts go and return to the practice. There’s a non-judgmental quality to it and one that I, with practice, am learning to accept.

Think it’s not for you? Think again.
If I can do it, anyone can. Seriously. I have only be involved with it for two months, but my health has already benefited. The definition I provide from the UCSD Center for Mindfulness is rather academic, but my experience hasn’t been. You’ve probably caught on by now that practice is key. I started with, and still use, a 20-minute CD segment. I feel my body relax as I progress and am always surprised when it ends.

The point of all this is not “enlightenment,” but better health. I now notice when I start to feel flushed, which is usually the beginning of a crash. Sometimes I push, but sometimes I stop. In the airport recently, the rigmarole, crowds and general feeling of being rushed got to me. All I did was sit down and breathe and felt better within 10 minutes. I also thought of a small step I could take to ensure I stayed calm: I could pre-board. Boy, did that help.

Want to join me?
I already know that mindfulness will become an integral part of my treatment. As such, it will likely become a main topic on The Daily Headache. You can follow along with my experience and may even want to join me. I’d love to get a dialog going where we can learn from each other.

Resources
I’ve found some websites with good introductions to mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. Some get kind of abstract and spiritual sounding, but try to think of how it can apply to your health and self-care. Following links about mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) may be helpful.

For books, I recommend starting with Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness. Basically a book version of UMass’s Stress Reduction Clinic’s program, it takes a strong Western approach. It reads like the self-help book it is, yet has great information. You’ll help support The Daily Headache if you buy it through the link above or you can probably get it at your library.

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Three Things Each Day, Even if That’s Only Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Continually setting my expectations too high and continually being let down is a common theme in my life. As much as I know there’s an overachiever inside of me, I also know that I physically can’t do everything I put on my to do list each day. I try not to feel bad about it, but a small sense of failure always lingers. Sound familiar?

My meditation teacher said to our class today something she told me a couple weeks ago: Set three priorities a day, even if they are breakfast, lunch and dinner. The idea is to have appropriate goals for what’s happening in your life. By having realistic expectations, you’ll see that you are successful and able to do what’s most important to you.

I’ve been trying her recommendation. For the most part, I can reach my goals each day and not focus on all I haven’t done. My list is limited and I don’t feel as overwhelmed. I’m also open to revising it throughout the day. A day may start out well, but by afternoon I know washing my face before bed will be the most I get done. I’m a little harder on myself in that case. . . .

Today’s list was ambitious considering how I’ve felt: Go to meditation class, buy groceries, pick Hart up at the airport. The first two were checked off by 1 p.m.; Hart’s flight isn’t in yet, but I definitely feel up for the drive. I even managed to go to the library and post office, both of which I’ve been trying to do for days.

Knowing I’d taken care of the first two items on my list and that going to the airport tonight was a priority, I let myself rest this afternoon. I still feel a little guilty for watching three episodes of 30 Rock and three episodes of Weeds in the middle of the day, but knowing it was part of my plan makes it easier.

Tomorrow’s list: Go to my massage, meet my sister and nieces in Tacoma, and be back home in time for Hart to take the car to his poker game. It is kind of ambitious, but I’m pretty sure I’ll make it. If not, I’ll remind myself that even getting myself fed was a challenge that I rose to.

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Balance is Overrated: Choosing Fun Despite Knowing Vengeful Migraine Imminent

teeter totter signI mentioned to a friend who has migraine how tempting it is to overindulge whenever I feel OK. I say I won’t but always do it anyway. Her perspective? Go ahead and push it during a good period. The migraine will return sometime whether you take it easy or not. There’s no reason to hold back.

She gave me that was brilliant advice while we were at Green Lake yesterday. We did the 2.8 mile walk after coffee and before a late lunch. Five hours flew by and we both enjoyed every minute of it. We parted knowing that each of us would spend the rest of yesterday and probably today on the couch. And neither of us cared.

I gave myself permission to enjoy feeling good, no matter what the “consequences” were. I feel horrible today, but yesterday was excellent. I’m not berating myself for choosing to enjoy my day. Knowing it was my choice somehow makes it better. Now I’m going back to the couch.

Related posts:

photo credit: navonod

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Choosing Pleasure on a Good Migraine Day

Yesterday was a good migraine day. The pain was mild to moderate all day and I wasn’t nauseated, dizzy or lightheaded. Did I read e-mail that’s been languishing in my inbox, put things on eBay, pack up stuff to donate or buy groceries? Nope, nope, nope and nope. I baked gingerbread.

It wasn’t even a simple “Hmm, I want gingerbread” thing. I haven’t been to the grocery store in so long that I was limited to a recipe that used no more than one stick of butter and one egg and didn’t require milk. What a triumph when I found the recipe winthin my parameters!

After a short rendezvous with my Kitchenaid and some help from the oven, I had tasty, fluffy gingerbread within an hour. I even cleaned the kitchen when I was finished.

I’ve been too sick to do the chores I have to do. That means I’ve also been to sick to do what I want to do. It’s practically instinct to work first and play second. Instead, I chose pleasure over work and have no regrets. I took a a huge step yesterday and am pretty proud of myself.

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Friends, Balance, Guilt

I wrote yesterday’s post hoping that the friends we’re going to visit this weekend wouldn’t get a chance to read it. No such luck. C called this morning to say she’d just read the blog and they were worried about me.

Fortunately, I felt great when she called, so I was able to assuage some of their fears. But she told me that they plan to pamper me this weekend. I’m supposed to sit still and not lift a finger. Trouble is, we’re going there to pamper them! I hope I can sneak something in here and there. At least I can hold babies even if I’m attached to the couch.

C called a couple months ago and asked if I was up to talking. When I said no, she said, “Well, we can talk later, but I wanted to let you know that we adopted twins.” That was it. She wouldn’t tell me anything else because she didn’t want to keep me on the phone.

I feel so cared for, but have to remember that the world doesn’t revolve around me, even when I have an entrenched migraine. I’m embarrassed to say that I often feel like it does. I get so deep in my hole that I forget to look around. Then again, sometimes I try so hard to take care of other people that I don’t let myself hide out when I need to.

Does my life come down to seeking the ever-elusive happy medium and trying to minimize my guilt? If so, is it a product of my illness or a fundamental characteristic?