Why do I love meditation? Let me count the ways.
1. When I’m anxious or upset, I count each breath. When I can’t sit with closed eyes, respiration is always available. Perhaps for this reason, focus on breath is the foundation of most meditation. It’s easy to remember to do it. Sometimes, I put a hand on my abdomen and feel the motion: this provides enormous comfort. At other times, I sense the cooler air at the base of my nostrils as I inhale, and count my breath once more when I feel this.
I learned that meditation stimulates a physical anesthetic, even when the only type of contemplation I can do is to focus on my breath. Several years ago, I waited for surgery on a gurney for 4 hours. I felt nervous, so I counted my breaths. When the woman next in line had the IV apparatus inserted into her arm, she screamed and cried with pain and begged for drugs. I felt sorry for her and dreaded my turn, but I kept on counting each time my chest raised. When they put the IV apparatus in my arm, I literally felt nothing. I couldn’t believe it. Later, I read that meditation acts as a natural anesthetic. Based on my experience, I could believe it.
Years ago, I went scuba diving with a close friend, Phil, a scuba instructor who had taught diving to students for over twenty years. We got caught by a powerful rip tide that swept us back into a sea cave. The tumultuous forces of the waves tossed us around as if we were laundry in a washing machine. This overwhelming power repeatedly pulled the air hose out of my clenched jaws. Luckily, I had been doing breath meditation for years. In this emergency, while I blindly groped underwater for the air hose, I automatically counted each moment I was without air, in order to avoid panic. When I grasped the hose and stuffed it in my mouth, I carefully swallowed the salt water that had forced its way into my mouth, and sent it harmlessly into my stomach. At this point, I started counting all over again. In that way, I avoided inhaling the water into my lungs. On the next number, I inhaled my first breath through the tubing and continued counting until the ferocious tides ripped the hose out of my mouth again. While I searched for the hose, I counted once more, and repeated the cycle. These methodical repetitions kept me from panic. The coroner later reported to me that poor Phil panicked and breathed water into his lungs.
Counting breaths is a type of meditation that can save a life. It’s an idiot-simple technique, but I’ve learned not to underestimate it.
2. A Tibetan lama taught me how to stop thoughts and I use this technique every day – it brings peace. Physically, I turn both eyes inward and upward toward the third eye area. At first, the muscles ache a little with the unaccustomed exercise, but I quickly get used to it. I usually do this with my eyes closed, but a meditator can keep them open, appearing to be cross-eyed. With my eyes closed, I see lights like the aurora borealis in the blackness of my inner vision. This might sound like an uncomfortable technique, but it’s actually easy. After a few minutes, my mind wants to think again (an old habit) and drifts back into thoughts. When I want to, I turn my eyes up again to bring serenity once more.
I’ve learned from the monks that, as peaceful as a blank mind feels, that’s not the point of meditation. Ideas and reactions are natural & to be expected. After many years, I’ve come to comprehend that the goal of meditation is to detach my ego from the stimulations in the mind-stream.
3. When I become aware of anxieties, I ask myself, Does my ego need to be involved with these feelings? The answer is almost always No. With this answer, I feel a great relief. Without an intense desire to cling, the mental stimulant naturally drifts away.
Sometimes, I answer, Yes, because I want to work on solving a problem. Then I let myself analyze the problem. But I try to stay aware and release the issue when I’ve finished the problem-solving session, so my thinking doesn’t become obsessive.
I still succumb to fixations sometimes, usually in the middle of the night. Over the years, these preoccupations have slowly reduced, as have my ego desires to dominate every mental and physical situation. Release of obsessions and ego seem to go hand-in-hand.
I’ve found that all of the meditation techniques I use lessen ego’s grasp, especially when I remember to become aware and create a conscious release of negative control. I usually achieve this by mentally saying, It’s okay to let it go. Over the years, I judge myself less harshly and become more accepting of my foibles and those of others. In this way, I can tell meditation is working wonders, slowly but surely.
4. If I’m too anxious to sit still, I meditate while walking, repeating an affirmation or prayer in the rhythm of my steps. Sometimes I walk to a place in nature, like the ocean, and mentally lift the anxiety out of my body and throw it into the sea to be recycled. I thank the ocean for taking it from me. During difficult emotional times, such as the loss of a loved one, I do this every day.
5. I find great comfort in meditation with other people. A sweet atmosphere seems to envelope a meditating group. I go to two Buddhist temples, each with a distinct kind of meditation. I also attend programs at the Clairvoyant Center of Hawaii. They offer meditations and healings by telephonic conference calls with people all over the world.
6. The other day, after an upsetting phone call from an insurance company, I felt too antsy to sit. I walked for an hour, loving the endorphins coursing through me. But, when I returned home, my mind still felt disturbed. My living room faces a distant mountain a few miles away, so I decided to sit with the mountain. I quickly noticed fascinating shadows cast by clouds and became intrigued. The shadows shaded the mountain contours, making abstract shapes that delighted me. The designs changed every few minutes with the moving clouds, like a natural kaleidoscope.
While I watched, I made up a story. I pretended I was on the beautiful mountain, in the woods, cooled by the lovely shadows. It was remarkable how much this mountain shadow mediation calmed me. I became able to see the reasonable side of the phone call, although I still didn’t like it. But a calm objectivity settled over me.
7. After a panic attack, ten years ago, a doctor prescribed Prozac. I felt hesitant to take it and asked to be evaluated by a specialist before taking the medicine. During the two weeks before I saw the specialist, I read about possible cures for panic attacks and I designed a program I called MEEATS: Meditation, Exercise, Education, Acupuncture, Therapy and Supplements. The specialist said that, because I wasn’t suicidal, he’d let me try my program before he prescribed Prozac. Because I felt desperate, I took MEEATS seriously and meditated three times a day. It worked. The attacks’ severity slowly lessened and then disappeared. I haven’t had a panic attack in six years. I’m extremely grateful.
8. Each day, I meditate on the many things I’m grateful for. This process cuts negativity and ego-grasping. I count reasons for gratitude on my fingers, accumulating ten, and feel sincerely thankful.
9. Every day, I draw and paint meditating people in yoga poses or in seated meditation postures, including close-ups of yoga movements around each joint. These can be seen on my website – KaetheKauffman.com. Lately, I drew land forms and bodies of water that I perceived while meditating in nature: Land and Water Meditations on the same website. Drawing and painting meditation themes helps to keep me focused on my spiritual path. Come to think of it, this has been the purpose of religious art throughout the centuries.
These are the meditations that get me through difficulties and, on ordinary days, bring me great enjoyment; for these reasons, I’ve come to love meditation. To periodically sink into peace and equanimity each day feels essential to me. Through the years, I’m learning what greater levels of peace feel like.
Cate Burns is the author of Libido Tsunami: Awash with the Droll in Life, in which she unearths the ludicrous in the emotional live traps surrounding us — in families, friends and disastrous romances. Get it on Amazon today.