Thursday, April 19, 2012

How to Meditate on Being Strong

Kitchen window in the morning

Recently I found myself thinking with great interest about human development.  Here's as far as I got.

1. We are born knowing when we are hungry or tired or in pain.  This moment is pure and individual.
2.  We are conditioned by the culture, usually our parents.  That is, we are trained in the many rules of the culture around us to conform to acceptable social behavior.  This is by and large anti-individual, and involves stifling many impulses and thoughts.
3.  In most cases, we accept conditioning and learn to behave according to the rules.

And if you stop there, you have a life I can begin to imagine, because I tried to be exactly what I was supposed to be when I was in my twenties.  I felt a strong injunction against even imagining a different world.  Then along came movies like "The Godfather," which said you could question patriarchy and its power and its demands on you.  "The Graduate," which made fun of adults like my parents, or portrayed them as pathetic creatures.  In other words, the sixties kept saying to me that there was a much bigger world out there.

What do you do when you feel the invitation to think for yourself?  The flowchart diverges here.
Yes - explore reality
No - stay in the box
Thursday morning:  That was the extent of my thinking on that subject yesterday.  But this morning it didn't take long reading my inbox to come across something I wanted to reply to.  People on the transplant email list are writing about arthritis pain because we are limited in the medications we can use with the immunosuppressants.  One man, who is a pillar of strength kind of guy, mentions that he hates taking pain medication.

Oh, wait! I thought.  You need to work with that.

That's a Zen sort of thing to say.  A teacher might say that, maybe has said it to me, with a gentle smile.  He would probably choose less aggressive language, like You might want to work with that.  I'd take it to mean that I should "hold" that question as I sit.  This is different than working with your left brain analytically.  So I need to describe something I've been wanting to share.

When I meditate, I get in a balanced posture, relax, and let my mind relax and stop being busy.  To do that, I put my mind on my breath.  In, out.  I like to always relax after the outbreath.  Don't hold the inbreath, let the outbreath go all the way. That turns my attention away from my busy mind.

Now I do something I learned from Chogyam Trungpa.  His student, Pema Chodron teaches this too - "flash on space."  It means, let your mind realize the vastness of the sky, of all space, how there is space around you.  And let that space be open, realize that any moment anything can come in.

What will happen sometimes is that I see that something is a solid, fixed idea in my mind, that it was planted there by my mother or the culture I grew up in.  If your mother was German (mine was half-), it might be an idea of "being strong."  Or having a clear mind, being smart and on top of things.  And that's one more example of imposing ideas on yourself.

When I was pregnant, a long long time ago, I declared that I did not want anaesthetic during labor. It must have been those ideas about being strong and in control.  And oh, I can take pain, I thought.  Pain, that's nothing, it's all in your mind.  Well, I found out.

And over the years more events have eroded my resistance to being comforted by medication.  The torn rotator cuff last year.  The shingles this year.  For both, I used oxycodone, in part because there are a lot of pain meds a transplant patient can't take, like NSAIDs.  It fogs one's mind and lowers motivation - I've probably complained of that here.  I was very attached to the clarity of my mind.  Oh well.

Every doctor warns you that shingles (a form of herpes) might not go away when the rash does.  It's called "post-herpetic pain."  But, thanks to another guy on that same list, I heard about Lyrica, developed specifically for this kind of weird neurological pain - the virus down there playing in your nerve endings.  So yesterday I saw my doctor to ask him about that.  Because I don't like to take more oxycodone than I have to.  And the Lidoderm patch at night is great, but you can't wear it 24 hours.

And Lo, he thought that could help, and gave me the prescription to start on it (you start slowly).  And I must say, I relaxed and had a good night's sleep. 

What is my point?  Don't be a slave to your parents' role model or what society says you ought to be like.  Only you can live your life; only you can determine what you need.  So it seems to fit with the unfinished post from yesterday about questioning our conditioning.  As for "work with that" in meditation - if I remain still and open, a realization can pop in.  Maybe, This pain is too much stress.  Or, It isn't that important to have a mind like a steel trap.  Or, I really don't want to be the Godfather.


  1. I have been trying to 2 hours a day, one in the morning and one at night. Mornings while hungry it just flies by, evening when I am downloading the slight upsets that we call life drag on.
    I hope this "nothing" video provides some humor.

  2. Thanks for this input. I have been doing something in the evening, spending 15 minutes or so just downloading my day in my journal, not working over any problems. This fits my energy level pretty well, and it's easy to follow it by 10 or 15 minutes of meditation.

    I love the video, and have shared it on Facebook.