Sunday, November 29, 2009

Practicing Meditation for Life

In my last post I wrote about practicing meditation as an end in itself. But that isn't all there is to it. The practice in meditation is practice for life. By this I mean that the skill you learn "on the cushion" can be applied in everyday life. It isn't just about sitting on the cushion and bringing your mind back to the breath over and over. It is about refining that skill for the rest of your life, life off the cushion.

Why? Why bother? What is the point?

As a beginning meditator I'll offer my thoughts. The main reason to carry the present-moment awareness skill into daily life is so that you can live this life -- as it happens -- to the max. If you are really right here, right now ALL the time (good luck with that, but it's worth trying) then you will have the full, real experience of your life. You won't be distracted from whatever is going on by ruminating over the past or worrying about the future. You'll HAVE this moment in all its glory. Or sorrow, pain, joy, whatever it is. You'll be right there, rather than some-where else or some-when else, like most of us usually are.

Another reason I have found for meditating is that the skill of bringing my mind back to the present serves me in relationships. During an interchange, if I am able to hear the other person, to see them as they are right here, right now, without past baggage or future fear getting in the way, things between us go much better. Talk about challenges! But on the rare occasion when I get a glimpse of this, I see the value.

Beyond these, there are the health benefits of meditation, which are becoming more documented with each passing day.

I'm sure I'll find more of my own personal reasons to continue meditating as time goes on. For now, this is enough to get me onto the cushion for 20 minutes each morning.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Practicing Medicine and Meditation

I have been practicing medicine for about twenty years. I have always thought it a little odd that we call it "practicing." When I was a kid, that word always meant getting out my cello, rosining the bow, and playing my scales and assigned pieces. When I practiced the cello, I was aiming for a concert, or a recital. Preparing for the big event. Practice was a means to a specific end.

In medicine, there is no big event for which we're preparing. We just practice every day. There are the usual jokes, like "someday maybe I'll get it right" and so forth. But for the most part, "I practice medicine" is just another way of saying "I'm a doctor." I don't know any other profession that uses that term. Do you? A mechanic doesn't say, "I'm practicing auto mechanics." Imagine your chagrin if he did! A teacher doesn't say, "I practice education." He better not; not with my kid in his class! But nobody seems to mind that their doctors are practicing.

About a month ago I began another kind of practice: meditation. Here again is an activity for which the practice is the activity, is the point. Sure, some people say or think, "I'm meditating now" but I think most or many experienced meditators refer to it as "practicing meditation." I really like that. If I thought I were practicing for some big meditation performance, which I had to pull off without a false note, I'd have given up after the first five minutes!

Meditation is practicing. Every time I bring my attention back to my breath it is like playing a note in tune just for a moment, before my unruly mind goes stumbling all over the neck of the cello again.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Meditation Pearls

I'm taking a class called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts, it is basically a meditation class. This is the beginning of the 5th week out of 8 weeks. Over the course of the course, as it were, the teacher has offered up some good one-liners to help us. Here they are, so far.
  • The mind can only be in one place at a time.
  • You can only change in the present.
  • Every thought is accompanied by a physiological response.
  • Consciousness is contagious.
  • Bring it back, baby! (the mind to the breath)
Meditation is simple and difficult. If you've ever tried it you know. Bringing my attention back to the feeling of my breath, over and over and over and over again. And again. Each time my focus comes back to the breath, thoughts roll off like water off a duck's back. For a fleeting moment I am in the present moment. Right here, right now. Then before you know it I'm off on a trail of thought again and I don't even notice it until I'm halfway to tomorrow. Oops, there I go again! Bring it back, baby!

Do that about a thousand times in ten minutes, and that's a meditation practice.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

H1N1 is here

It’s true. Swine flu is here. It is all over New Mexico including here at UNM. Have you had it yet? How about your friends and classmates? How many are out today with flu? I’ll bet there are at least a few, and there will likely be more next week.

We have seen lots of H1H1 influenza or “Swine Flu” at Student Health and Counseling. Since September 1st we have had over 100 cases of “influenza-like illness.” Most of these were H1N1. All have recovered. And those are just the ones who have come to the clinic. There have been many more cases where people just stay home and take care of themselves.

The virus continues to spread. It is very contagious and likes young people. Chances are good that you’ll get it, and chances are excellent that you’ll survive. Here are some tips to help you manage before, during and after you get H1N1.

Before you get sick: Get the regular seasonal flu shot. Make sure you have basic medications at home for fever, cough and congestion. Buy a thermometer, and maybe some soups and juices. Once you have flu you won’t feel like going out to the store for this stuff, and they won’t want you there spreading germs. So stock up. Try to avoid getting the flu by staying away from sick people, keeping your hands away from your face, and washing your hands often. Get plenty of sleep and eat well so your body is strong for the fight against germs.

Once you are sick: Flu symptoms are fever over 100.5, cough, body aches, sore throat, headache, chills, fatigue, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. If you have some or all of these you might have flu. Take to your bed! Drink lots of liquids and treat your symptoms. Expect to be out of commission for five to seven days. Please do NOT go to work or school or out to eat at a restaurant! I know students who have done all of these things. If you go out in public you are putting others at risk. Be considerate and stay away. Contact your professors by email or phone to let them know you are sick.

Should you get medical care? If you are a basically healthy person who gets the flu, you probably don’t need to see a doctor. Self treatment at home is usually adequate. If, however, you are pregnant, have asthma or other lung problems, are under 2 years old or over 65, or have any chronic medical condition, you should seek care. There is a medication called oseltamivir (Tamiflu) that is recommended for people in these high risk groups, to decrease the risk of flu complications like pneumonia.

If you are not in these risk groups, there is a small chance that you could still get seriously ill from flu. We have all heard the stories of people who died from H1N1 who had no underlying medical problem. Those stories are scary to be sure, but thankfully also very rare. It is unlikely to be you. That said, if you do get any of the following symptoms, regardless of who you are, please hustle in to the nearest emergency room:

Severe difficulty breathing, severe pain in the chest or belly, sudden dizziness or confusion, severe or persistent vomiting.

After you recover. First of all, this takes a while. As I said before, expect to be out of commission for five to seven days. That means at home resting. Even after the worst of the symptoms have passed, you’ll be weak and easily tired for several days. Take it easy. Don’t return to sports until you feel really good.

Once you are well, step outside and take a deep breath of our crisp Fall air. Stretch your strong body, look up at our New Mexico Blue sky and give yourself the gift of gratitude for your life and good health.

The Authors of "50 Ways" Interview on KCHF TV

50 Ways to Leave Your 40s TV interview with Phoenix' Pat McMahon