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The Silent Treatment: The Art of Meditation
After 24 years in the mental health field, I now consider myself
a stress therapist. I find this role more satisfying than my
previous role as a stressed-out therapist. Through my struggles to
help myself and others get control over their stress, I have come
to realize that traditional Western psychotherapeutic techniques
sometimes create more problems than they solve. Sifting through a
lifetime's worth of problems in search of the cause of one's misery
may not lead to inner peace and, instead, may leave some people
feeling as if they are going to pieces. My own experience has been
that the Eastern art of meditation, what I call the "silent
treatment," can heal this splintering of the self.
Stress is an essential (think "fight or flight") and unavoidable aspect of human life that only becomes dangerous when you wrap your mind around it. This was neatly summed up by the great stress pioneer Dr. Hans Selye, who said: "Stress doesn't kill; our reaction to it does." This outlook frees us from being victims of the winds of fate. Once you realize that when it comes to stress, you are both the monster and Dr. Frankenstein, you can put down the torch and stop trying to scare stress away and instead discover what it has to say. To hear this response, you can use meditation to silence the chattering mind and create a quiet space within yourself.
Often shrouded in New Age mystique-where it is offered up as everything from a solution for overcoming your deepest fears, to a way to leave the body so you can check out what your neighbors have in their refrigerator-meditation is not so mystical. Far from being otherworldly, meditation is directly tied to the universe that is you. It is not so much an act as it is a state of consciousness-a state that arises when the incessant need to think about your life subsides, and you experience yourself in the present moment, minus the story line.
Despite documented evidence over many centuries regarding the benefits of meditation for mind and body, many people avoid it like broccoli. I attribute this to poor marketing. Meditation would probably be an easier pill to swallow if we could wrap it up with all of the flair of an advertising campaign for the latest wonder drug. Who wouldn't try it if it were presented as follows?
Low on energy?
Feel like everyone else is getting ahead of you?
Can't think straight?
Sex life on the skids?
Want to feel young again, lessen your chances for heart problems, even increase your chances for eternal life?
Try new Medi-tate.
That's right-Medi-tate was designed by the greatest minds the world has ever known and was once only available to sages, prophets and soon-to-be deities.
But now, anyone can try it!
Medi-tate is easy to use and you can take it anywhere.
You can use Medi-tate in the comfort of your home,
in the office, in the subway, in your car,
at the big game or even on the big date.
So don't agitate-Medi-tate.
(Possible side effects include the belief that you are one with the universe, feelings of bliss or euphoria and fewer obsessive behaviors.)
In all seriousness, many people avoid meditation because of the concept of having to "practice" it. Bombarded by the constant intrusion of thoughts, it is easy to feel that you're not doing it right, and in the absence of instant enlightenment, the payoff seems questionable. Thus a "mental workout" mentality takes over and meditation lingers unused like a dusty treadmill that seemed like a good idea when you bought it.
The good news is that you do not necessarily have to make up your mind to meditate; whenever you leave the mind you are in a meditative state. Sure, you can sit in lotus position and gently watch as thoughts cross your mind like clouds before the sun. But you can also tune into your breathing during the board meeting rather than obsessing on the need to update your resume. You can pay careful attention to your steps as you take the dog for a walk rather than trying to understand why he seems to be enjoying life much more than you. Or you can turn your attention to the experience of the steering wheel in your hand as you drive rather than trying to text message a friend about the driver who just cut you off. Remember, there is no rule that you have to be sitting still or doing nothing to be in a meditative state.
The key to meditation is to drop the worry about where it will take you and simply enjoy the journey. Meditation is like dancing in that one does not dance in order to hit a particular spot on the floor but to simply experience the delight of movement. When you reach the point where your mind is still, simply be there. When your mind is at rest, the question of "now what?" will never even occur. If, however, you still find the need to explain to your friends and family why you sneak off for these private moments, you can impress them with the words of the great enlightened teacher Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, who said: "The primary purpose of meditation is to become conscious of, and familiar with, our inner life."
As you begin to experience the world from the inside out, you will start to feel the power of this silent treatment as it dissolves the damaging forces of stress. Rather than feeling run over by a world out of control, you will feel yourself being driven by a more compassionate force.
Give Medi-tate a try-and if it does not work right away, take two deep breaths, count to 100 and relax every muscle in your body until the tension is gone. Now, doesn't that feel better?
Ready to try Medi-tate?
Find a quiet spot to sit, a place where you will not be interrupted for at least 10 minutes.
Close your eyes, if it feels right to you.
Forget about trying to "get comfortable," and just observe how your body feels.
Do a quick scan from head to toe, noting any sensations as you go. If you feel tightness somewhere, focus on it but don't label it.
Turn your attention to your breathing. Feel the air as it moves in and out of your lungs. Begin counting with each breath. Inhale and count one, exhale and count two and so on. Return to number one every time a thought enters your mind. Don't judge the thought or worry about what it means-just turn your attention back to the breath and counting.
Practice this for as long as it feels comfortable, and don't worry if you never make it to 10. When you have finished, spend a few more moments in silence before returning to your daily routine.
Mike Verano is a licensed therapist and EAP Specialist with REACH EAP & Workplace Solutions. He is also a cancer survivor and, most importantly, a grandfather.