“If you are cultivating mindfulness in your life, there is not one thing that you do or experience that cannot teach you about yourself by mirroring back to you the reflections of your own mind and body”, Jon Kabat-Zinn
Over the past years I have written about the fact that meditation is evidence based, that its scientific credibility has been shown by fMRIs as being capable of changing brain pathways. Neuroplasticity, the ways in which the brain is capable of changing itself has brought new hope to many. Neuroscientists have shown that meditation practice is not a New Age airy-fairy endeavour but that it does have scientific value and emotional benefits in a world desperate for ways in which to end the suffering of many.
I am currently in the middle of a program of mindfulness, the third of such meditative training practices I have undertaken in the past 20+ years. For me, a cardiac patient and one who lives with fibromyalgia, the process of daily meditation is one which is imperative for an acceptable, if not good quality of life.
While I have written extensively about meditation in general, based upon my earlier experience of meditation at the Shambala Centre, and one of the ‘courses’ I took at the university, I have not discussed the more specific mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression as it is new to me.
For those of us with chronic pain, anxiety and depression are constant companions. The comments and letters I receive daily from readers tell me that the same is true of most who live with fibromyalgia. For that reason I have been taking the MBCT program offered in the city where I live, in particular because my anxiety level is so very high now that I have had a heart attack. It has helped tremendously. I am working on living moment to moment, trying not to look back nor into the future. It isn’t easy and requires discipline to do the practices daily.
I am fortunate to be in a program led by two extraordinary women who are experienced as a meditator and are able to handle groups in a very relaxed, kind, thoughtful way for two hours. There is meditation, discussion and education happening at various times throughout the program and we are all made to feel as though our thoughts and feelings are important. Even more fortunate this is offered without cost within a safe environment. Unfortunately, it became one more undertaking at a time when I was doing a heart rehab program. Nonetheless, I knew that this was an important part of my training to accept yet another struggle with health issues.
The ‘aha’ moments for me happened when I truly began to understand a few years ago that fibromyalgia is a life long challenge and that the only person who could help me was me. Reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s works further enhanced my realization that I expended many hours anticipating pain and fatigue, worrying about the next flare up, filled with regrets about the past, and how distraught I am with the label of the fibromyalgia. In spite of this condition being non life threatening, my quality of life was not what I wished it was. Sitting still for twenty minutes a day was not something I relished. Meditation takes a great deal of commitment as it is not something one can do haphazardly, but when I practiced regularly I found I was able to be less reactive when the flare ups did occur. My nervous system loves it when I work to train my mind to become more calm. I can change those neural pathways and take another route through my mind.!
For the first two months following my heart attack I did not meditate. I was filled with anxiety and depression. While there was a heart rehab program dealing with diet, exercise and medications I could not find what my body and mind craved more…help for those emotional challenges that were self-destructive to my well-being and peace of mind. By chance I found the open Mindful group and subsequently an 8 week course that I was so desperate for during this crisis in my life. I am back on track with meditation and hopefully will continue with the discipline that is required to practice every day. Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness:” It is the process of observing body and mind intentionally, of letting your experiences unfold from moment to moment and accepting them as they are” (Full Catastrophe Living, p.23). It is not easy and requires a commitment and daily practice, and there isn’t anyone who can do this for me. One would think that sitting still, allowing thoughts to emerge as they will, then labelling them “thinking” and gently pushing them away and focussing on the breath (over and over I might add) would be an easy task. It sounds so simple, yet it is perhaps the most difficult task I have undertaken- that is why it is called ‘mindfulness meditation ‘practice’!
Now living with two chronic conditions I will perhaps always be an anxious person but the earlier days of deep depression have lifted and there is something to work towards- a future with a recipe for hope, one where negative thoughts are just that…thoughts that can be dispelled.