Within the last two decades the concept of mindfulness meditation has been adopted by schools, hospitals, businesses, police and even the military. Those who teach/mentor MM to people in the huge business of organized sport, the corporate world, the military, no doubt live with some degree of contradiction in their lives. It is not a practice which is focussed so much on ethical issues in big business or professional sport (considered by many to be legitimated violence as in many sports such as boxing, football, hockey and is integral to commercial enterprise , with an emphasis on competition and a ‘killer’ instinct). Too, many are amazed that military personnel who are taught about killing would benefit from MM, but those who suffer from PTSD , the after effects of their experiences, could be helped greatly from their difficult military experiences. I have likened PTSD elsewhere to fibromyalgia sufferers. It is what was once described as ‘shell shock’. Who better to be taught a contemplative practice to help ease the burden of their flashbacks? Police and military personnel have jobs that are necessary to society and having resources to them that allow a mindful approach to their daily lives is paramount.
None of this is to say that those who are professional athletes or in the corporate world are not worthy of learning about ways in which to develop more empathy for themselves and others. Empathy and compassion are integral to MM. No one ‘owns’ this individual practice. While mindfulness is not regarded as a practice that has a political agenda it is seen as a way of listening to oneself as well as to others. In an indirect way it can help with the current chaos and despair that permeates societies in this century with an emphasis on less aggression and anger. MM won’t save the world from the many wrongdoings of the corporate world or the military machine complex and its wars (but it can be of great help in peace keeping). In schools of various kinds , especially with children, in the field of medicine and health, and most directly in our own personal lives, no matter how we chose to live them, quietly contemplating our thoughts and actions can have a profound effect on society. The toll booth ticket takers, cleaners, garbage collectors, computer analysts, farmers, nurses, secretaries, doctors, teachers, volunteers, housewives and house husbands, day care workers among thousands of other people are all subject to various kinds of anxieties and fears.
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are”, Anaïs Nin
One of the common sayings in Mindfulness Meditation is that thoughts are not facts. In the chronic pain clinics we are told that hurt does not necessarily mean harm. B.K.S Iyengar, a yoga master, says to think light and feel light. But what are we to do when we are in a state of high arousal, waiting for disaster to fall, whether it be in the form of new symptoms or the same old ones we have become accustomed to over these many years? How are we to reduce the amount of anxiety and /or trauma we live with everyday?
There are many strategies that one could employ but key is to keep watch over our breath. Breathing is key to meditation, yoga and living with chronic pain. A state of mind is crucial to living a life of ease (somewhat) in spite of the daily challenges we face with this condition of fibromyalgia. We are told to be vigilant about our breathing and it is well documented that we are people who hold our breaths when thoughts become fearful. It is our minds that are in need of reassurance that the worst is not to befall us.
“If you are experiencing strange symptoms that no one seems to be able to explain, they could be arising from a traumatic reaction to a past event that you may not even remember”, Peter A. Levine
Two words that are now often coined in conjunction with fibromyalgia are cognitivesensitization and somatic sensitization. I have been exploring the research in this direction for the past couple of years and have recently had another ‘aha’ moment. I am not sure which comes first but with regard to ‘cognitive sensitization’, because of the excessive degree of empathy for others and fear/anxiety for ourselves there is vivid brain activity in the amygdala. People with fibromyalgia worry excessively and our attention to health related information is extremely high. The meaning that pain has for ourselves, the sufferer, or for others whom we perceive to suffer, poses increased threats which affects ‘somatic sensitization’, that is, increased reactivity of the nervous system. In turn this lowers the pain threshold and affects pain tolerance; the consequence is that the fibromyalgia syndrome develops. The two are interrelated but what does that mean in simple language? One hears, in fact seeks out, health related information, subsequently anxiety and fear develop (the amygdala is over reacting to perceived threat) increasing the overstimulation. Then a low tolerance for pain develops. Accompanying this pain is a myriad of other symptoms. But is this too simply stated? What can this cognitive sensitization actually produce within ourselves? This is a process within the brain as it receives cues that bring about arousal from a past traumatic event, that becomes an actual sensitization of the neuro system. In what ways then does this anxiety/fear invade our brains?