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The contents of this website are for contemplative purposes only. No medical advice will be given, and emails asking for medical advice will be ignored.

Although patient vignettes are based on my experiences with real individuals, I liberally change details to maintain patient confidentiality.

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Tuesday
Feb142017

Change Is the Only Constant

For the last few years, I have practiced mindfulness meditation. For those who don't know, mindfulness meditation is a style of meditation that focuses on being in the present moment, awake and alert as possible. I find it a necessary antidote to our hyper-distractible world. It is impossible to spend five minutes in today's world without someone tugging on your sleeve: Buy this! Look at me! Spend your money here! This constant stimulation pushes us further and further from self-awareness. Instead of living our own lives and thinking our own thoughts, we end up living someone else's life and thinking someone else's thoughts.

Mindfulness is about quieting the world and concentrating on being in the present. The very opposite of almost everything in contemporary life, which is locked into the concept of escape. Escape into the internet, social media, TV, fast food, sports -- and the complete rejection of being alone with yourself, alive in the present moment.

Since many religious faiths conceive of God as the creator of being and existence (think "I Am Who Am," the name God gave himself when He spoke to Moses out of the burning bush), the mindfulness experience is very close to the Christian concept of meditative prayer.

My attentiveness to meditation has been uneven, and I go thorough cycles of more or less intensity. Most of the time I approach it as a combination of self-observation and Christian prayer. But sometimes I just think of it as a way to quiet the mind, or as a mental discipline akin to working out the body. Just as the body needs exercise to keep strong, the mind needs to practice shutting out extraneous noise to stay fit.

Meditation has taught me many things, things I didn't expect to learn when I first sat down to practice. I think this aspect of meditation is a sign of its power. It is one thing to get out of a practice exactly what you expect from it, but when you learn the unexpected as well, you know you are really onto something.

For instance, one morning this week when I sat down to practice, I found that my mind was spinning. I had made the mistake of looking at social media just before starting my meditation. Something came up that irritated me, and several ideas pinged around in my head even as I sat down and began my breathing.

A racing mind is not compatible with productive meditation. But rather than get up and skip the day's session, something I might have done a few years ago, I chose to allow the racing thoughts to run on, bounce around, and burn themselves out. This is a common technique for calming the mind in meditation. Rather than forcing distracting ideas out of the mind, which is very difficult, you let them run, and observe them without feeding into them. Usually they will fade away of their own accord.

This took more than twenty minutes. So I sat for 20 minutes, allowing these thoughts to spin around in my head, curl and uncurl, exhausting themselves like a hyperactive hamster on a wheel, until I finally got tired and my thoughts began to clear.

And another thing happened. It was an unusually warm February morning, and so I chose to sit outside. When I first sat down, there was a moderate wind, and the sky was completely overcast. But as I sat and struggled with clearing my worries from my mind, the wind swept away the clouds, and the next thing I knew I was looking at a blue sky, sunshine, and cirrus clouds scudding lightly by.

As I sought change in myself, the sky kindly changed for me.

One of the principles of meditation philosophy is that everything changes. That attachments to physical things, ideas, and emotions cause suffering and discontent with life. The goal to good living, the teaching goes, is to allow attachments to pass and to free ourselves of them. Mindfulness teaches that change is life's constant, and that if we wait patiently, most things, good and bad, will pass away.

And so on Saturday I sat, and the sky talked. When I sat down, the sky was overcast, and so was my mind. When I got up, the sky was clear. I was less so, but certainly a lot clearer than I had been when I began. They sky taught me that day that if I am patient, it will change. And that I should expect no less in myself.

This is what meditation teaches. If you sit and listen to the natural world, it will teach you about change, and teach that excessive concern over what is happening now is a form of suffering. To be free, to be happy, one must accept change as the constant. The reward for patience is change and renewal. Only by seeing this truth, can peace, and God, be found.

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