Your most constant companion

max-conrad-203234.jpg

Often, when beginners are given meditation instruction, they are told to pay attention to their breath, the feeling of air rushing in and out of their nose. While I occasionally like this method, it also trips me up.  I can become hyper-aware of my breathing, and it starts becoming forced and irregular.  Additionally, guidance may also be given to place ones hands on top of each other in your lap, touching your thumbs together.  I’ve always preferred to place my hands face down on my knees, feeling the pressure and stability of my palms as they rest, supported.

This past Saturday in my physics class, we began learning about dynamics, which is the sum of all the forces acting on us at a given time.  Forces do not come out of nowhere–they are the relationship of two or more objects.  While the teacher listed the various types of forces on the whiteboard, my thoughts latched onto the last one: gravity.  Gravity is the force acted on us by the earth; except in a rarified environment, we are always subject to it. My daughter, like most small children, performs a multitude of experiments to test gravity, dropping things from her high chair and other random places, watching as time and again, they do indeed drop down.  By the time we’re grown, we take gravity for granted, a banal fact of our existence.

When I thought of it, how gravity is a force and where there is a force there is a relationship, I was awestruck at the thought of gravity’s origin.  To picture the earth is to visualize it on some grand, cosmic scale-the view of astronauts looking out their window.   Yet when thought of in this context, the earth becomes intimate, something that we have a continuous relationship with from our first moments alive on to our last breath.  To take the time to feel the weight of our feet on the ground, our body as lies in bed, the feeling of our seat in a chair, is bring our minds into closer contact with that relationship we have with gravity, and consequently with the earth.  This isn’t mysticism–this is scientific fact.

As we go about our day and our lives, we endure many moments of hardship and stress.  Mindfulness is helpful for this, if you can catch yourself before being totally overwhelmed.  In these moments of strife, however, a meditative space can be hard to enter into, seemingly remote, reserved for monks and sacred places far from us.   Finding tools that remind us of those calm, clear moments are essential.  When I thought of gravity as a reminder of our relationship with the earth, it seemed to be a useful way of making that meditative peace and clarity both immediate and accessible.   When we’re feeling caught up in crap, disconnected from ourselves and struggling, we can sink our thoughts to our feet, to that point of contact with the ground below us.  When we feel that weight, the force of the planet’s gravitational pull, why not take the time to appreciate the force that holds us, the earth that connects and sustains us and all the other beings with this most constant of companions?

emilia-samborska-115704.jpg

 

The Science of Self-Compassion

Why is it sometimes harder to be nice to ourselves than being kind to others?   How is it that we can beat ourselves up about the unkind things we may have said or thought about others, and not think for a moment about the harsh words we’ve leveled at ourselves? If we don’t succeed immediately at something why are we apt to think that we’re a failure, instead of taking into consideration that we many need time to learn?  Why do mistakes tend to haunt us, becoming regrets instead of life lessons?

Though many have been onto this for years, if not decades, for myself, it’s only been in recent years that I’ve tried to start practicing self-compassion.  In the past, when people talked about loving themselves, it sounded hokey to me, like a cheeseball way to excuse egoism.  Maybe that sounds harsh, but it reflects the high level of self-criticism that tends to be my default.  It was only when I put it together that it was harder for me to have compassion for others if I didn’t have the same for myself that I started working on this.  As RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love anybody else?”

Still, in the daily grind, it’s easy to forget to hold compassion for yourself.  It’s also easy to confuse what the true meaning of self-compassion is.  It doesn’t mean indulging yourself indiscriminatingly or being lax in the standards you hold for yourself.  The Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education published this helpful and comprehensive graphic as a resource for those wanting to better understand how to practice self-compassion:

TheScientificBenefitsofSelf-Compassion

For those interested in reading more about this topic, here are some additional resources:

The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley

The Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education

Scientific American “The Self-Compassion Solution”

It’s all in your head

I was listening to an older, more experienced acupuncturist talk to a group of students the other day.  He was talking about a patient who was rather obsessed with their illness, and who was causing himself more problems by being so.  This practitioner went on to say that most of our problems come about from our minds, 90-99%.  When I hear something like that pronounced with certainty, I have to bite my tongue.  I was raised with that ethos, and while it might be helpful to some, I don’t find it useful.


Where do you go where you are just a mind?  When do you leave your body behind as your mind leaps around on some ethereal, completely mental playground?  What has happened to you when you’re just a body, inert with no mental function?  One always tags along with the other, sometimes unwanted, like a younger sibling trailing behind their idolized older sister.  There’s nothing we can do about it, Mom told us to watch after them, however annoying they can be.  With this necessary and unavoidable entwining, why do we insist on a disorder being solely of the mind, or residing only in the body?  Stress, anxiety and depression can cause illness just as chronic pain or sickness can make one become depressed, stressed, or anxious.  

When we’re experiencing a symptom in our body or mind, we’re feeling it.  Be it real or imagined, it’s there.  If a person is making up an illness, there is something going on with that person that isn’t right and that needs attention.  They don’t need to be dismissed or told they’re not feeling what they’re feeling.  “It’s all in your head,” is neither sympathetic or empathetic, and it sure isn’t a treatment for a person who’s equilibrium is off in some intangible way that they are trying to communicate.  People deserve to be listened to without being questioned if what they’re saying isn’t really true.  I’m not talking about letting someone lead you down the garden path, but about allowing for someone else’s truth to be the truth, especially in how it impacts the health of their body and mind.  


As an acupuncturist, I have a unique opportunity to spend time with patients and to treat both the physical and the mental aspect of each complaint.  Every meridian in the Chinese system has it’s own association of both bodily and emotional symptoms, and this style of medicine allows for the two to be deeply enmeshed.  Though these two aspects of us, body and mind, can sometimes seem at odds and disconnected from each other, they depend on each other for their health and wellness.  We’re an extraordinarily complex animal, and there still exist uncharted continents of medicine where our current understanding doens’t suffice.  It doesn’t do us justice to relegate symptoms or pathology into one or the other of mind and body.  We should embrace this intricacy of our selves, and as a practitioner of a holistic medicine, I strive to honor it in each individual I have the opportunity to treat.