For fast-acting relief, try slowing down — Lily Tomlin, actress and comedienne
We tend to take our bodies very much for granted, and our health even more so. As a result, when something goes wrong, it can be alarming, even frightening, as if we had been walking around inside a stranger and suddenly discover it has a mind of its own. Becoming stressed or and physically distressed until we are overwhelmed and out of control is like a steam cooker coming to full pressure. And although we are the only ones who can turn down the heat, unfortunately we often feel powerless to do so. As Richard, a participant in one of our workshops, told us, “I don’t get stressed. I wake up stressed.”
Not me, we think, I don’t get that stressed. Yet most conservative estimates suggest that 70 to 90 percent of illnesses are either affected or caused by stress. As such, it is a major problem. On top of that, there is no medical cure that can alleviate stress. Prescription drugs cannot lighten our workload, change our life conditions, or alter our belief systems.
What we believe colors our every thought, word and action. The idea that it is our work, family, or lifestyle that is causing us stress, and that if we were to change these then we would be fine, is seeing the situation from the wrong perspective. Rather, it is the belief that something out there is causing us stress that is actually causing the stress. And although changing our circumstances certainly may help, invariably, no matter what we do, it is a change within our belief system and our perception of ourselves that will make the biggest difference.
For, although we may have little or no control over circumstances, we do have control over our reaction to them. The ability to keep our peace and maintain an even-balanced state is one of the great gifts of meditation that we can bring to every situation: to our thoughts and feelings, behavior and actions.
Meditation gives us a sense of being steady in a world that is constantly demanding and challenging. We never know what is going to happen or when—nothing is predictable, permanent, secure, controllable, or dependable. Everything is subject to change in every moment. We can ignore this fact and live with the delusion of permanency and predictability, or we can embrace impermanence and unpredictability with awareness and dignity.
It is easier to see the connection between stress, relaxation and meditation than it is to see how meditation could help someone who is very sick, perhaps dealing with such issues as cancer or AIDS. At such times, we are often more prone to self-pity or dependency on caregivers and doctors, and less able to help ourselves. Yet meditation not only reduces stress-related physical problems but also moves us out of negative mindsets so that we can be at peace with what is happening.
“Mortality led me to meditation. Addicts talk about being ‘scared sober.’ I was scared into sitting,” writes author Mark Matousek in our book, Be The Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World. “Being diagnosed with a then-terminal disease at age twenty-eight, I was forced as a survival mechanism to pursue an inner life. By learning to sit through bad moments, an invisible, metaphysical muscle seemed to strengthen in the stillness. Running from pain or fear made the badness worse, whereas when I stopped in the midst of it all, took my seat and let the feelings burn deeply through me, clarity slowly took the place of hysteria. Sitting was a place to empty out, grieve, refill, to remember the face behind the mask, simply by stopping and being still. That was twenty-plus years ago. My health crisis passed but the practice stayed. Meditation is on my shoulder, a reminder of beauty, truth, fragility, sorrow; a voice that whispers: ‘Remember to love.’ If my outer world had not been threatened, I would never have looked for an inner one.”
Meditation invites us to make friends with both ourselves and our world, to know deeply that all things pass, and not to take ourselves too seriously!
Meditation Is Not What You Think: A 4-week course with Ed and Deb Shapiro on discovering the greatest gift you can give yourself: meditation. Clear your mind, open your heart, and dive into the wonder of your own true self. Starts July 09.
See our award-winning book: BE THE CHANGE: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, with forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, and with contributors Jack Kornfield, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Byron Katie and many others.
Deb is the author of the award-winning YOUR BODY SPEAKS YOUR MIND: Decoding the Emotional, Psychological, and Spiritual Messages That Underlie Illness.
Our 3 meditation CDs: Metta—Loving kindness and Forgiveness; Samadhi–Breath Awareness and Insight; and Yoga Nidra–Inner Conscious Relaxation, are available at: www.EdandDebShapiro.com.