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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Meditation and PTSD

The military is apparently trying out meditation for PTSD which I think is a good idea. Bob uses it. When he first told me he was going to try it, I thought it was silly and wouldn't work, but luckily since I am in recovery and trying to stop giving advice, I didn't say anything.
Man, was I surprised when it helped him a lot.
He used John Kabat Zinn's, Wherever You Go, There You Are, a very amusing book which answered the question he used to get enraged over: "Why can't I blank my mind?" It was a big relief to know that was not the point.
When I used to publish the Post-Traumatic Gazette, Bob wrote this for me for issue #25, PTSD and Spirituality:

Notes on Meditation by Robert Mason
 A sign on my wall says, “Breathing is good for you.” It’s to remind me to focus on my breath for a moment. Why? Because once you are aware of your breath, you are in the present moment. And in the present moment, when you are aware of what you are actually saying or thinking or hearing or seeing, life is much more interesting and peaceful.
I’ve been reading about meditation for decades. I actually began doing it five years ago when I realized that to meditate is to practice being. Just being. I used to spend all my time in my mind, a very busy, chaotic, often scary place. Being alone with my thoughts was something I avoided because they were painful, so I diverted myself with drugs and adrenaline. That worked, more or less.
Meditation is better. I realized that when I meditate, I kind of step away from whatever stream of chaos happens to be splashing through my mind at the time, and look at it from outside. Sometimes I imagine I’m in a comfortable place under a waterfall of thoughts and ideas cascading overhead. I can be aware of the thoughts that come into my present, and then I can let them go. (Observe the thought, it is said, don’t be the thought.) When I discover I’ve been seduced by a thought (which happened constantly when I started), and have been involved with it for awhile, I just smile at the persistence of my mind trying to keep up its chatter, and return to my breath.
Ask a hundred people how to meditate, get a hundred answers. After read ing about the various methods, including a pricey Transcendental Meditation program, I decided to take Buddha’s advice to sit quietly and focus on my breathing.
Here’s what I recommend:
•Change your wake-up time to accommodate 10-30 minutes free time every morning. I meditate for 15-20 minutes. 
•Find a quiet place where you can sit and not be disturbed. I’m immersed in bird calls in the morning, but that’s part of the environment, and it isn’t distracting.
•Sit. You can sit in a chair if you sit upright, not leaning back where you can fall asleep. You can sit cross-legged on a carpet, kneel in the Japanese tra dition, sit on pillows, whatever is comfortable for you.
•Set a timer or a clock to end the session. Close your eyes.
•Notice your breathing. Don’t change how you’re breathing. Just be aware of your breath coming in and going out. •When you breathe in, say to yourself “Breathing in.” When you breathe out say to yourself, “Breathing out.” Later, you can shorten this to simply “In” and “Out.” Eventually you won’t need the words at all. For now, the words help you to concentrate on the present moment. Your breath is your anchor. Whenever you lose your concentration, just refocus on your breath.
•Your breathing cycle has four distinct stages you can be aware of: 1) The beginning of breathing in. 2) The end of breathing in (pause). 3) The beginning of breathing out. 4) The end of breathing out.
•Notice whether you are breath ing fast or slow, but make no effort to consciously change that rate. Just notice what it is. Your breathing rate will naturally slow and quiet as you meditate.
•Do it every day for a few years and see how it works.
•Read about meditation to get other insights. My favorite books on the subject are Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Walking Meditation  by Thich Nhat Hanh.  

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