I recommend that people with chronic illness meditate. I even did a podcast with Dr Tiffany Taft, a behavioral psychologist, that focused heavily on getting started with meditation as a tool for stress relief.
But me? Yeah, I don’t meditate. Or, I didn’t.
I have my time when I’m running or walking, either outside or on my treadmill, that I consider my meditation time. It’s a moving meditation. That’s what I tell people. I get quite cranky if I get interrupted or if I don’t get that time. But it’s not really traditional meditation, and I know that.
The time came when my friend and colleague, Dr Barbara Bolen, had an offer for a free trial of a meditation app. So I asked her if I could have it, she graciously gave it to me, and I downloaded the app. This is my journey through the first week, having never done any formal meditation in the past.
This is not a typical meditation blog post, but read through to the end to fully understand the challenges that are specific to me. I’m still going to recommend that everyone try meditation.
I meditate for 3 minutes. I wanted to do it laying down, because I’m that tired and lazy, but the app I’m using tells me to sit up. Fine. I don’t like being told what to do and when to do it, but I sit up anyway. The British man (OK I don’t know if he’s actually British, but his accent is) in my phone talks about focusing on my body and my breathing. I, of course, immediately start to think about all the times my body has betrayed me, but then I remember what Dr Taft told me to do about those errant thoughts during meditation when I interviewed her for About IBD Podcast: “Not right now.” And I sent those thoughts into the background. Other thoughts creep in. My synapses fire louder and longer first thing in the morning so it’s difficult to banish that “to do” list and the thoughts about getting up and putting on my running shoes. Not to mention going downstairs and getting my coffee.
Maybe morning isn’t the best time for me to meditate?
I’ll meditate on it.
I cry through most of the 3 minute meditation today. I wish I could say it was a result of British accent man’s voice. It is not. It is because of all the reasons what we cry: emotional and physical pain, loneliness, fear, and uncertainty. Many of these are my constant companions, others are seasonal frenemies, and they can’t always be put away to the side like thoughts can, because they’re not thoughts, they’re feelings. I do manage to pull it together near the end.
British accent man would be proud, I’m sure.
Today the app asks me to watch a video and I groan. I don’t know if my aversion to videos is generational or is an affect of my own brain. I love TV. I love movies. I am not interested in watching animations while someone talks over it. Give me a document and I’ll read it, thanks. But, I am committed so I watch the video. I could have gotten the concept from a paragraph, but this is what the app developers have chosen to do.
It tells me to not to try too hard to control my thoughts. I don’t fully understand that. I have control to a certain extent but there are also thought patterns that are habits and considering I’ve spent 44 years creating them, a one minute video probably isn’t going to help me reverse them. I’m also reminded of how Dr Taft warned that mindfulness and meditation techniques are perhaps giving people an inflated idea of how much they can actually achieve through these methods. Can meditation really help with all the emotional gunk that has been building up in my brain for decades?
There’s no video today, thankfully. I do the meditation exercise, more or less successfully. I am trying to do the meditation in the morning. It’s only a few minutes, it’s really not a big deal to work it into the day unless I oversleep or something. I let the app send me notifications now. Sometimes it makes me roll my eyes at the messages it sends. I’m Gen-X: I was steeped in sarcasm and my persona is mostly snarky comments and coffee loosely wrapped up in black leggings and boots. I like to think that I’m kind and empathetic but I’m not the type to read motivational messages and take anything away from it.
I don’t use the app outside of my morning meditation time, even though it prompts me to do so.
Today I get up and need to get going quickly so I am going about my day before I realize I haven’t done my meditation. I wind up doing it much later in the day, which is fine, but I do feel as though I’ve sort of failed for the day. Even though I did it. I have no idea why if I don’t get something done before noon, even if I do get it done later, I still feel as though I should have done it sooner. It’s a mystery. Again, it’s those ingrained thought patterns from which it is difficult to break free. But Day 5 is on the books, even if it was quite late.
I have deadlines and I’m distracted. I’m unable to control my thought process and I’m thinking a lot about love and its discussion in one of my favorite movies, Interstellar. The contrasting ideas are that love could be something we evolved to think we feel in order to survive and that love could be more transcendental: something that spurs us to action but that we can’t currently fully understand.
All I know is that in the morning I sometimes think of people I love who are gone from my life (either forever or for right now) and how the pain of these losses compounds with growing older. The pain never leaves and we must instead find a way to cope with it on a daily basis. The worst part is knowing with certainly that there’s more pain to come and maybe even that the most difficult pain is still ahead. Sometimes I’m effective at leaving these ideas behind and sometimes I’m not. Today I’m not, and I am unable to banish thoughts of those I wish I could see and talk with from my mind.
British accent man is somewhere feeling profoundly disappointed and he doesn’t know why.
I manage to meditate early in the morning, soon after waking up. I am not able to control my thoughts at all. Or, what I should say is that my thoughts go to their familiar patterns, of thinking of the things that make my brain uses to feel better. I’m still not sure exactly what I’m supposed to be thinking or not thinking. The app wants me to try and be an outside observer of my own thoughts. I get the idea but it’s not really working out that way. I know it takes time and patience but the app seems to think I should be able to handle this already. The app is like, ok, do the thing, and I still don’t know what the “thing” is.
After a week of meditation I don’t feel any different. I’m not sleeping better or finding myself coping with stress more effectively. At least, it doesn’t seem that this is the case, but there’s no true objective measurement for these potential end points. I know there’s only so much change that meditation can help bring about and we shouldn’t pin all our hopes on it.
I’m old enough to have come to some realizations on my own, particularly over the last 5 years, and especially in the last 10, after becoming a mother. I already make a conscious decision to stop and “let go” of minor upsets on a regular basis (though some still vex me) and try to focus on the big picture rather than the little annoyances. I’m certainly no zen master but it does beg the question: how far can meditation truly take me? My free trial isn’t over yet, so there’s more meditation to come, and who knows, maybe a breakthrough.
And yes, I’m still going to recommend that people with IBD meditate regularly.