Sunday, June 22, 2008

Meditation


Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. I have started meditating. Some blog I read suggested that you commit to daily meditation for 21 days before you decide if it's right for you. This morning's lotus-seated enterprise marks Day Numero Uno for me. I used a CD with a smooth male voice frequently reminding me to think about nothing except my breathing. Inhale. Exhale. I found the experience relaxing, but my mind invariably strayed to other things besides, as Mr. Smooth Meditation suggests, the feeling of air on the tip of my nose going in and out (couldn't discern that one all) or the rise and fall of my chest.

I've heard so many good things about meditation, from its ability to create space in our bodies to make room for healing to moving your mind away from physical pain (or itches) to simply adding a certain calm to the practitioner, whereby each challenge that comes their way seems a little more manageable. I'm down with these. Sign me up.

OK, my friends, family, and I have been blogging here for over two years. All we do is give, give, give to you readers. Now, it's time for a little homework assignment for YOU. =)

What I would love for this post is to hear from anyone and everyone out there in this crazy cyber community who reads this to comment on the following questions:
  • Do you meditate?
  • When and how often?
  • Do you use any tools, such as music, a guiding voice, a specific visual item to focus on?
  • Why do you do it and has it changed your life in any way?
Thank you so much!

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

erica,

inhale. exhale. inhale.

love,
uma

Avital and said...

meditation: not regularly...I don't have the patience. but I have meditated before, "freestyle meditation," at the request of my doctors and therapist...using the CD I sent you of the Crystal Bowls of Tibet. I ended up in this completely altered state where I couldn't remember what was bothering me to begin with (you know how stressed I can get!)

I tried guided meditation once. Something about visualizing an object in the distance...that didn't work. I ended up more and more agitated! I could never see the damn thing! Nice try Dalai Lama...

I think the key is, and I've been told this many times and have read it in several books, that you have to start slow. I guess like everything else new, you have to introduce it to your body and mind gradually. You can't just immediately be able to meditate for an hour. try 5 minutes to start.

good luck, like everything else, you can do this too!

we love you!

Anonymous said...

Erica,

I have a good friend that taught and still teaches all kinds of different types of meditation but the one that has worked the best for me is the good-ol TM (Transcendental Meditation). I recommend it highly. I'm afraid I'm not disciplined enough to do it on a regular basis but it is my salvation when I am stressed and can't sleep.

I will contact my girlfriend and see what she suggests for you.

P.S. Give my sweet Jaci my love from Char!

Anonymous said...

Hi Erica,

My name is Sara and I'm Marie Scott's cousin.

I suffered from panic attacks for about a year and my doctor recommended some basic meditation techniques that could head the attack off. It worked pretty well, but I wasn't disciplined enough to stick with it. Best of luck to you!

Sara

Anonymous said...

I take a stretch class once a week and the teacher always ends the class with a 5 minute meditation session. I don't know what type it is. It's usually to calm music, but it's sometimes in silence. She gives a few verbal instructions about putting tasks and worries into a corner and asks us to think of nothing. Most of the time I find it relaxing and stress relieving to the point where I feel physically different, but a lot of times I can't let go of my concerns and it feels more like lying awake in bed.

Carisa

Anonymous said...

E- I think Paulina Freedenberg at Fletcher teaches a weekly meditation class so maybe you could email her for tips?

-Addie

artineh said...

OOH, homework. I haven't had that in SO long it seems. Let's do this! inhale.

Do you meditate?
Nope. Don't know how and I don't think I want to try it without some direction. I was supposed to learn if I went to Nepal but we know that didn't work out as planned.

Why do you do it and has it changed your life in any way?
if I knew how and did it even occasionally, I would use it to stop for a minute from a busy day, a busy week and just have time for me. I heard it is pretty relaxing too. Maybe it can take out the knots I have in my upper back from working full time and adding onto my already busy plate a teaching gig at Cal State LA.

any ideas as to how to learn?

exhale.
art

Aaron said...

Hi Erica,

You may remember me from your first year at Oxy. I was your obnoxious upstairs neighbor. I came across your story in the Occidental Magazine, very inspirational. I'm going to join the bone marrow donor registry.

Don't meditate, although sometimes I run through old tv show theme songs in my head. Seems to push out the other stuff in there. Not very Buddhist but seems to work. No wonder I failed History of Chinese thought.

Anonymous said...

Do you meditate? Does praying count? B/c at night I lay in bed with the fan on and the window open and pray for everyone and everything I can think of until I'm peaceful enough to fall asleep. I also focus on my breathing and nothing else when I'm overwhelmed or stressed. 10 very deep breaths where I think of nothing of "inhale, exhale" works every time.

Why do you do it and has it changed your life in any way?
For calm, for peacefulness, and to refocus on what my priorities are that day. It changes my life every day.

Love you!
'Nita Bean

Jenni Jones said...

Hi Erica...
My fiance went to Ocy a few moons ago and I read your story in the magazine today. You are indeed one strong cookie, like it or not.

I do meditate and recognize its wide and varied effects on my life.

I came to meditation and buddhism through my physical asana (yoga) practice. If you find a good teacher (or a good video for now), you will be exposed to the basics. I suggest a Zen Roshi I just studied with in Santa Fe at the Upaya Zen Center (google it). You can order her talks on DVD through their bookstore.

I struggle to sit everyday, as our society pushes us to be doers and I get caught up in checking things off my list. I sit as much as I can.

In meditation, just sitting down to focus on your breath is success. You mind will undoubtedly wander and you will face distraction and boredom in your quest. Try to be a witness to your experiences, rather than being part of the story. With meditation, I am calmer, more grounded, less affected by drama and chaos and more grateful. Benefits abound.

Sometimes I approach my sit in this way.
1)Sit down with silence. Close your eyes.
2)Scan my physical body. Ackowledge it's state with words like "relaxed," "aching" "anxious."
Breath into whatever I feel.
3)Scan my emotional body. Acknowledge and name "fear," "anger" "confusion." Breath into it. Don't try to change it. Accept it just as it is. Breathe into it.
4)Scan my mental body. Acknowledge thoughts and name them. Watch them and let them pass (like clouds or waves).
5)Just breath. Be present with whatever comes up, but again watch it rather than be consumed by it.
6)Give thanks to my teachers and my life.

Before this gets too long, a few thoughts on mantras I have worked with. Breathe in and think "So" (means "I"), breathe out and think "Hum" (means "am") Simple, basic. Or breathe into your belly, thinking "I'm here," next into your heart thinking "I'm open" and then into your head thinking "I'm awake." Repeat through your sit...

Hmmmm...hope some of this is helpful. Meditation is something I take into my day as I reflect on life and death (as I know you do). Today I will meditate for you.

With love,
Jenni

Anna said...

When I meditate, I also try to come into a greater awareness of my own body and what I'm holding there. I don't try to think of nothing, but I let the thoughts come and try to acknowledge but not get too engaged in them - pretty much the way Jenni describes. Sometimes the hardest time to meditate is when I am anxious. The only way out of that is to focus on the anxiety and try to feel what is in the middle of it. Usually I find I have a lot of pent up emotion, and then I cry and relax... I guess that's not orthodox meditation, but it works for me most of the time. Sometimes I just have to vent, haha. Mucho amor xoxoxo

Stacie (Quintanilla) Miller said...

As a junior in high school, a private all girls Catholic high school, I was in a class called Experiencing God. We meditated everyday. Our teacher was the closest thing to God. She had an amazing, peaceful, soothing and calming voice and she would always take us on these amazing journeys! Each meditation had a theme. On of my favorites was one that involved flying...it was amazing, and although it has been twelve years since that meditation, I can still see it so clearly in my mind. I tried to do meditation own my own, but that voice was an element that was missing.

I would be happy to talk to her (we work together) and ask her for some tips.

Great article, by the way. You are an inspration!!

Tracy said...

My 1st grade class would meditate every day right before nap time. In fact, we were featured on Sesame Street because of it. That's right, my 15 seconds of fame (I'm still waiting on the remaining 14 minutes and 45 seconds) came when I was 6 years old, eyes closed, meditating on a earth tone striped mat surrounded by the 19 other kids in my class. My teacher used relaxing music (much like what you hear at the Burke Williams spa) and she was our smooth guiding voice. Man, I really miss nap time.

I have never meditated since, unless as someone pointed out, praying counts. I, too, pray most nights and relect on my day. But I have never been able to clear my mind and focus on things like my breathing. So, if you figure out how to stop your mind from wondering and find peace, will you please let me in on the secret?

Tracy

Itinerant Observer said...

Hi Erica, I was thinking about you, and looked up your blog. What a joy to read a little about you and see such spirit in your writing.

As you know, I really like yoga. The only way I have been able to successfully approach meditation is through yoga. I just can't seem to clear my head enough to mediate unless I have done something first, even if it is just a few restorative yoga poses. Yoga seems to help me stay fascinated with the fine movements and feelings in body, which focuses my mind for mediation. I meditate for about 10 minutes 2-3 times a week after I do 20 to 60 minutes of yoga. Yoga is just discovery, discovery, discovery through working with what you have at that moment in time... Good luck!

tenderly,
Alder
alderkovaric@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

Hi Erica,

Do I meditate? Not really. But I run, swim, hike, and cycle. Basically I do any activity that allows me to focus on the rhythm of my body moving forward while I attempt to clear my head. Sitting or lying quietly and meditating (with or without soothing music or a "guide") just has not worked for me.

Stay strong!

Katie said...

If you are having trouble with your mind straying during meditation, it is sometimes helpful to pick a word which will signal you to return to the task at hand. In other words, if you find thoughts of grocery lists and what's going to happen on the next episode of Lost and whether or not you turned off the bathroom light creeping in to your meditation, 'banish' the thoughts by saying your word. My father uses the word 'Open', I believe. He practices contemplative prayer; you can read more about in The Cloud of Unknowing.

Also, he tells me that it's best not to try for too much in one go at the beginning. He recommends starting with smaller increments and working your way up to longer sessions.

Let us know how it goes!

robberknobber said...

I have been doing some form of meditation since college. nothing official or trained. the one thing i do the most was actually from a weight loss tape. it never worked for losing weight but i cannot tell you how many dentist appointments it got me through. for me its all about breathing and focusing my thoughts elsewhere. i can sit at my desk right now and hold my fingers together and breathe. Of course my boss walking in would not be too impressed. Hang in there kiddo you and Jaci and your mom are always in my prayers...

Abby Wood said...

What Jenni said.

I think I mentioned this when we yoga'ed together, but as someone who is ambitious and competitive in almost every aspect of my life, I have to counter that when I meditate. One of the most helpful ways for me to practice compassion while meditating is to think of my mind like a very young, naturally curious puppy. While I'm meditating, the puppy (my mind) wants to explore things-- maybe the past or the future, maybe a sensation or smell, maybe something that could never happen. So just like any compassionate person would do with a puppy who wanders off the path while on a daily walk, I gently, and non-judgmentally, tug the leash (or even visualize picking up the puppy) and put my mind back on the path.

For me, this is more intuitive than just trying to observe the thought and be detached from it, since I tend to get more involved with my thoughts when I observe them. And it keeps me from striving so much to empty my mind. The only couple of times my mind has successfully gone quiet while meditating was after dozens of repetitions of leading the curious puppy back to the path.

Enjoy! :)

P.S. You look like you're comfortably in lotus in that photo, but if it becomes uncomfortable, there are all kinds of different positions you could use.

Anonymous said...

Erica,

I have been reading your blog for some months now and find your spirit inspiring and your experience in the past two plus years touching. While you spend your time recovering, would you consider writing a book on your experience ? I think you will be able to give insight and meaning to many .....

All the best,
Annie

Georg, Stephanie & Liam said...

E
Incorporating meditation into our daily life seemed more logical, and achievable being busy with career,parenthood and social life. So my husband and I try to meditate while we are going about our daily lives. We do it while walking to the store, taking a bike ride, sitting in front of a fire, or fishing!! Sometimes it's hard to separate meditation from everything that you are doing, so we try to incorporate it into what we already like and do. One place most people wouldn't think of meditating at is on a train, but I find it a total calming experience walking from my home to the train, feeling the movements the train makes while sitting aboard gazing out into the busy life passing by. Somtimes by just turning the music off in the car and my phone, my senses are hightened and I feel calm. I consider this a form of meditation, although my eyes are open of course! Bubble baths by candle light are also a winner, and a great place to release, atleast for me. Meditation has allot to do with sitting with silence, accepting that silence and hearing your inner self. I have found that even writing can be a form of meditation, and transformation if one is ready to take risks and be challenged as well. I climbed Mt. Massada at the age of 19 and that was meditative, even though I was sweating and panting all the way to the top. The view from the top was life changing, and my thoughts along that path were transformational, that answers your last question. So, as we incorporate mediation into our daily lives in what ever we are doing, we are healing and growing in new and exciting ways. I never thought that climbing Massada would be such a pivitol moment in my life, but it was and that is where I gained my sense of adventure, eventually ( 3 years later)I found myself 3000 miles away from all my family and I am living on the opposite side of the US because of that great moment, when I allowed change to occur. I wish you all the best on your journey of exploration and mediation enlightenment.

Sara said...

Hi Erica,

I tried meditation at the beginning of my second year at Fletcher, 'cause I was obviously too stressed out to cope with life back then, it was starting to physically hurt me. I would sit quietly in my room for 15/20 minutes every morning with a candle before going to Fletcher for classes... I remember really liking it and thinking it was helping and that i was slowly getting better. I also started yoga around the same time. I stuck with yoga for a year and a half (I'm on a break right now, but I really loved my classes - it's the kind that includes hanging from ropes attached to the wall - fantastic stretching) and would love to go back to them) but as many other have written here, meditation takes a discipline I don't possess... yet.

Keep going Erica!

Your faithful reader

Sara

saraceliberti@gmail.com

benmazzotta said...

Hi Erica! Thank you so much for keeping the blog up to date and sharing your story.

Meditation: yes, I have meditated. It sounds like you have a guide there to help you on the CD. I'd recommend these online instructions in lieu of a teacher. A real person is always best, but sometimes that can be hard to work out. http://www.shambhala.org/meditationinstruction.html

Paulina does coordinate the Fletcher meditation group, and before her Julia Sable and Alison Jarrett did. Nick Kranz, of Shambhala Boston, does the instructions.

Meditation has tons and tons of forms. Regular practice of the simple meditation on your breath is just the right way to get started. More complex techniques are fine, lots of people enjoy particular practices, but I always come back to simple mindfulness meditation. It's that practice that is the bedrock for every other practice, teaching us important lessons about our own minds and our own hearts. Self-awareness is necessary to help us cultivate compassion for ourselves and for others.

Has it changed my life? Absolutely. But it's funny, I wouldn't say that I gained any one thing. It encouraged me to get to know myself better, not just in the sense that I am familiar with myself, but that the practice teaches moment-to-moment self-awareness. It reminds me that I have the space to choose how to react to the world, that I can choose to be strong, choose to be compassionate, choose to be honest, choose to live in joy.

I agree with Uma. Breathe.

Good luck with your new practice. I have mad respect for your positive attitude in healing. Much love from Boston.

Cristina Remond said...

Hi Erica

Meditation can be a bit of an uphill bike ride for the first little bit (on some days) - but I highly recommend continueing. There's a point where you eventually overcome your own inertia / resistance. After that point you don't have to tell your body yourself to do it - your self tells you to do it and pulls you into sitting position! Stick with it till you get there (and be gentle with yourself - don't beat yourself up to sit down and meditate!)
Also, if you are feeling tired and need back support, that's ok. Just sit with your back straight and feet in lotus or uncrossed with feet on the ground (if you're in a chair). For a while, I needed my back supported so I wasn't focusing on the strain.

In terms of techniques, I've recently joined the Self Realization Fellowship, which teaches a form of breathing and meditation (called Kriya Yoga) which is set out in the Upanishads (ancient Hindu text). It's supposed to be the bullet train to bliss :)
http://www.yogananda-srf.org/

I second the person who mentioned the "So Hum" technique. It's especially good if you visualize a gold ball of light at the base of your spine travelling up your spine, over top of your head to the point between your eyebrows on the "SO" (inhale) and then back down on the "Hum" (exhale).

One of my teachers said something I really like. She said, think of your thoughts (those pesky thoughts you're not 'supposed' to be having) as birds in a big vast blue sky. The sky is not disturbed by birds at all. Just watch them fly by and remember you are the sky, and not the birds.

I've found the more I meditated, the more in tune I've become with all of myself - my body talks to me all the time and I can hear it better now.

Cheering for you from Medford,

Cristina

Anonymous said...

Erica,

I just finished reading the article about you in the Occidental magazine. Your cover photo is beautiful and the article brought me to tears...in a good way. I am wishing you the best in your recovery.

I lost someone very close to me from leukemia in 1989 (He would have graduated from Oxy in 1991.)and registered with NMDP shortly thereafter. I am also mixed race and know how particularly important it is that "we" are represented in the Registry.

My best to you and your family and friends!

BTW--I don't currently meditate, but have been giving it some serious thought lately! :)

Health,
Ynez '92
yllwh@yahoo.com

Katherine said...

Dear Erica,

I realize you probably have no idea who I am, but I met you a couple of times at my house. I am Matt Warren's little sister and you came up to the house to go water skiing with friends. This weekend all the Warren's are going out on the lake to celebrate the fourth. I realize you can't be outside yet but when you can I think you should come on up. In the meantime we will be toasting and hoping for the full return of your good health.

Sincerely,
Katherine Warren
aka Matt's sister

Rena said...

Hi Erica,

I found your blog via your youtube video. Passed it along to everyone!

My heart goes out to you...I was diagnosed a year ago July 11th and had a stem cell transplant October 15th, 2007. Thankfully, my brother only full blood sibling) was my match.

In the beginning we worried about fining a match, cause the odds we're so low that he be my match. I'm Puerto Rican and German. What were the odds of finding many ...LOL

You're blog is so heartfelt and well written, from your heart. It reminds me of everything I just went through too.

Just finished making chocolate chip pancakes with my son and wanted to say that you're doing so great (from what I've read) and your spirits seem awesome! They say that's what gets you though it!

I've done yoga in the past, but not since my diagnosis...will again here soon. LOL Feeling like i have time to make up so trying to do it all now! But, I've relished the quiet time, holding my son (he's 5) and just sitting in silence every so often taking it all in.

You are in my prayers!!

Michelle Ashley said...

Erica -

I don't know if you remember me but this is Michelle Ashley (Oxy '03) - I went to school at Oxy for UEP degree but went back to school for nursing after working as a union organizer for nurses in California.

I'm an oncology nurse in Chicago now. I actually work on the bone-marrow transplant unit at the University of Chicago. So a lot of the things you were writing about are things that I have been seeing this past year. (Graft versus host disease, hickmans...etc)

The profile of you in the magazine is really moving - especially because you articulate what I think so many of my patients are going through. Also, I think it is amazing that you are doing so much to increase participation on the registry-- It's upsetting that we have a lot of Latino and African-American patients who are waiting and haven't been able to find a match.

Well, thanks for sharing your story with the Oxy alumni. The article was inspiring and you look absolutely beautiful. I'll be sending thoughts your way as you go through this post-transplant time...

Check in with you later--
-Michelle

alyson said...

erica, just got our "oxy mag" - you are beautiful. not just in the photos, but in your life, your story. all that you are battling now. i graduated in 2000, i'm actually in my last year of rabbinical school in boston. sorry we missed each other when you were out here. anyway, just wanted to say my prayers are with you and for you. i just sent you via amazon one of my favorite books by pema chodron. i saw she was on your list. she is very much one of my teachers. i've been meditating for about 3 years now. kirsten westby (did you ever know her) got me hooked. anyway, all my blessing to you. if i can be an ear or hand in anyway, i'd be honored. with love, alyson solomon

christina said...

i have a close friend who had non-hodgkins lymphoma. she had it in the early 90s and relapsed in the early 2000s. she swears by meditation and has been in remission for over 6 years. my brother in law also meditates (he was deployed in iraq) to quiet his brain at night, and it helps him immensely. they have both said it was a struggle getting used to it, quieting your brain, your thoughts, things around you...but once you get it...its benefits are immeasurable.

a good book i just read "Eat, Pray, Love" might be a good start.

-christina

Lillie said...

Hello Dear Erica,

Sending you all my best thoughts and and wishes! You were AMAZING at Fletcher Follies! ;-)

I recently finished reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/eatpraylove.htm

This book really spoke to me. Among other things, Gilbert shares her experience learning to meditate at an Ashram in India. She describes an amazing and unique journey, and touches on all the meditation anxiety that beginners face by sharing her own experiences in detail. I highly recommend the book!

A big hug to you, and all the best!

Lillie :-)

Ted said...

I have meditated in the past but not nearly as much as I would like. It is a very difficult exercise as my mind always runs wild. I would love to learn more about your technique.

Actually one form of meditation I tried was tai chi which was an excellent walking meditation. I know you have done this as well.

I think meditation is something that everyone should do-just take some time out and do it.

Thanks for the reminder. Love you!

Ted

Whitney said...

Meditation is hard work, but I have experienced the benefits when I really stick with it. I actually meditate in the car on my way to and from work! No my eyes are not closed, but I just sit and drive and force my mind to be there in the present moment. I do this by feeling sensations in my body, and listening to sounds, anything to pull the mind back down from the helium balloon it keeps floating away on. I got this idea after reading Meditation in a New York Minute, which has really helpful hints for quick and easy meditations. Best of luck, Whitney

Georg, Stephanie & Liam said...

Erica
yesterday I took a yoga class at the local 24 hr fitness and it truely was a meditative experience. Aside from the body aromas that lingered from time to time, sweat, feet and perfumes, a room of about 75 yoga enthusiasts moved to the rhythm of new age flute inspired music that totally revitalized my inner self. I find this very meditative and energizing! So I guess you'd say I meditate??
PS. I'm sending you some candles, hope they inspire you or atleast smell friendly!