On Meditation and The Meaning of Existence

I have been reading about this new trend in an old practice called Mindfulness. It seems to be based on Buddhist meditation practices which help calm one’s mind and focus on the present. I think there’s value to Mindfulness and meditation practices because our culture overloads us with information and stimulation of the senses. To sit and contemplate one’s existence is a positive thing. I have been reading about this new trend in an old practice called Mindfulness. It seems to be based on Buddhist meditation practices which help calm one’s mind and focus on the present. I think there’s value to Mindfulness and meditation practices because our culture overloads us with information and stimulation of the senses. To sit and contemplate one’s existence is a positive thing.

But, while I think meditation has many benefits, I have a problem with some of the promises of “Mindfulness.” There seems to be a strain of thinking that suggests Mindfulness will help you give meaning to your life. I also notice that some definitions of Mindfulness use the term “present moment.” This is an odd idea because it’s impossible to focus on the present moment. As soon as you reach out to grasp it, it becomes the past moment. This is the slipperiness of time – it can’t be stopped or slowed down.

These two ideas seem to me to be a reaction to the fear of the passage of time. I don’t think the purpose of meditation is to extend the present moment or to give meaning to it. Let me explain.

mind·ful·ness /ˈmīn(d)f(ə)lnəs/
noun
1.  the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
  “their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition”
2.  a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

We live in the present, but we are always making a bargain with the future. For example, consider a daily task list. Daily lists are about planning the immediate future. The lists are made so that I will do what I need to do that day plus what I want to do. I will do the laundry in the morning so that I will have time in the evening to read. I will make a grocery list today, so that when I go to the store tomorrow, I won’t waste time and money when I get there. In this way we have expectations about the day. But, at any time, an unexpected event, such as a car accident or an unexpected visitor, can upset the day’s plans and the daily list is forgotten.

And it’s not only daily plans we entrust to the future. We have a vision of our future life in 5 or 10 or 50 years. These form our hopes and dreams of where we will be in the future. Will we have a family life or an adventurous life or a successful career? And this creates anxiety in our present life because we know from experience in making plans from day to day and from witnessing other people’s lives that there is no guarantee our lives will turn out as we expect the future is veiled to our mind.

So, what to do? We need to look at the accumulative effect of time. Returning to the example of the daily list, we understand that if we have been diligent about daily work in the past that missing a day or two is not going to make a dramatic difference. We can make up the lost tasks on other days. If the interruption is more serious, such as an accident, then we know our daily routine is going to change in more drastic ways.

The same thing applies for longer stretches of time. If, for example, you decide to have a career then you must train for it. You may have to delay one job for another. You may have to go to school. In short, you sacrifice the present for the future.

If you try to hold onto the present, you will always fear the unknowable future.  Our future is made up of unforeseeable events, but it is also made up of the plans and sacrifices we make in each present moment.

When I was about the same age as my third child is now (30 years old), my husband and I changed our minds about having more children. We had originally decided that the two children born to us were enough. But, we moved to Texas from New York and I had quit working to be home with the children. We realized we had time to have more children and as we had no other family in Texas, we thought it might be good to reconsider having more children.

I remember being pregnant with my third child, a daughter, while watching the two older children playing. I remember thinking that they were doing so many things on their own and babies take up nearly every free moment of your life. Why was I starting from zero with another child? I put it out of my mind as the choice had already been made. And it turned out to be a happy choice. There would be three more children to come after her.

There is an experience in old age that is called “feeling the weight of one’s years”. When I was middle aged, I thought back to my 20s. Two decades had gone by – but it while that is a lot of years, it did not seem so long in the past. I also could see a future ahead of me. The children were young and I could see that my life was not finished. I could only understand “the weight of years” in theory. I had many more years ahead of me. It wasn’t until I reached my 60s, and my youngest child had left home that I finally felt the weight of years. At that time, I felt more that I lived a full life. Not everyone gets the joy of experiencing old age, so I feel doubly blessed in that. Perhaps, if I am lucky enough to live another 20 or 30 years, I will have an even greater appreciation.

If someone had told me when I was 20 that I would end up in Texas (I’m from New York) with six children and no career when I was 60, I would have said that was crazy talk. Now, at 62, as I hold my third grandchild, my third child’s first baby, I can see that the sacrifices I made over the years were a blessing in ways I could never imagine in my youth.

So, we can’t see the fullness of our lives until many years – innumerable present moments – are behind us. It is only then that we can truly understand the entirety of the moments that make up our lives.

My point is this: Meditation does not help you give meaning to the present. You already have meaning. Your existence has meaning. The understanding of the meaning of your existence grows over time. In other words, meditation can help you appreciate meaning in your life, but it does not create it.

So, do not be afraid to let go of the present, but fully embrace your life so that you can walk boldly into your future.

Until next time. 😊

Fall Back and SAD: Under the Weather

My husband and I are expecting our third grandchild soon and we decided to get the Tdap (Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) vaccine to protect the newborn. And as it’s flu season we decided to get that one, too. So, that’s two vaccines.

But, we weren’t done yet. We have also been talking about getting the Shingles vaccine. My grandmother had shingles twice and told me it was the worst pain she had ever experienced in her life. Since she gave birth three times, during the Depression, I figure that’s got to be pretty intense. Another consideration was that my husband had a very bad time with measles as a kid, so we decided we should get that one, too.

Perhaps three vaccines at a time was pushing it. By the next day we both had a low grade fever and chills. We’re just feeling back to normal today. So, a word to the wise – if you’re going to bunch up those vaccines, then do it on your days off from work or spread them out.

A Word about SAD and Light Therapy

This week is the first week where darkness has returned in a big way to our evenings. I would rather we stay on Daylight Savings Time permanently, but I am not in charge and so must soldier on.

When I lived in New York I used to suffer terribly from SAD (Seasonal affective disorder). The sun starts to set at 4:30 in the afternoon. By 5 pm I was on my couch under a blanket unable to move.

Light therapy was first being recommended in those days, so I bought a 4-foot fluorescent strip lamp and the full spectrum fluorescent lamps that were recommended. I leaned strip lamp against a wall facing the couch. This is because the light doesn’t work unless it affects the retina. It lit up the room like Luna Park and was as ugly as hell, but it did the job for me. I felt it helped me a great deal with my depression. I could sit up for another hour or two after sunset, and I could get up and finish chores and get ready for work the next day. I also felt I was sleeping better.

For more information about current research on SAD light therapy go here: Ocular mechanism key to light therapy for seasonal affective disorder

My husband found it had no effect on his mood, but he went to bed later than usual. He never needed more than 5 hours sleep at night, so the only real benefit for him was that I was happier and better company.

Now that I live in Texas, I don’t need the light therapy all winter long. We’re closer to the equator, so the light balance is not as great as in New York. Still, because of the heat, houses in Texas tend to be built like caves to shut out the evil sun unlike the North where we want to bring as much light into our homes as possible.

November is often a wet (when we aren’t in a drought) and overcast. I find my spirit slipping on days when I spend a lot of time at my desk, so I decided to take another look at light therapy.

Much to my delight, I’ve found that there are many more choices for light therapy. There are plenty of desk models and portable options. I ordered the one below and it should be arriving today.

Light Therapy Lamp, Miroco LED Bright White Therapy Light – UV Free 10000 Lux Brightness, Timer Function, Touch Control, Standing Bracket, for Home/Office Use

Light therapy is not be better than the real thing (which is why I love living in Texas), but while the gloomy days are here I plan to stave off the worst of SAD with my Happy Light.

Until next time. 😊

Mind/Body Health: A Day Off with Friends

A Beautiful Day on the River

I think one of the worst things that happened to this generation of workers was that, because of high unemployment, they were mistreated with terrible working schedules. I think the pay problem has been covered extensively, but the brutal changeover of shifts, sometimes with less than 10 hours turnaround, and very few days off have led to all kinds of physical and mental problems.

You can’t keep working without a fixed schedule and have a balanced healthy life. You can’t sleep well, sleeping at different times of the day is very difficult. Also, it’s hard to find a way to eat and exercise properly.

In the ’70s and ’80s, there were studies done that showed shift hour changes made people unproductive and unhealthy. Back then, shift schedules were made on a weekly or monthly basis. Today, shift changes can occur within the same week, often multiple times a week. I find it unconscionable that this isn’t considered worker abuse. This may be the new 24/7 work week, but it’s inhumane.

For those in this situation, you need to find a job with steady hours and you need to insist on them whenever and wherever you can. People need stability in their life and one of them is a set time to go to work and a set time to take care of themselves and their family. It’s bad enough that it’s getting harder and harder to celebrate holidays or have a single day off that everyone else has.

Blue laws also known as Sunday laws, are laws designed to restrict or ban some or all Sunday activities for religious or secular reasons, particularly to promote the observance of a day of worship or rest. Blue laws may also restrict shopping or ban sale of certain items on specific days, most often on Sundays in the western world. Blue laws are enforced in parts of the United States and Canada as well as some European countries, particularly in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Norway, keeping most stores closed on Sundays. (Wikipedia)

People were so happy when the Blue Laws were lifted in all the states so that they could go shopping on Sundays. Has it really made life better? With all those stores and businesses open on Sunday it meant other people had to work on Sundays to fill all those jobs. Now it seems most people are working on Sundays, except at Chick Fil’a. And now you want it open, don’t you?

“People who work night shifts or varied schedules that disrupt their sleep may be more likely to develop depression than individuals with 9-to-5 jobs, a research review suggests.” Shift work tied to poor mental health (Reuters)

I doubt we can turn back time to recapture that single day off together, but we can work towards making it happen. There would be many personal hurdles. For one, you might be at the time of your life where you need to work a difficult schedule because this is the career you’ve chosen and there isn’t another path. Or you are working off debt and have no choice. These are priorities and I am speaking more to people with established careers and managers.

Does it matter anymore what day we take off, so long we take it off together? I believe it restore a sense of community. It seems like a small, yet impossible thing to do, but I think that if you can pull it off for yourself, your family and others in your circle you would begin to see an improvement in your relationships. It’s worth trying.

Until next time. 🙂

Poor Sitting Posture Causing Your Tension Headaches? Try these exercises…

If you spend many hours at a desk, you have probably experienced neck pain and tension headaches. There are many things that can contribute to these painful problems. One of them is could be poor posture.

Continue reading “Poor Sitting Posture Causing Your Tension Headaches? Try these exercises…”