Looking At Buddhism Through Meditation

budmeditationEleven years ago, when Paul Kelly began to teach it as part of his hospital work with HIV-positive and AIDS patients, he found meditation “as effective as cognitive therapy for reducing distress.” When budget cuts axed the program two years ago, he went into private practice, where he leads meditation sessions for his patients in chronic pain.

As we spoke, he levered up his ergonomic chair to ease a bad back. “I have the good fortune to have had a pain problem,” he says cheerfully, referring to a prolapsed disc, “which has given me more insight into my patients.” Exactly. The quality of relationship between patient and therapist, Kelly concludes, is more important to successful treatment than the type of therapy undertaken. If a current of compassion isn’t there, all the knowledge in the world won’t help someone in pain. And they don’t teach compassion in grad school.

Kelly began …

Finding Quiet Is Something You Want

cardiologistIt’s been more than 25 years since cardiologist Herbert Benson, M.D., of Harvard Medical School discovered the relaxation response. If you sit with eyes closed, and focus on a restful word such as one or peace with each exhalation–gently returning your attention to the word when thoughts intrude–your heart rate slows, muscles let go, blood pressure lowers. (Try it. It works.)

That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to meditate. You can do virtually anything, as long as you’re paying close attention to it while breathing deeply. What that means, basically, is doing one thing at a time. So, instead of unconsciously fighting off sounds, let them wash through you. In the middle of a family mob scene, take a breath and listen. Whatever you’re doing–walking, making love, washing the dishes–notice when you feel grabbed away by noise. Listen, breathe, and then go back to what you’re doing.

The world, no …

Fibromyalgia Can Be Brutal

fibromyalgiaAt the young age of 29, Kathleen Davies discovered she had fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). Typical of this baffling disease, the mysterious pain continued. She couldn’t sit for more than a few minutes at a time, and she had to sleep on her stomach on a dozen pillows strategically placed to hold her in a pain-free position.

In the fourteen years that followed, Kathleen’s life took strange and unexpected turns, starting with her search for a cure from both conventional and alternative doctors. Neither could offer solutions. If Kathleen had been told at that point that she would never be fully cured, that her pain would continue for years, that she would remain out of work, she might have considered doing what one woman with this disease did–ask Jack Kevorkian to help her end her life. But despite all the pain and limitations she continues to face from her disease, she …

Walking Generates Real Calm

walkinggWalking, by itself, is a wonderful, deceptively simple exercise, whose benefits range from elevating good cholesterol to improving mood and mental performance. The goal of spirited walking is to maximize these benefits. Your walking pace should pump up your heart rate; you’ll come to recognize your aerobic workout level by the whining in your head: This is hard. I don’t feel like doing this anymore. What time is it, anyway?

Of course, any exercise has value. Working in the yard brings benefits. So does taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking to the bank on your lunch hour. But the kind of walking that builds cardiovascular strength and mental control asks for a commitment of walking regularly and walking fast enough that your breathing becomes slightly heavy. That’s when you’ll encounter the challenges that give your mind a workout, too.

Also, spirited walking calls for other changes in …

Labyrinthine Views

labyrinthineI take a breath, step out of the elevator, and there it is: people, in candlelight, walking slowly on white paths painted on a blue background on canvas. Though it looks like a maze, I remember from the Times article that walking this type labyrinth does not involve choices. If one trusts and follows, one goes into the center and comes out again. No fuss. No muss.

I look around for someone to ask what to do. (That sounds so silly to me now.) Thank-you, God, there is no one to ask. There is a brochure, so I find a place to read it and discover simple suggestions like pausing before you enter and a reminder to make room as those going in come face-to-face with those going out.

I remove my shoes and watch for a while. There is such a gentle energy here. Such a contrast from the …

Silence Can Be Golden

stomachclenchesImagine, if you can, an hour all to yourself. No one needing anything from you. No noise; no distractions. You take a deep breath, you begin to unwind and, for the first time in years, you can hear yourself think.

Imagine, if you can, that for three months last fall I lived in that kind of quiet. I moved out of my New York City apartment, on a corner roaring with traffic, and settled into a rambling building on a New England hilltop, where the loudest sound is the wind whooshing through giant pine trees.

Not long before, I had been doing a job that ate up most of my life, and all my nerves. I had left it and wasn’t sure what to do next. More of the same? I didn’t think so. But what? A few years earlier I’d discovered a levelheaded kind of Buddhist meditation aimed at …