My dad recently underwent a very painful surgery to repair spinal stenosis in his cervical spine. My mother and I kept vigil in the waiting room until Dr. Robbins, a longtime family friend, emerged from the surgery wing to tell us that the operation was successful. An hour later, after my mom spent some time with him in recovery, my dad requested my presence. I nervously went to his side, took his hand and asked how he was feeling. The pain was acute (as you can imagine), but he had asked the nurse not to give him the pain meds until after he was able to visit with my mom and I. He told me then that he had used meditation to handle the pain, thereby terrifying the nurse, who was concerned that his breathing was shallow, his face so calm and his demeanor relaxed. "You're not doing that meditation stuff on me, are you?" she asked.
My dad now faces a long recovery that includes being in a neck brace for six weeks, without being able to turn his head or look down. He will be in a chair much of the day, and have to rely on my saint of a mother for almost everything. He cannot ride in a car for four weeks, or lift anything heavier than two pounds. But even in the hospital, when his legs started to cramp, he got up and did a modified Warrior pose. He used meditation, which he has been practicing for years to help him deal with the chronic pain in his back, to still his restless mind and body. And when his patience runs out, and he gets frustrated with being laid up, it'll be mom's turn to practice some deep breathing and understanding!
Meditation need not be a mystical experience that only the highly evolved can achieve. Meditation is simply sitting with what is, without trying to escape or grasp onto what was or what is to be. Becoming fully present and accepting what is happening now... we all have the ability to do this. Jon Kabat-Zinn explains meditation this way: "...meditation is not about feeling a certain way. It's about feeling the way you feel. It's not about making the mind empty or still, although stillness does deepen in meditation and can be cultivated systematically. Above all, meditation is about letting the mind be as it is and knowing something about how it is in this moment. It's not about getting somewhere else, but about allowing yourself to be where you already are."
I am relieved whenever I read this passage by Kabat-Zinn. Sometimes, I exist in chaos, with my mind working a mile a minute, and I feel far away from the practice of yoga and the serenity of meditation. Isn't it nice to know that simply being aware of your current state, even if it's not perfectly calm, is the practice. It's not about changing who or what you are, it's just about being who you are. As my dad says "it's a practice, not a perfect."
Next time you take a yoga class, use the few minutes before class begins to sit or lie on your mat, close your eyes and just be. The room might be loud with students coming and going, mats being slapped down or friends greeting one another, but you can be quiet and introspective. When you truly arrive in yourself, in body, mind and spirit, you are practicing Patanjali's Yoga, and the healing can begin.
|Meditating before my wedding last year, as captured unbeknownst to me by my father.|