A Meditation Journey

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Image by Rebecca Angel

Practicing meditation has become part of my daily routine. Even if I don’t want to, think I don’t have time, or sit there and wonder when I can get on with my day, I do it. Why? Because it works. For what? Oh, so many things.

I like to figure things out myself, do research, and come to logical conclusions. In this way, I started keeping a food diary to understand what was triggering my heartburn. Although I had had mild heartburn before, now it was waking me up with pain at night, randomly during the day, and getting worse. My daughter, an herbalist, created a soothing tonic for me that worked well, plus I had some other natural remedies on hand. But what was causing it in the first place? My husband and I read up on GERD, and I checked out some books from the library. Diet seemed to be an obvious culprit. So the food diary. I wrote down everything I ate for two months, including time of day, plus information about my cycle, how I was feeling, and general events of that day. Conclusion: It wasn’t food.

The solution wasn’t going to be as straightforward as cutting out chocolate (though I was happy it wasn’t that!), because all signs pointed to stress. Staying home reading and drinking tea for the rest of my days might sound nice, but not practical. My husband pointed out the obvious: “Now you need to figure out how to handle stress better.” Doing my next round of research, regular meditation kept popping up. What did science say? Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis says, “Despite the limitations of the literature, the evidence suggests that mindfulness meditation programs could help reduce anxiety, depression, and pain in some clinical populations.” Could I be the right clinical population? Only one way to find out!

As a teen, I had bought some incense and tried out mediation for a few weeks. It was easy to slow my breathing and completely chill out (oh, the ease of the young… and empty-headed). But one night, I kept holding my breath longer and longer until I scared myself from meditating (plus my mom complained about the incense). As an adult, I took up yoga and always enjoyed the short relaxation part at the end lying down. Since I do yoga in the mornings, my thoughts during this resting time were usually planning out my breakfast menu (I love breakfast). I needed some help with this mediation thing.

At the start of the year, I joined up for the Albany Peace Project, which combined daily guided meditations with a science study. My daughter, on break from college, decided to join me each evening as we listened to that day’s guided meditation. Since our house is small, the best place for us to sit together was on the couch. It’s a small couch, so if one of us moved, the other did too. The couch is also right near the kitchen where my husband would be doing dishes or getting a snack, or make a snarky comment about a part of the meditation he was forced to listen to. My son might wander in and out, or ask me something really important like, “Mom, where’s my book?” “Wherever you left it.” “No, really, do you know?” “Did you spend five minutes looking before you asked me, while I’m trying to meditate?” “Um…” And the daily meditations were by different speakers and some of them made us giggle… a lot.

We tried our best, though I didn’t notice any change in my heartburn. Once my daughter went back to college, I attempted to meditate on my own in my quiet bedroom with some online guides. My son recommended some he used. I kept falling asleep. I gave up. A few weeks later, my book club picked A Tale for the Time Being. One of the main characters learns how to meditate (sitting zazen to gain her “supapowah!”) from her great-grandmother Old Jiko, (love, love, love her). And this inspired me to try meditation again. Besides, my heartburn was making me cry. The character in the book meditated in the morning, so I decided that might be my whole issue—wrong time of day! Of course! Now, I’d be able to meditate like a zen master.

I spent much of the spring sucking at meditation. By “sucking,” let me give you an example: I get out my timer, set it for 10 minutes, sit down, close my eyes and fidget while trying to count, forget which number I’m up to because I need to fidget some more, take a few deep breaths to calm down annoyance, start from “one” again, get to “two,” and then remember that I just bought a fancy cheese that would probably be good on toast, open eyes quickly and start to rise, remember I’m meditating and can wait 10 minutes before the cheese, sit back down, close my eyes, start from “one,” realize I never called back X, open eyes and look around for a pen and paper to write that out so I don’t forget, realize I should finish the meditation—just freakin’ finish—take a deep breath, close eyes again, start at “two” just to encourage myself, get to “three”… get to BEEP! Timer goes off! Yay!

But I kept trying. Everyday. A couple of months went by. Regardless of how badly I meditated, I couldn’t help noticing that my heartburn was improving. Days in a row would go by without any pain. Finally, I had a breakthrough. I had just completed a yoga class where the teacher had us visualize different colors for different points up and down our spine. I liked that. When I meditated that day, I decided to visualize a color of the rainbow for each exhale instead of counting. Amazingly, I was able to keep most random thoughts at bay. I did that for a week, and then I remembered I was a musician. I focused on one note in the do-re-mi scale for each exhale. To be specific, I listened to the Mystics from The Dark Crystal singing each note in my mind. Not only did it help me focus and slow my breathing, but even after I finished the Mystics were still singing—and my breathing was calm for awhile afterwards.

My heartburn continued to go away. Other issues were also improving (migraines!). I have sleeping problems, and one night was particularly bad. I thought, “I will never sleep well again and slowly go crazy until I die!” (Things always look bleak at 3:00 a.m.) Then, I remembered meditation. It occurred to me that I didn’t want to fall asleep while meditating, so I had that going for me. I sat up and the Mystics sang while I inhaled and exhaled. At some point, I realized I was (ironically) nodding off. I looked at the clock and had been meditating for over an hour—a new record! I smiled, lay down, and drifted back to sleep.

Six months since that first January distracted meditation, my heartburn is barely a thing for me. My migraines are minimal, and other issues have steadily improved. My meditation experiment will be a long-term study. My daughter encouraged me to keep it up. (“It can’t hurt.”) With the warmer weather, meditating outdoors has been a change of pace. I am still not anywhere near a master. I think about upping the time to even 12 minutes, but I’m not ready yet. I still can’t go the full 10 minutes without being distracted—even with my Mystic singers. But it’s in the journey, right?

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Rebecca Angel was one of those kids that put the dragon book on top of her pile in the hopes that someone would say, "Hey, I'm into that stuff too!" Alas, she had to wait until she was an adult to find fellow geeks. Luckily, she married one and their kids are too. Rebecca is a lover of tea, science literacy, music, funky tights, RPGs, anime, manga, comics, fantasy books and movies.