One Minute Meditation Pt2

I’m writing today from Wakayama City in Japan where I am currently doing some research for my Japanese course at university. It’s going well and I am inspired by the glorious autumn foliage putting on a fabulous show in the temple gardens and mountains. But let’s get back to the one minute meditation… now where was I – oh yes, I said I’d talk about the relationship between meditation and the autonomic nervous system. Say what? Don’t tune out just yet – you’ll know what I mean…

Okay, it’s the middle of the night and you suddenly hear an unfamiliar noise – what do you do? If you are like me, you’ll suddenly freeze with all your senses suddenly on high alert as all those scary thoughts rush through your mind – a burglar? Did I lock the door?¬†Am I safe? And just before those thoughts flood in, you will probably take a sharp intake of breath and hold your breath for a moment while you listen intently. Then you realise that it’s just a branch scratching the window or the cat coming in or some other innocuous reason. Whew! You let out a sigh of relief and your body relaxes and after a bit of a chuckle to yourself for being so jumpy, you’ll hopefully drift off back to sleep. Does that sound familiar?
Well that’s your autonomic nervous system kicking in: when your body senses danger it goes into flight-or-fight mode – adrenalin gets released to get you ready to flee quickly, the blood rushes to your vital organs, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure goes up, all actions that will help you escape the perceived danger. All this action is triggered by your fearful thinking which switches on all the flight-fight reactions. But when your thoughts register safety and you realise that you are actually not in danger, it is that deep sighing breath that is your body’s signal to switch it all off again and allow your body to return normal. Not only that, but the sighing signals to your body that it needs to repair and heal from the trauma of the sudden changes experienced by your en

docrine system (adrenalin), blood flow and blood pressure, so at this point your body will begin to heal itself, which is most effective when you are resting or asleep.

The body’s response to perceived danger in this case is natural and if you’re able to go back to sleep then your body has again quite naturally dealt with the stress caused by the possibility of harm, and naturally continues to heal and replenish. But the problem these days is that we keep flipping that switch on and keeping it on, so that our bodies don’t have time to recover. For example, every time you think about whether you can pay all your bills this month, it switches on to alert mode, and every time you’re late for something, and every time you get a red traffic light, and every time you are rushing to get dinner prepared, and every time you think about all the things you didn’t get done today, and so on and on and on. The problem is made worse because we tend to keep our bodies in a constant state of tense alert, and eventually our bodies forget to take that deep healing breath that switches off the flight-fight mode, leaving the body perpetually with the ready-to-flee-danger switch ON, even when there is actually no danger. Until in the end you feel exhausted and stressed out and unable to relax because the autonomic nervous system is on hyperdrive! And that’s when your health becomes compromised and you can easily get sick. It is well-known that stress is certainly the root of many of the diseases in modern times.

BUT…

If you are able to help your body to switch off it’s flight-fight fixation, then you will be able to help it to heal naturally and you’ll find life in general a whole lot less stressful. And it all starts with, and centres upon, the breath. I’m sure you will have noticed that all yoga and meditation exercises work with the breath in some way or other, and this simple physical explanation about how your nervous system works is the reason why. There isn’t anything particularly mystical about all this – it comes down to simple scientific facts… yet the yogis and yoginis and wise men and women throughout the ages knew that already, didn’t they! I think we are just a bit slow on the uptake! So, next time I’ll move on with the nuts and bolts of the one minute meditation and you’ll see how your body, your thought processes and your breath can be used together to strengthen your body’s natural healing powers. Until then… don’t forget to BREATHE!

Cuppa with a fellow pilgrim

Yesterday I had a visit from a fellow pilgrim who had had an unusual experience last week. She wanted to talk about it with me in order to validate her experience and to get my opinion about whether it was just her “imagination”. It is a wonderful story and I have her permission to share it with you…

Last Monday, Valerie’s mother-in-law Betty, after a long illness, passed away in hospital in the presence of Valerie, Valerie’s husband, and her niece Davina, who was Betty’s grand-daughter and carer in recent years. It was a peaceful passing and the family sat quietly, nobody saying anything for about a half an hour. Suddenly, Valerie felt a tremendous burning sensation at the crown of her head and a feeling of sharp heat pulsed down through her body, right down to her feet, like a bolt of lightening shooting through her. Without thinking she stood up and rushed over to Davina and embraced her, sobbing heavily. Davina returned her hug and began also to weep. After some time, she released her embrace and returned to her seat where they once again continued to sit in silence for some time. A feeling of serene peace settled into the silent room. Later on, Davina thanked her for that precious moment of sharing, which she said had made her feel full of peace and also extremely close to her grandmother.

Apart from the strange surge of heat, what was unusual about this event was the way that Valerie experienced that embrace. Firstly, although she has had her share of grief in life, Valerie is not the kind of person to sob openly, not ever. Also, while she sobbed she had the sensation that she was outside her own body watching with fascination and a very clear mind at this strange scene, acknowledging to herself that this was really out of character. You see, living far away from her husband’s family, Valerie wasn’t particularly close to Betty or Davina and although she felt sad at her mother-in-law’s passing they did not have the kind of relationship that would have provoked such an uncharacteristic outpouring of grief.

What Valerie felt, she told me, was that her body had somehow become a vehicle for Betty’s spirit in order to send a healing embrace to her grieving grand-daughter. It was this feeling that she wanted to talk to me about and asked me if I thought it was just her imagination. But I have known Valerie for some years now and I know that she is a deeply intuitive person capable of great compassion, with a big warm generous heart, developed over many years of committed spiritual practice. So I reassured her that her experience was very real and not to dismiss it lightly because the result had been such a precious moment of love and healing for Davina. Valerie added too that the feeling was somehow so clear and clean and nothing but a sensation of love that didn’t seem to be coming from any one person but just filled up the space around and through her.

I don’t think have any particular beliefs about the afterlife or what happens when we die, but too many people have recounted to me stories like Valerie’s for me to doubt in any way that there are mysteries that we cannot understand and that weird and wonderful things happen to us when we least expect it. I also believe that although we do not need to find rational explanations for wondrous events, I do think it is important to fully embrace and acknowledge these experience and not to dismiss them with rationalising or over-thinking. Miracles are events that do not have a rational explanation but which, nonetheless, fill us with awe and wonder. Miracles happen every day, but cannot be experienced without an open heart and curious mind free from fear.

When your spiritual practice matures, your heart opens more and more and wondrous events occur that cannot easily be explained. I believe that any experience with an outcome of compassion, love and healing is proof of a mature spiritual practice, regardless of how irrational it may appear to be to the rationalising mind. It is the heart that is speaking, sharing its deep wisdom, its unconditional love. And the accompanying feeling of awe and humility in the face of that experience just further proves the depth of the wisdom. I hope that Valerie’s story inspires you too to open your heart and mind to the miracles all around you.