Zen master, not so fast

Hello again,
I was hoping to write a little bit sooner, but my plans were foiled by the construction zone that has sprung up outside of my apartment building. Thank God we are moving next week to an oasis of quiet – at least, I hope that’s what it will be! Maybe it’s just me, but since my fibromyalgia diagnosis I sometimes dream of living in a soundproof room. Barring that, hopefully some of this mindfulness work will make me Zen enough not to get woken up by every dripping tap, licking cat and snoring husband. On that note, on to chapter 2 of The Mindfulness Solution To Pain.

Dr. Jackie Gardner – Nix defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises when we pay attention to what is happening in the present moment, nonjudgmentally”. I was struck by the poignant message made at the beginning of this chapter that many of the people who live mindfully, live with with a terminal illness. The authors say that it shouldn’t have to come to this extreme for you to pay attention to your life as it unfolds, rather than “realizing at some point that somehow you may have missed large swathes of life while it was passing you by”. Moreover, the chapter points out that mindfulness is not just about being aware of the pleasant moments. The authors claim that ignoring strong, negative feelings can deepen their affect on your health.

This really struck a chord with me. Although I haven’t really begun practicing mindfulness yet, the previous chapter (which was about the impact of childhood stressors on chronic pain in later adult hood) stayed in my mind during the week, and led to some interesting observations. I realized that every couple of hours I say something really negative to myself, and that a lot of these things relate to how my family operates. For example, I found myself saying things like “am I ever going to do anything with my life?” or “I haven’t done anything productive today!” In my family, personal worth is attached to accomplishment, and there is a lot of suspicion about long-term illness (that it is ‘all in your head’ and really about some kind of not yet dealt with emotional problem). I often struggle with feeling like my fibromyalgia is a failing rather than a misfortune and I guess I am repeating that daily by trying to accomplish things to make up for it. I think this is also why I was resistant at the beginning of the book when the authors gave some examples of people who were healed by realizing they had emotional issues. These examples repeat what I grew up with and cast doubt on the biological realness of my illness. In fact, the authors give a more complicated explanation for chronic pain. They claim that issues from your childhood (experiences, parental deficiency, or poor parental role modeling) might well be affecting you, but right down to your gene expression, immune function, nervous system reactivity and other biological operations. In that sense, it is both “all in your head,” in terms of negative patterns of feeling or thinking that elicit the body’s stress response, and real biological dysfunction (including slow healing, activating predisposed illness and pain signals), which can occur partly as a result. I think I’m starting to be aware of some of my own negative patterns.Dr. Jackie is reassuring though, when she says that “just seeing …[destructive habits] clearly is the first step by which they can change”. And also that “this too shall pass”.

I think that I will leave it there for this week. It has been pretty heavy stuff so far, so I may have to get some treats and watch some trashy reality TV tonight (I’ll confess that my guilty pleasure is watching keeping up with the Kardashians – don’t judge!). I’m looking forward to learning more about starting meditation in the next chapter. Have a great weekend!

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