20 March 2018, 18h15:
Autumn Equinox for the Southern Hemisphere
Today is the autumn equinox – it is the day of the year where the hours of light and night are equal for both the Southern and Northern Hemispheres. In the south we are experiencing a slowing of the season as we move to winter, whereas our Northern counterpart is experiencing a quickening as they more towards summer.
The autumn equinox is connected to the element of Air. Air and water constitute the main elements for life, which are the main fuels for many enzymatic and chemical reactions in both free-living cells (bacteria), and to those of our body (multi-cellular organisms). When we experience upsetting or stressful situations we forget to breathe through it, instead our breaths become short and rapid (shadow aspect) – much like those of a panic attack. However, we should realize that taking deep breaths and experiencing the event fully results in less perceived stress and, that suddenly, a myriad of solutions present themselves (light aspect). Thus, this leads to our main theme of today’s article.
Breath is the essence of life, where air is just as important as water for the maintenance of life. The ancient Greeks believed that the seat of the mind 1 to be at the diaphragm 2 and was intimately connected to breathing. This concept was understood by other ancient cultures, such as the Tibetans and Native Americans, who had no contact with one another yet somehow they managed to each develop breathing techniques to ‘access’, ‘temper’ and ‘relax’ the mind. Here is where meditation comes in as a direct connection between our mental chatter, our emotional response and bodily stress relief. Once you understand the connection between breath and human experience, you realize that meditation becomes the most important skill for all of us to take up.
Phren – Greek root for:
Meditation is a skill, and like any other skill: you can learn and gain proficiency with practice, patience and time. Thus, its purpose here is not to obtain nirvana nor enlightenment, although some wisps of insight and wisdom do treacle in, but the main objective for meditation is to teach you how to commune with your mind in a more-rather-than-less controlled fashion (ultimate control is a delusion), how to respond emotionally to any situation and how to harness your breath as a means of an easily accessible and free source of instant relaxation. All of this comes with practice and many fall off the meditation path long before they reach this point. Thus, you must view meditation as a journey not an end destination. However, there are key ‘milestones’ that you do reach with regular practice.
Regular Meditation: refers to 20 minutes of meditation every day (start with 1-2 minutes and work your way up, divide it into session – like morning, afternoon and bedtime sessions divided into 5, 5 and 10 minutes for instance). The 20-minutes-a-day routine (preferably in one go) is recommended so that you can receive as much of the benefits of meditation with the minimum amount of time spent…
- Only after 20 to 30 minutes does the subjective pain relief occur. J. H Austin (M. D) (2006), Zen-Brain Reflections.
- Results showed significant linear relationships between the number of minutes meditated and all outcome differences (of FMS symptoms i.e., sleep quality, depression, anxiety, stress, pain perception, non-attachment and civic engagement). Van Gordon et. al. (2017) Meditation awareness training for the treatment of fibromyalgia syndrome: A randomized controlled trial. British Journal of Health Psychology. 22: 186–206.
The milestones you reach during your journey stay with you and strengthen as they become re-enforced with constant practice. The benefits you reach do not fade and their impact becomes more and more noticeable as you continue on your journey. There are lots of benefits to meditation, all of which I am not going to list here (but, see Giovanni’s Infographic).
Rather, I want to focus on the more obscure or subtle milestones, which build up as you gain momentum during your journey. Some of the milestones in the meditation journey includes:
- More positive outlook and perception of life in general: You start to feel better as your emotions become less turbulent and volatile. Also you start to perceive things with more compassion, patience and objectivity. It starts with little daily occurrences, like small irritants, such as the neighbours dogs barking during the night or someone forgetting to put the milk back in the fridge… these things simply don’t “get” to you anymore. It’d say that this begins quite early, at ~ 3 months, once you have reached the 20 minute a day mark.
- Reduction and eventual elimination of mental chatter: That constant white noise you experience – however mental discourse with yourself remains – but it is a bit clearer since the background noise is gone. This happens fairly soon during your meditation journey, around about the 6 month mark (once you have reached the 20 minute a day).
- Remembering to turn inward and using your breath to steady yourself and gain focus during stressful events: This technique is available immediately, but you seem to forget about it during the heat of the moment when emotions are boiling over. Once your emotions start to mellow and you are more aware of when they start to simmer, remembering to use your breath as a grounding source becomes more obvious until it is second nature. My guesstimate would be that this happens when you’ve been meditating for about a year.
- You become medication independent: I used to be on clamatives and sleep medication. I started to gradually reduce the medication when I started meditation. Taking half doses a day, one tablet every second day, one a week, one when I really needed it until you realize that you haven’t touched a pill for several weeks! After about a year of weaning myself off of meds – I was calmative and sleep-medication free! The time it takes for one to become free of sleep medication or anti-depressants depends on the severity of your ‘perceived’ anxiety or stress (yes, you do perceive your stress as far worse than it truly is – it’s hard to accept, but it is the truth) and how determined you are to stay on the meditation path. Reclaiming your independence from medication through meditation is a true gem and not only does it boost your confidence (I can do this, all by myself!), but you save on loads of emotional and financial burdens. This in turn makes for a healthier and happier you!
Keeping the meditation momentum during your journey can be challenging. I suggest that when you start to feel that meditation becomes more of a chore than a virtue – then you should mix it up: change your meditation routine (do a walking meditation instead), use new techniques, add music to your sessions, try new focus tools or even rope in some aromatherapy essential oils. Get creative, be open-minded and even try a meditation course! [For those interested: Here is a very good starting point for your meditation pathway regardless of the initial intention of this stress therapy – Living Within the Window of Tolerance].
I truly believe that all of us should view meditation as one of those essential life skills, such as cooking, gardening and creative expression. Automatically we all become more compassionate, patient and less prone to falling in the trap of the being too busy to care about others and about ourselves. Meditation makes such a difference to the way in which we perceive our world, ourselves and each other.
Picture References: Pixabay Free Images
Grass field – zsuzsannapetrovszki
River in the fog – Didgeman
Broom – LV11
Tibetan Monk – 4144132