Frustrated by the auto-refill robot at my pharmacy, I started to look at ways to improve my health that might help get me off prescription medications. For years I’ve taken medicine for high blood pressure, cholesterol, and a host of special vitamins to enhance my bones so I don’t break my foot just walking down the street. I live on antibiotics because I grind my teeth so hard I’ve developed something called bruxism, which I thought was an addiction to deer hunting but is really my jaw disintegrating from clenching from stress.
Luckily I found something that is making remarkable strides in helping me reduce the need for these medicines: meditation. Like many men in their 50s, I started to struggle with depression and anxiety, so I went to a psychiatrist. Expecting another prescription I was shocked when my new doctor suggested the centuries-old practice of meditation. He introduced me to the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center on Newburg Road, and I enrolled in the 10-week beginning meditation class. And it changed my life.
In my first meditation session it was impossible to stop the chatter and noise bouncing around in my head. Even after learning to focus on my breath, something you learn right off the bat, it was bizarre to actually see the movie of thoughts that ran through my mind. I couldn’t stop the thoughts — my mortgage is due, I’m behind on a project at work, the guy behind me has a whistling nose — from driving me nuts. I even had trouble staying awake at first.
But Father Joe Mitchell, who’s been teaching Mindfulness Meditation for decades, taught me it was normal and that it takes practice to quiet the mind. He taught me that the sea has a violent surf and waves at the surface, but on the ocean floor it’s calm. And the closer we get to the ocean floor of the mind, the more awareness we’ll acquire. He explained that a glass of muddy water sitting on a table will eventually settle so you can see right through it. And this is how you learn to see things as they really are. This is how to develop awareness.
Dr. Chris Schrodt, the doctor who recommended meditation for me, also teaches at the Earth & Spirit Center. He’s been invaluable to me with his knowledge of the human mind, not just as a scientist, but also as a man who has a busy mind as well. He doesn’t have me levitating or chanting on a magic carpet; instead he has taught me to become aware of the present moment. To see things as they really are.
And the benefits have been many:
• Before I learned meditation, grinding my teeth caused constant ear infections. Meditation has made me aware I’m doing it and practically cured it.
• My blood pressure was in a dangerous range, but after meditation on a daily basis it’s normal.
• I’m told my snoring has greatly diminished
• I’ve learned to listen to people instead of blurting out and interrupting them.
• And not once since setting foot in The Earth & Spirit Center have I made an obscene gesture or had an explosion of road rage.
One of the biggest benefits of learning how to meditate was learning the way the human brain works. For 10 weeks I sat with other people like me who were trying to learn to calm their racing minds. Learning about my mind makes me give credence to my favorite quote by Mark Twain: “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”
I also learned there are things I need help with. In our culture we learn to stuff painful memories, or learn to ignore uncomfortable thoughts, by pushing them down deep. But we all know they never really go away. There’s not enough liquor, Twinkies, or shopping binges that can keep bad thoughts away forever, but learning that it’s just a thought, and thoughts can’t hurt you, was huge for me. This never would’ve happened if I hadn’t learned to meditate. After all, my head is like a bad neighborhood: you don’t want to go in there alone!
By John G. Warren