Today’s Qi Gong class was canceled, but I had my first meditation session. I wanted to sign up for an ongoing weekly meditation class, and they require that you have an individual meditation session first before joining the class. The instructor (let’s call him James) took me into his office. At first we talked about my history and why I was there. It’s interesting what you choose to reveal about yourself when you have to sum it up in a couple of minutes. I told him that I was a doctor, that I had been treated for Stage IV lymphoma, and that since treatment was finished I was finding it hard to adjust to my “new normal” because I liked my “old normal.”
When he asked what I wanted to get out of meditation, I told him that I seem to always have to occupy my mind with something– work, reading, writing, some activity– and that I wanted to find some peace with letting my mind be still. He told me that the mind is never entirely still, that the thoughts still come, but your relationship with the thoughts can change. He told me that meditation is directed attention, so my directing my mind towards these activities could be considered a form of meditation– but rather than directing the mind outwards (as I’ve been doing), you can learn to direct it inwards.
We spent a few minutes doing a meditation. For this meditation, you sit back and close your eyes and focus on your breathing. You breathe slowly in and out. You start counting the inhalations, very slowly, and do that for a few minutes. Then, you start counting the exhalations. It’s funny how focusing on the exhalations changes your perspective. It reminded me of an episode in the Aaron Sorkin TV show The West Wing. Some visitors to the White House give a presentation to the Press Secretary, CJ Cregg (played by Allison Janney), in which they propose a change in how we look at the map of the world. Instead of the usual ethnocentric picture with North America on top, they suggested that the image be flipped 180 degrees to put South America and Africa on top. Of course that image is equally accurate, but it looked incredibly strange (CJ said, “You’re freakin’ me out!”). That’s how it was to focus on the exhalations.
Cancer and its treatment change you. You can feel like a part of who you were you that gets lost, and when you lose, you mourn. At one point during the meditation, James said, “Honor your pain.” My eyes were closed but I immediately responded,”I don’t want to honor my pain, I want it to go away!” The problem is that ignoring it and hoping it will go away doesn’t really work. It’s pointless to dwell on pain and loss, and it’s pobably equally pointless to pretend that they don’t exist. Maybe it’s best to be able to acknowledge when there is a change in our lives, learn to come to some peace and acceptance, and focus on the things that we have and who we are rather than on the things that we’ve lost and who we’re not. Maybe the meditation will help me do that.