Sandra Reed’s Life Care Planning: Why the meditation craze fits into life care planning

The Beatles Didn’t Start It

Although the Beatles discovered meditation by the late sixties — remember Let It Be – the practice is centuries old. My first introduction to meditation came dating a just-returned Vietnam veteran who had learned “over there” to enter an altered state by sitting on the floor staring at a dot on the wall until the wall and the room and finally your body went away. All I got out of trying it was boredom, a sore bottom and a belief that Southeast Asia had turned the guy a little weird.

Attorney Sandra W. Reed answers your life planning questions.

Local attorney Sandra W. Reed answers your life planning questions.

Everybody’s Doing It

It was 20 years or more before I tried meditation again, this time joining a group training with Ruben Habito, a Zen master and professor of comparative religion at Southern Methodist University. Then, instead of a curious parlor game, it became a serious practice.

And I am not the only Baby Boomer recommending it. Goldie Hawn has meditated for 31 years and has a room in her house dedicated to it. There’s Richard Gere, of course. And David Lynch, the creator of Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet, says he has meditated for 90 minutes a day since 1973. Phil Jackson, the most successful basketball coach in history, credits meditation in his building of winning teams. Dean Ornish claims that meditation, along with his diet and exercise programs, will reverse the build-up of plague in coronary arteries. Robert Thurman, Columbia University professor and the father of Uma Thurman, as well as the first American Buddhist monk (vows the Dalai Lama allowed him to revoke when he fell in love with Uma’s mother), espouses the belief that large groups participating in meditation could lead to world peace.

Some doctors are prescribing it. Ministers are embracing it. Executives are working it into strategic plans. Luxury spas and cruise ships are adding it as an enticement. Even a Time magazine cover is titled “The Mindful Revolution.”

In the olden days one learned how to meditate from a guru. Today, all one needs to know can come from the Internet, CDs, downloaded apps or books.  Dozens of writers have turned out Westernized dharma talks and guides to nirvana: Pema Chodron, Joseph Goldstein, Jon Zabat Zinn, Sharon Salzberg, Deepak Chopra, Sylvia Boorstein, Stephen Bachelor, Lama Surya Das, Jack Kornfield, Tich Nhat Hahn, and the Dalai Lama himself. And these are just some authors represented on my own book shelves. Google “meditation” and you’ll get more than 34 million results. Google “scientific research on meditation” and retrieve 4.6 million responses.

What Is Meditation?

Still, with all the information available, many are confused about what meditation is. Some see it as prayer, or the reverse of prayer – listening for God instead of talking to God. Others envision a way to relax or to relieve stress. A few hope to levitate off the floor.

Susan Salzburg says the first pillar of meditation is concentration and the second is mindfulness. Being mindful means being aware of what is going on as it actually arises, not being lost in conclusions, judgments, fantasies, hopes, fears or aversions. Mindfulness is seeing nakedly and directly what is happening right now.

The Trials of Meditation

One form of meditation teaches simply following the breath for a period of time, ideally at least 20 minutes, sitting in a cross-legged position on a cushion. The first thing a person attempting this discovers is how hard it is to concentrate on the breath for even 30 seconds without having thoughts interfere. The Buddhists call it “monkey mind,” and my own felt like it was swinging from tree to tree over a rain forest of thoughts at first.

The next thing that hits beginning practitioners is how hard it is to sit still on a cushion. Knees hurt, feet go to sleep, the head jerks from nodding off and regaining consciousness. When monkey mind recedes a bit, up comes the recognition of how cramped the stomach or shoulder muscles feel, how tight the hips, thighs and hamstrings. Recognition of tensions from old emotions being held in the body follows. One is tempted to get up and never come back.

The Benefits of Meditation

It doesn’t happen overnight but continuing to return to the cushion over and over, day after day, brings a gradual release from the thoughts, the emotions and the tensions. In comes a sense of calm and acceptance of life as it is.

Richard Davidson’s research, in which Tibetan monks were submitted to encephalographic testing and brain scanning, established concrete evidence that meditative practice can create positive brain activation much the way golf or tennis practice enhances athletic performance.

Davidson’s research explains something I have observed in my own practice.  As the years have gone by, I notice that the concentration from meditation bleeds over into my ability to concentrate on work tasks, my piano playing, my reading skills. Viable solutions to problems seem to surface with less psychic and mental energy expended. When the need to discuss a supercharged subject with someone arises, the words and tone best suited seem to come to mind.  Creative ideas appear more readily.

The changes may not be dramatic but they are real. A doctor friend who had practiced for years, when asked how meditation had changed his life, thought for a minute and said, “I don’t back my car into things as much.”

Meditating Is Life Care Planning

The evidence is strong that meditating helps maintain a healthy life.  That means meditating is life care planning.  If I sound like a tent evangelist, maybe I am violating the rule to practice quietly and, if improvements come, leave them to others to notice.

Sandra W. Reed is an attorney practicing in Glen Rose. She is of counsel with the elder law firm of Katten & Benson in Fort Worth. If you have any questions, you may contact her by phone at 254-797-0211 or by email at swreed2@yahoo.com

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