"We must be willing to encounter darkness and despair when they come up and face them, over and over again if need be, without running away or numbing ourselves in the thousands of ways we conjure up to avoid the unavoidable." ― Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life In his 2012 lecture at Dartmouth, Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the UMass Medical Center's, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program said, "We are more afraid of life than death." He was referring to the way we are wired to disconnect from our emotions and bodies in the unconscious attempt to control reality. It may seem counterintuitive to open to uncomfortable feelings. Doesn't that increase stress? While distraction may bring temporary relief, facing the ups and downs of life with a curious, caring attitude shifts our relationship to reality. Attending to our bodies and inner experiences with kindness gives greater capacity to be with ourselves moment to moment.
We learn how to stop letting thoughts drive us. Meditation practice reduces stress by focusing on the lived experience rather that the story our mind tells us about the experience. We feel the discomfort and drop the meaning about it. Basically, we practice softening the ego and learn not to take things personally but simply as they are. This capacity also has significant proven benefits to our health. "Stress actually increases the rate of chromosomal degradation," stated Kabat-Zinn. Researchers from the University of California and other institutions have shown that meditators can increase the length of their telomeres. Shorter telomeres are associated with aging and a higher risk for many diseases including cancer. In addition to telomere regrowth, researchers at Harvard in 2011, found that meditation increases the thickness of the hippocampus which helps learning and memory. The same researchers found that the amygdala of meditators decreased (quieting anxiety and reactivity) while the frontal cortex increased (improving focus, concentration and attention).
My ongoing practice is the exploration of pain; training myself to hold pain in a larger space of awareness. Doing this without the story created by the mind about the pain is the tricky part...
“You might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness. This of course would be an attachment to stillness, and like any strong attachment, it leads to delusion. It arrests development and short-circuits the cultivation of wisdom.” --Jon Kabat-Zinn