The Practice That Keeps Calling Me Back

I’ve tried to develop many different skills and habits in my life. Music, dance, learning a foreign language, painting, fire dancing, coding, and several others are all things that I’ve dabbled in from time-to-time. None of them really stuck and, to be honest, I never really felt enough passion to push through with them. For example, I may have a vague love of the concept of learning to play an instrument but it never develops beyond buying a bass guitar, fiddling with it for a few minutes occasionally, and then letting it gather dust in the corner.

I love the idea of learning new skills or improving my life or creating something more than I actually love the act of learning new skills, improving my life, or creating something. I think the disconnect comes from not being convinced of the long-term benefits of these interests. I have a very difficult time viewing any of these things as having value beyond the process itself. I guess I’m too “goal oriented” in this respect (huh, this is the first time I’ve come to this conclusions… this is why I love writing my thoughts out).

Anyway, one area where I have consistently come back to over the last several years is mindfulness meditation. I feel like I fail at it constantly and the practice is difficult for me to keep up with most days, but I keep trying because I’m convinced by the science that it can improve my life. Also, it seems that the world’s high performers all practice some sort of meditation or at least all the ones that talk with Tim Ferriss do.

With regular practice mindfulness meditation has been shown to:

  • Decrease anxiety, depression, and irritability
  • Memory improves, reaction times become faster, and both mental and physical stamina increase
  • Help create better and more fulfilling relationships
  • Reduce key indicators of chronic stress, including hypertension
  • Reduce the impact of serious conditions such as chronic pain and cancer
  • Relieve drug and alcohol dependence
  • Bolster the immune system to fight colds, the flu, and other diseases

That all sounds great but if you are like me that fifth point should give you some pause. Cancer? Can it help with cancer? That is a huge red flag. As Dr. Sydney Mcelroy from the amazing medical history podcast, “Sawbones” says, “If something claims it can cure everything than in reality it can cure nothing.” There are no medical panaceas and inflated claims of treating cancer usually means that someone is a snake-oil salesman (sidenote: this is one of my main issues with marijuana advocates, they tend to rely on shitty science or untested hypothesis to treat the drug as a cure-all which only discredits the actual medicinal uses of it).

So, to discuss the seemingly magical properties of meditation. First, it doesn’t cure anything but it can help reduce problems with serious issues. It is not a substitute for medical care but it is a free supplement that won’t cause any harm.  For those interested in the actual study on meditation and cancer the article is “A randomized, wait-list controlled trial: the effect of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction program on mood and symptoms of stress in cancer outpatients,” Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, pp 613-22 by Speca, Carlson, Goodey, and Angen.

Basically, meditation helps with stress and because stress fucks us up so bad and can really affect our health the meditation has a nearly universal benefit. But, like all things, it should be met with healthy skepticism and new research should be considered. At the very least though, I’m confident saying that there is no harm in starting a meditation practice and I think there is the potential for huge benefits.

So, I’m diving back into it again but this time I have more support than in the past. My therapist recommended that I join a mindfulness meditation group at the VA that meets weekly and I decided to do it. It is an interesting experience being in a group therapy session, I’ve never done something like this before. I think it will be good for me though, at the very least it will be good to have an explicit plan laid out for me so that I’m not just bouncing around on my own. I’m sure I’ll have more to report on during the eight weeks of the program.

If you are interested in trying mindfulness or reading about it here are my favorite resources on the subject, or you can send me a message (contact info below):

  • “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World” by Mark Williams and Danny Penman – The plan I’m using over the next eight weeks
  • “Why Buddhism is True” by Robert Wright – A scientific and secular look at many of Buddhisms claims and practices, including meditation
  • Headspace app – My ‘go to’ for guided meditation, there are tons of different courses and they have a new meditation each day
  • “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn – A beast of a book that I haven’t read yet but was recommended for the group therapy program I’m in
  • “Hardcore Zen” by Brad Warner – A free-wheeling, DIY discussion of zazen Buddhism and meditation. It is more story than practice but shows how meditation helped the author.
  • “Run For Your Life” by William Pullen – Taking mindfulness off the cushion and into the world
  • “10% Happier” by Dan Harris – A memoir-style book by journalist Dan Harris that discusses how meditation helped him after having a panic attack on the air
  • “Everyday Zen” by Charlotte Joko Beck – An application of meditation to psychology
  • “Mind Over Mood” by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky – Another recommendation from my therapist, I haven’t read it yet.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail about life in general?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

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