Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

Posted by in letters to the boys

I am taking a class this semester called ‘Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)’.  It’s a technique developed in the 1970’s by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts.  A quick google search will reveal how powerful MBSR can be for people, sometimes changing brain physiology in eight short weeks.

One of the requirements of this class is that I meditate 30 minutes a day for at least 5 days a week.  Some people meditate much more than this each day but as someone who used to have trouble being silent for 5 minutes, this is quite a challenging assignment!

Since Ayrie died I have tried different meditations by following instructions in books, listening to guided meditations from various sources and attending sitting and walking meditations at different meditation centers.  Aside from the ‘Sacred Space’ meditation that allowed me to create a mental sanctuary of sorts, I didn’t feel very drawn to meditation.  I definitely groaned internally when I read on the syllabus that we would need to meditate regularly.  Added to my reluctance was the fact that Shiya was sick last week.  I work all day, I pick him up from school, we spend the evening together and I put him to sleep.  The only time that I can meditate is after he falls asleep or before he awakes.

For three nights last week Shiya slept terribly due to his cough and congestion.   I only got 4-5 hours of sleep each night, and ended up needing to mediate in the middle of the night.  Other students in class mentioned that they would spend less time on the internet, watching tv, socializing, etc. to  make time for meditation but I don’t do these things.  I am a single mom and I work, go to school and spend time with my child.  So for the first few days I was doing the meditations but I was falling asleep and not appreciating the act of meditating.

But, and this is an important ‘but’, I have never been more committed to living my life differently.  I have dreams about being raped and murdered, I clench my teeth, I weigh much  more than I should, and most importantly, I want to honor Ayrie’s memory.  I am 36 now and if I were to die in my 70’s I am half way through my life.  I want the second half of my life to be substantially more joyous, balanced and healthy than the first half.  And I will only be able to do this if I am willing to surrender and make those small hard decisions every day that add up to a noticeable shift in my being.  So I appreciated when Kabat-Zinn wrote in the introduction to his book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’,

“…if you hope to mobilize your inner capacities for growth and healing and to take charge in your life on a new level, a certain kind of effort and energy on your part will be required.  The way we put it is that it can be stressful to take the Stress Reduction Program.”

So I did the meditation five times and I don’t think that I could feel my body differently from the first time to the last.  But I do think that I have been more aware of my body in my day to day life.  I noticed that when someone was telling me something stressful that I had a sharp pain on the left side of my chest.  I used breathing and visualization to make the pain go away.  I notice now that in situations which are mildly and chonicly stressful that I carry my stress in my shoulders and my jaws and I have been trying to breath and concentrate on relaxing those muscles.

As Kabat-Zinn wrote later in the introduction, “there is an art to faceting difficulties in ways that lead to effectives solutions and to inner peace and harmony.”  I am looking forward to seeing how my life unfolds with a little less logic and a lot more art.