Friday, May 4, 2012

CALMING THE DRUNKEN MONKEY


A recent study at the University of Rochester Medical Center (to be published in the June issue of Academic Medicine) found that training doctors in mindfulness meditation helped them to listen better and not be as judgmental.

How could it not help? When I saw patients many years ago, before my exposure to meditation, my mind was ajumble. As they related their histories to me, I cogitated about diagnosis, what tests to request, what to say to them, and how to plan management, not to mention worrying about my own performance. Patients might not have suspected they were addressing a man whose mind was a six-ring circus. Attending entirely to my own agenda, I was with them in body only.

These contacts didn’t exemplify a healing relationship. Sure, plenty got done in terms of physical diagnosis and treatment—and commerce, by the way—but little health or comfort were added to the world.

I had no idea that I could have been fully, calmly receptive to this other person. I knew neither how tumultuous my mind was nor that silence was even possible. All my experience and training suggested that my mental extravaganza was normal.

Most medical visits these days are for disorders that stem either from normal aging or pathogenic behaviors like overeating, poor stress management, and sedentary style. We docs can offer these patients some symptomatic relief, but—contrary to the expectations they’ve absorbed from pop culture—we’ll be unable to cure almost any of them. We can help them substantially, though, by guiding them in living with their conditions and in altering habits. This requires authentic relationship, meaning enacting heart-to-heart contact, learning deeply who they are, and earning their trust. This is impossible when your mind is, as the Hindus put it, a “drunken monkey,” but quite achievable when you listen skillfully.

Mindfulness meditation is an effective practice, but not the only one available. Almost everyone can find a meditative form with which they’re comfortable. As a matter of fact, just about any activity can be meditative, including yoga, tai chi, running, and even just plain sitting still. The trick is to do it mindfully—that is, with full attention. If you’re interested, I have two suggestions. First, Google “mindful,” and you’ll be taken to dozens of useful websites. Second, please keep in mind that Buddha got enlightened without paying a single dollar. 

5 comments:

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  2. Hi, Sathya,

    At the bottom of the blog's page is a feature saying, "Follow by email." Just write in your email address, then hit "Submit."

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  3. This is really interesting!

    I have been running for years! I call it a moving meditation. I never use headphones, etc. just the sound of the universe to accompany me. The first time I ever did a traditional quiet sitting meditation, I had an out of body experience. I think my years of running prepared me for that!

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  4. Running was my main meditation for years, too. Matter of fact, that's when I wrote--or, more honestly, that's when the cosmos sent me entire paragraphs, as though by mental teletype.

    I've had out-of-body experiences, too. My wife, a yoga teacher, tells me, "Don't worry, they'll pass, and one day you'll have an IN-body experience."

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  5. Yes, I get my best ideas running!

    Your wife is a natural counselor!

    I was frightened by that first meditation! I asked an experienced friend about it. Her reply. "Don't worry, you'll come back, and if you don't, it won't matter." :-)

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