I was kind of MIA on the music scene in April. Actually I was MIA on a lot lof scenes!! LOL I sort of took some time off from things. Of course there are responsibilities I can’t walk away from, but I needed to step back and look inside for a bit. Before I go on about that let me tell you this story…..
I remember this doctor’s visit like it was yesterday. I was scared. I just knew I was dying. Here I was in my mid 20s, unable to make it up the steps to our 3rd floor apartment without crawling. I was weak and exhausted. We would go out to dinner or a movie on my occasional night off and half way to the restaurant I would feel like I was going to be sick. Chest tight, short of breath, nauseous. I didn’t feel that way at work. I worked long shifts mostly on my feet as a retail store manager with payroll cutbacks and a whole lot of extra work. When I was working I was “on”. Constantly moving, constantly aware. When I got home I could hardly walk. I thought I surely have some awful disease.
So I braced myself for the doctor’s diagnosis. He did all the usual tests. Then he asked “So what do you do to relax?”. Uhhhhhhh I had to think. I said…“Watch TV?” He informed me that this wasn’t really relaxing. I started listing all the things I thought were relaxing and he shot me down each time. Then he asked, “Do you ever just sit and do nothing?” HA!!! Hell no. I didn’t. My mind was always racing. There was always something to deal with. Yeah I might be off work but at any moment someone could call me in the middle of the night and say that the store had been broken into and I would have to go back in. Or I would think I was getting off work at 6pm just to find out someone couldn’t work their shift and I would have to stay until the store closed. I was always on edge…always on high. So I had to admit that I didn’t know how to relax. I didn’t know how to do nothing. The doctor said, “You know…stress can kill you.” Then he asked, “Can you give me just 10 minutes a day?” I had no clue what the hell he was going to do but I agreed. Surely I could do 10 minutes of whatever horrible treatment he had for me. He pulled out a prescription pad and wrote down, “The Relaxation Response” and beside it “Dr. Herbert Benson”.
A book. He wanted me to get a book? For real? He briefly explained how the relaxation response works. That when we are under constant stress, with constant chatter in our minds, our body is in “fight or flight mode”. We are always operating in a panic state. So in turn when we are in a place where we should be rested, like going to dinner or a movie, our body doesn’t know what to do…it doesn’t know how to be calm. Enter the panic attack. This is what was happening to me. The Relaxation Response was designed to counter that “fight or flight” mode. It gets your mind and body used to what it feels like to be calm and at peace. So when something stressful happens, your body remembers how it’s supposed to be and doesn’t panic. At the time I thought he was nuts. Several years later I would learn this is the basic principle of meditation. When I think back to that doctor’s visit I have to say, I am impressed. He could have prescribed a million types of drugs. But instead he gave me a prescription to heal myself…to change my entire way of living….by focusing inward.
Without giving you a big detailed description, the Relaxation Response is basically sitting quietly with NO distractions. You pick a word or saying that you will repeat to yourself over and over. You first relax all of your muscles and then you clear your mind of all thoughts that come into it. Easier said than done but with some time it really works. You breathe in and when you exhale you say the word you have chosen..you can speak it or just think it to yourself . You do this naturally with each breath. 10 minutes a day to start. It worked for me back then but like any other treatment, once you start to feel better you tend to stop doing it.
So fast forward to April 2012…..at the beginning of this past month, I had to admit to myself that almost 20 years later, my body was going back into panic mode. I had long since abandoned the Relaxation Response and hadn’t even practiced yoga like I used to do regularly. And now, April 2012, I could feel the results of this. Although I felt peaceful inside and my blood pressure was normal, I was layering on the “stuff”. I have lots of stuff to balance and carry and handle. I’m not going to list everything….if you know me you know my day to day adventures. And most things I don’t even tell people about because let’s face it…we all have “stuff”. Just stuff to deal with….one thing on its own isn’t so stressful…..but we carry on and keep moving and keep layering more responsibilities, more “stuff” on us. Sooner or later you are gonna fall. Sooner or later you have to put some of that mess down and just be still or you are going to get sick.
With this in mind, last month I did just that. I put a whole lot of stuff down for a while. I couldn’t clear my head. I couldn’t focus. I was edgy. I was exhausted. I was in physical pain. And I had to do something. I was in the mountains for a few days early April and it was there that I revisited the Relaxation Response and meditation. I sat on the deck in the sun in lotus position (this position with your legs folded under you works for me because I won’t drift off to asleep lol) I purposefully let everything leave my mind. It’s not easy. But as the thoughts floated in….I let them float back out. I can be so still that I can’t feel my hand sitting on my leg. I can hear the wind in the trees and the birds chirping but they are distant sounds. Your breath is a part of the rhythm of the world around you. When you stop and look inward everything changes….the way you see yourself, the way you see the world, the way you see others. You stop reacting and start observing.
When you have a quiet calm place to go, when you visit it often, you start to carry it with you. The day to day stress is lighter. The burdens are lighter. This quiet place is inside all of us. I think some people are afraid to go there. Because when you stop the chatter in your head and it’s just you and silence, sometimes people don’t like what they see. Sometimes it’s hard to face the truth of why you need all that distracting chatter in the first place. But I think that’s even more reason to go there. That’s the first step to changing what you don’t like about yourself and the world. It starts inside you. You can keep looking for a remedy, keep taking pills to calm you, blood pressure meds, etc. Or you can numb yourself with drugs and alcohol. Or you can keep being miserable. But the stuff is still there. I think with the state of the world today we all have some chatter going on…we all have some stuff that we need to put down for a while and just be still.
It is said “prayer is talking to God….meditation is listening”. You can make focusing inward a time to listen to God if that’s what you choose. Or it can just be you and the universe..you and your breath/heartbeat….however you decide to perceive it is up to you. You can meditate, you can pray, you can do the relaxation response….but the result is the same. It is a peace and stillness that is the center of everything. Once you are able to go there your world will change.
Here’s a link for more info on The Relaxation Response: http://relaxationresponse.org/
Until next time….
Love and Light,