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Helping a friend in need
Answer
2/17/15 5:44 AM
hello everyone.

my girlfriend, who is also my collegue, is suffering from a prolonged migrane issue for more than a month now. we went to a hospital, had all the scans, they revealed no phsycal damage. it's obviously a stress-triggered issue and the doctor gave her a mild sedative to use for 3 months...

she never tried meditating, but we both think that it is time. we are not near any qualified teachers, so she will have to start with me until she decides to attend a retreat on her own time.

when i first started meditation 2 years ago, i jumped right in with a 10 day retreat in thailand (wat suan mokkh). they taught us that anapanasati as the one and only way. i suffered from this "my way or the highway" approach for many months until i found mtcb. not that i didn't have any benefits from anapana, but i don't think it's one cure fits all.

i wonder how do you approach and advise a beginner? i am not asking about which technique to give, since you don't have any data about her... my question is how do you analyse a person and guess which technique is suitable for a hassle free start? (i think it's important to get some stress relief benefit first, which might create desire to go deeper.)

i am starting to think that if one was to choose a samatha practice, one should choose a technique to counter his/her weak points. prone to verbal thinking? start with a mantra... lost in imagery & visual fantasies? maybe candle flame or a kasina... does this logic sound right to you?

many thanks.  

RE: Helping a friend in need
Answer
2/12/15 6:54 PM as a reply to Ufuk C..
Hey there,

I've found the key (for me) to tranquility isn't so much the method or even the amount of concentration, but rather the willingness to let go of everything.  If your friend is having migranes from stress, this might be a good way to approach meditation.  Anapanasati can definately cause stress if it's done with the wrong mindset.  For example, if you go into it thinking the goal is to bear down and focus in on the breath at all costs - even if this isn't the intention or the way it's taught, it's easy to do when in the moment while getting frustrated with distractions.

There is one very specific thing to look for - the feeling that something needs to happen or something needs to be done.  Anxiety is caused by the desire to remember something.  It's spin offs, like irritability, restlessness, and boredom, come from the desire to get that thing done NOW rather than just sitting here.  By watching the breath (or reciting a mantra, or visualizing - any object is fine) the goal is to forget about all these things.  When they come up, you just let them go.  It isn't a forceful, "Get out of my head!" It's just allowing yourself to forget, to stop holding on.  If this seems impossible, you can even write yourself a note so you can remember it after you're done meditating, then intentionally forget by going back to the object.

When these things start to die down, concentration builds effortlessly all on it's own because there is just less in the mind - concentration is the absence of worries and preocupations.  It becomes more and more pleasant just to be sitting down doing nothing.  Eventually the pleasure builds into rapture and the jhanas carry you away.

This is a skill that carries over into everyday life very well, too.  I like your bit at the end there, where you suggest using an object related to what you tend to get lost in.  My reason might be opposite, though.  You should choose whatever seems the most interesting and relaxing - you want to get lost it in and forget the world for a little while.

RE: Helping a friend in need
Answer
2/12/15 7:24 PM as a reply to Ufuk C..
Hi Ufuk,
i wonder how do you approach and advise a beginner? i am not asking about which technique to give, since you don't have any data about her... my question is how do you analyse a person and guess which technique is suitable for a hassle free start?

Here is my favorite breathing meditation guide for anyone, not just children: Daniel Goleman on George Lucas' Edutopia, discussing "Breathing Buddies". The video is 1:48 in duration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scqFHGI_nZE

Here is a transcript:
Daniel Goleman: 
 "One of the ways that children can learn to focus better and strengthen their attention skills, particularly for concentration in school is something I saw demonstrated in a second grade classroom in a public school in Manhattan's Spanish Harlem, which is a very impoverished area of New York City. Kids there live in the housing projects and they have very tough lives. I was astonished because the classroom atmosphere is very calm, very focused. Kids were very alert, very attentive to the teacher. "What's the secret here?" I wondered. Then I realized why it was. The teacher said, "Every day we do an exercise called 'Breathing Buddies'. One by one the children go to their cubby and get their favorite little stuffed animal, then they find a place on the floor to lie down; they put that animal on their tummy and watch their breath go up --- counting 1, 2, 3 --- and watch it go down 1, 2, 3. Up 1, 2, 3. Down 1, 2, 3." That is training of the attentional circuitry. This is the kind of training which helps children not just focus on what the teacher's saying, but it turns out that same circuitry helps them manage their distressing emotions. So they're getting a two-fer: They're getting attention training and self-management training, inner self-management training. Something as simple as just watching your breath and bringing your mind back when it wanders --- is that basic repetition of the muscle for focusing."
I could always stand to do this more throughout any day, more often, and I am no master.  

Here's to hoping this helps.  I also just want to say this sounds very hard. Your girlfriend knows better than I and it can be annoying to have suggestions from people not suffering identical pains. 


Edit2: Seeing Not Tao's reply, this sticks out for me:
My reason might be opposite, though.  You should choose whatever seems the most interesting and relaxing - you want to get lost it in and forget the world for a little while.
and so maybe something like yoga or light swimming or massage can help.


__________
edit x2 typos

RE: Helping a friend in need
Answer
2/13/15 2:52 PM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
Not Tao:
Anapanasati can definately cause stress if it's done with the wrong mindset.  For example, if you go into it thinking the goal is to bear down and focus in on the breath at all costs - even if this isn't the intention or the way it's taught, it's easy to do when in the moment while getting frustrated with distractions.

definitely. at first I was just told to aim and sustain my focus on breath until i reach access concentration. wasn't much of a success as you can guess...

Not Tao:
This is a skill that carries over into everyday life very well, too.  I like your bit at the end there, where you suggest using an object related to what you tend to get lost in.  My reason might be opposite, though.  You should choose whatever seems the most interesting and relaxing - you want to get lost it in and forget the world for a little while.

good point of view... this also shows me how much i (still) suck at understanding concentration & right effort which is a bit upsetting... anyways, if she was to choose a meditation object of her interest, how much time do you recommend for a fair try?

katy steger:
Here is my favorite breathing meditation guide for anyone, not just children: Daniel Goleman on George Lucas' Edutopia, discussing "Breathing Buddies". The video is 1:48 in duration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scqFHGI_nZE
thank you katy, in fact i already stumbled upon this video on another post from you emoticon

RE: Helping a friend in need
Answer
2/13/15 5:21 PM as a reply to Ufuk C..
Soy un disco rayado ..emoticon

RE: Helping a friend in need
Answer
2/14/15 11:14 AM as a reply to Ufuk C..
I don't think time is as important as quality.  If you can sit for 10 minutes a day and achieve an increase in contentment and a decrease in mental urgings, then that's going to contribute to the stability of your mind much more than sitting for 2 hours full of negativity.  Mainly it's good to try a little bit each day so you get into the habit.  It's much easier to commit to a short period of time and then extend it as meditation becomes more pleasant and you just want to sit longer.  This way if you're having a bad day, or you're in a hurry, you can still sit for a few minutes and complete your commitment.  This is generally what helps me stay on track. emoticon  One day off turns into two, then four, then a week, etc, if you feel like there's a large amount of time you need to dedicate.

Also, during the day when there is some down time, just taking a minute or two to drop any urgency and be still with the breath (or some other object) can contribute a lot to the general sense of wellbeing.  Eventually this starts to leak out into everything you do, and this is where I get insights into what is stressful and what I'm reacting to.  It's like peeling the tape off of something - the stress is a vineer on top of different mental states.  After peeling them apart, there is less that needs to be dropped to feel at peace.  I always just try to move in the direction of less effort and less stress.  Eventually both are absent and there's nothing to do but enjoy it - I call this jhana.

RE: Helping a friend in need
Answer
2/15/15 8:39 AM as a reply to Not Tao.
thanks for the tips @not tao

RE: Helping a friend in need
Answer
2/20/15 10:24 AM as a reply to Ufuk C..
If you're looking for quick results you might consider a 'content based' rather than 'conciousness based' technique. My expereince is that it takes a long time to become sufficiently proficient at meditating that you can apply consistently in a way that reduces stress, wereas there are techniques for thinking about difficult and stressful thoughts that can be learned relatively quickly. I think of them as 'enlightenment hacks'.

There are two examples that I've had good experiences with. One is called 'Nonviolent Communication' (by Marshall Rosenberg) which deals primarily with negative self-talk and difficult inter-personal relations. It's relatively straighforward and can be learned by reading the book and then doing a bit of practice with each other. It greatly increased my ability to engage with and provide support others and was quite transformative for me. The other is called 'The Work' by Byon Katie which is primarily for dealing with specific difficult thoughts. Again, read the book and practice amongst yourselves.

On a more personal level, it's a distressing situtaion -- migranes are bloody awful to witness in anyone, especially a partner. Be aware that your desire to help by teaching her meditation may be as much related to your discomfort as hers. Hugs.

RE: Helping a friend in need
Answer
2/20/15 5:07 PM as a reply to Ufuk C..
my girlfriend, who is also my collegue, is suffering from a prolonged migrane issue for more than a month now. we went to a hospital, had all the scans, they revealed no phsycal damage. it's obviously a stress-triggered issue and the doctor gave her a mild sedative to use for 3 months...

Hi. I don't know if this is what you mean, but I have a condiiton known as prolonged migraine aura. Actually, worse: persistent migraine aura. These attacks are horrific, more so than any bad trip, and mine will go on for months with symptoms suggestive of stroke. If that is what your girlfriend is suffering with, then I advise you to find a neurologist who is not a generalist but who subspecializes in headache disorders or migraine disease. Calcium channel blockers are first line therapy to prevent auras, and work well. Few doctors in my experience understand much about migraine aura, let alone prolonged or persistent.

Other advice--avoid dry vipassana like the Plague if migraine is an issue. I ended up with my vision out for 6 weeks and 20 hours in the ER after I started vipassana this way. Much safer to start with a solid, calming samatha jhana practice and then use the jhanas as a platform for vipassana in tandem. This worked for me, without the bad side effects.

Best wishes.

RE: Helping a friend in need
Answer
2/24/15 6:27 AM as a reply to Jenny.
Jenny:
Hi. I don't know if this is what you mean, but I have a condiiton known as prolonged migraine aura. Actually, worse: persistent migraine aura. These attacks are horrific, more so than any bad trip, and mine will go on for months with symptoms suggestive of stroke. If that is what your girlfriend is suffering with, then I advise you to find a neurologist who is not a generalist but who subspecializes in headache disorders or migraine disease. Calcium channel blockers are first line therapy to prevent auras, and work well. Few doctors in my experience understand much about migraine aura, let alone prolonged or persistent.


wow, that sounds dreadful indeed. i don't think that is her issue, though. in fact the mild sedative the doctor gave worked like charm and her headaches and neck tension is gone. but on the other hand this effect might trigger another addiction. just out of fear of having migrane attacks can cause addictive behaviour towards drugs. 

Jenny:

Other advice--avoid dry vipassana like the Plague if migraine is an issue. I ended up with my vision out for 6 weeks and 20 hours in the ER after I started vipassana this way. Much safer to start with a solid, calming samatha jhana practice and then use the jhanas as a platform for vipassana in tandem. This worked for me, without the bad side effects.

although your situation seems extreme, i can't agree more about avoiding dry insight. sorry for all you've been through by the way and thanks for the advice jenny.