Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Meditate or Medicate: Part 3

There is great liberation when Life doesn’t have to be a certain way.
Wu Hsin

The question before us is whether or not meditative practices are just the latest in a long series of efforts that fall under the heading “anti-aging,” or offer the real possibility of transforming how we grow older.  The answer, in my humble opinion, is . . . well let’s take a moment and see if you can guess for yourself.

The idea that there is something wrong with getting old is as old as getting old itself.  My guess is that cave people, despite having invented the Paleo diet, sat around their fires wondering why it was that their ability to track down, and keep up with, what was to be their dinner seemed to diminish with the passing of whatever it was they used before years were invented.   Fast forward to the present time and we find ourselves immersed in a culture that takes getting old as an affront, an indignity of the highest order.  At last count there were 8,912 books on Amazon alone under the heading anti-aging and it seems that every day another airbrushed celebrity peers out from a magazine desperate to share his or her secrets of staying young.

If aging itself is seen as a disease then the frantic search to find a cure makes perfect sense.  The problem is that it’s only one small slippery step toward seeing life itself as a disease that, to paraphrase Edgar Allen Poe, is only conquered through death.  This may be in fact the reason that the current growing mental health malady in our nation is anxiety; the growing fear that we’re running out of time to find the cure.

What if, however, growing older is the natural order of things?  What if the problem is not that we age but the resistance to the natural order?  What if, contrary to the wisdom of Dylan Thomas, we do go gentle into that good night? What if the only problem with aging is that we have a problem with it?

The question, then, of whether to medicate or meditate is a false one. (I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you knew that all along.)  According to recent studies, if you suffer from high blood pressure you can sit in meditation and lower it.  You can also, at the same time, take a little pill that will decrease your chances of having a stroke as you work to develop the habit of sitting still.  You can even turn pill taking itself into a mindfulness moment as you center your attention on the swallowing of the pill and the feel of the water that carries the pill into your system.  Chase this with a moment of gratitude for living in an age of scientific wonders and you’ve got yourself your own little ceremony.

One of the primary outcomes of meditative practices is letting Life be what it is.  The acceptance of whatever the present moment brings is the healing balm for the disorder that is an inflamed ego.  Even if that moment means enduring some medical procedure, lining up pill bottles like sacred objects on the alter that is your kitchen table, or feeling short of breath from even the thought of having to rake leaves, saying “yes” to what is releases the flow of healing energy.   If along the way you experience the wonderful side effects of an improved immune system, larger brain mass, reduction in stress etc. accept these too with a humble heart; which, by the way, in just one more byproduct of mindful aging.

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