Meditation Helps Me Seek the Quiet Mind
The “pause between” is my new Parkinson’s self-management tool. I use it every day to help me switch from old ways of reacting to the “flicker effect” (dysregulated systems). It provides improved threshold management and mindful movements, which make life easier.
The old ways are like a paved walking path in the park. Such paths are easy to access. Even ground, no abrupt changes in elevation or obstacles in the way. The wafting fragrance from flowers, bushes, and trees enhances their beauty while strolling on the safe path.
The new ways are different, not well marked, like a crude dirt path through overgrown forest. It’s a struggle through snagging bramble branches and boulder-strewn terrain. Because of all the obstacles, it can be hard to see the path clearly. But the old ways are like mindlessly walking a paved path to nowhere. With a broken auto brain/autopilot, it’s dangerous. Better to take the road less traveled.
Those first steps through overgrown forest brambles are frightening and overwhelming. Sometimes, there is so much noise that it obscures my senses. Noise from the flicker effect, noise from the body in the form of pain from many different places, noise from the ever-nagging voice that says, “You’re not doing it well enough.”
When the noise gets to be too much, then I know I am approaching my threshold maximum and the risk of crossing into escalation. I am not alone in this situation. Anxiety occurs in at least one-third of all people with Parkinson’s disease, and can adversely affect quality of life, as noted in a 2019 article published in npj Parkinson’s Disease.
Often it is the unexpected occurrences of events that trigger my reactions. I recently was in a large medical center. After the initial meeting with the physician, I was directed to another floor for tests. Finding my way to the testing area wasn’t difficult. Finding my way back to the clinic was. I asked several people, but they sent me in various directions other than the clinic location. Down the stairs to a locked door on the next floor. Back to the wrong elevator and then a wrong floor. Yeah, it was a bad day heading toward ugly.
I could feel the frustration and emotions rising. All the while, I was trying to tell myself it’s a new path using the pause between. I was using mindful movements to not miss a step on the stairs because I was fatigued. I was trying to use threshold management to contain the reactions to growing frustration. It mostly worked.
When I am faced with a difficult day, my solution is to follow the pause between with practicing the quiet mind. The quiet mind is a mental state of calmness achieved through meditation.
Does meditation work to offset the worst of Parkinson’s symptoms? In a case report published in 2016 in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, researchers suggest the possibility of remission of symptoms in some patients. They write, “We propose that the patient’s long history of meditation practice may have been one contributing factor of this improvement as meditation has been shown to release dopamine in the striatum.”
The book “Altered Traits” describes how meditation changes the brain and may contribute to slowing Parkinson’s progression. Science is catching up to what the mystics have believed all along, and it has opened doors of possibility for me.
Meditation makes it easier to “see” the new neural pathways in my brain. In “Altered Traits,” authors Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson speak of the practice of insight meditation — what I have been calling conductor training. The quiet mind makes it easier to follow the pause between with conductor training. It’s not just relaxing in my favorite chair with a good book and a cat purring on my lap (although that’s a good start!). It’s about shifting the mind’s perspective. Along with that shift comes insight into how one can access those new neural paths.
There are thousands of ways to practice meditation, but they all aim at improving sustained, focused attention. That sustained focus plus proper intent are the skills that help me navigate an overgrown forest of unused neural patterns.
I can’t see the path clearly when the Parkinson’s body-brain noise is loud. When the noise gets loud, then I know it’s time for me to pause and seek the quiet mind, even if just for a few minutes during a day of multiple frustrations. If I must leave because it’s too overwhelming, then that is all right. It’s part of my new self-management to act first to meet my well-being needs, not letting the expectations of others dictate terms.
The world doesn’t revolve around my Parkinson’s, but no more can I afford to do pretzel contortions to meet others’ expectations. Resistance is futile because fatigue, and the dreaded ugly day, is the inescapable cost.
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