Hello Envision fans! Katie here on the blog today! I wanted to share something that Dr. Golson wrote with our community of patients and friends.
After years of being curious about the art of meditation, I began talking with Dr. Golson about the topic. He informed me of its benefits and is a firm believer in its healing power. After listening to how passionate he was on the topic, he shared with me the following email that he wrote to a friend of his who too was interested in the power of meditation. After reading this email I became inspired to really give meditation a try. The idea of allowing your mind to have a completely clear moment of reflection absolutely fascinates me. The art of meditation is definitely a skill that is learned and takes time and patience, but the overall outcome can tremendously change your life.
Read below to see why Dr. Golson practices meditation and how it benefits him in all aspects of his life; both in and out of the office.
I’m writing you today because I’ve recently returned from a 10 day meditation retreat and I wanted to tell you about it. Religion, Spirituality, Meditation, the Ego, Self-cultivation, Therapy, the Mind/Intellect, Emotions. These are the stomping grounds of my education when I’m not doctoring eyes. There are certain times in life that an event has a profound effect on a person, and for me, this is one of those times. I had to share…
For the past 8 years, I’ve been fascinated with the human psyche. I’ve been fortunate to have several mentors that have been placed in my path throughout that time. The effects and knowledge gained through this investigation have changed me forever and have furthermore convinced me that part of my reason for being is to be a lifelong learner in the field of self-cultivation. Perhaps I could even be of service to others by sharing my story and the following is the most recent chapter.
Historically, I’ve never meditated with consistently, but decided to try it toward the end of 2011. I was looking for a way to slow the rush of life down, reduce stress and live a more fulfilling/content life in the present; another pathway to know myself better. I began to meditate 20 minutes in the morning and in the evening each day, and it quickly became apparent that it was next to impossible to concentrate my mind on my breath. My thoughts repeatedly took over. (Try it for yourself for 5 minutes and see what a powerful force our minds are. My guess is that it is impossible for the majority of us to focus on our breaths without thoughts repeatedly interfering for even 30 to 60 seconds.) After a few months, I became frustrated, feeling my efforts were futile and I was “wasting” time, so I discontinued my meditation practice.
The Seed is planted:
A few years ago, I was having lunch with a friend and business colleague. He told me about a type of meditation called Vipassana meditation. He has a wife, two young children and a bustling, growing business with 25 employees, yet manages to meditate in the morning and evening each day for over a decade. He has told me that his practice has transformed his life from being an impatient, angry person to one of greater generosity, happiness and compassion. When I hear someone say that, my ears perk up. I’d considered trying this form of meditation ever since that day, but never made the time to learn the technique, which requires a 10 day meditation retreat. At the time I became frustrated with my own efforts meditating, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and commit to the 10 day retreat.
On May 9th, I drove down to Jesup, GA and sat for a 10 day silent meditation retreat. It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve done, and like most things in life, it was also one of the most rewarding. See, I thought I was going down to Georgia to learn how to focus my mind, to live in the present, to reduce stress and to get to know myself. I quickly discovered that Vipassana meditation is all of that, and a whole lot more. It’s a spiritual path with the highest aim of purifying and liberating the mind. Although it’s a bit challenging to describe this process in an email, I’ll give it a go. It breaks down like this…
Human suffering and misery is a universal malady. It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, male or female, American or French, Christian or Jewish, we all suffer to some extent. (By the way, Vipassana is not religious in nature and therefore can be practiced by anyone, regardless of race, religion or belief system.) Turn on the news, grab a newspaper or pick up a history book from any period of human history to verify this fact. Personally, my life has oscillated between happiness and malcontent over the years, and there’s been an ever-present feeling that I may be overlooking an important aspect of living a completely authentic, fulfilling life with consistency. According to Gottama the Buddha (the person responsible for teaching Vipassana 2500 years ago), all of human misery arises from the mind’s habitual reactions to pleasant and unpleasant experiences in one’s life. One develops cravings to pleasant experiences and aversions to unpleasant experiences.
To understand this meditation technique, one has to first understand the nature of the mind. The mind is never satisfied with the present moment and lives in the past or the future. The mind always wants more or less of something; it desires something different from whatever the reality of the present moment is; it craves something just out of reach. Of course, the game of the mind is such that if this desire is satisfied, it will shift its focus onto the next unfulfilled desire. It’s the grass is always greener mentality, and all minds are programmed to systematically search for the next greener pasture. It’s been described as the restless monkey mind, which shifts its attention from one fixation to the next. The mind’s natural state is reminiscent of attention deficit disorder, and prevents us from being present in the moment and accepting the current status of life.
Look at the American/Western culture—it’s all about satisfying cravings, quick fixes, pills and medicines to curb mental distress and physical ailments, superficial materialism as a means to be “happy,” addictions to work, sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, tobacco, etc. Interestingly, the teacher of the meditation course, S. N. Goenka, states that people are not addicted to the ________(fill in the blank), but are actually addicted to the sensation the ________ produces.
There is a direct link between one’s mind and sensations in one’s body. If one has a pleasurable experience, that person’s mind will crave the sensation generated in the body as a result of that experience. Alternatively, if one has a negative experience, that person’s mind will develop an aversion to that particular sensation generated in the body as a result of that experience.
According to this philosophy, these cravings and aversions get stored in our bodies as reactions called “Sankaras.” Goenka states that the mind does not actually have an unconscious component. The unconscious mind is considered the “deep mind” in this context and is linked to one’s body directly in the mind-body phenomenon. These sankaras get stored within one’s body when one reacts with cravings or aversions to life’s experiences. They get activated, and strengthened, when a positive or negative experience occurs and we react with craving or aversion. One reacts to the experience on the surface/thinking/intellectual mind, but in addition, reacts within the deep mind. The deep mind’s reaction is associated with an accompanying sensation in the body that is activated by that experience. (Think of a time when there was a resulting sensation in the body when someone screamed at you; think of the resulting sensation in the body when someone praised or complimented you. In the deep mind, this negative and positive experience has led to aversions and cravings below the surface/thinking mind.)
In Vipassana meditation, one’s goal during meditation is to feel sensations in the body and to remain equanimous to those sensations. If one doesn’t react to pleasant or unpleasant sensations while meditating, then one is training the mind not to react when one is not meditating.
Throughout our lives, each of us will have good things happen to us and bad things happen to us. We perceive these events as good or bad, but in “The New Earth,” Eckhart Tolle argues there is no good or bad, only our reaction to what occurs in life. Our perception of “good and bad” is colored by our past experiences. How many times have we initially been upset about something that “happened to us” (victim-hood) only to find out later that that particular event had an overall benefit? Hindsight is 20/20. Goenka argues that if one doesn’t identify with the events in one’s life by taking them personally (see “The 4 Agreements” by Ruiz), then one will not create aversions or cravings; that if one can remain equanimous to whatever life throws one’s way, then one will live a more peaceful and happier life. Being equanimous to sensations frees one to shed previously stored sankaras because it frees one from reacting to good or bad occurrences in one’s life; what follows is liberation from the mind—one is free from reacting to events in life.
Goenka states that the law of nature of our universe is one of impermanence; that everything is in a state of change; that the universal law of nature is all things arise and then pass away. If nothing is permanent and everything will change, then this good thing I’m feeling right now will end. Or…this negative thing that I’m feeling right now will change. With this wisdom, it becomes possible for one not to react…it’s going to change eventually. Therefore, what’s the rationale to become attached to or cling to anything? It will change. Then when something “bad” happens, one takes it in stride, realizes it is not a personal affront to oneself, and does not react with negativity or aversions. The opposite is also true.
If I’ve adequately explained this philosophy, it makes sense at an intellectual level that these concepts have the capacity to generate a profound amount of peace and happiness in one’s life. BUT…here’s the rub—the intellectual level of the mind is the surface level. In order to benefit from these ideas, one has to experience these truths below the surface in the deep mind (aka, the unconscious mind). During meditation, when one experiences pleasant or unpleasant sensations and remains equanimous to them, then that person is training the mind to remain equanimous to pleasant and unpleasant experiences in life and is therefore on a path to liberation. What follows is peace and happiness for one’s self, and compassion and love for others.
Imagine seeing one person beating another. The normal reaction is to feel compassion for the one being beaten. Vipassana helps a person to generate an even greater degree of compassion for the person beating the other person. It is that person who is deeply miserable.
Imagine being yelled at, shamed and condemned by another, and while this is happening, having the Presence to not take it personally; to feel detached and compassionate for that person because he/she is suffering and angry. It’s not about you at all. Now that would be truly powerful, an example of unconditional love and mastery of the mind.
Goenka states that the mind is a tremendously powerful instrument. Left wild and unattended, it can inflict tremendous suffering on oneself and others. Look at all of the injustice and atrocities that have occurred and are still occurring in our world. However, a mind that is tamed and controlled can promulgate healing, peace and happiness to the bearer and to the world. Eckhart Tolle describes this level of consciousness in” The New Earth,” and argues that it is an inevitable reality that will be achieved by humans. In fact, he says this shift is already in process.
Since I’ve returned I keep getting the question: “Has this experience changed you?” Well, the concepts are quite compelling to me. What I’ve experienced on a daily basis has been a higher degree of being present with patients and with friends. I’ve noticed that I can concentrate with greater efficiency. I have a greater awareness of my thoughts at an objective level, and I’m not as reactive to them, but can accept them for what they are…thoughts. These changes aren’t gigantic shifts and were already in process at some level before the meditation, but the meditation retreat has given these changes a context and has catalyzed them as well.
If you’re still reading this, I hope in sharing my experience that it may invoke or strengthen an interest for self-cultivation and/or meditation. I don’t believe in soliciting philosophies or trying to change another person’s beliefs. I am not sharing this in any way to serve my own ego. Rather I would feel remiss to keep something of such positive potential to myself. If this can help you, serve you or stimulate you toward further exploration in any way, then I have succeeded in my intent. Thank you for joining me on this journey and I’m open to discussing this further with you anytime if you would like.
Here are a few links to learn more: