Saturday, November 9, 2013

Meditation, OCD, Bad Habits, and Me

Centering prayer is one of the forms of meditation that Christian monks practice. Until the Reformation, monks routinely taught centering prayer to interested lay people. But apparently, Martin Luther did not like centering prayer and dropped it once he separated from Catholicism.  Unfortunately, in the fallout of the (Catholic) Counter Reformation, Catholic monks were discouraged from teaching centering prayer to lay people.  However, in the past several decades, the practice has had a revival.

I've tried centering prayer a few times in years past, but it never lasted for more than a few days. I have a very busy brain, and I concluded that my brain was just not wired for meditation. But part of my brain told me that while that was true, it was also an excuse. Meditation is exactly what I needed. I lacked the motivation and self-discipline.

For the past two months, I have been alone in the house. It is a relatively monastic existence, yet I am very stressed out by the demands of life. I think too much. I do too much. I am a slave to distractions, worry, bad habits, compulsions, and procrastination. I do not take proper care of my health. Often life seems like an episode of nonstop demands. As an escape, I fall for every imaginable distraction, which reduces the time available to do the important things, which makes the important things all the more stressful. The procrastination, lack of self-discipline, and not feeling more in control in my life are all interrelated. Meditation and prayer are the way to take control and begin to free myself.

I have an OCD (Obsessive  Compulsive Disorder) type problem--compulsive skin picking--which gets worse with stress and not feeling in control. I habitually pick at my scalp which irritates the skin on my face (I do not have obsessive thoughts.) According to the book Brainlock, the non-drug treatment for OCD is to go to a therapist that specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), but they are hard to find.  Some forms of meditation--ones they have done studies on--have been helpful. Recent news reports say that studies have shown that one of the purposes of sleep is to purge the brain of toxins that accumulate as a result of thinking and feeling during the day. This suggests that meditation should have a hygienic affect as well. And then there are those studies that show the differences in the brains of people who don't meditate and monks who do. Buddhists who meditate seriously are said to have strong powers of focus and concentration. Meditation is simply good for your mind. I'm hoping that meditation can help my OCD, also help me gain more control over my life. If you can control your mind, you can control yourself.

In the book Brainlock, it says that when an OCD symptom occurs, one part of the brain is erroneously signaling to another part of the brain that something is wrong. Paradoxically, therein lies an insight for me. I wonder if my OCD was my brain's way of saying to me that something is wrong with my life and by extension, with the mind that controls it. And once the symptom became ingrained in me, I was stuck with it.  Having read Brainlock, I know that a psychiatrist would have a field day with that one. In my case, I suspect that my OCD was like the Biblical handwriting on the wall, something which appeared after things had gone too far, and which, like King Belshazzar, I refused to heed. My OCD was like a road sign that read, "You just missed the last exit before dysfunction."  By the time I developed this behavioral OCD, I had already passed the point in my life when I should have made necessary changes. My OCD was like the Idiot Light on the dashboard of your car which lights up to tell you that you are too low on oil, and if you continue driving, you risk doing serious damage to your engine. In my case, the idiot, me, kept driving, and the damage has been done.

It is too much to hope that meditation can change all this completely though I would love to be proven wrong.

I started doing centering prayer again two days ago. With my initial attempt, I found it annoying to meditate for more than thirty seconds--my brain was insisting that I find a distraction. But I applied a little self-discipline, and after a minute or two, I my brain settled down. I've meditated for the two previous days in the morning and evening, for at least twenty minutes. Proud of myself! Each time, it seems to take less time and effort to get in the groove. I have been using the word mercy as my sacred word. The religious (Christian) purpose of centering prayer is to focus on God's interior presence, to rest in God, and be open to the prompting of the Divine within us. Meditation is not an end in itself, just part of how I am undertaking the spiritual journey of life.

This morning, I had intended to meditate for twenty minutes again. I procrastinated for long time, but once I started and my brain settled down, it became effortless, even physically relaxing.  When I finally opened my eyes, I saw that an hour had passed. I felt good about myself, and the whole interior of the house seemed bright and beautiful.

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