Friday 29 April 2011

29.04. Meditation for pain

Hello, how are you? You know, sometimes I wonder who you are; my visitors....although I do know a few of you. I know my Mum, who checks my blog every morning to see if I have written anything; hi Mum!...and I also know a few other of my visitors, who are spread around in Britain and in Norway. But the rest of you I don’t know who are, even though I know most of you live in Germany, USA, Britain, France and Norway. I try to imagine who you are though, what you might be interested in hearing about, what kind of pictures to put on the posts etc. That’s why this blog so far has been a mix of things I do and make plus some posts in between with a more of a philosophical theme, trying to cater for a wide audience, but still keeping within a kind of a theme. There are many things you won’t find won’t find anything related to sports, ever. And nothing to do with computer gaming. And there are a whole lot of other things too you won’t find here I suppose. But you will continue to find things related to creativity, photography, art and crafts and gardening, but I though perhaps
you have had enough about my gardens for a while now so maybe it was time for another philosophical post? I therefore went on the Internet to get some inspiration for a topic. I put in ‘Topic Of The Day’ and obviously got a lot of hits, but interestingly, Twitter does a ‘Topic Of The Day’. Now, I haven’t joined the Twats yet I must admit, and I manage very well without, funnily enough! But, because I haven’t got a username and password to Twitter yet, I couldn’t see what everyone had written for every day’s topic. Maybe just as well, you might say! I did get the list though, so now I got the Topic Of The Day going back till the start of this year. Some are pretty silly, but some are worth reflecting over, so I am saving the list for a rainy day, and loosely using what is today’s topic for today’s post. The topic is: “Do you remember your dreams after you wake up?”

Dreaming is a fascinating subject I think, both the kind of dreaming we do at night, but also what I call day-dreaming, or meditating – although meditation can mean so many different things to different people; to me it simply means relaxing enough to let your mind go, either go off on its own or on ‘a guided tour’. More on that subject later on. First a bit of facts about dreaming from Wikipedia. During a typical lifespan, a person spends a total of about six years dreaming, which is about two hours each night. Most dreams only last 5 to 20 minutes. The recall of dreams is extremely unreliable, though it is a skill that can be trained. Dreams can usually be recalled if a person is wakened up while dreaming. Women tend to have more frequent dream recall than men. Often, a dream may be recalled upon viewing or hearing a random trigger or stimulus. A dream journal can be used to assist dream recall, for psychotherapy or entertainment purposes. For some people, vague images or sensations from the previous night's dreams are sometimes spontaneously experienced in falling asleep. However they are usually too slight and fleeting to allow dream recall. At least 95% of all dreams are not remembered. Certain brain chemicals necessary for converting short-term memories into long-term ones are suppressed during REM sleep. Unless a dream is particularly vivid and if one wakes during or immediately after it, the content of the dream will not be remembered.

So that was dreaming as we sleep. A daydream however, is a visionary fantasy, especially one of happy, pleasant thoughts, hopes or ambitions, imagined as coming to pass, and experienced while awake. There are many different types of daydreams, and there is no consistent definition amongst psychologists. The general public also uses the term for a broad variety of experiences. Research by Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett has found that people who experience vivid dream-like mental images reserve the word for these, whereas many other people refer to milder imagery, realistic future planning, review of past memories or just "spacing out" - i.e. one's mind going relatively blank-when they talk about "daydreaming."

While daydreaming has long been derided as a lazy, non-productive pastime, it is now commonly acknowledged that daydreaming can be constructive in some contexts. There are numerous examples of people in creative or artistic careers, such as composers, novelists and filmmakers, developing new ideas through daydreaming. Similarly, research scientists, mathematicians and physicists have developed new ideas by daydreaming about their subject areas. Daydreaming was long held in disrepute in society and was associated with laziness. In the late 19th century, Toni Nelson argued that some daydreams with grandiose fantasies are self-gratifying attempts at "wish fulfilment". In the 1950s, some educational psychologists warned parents not to let their children daydream, for fear that the children may be sucked into "neurosis and even psychosis" Other recent research has shown that daydreaming, much like night-time dreaming, is a time when the brain consolidates learning. Daydreaming may also help people to sort through problems and achieve success. Research with MRI shows that brain areas associated with complex problem-solving become activated during daydreaming episodes.

OK, so what did I mean when I talked about meditation as letting your mind off on ‘a guided tour’? I honestly didn’t know this was meditation until I was quite old, but I have been doing this all my life! Ever since I was a small child I have had quite a lot of pain, and the nature of my illness was such that I wasn’t diagnosed with the right condition until just recently. As a child and a teenager, no-one understood why I had so much pain, and as there was no diagnose there was neither a treatment nor a cure. As a child complaining about pain there are just so many times one will continue to complain when nothing is done about the pain – and eventually I stopped complaining too. I escaped in my daydreaming when the pain got too bad. I had several ways of doing daydreaming; one way was to read books. I read an astonishing amount of books between the age of 7 and 16, and I continued to read after moving away from home at the age of 16. Reading gave me a world where I was engaged enough to be able to disregard my pain for a little while. The other way of daydreaming which I have continued to do up till today is my ‘guided tours’. Now as an adult, I usually lie down and relax – I didn’t necessarily lie down as a child, I then pick a topic, and I view a story in my head as if it was a film in which I usually am participating. Sounds easy? Well, it’s not, it takes years of practising. Your brain will usually stray off topic after a little while; you will start to think about what to have for dinner tomorrow or about that bill you haven’t paid yet, or even happier things you might want to make plans for... As for the topics, they are really of less importance – the point is to choose something that keeps you relaxed. I have topics for when I want to relax but I don’t want to fall asleep, and I have other topics for when I go to bed in the evening and I do want to fall asleep. You know when small children want to have a bed-time story before going to sleep? They often want the same story every night instead of a new story all the time. The familiarity of knowing the story is what sends them to sleep. The same thing happens to me, with my stories. I have stories I have made up, and I replay them in my mind, just thinking of them as if it was something that actually had happened, and because they are familiar stories I have relaxed to many, many times, I usually fall asleep before the story is over, despite being in pain. And because I have made the stories, I get to decide everything, that’s the best bit :-)

There is a bit of a ritual involved when I am getting my head down for a bit of relaxation, whether it is for just an afternoon snooze, or it is to fall asleep for the night. To understand this bit you will need a bit of imagination, I hope you have that, if not, this next bit will sound pretty silly to you. Anyway, I get into a comfortable position in bed or on the sofa, I then, in my mind, walk into my imaginary library, which is a huge room with books from floor to ceiling. It also used to have videos which contained the films I played in my mind, but lately I have upgraded the films to has to keep up with times you know...I haven’t got any Bluerays yet though!! Anyway, in my mind, I go to one of the book shelves and take out a DVD case, put the DVD into a player, and then the chosen film starts in my head. One of the films I have used for relaxation quite a lot lately is about the house I have built in Cyprus. It is a large house on a piece of land with a private beach, about 1 hours drive from Larnaca airport. I have designed the house and the gardens in detail in my mind; so much so that I could make a detailed drawing of each room in the house on paper. But every time I play this movie in my mind, I find some more details to add; a table to go here, a solution to where some doors were going to lead to there... etc. Designing the house is part of the relaxation, but walking around in my finished house with family and friends visiting me is also part of the film which adds the familiarity part to it and sends me to sleep. I don’t need to create something new every time; far from, but if I am just having a lie down and don’t want to sleep I make sure I start a brand new movie instead – that’s guaranteed to keep me awake! But I am still relaxed and lying completely still; if you had seen me you would have thought I was asleep, even though I was just....well I call it meditating, you might call it daydreaming or something else.

I have many dreams or movies like my house in Cyprus; the one about Cyprus is of course linked to another movie; the one where I win £7.8 mill in the lottery!! Without a lottery win there would never be a house in Cyprus either, but you had perhaps guessed that already? :-) Some of my movies are based on things I have experienced in the past, some of my movies from my childhood I still remember and still take out now and then and play. But most of my movies are a product of my fantasy, my way of creating a world exactly the way I want it, a way to thumb my nose to the real world, which certainly didn’t turn out to be like I wanted it and hoped for... most of the time.

OK, so back to the Topic Of The Day, whether you can remember your dreams. I do, most days, just when I wake up, but they fade very quickly unless I hang on to them. But the funny thing is, when I go to sleep with one of my movies on my mind, I often wake up to something along the same theme! Not exactly the rest of the story, but something along those lines. It’s like my brain has continued to develop the story, and perhaps added bits and pieces from my last day or days, and sometimes I wake up laughing, as just when I wake up I realise that my dream has taken a new direction since the night before and that hits me just as I wake up and makes me laugh. So in some ways, I can decide what I want to dream about during the night, by what I choose to fall asleep to. Amazing? Well, I won’t tell you to give it a go tonight, you will have to practise this for a long time, but if you want to give it a go, you will need to start with something simple. I would suggest starting with relaxation without falling asleep. Try to lie completely still in a comfortable position for 10 minutes at first, thinking up a story with a beginning, a middle and an end - without being side-tracked into thinking about other things. When you master that, you can increase the time and allow yourself to get more and more relaxed and perhaps fall asleep. But if you discover that your mind is jumping around from topic to topic and you get restless and can’t lie still, you have to learn to relax your body first, before you can expect your mind to relax. This technique is an amazing substitute for pain medication when mastered, I do this every day, several times a day, and as I said earlier on, I have done this since I was a child; escaped pain by daydreaming/meditation, I just didn’t know that was what I was doing – it came as a natural thing to do for me. If you have trouble relaxing your body, due to pain or just too much energy stored, try this exercise: lie down in a room without any music or noise. Put a blanket or duvet over you, it makes your body more relaxed. Close your eyes and keep them closed all the time. Start relaxing one part of your body at the time. Start with your feet, make sure they are relaxed and feel heavy, then work upwards until your whole legs feel relaxed and heavy. Move to your arms, take care to feel your hands, feel that they are relaxed and feel heavy. Make sure you breathe slowly and regularly and continue the round until your whole body is relaxed. Go back and check that all parts of your body still are relaxed and that your breathing is deep, slow and relaxed. This part of the relaxation is necessary in order to let your brain ‘go on a tour’, and it might take you quite a bit of practising to master this. I no longer go through the routine of relaxing one part of my body after the other; I have done this for so many years that all I need is to lie down and pull a blanket or a duvet over me and 5 seconds later I am relaxed...or perhaps a bit longer if I have had a really bad day. But I am very good at relaxing, so good that I often fall asleep when I don’t mean to, so I usually set the alarm on my mobile when I have a lie-down; I have woken up after 3-4 hours too many times, when I only meant to have a 20 minutes cat-nap!

So what happens when you are relaxed enough, and let your brain 'go off on a guided tour’? Well, this might not happen to you, but I can tell what happens to me: the first time I invent a new story, not much is happening; I am quite awake and my mind is spinning trying to create a story, much in the same way as I do when I write a story here, or when I plan a project in Photoshop or when I plan a new dress I want to make for’s all a creative process on my virtual drawing board, and my brain is in top gear, trying to create an interesting story. The next time I am taking that story out of the shelve, metaphorically, I might polish some details and perhaps add some more to the story, but depending on how I feel at that time, I might just replay what I’ve got so far. The third time I take the story out of the shelve, the story has started to become familiar, even if I might still add some minor details, it is now a familiar story and the story plays itself; I don’t need to actively come up with the details – they are already there in my memory. That means I can relax more and just ‘watch’ the story play out in my mind, behind my closed eyes. I usually drift off, to a level between being awake and asleep – where one is almost asleep, but a noise or someone entering the room would alert you instantly. That is the state I am looking for; that is my meditation state, where I don’t feel pain anymore. I am still in control over what my brain is thinking, because I choose each topic, and I can stay at this state for 20-30 minutes and sometimes up to an hour. However, being so good at relaxing, I often drift off to sleep after a while and start to dream properly – and when I do that, I no longer am in control. When you dream, your brain takes full control over what you are going to dream.

The content and purpose of dreams are not yet understood, though they have been a topic of speculation and interest throughout recorded history. There is not a universally accepted biological definition of dreaming and yet we all need to dream; a night without dreaming, for example caused by sleeping pills, can make us tired and weary.

As you might appreciate, this topic is a rather huge one and I have just tried to present the essence of it here; a bit about dreaming and a bit about my personal daydreaming/meditation, which I use as a way of dealing with pain. All the techniques described here are a result of my personal experience and might not be suitable for you. Some people have a vivid imagination, other people have very little imagination; you can’t just decide that today you’re going to acquire a good portion of imagination from somewhere...sadly it doesn’t work like that. But give it a go if you think this sounds interesting, you might surprise yourself with more imagination than you thought you had! And if this technique helped you in any way, drop me a line; I’d love to hear from you :-) Until next time, take care.

1 comment:

  1. Oh gosh, I'm so glad all my day-dreaming wasn't a waste of time! :-D
    And I still do-not-waste-time quite often....

    About this sentence:
    >Research with MRI shows that brain areas associated with complex problem-solving become activated during daydreaming episodes.

    I kind-of noticed that when you are about to sleep it seems like you are unaffected by external stimuli and your brain can be very focused on its own thoughts, or a single thought which is processed at the moment.
    What I'm saying is that if you are thinking on a specific idea or problem, your brain can be very logic and rigorous, solving the problem in a simpler and quicker way.

    Of course this is a theory of mine, I don't have any proof but it seemed to work a few times... at least when the day after I managed to remember what I was thinking just before sleeping!

    Another funny thing that happens is, given that I'm in an about-to-sleep status, my brain detaches from the "reality of the thought" I was focusing and apparently I seem to find a brilliant solution or a great idea, but then, when I wake up I realise I was really dreaming and it's just rubbish! :-D