Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD

C-PTSD and Meditation - Calm in a Stormy Sea

January 07, 2021 Ray Erickson Season 1 Episode 10
Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD
C-PTSD and Meditation - Calm in a Stormy Sea
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Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD
C-PTSD and Meditation - Calm in a Stormy Sea
Jan 07, 2021 Season 1 Episode 10
Ray Erickson

Episode 10

C-PTSD and Meditation

A Foundation to Build Upon

January 7, 2021

Today I want to talk with you about meditation and share some of my experiences with meditation. Yeah, I know, almost everyone I mention meditation to says, “Yeah, I tried that, I couldn’t keep my mind focused.” or “I couldn’t stop thinking, so I quit.” 

Newbies think they were failing when in actuality, they were just scratching the surface of what meditation is. First of all, meditation is an action, not an outcome. It is the action of non-action. I know that sounds paradoxical, but it is true.

There is no right way to meditate and there is no right amount of time or number of times per day standards. Meditation is a contract you enter into with yourself. It is a commitment to spending a small part of your busy day doing nothing and being present.

There are thousands of books, videos and podcasts that will instruct you on what Daniel and Michelle Levey call the Fine Art of Relaxation, Concentration and Meditation. They wrote it all down in their book by the same name. Their book is my favorite because it gets to the point and gets you meditating right away. Here’s a link to Goodreads for more information about this book.

The Fine Art of Relaxation, Concentration, and Meditation

Do you want to know more about meditation? Where it comes from? What traditions have developed? or simply How to meditate? You might want to start with Wikipedia. There you will find a boat load of information spanning a wide range of meditation styles and traditions from throughout history.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meditation

Because I dive pretty deep into a trigger event from last Sunday, I thought it would be a good idea to toss out a website that supports getting up close and personal with your trigger process. The more you know about your triggers, the better you will be at resolving the event. Here is an article in Psychology Today by Marcia Reynolds, PsyD. She is the author of two leadership books, The Discomfort Zone and Wander Woman. Check her article out below.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/wander-woman/201507/5-steps-managing-your-emotional-triggers

Show Notes Transcript

Episode 10

C-PTSD and Meditation

A Foundation to Build Upon

January 7, 2021

Today I want to talk with you about meditation and share some of my experiences with meditation. Yeah, I know, almost everyone I mention meditation to says, “Yeah, I tried that, I couldn’t keep my mind focused.” or “I couldn’t stop thinking, so I quit.” 

Newbies think they were failing when in actuality, they were just scratching the surface of what meditation is. First of all, meditation is an action, not an outcome. It is the action of non-action. I know that sounds paradoxical, but it is true.

There is no right way to meditate and there is no right amount of time or number of times per day standards. Meditation is a contract you enter into with yourself. It is a commitment to spending a small part of your busy day doing nothing and being present.

There are thousands of books, videos and podcasts that will instruct you on what Daniel and Michelle Levey call the Fine Art of Relaxation, Concentration and Meditation. They wrote it all down in their book by the same name. Their book is my favorite because it gets to the point and gets you meditating right away. Here’s a link to Goodreads for more information about this book.

The Fine Art of Relaxation, Concentration, and Meditation

Do you want to know more about meditation? Where it comes from? What traditions have developed? or simply How to meditate? You might want to start with Wikipedia. There you will find a boat load of information spanning a wide range of meditation styles and traditions from throughout history.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meditation

Because I dive pretty deep into a trigger event from last Sunday, I thought it would be a good idea to toss out a website that supports getting up close and personal with your trigger process. The more you know about your triggers, the better you will be at resolving the event. Here is an article in Psychology Today by Marcia Reynolds, PsyD. She is the author of two leadership books, The Discomfort Zone and Wander Woman. Check her article out below.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/wander-woman/201507/5-steps-managing-your-emotional-triggers

C-PTSD and Meditation

Creating Calm in the Stormy Sea of Life

January 7, 2021

Hello and welcome to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica. I’m your host, Ray Erickson Today I’m talking about meditation and how it has been a cornerstone of my recovery efforts. I’ll also tell you about a trigger experience I had recently and what I did about it.

Does anybody besides me have a post-holiday letdown? I’m curious. I feel this way every year and I take it to mean that things are returning to normal, whatever that looks like. I also know this feeling is temporary and I don’t let my inclination to slug around the house upset me. After all, don’t bears hibernate this time of year. Right now, I’m living one day at a time and I am grateful to be alive and breathing, so, at this moment, keeping the bar low seems to be working for me. 

I love meditation. I only wish I were more consistent with my practice. I’m not into Transcendental Meditation or TM, mainly because I’m cheap. I was never willing to plunk down the cash required for a TM guru, someone who would channel my divine mantra which will lead me to my inner nirvana. No, I learned how to meditate on the streets back in the mid 1980’s after my escape from Idaho.

I was living in California and preparing for graduate school when I first became familiar with meditation. I met a lot of people in my pre-requisite classes and through my work at the Sacramento Children’s Home who were deep into meditation and since I’ve always had a curious mind, I started reading about it and I began to dabble, so to speak.

One of the best books I discovered was called, “The Fine Art of Relaxation, Concentration, and Meditation.” Written by Joel and Michelle Levey. This book cuts to the chase and provides the reader with hundreds of ways to meditate right at your fingertips. Hmmm…I wonder if they have an app? Over the years, I’ve purchased multiple copies of this book and I have since I lost my last copy long ago, I may need to buy another.

There are literally 1000’s of books on meditation. I just happen to like this one. I continue to practice a number of their meditations to this day. My favorite meditation from this book is simple; just watch my breath. Follow it from the point it enters my nostrils to the moment it exits my body. If I lose track of my breath, I simply return my focus to a new breath. No harm, no foul.  Although I can see the usefulness of a mantra, I have never been comfortable with them, so no mantra for me,

I have tried using a mantra, but after a few minutes of chanting, the mantra begins to evolve and transforms into a nonsense syllable and I begin to giggle. I can’t help it. The mantra begins to sound silly and besides, given I also have ADD, mantras can actually be distracting. My main approach involves using the KISS method. Keep It Simple, Silly, with emphasis on the silly. Many people use the phrase, “Keep It Simple, Stupid”, but I find this overly harsh no matter who you are talking to.

Keep It Simple, Silly is a softer and kinder version of its older brother. Any way you can clean up your inner dialogue helps with your personal outlook on life as well as improves your overall mood. Meditation is a great tool for this. Here are three things I really like about meditation.

1.      I can do it anytime I want to, not while I am driving, for obvious reasons, but I decide when I meditate, and I decide how long I meditate. Having this attitude frees me from feeling compelled to meditate every day at a specific time under specific conditions. This is way too much pressure for me so I prefer the laisse-faire approach to meditation.

2.      I can feel like I am being productive by not doing anything. I love this benefit because I often feel bad that I have not accomplished much. It may have been a blah day and all I have been doing is sitting around watching TV or napping, but if I meditate, even though that involves more of what appears to be sitting around doing nothing, then I feel good about getting at least one thing done that day.

3.      The biggest thing I get out of meditation is a sense of deep calm and while I am in this calm, peaceful meditative state, I can linger for a while and relax in that pool of serenity. I can submerge myself into a peaceful and calm place, for at least part of the meditation. Just touching this zone, no matter how fleeting it may be, leaves an indelible mark upon my mind. The key is, to not pursue the serenity, but rather, allow the serenity to come to you. In my opinion, this is the fine art of meditation.

There are many other features and benefits to developing a regular or in my case, a semi-regular meditation practice and there are hundreds of ways to go about it. You can join a class. You can dive headfirst into TM or like me, you can be patient with yourself and dig out a spot in your mind for a meditation practice that fits your style and your needs. There are no rules when it comes to meditation. But you will get out of it what you put into it.

If you are new to meditation, one of the most important things to be mindful of is feeling its benefit. This is where the practice come in. Early on, you will spend most of your meditation time trying to put the brakes on your manic thought process. This may be one of the first times you have ever tried to watch your mind. If you have not paid much attention to your thoughts, then meditation is a wonderful tool to get acquainted with your redundant thought patterns. Of course, these patterns will go into high gear the moment you attempt to restrain them. The more you try, the more demanding your thoughts become.

Meditation requires you to let go of doing and simply go along for the ride. Meditation is the perfect vehicle for self-observation and if you are wrestling with PTSD or C-PTSD, then self-observation is critical to your recovery. The only way to reign in those horses is to know what you are dealing with and when you watch your thoughts, without judgment, you are looking into your inner world. You are like Alice peering into the Looking Glass. This is where the mechanisms of your own mind operate, mostly without your conscious awareness. Meditation help you to see through the vail and look at your true self, perhaps, for the very first time.

Nobody can learn how to meditate without experiencing a learning curve. This is where most new students of meditation fail. They get frustrated with the tenacity of their own minds to continue what it has been doing, since the day they were born, maybe even before they were born. The challenge in this first phase of learning how to meditate is to practice patience and observe the activity of your mind. Everyone has a part of themselves that can step back and observe reality, in real time. I call this my Watcher. Doing this may be scary for many of you and with good reason. You may have been spending a good deal of time and energy avoiding the chaos going on in your mind and I don’t blame you. Nobody wants to open up that Pandora’s box.

Let me tell you a story about what happened last Sunday morning. As usual, I’m into my second cup of coffee when I remember that I had not heard from Complex Trauma Podcast. I had contacted Jess, the host last week, so I go to the website www.t-mfrs.com. Jess, also talks about C-PTSD, which is how I came across her program in the first place. I liked how irreverent and cynical her approach was, so I contacted her, suggesting we talk about a possible collaboration. She sounded like she would be fun to work with and I was feeling a ying-yang vibe that I thought listeners would like. That was a couple of weeks ago. I hadn’t thought about it much since then until Sunday morning.

So, I go to the website and I fired up the latest episode, a behemoth, nearly 3 hours long. Hey, I had time and besides, maybe I’ll get a few things done while I listened. That didn’t last long. As Jess wrapped up her introduction, she made an offhand comment about a listener who had contacted her. Jess is very conscientious, and she always makes an effort to respond to listeners who contact her, but she was not going to respond to a creepy old man who wanted to hijack her podcast. I recalled the contact form I sent her last week and suddenly, a lump filled my throat, and my heart began to pound. Wait a minute! What did I just hear? I went back and listened again. Sure enough, she was talking about a creepy old man who wanted to hijack her podcast. Could I be that creepy old man? I hope not.

Great! Now, I’m triggered. I could feel my heart pounding and my mind began to race, like it always does when I get triggered. Goddamnit! I could feel the adrenaline, the cortisol and the epinephrine surging through my veins and altering my, previously calm state of being into my now, current and oh too familiar state of being triggered. Damnit, damnit, damnit! I said as I paced around my tiny casita. To make matters worse, I was really hungry. 

The distraction of making breakfast did little to calm my mind. In my triggered mind, I rehearsed over and over this scenario and my ego’s preferred way of responding to the trigger. Fuck breakfast. I sat down and completed another contact form to let her know that:

1.      Yes, I am an old man.

2.      No, I am not creepy.

3.      No, no, no, I am not trying to hijack her podcast.

Did this lower my anxiety? No way. I was too hungry, and I had better eat something, so I returned to the kitchen and finished making breakfast. Even though I sat at the table by myself, my mind was acting as if Jess, from Complex Trauma Podcast was also sitting at the table. My head was filled with imaginary dialogue and conversation rebuking any intention of being a creepy old man on my part and a deep burning need for this to be heard. This was not helping at all. I needed a way to eat and meditate. So, I took several slow deep breaths and proceeded to mindfully eat my breakfast.

There is a wonderful phrase that really encapsulates the concept of mindful eating. “Drink your food and chew your drinks.” Drinking your food means to chew your food completely, masticating it into a liquidy paste and letting it slide down your throat, effortlessly. Chewing your drink, means to move your jaw as if you are chewing while you allow the liquid to slide down your throat, effortlessly. It’s not as easy to do as you might think, and it does look pretty silly chewing your drinks.

People don’t pay much attention to how they eat. The vast majority of people are in a hurry to eat. They don’t call it fast food for nothing. Now I don’t have anything against fast food, and I am definitely no stranger to it. The problem lies not in the food you consume, but in the way you consume the food. You can eat that fast food as fast as you can, or you can “Drink your fast food and chew your fast drink.” 

You can slow things down and take time to observe what happens to the food while you are chewing it and chewing it and chewing it, until it is liquified. I encourage you to play with this idea of mindful eating. It not only makes eating vastly more interesting and delicious, but it helps you recognize the moment when you are no longer hungry, usually this occurs around 20 minutes after beginning your meal. If you eat all your food in 10 minutes, then your brain has not yet been signaled by your stomach, so your brain thinks you are still hungry, so you have a second portion. When you slow the process down, your brain has a chance to receive the stomach’s signal to stop eating and you are less inclined to have that extra slice of chocolate cake. I lost a lot of weight by drinking my food and chewing my drinks.

Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, I was in the middle of a mini-trigger event. My heart was pounding, and my mind was racing. It was filled with cognitive distortions, which are, more or less, misguided thoughts about reality. The topic of cognitive distortions deserves to have an entire episode dedicated to them and I will get that going in the near future.

Corralling my cognitive distortions is like herding cats. With some effort, one by one, I gathered up each of the cognitive distortions and put them back in the box where they belong, but all through breakfast, they were escaping and disrupting my peaceful, mindful break. This required strong action and when I finished eating, I decided to do something about these racing thoughts. I know, I’ll take a nap. I knew I would probably not fall asleep, and my nap would be more like a horizontal meditation. While lying on my side, I let my body relax because, at that moment, my body really needed to relax, and I needed to focus on my breath. Focusing on my breath distracts me from the distress that is caused by the cognitive distortions. With patience I am able gather up all the stray cats and put them back into their respective boxes.

Most of the time events like this go on until I no longer have any energy left and I am reduced to a pitiful pool of protoplasm with no resolve, no full circle, and no arriving at a mutual understanding. I wondered when and how Jess and Complex Trauma Podcast would respond. I was really hoping she would hear what I was saying and understand that I’m not a creepy old man.  

As the energy of the trigger faded, I thought about the possible ways Jess could respond and the response I feared the most was being dismissed, without cause. Perhaps the worst response would have been another “no response”. Well, I am please to share with you that Jess did reach out and assured me that No, I was NOT that creepy old man and she understood how her comment could have been interpreted that way. Ahhhh…….yes! She heard me and I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

In my response to her validation, I made sure that Jess knew how nice it was to be heard and by doing so, she demonstrated to me that she too, was a healer. I encouraged her to continue her work because in this troubled and stormy sea called life, her work is vital. Ironically, this particular trigger has led to a mutually beneficial relationship. I encourage all of you traumatized mother fuckers to check out her podcast. www.t-mfrs.com.

This is just one example of how the C-PTSD brain hijacks your emotions and throws you under the bus, all in a genuine effort to protect you. Maybe this helped at one point in my life, but I have so outgrown this as a suitable survival strategy. The problem is this: C-PTSD gets imbedded into your sympathetic nervous system and it takes a long time to build the brain circuitry to navigate away from those trigger points. That is why it is so critical to be patient with yourself and patient with others.

Experiences like the above is also why meditation is a critical tool in my survival toolbox. Let me share with you a few things that I have learned over the last 4 decades of my intermittent meditation practice.

1.      Use the KISS method. Keep it Simple Silly. This helps me to be relatively consistent in meditating on a regular basis. It helps me to let go of the shame I feel for letting myself down when I don’t meditate regularly. Now that I am retired, I am not as restricted with my time as when I was working full time. This gives me a lot of leeway, but mostly I stick to an after-breakfast time slot to meditate.

I know a lot pure meditators claim that you get the best results from meditating the first thing in the morning and although I have nothing against their position, I just need to have some coffee and something to eat before MY brain is ready to settle down and focus.

2.      You can meditate anywhere you want. I don’t recommend meditating while you are operating heavy equipment or while driving. But I also don’t believe there is any one best time and place to meditate. In my opinion, the only moment that is important when it comes to meditation is that moment when you are meditating. I meditate numerous times during the day, with some meditations being only as long as it takes for 3-deep-slow breaths.  I do make a conscious effort to get at least one 30-minute meditation in per day. On some days it’s two and on other days, it’s zero. That’s Ok. I try not to be hard on myself.

3.      Meditation is frustrating and irritating as hell. Get used to it. That’s the whole point of meditation but I meditate for a LOT of reasons:

a.      I meditate to reduce my stress levels

b.      I meditate to inventory my thought process

c.      I meditate to manage my micro-emotional environment

d.      I meditate to regulate my blood pressure

e.      I meditate to ground myself

f.       Ans so on, and so on, and so on.

4.      The very act of meditation puts you face-to-face with yourself if you are willing to stick with it. The simple act of doing nothing accomplishes a great deal. Especially if you are willing to go deep and explore those areas of yourself you have never laid eyes upon. Be prepared to be surprised. Your body remembers every one of your experiences ´but your mind decides what it’s going to do with those experiences. Meditation gives me a front row seat to all of my life and invites me to explore it even more.

I could go on and on and on about meditation but that would be out of character for me. Hahaha, not really. In addition to meditation, I have run the gamut on healing therapies. As a clinician, I needed to be current with all of the acceptable treatment methods available. And, as a clinician, it is helpful, to engage in these treatment modalities and do our own analysis of how that methodology may help us in our practices. I have dabbled in a number of alternative and conventional treatment modalities in my quest for peace and harmony. That is yet another episode.

Should you develop a meditation practice in your life? Are you kidding me? Of, course you should. You don’t need any courses and you don’t need any books or elaborate meditating attire; you just need to sit down with your eyes open or closed and be present. Sounds simple doesn’t it. Well, it is, and it isn’t. Like I said before it may look like you are doing nothing on the outside, but on the inside, you may be chasing your own herd of kittens in a frantic effort to get them back into the box.

Don’t worry about the kittens, let them roam free. In fact, pay no attention to them at all, if you can. The practice of meditation is not about controlling your thoughts, but instead, about increasing the spaces between those thoughts. You are going to think. You are always going to think and if you are not thinking then you are dead and you don’t need meditation.

Don’t let those wild kittens rule your consciousness and steal your serenity. Thoughts are just thoughts and most of them have no validity at all.  They are, after all, simply thoughts. Random thoughts that your brain throws out there because that is what your brain does. It thinks. That’s what the brain was made for and in my opinion, it does a damn good job. My relationship with my brain is what I make it. I may not be able to control the thoughts that run across that reader board in my head, but I can choose which thoughts are important and I can slow down the thought process by increasing the space between my thoughts.

All of this takes practice, patience and perseverance which are some of the benefits I receive from meditating on a regular basis. Over the years, I have become infinitely more patient with myself and with others and I know how to persevere in order to accomplish a worthwhile goal. I may not be very good at the meditating on a consistent basis, but I try to make those times when I do meditate as meaningful as possible.

I sincerely hope you do establish some level of a meditation practice in your life. It may take a while for you to notice the benefits, but over time, I guarantee you will. 

I want to give another shout out to Jess from Complex Trauma Podcast. You gotta check her out. She tells you how it is, she leaves no stone unturned and her insights and lessons are colorfully expressed. 

www.t-mfrs.com

If you are already meditating, fantastic, keep up the good work. You know what I am talking about. If you have yet to tinker with meditation, then I hope you take that first step inside your mind. It’s a journey that will literally change your life.

As usual I have found some website that I believe will help you in your efforts to calm your racing thoughts and give you some ideas as to how to best integrate meditation into your day-to-day life.

Meanwhile, until next time. Be Courageous. Be Strong. Be Kind. I’ll catch you later.  Bye