Free your mind

Dido Dunlop explains how learning to relax can improve your quality of life

Good pull-out quotes:

"Gentleness is a self-loving attitude to living"

"If you only bring your mind back once every half hour, it will change your quality of life"

These suggestions can be for simple relaxation. They are also for people who have learnt meditation, and have difficulty maintaining it when ill. When I got ME 17 years ago, I was already trained in Buddhist meditation. I couldn't sit cross-legged for an hour any more. I developed approaches which are possible when you can only lie down all day.

With M.E., you need to live in the present moment, rather than worry about what you're going to do or haven't done. It is enough just to be alive, in a body, hearing and seeing, and achieve nothing at all. When you are in the present moment, body and mind miraculously let go. There is warmth, acceptance, release, freedom, and pleasure. You can rest - not just mechanically relax.

The method awareness of body sensations

The method is simple: becoming aware, in an accepting way, of what is happening in the body. You don't have to do anything extra. Your body is already there, vibrating with sensations we normally don't notice. Don't push yourself. You can be aware for a few seconds now and then, with no effort, even when you are exhausted.

Scan the body and choose one sensation that draws your attention, to start on; not necessarily the strongest. Where is it, exactly? What shape is it? Go right into the sensation itself. Find an image or texture it is like - sandpaper, needles, glue? (Don't launch into a complicated description; that takes you away from the sensation, into the head.)

Body and mind are not separate

Every thought or feeling causes a bodily response, of tension or letting go. Preoccupying thoughts cause most of the tension and stress. Thoughts stored up from the past are also reflected in body tensions. The body is the deepest and most effective place to release them.

When the mind rests on body sensation, body and mind work together. Mind lets go of thoughts, and body tensions can shift, heal and regenerate. Get to know your precious body. It may be a mess, but it's still the palace you live in, your home and vehicle.

Coping with pain

We need to accept and befriend the discomfort of our bodies; include in our lives the whole range of discomforts and tensions and tirednesses, rather than try to shut them out. And the uncomfortable mind that is unable to concentrate, unable to let go, worried, confused, pushing for clarity or to remember things. A natural reaction is to struggle against pain and discomfort. It doesn'twork. We don't know our body very well to start with; we need to pay it attention, get to know it, accept how it feels, give it kindness, co-operate with it.

The best way to reduce pain is not to fight it, or avoid it, but go right into it. Practise on small manageable pains. Don't tackle the big ones first, like thumping headaches. Observe all the variations of discomfort. What kind of sensation is it now? Even painful sensations can be a kind of pleasure to notice and stay in the moment with. You may want to distract yourself from pain and discomfort, and try to focus on pleasurable things. If the pain is too big, it is helpful at times to focus elsewhere, and let the pain stay in the background; for example, concentrating on the feet instead of the headache.

Pleasant sensations

It is very important to increase your contact with pleasure in the body. There is plenty, at any moment; but we tend to focus on discomforts instead. Sometimes, make a conscious decision to bring out the pleasant parts and get to know them. It can be harder to "pin them down". They move around, seem vaguer. When you find one, expand it; let it spread out through the body. Explore the sensation, so you become familiar with it. Then you can contact it easily when it appears again.

Emotional pain

Again, see what the body sensation is. If you are sad, what is happening in the body? Observe that, just as with any other bodily sensation. Feeling your way into the bodily sensations that go with the emotion allows them to move through. Don't be distracted away from the body by the story - "he said this and he doesn't understand... I'll tell him...." let those thoughts go.

Being aware

Being aware is the most releasing thing I know. However, you can be aware and still remain tight, when you are aware of a pain, but tense up against it. Or, aware you feel upset, but thinking you shouldn't be. We need to be aware in a relaxing, freeing way. Awareness that releases, doesn't judge. Don't say, this pain is bad and I don't want it. Let go all ideas about how you would like to feel. This is the sensation that is here at this moment. Take an interest in it. What is it like? Say, I accept you, whatever you are, you are what my precious body is doing. I simply open my awareness to you and embrace you with it. It is tempting to try to relax, try to make the pain go away. This sometimes works in the short term; but it puts you in a struggle, resisting the pain.

What about thoughts?

To relax, you want minimum stress from thoughts, so your wandering mind doesn't take off into stressful, exhausting and repetitive patterns and drive you bananas. It's an art, to let go of pushing to control the mind, yet not allow it to wander and torment you. To let the trains of thought soften and leave you space. When thoughts take you over, switch into observing the body. Doing that even for a moment or two breaks the train of thought, and the tension that goes with it.

With ME, you probably aren't able to maintain steady focus, or concentrate for very long. Let go of the idea of it. This is why I suggest doing the exercise for brief moments, not pushing yourself. If you do it for longer, let your focus come and go. Concentrate for a short time, then let your mind wander a little, then bring it back, gently, to the body sensation. If you are in a clearer state, try 5 or 10 minutes, whatever is easy. Stop when you are still fresh. If you are tired, one minute every now and then, or 5 seconds, is great. If you only bring your mind back once every half hour, it will change your quality of life.

Don't try to force yourself to concentrate. You have a base to come back to - awareness. That is stabilising and relaxing - something you can do to help yourself. Allow yourself to be soft and vague, and feel it as positive, creative and healing, not a failing. Gentleness is a self-loving attitude to living.

Dido Dunlop teaches relaxation in Oxfordshire, and occasionally in London and Kent. She is happy for AfME members to contact her with any questions via Action for ME, or by E-mailing her at chiyo@gn.apc.org

AfME has a fact-sheet entitled Stress, Meditation and Relaxation, 50p

Relaxation

From InterAction 31 (The magazine of Action for M.E.)

ACTION FOR M.E. P.O. BOX 1302, WELLS, BA5 1YE, UK
Website: www.AfME.org.uk