Meditation/mood boosters
July 30, 2008 5:42 PM   Subscribe

Good meditation techniques?

I had anxiety, and, yes, negative thought patterns. I have been relying on tranquilizers, and they work, but as the doctor explained to me yesterday, they are the equivalent of taking a shot of vodka (quick numbing, basically), and are addictive, and withdrawal can sometimes leave people more anxious.

So while I am not willing to give them up right now, I am looking for any meditation techniques/something else that has helped people chill and feel better about themselves/the world/the future. I have already been listening to music I like, I eat well, and exercise enough. I have also been basically trying to free my mind, just letting it come up with ideas without giving them too much weight.

Tonight I am meeting with an acquaintance for dinner and I used to find hot bathes, etc, relaxing, so am going to try those things as well. I know I am too self-critical at times-basically these are the thoughts that caused me all my problems. I do not at this time have "cheerful friends" I can call to take my mind off things, as some have tired of my admitted moroseness, and others are busy with their children, etc. I don't want to just go out and sit at some cafe/bar by myself as I look around and there are a lot of alcoholics, I'm not at an age where I consider going to the bar some kind of good entertainment. I used to be able to find peace by just walking to the river and looking at it. I know I'm not completely fucked, just feel like I need some peace. I can't call "old friends" as I have lost contact with a lot of them due to this "malaise". I know many people find themselves like this at some point in their lives, I know I'm not the centre of the universe.

I am pursuing therapy, so please no recommendations in this vein, just 'cause I'm already wise to this. : ) I do have an acquaintance whose words help me, just when she says things like "You can change direction." "You're not at rock-bottom." However I cannot call her every hour. : ) I wish there were a service I could employ that would do such things, but as far as I know, no such thing exists. : ) I believe most people rely on friends for this kind of "service" but as mentioned I have run out of these. The snap-out-of-it, you're better than this, kind of service.
posted by anonymous to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Two things that have helped me tremendously:

1. Benjamin Hoff's "The Tao of Pooh." It's my Bible. Great book on connecting with everything that makes life worth living.

2. Try Pzizz, especially the sleep module. It's a fascinating program that randomly generates MP3s from a big library of snippets, creating different "go to sleep" experiences every time. A lot of the verbal cues are pretty deep and worth remembering, and address more than just going to sleep - they talk about the nature of taking care of yourself and centering your world view. Really, really good stuff.
posted by jbickers at 6:00 PM on July 30, 2008

Get a kitten or puppy. Especially a puppy. Take it for walks in the park. If you can't have a puppy, go for walks in the park anyway. Go hiking if you can. Look at the stars. Anything that reminds you that the universe is immense and you are a part of it.

If you want some actual meditation training, there is plenty available online, or your local buddhism center will have a beginner's night. If buddhism's not your flavor, there is yoga, and I believe some Unitarian Universalist churches also teach meditation. Even your local hospital or university might have "wellness classes" that teach relaxation techniques.

Personally I listen to the podcast at
posted by desjardins at 6:48 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and Landmark Education, while definitely not a meditation course, will completely change your perspective on life, and there will be plenty of people willing to encourage you. Very highly recommended.
posted by desjardins at 6:50 PM on July 30, 2008

This doesn't address your broader "malaise," and whether you want to try it while suffering therefrom, I don't know. But if you want to learn to meditate quickly, go to a 10-day Vispassana retreat. Here's a review. Whether or not you develop the good habits necessary to stick with it, you will know what it really means to meditate at the end of it. I don't do it regularly but still draw on the practice during difficult times, now ten years later.

Frequent recommendations on Mefi for dealing with malaise are: The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, Mood Gym (a website?) and The Feeling Good Handbook.
posted by salvia at 6:53 PM on July 30, 2008

You may have some luck with affirmations. I'm finding them incredibly useful as a way of internalizing positive thoughts, like the ones you get from your helpful acquaintance. Write down the positive things she says—and any other positive ideas and thoughts you want internalized—and sit with them once a day. I read them to myself and let myself feel positive as best I can—I don't try to visualize specifically what it would feel like or what my life would look like for the things to be. I also don't use them as a weapon against negative thoughts, that always just adds to my anxiety. It's about creative a positive spiritual practice that strengthens your foundation.
posted by wemayfreeze at 7:50 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

i'm not sure if you're looking for book recommendations, but a few years ago i enjoyed going through learn to meditate by david fontana. it is workbook-style, and although occasionally i rolled my eyes at some of his phrasing, going step-by-step through sitting, breathing, concentrating, etc, was helpful for me as a beginner. amazon link!
posted by janepanic at 7:52 PM on July 30, 2008

Here's something nice and practical from Jon Kabat-Zinn
posted by b33j at 8:07 PM on July 30, 2008

1. Basic Zazen.

2. walking in the woods or another natural area, whenever possible. i sometimes have to make a special effort to make myself do it, but it works wonders. At least two times a week.

3. if it's too hard to find someplace natural, an old cemetery can be a very meditative place, especially if you don't know anyone buried there. my partner in particular likes to go to a place where there is stone with his last name on it--he considers it the ultimate attitude adjustment.

4. if you live near a large body of water, looking at it for a long period of time can be just like meditation.

5. i agree that listening to Zencast can be a good way to reframe your headspace. works for me. Landmark Education? not so much. improving your life and outlook does not have to cost so much money.

6. When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron has been recommended here many times, but i turn to Chodron often for a very accessible and applicable explanation of buddhist principles without being "religious."
posted by RedEmma at 8:12 PM on July 30, 2008

Kabat-Zinn, mentioned above, partnered with three psychologists to create a book/cd combo called The Mindful Way Through Depression. It very specifically shows how the act of mindfulness interrupts patterns of negative thinking and stops that cycle of anxiety and/or depression. It's got enough of a scientific bent that it doesn't feel too woo-woo new age-y, and it has very practical techniques and exercises.
posted by judith at 8:57 PM on July 30, 2008

blarg. that link borked. try this one.
posted by judith at 8:58 PM on July 30, 2008

I'm thinking lately that the main thing is not so much the technique you choose to deal with anxiety but the attitude that you take to the process. Rather than rejecting the anxiety and struggling to push it away, you need to accept that it's there right now and deal with it in the most gentle, relaxed, loving manner you can manage - basically the same way you would deal with another upset person you were trying to comfort.

Instead of going into meditation with thoughts like "THIS HAS TO WORK I HAVE X Y AND Z TO GET DONE TODAY" you're looking to find an attitude that says "I'm feeling anxious now, and that's OK, but I'm going to see if I can make it feel better by meditating for a while". Trying too hard gives the anxiety more power.

If you're wondering whether a course of action is too passive, too aggressive, or just right, I think a good question to ask yourself is "What is the loving thing to do right now?" I find that it tends to make the situation a lot clearer, and another benefit is that by sending yourself a message that you're capable of taking loving action right now, you automatically reduce the anxiety.
posted by tomcooke at 2:03 AM on July 31, 2008 [3 favorites]

Meditation is not much more than cultivating your awareness, or phrased differently, putting your attention on your awareness. Techniques aren't necessary. That said, one of the early researchers into EEGs came up with a series of objectless visualizations (Can you feel the space between your eyes? Can you feel the volume of your tongue?), that produce whole brain synchrony faster than any other method. I've never found anything that gives more benefits to overall health and mood. Check out Les Fehmi's Open Focus page for more information, including a few scientific papers.
posted by BigSky at 4:33 AM on July 31, 2008

I'm sorry that you are in a difficult point in your life. It sounds like you are taking care of yourself (exercise, eating right, trying to keep social, going to therapy), and that's wonderful. The first thing to know is this: Things will get better. You know that already, but it's nice to be reminded.

I'm also going to heartily recommend Thich Nhat Hanh.

I'd always been a little leery of anything new age/meditation-oriented. Many things that promise relaxation/life change are often some brand of pyramid scheme, offering nice-sounding, empty fluff for a price. Real meditation and real life change is hard, hard, often lonely work, and it's not going to be eased by love or money.

That said, I came across Thich Nhat Hanh whilst listening to NPR's (fantastic) show Speaking of Faith. He's a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, and his take on the world is incredibly refreshing, humble and applicable. Just hearing his voice drops your blood pressure back to normal levels!

His big thing is mindfulness (as mentioned by phrontist), which is an exceptionally useful meditation technique. In brief, it's the act of constant awareness and attention to your body and your emotions, with an emphasis on accepting the way that you feel as a way of diffusing the pain and anxiety around difficult emotions. Read Thich Nhat Hanh's book The Miracle of Mindfulness.

Desjardins mentions zencast, which has some great, free recordings of him. This is one of my favorites, as is this.

As with everything, you have to separate the wheat from the chaff. I've been reading his book on anger recently, and his directives to seek out the object of your anger and forgive them I certainly don't find very applicable; some of his recommendations will end up getting you steamrolled in your interactions with people.

Overall though, he's fantastic. :)
posted by MaddyRex at 9:37 AM on July 31, 2008

May I ask, why are you on tranqs? SSIRs are the standard treatment. They work beautifully; for others, it varies; usually it's the side-effects that are the problem, and not the efficacy.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:03 PM on July 31, 2008

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