What follows is a journal entry I penned several months ago.
This date is special for two very important reasons. First and foremost, it’s the birthday of someone extremely dear to me, my son! Second, it’s the day that I decided to try everything I could to lower my blood pressure without resorting to a doctor’s visit and the subsequent lifelong supply of Losartan that was sure to follow.
A little bit of context. I am 43 years old, in reasonably good shape with a reasonably good diet. I’m the father of two children and have been married to the same wonderful woman for 22 years. I have a good job. I have a nice house that’s way too big for our family. I have a liberal arts education and still try to read constantly. All told, my life is pretty wonderful.
That’s enough back-story for now, back to the blood pressure machine at Publix and the word “high” that accompanied my reading of “140/92.” That’s not scary high, but for a guy my age and my level of fitness, it was a depressing number.
Of course I have heard about meditation throughout my life; as a kid I thought it was just that funny thing that Buddhist monks did when they crossed their legs in an impossible way and sat for hours on end, eyes closed, hands turned upward on their knees with their fingers forming a sort of reverse A-OK.
As I got older, I understood meditation to have somewhat of a wider audience; I knew that some people who practice Yoga for example will sometimes incorporate meditation in to their routines. But I never had any real firsthand experience with mediation or, as far as I knew, with anyone who meditates.
Fast forward to today. To be honest, I’m not sure if mediation qualifies as a fad – it has been around for at least 2600 years – but it does seem to have gained a much wider following well outside of Buddhist temples and Yoga studios. Not only is meditation making its way in to main stream mental health practices, it has even found a home in the corner offices of corporate CEOs. It’s effectiveness in reducing stress, and even blood pressure, has been measured and documented.
Even blood pressure? Staring at 140/92 I thought, “why not?”
Remember earlier when I mentioned that I try to read constantly? One of my favorite genres is popular science and within popular science, I enjoy neuroscience – the science that studies the brain and nervous system. It turns out that according to some fairly recent neuroscience research, in addition to the stress relieving effects I mentioned, meditation has some very real, very measurable benefits on the brains of those who practice.
I rolled all of that up together in to one obvious conclusion. I am going to start my meditation practice. That night, not really knowing where to begin, I went home and did a Google search for “guided meditation.” That search led me to the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. I clicked on the link for Free Guided Meditations and then clicked “play” on the first link called, “Breathing Meditation.”
No really knowing what to do, I sat on our chaise lounge facing the large window which opens to our backyard, closed my eyes, and tried for about five minutes to listen and focus only on my breath.
And so it begins.