I started meditating about a year ago. I don’t remember the exact day, but I do remember it was a last resort.

First, it involved sitting still and breathing. Just focusing on my breathing. The sensation of air coming in, and the feeling when it was released. Over and over again. First ten minutes, then twenty. Now, I can get to 40 minutes and need to set a timer so I don’t lose myself.

Second, it involved listening to an audiobook from Audible. First, it was free, offered as one of their ‘channels’. Then the sneaky bastards took it off the channel, forcing me to buy it with credits. That was okay. Worth it. It was one that focused on creativity – purporting that if I did it every day for 21 days, I would feel bursts of creative energy. I don’t know if that’s true, but I always felt better afterwards.

Third was another audiobook from Audible (more on my audiobook addiction later), this one called “The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress Free Living”. It didn’t give me any new meditations, but it did give me the tools to start relaxing.

And now it’s to a point where it is my go-to solution when I need to clear my head. It also helps with pain management.

For example, I’ve suffered from headaches all of my life. I would like to say it started around ten or eleven. Went to a neurologist and their only suggestion was medication. Next time I get a headache, they told me, just take four extra strength Tylenol.

“If that doesn’t work, take five. But no more than six.”

And that was my solution for headaches. I did it for years and years and soon enough, the headaches went away. Well, not away. Less frequent. I would get a doozie a couple times a year, but that was it. Recently, they came back with a vengeance and decided to make up for lost time – lasting not for hours or days, but weeks. The last one ebbed and surged for two weeks. My family doctor tells me that they are ‘cluster headaches’ and usually don’t respond to medication. I can attest to that last one, although sometimes aspirin did dull it through the day. He did suggest some high oxygen therapy, guiding me to a site that sold oxygen bottles used by pilots when at high altitudes. I don’t rule that out as an option, but what I have done is modified my meditation routine to help with it. Oh, the pain is still there, but in the background while I focus on other things. I have to meditate more often through the day, usually in fits and bursts of ten minutes every few hours and maybe one long one before bed. I actually woke up with one this morning and I spent about forty five minutes going through my routine.

I’m not sure if it’s pure meditation or if it conforms to some standard, but it works for me. Depending on what I want focus on changes the meditation a little and sometimes, I put on headphones and play the sounds of the ocean in the background to help me concentrate. It’s also a modification of the ‘creativity’ meditation I first learned. So, apologies to Val Gosselin in advance.

I start by sitting on a chair or couch, back straight, head up, and begin breathing. I keep my head up to remove any kinks or obstructions in my airway. I breathe deep, hold it for three seconds, and release, touching my tongue to the front of my mouth, just where my top teeth meet my gums. I do this for about ten or fifteen breaths, then focus my attention to the top of my head, running down through the major muscles of my body, relaxing them. I find I hold a lot of tension in my jaw and shoulders and focus on those. I do this with my neck, shoulders,  arms, fingers, waist, buttocks, all the way down to my feet. Being aware of them as parts of my body, looking for aches and pains that might not have been there before, and soothe them. Just be aware of them.

Then, when I feel I have begun to relax, I envision me lying on a bed in an open room at the top of a two story building. The wind from the ocean is blowing the curtains softly and I get up, and imagine the sensation of the cold, marble floor on my feet. I leave the room, walk down the hall and down a wide staircase. In the lobby there is a large, semi circular desk with an attendant. The attendant is different every time, sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, of different ages and appearances. They always say hello and I nod.

I walk out onto the beach and I feel the sand under my feet. The light of the sun on the horizon is diffuse in the fog that hangs over it and while I can hear the ocean and smell the surf, I can’t see it for the fog. I’m happy, though, because I know it is there. What I can see, is a dock with a row boat moored to it.

I continue to feel the sand beneath my feet – the soft sand of trillions of crushed sea shells – and walk to the dock. When I step on it, I can hear the schlup-schlup sound of the water around the dock and I can see the boat jostle up and down. I get into the boat, unmoor it from the dock, and begin to row out into the middle of the ocean. It’s an old boat, weathered wood and you can see the ghost of red and yellow paint along it’s hull. I sit on a padded seat and just begin to row and row until I can no longer see the house or the dock or the shore. Then, I am in the middle of the ocean.

And I go through my relaxation exercise again, checking all of my muscles for tension and letting them release. And I know that once I have relaxed, my island will show itself. If this is a short meditation, I will stay in my boat and never get to the island, but that’s okay, because for the short ones, I want to stay on the water and just feel the ocean waves and smell the water. Again, listening to the sounds of the ocean on headphones works, too.

But, if I need to go further, I reward my relaxations by bringing the island into view. The sun has now warmed the air and the fog has lifted and the ocean guides me to the beach of my island. I get to just before the shore and I roll up the cuffs of my pants and jump out, pulling the boat up onto the shore. It has a sandy beach and the trees are the trees of my childhood. The trees from my Grandma Rinne’s backyard, the trees from my Uncle Bill’s Cottage, the threes that surrounded the creek where my cousin took me when he saw that I was getting bored being around people who had nothing better to do but smoke and drink and curse. The island is all of those tress and none of them. I admire them and take them all in, sometimes, touching their bark, other times just listening to the sounds of the birds and the electric hum of the cicadas (which my dad always told me were tree frogs and I never believed him and he countered with telling me who to believe, some book or someone who spent their whole life in the bush?).

As I enjoyed the beach and the memories of the trees, I try to bring to mind good times I had. Getting lost in the forest and admiring the white-green moss that collected on the big rocks in the forest. The delicious feeling of fear, not knowing what I might find or what might find me. As I walk around the perimeter of my island, a path will always show itself. It’s always the same path, but never in the same place. It makes itself known to me once I am ready for it. The path is the one I took through the bush from Grandma Rinne’s house to my uncle’s cottage. But when I take it now, it brings me to the middle of the forest. A pool of clear, pure water.

It is surrounded by wood and detritus from the forest, but not a leaf or a bug or anything is inside it. I sit by the edge and test the water, but it’s always the perfect temperature. I enjoy the sound of my hand through the water and the sensations of the forest. I let this happen for a little while and then I undress, unafraid of being naked and defenceless in this forest of mine. Then I step down into the pool and float there.

I got through the relaxation exercise a third time, but this time, I let the water wash over those muscles and take away the pains and aches I felt before. It is a healing water and I stay there for as long as I can. I don’t move a muscle, and while the water heals me I go deeper into the meditation and let my thoughts wash over my mind, not owning them, just letting them come to me, and I look at them for a while. Sometimes it’s a fish like a Koi or any one of the fish I’ve keep in tanks or maybe a bird. I admire them for what they are, where they came from, and if I like the idea or the thought, if I think I can create something from it, I keep it with me. If it’s a thought that will harm me, or make me angry, or make me sad, I remind myself to feel happy that I have had experiences that give me the strength to let those go.

And then, depending on the vibration alarm set on my watch, I will slowly bring myself out of my meditation. When I am leaving this state, I tell myself, that when I do this again, the person in the pool is dreaming of a room in a house on a beach, and when I wake up again, I will be in that room, and every version of me is going deeper and deeper, relaxing more and more.

Yeah, sometimes I need to take a pill or four to get rid of the gonzo whoppers of headaches – the ones where you see auras and actually have short term amnesia for a while. But for all of my other aches and pains, my little house and my tiny island have come to help me quite a bit.

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