Middleway Medicine Blog

How to Meditate Your Emotions Away

by Ryder Johanson, L.Ac

There’s a growing awareness in our society that stress can wreak havoc on your health.  I’d be surprised to find a single health care provider of any flavor that wouldn’t suggest stress management is an important part of maintaining good health.

Meditation is something I’m seeing more and more health experts recommend as a potent tool for relieving stress.  Many people are aware that it’s hard to beat meditation when it comes to stress relief, but there’s often a hang-up when I suggest that someone try meditation.  The most common response I hear is something along the lines of: “There’s no way I could meditate—my mind is just way too busy.”  Many of these people have even tried meditation before and found it an amazingly frustrating experience because their minds just won’t shut up and the harder they try, the worse it gets.  I can understand, then, why meditation doesn’t seem like the most appealing tool for stress relief.

The funny thing is that that’s kind of the point of meditation: all of your baggage, the things you’ve been avoiding, your suppressed emotions are going to come bubbling up. 

That has definitely been my experience.  When I discovered meditation and was convinced of all the wonderful benefits and experiences that it could open up, I jumped in with both feet and meditated as much as I could.   I thought meditation was a tool I could use to escape all the stressful emotions in my life.  I experienced sublime periods of relaxation and moments when I forgot all my stresses.  And that relaxation often translated into the rest of my day.

But after that initial “honeymoon” period things got a lot harder.  It became more difficult to reach the places in meditation that had come much more effortlessly before.  And the anxiety and agitation bouncing around in my mind seemed to be harder to quiet down—maybe it was growing or maybe I was just becoming more aware of it.  My plan to meditate all my emotions away wasn’t going so well.

I came to realize that the only real way to release stressful emotions was to let myself fully feel them and even express them.  I started to let myself experience the anxiety and frustration of not being able to quiet my mind.  That would lead to memories of other things in my life that would bring up anxiety and frustration.  It started to become easier to express to people in my life the things that were frustrating me.  With that came relief—the relief of getting the weight off my chest—and a sense of empowerment: it was OK for me to stand up for myself and set my boundaries. 

After a while I started to realize that there was more than suppressed anger that was agitating my mind.  Underneath my angry, teenage self was a sad, fearful, ashamed childhood version of myself—some would call it my “inner child”.  And it was wounded.  I always knew it was there, but it was something I had rejected because it was too painful to experience. 

I was blown away at how powerful it was to let myself remember and re-experience all those childhood traumas and have it be OK that I was afraid and hurt.  And despite what I had previously expected, I didn’t wallow in depression and self-pity for weeks on end.  Letting myself fully experience those painful emotions started to neutralize the “charge” they had in my mind.

I’ve learned that this is a common experience among meditators.  After the initial peaceful and even blissful experiences in meditation, there comes a time when all of the painful thoughts and emotions you’ve suppressed come up to be felt and integrated into the new “you” you’re becoming.  St. John of the Cross called it the “dark night of the soul.”

Meditation didn’t turn out to be the totally relaxing and blissed-out experience I expected, but it’s also turned out to be better than I expected.  More and more I’m finding relief from stress not by avoiding it or through coping mechanisms (which even some forms of meditation can be), but by addressing the thoughts and the emotions underlying the stress.  It’s part of what people are talking about when they say there’s “no way around your problems but through them.”

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Fertile Soil and Soul

by Ann Zimmerman, L.Ac.

My parents did not garden much, but my grandpa always kept a big vegetable garden and “pet” walnut tree. Whenever I visited with him, we would tinker in his garden: weeding, transplanting, turning soil, adding compost, and my favorite–picking ripe veggies. After moving to college in Northern Florida, I started my first garden. It was perfect and it was a tiny 2 ft x 2ft square, sandwiched between a parking lot, air conditioner, and my apartment door. Now, I appreciate my youthful zest to take on any piece of earth I could find. Despite this little piece of forgotten soil being far from fertile, it did not matter to me at 18 years old. However, I intuitively knew that I would need to nurture this soil before I could expect plants to grow.   

In Chinese medicine we recognize that one’s body’s fertility, like the earth’s, depends on how their ecosystem is nourished. Commonly, the concept of fertility is limited to reproduction or a certain age-range for people, but fertility is actually the greater expression of one’s health. Fertility can include our willingness to be receptive, nourished, and grow emotionally and spiritually; it certainly does not need to be limited to the ability to conceive or limited by menopause.

My clinical practice in Talent is focused on fertility. Weekly, I collaborate with couples as they endeavor to expand their families. When we begin our work together, we always look at the body like a garden. How is the soil and how is the weather internally? Can we change the soil or climate to make conditions better for fertility? Maybe it needs more or less heat, moisture, nutrients, or maybe the soil is rocky. Often we do adjust the physical weather and fertility returns and sometimes Western medical intervention is needed.  But always we talk about how to be more fertile as a whole being, beyond making a baby. Sometimes in the journey to reproduce, couples learn that what they are seeking is not a baby, but to feel more fertile in their soul. We explore together the emotions and negative effects of stress and limiting belief systems. We redirect the body’s focus to the parts that have been starved for attention and healing. 

Spring is the season of fertility. We can feel the rising of new energy as the days grow longer and the weather warmer. The will to remove old debris and make way for our new ideas and projects is the natural rhythm of this season. The impulse to clean our surroundings is mirrored in our body’s desire for more salads and healthier foods.  As we adapt to this new season, ask yourself how you can be more fertile. What can you do to adjust your own soil to make you more receptive, nourished, and pulsing with life? What do you need to clear away or nourish to encourage new growth?

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Perfect is the Enemy of Good

by Clark Zimmerman, L.Ac.

Years ago my wife and I spent a month in Tibet.  We traveled to a sacred mountain called Mt. Kailash in the far western part of the country.   It was remarkable being in the thin air and the barren landscape of the high Tibetan plateau.  The natural beauty of the Himalayan mountains was breathtaking: bright colors adorned the temples, the people, and even the yaks as they plowed the fields.  It was all so foreign that it was almost as if we had been transported to an entirely different world.  With all of these unusual sights and experiences, the thing that stood out the most to us was the grace and apparent comfort of the Tibetan people.  When I say comfort I don’t mean that they lived comfortable lives–rather, they were comfortable in who they were.  With no mirrors or Facebook accounts, people didn’t fixate on how they looked.  The lack of dentistry meant most people past a certain age were noticeably missing teeth, and people were wrinkled and weathered by the elements.  With the constant wind and yak dung fires that provided warmth, along with the lack of showers, most people were covered with dust and smelled of smoke.  Despite all of this, the people were so kind and welcoming.  They really were comfortable in their own skin. 


  When I contrast this with so many Americans that I know, it amazes me how different our cultures are.  Though our culture is so abundant, so many of us are preoccupied with a sort of perfection that was absent in Tibet.  As we have become wealthier as a nation, we are becoming increasingly fixated on image and appearance.  Social media feeds show us a never-ending procession of perfect bodies, meals, and vacations.  They encourage us to compare our insides with everyone else’s outsides.  So many people get caught up in how to craft and maintain an image that is bigger than life.  We pursue a certain look, a perfectly manicured lawn, or a shiny car, but it doesn’t bring us more happiness.  It doesn’t improve our quality of life.  In fact, rates of anxiety and depression are increasing at an alarming rate, as are the use of the medications that treat them.  People are also spending more money in an effort to “keep up with the Jones’s.”  We are chasing a state of perfection that doesn’t exist, and we are making ourselves sick doing it.  While adults are struggling, kids are having an even harder time.  Without the reference point of a childhood before the constant messages of social media, children and young adults have been taught to believe that image is the most important thing.  How you look, how appealing the package is what gets you the most “likes.”  It’s like those Hollywood facades that they used in the old western movies:  The front is put together, but there is nothing inside the saloon. 


  So what is the solution?  As a society we need to reevaluate our priorities.  This involves finding ways to encourage substance over packaging.  People who don’t know any better are fooled by the package and the bling.  Reality stars whose claims to fame are how good of a shopper they are or how they apply their makeup, need to be turned off.   People who teach of patience and presence need to reclaim a place in our daily lives.  This involves turning off the phone or the computer once in awhile, and tuning into things that teach peace of mind.  For some, this is a good church that preaches the real gospel of love and service.  Others find it in a yoga, meditation class or a good self help book.  Wherever you find it, peace comes with the realization that none of us are perfect.  We each get to acknowledge our human flaws:  each wrinkle, pimple or bad mood.  We get to see ourselves as a true reflection of the divine, living in an imperfect body and mind.  The work involves witnessing each of our imperfections and finding a way to embrace them and using them to catalyze growth.  When we remember that life never was and never will be perfect, we get to put our energy into acceptance and growth.  In Tibet crooked teeth aren’t crooked, they’re  just teeth.

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