Monday, March 21, 2011

From Agitation To Meditation

It is Saturday morning, 1974.  I am an Instructor at Casper College in Wyoming.  My wife Barbara is a Social Worker for the State of Wyoming in Casper.  We had planned to drive 300 miles to Denver that weekend to participate in one of Dan Perin's meditation classes at the Whole Life Learning Center. 

But I was half sick.  Tension in the chest, low energy, depression, typical onset of a nasty cold, or worse, the flu.   We debated and finally thought we would try the trip and see how we felt.  We could turn around and come back if I got worse.  So I fired up the 1965 primer-paint Corvair and off we went to Denver. 

In meditation class, we began by lying down and relaxing, our arms stretched out over our head, palms up and hands relaxed.  But my arms would not lie down flat.  There was so much tension in my shoulders that I could not lay my arms out flat on the floor, over my head, the biceps touching the ears.  So I fanned my arms down a bit to let them rest on the floor.

The breathing exercise started, a four count, which Dan explained he had adopted because "it does not mean anything."  Why get hung up on the trinity, the pentagon, the hexagon with all their religious and pagan associations, when four does fine as a breathing count.  I liked that common-sense approach.

Empty the mind and concentrate only on the breathing count, Dan said.  When the mind wanders from it, just come back to the count and start again.  Sirens outside?  Ignore them and come back to the count.  Sounds easy, doesn't it--tune out the outside world and your stray thoughts and just do the simple task of counting your breath.  Thoughts of your job come up?  Or a relationship?  That's okay, just tune it out and go back to the breathing and counting the breath.  Empty and still the mind.  That's all you are to do:  count the breath.  Sound easy?  Yes, but it is not.  And at first, seemingly impossible.

Later, or perhaps in a later session, we were to have a directed meditation.  We did the counting of the breath under Dan's direction, stilled the "random thought generator" that seems to want to run all of the time, then at his instruction, we began meditating on the issue we had predetermined would be the subject of the meditation for the session.  And there was the issue before us, without rancor, tension, anger, desire, just a peaceful contemplation of it and an addressing of what the issues were.  Just still the mind and then throw the problem up and look at it.  Just look.   That, of course, is the correct way to look at all personal problems, or any problem.  But again, easier said than done.  (And if everyone did that, it would put Judge Judy and Judge Mathis out of business, would it not?)

In the last session of the day I was suddenly aware that my arms and shoulders were completely relaxed, and my arms could lie on the floor above my head in perfect repose.  When in the evening we drove back to Casper, all of my symptoms of the morning had disappeared.  No tension and congestion in the chest, no depression, and my energy levels were up to any challenge.  It was unbelievable.  It was only at that point that I was fully aware of the toll that anxiety and tension takes on the body and how it is the mind that is creating it and that we do have control over our mind, should we exercise that control in a disciplined way.  I had let the conflicts, frustrations of work and city and relationship actually make me stiff and ill.

I was lucky.  I had found the right person, Dan Perin, at the right time, in the aftermath of the post-traumatic stress of three years of anti-war activity in Ohio, and in the right place, Denver  (though 300 miles from Casper, the distance was a blessing as the Casper tensions faded with the miles).  This was the beginning of my recovery from the traumatic stress of three years in the maelstrom of anti-Vietnam War protests at Kent State, and the recent year of coping with the chaos of an oil boom town in Wyoming, a recovery for which I am forever indebted to Dan.  My numerous encounters with Dan and with programs and personalities and workshops he brought to the Whole Life Learning Center--from meditation to acupressure to aura healing to past-life regression--enabled me some three years later to have the clarity and focus of mind and personal mental confidence to once again take up the graduate studies I had dropped out of two years previously.  But in 1974 I had no intention of completing them, for the toll of the stress had destroyed my confidence in the value any sustained intellectual endeavors.  I returned to Kent State in the 1977-78 school year and completed my dissertation and thus my doctoral studies in the Summer of 1980.  Thanks, Dan.

Written and Submitted by Lloyd Agte, Co-Administrator of our InsightandOutsight blog.

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