From the BlogMeet Ron


Dear Friends,
As a nurse, I am trained to make quick assessments of patients, starting from the ABCs: Is the airway clear? Is the breathing unlabored? Is circulation robust? 
If we are clear on the basics, we move on to finer level assessments. 

In meditation, we often find ourselves stuck in a basic mode: there are gross obstructions in the system that need to be cleared, often urgently.

One of the ways we find ourselves stuck is overwhelm. Our system is simply overwhelmed, flooded with sticky, uncomfortable memories or body sensations, often originating in unconscious processing.

We know from neuroscience that one of the brain’s primary functions is to see events and conditions in the world as either threat or reward.

Stephen Porges Ph.D. says in his polyvagal theory that the vagus nerve communicates between the brain and the heart, and our unconscious perceptions of threat and safety are connected to heart rate rhythm and the ability to regulate various aspects of the nervous system.

According to this view we are hard-wired with a multi-level nervous system response to perceived threats to our safety, whether real or imagined. 
And in meditation the body often cannot differentiate from the perceived threat response originating from a memory or in “real life.” 

When our brains perceive the environment is safe, the vagus will shut down the fight or flight response, and turn off the autonomic nervous system.
These are safety signals, it’s OK, and we can relax.

I think the Buddha understood the polyvagal theory in his own way; he emphasized the Dhamma as a sublime refuge from the storms ofsamsara. This refuge affords the weary traveler a crucial place of safety on which to build the abode of the collected mind – samādhi. 

To enter into meditation in a way that’s effective and transformative, you need to feel safe.

Overwhelm happens. It’s the loss of the observing faculty of clearly seeing, watching as if from a safe distance. 

Overwhelm overpowers mindfulness and keeps mindfulness from gelling again.

Following a medical theme here, one strategy for working with this sense of overwhelm in your meditation practice is to use the notion of titration.

I think titration is built-in to most vipassana systems of meditation, in this way:

We begin to slow everything down, almost frame by frame with dedicated practice. This is one way to keep sensory date from overwhelming the system – slow walking, eating, brushing of teeth, bathing.

Another example is when we broaden the scope of awareness in our practice. Let’s say a certain level of concentration builds by focusing on a relatively small part of the body – by widening the scope of attention to take in the whole body at once, we titrate because there is now a bigger pool of awareness.

In this way we become experts on the ABCs of the meditative path, where ABC stands for “a bigger container” (to use Joko-Beck’s phrase).

As we walk this path and explore all is marvelous branches, perhaps we stumble onto the “bliss of blamelessness” following the Buddha’s ethical values, or maybe we discover deeper states of ease and joy in daily life– it’s all about being happy, relaxed, at ease, and safe in our own skin.

Please keep walking this wonderful path.
Together, we can do this.
Tom, Katina, and the kids

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