Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Spondylitis and the brain - hope, depression and meditation

The mental side of the equation came up on kickas recently..


If you read my story (link in navbar) you would know that when I was still on NSAIDs I was miserable as heck as the disease gradually worsened and I knew that eventually I was going to be bed ridden. I had lost all hope for my future.. I felt doomed and even questioned the value of living in such a state. It would have to be one of my worst moments in life.

As soon as I worked out the gut <-> inflammatory relationship, after a bit of a mishap with some bad food and a big nudge in the right direction from dragonslayer (on kickas.org)... at that point I was no longer miserable, as I knew that my health would ultimately be in my hands. Hope for the future had returned. Thinks might not have been all roses and sunshine, but I knew I could win this fight.


There was also an event way back when I was at uni (somewhere around 1999-2000 I would guess). I was still on NSAID drugs at that point but the disease hadn't gotten so bad yet. I joined my universities buddhist group (Macbuddhi) and went off to a monastery for a short retreat. I was still eating normally and hadn't learned how effective the NSD was at that point. 

Venerable Mahinda, a monk, led us in meditation and in particular a meditation called "Metta meditation" which focussed on generating feelings of great compassion and goodwill. It works quite well at that by the way. Anyway, that night as I stayed in the monastery I slept in my sleeping bag. What was unusual is that when I woke up I remember that I felt much better than usual and had less pain and stiffness. 

It isn't so strange when you think about it though. The immune system functions much more efficiently when we are no longer under stress, and when our emotions are in a more positive frame.

Here is my post from way back December 2005 in which I mention this experience:

A few years back I went on a short Buddhist meditation retreat and I remember that my AS symptoms improved considerably at the time. I often wanted to go back to that retreat, but somehow I never did. It was a long time ago and my memory is a bit sketchy...
The meditations centred on wishing 'loving kindness' (metta) for others, and that they "be well and happy" .. first starting with those that are most dear to us (partners, family friends), then gradually widening this to colleagues, then to those in our town, then the entire region, then the entire country, then the world, then the entire universe. 
 Here is a very similar exercise I found on the net (almost identical) :
from: http://www.fwbo.org/metta.html
Loving-Kindness Meditation

The original name of this practice is mettabhavana, which comes from the Pali language. Metta means 'love' (in a non-romantic sense), friendliness, or kindness: hence 'loving-kindness' for short. It is an emotion, something you feel in your heart. Bhavana means development or cultivation. The commonest form of the practice is in five stages, each of which should last about five minutes for a beginner.

1. In the first stage, you feel metta for yourself. You start by becoming aware of yourself, and focusing on feelings of peace, calm, and tranquillity. Then you let these grow in to feelings of strength and confidence, and then develop into love within your heart. You can use an image, like golden light flooding your body, or a phrase such as 'may I be well and happy', which you can repeat to yourself. These are ways of stimulating the feeling of metta for yourself.

2. In the second stage think of a good friend. Bring them to mind as vividly as you can, and think of their good qualities. Feel your connection with your friend, and your liking for them, and encourage these to grow by repeating 'may they be well; may they be happy' quietly to yourself. You can also use an image, such as shining light from your heart into theirs. You can use these techniques - a phrase or an image - in the next two stages as well.

3. Then think of someone you do not particularly like or dislike. Your feelings are 'neutral'. This may be someone you do not know well but see around. You reflect on their humanity, and include them in your feelings of metta.

4. Then think of someone you actually dislike - an enemy. Trying not to get caught up in any feelings of hatred, you think of them positively and send your metta to them as well.

5. In the final stage, first of all you think of all four people together - yourself, the friend, the neutral person, and the enemy. Then extend your feelings further - to everyone around you, to everyone in your neighbourhood; in your town, your country, and so on throughout the world. Have a sense of waves of loving-kindness spreading from your heart to everyone, to all beings everywhere.