Sunday, January 21

The dangers of meditation

Meditation is all about mindfulness. But I’ve come to realise in the last month or so that I have been meditating that mindfulness is surprisingly hard to attain. In most sessions I manage to be mindful for about half a breath, usually an exhalation. But sometimes not at all.

I’m aware of two things. One is that for as long as I try to attain the elusive mindfulness it will most probably continue to evade me (meditation is also about letting go of the ego and of expectation). The other thing is that meditating for 20 minutes every day for about 30 days probably isn't enough to expect nirvana to suddenly be within reach.

Usually my mind is the main culprit and the sitting itself doesn’t pose too much of a problem, since my legs are naturally quite bendy in the directions required for the lotus position. But the other day things took an unexpected and uncomfortable turn for the worse, when about two minutes into the session I felt first one foot go numb, soon to be followed by the other. The sensation slowly moved up both legs. Now the thing with meditation and mindfulness is to acknowledge any distractions as you become aware of them, and then let them go.

But as I imagined the slowing trickle of blood struggling to reach my lower extremities I became obsessed with the possibility that I may develop gangrene if I remained sitting, and so letting go became an impossibility, a cruel joke. I frantically tried to focus on the breath (that’s what you’re supposed to do) and convince myself that 20 minutes would not be enough for my legs to turn black and have to be chopped off. But I was distracted by an ever growing pressure in my head and a disturbing swooshing sound in my ears. With the constricted vessels in my legs refusing any more blood through, was my brain filling with blood? Would I become brain damaged? Is meditation actually dangerous for your health?

In the end I survived the longest 20 minutes – ever, and afterwards I found out that it’s actually not reduced blood flow that gives rise to sensation we associate with a “sleepy” leg or foot, but rather a pinched nerve, and that no, it cannot cause nerve damage or brain damage or any other kind of damage. But maybe, eventually, it may indirectly cause mindfulness .

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