Fighting Parkinson’s, and doing…just doing…

I have said many times that in my recovery, I had to learn to stop thinking so much, and just “do.” Just doing without thinking was something completely contrary to how I had been in my life and how I was at the time when I had Parkinson’s. Of course, one of the things I realized in my recovery was that since I was doing what I always had been doing when I got Parkinson’s, part of my recovery would require me to do things differently. Doing without thinking was one of those important changes.

In Suzuki’s Not Always So, he makes this point: “In our zazen (sitting meditation) practice we stop our thinking, and we are free from emotional activity. We don’t say there is no emotional activity, but we are free from it. We don’t say we have no thinking, but our life activity is not limited by our thinking mind. In short, we can say that we trust ourselves completely, without thinking, without feeling, without discriminating between good and bad, right and wrong. Because we respect ourselves, because we put faith in our life, we sit. That is our practice.”

When I had Parkinson’s and was considering sitting zazen, I looked up articles and videos so I could get a sense of how to sit (correct posture, mudra (way of holding hands), etc.). Clearly, I was still thinking and over-thinking in my then-Parkinson’s Adrenaline mind mode. Sitting on the floor for any great length of time was impossible. Sitting with my back straight was impossible. Sitting in a lotus or half lotus position was impossible (something I never had been able to do in life). Holding my hands in a special mudra for any great length of time was impossible. Counting my breaths from 1-10 and starting over at 1 and doing it again…finally, something I could do.

So I improvised. I sat at the front of a hard, straight-backed chair, feet on the floor pointing straight, hunched forward with hands on knees. I set my timer for 10 minutes, closed my eyes about 75% and started counting my breaths on the exhale. When I reached 25 or 26, it occurred to me that I must not have been paying attention because I was supposed to go back to 1 when I reached 10. So I started at 1 again. After a few 1-10 sequences, I looked over at my timer to find that I had about 7-1/2 minutes remaining. I thought I was going to lose my mind (I had yet to realize that losing my over-thinking mind was the whole point of the sitting; I was a slow learner). I looked at the time a few more times over the next few minutes. My initial thought was “what a waste of 10 minutes; why in the world would anybody sit zazen for 30 or 40 minutes.”

However, as was my way in my recovery, when I started something new, I stuck with it for a month so I could properly assess its usefulness. It took me quite a few days to make it through 10 minutes without looking at the timer. I had really good reasons for looking at the timer: “I am certain I have been sitting here for a long time, but I am so focused on my counting, I did not notice the timer when it buzzed.” “I feel like I have sat here twice as long as yesterday, so the timer must be broken, I better check the time.” It is embarrassing to say, but this is just the beginning of a long list of reasons for looking at the time during the 10 minutes. Instead of just doing, that is, breathing and counting, for most of my 10 minutes I was involved in self-judging, self-criticizing over-thinking.

Then, one morning, it occurred to me that I needed to shoot down every excuse to look at the timer because part of what I was trying to accomplish was not over-thinking things and not worrying so much about the future. It hit me that worrying about the time prevented me from being in the moment. My mind was in a “what’s coming next” mode…instead of living in the moment, I was preoccupied with the future (and sometimes the past). More or less, I think everybody suffers from this with Parkinson’s — a preoccupation with how one got Parkinson’s and what will the future be like with Parkinson’s. Doing, instead of thinking too much, is how to be in the moment.

This was an important realization for me. I became better equipped for embracing the disease. Think about it: In the present moment, you have Parkinson’s. At some time in the past, you did not have Parkinson’s. At some time in the future, you may not have Parkinson’s. However, if all you do is think about it, you stop living. You end up caught in the “life was so good before, and the future looks bleak” mentality of Parkinson’s. WHAT ABOUT NOW…WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW?

As Dan Millman put it, “We can control efforts, not outcomes.” I have found in life that although I believe this statement to be true, the harder I put forth my efforts and the more consistent I am with my efforts, the more likely the outcome will be a desirable one. WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? What are your efforts for your Parkinson’s recovery?

Over-thinking generally creates fear, and Parkinson’s loves fear…it thrives on your fear and joins in the drama of creating terrible things for your future. One of the ways to stop this fear of the future is to stop thinking and start doing. Many times, Suzuki writes about taking the purpose of zazen practice into everyday life.

In the passage I quoted above, Suzuki writes that we sit zazen because we have faith in our lives and we respect ourselves. Take this into your everyday life. When you are doing the Parkinson’s Recipe for Recovery®, do it instead of thinking too much. Don’t do it wondering if it is working. Don’t do it wondering how soon you will recover. Don’t do it just because somebody tells you to do it and you are wondering if they are wrong. Do it because you respect yourself and have faith in your life and in your recovery.

I realized that I would not have my full recovery unless I calmed my over-thinking mind. I had to respect myself and have faith in my life and my recovery in doing what felt right instead of over-thinking everything on my path. Doing…just doing…it brought me home to my heart and soul where I found respect for myself and love, joy, compassion, and gratitude…and full recovery. You can do this.

You are worth it!

All my best,



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23 Responses to Fighting Parkinson’s, and doing…just doing…

  1. Waseema from Birmingham UK says:

    Howard that is my biggest issue. My brain just refuses to be quiet! Thank you for that insight. It helps to know that it can be overcome.

  2. margriet says:

    dear howard,

    thank you for this inspiring post!


  3. Jane says:

    Thank you, Howard, for another lovely post. The quote is deeply inspiring and your description of early zazen delightfully real and funny. With gratitude, as ever, Jane

  4. judy says:

    wow, Howard, right on the money! Thank-you. I needed this reminder. I’m working on it. It’s probably one of the most challenging parts of this journey! My mind is always trying to get involved in everything! I have to tell Judy to “be quiet now and stop talking”, gently, of course, no harshness or condemning! Usually she complies nicely.

  5. Tim says:


  6. Sally Carlson says:

    I wonder sometimes how I got so convinced that my mind has all the answers to everyone’s problems including my own.
    I’m praying that this is a sign of recovery that I can clearly see when I’m falling back into my mind habits.
    My prayer in the morning is “God please show me my destructive patterns”
    This was revealed to me just before Howard posted today’s message.
    Over thinking is exhausting.
    Letting go and trusting God is so much easier.

  7. Cynthia (from England) says:

    Thank you Howard – definitely a word in season x

  8. John Allen says:

    Thanks Howard. For everything. It’s very timely

  9. Tony says:

    Yep that’s the ticket out of the Parkinson’s mental grip. You’re 100% correct because when those times come that I’m living in the moment Parkinson’s takes a back seat and when I’m thinking about Parkinson’s it is in the driver seat. We all know how hard this is but the key is to just let go of the fear in your mind and open up the faith in your heart. Thank You Howard

  10. corazon salvador says:

    very good insight.GOD wants us to be still and know that he is GOD, and by so doing
    we can attain peace of mind and have no fear.

  11. Debbie says:

    Thanks so much Howard. I know first hand that this works, not only in the long run, but in short term also.
    Just a couple of nights ago I was having a hard time sleeping. I was worrying about something that I had no control over and which I could do nothing about; especially in the middle of the night. I knew that it was not good for me to be lying awake, feeling so fearful of what might happen. I knew better. I tried all my usual strategies for calming my mind. None of them were working. When early morning came the tremors were bad and I felt like I needed to sleep, but was to nervous and restless. I said a prayer and then it came to me. Stop THINKING and worrying . Have faith. Get out of bed and JUST START DOING your recovery exercises. I did just that. It was an answer to my prayers. I stopped thinking and just started doing my exercises. I was just doing something . That something was the best that I could do at that time. By the time I had finished my recovery exercises I was calm. I was ready to just keep on doing what I could, the best that I could, and then turn everything else over to God. I had a good peaceful, doing day. I slept well that night. I was and still am very grateful !
    I hope that in the future, I do not allow situations, or permit worry, to enter in. But if I do, I will remember this experience. I will say a little prayer, stop thinking and start doing. I will do the best that I can and then turn the rest over to God. I know He will handle it in a way that is very best. I have faith in myself and in God. I will ACT accordingly.

    My husband and I went to see the movie “Bridge of Spies” last weekend. One part of the movie rang true to me. Several times during the movie Rylance , an accused Russian Spy, was facing the electric chair, as well as other harsh possibilities. He always stayed so claim. Aren’t you worried?” Hanks asks his client Rylance. “Would it help?” Rylance always replied. The answer was obvious !!

    Thanks to each of you sharing and for making my journey lighter and more doable. Thanks to Howard for his wisdon, time, heart, and for sharing and caring.

    Have a great week 🙂
    Sending Blessings and Love
    From someone who is doing less thinking and more doing 🙂

    • Pat in Florida says:

      Debbie, what a great example of less thinking, replaced by doing. I am so glad you shared your story with all the details. So interesting and relatable!
      God bless you!

  12. Jimmy Reyes says:

    Just like many of us here, over-thinking is my weakness. It’s always a challenge for me to meditate, stay calm and live for the moment, however I think I’m improving on this area. Thank you Howard for your reminders.

  13. Helen Gill says:

    Thank you Howard, I am always needing reminders. Over the last few months it has been on my mind a lot to get the book The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman which you have spoken of..It nagged at me this thought till I bought it and have just finished it.I could hardly put it down, I so related to it and it’s messages, about letting fear go, living in the moment and doing one’s best and finding inner happiness. I highly recommend it to the peaceful warriors here, an inspiring and helpful story. I am on my path as all of us are, finding the inner rest. Love to all. Helen

  14. Anita in England says:

    Thanks for another really helpful and supportive post, Howard. I find it particularly helpful to know that you, too, had all those issues with sitting zazen – becoming convinced there was something wrong with the timer, finding yourself counting way past ten because the mind was getting busy with other stuff, etc! I guess these exercises are called practices for good reason – they need a lot of practise!

    I also really identify with Sally when she writes, “I wonder sometimes how I got so convinced that my mind has all the answers to everyone’s problems including my own.”. At least now I can laugh about it and enjoy the relief of learning to let go.

    Very best wishes to you all.

  15. Karen in Ireland says:

    Hi guys, great postings from everyone, loved your share Debbie.
    Howard two lines stood out for me ” faith in my life” and ” brought me home to my heart and soul”. There is a purpose not only to my life but in having this experience of Parky. It’s not the whole journey just part of it. What a thorough teacher Parkinson’s has been to all of us. A cruel teacher but a teacher non the less. I am slowly slowly being brought home to my heart and soul, connecting with the wisdom, listening to the inner voice of truth. My share this week is that I like Debbie had a sleepless night. The result was I was chair bound for the day, which brought me to watch a documentary( a blessing) I realised, all of my life I have played the role of ” victim” so many times, so many senarios, so many relationships…. I was always the good person who came away wounded. Even in this disease a choice to be victim. No more. I now chose to allow myself to give up that role, played it over and over too many times, got the t-shirt. I now choose to tap into my beautiful magnificent soul. I am the peaceful warrior! I type here to all my fellow peaceful warriors with love. We shall be victorious! I have faith in my life’s purpose, I am coming home to my heart. Thank you Howard. Bless you. Xx
    Big Love to all.
    Karen xx

    • Sally Carlson says:

      How honest you are!
      I have started to see this so clearly in my life.
      For so long I wanted it to be only a physical disease.
      Finally, I am facing this truth.
      Thank you a million for your honesty, Karen.

      • Karen in Ireland says:

        My pleasure Sally, it’s all about getting to the truth to allow the healing. The more we share the more we benefit each other and that is Love. Isn’t that what we are all doing here anyway learning how to return to Love, our purest essence. 🙂
        Karen xx

  16. jimmy says:

    Uno de los mayores logros de la ciencia moderna ha sido descubrir que la
    mente y el cuerpo no son cosas separadas e independientes, sino una sola entidad
    vista desde diferentes ángulos. Descartes se equivocó al separar cuerpo y
    mente. Y la medicina occidental, que ha seguido sus pasos, se ha equivocado
    también al dejar de lado la importancia del estado mental de los pacientes a la
    hora de evaluar su estado de salud,
    Un análisis de más de cien estudios que relacionan las emociones y la salud
    aporta una prueba de la estrecha relación entre la mente y el cuerpo: la gente que
    padece algún malestar crónico (que está ansiosa y preocupada, deprimida y
    pesimista, o enojada y hostil) tiene el doble de posibilidades de padecer alguna
    enfermedad grave en el futuro. El tabaco aumenta el riesgo de padecer alguna
    enfermedad grave en un 60%; el malestar emocional crónico lo aumenta en un
    100%. Así pues, comparado con el tabaco, el malestar emocional es mucho más
    nocivo para la salud.
    Los investigadores del nuevo campo científico de la psiconeuroinmunología, que
    estudia las relaciones biológicas entre la mente, el cerebro y el sistema inmunológico,
    están explorando los misteriosos mecanismos que conectan la mente y
    el cuerpo, y descubriendo que los focos emocionales del cerebro se hallan
    estrechamente ligados no sólo al sistema inmunológico, sino también al sistema
    cardiovascular. Cuando sufrimos una tensión nerviosa crónica, cuando el cuerpo
    se ve continuamente impulsado a « luchar o huir», con la consecuente descarga
    de hormonas, disminuye la capacidad del sistema inmunológico para defenderse
    de los virus y atajar cánceres incipientes, al tiempo que el corazón se ve obligado
    a aumentar la presión sanguínea y bombear desesperadamente a fin de preparar
    el cuerpo para una emergencia. La consecuencia final de ello es que aumenta
    nuestra vulnerabilidad frente a enfermedades de todo tipo.
    En cambio, una mente que está en paz consigo misma protege la salud del
    cuerpo. Éste es uno de los principios fundamentales de la medicina tradicional
    oriental, un sistema ancestral que nunca ha olvidado la relación crucial entre
    cuerpo y mente.
    El cuerpo la mente y el espiritu los tres están estrechamente conectados, Hasta
    tal punto que podemos «relajar nuestro apego», es decir, soltar las pequeñas y
    grandes preocupaciones que limitan y constriñen nuestra visión, y relajarnos
    dentro de un concepto más amplio y espacioso de nosotros mismos y nuestro
    lugar en el universo; hasta ese punto podemos dominar el poder curativo de la

  17. Shawna Carol says:

    Thanks Jimmy. Especially for the information that toxic emotions are more dangerous than smoking. It really puts things in perspective.

    Thanks for a great post Howard.

    Blessings to all,


  18. bailey says:

    I just returned from a week-long silent meditation retreat which included eight 20-30 minute meditations per day. There’s nothing like a silent retreat to expose your monkey mind! The noise that goes on between my ears is deafening! Ha! And yet, with practice and commitment, there were occasional moments of spacious awareness that were worth all those hours of “trying” to be silent, letting thoughts come and go. And the tremors? I’d say 90% gone during meditation! Although sitting still for that long did require lots of repeated deep breaths to release the body tension, it was so worth it. I don’t recommend such a retreat for everyone, but I do stand behind Howard’s recommendation of meditation. Thank you (yet again!) dear Howard for pointing the way!

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