Fighting Parkinson’s, and sitting and being

Okay. Let’s sit and be. Just sit…and see what happens. That is doing. It is seemingly doing nothing that is powerfully doing something in your recovery. How can doing “no thing” actually be doing “some thing” useful? I will explain.

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. Doing without thinking is being authentically you. Doing based upon a feeling, not based upon thinking about options, pros and cons, etc. Feel it and do it! That takes faith. However, since this is 2021…the year of faith, it is time for you to feel and do.

When I had Parkinson’s and was considering doing meditation, and I read about sitting zazen, I looked up articles and videos so I could get a sense of how to sit (correct posture, correct mudra (way of holding hands), correct amount of time to sit, correct time of day to sit, correct…etc.). Clearly, I was still thinking and over-thinking in my then-Parkinson’s Adrenaline mind mode. 

My physical limitations narrowed down the ability to “correctly” do almost all that I had read. 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 anyhow). Holding my hands in a special mudra for any great length of time was impossible. Counting my breaths from 1-10 starting the counting on the exhale, 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% (eyelids cracked to assist me in not falling asleep), and I 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 and being, 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, and 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 and being, instead of thinking too much, is how to be in the moment. So doing what looked like “no thing” (just sitting) turned out to be “some thing” special; it brought me into feeling the reality of 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?

If you are sitting zazen, then this is what you are doing now: 

In Suzuki’s Not Always So, he makes this point: “In our zazen 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.”

How powerful is that in your life and recovery:

“Because we respect ourselves, because we put faith in our life, we sit.”

I need to take a brief aside. Some people with a strong Western religious practice and faith feel an aversion to meditation. It is new and different and they have raised concerns with me that they feel they might be doing something contrary to their religious ideals. I look at it this way. In the Western religions’ Bible, in Genesis, God said let there be light. This means that all creation that followed was first in the darkness and born into the light no differently than each of us being in the darkness of our mother’s bodies before we were born into the light.

Meditation takes you back into the darkness to help you see the light of your essence deep inside you. It helps you sit in the darkness and allows your luminous essence to grow and shine…it delivers you from the darkness back into the light.

So, my friends, in your soul, mind, and body Parkinson’s Recipe for Recovery® journey, taking the words of Suzuki: respect yourself, put faith in your life, and let’s sit and be.

You are worth it!!!

All my best,
Howard

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16 Responses to Fighting Parkinson’s, and sitting and being

  1. Gina says:

    I love this post! I have been meditating 40 minutes to an hour every day for the past three months. I am still struggling to stay focused and not let other thoughts come in my head I am getting better!

  2. Kate says:

    When I first started practicing the recipe I would find any excuse to skip ‘sitting zazen’, but I have come to realize how important it is. It keeps me present, my tremors subside, and gives me a wonderful feeling of peace and gratitude.

  3. Chris says:

    It seems to me that meditation builds up spiritual muscles for breaking the bad habit of over thinking our lives.
    Zazen is a very straight forward and effective form of meditation stripped of any particular religious verbage.
    All spiritual traditions have some form of meditation for the very reason that it is so darn useful.
    Thank you, Howard, for the wonderful presentation on zazen; I really enjoyed it.

    With love, blessings and much appreciation to all,

    Chris

  4. Petra says:

    Normally when I lay on the sofa I do a mobilegame just to keep my mind centered. Yesterday I didn’t play, but my mind bumped everywhere, like a monkey jumping from branch to branch, hanging upside down and swinging all around. Now I wonder why? What happens if I don’t. Focus on feeling, breathing and being, instead of playing a game or hanging in a tree,so to speak. So it’s not only for 10 minutes but I can look at it all day long. I realized by this post how much I’m occupied by my mind.

    🌺🌺🌺

  5. Tery and Werni says:

    Thank you, Howard, this explanation is very helpful and shows, how useful simple things can be, love this!!Great!!

  6. Karen in Ireland says:

    Hi Howard, lovely post. I loved your analogy of darkness and light. Great way of viewing meditation 😍
    Big love to all.
    Karen xx

  7. Rick says:

    Thank you Howard . Mediation is something I struggle with but I’m getting better at it . I now find it very refreshing 😀

  8. Ola Stasiak-Brough says:

    Thank you Howard for sharing your experience, it normalized mine. I am glad to share that my sitting in the dark vastly improved! I love sitting in the dark, it feels safe, peaceful and creative.

    I still sometimes find myself counting well over number 10 lol!!

    much love,

    Ola

  9. Roger says:

    Looking at the timer cause it might be broken! Skipping zazen because I was running late . . .intellectualizing everything (I’ve read books on zen. I know there is a sound of one hand clapping. So I can skip zazen, right?) Howard, one of the reasons I love your posts is that they are like mirrors. Mirrors that prompt me to really see and then do the work. Here’s to losing our minds!

  10. Rabindar says:

    Meditation is important for recovery, but I am still struggling with Zazen. I am sure I will get it going one day and enjoy the benefits.

    Thank you for highlighting the importance of meditation.

  11. Graham Snowden says:

    Hi, I thought I would share part of me with you. I have been diagnosed for 12 months, I am drug free. I practice yoga, do a physio and Howard’s Recipe, I finish in the seated position where I do a little acupressure and breathing which then evolves into a 10 min meditation. You raised the question of religion. My opinion is that while meditating you are relaxed and open this is a good time to let god into your life and your body a feeling of enlightenment can be a welcome aside and a pleasant part of your recovery. I feel to be getting better and just 10 min of meditation is a wonderful thing. It’s not always the same and can vary in perseaved quality but it is wonderful. I also receive an acupuncture treatment which I find is starting to give positive results. I feel clean in my life and positive about my future. Thanks for the blog and your input to my life, Howard and all the contributors.
    Cheers
    Graham.

  12. Debby says:

    Thank you, Howard, this is encouragement that I needed. For the person who worried about conflict with her religion, some types of prayer have a lot in common with meditation, and the type called “contemplative prayer” really seems to be exactly meditation. Perhaps it would help her to call it that, or even read about it. I will keep trying to sit although I have all those thoughts that get in the way!

  13. Bob says:

    Thank you Howard for this back to the basics reminder of zazen meditation. I’m currently doing 3 different mediations each day. All are enriching mind you but without zazen I’m definitely missing out on something. It’s time to take this up again. I’m worth 10 minutes to put faith and trust in my life – not my mind.
    Thank you!

  14. Margaret says:

    Ommmmm!!!!!!!!!!!!!! just reading this relaxes me. Although I am no meditation pro and find myself, distracted many times, I have gotten to the point where I do enjoy meditating and feel the benefit. I am very grateful for it.
    Beautiful post Howard, thank you!
    Love to all!

  15. Randy Pou says:

    “Don’t just do something, sit there. “

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