After being diagnosed with a medical condition or facing a medical procedure it is normal to feel frightened, worried, and have some anxiety as one experiences two types of suffering: physical suffering and psychological suffering.
The Buddha in one of his speeches illustrated the nature of suffering with the metaphor of the arrow: a person is initially struck by an arrow that indicates physical suffering due to the disease itself, immediately after he is hit by another arrow which symbolizes the mental thoughts that then activate. Thus he will feel the pain of two arrows.
Faced with the painful experiences that life inevitably puts before us there is the given suffering and then another suffering that corresponds to the automatic negative and aversive reaction to the challenge in front of us. This union of suffering is perceived by us to have been caused by the event itself, ignoring the fact that each of us can control the way in which we choose to deal with each challenge we face.
The mind rejects what it finds unpleasant and this does not allow us to grasp the experience that we are actually experiencing. Disease casts doubts on our illusions of stability, of continuity.
Among the various existing diseases, surgery and cancer are associated with greater fears, an image of worsening quality of life and greater anxiety due to the modification of ones' self-image.
Mindfulness puts emphasis on the mind's way of receiving the experience of illness, how it perceives it on a sensory level, how it interprets it on a cognitive level and how it reacts to it on an emotional level. The patient who is faces a challenging condition must face the experience of physical loss or the significance of the prognosis that collides with our idea of well-being and happiness, states to which we tend constantly. Man tries, in an almost reactive way, to eliminate suffering from his own existence. This will involve profound changes in the perception of oneself, of the world, of time, the process that aims to face things as they are, is healing.
How can meditation and mindfulness help patients?
Meditation strengthens the immune system (1)
One of the benefits of meditation it helps improve not only our mental defenses but also our immune systems. If we manage to meditate every day we will notice how we are stronger before adversity and we will have more energy to fight against external stimuli and internal thoughts, allowing one to feel calmer, more focused and in control.
The importance of relaxation
As we have said, meditation takes away the stress of our life, which makes us more relaxed. It has been found that it is easier to cure illnesses if we are relaxed, something that, for many patients, is not usually very easy. Meditation and some practices such as Mindfulness can help us in this regard. With meditation we can find a balance between our sympathetic and parasympathetic system, so that we replace the typical mode of struggle or flight of stress with a relaxed response.
One of the things that meditation teaches us is that all kinds of thoughts run through our mind. It is estimated that one can have up to 60,000 thoughts per day and that negative thoughts tend to be repetitive. One of the great problems of individuals is that we are not aware of what we think, and that is the direct antecedent of what we do. By meditating we can distinguish positive thoughts from negative ones, and get rid of everything that causes us pain. In the case of any illness or surgery, meditation can help us accept the condition and fight it with all our possible energy, energy that we can only find in a positive mind.
Physical and mental well-being
In addition, thanks to meditation, individuals feel better about themselves, as they are able to relieve stress and feel more relaxed, allowing them to increase their cognitive capacity and feel more useful and more alive in their existence.
Meditation and Mindfulness also improves the quality of sleep, so that the energy that this difficult conditions can take away, can be replenished well. In this way, little by little we can become stronger.
So, try embracing mindfulness and meditation to help ease the physical and the emotional pain of the conditions you face while learning how to be gentle, kind and loving towards yourself.