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Why Meditating’s Good For You

March 11, 2011

“Diabetes is the disease of health.”

These are the words of Genevieve, a bubbly young insulin-pump spokesperson I met at the endo clinic just three days after I was diagnosed with type 1. A life-long diabetic, she was the only other person my age I met that first week of Diabetes Ed. The rest of my fellow patients that week consisted of age 70-plus type-2s who were still needing some convincing from our dietician to cut back on red meat.

Diabetes is the disease of health, she explained some 9 months ago, because treating it requires living your life to the utmost standard of wellness possible. “Eat healthy, exercise regularly, keep stress levels down…” she said, “who can argue with that?”

~

I have embraced this “disease of health” thing. I love having an excuse to say no to dessert. I love having added incentive to excercise every day. Making healthy food choices empowers me. Training for a half-marathon empowers me. Every day, diabetes asks me: “how badly do you want to stay alive?” And every day I give the same reply: “badly. Very, very badly.”

Being “healthy” is a multi-disciplinary pursuit. I believe it requires following a threefold checklist of diet, exercise, and mental/spiritual wellness. The first two are easily quantifiable. but mental and spiritual wellness? That one’s a little trickier to goal-set for.

Still, it’s in the spirit of this Holy Trinity of Health – diet, excercise, and mental/spiritual well-being – that I meditate every day.

~

When I was fifteen, I started going to the gym. Within a year it became enough of a habit that, if I missed a few days of exercise, I’d crave it. Today, a day rarely goes by that I don’t get at least some solid chunk of work-out time. It’s not about discipline anymore. Exercise simply makes me happy.

A year ago, I took my first intensive Vipassana meditation course. A ten-day regime of ten-hours of meditation a day, this silent retreat is meant to kick-start novice meditators into a solid practice, as well as strengthen the practice of veterans. Like physical exercise, daily meditation has become an increasingly necessary part of my daily routine.  In the past year, I’ve been more-or-less on a daily-meditation regimen. Some weeks I’ve slacked off on it. Some weeks have brought daily sits of no more than 5 or 10 minutes. Other weeks I’ve meditated some two or three hours a day. It’s a young practice in my life, but it’s getting stronger.

Having just returned from my second Vipassana course this week – in many ways much more illuminating and life-changing than my first – I feel strengthened in my daily meditation practice. Meditating every day makes sense. Just as I get an average of an hour of exercise a day, so should I sit and meditate for an hour a day too.  Oh, and eat lots of organic salads and stay away from the processed crap.

Like many diabetics, I deal with chronic mild depression. My approach to managing it is similar to my approach to managing diabetes itself: rather than resenting it, find ways to work with it.  That means saying yes, with discretion, to whatever western medicine has to offer, while learning to respectfully live alongside this challenging set of circumstances in a holistic way. Excercise helps. Diet helps. And meditation? That definitely helps.

When I am meditating regularly, life feels more vital. I feel present for each moment of it, be it pleasant or unpleasant. I make clearer judgements. I am kinder to my fellow human beings. With a regular meditation pactice, I can actually attend more moments of this very life I’m fighting so hard to hold on to.

I eat well so that everything else in my life can work. I get daily exercise so that everything else in my life can work. And similarly, I meditate so that everything else in my life can work. These three disciplines are the means of propping up my life’s passions and purpose, but in the practice of them, become passions in their own right.

~

They say we should live every day as if it were our last. Being asked the daily question “How badly do you want to stay alive?” is, I think, a pretty good recipe for mindful living! Of course, everyone should be entitled to live out this disease 0f health. Wellness is a universal human right.

Having the disease of health has, in many ways, really improved my quality of life. For example, it’s kind of nuts, but I just don’t eat sweets anymore. I just don’t want to! They make me feel bad, and screw up my blood sugars, and don’t do any human body any good. I like living, so I want to do what I can to enjoy life.

(Oh, I know they say, enjoying sweets from time to time is a way of adding life to your years, not years to my life, blah blah blah. But honestly, the sugar-hangover I get from ice cream or cheesecake does NOT add life to my years, thank-you-very-much. It just makes me feel cranky and tired. A banana with almond butter will do.)

 Did I mention that I would regularly eat ice cream for dinner as an undergrad, followed by a day of fasting to keep it from showing up on my waistline? Diabetes, you have been a blessing in many strange ways.

~

Now that I’m back in the real world after ten challenging days in silence, I feel stronger than ever about maintaining a daily meditation practice. So far, I’m committing to at least one hour a day. Maybe that number will increase, who knows? For now, I feel strengthened in the daily discipline of Health, and feel grateful for this new approach to living diabetes has given me: to fill the toolbox of life with tricks to not only live a longer life, but be present for each moment of it.

And that, I must say, is a great way of adding both years to my life and life to my years.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2011 3:59 am

    Hello

    I’ve been reading your blog for the last 30 mins or so and plan to work my way through it when I have the time…

    As a type 1 myself its so refreshing to hear the thoughts of someone with a positive attitude towards this condition, lord knows theres enough negativity floating about the internet! Although its mainly the fault of the media who just love a bit of hype!

    Much like you (late starter) I found out I was type 1 age 26 in the exact same scenario as yourself, in fact I’m one of 6 boys in my family and the only diabetic, no other in my family on either my Mums or Dads side, so I’m truly unique! Which is kinda cool. I also would consider myself to be a healthy diabetic, I exercise regularly and watch what I eat, although I am still prone to the odd bowl of ice cream or choc bar, but thats where my naughtiness ends – plus being diabetic they form part of a treat after a long walk in the sunshine or other…..

    anyway……

    This post is of interest to me and the reason I found your blog, the only and I mean only thing I have real trouble controlling is my glucose level when it comes to stress… and I dont mean, crazy, pressured stress but the angst of daily life, hard day at work, argument with girlfriend, getting stuck in traffic 🙂 usual stuff that someone with a “normal” body would just push through, but as a type 1’ner, it nudges up my levels and this is something I dont like! It feels out of my control and this isnt good…. Plus, as I am generally a relaxed and chilled out person with a happy life, when stress does come my way, I’m not used to it any more.

    So I need to meditate, I know this…. I used to mediate when I was a late teen, believe it of not, but recently I’ve let it pass me by, Its one of those things that I am putting off until……… fill in the gap, (start new job, move home, have a holiday) and I know deep down that its the right thing to do, its kinda like my body tells me this the fix to this problem…. find some time, relax, breathe and meditate.

    So, I will follow your lead and kick myself in the butt! 🙂

    Listen, keep up the good work, this blog is excellent and having been a diabetic for 7 -8 years now I can tell you how rare it is to find someone else out there whos managing the condition in a similar way to me. When I read the stats ref side effects, life expectancy and all the things that can go wrong as a diabetic I think, thats them, not me, I’m one of the small percentages that will live a long, happy and healthy life, as I’m sure you will too. When it comes to diabetes the mind and a positive attitude is MASSIVE, I really think so, if you meditate then you’re possibility a believer in the power of attraction? Well, keeping your mind happy and positive rather than expecting the worse is the way to remain healthy with diabetes, dont expect the side effects, its not a done deal, carry on living as you are and you’ll be just fine….

    Anyway, its Sunday morning, its early and I need a coffee… 🙂

    Take care and keep munching those dates!

    Ross

    UK diabetic currently in Germany

  2. Ranjeet Mehta permalink
    March 3, 2016 7:31 am

    Liked your blog very much. I am 45 year old type2 diabetic since age of 31. Keep on writing. Sometimes we feel alone and isolated. Such a group gives strength.

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