my happy place

You might be seeing a lot of posts from me the next few weeks, thanks to procrastination and insomnia and all the rest. Not that I can promise quality writing to go with the frequency of said posts, but this is a blog. No one's grading me on it.

Last night a friend of ours dropped by so Stu could help him right some wrong with his laptop. While Stuart was swapping airport cards from one computer to another and running extension cords all over the house, I was talking with said friend about meditation. He is in his 4th year of medical school, plans to go into family practice, and is increasingly interested in integrative medicine. A doctor of integrative medicine who lives, teaches, and practices in Madison wrote a textbook about 3" thick on the subject, and our friend has really learned a lot from him. I don't know much about integrative medicine except that it's got a much more holistic approach than regular medicine. Doctors who use this approach are concerned with the emotional well-being of their patients and how that affects their physical health.

That seems like a no-brainer, right? Don't we all know that stress and anxiety is bad for your health? Still, I have yet to go to a doctor who asks me how my life is going. Even yesterday at my last preggo check-up, when I asked my doc (whom I adore, by the way) for advice on the sleep and itching issues I've been having, I didn't think to mention the fact that I'm on the verge of finishing a doctorate and the tail-end of revisions is causing me to feel more stressed out and exhausted than I might be otherwise.

So anyway, the reason my friend and I were talking about meditation is that he's met a few doctors who use it a lot themselves and with their patients. Now, my friend and I (and Stuart, for that matter) are the kind of people for whom meditation doesn't usually feel necessary. We're people whose emotional and spiritual needs aren't particularly complex. But he's been trying it for a few minutes every day, and I asked him what he does to meditate. His answer was pretty simple: concentrate on deep breathing and then visualize yourself in a happy place.* As it turns out, that's what I've been doing in the middle of the night when I can't sleep. It's like my brain's not totally "on" because I'm so tired, but hormones and itching and all that keep me too wired to actually sleep. So I'll sit on the futon or the couch or wherever in a state somewhere between sleep and wakefulness and breathe slowly and imagine myself somewhere very, very peaceful. That's my happy place (By the way, it's hard not to snicker when you're using phrases like "happy place"...I obviously have a ways to go before mastering this whole meditation thing.)

My happy place is simple: I imagine myself in a dark room, dressed in cozy flannel pajamas, wrapped in a warm quilt, drinking hot cider and staring into a very warm fire flickering in a fireplace. I am warm. I am alone. I am not pregnant. I am not moving or fidgeting at all. Sometimes I am reading or knitting, and sometimes I am just sitting. I am comfortable.

Do you do this? What's your happy place (if you don't mind sharing)?

*Interesting side note: the kind of deep breathing where you really let your diaphragm expand (the kind singers and players of wind instruments are quite familiar with) stimulates a major nerve (the name of which escapes me at the moment) which in turn fires up the neurons that both send happy, relaxing signals to your brain and make you want to take a crap. We then discussed the merits of meditating on the toilet. It was a very sophisticated conversation.


Pamela said…
Thanks for this post, Susan. I linked to your blog and wrote about my happy place on my blog today. :-)
Steph said…
I am always messing with different "happy places" to meditate on and never settle on one, which is counter to all the advice I ever hear about meditation. But actually, I think my parents' back yard might be a good one. It's kind of private and courtyard-like and has a big sycamore that I love, and I've always felt that it has this odd seaside feel to it despite being smack in the middle of Kansas (probably the way the wind moves). I always feel peaceful back there. Should try.
Thorny said…
My happy place (snicker!) would be in a canoe on the lake at my old Girl Scout camp. The sun would be shining and it would be just verging on "too hot" out, but there would be a cool breeze to keep it nice.

I don't know why, but I would also be very slightly sunburnt - that slightly tight, overly warm feeling of my skin somehow makes me think of having had a very good day. (What that says about me I'm not sure, aside from an inability to apply sunscreen when I ought - grin!)
katie said…
i don't meditate, although i sometimes think i should. i think my problem is knowing when to do it. i'm so distracted by what's right in front of me. however, when i was pregnant, i definitely developed a "happy place." for me, it was laying on a floatie in the cold water, with warm sun shining on my face. i heard nothing but a few waves lapping. i carried this with me through labor, too!
Becca said…
I don't know if I would call it meditation, but I often concentrate on my breathing when I try to sleep. I'm still plagued by insomnia although I don't stay up as late as I used to (I was just living in the wrong time zone all those years!).

I lie on the bed with my comforter rolled up under my knees and my neck and shoulders on my pillow (my personal comfort position) and make myself breath deeply, slowly, evenly. I concentrate on the feeling of the air coming in and going out. Once I get a good pattern going, I then start trying to relax, one muscle at a time. I don't go for total relaxation, but just a little bit, and I'm often surprised by the tension in my forehead and jaw. I let my mind wander, jump from body part to body part, and occasionally check back on my breathing to make sure I'm maintaining a good pattern.

At some point in this process, I fall asleep. Never at the same point--sometimes very quickly, other times I may do this for up to half an hour as I wander. I've never bothered with visualizing a particular place or theme--it's too hard for me to maintain and I ultimately distract myself from the relaxation I'm trying to obtain because the concentration effort is too much.

I'm trying to learn how to do this at work or at home during the day, but the bright light is distracting and I'm afraid I'll fall asleep when it's not appropriate. My coworkers really don't want to hear me snore. I have noticed that on the evenings I do this, my dreams are calmer. Still weird as hell, but without anxiety or urgency like my dreams usually are.

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