Meditation is the foundation of our chronic pain program. Eric Reynolds and Jan Carstoniu, co-founders of the group have studied and practiced meditative techniques since the 1970’s when eastern practices were becoming embedded in western culture.
Our approach is not linked to any religious or spiritual belief system but has been influenced by our training. Eric’s studies led him to experience the methods of several Hindu, Taoist and Buddhist systems of meditation, philosophy and health. In addition to medicine and psychology, Jan has studied Chinese martial and health arts whose philosophies are based on Taoist thought. Different paths led us to the same place: we see meditation as simple – but not easy – with benefits available to anyone willing to practice consistently.
The closest comparisons to our simple approach are Jon Kabat-Zin’s ‘mindfulness meditation’ (although we are not affiliated with Mindfulness in any official way) and the ‘shikantaza’ (just sitting) method found in Zen. Our program adds to these basic practices by helping participants develop mental and physical skills to cope better with pain.
Religious or spiritually based systems of meditation often focus on goals such as becoming enlightened or closer to God. Practitioners are led to have expectations and whatever they experience during meditation is often interpreted according to a set of beliefs. We differ. Our study and practice suggests that meditation is deeply personal and highly subjective. We therefore offer no specific interpretations and avoid setting up any expectations in our program. We do provide an accepting environment in which participants are free to learn at their own pace and freed from any expectation to achieve a particular result.
We encourage building the habit of daily practice and patience with oneself. Being still with only one’s thoughts for company can be extraordinarily difficult at times, especially in the face of pain. Progress may be hard to see and it is tempting to monitor oneself continuously for any sign of improvement. When this happens we suggest gently refocusing one’s attention away from these thoughts (without trying to stop them) and back to the sensation of breathing or relaxing.
The simple act of sitting quietly and constantly refocusing one’s attention is common to all the systems of meditation we’ve seen. In our view it allows mind and body to settle down, setting the stage for developing mindfulness, deep relaxation and mental clarity. We see meditation as a process of continuous learning and not something that can be achieved by attending a course or workshop for a few weeks.
We share with many traditional systems the idea of meditation as a life long endeavor that is perhaps similar to learning a musical instrument. There is always more to be learned. However, we feel it is the practice of meditation for its own sake that gives benefit rather than meditating to achieve a particular state or goal. There are no stages to reach or levels to climb but instead, there is a gradual growth of understanding.
In our lifetime we have witnessed the introduction of dozens of schools of different kinds of meditation to the West. Each has its own set of practices, beliefs and believers. All offer benefit, be it for mind, body or spirit. What we offer is guidance based on a simple and rational approach to an ancient practice. We hope that it will be as helpful to you as it has been to us.