Meditation and Cancer Survivorship

Meditation, if done on a regular basis, has been shown to be able to provide many emotional and physical symptom-relief benefits for cancer survivors. I don’t know about you, but I have tried a few meditation activities and they don’t always make me calmer. When I sit quietly and allow vague fragments of thoughts, feelings, and images to pop up in my mind, sometimes I feel more confused, overwhelmed and stressed. I frustratedly wonder, “Why can’t I seem to relax?!” 

But, let’s back up. What does meditation mean? The dictionary states:

intransitive verb. 1 : to engage in contemplation or reflection (he meditated long and hard before announcing his decision). 2 : to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.

transitive verb. 1 : to focus one’s thoughts on; reflect on or ponder over (he was meditating his past achievements). 2 : to plan or project in the mind: INTEND, PURPOSE (he was meditating revenge).

There are many (sub)types of and ideas about meditation, depending on who you talk with or what you read. To me, meditation describes a state that allows you to pause and reflect on your current situation and life’s journey from a distance to see the bigger picture, feel less overwhelmed, and regain clarity about where you are going. 

One school of thought I like is the, so-called, philosophical meditation:

“A practice whose premise is that a decisive share of the trouble in our minds comes from thoughts and feelings that haven’t been untangled, examined or confronted with sufficient attention. Ordinary life goes by far too fast for us to process events properly in real time – and we suffer, accumulating unthought thoughts and unfelt feelings which make for anxiety, anger, depression, addiction and misaligned goals. 

So we need, according to the theory, regularly to return to the contents of our minds and listen to their garbled signals, picking this or that object of consciousness and submitting it to the beam of reason. Our confused feelings and ideas are not to be pushed aside, for they are – in appallingly muddled and enervating ways – trying to tell us something important about the course of our lives. 

Lying in bed or sitting by a window. We’d ideally have half an hour without interruption, with paper and pen to hand to seize ideas and feelings as they emerge from the mental undergrowth. With the patience of ornithologists, we would be out to catch the mind in its most fleeting, tentative, furtive moments. Key to all this are well-angled questions that we must put to ourselves to extract the full picture. At the heart of a Philosophical Meditation, there are three: – What am I presently anxious about? What am I presently upset about? What am I presently excited about? These are the clues for directing the mind to search its recesses with acuity.

However, if you are facing a life and death situation like cancer, and you feel like your boat has capsized in the middle of the ocean, then your thoughts and feelings may be so intense that meditation alone may not be able to provide relief. In fact, it may make things more intense as all these thoughts and feelings come to the surface. In this situation, it may help if you also go and talk to a professional who can help you untangle and restructure your thoughts and feelings so that you will feel less confused and overwhelmed by them. 

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