MS Reclamation, Research

Mindfulness and Everything (Part 1)

I’m not spiritual, I have no faith I practice. I believe in science, that we’re all made of star-stuff. Big bang, Darwin, etc, save for the whole Atheists/Secular Humanists claiming some intellectual superiority over those that believe differently. The claim that you know there is no God feels contradictory to me. Based on my perception of the aforementioned, Agnostic is a much better fit, in that I would assert there is no possible way of knowing. Evolution is still a theory. Gravity is a theory. I feel that belief is altogether another thing, which doesn’t correlate to knowing or unknowing in the context those without faith understand it.

A fun read if you might feel so inclined, Evidence of biological basis for religion in human evolution. Having discussions is important, certainly, maybe arguing if you feel so inclined, I’m just willing to accept people feel the way they do, and the likelihood of bringing someone around to the way I see things is uniquely challenging and broadly unrewarding for the effort. I know this isn’t the case for everyone, though that idea is more upsetting to me than simply disagreeing with someone. I’m not saying this with some sense of moral superiority, I have clinically diagnosed anxiety and have honed my aversion to conflict over the course of my adult life. Anymore I can’t even say it’s cowardice, but it is easier for me. I prefer to accept people, life, things, the way they are, and from there choose the battles I want to engage in.

Mindfulness is the idea of learning how to be fully present and engaged in the moment, aware of your thoughts and feelings without distraction or judgment.

Maybe crippling anxiety gives me an edge in the “distraction or judgment” camp, though I still have a lot of work to do in being present/engaged in the moment.

Not faith-based, mindfulness meditation stands out to me as a net good. Mindfulness research shows substantial benefits for depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, mindfulness in this specific instance being awareness meditation. For me the idea of the practice is two-fold. While my RRMS isn’t particularly challenging in this capacity, the anxiety and PTSD are. From treating fatigue and other symptoms of RRMS, and the difficulties it does present, my anxiety has been amplified. I find it more difficult to communicate appropriately, and I’m ruminating like crazy.

I’ve seen a really cute anecdote in a few different places, the gist of it:

Personally, I’ve started with (the aforementioned) “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Gunaratana, but hope later down the line to read the Abiding in Mindfulness series by Joseph Goldstein, and Satipatthana books by Bhikkhu Analayo.

This particular type of Mindfulness Meditation I’m looking at is the Vipassana style, “Mindfulness meditation from the Theravada tradition for the spiritual development of people of all faiths & none.” Theravada being the “most commonly accepted name of Buddhism’s oldest existing school”, Vipassana translates to “to see things as they really are”, or “without-seeing”, alternatively referred to as insight. I felt as if I should start “at the beginning”, and the promise of “Plain English” was a huge draw.

“Vipassana meditation is something of a mental balancing act. You are going to be cultivating two separate qualities of the mind – mindfulness and concentration. Ideally these two work together as a team. They pull in tandem, so to speak. Therefore it is important to cultivate them side-by-side and in a balanced manner. If one of the factors is strengthened at the expense of the other, the balance of the mind is lost and meditation impossible.”

A fantastic summary of the benefits of Mindfulness and the impact on chronic illness can be found here, How Mindfulness Can Ease the Symptoms of Chronic Illness. Importantly, this article cites actual evidence supporting the usefulness of meditation in pain management.

“Meditation has been shown to reduce chronic pain by 57 percent, with accomplished meditators achieving pain-reduction rates of more than 90 percent.”

“Mindfulness meditation is unique in that it is not directed toward getting us to be different from how we already are.”


“Brain imaging reveals that mindfulness practice leads to alterations in the brain’s structure, which means the concept of mindfulness “rewiring” the brain isn’t just metaphorical. There’s an actual neurological process at work.”

I’m still super fresh with all of this, so far I’ve sussed: Take it slow at first, don’t expect a life-changing experience overnight. This is a year’s worth of exercise practice, so you have to be patient with yourself and the process. Pushing it too hard too fast can have a detrimental impact. Once you’ve done all you can on your own, find your progress plateaued, seek an instructor who can guide you further through the process. I’m still somewhere around “what am I even doing?”, though doing my best to move along as indicated. I hope to update with my experiences and will provide further resources and thoughts as time permits.

More information on the philosophy of Vipassana can be found at the Vipassana Fellowship, as well as a list of modern texts. The site itself is a little old-school and I can’t speak to the quality of the courses at present, but the information seems useful and it includes some …interesting translated texts. also offers courses/retreats, worldwide. I’ve yet to fully vet these resources, so approach with caution. I hope to research Western/North American retreats further and will update here/share my findings.

(Also fun for a brain jumble/noggin muddle, the Alan Watts Organization literally hosts a 24/7 livestream of the lectures of, well, Alan Watts. Not directly correlated but any chance I have to share Alan Watts I… will probably take.)

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