I read about the value of grueling Vipassana retreats yesterday, here, and while I’m sure they have value, and while I admire the self-discipline it would take, what I can’t shake is this: Isn’t the suffering inherent in the everyday enough to remind us that to live is to suffer? Do we need to add to it the pain of a ten-day retreat of silent, seated, bone-bending meditation? Doesn’t every week of ordinary and ubiquitous garden-variety pain provide ample opportunity for ecstatic highs and excruciating lows, and a coming back to balance, endurance, perspective and perseverance?
Or is that just me, being melodramatic? I realize that my perspective has been altered some over the past decade, with the crises coming in like clockwork, the most recent being learning how to live with lingering and persistent post-chemo neuralgia and fibromyalgia. Still, I think it’s pretty universal to feel like our plates of pain our full, if we’re going to be honest.
Which reminds me: I wanted to add a little to last week’s post on stress and illness, but focus more on the biochemistry of it for a moment, or, in plain English, on why I’ve put on weight and still feel like I’ve been chewed up and spit out.
Stress hormones, inflammatory chemicals, lactic acid production and fat synthesis are all connected, they say. How they are connected is boring, so I won’t get into it, but they are. The thing for me and my fellow fibromyalgia/neuralgia sufferers to remember is what counters them: laughter, deep sleep, B vitamins, normal levels of thyroid hormones (which require a healthy liver and glucose for conversion), plenty of dietary protein that includes gelatin, and (this one I’m not sure about), sugar and salt to counter cortisol and adrenaline.
Why do I care about these biochemical chains? Not to be a princess, but I still have a highly sensitized stress response. Even a single restorative yoga class leaves me with enough lactic acid to sour an entire universe of cheese, yogurt and sourdough bread.
To achieve a reduction in inflammatory chemicals, lactic acid, and fat synthesis, the new rules for the older and hopefully wiser me are these: Don’t work too much. Don’t repress emotion. Don’t exercise too much, and never before breakfast. No strict dieting, and no skipping meals, or any macronutrients. (Which should make me cheer, except that I really, really, really want to get back into my old jeans.) And no Vipassana retreats. Not if I want my cells to heal at the deepest level.
All of those directly trigger the production of stress hormones, lactate and other toxins that damage mitochondrial cell respiration, which is the last thing I want. Damaged mitochondria spell trouble, and I’ve had my fill of that, thanks very much. So, in order of importance: patience, deep cellular healing, and then the jeans.