Every man can benefit from mindful meditation, even the tough guys. No matter how strong and stable you are, meditation can help you manage pain and stress.
This one’s for all you tough guys out there. I don’t mean guys who go around picking fights to prove their self-worth. They’re not tough guys. I’m talking about men like our fathers and grandfathers, old-school, traditionalist, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” tough guys who taught their sons to carry themselves with the same amount of pride and wherewithal.
Enter my generation, the current 30 and 40-somethings, at least those of us that were knock-around kids. At this point, if you’re one of these guys, you know I’m talking to you. You skateboarded, rode BMX or played contact sports as a kid and well into your teens. You learned how to “walk it off” early in life. Scabbed knees, bruised ribs and even broken bones have become something you just deal with, and you carry the same philosophy into coping with your mental stress.
You don’t let yourself admit that you need sanctuary at times, but maybe you should.
You are construction foremen and plant managers, on your feet all day if not taxing your entire body. Your preferred method for reducing the stress of a long work day is cracking a beer with your neighbor or a few members of your crew, sitting back in a bar stool or lawn chair and allowing the tension to escape your joints and muscles for the first time all day while hashing out a few of the day’s issues with your trusted drinking buddies (which is tough guy speak for confidants).
There is a way to decompress that only requires you and your willingness to slow life down.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with this bar-room tradition; it’s helped me in the past. It allows men in a community to bond and support each other in ways that aren’t soft or vulnerable, and often men need to feel invincible to be the rocks that their families need them to be.
I have always had a “too proud to be weak” sensibility when dealing with stress and pain management. I’m both an ex-football player and former construction worker; I am not criticizing your lifestyle one bit…and I meditate.
I’m suggesting a different approach to unwinding and finding your balance. I’m suggesting that meditation can be an invaluable method of stress relief and pain alleviation for even the toughest and most traditional bodies and minds.
See, the problem with the post-work beer and conversation for me was that I never stopped at two drinks; my six pack was usually accompanied by half a pack of cigarettes, and I spent entirely too much time in that bar-room. The next morning, my stress had always returned, accompanied by my back pain and joint ache.
If not, you might have the formula just right.
But if I’m ringing a few bells here then hear me out.
For my mind and body, mindfulness meditation has changed the game quite a bit. Since I’ve started meditating regularly, it has been a tremendous tool to help me deal with my stress; and in turn, it’s benefitted my body.
If you are anything like me, the stress in your mind can manifest itself in physical ways. Beyond the constant wielding of a shovel and swinging of a sledge-hammer, the impending job-deadlines and pressure to do the best work in the fastest time possible made my body as tense as my mind. As if my back and legs weren’t tight enough, they got even tighter due to my incessant worrying.
Most days, my shoulders wouldn’t relax from the up and back “at-attention” position until hours after I left the work-site or company headquarters; and this led to further suffering, sometimes in the form of headaches from my upper back and shoulders being so tense. My overall mind and body feeling was somewhere between strung out and too tired to move.
Meditation has allowed me to reboot my mind when I’m feeling overly stressed, and often, it takes my physical symptoms with it. Some mornings, I wake up close to having an anxiety pang, my back and shoulders in their rigid, ready for anything position. Only five minutes of meditation can quell these frantic feelings and start my day off with calm and concentration.
I don’t spend my days breaking rocks anymore, but nearly two decades of recreational abuse and manual labor render me sore after every workout and series of heavy chores. Combine that with (let’s say for the sake of argument) the average amount of stress and anxiety of an American adult, and meditation is a welcome therapy for me.
In a state of mindful meditation, a person relaxes the body and focuses on only their own breathing and the sensations that the body is feeling. The point is to concentrate on those sensations, whether pleasurable or painful, and not judge them. While in these moments of clear experience and acceptance of whatever the body feels, a person can reach a more complete state of consciousness. One can become aware of their being in a very simple way. One can learn how to be present in a single moment.
For me, and for many this offers an opportunity to clear the mind, and this clarity brings me some relief from stress. In addition, I find that I allow my body to relax for long enough to be alleviated from the physical tension that often burdens me. It’s like taking a nap without ever falling asleep, and it can be more beneficial to mind and body.
Mediation for tough guys:
I understand that to some of you, sitting on a cushion and listening to your breathing is not an option, but I’m writing to offer you some alternatives to the usual methods of meditation. Yes, a quiet room and comfortable pillow or floor is the preferred environment, but I believe you can reach a meditative, therapeutic state in any surroundings that make you comfortable enough to lose yourself a bit.
Find your comfort zone.
Think about what relaxes you the most. Maybe you have a garden, collect records or like to fish. These are just some examples, but everybody has something that brings them peace.
Use these activities as a way into meditation.
Go check on your tomatoes. Sit in the garden, among the fruiting plants and let your fingers run through the soil. For a few moments just sit there and breath. Be quiet and alive just like the tomatoes. Don’t think about anything in particular. Just feel. Feel your hands in the dirt. Hell, even feel the pain in your back from working all day. It’s there and it’s real, and it’s part of you. Accept it all at once, and take solace in the fact that you can just “be” for a short time.
Put on your favorite album. Don’t start singing or reciting the lyrics in your head. Don’t picture the story that is being told. Simply let the rhythm take you over. Don’t count the beats, but let your breathing and your heartbeat count for you. Sit still in your most comfortable chair. Let your favorite songs relax you to the point that you are nearly in a trance. Let the music be the metronome for you to reach a serene level of consciousness in the moment.
Grab your fishing pole and head to the river. Wade out into the water and cast your line, but don’t sit there and anticipate a bite. Hear the rushing water. Listen to it deeply. Close your eyes for a few moments if it helps. Realize that it is a privilege and a pleasure to be standing in that cool water, and feel the sensation of the water against your legs. Feel the sun on your face, and be one with nature for a little while.
Remember that you’re still in the water, so don’t fall asleep. If you get a bite and it snaps you out of your relaxation and awareness, that’s ok too. You only need a few moments of presence for the exercise to be beneficial.
I hope some of these suggestions work for you, fellas. It is my most sincere intention that this piece will help some of you find relief.[images: via static, Tomi Knuutila, Ajith Kumar, Nan Palmero and Historias Visuales on flickr]