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I took part in a mailing list discussion today. A number of people asked me to post the following message on my blog for easy reference. For context I will include the comments I was responding to first, followed by my response. (I'm editing parts of this for privacy and clarity.)
Dear DavidI think you propose a worthy if perhaps somewhat idealistic perspective on meditation training. In the so-called 'real' world, most people have families and financial constraints and simply cannot afford the kind of ongoing fees required for accessing your recommended meditation.
I'm guessing there are many cultural differences between the USA and the UK and certainly here in the UK, there is much more of a sense that lack of funds should not be a barrier to anyone's pursuit of health - particularly with regard to preserving sight. That's why we have the NHS I guess![The things you recommend] may be fine for those who can pay large sums of money, however I'm sure there will be other paths for those less affluent.
I'd like to argue that in contrast to your statement, my perspective isn't idealistic at all. It is hard-core realistic. I believe it's similar to the perspective a seasoned business executive might bring to a tough business decision, for example. It is based on a thoughtful and very rational cost-benefit analysis.
FitEyes has always been focused on the difficult decisions we glaucoma patients face at the current point in history where we don't have an easy option for preventing glaucoma progression. That difficult situation has shaped my perpective. I would say it is born of fire and forged by the hammer of real life challenges. For many people, losing eyesight is more fearful than death. We are absolutely dealing with situations that require a real-world approach, not an idealistic approach. Measuring our own eye pressure, for example, is as hard-core and real-world as it gets in this context. I put proper meditation instruction in the same category.
I think many people in this category (having lost some vision to glaucoma or at risk of glaucoma progression) are not thinking realistically about their finances vs glaucoma. The cost of losing one's vision is far greater than the cost of buying a tonometer or of learning a proven meditation technique like Serene Impulse. In fact, for those of us in this category, investing more in our vision is the wisest decision we can make. (And waiting for a possible future less expensive option is a very bad decision in my opinion.)
I often hear people with sufficient means say they can't afford a tonometer (or meditation or supplements or whatever else it is that we are discussing at a given moment). I have a very hard time accepting that argument from anyone in a developed country. At a point in my life when I was in a very difficult financial position and facing an even more difficult future due to not working, I took every dollar I could scrape together and I bought a Reichert tonometer. I believe that if I was able to do it, almost anyone in a developed country can do it.
Yet I see a lot of people unconsciously decide the opposite -- to maintain their financial status quo rather than seriously invest in their health and eyesight.
Rather than upset the status quo when it comes to investing in things not covered (a tonometer, a proven meditation program, special dietary supplements, etc.) people will stay within their established bondaries. They will keep saving for retirement, keep buying everyday things, only avail themselves of treatments covered by insurance, etc. Sticking with the status quo of one's life in the face of glaucoma progression is akin to having one's head in the sand.
To have a different outcome, we must act, we must get a new perspective, we must change our fundamental habits of living and our habitual state of mind. Instead, what many people do, is stay in their familiar rut in life and worry, worry, worry. That's mostly what the thread that trigger this response was about (see "the stress of controlling stress").
My strong recommendation of meditation is also based on the fact that this training is the most essential training one can understake in life to ensure that one does not suffer regardless of financial position, health, vision or any other external circumstances.
After I was diagnosed with glaucoma (and lost further vision in the first two years after that diagnosis while following all my doctor's advice), I made myself sit down and take a hard look at my life. At that point I made my health and eyesight my #1 priority in my life.
Then I found a way to do everything i could to improve my chances of maintaining my vision and I did not let lack of income or anything else stop me. Sure, I faced obstacles, but I found a way to reach my goals. And I am still carrying forward with that attitude today. It isn't a path without challenges. I fall back into old habits at times but my support system corrects me. And I have to remind myself where my true priorities are and I have to stick to my disciplines. But I walk the talk every day -- and this is anything but idealistic. It is as pragmatic as any activity in life can be. I generally don't recommend anything I haven't done myself, and this includes making financial sacrifices to get proper training in meditation.
I don't think this perspective has much to do with US vs UK either because these decisions are the same in every country in the world. I do not know of a single country that will pay for a tonometer or pay for the meditation instruction of a glaucoma patient's choice. To go this extra distance, we have to make the investments ourselves. Certainly, we will always have to do the most difficult things ourselves. We have to take the time each day to exercise, meditate, eat well, manage our stress, take our supplements, practice our Bates techniques, etc. For people in the category I mentioned above, there is absolutely no sane alternative to making a number of diffcult investments in our health. We have to look at the costs of not acting or delaying taking appropriate action, recognize how extremely great those consequences can be, and then find a way to make the required investment to minimize or avoid the costs of vision loss, even if making that investment requires that we move out of our current comfort zone.
My central argument is that learning meditation without supporting one's teacher (or especially without having a living teacher where there is a strong personal bond) is usually a bad investment (of one's time and life energy). Students have to support their meditation teacher in one way or another. It can be via volunteer work or donations or direct payment. (In my experience, direct payment is the least expensive of those options for the average student.) If your meditation teacher isn't supported by his or her students, and that teacher is a dedicated full-time professional, how is such a person paying their living expenses in today's world? If the person doesn't face the same financial needs as the rest of us, they may not be the best person to teach one about stress management in the real world.
The comments in these recent posts about the "stress of controlling stress" are illuminating. One fundamental decision I see being made over and over is that people will keep their fists tightly clutched around their dollars to their death. When I decided to buy a tonometer even though I couldn't afford it, this was the mindset I had recognized in myself and was consciously letting go of.
The need to make that kind of decision is why we have the parable about how to catch a monkey:
Native tribes used to catch monkeys by hollowing out a coconut and filling it with rice or other delicacies, then leaving it tethered to a tree for a monkey to find. A monkey would reach in and grab the desired delicacy and be trapped because the hole had been deliberately made just big enough for a flexible hand to enter but not for a closed fist to leave. In short order, the monkey went from getting his dinner to being someone else’s dinner.
Clearly it was not the coconut that was the trapping the monkey. Rather the true trap was in the monkey’s own mind, the monkey’s greed, the monkey’s attachment to his physical possessions, the monkey’s unwillingness to “Let Go.”
From that perspective, how are we trapping ourselves? Where are we creating our own boxes? Our own predicaments? Where would an outside perspective, one free of our emotional attachments, one unencumbered by our cultural norms, see a way out that we do not let ourselves see?
We will hold on to our dollars tightly while we let our health, our vision and our happiness slip away. With that fist closed tightly, what do we risk? Glaucoma progression? A heart attack? Other health problems? To make the decision against investing in a proven program and to leave the door open to those avoidable consequences is very sad.
I remind myself of this trap every day. Every day I dedicate myself anew to letting go of any attachments to money or material possessions that might get in the way of my health and inner peace. Two of my most discussed decisions in that regard were purchasing my first good tonometer (yes, I learned the hard way that the cheap tonometers are a bad investment) and investing seriously in good meditation training. Working with a good Bates vision teacher was also another similar investment I have written about here on FitEyes. But there are thousands of other examples, including things like my membership for regular therapeutic massages. (Regular therapeutic massages are yet another thing many people say they can't afford. Almost everything I do for my health falls into this category. When I mention that I eat only organic food, the most common response I hear is, "I can't afford that." But I hear it from people who wear nicer clothes than me and drive fancier, newer cars, and take vacations, etc.)
However, even though I had some early insight into the importance of making healthy choices a priority, I still fell into the trap of subordinating my health to the (seeming) demands of modern life in many ways. Looking back, I clearly remember rejecting many of the same arguments I am making now. I can also remember being critical of my own meditation teacher in the early days. I remember resenting the cost of meditation instruction in the beginning. (And before that I wasted many years trying to gain meditation skills on my own.) Having those experiences is why I am able to understand now that the bond with the teacher must be real and it must strong. The change that comes about with meditation will test the bonds of that relationship more than once.
We need to be willing to make difficult choices. We might have to do without other things in our lives in order to make health and eyesight our #1 priority. But in that difficult choice are great rewards.