helping you solve the riddle of mental illness in your family
The heart of zen meditation is the heart of all meditations. It means accepting life as it is, 100%. It means a complete surrender of trying to control life according to your wishes. And instead, you surrender to life as it is. To reality.
This is extremely difficult to do if someone in your family is experiencing mental illness. But, as a caregiver, you need to start with life as it is, not life as you want it to be. Otherwise you are operating in a world of dreams, not reality. And reality is exactly what you need to be grounded in if you want to help your loved one.
By the way, if you have come here from the "caregiver stress" page and followed the directions, congratulations! You have actually taken your first step in experiencing meditation.
What is the first step in experiencing meditation? It is allowing yourself to be just as you are. And, in terms of feelings, thoughts, and sensations related to your loved one, meditation means allowing yourself to experience them in their raw form--before you start trying to push them away, hide them, or reduce them in any way.
You won't be "perfect" at it, but do it anyway. Just allow yourself to feel the raw feelings, thoughts and sensations. For example, the stress that you are feeling when your loved one has a difficult time is the perfect starting point because that feeling of stress can be so powerful.
How does zen meditation work?
Let's look at the heart of zen meditation and try to understand how it works. The beauty of zen is that it mostly avoids extraneous practices. (I say "mostly" because there still are some practices I would consider extraneous, but a lot less so than in a lot of other traditions.)
At the heart of zen meditation is something called "just sitting" (shikantaza in Japanese). It means you do just that. You just sit. You don't sit and deliberately start thinking about your todo list. You don't sit and watch your breath. And you don't watch TV either. You just sit. What does that mean?
It means you do nothing. You do the same thing you would do if you fall asleep, except you don't fall asleep. What I mean is that when you fall asleep, you stop trying to do anything, right? You surrender. You are done for the day or the hour or whatever. But you are done. You let go.
This is the same in zen meditation. You sit and let go. What do you let go of? Any attempt to control your experience. Most of the time, we try to control our experience in some way. We navigate through the possibilities that life offers. A simple example is a menu at a restaurant. You pick what you want, effectively controlling your eating experience.
But when you are practicing just sitting, you will be bombarded by thoughts, feelings, and sensations. This is totally normal. Don't worry about it. The only thing you do is not try to control it. Or, more specifically, just notice when you are trying to change your experience in any way.
Don't try to change your experience
What might that look like? "Changing your experience" is an internal pushing away or pulling toward you. For example, you might like a particular thought and so you continue to try to think about it and elaborate on it. This is a pulling toward you.
Or, you might not like a particular feeling, like anger, when it comes up. Just notice how you push it away or ignore it or get lost in thought about it rather than just feeling it as it comes and then as it naturally goes away.
Another thing that might happen when you practice the heart of zen meditation, just like the heart of all meditation, is that you get lost in a feeling, thought, or sensation. There might not be any pulling toward you or pushing away. There is just being lost in it. That is ok and totally normal. The moments of being lost will, over time, lessen as you practice.
What is the point of all of this? Well, practicing in this way brings you closer to raw experience. Zen meditation is a matter of awareness. Awareness of your feelings, thoughts, and sensations including your sensory perceptions (hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, smelling) as they happen in real-time.
And raw experience is the stuff of reality. You will get closer to reality. And this in turn will get you closer to knowing yourself and being more effective in helping your loved one.