Even the dog has figured it out.
Even the dog has figured it out.


“If we realized that meditation simply means staring into space, then it would be more accessible to more people.” — Tom Hodgkinson, How to be Idle.

I’m in nearly constant motion. If I’m awake, I’m driving, parenting, cleaning, sewing, hiking, photographing, cooking, or paddling. It’s not just physical motion, either.  I do spend a lot of time sitting down – more than I like – but then I’m in constant mental motion, either doing legal work, writing, stitching, reading, talking to someone, messaging someone on Facebook, or editing photos.

You could call me harried, except most of it is voluntary. My motion isn’t really the motion of the person running from something, desperate to avoid consciousness. Depression was my companion for a number of years, and during that time my world felt like wet cement – very hard to move through. Motivation was difficult. My life today is radically different – as I announced to Travis the other day, I want to do all of the things. I want to travel to all of the places, take all of the photographs, create all of the food, write all of the stories. Life is oxygen now, and I am a breathless mountain climber. A significant part of me protests bedtime as I did when I was a child – I resent having to sleep. But even sleep is different – my dreams are more vivid, as my mind seeks to process the events of the day and reconcile them to the archives of my own history.

I only stop these days when forced to. Writer Elizabeth Lesser says the world gives us messages, and constant feedback, every day. (June 29, 2013 post.) I thought about that last night when early evening arrived, and a migraine aura blossomed out of nowhere in my upper left field of vision. That’s how it usually happens, a small pinpoint of prism-like light that expands until it occupies my entire visual space, then passes out of it. My first migraine aura happened when I was nine years old, staring at the teacher writing fractions on the overhead projector. The headaches that follow used to be crippling, but they get less painful every year. Now they are manageable with a couple of ibuprofen. But the aura stops me cold, almost every time, for about 35 minutes. I can’t see. It has to stop me cold.

Last night when the aura struck, I left dinner and preparations to watch reruns of the X-Files, and went upstairs first to lie motionless on my bed and then in a hot bath.  I noticed how odd it felt to be lying down, doing nothing, thinking nothing, focusing only on the sparkling prism that remains even when I close my eyes. When something feels so mentally uncomfortable, I know it’s possible I need to be doing more of it. These migraine auras are obviously tied to hormonal fluctuations – hello again, estrogen, goodbye progesterone – but I’ve noticed they also choose to hit when a triggering, painful, or otherwise troubling thought bubbles up from the stew of my subconscious. Much of the time I can go back to the thought or event immediately preceding the explosion of light, and nod my head ruefully.

And then spend the next 35 minutes motionless, thinking about it. Messages from the world, indeed.

Sometimes it takes me a long time to figure out the obvious, but it’s clear I need to carve out a meditative space, or the blood vessels in my brain will do it for me. (Migraines are believed to be a neurovascular thing.) A space to do nothing, think nothing, and simply be. It’s possible my pendulum has swung too far from the days when I read Tom Hodgkinson’s wonderful book How to be Idle and cheered.

It is time for stillness.


4 thoughts on “An aura of peace: Migraine as meditation

  1. Ah yes…to lie still and simply be…if only. Something I need to work on as well. I love the idea that meditation is just staring into space. it makes it more accessible for me. Good stuff…except sorry about the migraine. They suck.

    1. I’m lucky that mine don’t suck nearly as bad as they used to, or nearly as bad as my grandmother’s were. They used to put her in bed for days at a time. I feel really lucky to be able to think of them as a meditation!

  2. I’ve had them since turning 30. Some can be wrangled with over-the-counter sinus meds. One sent me to the ER. I’ve always felt the morgue would be a great place to sleep one off… as long as nobody mistook me for a stiff.
    Great read!!

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