I’m busy exploring the boundaries of a new phase of my life, brought on by an illness I’m managing. As illnesses will, it’s grabbed me by the collar, given me a big shake, and forced me to order my priorities. Also, it’s made me take a good look at Time.
Not in the Time-is-Limited sort of way, but in the nature of time. How fast it goes when we’re not paying attention, or when we are multitasking, when we’re playing our To Do lists in an endless loop in our minds. And how it’s actually possible to slow it down when we are paying careful attention to what we are doing.
I first noticed this in a not-so-pleasant way, as a young girl, in bed with horrible headaches. These headaches made me seek out darkness and quiet, and there was very little that medications could do to reduce the pain. I would lie for hours in bed in an eyemask, and the hours felt like days. I could think of very little else besides the pain, and time stood still.
It wasn’t until I tried meditation for the first time that I had the experience again -- meditation made time stand still. This was in the 70s, and through the PBS television series, Lilas Yoga and You. Remember lovely Lilas? She ended most classes with Savasana. It was through her suggestions during savasana that I first learned to do a “body scan,” a way of getting in touch with my body through guided meditation.
In Body Scan meditation, you begin in a relaxed state, then use your mind to ‘visit’ every part of your body, noting how it feels, acknowledging pain or stiffness or itchiness, lightness or heaviness. It’s a way of checking in with your body, to connect with it. It sounds simple, but it does take practice. You can use body scan to help you relax. You can use it to help manage pain.
That work, inadvertently, taught me to manage the pain of my headaches from a very early age. I learned to separate the pain I experienced in my head from the rest of my body. I learned to relax into the pain, and keep it sequestered from the rest of my body. I thought I'd discovered some secret power, until I came upon the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn. What I’d stumbled upon through Yoga, he’d been teaching for years through his Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
By now you must be asking yourself how any of this ties into midlife sex. Well, my secret power, savasana and body scan meditations, also taught me to relax and enjoy sex. I’ve always been a woman who wished for a body different from the one I had, so early experiments with sex were always fraught with efforts to conceal from my lover the parts of my body I didn’t like. That kind of distraction is a real barrier to intimacy.
Later, mindfulness techniques helped me to turn off the chattering brain brought on by an overstuffed life, at least during lovemaking.
Now, meditation helps me to stop the clock during lovemaking. It helps me keep the pain in my body contained so that it can’t overwhelm the experience of lovemaking. And it helps me to fully appreciate my one and only body. The only one I'll ever have. Might as well love it.
If meditation can make time stand still, can stop the clock, might as well try it, right? If you've never tried meditation, you should know it's not that hard to learn, and not that easy to master. It's one of those things that just gets better with practice. And I know of no better or less intimidating guide than Kabat-Zinn, especially through his Mindfulness for Beginners program.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.