An underdog in health news and research, daily meditation has been slowly proving its medical benefits. A brief internet search for “health benefits from daily meditation” or the like garnered the following from reputable medical sources:
- Mayo Clinic, the current U.S. News and World Report #1 Hospital in America has a dedicated page to meditation and its benefits. (Information found here)
- A comprehensive Harvard Medical School study found long-term meditation and other relaxation practices turn on disease-fighting genes. (News article found here)
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s National Institutes of Health has a branch dedicated to integrated health. This National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has conducted a variety of studies, finding meditation is useful for a variety of conditions from high blood pressure to acute respiratory illnesses. (Information found here)
Who knew prayer could do all this!?
But, you say, these studies look at meditation, not prayer.
Well, ye of little faith, prayer is a form of meditation that has been around for centuries. Meditation is basically non-religious prayer. Instead of connecting to the Sacred in prayer, meditation practices often focus on nature and the world around us (who, in prayer, we also connect to via the Sacred). Meditation is meant to produce relaxation and reduce stress whereas prayer is meant to connect us to the sacred, Who in Judo-Christian tradition of a God of peace, so relaxation and stress reduction is a natural side effect of prayer. The Mayo Clinic website even cites the Jesus Prayer as a kind of meditation that repeats a mantra.
Prayer is meditation, a medication of the Divine Physician meant to help us! It’s like God is just begging us to connect the dots!
That’s what God was begging me to do the fall semester of my senior year of college.
Final year of undergraduate and nursing school was a hectic year to say the least. I was taking a heavy credit load, working, volunteering, researching with a nurse researcher as part of an honors program, driving an hour each way weekly to my clinical site, searching for a nursing job, and trying to figure out where I was going to spend the foreseeable next 2 years of my life.
It was a stressful time. Some eye issues and the persistence of a dear friend convinced me to start seeing my parish priest for spiritual direction. He wanted me to pray daily. I didn’t know how adding yet another thing to my laundry list of things to do every day was going to help with anything. I told my spiritual director I was too busy. In all reality, I was too bitter.
As a child, I learned to pray before meals and at bedtime. Prayer was rout, memorized, familiar, and impersonal, just like Sunday Mass that my parents made sure we all attended. But several times in my childhood, I remember vividly praying earnestly to God, more personally than I ever had before, and I didn’t get the answer I had so fervently asked for.
I just didn’t “get” prayer. What was the point if the answer is no?
Some of my lunchtimes that fall were spent pouring over research articles about cancer patients’ symptom management. A classmate and I were working with a nurse researcher symptoms on a project that would eventually be called: “Pain, Fatigue, Sleep Disturbance, and Self-Management Strategies in Patients with Advanced Cancer.”
Impressive, huh? Don’t be blown away. I had to dig through old computer files to find that. To be honest, I forgot most of the details of this nurse researcher’s work, mostly of out personal lack of interest, post-traumatic stress induced by said researcher, and monotonous hours in a windowless research room hidden in the bowels between the school and the teaching hospital.
Basically, my classmate and I independently reviewed patients’ symptom journals from this researcher’s previous study and wrote down all the ways these cancer patients handled their symptoms. Most patients wrote down one or two things. Most skipped days in their month-long journal. Most complained about their symptoms if they were going to write anything extra.
Not this patient. I tenderly knew her as journal 33. Her neat handwriting and writing style led me to believe she was female. She obviously had cancer though I did not know which kind.
As I poured over journal 33 with a nurse researcher mentality, her scribbled words spiritually slapped me hard across the face. Every day, without fail, this patient faithfully wrote she did a morning meditation and rosary, regardless of her symptoms. She faced nausea, vomiting, fatigue, even hospitalizations. She had to take powerful anti-nausea and pain medications. But every day, without fail, she wrote she did a morning meditation and rosary.
Just like my spiritual director had asked. Just what I thought was impossible to do.
I put down her journal in amazement. If this patient could pray while battling constant nausea, horrible pain, and incessant weakness, how was I letting schoolwork, laziness, and excuses hold me back?
I took a hard look at my life that week (because, really, I was too busy that day to think). I concluded I wanted to give prayer an honest try. It started with 5 agonizing minutes of mostly clock-watching, stating I hated praying, and ranting at God about everything that I perceived to be wrong with me and my life. It wasn’t very fruitful or holy or seemingly beneficial, but it became a habit. It became a constant. And that consistency became a necessity when everything else in my life was in flux.
Journal 33 was the first person I had seen pray faithfully despite suffering, despite probably hearing “no” to her prayer requests. I suspect she asked to be healed of her cancer. I suspect she cried many tears over her sufferings. I suspect she had moments of doubt, despair, and fear, but every day, without fail, journal 33 did a morning meditation and rosary. Every day, without fail, journal 33 connected with the Sacred, trusting He had a plan for her life, plan for her good, plan for her soul’s salvation.
I still let distractions, laziness, and a variety of other excuses get in the way, but I’m happy to say that every day, without fail, I too do a morning medication (though sometimes it’s in the afternoon…) and rosary. It’s difficult. It makes me wake up earlier than I want. It can be embarrassing when I’m traveling with family and friends. It’s yet another thing I add to my busy life.
But every day, without fail, I do a morning meditation and rosary. And I cannot even begin to list the benefits.