For Survivors of TBI
“Give yourself a moment of peace,
and you will understand
how foolishly you have scurried about.
Learn to be silent,
And you will notice that
You have talked too much.
And you will realize that
Your judgement of others was too severe.”
---Ancient Chinese Proverb
>Guided Meditation (5 mins.)
Has anyone here meditated before?
I’ve been drawn to the practice of meditation from the mental trenches following my own severe traumatic brain injury. I sustained this injury in a car crash out on I-5 and from being in a coma for a more than a week.
I’m here to tell you of what I have learned to my own benefit. This is the best do it yourself project you will ever do!
I call it The Gold Mind Meditation Project. There is something whole and complete in a damaged brain that we can still access.
The mindfulness practice I teach enables us to access other areas of our brain. The healing transformation can be known in anyone’s life, brain injured or not – so listen up! This is a heart and mind intervention; it’s self-induced by your actions, no drugs involved. The process is available anytime, day or night. We’re actually going under the hood for some neural rewiring!
I teach traditional Insight or Vipassana Meditation, also known as “Mindfulness Practice”, which is beginning to flourish in our western world – Who here has heard of this? It was not so well known until recently here in America though it has existed for 2600 years. I’ve practiced for over 26 years now. I’m only a rookie in a large community of wise western teachers. Fortunately having a Beginner’s Mind and being a rookie is a fairly high state.
The basis of this project is our natural capacity as human beings to liberate ourselves from suffering or dissatisfaction through conscious effort. It is a project and we start off learning meditation and thus able to be at peace with the present moment and whatever this moment now contains.
Gold Mind Meditation Project is a new skill of focused awareness, perception and being present in the moment so we can develop mindfulness. I direct this to my peers, fellow brain injury survivors. Please be clear this is useful for anyone, everyone is welcome. Mindfulness can benefit whoever chooses to learn this skill. The practice I teach leads to an awakening of peace and wellness, to freedom from suffering brought on by both brain injury and negative self talk that can be ceased.
Every head injury is unique and this transformational rehabilitation teaches each survivor to relate to his or her injury on it’s own terms.
Gold Mind Meditation Project is my intention to embody Metta, which is loving-kindness and making this awakening freely available to my fellow TBI survivors - empowering them to end their own suffering and dissatisfaction.
I’m a ‘lay student’ (not a monk) of Insight Meditation and I continue my learning path from master teachers. I’ve meditated for over 25 years. There are ups and downs of life, the practice is always there to meet the challenges. Those of you who practice and know meditation can see the possibility here – experiencing an end of dukha/dissatisfaction and in it’s place a thriving aliveness, able to be honestly present with what’s actually occurring for us.
If you don’t meditate – please hear me out and listen to what I have to say, you are in the right place. As I said this can be used by anyone.
The brain can get damaged and traumatized. The whole world lives in the mind, yet the mind is malleable with mindfulness which can alter the brain in positive ways. We’ve each got the key to access new neural pathways; let’s do something positive and start GMMP. It’s worth it!
I teach Basics of Mindfulness classes to students with TBI at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital in NW Portland. Now it’s under the auspices of Brain Injury Connections, Northwest and BIRRDsong.
The acronym is for Brain Injury Rehab and Resource Development with a song, and a 501 c 3!
I’ve lived 37 years with my TBI and now have 27 years of meditation practice under my belt. I started my practice at Spirit Rock Meditation Center down in the SF Bay Area. So I’m declaring that this is rehab and life support, self prescribed for the long haul. Not Woo Woo.
I am not a new Meditation Center. I train students and inform them of already existing places to learn further as they continue practice on their own. I’ve practiced meditation here in Portland with two groups: PIMC, Portland Insight Meditation Center and PFOD, Portland Friends Of The Dhamma. There are others to be found, several online.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Previously called the ‘silent epidemic’, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) afflict some 1.7 million Americans annually. Head injury occurs in military combat, sports, falls and of course any time we step into those two-ton death traps on wheels – our cars. More than 52,000 are killed and 275,000 are hospitalized annually.
Difficult to recognize, diagnose and treat, these numbers are actually small, because of the many cases where TBI is not even recognized – damages show over time, as well as the damage to the survivor’s own self evaluation and reporting system the brain.
Many have read the book, ‘In An Instant’ by reporter Bob Woodruff and in our newsfeed heard the story of former U.S. Senator Gabby Giffords traumatic brain injury from a gunshot wound.
Survivors often say, “I was only knocked out briefly, it’s nothing, I can just shake it off”. Have you heard, this is now changed dramatically in sports as the public recognition meter rises? New rules require medical review before head jarred players return to the field.
The annual direct and indirect cost of TBIs through lost work time or reduced productivity is estimated at more than $60 Billion with a ‘B’ and there are more than six million TBI survivors in society with some disability (again, CDC statistics). Over the past decade, TBI has come to the forefront as tens of thousands of wounded soldiers return home. Soldiers suffer from PTSD causing many hardships including but not limited to lost jobs broken relationships, etc.
Survivors are left in various conditions – from almost full recovery with mild symptoms, but able to function with disability, to severe disability requiring around–the-clock intensive care and support. I feel my teaching at this time is best for students who are able to get to my classes with minimal assistance.
In August 2013 the National Football League (NFL) made a settlement, $765 million to do the right thing for sufferers of head trauma from this modern Roman Gladiator spectacle. This fund is dedicated to improving the well being of players’ lives after their careers, which included innumerable severe blows to the head, cease.
This head trauma peril is now recognized.
Life support measures have gotten increasingly better at keeping us alive from damages and traumas that previously killed us. As a result head injury survivors grow steadily in number. For many the next step has been simply,(quote “Now go live your life as best you can” unquote.
TBI is beginning to be recognized!
A number of studies now show a clear link between meditation and actual increase in brain strengths and actual brain growth. There are a few stories about the wondrous of savants like the Tacoma man who became a gifted musician after a severe head blow, but that is unusual. I am speaking here of the accessible link I’ve found for survivors of TBI, like my own case.
As I said, this is the best self help project you’ll ever do.
Here’s My Story
A few years ago, I was riding in a car with friends, returning to Oregon from California after college’s winter break. It was planned to be a normal holiday ride using the campus ride board.
Traveling north on I-5 we plowed into a car that had missed its exit and was actually backing up on the freeway at ten o’clock in the morning.
The police report says that at 66 mph we impacted crushing the right front of our car where I was seated.
This was a few years ago before mandatory state seat belt laws. My head, with reading glasses on smashed into the car’s dashboard and Jaws-of-Life were required to free me from the confines of this smashed vehicle.I was the most severely hurt of the three passengers in the car.
I was rushed to the Intensive Care Emergency Room at U.C. Davis Hospital in a coma. All the while my brain swelled, encased in my skull, which added secondary damage to the initial damage of the crash. Removal of skull’s plates was not an option on the table then, though that is often done now with great results!
My father was a D.O. and my mother an R.N., they were constantly by my side. With strong bedside help (acupuncture, vitamins, and prayers) and formal conventional medical care from the hospital. I regained consciousness after a week.
I came to having amnesia, diplopia – double vision, and severe TBI.
In the short instance of this accident I was not who I used to be. My life’s operating system was dramatically and forever changed.
From then on I was often occluded in a mental haze and only aware of that haze after the fact, when mental clarity arose temporarily.
Though seeming like impending recovery the clarity was brief and only a false recovery. The facts of TBI’s existence would become painfully revealed to me in my life’s subsequent activities.
That following Fall I went back to college hoping and deluded that my life would be much the same as my previous time there, Not So! It wasn’t!
I had great difficulty learning in class, memory was Teflon for new learning, easy recall was gone and social relations were now in disarray that I couldn’t correct.
Though I was unaware at this time of TBI’s impact, it was now ruddering the ship of me – the unseen captain.
I struggled with a range of new and unfamiliar cognitive deficits. TBI was only vaguely recognized by me, or others around me. I just know that things were not as they had been before.
New frustrations in lack of memory, disorganized speaking and thinking and keeping attention on purpose arose to surprise me.
My romantic relationship split up, as I would often rage out of control within and outwardly. I couldn’t figure it out.
My ability to be a ‘fast study’ was gone; explosive anger would grab my sensibilities. Concentration was not available.
Boundary issues and very slow mental processing made for a whole new mix in my social and personal world.
Frustration from this change was a persistent undercurrent in my entire life.
Things had changed and who was I now? In retrospect I had to learn to befriend this new me, to embark on the journey of
Discovering what now mattered and what is real in a new life.
I was a newcomer to the strange new land of TBI. New learning wouldn’t hold, various enterprises and projects started with inspiration would end unsuccessfully.
As you can see, many of my descriptions of my life at this time overlap with what could be called ‘typical college life experience’. Trust me it was now college life, now with a new addition Traumatic Brain Injury, enigmatic and frustrating.
So, given these new conditions, as you can see I was desperate for control of mind and aching for inner peace. Fortunately, and here comes the good story of possibility I have learned in real life experience – from survive to thrive. Have you heard of Joseph Campbell’s philosophical assertion called the Hero’s Journey?
I was to take this journey into a new world and bring back knowledge gained by encountering difficulties there.
After a few years of getting by with indispensable support from my wife – Faith, I accepted an invitation from a friend and fellow parent to attend a meditation session at Spirit Rock with Jack Kornfield in the next town.
I was introduced to this specific form of Insight meditation from Thailand, originally from The Buddha in India. Mindfulness is literally keeping something in mind with ardency and continuous effort. That is the training of meditation practice, which we opened today’s session with.
I liked learning the skill of concentration and inner stillness. I began to attend Monday evening sessions weekly with Jack and a constant stream of top level visiting teachers there. Within a short time I had beautiful experiences of inner peace, of mental clarity and focused energy that appeared directly for me.
This results in both mental concentration and openness of mind. Simply getting the mind to settle down slightly can transform how we BE in the world. In this practice is a path to transformation, and I have access to the machinery of finding peace with what needs to be called forth to be this new me.
Here was Sangha or community of fellow meditators. Others who I met there shared similar experiences of mindfulness and concentration they were learning. Here is a technology of mind that can result in our awakening, discovered by fellow human beings again and again over the centuries It can be learned by anyone who chooses to learn the practice.
The meditation practice is mapped out for me in an abundance of interesting books and easily accessed online dharma talks. It is spoken and written of by both neuroscientists and well-trained dharma teachers. There is a large area of overlap between meditation and neuroscience. The practice of mindfulness and meditation is very real, not just interesting philosophy for others. The entire world and we ourselves occurs in our mind, so I focus on this. I test and verify the teaching in my experience daily. I was stressing over doing this presentation RIGHT, I noticed that and acknowledged that I was doing the best I can now and let go of the stressing. I learn to honor exactly how I am in the moment and not have a background demand that I be some other way than I am, that only causes stress and suffering.
Freedom from discontent (AKA. Suffering), is the direct result of this mindfulness meditation practice. There is gold – directly known value actually uncovered in your life through mindfulness, being aware of things as they actually are, NOW. Through sitting meditation and then being aware of your experience in the present moment, paying attention to the way it is, you actually transform the present moment by letting go of demands by yourself that it be different.
I was beginning to see clearly, waking up and living in the present moment. Suffering and being awake to the present moment are incompatible. Arising in me was a profound experience of well-being, literally a lasting experience of ‘no problem’. Sometimes giddy positive descriptions sound like crazy devotees.
Just try this out and you’ll see. Start simply with the declaration, “I’m mindful”. This will open the question, what do I mean by being mindful? Give it time, you will move from that concept to a way of being. Mindful.
We make the choice to learn this practice and are empowered to follow your own authentic path. Sitting meditation practice is the first step. You wake up to the present moment as basic training. You can do it now, in this moment – intentionally. Watch each breath that is here now,
Here in my practice was knowing freedom from dukha, suffering, or stress as it is laid out in meditation’s core teachings of mindfulness practice. Dukha is basic issue in a human life, there is a cause of this dukha and YAY!, there is cessation of the dukha and then a gardening in the mind of inspirations, loves and mind states of peace.
Before my auto-accident I had taken the est Training, has anyone here heard of that two weekend transformation?
You may have heard it identified as Landmark Education, The Forum.
I’ve participated whole-heartedly in a variety of workshops and seminars down in Seattle and San Francisco. I heartily recommend their work.
The teaching included much mindfulness teaching about your personal experience – learning to be awake to the present moment. This Is It! Which Werner Erhard learned from training in Zen Buddhism from Alan Watts and woven into a new teaching of motivation and achievement from Napoleon Hill’s positive thinking, Think and Grow Rich.
This opened me to new possibilities for myself, going beyond pastly created conditioning that limits how we enter into new situations. I appreciate and value that work to this day. I see daily the power of giving my word and having integrity to communicate when things change.
At Spirit Rock I was inspired and had entered a compelling community and conversation for intentional awakening that I followed with the loving support of my wife and family –
It was gold mind. Called the divine mind states Lovingkindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity.
Please note that family and friends support is essential at all levels of recovery. We are so intertwined with others that I can’t emphasize that support enough! My wife Faith will speak some on this and how she has created family and support people’s support with BIRRDsong. There is ‘I’ in tribe and equally there is tribe in ‘I’, in each of us. In meditation our close community of fellow practitioners is called Sangha .
I saw that I was capable of learning the beneficial qualities spoken of in the dharma talks. It has upgraded my operating system.
I meditate daily now (encouraged by the well designed Insight Timer, it’s and App for meditators worldwide on smartphones and tablets, again called Insight Timer)
I know the difference this practice makes for me. Mindfulness is a very forgiving practice. It is literally ‘win/win’; you practice skillfully and learn what’s needed for you by looking directly at your experience, that which needs to be healed or attended to will be revealed, look and see!
The meditation process is a positive feedback loop, of practice and learning, it’s self-correcting. Direct awareness, seeing what is so in the present moment is fire for your awakening and a source of deep peace within.
With mindfulness it is possible to accept and gently hold whatever states arise in your mind, or to know when I’m becoming overloaded (‘flooded’ in TBI talk) and to back off.
Here you choose not to ‘go under’ entangling swirls or previously conditioned behavior patterns. Awareness can take a break from ‘committee in my mind’ past conditioned behavior response and look freshly at what is needed now.
The brain with billions of neuronal connections can be a crazy beast! Mindfulness training grounds us in a sense of dignified inner wellness and peace of being aware in the present moment, what I am metaphorically calling ‘Gold Mind’, allowing for our lives’ ups and downs, having damages of TBI, not being victimized by them. Present moment awareness is priceless peace.
Mindfulness practice isn’t about changing me into a better me, rather it is about befriending who I am right here and now. This is IT! It’s like this right now is a way to be in your awareness. “Work with what you have”, asserts my teacher Ajahn Thanissaro Bhikkhu. By allowing myself to be I get to appreciate and know the wonder of NOW, getting better does happen!
Neuroplasticity is the word of the decade. Getting better does happen! TBI is still very much a part of my daily life. I’ve learned compensatory strategies that usually work. My condition hasn’t gone away or been miraculously cured. Norman Doidge has shown in two great books how neuroplasticity works and neuro psychologist Rick Hanson in his books, Buddha’s Brain and Hardwiring Happiness shows how the practice of mindfulness meditation can be used to cultivate happiness.
In our worlds of great flux and complexity, what is permanent is knowing the possibility of transformation and seeing that we get that clarity with commitment to regular practice (use Insight timer and create for yourself a community of practitioners).
I now identify with the symptoms of this TBI less, and see even this identifying with it as unskillful behavior that I can have a say in. This transformation in my self identity gives me peace and ease, knowing that the symptoms are only part of who I am and that in my relationships with those I care about I must clean up any messes I’ve made through communication.
Gold Mind Meditation Project has the purpose and intended result of introducing you to mindfulness practice, the basics.
It empowers you to develop a sustaining nurturing practice, transforming your relationship with this persistent condition and really loving the life you get to live.
This is ‘transformational rehabilitation’ –you choose to do this practice intentionally. Many deficits and damages will be fixed, you are actually healed by being with things as they are, not demanding that they be some way they cannot. Here and now is the experience of equanimity and peace.
This is a path of supreme optimism for survivors of TBI, a basic tenant is that no human life or moments of experience are to be wasted or forgotten. We can engage with and live our one precious life intentionally, and awaken fully. Go for it!
Please notice or get a sheet if you haven’t already the page listing free classes, an hour and a half each Weds. Evenings
6:30 – 8:00 at Legacy Good Sam Hospital in Portland. Classes are free and you register by attending.
Also on this sheet is web address for Insight Timer to encourage and record meditation sessions, a few books suggested, some are free online to learn further about mindfulness meditation and my web site and blog.