ABDI ASSADI SIMPLIFIES MEDITATION
The following interview was conducted by Joe Cross for Reboot with Joe:
I had the pleasure of sitting down with spiritual counselor and acupuncturist, Abdi Assadi. We chatted about the change you experience when you go through a Reboot. While it can be a physical change if you lose weight, it’s also a mental change, and sometimes that can be the toughest part of the Rebooting process.
Abdi told me the way I think about the benefits fruits and veggies have on our body is the same as meditation for the mind. It’s an important part of the Reboot process that many of us might not think about. I decided to ask him a few more questions to simplify meditation, since most of us have never done it before. He makes it seem easy, attainable, and shares why it’s so valuable.
JC: How many years have you been practicing as a spiritual counselor?
ABDI: I began studying and practicing different forms of bodywork starting in 1985. The spiritual counseling really started in the late 80s when the AIDS epidemic was raging through New York City. I was working as an acupuncturist, biofeedback therapist as well as meditation teacher in three different community clinics, and young men in my care were dying on a weekly basis. Medical science had not yet come up with the efficient life-saving antiviral therapies we have now. It was living and working in that horror that forced me into bringing in a spiritual aspect into my work. “Spiritual” is a tricky word in our culture and has all sorts of other worldly or religious contexts. In my use of the word, it means none of that: it simply means to sit with what is without trying to manipulate and to connect with the core part of us that exists outside of time. Most of us are strangers to that part of ourselves and it takes effort and guidance to connect to it. We are a culture of addicts, specifically because we have lost touch with that part of ourselves. Whether we are addicted to food, drugs, the Internet, or what have you, it all stems from this disconnection.
JC: What path brought you to this profession?
ABDI: I was raised living in third world countries around some dire situations due to my father’s work with UNICEF. I felt from an early age that I wanted to be of some assistance to all the suffering that I was witnessing on a daily basis. By the time I made it into my late teens, I was planning on being a physician. As I was finishing my pre-med program in college in the mid 80s in New York, I did an internship at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx. There was a program there that was using acupuncture to treat drug and alcohol addictions, in the beginning stages of the crack epidemic. Having been a martial artist since a young age, I had been around acupuncture but had never thought about it as something to pursue professionally. Seeing its efficacy at Lincoln Hospital changed the trajectory of my life and put me into a whole different direction, which included studying acupuncture, biofeedback, meditation, psychotherapy, shamanism, and nutrition.
JC: What’s your best advice for someone who wants to become more self-aware, but has never meditated before?
ABDI: Simple. FEEL your body and force yourself to be in the moment more. We live in a culture that has mastered distraction. From the second we wake up we hit the ground running to the second we fall asleep. We are always on the move whether physically or mentally (always mentally, for sure). This constant movement has serious negative consequences, one of which is the lack of connection with the present moment or our bodies. To become self-aware, we first have to realize that we are self-unaware. We have to learn to make friends with ourselves. It is no different than meeting a new person, we have to spend time with them to get to know them. It is the same with ourselves.
JC: What does it mean to be spiritual? And how can it positively affect one’s daily life?
ABDI: As I said before, spirituality has some “Woo Woo” ethereal connotations in our culture. It is none of that: to me it simply means to have a relationship with yourself. Stop the running around for a short period of time. Listen and feel where you are at. It is mind-blowing how most of us are running around our whole lives without having a clue what it is we are exactly running after. I have been present at the bedside of many dying people; I learned this lesson the hard way. We die the way we have lived. For most of us, there is nobody home on the level that we are talking about here.
JC: How can it help someone on a Reboot who is focusing on making drastic changes to their eating habits?
ABDI: It can be incredibly helpful. In fact, doing the Reboot without dealing with the underlying issues will be only partially successful since you can not will these issues away. We have to make friends with ourselves. We live in a culture of addiction. Food is one of the main substances of choice to numb feelings. I must say that I rarely treat someone who does not have some type of food issue. Being overweight is just one of many. We all use food to control emotions: over or under-eating, specific drastic diets over long periods of time, emotional anorexia manifesting as physical anorexia… I can go on and on. These are not weight issues but emotional issues that we use food to control. More importantly, these issues can not be controlled, but rather need to be healed.
Another crucial issue is that as we work on losing the weight, two things happen: one is that we are not using food to numb our feelings, so we will be feeling more. The other less discussed is that we do not have the armor of excess weight to keep the world out. The more weight we lose, the closer our nervous system is to the outside world. Similar to taking off layers of clothing, we feel more. So we have to deal with our emotions at this juncture to be able to keep the healing on track. Otherwise it can be overwhelming, which will make us reach for unhealthy behaviors to help soothe ourselves.
JC: How does acupuncture play a role in increasing the quality of life?
ABDI: Acupuncture, like all bodywork, helps us connect with our bodies. Our bodies are innately wise, but modern living, with its stress, promotes a sense of disconnection. So first and foremost, I would say that it helps us start a relationship with our body. We all hold a tremendous amount of tension over our entire body as a response to the stresses of life. These areas of tension have a negative effect on the underlying organs. By releasing these areas or “trigger points” with the acupuncture needles, we allow the organs underneath to function better. Also, there is a chemical change that occurs during an acupuncture treatment that helps both the immune function as well as the emotional state of the recipient.
JC: What benefit does acupuncture have in helping someone lose weight?
ABDI: In the context of what we are discussing, acupuncture can be quite helpful on several levels. It can help release emotional blockages in the body that are held in our musculature, and give us a sense of ease. By helping “tune up” the digestive system, it can help make the transition to a healthier diet more fluid. And by putting us more in touch with our body (which we have numbed by using food as a disconnecting substance), give us more of a fighting chance to stick with the program.
JC: Can you give an example of a meditation practice that can be done anywhere at any time?
ABDI: I am glad you asked about an example of a meditation practice, since there are so many types of meditation. What I find most useful is to get people to ground their always-wandering mind in their bodies. One must remember that incessant thinking is not free; it has negative chemical effects on the body. This is due to the fact that our bodies can not distinguish between thought and reality. When you are constantly thinking, your body registers those thoughts as reality happening. Strange but true.
So here we go:
As you are reading this, take a deep breath into your belly. And now another. Notice that most likely you were breathing shallowly, which is a stress response. Now, feel your feet on the floor. Do not think about your feet on the floor but FEEL them on the floor. Once you feel rooted, feel your hands while feeling your feet. Spend a couple of minutes and feel your body.
You will see that it is simple, but not simple. Your mind will constantly want to escape into a thought. Bring it back into your body every time you catch yourself thinking about something. This exercise can be difficult because this sort of awareness is a muscle to be developed. It is a muscle we have not exercised before. So it is a tool to be practiced daily, but it has tremendous benefits. Try it for five minutes a day for the next 10 days, and feel what we are talking about here.
One last thing: use this technique when you are eating. If you are having a juice, feel your body as you prepare it. Make it a ritual. As you sit to drink your juice, slow the whole process down. Chew your juice, really one small sip at a time. If you are eating solids, really chew until your food is liquefied, and then swallow. Research shows that if we slow down the eating process, we can and do stop overeating.