Mindfulness workshop

We knew we were gambling for good weather when we decide to have a workshop on November 2, 2013 in a building out in middle of a big field, and with only small heaters powered by a generator as the heat source.  We knew Mother Nature has her own big plans for the whole universe and we must conform to her timetable.  She has a way of regulating the energy flow that keeps the cosmos functioning by maintaining nice delicate balance. She is not distracted by anyone’s plans.

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The day before the conference the weather was perfect, 10 above and sunny, but in the following morning it started with 5 above but gradually got colder and in the midday it started snowing, by the end of the day people were worried about the road conditions and driving home as the heavy snow lay on the ground. The fields and the trees magically got transformed and looked beautiful. Only those who were mindful fully appreciated this beauty as they went about doing whatever needed to be done.

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Mindfulness is a way of being and is cultivated by getting to know the workings of our own mind so we can regulate the flow of energy and information of our minds with awareness.  The flow of energy in our own mind gets manifested through our behavior, quality of ours thoughts and speech. This affects the quality of our relationship with our loved ones and beyond, including our relationship with all living creatures and the mother earth.  Our ability to control our minds energy will determine our level of suffering and happiness.  It was with these underpinning of our ability to be in awareness affecting health of our body, our mind and our relationship that motivated us to hold the workshop.

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In the workshop we looked at the ancient traditional practices to control this energy and information flow and how science is able to glimpse at what may be going on in our mind and brain when we practice these methods regularly everyday. Knowing the science of mindfulness may help the practice by it being another pointer to guide us along the path of mindfulness.. Ultimately one has to experience it.

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The Mother Nature and all the other forces in the universe will demand our attention but we can choose consciously where to direct it with mindfulness.

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Resources:

Universal Love by Lama Yeshe

Photographs by Patrick Lukasewich

 

Choose your community wisely.

Continuing our theme of enriching the soil for life long good health, in this post I will talk about the importance of our community in which we live. I will use the word ‘community’ in a wider sense than the usual meaning; it will also include sense of connectedness and formation of social networks with other individuals in that community. So this includes all of our relationships with each other, including family, friends,work colleagues, acquaintances and strangers; as well as the relationships with the broader world, to the universe and the  community in which we live. I am using this wider sense because we are social beings, and we as individuals can only flourish in a good, wholesome, fertile Eco-system.

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Eco system that promotes stress will cause ill-health. Studies show living in communities that are stressful and cause unhappiness contribute to ill-health and in communities where there is happiness and contentment are health promoting.

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Our Eco-system starts with our families and on that we may not have a choice. If possible we would want to experience in our family a wide range of emotions without fear of harsh judgement and with over all feeling of  happiness, feeling of being safe and supported;  and also having a sense of  unconditional love. In this kind of environment we produce less toxic hormone in our bodies. We are able to learn from our mistakes and grow. We can explore and can afford to be adventurous. Of course the opposite is true when our family environment is not supportive but is  judgmental and so resulting in us shutting down, unable to share our emotional life. The first situation as you can imagine is ‘life giving’ and the second situation is ‘stifling and life draining.’

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Friendship can be mutually beneficial in different ways. The best friendship, according to Aristotle  is that in which both individuals are equally virtuous and never do any harm to each other, to do so would be against their nature; and they have mutual love for each other. Lesser friendships are where there is limited mutual benefit through the association.

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The further away we move from our association with family and friends, to work associates, acquaintances and strangers our reasons for association become more limited but these associations still can have significant impact on us depending on whether the relationship is stressful or not.

The sense of the relationship to our neighborhood should be where its safe to be there without coming to harm from individuals, noise and pollution.

We also want to have the sense that we are not poisoning our planet and we want to leave behind a healthy planet for our children and many future generations.

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Obviously we don’t have complete control to organize our community around us so that it allows us to flourish. We never the less need to align ourselves so that it causes minimal harm to our person-hood  This requires deep thought on what we value, practical wisdom and great courage to make a change. In the end, the change that results in less stress and more contentment will be healthy one indeed.

The strength of your soil is crucial if you are to stay healthy and live a long life.

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When the trees in our yard or the houseplants in the house are not doing well, the leaves dry, turn brown and fall off. When we stop to wonder what the cause might be, our usual response is to check the soil, make sure there is right amount of moisture in the soil, check its getting the right amount of exposure to light and we may even provide the proper plant food. After we checked and corrected the conditions for the plants they usually thrive.

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Humans are not that different. They too need the right conditions to thrive. Yet when we are not doing well our immediate impulse is to take a pill for the problem. It would be nice if we were to ask the question, “I’m I living under the right conditions?” Is the moisture of my soil ok, have I got enough light, I’m I eating the right food, I’m I living in the right environment etc. If we don’t provide the right conditions for ourselves its unlikely we will ever feel our optimal best. Its only in the recent years we are beginning to see the strong link between the ‘conditions we are under’ and whether a good or bad genes that’s going to get turned on; under optimal conditions for example, lot of the cancer genes get turned off. Under horrible conditions lot of the cancer genes get turned on. Just as for the plants, we need to make sure we are living under optimal conditions.

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So what are the right conditions? What strengthens our soil? Here is the basic list: –

1.Eat the right food.

2.Exercise.

3.Get enough sleep

4.Live in the right community.

5.Orientation of having the glass half full not empty.

6.Connect with your spirituality.

7.Choose your parents wisely!!!!! …. Just kidding. …They do provide us with the genes we carry and the early environment, both of which are important, as we will see in the future posts.

I have covered some of these before but its no harm in reviewing them again in the up coming posts.

You may also want to review the past posts too.

https://drchana.com/2011/11/

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The Sources of Suffering and Meditation for Cultivating Self-Compassion

I have talked about self-compassion and how powerful it can be in relieving suffering. It is not the answer to all suffering but it goes long way towards helping us to live well and flourish.

Sources of Suffering

 

There are numerous sources of suffering and here’s one way of categorizing them: –

1.It could be physical, such as when we continue to eat even after we are full, or when we drink too much and then get a hang over the next morning or when we spend hours surfing the internet sitting and getting a backache.

2. It could be mental, when we have thoughts of ill will towards ourselves or others or when we ruminate about something.

3. It could be emotional, when we feel depressed, sad, angry or fearful.

4.It could be relational, when we are unable to connect with others authentically.

5. It could be spiritual, when our values are undermined or when we don’t nurture them.

The pathway to self-compassion is to mindfully look at these areas and start to recognize and accept the suffering that maybe present. We can then use mindfulness based meditative practice to address the suffering.

Meditation for Self- Compassion

Good place to start self-compassion practice is by sitting quietly with spine straight and head held high but slightly tilted downwards.

Once you assumed a comfortable position notice your own breath going in and out your body. The breath maybe noticed going in and out by the sensation at the nostrils or by the movement of the belly going in and out or you might notice it at some other part of the body. It doesn’t matter where you notice the breath going and out of your body but the important thing is to notice the breath all the way in and all the way out of your body. Almost certainly your mind will wonder to other thoughts or images but just acknowledge that the mind is somewhere else and gently bring it back to the breath.

After two to three minutes turn your focus inwards and start to notice sensations in your body. What sort of feeling you experiencing right now?  Is there temperature differences or discomfort in different part of the body? Is there muscle tightness or tension anywhere? Is there pleasant sensation anywhere? Is some part of the body feeling lighter than another part? You may notice other experiences.

Just notice these sensations or experiences and accept them without judging whether they are good or bad. Continue this for 5-6 minutes.

Then with all your heart say the following words:-

May I be safe

May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I live with ease.

You may repeat these wards as many times as you like and when you are ready open your eyes, but try to carry any good will feeling you may have experienced during the meditation as long as you can for the rest of the day.

The idea of this meditation is not to necessarily feel good but to feel the suffering, witness it, accept it and to show compassion towards yourself. In this way we are concentrating on addressing the suffering we feel and are not engaged in blaming or calling others or ourselves derogatory names or planning how to get even with others who may have done us wrong. The wise say it’s no point wishing our enemies death because they are going to die anyway. Therefore lets just concentrate on addressing our suffering with the right thinking and right action.

It is important to have regular formal mindful practice to experience the benefit, just reading and knowing about meditation or mindful is worthless. The research confirms that the beneficial changes in the brain only occur with consistent regular practice.

Until the next time, may you be safe, may you be happy, may you be healthy and may you be at ease. I will put up some more mindful based self-compassion meditation in the future posts.

Resources: –

C.K. Germer – Open Heart, Open eyes: Practicing the Art of Self Compassion.

http://www.flickrhivemind.net for the photos

 

Feeling of Contentment

In the last post we looked at satisfying our desires. We noticed as soon as one desire had been satisfied the contentment resulting from satisfying that desire did not last very long, soon another desire appeared which also needed to be satisfied otherwise we risk being unhappy and discontented. We found ourselves in a vicious cycle of desiring and satisfying the desires because our need for desire never ends. In a way more we satisfy them the more hungry we get for more. We spend a lifetime trying to satisfy all our desires and in the end we die without experiencing real happiness and being content. I witness this all the time in patients with terminal illness. Very few people are content at the end of their life. In this post I hope to explore the sources of this elusive contentment.

In the previous posts I also looked at how we react when we feel threatened. How we are wired to deal with treat and desire has evolutionary benefits. We would not be here as a human species without these systems. They help us to satisfy our basic needs. We humans, however, have the potential for much, much more than just having our basic needs satisfy. We have the ability to be happy, lovingly compassionate and content.  We do this by our ‘emotion regulation system’ that helps to balance the other two systems, of threat and desire, and it’s a major source of our feelings of well-being and connectedness. This system uses natural chemicals in our brains called endorphins and opiates; that enables us to have a sense of well-being and being at peace.

The question is how do we enhance this system in our brains? The answer seems to lie in the certain type of exercises and trying to adopt a certain lifestyle.

 

We will look at the exercises and the life style in the future posts but for now lets look at how we feel safe by creating positive feeling in the minds of others. Most people have had the experience of feeling soothed and content, safe and at peace when they feel valued, cared for and cared about. We spend a lot of our time thinking about other people’s feeling towards us and trying to earn other people’s approval, appreciation and respect and be accepted in our group. We want to be valued, seem desirable, helpful, talented and able. Paul Gilbert writes

 

If you can create these sorts of feelings in the minds of others, three things will happen. First, the world will be safe and you will know that these people won’t attack or reject you because they value you. Second, with them you’ll be able to create meaningful roles for mutual support, sexual relationship and / or sharing. And third, receiving signals from others that they value and care for you will have direct effects on your body and on your soothing/ contentment.

 

Given that this kind of behavior towards us by others makes us feel good, and given that other people have the same needs as us, then doesn’t it make sense that compassion and kindness should be at the centre of our relationships and engagement with the world? In this way we improve our quality of our thoughts in our consciousness. The thought would no longer be fear based but rather be based on trust, caring and being valued. Paul Gilbert writes…

When our brains are in a caring mentality pattern, this brings on-line certain feelings and ways of thinking and certain behaviour e.g. concern and kindness for others and working for their welfare. However, it’s a brain pattern and so the feelings and behavior it supports and encourages can be lost when either the incentive/ resource-seeking system or the treat/self –protection system becomes dominant and regulates feeling and thinking. By learning compassion, we learn how to activate a particular state of mind and brain pattern in us associated with caring and nurturing that have soothing qualities. We can learn certain exercises that will stimulate this system, a kind of physiotherapy for the mind.

Resources:

The compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert

Did you know people on the other side of the world are patterning our minds.

Can we live without being influenced by our surrounding and be an island to ourselves where no outside influence can affect us? I don’t think so. If we believe that we cannot  BUT be influenced by our environment, our culture, our neighbours, our leaders, our religion, our family, our friends  by the media than doesn’t it make sense that we conduct ourselves in such a way that its beneficial to both our society and ourselves? ( or if you like ourselves and our society?).

In my previous posts I mentioned how by interaction with others we are patterning our mind to react or behave in a particular way. But our quality of interaction and the kind of relationship we have with each other is dependent on the kind of cultures and societies we live in. This means our cultures and social structures can activate and pattern our minds, too. In our fast paced , competitive society we are going to be interacting and stimulating different patterns in each of us than if we were in slower , more contented societies.

Does it not than follow that we have to think about ourselves radically differently than “island among ourselves.” It would be more accurate to think about ourselves as “mutually influencing beings” ? So on individual level, our irritation with each other will raise our stress and increase our vulnerability to range of health problems and to social discord, while our kindness to each other will lower our stress and impact positively on our well-being and increase our social safeness. At a societal level mental illness and criminality are born from complicated genetic, social mentality and cultural/ social interactions. At international level , the ways in which our societies operate, seek goods and services, secure trade agreements and enable international companies to extract huge profits from stock markets will greatly affect the lives and pattern the minds of people far away. Clearly we are all connected , even to those we have not met and are far away on the other side of the world.

So we have a choice of either encouraging selfish tribal behaviour in ourselves and try to be an ” island among ourselves” or we can choose a compassionate approach that’s more thoughtful of others.  Ideally, of course , we want to  blend our interest and interest of others. We will have to reflect and think carefully about our values and try to be the ‘best we can be’ but at the same time, not ruthlessly exploitative.

 

Resources:

The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert.

http://www.flickr.com

Learning How to Fail.

Our society is so obsessed with succeeding and being on the top; and it is in general contemptuous of those who are not interested in this game. We are never taught  in school the most important lesson of life  – how to fail. The psychological studies show that to enhance success we must not focus on the end result but rather focus on the effort one make towards achieving that end. Yet our society is so focus on the results. In sports we only remember who came in first but rarely do we remember who came in second or third. We forget that even if we do well today we may not do so well tomorrow; that success is only temporary.  The moment we are no longer frightened to fail, but take failure as an opportunity to learn from, then we are free to succeed.

How often people don’t try things because they are afraid of failing ? Learning how to fail is not a resignation to become a failure but it is being open to the possibility of failure and learning from it and being appreciative of the effort that was invested towards a given goal. When we focus on the result we invite people to cheat, commonly out of fear. Take government statistic for example, very few people believe them because they don’t tell the whole truth.

Those who are employed get regular personal performance review; under the pretence of being helpful to the employee. But is it really helpful? or is it more to check on the employees that they are meeting their targets; and if the targets are met then they will be increased for the next year. There is always a perpetual change in big corporation; employees feel uneasy with this constant change; but that is exactly the managements thinking that if you let things settle down then people become comfortable and inefficient. But this is wrong kind of thinking. Not only does it create stress and anxiety  for everyone involved but it is poor for the morale and the ability to develop cooperative working relationship with each other. Resulting in huge costs which are born in term of people getting sick and  having to taking stress leaves; but the inefficiency in these organization never improve with this kind of thinking.

Some have said that an inspired , dedicated , cooperative ‘ all for one and one for all’ team of lesser talented  is likely to beat one made up of those who are gifted but are treated as marketable objects and don’t cooperate.

We have to recognize that our psychologies are rooted in our working and social lives. It is easy not to be mindful of how the negative effects of the working conditions can have adverse effect on our minds and our relationships. We can end up being insensitive to many facets of our lives and just being focused  on winning. We look for the competitive edge at the expense of support, cooperation and integration.

Resources

The compassionate mind  by Paul Gilbert.

Communication in Relationships

Relationships can be viewed as sharing of energy and information flow. How is that some relationships are happy and lasts for ever and others are always in turmoil and has a very short life ?

The relationships in which each individual respect the internal world of the other without judgement; and has a sense of openness and allows for the possibilities of the others internal world; and also allows it to unfold in its own special way, then these individual will cultivated a loving-compassionate connection that will carry them through good and bad times. This is known as integrative communication in the field of neurobiology; it promotes the development of healthy relationships as it honours the unfolding of the other as a unique person in their own right without trying to change them the way you want them to be; and it fosters a special bond of trust, imbued with love.

When we compassionately help a child to cultivate her own passions and interests as she grows we are helping her to understand herself, so she has a sense of herself as a unique person. During this process we are promoting parent-child relationship which has a healthy elements of integrative communication.When we are connecting with others with feeling of compassion we  share our internal emotional world with theirs. This is how we learn from each other, this is how the child learns from her parents. We continue to grow and learn all our lives in a supportive – nurturing relationships, where vulnerability is respected and truth honoured.

When we are in a truly integrative relationship we not only care for the other during times of stress, but we also take joy in others’ joy and pride in their accomplishments.

To some this form of integrative communication come naturally, but for some it maybe necessary to first develop an internal state of presence. If we are filled with doubt and uncertainty, envy or hatred , then it is hard to achieve the integrative communication that is needed for a joyful and lasting relationships.

We can teach ourselves with mindfulness to become aware of our internal states; we can learn to check inside of ourselves to see if we are in internal state of receptivity or reactivity. If we are in reactive state we have no internal space to be compassionate, to see others point of view or be respectful. We are instead ready to fight – flight – or – freeze. These are not conditions for communication, let alone integrative communication. In contrast, when we are in receptive state our muscles relax and our minds become open to others and to our own internal experiences. We are now likely to be able to engage in integrative communication.

It will not come as a surprise if I tell you that integrative communication is linked to longevity, health and even happiness. The relationships that are integrative thrive and promote a creative expression and vitality.

Resources

Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology  by  Daniel J. Siegel.

Mindfulness is the single most important foundation of Health.

It has become more common to hear people talk about mindfulness. In the future I believe it will become even more common and it would not surprise me if as part of the health promoting measures, health care professionals don’t start advocating mindfulness in addition to exercise, good nutrition etc. But what is mindfulness? The exact definition is still being debated but generally it is a form of awareness where we are fully present for an inner or outer moment of  experience, of being accepting and open. In contrast non-mindfulness is when we view from a prejudicial belief, we may be fully aware but not mindfully aware because we are not open and not accepting. We can for example act hostile towards someone because of our existing mental model of hostility but not because there is any need to be hostile. In mindfulness the stance is one of positive regard for others, a nonjudgemental awareness that is tinted with acceptance at its core, of compassion towards self and others.

Mindful awareness can be intentionally created by practices such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, or centring prayer. Daniel J. Siegel in his book ” Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology ” writes this about mindfulness…

“Studies of those with mindful awareness using a broad application of these features reveal that it is of benefit to the health of the mind in terms of balanced emotional regulation, flexibility, and approaching rather than withdrawing from challenging event. Being mindful makes you more empathetic and improves the health of the body in terms of enhanced immune function and increased telomerase – the enzyme that maintains the telomeres at the ends of chromosomes and thus enhances cellular longevity. Mindfulness also helps you have more resilience in the face of chronic pain. Mindfulness awareness helps minds, relationships, and our embodied lives.”

In the ancient traditions of the East mindfulness has been practiced for thousands of years to seek truths at higher state of being or to seek enlightenment. It is only recently scientists, with encouragement of Dalai Lama, are discovering the value of mindfulness for health and relationships. In the future posts I will talk about the neurobiology of mindfulness.

 

Resources

Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology  by Daniel J. Siegel

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Time To Give Up And Time To Care

“ Don’t worry about things you have no control over.” This is a common advise given by the popular self-help literature, the psychologist and the parents. It is a good advise; why worry about something you have no control over. It’s no point in worrying if sun is going to come up tomorrow for example. Save that energy for something useful.

In real life though, it is more common to find situations where we only have partial control over the outcome. What should one do here? Should we worry only half as much or should we not worry at all or do we worry wholeheartedly? What will give us better outcome and at the same time preserve our inner peace and contentment?

I can have some control, for example, over getting 100% in an examination, but there are factors that I have no control over that may not allow me to get 100%; I may not be feeling well from catching the flu the day before, or the examination questions maybe on something we did not study in school. I may also want to win a marathon, but again I have no control over all the variables that will prevent me from achieving this goal. I may want a pay raise but my boss may not give it to me. I want my partner to love me but it’s possible that someone else may make her happier and she cannot love me back as I love her. Should I not care? So I can preserve my own tranquility and avoid becoming upset if I don’t get the desired outcomes?

It seems foolish not to care, just because we only have partial control.  Not to care or to give up means I don’t ask my boss for the pay raise, that I continue to let someone else make my partner happier, and to accepted I will not win the marathon and I will not get 100% in the examination even before I tried or made any effort; this may save me from getting upset from not realizing the results I was hoping for. But it will also leave me feeling of a defeat, a low self-esteem and eventual withdrawal from life itself.

It seem the only control we have is over ourselves. So what if we reset our goal internally toward the same outcome? Instead of setting the goal to win the marathon or get 100% in the examination the goal could change; that I am going to try my very to win the marathon and get 100%. This way you will be less anxious about not achieving the goal and this freed up energy can contribute toward being your best. It is possible to do the same for the other two situations. I can reset my goal to be the best employee and then I am more likely to get a pay raise. I can also reset my goal with regards to my partner. I can try to be mindful of my partner’s happiness by being loving and caring person. This is more likely to be helpful than anything else; because that’s the only thing we have control over.

Yes, I may not get the desired outcome but I tried. The things outside my control won out, but I can still be proud of myself even if the outcome was not what I had hoped for because I did not give up on the factor I had control over.

Resources:

A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine

Interchange Blog

Interchange Blog

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