OUR EXPERIENCE: “it is what it is”.

Philosophers, spiritual leaders, our parents, mentors, friends and even our children will advise you on what is right and what is wrong about a given situation.

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How do you decide on what’s right? Do you go by what others tell you? Or maybe what you read in a book? What do you do if the advice given to you is conflicting?

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Our brains are designed by evolution to process information in a specific way. This processing is then influence by the genes we inherit, our environment, our culture, our friends, parents and peers.

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It is also influenced by how we feel when we are trying to decide. Our brain doesn’t allow us to see things as they really are; it only gives representation of what the reality is outside our heads.

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It is only our awareness of our experience we can say, “it is what it is.” Our experience is our own; it is special and unique to us.

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However, it doesn’t mean our experience will lead us to make the “best” decision. Remember it is colored by so many factors and even by our likes and dislikes. We tend to give more importance to qualities we like than those we don’t like. We value what we like, but what we like is not always “wholesome and good.”

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In the final analysis its doesn’t really matter what the absolute truth is before we make our final decision; it only matters that we try to see what others see and think, while keeping in mind they too want to thrive in life.

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We only see from where we stand, so should we try standing in lots of different places to get the whole picture? I leave it to you,to decide.

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The Need to be Mindful of the Mind!

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People of Christen belief are less likely to die 20 days before Christmas than after Christmas. People who believe in something higher themselves are more likely to live longer, generally healthier and more resilient than people who are non-believers. People who meditate are more to feel a sense of wellbeing and are generally happier.

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These statements are rooted in science and from them one may conclude that these people are somehow living and seeing the world in a different way that confers them some benefits.

What’s special about these situations and these people that causes them to experience these benefits?

Research seems to confirm the age-old suspicion that these individuals’ brains are firing differently! That is to say their mind is processing the world differently.  In a sense they are creating their own reality and their own happiness.

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The Buddha realized the world is suffused with suffering and always advocated cultivating the mind to free one of suffering. Science is now discovering that cultivating the mind is indeed very important determinant of our health and wellbeing.

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It is easy to say cultivate your mind but how does one do that? There are many ways, but none surpass the practice of training your attention, which really means meditating. The practice of meditation is a technique used for thousands of years to improve concentration and focus, which improves the control of  our awareness.

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When we are more aware, it allows us to “see and map out” our own mind.  This then allows us to see different aspects of our self. These different aspects of ourselves have different drives, they are all driven to fulfill our different needs and if these needs are in conflict with each other, then this will result in uncomfortable feeling of either chaos or rigidity within us, resulting in ill-health, relationship conflicts and feeling of depression.

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Sciences is now finding out that Practices like prayer, meditation, tai chi, qigong, yoga all help to cultivate our minds in a beneficial way. Even simple exercise is shown to help depression and improve neuroplasticity in the brain.

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So if you are doing any of these practices please don’t let them lapse and if you were thinking about starting, I wholeheartedly support your effort because the benefits are obvious.

Resources

The Mindful Brian by Daniel Siegel

http://flickrhivemind.net/

Lessons from Nature

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It is common these days to hear that nature is healing, rejuvenating, balancing and grounding. Science has also confirmed these finding. It is wonderful how great writers like Hermann Hesse can express these dry scientific facts into a prose with which we can relate. I was reading a book “An Education in Happiness – The lessons of Hesse and Tagore by Flavia Arzeni. She describes how Hesse loved nature and how it spoke to him. He saw for example, a solitary tree as a warrior who fought his battles alone. He writes…” The world rustles in their branches, their roots sink into the infinite and yet are not lost in it, but pursue with all their strength a single aim – to realize the law that is innate in them; to bring their form to perfection; to represent themselves.”

 

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At times we all lose our way trying to find ourselves, to represent ourselves with our own perfection. We often look outwards for help from others or go on a journey in search of ourselves. Hesse is reminded by the tree that there is no need for this because the answers are within us, the salvation doesn’t come from others but from ourselves; the homeland is not in some place in the world, but within ourselves. When Hesse feels despair and doesn’t know which direction to go, the tree transmits its lesson to him in this way… “Hush, now! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult!”

Tree buddha

Tree buddha (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

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Hesse didn’t believe in adapting ourselves to external rules that we do not share; he thought there is no point in looking for short cuts or laboring under the illusion that others can make our journey for us. He said “say yes to one’s self, one’s own isolation, one’s own feeling, and one’s own destiny.”

 

He loved clouds because they were clouds and because of the thoughts they give rise to. He loved water because it was water and because he saw in it his own destiny. He loved trees and plants because they helped him live and survive. He loved fire because from the ashes mixed with earth, earth is reborn. Air, water, earth, and fire were his teachers.

 

This summer, take a contemplative walk in nature and listen to the lessons nature may have for you!or just enjoy and say yes to life.

 

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Eating the Right Foods – part 3

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Food allergies and food sensitivities.

When people are allergic to some food, they may experience mild to severe allergic reaction ranging from mild rash, tingling of mouth, swelling of lips or eye, to the other extreme of a severe anaphylactic reaction when the whole face may swell up, with generalized rash, choking, inability to breath and death. This type of reaction happens quickly.

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There are lots of people who may not be allergic to a particular food but are sensitive to them. This causes chronic irritation and inflammation. It may manifest itself by a person experiencing vague symptoms such as fatigue, trouble sleeping, mental fogginess, mood changes, irritability, anger, skin irritation or a skin rash. Joint pain, gas , bloating, nasal congestion, post nasal drip, recurrent ear or sinus infections can also be related to food allergies.

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If you have any or some of these symptoms then there is good likelihood you have food sensitivity. The most common food groups implicated to food sensitivities are: dairy, gluten, corn, soy, peanuts and eggs.

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Elimination diet.

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How does one find out what you maybe sensitive to? There are no good laboratory tests that can identify what you maybe sensitive too. The only way to sort it out by a process called elimination diet. First you eliminate all food groups from the diet for two weeks. Then you reintroduce one food at a time for one day and notice if the symptoms come back when a food group is reintroduced. If the symptoms come back during the following two days then you are likely sensitive to that food group, continue reintroducing new food group every third day until all are tested one at a time.

Those food group identified as causing symptoms are then eliminated from the diet forever and hopefully you feel lot better. One generally work with a dietician when going on an elimination diet.

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Resources:

The Science of Natural Healing – by Dr Mimi Guarneri

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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 Secrets of Resilience

In the past I wrote about vulnerability. I said vulnerability is the only authentic state. Being vulnerable means being open for wounding, but also for pleasure. Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty. I asked not to mask or deny your vulnerability because its our greatest asset. Be vulnerable, I said: quake and shake in your boots with it because the new goodness that comes to you, in the form of people, situations, and things can only come to you when you are vulnerable. Now, this of course is on the assumption that life wounding does not leave you with grievous wound from which you cannot recover.  One may wonder if there is a healthy balance between vulnerability and resilience so that a person can recover from their wounds.  All the wounded people I have come across have recovered either completely or partially. Those that are resilient recover completely and those who are not may have difficulty.

A wise man once said, “The best way to come to terms with a terrible past is to get a really good future out of it.” Again the wise man is assuming the person has enough resilience to overcome the terrible past.

So the question is how does one get resilient. I have suggested in my previous posts that the individual who had a happy loving childhood and who’s parents provided the right kind of environment are more “psychologically balances” and this would contribute to them being resilient. But all is not lost if you had a terrible childhood. One can learn to be more resilient. The past doesn’t have to ruin or limit our future. We don’t want to have thought that say “ I can never be happy because this happened in my past.”

What can we do to become resilient? Some very exciting research has emerged from the study of mindfulness meditation.  It seems with meditation practice there is an electrical change in brain function which cultivates an “ approach state” in which people move toward, rather than away from a challenging external situation or internal mental function such as a thought, feeling, or memory. Naturally, such an approach state can be seen as the neural basis for resilience.

Studies have also shown that patients with meditation practice feel an internal sense of stability and clarity. This is important because resilient people are very good at dealing with novelty. When they feel stuck or come across a new difficulty in their path they don’t run away from it.but face it head on, the sense of the stability and clarity they cultivate through meditation becomes very handy  in those situations. If someone is unable to deal with a new situations and keeps finding good excuses not to tackle it, then they will get stuck in the pattern of ineffectuality i.e. they keep repeating the same behaviour and hoping for a different result. They maybe too fearful to try something new; they maybe putting their fear ahead of solving the problem they are faced with. Not solving the problem keeps one in the comfortable zone of what we already know and this keeps one stuck because what we know has been ineffectual and therefore continues to keep one  stuck. One needs to try something new.

Meditation has also been shown to boost the immune system. So there is defence and resilience at the cellular level too, against infections and damage done to the body by the stress hormones. Having a healthy body also will provide sense of resilience.

Quote

Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.
Bern Williams

Resources

http://www.brainyquote.com

http://flickrhivemind.net

The Mindfulness Revolution: edited by Barry Boyce – chapter by Daniel Siegel,  the proven benefits of mindfulness.

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

Competing to be Attractive

Why is that we humans are not naturally predisposed to sharing basic necessities of life. Surely there are enough resources in our world for everyone to at least have their basic needs satisfied. Yet there are millions without the basic needs. How are we to make sense of this? If we look at most species on this planet they all compete for basic needs, for food, nest sites, sexual opportunities etc. I suppose the only way to avoid this competition would be ether to live in isolation or learn to live with others without harming or killing each when acquiring these basic needs. Living and evolving in isolation is more difficult. It is more likely that a group will solve a given problem rather than those living in isolation. There are benefits to living in groups, and for those to evolve, evolution had to come up with a way to remove the potential for constant fighting between the group members. In animals this is achieved by submissive behavior by the less powerful animals and for the dominant animals to accept this behavior as evidence that their rule is not challenged. This kind of behavior is called ” ranks of social deference” and it has allowed animals to live together without continual warfare.

In time the behavior in humans has evolved to allow greater close proximity and hopefully more cooperative behavior as well. So how do we humans avoid the constant warfare? I am not sure if we have exactly stopped the warfare, all we have done is to become subtler, instead of using out right aggression we are subtly competing with each other. Our behavior can be understood by  “social rank mentality”, which are a way of thinking about our social relationships and ourselves and a way for us to organize the distribution of resources.

We have come a long way from using aggression and physical threats to compete for goods. Instead we have become sophisticated and use our experience, knowledge, age, authority, tradition, power, talent and beauty to gain that competitive edge. We want to compete by being seen as talented, desirable and worthy: we want to impress. We like to be patted on the head; it makes us feel valued, wanted and safe. With regards to being cooperative, and sharing knowledge, we like recognition and the awareness that we’ve been helpful.

Although there might not be any aggressive intent here because we’re competing to be attractive to others, we can still display irritation, anger and even threats of or actual violence if we feel that the competition has been unfair or that our ‘position’, ‘status’ or ‘power’ is being threatened.

We humans are very social rank aware and motivated. We pay attention to out social position in our social hierarchy, we think about our relationship in terms of hierarchies and social comparisons – strong/ powerful v. weak/ powerless. Winner v. loser, superior v. inferior etc. We behave in ways appropriate to hierarchies: competing for status, trying to impress those in powerful positions, submitting, showing deference, subduing subordinates or competitors.

So this social mentality involves motives to win competitions and conflicts for resources and social position and to subdue competitors. The competitive social mentality will also orient us to think in terms of envy and of undermining other people, because this can advance our own interests. From the world trade talks to street gangs, maintaining one’s competitive advantage dominates thinking.

The drawback of competitive social mentality is that it also tends to turn off the patterns in our minds that facilitate caring. It also puts people who are anxious or depressed at a disadvantage because they believe themselves to be of low rank- inferior or inadequate. Narcissist on the other hand, is highly competitive, seek high rank, want to impress others and be seen as superior.

Resources

The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert

http://flickrhivemind.net/

Related articles

The Question: Who Am I ?

Most of us have asked the question who am I ? or  at the very least have asked some form of this question. The question usually occurs to us when we are in a pensive mood or maybe even a depressed mood. Sometimes we take time out to discover the ‘real self’ or ‘the real me.’ I am sorry to say there is no real self or real me, either physically or mentally. It is an illusionary concept at best. We don’t even have a single atom left in our bodies that we were born with, we are constantly changing and replenishing. Our sense of  ‘being’ comes from the patterns created in our physical brain. If for some reason part of the brain gets damaged then our sense of self will become very different.

In the previous posts I hinted that our brain and mind is the product of our evolution. We are not in full control of our mind. It is governed partly by the ancient strategies that have survival value and have been evolving since the beginning of time (or life); as well it is governed by our archetypes, desires, motives, fears , abilities and talents. Our mind has matured into a ‘complex entity’ , with rainbow of possibilities. It knows ‘we exist’, it can explore the nature of the universe, it is capable of great clarity , compassion, charity , love and kindness; but it has a dark side too, it is also capable of rage , violence and torture.

We are patterns of great complexity, a rainbow of many colours and the point of introspection is not so much as to find a particular colour but to find a way to blend all the colours and  stretch across the horizon like a beautiful rainbow. A family is not just children, mum , dad, uncles, aunts and grandparents but all of them delicately connected and integrated together. Similarly we can think of ourself not as a single self  but as a consciousness that is textured by a multi-faceted , multicoloured set of possibilities. The trick is to connect and integrate different ‘parts’ of ourself so we can love, be loved, be compassionate, be patient, without fear, be at peace and live with ease.

Next I will post some thoughts on Jungian archetypes and social mentalities; until then have a mindful life.

Resources

The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=rainbow+photograph&qpvt=rainbow+photograph&FORM=Z7FD#x0y0

http://flickrhivemind.net/

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.

Interchange Blog

Interchange Blog

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