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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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

 

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/

The Importance of Good Sleep and How to Get it.

I have already talked about the importance of right eating and exercising to enrich our soil so we may enjoy health and vitality. Another component of “rich soil” is getting a good sleep.

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Poor sleep leads to serious health consequences in a relatively short time period as compared with eating bad food or not getting enough exercise. Our brain regulates sleep so that if we don’t get enough we developed a sleep debt and our brain works very hard to force us to pay it back. This means whenever there is a quite moment like when we are driving or maybe operating heavy machinery our brain will cause us to sleep resulting in injuries, disasters, and death. In the United States 10,000 deaths are reported from falling asleep whilst driving; this figure is thought to be underestimated of the actual figures.

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The lack of sleep also affects our mood, poor cognitive performance, poor memory, impaired ability to learn and low energy level. Long-term effects include Obesity, Diabetes, Impaired insulin sensitivity, Arrhythmia, Heart attacks, Strokes, Depression and low resistance to infectious diseases.

  • “Studies show short sleepers are three times more likely to develop colds than comparable individuals who average 8 hours of sleep.”
  • “Individuals with sleep problems were 9 times more likely to have planned suicide and 7.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide. Recent studies of suicidal patients showed that treating their sleep disorders led to healthier scores on clinical scales that measure suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”

– Professor H. Craig Heller.

How to improve sleep?

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Drugs.

For short-term only, to get into a sleeping rhythm, OTC remedies or prescription drugs can be used. OTC remedies include diphenhydramine or Melatonin. Prescription drugs include Benzodiazepine such as clonazepam, Valium and Non – Benzodiazepines such as Imovane or Restoril. Sometimes tricyclic antidepressants can also we used to induce sleep very effectively; these include Trazodone, Amitriptyline and Doxepin.

Sleep hygiene

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The most importance aspect of good sleeping is getting the “sleep hygiene” right. This include:–

  1. Keep regular schedule of sleep and awaking- even on the weekend- your biological clock then wouldn’t fight with you.
  2. Sleep only as much as you need to feel rested, don’t over sleep – this will only interfere with the sleep on the following day.
  3. Do not force yourself to sleep – you don’t want to reinforce that sleep is a chore or difficult.
  4. Maintain good sleeping environment – no noise, comfortable and relaxing; not too hot or cold.
  5. Exercise regularly at least 2 twenty minutes per day – avoid intense exercise just before bed.
  6. Avoid caffeinated beverages from mid- afternoon. Do not smoke.
  7. Don’t eat just before bed but don’t go to bed hungry either.
  8. Don’t take your worries to bed.

Other useful techniques.

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Cognitive Behavior therapy help improve sleep by changing your ideas and attitudes towards sleep. It helps to create and maintain a strong association between sleep and bed.

Relaxation techniques nearing bedtime: a warm bath, calm music, meditation and yoga. Involves clearing your mind and focusing on one part of your body at a time. Starting with your feet, consciously relax your toes, your ankles, your lower legs and so on.

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Resources

Secrets of Sleep Science: From Dreams to disorders

By Professor H. Craig Heller.

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

 

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

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/

Origins of impulsive desires, sexual conquest, aggression, enforcement of ownership and control.

In the previous posts I mentioned that we will look in-depth how our minds were designed and why they can be full of difficult feeling such as anxiety , anger, despair and unhelpful or destructive desires, as well as of course , love and kindness.

The in-depth will give us better understanding of our mind. Lets start from just after the beginning of time when the first microbe appeared on earth more than billions of years ago. Initially these microbes were nothing more than genetic codes, they replicated and died generation after generations. Slowly over time new, more complex life forms appeared with gene mutation and successive replication. The job of these simple life form was to replicate and build more complex systems. Today, this sort of process where genes interest is to replicate and build new systems may seem like gene has a selfish interest in passing its information to the next generation ( selfish gene theory ). But this sort of view can only be appreciated billions of years later; at the time these simple genes were just replicators and builders of new systems. Over time new biological systems evolved that they could move; and specialization inside their bodies appeared which allowed them to be attracted and motivated by certain things. From this comes the systems that the evolutionist says supports the four Fs’; feeding, fighting, fleeing and ..fu….reproduction. These than leads to motives for acquiring and defending/ protecting. Notice that the new biological systems are just emerging overtime by playing out a set of laws and processes; there seems to be nothing that is designing these organisms.

As time goes on many life forms become more complex and develop senses for detecting light and sound; limbs to move; cardiovascular and respirator system. Many life form started to eat other life form to survive. We also start to see repeating patterns of behaviour, which are first signs of evolved minds.

Reptiles emerged around 500 millions years ago, and are basically concerned with eating, gaining and defending their territories and mating – the four Fs again. They will threaten any who displays a posture of challenge; leg stiffening and staring for example.  No one has taught them that, they are guided by their reptilian brains that contain blueprint for action and strategies, which are embedded in their genetic codes. This behaviour is not that different from that of men fighting or when they are driven by the urge for dominance, possessions and territories. Carl Jung would come to name these powerful, innate patterns for feeling, thinking and behaviour (e.g.. to seek status, control a territory, find a mate) as ‘ archetypes ‘. Their origins are rooted back many millions of years.

Kent Bailey of Virginia Commonwealth University pointed out that it’s not that difficult to adopt a reptilian view of the world, focused on impulsive desires, sexual conquests, aggression and enforcement of ownership and control. A reptile’s mind is only interested in power, control, food, sex and personal gain. The reptilian mind has no interest in family life, love, play , building trusting alliances or having empathy.

The reptiles‘ strategies and archetypes will not be removed from the genetic code as long as they are successful in passing on genes. There is nothing inherently good or bad about this; it’s simply how evolution is. Later life forms will adapt these struggles, mould them and add to them, but they cannot go back to the drawing board and start again.

Change through evolution can only adapt what has gone before. So in one form or another, concern with power, sex, territories and control continues to live in and through us humans. It was the reptiles’ struggle for life and evolved solutions that have influenced gene flow. They, and the strategies that they followed, are not ‘evil’ but are part of the evolution of life and of the mind to come. Harsh, savage and tragic they may be to our minds but they also comprise the foundations of our evolutionary journey.

About 120 million years ago mammals emerged in the flow of life. With the mammals come new struggles that goes with warm-bloodedness; living in family groups that offer care and protection. Mammals also form status hierarchies rather than strict territorial ones. In some mammal species only one female is able to breed and she suppresses, chases off or even kills competitors. So sexual competition in mammals are driven by the desire to both engage oneself and prevent others from engaging in sex; this tension will texture their lives.

In the next post we will pick it up from here and look at how the archetype works in sexual competition, loyalties and betrayals; just to mention few. We will see many of our desires that flow through us today were not only designed long before us but long before all humans.

Resources

The Compassionate Mind.  by  Paul Gilbert

We Are Not To Blame For What Goes On In Our Mind.

You may have noticed that what goes on in your mind you may not have much control over. In many ways much of whats goes on in our mind is not our fault or even our intention. It is amazing that nearly 3000 years ago Buddha had this insight about the mind and come to the same fundamental conclusion; that because we have no control over whats in our minds then it implies that it’s not our fault or our intention to have those thought in our mind.

It is now well accepted that two major factors that influences us are our genes and our early environment; and we have no control over neither of them. We are hard-wired, so to speak, by our genes and our early childhood experiences but had no say in the process. We were not consulted, no one asked our permission. But it is the interaction of the genes and the early childhood experiences that gives us our sense of “being oneself “; this experience of oneself may vary from feeling amazing to feeling severely traumatized, and we had no say in the matter.

Even though we had no say in the design of  ourselves and we have little control over our mind we can still take responsibility in a new way so that we can live in and work with such a mind. It is like taking responsibility for our physical body; we had no choice over what body we were given but we still have the responsibility of looking after it to keep it healthy. We have to eat right, exercise etc. The same is true for our mind, we are learning that our brain and mind need certain kind of input to function well.

We will explore what kind of input is required for our brain and mind to function well. But until than it is important to realize that we are not to blame  about whats going on in our minds. We can be kind and compassionate to ourselves.

Resources

The Compassionate Mind. by  Paul Gilbert

Interchange Blog

Interchange Blog

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