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/

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!”

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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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Lowering Cholesterol Without Medication

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There are ways to lower your cholesterol without medications. However before you embark on this you should consult your doctor because there are situations where the cholesterol needs to be lower than normal levels to prevent strokes and heart attacks. In someone with diabetes or known coronary artery disease, for example, they need to have LDL levels lower than 2 or even lower according to some experts.

There are individuals who are sensitive to cholesterol lowering medication and they are unable to continue taking them and then there are those who are on high doses of medications and wish to reduce the dose to minimize the side effects. Some patients just don’t like taking the medications even though they know by not taking them they are at higher risk for getting heart attack or a stroke or both.

Your doctors will recommend you to reduce foods that cause cholesterol to go up and to exercise regularly. Most people know cholesterol lowering diet, which includes diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetable; low or no white bread, no white rice, no white pasta and no simple carbohydrates such as sugar, cookies, cakes, candy or ice cream; low or no   starchy vegetables such as potatoes and winter squash; avoid alcohol, fruit juices and pop; increase fiber by eating whole wheat foods like steel-cut oats or sprouted grain breads or by adding psyllium husks to the cereals. Minimize meat and full fat dairy consumption; get protein from plant source such as soya, seitan, tempeh, lentils, nuts, quinoa etc.

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Exercise is important because it increases the good cholesterol HDL and increases the muscle mass, which in turn increases the metabolic rate and burn calories; exercise also reduces insulin resistant.

Diet and exercise alone may not be enough to lower the cholesterol. Here is a list of some natural food supplements that will help lower the cholesterol further; but they are most effective when used in conjunction with good diet and regular exercise as indicated above.

The list of food of supplements that lowers the cholesterol:

1. Omega -3 fish oil 4 gm per day has been shown to lower triglycerides.

2. Niacin 2000 mg per day can lower the triglycerides and increase the good cholesterol HDL; but it can cause hot flushes and the liver should be monitored.

3. Fiber 35 mg per day can also reduce the cholesterol

4. Artichoke extracts 500 mg tablet three times a day can lower LDL

5. Plant Sterols 2 gm per day can lower the LDL.

6.  EGCG is the active ingredient of green tea and 500 mg twice a day or two cups of green tea per day can lower the LDL.

7. Pantothenic Aciid 300 mg three times a day can lower the cholesterol.

8. Red Yeast Rice 600 mg four times a d ay can lower the cholesterol. But CoQ10 100 mg per day should be taken with it because the Red Yeast Rice lowers its levels.

It is important to work with your doctor to monitor the cholesterol and make sure it is lowered to the targets recommended. If there are any questions post a comment and I will try to provide the answer.

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Resources

The Science of Natural Healing – by Dr Mimi Guarneri

 

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 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.

Exercise for Healthy Enriched Life

8522221692_920b10c251_m8520169087_7481e414aa_m8520790009_bc32e276fb_m I talked about how plants need good soil and the right conditions to flourish, look good and bear fruit. We humans also need good soil and the right conditions to live well and flourish. We looked at enriching our soil by eating the right foods but that is not enough by itself. We can improve the soil even further with exercise. In societies where people are healthy and livelong lives exercise was an integral part of what they did everyday, it was a side benefit of what they did to meet their basic need. They didn’t have a particular exercise program and nor did they need special equipment; they just moved their bodies for most of the day. 8521078390_8d1935dee8_m8520994917_406851172a_m Studies have consistently shown moving our bodies and exercising is associated with not only good health but longevity. In our society we tend to think of exercise as work, it is much better and more likely to be done regularly if it is a by-product of something you enjoy doing or as part of work routine. It could be gardening, biking, swimming, hiking, skating, cross-country skiing or anything else you might enjoy as long as it gets you moving most of the day. I myself try to keep moving by taking the stairs in the hospital instead of the elevator, park my car further away as possible from the store and my job also requires me to keep moving by having to go to see patients from one room to another in my office and in the hospital. Part of my activity to be on my feet is intentional and part of it is built into my job. I augment my bodies movements by cross-country skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer because I enjoy these activities. 8521471342_1368219b13_m8523614874_b70333cb71_m The main physical benefits of exercise include increases in strength in muscles, bone, ligaments, and tendons; endurance; flexibility; and balance. Side benefits include weight control, improvements in the serum lipid profile (exercise raises HDL cholesterol), and reduction in blood pressure. Exercise can also reverse and possibly prevent type-2 diabetes. Exercise stimulates brain cells and tends to make people more relaxed. It creates opportunities for social connections and for connection with nature. In addition, exercise increases the muscle-to-fat ratio…[and weight-bearing exercises strengthen your bones].  Exercise is absolutely the single most consistent factor in staving off cognitive decline that occurs with aging. …Professor Anthony A. Goodman, Montana State University If you haven’t been exercising where should you begin? If you haven’t been active at all and you should start slow. You may even want to talk to your doctor before starting . Good indicators of fitness level can be your resting pulse rate, average is about 70. The other indicator is the recovery time. You exercise to 80 percent of maximum heart rate for your age and then see how long it takes to return to under 100. With low-level of fitness the longer it will take to recover. You can monitor your fitness improvement with this measurement over time. The maximum heart rate can be calculated by subtracting your age from 220. You can get more details on the recovery time on these sites :-

http://healthyliving.azcentral.com/difference-heart-rate-recovery-time-after-workout-8281.html

http://www.livestrong.com/article/260805-the-recovery-heart-rate-time-after-cardio-exercise/

Set realistic goals. Consider your work schedule and other commitments you have. The aim is to move as much as possible everyday and then, at least three days a week, include some strenuous activity that gets your heart rate up and gets you sweating. During aerobic exercise, aim for about 80 percent of the maximum heart rate for you age group. In general, avoid training hard more than three times a week or every other day. Exercise and may you live long and with vitality.

Resources

Lifelong Health: Achieving Optimum Well-Being at Any Age Course Guidebook Professor Anthony A. Goodman Montana State University

Related articles

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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Eating the Right Foods – part 2.

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Why inflammation matters.

There are some foods that cause inflammation and some food stop the inflammation. Why should inflammation matter? It matters because medical science is starting to understand inflammation maybe the starting point for all diseases. Take heart attacks for example, we are beginning to understand that lowering high cholesterol is only part of the prevention. First the inflammation starts in the walls of coronary arteries, that triggers the cholesterol to be deposited on the walls of the arteries that are inflamed, these deposits build up until eventually the flow of  the blood completely stops and thus causing a heart attack. It is thought Cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and Heart Disease are all linked to the inflammation. There are many other diseases in which inflammation is present but it is not clear where in the process of disease formation the inflammation happens, at the beginning or end of the disease process. These diseases, to mention some, are Rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, ankylosing spondylitis, SLE,  dermatomyositis, sacroiliitis etc. It doesn’t matter where in the process the inflammation happens, if it is causing harm it makes sense to turn it off.

The causes of inflammation.

There are number factors that cause bad inflammation, these include some foods I have listed below, stress, polluted air, chemical irritants, second hand smoke, pesticides, chronic infections such as Helicobacter pylori, fat around the midline of your body, chronic sleep disturbance and sleep apnea. To turn the inflammation off, correct as many of the above as possible.

Inflammation causing foods.

Avoid or eliminate the following :-

Sugar in the form of corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, golden syrup, maltose, and sucrose.

Oils that is very high in omega-6, such as grape seed oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil.

Trans fats, they are found deep fried foods, commercially prepared baked goods, fast foods and they usually appear on the label as partially hydrogenated oils.

Cow’s milk can also lead to inflammation.

Cured meats and red meats contain substance called neu5Gc which causes inflammation.

Excessive alcohol consumption.

Consumption of refined grains, such as white bread and white rice.

Artificial food additives such as monosodium glutamate and aspartame.

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Preventing inflammation with food and Herbs.

Use these foods as much as possible:-

Eat  whole foods and avoid anything processed.

Eat fish high in Omega-3

Eat Kelp ( seaweed)

Eat whole fruits and vegetable.

Use olive oil, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil; these all have better ratio of omega-3 : omega-6

Avoid drinking from plastic bottles.

Drink black and green tea

Eat broccoli, shitake mushrooms

Have Tulsi or Holy Basil

Use Tumeric, Ginger, Basil and rosemary in your cooking.

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Resources:

The Science of Natural Healing – by Dr Mimi Guarneri

Self Compassion at Christmas

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It is amazing how many people feel stressed out, sad and hit rock bottom at Christmas. There are so many reasons for this, some under our control and some beyond our control. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how and why you hit rock bottom. The important thing to remember is to be gentle and kind to yourself.

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I have hit rock bottom many times and my experience is that it doesn’t help to blame yourself or anyone else. The hurt and sadness feeling continues to slowly wear you down until there are no deeper darker depths left to fall. At times like these I am actually grateful to life for letting me experience such despair and sadness. It is easier than to let go of my ego, accept the world and everything in it just as it is; including the pain and the suffering. It is only then I see faint light of hope and I know things from then on can only get better because they can’t get any worse than they already are; there is nowhere lower to go. This is where the egoless wisdom resides. Our egos, our assumptions, our values that are not serving us and what others think of us, no longer matter too much.

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One comes out of this depth with new awareness, new purpose and new wisdom. That’s what happened to Gandhoff in the movie Lord of the Rings when he fell deep into the earth as he stood firm to fight the Demon that was chasing them. When he came out of the depth he was wise and powerful. Without the fall and hitting rock bottom he would have just stayed Gandhoff the gray. It is in this deepest depth where powerful life-giving nectar of life resides if you can stand the rigors of going deep down and facing the Demon that’s chasing you.

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So at Christmas, remember to be compassionate to yourself if you reach rock bottom, this will give you strength to withstand the rigors of the deep and fight off your Demon.

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Have a Great Christmas and a Happy New Year.

PS. If you are suffering from depression you may need medical help in addition to self compassion.

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Interchange Blog

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