Body Scan Meditation.

It is so important to be connected and be aware of how your body feels at all times. The body provides so much information to our brain, either consciously or unconsciously that it affects how happy, sad or at peace we feel. If we can learn how to be in our bodies it goes a long ways towards influencing and dealing with our emotions. I can tell you more about the benefits of this meditation but they are not realized without regular practice.

Can the brain be trained to cope with suffering and bring about feeling of contentment?

In the last post I talked about how we feel inside, depends on how we view the world . We produce stress hormone if you see the world as hostile and healing hormone if you view the world as friendly.

It would be nice to live in a world where we feel safe and nurtured. You may wonder if such a world exists in reality; for most of us it probably doesn’t.  Even the father of the young Buddha tried to create such a world for him  but he failed. Later the Buddha himself realised that we cannot live without unpleasant things happening to us; in fact he thought life was suffused with suffering and that it was not just periodic good and bad events in life. The continuous suffering from ordinary life events ,such being late for work , getting a speeding ticket , weather either too hot or too cold , seasonal allergies , burning the tongue with hot beverage, argument with a colleague etc  can all contribute to the ongoing suffering; and chronic suffering will eventually give us ill-health. Buddha suggested minimising this suffering by being fully aware of it at all times; by being aware allows us the opportunity to react appropriately when we do suffer so that our behaviour or our reaction to it doesn’t produces more suffering to us or others.

The obvious question is if we can train our brain to always come up with the right action so that we cause no or minimal suffering to others and ourselves. The answer is yes; we can train our minds to do extraordinary things. We train our soldiers to kill when in combat. The training they get prepares them to kill in the war zone, if they don’t they will put their selves and their comrades in danger.  If mind can be trained to kill in certain situations why can’t it be trained to come up with right action at the right time? The right action is generated by cultivating compassion for all living being. It is the compassion that ultimately matters and guides us towards the right action. The science, with the new technology have studied brains of Buddhist monks and who practice cultivating compassion for all living beings. The part of the brain that is involved in compassion is markedly more developed than the average person who led an ordinary life. The monks have the ability to show compassion even to a psychopath. That does not mean they condone their bad actions or behavior, rather that even when they see how bad their behavior has been they still don’t want to cause them more suffering. The compassion they show is by seeing the situation as it really is, yes the psychopath may have lied, cheated, harmed others but after seeing all that their action is going to be based on how to prevent further suffering to psychopath and others. They do not believe (like most of us have the tendency to) that punishing and causing more suffering to them can avoid further suffering. Rather they believe that change in psychopath’s behavior is going to come from behaving differently towards him so that his view of the world is slowly converted to one where the world looks lot more friendly and caring. When one feels cared for and feels safe in the world then one will be predisposed to acting in a beneficial way to himself and to others. Of course the behavior of the psychopath is not going to change from one interaction but it may give him pause to think that there is another way of acting which maybe more beneficial to all concerned. With repeated showing of compassion his behavior may change.

When one is showing compassion to others don’t forget there is also a great benefit for to the one showing the compassion. As I suggested in my last posting they act from place where the world feels and seem friendly and their relationships are better; their level of stress hormones are lower and their feel good brain chemicals higher and their immune systems are more robust. The same is true when one show compassion to themselves.

So how can we learn to be compassionate and receive/give these good benefits? I said in my last posting I will go over some exercises to enhance the system that controls the feeling of contentment, but before I do that we need to know more about compassion; which will be the topic of the next posting. Until then may you see and find the world friendly.

Resources

The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert

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

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/

Looking For Nourishing Mind Food

In the last post I talked about how we had little say in the design of our brain and  how we had little control over our minds.  I will elaborate on these themes in the future posts but todays I would like to give you overview on what we can do, so that we are not always at the mercy of our automatic responses. I feel the overview is necessary  at this time because people intuitively know that some of what I said in the last post rings true at some level; and I also sense some urgency of readers wanting to know the possible solution to this predicament in which we find ourselves.

Let start where we left off in the last post; we have a brain that is unique to ourselves, it is the result of the genes we inherited from our parents and the experiences we had in our early life. We will react to a given situation in a very unique way, it will be according to how we have been hard-wired to react by our genes, our experiences and whether we have learned to ‘control’ our impulses. The key to our predicament is how we view ourselves and others in the world.

I want to remind ourselves that all the people in this world had no say in the brain and the mind they find themselves with, we are all in the same boat. Sure some had better childhood experiences than others, some may have ‘ better’ genes for some useful skill; but it all happened by chance. With this realization it is hard for me to blame and condemn myself or others because at some level we have no control over it. I hope no one is going to conclude from this that we are free to behave as we wish without taking any responsibility for our behaviour. Over millions of  years, nature ‘ realized ‘ that we have to control some very raw and aggressive impulses for us to be able to live in a constructive and mutually beneficial way. These aggressive impulses served a very important role in our evolution( which I will elaborate in the future post)and they may still serve us today in some situations but over all things have changed , we have to refine our raw impulses and use them only on a rare occasions where they maybe still quite appropriate. You may wonder about what the nature, through evolutionary process, has equipped us with to deal with these difficult situations ? Well, it is our ability for thinking ahead, being able to stand back from and reflect on what is going on in our minds, and in what we are feeling and doing. It is these special gifts that have evolved over millions of years that allow us to behave differently  from other animals; like crocodile for example. Crocodile  behave in a very predictable way according to it primitive reptilian brain. We too have this reptilian brain, but evolutionary process have added on new parts which allows us to behave and enact our desires in novel ways.

Once we stop blaming others and ourselves we will be freer to genuinely move towards developing the insight , knowledge and understanding we need to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions. None of us is responsible for having brains that is capable of feeling great fear, rage or all kinds of sexual desires. But, learning and practicing compassion will help us feel more content and at peace with ourselves and more concerned for others. I should point out that compassionate behaviour is not just about acting in kind, warm and friendly ways. It’s also about protecting ourselves and others from our own destructive desires and actions;it’s about being assertive , tolerating discomfort and developing courage. We can reason similarly for much wider issues, such as issues about our planet. There are many destructive processes going on that are killing our planet , drilling for oil for example. It is not the posture of  blaming psychology  that would be helpful but instead our genuine desire to nurture and repair  that requires  our attention. Without it, it’s so easy to get stuck in denial or simply get angry and say ‘why should I.’

Paul Gilbert writes …”We can learn to cultivate certain aspect of our minds such as our compassionate mind, which will help us with other aspects of our mind and promote our well-being. We can also become more aware of how our societies may stimulating the selfish ‘me first’ part of ourselves with unrealistic fantasies and desires and setting us up to want more  and more and, at the same time, to feel more disappointed and personal failures.”

You can see from the general theme that we have to learn some important skills if we are to feed our brain and mind with the nourishing food that would be healthy not just for our own mind but also for others who share our world with the same predicaments. More in the future posts.

Resources

The compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert.

Mind, Brain and Relationships as a Single Reality.

In a new field call the Interpersonal Neurobiology, the mind, brain and relationships is viewed as a single reality rather than three separate entities. First let me quickly review the single reality story and then I will look at the value or benefits of this new view.

To understand how  mind, brain and relationships are connected as a single reality we can envision a visual image of  triangle that signifies one reality with three facets. The one unified reality, represented by the triangle, is the system of energy and information flow (at times I will refer to it as ‘the flow’).

The triangle represents the process by which energy and information flow and how the flow changes across time. The relationships are the sharing of that flow. The brain here represents the neurones in the head, as well as the nerves in the whole body; and it represents embodied mechanism of that flow. And the mind is an emergent process the arises from the system of energy and information flow within our bodies and between people; another wards the mind result from the brain and the relationships as the energy flow. The mind is an emergent process that regulates that from which it arises.( i.e. the mind arises from the movement of energy in the brain and the relationships; and then the mind regulates the flow in the brain and in a relationship). What arises is the emergent self – organizing process that regulates the energy and information flow. So the mind, among other attributes, is in part the regulatory process that shapes energy and information flow within and between people

In the Interpersonal Neurobiology field, the brain, mind and the relationships are not separate from each other, they are three elements of energy and information flow that represents the same single reality. These three elements communicate, relate and exchange information with regulation of “the flow”  between them. The better the communication and linkage between them  then better will be the “integration”, which is important as we will see in a moment.

From  an interpersonal neurobiology perspective , integration is the definition of good health. Integration is, as mentioned  before, the linkage of differentiated elements. A healthy mind, a healthy brain, and healthy relationship emerge from good integration. The structural connections of differentiated areas to one another in the body enable flexible and adaptive regulation. A well-regulated brain coordinates and balances its functioning through having a good integration with all its differentiated parts.

What are the advantages of this model ? Well, for one, we can understand better how the energy and information flow trough the brian as revealed in various brain scan findings; for example we can see what happens to energy flow on a scan when someone sees a loved one or an enemy or what happens when we trying to solve a problem etc.  We can also reinterpret the field of mental disorders; instead of listing properties of a particular disorder and giving it a name such a depression or schizophrenia, we can understand depression or schizophrenia as process of energy flow disruption or inadequate integration between differentiated parts of the brain . We can also reframe how we approach understanding relational experiences within families, couples, classrooms, or companies. Integration becomes the framework for looking for dysfunction ; the energy and information flow becomes our focus for correcting the dysfunction.

Integration creates harmony. Impaired integration results in chaos and/or rigidity. Brain or relationship that are not integrated move into dysfunctional state. The brain is unable to balance the flow of energy and information in a flexible way. So it either adopt a very rigid way of handling the energy or it may become very chaotic. The same is true for the relationships, if the information and energy cannot be handled between a couple in flexible and balance manner the relationships become rigid or chaotic.

The natural implication of this interpersonal neurobiology view of integration at the heart of health is that we can empower each other to discover novel and effective approaches to promoting wellness in our relationship, our brains, and our minds.

The nature of the impediment to integration may be some combination of genetic , experiential , or chance factors. This strategy then recognizes each individuals innate potential to heal and become whole by releasing the blocked capacity of that person to integrate the brain and relationships. The role of the clinician , teacher , or parent , then , is to facilitate the discovery of this potential for integration inherent in each of us. This is the way we awaken the mind to create health in the person’s life.

Daniel J. Siegel writes in his book ” Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology” ...

“…the triangle in everyday life enables us to see how our minds emerges not only from neural mechanisms but also from relationship we have with other people and with our planet. This means that we don’t ” own ” our minds , but rather we have an expanded sense of identity that goes beyond the boundary of our skin , beyond a definition of ” self” that is limited to just our bodily encasement. When studies of happiness, health, longevity , and even wisdom are reviewed , the key feature shared by each of these attributes is relationships. We can see how the triangle makes relationships equally as important as the embodied mechanisms of the brain in shaping the mind.When the relationships are integrated, a person’s mind thrives and the individual is healthier, happier, wiser, and live longer.”

At the heart of well-being is a fully integrated view of energy and information flow: the way it is shared in relationships, passes through  the embodied  mechanism of the brain, and is regulated by the self-organizing emergent embodied and relational process of mind.

Resources

Daniel J. Siegel  ” Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology” 

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