Category Archives: Meditation

Meditation

The Gayatri: Most Ancient Mantram

The Gayatri is said to be the most ancient mantram known to humankind. It is a statement of aspiration and devotion, placing us on the sacred path of return.

Several English translations exist. I learned the following one years ago. It was given by the Tibetan master, Djwhal Khul.

Oh Thou Who givest sustenance to the Universe

From Whom all things proceed

To Whom all things return

Unveil to us the true Spiritual Sun

Hidden by a disk of golden light

That we may know the truth

And do our whole duty

As we journey to Thy sacred feet.

The dual emphasis on knowing the truth and doing our duty are significant. It seems to me that to have knowledge without applying it is useless; and work without knowledge is fruitless. I think that the spiritual path encompasses both.

Yoga students and kirtan enthusiasts may be familiar with the Gayatri, which has been beautifully recorded by Wah! and Deva Premal. Next time you hear one of their beautiful recordings, you will have some meaning to attach to it!

 

Peace, Love, and Crime: Transcendental Meditation and the Maharishi Effect

For quite a long time now, I’ve been interested in the effects of distant healing and the ability of people to impact consciousness for the greater good. One of the most fascinating studies of the impact of group consciousness on the greater whole is the Maharishi Effect. Back in the 1970s, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, developer of Transcendental Yoga and guru to the stars, predicted that if 1% of a population performed Transcendental Meditation (TM), they would produce measurable improvements in the overall quality of life for the entire population. His students began to track the data, and in 1976 published a paper that found a 16% reduction in crime when 1% of the population participated in TM.

If isolated TM practitioners could have such an effect, they wondered, what would be the impact of a group meditating together? Researchers predicted that the coherence generated by a group of TM practitioners working together could impact a group the size of the square of the number of meditators. In other words, two people meditating together could impact a group of four; 100 meditators could impact 10,000; and 1,600 could impact 256 million people― the population of the US at that time.

And so they set out to test their hypothesis, collecting FBI crime data in the US, and other data from around the world, when large TM groups met. Statisticians carefully controlled for other variables, and the findings are remarkable. Here are some of the highlights (and here’s a link to my primary source):

  • 1980-1981, crime in Delhi decreased by 11% during a TM convention
  • 1984-1985, crime in Manila decreased by 12.5% during a TM convention
  • 1981-1983, Maharishi University opened a campus in DC; violent crime decreased.
  • 1983, a group of meditators met in Jerusalem; crime in Jerusalem decreased 7.4%; crime in Israel decreased 4.1%.
  • The war in Lebanon was also affected, with a decrease in war death and war intensity.
  • 1993, violent crimes decreased during a TM convention in DC and politics functioned better―enough to make a reporter remark, “such a swift reversal of political fortunes is not easy to account for”.
  • 1979-1985, when the group of meditators at Maharishi University in Iowa numbered more than square root of 1% of US population, there was a decrease in violent deaths in the US.
  • TM group participation in Iowa also affected quality of life in Canada, with a marked decrease in violent deaths, cigarette consumption and worker strikes.

 

The data are impactful, and I was left wondering ―why did it take me 20 years to hear about it? Why haven’t we capitalized on this effect? And―can we start now? Last summer I held a group meditation on 8/8, the “Lion’s Gate”, as part of the worldwide synchronized meditation for peace.  I think that when enough people tune in, we will make a difference in the world. I’m already marking my calendar for this year’s International Day of Peace, 9/21/2015―and I hope you do, too.

I suspect that it is not TM alone, but any practice that brings people to a calm, heart-centered, spiritual state that can have such an impact. And I intend to find out!

The role of emotions in cancer

Susie (name changed for privacy) came in to my office reeling. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and treatment was underway. But she wasn’t sleeping. She was trying to keep it all together, and ended up alternating between tears and anger. She was certainly having trouble engaging in life. And she knew that none of that was helping her condition.

The mind-body connection has major implications for our health and well-being. People all across the Western world are taking up practices like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, and they are doing it with good reason. They feel better, and there is a deep and growing body of empirical evidence showing that emotions play an important role in health. Resources as mainstream as WebMD and the Mayo Clinic address the role of stress in health. We know that stress and traumatic events impact the hormonal stress response system in ways that impair immune function and can lead to disease―even cancer. And we know that there are ways to combat that impact and improve overall health and wellbeing.

In one study of 94 women with metastatic or recurrent breast cancer, stress was correlated to disease: women who had not experienced significant stressors remained disease-free for longer periods of time than those who did experience significant stress. But there is good news even for people experiencing tough times. According to David Spiegel, M.D., one of the study authors, “people do better in the aftermath of traumatic stress if they deal with it directly. Facing, rather than fleeing it, is important… In other words, don’t suppress your emotions.”

Please, don’t suppress your emotions. Many people who have been diagnosed with cancer experienced a significant loss in the two years before diagnosis. I can’t tell you how many times when I’m doing energy healing on a person with cancer I hear the phrase “un-cried tears “. Tears are not shameful, and we should throw away the silly lyric “big girls don’t cry” and its implication that even little boys shouldn’t. Tears are cleansing and we do ourselves a great service when we cry them.

Not shedding those tears is an aspect of the “type C personality”, a term dubbed for the traits commonly seen among people who have been diagnosed with cancer. In the Cancer Report, Susan Silberstein, Ph.D., of the Center for Advancement in Cancer Education, outlines the traits. They are:

  • Repression of negative emotions (as mentioned above)
  • Feeling hopeless, that there are no options, or a lack of control
  • Not having deep emotional ties or being in toxic relationships
  • A tendency to keep the peace at any cost, to put others’ needs first, or even to be unaware of their own needs
  • A feeling (often unconscious) that they do not deserve happiness, success, or even life
  • A need to gain attention through the disease which they could not, or did not, receive otherwise

Now, this does not imply that getting cancer is anyone’s fault. None of us has everything all figured out. We all need to learn and grow, and some of us need to learn through the experience of disease. That’s just how it works, at least in my worldview. Thankfully, when we know what we are meant to be learning, it is a little easier to set ourselves to the task at hand, and that’s why this information about the mind-body connection and the “Type C personality” can be so empowering.

When I work with clients who have cancer, we spend a lot of time re-working their emotional patterns. We create a safe space to cry. We reframe the work ethic to create less stress and a more balanced life. We practice shifting emotional boundaries to create healthier relationships. We shine the light on those tendencies to “stuff it” and practice speaking up. All of these are skills that can be learned, and learning them leads to a happier, and healthier, life.

Susie and I worked together for several weeks. During that time she had a few “aha” moments. On her first visit, she cried. But after the tears were released, she started to feel lighter and clearer, and certainly more optimistic. We used some hypnotherapy and guided meditation techniques to help her find her voice. When she used it, she found that, far from driving people away, her relationships actually improved.  She evaluated her work schedule and found ways to be more efficient and less stressed. And she became confident that her treatments were working. Susie managed to learn some of the lessons her cancer had to teach and was able to get back to the joy of living.

And that, it seems to me, is pretty much the point. 🙂

How to Commit to Meditate

We know we “should” meditate–tons of physical, emotional, and mental benefits have been documented. We can lower blood pressure and cardiovascular health, improve outcomes for a host of medical treatments, relieve depression and anxiety, improve concentration and mental function, and more and more…but somehow we just can’t seem to commit to the practice. Disciplined in so many other areas, why are we blocked from the discipline of meditation? It doesn’t have to take hours, just 10 minutes can make a big difference. What gives?

Our egos like to be busy and they like to be in control. In order to maintain that (illusion of) control, the ego can set up a lot of road blocks to keep us from meditating. Here are some of the common strategies our egos use and some ways to counter them:

  1. Our egos love to tell us that we are too busy to meditate. Of course that is not true. There is an old saying that goes: “Meditate every day for an hour unless you are too busy. In that case, meditate for two hours.” There is a lot of truth to this, but an ego that thinks it is too busy probably won’t agree to that! So we can set an expectation that our ego will agree to. We can achieve a lot in just five to ten minutes of meditation, and even the most stubborn egos will have a hard time arguing with that!
  2. Our egos often tell us that meditation is something specific that we “can’t do”. The inner dialogue goes something like “Meditation is not thinking; I can’t not-think!” or “Meditation is reciting a weird mantra, and I don’t want to do that!”, or “Meditation means sitting cross-legged, and my legs can’t cross like that!”, or “Meditation means counting the breath; I’ll feel like I’m suffocating!” Meditation can be any of these things and it can be something else. We can do a little research and find a style that seems reasonable to us.
  3. Sometimes our egos tell us that we can’t meditate because we can’t stop thinking. When my ego tried that one, I made a deal with it: I sat in meditation but let my mind process its ideas, go through the list of chores, think about the grocery list. This became “thinking time before meditation”. I decided to be OK with it, and have come to think of it as a kind of clearing process. Many of my meditation friends do the same thing. As it turns out, our minds come up with some good stuff when we give them the time to process. After the processing time, we can move on to our meditation.
  4. In other cases, our ego puts us to sleep. When this happens, it is a good idea to make sure we keep our meditation time short and our posture pretty straight and not comfy-cozy. The ego trick of falling asleep is something that patience and persistence will help us through. For me, it was kind of like training my toddlers to not throw tantrums: I didn’t cave in to candy in the grocery store, and I didn’t give my own ego what it wanted, either―I sat in meditation anyway.
  5. Our egos can get trapped in other kinds of rigid thinking that keep us from meditating. It is best to meditate first thing in the morning, but I am not a morning person. When I had to wake early and was off to a busy start, I meditated at night instead. Now my schedule has changed so I do my meditation in the morning most of the time.

Meditation should be fun, refreshing, a treat! As we become aware of the good vibes we get when we meditate, those feelings in themselves can become the positive reinforcement that keep us going. Till then, the tricks listed above can help get us commit to meditate.

If you have other tips and ideas, or traps that need suggestions, please leave comments below!

Clearing the clouds and the cobwebs

Have you ever known somebody who spends a lot of time thinking about their decisions, yet they seem to be paralyzed when it comes to deciding? Even though they devote a lot of time and energy to thinking about their decisions, it doesn’t seem to help them make a decision, or make a good one. If you could see the energy field of this type of person it would look really cloudy. And that’s exactly what is happening.

You may have heard the expression “thoughts are things”. Turns out, it’s true. Thoughts are “things” that exist on the energetic level and they cloud our energy fields, preventing us from seeing clearly. This cloudiness of our energy fields is called “miasma” in the East, and it’s largely composed of thought forms. Clearing up that miasma is an important part of our spiritual growth. It helps us get in touch with our Higher Selves and helps with decision-making.

The work of clearing thought forms is mostly a matter of intention. Becoming aware of the problem—coming to the realization that by over-thinking we are becoming less and less clear in our thinking—is an important first step. Once you decide to tackle the issue, there are some other techniques you can apply to “stop the madness”. Here are some exercises you can try. I learned many of them from my wonderful teacher Josiane D’Hoop.

  1. The “Whirlpool”: Imagine a whirlpool or vortex of energy surrounding you, 20 feet all around. As it swirls (no matter which direction) it is clearing away anything that is not in your highest good. You can deliberately throw specific problems (like “fear of failure” or “the fight with my partner”) into the vortex. You can also just intend that it is clearing negative things and let it do its work. Spending three to five minutes a day doing this exercise a few times a week, and especially after a challenging day, is really helpful.
  2. Chakra by chakra clearing: Imagine each of your chakras, one by one, opening up like a funnel and clearing out any negativity. There are patterns and problems associated with each chakra; you can learn about them here.
  3. Connect to your Higher Self and imagine a laser-like beam of light coming into your energy field to clear a problem. This is particularly effective to clear up a specific thought form or type of thought form (“my anger toward my partner” or “my anger”).
  4. Ask your Higher Self to release and dissolve any thoughts that are not here for your highest good. This only takes a few seconds yet it’s effective.
  5. When complex decisions arise, practice not focusing on them. Do a little brainstorming and then think about something else. While you are busy doing “something else”, in the back of your mind the decision is being made. It will be wiser than the one you over-think.

The more we work to clear our energy fields, the clearer our connection to Guidance becomes, and the better our decision-making will be. A win-win, so have fun with it!

The signs are there, but are you looking?

I had been thinking of going to graduate school but I was afraid. It would cost money and time that I was not sure I had to invest. It seemed like I already had a lot on my plate as a single mom of three young kids. And it had been a while since I’d done the school thing. I graduated from college thirteen years earlier, and had taken some more undergraduate classes since then, but it had been years since I was in a classroom. Formal graduate education was daunting.

However, I didn’t have another plan. I was teaching yoga and had been studying Reiki. I had considered learning massage and trying to earn a living as a massage therapist/Reiki practitioner/yoga teacher. But I had another thought—that maybe I should get a master’s degree in counseling and become a therapist.

I was on the mailing list of Immaculata University, which is a beautiful school close to where I live. Earlier in the summer I had attended a yoga teacher training, and one afternoon I decided to dedicate my practice to getting clarity on the grad-school issue. At the end of class, I had my answer: go to grad school. I stood in front of dozens of my fellow students and shared what I had received. But then I went home and chickened out. Instead of registering for classes, I continued spinning in fear and doubt.

At the end of the summer I went to the beach for a vacation. Early in the week I headed to the water’s edge to do a surf-side meditation to get clarity on this issue (again!). I sat down, closed my eyes, and asked for a sign. I heard one of those advertising airplanes overhead, and thought “No, I’m not going to look—I’m doing meditation.” But I couldn’t help it. My eyes opened up and I saw the banner: Immaculata University. No kidding, though I did laugh. I packed up my chair, went back to the house, went on line and signed up for a class right away.

My story was legend at school. I heard that they’d only flown the banner once or twice that summer, and we laughed that clearly it was for me and that with my tuition fees, it did indeed pay for itself! One of my teachers wondered how many people in the same situation would have not looked up, or not noticed, or not heeded the “coincidence”.

Ten years later I can say without a doubt: I’m glad I did. And I am certain that, even if they are not always literally signs, we DO receive signs that point us along our way. Once we accept that these signs exist, staying calm and centered to the best of our ability helps us begin to notice them. And they carry the constant reminder: We are never alone.

Brainwaves and consciousness: more reason to meditate!

Your brain is composed of about 100 billion neurons. These cells communicate with each other by sending electro-chemical signals: Energy travels down the cell’s long axon into the synapse or gap between neurons; there is takes a chemical ferry-ride on a neurotransmitter, crossing the gap to the next neuron’s dendrite, where it resumes its travel as an electrical charge. The whole process, dendrite to cell body to axon to synapse, takes less than five-hundredths of a second. Imagine the activity of 100 billion neurons sending electrical pulses flowing through your brain! These synchronized pulses are measured by EEGs; they range from less than one pulse per second, or Hz, to more than 32 Hz. Brainwaves correspond to states of consciousness, moving from the slowest delta waves during deep sleep to fastest-paced gamma waves during peak spiritual experiences. Here’s a breakdown:

Delta waves, 0.3-4 Hz (or pulses per second), are the brainwaves of deep sleep. When we are running delta waves, we have lost conscious contact with the “real” world. Delta sleep is associated with hormonal activity that promotes growth and relaxation, and deep delta-wave sleep is essential for healing. Infants have a lot of delta wave activity, even when they are awake. In fact children up to age five still sometimes experience delta wave activity when they are awake. Delta wave sleep decreases as we age. Adolescents experience a decrease in delta sleep; another decline happens in the 40s and the tapering off continues after that.

Theta waves, at 5-8 Hz, are the brainwaves adults experience during deep meditation, hypnosis, and sleep (but not deep sleep). Young children up to age seven typically cannot access brainwaves faster than theta, even while they are fully awake. The magical thinking of young children is aligned with this brainwave pattern; even as adults, when we use theta wave frequencies we are not using critical thinking or deductive reasoning. This partly explains how post-hypnotic suggestions work. It also explains how negative messages we received as children continue to haunt us during our adult lives—they were accepted uncritically and became our reality. Fortunately, it is possible to use theta waves (via hypnosis or meditation) to reprogram those harmful messages!

Alpha waves, at 8-15 Hz, are the brainwaves of “chill”. Calm and relaxed, these brainwaves represent our brain at rest. They are associated with being “in the now” and are good for harnessing the mind-body connection. Alpha waves are used with memory recall; this is why people sometimes use hypnosis to find lost items. Accessing calm alpha waves during learning actually increases our ability to concentrate and learn.

Beta waves, at 16-31 Hz, represent the bulk of our waking consciousness. These are the frequencies associated with normal wakefulness, work, and conversation. Beta waves are subdivided into low-beta, beta, and high-beta. High-beta waves are associated with highly complex thought and also with anxiety. Beta waves generally are inefficient as they burn more energy than the lower-frequency waves. They are also less associated with creativity and creative problem solving.

Gamma waves are the highest-frequency brainwaves are, at 32-42 Hz. Researchers originally thought these fast-paced waves were anomalies. Analog EEG machines couldn’t even measure these fast-paced waves. Now we have come to understand that gamma waves are associated with peak spiritual experiences like universal love and altruism. While everyone experiences gamma waves, some do so more often than others. People who experience a high rate of gamma activity are found to be more intelligent, compassionate, and happy, with better memory recall and greater self control.

It is possible to train your brain to run healthier brainwave patterns. We can learn to get out of the taxing, normal, and stress-related beta wave patterns and into healthier alpha, theta, and even gamma frequencies through regular practice. The internet is full of great music that is designed to elicit specific brainwaves; binaural beats or isochronic tones use specific frequencies to help you access these beneficial brainwave patterns. I like the ones here for sleep and here for meditation.

Meditation is a technique that can help you train your brain to relax. When we meditate we use alpha and theta waves; experience may lead to increasing gamma wave activity. Meditation can be thought of as simply a way to deliberately harness slower brainwaves. The idea that meditation must be an arduous task of not-thinking is misleading and may keep beginners from giving it a try. If you are thinking of embarking on a meditation practice you may want to consider this: No rules, just RELAX and enjoy.

Grow through hurt: five steps to forgiveness and how to take them

If you are human, you’ve been there – it comes with the territory. We’ve all been hurt. The bad news is that it hurts. But there is good news—the hurt helps us grow. One way to grow from our hurt is to learn to forgive.

Forgiveness does not mean that what happened was OK, that we are condoning the thing that hurt us, or that we are necessarily reconciling with the person who hurt us. Forgiveness is a positive choice. It is a way for us to move out of our past, take back our power, and become happier people.  I have experienced the benefits myself, and seen them in many clients as well. Once the choice to forgive is made, it becomes a process. The following five steps help us with the process:

  1. Recognize that forgiveness is empowering: When we forgive, we take our power back from the person who hurt us. We give away our power when we allow another person’s past hurtful action to continue to hurt us in the present.

How to do it: Take a few moments to center yourself and then imagine and feel what life will be like for you when you are released from this hurt. Imagination is the seed of creation, so just by daydreaming about it you begin to create a new reality.

  1. Invoke your Higher Self: Healing is never possible without involving the Higher Self, which is who we really are. We are spiritual beings having a human experience, right? To reconnect to who you really are, practice invoking your Higher Self and accelerate the process of healing.

How to do it: Invoke your Higher Self by simply asking, “Higher Self, help me to forgive” and believe that the result is guaranteed. Because it is! The more we ask, the more – and more quickly – we receive.

  1. Cut the cords: Anger and hurt create energy cords that drain and cloud our energy fields. When healing occurs, those cords are cut. They can be cut in a “bottom-up” or “top-down” process – either wait for healing and know the cords are dissolved, or actively cut them through intention and accelerate the healing process.

How to do it: Close your eyes, center yourself, and invoke your Higher Self. Feel light and love in your heart center. Then imagine the person who hurt you; surround both of you in a blue light. Then say, “I return your rightful energy to you, and I retrieve my own rightful energy to myself.” Pay attention to any feeling you experience—it can be slightly dizzying, so breathe and trust that your Higher Self is guiding the process.

  1. Practice mindfulness: In those moments when you are upset by the hurtful past, practice being present. In this moment, where are you? In this moment, what is actually happening? Though the emotions certainly are real the pain you feel is an echo of the past, and the hurtful act is not part of your present reality. Reconnect to the present moment to help release the grip of the past and those related emotions.

How to do it: You can connect to the moment by focusing on something tangible – like your breath or the feeling of your feet on the ground or the pen in your hand. You can create a grounding ritual such as touching your forefinger to your thumb to remind you that you are OK in this moment.

  1. Learn from the experience: It is a truism: Every single thing that happens to us happens for a reason. The corollary to this idea is therefore that we are not victims. Our negative experiences are here to teach us and to help us become more fully who we really are.

How to do it: When you are calm and centered, ask yourself “What was my role in this hurtful situation? What is my lesson? What have I gained from this experience?” The answers are there for you, and embracing them is a huge step in taking back your power.

 

Forgiveness is an empowering choice and one worth making. Having done it, you will feel lighter, clearer, and more like yourself.

How to face our fears–and find they’re not so scary after all

Fear. So chaotic, and so much a part of life–at times. Fear causes a state of inner chaos, part of the lower “ego” self and its wandering, racing, jumpy thoughts. We let those thoughts take us for a wild ride, going down rabbit holes, through wormholes, into black holes. It isn’t pretty and it isn’t helpful.

When we are pushed and pulled by untamed thinking, it’s as if we are letting the car drive the person. But there is hope! We can take the wheel and get back into the driver’s seat by taking hold of our thoughts.

One strategy to do this is to be still with those thoughts. Follow the scary ones down to their logical conclusions, and keep asking “and then what”? The answers are not as horrible as they seem to be when we are running away from them, or letting them run away with us.

We lean into the thoughts, facing them bravely. We shine the light of clear reason on them, and find there is really no monster under the bed after all. We move into those thoughts, and nurture them, and love them, and laugh with them.

And we heal ourselves.