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meditation

Establishing Right Human Relations

The following article was published in the summer issue of The Beacon.

The effort to establish right human relations is helpful, indeed essential, in integrating the personality with the soul. The lack of “right relations” comes most often from a selfish attitude and an emotional body that is not held steady in the light. It is disharmony in personal relations that very often causes a person to decide that he or she must get hold of him- or herself and make some changes. Our relationships are indeed our greatest teachers.

The desire and the need for harmonious relationships is quite often the thing that puts us on our Path. The pain we feel as a result of disharmony is a real pain; brain imaging studies show that physical and emotional pain “light up” the same regions of our brains. What’s worse, the pain we feel when we are the perpetrator of disharmony is like added salt in our painful wound; we feel embarrassed, ashamed, or guilty, in addition to our angers and fears. This is a powerful combination that makes most eventually decide that Something Must Be Done.

The work, once committed to, involves a complete reorientation of thinking – away from oneself as victim, toward oneself as creator. When taking stock, we learn to reframe our point of view to include perspective-taking and empathy for the Other. We begin to practice “not taking it personally” and to recognize that when our emotions are getting riled up, it is not actually about the Other person, but about some wound in our own Self that is needing to be healed. We begin to have compassion for ourselves and to forgive ourselves ― that is an essential piece of personality integration. No longer can the mind spend oodles of energy denigrating the emotional body; instead the ego learns to befriend the inner child and to work with it, to heal it and create peace rather than continuing disharmony.

As we practice detachment, not taking things personally and not assuming that we know what the Other is thinking or feeling, we begin to task ourselves with cultivating Right Speech. We begin to be careful with our words, which slows down our emotional reactivity. Our relationships increase in harmony. With more harmony, we are able to create a spaciousness that allows us to strive for utter harmlessness and self-forgetfulness. The body relaxes; health ensues. The seven points of light begin to radiate and we become a fit vehicle of expression for the Soul.

When we have committed ourselves to a spiritual path, our lives change in incredible ways. The old emotional reactions and underlying assumptions give way to a light and peaceful experience. The very intention to bring more “spirituality” into our lives does indeed invite light, and love, and goodwill. These are the cause and effect of establishing right human relations.

A constant reorientation to spiritual values changes a person. At the moment we decide that there Must Be Something More, and determine to find it, our lives change course. A meditation practice may be the single most important tool for self improvement, and such a practice can be hung on the scaffolding of just about any religious or non-religious tradition. Whether we are searching for Peace through mindfulness or are devoted to the Buddha-nature, the Christ, Ishvara, the Divine, or the Beloved doesn’t matter. We begin to ascend the mountain and as we climb, we find that all of our paths converge.

With this awakening of inclusiveness, there can be no denigration of another spiritual tradition, no room for thinking “my way is the Right Way, and yours is, say, a ‘political ideology’”. From our place of inclusiveness we gain empathy and search for the reasons why people behave, often badly, the way they do. Rather than condemning and judging, we seek to understand and to aid, even as perhaps we wish that the reins of power were held by more-evolved hands.  Yet we find solace in knowing that we all learn through pain – individuals and groups alike,

As we work to invoke the Soul, not only do our worldly views become larger and more inclusive, our close personal relations do as well. We cannot but feel hypocritical if we make a fuss about a spiritual practice and then yell at our kids and criticize our spouses. Any momentary experience of mystical union rings hollow if followed by a fight at home.  The Love of the Soul has made its healing felt in every level of our personality-being and we begin to love and forgive ourselves, and from that peaceful place it is impossible to not-love or non-forgive others. And incredibly, when others criticize us we are far from defensive but rather seek to understand and find common ground. Exuding peace and love, others want to know how did we do that? Having sought the Light, the Light of the Soul has made its presence known and we are changed, and we are agents for change. Our seven centers begin to blaze and light our way, and light the Way for others.

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!

 

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!

Five affirmations to help get you through difficult times

All of us have to go through tough times at some point in our lives–it’s part of being human. When the going gets tough, it’s helpful and even important to remember that this too shall pass. Until that happens, here are some affirmations to help you keep the faith:

  1. I will fully accept that which is for the highest good of all. And then trust that what is happening is really for the highest good. In every situation, there really exists that which is for the highest good of all. The universe has the ability to “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”, as the old saying goes. In time, just about every experience we meet has an upside. When we can transcend the limits of this lifetime, that silver lining exists in every single Bar none. Find it.
  2. I trust that everything is in divine order. This bears repeating and so makes a good affirmation! Everything is in divine order. Sometimes we can’t see that from our limited perspective and because of our desires and attachments to particular outcomes. But our personalities aren’t in control. Surrendering to the divine order of things helps ease the pain when our desires don’t align with what is happening.
  3. I vow to learn my lessons well. Every difficult situation comes to us in order to teach us something important. And as we have heard and even experienced, when we don’t learn the lesson, the lesson gets harder. With this in mind, consider your role in the difficulty and try to find out what your lesson is. Once you’ve learned it, the lesson will be over.
  4. I strive for detachment in all things. Attachment leads to suffering, as the Buddha taught us well. When we are able to detach, suffering ends. It is a practice, which means it won’t be perfect. But practice now.
  5. I surrender to the guidance of my Higher Self. Your Higher Self is that part of you that connects you to the divine. When you are centered in your heart, peaceful and loving, you are connected to your Higher Self and you radiate that peace and love to everyone and everything around you. It is possible to remain heart-centered even when going through challenging times. Doing so makes those times much easier to bear.

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.

The physiology of the brain

Meditation has many benefits, and the practice actually changes our physiology. Researchers have conducted studies to find the chemical changes that occur inside our brains when we meditate. Here is what they’ve found:

Meditation reduces cortisol and adrenaline. Adrenaline is the “fight-or-flight” hormone which increases heart rate and blood pressure. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone which increases blood sugar, suppresses immune function and digestion, and acts on brain regions connected with mood, fear, and motivation. Chronic stress has been linked to depression, anxiety, heart disease, weight gain, digestive problems, insomnia, and problems with learning, concentration, and memory.

Meditation increases DHEA. This chemical is known as the “anti-aging” hormone; its levels begin to drop at about age 30, and this decline is related to a host of conditions including weight gain, cancer, and heart disease. Because of its link to ageing, people are experimenting with DHEA supplementation. But meditation alone boosts DHEA levels. Feeling younger already?

Meditation releases dopamine: Dopamine is linked to our ability to focus and acts on the pleasure and reward centers of the brain. Because of its involvement in pleasure and reward, dopamine is implicated in addiction. ADHD is believed to involve decreased dopamine levels. Healthy dopamine levels seem to help us feel rewarded, experience pleasure, and to focus.

Meditation boosts serotonin: Serotonin helps us feel calm and happy. Serotonin deficits are linked to depression, anxiety and insomnia; in fact, the SSRI antidepressant drugs such as Prozac are designed to boost serotonin levels. Serotonin is such a big part of good moods that it is sometimes called the “happiness hormone”.

Meditation boosts oxytocin: Known as the “love hormone” or the “monogamy hormone”, oxytocin makes us feel calm when we are with loved ones, especially when hugging or cuddling. It is released by mothers during childbirth and causes the production of milk in mammals. It is also released during orgasm and is thought to explain why we tend to feel close to partners after we have had sex. It has an inverse relationship to stress and stress hormones. And the more oxytocin we have, the more we are likely to trust others.

And the good news is that you don’t have to be a Zen master to receive these benefits. If you are interested in beginning a meditation practice, the most important thing to remember is probably that it is a practice. Be patient with yourself as you begin to try a new skill and remember all the benefits your brain will receive!

Goldilocks and the spiritual path

“I see the way which leads between the two great lines of force.” This is the spiritual keynote for the sign of Libra. It serves as a reminder that we are called on to walk the “middle way”: Not too much effort, but not too little. Not too much attachment to the physical plane, but not absorption in the mystical. We find the balance point between happy and unhappy; excited and bored; hard work and inertia.

As I took this up in my meditation this morning I was struck by the idea that this is kind of a “Goldilocks principle”: not too hard, not too soft; not too hot, not too cold. When we apply this sane balance to our lives, we are applying right effort. As our emotional resistance subsides, our path becomes in some ways easier. The pendulum stops swinging and we find the still point of balance where spirit unfolds.

But then because we are human something happens to take us out of our center. We have to keep learning our lessons till they are fully learned. And that’s OK! As Ronny Camareri in Moonstruck said, “We aren’t here to be perfect; the stars are perfect….” When we attain that state of “perfection”, we won’t need to be living in a body, that’s for sure. Until then, the Goldilocks principle applies.

And, hey—if I were going to be eaten by a trio of anthropomorphized bears, I’d rather it be in a comfortable bed after a satisfying meal.

Top five go-to ways to stay peaceful and happy

“Be happy. It feels better!”

This has to be my absolute favorite quote from the Dalai Lama. It certainly is so true—of course it feels better to be happy! But is it really that simple? If we are not committed to happiness, it can be fleeting and difficult to find. And even when we are making happiness a priority (which it really ought to be for a number of reasons), sometimes things go wrong and we get derailed. What’s a happiness-seeker to do?

  1. Detach, detach, detach. It can be so much easier said than done, right? But we know that taking the long view is a key to maintaining inner peace. Our pain comes not from the event but our resistance to it. As my dad said to me a few years ago when I was upset, “these things have a way of working themselves out.” How often do we look back and, as the Garth Brooks song goes, “thank God for unanswered prayers?” We have all let go of important—really, really important—things. And as time goes by, we realize life moves on and we can indeed still be happy. When life gets you down, remember this.
  2. Put a smile on. Even a fake one. Seriously. A researcher in Japan did a study in which he put people’s faces into a smile or a frown using rubber bands and plastic bandages. Sure enough, the “smilers” became happier and the frowners got unhappier. Smile on!
  3. Regular exercise has been shown to boost not just our metabolism and strength, but our moods as well. Find a type of exercise you like and commit to it. Find a buddy to work out with, sign up for an exercise or yoga class, or set yourself an alarm to hit the pavement or the clothes rack –umm, treadmill. Just do it!
  4. Be friendly. Social engagement boosts happiness and is a great anti-depressant. We humans are communal creatures and do better in society yet modern culture often separates us from our pack. Get out there and mingle.
  5. You’ve heard it here before. Meditation boosts happiness and a whole host of physiological markers of happiness. Disconnecting from our busy thoughts and emotions and returning to our center, which is a wellspring of peace and happiness, takes practice. In fact, it is a practice. We need to be patient with ourselves and get to work with that practice.

These are my top five go-to ways to stay more peaceful and happy. I should point out, of course, that happiness doesn’t come from pleasure-seeking; it comes from things like authenticity, productivity, and service. When our work and relationships are satisfying and affirming, and our spiritual life is rich, happiness unfolds in wonderful ways.

What are your favorite ways to stay happy? I’d love to hear from you!

 

A Tale of Two Clients: The one at the beginning of the session, and the one at the end

I love my job. When Paula (not her real name) came in to the office today, she seemed a little agitated. As she brought me up to speed on what had happened since our last visit, she told the story of overwhelm: too much to do, not enough time to get it all done. She said she felt literally and figuratively out of balance and that was only part of the problem. She began to cry as she said that she was tired of living with fear. It was clear that she needed healing.

I love using guided meditation with clients. We are able to make a lot of progress in a little bit of time. Today, I guided Paula into a meditative state which set the stage for her conscious connection with her Higher Self. We cleared her mental, emotional and physical bodies. Then, one by one, we dissolved blocks: trauma, fear, sadness, and vulnerability melted away.

When my clients are meditating with me, I can feel their energy move and often see color changes in the energy around their bodies. Love that. I would never have believed this was possible if it hadn’t happened—but it happens. Today, as these blocks were being released, I could feel the energy spinning in a slightly dizzying way. I could also actually see Paula’s energy getting lighter and brighter as we went along.

After our big clearing exercise, we connected Paula to her inner yin and yang qualities, or inner male and female selves (we all have both). This is one of the things I love best to do with my clients, because it is so helpful. Today, as soon as we connected to Paula’s male self, I felt an incredible heat as the energy flowed. Her male self wanted more organization; her female self wanted more self-care and meditation. She made adjustments and agreements, and visualized herself getting these things in place.

I love seeing my clients getting happier. By the end of our session Paula’s entire demeanor had changed. Her color was brighter, she was more calm and relaxed, and she had a plan. As we reflected on the work, Paula told me that she also had felt heaviness being cleared away, and made a motion of her hands pushing out from her heart. She had come in to the office stressed, tired, and “crooked” inside. She walked out empowered, relaxed and energized, and in alignment.

I love my job.