Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Breathing the Heights and Depths

Breathing down to the depths and up to the heights. The pause after the exhale is the calm bottom of the ocean, and the pause after the inhale is the energy of the steepest climb. 

When I want to feel a certain way I follow my breath. I never want to forget about breathing, though in my dreams I forget. As a child I had a recurring dream of being able to breathe underwater and still now, I daydream of this ability. To be able to breathe everywhere, now that is a dream. To be able to breathe with ease at the highest elevations and at the bottom of the ocean. Breath is life and I want to breathe everywhere, on and on, forever. 

Life is so varied. There are gradations too numerous to count. Often we spend our time scurrying about the middle ground. Sometimes we run up and sometimes we sink down. When we are down it's usually different than it was the time before. There are treasures in the depths and paucity at the heights, and it's hard to know which is which, sometimes. 

We think people are running with us or sinking with us, but mostly we're middling along with people and when we go for the extremes it's alone. Once or twice or a few times we want to grab the wrist of someone in the middle and take them with us on a jaunt. 

Let's go, you and me. 

Dante's Peak, NBC News


Monday, March 12, 2018

Meditation as Self-Care

The verb meditate can refer to a variety of mental activities. Here's a Merriam-Webster dictionary entry:

1
to engage in contemplation or reflection 
  • He meditated long and hard before announcing his decision.
to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness
transitive verb
1to focus one's thoughts on reflect on or ponder over 
  • He was meditating his past achievements.
2to plan or project in the mind intendpurpose 
  • He was meditating revenge.
 

meditator

 play \-ˌtā-tər\ noun

Within a spiritual context, there are many forms of meditation to practice. I am not an adherent of any particular form of meditation or yoga, so I did not follow the advice of my first teachers who told me to "dig one deep well" and drink only from it. I am not particularly religious about my own meditation; admittedly, I use it for health and healing, and as a complement to prayer which is the spiritual side of my own practice.

When working with clients who are new to meditation, I like to present it as caring for and attending to the self (or Self, if you prefer).

Our attention is frequently externally directed in our day-to-day existence. Meditation is a purposeful direction of our attention within, or to a specific point of focus, depending on the goals and situation of the individual.

Meditation can be part of a self-care routine. From middle childhood and beyond, we all need to practice self-care. Infants and toddlers generally have all of their physical and psychological needs met by caregivers, including soothing and comforting. As we become more independent, our ability to self-soothe and self-regulate becomes critical. An example of an early self-care practice is choosing to sleep with a favorite blanket and cuddle with a well-loved stuffed animal. This example involves anticipation of one's own needs and concrete actions to fulfill them without outside help. In adulthood, the needs and actions may be different, but the principles are the same.

Self-care can be quite simple. Taking a five minute break at work with a hot cup of tea is an act of self-care. Lying down on the couch and listening to a favorite song after a stressful experience is also self-care in action. Of course, self-care can be more elaborate and disciplined using modalities such as massage, tapping or restorative yoga. Meditation, among its other attributes, is an example of paying attention to and caring deeply for ourselves.

When we meditate, we give ourselves permission to relax into the moment, but we don't lose awareness or doze off. Instead, we turn our greatest power, our attention, within. We leave the proverbial lights on inside, rather than shining them outwards. When practiced in a certain way, meditation can feel like being held by strong and protective arms. It can feel like coming home to onself in the light of awareness. 

Like any new self-care practice, it takes some time to get comfortable with meditation. How long it takes to adjust and feel really good about it will all depend on the practitioner, but it's best to start with only a few minutes and then build up. When you don't want the timer to buzz and wish you could sit for longer, you know you are making fantastic progress. Sometimes you're just tired, so any form of rest feels good, but meditaiton is not exactly rest because of the refining of your attention. Some days it can feel like awakened bliss, other days it can feel flat, and other days you may gain flashes of insight.

As with any self-care practice, be kind to yourself when you meditate and on days when you are fatigued, sitting awake with closed eyes (or an internal gaze) and resting is the entire point of meditating. Other days, you may feel more like tuning into your sensations and emotions and listening.

As we progress with meditation, our relationship to ourself is greatly enhanced, which can only mean good things for us.

If you would like some help or guidance beginning a self-care oriented meditation practice, contact me through this blog or through my website.

Stock photo

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Job Performance Affirmations

A finance professional recently contacted me requesting a personalized meditation to remove blocks in his career. The challenges he encounters are familiar to all of us, no matter our vocation, age or gender. Affirmations are not a cure-all. We have to be careful to do the deep work required to move past our personal blocks. However, affirmations are a powerful way to work with self-defeating thought patterns.

In Yoga philosophy, the concept of pratipaksha bhavana, replacing harmful thoughts by cultivating opposite thoughts, is similar to what modern psychotherapists often do with their clients in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.

Because the affirmations I wrote for my client are so universally applicable, I decided to share them here. I hope they'll prove useful for some or all of my readers.

I fully embrace all aspects of my Self. I am a unique being, interconnected with all other beings. I am a gift and an asset to my brothers and sisters on planet Earth. I am a gift and an asset to my family. I am a gift and an asset to myself. I experience the beauty and bounty of existence through my individual self: my consciousness, my body, my senses and my intellect. I am connected to the power that drives the Universe through my highest Self. 

I am an infinite being, a fractal of the creative power behind the ever-expanding Universe. I am limitless in my capacity for change and development. My work is an integral part of my contribution to the flow of life on Earth. I am here to do my work and to do it well. I do not hesitate to accomplish my goals each day. Power flows through me to accomplish all I set out to do. My confidence originates from deep within my being, and not from my limited ego. No one can erode my confidence because it’s timeless and limitless. Lack of confidence is an ego-based illusion and I am far greater than any ego could ever be. Confidence is my inalienable right as a limitless being. I claim my confidence in all I do. 

My vocation is a powerful way to bring prosperity to myself and others. I embrace prosperity. Prosperity is a natural right of mine as part of my limitless nature. I do not limit the flow of prosperity. I channel the flow of prosperity for the betterment of myself and all beings. I disregard distractions, doubts, hesitation and indecision with ease. When I embrace any opportunity, my work flow is unhindered. I am my own best ally and I place full trust in my instincts. 

I experience a variety of sensations and emotions in my work. All of these feelings are the byproducts of creative energy. Sensations and emotions do not distract me from accomplishing my goals. If anything, sensations and emotions are powerful catalysts for growing my business. I move freely through sensations and emotions. I move freely through any blocks or distractions. 

My vocational success is unlimited. As an infinite being, my growth is guaranteed. My growth will manifest through my vocational success. As I succeed in my vocation, I will bring prosperity to myself, to my family, and to the world. 





Thursday, February 15, 2018

Emological Balance

Many of us have a tendency to construct an artifical barrier between our emotions and our capacity for reasoning. This goes back to the foundation of Western philosophy; Plato and Aristotle saw reason as superior to and separate from emotion. When we look at the organization and functioning of our brains, however, we see that even though specific parts of the brain control logical thinking vs. emotional origination, these parts of the brain must work in tandem. Also, our brain synapses and neurotransmitters all work in harmony, connecting the disparate parts, to give us full functionality.

I'm free writing here as part of a 40 day writing practice, and my goal isn't to start breaking down brain science for anyone reading this. If you have not already, you can and hopefully will go and learn about the limbic system, the frontal lobe, the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex, and every other part of our amazingly complex brains. Please also read about neurotransmitters and connectivity between the different parts of our brains. It's worthwhile to mention here that the frontal lobe performs functions related to logical thinking, emotions and personality as well as emotional regulation. It's not accurate to say that emotions come entirely from one part of the brain and reasoning comes from another part. 

Today the brief point I want to make is that it would be beneficial if we could refrain from our tendencies towards reductionism and over-simplification with respect to human logic and emotion. Our emotions are one part of our capacity for reasoning. They're not separate. Instinct and intuition are inseparable from emotion and originate in the same parts of the brain (the limbic system, for example). Our emotions are valuable and merit inclusion in our communication with each other. Emotions have a place in the classroom, in business meetings and in professional forums. Yes, they do. Our culture teaches us to continually suppress and undervalue our emotions, preferring a calm demeanor and decisions based on rational thinking. 

There is no question that a calm state of mind is better than disruptively emotional behavior for any type of collective work setting. Also, if someone is trying to make a wise decision, coming to a neutral and balanced mental position is desirable. Cue the frontal lobe of the brain to set all of this up for us! 

However--and it's a big however--we need to be careful not to reject emotionally charged communication and the products of strong emotions in our interactions with each other. We readily share emotions with family members and close friends, but in our wider communities and what we consider work spaces, emotions must be regulated. We can regulate emotions while simultaneously valuing them as contributing to our growth as individuals and as a society. Maintaining a healthy awareness of and respect for our emotions truly enhances our capacity for sound decision making and problem solving. In other words, we can't have one without the other. 

One last coiniciding point here is that in our society, women have been traditonally viewed as more emotional than men and resultingly weaker. The way we view emotions and women are most definitely connected, like it or not. If our society shifts towards valuing emotional sharing as a part of fostering growth and positive change, women's voices will be powerful beacons. 

Our society needs to take an increasingly more holistic approach to problem solving, bringing more cohesion to our collective attitudes and actions. We need fewer barriers between masculine and feminine, logical and emotional, artistic and pragmatic endeavors. In our quest for holism and unity, let's start noticing our tendencies to parse out these seemingly opposing forces and try to witness how they're interwoven and inseparable. 


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Where Love Leads

LO-VE and LO-YAL share the same beginnings.

The Ancient Greeks had many words for love:
Eros: Sexual Passion
Philia: Deep Friendship
Ludus: Playful Love
Pragma: Longstanding Love
Storge: Love of Family
Philautia: Love of Self
Agape: Love of Everyone

All are beneficial and from one alone, all can flow. Love is fruitful. Creation springs from love. In our lifetimes may we live all forms of love, revering each one for what it produces.

To what and whom do you give your love and loyalty? I salute all those who endure the burning fires of commitment, refining desires and dreams into a lasting testament to love. Love can seem elusive. But love is all there is.

May we find the love in each encounter with another.



Friday, October 13, 2017

What is Prayer and Who Prays?

The words "thoughts and prayers" are generally broadcast across social media platforms in response to tragedies and crises. In recent weeks our world has seen disaster upon disaster visited upon it, with a variety of responses from private citizens, some helpful and some arguably having little to no impact. Many people have shared the opinion that "thoughts and prayers" are not enough, and possibly even useless. Indeed, solutions to problems come in the form of actions, not wishes.

Does prayer actually do anything? A religious person's answer will certainly differ from that of an atheist. A prayer can be simply an earnest hope or wish, or the act of beseeching an object of worship. Prayer is word which is overused and little understood. Before dismissing prayer as a useless practice, a reasonable person would examine and attempt to understand it. In this post, I'd like to assist in that endeavor.

Prayer is rightly associated with theism (belief in the existence of a god or gods who created and continue to sustain the universe, intervening in the lives of humans). In their efforts to acknowledge and commune with the gods they believe in, theistic people have developed many different practices, prayer being the most visible and well-known.

While prayer is usually conceived of as a devotional activity, just like the humans who practice it, prayer has evolved. There is a connection between prayer and meditation. Both practices relate to human consciousness. As meditation becomes more popular and accessible to larger numbers of people, more attention is being directed at human consciousness. Both prayer and meditation are consciousness-shaping activities. Meditation focuses on greater awareness, getting us in touch with our consciousness and helping us to refine it. Prayer is a willful directing of our consciousness towards a specific purpose, be it religious, or not. As I see it, involving a deity in the practice of prayer isn't strictly required.

As part of its ethical framework, Yoga philosophy teaches the concept of Ishvara Pranidhana, the action of surrendering to a higher power (relying on translations from Sanskrit and borrowing from the Twelve Steps terminology). In order to pray, a person must be willing to surrender to forces greater and more powerful than the human self. Such forces are evident in our existence: time and space are two of the easiest examples. Humans are undeniably small in comparison with the far reaches of the universe and the forces of nature which rule our existence. In spite of the great scientific and material progress we have made over the millennia, our knowledge of and control over our condition and position in the universe are indisputably limited. There's a lot we do not know and cannot control. Prayer is an action of emptying out and turning over our concerns, fears and longings to a transcendent reality. It is a form of letting go of what we can't fix or understand.

Atheists, spiritual-but-not-religious people, agnostics and the devout: none of us can pray unless we humble ourselves. Humility lets us experience awe and appreciate the vastness of the universe and the natural world. When we are humble, we can admit the possibility of the transcendent. In allowing for transcendence, we increase our capacity for experiencing peace and comfort. I don't want to thump the Bible here, but this New Testament scripture captures the idea: "Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand" (Philippians 4:6-7).

Prayer is a means of accessing the transcendent and getting beyond the confines of ourselves. You may be intrigued to find out that the latter, the very action of connecting to the transcendent, has been proven in numerous studies to positively impact mental and physical health. My teacher gave a talk last week on the impact of spirituality on health, then she wrote a blog post on her website providing follow-up statistics and references pointing to improved health outcomes from spiritual practice. You can access it here.  In her talk she addressed those people who identify as atheists, offering that they can foster a connection to the transcendent through practices such as meditation and the embodiment of spiritual values, which are at the foundation of yoga. I offer that prayer is one of those practices, just not in the way it is commonly conceptualized.


Strengthen to Open

It takes strength to be open. This is equally true for the mind and the body. When we stretch and open up one part of the body, we do so from a foundation of strength in a corresponding part. On the mental and emotional level, when we open our minds to new ways of thinking and new experiences, we require strength to overcome the forces of fear and habit. In our relationships, as we open to the presence and perspective of another person, a strong sense of our own self and healthy boundaries pave the way to a lasting connection. There is no strength without a certain degree of openness, and no real openness can occur absent a foundation of strength.

In a postural yoga class, it feels good to open up the front of the torso, hip flexors, chest and shoulders in backbending. When our backbends are safe and sustainable, they are supported by strengthening action in our back muscles, arms and legs. Alternatively, as we open up, stretch and relax the back muscles, neck, and backs of the legs in forward bending, we draw our support from our strong core musculature and the strength in our largest muscles on the tops of the thighs. As we do our lateral bending postures, we feel the right side of the body opening as the left side musculature contracts, and vice versa. We experience this interplay of opening one side of the body while strengthening the other as we flow through our yoga sequences. Remaining aware of this dynamic exchange and balance as we move and breathe is a good way to stay focused in a yoga class and in your personal practice.

In our meditation practice as well as in restorative yoga and savasana, we are opening to our internal experience: our subtle sensations, thought patterns and emotions. In the stillness of these more internal yogic practices, we are strengthening deeper awareness and our ability to abide with ourselves in the present moment. From this foundation of strength, we can open to a more transcendent reality and perspective.

As we take this "strengthen to open" mentality into the yoga of everyday life and work, it makes us more aware of our progress. We begin to notice how far we've come, or perhaps areas where we may be stuck, in our openness with loved ones. We can look back and be reminded of fears and doubts we've overcome on our paths. We can appreciate the way our unique experiences have contributed to our growth when we've been strong enough not to resist change or newness.

Allow yourself to own and appreciate your individual balance of strength and openness. In yoga practice as in all of life, make the modifications you need to fine tune your movements.