Self-Awareness 101 — You are not your thoughts

“I think, therefore I am!” Descartes’ quote was great in its time, but I think it overshadows a larger reality. Most of us spend our time fully in our brains. We remind ourselves of what we need to do, the on-going “To Do” lists. We rehash conversations, worry about our futures, count calories, rewrite the past and generally spend most of our days paying attention to the blah, blah, blah going on in our minds.

This overriding tendency is getting much, much worse with the advent of cell phones and the ubiquitous nature of technology. The word generating part of our brains can now also post to social media, send tweets, text, write emails and the list goes on and on and is likely getting longer as you read this.

Truth is, there is a part of our brains that does nothing all day except generate words. It is its entire function. If you are reading this or writing, or having a conversation, that is a good thing. We need it. We have learned to navigate our world by interacting and speaking to one another. Problem is, when we aren’t having a conversation in the real world, we are still paying attention to this voice.

To illustrate this point, I want to ask if you have ever driven home from work,  or to a place you go frequently and when you arrived you have no recollection of the drive? If you have never experienced this, let me just say, it has been used as a defence in court and it was so familiar to those overseeing the case, that it was accepted as a likely thing to have occurred.

So where were you at the time? Likely, completely engaged with the word generating part of your brain. You were lost in your thoughts about whatever the word generating part of your brain likes to focus on. See list above for some examples.

Exercise 1

Try something with me. READ THIS PART TO YOURSELF AND PAY ATTENTION TO HOW YOU EXPERIENCE READING.

That sounds abstract, so let me try to explain what I mean. Think of the bolded part above. Reread it if necessary. What actually happens in your brain when you read? For many, but certainly not all, they hear the words in their mind. Read it again and see if that is true for you.

So, if you “hear” the words, who is listening? This is important. You, the real you, is the one listening to the words. The words themselves were just what you were reading on the page. In this example, it is clear that the words are what were written on the page and “you” are the one listening.

Let’s take it one step further. If you are not reading and you are listening to your “To Do” list, for example, you are still the one listening. In other words, the word generating part of your mind is not who you are. Since its entire job is to keep babbling on all day, many of us confuse it for who we are. When it starts to tell us things, we believe we are hearing our own voice. We may be hearing something a fourth-grade teacher told us years ago. You see, it is easier for the word generating part of our mind to keep repeating itself than it is for it to come up with new material.

Exercise 2

There is another way to illustrate this. It has become quite common in cartoons and movies to see someone trying to make a decision. In the movie, a “good angel” will be standing on one shoulder talking into one ear of the character. A “bad devil” will be standing on the other shoulder giving the opposite advice.

You can try this yourself. Hold your hands out in front of you, palms up. Picture yourself in natural, flowing carefree clothing standing on one hand. Now, picture yourself in a tight, very formal, army uniform standing on the other hand.

Take the time to see these two aspects of yourself. Now think of an on-going argument you have with yourself. Let’s see, maybe you are trying to cut out carbs, but love muffins. Or perhaps, you have promised yourself daily exercise but it is cold and wet outside. You know your own struggles, pick something that you can relate to. Visualize these two aspects of yourself arguing their points of view.

Carbs make you fat! I like muffins. You must exercise! I’d rather be warm and comfortable. … You get the idea. Take a moment to do this bit right now. I’ll wait.

I’m sure none of this is new to you, except perhaps picturing yourself standing on your hands. What I want to illustrate is that you are neither of the people standing on your hands. You are the one observing the argument. You are the one listening to the debate. The debate is being created by the word generating part of your brain. You are the one observing.

Why is this important?

This is an introductory blog, so I’ll just focus on the Top Three highlights. Let’s just say, this is really, really important.

1. If you think the words in your mind are you, you may not question what they are saying.

This is a real problem if they are mean, destructive or undermine your self-confidence. Once you realize the words aren’t you, you can question what you say to yourself, or better yet, change what you say.

2. Being lost in your mind means you are not paying attention to your life.

If you “forget” the drive in, you also didn’t notice the cute dog that was playing ball; the beautiful trees beside the road; the sky, clouds, sunshine and you didn’t notice anything going on outside of your mind. This becomes important because you miss opportunities. You might not notice something that may have brought you joy.

3. If you believe you are the words in your mind, you are not honouring your true self.

Emotions get pushed out of the way, body sensations are completely ignored and your experience of the world becomes very limited.

Take some time today and focus your attention on the world around you. There is no need to narrate what you are seeing or to make a judgement about the quality of it or whether it is good or bad. Just observe it. Expand your awareness to the temperature, smells, sounds and sensations of your body. Isn’t that a nice break from the chatter? Your thoughts are not who you are. You are way more than that.

Meditation 101 — 4 Things You Need to Know

When someone says they exercise, it really does not describe what they do. That’s not to say they may or may not actually exercise, it is just that what one person considers exercise may be the typical day for a person who does not consider themselves an “exerciser” at all. A completely sedentary individual may feel that a twenty-minute walk is exercise, whereas a triathlete would have a totally different set of criteria.

Meditation is the same. Eckhart Tolle prescribes to “being present” as much as possible and he does this instead of having a set practise to sit and meditate. Monks can meditate for hours on end, without moving. There are as many forms and levels of commitment in meditation as there are for exercise. So, when someone says, “I meditate” it really does not describe what they do.

Mindfulness, the scientific community’s word for meditation, has been shown to be beneficial in many aspects of your life and health. In order to reap these benefits, it is not necessary to join a monastery, all you need to feel the initial benefits is five minutes, yes, five minutes per day.

Shutting off all of your electronic devices and sitting alone with nothing to do can feel like a colossal waste of time, but believe me, it is worth the effort. I know, another thing that you are supposed to add to your “to-do” list may seem like a great inconvenience, in addition to having nothing concrete to show for it. There will be no posts to Facebook, emails answered or tasks completed, but it is still worth the time. Some benefits include more restful sleep, less stress and better health. Need I say more?

So here are the basics, Meditation 101:

1. Find five minutes

This is the largest stumbling block to getting this done so I’ll put it first. Take into consideration that it is five minutes. You do not need to change your shoes or shower afterwards. There is no specific wardrobe or equipment necessary. You do not need a meditation room or a special pillow. Just you and five minutes.

2. Become aware of your thoughts

During this five minutes become aware of your thoughts. We all have all of this stuff that goes on in our minds all day. You may have music playing, sometimes affectionately called an earworm. I usually do and I listen and can sing along if I feel like it. Then there is the tyrant that can tell you everything you are doing wrong and how you should be doing it properly. Many people have a parent (not necessarily one of your actual parents) but a voice that tells them what is good for them and how they should behave. In addition to that, you may run other scripts such as counting calories or planning meals; paying attention to your “to-do” list; or planning the next hour, day, week or decade.

You may have any or all of the above and you may have other things in your mind, not mentioned. This background noise will continue regardless of what you are doing. Notice it. Notice it but don’t pay attention to it. If you are having difficulty conceptualizing what I am talking about. Stop now and read this: “Can you hear this sentence being said in your mind?” Were you able to recognize that when you read you were actually saying the words in your mind and listening to them? This is true for most people, but not all.

You are the one who “hears” what you read. You are not the voice you hear, especially when reading! When meditating, try to “observe” the flotsam in your mind. Pay attention, but don’t get pulled in. For instance, if you remember you forgot to take the turkey out to thaw for Thanksgiving dinner, although important, it is not important now. You do not have to engage and think about what pan you will thaw it in, where to put it, whether or not to take the wrapping off… Be confident you will remember to take the turkey out later and let the thought pass out of your mind. Five minutes won’t matter on a 20 lb turkey anyway!

It is helpful to use visual imagery. I like bubbles. Each word becomes a bubble that floats to the surface. The meaning of the word is lost. The word is visualized as a bubble and it just floats up and pops. Cars passing by on a highway, or stones being thrown into water will also work. Use your imagination. The important thing is to ignore the meaning of the word and let it pass away.

3. Pay attention to your breathing

There are a lot of variations on this, but this is the simplest. When your brain wants all of your attention and keeps blathering on, focus on your breathing. Think about how it feels to breathe in and breathe out. Does your chest expand? Does your abdomen expand? Can you tell the air coming out when you exhale is slightly warmer than the air going in? Think about this.

4. To sit or not to sit?

That is the question. Many individuals cannot sit still for five minutes. I mean this literally. They are simply too anxious, too wound up and too restless to sit. If this describes you, choose a moving meditation. It is OK to walk, ride a bicycle, swim, run or any other activity. The one caveat here is you must be doing this activity in a situation where you do not have to pay attention to your surroundings.

Walking into traffic or running on uneven ground where you must avoid rocks and the like, will not work. The goal is to not have to pay attention to that voice that keeps you safe. If you ignore your brain when it says, there is an oncoming train, your meditation will not be helpful. So find a place, like a shopping mall, or a track where you can run or walk without paying attention. The same applies to swimming, cycling any other type of movement you prefer.

If you decide to sit, the lotus position is not required. You may also lie down, but it is more likely you will fall asleep. For stationary meditation, you should be comfortable and it is preferable if you close your eyes. This is not recommended if you are running, for instance.

That’s it! There is no more to it. You can begin to feel the benefits of meditating with just this amount of understanding and five minutes a day. Good luck.

Stories we Tell Ourselves

The overlaps between both the ancient and the modern spiritual philosophies is significant to me. Recently, at my Vipassana retreat, Goenkaji spoke about “Saṅkhāra” he explained craving and aversion as causing these.  Basically, he was discussing thoughts that form when you are not happy with the present moment. All of the regrets, worries, hopes and desires form Saṅkhāras.

When you do not accept the moment as it is without craving or aversion, you create a sankhara. These are the source of all misery.  For instance, if someone insults you, it can create aversion in you. It is unpleasant for you and then you build up dislike or hate towards this person. The saṅkhāra or hate that you feel gets embedded and when you see this person again, you feel the hate. The hate can be used to justify treating that person poorly, for example.

The same phenomenon is described by Eckhart Tolle when he talks about “pain bodies”. He speaks of pain bodies being activated when some thought or experience brings you into alignment with old emotional scars. So, let’s say the same person insults you. They attack a part of you, you are sensitive about. Now, when the person who did the insulting is around, you feel “justified” reacting badly to anything that they say or do.

Byron Katie comes at it from the other side and reminds us that we don’t know anything for sure. This would include anything we can describe to ourselves. Her solution is to ask yourself, “Is it true?” leading to the foregone conclusion that there is no way you can ever know absolutely for sure.

Her perspective challenges us to look at the person, and decide if we believe what we think about the person who said it. We may immediately think the insulter is wrong, bad or out to hurt us. Instead of the insult resulting in bad feelings towards the person, we ask ourselves, “Is the person insulting us a bad person, or are they just saying something we find unpleasant?”

So what are they all talking about? They are describing the little voice in our heads who tries to rewrite history, “I shouldn’t have”, “she shouldn’t have”, “it shouldn’t have”. Or, “I wish … blah, blah, blah”. We have told ourselves a story about the way we judge things or people would be better. Our stories are told through craving, aversion; pain or fear or longing; and telling ourselves things are not OK, they should be different.

In essence, our thoughts not only create our perception of the world, they also contribute to how we feel in the world and how we respond to the world. If we build up enough saṅkhāras we can justify harming the person or mistreating them. In Eckhart Tolle’s model the “pain body” becomes activated and we act before we think. In Byron Katie’s we know the other person is out to get us, therefore justifying bad behaviour.

These explanations all point to the same thing. If we tell ourselves stories about people — whether they are based on facts or not — we can justify treating them badly. This is not a good thing. We are always responsible for how we behave. We can never justify hurting someone else, especially when that action is based on a story. A story we told ourself about that person and their intentions.

 

Are Your Thoughts Making You Sick?

photoThe placebo effect has long been recognized as a real phenomenon. When people believe that they are receiving something that is going to help them, it often helps them, even if what they receive is a sugar pill. This complicates drug trials because in order to show that a new drug is beneficial, drug companies have to be able to prove not only that the test subjects did better, they need to prove that the test subjects did better than people receiving sugar pills.

This effect goes way beyond sugar pills in scientific studies. Mondloch (2001) examined several studies about the placebo effect and found that under very different situations, positive expectations regarding medical procedures were associated with better health outcomes.

It turns out that the opposite is true as well. The “nocebo” or negative placebo effect was identified as early as 1961. If you think that medication will do you harm you are more likely to experience negative symptoms, even if it is a sugar pill (Barksky, 2002). If you believe that your treatment won’t work, you may be hindering the results.

In addition to this, Messina, et al, (2010) were able to show that skeptical people and those that harboured a generalized dislike, distrust, or hatred of other people did not do as well during cancer treatment. This effect was more pronounced than changing the types of medications that the individuals were given to treat the cancer.

So, if what we believe, our attitude and how we treat other people can have a positive or negative impact on our health, isn’t it time to pay attention to what we are telling ourselves about our lives?

224

 518TYyxqcyL._SL160_

This book follows “North Star” by Martha Beck. It goes deeper and further examines our connection with ourselves.

 

My Brain in the Pool

IMGP0470Breath, stroke, breath, stroke, the rhythmic splash of the water and the bubbles when I exhale become the focus of my mind. I love swimming. It is relaxing for me and a good example of not sitting in the lotus position to meditate. I completely “fall” into the rush of the water, the curl at the turn and my brain shuts off.

I still have thoughts, don’t get me wrong, but swimming is one of those types of activities that you don’t have to pay attention to your thoughts. You can observe your thoughts and then just feel the waves buoying you around. This can be the same in running, walking and hiking assuming that you are not in a place that requires vigilance. Or, you could sit still or lie down and let your mind relax.

We all need to take some time to turn our brains off. It gives them a break. Observe your thoughts for a while. See what you are thinking without making it important. If the thought came into your mind this time, it will return, no need to focus on it.

As little as ten minutes a day is all it takes to begin to receive the benefits of meditation. Better sleep, better concentration, better health… the list goes on and on. Why not turn your brain off today, if just for a little while?

224

A Good Reason to Make Meditation a Part of Your Life

IMG_5178Especially in North America, we are all about the logical, scientific mind. We are quite confident that if you can measure it, test it and quantify it, “It” is real and worth our attention. We are driven by accomplishments and the accumulation of stuff and it feels like we are all in a great race to be the biggest, best, richest or most powerful.

These “goals” are often future illusions that are created in our minds and accepted as a real reality of who we are and what we want. But, stay with me here, what if we were wrong? Maybe not completely wrong, but at the very least misguided. What if the ultimate purpose of our lives was to enjoy ourselves, to live in harmony and to be compassionate towards one another? Would that be such a bad world to live in?

In every moment we have the choice to be driven and focusing on the material world or we can be peaceful and recognize that there is always a connection with everyone and everything else. We are not alone and we do not need to be struggling all of the time. This may seem like a foreign concept to some, but it is something that can be achieved. It can be experienced by simply making room in your day to stop thinking. Stop the mind chatter and allow yourself to just experience being. In spiritual circles this is referred to as meditation. In scientific circles this is referred to as mindfulness and in religious circles it is referred to as prayer. Call it whatever you want. It is the opportunity to stop the daily race into the next moment and hang out in this moment for a while.

Why would we want to do this? I don’t think anyone can explain it better than Jill Bolte Taylor; so I’ll let you watch her video and I’ll meet you back here in a few moments.

http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

How was that? Did that give you any incentive to learn how to connect with your right brain? Well, if it did, let me give you some tips. First, this must become a daily practice. I know that we are all told that we should do many things everyday and they feel like just another chore, another check box to mark off, but this one will actually create more space in your life. Taking time to do nothing has the ability to actually make you more productive, improve your health, your attitude and your sleep, so in the long run it does not take up time, it actually frees up time.

There are many different ways to get in touch with your right hemisphere. The “classic” example is to sit quietly and to clear your mind. This is almost impossible for most people. Our left brains are so dominant, that we need to actively learn how to not pay attention to the word generating part so that we can experience the other side of our brains. It is sufficient to let your mind talk and talk while you are sitting but to just observe what it is saying. Sit outside of the thought, as it were. Notice the thoughts that are occurring but do not get engaged in what the thoughts are saying. This requires you to activate the right side of your brain, which would be doing the “observing” of the other side of the brain, and how it goes on and on.

It is not necessary to sit. You can do any activity that is methodical and does not require you to think too much. This could be walking, swimming or any other simple movement. You could do yoga poses or lie on the floor. Lying on the floor can be effective because it is probably, not necessarily, something that you don’t often do. It is also difficult to get up, unlike sitting, making being still easier. Any activity that does not require much thought will work. Even doing housework can be made into a meditative activity as long as the focus is on the activity, not the words that are going through your mind.

Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way” recommends writing morning pages. She says that you should write three pages daily. The pages are not thought out structured sentences. The writing is stream of consciousness writing. No one is ever going to read these pages.

Hopefully, you have seen why connecting with your right brain is something that is worthwhile. Give different types of meditation a chance and see what works for you. Do it daily for a while and watch how the quality of your life improves. Good Luck!

Earworms

IMG_1777Thanks to my daughter’s insistence on listening to a radio station that played older music, which she prefers, I had the song, “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” stuck in my mind. Sentimentality aside, it is not a very interesting song to have repeating itself over and over again, all day, for three days.

This phenomenon is now affectionately being called an Earworm. It has several other names and has been appearing in the scientific literature for over a hundred years. Interestingly, these earworms are not unlike other repetitive thoughts that can get stuck in your mind.

One of the most severe forms of having a repetitive though is obsessive-compulsive disorder, but shy of that, many people have repeating thoughts. It has been recognized that when brain cells begin to fire together, they like to continue to fire together. They form a thought rut that is easy to stay in. So, if you are telling yourself that you are not worthy, or not loved, or your fingers are too long, these thoughts will continue to circle around in your brain until you believe them.

I was never in any danger of believing that I was travellin’ and livin’ off the land, but if you repeat anything to yourself, it is difficult to recognize that it is simply misfiring brain cells, not something that you actually know to be true.

If you listen to another song, you can dislodge an Earworm. This will, surprisingly, work for your negative thought patterns as well. If you constantly berate yourself, or put yourself down, you can pay attention to this pattern and repeat a more positive thought. With practise, these positive thoughts will push out the negative ones. An exercise that is worth doing because suddenly, your fingers won’t seem so long — for instance.

What earworms have you had lately? What sort of things are you telling yourself?

Don’t forget to call home….

IMG_2550Remember to take it. I shouldn’t have said that. I wonder what it will be like next year. And on and on it goes. There is a part of your brain that does nothing all day except generate words. This is similar to your digestive tract that spends its entire day processing food. You don’t need to be paying attention to your brain or your stomach for them to continue doing what they do. The word generating part of your brain is quite useful when you are speaking to someone, but if you have no one to speak to, you speak to yourself. This might take the form of reminding yourself about what you have to do, planning your day, counting calories, worrying about the future, rethinking the past, or other stories that you tell yourself about how things should or shouldn’t be.

The important thing that we need to recognize here is that the constant jabber is not who we are. We often mistake the word generating part of our brains as the one running the show. If we are kind to ourselves this can be a good thing. But if we are self critical, demeaning or depressed, the things that we tell ourselves can not only ruin our day, but they can be bad for our health. (Are your thoughts making you sick?)

If a thought is causing you pain (and I mean all negative emotions here as well as physical symptoms) there is little doubt that it is not true. We all face tragedy in our lives. Experiencing it, mourning it and letting it be, is the best that we can hope for. Pain and loss are unavoidable parts of being human. However, our past is just that, behind us, and reliving it wastes right now. The same could be said about worrying about the future. We have no way of knowing what will happen tomorrow. Why spend time thinking about things that make you unhappy when you could be paying attention to the world that actually exists in this moment?

As recently as the mid-80’s researchers have been able to measure how neurons fire in groups or neuronal assemblies. Gerstein (1989) has shown that neurons fire in groups and preferentially in patterns. So, you have this part of your brain that has nothing to do but generate words all day and words that you have thought before, phrases that you are familiar with, are the easiest words to generate. This same group of neurons gets in the habit of firing together all of the time, repeatedly thinking the same thing over and over again. Thought ruts form. It is easier for the word generating part of your brain to refire in this familiar pattern saying the same series of words than it is to think a unique thought. It then becomes difficult to believe that these words are not true simply because you’ve heard them so often.

Once you recognize that you can pay attention to what you are saying to yourself, you can examine the truth of it. Acceptance and Commitment therapy, affectionately called ACT, is a way of examining how language creates pain. It uses techniques to get past the literal content of what we tell ourselves so that we can be present in the moment (Hayes, 2005). By accessing our thoughts and bringing them into our awareness the thoughts can be examined rather than just taken as the truth.

The same thing has been discovered through spiritual channels. Byron Katie, a spiritual healer, discovered this on her own after a bout of serious depression and now teaches it. She uses the phrase, “Is that true?” to help people examine their thoughts. And the work begins. By asking yourself whether or not a thought is true and then examining when it possibly might not be true, you help rewire the cluster of neurons that have fired in a similar way for a long time. This helps to develop alternate pathways for thoughts to take and you can literally free yourself from the pain that the painful thoughts have been causing you.

So what do you say to yourself all day? Is any of it true? Is it always true? Can you think of an example where it might not be true?

 

51EayW0fCGL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU15_

 

This is the essential book for learning how to examine your thoughts.

 

How to Clean Up Your Whole Life MP3

A TELECOURSE LED BY MARTHA BECK

How to Clean Up Your Whole Life MP3

The pile of papers in your office, the long-unworn clothes clogging your closet, the tiny frozen quiches that have been in your freezer since the Carter administration…they’re all cluttering your outer life, but they’re also hogging a portion of your inner life.

The Most Important Moment is Now

IMGP1996

As science and spirituality continue to merge on many fronts, one of the more interesting discoveries is that meditation is being “discovered” as a treatment for many psychological disorders. Not only are people with serious problems benefiting from this practice, many people with everyday issues like anxiety and overeating have seen benefits. In addition to that it has been shown to slow some of the effects of aging (Epel, 2009 and Turner, 2010).

Now, stay with me here, I’m not going to tell you that you have to sit in the lotus position and say OOOvHHHMMMNnnnn for hours on end. Meditation, or as it is referred to in the scientific literature, mindfulness, can be achieved just by ignoring your brain for a while. The definition of mindfulness is generally thought to have two parts: focusing on the present moment and accepting what is without judgment (Coffey, 2010 and Bishop, 2004).

The key to all of this is that you must make this moment the most important moment. Worrying about the future, fretting about the past, planning what you need to do next, rethinking upsetting conversations, must all take a back seat. The moment of meditation needs to be the most important moment–while you are doing it. You can get back to worrying about what you are going to do if you happen to run into someone that you don’t like, or whether or not you should buy a dog or two cats–later. For now, recognize that everything is OK and that you do not have to do anything or plan anything for the next fifteen minutes. You may find that you do not want to go back to worrying when you are done.

In order to meditate you must sit, walk, run, swim, bike, lie down or ski. Well anything that you can do that allows you to disengage your mind. Walking in heavy traffic, for instance, would not be suitable because if your mind was not engaged there is a good chance that you would be pulled back into thinking about your surroundings pretty quickly and abruptly. The key is that it needs to be an activity, or no activity, that allows you to “turn off your brain”.

I am not going to tell you that you have to stop that word generating part of your brain that has nothing better to do than jabber all day about this and that and all of the things that you have to do and what happened several years ago at the beach when that large….but I digress. What you need to do is not pay attention to those thoughts. When words come into your mind (and we both know they will) simply observe them and pay no further attention.

It can be helpful to visualize the words as bubbles that float to the surface and pop, or as cars speeding down a highway off into the distance, or any other visual that you may find useful. What we are trying to avoid here is paying attention to the words. So, if you suddenly remember that you haven’t fed your pet fish, recognize that it won’t matter in the next 15 minutes. You will remember again. If you start to think about how angry the clerk made you at the store, see the words individually, don’t get pulled into the story, just observe that you had a thought and let it fall away.

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 6.12.48 PMThe key is to just be aware of the fact that your brain is generating words and to not care about what they are saying. Right now, in this moment, it is not important. It can be helpful to focus on your breath and keep bringing your attention to your breath. If you are moving during this time you might focus on each step or each stroke. You may just pay attention to all of the sensations coming from your body and the words being generated by your mind. Just accept them and do not engage with them. Do not criticize yourself for thinking, just notice and bring your attention back to your body or your breath or your movement.

The next step is to start to notice other things. How does your body feel? What are the sounds and smells around you? Is it cold, hot, midlin? Take note of these things, but don’t get engaged. For instance if you realize it is too cold, it is not the time to get a sweater. You can wait until you are done, you won’t freeze to death in 15 minutes (not in a place that you’ve chosen to meditate in anyhow). This is a great exercise in learning to observe your thoughts in a way that allows you to see how transient they are and that they occur even when you are paying attention to something else. But, more on that at another time.

So to recap, you want to be focused on the moment and to accept it for whatever it is–even if your fish is starving to death. Meditating in this way for 15 minutes a day is all that it takes. What is there to gain from doing absolutely nothing for 15 minutes everyday?….well, a lot actually. Meditation, or mindfulness, has been shown to decrease stress, depression and illness. It has been shown to slow the aging process and it is key in helping to break bad habits such as smoking or gossiping. So, by taking the time each day to recognize that the most important moment is now you can improve your life. Now that is easier than dieting or exercising wouldn’t you say?


Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 2.36.15 PM

Right Brain/Left Brain — Chapter 7

http://pixgood.com/left-and-right-brain-art.html
http://pixgood.com/left-and-right-brain-art.html

I am in my office again. I just finished a pretty easy week at work. I was only covering my own desk, which meant that I had a reasonable amount to do. There are definitely ebbs and flows of work and this was a particularly light flow.

It is 6:00 p.m. EDT and it is pitch black outside. I wish that they would recognize that there has not been justification for Daylight savings time for over a hundred years and remove it. It is such a great example of how we deny the fact that we are animals in praise of our “greater knowledge,” from our logical brains. Daylight savings time throws entire populations into jet lag without even a change in sun patterns to help them adjust.

I first experienced an understanding of this disconnect in grade four when I had a crush on my classmate. It was during this time that I decided that my brain would be in charge instead of my natural inclinations. I had to take control of how I was acting. By nine years of age I had already learned that what my logical brain wanted should take precedence. Now I am spending more time trying to reconnect with what I actually want, not what I “should” want. I find this interesting.

It has long been known that the brain has two hemispheres. These look almost identical and it can appear as though they would do the same thing but they do not. There is a great video by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor during which she explains her experience after having a stroke that knocked her left-brain “off-line” so to speak. She explained that her right brain is connected to a greater knowing, a connection to the energy that is all around us.

At the risk of over simplifying this, the left-brain is the logical, thought producing hemisphere. It spends its entire day generating words that form thoughts. These repeating messages occur over and over again until we believe them. This is the part of the brain that says things like, “You shouldn’t do that”. The right side is more of the artistic side, but I like to call it the animal side. It is the part of the brain that knows how to survive and what it enjoys.

So we get ourselves into situations where the two sides of our brains are arguing. I was already having this argument at nine years of age. It occurred again when I was trying to decide whether or not to resume my marriage. Funny thing. The right side always won. This is true in other aspects of my life. The vision disturbances and the crying were both my body, or my animal side telling me that I was not OK despite the fact that my logical brain could come up with all kinds of quantifiable arguments about the logistics of leaving.

Stop for a moment and consider the fact that you are reading this sentence. To most people, this is experienced as “hearing the words” in your mind. As you read this, you hear the words, “As you read this” in your mind. Is this true for you? Is this how you experience reading to yourself? If it is, I have a question. Who is listening? Let me propose a possibility. It is not our bodies, our animal side or our right brain that is in control. It is also not our thoughts, the words that we tell ourselves or our left-brain that is in control, it is you, the one listening to your brain read the words.

One of the ways that this conflict plays out in our society is through all of the rules that are shared about how we should live that if followed, take us further away from the knowledge that we instinctively have about how to take care of ourselves. The media goes crazy condemning foods and then exonerating them. Telling us how much sleep, exercise, food and television we should indulge in. It does not take a genius to see that this is not working. It might be time to get back into our bodies and begin to listen to what they are saying.

Our bodies need to be cared for, not tortured. The food restriction, the belief in things like, “no pain, no gain” and our crazy schedules do not respect the fact that our bodies are where we live. We need to learn to listen to the messages that they are sending us about play and rest; enjoyment and focus; hunger and movement. Reconnecting is the key, not learning the newest fad.

All bodies will want to move. It may not be “exercise” but they are designed to be doing things. Our bodies know what they want to eat and when they are full. Also, we know how much sleep we need. In our overbooked lives, it is easy to let our left brains convince us that what we need to do is more important than taking care of ourselves. These brain over body arguments all need to be reexamined.

Recognize that the part of you that is listening to this as you read it to yourself, can see both sides. You can hear the left brain spewing rules about how you should behave and the right brain desiring more freedom. You know what you actually want and taking time to be quiet in wordlessness will help you connect to this knowing more and more.

This is an excerpt from my book, “I Woke Up In Paradise”.

Read the entire book.
Read the entire book.