Category Archives: Spiritual Practice

Mental Outlook – One of the Four Pillars of Health

Be the type of person you want to meetSince you are the only one that thinks inside your head, it would seem that choosing positive thoughts and creating good healthy mental patterns would be quite easy. But for any of us who have tried to walk this path and create thoughts, behaviors, and habits that lead to the life we want to manifest, we all know that it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Despite our best intentions,  at times we get engulfed in the negative story line.

Besides going through emotional upsets and even traumas in each of our respective lives, as a species we also have a negativity bias built into our brains that makes it easier to lean towards the negative. Indeed, left to our own devices, we all tend to put more weight on the negative than the positive in our lives. Yes, we can get a nice warm glow when someone gives us a sincere compliment or praises our achievements. But where is the residual value of this praise if we are wounded so easily by criticism or a harsh word by an unmindful, thoughtless person? Think of how easy it is to allow a negative story line to spiral out of control in our minds until we are convinced that we are not loveable or worthwhile. It often doesn’t take much for us to sink to a low depth in our self esteem.

You can devote some time to doing things that make you feel good, that make you laugh, that give you a high. But those same demons will sneak in the back door as soon as something goes very wrong, or someone decides to take their frustration or own low self esteem out on you. The yo-yo method of Mental Outlook doesn’t work any better than the yo-yo method of dieting. We swing from “vine to vine”, looking for something else (we’re not sure exactly what) because we don’t see we are already whole and complete as we are right now. We have to wake up and tune into this.

What really helps take you further down the path of love and acceptance is a conscious choice, then being willing to do the work to make this happen. Geeze,,,,it’s like so many other things, eh? Even a positive mental outlook takes work, a bit of mental and spiritual weigh-lifting. This is not because we are lacking in any way, but most of us have learned what we know and believe from others, who had their own wounds and issues to work out. “Unearthing” the richness of who we are and what we have to offer takes work mainly because we have to get rid of the unnecessary baggage before we can dive deep. It is simply part of our life’s work to discover first hand what is true for us and not just blindly accept another’s blueprint for our life.

For me, a meditation and yoga practice is important for clearing the clutter in my mind and tuning in but there are other practices that can be just as valuable, including Tai’ Chi and Qi gong (pronounced Chi Gong).  I believe a spiritual practice of some sort – whatever that is for you – is important for a sense of fulfilment and vitality. Does the word “spiritual” bother you?  Then pick another word.  But a practice where you can quiet the mind and stop the chaos, and feel a part of something greater than just yourself and your problems is crucial for good health.  This positive spiritual practice will help you plug into things that really nourish and recharge you.  You must nourish yourself, otherwise it won’t take long for you to become depleted. Even if your time is limited, you can set priorities and let something go so you can have a mini-break and recover. You only have 30 minutes while the baby sleeps? Spend it meditating instead of watching some silly TV program. The meditation will leave you more calm and refreshed than the TV. Remember that you can only do one thing at a time well, whatever the hype is about “multi-tasking”. If you try to open up too many windows on your computer, what happens?  It crashes! So will you. Get calm, close some windows, take a deep breath, and focus on the one thing you need to do in front of you. When that is done, you can move on to the next thing. Work on one “window” at a time.

By now, we’ve all heard how important a positive attitude is for health and happiness, and more than likely you’ve incorporated some of this sage advice into your life already. If so, good for you!  If not, don’t take my word for it – just commit to adding some positive practices, such as positive affirmations and a gratitude journal, yoga, meditation, etc. into your life every day for one month, and then see if your life improves. If it doesn’t you’ve lost nothing.  But you will never know that life can be so much better if you don’t give it a try.

Suggestions to get started:

  • Commit to devoting time to becoming the person you want to be. Writing an agreement with yourself is good, or teaming up with a good friend can also be beneficial. It is not easy to stay the course on your own if you have no experience with this. Work out one or two small steps to begin in the direction of your goal (even if the goal is just a vague idea like “I want to be a better person”). You can get more specific after you begin and get more clear on what is important to you.
  • Start small, and add to this as you have some success. Meditate for a few minutes (10 is good, then add more time.), write in a gratitude journal every day for 30 days without fail, look at yourself in the eyes every morning and say something positive. 
  • Practice mindfulness. Try “closing all the Windows” and being present – to the activity you are doing, to the person you are with, to the feelings you are having. Notice the next breath and place your full attention on this. Place your focus on the sensations in your body….is your jaw tight, are you slouching, are you warm or cool, is there discomfort anywhere in your body? Tune in and really feel what is happening for a few moments. It can start this small, but be fully present to what is happening now.
  • Bring more positive people in your life. Spend more time with the ones you already know. Limit your time with people who bring you down, make you doubt yourself. Don’t waste your precious time with people who want to tear you down.
  •  Be persistent but kind to yourself. Don’t immediately think, “I’m no good at this” when you try meditation and your mind is all over the place. If you had to fly a jet plane, you would probably not feel confident your first try. So just show up for it, no matter what happens. Be present for the chaos, for the calm, for the anger, and for the happiness. No judgement.

Feel free to let me know how you do with this, or for that matter, how you feel about this post.

 

Living With Good Health and Vitality – Implementing The Four Pillars of Health

happy-people-in-the-poppy-field-1280x800-wide-wallpapers-netOur bodies are designed to perform optimally. Knowing this yet seeing the number of people who struggle with feeling good every day can be perplexing.  Why does it seem so elusive for many people to wake up feeling great and to have energy throughout the day?

There can be complex issues that effect our quality of health caused by modern 21st century lifestyles, but in an effort to distil information into bite-size chunks let’s keep this simple. I believe there are four essential foundations for optimum health and that often we leave one or more out of the equation while trying to care for ourselves  The Four Pillars of Health, which form the foundation for great health and vitality, are Diet, Exercise, Good Sleep, and Mental Outlook. Very often people will focus on one, two, or even three of these categories but it is a bit more rare to embrace all four consistently….so at times we get out of balance, or homoeostasis.  The body will always circle back to homoeostasis if we give it what it needs.

All four of these “Pillars” are equally important and support good health, but let’s arbitrarily start with Diet. (This is where most people start when trying to make changes to enhance health.) There are volumes of wonderful blogs and books dedicated to this subject, but in a nutshell what you must do is eliminate, or severely restrict, all processed foods from your diet. You want to eat foods that come from Nature, not from a laboratory. Your body does not know what to do with the artificial ingredients in processed food and they will cause serious problems for you in time. Begin this process by adding in good healthy things to your diet – focus on the plethora of foods you CAN eat, instead of the things you cannot. If you build your diet on what you must stay away from, your willpower WILL cave in time! Ask yourself the question, “What great foods can I add to my diet?” Stop thinking “no,no,no” when it comes to food, and instead make a list of healthy foods you like and have fun creating new meals. Give yourself the tools you need to get started by doing a little research, collecting tasty recipes, and start adding great food to your pantry and fridge. Remember to make the shift to focusing on everything you can eat and don’t browbeat yourself. Begin to crowd the bad stuff out of your diet by adding in the good.

Exercise: Most of us simply don’t get enough. Our ancestors walked around about 10 times more than we do. (Great quote from Lucas Rockwood: “Sitting is the new smoking” – I love it!) Sit less, and move more. The fact is, the more lean muscle mass you have, the more energy you’ll have. And, even better – the more you will need to eat to maintain your lean muscle (without gaining weight) and keep going.  If you don’t have much lean muscles mass, you won’t have as much energy and you will require much less food to maintain your weight.  So, look into Burst Training (sometimes called Interval Training), and move your body every day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk whenever you can, join a class, and move your body throughout your day in as many creative ways that you can think of.

Sleep:  It doesn’t matter how great your diet is, or how much exercise you get; if you are not sleeping enough consistently, are are not going to function optimally. Full stop. Rest and recovery phases are crucial for healing and maintaining vitality and good health. Sleep dysfunction is tricky because there are so many different causes for lack of sleep.  Good sleep hygiene is essential, and an upcoming blog will be devoted to this topic. But it’s really good and proactive for you to dig into your own research about this, so even googling “sleep hygiene” is a wonderful start. Take even a small step in the direction you want to go and try to let go of worrying and fretting about not getting enough sleep.  I know how hard it can be, because I have not been a very good sleeper at times….but never once was it helpful to worry about it.  Watch this space for more information about improving the quality of your sleep.

Mental Outlook: We’ve all heard how important a positive attitude is for health and happiness, and more than likely you’ve incorporated some of this sage advice into your life already. If so, good for you!  If not, don’t take my word for it – just commit to adding some positive practices, such as positive affirmations and a gratitude journal, yoga, meditation, etc. into your life every day for one month, and then see if your life improves. If it doesn’t you’ve lost nothing.  But you will never know that life can be so much better if you don’t give it a try.

We swing from “vine to vine”, looking for something else (we’re not sure exactly what) because we don’t see we are already whole and complete as we are right now. We just have to wake up and tune into this. For me, a meditation and yoga practice is important for clearing the clutter in my mind and tuning in but there are other practices that can be just as valuable, including Tai’ Chi and Qi gong (pronounced Chi Gong).  I believe a spiritual practice of some sort – whatever that is for you – is important for a sense of fulfilment and vitality. Does the word “spiritual” bother you?  Then pick another word.  But a practice where you can quiet the mind and stop the chaos, and feel a part of something greater than just yourself and your problems is crucial for good health.  This positive spiritual practice will help you plug into things that really nourish and recharge you.  You must nourish yourself! Even if your time is limited, you can set priorities and let something go so you can have a mini-break and recover. You only have 30 minutes while the baby sleeps? Spend it meditating instead of watching some silly TV program. The meditation will leave you more calm and refreshed than the TV. Remember that you can only do one thing at a time well, whatever the hype is about “multi-tasking”. If you try to open up too many windows on your computer, what happens?  It crashes! So will you. Get calm, close some windows, take a deep breath, and focus on the one thing you need to do in front of you. When that is done, you can move on to the next thing. Work on one “window” at a time.

Choose one of these four pillars that you think needs some bolstering (Diet, Exercise, Sleep, and Mental Outlook) and add one positive thing to your life every day. You will be the one to benefit from this positive attention. Please watch this space for future blogs on each indivdual Pillar of Health.

Note: Dr. Pedram Shojai is a wonderful teacher to learn from.  I discovered him while compiling notes for this blog. He is teaching and writing about the very same thing (now I know there is nothing new under the sun!…..ideas, thoughts, and words are part of our collective knowledge base and are constantly being recycled and given a new spin, a new life.) that I am writing about only he calls it The Wheel of Vitality, and Mental Outlook is referred to as Mindset. Follow him if you are interested – a beautiful man with wonderful things to say.

Other People’s Opinion of Me Is None of My Business

Other people’s opinion of me is none of my business. Intellectually, this is a statement that we can believe. Since you cannot control other people’s thoughts, and since neither people nor their thoughts are perfect, then it really makes no sense to live your life based on your flawed impressions of other people’s flawed impressions of you. Got it? Great! I would stop right now, except for one thing.

Emotionally, as a species, we are built to care about what other people think of us. Except for people who have personality disorders or are sociopaths, we are hard-wired to care what people think of us. It’s part of our social-being biology. Because of this hard-wiring, we operate under the scrutiny of an imaginary audience which social scientists call our “generalized other”. Some of our “others” give us a daily dose of warmth and encouragement; some can be witheringly cruel. Even if your “generalized other” is mean and cruel, you cannot just will yourself to be indifferent to it.

The key to ending the tyranny of this “generalized other” is to spend some time really hearing what is going on in your head the next time you try to step out of your “norm” and dare to do something different. If you feel afraid, or shut down, pay attention to the voices you hear that are being critical. Often these voices are from very real people in your life, usually from your childhood. We develop this sense of the “generalized other” very haphazardly, especially during childhood, and tend to pay the most attention to the cruellest people – people who hurt our feeling or shamed us, or undermined our dreams. We allowed these people’s voices to become part of our “generalized other” so we could avoid attacks from them. As children, we obsessed about living up to their standards so we could be safe. And unless we consciously have made changes, these wicked trolls still live in our heads and try to control us! So, as adults, even though we know that what “they” think of me is none of my business, these mean folks are still alive and kicking in your head.

So what to do about this? You fire them….give them their pink slips and kindly thank them for their input, but explain you are now headed in a new direction. But your key to success is to reassemble a new committee to represent your “generalized other”. Remember, as social beings, we need the committee. But choose wisely.

The new “chair” of your committee needs to be one who loves and accepts you unconditionally. If you don’t know any accepting people, you must find one. This person doesn’t actually have to be alive…or even human. If you’re stumped, think of someone who has treated you with respect and kindness (a teacher, grandma, relative, or even a furry animal!). It can be a writer or a spiritual teacher, or a higher power. But, please reject any idea of an insane, jealous God who loves to hand out one-way tickets to hell. You’ve probably had enough of that. I am referring to a loving presence in your life who wants nothing but your happiness. Do NOT offer a seat in the committee of your “generalized other” to anything less than a loving presence. Then, start adding a few other positive people – living or deceased – to your “committee. You only need a very few people to represent the whole world to the irrational and emotional part of your brain that allows other people’s opinions to control you. Just be sure they are all on your side.

Finally, the most important step….you must consciously connect with these new committee members every day for at least 30 days. Longer than 30 days is better, but I don’t want this to seem overwhelming. Connect with your new “committee” (ie., generalized other) by spending time reading their words,, meditating, Facebooking, watching, and/or physically interacting with your new loving, accepting, encouraging Committee. It will feel weird at first, but if you stick with it, positive changes will occur.

So, if you continually do things that hold no joy for you, never feel you are good enough, believe that deep down, people don’t really like you very much or at least wouldn’t like you very much if they REALLY knew you, then do yourself a huge service. Oust your internal critics who say you’re not good enough, that you are on the wrong track, that you’re not very cool or smart. Choose to be watched over by people who forgive your errors and believe in you. And….if this makes me a bit crazy in your eyes, or just plain bonkers, that’s ok. It is really none of my business.

Making Room For the Right Things

Happiness requires that we’re not constantly “spinning our wheels” and doing the same wrong things over and over. There is a saying – usually attributed to AA – that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. Most people, myself included, agree with this statement. Yet surprisingly most people, myself included, have done this very thing. Yes, more than once.

When I keep doing the same behaviours, but expect different results, usually at least two things are happening. The first is that I am not living in the Now (see my last post) so I’m not conscious and present with myself. The other thing that is always happening is I am lying to myself about something….even if the lie is that I don’t know what else to do. If you find yourself spinning your wheels and frustrated with your life, stop and take a deep breath and an even deeper pause. More activity is not going to help. Take a breath before you get to the breaking point, and make a date with yourself to explore what you are doing every day to block happiness from yourself. To help you get started, here are a few things to consider stopping and eliminating from your thoughts and from your life.

1). Stop Focusing On What You Don’t Want To Happen: Spend your time focusing on what you DO want to happen. This sound ridiculously simple, but most people focus their thoughts on things that they don’t want to happen. Every morning when you get up, picture what you DO want to manifest in your life….the big picture. Then, throughout your day, remind yourself of this picture and take at least one small step towards this every day. Positive thinking is at the forefront of every success story. Keep the thoughts of what you DON’T want out of this picture.

2). Stop Spending Time With the Wrong People: Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the life out of you. If someone wants you in their life, they’ll make some space for you. You should not have to fight for a spot. If someone wants you in their life, they won’t criticize, belittle, or judge you. Walk away from these people!  Do not jostle for a position in someone’s life who continuously overlooks your worth. Spend your precious time with people who leave you smiling, not crying.

3). Stop Holding Grudges: Stop living with hate in your heart. This is poisoning you. I promise you, you will end up hurting yourself far more than the people you hate. Forgive these people, and remember that forgiveness is not weak. Forgiveness is not saying, “What you did to me is okay with me.” It is saying, “I am not going to let what you did to me ruin any more of my present moments.” If you cannot forgive and lay down the heavy burden of your grudges, you will let the person ruin your happiness forever. That, my dears, is giving someone a whole lot of power over your life and happiness. Liberate yourself!  (If you need to forgive yourself, give yourself this gift and know you will do better next time. Then, move one!)

4). Stop Blaming Others For Your Problems: The extent to which you achieve your dreams depends upon the extent to which you take responsibility for your life. You are denying responsibility for your life when you blame others – and giving them huge power of your life.

5). Stop Doing the Same Things Over and Over Without Taking a Break: You cannot be at your best when you are tired, fatigued, and burned out. The time to take a deep, slow breath is the exactly when you don’t have time for it. If you keep doing what your are doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. At times, you need to take a step back to see things clearly.

6). Stop Trying to Be Someone You’re Not: It is often a big challenge to be yourself in a world that seems to want to make you like everyone else. Be yourself anyway. Those with the least confidence in who they are may criticize or judge you, but you really don’t want these people in your life anyway. Don’t press yourself into a mold so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will be drawn to you and like you for who you are.

Maybe you can think of other things that you need to stop doing. If you keep doing the “wrong” things – those things that burn you out, cause resentment, make you like yourself less, then there is far less space to allow the right things into your mind, heart, and life. Practice, starting today, to make room for these right things by eliminating one “wrong” thing at a time from your life.

 

A Note On the Power of Now

I’ve caught myself complaining a bit in my thoughts lately and was reminded of something Ekhart Tollee wrote in The Power of Now. I searched for it and want to share that with you. I do lots of personal and deep work as I’m sure you do as well; if I can sink into complaint and feeling sorry for myself I’ll bet you can as well. Here are Ekhart Tolle’s priceless words:

“See if you can catch yourself complaining in either speech or thought about a situation you find yourself in. What other people say or do, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. See if you can catch yourself complaining.

For to complain is always non-acceptance of what is and it invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. So when you complain you make yourself a victim.

Either leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it. All else is madness.”

Let this sage advice sink into your bones, as I have mine. It may not be “easy”, but you know what to do.

 

 

A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation

Science is catching up to what many of us have known for a long time – meditation is very good for you. Neurologist researchers have concluded that we have between 15,000 and 50,000 thoughts each day, and that the majority of these thoughts are fear-based or negative. Of these, 80% are re-runs, or thoughts we’ve had before – sometimes over and over. That, folks, is bathing our brain in negativity for a large portion of our day.

If you keep track of your thoughts for even a few minutes, you’ll see that there is a lot of busy-ness up there in your head. In yoga, this busy-ness of the mind is called “monkey mind”. In the office or at home, it might be called “multi-tasking” – but whatever you call it, it can be wearing and exhausting for the mind and contributes to our stress levels. Meditation is a great technique to help curb this tendency. It is a remarkably simple technique that, with practice, all of us can learn. Though simple it is not  necessarily easy because of our tendency to judge ourselves and become uneasy when our untrained mind becomes still.

Here are three steps to begin your meditation practice that I teach in my meditation classes. My heartfelt thanks go out to two of my meditation teachers, Christopher Baxter and David Nichtern for helping me learn and master these steps.

1). Taking our Seat:

Sit cross-legged only if this is comfortable, otherwise it is far better to come to a kneeling position (with support) or to sit in a chair. Rest your hands on your thighs with torso upright but relaxed. Chin should be slightly tucked in toward your chest with the back of the neck feeling long and relaxed. Your posture should feel uplifted but not stiff. Your back should be as straight as possible with a feeling of rootedness through the sitz bones and tail bone, and a feeling of rising up through the torso and chest. Feel a sense of settling down and reducing your sphere of activity.

2). Placing Attention on the Breath:

Begin to pay attention to your breathing. Have a light touch here, not too intense. Just a relaxed focus on the breath going in and out of the body is all you need. Once you notice your awareness has shifted elsewhere (and it will shift elsewhere! – This is not a failure.) simply bring your awareness back to your breathing without judgement or criticism of yourself. Just keep bringing your awareness back to the breath as many times as you notice it is wondering away. Your focus is soft and relaxed, not hard and intense.

3). Labelling Thoughts:

When you notice you are thinking about something, just say to yourself, “thinking” and bring your awareness back. It is helpful to take a “democratic” approach to thoughts – ie., no more importance is given to one thought over another. So, whether you are thinking about what you are going to have for dinner or about climate change – it is all just labelled “thinking”. You are neither repressing your thoughts or focusing on them. You just label each thought “thinking” and come back softly to focusing on your breath.  As the body continues to settle down, your mind will as well. Be patient and loving with yourself, just like you would if your mind were a toddler that kept wandering off. Label that wandering off “thinking” and patiently come back to your breath. It is always there, waiting for you to come back.

If you need to move to restore circulation, go ahead and do that without any frustration or self-criticism. Fix the problem, resettle, and continue where you left off….focusing on the breath.

In future blogs, I will write about other techniques. For now, practice these three steps for 10 minutes every day for the next 7 days. Increase to 15 minutes the second week.  Finally increase to 20 minutes on the third week. There is no need for any expectations because all you are doing is making a date to be with yourself a few minutes every day. Nothing woo-hoo needs to happen, so don’t worry about seeing colours or having a peak experience. All you are going to do is sit quietly with yourself and observe the breath. Try it for the next 21 days with all my good wishes.

Death Is an Illusion – There Is Only Life

Not long ago was the four year anniversary of my dearly loved sister’s death. This prompted lots of thought about death in general, including my own death and the death of other people I love.

Lots has changed regarding how I think of death now as compared to when I was young.  While in my 20’s, there was often a swift thought in the back of my mind that coloured everything I did or even thought about doing. This thought was different versions of “Hey – you’re going to die anyway, so what difference does anything you do make? You’re just going to die anyway, so why bother?” I remember being in French class thinking, “I’m just going to die anyway, so who cares if I ever learn French?” I would dabble in yoga, and even though I enjoyed it, still this sentence was there….”what difference does this make”. Of course it didn’t stop me from living life, but it definitely put a damper on things.

Over a period of time, thoughts like these started to shift for me. I started having experiences and insights that began to illuminate for me that life is actually ongoing….that when someone “dies”, that death is an illusion because life is eternal. Can I tell you exactly what happened that was the catalyst for this change in thinking? Not in a couple of paragraphs. But even before I started an ongoing meditation practice, and after I proclaimed myself an agnostic, I had experiences that began to demonstrate to me that this continuation of life after one dies made far more sense to me than clinging to a belief that this human life is all there is.

When I discuss this with friends or family, there is a reluctance to open up and let ideas really flow about the eternal nature of life. Perhaps this is because so many zany faiths have told so many lies and made belief seem ridiculous. I remember telling someone after a particularly horrendous incident had occurred who was trying to comfort me with some statement about “God’s will” that any God who would allow such a thing to happen was a sadistic prick so it was better for Him that I didn’t believe in Him. Yes, it shocked the poor soul who was trying to comfort me – I’m sure that was my intention. Keeping in mind the huge deceptions that many religions have put out there regarding “God”, not to mention the many atrocities committed in his name, it’s not hard to see why a thinking, caring person would decide God doesn’t exist. I no longer believe that God doesn’t exist but I do not define God in the same way as my early training defined God. In truth I no longer believe that defining God or debating the existence of God is important or even helpful. My direct experience of the God of my understanding through seeking a more spiritual life has been helpful and illuminating; dogma has never helped or illuminated me in any way.

Death is an illusion – it is not real. It can be awkward to talk openly about this, probably because there are a few religions saying the same thing that also say lots of other things I cannot align with. However, over the course of my life I have had experiences and received insights which began to illuminate for me the fact that life is on-going and eternal. What looks like death is an illusion; your existence continues after death as you shed your body like an old set of clothes. The simple shift of perspective from death is the end of my existence to death is the continuation of my existence has made a huge difference for me. Suddenly it makes so much sense to get involved and participate in life, and the more involved I get the more interested and curious I get. Life has become more meaningful and even more fun for me with this consciousness of life. This realization of the continuation of life has brought me intimately close to the interconnectedness of all life in a way that my former unquestioned assumption in the reality of death never could. Death is an illusion. There is no such thing. Life is forever new and is always morphing into fresh expression.