Category Archives: Meditation

Meditation and Empowerment

bright sun and clouds

There always seems to be a lot in the news that can lead to anger, desperation and a feeling of hopelessness in all of us. It seems that there is little we can do to make the changes that we know must be made in our world. We feel the frailty of our efforts, our inability to fully understand our responsibilities, and even the ultimate frailty of our physical bodies and our minds. It may bring up the feeling that the teachings of the Buddha, of the Bodhisattvas and many other spiritual teachers is true: that all life is suffering.

This is true when we are so enmeshed in our transient lives that we forget the bigger picture, the picture of the Unconditional Love of which we all are a part.

There is a way that we can find a deeper inner power and responsibility, and a connection with the ultimate power of love. With the appropriate serious effort we can take our suffering and make it opportunity for individual growth and a state of maturity that leads to an experience of total well-being. That simple conscious effort that we can use for the discovering of our own personal power and a new level of possibility is meditation.

Meditation can open us up to the vitality and the innate intelligence that animates our bodies, minds and energetic capacities, making our well-being constantly available.

We are not a “thing”. We are a process, an “event” if you will. Our bodies and minds connect us to our total environment. We absorb information, interact and change. We adapt so that we can effectively participate in our own lives. It is an endless process of exchange within and around us. This exchange is empowering. It morphs the feeling of frailty into a feeling of loving potential that transforms our reality.

Meditation can simply be about rediscovering this way of being in the world and in spirit. It simply brings us back to the reality that we so often forget, the reality that is pure joy, pure awe. The reality of Life Itself. In many meditation practices, nothing is rejected; everything is an avenue, everything is nourishment, everything is God. Including ourselves. In this light, we can think of our meditation, indeed our lives, as God (who has manifested as ourselves) giving and receiving God through the mechanism of God. There is no other.

In terms of “changing the world”, all those around us are affected by the Energy that is all things. This is the energy that changes us, that brings us home. The more of us that participate in this reality, the more change will happen.

Your Attentive Brain

wonderous reading child

Being attentive

Your brain really thrives on getting information and paying attention

Curiosity, wonder and play are three of many ways we inspire our brains to open to new information. We want to learn, and we want it to be fun!

Attention, also referred to as focus or concentration, must be lovingly nurtured to marshal the effort needed to improve your brain’s performance. Your brain and body are in this together; the relaxation and focus of one naturally informs the other.

Attention in the mental sphere is akin to endurance in the physical sphere. Like an athlete, you can learn to focus your mental energies, but to do that you need to train regularly. And as most of us know , it is often challenging to garner the discipline necessary to establish a routine that will lead to your goals. Learning to meditate, for example, is a discipline and a challenge, but can also be engaging and interesting, encouraging you to want to do it. And it serves to establish a strong ability to focus in an open and relaxed way. It can inspire curiosity, a very important component in any kind of endeavor: it can involve your whole brain and body and move you forward into deep exploration.

Being awakemove into spirit

To be fully attentive, we have to be awake!
This is a fairly commonsense idea: if we’re asleep, we’re not attending to anything. When we’re awake, our attention depends on the degree of wakefulness. If we’re drowsy, day dreaming or stressed, we have decreased focus and attention. We have to be in a narrow continuum where we have highly focused and relaxed attention to look at and experience something and get all the details about it.

Being youngchild in leaves

Attention can improve concentration, frontal brain functioning, I.Q., sequencing, context, drive and executive control.

And it can also bring wonder! When your brain is attentive and focuses in a relaxed and open way, you can develop the innocence, curiosity and wonder of a child. When you meditate, your mind will move into something truly interesting, and so finding  the enthusiasm to continue is a natural result.

There are many ways to enhance attention (look at the end of my blog). Meditation training is one wonderful to do this. Research has shown that structural changes occur in the brain’s circuitry that enhance relaxation, focus and curiosity, helping to relieve us of our “creaky” brains and, in a way, become like little kids again. Personally, I love this!

 

Inattention

As a rule, we don’t realize when we are being inattentive. You can think of it as a “psychic blindspot”. Road accidents, for example, are usually a result of an inattentive driver or pedestrian. We think that we see more than we do, and that has consequences. Attention failures are rampant in our current culture, dominated by fast-response technologies. You’re sitting there thinking about something, and you fire off an email before paying attention to the consequences. Or you reach for your cell phone while driving on the highway at 70 mph, leading to an accident.

Multitasking

The biggest impediment to sustained attention in our culture is multitasking. First of all, multitasking is mostly a myth: we’re actually doing things sequentially, not concurrently. Interference effects with the use of the same channel dictate that I can only listen to so many conversations at one time. However, I may be able to listen to a conversation and read something simultaneously, because they aren’t interfering with each other.

It has been found that the more people multitask the worse they actually do. They become more distracted, and they have trouble distinguishing relevant from irrelevant information. There’s also a loss of organization and of the ability to think for oneself. We need to slow down and pay attention to think most efficiently and creatively—in a word, contemplate. Again, in this respect, meditation is our friend.

One of the greatest challenges that we face in our culture may be trying to enrich our powers of attention while accommodating our society’s increasing demands for multitasking. We have to do some multitasking, but we don’t want to drive away our attentional powers!

Some cool games

Here are some techniques to keep in mind for attention games: focus; using as many senses as you can; and putting the information in the form of an image if you can (the more dramatic the better).

Visual game. Look at a series of pictures rapidly. Then close your eyes and try to describe them. This exercises both your attention and your memory.

Auditory attention game. Try a game called “Clap Your Name”. Let’s say your name is Richard. Spell it out, R-I-C-H-A-R-D, by slapping your thigh for each of the consonants and clapping your hands for each of the vowels. For an added challenge, do it with another person or a group of friends.

Sustained and selective attention game. Quickly dictate into a voice recorder a long string of randomly selected letters and numbers. Later on, listen to them and tally only the numbers or only the letters. This works even better if you get someone else to read them for you: you respond by signaling only when you’ve heard either a letter or a number.  

 Divided attention game. Practice attending to two tasks at once. Rapidly tap your finger while attending to a news story on the radio, for example.

Processing speed game. See how quickly you can shuffle a deck of cards and break the cards into suits and put them in order.

Enjoy!! Make them fun! Get smart(er)!

CREATIVITY AND YOUR PLAYFUL BRAIN

happy hands

We all agree about the value of creativity, but until recently we knew little about the brain processes underlying it.You may know that the two brain hemispheres are specialized: the left is important for verbal and symbolic processing; the right is important for visual-spatial information and is involved with emotional perception and expression. Your brain uses the most appropriate hemisphere for a specific task, with assistance from the other hemisphere.

Creativity is based on three thinking patterns: verbal language, in which unwarranted assumptions can trip us up; music and math, which require an understanding of fundamentals: and visual thinking, many optionswhich is often the key to creative thinking by envisioning and manipulating information.

Mind wandering (a.k.a. daydreaming) is the mind’s way of powering down. There’s nothing wrong with it: mind wanderers tend to score higher on creativity. When your mind wanders, your brain’s executive centers are activated along with a default network. The combination of these two networks may explain the link between mind wandering and creativity.

So let your mind putter around for a bit so your brain is free to wander productively. But don’t overdo it. It’s best in small doses. You need to allow your mind to wander if you want to be creative, but you daydreamingalso need to catch the creative idea. Important contributors to creativity are sleep (with or without dreams) and meditation. Meditation allows your brain to relax and stay focused at the same time, to allow for deeper insight and creativity in your life.

Both creativity and divergent thinking involve fluency, which means rapidly producing multiple possible solutions to a problem; elaboration, which means thinking through the details of the problem; flexibility, which means entertaining multiple approaches to the problem simultaneously; and originality, which means coming up with ideas that don’t occur to most people.

The goals for divergent thinking are 1) to achieve a spontaneous, random, unorganized and free-flowing manner of thinking and 2) to loosen control of the left hemisphere and allow the emergence of less structured, non-verbal material to emerge from the right hemisphere. Meditation gives you the capacity to make giant steps in these directions. Brainstorming, mind mapping and free writing are also avenues to pursue.

 

Another way to enhance brain function is through creative play. Puzzles, word games, and humor are marked by uncertainty and ambiguity, which test our brains in unaccustomed ways. We tend to resist not having answers to questions that we are asked, which leads to premature closure—reaching a conclusion or accepting an explanation before examining the facts and the logical conclusions flowing from these facts.

I suggest that you embrace ambiguity as a means of enhancing your brain. Puzzles are uniquely appropriate for this. Here’s one: What occurs twice in a moment, once every minute, yet never in a billion years? Think in terms of the words and letters; moment, minute, and a billion years. The answer is the letter “m”.

Develop an interest in word games. We are verbal creature, and out brains thrive on words. As we learn new words, we expand our mental horizons word puzzles call on our left hemisphere, which mediates words and language.

Here’s a fun word puzzle: have a friend cut the words from the caption of a cartoon and rearrange them. See if you can restore the punch line by putting the words back in their correct order. Puzzles involving cartoons strengthen the brain’s ability to switch points of view and think about things in unusual ways. They also challenge the brain to work with ambiguity and uncertainty. As another word challenge, have someone cut and scramble the frames of a comic strip, and then see is you can rearrange them into their correct order. This exercise tests your problem-solving ability, sense of timing, and logic.

So how should we approach solving puzzles? First, just try something! Getting started mat be the hardest step. Even a wild guess is fine, because figuring out why the guess doesn’t work helps you decide where to focus your efforts. Second, persist! The biggest reason for not solving puzzles is giving up. If you feel you can’t persist any longer, then look up the answer. It’s okay: looking up the answer isn’t cheating but simply helping your brain learn principles that will be useful in future. Understand why the answer was correct, and then imagine how you might have gotten the answer yourself. You can also try setting time limits. The brain can almost always work faster if you ask it to.

Puzzles, riddles, and jokes enhance the brain by encouraging reasoning, logic, visual imagination, spatial thinking, working memory, and creativity. Equally important, puzzles, riddles, brainteasers and jokes are just plain fun!

 Brain Teaser

 Brain teasers can help you enhance concentration, visual thinking, and creativity. Here is one of my favorites:

You are in a room with 3 light switches that turn on 3 light bulbs in another room. You can turn on only 2 of the switches, and you’re allowed only 1 trip into the room to check which 2 light bulbs are on. How do you decide which switch turns on which bulb?

There is an unwarranted assumption here—a premature closure. The terms “light bulb,” “lights,” and “turn on” suggest a visual approach, but think about what other senses might be even more helpful in solving the puzzle. Touch, the most primitive sense, will actually provide the solution.

Have you come to a solution yet? Turn 2 switches on for 10 or more minutes. Turn 1 of them off, and then go into the other room. The bulb that is still lit is controlled by the switch you left on. Now touch the other 2 bulbs. The switch you turned off controls the one that is warm. The third switch controls the other light bulb.

Cool…

You’ve Got Brains!

How Your Brain Works
Never mind what I am actually saying here: just reading this will change your brain! This is not brainwashing: brains just do this! While you are reading these words, your brain is shaping  thoughts and images. You remember and associate what I’m saying with your experiences. Creative business concept  group of color speech balloons with questions isolated on white background
You’re forming new networks of ideas which are encoded in your brain’s circuitry. Right now!

 

Clear strategic solution for business leadership with a straight path to success choosing the right strategy path with yellow traffic signs cutting through a maze of tangled roads and highways.

There are many important processes of the brain that we can explore, each intricately connected to the others. We’ll stick to the three that are most commonly measured.
The first is Attention, the important gateway to many functions of the brain.
Attention is the coordinator of brain networks involving things like sensation, movement, emotions, and thinking. It is an extremely important part of our capacity for meditation, and therefore of ease and relaxation and a deeper level of consciousness in our everyday lives.
Our lives are filled with distractions and sensory overload, which makes it a real challenge to hold our attention steady on anything at all. But by focusing on one thing, as in meditation, getting in touch with the still yet dynamic center of all this competing stimuli, we can regain our personal experience of Life Itself. The practice of meditation offers simple techniques that lay the groundwork for this delicious connection to Spirit, in spite of what may feel like complete helplessness in the face of frenzy.

Further processes of the brain are only arbitrarily separated from Attention, and have far more scope than what we ordinarily think of as brain function.

Young business person working with a notebook

The second process of the brain is general memory. When we exercise our general memory, we activate and maintain widely scattered circuits throughout the brain. We might think of these circuits as being divided into three categories. The first is sub-personal (like sub-conscious and, in Jungian terms, the Collective Unconscious). The second is personal (ordinary,day-to-day memory and awareness), and the third is transpersonal     (the memory and awareness that happens “beyond our skin”).

The third process is a special kind of memory: working memory. This is often considered the most important mental operation carried out by the adult human brain. We use our working memory when we simultaneously keep multiple things “in mind” and mentally manipulate them. This is often equated with “ordinary reality”, but is activated in deeper states of awareness as well.

The act of attention and memory facilitates the formation, activation, and retention of circuits that contribute to the brain’s optimal functioning. In a way, we are the sum total all of our memories and attentions. Memory, both general and working, is a natural extension of attention and learning. All can be springboards to higher levels of function and awareness.

Properly done, the process of meditation can utilize all of these functions of the mind. When you meditate, your brain does not turn off. Rather, it becomes interested and curious. The mind doesn’t become “quiet”, it becomes “still” as it comes to be absorbed in a new level of the Source of all things, of Life Itself. The changes that happen in the brain during meditation create new, permanent pathways that inform your life, giving you resource and enhancing your personal power and freedom.

Whatever Dance, Whatever Game

move into spirit

If you will turn your attention inside yourself every day – if you will open your mind and heart to feel the flow of energy within you and to feel your awareness of it expand – then the issues in your life become no issue at all. Your notion of who is living your life and of who is motivating your body totally changes. Furthermore, your understanding and experience of the universal, creative power of Life in its highest sense brings you complete peace within yourself. It brings you a total acceptance of your life within the larger scheme of Life Itself, and a real appreciation for the opportunities you have to interact and communicate with this power in any form. Then, whatever dance you do, whatever game you play, becomes merely the arena in which you discover and express your interchange with this creative flow.

A Look at the Nature of Our Minds

balanced rock

The nature of the mind might be considered to be like the jumbled static you hear on a radio. Or the sounds of a lot of people talking at once, loudly, on the bus or in a frenzied day in your office. Or a crazy day in traffic. A lot of input, a lot of distraction, not much direction.

When you are influenced by that, and it’s hard not to be, you can become distracted, agitated and annoyed. It becomes difficult for you to concentrate. Try getting jostled around in traffic while you are trying to work out some intricate problem in your head. Not so easy.

This is the state that many people are in when they come into my meditation class. Their minds are scattered and all over the place. Most come in afraid that they will never be able to quiet their minds and meditate because they are pulled in by the cacophony in their heads.

But it is actually okay to have that static going on. It is a normal state for most of us, most of the time. But it is extremely hard to “quiet” the mind. It is like wrestling with a demon if we try to hit the issue head on. It only makes the challenge more difficult, because it draws our attention to exactly that which we are trying to get rid of. Energy follows thought, and what you see is what you get!

A better way to approach this situation is to thinking about “stilling” the mind. Think about the time you were in a noisy room, and you became involved in your really interesting task. When you are doing something interesting, the noise disappears and the mind calms and becomes attentive. Or think about being at a really engrossing movie: the distractions of life disappear into the story line. All your senses are filled and it is as if nothing more existed. It is effortless.

As you move into meditation, you will find that it is interesting and your mind will follow it and eventually become still. Notice. Be curious. It really doesn’t matter what state your mind is in when you begin your meditation. It’s just so much noise. Trying to fight that and make yourself quiet is like trying to tame a tiger. Don’t feed that beast. Paying attention to the breath or the mantra you are doing draws you into a dynamic stillness and gives your brain a rest that is easy to stay with. You are not trying to quiet anything. You are fully present, allowing your attention to follow something much more interesting than static and noise.

The Empowerment of Meditation

sunrise 1

Lately, there has been a lot in the news that has led to anger, desperation and a feeling of hopelessness. It seems that there is little we can do to make the changes that we know must be made in our world. We feel the frailty of our efforts, of our ability to fully understand our responsibilities, and even the ultimate frailty of our physical bodies. It may bring up the feeling that the teachings of the Buddha, of the Bodhisattvas and many other spiritual teachers is true: that all life is suffering.

This may be true when we are so enmeshed in our transient lives that we forget the bigger picture, the picture of the Unconditional Love of which we all are a part.

There is a way that we can find a deeper inner power and responsibility, and a connection with the ultimate power of love. With the appropriate serious effort we can take our suffering and make it opportunity for individual growth and a state of maturity that leads to an experience of total well-being. That simple conscious effort that we can use for the discovering of our own personal power and a new level of possibility is meditation.

Meditation can open us up to the vitality and the innate intelligence that animates our bodies, minds and energetic capacities, making our well-being constantly available.

We are not a “thing”. We are a process, an “event” if you will. Our bodies and minds connect us to our total environment. We absorb information, interact and change. We adapt so that we can effectively participate in our own lives. It is an endless process of exchange within and around us. This exchange is empowering. It morphs the feeling of frailty into a feeling of loving potential that transforms our reality.

Meditation is simply about rediscovering this way of being in the world and in spirit. It brings us back to the reality that we so often forget, the reality that is pure joy, pure awe. In terms of “changing the world”, all those around us are affected by this energy. The more of us that participate in this reality, the more change will happen.

Evolution and Change

aple

Individual change and evolution toward Spirit can often appear as a difficult and sometimes frightening challenge. We begin to let go of who we think we are, and move into…what? Yet this process can be delightful beyond imagining when we allow ourselves to touch upon, and be touched by our true nature, by divine Spirit.

My vision is to make this process accessible, understandable and joyful. Opening the door to a new way of being in the world.

The first step is to realize that we are already perfect, and have within us everything we need to grow beyond even our most precious dreams. Despite what we consider to be our imperfections and limitations, we actually have an innate intelligence that is more than sufficient to move us forward, beyond the issues and boundaries that hem us in. Indeed, we are, in truth, that astounding intelligence.

The issues we have may show up in the guise of aches and pains, depression or anxiety, an experience of malaise or dis-ease. We may feel thwarted in our wish to grow and change, contracted or isolated within the confines of how we experience ourselves and our lives.

But we have the capacity to experience our total health, and begin to fully live physically, emotionally and in Spirit.

As we begin to feel at ease with ourselves, we start to experience new ways of being in the world. Our physical and emotional “aches and pains” begin to lose their grip, and a new sense of freedom ensues. Now we are free to explore new and exciting frontiers. We develop the self-trust, curiosity and freedom to redefine ourselves in passion and joy.

We are a work of incredible art. And can be nourished, with the proper support, to live in our most precious being, full of grace and ease.

 

An invitation to Shamanic and Meditative Counseling and Instruction

Beginning September 30, I will be offering of a 6 week individualized instruction of Toltec Shamanic practice, and/or Tantric Kundalini Yoga instruction. Sessions will involve 1/2 to 1 hour sessions as needed. You may also receive on-going mentoring during the instructional phase, and after the initial 6 session instructional phase if you choose to continue your studies. Please email me at info@thebodyofspirit.com for more information and to sign up for your studies. You may sign up to begin after September 30, and still have the benefit of the 6 week instruction.

 

sunrise 1There is a dual method of counseling and instruction that creates a practical foundation of support that is very powerful and effective, in everyday life, or in your own inner work (which of course comes to define your everyday life!). Working with the energies of the life force, you can safely release old ways of being, and develop the heartfelt truth of your deepest nature that many traditions consider the movement toward enlightenment. You may opt to work with one or both of these techniques:

 

 Toltec Shamanism is a specific practice within the greater shamanic traditions. Like other traditions, it has been employed for thousands of years to relieve human suffering.

The Toltec teachings were developed in Mexico over 2000 years ago. It opens the door to becoming more intimate with our own sacred being, creating the opportunity for healing on any level: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It is a powerful, non-sectarian process offering specific tools for self-examination, re-collection and re-connection with all that we are. It allows for the awakening of the life force within us:

Shamanic Journeywork.  This is a ritual that invokes your personal energies, aligning the energetic with the emotional and physical bodies. The intent of this work is to align these aspects of yourself, removing blockages (“extractions”), bringing back and integrating parts of yourself (“soul retrievals”) and healing your energetic and physical bodies. This opens the door for greater well-being, enhanced physical and emotional health. Most people experience more ease in their lives, and an ability to move forward where there were obstacles in the way before.

Shamanic Counseling.   The opening and clearing of the energetic body leaves a rich opening for the resolution of issues, past and present. The intent of the counseling is to work through these issues, with the rich background of the shamanic journeywork and a method of work called “recapitulation”, the practice of which brings new clarity and the release of the issues in your life. Also using the techniques of experiential psychotherapy with the vision of Toltec Shamanism, you can work through these issues for greater awareness and quality of life.

Shamanic Instruction.   One of the beauties of journeywork is that it can be taught as a method to work with your own issues. With training and practice, you can become your own practitioner, with only occasional counseling for things that arise that cannot be easily resolved.

 

Kundalini Meditation is a process, also non-sectarian, to still the mind and open to Spirit. Its intent has many similarities to shamanism. The practice taught is an ancient form of Kashmiri Tantric Yoga, called Trika Yoga. It is an interweaving of many ageless traditions. It creates and develops a strong container for pure energy.

As you develop your practice, you awaken and renew your life on every level, bringing dynamic new vision, vitality and love. You become lovingly self-aware and also experience yourself as an intrinsic part of the Whole; a conscious drop of water in an infinite living ocean.

Kundalini energy is a dynamic and powerful life force that, when awakened, creates a strong, direct experience of divine energy. It invites the place for a pure, vital and healthy relationship with the unconditional love and power of Spirit.

The interweaving of these ancient traditions creates a seamless fabric, unfolding the tapestry of our most intimate and unique experience with the oneness of Spirit. In this work, we create a supportive, practical and deeply passionate space for ourselves and others; a space for compassion and unconditional love.

The Gift of Longing

monk and moon

Grace is a gift, our inherent right, a mysterious power which transforms the very structure of our experience. A first and important manifestation of this grace in our lives is any intense longing we experience. It is a true offering from Life Itself.

When such longing arises, however, we don’t necessarily recognize what is really happening. Usually, we identify this longing with the desire for some external object–a more fulfilling job, a better house, car or clothes. or a new and deeper relationship of some kind. We rush out to gratify one of these desires or another. There is nothing wrong with fulfilling our desires, but if this is all we do with our basic sense of longing, we are missing the basic gift of our lives: the capacity to live in Unconditional Love. We miss the boat. And we sink.

It is challenging to stay with our longing until we fully understand it, because it is painful to do so and we are conditioned to think of pain as bad: if we feel pain, something must be wrong. There must be something missing. Then of course we have to get a quick fix of something, The real issue with any longing, though, is learning to sit through it, to come out on the other side, and to learn something about where the longing itself originates.

When we do, that longing sets in motion something within us which, hopefully–and necessarily, if it is to succeed–leads us to feel a strong desire to discover authenticity in our lives. This is desire in its most profound sense. It leads us to turn away from what we begin to perceive as inauthentic experience. Then, our intuition that there must be something more to life, along with our desire to be authentic, leads us to look to  the deepest part of ourselves. It is our first step towards finding out who we already are.