Blog Posts on Mind and Meditation
- Honor as Medicine
- Let Distraction Be Your Guide
- Ancient Chinese Saying: Jus’ Keep It Real, Yo’!
- The Energetics of Ethics, Part II
- The Energetics of Ethics
- The Hidden Benefit of Exercise
- Yoga in Your Daily Life
- The Path to a Calm Mind for Perfect Health
- Health Through Accurate Perception
- Meditation Helping Veterans with PTSD
- The Therapeutic Power of Sincerity
Honor as Medicine
The power of Chinese medicine allows us the sensitivity, in diagnosis, to interpret thoughts and feelings in a way that allows us to lead healthier, happier, more fulfilling lives. (Hence, my dedicating my life to it.)
In doing this, Chinese medicine opens up a whole new world of health and healing, truly redefining what “medicine” means, to incorporate all aspects of life – Everything is both a reflection of, and contributor to, your health. Chinese medicine, thus, empowers the person in a major way.
And it allows us to view rather abstract, but very real, tangible, even, concepts like honor. We all know what honor means, but no definition, or collection of words, could ever truly convey the richness of its meaning. You know what it means by experiencing it; you know it simply by knowing it.
Take a second and explore the idea of honor… feel it and let it work into and through your body…
How does it feel? What’s your reaction to it? What’s the visceral, body-level definition of what it means to be honorable, to have honor, to act in honorable ways?…
To me, there’s a rooted power, a strength in genuine righteousness to it, a standing up for – asserting – truth when it isn’t easy, when the temptations to lower your head and cower away are almost overwhelming.
If you really take some time with the feeling, you may actually notice changes in your body. You may sit up a little straighter. You may stick your chest out, just a little though, and you may even relax a little and find a true comfort in this simple concept.
This response is real; it’s genuine, and it’s not based on any mental activity or analysis. It’s knowable through the basic nature of being human. You could say it has a certain intrinsic “energy” to it. That is, it’s real, but difficult to pin down.
Part of the gloriousness of Chinese medicine is its ability to take this very real experience and apply it to medical practice, to health and healing. You could say it gives useful meaning to these experiences of the human being.
And that idea of it having a certain “energy” to it is an all-important link between your direct experience and the system of medicine.
Over thousands of years (no one knows how many, exactly; most likely, at least, two, quite possibly upwards of five), Chinese physicians have collected, investigated, and cataloged these experiences, correlating them with the physical functioning of the body in health and illness.
And, most importantly, they passed on this information from generation to generation.
So what is honor in the body? What can it do for health? How is it disturbed in illness?
Ultimately, those questions are best answered through your own direct, personal experience. However, I’ll share a little of my own experience, combined with over a decade of studying Chinese medicine and its sister system of thought Taoism.
Honor is the spontaneous action that occurs upon alignment of deeper spirit with momentary thought-consciousness. It’s when you know something to be true – you simply know it - and you fully acknowledge that fact.
It’s when you admit to yourself, often in very, very difficult times that what you know is right is, in fact, right. And how do you know you are really honoring the feeling? When you spontaneously act upon it.
It is the aligning of the most deep sense of what’s appropriate, for lack of a better word, with what you consciously acknowledge.
Some mental exercises may help to draw this out. Think of some time you’ve had a very strong feeling. You honor it, by allowing yourself to fully experience it, without holding back and without judgement.
Now, think of some interaction you’ve had with another person and your feelings of the situation aren’t the same as what you may be putting on. Dating is a good example. Maybe the other person is more into you, than you are into them, and maybe you carry this on, for a bit, you know, to give the relationship a chance.
At some point the incongruence, the fact that your feelings and their feelings don’t match, becomes too big to ignore. You honor that person’s feelings, as well as the relationship (and yourself) by being honest and letting them know how you feel.
Honor, thus, is closely related to truthfulness and sincerity (in my mind, at least ).
Now, in bringing your conscious thoughts in line with what you feel deep inside, you dissolve a blockage, of types.
Again, if you think about it, there is a very basic feeling better when you get those little “lies” or untruths out of your body. I mean, you’re “fine” with ‘em inside, but, man, is it a relief to be honest with yourself. It’s almost as if you function better, more optimally or something, when you get your conscious, day-to-day thoughts and mind in line with what you feel and believe deep, deep inside.
The fact that this is a healthier way to live needs no further argument – It’s obvious.
Chinese medicine simply codifies all this into specific terms and concepts to help us when things get so complicated we can’t figure ‘em out so simply on our own and we need the help of a professional.
Chinese medicine also follows the evolving line of poor health from the mental state of hiding our feelings from ourselves to the poor physical well-being, impeded physiological functioning, that inevitably arises when cognitive-emotional obstructions persist over time.
As always with Chinese wisdom, all the above is so simple and obvious, yet simultaneously challenging and elusive to practice in the “real” world.
Good luck and enjoy the ride!
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Let Distraction Be Your Guide
By now, everyone’s heard of meditation. A lot of people have even tried it.
In my discussions with patients, one of the biggest challenges to meditation seems to be distraction. “I’m always getting distracted!”, they say.
In my view, distractions are great opportunities to increase the power and effect of meditation, and here’s why. Meditation is often used as a tool to calm the mind. In order to do so, we must come to know the mind – You can not control, much less conquer, that which you do not understand.
Where we sit cross-legged, try to empty our mind, then, inevitably, enter battle with the random mutterings and musings of intellect and imagination, we engage in a futile battle. After all, those thoughts and feelings are parts of you - Where you enter combat against yourself, you can’t win.
Instead, when a thought arises, realize it is from a source within you (most likely, an unknown source). As such, it is an emissary of the the very entity you wish to get to know better. Treat it as such!
When a “random” thought arises, sit back and watch it; allow it to tell its story. Don’t engage it, necessarily, but allow it to express itself – let it be heard. Within the message it shares, you will find guidance to a part of yourself, in fact, calling out for attention.
Every distraction is a voice, your voice. Listen, and, if upon receiving attention, it has nothing important to share, it will dissolve away.
But if it has a message, if it keeps popping up because, deep down, some part of you needs it to keep popping up, then, by giving it your undivided attention, you will learn something new of your own depths.
And once you get what you need, there will be no reason for you to find distraction in battle with yourself. You may, then, sit calmly in peaceful meditation.
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Ancient Chinese Saying: Jus’ Keep It Real, Yo’!
A NY Times article, brought to my attention by Tamara Hutchins, discusses some research done about the effect of either repressing negative emotions or forcing positive ones (1).
As you could probably guess by title of this post, fakin’ it, it turns out, just doesn’t work. And, I’d bet, most everyone already knows this.
I mean, we don’t really enjoy forcing a happy mood when we’re bummed, and, if we take a close look, a really close, introspective look, we actually kind of want to be in a bad mood, when we’re in a bad mood. Not that we enjoy it, but it just feels… more appropriate? It’s hard to put words to it, but it simply feels better to experience whatever mood you happen to be experiencing.
This, of course, is right in line with classical Chinese medical thinking. I like to think of the basic moods as like other, basic, bodily functions. We don’t like to hold it in, when we have to use the bathroom, and if forced, say for a doctor’s appointment, it’s quite difficult and uncomfortable.
Emotions are similar. In Chinese medicine, where mind and body are on equal ground, both understood as merely different avenues for expression of the underlying person, specific emotions are seen as reactions to stimuli, just as goose bumps are to a chilly gust of wind.
Negative emotions may be negative, but they’re not bad. They’re basic responses, fundamental ways of experiencing and expressing events in life.
Now, obviously, there are exceptions. Just as with any physical symptom, if a bad mood begins to dominate one’s life, take control and start altering behavior, then it needs serious attention, but, even then, it needs attention, not suppression.
And, level II Chinese medicine, if you sit and give attention to bad moods, instead of ignoring, repressing, or replacing them, they can be a boon of insight into life.
This is most easily seen with frustration and anger. Those are primal responses to overcome something that’s wrong in life. They are the righteous assertion of your deepest self where it’s being inhibited or blocked. We need that type of energy to overcome obstacles. It has an important place in healthy living.
When emotions are repressed, as was pointed out in the article, they just get worse. You can think of them as being like a warning light in your car; ignore it at your own risk.
In Chinese medicine, the experience of a wide range of emotions is a sign of healthy functioning of the being. It’s only when that free expression is prohibited that the emotion, truly, turns ugly and becomes actually destructive in life. (In a way, they’re just doing their job, fulfilling their role in your life and health – If you ignore a warning, that warning really should get louder and bigger.)
I love it when this wisdom makes it to the popular press!
1. O’Connor, A. The Claim: A Fake Smile Can be Bad for Your Health. NY Times, Feb. 22, 2011. Retrieved from www.nytimes.com/2011/02/22/health/22really.html
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The Energetics of Ethics, Part II
In the first part, we talked about how there is a basic, instinctive, negative reaction to violence and lying. I suggested that, maybe, the near-universal list of moral conduct, such as don’t lie, cheat, steal, etc., is actually based on fundamental human nature. That is, by instinct, by basic, innate nature, most would avoid doing those things.
I also linked the “violation” of this innate code with internal energetic blockages. When we break one of the rules, we feel it; we just feel bad, different and separate from rationally judging ourselves for having gone against some objective “right” action.
This bad feeling is a response to injury, just as cringing when we stub a toe. The injury caused by some immoral act is an internal obstruction of energy. I, personally, describe the feeling as a “kink”, or a wrinkle, one that I know, if I want to get rid of the feeling, I will have to iron out at some point (and, thus, I hate causing wrinkles).
In traditional yoga – a complete, fully comprehensive system of health and healing – the moral code is contained within the yamas and niyamas (technically, “abstentions” and “observances”). I believe they are part of a system of health and self-realization because of the importance of adherence to basic nature.
Health is a reflection of the body and being acting as they are designed to. Physiologically, health is the free flow of prana (something like energy, qi, in Chinese medicine). Where that flow is diminished or obstructed, disease ensues. As immoral acts obstruct that flow, they are unhealthy.
Hence, yoga incorporates the yamas and niyamas in the same way and for the same reason it includes postures and breathing practices. And classical yoga actually defines the “Eight Limbs” of yoga, which includes those practices, as well as the higher practices of meditation.
There’s an interesting twist we can put on things, here. As the yamas are the first of the eight limbs, and ahimsa, non-violence, is the first yama, it is suggested that that is the most important yogic practice (according to “Classical” yoga, as laid down by the sage Patanjali, in the highest written authority on yoga, the the Yoga Sutras
In following, practicing non-violence sets the foundation for the higher practices of postures and the highest of meditation. That is, the spiritual aspirant would avoid harming others (and self) just as they would practice the physical postures. It’s all considered yoga.
The twist, when understanding morals as basic to good health, is that any movement towards better health will result in more moral conduct. You can actually gauge progress, or state, based on the spontaneous actions of an individual. The person that just, naturally, is more kind and honest is, most likely, in better health.
This may seem a bit odd, but, again, when we realize that such conduct is a natural expression of the human being acting freely, according to their inner nature, i.e., when they are healthy, it becomes quite obvious.
Try another mental exercise. Imagine someone who lies a lot, maybe someone you’ve met, or maybe you have to visualize them. Think about watching them, or, if you can, walk in their shoes for a bit… How does it feel?
Pretty icky, if you ask me. They simple aren’t happy. The lies and deceit are a direct reflection of their unhappiness in life. There may be some very superficial and very temporary moments of feeling okay, tied to the the avoidance of pain implicit in deceit, but they are deeply unhappy people.
Now think of people that tend towards violence. Again, these people aren’t at peace. There’s fear, chronic anxiety or worry. The immoral conduct is an expression of their internal “off-ness”.
Now, think of the genuinely kind people. They just seem… healthier! There’s more flow, more glow. It’s, clearly, a better place.
And when you are forced to lie about something, you most likely feel bad about it. It may actually make you sick to your stomach, at least until you can apologize and “make it right”.
There is so clearly a connection between health and righteous actions. Yoga just made a point of putting it all together.
To take this one step further, and perhaps a bit more controversial… Think about the effects of past “bad” things you’ve done. Again, not things that you (or another) has judged as wrong, but the actually bad things you’ve done.
Are they still there? Are those things still with you? Do you still feel bad?… and the rough question – Have you actually buried some of those thoughts and feelings because they were so gross feeling and so persistent, you had to cover them up, forget them, or “move on”?
The therapeutic action of yoga, as well as acupuncture, is the opening up of obstructions. That is how they achieve their affect. Internal organ function is regulated by adjusting the flow of qi or prana through the system.
Where lies and theft block energy, they block that activity and cause harm; the system is derailed from proper functioning. It is very much like a wrinkle that needs to be addressed to be removed or, as is stated in the Chinese medical classics, like a stain that needs scrubbing or a knot that needs untying. That work is exactly what yoga and acupuncture are doing.
This simple unveiling of mind-body interconnectedness also reveals how psychotherapy can be so powerful. Speaking out loud about, opening up those repressed guilty feelings is – literally - opening up the flow of healthy energy through the body. You can feel it!
In more pure “religion”, versus philosophy, spirituality, or healing systems (a difficult differentiation to make, some times), there is the idea of “confessing” “sins” and the relief, release, and forgiveness that follows. At its core, is this any different than what we’re talking about in yoga, acupuncture, or psychotherapy?
It’s an interesting line of thought. There truly seems to be a fundamental, forgive the term, truth underlying all these various approaches.
In my studies of Taoism, specifically Complete Reality Taoism, it is said that the single most important concept or practice, above all exercises, meditative techniques, herbs, chants, etc. is sincerity. Simple sincerity. In all your thoughts and actions be sincere… so simple, but so, so powerful… Honesty, forthrightness, first with yourself, and with others.
Being true to yourself, to your inner nature, is the clearest path to health, happiness, and, apparently, enlightenment! What a fun journey!
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The Energetics of Ethics
There are some basic “rules” to life that most agree on, such as not hurting others, not lying, not stealing, and so on. In yoga, these are referred to as the yamas and niyamas.
Here, I’d like to take a slightly different angle on the how and why these are important. Specifically, I want to talk about why they’re important for health, on a very deep, energetic level.
Let’s take one that is foremost in the yoga tradition, ahimsa, non-violence.
I’d kinda like to pretend, for a moment, that we have no pre-existing ideas or beliefs about what’s right or wrong. It’s important, here, to suspend any mental conceptions about right/wrong, good/bad. Let’s drop it all and go with direct experience, immediate feeling without interference of thought or judgment.
Now, imagine you’re walking down the street, just taking a stroll, enjoying the warm weather and looking around at the gently swaying trees. You hear the screeching sound of tires, look up, and see two cars collide in the intersection – Stop – How do you feel? What’s that immediate reaction, inside?
Now, different day, imagine, you’re sitting at the coffeehouse, enjoying some peppermint tea. You get up to go to the bathroom and you accidentally bump into another person. You turn just in time to see their hot coffee splash all over them and the look of pain contort their face – What’s that immediate gut reaction you have? How does it feel?
For a twist, let’s say you just got yourself a nice, hot cup of coffee when someone scoots their chair right into you and you spill your coffee all over yourself. Immediately following the explosion of pain, is a flaring of anger. You yell at them and they shrink back in guilt – How do you feel?
In all of these, you were witness to violence of some sort. Without any thought or rational analysis of how you “should” feel, what’s the right or wrong way to feel, there was most likely a visceral reaction. Can you identify it? What’s the most basic, primal reaction, to seeing, or being part of, violence?
To help tease out what’s happening inside of you, we can look to another basic rule of life – to not tell a lie.
This can be difficult to work with, since, let’s be honest , a lot of people lie a lot. We’ve become sort of accustomed to whatever visceral reaction we may have to it simply because we’re forced to do it a lot.
But stop and think. Imagine you’re talking to a good friend. You actually lost that CD you borrowed, but it’s been a long day, and you really don’t want to have to deal with their reaction, so you tell them you just forgot it at home.
In that moment, that instant, how do you feel inside? Without any thought, what’s the feel?
In my opinion, (and, as you probably know, my opinion is highly biased towards interpreting everything in relation to health) these rules that seem to crop up in so many religions aren’t so much about avoiding any kind of punishment, or even to help everybody just get along (though, those may be nice side benefits).
To me, it’s about health. And, from health, enjoyment of every, any, thing else. These rules help you find and enjoy better health.
How? Well, that takes us back to your visceral reaction to violence and lying. Even if you can’t fully identify how it feels, I bet it just feels bad. It feels off. You kind of get that instinctive cringing feel.
I, personally, describe the feeling as getting a “kink” in you somewhere. Something kind of shuts down, or locks off. Lying creates a little blockage in you, somewhere. Being exposed to violence kind of locks up some of your energy.
Take a second and explore for yourself. There seems to be a kind of shutting off, shutting down… a kinking of energy.
Both in Chinese medicine, as well as yoga, health is based on the free flow of energy (to greatly simplify things). Organ function is dependent on not only physical energy to run, but the guidance that comes from that energy (qi, in Chinese medicine, prana, in yoga). Any disturbance in the flow of energy results in diminished function of the system. Over time, actual symptoms arise.
This all makes the most sense in traditional yoga, as it explicitly discusses morals, physical exercise, and health all in the same breath and links them all together.
In the traditional “Eight Limbs” of yoga, the moral code comes before the postures. That is, they are, arguably, more important, fundamental to the system and goals of yoga. You could argue that it’s pointless to clear the energy channels, through postures and breathing, if you’re just going to kink ‘em up by lying, cheating, and stealing.
Seriously, just imagine a great yoga class (or any physical exercise, if you don’t do yoga). Imagine how you feel after – free, open, relaxed, peaceful. Now, imagine seeing that car accident, or lying to your best friend…
It really jacks-up that good feeling, doesn’t it? At the very least, you have to do some rationalization to fend off or minimize that icky feeling.
So these things, to me, aren’t about following the rules, or doing what you’re “supposed” to do (I like that saying, “Don’t should on me”).
It’s about good health, which is, of course, the only way to really, fully enjoy life. Good health is the vehicle by which all other “good” things are experienced. It’s the one thing that acts as the funnel through which all worthwhile things are experienced – or blocked, diminished, or prohibited, depending on how well things are going…
So forget doing what’s “right”. Do what your body, your very being, just knows what’s best.
We’re designed to be healthy. As long as we don’t get in the way, health is what will happen. Perhaps all these philosophies and religions espousing these lists of do’s and don’ts are simply trying to guide us to act according to our own, true nature?… Hmm…
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The Hidden Benefit of Exercise
Everyone knows they should exercise, and they know, for the most part, why it’s so good for them.
There are some benefits, however, that I have yet to see anywhere in popular press. It may sound a little odd, but proper exercise leads to spontaneous insight into life and self. If your exercise regimen is truly healthy for you, mysteries of life and existence will reveal themselves. No joke.
One reason that may sound odd is due to the fact that exercise, in the Western world, is heavily touted as a physical event. That, plus the subconscious belief that mind and body are two different things, perhaps, with some connection, leaves us with the idea that exercise may release stress, but cognitive or emotional benefits pretty much end there.
Well, in the ancient studies of yoga and Chinese medicine, mind and body are understood, simply, as varying expressions of a common source reality. They are are much more like different qualities , such as the temperature and smoothness of skin, than two different things, like two different body parts.
This is most clear when it comes to the traditional understanding of exercise. For example, the yoga postures, as well as chanting, and breathing practices, were used as tools to calm the mind, with improvement in physical health a mere side effect. The goal was self-realization, not to lose weight (you simply lost weight on the way to enlightenment).
The same is true in the Chinese arts, such as qi gong (aka “chi kung”). Visualization, varying points of focus within the body, and constant presence of mind (“Focus, Daniel-son!”) are as much a part of the “exercise” as whatever the physical body is doing. The “goal” of qi gong is primarily mental and emotional, with physical benefits traditionally considered secondary.
“How”, or “why”, mysteries reveal themselves is obvious, from the physiological perspective of yoga and qi gong. As energy runs through the body, directing, guiding, and fueling all of the body’s various processes, so, to, does it run through the mental sphere, as thoughts, memories, emotions, and feelings. Energy is one, but can be experienced in different ways – physical or mental/emotional. (Really, it almost seems obvious, when you think about it…)
“Awareness”, then, that is, becoming conscious of something previously obscured is just like increasing circulation to tissues and parts of the body previously undernourished. One is the correlate of the other.
When you move energy to remove obstruction (the core premise behind the healing properties of yoga and Chinese medicine), you are opening not only physical blockages, but mental/emotional ones, as well. That opening of mental blockages is the very act of gaining insight.
It’s important to point out that these insights are, by definition, spontaneous. They, literally, just come to you.
That is to say, you don’t “figure things out” by “thinking” about them, while exercising. You exercise, with full concentration on the exercise, and these little epiphanies start popping in your head like popcorn.
Which leads to the other important point – You have to be paying attention to hear these insights. In traditional yoga and qi gong, your concentration was more important than the specifics of the physical aspects of the exercise. Just as the mind is affected in good exercise, it is prominent in doing the exercise. In truth, you’re understood as primarily training the mind.
For those who exercise while listening to music, watching TV, or doing anything else not only miss training the mind, but all the deeper benefits that exercise can bring. (The difficulty in stopping the habit of needing mental distraction while exercising indicates the need for such training of the mind that healthy exercise incorporates…)
For more on the benefits of exercise, as well as key indicators that your exercise regimen, no matter what it consists of, is healthy, see the exercise section of my website.
Here’s to your health!
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The connection between the body and the mind has received a lot of attention lately. Some are even going as far as claiming something much greater than a mere connection, that they are merely reflections of the same underlying reality, two sides of the same coin. But what does this mean, exactly? What’s actually being said, here?
This being a blog, I will only come at this from one angle and only touch on it briefly, but I think there’s a simple change in perception one could make to shed light on this mind-body concept.
First, let’s root out the source, the common thread to mind and body. Let me ask you this – What does everything you will ever see, ever do, ever experience have in common? If you traveled to every country, read every book, saw every movie, what one thing would remain the same?
It’s you, of course. No matter what you do or see, you are doing and seeing it.
Now, what or who do we mean when we say “you”? Think about yourself ten or twenty years ago. Are you any different? Do you look different? Do you think about things differently? Have you learned and changed over the years?
Some people would say they’ve changed drastically, perhaps they have grown up a lot. Maybe they’ve had life altering experiences that forever changed who they are.
So, then, if there’s the you, right now, looking back, and there’s the you of back then – two yous – there is, obviously, a third, the one seeing the two. Who’s seeing you, now, and comparing it to the you of yesteryear?
My point is there is a you, the one that is observing all these things, places, events, even changes of yourself over time, that is separate from all those things. We’ll call it the “witness” you, the observer you.
Importantly, this witness is not defined by character and personality traits. That was made evident by the fact that those things can change, quite drastically even, and, yet, there is still some you that didn’t change, that persisted through all the transformations (because had the witness changed along with those things, there would be no thread, no ability to recollect those changes. Only because they happened to you, can you remember them – that you is the witness).
We could even go a step farther, and maybe weirder, and talk about the you in your dreams. Talk about a completely different reality! You can fly, know, see, and do things that the waking you could only dream of! And, yet, there is still that witness to all of that. All that change, all that variation, yet through all of it this witness is present.
So we have this you, this witness. This is the common theme to mind and body. This witness experiences, but is not limited to either of these other things. Obviously, if you were to lose a limb, you’re still you. You are not your hand.
You’re not your mind, either. If you were your mind, you wouldn’t be able to sit and observe how crazy it can get. Whenever you notice yourself getting really upset, you are noticing yourself getting upset – There’s the you, witness, observing another aspect of self getting upset – the witness and the mind.
You are not the thinking mind, either. If you were, you wouldn’t notice when you start thinking crazy things, but you can. You can catch yourself coming to weird conclusions through poor thinking. You notice when you’re not making any sense – Witness you notices.
Now, you may confuse yourself for your body or mind. You may think you are this witty, handsome young gentleman, but you’re not. Sorry. You’re simply witnessing “witty, handsome young gentleman” (or, perhaps, dreaming). Such confusion is a topic for another post, however…
So we have this witness that is neither body, nor mind, but is, instead, this other observer. Once you realize this, the whole connection between mind and body may start to make more sense (now, who’s noticing it make sense? Sorry, getting carried away.)
Where the mind and body change over time, grow longer hair, get smarter, etc., the witness doesn’t. It’s like the center of a wheel; it’s stationary, while the wheel cycles around and around.
Now, I’m gonna switch terms, here, so stick with me. This witness you is consciousness, itself. It is the act of being aware of things.
Any time you experience anything, there is that aspect that is doing the experiencing and is not that which is experienced. You are reading this; there is that aspect that allows for you to read.
Maybe it helps to think of consciousness as a portal, an opening, through which you are able to perceive things. I know, we usually get really caught up in what’s seen. I’m trying to pull your attention to the act of seeing, itself.
As with the witness you, it is that which does not change, ever.
The body and the mind are two expressions of consciousness. One is more dense and concrete, the other much less so. One is more tangible, you can grab your leg, the other is a bit more elusive.
They are both vehicles for experience, and they both can affect you. A bruised elbow hurts just as a sad movie makes you cry. You are moved by both.
This is how, in one small way, they are the same. They are both carriers of sensation, of experience, for this other you.
Clearly, they are different, but, really, they are just two different approaches to doing the same thing. There’s a huge difference between my little Honda Civic and a high-end Mercedes-Benz, yet they are the same in that they are both cars, very different, but the same nonetheless.
Once we detach a little from the mind and body, realize they are not us, simply closely connected to us, we can see how easy it is for the two to affect each other. If I’m swinging a rope in one hand and a stick in the other, they may be different, but both react and respond to me (and, perhaps, affect me, should I get sloppy and whack myself in the head).
What you eat and drink will affect your mind, even though food is physical and is digested by the physical body, because the physical body is connected to consciousness. Mind and body are expressions of consciousness, so anything that affects it, will be reflected in both.
You could say the mind and the body are repositories for your experiences. They are both vehicles, avenues through which you experience sensation, as well as the physical and mental/emotional storehouses.
Have a physical trauma, and the body “holds onto it” for awhile, until it “heals”, all physical evidence vanishing. Have an emotional upset and the mind can be changed by it, just as trauma changes the physical body, until the mind heals from it.
As repositories, the mind and body can hold on to experiences. And here’s where health and yoga come into play. The holding onto, effected by mind and body, limit and obstruct having further experiences and the degree to which you can experience them.
Ideally, the mind and body are like a movie screen. They can effectively convey all the experience of life, a movie, yet, when it’s over, they hold on to none of it, they remain clean.
Another analogy would be like a computer screen which relays information from the computer to you. However, at least with the older computers, the images the screen shows can get burnt into the screen, leaving a shadow or ghost of it. This ghost, this latent image, obstructs your view of new information coming from the computer.
This is exactly what causes disease. Some experience did not pass through completely and cleanly. Mentally, old thoughts and feelings inhibit our ability to experience new emotions completely. The old distorts the experience of the new.
Physically, it’s much easier to see. Any old injury clearly limits your physical ability to do new things.
Health is opening up, cleaning out these old, latent impressions, these old experiences, and this is exactly what good yoga does (and why it’s so much better than typical exercise). It is designed, specifically, to clean out the mind and body. That good feeling you have after is simply a more perfect experience of reality, one less obscured by those blockages.
Over time, after enough clean up work, you can experience life like a child, everything new and exciting, finding tremendous joy in even the most simple things.
And because mind and body are one, you also experience improved physical health along the way.
Pretty sweet, huh?
Speaking of yoga, I must get to this class to go work with these students in “cleaning” ourselves so we may experience life more genuinely, perfectly, and beautifully…
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Yoga in Your Daily Life
In teaching yoga classes these last couple of weeks, I’ve been reminded that a yoga class is, really, just an opportunity to focus on yoga. It’s a time you set aside to dedicate to just practice.
Ultimately, yoga is something you can incorporate into everything you do. Every moment could be yoga. And it would only improve the quality and efficiency of whatever (else) you’re doing.
This may sound weird, but it makes sense – perfect sense. Yoga is a system, a comprehensive collection of diverse practices, designed to facilitate self-realization (or, as I like to think of it, perfect health). At the core of all yogic practices is presence of mind – powerful, unwavering, well-honed presence of mind.
Yoga is, ultimately, about training the mind. All the many, many practices are designed to clear and calm the mind, and to increase your ability to attain and maintain perfect concentration. It’s all about developing perfect presence of mind, and this is something that we can do every single moment.
Another way of looking at it is that yoga is about mindfulness. Most of the practices we mentally associate with yoga, such as the postures, the breathing practices, and the chanting, etc. are designed to clear the mind. Postures and breathing practices work directly to open and clean the energy channels of the body, which allows for a calm mind, and practices such as chanting work directly to clam the mind and bring it to a point of focus and peace.
But those are only tools to get you to the goal – a pristine state of mind. Really, we could use anything to help us get there; we can turn any activity into a yogic tool to still the ceaseless fluctuations of the mind. And the odd thing is that the trick to do this is to simply focus more on whatever you’re doing. It’s that simple (as simple as that is…)
Whatever you find yourself doing through out the day, try to empty your mind of any extraneous thoughts or wanderings. Use the activity, the task at hand, as an anchor, grounding you in the moment. When the mind drifts off to something else, bring it back. Train yourself to laser-like concentration on whatever is before you.
You can also use your work to cleanse your mind of useless, meaningless worries and thoughts. Burn through those incessant, but purposeless mental flutterings with the fire of unwavering focus and attention.
Likely, whatever you’re doing has parameters within which it must be accomplished. Use those as you would alignment cues in a yoga posture. Adhere to them, not because your boss said to, but because it makes great practice for disciplining the mind.
Practice staying on task – especially when you don’t want to. If a required activity bores you, great! Consider it a challenge, the surmounting of which will make you all that much more powerful and better able to control that monkey mind of yours! (No more being bossed around, controlled by, at the mercy of every whimsy of the ever-meandering mind – Freedom is yours!!!)
None of this will be easy, but, seriously, consider it training. Think of it as a workout, not for bigger or more toned muscles, but to cleanse the mind, allowing it to find that peace you usually only feel after a really good yoga class.
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The Path to a Calm Mind for Perfect Health
In its core text, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, yoga, one of the oldest systems of health on the planet, is defined as “the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind”. Likewise, within the core text of Chinese medicine, the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, the highest state of health is explained to be achievable by calming the mind, keeping it free of desires and the control they exert over one’s life (and, thus, health).
But what, exactly, does that mean, and how do we do it? A huge topic, I’d like to try and keep it simple, beginning, first, with a useful definition of “mind”. Let’s think of the mind as being all those thoughts constantly running through your head. You may be actively “thinking” them, or they may just be off, running around on their own.
There’s a very important distinction I’d like to make, right at the beginning. It may or may not immediately make sense, but bear with me. There are the thoughts, the little stories playing out, in our heads, and, then, there is the awareness of them, itself. There is someone or something that is behind that awareness, and that someone or something is not the thoughts. There is the awareness of the thoughts, and the thoughts, themselves. (There, clearly, has to be; if there are thoughts, who’s noticing that?)
The ultimate goal, as I understand it, of both yoga and Chinese medicine is to calm or “still” that constant mental activity. What (or where) does that leave us? Emptiness? A void? What is there when there are no thoughts? From the above paragraph, it becomes evident that when there is no mental chatter, there is only awareness, pure, unsullied, unobstructed/distracted/blocked awareness. That is the essence of health.
Disease, is, in some way, a result of obstructed awareness and as well as a cause of blocked awareness. Any health system, that is focused on attaining health (as opposed to fighting disease) should have this idea at its core.
So the goal, then, is to minimize the mental chatter, so that you can be fully aware of, and, thus, fully engaged in, life. I mean, if you’re here, but missing life, what’s the point?
That’s the “what”. Now, for the tough part – How do we do this? Ask anyone, and they’ll likely tell you they can’t control their mind. It does its own thing. They can’t turn it off. This is extremely common. The mind truly seems to have a mind of its own. And it never stops. (Understanding that may begin to help one understand how it is the uncontrolled, constantly active mind that is behind all disease.)
There is a very simple answer to how to tame the mind. Practice. Truly, that’s it. However, as that is exceedingly difficult, many systems of been developed to help people do that. Both yoga and Chinese medicine are full of them.
I, personally, am actually a little averse to the complexity and volume of all the thousands of individual practices there are to help people tame the mind. All too often, I see (and apparently this has also been going on for thousands of years, because there is extensive record of this occurring) people get caught up in the complexity of the practice or technique and get completely side-tracked from the original goal. This is dangerous, because it begins genuine, but ends up being quite deceptive.
So I like to keep things simple. The trade off is that I ask a lot of the individual. You really have to want it (as clichéd as that is). The goal is tame the mind, calm all the activity, reduce the substance of the mind to that simple, basic awareness. The difficulty comes in distraction and inability to hold focus. Things (thoughts) either really want to pull you off (eg. distractions of a thousand sorts), or you have difficulty holding on, holding focus.
So let’s keep the goal clear, and the techniques very simple and directly aimed at the goal. For distractions, acknowledge them, then return to focus, and for maintaining focus, keep the mind “aimed at” the breath, follow your breathing. And persevere.
You can do more. You can get extremely complex in how to wipe the mind clear, but if you lack the basic ability to notice distractions and then return to focus, all efforts to wipe the mind clean will be wasted. It’s like using drugs, of any sort, to make you feel better. Fine, but if you can’t get there without them, you are, ultimately, lost, a slave to the drug.
You can pick any number of objects to focus on, to help you train to maintain focus. There are all kinds of pictures, images, diagrams, symbols, words, sayings, etc. to think about. But, again, the goal – let’s always keep the goal in mind – is to have a clear mind, with only awareness present. If you use any image or symbol as a focal point, you will, ultimately, have to cleanse yourself of that very image or symbol. It is extremely easy to allow a tool to become a crutch that leads to you becoming dependent on it (and, again, this has occurred with millions of practitioners, of many systems, over thousands of years.)
My answer – Add as little as possible (so you have less to remove). You’re already breathing, so, hey, focus on that. Besides that, focusing on the breath causes a whole cascade of other benefits, that we won’t discuss, here, because our goal is a calm mind and nothing else, but they also offer assistance.
That’s it. Yes, it is hard. But it is an honest and direct path to the end goal. If health truly is what you want, this is an excellent approach.
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Health Through Accurate Perception
A running theme of my posts related to achieving maximum health has to do with the state and focus of the mind. In a recent post, I spoke to the importance of sincerity, or being honest with oneself (The Therapeutic Power of Sincerity), and in one of my first posts I spoke about the importance of paying attention (The One Rule). When you combine these two general ideas – honesty and paying attention – and mix in a related term caring, I think you have the all the makings for the ideal vehicle to perfect health.
This is nothing new. This is, exactly, as far as I’ve seen, what the core of many philosophies and religions point to. Look, investigate, focus, pay attention, be very honest with what you see/find, and care about wanting the truth. That’s it. That’s all you need, to succeed in health or anything else.
Sounds way too easy, but I challenge anyone to practice this for even one day. How often are we not even paying attention? How long can we maintain focus on any one thing to really investigate it? How often are we truly honest with ourselves, and how often do we accept little lies, or little deviations from truth? And, perhaps most importantly, do we really care about getting to the truth, or do we accept approximations at every turn? I dare anyone to try not accepting ‘close enough’ in investigation into the nature of any one thing.
This is one of the greatest secrets that everyone knows (that is, no one would really argue with), yet, still, somehow, goes unknown, unacknowledged. Most of a person’s life and world is not real. Again, there is little argument to this. Rarely, very rarely, do we actually know, for sure, any single aspect of our life. We accept loose approximations.
We make hundreds, if not thousands, of assumptions a day. We base decisions on these assumptions; we pretend they are real. And, when reality asserts itself, and our assumptions turn out to be false, we suffer. We suffer because we forgot we were relying on an approximation, a statistical probability (something was “likely” to happen), an assumption, we confuse reality for that creation of ours, and when reality happens it shocks us, it traumatizes us a little.
We expected something to happen and it doesn’t. We acted as if something was true, and it turns out it wasn’t. It’s as if we were leaning on these things, then when we needed them, they were pulled out from under us, sending us crashing to the ground in a “rude awakening”.
Importantly, we suffer not for making assumptions, but for confusing them with reality. Where we maintain full awareness that we don’t really know something for sure (most commonly occurring in something, like an event, that is less “likely”), we don’t take it too hard when it turns out it was false. When we rely more heavily on an assumption (when it’s more “likely”), we’re a little more shaken up.
It’s when we simply mistake our belief for reality, where it really hits hard. A lot of the time we are not, and never were, fully conscious of the fact that we mistook a false belief for reality. That’s when it gets dangerous. When you don’t even see it coming. When you had no idea. You become dependent, you not only lean, but sit on a false assumption, only to fall on your butt when it’s revealed to be false.
There is another way misunderstanding, or false awareness, causes suffering. It can simply block connection to reality, which acts as the source of who you are. Being blocked from it is tantamount to being cut off from your deepest source of health, happiness, and energy. As an example, think of someone who suffered some emotional trauma as child, that left them feeling worthless. Not only will that false belief likely cause poor choices in their life, leading to health issues, but the belief, itself, actively cuts off that person from a potential well-spring of happiness and well-being.
This is the source of all suffering, the origin of all disease – false beliefs, mistaken, un-investigated beliefs about ourselves and the world.
This is worth mentioning because this acceptance of non-truths, this lack of desire to truly want to know what’s real, what is actually real, seems to be extremely common, standard, in fact. One of the best examples I can think of is science. Science is generally understood to be a pursuit of truth. That is its very definition, the pursuit of truth. And, yet, the vast majority of science openly, knowingly accepts approximations as “good enough”.
I am speaking, specifically, of physics, arguably the hardest of the “hard” sciences. The known and accepted truth of modern physics can be found in quantum mechanics. Meaning, everything that happens, happens according to the laws of quantum mechanics – Everything. It is the way the world is (to the best of our understanding, at this point).
Yet, what many of us accept as “true”, such as,
- causality (one thing directly causing another and, importantly, allowing for the ability to accurately predict the outcome of actions),
- the existence of “things”, parts, or pieces (of anything being separate from anything else, and of the world being composed of these little parts),
- objectivity (the thought that there is something “out there” separate from any observer, and the ability to separate observer from that which they observe),
- the one-way flow of time,
- the rule that things can’t just simply appear out of nowhere and disappear into nothingness (the “law” of conservation of matter), and
- the idea that two things separated by space can’t affect each other instantaneously (somehow communicating at faster than the speed of light, which is “impossible”)
fail in quantum physics (Bohr, 1987; Bohm, 1951; Heisenberg, 1958; Feynman, 1985; Gribbin, 1998). These things aren’t true. Scientists have been forced to “renounce” classical causality (Bohr, 1987) and admit that the idea of isolating any “thing” from its given context is impossible; there’s no such thing as “things”.
Quantum physics incorporates the theory of quantum electrodynamics (or QED), which has been called the “most accurate scientific theory ever developed” (Gribbin, 1998, p. 4), and that’s no no small statement. QED has generated predictions that match experiments done in labs more closely than any other theory, and quantum physics has explained more observed phenomena than any other. It came into existence by its very ability to explain observed phenomenon that classical physics could not. It’s the best, most accurate set of theories we have. And it denies all the above truths most accept as accurate.
I’ll let physicists say it. David Bohm (1917-1992), quantum physicist, one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, and formerly Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of London, has said this:
“In the last analysis all processes are, of course, quantum-mechanical in nature, but there are many processes involving relatively large objects and, therefore, a great many quanta, where a precise description down to a quantum level of accuracy is not essential because the interesting features of the system do not depend critically on the transfer of a few quanta more or less. Such processes can most conveniently be described in terms of classical theory alone.” (Bohm, 1951, p. 165)
“The entire universe must, on a very accurate level, be regarded as a single indivisible unit in which separate parts appear as idealizations permissable only on a classical level of accuracy of description. This means that the view of the world as being analogous to a huge machine, the predominant view from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, is now shown to be only approximately correct. The underlying structure of matter, however, is not mechanical.” (Bohm, 1951, p. 167) (Emphasis added)
Niels Bohr (1885-1962), another physicist and father of quantum mechanics, also winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, in 1922, has said:
“In both cases [the theory of relativity and quantum theory], we are concerned with the recognition of physical laws which lie outside the domain of our ordinary experience and which present difficulties to our accustomed forms of perception. We learn that these forms of perception are idealizations, the suitability of which for reducing our ordinary sense impressions to order depends upon the practically infinite velocity of light and upon the smallness of the quantum of action.” (Bohr, 1987, p. 5)
“.. the limits imposed upon the application of these concepts [of classical physics] are naturally determined by the extent to which we may, in our account of the phenomena, disregard the element which is foreign to classical theories and symbolized by the quantum of action.” (Bohr, 1987, p. 16)
And Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976), for whom the “Uncertainty Principle” of quantum physics was named, also a Nobel Prize winner (1932) for his work on quantum mechanics has said:
“In quantum theory the physicists had to learn rather early that the terms of classical physics describe nature only inaccurately, that their application is limited by the quantum laws and that one therefore should be cautious in their use.” (Heisenberg, 1958, p. 116-7)
What I’d like to emphasize in the above is the typical way of seeing things, referred to above as “classical theory”, the idea of individual “things”, the idea of these things causally affecting one another, is only an approximation (or idealization, that is typically “disregarded”), not the way things actually are.
The general idea when considering both quantum mechanics (QM) and classical physics (CP) (or the way most people think of the world), is that QM is more accurate (a more successful theory), but appears as if it isn’t (counters what most would accept as normal; has been, in fact, referred to as “absurd” and “irrational”) and can be treated as if it isn’t, in typical day-to-day activities. This is because in all the millions of events occurring on the QM level (atoms, molecules, and smaller) the weirdness of that world is effectively lost. We don’t see it with our eyes and typical attentiveness. For all intents and purposes, or said another way, for all usefulness in living your day-to-day life, the classical way of seeing the world works just fine. (A good example of this is the fact that atoms comprising any solid object, like a table, are mostly, by a large degree, empty space, and, yet, appear very solid; you can’t push through a solid piece of wood despite the fact that it’s mostly empty space.)
But classical physics, the typical way of seeing the world, is wrong. We know this. Scientists know this. We can get away with pretending the world is made up of different pieces, and they all interact in a predictable way, or at least we can try to, but, as is my main point, this is ultimately inaccurate, and we pay for falling for these delusions through suffering, disease, and death (death is actually required by these false beliefs).
In my last post about sincerity I talk about being sincere in all you do as being the most powerful thing you can do for your health. That’s because, if you pay attention, and if you care enough to not accept approximations, you will see the truth (“Seek and you shall find”). If you pay close enough attention, you will see through the veil of illusion we all accept as reality.
This is exactly what is being stated with quantum physics. Classical physics gives us usable approximations; we can land on the moon with classical physics. It’s good enough. But if you look more closely, literally, if you look not just at the book on the table, but if you investigate to deeper depths, to the depths of molecules, atoms, and sub-atomic particles, if you look that closely, then you see the truth, the truth of quantum physics.
Yogis and Taoists, as well as practitioners of many other traditions, look closely through meditation. Physicists look closely through repeated experiments and investigation. Either way you get the same message – The world is not as it appears. The “world”, as most think of it, is an illusion, an approximation. If you confuse the false for the real, you suffer. That is, in fact, the source of all suffering. See through the illusion, see the truth, and all suffering ends. You are “liberated” from the binds of the false. You awake, are awakened, to reality. This is health. This is why I go on and on (and will continue to do so).
It’s simple – just pay attention. But actually pay attention. And care about what you see. Don’t accept something if it isn’t right. Don’t stop at “good enough” or “well, it’s what everyone else sees/thinks”. The Emperor is naked. There’s no need to call it out, but avoid falling for the lie. Don’t allow yourself to be deceived. Question whether you should go leaping off the cliff just because the crowd is doing so – Look, and see it looming just ahead. Look. Just because everyone else is rushing towards it, does not mean you have to follow suit. Look. You will see. And when you do, you will automatically slow down. All you have to do is look and see, and your basic instincts will kick in. You don’t have to try or “do” anything. You don’t have to “know” “what to do”. It all happens automatically. That’s how you are designed. Just look. And care. And persevere in looking and caring.
Difficult? Most definitely. Almost impossible. But this is exactly where Chinese medicine comes in. Helping you “see” is what medicine is, at its deepest level. At the surface level, where most medicine is practiced (Eastern or Western), the damage done from actions based on not seeing, or simple deterioration of the physical through not being in contact with the real (the source), is fixed. “Symptoms” are indications you are “off” in a big way. You’re so far off, your body is actually failing. (It’s not designed to – It’s happening because something is wrong.)
Making a symptom go away is part of medicine, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg, which should now, after having read a couple of these posts, be obvious. Once the overt symptom is gone, it must be investigated as to how and why it came about. For example, what lifestyle choices led to it? And on a deeper level, what basic beliefs led to those choices, that led to those actions, that resulted in the body failing or taking damage. If this is not addressed the healing is incomplete. The medicine has not been administered correctly.
Symptoms grab attention, so one can pay attention, so that one can look and see. Hopefully, one, then, cares enough to pursue, to pursue through simple pain alleviation to get to the source, the root of the issue. If not, the body will eventually get to a place, again, where attention is called. Then, once again, one is drawn to look, and, hopefully, see and care.
In the case where one is paying attention and caring, one may still suffer from being a little lost or confused. Perhaps that inner instinct isn’t felt. That is also due to obstruction. It is a main sign of obstruction and is ‘treatable’. For example, one of the main signs an exercise regimen is ‘right’ or proper is that it leads to spontaneous insight into life (see the section on exercise on my main website). Such insight is a basic mechanism of health. That insight is that instinct being experienced consciously. If you’re not experiencing it, that is, by definition, a sign of less than perfect health. Thus, it can be treated.
Pay attention. Look. Eventually you will see. Don’t accept illusion, approximations, “close enough”, or what everyone else sees. Search for and question basic assumptions. Seek truth. Act truth. Speak truth.
It is not easy, but there is nothing more worth doing.
Bohm, D. (1951). Quantum Theory. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.
Bohr, N. (1987). Atomic Theory and the Description of Nature: The Philosophical Writings of Neils Bohr, Vol. I. Woodridge, CT: Ox Bow Press.
Feynman, R. (1985). QED [Quantum Electrodynamics]: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Gribbin, J. (1998). Q is for Quantum: An Encyclopedia of Particle Physics. New York, NY: The Free Press.
Heisenberg, W. (1958). Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
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Meditation Helping Veterans with PTSD
You could say I 'lucked out' in my years in military service. Though I carried a rifle every day, with the understanding (and training) that I may have to use it, I never did. Nor did anyone use one against me. It was all only ever training for me. Unfortunately, not everyone who served is so lucky.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that occurs after an event that caused someone to fear for their life, see horrible things, and feel helpless (1), affects as many as 19% of Vietnam veterans (2) and upwards of 17% of those who saw combat in Iraq (3).
There are different ways of treating PTSD , including Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and, linked below, is a video demonstrating the use of iRest, a type of guided meditation (4) being employed to help a group of veterans.
iRest has been brought to my attention by Karin Bustamante, E-RYT 500 (www.karinyoga.com), a yoga teacher and practitioner of iRest yoga nidra and it is described as:
"an evidence based transformative practice of deep relaxation and meditative inquiry that releases negative emotions and thought patterns, calms the nervous system, and develops an inner sanctuary of well-being and equanimity that underlies all circumstance you may encounter in your life." (from the home page of the Integrative Restoration Institute (IRI, www.irest.us)
Having experienced a taste of yoga nidra, I can say it is a uniquely profound vehicle for helping one access all levels of the psyche, where both pain from past traumas, as well as genuine peace can be found. What I, personally, appreciate in the practice is the idea of welcoming all experiences and emphasis on self-inquiry.
Welcoming thoughts and feelings, whether they be 'good' or 'bad' may sound unusual (don't we want to 'get rid of' bad thoughts?), but perhaps that is the genius of it. It is a fundamental contention of my understanding and practice of medicine that, ultimately, truth eases all suffering; the search for reality - the direct experience of what is real - is the most grand path to health, happiness and peace.
Yoga nidra, to my experience, is a guided tour through all aspects of 'you', down to the deepest depths where 'you' meld with... well, everything else. This directed self-inquiry, in my opinion, offers the highest path to healing by leading you to, and through, all internal pains, struggles, and past traumas (the 'leading to' is where the welcoming of experiences really comes in handy; if you don't, you can't move through it to experience the original, most sublime, peace at your core).
The application of yoga nidra, through iRest, makes absolutely perfect sense for our combat vets, who saw and experienced events no human should have to suffer. I am very happy to see this medicine meet those who will benefit so greatly from it, and I am excited to share the experience with you!
Here's a link to the five minute video:
1. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Retrieved from www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/what-is-ptsd.asp
2. National Center for PTSD, PTSD Research Quarterly, Fall, 1990. 1(3), p. 2. www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/newsletters/research-quarterly/V1N3.pdf
3. Hoge, C. et al. (2004). Combat Duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mental Health Problems, and Barriers to Care, New England Journal of Medicine, 351(1), p. 13. Retrieved from http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMoa040603
4. iRest, short for 'Integrative Restoration', employed by the Integrative Restoration Institute (IRI, www.irest.us), is a 10-step protocol based on the 4,500 year old practice of Yoga Nidra.
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The Therapeutic Power of Sincerity
Though plenty of theory and the collective wisdom of generations of practitioners supports the statement, I want to speak based on my personal clinical experience when I say the single most powerful thing you can do for your health (and happiness) is strive for sincerity in all you do.
In a way, it is that simple.
The most profound thing one can do for the betterment of all aspects of their life is be honest with themselves - truly, truly honest with themselves.
Again, I am speaking from direct, personal experience working one-on-one with patients, when I say this. Something about human nature tends to make us doubt what we know to be true. I always struggle for the right word when I go here, but we have a basic, innate "wisdom" (knowingness, awareness, knowledge?...) It's just part of our make up, as human beings.
Examples of this that I've used in the past are the body's basic healing abilities. Emergency medicine really taught me how deeply intelligent the body is, by design. Any injury brings this to light. Cut your arm and blood will automatically begin cleansing and clotting the wound. Break a bone and the surrounding area will swell, effectively splinting the injury, preventing it from movement that may cause further injury.
These are obvious and easy to point out. It's a little more difficult once you get to injuries of a more psychological nature, but I assure you the same basic, self-healing mechanisms are there. The being is simply designed to be healthy and happy, and when it's not, there are mechanisms of all sorts to step-in and right the self.
The trick is to make room for, allow them to do their job. As with a physical injury, the instinctive response is a guide to how to heal. We cradle an injured limb, rub an area that's been struck. We 'know' what to do, and when we follow that wisdom, we begin down the path to better health and greater happiness.
In the deeper realms of emotion and cognition, that "allowing" and "making room for" instinct is what I mean by sincerity. It's tapping into - being honest with - what you know you need to do to be healthier and happier. With patients in some of life's most difficult circumstances, I urge them, plead with them to do what they know they must. The instinct and wisdom is there. We just have to listen - to be honest with ourselves.
An alternate title to this post was "The Therapeutic Power of Keeping it Real", obviously a different wording to the same basic idea. In keeping with that other title, I will say the actual practice of sincerity is not as easy as the above makes it sound. Somehow we talk our selves out of what we know to be true and right. Over time, we get to a place where we've been going against natural instinct for so long we're in a pretty bad spot. Such spots may be bad in an emotional way or physical (This is where disease originates).
No matter the nature or severity of the bad space we've entered, the way out is always clear and simple (to understand, anyway). Keeping sincerity at the top of the mind in all we do is the path out of even the darkest place. It is, in fact, the only path out. (This being a great place to deceive and lie to ourselves - 'Just this one more time, I'll take this little shortcut...")
That basic drive towards health is always present. We never actually want to be in a bad place (though apparent paradoxes may present at certain times - just keepin' it real). And we always have that voice of instinct; we may just have to quiet ourselves to hear it.
And there's the real tricky part. We have that basic intelligence and then we have the analytical mind. For some reason, the mind has been elevated to the highest authority in life. The "right" decision is the one that has the strongest rational argument behind it. Somewhere along the line, we've forgotten that logic is a creation of the mind, not reality. The correlation between reality, "as it is", and logic may be close, but it is not perfect - reality is not completely logical. This is proven to any person paying close attention for even one day. We are constantly faced with events and situations that "make no sense", i.e. are completely illogical, and, yet, still somehow happen in the real world.
This is the basis of science, the attempt to make sense out of the world, reality, around us, and this is why any self-respecting scientist must always bear in mind that theories are only models of reality, not reality itself. One of my favorite Einstein quotes speaks to this:
"Physical concepts [ideas, theories, conceptualizations] are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavor to understand reality, we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears it ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious, he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility of the meaning of such a comparison." (Albert Einstein, from Einstein and Infeld (1966). The Evolution of Physics. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, p. 31)
"Opening the case" would be complete, accurate logical analysis (of anything). That is not possible. The mind is, literally, incapable of actually, truly "knowing" anything. All facts are based on assumptions. All our theories, including biology, chemistry, etc., are models of reality (which explains why they are always changing, evolving, as our understanding changes). They are ways for us to makes sense of, in order to interact with, events and entities around us. At best, they are relatively reliable, allowing us to make relatively accurate predictions (hence, the usability, and, thus, existence of science). But, importantly, they are not "truth".
And, if we're honest with ourselves, if such sincerity guides us, then we can freely admit this. We don't get caught up in the world we create in our head that approximates reality. If we honor truth and sincerity above all else, we won't get confused and mix-up the "free creations of the human mind" with reality, as it is.
When we find ourselves in a bind, physically with some illness, or emotionally with some persistent and damaging stress in life, if we can let go of what we "thought" life was or should be (our concepts), and just be honest with ourselves and do what we know is the right thing, then we begin the journey back to health, happiness, true peace. Let the lies end, and we slowly return to the inner, original, actual beauty of life.
This is a common, running theme in several traditions and cultures, across thousands of years. It likely strikes many as being pretty Buddhist (attachment as the source of suffering). To me, it is quite obviously Taoist. Yoga is a tradition based on the goal of "stilling the fluctuations of the mind [thinking, analyzing, "know"ing] so the seer [the one who is thinking] may abide in him/herself [know reality directly, be true to the innate wisdom/awareness of the self]" (All the postures of yoga were created and used as a tool to help calm the mind, so that seer could "abide in herself"). All of Chinese medicine can be seen as dealing with the damage created be being untrue to the true self (symptoms being signs of that insincerity and pointing to the underlying incorrect assumption). And, perhaps, one of the most famous quotes coming out of the bible is "The truth shall set you free!"
All you have to do is be honest with yourself.
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