1. You are not your mind.
The first time I heard somebody say that, I didn’t like the sound of it one bit. What else could I be? I had taken for granted that the mental chatter in my head was the central “me” that all the experiences in my life were happening to.
I see quite clearly now that life is nothing but passing experiences, and my thoughts are just one more category of things I experience. Thoughts are no more fundamental than smells, sights and sounds. Like any experience, they arise in my awareness, they have a certain texture, and then they give way to something else.
If you can observe your thoughts just like you can observe other objects, who’s doing the observing? Don’t answer too quickly. This question, and its unspeakable answer, are at the centre of all the great religions and spiritual traditions.
2. Life unfolds only in moments.
Of course! I once called this the most important thing I ever learned. Nobody has ever experienced anything that wasn’t part of a single moment unfolding. That means life’s only challenge is dealing with the single moment you are having right now. Before I recognized this, I was constantly trying to solve my entire life — battling problems that weren’t actually happening. Anyone can summon the resolve to deal with a single, present moment, as long as they are truly aware that it’s their only point of contact with life, and therefore there is nothing else one can do that can possibly be useful. Nobody can deal with the past or future, because, both only exist as thoughts, in the present. But we can kill ourselves trying.
3. Quality of life is determined by how you deal with your moments, not which moments happen and which don’t.
I now consider this truth to be Happiness 101, but it’s amazing how tempting it still is to grasp at control of every circumstance to try to make sure I get exactly what I want. To encounter an undesirable situation and work with it willingly is the mark of a wise and happy person. Imagine getting a flat tire, falling ill at a bad time, or knocking something over and breaking it — and suffering nothing from it. There is nothing to fear if you agree with yourself to deal willingly with adversity whenever it does show up. That is how to make life better. The typical, low-leverage method is to hope that you eventually accumulate power over your circumstances so that you can get what you want more often. There’s an excellent line in a Modest Mouse song, celebrating this side-effect of wisdom: As life gets longer, awful feels softer.
4. Most of life is imaginary.
Human beings have a habit of compulsive thinking that is so pervasive that we lose sight of the fact that we are nearly always thinking. Most of what we interact with is not the world itself, but our beliefs about it, our expectations of it, and our personal interests in it. We have a very difficult time observing something without confusing it with the thoughts we have about it, and so the bulk of what we experience in life is imaginary things. As Mark Twain said: “I’ve been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” The best treatment I’ve found? Cultivating mindfulness.
5. Human beings have evolved to suffer, and we are better at suffering than anything else.
Yikes. It doesn’t sound like a very liberating discovery. I used to believe that if I was suffering it meant that there was something wrong with me — that I was doing life “wrong.” Suffering is completely human and completely normal, and there is a very good reason for its existence. Life’s persistent background hum of “this isn’t quite okay, I need to improve this,” coupled with occasional intense flashes of horror and adrenaline are what kept human beings alive for millions of years. This urge to change or escape the present moment drives nearly all of our behaviour. It’s a simple and ruthless survival mechanism which works exceedingly well for keeping us alive, but it has a horrific side effect: human beings suffer greatly by their very nature. This, for me, redefined every one of life’s problems as some tendril of the human condition. As grim as it sounds, this insight is liberating because it means: 1) that suffering does not necessarily mean my life is going wrong, 2) that the ball is always in my court, so the degree to which I suffer is ultimately up to me, and 3) that all problems have the same cause and the same solution.
6. Emotions exist to make us biased.
This discovery was a complete 180 from my old understanding of emotions. I used to think my emotions were reliable indicators of the state of my life — of whether I’m on the right track or not. Your passing emotional states can’t be trusted for measuring your self-worth or your position in life, but they are great at teaching you what it is you can’t let go of. The trouble is that emotions make us both more biased and more forceful at the same time. Another survival mechanism with nasty side-effects.
7. All people operate from the same two motivations: to fulfil their desires and to escape their suffering.
Learning this allowed me to finally make sense of how people can hurt each other so badly. The best explanation I had before this was that some people are just bad. What a cop-out. No matter what kind of behaviour other people exhibit, they are acting in the most effective way they are capable of (at that moment) to fulfill a desire or to relieve their suffering. These are motives we can all understand; we only vary in method, and the methods each of us has at our disposal depend on our upbringing and our experiences in life, as well as our state of consciousness. Some methods are skilful and helpful to others, others are unskilful and destructive, and almost all destructive behaviour is unconscious. So there is no good and evil, only smart and dumb (or wise and foolish.) Understanding this completely shook my long-held notions of morality and justice.
8. Beliefs are nothing to be proud of.
Believing something is not an accomplishment. I grew up thinking that beliefs are something to be proud of, but they’re really nothing but opinions one refuses to reconsider. Beliefs are easy. The stronger your beliefs are, the less open you are to growth and wisdom, because “strength of belief” is only the intensity with which you resist questioning yourself. As soon as you are proud of a belief, as soon as you think it adds something to who you are, then you’ve made it a part of your ego. Listen to any “die-hard” conservative or liberal talk about their deepest beliefs and you are listening to somebody who will never hear what you say on any matter that matters to them — unless you believe the same. It is gratifying to speak forcefully, it is gratifying to be agreed with, and this high is what the die-hards are chasing. Wherever there is a belief, there is a closed door. Take on the beliefs that stand up to your most honest, humble scrutiny, and never be afraid to lose them.
9. Objectivity is subjective.
Life is a subjective experience and that cannot be escaped. Every experience I have comes through my own, personal, un-sharable viewpoint. There can be no peer reviews of my direct experience, no real corroboration. This has some major implications for how I live my life. The most immediate one is that I realize I must trust my own personal experience, because nobody else has this angle, and I only have this angle. Another is that I feel more wonder for the world around me, knowing that any “objective” understanding I claim to have of the world is built entirely from scratch, by me. What I do build depends on the books I’ve read, the people I’ve met, and the experiences I’ve had. It means I will never see the world quite like anyone else, which means I will never live in quite the same world as anyone else — and therefore I mustn’t let outside observers be the authority on who I am or what life is really like for me. Subjectivity is primary experience — it is real life, and objectivity is something each of us builds on top of it in our minds, privately, in order to explain it all. This truth has world-shattering implications for the roles of religion and science in the lives of those who grasp it.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
As soon as pain arises in the body, our minds become preoccupied with how to get relief. If we can remove the cause of the pain or numb it with analgesics, well and good. But most people, at some time in their lives, face significant pain from which they cannot escape, and millions of people, victims of disease or injury, must live each day in unavoidable and often excruciating pain.
If we cannot escape from the pain, must we then experience abject and meaningless suffering? No, there is an alternative, a way to escape not from pain but into it. We can apply mindfulness meditation to the pain.
Mindfulness meditation is a way of focusing awareness on the pain and observing it with precision, while at the same time opening up to it and dropping resistance. As we develop this skill, the pain causes less suffering, and may even "break up" into a flow of pure energy. This may sound too good to be true, but it is a fact that has been discovered by thousands of people. The technique of mindfulness takes time, effort and determination, but anyone can learn to develop this skill with regular practice. I want to be honest with you though. Managing pain through meditation is usually not a quick fix. But that is compensated for by the fact that it is a deep and broad fix. What I mean by "deep and broad" should become tangible to you as you proceed through this article.
The meditative approach to working with pain presents us with two challenges. The first challenge is conceptual: to understand the pain process in a new way, radically different from the usual. Often it takes time and struggle before this new paradigm is accepted, but it is well worth it, because this new way of looking at things gives us so much power and clarity.
The second challenge is practical: to acquire the focusing skills and concentration needed to experience pain in a new, empowering way. This involves the systematic, sustained practice of mindfulness exercises such as those given on the tape series Break Through Pain.
Pain comes in various "flavors" or types, such as burning, aching, shooting, itching, pressure or nausea. A person may experience several flavors simultaneously and a given flavor may vary in its intensity. For example, an burning may range from mild to fainting intensity.
What makes the method of "observing and opening" so extraordinary and powerful is that it works for all types of painful experiences, regardless of the type of pain, its intensity, or its cause: injuries, allergies, menstrual cramps, chronic fatigue syndrome, back pain and even the pain of terminal illness, such as cancer or AIDS. Indeed the same basic concepts and skills work equally well when applied to emotional pain such as anger, grief, fear and guilt.
What exactly do I mean when I say, "It works?" First, this method reduces the suffering caused by the specific pain you are dealing with. Second—and this is the really important point—working with your pain in this way fosters rapid personal evolution. It is a way to release psychological and spiritual blockages, a kind of deep and permanent cleansing of the very substance of your soul. To borrow language from the Christian tradition, the experience of pain stops being "hell" (that is to say, meaningless suffering), and turns into "purgatory" (a purification which opens the way for direct encounter with the spiritual source).
As a result of this purification you will eventually experience an increased sense of oneness and connectedness with all things; a decrease in negative emotions; a sense of happiness independent of your circumstances; and the disappearance of imprints and limiting conditioning from the past. Associated with this transformation of consciousness is a distinct feeling which I call the "flavor of purification." It is the good feeling that comes as a person is experiencing painful feelings in a skillful way.
Once you begin to develop a taste for this flavor of purification, pain, even horrible pain, becomes meaningful. Suffering diminishes and eventually is completely eclipsed by the joy of purification. This is what I mean by escaping into pain. If the pain is severe, and you are able to escape into it, you will experience an egoless state, a direct communion with the spiritual source.
The method of mindfulness applied to pain may appear to be very challenging. At first you may not have good concentration. Your mind will wander a lot and you will have to bring it back over and over again. But just as in any other exercise, skill comes with time and practice.
Short Example of How to Meditate on Pain
I would like to give you a tangible sense of the experience of mindfulness. Close your eyes and let your whole body relax and settle in. Pick one area where pain is significant.
Get a clear sense of the size and shape of the painful region. Is it long, round, triangular or some other shape? Is it flat like a pancake or does it have a three-dimensional volume? Is it uniform or does it have areas of greater or lesser intensity within it? Are its borders sharp or diffuse? Does it spread any influence through the body or is it completely isolated? --- You now have a much clearer and more precise sense of the painful sensation.
Now observe even more carefully, as though the pain were a living being in its own right, as though it were, for example, a lizard on a wall. How and when will this creature move? Will its borders change? Will it get stronger or weaker? Will its center shift? Watch very carefully for a while and notice that every few seconds the pain may change, if only in a tiny way. Every time the pain changes in any little way, relax your whole mind and body into it and just observe it without judgment. You may have to try this exercise many times but eventually the pain will reveal its wave nature. When it does, surf the waves!
This is a first step in developing the skill of mindfulness of pain. It is true that sometimes the pain may seem to get worse as you focus on it. This, however, is a temporary phenomenon.
How Pain Becomes Suffering
In order to understand how pain becomes suffering, you need to know a deep truth about the nature of suffering. Most people equate suffering with pain, but suffering is a function of two variables, not just one. Suffering is a function of pain and the degree to which the pain is being resisted. (S = P x R)
Your nervous system has built-in structures that produce and transmit pain signals. We might refer to them as "pain circuits." They are part of you, and left on their own, they function spontaneously and effortlessly as part of the flow of nature, like wind through the trees or ripples on a lake. They have one job and one job only: when stimulated they produce a kind of energy wave which we humans call "pain."
But as the result of a long conditioning process, human beings have also developed another part of ourselves, "resistance." Resistance interferes with that energy wave, fights against it, tries to beat it back. Thus deep within our being there is a kind of violent conflict, a veritable civil war between two parts of the same system.
This produces a pressure called "suffering." Since suffering is produced by one part of you fighting with another part of you, there is obviously a deep link between the physical process of learning to experience pain without suffering and the psychological process of becoming more integrated.
According to this view, resistance is a kind of internal friction; the system is grinding against itself. Such friction produces useless suffering and wastes physical and psychological energy.
Resistance occurs in both the body and the mind, and may be either conscious or unconscious. Conscious resistance in the mind takes the form of judgment, wishes, fearful projections, etc.: "I hate the pain. I can't stand this pain. When is it going to stop?"
Conscious resistance in the body takes the form of tension and holding. You have pain in the leg, but you may be tightening the jaw, tensing the breath, perhaps clenching throughout the whole body, not letting the pain spread and circulate. "Opening to the pain" is the practice of dropping the conscious resistance by letting go of the judging thoughts and continually relaxing your whole body as much as possible.
As for the unconscious resistance, by definition we have no control over this, as it occurs in the deep preconscious level of neural processing moment by moment. However, careful observation of the pain allows the unconscious to gradually unlearn its habit of resistance. This is why the practice of mindfulness involves intently pouring awareness on the pain as well as "opening up" to the pain.
The formula "suffering equals pain multiplied by resistance" contains both good news and bad news. The good news is that (at least in theory) no one ever has to suffer, because resistance can be made very small and eventually be reduced to zero through mindfulness exercises. When the resistance factor becomes zero, suffering is zeroed out, no matter how big the pain factor may be.
What's the bad news? In many cases resistance grows if the pain persists. Even though the pain may stay the same, the perceived suffering becomes unbearable because the resistance has become so large. Furthermore, according to this formula, even tiny subliminal pain can cause immense suffering if you strongly resist it. The suffering that underlies many forms of compulsive behavior such as substance abuse is often caused by subtle subliminal pain that is subject to immense subconscious resistance. In working with pain remember: subtle is significant!
Dropping resistance to the subjective flow of pain in no way implies that you stop resisting the objective source of the pain. In fact, as you get more and more skillful in opening to the pain, the energy that was being wasted in fighting with the pain is now freed up to fight for recovery and to live your life despite the pain. Although you need not necessarily surrender to the objective situation of being ill, you do surrender to the subjective sensations of pain that the illness causes. This reduces your suffering and increases your energy.
Pain Without Suffering
Although the suffering diminishes as resistance drops, the pain may stay, preserving the proper function of pain as a warning, motivation, etc. In other words, it is sometimes necessary to feel pain, but it is never necessary to suffer.
Pain informs and motivates; suffering drives and distorts. Pain experienced skillfully brings us closer to our spiritual source; suffering alienates us from our spiritual source and our fellow human beings. Suffering obscures the perfection of the moment; pain experienced skillfully is the perfection of the moment.
For most people the notion of pain which is not suffering may sound like a contradiction in terms. People have difficulty imagining what the experience of pain without suffering would be like. Does it hurt? Yes. Is that a problem? No.
People have difficulty understanding this because they are not familiar with the experience of pure pain, that is, pain without resistance. Since much of our habitual resistance to the flow of pain begins at the pre-conscious level, by the time we consciously experience a wave of pain, it has already been converted into suffering by unconscious resistance. In other words, most of us cannot remember experiencing pure pain. What people call "pain" is actually a combination of pain and resistance.
I might add that most people are also not familiar with the experience of pure pleasure. What people call "pleasure" is actually a mixture of pleasure and grasping. Just as consciousness is purified by experiencing pain without resistance, it is equally purified by experiencing pleasure without grasping. The dropping of resistance to pain and the letting go of grasping onto pleasure are sometimes called "equanimity."
Pain and Spiritual Purification
Many spiritual traditions involve the practice of asceticism, which means voluntarily taking on discomfort or deprivation. The hair shirt and self-flagellation of Christian Europe, as well as the sweat lodges and sun dances of the Native Americans, are examples of asceticism.
Unfortunately even people who practice asceticism sometimes do not clearly understand the underlying principles. This has led the entire endeavor to be looked upon as somehow perverse. It is often said that the Buddha rejected asceticism. I would rather say that he refined it, both conceptually and in terms of practice. Crude asceticism often involves a sense of oneself being sinful and worthless or an attempt to get tough or to achieve special powers through inducing altered states. But properly understood, asceticism is done for spiritual purification, i.e. softening the substance of the solidified self.
Pain multiplied by resistance equals suffering, but pain multiplied by acceptance equals cleansing. This tells us two important things. First, when pain is very intense, if you are able to maintain even a small degree of acceptance, then purification is still going on; that is, the pain is productive and meaningful. Second, even a small pain can bring significant purification if your attentiveness and equanimity are high. Thus, even though you may never do intense practices such as the Christian renunciates or the Native American spiritual warriors, you may attain comparably deep purification. This can be achieved by bringing an extraordinary amount of openness to the ordinary aches and discomforts of daily life.
Once you clearly understand that pain multiplied by equanimity equals purification, you are able to make a "conceptual reframing" of the pain. You are able to sacramentalize it, to see it as a kind of imposed monastery or sacred ceremony. Seeing pain as a natural monastery or imposed retreat for spiritual growth is particularly significant for those in chronic pain.
I have spoken of mindfulness meditation as being composed of two elements: an opening up to the pain, and a careful observing of the pain. The opening up fosters a process of spiritual purification. The careful observation leads to deep insight. This insight is like a many-sided jewel. One facet of this jewel is insight into impermanence.
Pain and Impermanence
I sometimes ask my students an odd sort of multiple choice question: Are the mountains moving? The possible answers being yes, no and it depends. I suggest that the correct answer is "it depends." It depends on how carefully and patiently you observe the mountains.
Certainly from the ordinary scale of time and space a mountain seems very solid. Indeed, mountain is a metaphor for permanence. Yet, viewed microscopically, even mountains are a dance of energy. Vibrating molecules are made up of even more rapidly vibrating atoms, which are made up of even more rapidly vibrating particles, and so forth, and viewed with the patience of centuries, the earth's surface resembles rippling protoplasm.
In the same way, your pain may seem as solid and permanent as a mountain. But as your powers of observation sharpen and your patience grows, you begin to perceive aspects of change or impermanence. The sensation of pain shifts shape or position every few seconds, becomes stronger or weaker, expands, contracts and circulates. Flavors change; a burn becomes an itch, the itch becomes a pressure, and so on. Eventually you come to realize that even the most horrible pain is in fact made up of pure vibrant energy. At this point, not only the pain but the whole sense of a suffering self dissolves and becomes part of the flow of nature, as effortless and refreshing as ripples spreading on a pond.
As insight into impermanence deepens you come to realize that not only pain, but indeed all seemingly solid experiences, are in fact elastic, vibratory, porous and transparent. With this realization, your understanding of yourself and the world goes through a remarkable and empowering shift in perspective.
This is analogous to the paradigm shifts of modern physics. The material body dissolves into a field of energy. The self as a separate particle dissolves into a vibrating wave which can unite both with your spiritual source and with all things. You become spiritual in the literal sense of the Latin word spiritus, which means "breath" or "wind," something insubstantial yet powerful.
Begrudging Down Time
Now I'd like to cover a few specific areas where people often have questions about working with pain. For instance, people often resent the fact that the pain takes time away from life, preventing them from participating in the meaningful activities of work and play. And indeed, unless you understand how to use the situation to evolve and purify consciousness, time spent in pain is mostly wasted and meaningless.
Fortunately, you can make a "conceptual reframing" of the meaning of time spent with pain. If nature (or "God") has given you so much pain that you cannot do anything else other than be with it, then there is a message here: you are not expected to be doing anything else!
In other words, spending time—even long periods of time—just feeling pain is a legitimate calling in the eyes of God and nature. Assuming that you are making at least some effort to purify and evolve consciousness by being with the pain in a skillful way, you are engaged in productive and meaningful work. You perform an important service to others by becoming an example to them, a source of hope, inspiration and empowerment.
Consider even the most extreme case, a person in so much pain that they can do nothing but lie in bed, seeing very few people, perhaps with no prospect of recovery, perhaps dying. You might think that in such an extreme case, even if the meditation were to help the victim, there would not be any broader benefit to humanity, but this is not necessarily the case.
Some scientists postulate the existence of "morphogenic fields." Put simply, this theory states that whenever a person does something, it makes it easier for all others to do the same thing, even though the others may have no direct contact with or even knowledge of the original person's work. This is sometimes referred to as the "hundredth monkey effect." According to this theory, a person isolated and cut off from contacts, who is working to purify through pain, is in some way making it easier for all other sufferers in the world to do the same; a worthwhile and meaningful job indeed!
When and Where to Meditate
People sometimes ask me, "How many hours a day do you meditate?" They are, of course, referring to the amount of time I spend in formal sitting practice. I answer, "Usually about an hour a day," but often I feel like saying, "I meditate twenty-four hours a day, hopefully." In other words, meditation can be carried on during the daily activities of life, as well as during set formal periods. Both forms of practice are useful.
If your focus of meditation is pain, then you can be meditating any time you feel the pain, because whenever you are observing and opening to it you are by definition meditating. If pain is always present, then you have a reminder and motivation to be in a meditative state all your waking hours, like the monks and nuns in monastic training. For you, pain is your monastery. This is another way in which your pain can be looked upon as an ally.
Of course it takes practice to meditate on pain while at the same time engaging in other activities. At first it will be challenging enough to meditate quietly by yourself, but as the state of concentration becomes habitual, you will be able to meditate in the midst of life activities.
Try to set aside a period of time most days for formal meditation, perhaps a half an hour each morning. Of course, if your pain prevents you from doing other activities, you may be formally meditating for many hours each day. You can meditate sitting in a chair, on the floor or lying down. During your periods of formal meditation, make sure that there will be no distractions. Turn off the phones. Let friends and family know that you need to be alone for a period of time.
Meditation is a state of both relaxation and alertness. If you meditate in a seated posture, try to keep the spine straight. This will help you to remain alert. If you meditate lying down, you must have very strong determination not to let your mind sink into sleepiness or even fuzziness. If you become even slightly drowsy, open your eyes and stare at infinity without getting involved with visual objects. This will help you remain aware and alert.
Some conditions that produce pain are made worse by prolonged periods of motionlessness. If this is true for you, be sure to move appropriately. But in between moving, try to be very still and focused.
The most important moment in any period of formal meditation comes when you get up to resume your daily activities. Your ability to maintain a meditative state throughout the day (and hence reduce the suffering from your pain) depends on how you handle this transition. Instead of thinking, "The meditation is over, now it's time to do this or that," think, "I have become somewhat more calm and focused. Now my job is to try to preserve this state."
During the day, whenever you become agitated or start to suffer a lot from pain, drop everything for a few minutes. Sit down or lie down and do a short but high quality "mini-meditation" to re-ground yourself. Do this as many times a day as needed throughout the day.
The combination of setting aside at least a half an hour each day for formal meditation together with frequent mini-meditations will eventually allow you to maintain a state of deep calm and high focus for much if not most of your day.
Melting and Freezing
I'd like to say a few words about the phenomenon of "melting and freezing." Sometimes as you are observing and opening to the pain, you may experience the pain softening. Sometimes it softens just slightly, flowing like thick molasses or lava. Other times it may become quite fluid and vibratory, expanding and contracting like an amoeba or even breaking up into a shower of champagne bubbles and subtle energy like an atomizer spray. If that happens, enjoy it and concentrate on the vibrations and undulations, letting them relax you, massage you, and take you into a place of peace and safety.
After long and consistent practice of mindfulness meditation, such experiences of impermanence happen more frequently. However, it is of the utmost importance not to make this the goal of your meditation. The only goal is to do your best to observe carefully and to open to the pain as it is. Whenever you do this, you are helping along a natural process of purifying and evolving yourself, whether or not you consciously experience any change in pain at that moment.
Along the course of this purification the pain may melt, but it may also "freeze up" again for various lengths of time. When the pain "melts" there is a tendency to think that the meditation is working, that you're making progress, or that you're doing it right. But if the pain "re-freezes," you may think the meditation is not working or that you are doing it wrong. Always remember the definition of a successful meditation session: a successful meditation is any meditation you did!
Consciousness is a many-layered structure. Like the geological strata of the Earth, the deeper layers contain older fossils. As you are pouring clarity and openness on your pain, the pain is actually functioning as a conduit or tunnel into the deepest reaches of your subconscious mind. As a layer of psychological blockage comes to the surface, it may cause the pain to solidify or get worse. Just open to that and keep on observing as much as possible, without an agenda that the pain soften or go away. It is part of nature's wry sense of humor that the quickest way to "break up" pain is to observe it without the slightest desire that it be different in any way.
So if the pain melts and then gets hard and harsh once again, you have not gone backwards, but rather a deeper level of blockage has percolated upward. You may go through many cycles of softening and re-congealing. The English poet, T. S. Eliot, who was also a Christian mystic, vividly described this aspect of the spiritual path in his "Four Quartets," where he writes, "Between melting and freezing, the soul's sap quivers."
When pain is extreme, you may feel like you are going to faint. Lie down and open up to that. Try to maintain your meditation technique through the fainting. Then the fainting will turn into an experience of deep meditative trance. You will feel that you have gone beyond the body and transcended suffering.
Admittedly this can be very frightening. It may take some practice before you can really "let go" into the faint. Eventually you will learn that there is nothing whatever to fear, as long as you keep a level of mindfulness and openness.
Primary Pain and Secondary Sensations
I would like to mention an important phenomenon which I call "secondary sensations." In addition to the primary sensation of pain, you may have secondary sensations such as heat, nausea, fatigue, agitation, heebie-jeebies, jerking, creepy-crawly feelings, etc. You may feel like your marrow is itching everywhere, bugs are crawling in your veins or that you're going to jump out of your skin. You may have pressures or tensions over your whole body. In some ways this may seem worse than the pain itself. These global secondary sensations are sometimes quite subtle. Remember, subtle is significant!
Often these secondary sensations are associated with emotionally charged resistance to the pain. Try to notice that your fear, hatred or annoyance is not continuous but tends to well up then subside for a moment then well up once again. As an experiment, feel your whole body and carefully observe what happens there each time annoyance or hatred of the pain arises. You may feel a wave of sensation spread for a moment through your body, perhaps so subtly that you aren't even sure it was there. That is the secondary sensation associated with resistance. Try not to resist the resistance!
Treat these secondary reactions in the same way you treat the pain itself. Observe them carefully and open up to them. Indeed, honor and welcome them because they are an important part of the purification process.
There is a deep relationship between these secondary sensations and the process of releasing blockages stored in the unconscious. I don't have time to really explain the theory at this point, but here's the gist, overly simplified.
Physical pain tends to activate your body's subtle memory of past pains, both physical and emotional. These will magnify your sense of suffering from the present pain unless you are able to detect them and open up to them. All you have to do is observe and open up to such secondary sensations the same way you observe and open up to the primary pain. This creates an optimal environment within which your unconscious can unburden itself. For years, unbeknownst to you, these subtle body memories have been continuously subliminally present, preventing each moment from being as fully satisfying as it could be. Now the pain has brought them clearly to the surface where they can be "felt through."
Suffering may warp your perceptions and behavior, and this distortion can be a big part of the horror of the pain. If the pain persists or is chronic, a person may begin to act out of character and alienate friends, family and caregivers. There are a number of ways to deal with this.
First, try to remember that it is the suffering which is making the world look so grim and causing you to act out of character. As you learn to develop mindfulness, these distorting effects drop away.
Second, be willing to forgive yourself and others, over and over again. You aren't expected to get it right the first time around. It doesn't matter if you stray from the path, as long as you always return.
Third, remember impermanence. The periods of distortion don't last forever. As the Bible says, "This too shall pass."
Fourth, you can create and use a support structure of individuals and organizations who can give you objective feedback and get you back on track when you become mired in subjective suffering.
What to Do If Meditating on the Pain Makes It Worse
It is important to acknowledge the fact that the act of observing and opening to pain sometimes causes the pain to become dramatically aggravated. The pain may intensify or spread over the whole body. Sometimes it both intensifies and spreads; the hardest, worst flavor of the pain which previously had been confined to one region now fills the entire body, turning it into a single condensed mass of uniform sting. This sounds frightening and would seem to belie the claim that mindfulness helps one to cope with pain. Concerning this phenomenon, which I call "inflation", several points need to be remembered.
First, observing and opening usually lessens suffering. Inflation takes place only occasionally. Many people never experience this phenomenon. Second, when it does happen, it represents a stage in a natural process of liberation. Basically the body has now become a single sensation, unified and integrated. It has become "one", a necessary step before it can become "zero". Many victims of chronic pain are familiar with the cycle of the pain spreading and intensifying before it finally goes away, perhaps over a period of several hours or several days. The seeming aggravation of the pain as the result of meditating is in fact just the speeding up of this cycle. If you can somehow keep meditating through this inflation, the pain does not merely go away, but rather "breaks up", leaving insight and purification in its wake.
This should not be taken to imply that you must necessarily keep meditating on the pain if meditation is causing it to intensify and spread. When to do so is a subtle decision and depends on many factors. Allowing the pain to inflate too much too soon may create aversion to the meditative process or use up valuable energy that you need for healing or life's activities. So sometimes you may want to switch to a different kind of meditation, one that relaxes you or perhaps focuses away from the pain. You may even need to stop meditating entirely for a short time; use your own judgment.
When you finally do gain enough experience to stay with the pain no matter how much this worsens it, something like the following will happen.
Time slows down, the thinking mind more or less shuts off, the external world fades and the sense of a controlling self is neutralized. The entire stinging mass of the body slowly begins to lose its rigidity and to flow, first like dense lava then like honey… each wave of sensation seems to break up another kink in the substance of your soul.
The perception of the body "being material" is in fact produced largely by our habit of congealing around the flow of body sensation. The inflation of pain brings the body to a state of maximum uncontrollable congealing. When this finally gives, one comes to understand that there never was a "material body" in the ordinary sense. Body is just coagulated spirit.
Summing It Up
As soon as pain arises in the body, the mind becomes preoccupied with how to get relief. There are two kinds of relief, both of which are valid. There is the temporary relief that comes through eliminating a particular pain, and there is the permanent relief that comes through retraining your relationship to any and all pain. If temporary relief is not possible, then become ardently preoccupied with the noble quest for permanent relief!
How you face, meet the immediate problem, disturbance contains the key to the secret of existence. Seeking satisfactory answers about Truth, God, soul, liberation is a distraction, is an escape. You have to be fully interested in your work, in what you are doing, in dealing with what you are facing at the moment to come to ‘what is True’. Any attempt or idea to escape from the uneasiness of ‘what you are facing at the moment’ is dissipation of energy, keeps one addicted to escape.
You are physically safe and secured now. Any insecurity, uncertainty, discomfort you are experiencing is only psychological, that is, it is in respect of future. To be comfortable with this insecurity, uncertainty is to ‘feel’ complete security now. One is on the self-sustained ground. Touch of the Original has happened.
Y V Chawla
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Living in constant fear and suffering from panic attacks? Think your time is up? Read this and you may be able to avoid these thoughts in the future.
1. Understand that panic attacks are a mind state. A panic attack can be a very frightening and uncomfortable experience, but it is absolutely not dangerous. Panic attacks are a state of mind, not an illness. Only in some cases is a panic attack a symptom of another illness.
2. Realize that you are not alone. Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder that many other people share.
3. Understand what panic is. Panic is just excess adrenaline that runs through your body when it's confronted with a possible life-threatening situation also can be caused by something that triggered an event from your past that placed you in a threatening situation. Panic attacks are physiological. Feelings of panic can be very scary, but the feelings you have are your body telling you to fight or run away from the potential danger. They are mechanisms that evolved to protect you; but now, in this moment, there is no real danger. Close your eyes for a second, take a deep breath and rationalize your thoughts.
4. The brain's has tremendous capacity to heal and generate its own feelings of well-being. So avoid drugs for well being. If you have been relying on feeling better using some substance that is harming your health, then control your intake - once you push yourself past that point which you felt you could not cross - you brain will reward you with feelings of well being. Enhance this feeling with exercise. Do not underestimate your brain's capacity to generate feelings of well-being on its own. Its over all strength is as high as the strength of your outer skull. The brain rewards positive achievement positively. Overcome a weakness, overcome a fear and the brain will reward you positively.
6. Do not try to avoid those situations where panic happens. Avoidance will only 'reinforce' your panic and the more you avoid, the more panic the avoided situation will generate. When attacks do happen, don't try to fight the feelings. Instead, let the feelings of panic come and wash over you, and they will pass soon if you let them. Focus on your breathing during challenging circumstances.
7. Try as much as possible to decrease the speed of your breathing by seeking to relax. This should also help to ensure the right amount of oxygen gets to your brain. As a result this will help bring the anxiety or panic attack to a close more quickly.
8. Do endeavor to make an effort to include a daily exercise routine into your life. As well as helping with your overall health, you will detect that you can grapple with panic attacks much better.
9. Have a serious look at your overall lifestyle. In addition to regular exercise, you need to study your diet: Are you eating too many processed foods (junk food)? Does your diet include the required amount of vegetables and fiber?
10. Get some rest. The lion's share of us need a good 7-8 hours of sleep to feel rested. This will equip us so much better for the stresses of daily life.
Sunday, August 03, 2014
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
VIA Wisdom Pills.
Increasingly, we live in an on-demand world. With the exponential rise in technological smarts, patience levels seem to be dropping as a corollary. We have become so used to having our needs met at a quicker and quicker pace that there seems to be no stopping it. People want what they want, and they want it now. Yet no matter how fast our automation gets, no matter how much speed the service and technology industries gain, we will always be left waiting. Waiting is an intrinsic part of life. There is no escaping it. If you notice, as you get older, that you are more accepting of situations when they don’t go as planned, or long line-ups that can’t be avoided – even when you’re in a rush – congratulations! You have matured in a very particular manner and, whether you’re aware of it or not, you are no doubt happier because of it.
2. THE ABILITY TO LISTEN
The words ‘listen’ and ‘silent’ are composed of the same letters. In order to truly listen, one must first know how to be truly silent. What this is, is presence. You are present with the other person as they are speaking to you. Your mind is not wandering, you are not distracted or thinking about how they look or what they’re wearing, nor are you simply waiting for them to finish so you can then say your part. You are fully there with them, really hearing what’s being said and taking in both the emotion and the reality of it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a 2-year old or a 90-year old, the mature person understands that only through the practice of this still and silent attention can they possibly respond in an honest manner.
3. A SURRENDER TO CHANGE
There’s only one constant in life: inconstancy. If there’s one thing both scientist and sage can agree upon, this is it. As we age, this is a lesson we learn time and again. No matter how strongly we attempt to keep things the same, there is simply no doing so. Even if it takes years, life will shake things up, scare you, force change upon you. It will dash your hopes and collect dust on your desires, even as it surprises and delights you with things you could’ve never imagined. Most people, however, fail to grasp this and continue to push, plan, fight and resist, even up to the very end. If you are someone that has caught on, however – no matter what stage of life you may be at – again, congratulations! You have come to understand one of the greatest teachings the world has to offer: uncertainty is a precondition of life. This doesn’t mean, of course, that you don’t make plans and go about your business, it simply means that you let go of the need for things to turn out in a narrowly specific way. Which leads us to our next point…
4. A RELINQUISHMENT OF EXPECTATION
Ask most 20 year olds what kind of future they envision for themselves by the age of 40 and they’ll most likely have a few solid ideas. Check in with them at 40 and they’ll most likely tell you how they never could’ve imagined their lives turning out the way that it did. Far from being the burden so many experience this as, it is in fact one of life’s greatest gifts: the calling for you to release expectation. As we just pointed out, life is an organic process. Its flow is unpredictable. The mature person has been paying close enough attention to this over the years to actually come to understand it and integrate it into their world-view. This is the next stage of surrender to change, and it results in a change in perspective, due to a deep understanding of the uncertain nature of life itself. It’s signs are clearly reflected in the actions of the mature person – there is very little to no negative reactivity to what life throws at them. They have a calm presence. They’ve learned how to relax. Their mood is not dictated by specific outcomes, but comes instead from this Que Sera Sera attitude. They’ve learned how to go with the flow.
5. AN UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT ‘LOVE’ ACTUALLY IS
This is a big one. So many young people are sure that they have experienced ‘love’, when in fact what they’ve been through is an intense combination of biological and psychological need fulfilment, most often unconscious in origin. Unfortunately, this is often a pattern that continues throughout life for many, without there ever being a break-through into the deeper levels of love that lie waiting for them. Infatuation, lust and obsession are not love. It takes heartbreak, and the courage to face oneself to know and learn what love actually is. Whether it takes place in a string of relationships or in the issues that can arise over the course of a single, long-term love-affair, a mature person has come to understand that the purpose of all relationship is personal growth, and that nowhere is there more potential for personal growth than in the dynamics of their love relationship(s).
Through these relationships, the mature person has learned acceptance; they’ve learned empathy, understanding and compassion. Instead of appreciating only those things in the other person that they agree with or approve of, which is a very shallow form of love, they’ve learned to honour and even appreciate the other’s individuality instead, knowing that there is always something to be learned by the differences between them. In this way the love has deepened. It has become a choice, not some out-of-control whirlwind that sweeps you off of your feet and holds the power to make or break your happiness. Above all, the mature person understands that love is work. It is a commitment, and through the honouring of this work, through the honouring of this commitment, they have come to know levels of love, joy and ecstasy that could’ve never been reached through other means, no matter how seductive the shallower forms of love may have appeared at the time.
6. A RELEASE OF SELF-IMPORTANCE
The mature person has learned that the world doesn’t revolve around them. They know that they are not perfect, nor will they ever be, and they have therefore given up the game of projecting an air of perfection to others. They are honest about where they are at, their skills and talents, and their shortcomings. They understand that mistakes are an integral part of life, and they are not afraid to make them. They are also unafraid of being proven wrong. (In fact, the highly mature person celebrates it.) Having learned this, they are not only happier, but have probably accomplished many things, learning even more about both life and themselves in the process. Because of this, the mature person most likely enjoys what they do for a living. Those who have failed to get over themselves and face their fears are more likely to be stuck in a job they dislike. The willingness to try and fail, time and again – due to the understanding that they are not as important as their mind makes them out to be – leads to a greater understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses and, ultimately, life itself. Although it seems almost paradoxical, through this releasing of a sense of self-importance, the mature person has almost assuredly achieved a number of important things.
Sunday, July 20, 2014
WE BECOME WHAT WE EAT
Excellent description via AYURVEDAPLACE.COM.
Food not only nourishes the body, it affects the mind and consciousness as well. As our physical constitution is characterized by different proportions of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, we also have a mental constitution determined by the sattva, rajas, and tamas. These three qualities are universal and equally necessary to maintain our psychological balance.
Sattvic qualities imply essence, reality, consciousness, purity, creativity, and clarity of perception. People in whom sattva predominate are loving, compassionate, and pure – minded. They tend to have positive behavior, and love for all beings. They do not become upset or angry easily. They look fresh, alert, aware, and full of luster and are recognized for their wisdom, happiness, and joy. Satvic individuals do not get mental fatigue, although they work hard mentally, so they need only four to five hours of sleep. See also: “Features of Sattvic Person”
Rajas leads to the life of sensual enjoyment, pleasure and pain, effort and restlessness. People in whom rajasic qualities predominate tend to be egoistic, ambitious, aggressive, proud, and competitive and have a tendency to control others. They work hard and like power, prestige, and position and are perfectionists. They suffer from a fear of failure, tend to be angry and jealous and to have few moments of joy. Rajasic individuals are quickly drained of mental energy; they require 8 hours of sleep.
Tamas is darkness, inertia, heaviness, and tendency toward materialism. Individuals dominated by tamas tend toward depression, laziness, excessive sleep, eating, drinking, and sex. They may be greedy, possessive, attached, irritable, and uncaring toward others. A little mental work tires them easily; they sleep more than 8 hours a night (Kids leave in Kapha period of life no matter what their inborn constitution is, that’s why they sleep longer).
How we respond to events and circumstances depends on the specific balance of sattva, rajas and tamas in our mind. The basic nature of the mind is creative or sattvic, with just enough rajas and tamas to bring desires to fruition. It is vital for health and happiness to keep this balance for our life to move in a progressive direction. Sattvic mind lends itself toward calm, clear, creative thinking that allows one to easily find effective solutions to life’s problems. Then we need the lesser qualities of rajas to implement these solutions and tamas to bring these activities to an end when the problem has actually been solved.
Too much rajas or tamas distort the natural balance of the mind and have a negative impact on our lives. Unfortunately, the Westerns eat tremendous amounts of rajasic and tamasic foods and very little fresh unprocessed sattvic foods. From an Ayurvedic perspective, there is a connection between how we are eating and how we are acting, our levels of violence, crime, and depression.
Unlike our physical constitution, which is hard to change, our mental attitude greatly depends on the food we eat on a daily basis, thus it is possible for us to choose between consciousness, agitation, or inertia. We do so by choosing the right food.Sattvic food not automatically fits for all doshas, some can be too heavy for Vata, too sour for Pitta, or too mucous provoking for Kapha. See also “The Food list for Vata, Pitta and Kapha” to pick food that will pacify your dosha along with satisfying your mental constitution.
Sattvic foods support sattva; they help the mind become clear and stay focused.
Here is an alphabetic list of sattvic foods:
* – in moderation; **- in excess.
Alfalfa sprouts, almonds, amaranth, anise, apple, apricot, artichoke, arugula*, asparagus, banana (ripe), barley, basmati rice, beans (azuki, black, broad, fava, green, lima*, mung, navy*, pinto, tepary), bean sprouts (all), bee pollen, berberies, blackberries, blueberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, buckwheat, butter, buttermilk (fresh), cabbage (cooked), cantaloupe, cardamom, carob, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, cheese (freshly made), cherry, coconut, collards, corn (fresh), cornmeal, cranberries, cream (sweet), cucumber, currant, dates (fresh), fennel, figs (fresh and dried),fruit juices (freshly made), ghee (clarified butter), grapefruit (sweet), grapes, honey (raw unheated), honeydew melon, kale, kohlrabi, lentils (black, tan), lettuce, licorice, mango (ripe), maple syrup, Mother’s milk, milk (fresh, raw, pure), millet, mung dahl, mustard greens, nectarines, nuts (Brazil, cashew, chestnuts, macadamia, peanuts, pine, pecans, walnuts), oats, oranges (sweet), okra, papaya, paneer (Indian cheese), parsley, parsnip, peaches, peas (black eye, green), persimmon, pineapple (sweet), plum, pomegranate, prunes, pumpkin, quinoa, raisins, raspberries, rice, rose hips, rutabaga, sesame seeds, saffron, sorghum, soy lecithin, spinach, strawberries, sugar cane (raw), summer squash, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, tangerines (sweet), turnip, watercress, watermelon, wheat, wild rice, winter squash, yams, yogurt (fresh), zucchini.
Rajasic foods generate more fire, outward motion, creativity, aggression, and passion.
Any canned, sweetened fruit, all fermented food, all bottled fruit juices are rajasic. Sattvic food can be turned into rajasic when eaten too hot, too cold, or too spicy. Here is an alphabetic list of other rajasic foods:
Avocado, beans (garbanzo, kidney), black pepper corn, brewer’s yeast, buttermilk (not freshly made), cabbage (raw), cacao, cheese (hard, cottage), chili, chocolate, coffee, dates (dried), eggplant, guava, grapefruit (sour), kefir ( not freshly made), lemon, lentils (red), lime, malt syrup, mango (unripe), molasses, olives, peanut oil, peanuts (salty), peppers, pickles, peas (green dried**), pine apple (sour), pistachios (salted), potatoes, radish, red beets, rhubarb, rice bran syrup, salt (all kinds), sour cream, sugar (white, brown, date, fructose, jaggery), sugar cane juice, tea (green and black), tomatoes, vinegar, yogurt (not freshly made).
Tamasic foods increase inner darkness and confusion. They slow us down, depress us and enhance inertia.
Tamasic foods include all fast food, fried food, frozen food, microwaved food, processed food, left over night food, alcohol, all drugs, and chemicals. Even sattvic and rajasic food become tamasic if eaten not fresh. Here is an alphabetic list of other tamasic foods:
Alcohol, beef, chicken, drugs, eggs (all parts), fish, fowl, garlic, goat, ice cream, lamb, lard, leeks, margarine, not fresh milk ( homogenized, pasteurized, powdered), mushrooms, onion (raw, cooked, green), pop corn, pork, rabbit, black radish, shallots, shellfish, soy beans, turkey, venison.
The basic nature of the mind is creative or sattvic, with just enough rajas and tamas to bring desires to fruition. That means that the base of our diet should consist of fresh or freshly prepared grains, vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, milk, ghee and butter in moderation, cold pressed oils and natural sweeteners. We need just a small amount of rajasic foods to stimulate creativity and outward motion. Tamasic food can be helpful when an excess of rajas is present. If the mind is hyper and ungrounded – some tamasic food can be eaten to promote stability. Freshly made steamed mushrooms or onions although tamasic are a healthier choice than a frozen steak, which has been fried, re chilled and microwaved.
NB: Some food categories can be, and are disputed. Especially often are discussed garlic, onion, eggs, and soy.
TODAY’S TIP: Don’t let this new information overwhelm you. Take small steps to choose more and more sattvic foods from your Vata, Pitta or Kapha food list every day. As soon as your body gets rid of toxins you will intuitively choose the food that is good for you. See also What it meas to eat fresh; Vegan eating in A-da; Myth about Vegetaranism and Anemia, Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic life.