On Mental & Emotional Health

I am becoming more and more invested in furthering the dialog that this meme speaks to, as I feel it is a vital component of our well-being and one that is highly undervalued and overlooked in our collective society, to a sometimes tragic and devastating detriment to our fellow human beings.

I recently watched two different interviews with psychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Rick Hanson – one as part of the online World Mindfulness Parenting Summit and one as part of the online Mindful Kids Peace Summit. In both occasions, he spoke about our three basic needs: safety, satisfaction, and connection. He explained that safety is associated with our reptilian brain-stem; satisfaction with our mammalian sub-cortex portion of the brain; and connection with our primate/human neo-cortex portion of the brain. In terms of safety, we look towards avoiding harm. In terms of satisfaction, we look towards approaching rewards. And in terms of connection, we look towards attaching to others.

He goes on to say that when our basic needs are not met, we then enter what he calls the red zone, which involves fight, flight, or freeze mode. However, when we build up our core of resilient well-being, we will be able to weather an increasing array of external stimuli without destabilizing ourselves. He said: You can use your mind to change your brain. He also said: No one can stop you (from doing this work) AND no one can do it for you.

There’s a reason that Buddhism focuses on training and strengthening the mind. It is the seat of working and active power when it comes to how we view, engage, interact, process, and digest the world around us and the people and experiences we encounter. As the Buddha taught:

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Spaciousness

In a word, meditation allows me to build the quality of spaciousness. So, the way I see it: meditation = the practice of creating space.

Without a close kinship to, and practice of, spaciousness, our habit energies and conditioned behaviors run the show. They fuel and propel every thought we think, word we say, and action we engage in. And oftentimes, that fuel is old, gnarly and gunks up the whole system. It’s not clean burning fuel. It leaves foul, blackened smoke in its wake.

Developing, deepening, and expanding our relationship with spaciousness is elemental in our ability and capacity to live a kind, skillful, balanced, and well-contented life.

This is how I have it worked out: without spaciousness, we are led around by our reactionary tendencies, which are guided by past experiences. And sometimes that works out okay. And other times not so much.

For instance, just this morning, I think it was my level of spaciousness that afforded me the ability to not go into a frazzled meltdown, when confronted with the reality that I was not the only one who thought of arriving at the Motor Vehicle Division office prior to their opening at 8am. At 7:45am, I was somewhere in the neighborhood of being person #25, with more folks funneling in after me every minute. My number was called to the title transaction counter at 9:45am.

And it’s these sort of moments that show us where we’re at: spiritually/mentally/emotionally speaking. How is it we weather such times as standing around, waiting for our number to be called out – being in places we’d rather not be? How do we occupy our waiting time? How do we tend to our mindscape? How do we show up and interact with others, when faced with such states of inconvenience and displeasure? It’s worth personally investigating these occasions, as these moments will likely show us more about ourselves than anything else.

The quality of spaciousness allows us to respond, verses react. Responding requires conscious participation, whereas reactions are built in. In moments of discomfort or upset, it’s never the actual whatever it is that’s happening that creates the problem we’re experiencing. What unfolds is largely dependent on whether we’re engaging from a state of reacting or responding. Are we making ourselves a victim or are we claiming responsibility for our choices? This is the crux of figuring ourselves out, and growing along the path of practicing mindfulness.

Spaciousness is what allows us to see things as they really are – to see ourselves and others as they really are. It opens up the doorway to freedom and liberation from suffering. Spaciousness is what makes ease, joy, and healing possible. Without spaciousness, little, if anything, can change.

While it may not seem like we’re doing much by sitting daily in meditation, whether for 5, 10, 15, 20, or 30 minutes, in reality it’s the most beneficial use of our precious time. Keep sitting, dear friends. Our health and well-being depends on it.

 

 

 

 

Do your own practice

One of the most valuable practices we can engage ourselves in is not taking on the energy of others.
 
By working on developing our own sense of wellness, balance, joy, and ease we are able to learn how to carry it with us wherever we go and not be swept up by the stressful, anxious, angry, sad, and unhealthy energies, words and actions of others.
 
Keep sitting. Keep breathing. Keep smiling. The fruits of the practice will reveal themselves in time.

Nourish to Flourish

For those of you who follow along with my blog here, you may recall that I sometimes use this platform to work on upcoming practice related talks I’ll soon be giving, usually at my local sangha Be Here Now, as it helps me to plan out and organize my thoughts about what I want to share.  This time, however, I’ll be offering a talk to a group of volunteers with a local nonprofit called CASA, which stands for: court appointed special advocates. (From their website: CASA of Missoula provides independent, trained advocates for the best interests of children within the judicial system who are at substantial risk or have experienced abuse or neglect. We provide consistent, long-term advocacy until every child resides in a safe, permanent home.)

As I was asked to talk about the relationship between our energy output and our energy input, I’ve titled this talk Nourish to Flourish.

I’ve often thought about offering these kind of support sessions to volunteer organizations or in work-place settings, as both non-profits and many professions require annual trainings, continuing education credits or have wellness programs built-in. So, this is my first step in that direction.

Talk Prep:

I’d like us to start by having us all count how many breaths we take in the span of 1-minute. And we’ll try our best not to alter our natural breathing rate as much as possible. (Bring a timer and set for 1-minute – instruct folks to remember their number.)

Now, I’d like us to do 5-minutes of quiet sitting together, to settle into the room and this time here together, as simply a way to help us bring our attention and presence into this space and transition from wherever it is we just came from. So I’ll invite us to gently close our eyes and softly focus our attention on the sensations of our breathing in and breathing out…feeling as our chest expands and contracts….feeling as our stomach rises and falls…and noticing how we’re feeling, tuning into our body and our mind…(monitor time for 5-minutes, sound bell to start and end) (NOTE: I find that using the pronoun ‘our’ when doing guided meditations, deep relaxations, or in practice talks in general has a more communal and relational feel to it, verses the more common ‘you’ or ‘your.’ It is also has a less “preachy” or “instructional” air to it when I include myself in the mix by using the word ‘our.’ I mean, we’re all in this together, right? I’m practicing, too!)

So, let’s re-test our breathing rate. Again, for the span of 1-minute we’ll count how many breaths we take, without trying to alter our breathing. (Time for 1-minute.) Ask: How many people found that your number went down after the 5-minutes of sitting? How many people found that it stayed about the same? And did anyone find that it increased? It might interest you to know that the optimal breathing rate for highest functioning and good health is around 6 breaths per minute, with the medical norm around 12 breaths per minute, and the average adult is now breathing even faster, at about 15-20 breaths per minute. And severely ill patients have an even higher rate.

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