Five Revealing Steps to Empower Life and Love

The pivotal power we have to individually shape our life and sense of self is our mind. On the one hand, we create and define ourselves, our perceptions and our experience of life with our thoughts, beliefs and ongoing focus. What are you tuning into on a daily basis and how much content in your mind is there by conscious choice? On another level, we can open ourselves to the question of whose mind it really is – who is the thinker of conditioned and creative thoughts and maker of choices? What is it that you connect with in your heart, mind and guts and say “this is me”?

Since our thoughts and feelings are projections of consciousness, then the key to self awareness lies in our ability to identify not with the content of our minds, our appearance or performance, but with the consciousness from which they arise. When we explore this experientially as many meditators, sages and teachers before us, we go through a number of layers of observation and insight before we get to a place of being where we truly feel we are absorbed in the being-ness or substance of what and who we are.

I propose here five stages and have put in bold the practical focus to use as an exercise for each stage. As a practical exercise, it is best to only go as far as the stage you can rest in the experience of, for a prolonged period of 5 minutes or more or even indefinitely. That can take any length of time and sessions to achieve, depending on the individual, the willingness and openness, the regularity of practice, but progress does and will come. Progress through these states then becomes a natural process of observation. Gradually you will notice aspects of a further stage has been occurring with practice of sitting in silence and presence. No particular sitting position is required except that a comfortable and upright position is best for non-disturbance and alertness.

We are attuning to living consciousness that is already there, so many people can be experiencing insight and realisation of elements of all five stages while still wrestling with stage 1 or 2. However, being able to consciously reside primarily at each stage progressively reflects a fairly natural progression and integration of what some call presence, being in the ‘now’, or even aligning and uniting with spirit. There are many sophisticated and more complex systems of meditation and spiritual awakening in traditional paths throughout the world, some of which I have practiced. The stages below are a simplified set of steps to help guide conscious awareness and experience in what is otherwise a very simple but not necessarily easy practice. They do not replace the many benefits of a good teacher, a simple, virtuous and generous life while putting one’s deepest values into daily practice for conscious awakening.

We all need encouragement, guidance and inspiration and this can be from reading, video’s, sessions with teachers or other practitioners, what we focus on, the people and environment of our daily lives. Since a state of presence gives us an ability to rise above causes of suffering and reach new levels of wellbeing, it could be said to be the inner goal of all life enhancing pursuits.

Read the following slowly and feel each point as you go before practicing.

The Five Stages

1. Sensory Perception

Firstly, we must take a moment to relax the body, be aware of a few deep breathes coming in and out, and observe our experience of being here. The first stage is characterised by being present with our sense perceptions and the world around us. Our five senses are taking in data all the time whether our attention is on it or not. Go through each sense during the course of a few breathes – observing what is being seen, heard, felt, smelt, and even tasted while in a relaxed observing state develops sense acuity and alertness. Often a sense of goodness and appreciation can arise as the mind quietens with pure non-judging observation. At this stage of observing the sense-perceptions, our awareness and identification goes deeper and the mind begins to relax and notices more in the immediate present moment.

2. Mental and Emotional Thoughts and Feelings

At the second state, as the mind quietens down, in the space of our being and amidst sense perceptions, observe thoughts or half thoughts, feelings or hints of feelings as they come and go. Being present with the stream of thoughts and feelings that normally takes us with them, by observing them as they arise then letting them go, leads to a more spacious and quieter state of mind and alert presence. Therefore, in this second stage we get glimpses of the still and vast spaciousness of consciousness beyond the thoughts, feelings and perceptions and notice with fresh experience and insight that we are not our thoughts and feelings. They are contents of our consciousness as much as any other perception.

Eckhart Tolle in his talks distinguishes the contents of our consciousness as occurring in linear time (of past, present and future) which he terms the horizontal dimension. Going deeper experientially into consciousness here and now can be termed the vertical dimension.

3. Inner-body Awareness

In the third state where mind activity is settling, we start to become aware of a silence and living stillness within and around us, the feeling of ‘inner body awareness’ becomes the base or grounding of our sense of being. Proprioception is the sensing of the relative position of one’s own body parts without vision (also sensing the strength of effort being employed in any movement). The qualitative aspects of total body awareness as a unified energy field and alive presence can be heightened at this stage. Inner-body awareness with a relaxed mind and heart grounds the subjective sense of presence more deeply in the present moment. The horizontal dimension of linear time dissolves into a spacious eternal nowness where the ‘now’ is a more prominent reality, in the absence of mental activities and projections of memory or an imagined future moment.

Thus, the third state commences a more prominent sense of the vertical dimension. Taiji and xigong or yoga can train the mind in accessing these states more easily and more deeply. Other examples are heightened lucidity while deeply relaxed, or the psychological ‘zone’ in sports or dance. Simple exercises like dynamic relaxation can help here as well if you have trouble settling in this stage. Sense of time fades away as consciousness enters the fourth state.

4. Embracing the Self in Pure Consciousness and State of Presence

In the depths of this conscious state, inner body awareness becomes borderless while the mind and heart remain settled. Open spacious awareness is not a void, for there is a fullness of experience of presence and aliveness. Localised consciousness of self as a mind contained in a body dissolves into a sense of non-local consciousness where so-called ‘external’ or ‘outside’ phenomena (including thoughts or feelings of others, sounds and movement) are experienced as happening within a non-local or borderless field of consciousness. Sense of self can be displaced with this non-localised field of heightened and broad reaching awareness.

These are only words for something that is experienced in a state without words or concept. However, to give it more sense, consider the previous stages of sensory perceptions and observation of thoughts and feelings. Whether perception is of reality ‘outside’ the body or from ‘inside’ the body, it is all being processed in the brain and occurring in the mind so we are in fact experiencing everything as it is occurring in our consciousness. Without consciousness, none of it exists.

In spontaneous moments of this state, the world can seem to go into slow motion while sensory perception is unusually vivid and broad. It can be associated with unusual sensory acuity. I’ve read many accounts by sports people or others in a crisis moment describe similar states to those accessed in meditation and spontaneously.

A spontaneous shift into this state occurred when I was attacked by a group of drunken guys while walking from a concert with a friend many years ago. I had an experience of perceiving things in a 360 degree view where even small details at a distance were picked up while more immediate actions required at the time occurred effortlessly and automatically in slow motion. I blocked every kick and punch coming at me with calmness and minimal attention on them, while taking in a slo-mo panorama of everything going on all around me. It was a liberating experience without a sense of aggression, fear or reaction in myself.

This 4th stage is selfless alignment to the field of consciousness in which all experience of phenomena occurs. Thoughts are unnecessary at such times where no immediate analysis or intellectual effort is required. The moment is simply happening as we observe stillness or action occurring in it. This has been described as ‘consciousness of consciousness’ or the ‘light of presence’ and is not an intellectual process, yet is alert and aware. Heart and mind are open and clear. As one resides in this stage longer and deeper, it is accompanied with a great sense of bliss, goodness, beauty, fullness and oneness and other qualities like love which in the end are only words without the fullness and profoundness of the experience itself.

5. Embracing the World in Pure Consciousness and State of Presence

State 5 is embracing all living things and phenomena in conscious presence. Maintaining identification with the consciousness in which all reality is occurring, rather than your own mental activity and body, develops a more tangible and subjective experience of the nature of life, consciousness and energy in all things and unified connectedness. The space of presence found in stage 4 becomes inclusive and unified without being drawn into separateness by noises and motion, objects and things, without mental judgement and interpretation of events and others, or distracted by mental narrative about ones perceptions. Consciousness of consciousness cannot occur with such mental states, perceptions and activity.

It is a different modus operandi. One can function and respond with a heightened sense of freedom from an invested self. While discernment, alignment with values and standards remain intact, they are more based on resonance with the experience of consciousness than on conditioned beliefs and self-interest. Living in this state in daily life, after regular practice in a quiet place, requires a creative and spontaneous, selfless and affirming sense of harmonising with the space of consciousness in which all is happening. Sharing this state with others provides experience and insight into the source and possibilities of harmony in diversity, co-ordination or synchronisation in life.

There is so much further to be explored in the spectrum of consciousness, but the above steps are what I’ve found to be the barest foundation of most spiritual or conscious awakening practices.

Living Continuously in Pure Consciousness and State of Presence

Being able to hold the space of Stage 4 or 5 continuously in daily living is a noble aim and can lead to sublime realisation. Being a loving and aware person, then expanding the consciousness of that into a deep and continuous state of presence allows the light of awareness to infiltrate the subtlest areas of disturbance within oneself in the face of life challenges. It is consciously developing soul from both vertical and horizontal dimensions. It is transformational to all. I acknowledge all saints, masters and great teachers who truly embody conscious living as living ideals to deepen our own exploration and modern lives.

Being Successful With More Purpose and Meaning

What pursuits are best for us to live quality ‘being’ and quality ‘doing’ in a way that is progressive and meaningful for us and beneficial for those around us?

The last couple of blogs have looked at mechanisms between mind and body we can consciously harness to optimise our wellbeing and performance. Wellbeing is about a state of mind and body. Performance is about ‘doing’ and while there are psychological and physical dynamics that enhance our state and capacity to perform well and experience it more fully, it still remains for each of us to choose day to day (and for any significant phase in our lives) what is on purpose for us to do.

Dr. Wayne Dyer in his books and lectures made a distinction between the ego’s motivation of needs being “what’s in it for me?” versus the higher soul mind motivation of wholeness being “how can I best serve?”. He has often quoted from Maslow’s work on self-actualisation. One point from Maslow is that self-actualised people are detached from outcome. The Bhagavad Gita goes into this in great depth. Maslow in his research and observations saw they are not motivated by what could come to them but follow pursuits because what they do is essential to them feeling complete, rather than the ‘fruits’ of their actions. Another way to say this is that there are things some of us feel personally called to do and with this calling comes a sense that acting on this inner calling is what will give our sense of completeness meaning and purpose.

Napoleon Hill in “Think and Grow Rich” also describes what drives people he has studied who have enriched lives in every way (not only material ways). He describes it as a “burning desire” to act on an inner calling which invariably includes expressing their gratitude in life along with contributing some aspect of what excites them in life in a way that could benefit others or share that excitement.

I see this dynamic in my own life. My 20 years work in as a therapist and counsellor fulfilled my urge to help people with a specific set of skills and knowledge while compelled to better understand the relationship of mind and body in the process. My 16 years of building and running a company with wellness products and promoting sustainable business ethics and the organic industry, was an extension of that same urge with the addition of contributing to environmental concerns in the world. Meanwhile, I fulfilled a desire to learn about business and to represent these values internationally as an example of the change I see needed in the world right now. These days I am developing my writing as a communicator of all of the above values and principles with more focus on spiritual teaching, albeit an ongoing part of my outlook and inner practice all along. My roles as father, partner and friend are motivated and infused with the same values.

The substance of your deepest calling defines you and so touches all aspects of your life. For me it is being a practitioner and communicator for aligning mind, body and spirit to achieve life fulfilment in all aspects of our lives individually and as a society.

There can be stages in our life when the primary form or ‘doing’ of the calling changes, or it may not. There may be numerous things we feel passionate about and would participate in, in addition to one or two primary interests, or there may be only one consistent focus through your whole life. The key is that where our true conviction and passions lie tend not to fade but remain with us whether we pursue them or not. They may shift and transform with life experience, but these callings we each have are tied in with our own life long primary values and convictions.

What hits your ‘excite’ button? What not only excites the passions, ideals or opinions but incentivises you into go into greater depth of understanding and go into action? To find this requires the ability to listen within ourselves to come to know our most inner and authentically deep urgings to share and serve as well as to stay on track as we respond and act from them. Thus, the value of meditation, the alpha and conscious theta frequencies discussed in my recent blogs, coming to know our inner stillness, inner silence and being present in the ‘now’ with open heart and mind. From there we can start to really listen and tap into the depths of awareness, before bringing that awareness to engage with the activities or discussions we spontaneously and consistently resonate with fully. The ‘calling’ is what you deep down feel you must do to truly feel you are fulfilling a purpose you’re designed for or would most want to do if all else was sorted in your life. Out of anything that you’re here to do, what would give you a completeness at the end of the day and fulfil your sense of purpose throughout that day?

For some, it may not matter ‘what’ so much as ‘how’. Every work position, relationship in life is a vehicle to act in loving and fully present awareness and be conscious of how it is of benefit to others. Each little moment is an opportunity to act with love and awareness. As Dan Millman said “There are no ordinary moments.” This consciousness purifies the mind and invigorates the spirit. A sense of “selfless service” is the zone where happiness and fulfilment hit unusual highs, as shown in many studies. This is especially true where people have found a way to selflessly do something they love in recognition of the need in others they are helping to fulfil.

As with Maslow’s observation, having a true calling shape our ‘work’ of choice or life interest, is not an outcome based intention. It is an expression of an inner purpose-based intention. Relative wealth, fame or power can sometimes come about as a consequence of the authentic and vibrant energy mobilised when we follow our passion. These worldly rewards can and often are used for tremendous good, yet can be equally destructive when they become an end in themselves rather than a means.

Someone on purpose and doing good inspires those they serve directly and others who recognise the energy and consciousness they are coming from. A truly deep and authentic sense of mission rides an energy that energises others. This is most fulfilling and powerful when the ego is cast aside, replaced with an integrity to convictions, values and burning desires that are discovered within during moments of quiet connectedness and inspiration.

As Wayne Dyer says: “Success becomes defined by how you feel about what it is you are doing”. It is knowing combined with action, while sharing real love and passion. Whether it be the way you go about and perform basic tasks and services at work or in the family, the way you communicate a message, design or deliver a product or service you represent, consistent action of good intent from a generous heart inevitably makes an impact in someones life or in the lives of many.

Putting the above into action requires a little progress every day. As Lao Tzu of the Tao-Te-Ching says, “a journey of a thousand steps begins with a small step”. He also says “To do something big, think small.” So spend at least a little time daily on something you have a passion to do or achieve. An inspiring friend, Paul Dunn of B1G1, also promotes the idea of thinking small. He promotes and educates others on the enormous value in distinguishing yourself, a product or service to others by the little things, the thoughtful small differences and touches of what you do and offer. It is often in these extra touches or little things where you can also actualise what you stand for. Great things are achieved by focusing on each little step at a time to get there, each detail, each person who is part of that journey and the little things and surprises that occur along the way to yourself and those you benefit.

Photo on VisualHunt modified with quote

What You Need to Know About Wellbeing and Peak Performance (Part 2)

There is a powerful integration and feedback loop between mind and body that is being understood more and more. Understanding this not only helps you to take charge of your mind and body wellness, it also opens up new possibilities in personal life experience and abilities.

In the last blog, I shared key points and ways to access optimum states of consciousness for wellbeing and peak performance and how they relate to specific brain wave patterns. There is a reciprocal relationship between states of consciousness indicated by brain wave patterns with specific bio-chemical production and pathways in the body that directly affect our moods, immunity and endocrine (hormonal and neurochemical) systems. All cells in the body participate in what is being understood as a feedback loop where consciousness impacts many aspects of bio-chemical processes which in turn impact our consciousness. Thus we can get into loops of body and mind reinforcing psycho-emotional and biochemical wellbeing or else reinforcing dis-ease, both of which impact our perceptions and spiritual receptivity.

All brain wave patterns reflect important and functional mental states – there are no good or bad frequencies. Issues arise when there is an imbalance and certain brainwave patterns predominate chronically rather than our minds being able to move through the full range of frequencies at the right time for the relevant tasks and perceptions. For example, low levels of focus and attention or high levels of depression can be associated with slow or minimal beta patterns. Short intense periods of beta during high focus problem solving and tasks are good while in the higher frequencies (23Hz-40Hz) are the zones of stress and anxiety. However, the modern problem is over-active high frequency beta activity (characterised by constant mental chatter) displacing the alpha range where creativity, innovation and wellbeing is promoted.

As we looked at in the last blog, alpha wave patterns reinforced through practices like meditation help balance an overactive mind, promoting creativity, the sense of connection and well-being. Neuro-chemicals (bio-chemicals produced by brain neurons located in the brain, heart and gut) are associated with happiness and mood elevation, increased immunity to disease and improving a range of mental and physical conditions. These neurochemicals are also promoted generally by predominant alpha states and some other states as described below.

Among hundreds of neuro-chemicals that provide physicality to our sense of bliss, pleasure and wellbeing, only a portion have been studied. Of those, Christopher Bergland in his Psychology Today blog explains seven well studied ‘neurochemicals of happiness’. These chemicals produced in our body are promoted or inhibited according to mental states and certain activities, so that we can impact our body chemistry through our consciousness and lifestyle. Also note that genrally, natural production is inhibited by drugs and alcohol as well as lack of physical activity or exercise.

  1. Endocannabinoids: “The Bliss Molecule” Our body has its own cannabinoid system, producing endocannabinoids that work via CB-1 and CB-2 receptors. “Anandamide (from the Sanskrit “Ananda” meaning Bliss) is the most well known endocannabinoid.” It is likely that we self-produce just as many variations of endocannabinoids as the 85 cannabinoids isolated from the Cannabis plant but it will take neuroscientists decades to isolate them.

    A University of Arizona study, published in April 2012, shows that humans and dogs have significantly higher endocannabinoid readings following sustained running. Because “other research focused on the blood–brain barrier (BBB), has shown that endorphin molecules are too large to pass freely across the BBB”, suggests these naturally produced cannabinoids are likely responsible for the blissful state of runner’s ‘high’.

  2. Dopamine: “The Reward Molecule” “Every type of reward seeking behaviour that has been studied increases the level of dopamine transmission in the brain. If you want to get a hit of dopamine, set a goal and achieve it.”

    Many addictive drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, and addictive behaviours like computer games, act directly on the dopamine system. There is also evidence that extroverted, or uninhibited personality types tend to have higher levels of dopamine than introverted personality types. Bergland advises: “To feel more extroverted and uninhibited try to increase your levels of dopamine naturally by being a go-getter in your daily life and flooding your brain with dopamine regularly by setting goals and achieving them”.

  3. Oxytocin: “The Bonding Molecule” Oxytocin is a hormone directly linked to human bonding, increasing trust and loyalty, some studies suggesting correlation with romantic attachment. Some studies show that “lack of physical contact reduces oxytocin and drives the feeling of longing to bond with that person again.” There is debate that ivasopressin (a close cousin to oxytocin) may actually be the “bonding molecule” , especially in men. Either way, skin-to-skin contact, affection, love making and intimacy and these bonding hormones are associated with the physicality of the ‘warm fuzzies’ we feel from companionship.

    In these times of digital devices and isolated lifestyles reducing physical interaction, “it is more important than ever to maintain face-to-face intimate human bonds and ‘tribal’ connections within your community.” Quality family and friend time, team and contact sports, group or buddy activities are all important human bonds and release oxytocin. “If you don’t have another human being to offer you affection and increase oxytocin your favourite pet can also do the trick”.

  4. Endorphin: “The Pain-Killing Molecule” The name Endorphin translates into ‘self-produced morphine’. “Endorphins resemble opiates in their chemical structure and have analgesic properties. Endorphins are produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus during strenuous physical exertion, sexual intercourse and orgasm. Make these pursuits a part of your regular life to keep the endorphins pumping.”

    In 1999, clinical researchers reported that inserting acupuncture needles into specific body points triggers the production of endorphins. In another study, higher levels of endorphins were found in cerebrospinal fluid after patients underwent acupuncture. Acupuncture is a terrific way to stimulate the release of endorphins.”

  5. GABA: “The Anti-Anxiety Molecule” “GABA is an inhibitory molecule that slows down the firing of neurons and creates a sense of calmness.” Not surprisingly, it can be increased by practicing yoga or meditation. Many sedatives and anti-anxiety medications work by increasing GABA. “A study from the ‘Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicinefound a 27% increase in GABA levels among yoga practitioners after a 60-minute yoga session when compared against participants who read a book for 60 minutes. The study suggests yoga might increase GABA levels naturally.”
  6. Serotonin: “The Confidence Molecule” Serotonin plays many different roles in our bodies. Many studies associate higher serotonin levels with self-esteem, increased feelings of worthiness and a sense of belonging. Bergland suggests “to increase serotonin, challenge yourself regularly and pursue things that reinforce a sense of purpose, meaning and accomplishment. Being able to say “I did it!” will produce a feedback loop that will reinforce behaviours that build self esteem and make you less insecure and create an upward spiral of more and more serotonin.”

    Popular anti-depressants called Serotonin-Specific Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) — like Prozac, Zoloft, etc. are prescribed for clinical depression, anxiety, panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, “how anti-depressants work in each person’s brain varies greatly and is not fully understood by scientists or researchers.”

  7. Adrenaline: “The Energy Molecule” Adrenaline, or epinephrine, is central to the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. When released in your system, it is exhilarating, creating a surge in energy, increased heart rate, blood pressure, and increased blood flow to larger muscles. An ‘adrenaline rush’ comes with a limbic brain sense of fear or mortal danger. “It can be triggered on demand by doing things that terrify you or being thrust into a situation that feels dangerous.” Short rapid breathing with muscle contraction can stimulate adrenaline in small healthy doses.

However, many people with chronic stress, anxiety or fear can have exhausted adrenals which can recover with prolonged relaxation away from environmental, situational or dietary stresses. Bergland warns ‘Adrenaline Junkies’ to try balancing “potentially harmful novelty-seeking by focusing on behaviours that will make you feel good by releasing other neurochemicals on this list.”

Bergland concludes that this list of 7 neurochemicals can be used as a “rudimentary checklist to take inventory of your daily habits and to keep your life balanced. By focusing on lifestyle choices that secrete each of these neurochemicals you will increase your odds of happiness across the board.”

Deepak Chopra M.D., in his blog “How Meditation Helps Your Immune System Do its Job”, discusses how since the ‘80s, we have begun to understand the intelligence of the immune system. “It became known as ‘a floating brain’ because of the ability of immune cells to participate in the chemical messages sent by the brain throughout the body. This means that your thoughts, moods, sensations, and expectations are transmitted to your immune cells.” Chopra also makes a point in his lectures that there are receptors for these chemical messengers in all the cells of the body, so that the whole body is in on the physical response and mirroring of your state of being.

Chopra in his article, draws attention to the studied and important changes that occur when you meditate:

  • Your immune system responds to both negative and positive thoughts
  • Meditation creates a positive mental environment for the immune system to flourish, this study showed a reduction of pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults.
  • A UCLA study shows that HIV positive patients who practice mindful meditation slow down the reduction of their CD-4 cell count. These are the immune cells that are associated with keeping the virus from propagating.
  • Meditation boosts antibodies. A recent study confirmed that, after weekly meditation training for 8 weeks, 48 biotech workers had significantly higher levels of antibodies than the control group (coworkers who didn’t meditate) as well as higher levels than before the study.
  • Meditation stimulates immune system brain-function regions. Mindfulness meditation has shown increases in electrical activity in the prefrontal cortex, the right anterior insula, and right hippocampus, all parts that control positive emotions, awareness, and anxiety. These brain regions act as command centres for your immune system. When stimulated, they make the immune system function more effectively.

Chopra concludes: “These findings bring into focus a clear message: Your response to potential illness, as managed by the immune system, improves with meditation. This is in keeping with another strong message. Being susceptible to chronic disorders like type-2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure, conditions that are not the result of invading microbes, is also reduced through meditation. The entire mind-body system is brought into a natural state of balance, the key to what I’ve called the higher health.”

The science of brain waves and body chemistry is revealing we are designed for happiness and wellbeing, and our chosen state of consciousness impacts this significantly. Our understanding is diminishing the boundary we once projected between mind and body. New models are suggesting brain and body are conduits for mind and consciousness. Such a view enables many meditators and other subjects studied to demonstrate high levels of mind and body control to reach optimal states to produce wellbeing and experiences of conscious awakening.

Conscious breathing, meditation and exercise done in quality inner body awareness all help to create balance and harmony as well as receptivity to new states of wellbeing for each of us personally. I hope some of the perspectives and suggestions above assist in your journey.

Additional recommended reading & reference: ECOC Institute name 141 Benefits of Meditation, each with some related studies https://eocinstitute.org/meditation/141-benefits-ofmeditation/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI_InK8P_J2AIV2wYqCh1QIwrHEAAYAiAAEgLuBPD_BwE

Photo credit: new 1lluminati on Visualhunt/CC BY

 

What You Need to Know About Wellbeing and Peak Performance (Part 1)

Anyone skeptical or neglectful of actively deepening their state of consciousness, and anyone not sure if it is for them, can be assured by current science that our bodies are hard wired and electro-chemically designed to be at optimum health and wellbeing at specific levels or frequencies of consciousness that can be measured and defined. The good news is, this information and available techniques make it easier and clearer than ever to harmonise mind and body at optimum levels of wellbeing and performance. Qualitative and meaningful aspects of specific conscious states can also connect us to timeless and universal loving awareness.

Our Brain Wave Patterns

Starting with some basics – our brain produces different brainwaves based on our mood and state of mind during the day. They can be measured using an EEG machine.

BrainWaveChart

Narij Naik, M.Pharm in his blog “The Benefits of Getting More Alpha Waves! (http://yang-sheng.com?p=5123)

spells out a typical day for many people:

You wake up suddenly out of deep sleep (Delta brainwaves) with a loud alarm. Almost immediately, you feel a sense of stress from the pressure of getting to work on time and facing the day ahead (Beta brainwaves).”

While creative thinking usually occurs in alpha states, beta states are activated by stress-related problem solving and doing tasks you don’t particularly like or do for unpleasant reasons.

Then, you jumpstart your day by grabbing a caffeine-rich cup of coffee or tea. Caffeine actually suppresses alpha and theta brainwave activity, keeping you in beta for most of the day.

The heavy work load, constant stimulation of the day job and managing the household, means most people are forced into a beta state from the time they wake up in the morning right until they get to bed and fall into a deep sleep (Delta brainwaves) exhausted from the day….. So, unfortunately, this unnatural and hectic lifestyle means people are forced from delta into beta, then back into delta with little room for alpha and theta brainwave activity.”

Research has also shown that people with addictions have a relative absence of alpha waves. Beta states are characterised by much inner dialogue that people identify with, much of the content often habitual, repetitive and negative, accumulating into mental and physical disorders.

Naik further explains alpha states: The Alpha brainwave state is actually considered the brain’s most normal functioning state. But, we seem to spend less and less time functioning in alpha. One consequence of this is the brain actually forgets how to produce alpha waves. This means we tend to feel more stressed and less able to cope with the strain stress induces on your health. So, the result is a greater chance of getting stress-related disorders and diseases. Anxiety and stress have a dramatic impact on lowering the strength of your immune system.

Generating more alpha waves makes you feel less anxious and more relaxed as the harmony between your mind and body is restored. Scientists have shown that highly creativity people like artists, actors and even entrepreneurs tend spend more of their time in alpha brainwave states. This is because creativity requires a surge of alpha brainwave activity.

Alpha states happen whenever you get that “aha” or “eureka” moment of a compelling new idea, which gives you the inspiration necessary to literally create something out of nothing. The brains of creative people tend get a burst of alpha activity when faced with a problem to solve. However, this does not happen for most people who are not creative. So, to become a more effective problem solver and creative thinker, you need to increase your alpha waves.

Scientists have also shown that this surge of alpha activity happens during peak performance. After studying the minds of professional basketball players, they found that an increased alpha brainwave activity occurs usually in the left side of the brain just before making a winning shot. Beginner basketball players on the other hand, did not show any alpha activity. More long-term studies showed that as players improved their game they started to produce more alpha waves, suggesting they are necessary for high-level, peak performance.”

Other associated benefits given by Naik are:

  • Improved Mood and Stability of Emotions – Having more alpha brainwaves usually indicates more positive, stable and balanced emotions. This means you can cope better with stress and keep calm in tough situations. Irritable, anxious and over sensitive people tend to spend most of their time in a beta state, and can usually greatly improve their minds by increasing their alpha brainwaves without resorting to taking drugs, excessive alcohol and other bad habits.
  • Performance and Getting In the “Zone” – the alpha brainwave state is associated with “peak performance” and players who get “in the zone” perform best when they have less beta brainwaves interfering with their peak, alpha state of mind. Studies on professional sports players have shown they have a surge in alpha brainwaves in the left side of their brain just before making a successful shot or playing decision. Those who failed tend to have a flood of beta brainwaves in their left side of their brains instead. It has been shown by experiments like these that “over thinking” (beta) or” under thinking” (theta) have a negative effect on game play, but being in an alpha brainwave state is the perfect state for high performance.
  • Super learning” and “Genius states” – learning new skills, enhanced memory and genius-like abilities are found in those who spend their time mostly in an alpha brainwave state. This is because the tasks associated with those abilities require less overall effort to accomplish and the ability to retain large amounts of information is enhanced.
  • Enhanced Immune System – Long-term stress and tension have a negative impact on your immune system and can even shut it down completely in extreme cases, due to the excessive production of cortisol and adrenaline. When you are in an alpha brainwave state, you are in a relaxed state where your immune system is allowed to work at its best. The “feel good” effect of alpha brainwaves leads to the production of happy and well-functioning cells in your body, which provides a healthy and efficient immune system ready to protect you from any disease.
  • levels of “Serotonin” – Serotonin is released more during alpha brainwave states. Serotonin levels are associated with your moods and low serotonin levels are linked to depression and other neurological disorders, such as anxiety and panic attacks.”

I will go further into the happy chemicals of the brain and body in another blog.

Four Ways To Cultivate Alpha Brain Waves

 1.  Meditation

For those who feel somewhat intimidated by meditation, Christopher Bergland in his blog “The Athletes Way” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way) refers to Dan Harris from ABC News who wrote, “10% Happier a No. 1 New York Times bestseller which demystifies meditation and illustrates why taking a few minutes every day observing your thinking can dramatically improve your life.

Harris strips meditation down to three key points for mindfulness:

  1. 1. Sit comfortably, with your back upright.
  2. 2. Focus your full attention on the feeling of your breath coming in and going out.
  3. 3. Bring your attention back to your breath. You don’t have to clear your mind; getting lost and coming back is the whole game.

 

2.  Yoga and Xigong Saunas

Both of these systems have become very popular and continue to be well studied. Reduction in serum cortisol (related to stress), increase in happy hormones such as dopamine and serotonin are cultivated in these practices and correlated to alpha wave activation.

3.  L-Theanine

Bergland also refers to L-Theanine, the amino acid mood enhancer in green tea. “Studies have shown this substance can now be isolated and made into a supplement. It is a great natural booster of your natural alpha brain waves. Users experience a much more focused and alert mind, finding it easier to manage stress and get things done.” L-Theanine boosts natural production of the mood-enhancing neurotransmitter dopamine. Bergland takes L-Theanine and says it is a very effective remedy “for my fairly scattered mind!

4.   Steam Rooms, Massages

These can be effective ways to relax the nervous system and body deeply, activating alpha brain wave production.

Functioning in an awareness of being, as well as doing, characterises alpha states. Two principles in the four examples above for cultivating alpha waves is firstly to have a regular time and place where you can relax fully, be still, peaceful and awake. Secondly, because the mind can only focus fully on one thing at a time then having a single focus like the breath, a mantra or sound, an object to gaze at, or a slow synchronised movement to repeat will displace mental chatter with practice. To get full value, use this time to cut-off from mental and environmental disturbances.

In the next blog I will go into the benefits of alpha states to the immune and endocrine (hormone and neurotransmitter) systems to show how far reaching the benefits are to each and every cell in the body as well as the mind, and how the body literally reflects the ‘tone’ of our mind. Our conscious state is a driver for the mind and body mechanism to function optimally as a self-sustaining or self-perpetual living being and for us to experience qualitative well-being and happiness. We are designed to relax into the ‘I AM’ state where we can better embrace the good and the bad of life and access creative thinking and solutions. An optimised body chemistry balances and adapts better, with every cell receiving and participating in the energy frequency and chemical messages produced.

The whole process of mind/body/soul feedback is self perpetuating as it is health and life affirming when optimised. The pivotal point to optimise this self-sustaining cycle as we deal with the world and life, is mindful awareness. Deepening our wisdom by applying knowledge while also transcending it through awareness of being, nurturing our appreciation of truth, beauty and goodness develop the experiential quality of our conscious state.

As Ram Dass and Ekhart Tolle agree, (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPmgTJGPzlg) loving awareness in the present moment can re-define love as recognising and sensing oneness in another. In alpha and deeper theta states we can get past naming, judgement and narrative of the ego to experience the arising of this love and awareness. Love is not an emotion in its higher sense, but a soul recognition of shared consciousness. Qualitative loving awareness in a predominantly alpha state of consciousness better opens us to realising ‘the one’ in ourselves, thereby in others – the formless in living form. Awakening from the formless, is reflected in the form of body and mind.

Photo credit:NICHD NIH on VisualHunt.com/CC BY

Six Simple Life Enhancing Principles for an Awesome Year

The start of a new year is a good time to look at these six principles that may seem simple, yet can be applied to enhance your life and have an awesome year! Five of them are the key principles of Sivananda yoga with another one added to include life engagement with others. Identify an area you could do more of in your weekly routine, or enhance by applying a principle that stands out for you.

Proper Relaxation

There are enormous benefits for mind and body to regular practice of deep relaxation. Quality sleep with complete sleep cycles is an important aspect of rest, recovery, and balance. The practice of conscious deep relaxation supplements this and carries benefits into daily activities by teaching conservation of energy, how to let go of worry, fear and tension, as well as how to relax the mind while being focused on a single activity. The key to the yogic principle of proper relaxation is combining complete rest of mental and physical activity to fully rest the whole nervous system.

Certain systems of yoga intensify the ability to fully relax by alternating concentrated activity that is not overly stressful or over exerting (not inducing fatigue) with full relaxation in between with a deeper and longer relaxation at the end of a session. Exercises that help open up circulation and energy flow in the body are also complimentary in preparation for deep relaxation.

To completely relax, it helps to get into a posture like floating in a float tank, where there is complete comfort and no need to move for a time. This is good to do for 5-10 minutes or more after activity, once the breathing and stimulation from activity has settled right down. Lie on your back and have the arms and legs spread out enough that the feet comfortably turn out and the palms of the hands turned up with the shoulders and chest open. The spine should not be too curved, but elongated along the floor or mat with the neck also comfortably lengthened. Use auto-suggestion going through each part of your body mentally, from the feet up, that “ ____ is relaxing” and “___ is relaxed”. Finish with the internal organs and then your mind itself and let go fully into receptive stillness for a time. Autosuggestion is a technique used by masters to control body functions usually not able to be voluntarily controlled like heart and metabolic rates.

Relaxation can be the most challenging of the five principles for some people, and if that is the case then start with shorter time and lengthen it on a regular basis. The sense of rejuvenation and fullness in the body is like pressing a reset button for mind and body and is a great start or finish to the day.

Proper Exercise

A quick summary of types of exercise and benefits: Resistance training has great benefits in maintaining circulation, muscle and bone density throughout life. Cycling, running and swimming can be great for cardio-vascular health and fitness. Interval training is considered one of the best ways to keep up metabolic rate, loose weight and increase fitness with efficiency of time and energy. Dance, martial art and gymnastic practices provide great co-ordination, core strength, agility and flexibility. All exercises can help restore hormonal balance as well as stress release in mind and body. Regular exercise elevates mood and mental focus.

Yoga asanas, or postures, can work systematically on all parts of the body – strengthening, toning and stretching muscles and ligaments (including minor muscles groups that can be neglected in certain sports), enhancing and maintaining spine and joint flexibility and improving circulation. Yoga, or practices like xigong and taichi can combine meditation and exercise by synchronising movement and breath in a relaxed state of full presence and conscious release of tension.

Proper Breathing

Proper breathing is full and rhythmic breathing, making use of all of your lungs to increase oxygen intake and maintain full functioning of the respiratory system for life. Any exercise that raises the volume and rate of breathing is of benefit. Yogic breathing teaches how to utilise the three key areas of abdominal and diaphragm, chest or thoracic and clavicular breathing. Yogic systems of kriyas and pranayama also teach methods to recharge body energy and control mental states by regulating the flow of prana (chi or life energy) stored in key energy centres of the body called chakras. These centres also correlate with key points of nerve ganglia (bundles of nerves and vascular tissue) aligned in the brain and spine, associated with key organs and glands of the body.

Various breath patterns can be powerful and specific to releasing physical stress, emotional blocks and mental/emotional patterns. Techniques like anuloma viloma focus also on quietening the mind.

Proper Diet

Proper diet obviously needs to be nourishing and well balanced in nutrients and food types. Processed foods need to be eliminated from regular consumption or all together. A diet based on fresh food (not overly cooked) is a key. Whatever the diet, mounting scientific evidence is showing a number of factors determine the best diet, so that a good diet for one person may not be the best for another. While there are many diets claiming to be the best, genetics, blood and body type, level of activity, and other factors play a part in determining the best food combinations and quantities. A predisposition to over-heating or feeling cold, stiff joints, bloating or gas, headaches, allergies, lethargy or large swings in energy levels, skin or digestive disorders all indicate issues with diet. Most types of disorders can be managed or resolved through diet. Over-heating and acidic foods should also be minimised, so a predominance of vegetables (with fruit eaten separately) is a common dietary principle in many systems.

Most of us know ways we can improve our dietary habits. Practicing a new habit for 21-30 days is a great start to make it a permanent change. Aryurvedic, naturopathic or nutritionist consultations can be a very positive step to make for anyone at a point of wanting to optimise health or deal with disorders sustainably and holistically. Is this something you can do this year to improve a health or lifestyle issue you know is better addressed sooner than later?

Positive Thinking and Meditation

Being conscious of the positivity or negativity of our thinking can be a game changer. The tone, language, and subject matter of habitual thinking are all influential to our character, perception, how we respond or react and how rewarding things can be. Using affirmations or adjusting a negative train of thought to a positive one are great skills to practice. The ability to observe and adjust our thinking is enhanced with meditation which trains us to observe our thoughts and feelings as they arise. Ultimately, meditation can train us to still the mind and transcend thoughts to reach new levels of conscious being and awareness.

Finding books, courses or teachers in these areas can be a great place to start to enhance this aspect to your life. The mind is essentially the most important aspect of self to consciously train in order to achieve greater life enrichment and harmony. If you already are on a personal journey here, is there something you can do in your life to take insight and awareness to a new level this year?

Conscious Doing – Expression, Engagement, Relationships and Daily Activity

The first five points set the stage to have better awareness and mastery in how we communicate and respond in relationship to our environment and others. Bad habits and compulsive behaviours can erode the many good things we do and impact our ability to be our true self within and in relationship with others.

This year, how can you better embody balance and health in mind and body to others and inspire loved ones to do the same? Is daily attention to nurturing one or a combination of the following points a good focus for you this year? :-

  • invoke a sense of love in your actions, be they personal or professional, through focusing on relaxing into open heartedness in all circumstances,
  • listening to others more by taking a few seconds to breath, feel and understand their points of view or repeating back what they say,
  • breaking and transforming a pattern of negative or compulsive thinking or behaviour,
  • making it a focus and reviewing daily where you are reinforcing positive values and principles you stand for and where you can do better,
  • separating thoughts and ‘doing’ from ‘being’ and awareness – practicing being present more in yourself and the moment, on your own and engaging with others. Identifying with the consciousness doing the thinking and actions is a significant step in awareness and conscious interaction in the world. Eckhard Tolle’s teaching focus on this with a modern, practical and universal approach.

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Christmas and New Year Reflections

Christmas day – the day we most want to share with those closest to us, is a celebration of family and friendship when we feel grateful for those in our lives – those who are with us on the day, those elsewhere doing the same and those who have passed on. Magic and love is in the air for children and adults alike. It is a day when laughter, companionship and gratitude are practically sacred and mandatory, enabling us to cast aside any sense of burden and celebrate life as it is with sharing and giving of ourselves, gifts and seasonal dishes.

Traditional or seasonal festive events bring families and communities together in a celebratory tone of goodwill, providing a familiar cycle of customs and culture in tune with the seasons and harvests. The festive season of Christmas and New Year in the west provides the upliftment and sense of renewal that comes from the gratitude, celebration and love shared with those close to us on a day where millions of others are doing the same. Aside from religious traditions, the modern materialistic and retail promoted aspect, the most widely celebrated aspect amidst the lights and decorations, Santa ritual and the great Christmas lunch is this celebration of love and friendship.

In religious circles Christmas marks the birth of a spiritual saviour which can imply at a symbolic and universal level the Birth of Being or Awakening: spiritual rebirth or renewal within when we open our minds to connect with the nature of consciousness and the divine nature deep within. The renewal comes with opening heart and mind with the faith, trust and good-will of a child, with many doing this openly more-so than on most other days of the year. Many people notice more smiles between strangers and general good humour and goodwill when in public places at this time. This is a very healthy release of tension and renewal of faith in humanity for the social psyche. The spirit of Christmas Day with our loved ones is the ever new vitality of life and consciousness when we share lightness of being with a spirit of genuine care and giving. Conscious connection and unity in this mind and heart space brings us closer to real spirit or Christ nature which can take us beyond our human frailties and neurosis.

Jesus may or may not be a significant figure in your life, yet he represents awakening of man to the spirit within us all and the divine as the source and destiny of all. At the time of his ministry, his was a universal message to people of all faiths, cultures and social standing about the spiritual nature of life and consciousness offering us immortality and a plan of ascendency. He encouraged all to take life and consciousness as a gift freely, with the trust and acceptance of a child, to live in thankfulness for it, giving freely of ourselves to others in love and goodwill now and forever.

The message of an available and personal connection to the grand scheme of things, that the true nature of reality is on a spiritual level that we can tap into now and that holds a hidden destiny for each of us is a truly universal and great ideal. Aligning to values and conscious living in every moment, holding the space of love and gratitude in divine presence, enables better recognition of spiritual truths. While Jesus taught the message of relating to universal consciousness as a divine Father, aligning our minds and hearts to a personal experience of the divine provides a living, profound and immediately relevant source of transformation. Spiritual experience by nature is more transcendent while also being a grounding source of being than the changing landscape of lifestyle and self image, social and cultural differences, or beliefs and ideologies based on historically conditioned trends of the time and contemporary world norms.

Spiritual truth is truth that can apply in any age and is at the base of all great ideals, philosophies and practices that lead to true awakening to those who actively seek and live it. The power and reality of spiritual truths can be recognised not only in the subjective response within the seeker but also in the values and progressively life affirming attributes evident in good people’s lives, in the social fabric of people and communities that take on such faith and values. Spiritual truth is not rocket science, but based on a subtle simplicity of faith and knowing of the pure nature of the heart and mind, a sense of spiritual truth that is a subtle key for the seeker and practitioner.

Thus, at Christmas time as we enjoy the goodwill felt in the company of people we love and share life with, we can affirm the significance and core value of life founded in shared goodwill and friendship. Without goodwill and friendship in its many forms, life becomes empty of shared meaning and fulfilment. With it, we affirm the deep down purity of soul and spiritual nature in ourselves and each other.

In this way, Christmas reinforces renewal of faith in human nature, love and goodwill. Let us renew our faith that the nature of life and consciousness finds its own reflection in such ideals and values, and that opening our hearts and minds deeply and authentically to this knowledge with conviction, can bring us closer to greater personal freedom and realisation within our hearts and minds.

The deep love and unity we feel during these festive times can feel more real than all the passing ups and downs of life’s struggles for a reason. It is a closer reflection of our true nature than the worldly troubles and the mind activity we use to deal with them. While the challenge of life is important for shaping character and refining personal identity and decisions, we need reminding of what our true nature is within and shared. Knowing our true nature provides perspective and a real foundation to be more functional individually and collectively. Acknowledging and valuing this in faith, trust and goodwill further enables us to embody and generate beauty and goodness in our lives. Aligning and co-creating our lives from our true nature of spirit, further enables us to feel fulfilled and truly ourselves, to share and manifest in the world together in the formless essence of joy, friendship and camaraderie as fellow beings on this planet in the vast universe.

Real friendship, generosity of heart, and learning to love each other (warts and all) is rewarding because it is an end in itself. It engages the true nature of being before us and is deeply personal, just as the true nature of life and consciousness is profoundly personal as it is impersonal and universal to all beings.

Embodying life in this spirit, Jesus encouraged not only universal love and brotherhood of all mankind, but gave it the context of a Creator of love and being who we can come to know on a personal level as a child to a parent. Recognising the truth and capacity for oneness in such a divine nature, awakens us beyond our material and ego self, is the foundation of our ascendent path towards the birth of Christ consciousness. This birth from within is a living, present and immediate spiritual cause for celebration for which the traditional nativity scene, the life and teachings of Christ point towards.

With New Year upon us, a reset or new starting point in our choices and decisions of the year ahead, the pursuits that drive us and give us purpose presents itself. New Year is a time we can reflect not only on sought after accomplishments and challenges ahead in a worldly sense, but also how we can more fully apply the values and aspects of our deeper nature to our relationships and the countless tasks of ‘doing’ before us. Where do our deepest convictions lie and how do we exercise them in our work and lifestyle, in our relationships, and in ourselves?

In reflecting on the New Year with the joy of Christmas fresh in our hearts and minds, let us apply conscious intent not only towards key things we want to do or achieve in the coming year but also the state of being and quality of consciousness we want to align with.

In love and good-will I hope you have had a Merry Christmas and wish you the best for a Happy New Year!

Photo by …-Wink-… on VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

A Simple & Powerful Way of Enhancing Mindful Living

What are we always doing naturally that is immediately and continually available as a focal point of grounding and expansion of consciousness, providing the link between form and formlessness, doing and being, physical life and beyond death? …… it is our breath.

Conscious breathing is the vehicle for various therapies, relaxation techniques, basic and advanced meditations which are about shifting the mind to a higher awareness and spiritual awakening. Conscious breathing is also key part of the benefits and authentic practice of yogic techniques, xigong and taiji which are about unifying awareness of body, mind and spirit beyond the separate ego-self.

Breathing is something that happens by itself, so it can be witnessed like consciousness, so in meditation it is not something you do but witness with awareness. This is perfect for putting the receptive mind in an open, present and alert state.

These techniques involve directing the breath in ways that engage inner alertness, a relaxed yet focused mind synchronising breath, movement and attention producing a sense of mind, body and spirit alignment and wellbeing. In qigong and taiji for example we can practice performing actions that are practical while maintaining a mindful presence of body-consciousness and the environment around us. In other words, they can enhance the effects of conscious breathing in stilling the activity of the mind while maintaining wakeful alertness of mindful body movement that is synchronised with the breath. This type of mindful practice trains and teaches us how to apply this same balance of doing and non-doing with a spacious awareness while dealing with daily tasks, observing our thoughts and feelings as they arise and thus help develop identification with consciousness instead of the content of consciousness. We can learn to utilise breath and mindfulness to maintain a sense of balance, a sense of stability and focus while being present with real arising thoughts and feeling responses to situations without getting taking away by them.

With this awareness we can become more empowered to deal with stress and emotional reactions, habitual negative or non-productive thinking, behavioural habits and compulsions, by being able to experience them without them becoming our whole sense of self in the moment. Without processing them, just by embracing them deeply with the light of consciousness and presence, keeping our energy moving with conscious breathing, these same thoughts and feelings can transform from habitual and predictable reactions to new and creative ground.

The space between our thoughts and feelings is what reveals the consciousness that is projecting them. Maintaining a state of presence and awareness of this background of consciousness gives us a greater ability to respond and experience all aspects of ourselves and our life with equanimity and perspective. The breath can be used as an intermediary focus between the content of mind and the consciousness from which it arises. Learning to engage with more quality and frequency of consciousness of consciousness can then become the grounding point for spiritual awakening and experience.

Mindful awareness enables us to experience spaciousness of mind and heart where thoughts, feelings and situations come and go in a medium of consistent stability and relaxed openness. Conscious breathing gives us an immediate tool that helps ground our present moment awareness within and without in a balanced way. At the same time boundaries can dissolve so we feel unified with reality in and around us. Good practice of Qigoing and taiji or yoga combines relaxed body movement or postures with conscious breathing to further ground this mindful awareness into our inner experience of the physical body and the circulation of breath and subtle energies to create a more tangible subjective experience associated with this state of being.

However, you don’t have to practice these disciplines for years or become an expert to start getting great benefits. Taking brief times to be still and breath even a dozen times at the start and end of the day, while mindfully breathing 2-3 times during daily activities can provide progressive benefits with a little persistence. This involves being aware of the body form head to toe, and being fully present during each second of inhale and exhale, noticing any natural holds or pauses, areas of relaxation and tension in breath and body. Just taking brief times to do this, observe and be aware with a relaxed mind as it happens will bring its own results.

Many of us have characteristic breath patterns which reflect how we deal with stress as does the stress patterns evident in our posture and body tissue tension and sensitivity. Noticing pauses or momentary holds in the breath along with the quality of inhale and exhale will gradually open the breath naturally to a more rhythmical and deep cycle and calm the mind to wakeful alertness. Conscious breathing, sustained or regularly practiced as a momentary technique will naturally still the mind and energise the body promoting alert mindful awareness. These two conditions, a calm still mind and relaxed alertness or focus, are preparation for realisation of the nature of consciousness and therefore spiritual awareness.

The experience of inner body awareness using postures and controlled movement synchronised with breathing helps to ground us from ‘spacing out’ in such states, ensure we are practicing a balanced alertness of non-thinking consciousness. In this consciousness, awareness of breath, inner body experience and surroundings can then be all observed in equanimity. When the observer or the consciousness of the experience embraces the experience unconditionally in the moment, it is not defined or contained by it.

One of the first techniques of basic yogic breath is a three phase breath expanding the abdomen, then the chest or thoracic region, followed by the top of the chest or clavicular area with the inhale, noticing any pause before allowing each region in the same order to relax with the exhale. Try practicing this in your conscious breathing.

With practice as you feel more fully present in yourself after some conscious breathing you can also invite joy, love or peace fully into mind and body. These, along with illumination, compassion, goodness and beauty are natural qualities that can be tapped into in such calm, open and unified states. How simple and valuable then, can the breath be, in taking charge of developing more deep and authentic personal experience of these often sought after states.

Making a daily practice of conscious breathing enables us to employ such practice effectively before, during or after times we feel imbalanced, forgetful or reactive. in order to regain a centred and deep sense of being that was always there and never truly lost. Just notice what happens, not only to yourself but often to those around you, when you break a pattern of stress or reaction that would otherwise have run its course. Notice the change and then stay with the breath rather than creating a commentary of the gained insight and shift, thereby remaining present in your ongoing ‘nowness’.

When you are in mindful stillness, you are tapped into who you are as the source of thought and experience and not defined by them. Thus your awareness resonates more closely with the authentic self untainted by any one mood or situational context, closer to the formless and eternal self which can also be termed spirit.

May you continue in serene and energised conscious breathing.

Photo on Visualhunt with quote added

Finding and Enjoying the True Treasure of Life

In the modern era, there is so much commercial noise globally around obtaining things, worldly wealth, and success— on our phones, computers, iPads, and tablets, as well as on TV and wherever we go on the city streets, on public transportation, in shopping malls, in the magazines we read. In our twenty-first century comfort many of us do not feel the need for a ‘Kingdom of heaven’ or a ‘spiritual life’ at all, whether we are enjoying our worldly struggles and challenges or not.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and in his joy he went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one very precious pearl, he went away and sold all he had and bought it.

(Matthew 13:44–46)

Relative to the noise, complexities and distractions of our lives today, one could be forgiven for thinking the kingdom of heaven is even more deeply buried than ever. The ‘treasure’ or ‘pearl’ in the teachings above are not contradictory to worldly success and wealth, but the obsession or even the identification with material world things is close to the root of missing the riches of realization of true self and reality. The cultivation of desire and attachment to the material, the mindset of “things” as an end in themselves, is a threat or obstacle to “being” in the what Jesus referred to as the kingdom.

Jesus testifies that the treasure of the kingdom of heaven is something to be discovered and found—hidden within us and not blaring at us like so many worldly acquirements. Our will, intention and co-operation is required to find the true treasure within us and present all around us. There is divine purpose in this requirement for us as co-creators of our own destiny and participation in life and consciousness.

This parable describes how, for the person who seeks and does discover, recognize and stake a claim, this treasure or pearl can be acquired securely. First, we must keep it treasured within where it was found. Second, by making it the primary purpose and importance of our life, identity, and inner focus, we must devote all of ourselves and all we have to the alignment and sustenance of this inner connection and co-existence in the divine. This is done with the awareness of what is the cause and what is the effect in our existence and experience of life. Only in this way can we truly embrace the whole spectrum of material, mental and spiritual life. ‘Selling’ all we have or are, and buying the field, is taking ownership of our life and of the treasure within, devoting every part of our nature and life (the field) to the treasure within it. This is like the principle of loving God or the divine nature of all, with all our heart and mind.

The merchant is like the spiritual aspirant who has a realization or revelation within himself, that he or she has recognized the precious or authentic divine truth being sought. Once he has this recognition, the merchant or aspirant wisely acts and devotes all he is to aligning with that pearl of truth and nurturing its growth and fulfillment in his life. This taking of ownership through focus and action will lead to the bearing of spiritual fruits in one’s character and in one’s life. When these are in abundance, so to can all aspects of the life that is true for us be in abundance.

When it comes down to an authentic and undivided mind and sense of self, we need to have a strong and certain sense of identification with our true self. What is that true self? It is not our thoughts, beliefs, emotions and points of view. It is not who we present to the world or who we think we are. It is the consciousness and spaciousness that is experiencing all of that.

To get beyond our own projections of what we think ‘that’ is or who we ‘think’ we are, we must practice letting go of the things we are not and observe them. Mental activity and the things of life never stop, so gaining deeper perspective can come from consciously observing them, including our narratives and perceptions of them. When there is enough space consciously and a strong enough sense of ‘being-ness’ that we can become familiar with, that state of being enables us to experience the phenomena of our inner world and its activity as it is arising. We we can observe mindfully in each moment our thoughts and feelings, our complete subjective experience of being in the moment, then start to separate the things we are not from what we are. We can sharpen our distinctions of what is our own inner activity – projections, responses, reactions and perceptions of the outer world.

Until we invest our identification completely in the observer or ‘experiencer’ rather than the content or experience, we will still get drawn into identifying with the good and bad, the ups and downs of our divided and conditioned self and be led away from true ‘beingness’ by those same thoughts and feelings by our attachment or aversion to and from them. Identification with the content of our life results in a divided mind suffering inner conflict and insecurity deep within from attachment and identification with a small and separate ego self. This self is based on an investment in survival and protection as a separate self. It is the self of attachment to its own reality of manufactured layers of beliefs, responses and reactions to ensure survival and happiness based on fear and uncertainty.

When we invest ourselves in the consciousness that is unchanged and experiencing all of this in the background, a great spaciousness arises, where we can can experience things more as they are. We then have greater awareness and choice about our responses, and by dissolving our identification with our own separate reality about reality, we can experience greater unity in our sense of self and as part of the cause and effect of things as they are. Gaining a rock solid ‘isness’ of things is by virtue of the nature of the life and consciousness from which we experience existence. We are actually more enabled to do respond effectively without anxieties or misplaced intentions. In identifying with the consciousness that is experiencing the individual self, we realize the individual self is an extension of life and consciousness itself which is our greater self. The true self is not a product of the world, it is not self made and the things of real concern are not our normal daily worries. In this realization, we can gain an ever present humility of being unified with a vast and endless whole as an individual while also feeling that same vastness and wholeness is expressing itself through the individual self as a vehicle for each of us all to be here.

The more we base ourselves in our own truth and knowing of this, and allow ourselves to be and live in that subjective experience, the more is revealed about the true nature and unity of life and consciousness. The greatest aspect of this, as confirmed by all great masters of the ages, is the deepening experience and understanding of love and unity, of inherent goodness and beauty. In the acquirement or discovery of this great truth is the gratitude and appreciation of truth and compassion for all of life. Our recognition of some aspect of divinity comes from the knowing of the nature of life and consciousness from direct awareness and choosing, from which comes the knowing of what this essence reveals of the nature of its own substance and function, cause and destiny.

Photo by europeanspaceagency on VisualHunt / CC BY (quote added)

Connecting to the Power of Life in the Present Moment

Mindfulness

Mindfulness, is a buddhist term embraced by western psychology and is now a modernised term for practicing awareness of experience in the present moment or a ‘state of presence’. In the buddhist context it develops self knowledge and wisdom to achieve enlightenment and be free of suffering. In western therapeutic modalities it is used to deal with mental illness, anxiety and stress. The last sixty years it has been researched and recognised as an approach for various effective therapeutic uses, in addition to general wellbeing, performance enhancement and spiritual awakening.

The deeper art of mindfulness is in training the mind to let go of identifying with projections of self. Projections of self may be through identification with outward appearances, circumstances and material things. More primary are inner projections of identification with thoughts, emotions and bodily experience. These ever changing aspects of experiencing the world as individuals can take us on cycles of ups and downs that seem to have a life of their own. Many people’s sense of self and the world, moods and states, perceptions and opinions are reflected in their mental narrative and emotional state as an overall accumulative effect as well as acutely during intense moments. Identifying with them is considered to be the source of suffering by ancient teachings. Training our mind enables us to get beyond our projections of self, deeper into authentic states of inner equilibrium and self realisation, beyond thought and emotion and into the more stable background of consciousness from which mental activity arises.

The inner projections above are the primary ways we really get locked into egocentric identity and loose our ability to be consistently in the drivers seat when it comes to thoughts (most of which are repetitive and predictable yet filter our experiences enormously), emotions (which can really influence our perception independently thoughts and beliefs or collaboratively with them, cause us to be reactive instead of proactive, and forget ourselves when they arise intensely). Body image and inner body experience can also become part of a self-perpetual loop. Emotions, thoughts and bodily experience become illusory when based on our conditioned programming and expectations, we cannot separate them from our sense of who we are. Our personal experience of thoughts and beliefs becomes its own evidence of the reality of those same conditioned beliefs and views thus reinforcing them. The psycho-physical landscape of how we hold ourselves in body and form in the world reveals where we are balanced and life affirming. Alternatively our stress patterns will reflect imbalance, a divided mind identified with positive and negative thoughts and beliefs spliting our identity from our true state of Being.

When we are identifying with these three primary inner projections, they cease to be useful tools for embodying, expressing and sharing our true presence in the world. Instead they become a tool of the ego and in the guise of ‘adaption’, ‘protection’ and ‘self image’ and become the substance of what ‘ego’ does to separate us from a true sense of connection and oneness with life and consciousness. Ego hinders us because it involves identifying with aspects of our life and selves that have no inherent existence of themselves. Ego identification is investing our experience of self in the things and self-created images we give meaning to, rather than identification in the source of where that meaning and purpose truly comes from, our true self as pure consciousness and life.

So how do we best practice ‘mindfulness’ in a way that disengages us from this false identification? Can we be more fully and consistently in a unified state, harmonising mind, body and emotion with our true nature and values? Can we spend more time in qualitative creative and insightful states rather than mundane and habitual ruts of thinking? Is it realistic to be consistently in this space of alignment at the right place at the right time? What further aspects of life experience open up to us when spiritually mature in this way?

Mindfulness is in principle so simple, it can easily be disregarded by ego consciousness. Not only that, it can be very difficult to break old habits and so requires consistent practice, consciously with will and effort until it becomes second nature. Even then, we must be on guard when it comes to egocentric states that take us back into identification with conditioned patterns and suffering. The ego seems to resist being put in its place once we have invested in it for security, success, survival or happiness. In truth, the ego can do nothing of its own because it is our creation, our own projection of ourselves.

Practice and Application of Mindfulness

Essentially, basic mindful meditation is a practice in stillness for what is also required in action to live in a true state of presence. It is being able to subjectively surrender our complete experience in the moment to the consciousness from which it arises. It is allowing ourselves to be still, present and unified in a presence or spaciousness of being. This state is found, and not manufactured, often using breath or another single focus as a way there. We can observe each thought, feeling and data input as it arises or presents itself. Initially, many associated thoughts and feelings are are noticed like a cascade effect of ceaseless mind activity. Things can seem to get busier before they settle if we are not used to this shift.

With practice of stillness, presence and observation, these associated thoughts and feelings diminish until we experience some space between arising thoughts and observed sensations. Eventually we realise they occur in our consciousness, and we are in fact the space of consciousness in which it all occurs. It is not about understanding this intellectually, but being in it fully and subjectively. With that experiential realisation it becomes much easier to get into the zone quickly and more easily maintain it while we go about our day of tasks and communications. Thinking and feeling becomes more balanced, even minded, yet even more rich and far reaching with more choice.

Enormous changes occur once this happens, this shift and new sense of inner freedom and wellbeing continues to provide greater depth, awareness and insight based on personal realisation and experience that goes deeper than our words and mind narratives can conceive. Love, receptivity and connectedness can be enriched on new levels. This space is not vacuous but full of subtlety.

With practice, the most opportune time to apply mindfulness is during highly positively or negatively charged experiences. Mindfulness is not just a neutral or numb state, although can be easier to attain in a neutral state t first. Relaxing mind and body during ‘charged’ times, and embracing each thought and feeling as a projection of who we are, help flex the muscle of consciousness and awareness. These times offer high energy that intensifies and expands our state of presence. When ego identified, we tend to energise projected thoughts, feelings or egocentric needs relevant to the time, loosing ourselves in intense moments, sensations or role playing. With mindfulness we can embrace the same content from a deepening and expanding consciousness with alignment in our true state of being and transform the energy from reactivity into a personal victory of higher consciousness and conscious action.

It is sometimes useful, while witnessing these times of highly positive or negative experiences, to affirm simply and briefly within yourself “I am not my thoughts”, “I am not my feelings”, “I am not my body”. Then simply be, observing what is going on within and without before we speak, decide or act. The content (thoughts, feelings, perceptions) are still there to be experienced even more deeply but without attachment, aversion or the dislocation of identification with them. No matter how bad or how wonderful our thoughts and feelings are as they arise, our true being is an immensely greater field and reality from which they arise. Embracing really strong thoughts and sensations in this conscious state of presence enables greater joy, true insight and reality of being.

Practices like Taiji, qigong, meditation and yoga help us to disengage from identification with our inner projections. Actually doing anything you enjoy with complete attention can be effective for many people in sport, business, or hobbies like working in the garden. The advantages of taiji, qigong or yoga is that they create a space to feel every part of the body and breath consciously and fully while relaxing the nervous system and mind. They are designed and developed over the ages to balance the mind and body energy specifically. Golf, relaxed rowing or gardening for example, can offer similar states but not necessarily cultivate the focus and quality of the conscious state depending on the intention and experience of the doer. Likewise, we see in the orient, zen walking and raking, flower arranging, calligraphy and painting done as a sacred discipline in special settings along with martial art applications like archery or taiji sword. With intentional practice, intent and setting are important combined with controlled and relaxed activities done in a state of still mind, synchronised movement and breath.

Activities that are too sedate or too stimulating to mind, body or both may not be as effective to develop the mindful state. The above are active ways to utilise inner body experience to take one out of the thinking narratives of mind. Yoga teaches one to release resistance, discomfort and disturbance by relaxing and breathing into it with acceptance and allow it to transform without having to process or ‘do’ anything with it. The light of pure awareness or consciousness itself is transformative and unifying. So it is with all things in life. This is why some non-action techniques of sitting meditation or sivasana (corpse pose in yoga) are considered as both the most simple and advanced techniques of practice. What activity incorporating these principles would make an enriching part of your daily practice?

 

Photo by Barnsjukhuset on Visual Hunt / CC BY

Three Proven Approaches to Spiritual Health and Vitality

Three main branches of yoga defined in the Bhagavad Gita thousands of years ago, before the many diverse styles and branches (and focus on physical asanas) of modern times.  They apply universally to any faith or path as the three main aspects of spiritual practice:

  1. Alignment with divine love and compassion (bhakti yoga, devotion, worship)
  2. Wisdom through knowledge and realisation or direct experience (jnana yoga)
  3. Practical application of mindfulness and values through selfless action and service (karma yoga)

How can we utilise these principles to nurture and practice them in our modern lives?

Bhakti Yoga (The Path of Love and Devotion)

Bhakti Yoga, the way of love or devotion, can be well suited to modern life. Easwaran in his Gita companion book says it is “natural to forget ourselves for those we love.” (p.125). The challenge is to deepen our understanding and experience of love. Love is a term applied to so many deep and superficial things these days, that it is almost too crude or too common a term to apply to a more rarely experienced deep and profound consciousness that is the essence of our spiritual nature. Real love and compassion in the conscious sense, go beyond emotional or mental needs and preferences to become a state of consciousness also transcending self will.

The sanskrit word bhakti means a state of consciousness in which you forget your (ego) self. A common counsel to those practicing bhakti yoga is to practice the art of unconditional love with one relationship (a partner, intimate friend or close family relationship), then extend that love genuinely out to others and ultimately to all life.

A spiritual or religious view helps by providing a sense of a shared source and destiny of life and consciousness as the means of connection and unity with others. A transcendent foundation to reality helps one understand inherent unity beyond the conflict and diversity of the material world. Authentic love and devotion to a divine or universal being (bhakti) must come from a deep personal truth and connection which requires spiritual effort and the ability to get past the conditioning of differences in appearance, gender, culture, religion and ideologies.

If we can regularly connect from within to a presence or field of love in and around us, with no labels attached, then we can better learn to consistently identify with it in place of identification with the little ‘self’ by consistently aligning our actions and state of consciousness in this state, in the present moment, throughout all that we do on a daily basis. This in turn produces the ability to remain in the flow of universal or connected consciousness. In A New Earth, Ekhart Tolle describes in depth, three states that allow this connection and flow: enjoyment, acceptance or enthusiasm. Bhakti is possible anytime by connecting within in the correct state of consciousness that we are capable of at the time and situation.

Therefore, while religious chanting, singing and dancing are traditional and common practices for surrendering into a bhakti reverie, so to can quiet and private worship or meditating, walks and time in nature, as well as quality time and intimacy with friends and loved ones. Intimacy here means communication and connection that is truly an authentic sharing of each other in a selfless way, where we have the safety and understanding to be frank in sharing values or uplifting views and heart felt thoughts with each other. 

Bhakti is not about a purely moralistic universal love or a romanticised emotional ideal. It is a transformative and heart felt experience of a profound connection and oneness of divine love that expands ones view, understanding and compassion for all life. It is spiritually significant where it includes a sense of a greater reality and presence than the material world before us. Thus, relationships gain a deeper meaning when their purpose includes affirming and expressing this universal sense in each other for the benefit of all.

Jnana Yoga (The Path of Wisdom through Realisation and Knowledge)

Jnana Yoga, the path of wisdom or knowledge, is not just about intellect . Easwaran describes it as “direct, experiential knowledge of the unity of life, attained by progressively seeing through the layers of delusion that glue us to the body and mind – something that is simple to talk about but almost impossible to do.” (p.118). (also see the Gita 12:3-4)

Scripture and teachings in spiritual traditions can be a means of obtaining tried and true guidance, especially with guidance from a teacher. For most people in modern times, access to quality information is now huge from many channels, but still requires discrimination of quality. However, jnana is really about the inseparableness of knowledge and experience. Especially when it comes to authentic states of consciousness, our own nature of being (spirit and consciousness) enables us to recognise truth when we experience it. There is a deep capacity of recognition of profound reality and divine truth when we experience it. The deep wisdom of masters is not from dry intellect but hand in hand with love of God: “to know is to love, and to love is to act” (Easwaran, p.119, also see the Gita 18:54-56).

Karma Yoga (The Path of Spirituality through Action and Service)

Karma Yoga is the path of selfless action. It is more than service, which is most important, as service becomes yoga “when we forget ourselves in that work and desire nothing from it ourselves, not even recognition or appreciation.” Therefore, the quality of consciousness in which an act is done, is an integral part of the spiritual value of performing actions and service to others. Many who receive great recognition have done great things for the world, so this distinction is not at their expense. Rather, it highlights the importance of people doing acts in ways that shrink or dissolve egotism and separateness. “The question is what effect this work has on them [the doer]. If it loosens egotism, pride, and the bonds of separateness, it can be called karma yoga, but not if it is making these bonds stronger.” (Easwaran, p.120).

Sri Krishna says true selfless actions alone will help free us from the results of past karma (Gita 4:22-23) which is why this approach of service is called karma yoga. In his autobiography, Gandhi spoke about how difficult it was to tirelessly work for others without getting attached to things turning out his way. Since we can’t control so many factors in life, Sri Krishna affirms it is in our power to act wisely, but wise not to be anxious about the outcomes so we may live and act with an evenness of mind (Gita 2:47,48). Caring about our actions and motivations without getting entangled in our own personal investment of the outcomes is a fine line to walk. Gandhi summarised this famously with: “Do your best, then leave the results to God.” This is the secret to Karma Yoga – using the right means to achieve the right end without attachment to the outcome.

Dhyana yoga or meditation is the foundation of all yogic paths in order to train our minds to get to deeper levels of consciousness. In these busy times of materialistic distraction, such a regular practice becomes all the more valuable. It is our own personal and direct connection to spirit or the divine that really determines the spiritual quality of our life. It can only be found by being fully aligned in the present moment. Krishna in the Gita says:

Meditation is superior to asceticism and the path of knowledge. It is also superior to selfless service. May you obtain the goal of meditation, Arjuna! (Gita 6:46)

Love, wisdom and service exercised throughout life from deep consciousness and connection to the whole, obtained through worship or meditation, is our ultimate purpose in being here and all we do. So, create a little checklist and see how you exercise these three aspects in your life.

Recommended Reading:

Essence of the Bhagavad Gita -; A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation and Indian Philosophy, by Eknath Easwaran (Nilgiris Press, Tomales, CA, USA, 2011)

God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, by Paramahansa Yogananda (Self-Realization Fellowship, USA, 1999, Second Edition)

The Bhagavad Gita, translation & commentary, by Sri Swami Sivananda (The Divine Life Society, India, 2015, Fifteenth Edition)

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, by Eckhart Tolle (Penguin, 2008)

Photo by Eddi van W. on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND