Please note: “The Force,” “Jedi,” “Star Wars,” and a host of other related terms are trademarked by LucasFilm / Disney. Additionally, the opinions and views expressed in the below article are the author’s own and not associated or endorsed in any way by LucasFilm or Disney. Lastly, the goal of the articles in this series is to intellectually compare an idea from the fictional Star Wars universe with a concept from our actual universe – not to imply that these two things are the same.

Welcome to our last (I promise!) installment in the side-by-side comparison between The Force and the concept I refer to on the blog as Energy. In this last installment we’ll take on the 2nd half of the below quote from the Wikipedia Article (see last week’s post for the first half) and we’ll end by summing up the discussion at the root of this series.

“A number of other paranormal, psionic Force powers are demonstrated in the film series, including telekinesis, levitation, hypnosis, and mind control, as well as extra sensory perception based abilities such as telepathy, clairvoyance, and enhanced empathy.” (underlining mine)

Telepathy

Google defines Telepathy as, “the supposed communication of thoughts or ideas by means other than the known senses.”

We tend to think of our brains as a ‘contained’ space and our thoughts as private. If we return to the premise that ‘everything is made up of energy’ and add to that the idea that we are able to process the information in that energy to varying degrees of ability, our brains can be quite ‘leaky.’ I’m certain we have all been in a situation where a song is in our head and someone else in the room starts humming or singing it. Alternatively, we might watch someone else struggle to find a word, we ‘think’ the word in our mind, and suddenly they have it.

Telepathy is an obvious similarity between The Force and Energy and is one that most of us experience in subtle ways without even realizing it. Have you ever interacted with someone where there is such mutual understanding between the two of you that words seem only supplemental? Even words are energy. When two people are energetically in tune there are multiple levels of energetic communication between them; spoken words are only one level.

In contrast, have you ever interacted with someone where you had an incredibly difficult time communicating? You understood all the words they were using, but you just couldn’t understand them? Or, they seemed to be unable to understand you? When two people are not energetically in tune, the energetic dissonance gets in the way of communication and spoken words can rarely bridge the gap.

On a side note, if we are looking for irrefutable ‘proof’ of telepathy – perhaps we ought to consider that most people minds (including our own) are hardly very clear and focused. When we are not clear ‘senders’ of signals and not clear ‘receivers’ how can we expect to be able to practice telepathy in a way that would hold up to ‘lab’ testing conditions?[1]   Although it’s not as obviously experienced with Energy as it is with The Force, telepathic ability is a similarity between the two

Clairvoyance

Google defines Clairvoyance as, “the supposed facility of perceiving events in the future or beyond normal sensory contact.”

Like telepathy, clairvoyance is an obvious similarity between The Force and Energy. Our energetic connection opens a channel to perceive situations and events in a manner beyond our cognitive reference. As introduced in the initial installment of this series – if everything is made up of energy and we are able to connect into that energy, then unlimited amounts of information are available to us.

The challenge in the physical world is in increasing our awareness of this connection and broadening our ability to process the information that comes through so that we can cognitively make use of it. On a personal level, I would never consider myself a psychic,[2] however, I have experiences that would qualify as ‘clairvoyant’ on a fairly regular basis.

Enhanced Empathy

We touched on this subject in the very first section, so I won’t repeat what was said there. However, I have found that, through connection, my sense of empathy in general has increased.

Huston Smith writes in The World’s Religions, “Seeing all things under the aspect of eternity would make one objective toward oneself… Personal failure would be as small a cause for concern as playing the role of loser in a summer theater performance. How could one feel disappointed at one’s own defeat if one experienced the victor’s joy as also one’s own; how could being passed over for a promotion touch one if one’s competitor’s success were enjoyed vicariously?”[3]

To be fair, my experience of enhanced empathy has been more that I feel another’s defeat and sorrow to such a degree that it dampens any victory. In general, it has turned me into a person who is not very competitive. I am also highly moved when I witness kindness and love between people; not romantic love, but the kind that gives without any expectation of return.

I want to be careful, here, not to suggest that I have some sortof emotional mastery that abnegates the self in favor of the collective. I still very much have a self – and, in fact, I like having a self. My self still has concerns about others’ perceptions, about being loved, about doing the right thing, etc.

Enhanced empathy is not synonymous with being a ‘perfect person.’ It’s not even, necessarily, always a desirable quality. Famed spiritualist Sonia Choquette says highly empathic individuals often have weak psychic boundaries. They let other people’s emotions influence them in, sometimes, unhealthy ways. In my case that’s very likely to be true, I’m working on my energetic boundaries. In any case, enhanced empathy is a similarity between ‘The Force’ and ‘Energy.’

The Sith are able to generate a lightning-like manifestation of the dark side of the Force that can be used either in combat or as an instrument of torture, as demonstrated by the Emperor in Return of the Jedi (1983).[13]

I’ve got nothing on this one. I’ve never seen anyone control or generate lightning using energy.  🙂 I suppose it’s possible, but let’s leave this one in the ‘difference’ category for now.

Conversely, Yoda demonstrates an ability to absorb, dissipate and deflect these energy attacks in Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005).[4]

What I can say about this ability, from my own personal experience, is that I tend to feel a build-up of intense, ‘crackly’ energy when a strong storm is coming (as one example). When that happens, the Energy needs an outlet, and I find I need to ‘ground’ it (by directing the flow of energy to the Earth), cry, or do something physically draining (dance, running, etc.). If I don’t do these things, I end up fighting with someone – the energy comes out as aggression.

When I direct the energy to flow through me instead of simply trying to absorb it or manage it internally, I feel much better. Based on that, I can imagine a master energy practitioner (the equivalent of a Yoda, for example) being able to masterfully redirect energy from a direct energetic ‘attack.’ I consider this capability a similarity between The Force and Energy.

Practice, Patience, and Perseverance

The development and use of Force abilities requires intense willpower, discipline, and concentration, which becomes easier with practice. Use of the Force requires considerable effort and energy, and can be physically draining.

This is definitely true of both Energy and The Force. What the Star Wars series alludes to, but the watcher does not really experience firsthand, is that working with Energy takes a tremendous amount of effort and patience. Even for people with talent in one particular area, I imagine they have to put in considerable effort to expand their experience of Energy.

In the newest installment of the Star Wars movies, The Force Awakens, the main character, Rey seems to just “come into her abilities” without a lot of training or effort. In contrast, in the initial trilogy, Luke spends most of The Empire Strikes Back in training with Yoda. The latter aligns much more closely, in terms of effort required, to my experience working with Energy.

Additionally, in the Star Wars Universe, it seems that all or at least many of the properties of The Force are available simultaneously to ‘force-sensitive’ individuals. Maybe I’m just ridiculously untalented in this area, but Energy talent does not appear to manifest the same way.

Even when people have a strong, natal talent for working with energy it seems to be higher in one or two categories rather than spread across all of them. For example, one person might be highly clairvoyant where another is highly empathic. However, it’s certainly possible, if people were to begin training in such practices on a regular and consistent basis, that we might see more people with abilities across the full spectrum.

After a side-by-side comparison, I see many similarities between what I call Energy and George Lucas’ concept of The Force in the Star Wars universe. There are certainly differences also. One obvious difference, though, is that one belongs to a fictional world where its properties can expand to whatever the plot requires.

The other is a real element of the corporeal universe. While we can all train ourselves to consult at varying levels of ability, the properties of Energy are still bound by the physical laws of the Universe.

I hope you have enjoyed this series. Now that we’ve gone through the basics on Energy, hopefully it will make more sense (if it hasn’t already) where it comes up on the blog.

[1] See the paragraph in ‘The Art of Finding’ about how ‘performance anxiety’ can interfere with tapping into our subtle abilities.

[2] See the post “What does it mean to be psychic” for more details on this

[3] The World’s Religions; Smith, Huston; 1991; Harper Collins; p23

Please note: “The Force,” “Jedi,” “Star Wars,” and a host of other related terms are trademarked by LucasFilm / Disney. Additionally, the opinions and views expressed in the below article are the author’s own and not associated or endorsed in any way by LucasFilm or Disney. Lastly, the goal of the articles in this series is to intellectually compare an idea from the fictional Star Wars universe with a concept from our actual universe – not to imply that these two things are the same.

Welcome to the next installment of our side-by-side comparison between The Force from the Star Wars universe and Energy from our universe. J This week we’ll tackle the first half of the below quote from the Wikipedia article on The Force.

“A number of other paranormal, psionic Force powers are demonstrated in the film series, including telekinesis, levitation, hypnosis, and mind control, as well as extra sensory perception based abilities such as telepathy, clairvoyance, and enhanced empathy.”

Let’s take these one by one;

Telekinesis

Have I ever been able to call a lightsaber to my side just by reaching out my hand? No. However, before we move on from the subject of telekinesis, let’s dig a little deeper into this idea.

Google defines Telekinesis as, “the supposed ability to move objects at a distance by mental or non-physical means.” If we consider the Universe to be made up of energy – whether fixed or fluid (Ie, in a fluid energetic state or fixed in matter) and, if we recognize that it is possible to influence that energy in the future through our own energetic connection, that – in a way – is a type of telekinesis.

Also, I have had a couple of odd experiences in my life where it seems almost as if I have ‘called’ things to my side. In one example, I was sitting in our family living room meditating on the middle of the carpet and thinking about this small Turquoise rock I had lost. I had lost it months before (maybe even more than a year) with no idea of what happened to it.

When I opened my eyes at the end of the meditation, and looked down at my hand on the carpet, there was the rock! I had been meditating in the middle of our living room – one of the most high-traffic rooms in the house, so it’s fairly impossible that the rock had just been sitting there all this time. I could imagine that someone walked by and ‘dropped’ it – but no one in my family is really big on carrying small rocks about. This is still a mystery to me, but it’s a ‘data point’[1] in the direction of being able to move objects energetically.

If we accept this broader view of telekinesis, this ‘power’ could be a similarity between Energy and The Force. However, if we focus only on the specific telekinetic actions of the characters in the series; literally moving objects through space in the moment, I have never witnessed nor experienced that directly… so that would be a difference between these two elements.

Levitation

Levitation is certainly something that mystics have claimed to be able to do. I have never levitated, nor have I ever seen anyone levitate.   On the other hand, sometimes during meditation I have felt this incredible ‘lightness of being,’ an intense pull upward that made it feel like I could levitate if I just went a little further along that path. I could see how that feeling, alone, would suggest levitation may be possible using energy. I have never personally achieved it, though, so let’s leave this in the ‘difference’ category for now.

Hypnosis & Mind Control

A further quote from the Wikipedia article; “They are also able to influence and control the minds of others by making use of the “Jedi mind trick”, or using the Force to implant suggestions with which the subject is compelled to comply.[8]

I have a strong negative reaction to the word ‘control.’ However, Energy can definitely be used to influence others. I have certainly ended up accidentally influencing co-workers, loved ones, and friends. The idea of deliberately influencing another person energetically feels a bit unethical, though, so I honestly have not tried to do that.[2]

On the other hand, I do believe I’ve been on the receiving end of such influence. In January of 2013, I found a meditation center that I briefly considered attending / joining. At the time, I was searching for a Spiritual Path mentor, and I had hoped to have found one there. After a couple of visits, though, I came to believe that the leader of the center was (however purely intentioned) trying to manipulate my energy.

The first time I visited, I could feel him digging around in my heart chakra. I’m not familiar enough with the mechanics of energy work to know whether he was just ‘opening up’ old trunks and closets and things I had closed off or whether he was deliberately wreaking havoc, but I came out of the experience feeling deep heart chakra pain and crying the whole drive home.

Unsure of whether I’d had a deeply cathartic energy experience or a deeply wounding one (hey, sometimes pain is good for you, right?), I went back once more. This time, when asked to wait in a private waiting room, every chair I sat in caused an intense energetic reaction (I’ve written about this experience in more detail in the post “Out of My Mind“). I concluded that some very intense energetic influence was happening at that practice. Already out of my depth and unsure how long I’d be able to hold my own, I withdrew.

Based on that (and other) experiences, I could definitely imagine that an unscrupulous energy worker could heavily influence or ‘control’ a person who is unaware of energetic influence and in a vulnerable place emotionally. Would it be as obvious an influence as when Rey, in The Force Awakens, says “You will release my restraints” and the storm troopers comply? It’s hard to say.

I imagine that a master energy practitioner (which I am nowhere near) would probably be acting enough in harmony with the flow of energy that they would be able to avoid getting into a situation where they would need to push that hard. If they needed to, could they? Probably. I would sort this ability into the ‘similarity’ category.

That rounds out our discussion for this week – in our last entry, next week, we’ll cover telepathy, clairvoyance, enhanced empathy, and a few miscellaneous items.

[1] See the post “Sink or Swim” for more on the significance of data points in spiritual path work

[2] I imagine if I or my family were ever in danger, however, all those scruples of “not influencing someone energetically” would go out the window – I would definitely try.

Please note: “The Force,” “Jedi,” “Star Wars,” and a host of other related terms are trademarked by LucasFilm / Disney. Additionally, the opinions and views expressed in the below article are the author’s own and not associated or endorsed in any way by LucasFilm or Disney. Lastly, the goal of the articles in this series is to intellectually compare an idea from the fictional Star Wars universe with a concept from our actual universe – not to imply that these two things are the same.

What About All the ‘powers’ associated with The Force in Star Wars? Does working with Energy come with those also?

In the previous two posts, we explored Energy, at a high level, in comparison with George Lucas’ concept of The Force and we covered my personal discovery of Energy as an initiation point on my Spiritual Path. In this next installment, we will do a side by side comparison of the ‘powers’ associated with The Force from the Star Wars Universe compared to those associated with the concept I refer to as Energy.

Initially I planned for this to be one long post, but it topped out above 3,000 words and I have since decided to break it up into three sections; parts 3,4, & 5. Using the Wikipedia entry as our guide (I know that’s hardly exhaustive if you’re a Star Wars aficionado, but it provides an acceptable entry point) let’s look at some of the features of The Force;

“As the Force connects all living things, Force-sensitive individuals may feel what is called a “disturbance in the Force” when death or suffering occurs on a massive scale

Force-sensitive individuals may be able to sense each other’s presence and emotions across distances, as Luke and Princess Leia do in The Empire Strikes Back.”

I’m going to take these two together because my experience with them has been fundamentally related. I do tend to feel pain or ‘a disturbance’ in my heart chakra when someone I love is in trouble. I have also noticed this sensation in my heart chakra during times of extreme distress on a national and global scale; September 11th 2001 specifically comes to mind.

It’s hard to parse out whether this feeling is attributable to mere ‘fear’ on my own part or if it’s triggered by the energetic connection. Additionally, I’ve had a number of apparent ‘false positives’ – where I feel this disturbance with no readily identifiable cause. My ability to process what I get through my energetic connection into ‘sensible’ information is still developing so sometimes I feel things without knowing why.

Theoretically, if we are all energetically connected and we are mindful of that connection, we could certainly ‘sense’ things via that channel. Based on my own experience and understanding, this is a similarity between Energy and The Force.

“In A New Hope, the Force aids Luke in launching proton torpedoes with precision into a two-meter-wide thermal exhaust port on the Death Star.[3]

We could say that Luke uses his ‘intuition’ to help him launch the proton torpedoes. However, as much as I appreciate intuition, I don’t think the term itself is very self-explanatory. Another way to look at the situation is this; Luke’s energetic self is connected to all the other energy of the universe and therefore is more informed than his brain.

When he trains himself to listen to his energy body without his logical mind interfering he’s able to use that energetic information to gain more accuracy in hitting his target. The energy body informs the physical body more quickly than it informs the cognitive part of the brain.

The body is not interested in processing information, it leaves that to the brain. The body acts on information. On a personal note, I associate this ‘power’ with the ‘art of finding.’ When I go into ‘finding’ mode, I deliberately bring down my logic mind and visual dominance and let my energy field direct me. Check out the post on this subject for more detail.

Another exercise I have tried related to this is walking through narrow hallways with my eyes closed (slowly!) to train myself to feel with my energy where the walls are. Thus, I consider this ability to also be in common between both Energy and The Force.

Count Dooku, Emperor Palpatine and Yoda, despite age or size, are able to competently fight younger or larger opponents than themselves in the Star Wars prequel trilogy of films.[4]

This one is not that much of a stretch. Anyone who is familiar with the Martial Arts will probably have heard stories about smaller and – perceptibly – weaker individuals defeating larger or younger opponents. Martial Arts are heavily based in the concept I refer to as Energy – in Chinese based martial arts, the root is ‘chi’ or ‘qi’ which means breath, but is essentially synonymous with my use of energy (If you read last week’s installment, I mentioned that Tai-Chi was my entry point in discovering and practicing with my energy). In the Japanese tradition this translates to ‘ki’ as in Hap-ki-do or Ai-ki-do.

When the energy body and the physical body are in harmony and allowed to move without the logical mind interfering, truly amazing things can happen. I vote this as another one in the ‘similarity’ category.

Next week we’ll compare Energy and The Force on telekinesis, levitation, hypnosis, and mind control. Although all of the ‘powers’ we tackled this week seem to be similarities, next week we’ll find some differences. As a reminder, the purpose of this post and all others in this series is to intellectually compare Energy with The Force, not to imply that these two are the same thing.

In last week’s installment we introduced the concept of Energy and focused on a high-level comparison of Energy and the Star Wars concept of The Force. This week I want to take a step back and cover this topic on a more personal level because it is my own personal experience of Energy that has driven my desire to understand it, explore it, and share about it.

Twenty years ago, I had my very first awakening to this energy that connects us all.

Barely seventeen, I attended a Tai-Chi workshop run by one of my high school English teachers. She instructed us to rub our hands together to generate some heat (and presumably electricity) and hold them a few inches apart facing palm to palm.

We were then instructed to move our hands towards and away from each other to see if we could ‘feel’ anything. I gasped as I felt the air thicken between my palms into a substance like magnetic taffy. Other gasps in the room suggested that I wasn’t the only one having an otherworldly experience. What was this?

I went home and spent hours just playing with this substance. Could I feel it without rubbing my hands together? What happened if I hovered the palms of my hands over other parts of my body? Could I stretch it to be ‘bigger’ or condense it? Little did I know that I had awakened to a whole new way to experience my own existence that would permeate the rest of my life thus far.

The next day I went to school and excitedly approached my fellow students from the Tai-Chi class. To my dismay, each one I spoke with insisted that they hadn’t felt anything. Disheartened and thrown into doubt, I began to question what I had felt. Had it all been my imagination?

My initial enthusiasm and desire to share gave way to a quiet, individual exploration – the most dangerous kind. When I got home that evening I again spent hours ‘playing’ with ‘my chi.’   I practiced ‘sharing energy’ with select, trusted friends always focusing on deepening my awareness of how the energy moved and changed.

Although my friends said that they could feel it too when we shared energy, they didn’t seem to have nearly the same drive to understand it that I did. I felt confused, weird, and alone. It’s difficult to fathom this experience today because we are all so tapped into the internet that it’s fairly easy to find other people or sources of information wherever our interests lie. But in 1995 & 1996 the internet was still in a very raw state and only starting to seep into home use.

The summer of my eighteenth year my heart chakra ‘opened’ or ‘tore’ or something. Of course, at the time, I had no idea what was happening to me. I didn’t even know what a chakra was.

On the recommendation of my English teacher I picked up the book Hands of Light by Barbara Ann Brennan. The book was both exciting and disheartening. Exciting because the work validated my own experience (at least I wasn’t totally crazy). Disheartening because her location in New York seemed a ‘world away’ to a high-school student in Chicago.

Playing With Fire

Based on a section where the author discusses the energy of plants, I decided to try ‘sharing energy’ with some plants. My hope was that they would grow better with the addition of my energy into their field – or, if not that, that maybe I would feel more ‘connected’ to the natural world.

Growing up, there were always plants around. My mother was always growing things. In our breezeway, I found a table full of potential energy-sharing subjects. I chose one larger (but still easy to carry) houseplant and then a smaller plant among a dozen of the same kind obviously waiting to be transplanted.

Late at night, before bed, I took each plant individually (of the two) to my room and sat on the floor sharing energy with the plant for fifteen minutes. I then returned each plant to exactly the space on the table where I found it. I did this every night for about a week, but after not seeing any dramatic changes or results within those days I lost interest a little bit and stopped for a few days.

One day, shortly after I had stopped my energy ‘experiments,’ my mom came down into the basement, obviously distracted. “Two of my plants died” she started, “And it’s the weirdest thing. They’re not dried out or yellow from too much water. There is no sign of a disease, and they were fine a few days ago.  They’re still perfectly green, but brittle like husks – it’s as if whatever made them alive is just ‘gone.’ There are at least a dozen other plants on that table, but none of the other plants were affected. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

As she spoke, I felt a growing dread and I raced up the stairs. In my heart I already knew which two plants it would be. Sure enough, as I looked at the two plants I had been sharing energy with so recently, I could see what my mom meant. I had never seen anything like it either. If I had to describe them, I would say it was like the plants had been ‘flash frozen’ except they weren’t cold and it was the height of summer.

To be fair, it could have just been an incredible coincidence. My home could hardly be equated with ‘lab conditions.’ But the timing and effects were highly suspicious. Two other incidents that happened roughly around the same time cemented my concern that I was ‘messing’ with something I didn’t understand at the risk of potentially disastrous consequences.

We use the expression ‘playing with fire’ for a reason. All the energy forces we know of are similar in this regard – indispensable in a small or moderate quantity, but highly destructive in vast and uncontrollable quantities; like a wildfire, flood, or hurricane. This is not to say that my energy is vast, but I certainly couldn’t control it and it may have seemed quite vast to a houseplant. I decided to stop experimenting.

Where to go From There

Despite my departure from actively ‘practicing’ with my energy, I continued to meditate and I continued to have energy-related experiences. I had psychic flashes where I suddenly ‘knew’ things I shouldn’t know. I started spontaneously ‘manifesting’ or ‘co-creating’ – meaning, I suddenly and unexpectedly started getting whatever I asked for, even silly things.

One of the oddest, my junior year in college I had a surreal experience when I was working in a warehouse as part of a summer job. I was standing next to a bunch of wooden pallets which were stacked to near shoulder-height. Another worker approached me quickly with a stack full of pallets piled high. Behind me was the drop-off for the loading dock. I was about to be crushed by the pallets and there was nowhere to go!

I remember moving. I remember lifting one leg and making a twisting movement and putting my foot down and lifting the other leg and twisting. I know it happened fast, so fast that the motion was a blur, even for me. But I remember the movement, kinesthetically. My next full conscious moment I was on the opposite side of the pallet stack. My co-worker looked at me and said, “How did you….?” And then he freaked out yelling, “Did anybody else just see that?”

I started to explain, to show him how I had done it, but when I tried to lift my leg the way I remembered doing, there was no way I could have gotten it high enough to get even my leg over the pallets, nevermind the rest of my body. I was struck silent and confused, I had no idea how I got from one side of all those pallets to the other with the loading dock drop-off right behind me (there was nowhere to step where I had thought I put my foot down.)

That was just one of the dozens of ‘energy’ experiences I have accumulated over the last twenty years. I know I am not alone. There is a relatively silent contingent of people out there who have had experiences just like mine, maybe the experiences are not exactly the same mechanically, but they are the same fundamentally.   One of the important things to take away from this story is that every person I ‘shared’ energy with could also feel that energy. This is a capacity we all have if we’re interested in pursuing it.

My hope is that sharing this part of my story has communicated that – when I talk about Energy on the blog it comes from what has been a deeply personal, tumultuous experience for me. I am constantly grappling with this concept; vacillating between skepticism and devoted faith, struggling to understand it without becoming so attached to the idea that I hang my whole identity on it.

I believe that the Universe is made up of Energy, that that energy is connected, and that the direction and flow of that energy is open to influence not as a result of reading or studying some new-age theory, but because that has been my personal experience in the last twenty years; over and over again.

How does this  Energy I refer to on the blog compare to the concept of The Force in the George Lucas Star Wars universe? Next week we’ll start a side-by-side comparison between the powers exhibited by Star Wars’ characters and the phenomenon that I have experienced with Energy.

Mindfulness is all the rage these days. Within the last twelve months, I’ve found John Kabat-Zinn, the ‘father’ of mindfulness practice in the US, quoted or referenced in a self-help book[1], a birthing book[2], a parenting book[3], and a business-coaching book[4]!

According to the Wikipedia article on Mindfulness, “The practice of mindfulness involves being aware moment-to-moment, of one’s subjective conscious experience from a first-person perspective.[5]

Last week we talked about the concept of ‘quieting the mind’ and we mentioned how engaging our “Task Positive Network” can help us do that.  Because the Task Positive Network contains regions of the brain that operate both the ‘Internal Sensor’ and the ‘External Sensor,’[6] engaging it is one way of bringing us solidly into the present.

As noted above, one primary goal of Mindfulness is also to bring us to the present moment. A former meditation teacher I had summed up the reason for doing that perfectly. She said, “We can’t change the past and we can’t change the future, the now is the only time where we can actually effect change.”

We can only change the now, and yet many of us are a bit lost in our Default Mode Network; rehashing events and conversations of the past or planning the future. Although there’s nothing better for developing present-moment awareness than establishing a regular sitting meditation practice, some people are simply not ready.

In light of that, here are three easy ways to bring ‘Mindfulness’ into your daily experience without sitting criss-cross applesauce or saying a single Ohm;

Mindful Walking

You might be surprised by how much you walk each day. There is a type of meditation, walking meditation, in the mindfulness / insight canon. This typically requires walking v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y and bringing attention to each individual movement associated with the simple act of walking.

While I certainly recommend everyone try it at least once, it isn’t necessary to have done walking meditation to practice mindful walking. When we practice mindful walking, we aren’t trying to change anything about our walk – we’re just observing it.

We can observe ourselves walking in a myriad of ways – one of the reasons why mindful walking is such a pleasure to do! For example, when we walk we can bring our awareness to the bottoms of our feet. We can wonder at the difference in sensation when our feet our connected to the Earth or when they are ‘in the air’ between steps.

It’s winter here in Chicago and I practice mindful walking over the ice and snow! Bringing my awareness to the bottoms of my feet as I step on new-fallen snow has certainly saved me from slipping more than once.

When the bottoms of our feet get a bit boring, we can bring attention to the cadence of our walk; the rhythm. Do we walk to a type of beat? Is it even or irregular? When we walk very slowly (as with walking meditation) it can be hard to keep our balance, yet when we walk at our regular speed we find balance in the momentum of our walk.

When we watch a child learning to walk, one of their biggest challenges is determining how to distribute weight optimally – this isn’t a mental challenge, but a physical one. Most of us have been walking so long we take this natural shift in weight for granted. Spending a few moments just observing that beautiful balance we find when we walk at our natural speed can be a lovely exercise in present moment awareness.

If those two ideas aren’t enough, we can draw our attention to our various muscle groups when we walk. How does it feel to walk just bringing awareness to our thighs, for example? Or our glutes? What if we focus on our shoulders as our arms swing back and forth?

Mindful Eating

How often do we “multi-task” eating? We grab something to-go, sit at our desk (or wherever) and chow it down while we work, surf the internet, or do anything but actually pay attention to the food in front of us!

When we eat a meal ‘mindfully’ we’re bringing our awareness to this under-appreciated activity. Similar to mindful walking, there are many ways to eat a meal mindfully. In her book Mindful Birthing, Nancy Bardacke describes an exercise of mindfully eating a raising while we think of everything that had to come together to put that raisin in front of us; the farmer growing the grape, the drying of the grapes into raisins, the distributors bringing the raisins to a store, etc.

I confess, this isn’t my favorite way to mindfully eat – as it still keeps me in my head, but it is one option and certainly something to try. The other ‘mindful eating’ exercise is more sensory in nature.   We bring our awareness to the texture and taste of what we’re eating. We can attend to our muscles as we chew – some foods require so much chewing that our jaw may get sore!

I have found, when I eat meals mindfully, I start to really notice how they taste! Too often, I’ve purchased ‘food’ items that are over before I’ve even appreciated the taste of them; a donut, for example. When we eat ‘unconsciously’ we’re less satisfied.

When we eat mindfully, in contrast, when we bring our full attention to how food actually tastes, we may notice when all we’re eating is just sugar or fat versus a meal with depth of flavor. A candy bar is more enticing, but when we eat mindfully – we may find that a raw red pepper has a more full-bodied experience to offer.

Mindful Posture

Posture is something we can always ‘check in’ on – in fact, you can do it right now! When we mindfully attend to our posture we can notice if we’re slouching, or tensing our shoulders or neck muscles. Many of us unconsciously tense up while we’re working – the more often we bring attention to this, the more likely we are to relax those muscles regularly and save ourselves from soreness later.

It takes less than a minute to bring awareness to our posture. Although there aren’t as many different avenues of awareness as found with mindful walking or eating, it is such a fast and easy check that we can do it at any time; in a meeting, sitting at our desk, even lying in bed at night!

A ‘posture check’ would be an easy alarm to set for a few times a day on a cell-phone. After only a few instances, your mind will be conditioned, when the alarm goes off to start automatically bringing attention to your posture.

Closing Comments

I hope one day you start a regular meditation practice. Scientific studies on the benefits of meditation on our health and well-being are piling up. However, even if you are unable to bring regular sitting meditation into your life at this time, the tips in this post can be a way to start bringing more mindfulness into your daily life.

 

Tune in next Wednesday when we start a five part series on Energy, a concept I have referred to often on the blog.

 

References & Footnotes

[1] Thanks for the Feedback , Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen, Penguin, March 2015

[2] Mindful birthing, Nancy Bardacke, Harper One, July 2012

[3] Getting to Calm, The Early Years Laura Kastner, ParentMap, August 2015

[4] Coaching Agile Teams; Lyssa Adkins, Addison-Wesley Professional, May 2010

[5][5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness#cite_note-Baer_defines2-1

[6] Reference, Mindfulness MD

If you’ve experimented with meditation at all, you’re probably familiar with one of the proposed goals; to ‘quiet the mind.’ The mind doesn’t make any noise, though, so what does this cryptic directive mean?

To help us find an answer, we’ll look to an interesting source; science 🙂 – neuroscience to be specific. Two specific brain networks tend to show up in scientific studies on meditation; the Task Positive Network (TPN) and the Default Mode Network (DMN)

The Task Positive Network represents the regions of the brain that are engaged and communicating with each other when we are actively engaged in a task. Meditation can be one example of such task. In contrast, what’s known as the Default Mode Network is often active when we’re not actively engaged in a task.

The Default Mode Network is responsible for some really important aspects of humanity like self-reflection and empathy. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to learn from our mistakes or experience compassion.

On the other hand, when the Default Mode Network is too active it tends to cause effects like mind-wandering, obsessing over the past and future, and over-analyzing one’s own or others actions.

Unsurprisingly, an overly active Default Mode Network is associated with depression and anxiety disorders. Several studies on meditation have shown that practitioners can change the way their brain operates in relation to these two networks – even when they’re not meditating[1].

For many of us, the Default Mode Network is active often throughout the day, perhaps even when we’re performing routine tasks that don’t require our concentration or attention. This is responsible for what we think of as ‘mental chatter’ and is the very activity we are trying to reduce or suspend when we ‘quiet the mind.’

Many meditation traditions start practitioners with ‘breath meditation’ a minute-to-learn exercise that has us draw our attention to various aspects of the breath. As noted earlier, our intense focus on the breath pulls us out of our Default Mode Network and engages the Task Positive Network. I love breath meditation. For a beginning meditator, however, a directive to ‘focus on the breath’ may not be enough to anchor our attention.

Although all meditation practices that use breath meditation as a starting point emphasize that the expectation is not that individuals will be able to solely focus on the breath for the entire meditation, that part of the point is to train the attention to keep coming back to the breath. Even so, the experience may be frustrating for beginners if breath meditation is the only tool in their kit.

Below are a few ideas to help supplement your meditation practice (or help you start one if you haven’t yet).

Start by finding something that requires intense focus

Provided we don’t live an overly sedentary lifestyle, we can probably think of some activities that require our active concentration. Playing a sport or an instrument, driving in the snow, and cooking might be some examples. The key is that these activities must require our active attention. Cooking a recipe we’ve made a hundred times before may not qualify.

If you’re struggling to come up with an idea, remember that doing something new, especially an activity that requires you to pay attention to your surroundings may be a good place to start. I believe this is why many people find intense physical activity to be mentally cathartic – it gets us out of our heads for awhile.

In high school gymnastics, we girls noticed that we best performed our routines when we simply doing. After a slip-up, a teammate would often explain by saying, “I started thinking.”

Try to notice when you aren’t thinking. When you have found one – or more – activities that put you into this ‘zone,’ look for ways to bring them into your daily routine. Even though you aren’t actively ‘meditating’ you’ll be increasing the amount of time overall that you spend with a ‘quiet mind’ and this can help bring your Task Positive Network and Default Mode Network in balance.

Expanding on the Quiet Mind

Once you’ve found an activity that ‘quiets’ your mind, try to expand on it. Try to ‘catch’ yourself ‘not-thinking’ and then immediately pull your attention to the breath to gently hold (or ‘be in’) that open, silent space.

If you catch yourself ‘not-thinking’ you may think Oh No! Now I’m noticing I’m not thinking – I’m going to start thinking again. Don’t panic! J You can re-engage your quiet mind my bringing your awareness to a particular aspect of whatever activity has engaged your attention.

Are you cooking? Bring your awareness to the smells around you – don’t worry about categorizing them, or identifying them, or determining whether you ‘like’ or ‘don’t like’ them; just smell them. Bring your awareness to the temperatures around you. Are your hands warm? Are your feet cold? Focus on stirring a pot or allow yourself to watch the bubbles rise in a boiling pot of water for a few moments.

Maybe you are engaged in a more active pursuit; playing a sport, for example. You can expand on a quiet mind during physical activity by bringing your awareness to your body. What muscles are being used? How do your feet move? Or your hands? What is your breathing like – fast? Halted? Are there sounds of shoes on a gym floor, squeaking? Clothing rustling? People yelling?

We sometimes think of meditation as a mental activity, but it’s actually the opposite. In my experience, meditation brings us out of our heads and into contact with our present existence – an experience that is largely sensory in nature.

Two areas associated with the ‘Task Positive Network’ in the brain are the “Internal Sensor” and the “External Sensor.” Thus, if we’re using our senses, if we’re actually paying attention to the information they bring in, our mind will automatically quiet down.

Using a ‘Visual Aide’ during Meditation may help

If you’ve tried the first two ideas successfully, but are still struggling with an actual sitting meditation, you might try a visual aide. When my mind is churning during a sitting or breath meditation and wants to rehash events of the day, I visualize a point of mist expanding outward and gently ‘pushing’ thoughts to the side.

I keep my concentration on the central point where the mist expands from, rather than on the boundaries where all the thoughts are. Another angle on this same concept would be to imagine water droplets in the center of a still pond, the ripples of the waves pushing thoughts to the outer reaches.

If it feels more relevant or powerful, the expansion can be tied to exhalation. Each exhalation gently pushing thoughts further and further to the outer reaches.

By focusing on the point from which expansion starts, the mind has an image to work with. As the mist or water expands from the center, the ‘open’ space in the mind, too, feels larger, more spacious and free.

I know that many mindfulness experts instruct the beginner to ‘watch’ the thoughts without attaching to them. The phrase “Let them come and let them go” comes to mind. That’s fine. If that works for you, by all means keep doing it.

In my personal experience with meditation, however, having thoughts running around in my head gets in the way of a deep personal connection with my energy and my body. For me, thoughts are not all that helpful during meditation so I prefer to just move them out of the way altogether. Some find there way in here and there, but largely it’s quiet.

If you have difficulty not attaching to your thoughts during meditation, you might want to try some variations of the practices listed here and see if they help.

[1] See information from the NIH and a particularly good post about this here.

Who hasn’t made a reckless (or not-so-reckless) commitment in a moment of duress? Please <insert divine authority>, get me out of this mess and I’ll never drink / smoke / bite my nails / lie / go home with a stranger / whatever / again.

How often, when we actually do find ourselves out of the mess, does that promise seem… silly? Unachievable? Who expects us to keep a promise like that? Especially if the ‘negative’ habit we are trying to avoid is an especially pervasive one, or the ‘positive’ habit we are trying to instill has many barriers – how often do we keep that promise?

I know my answer – not as often as I’d like.

Those promises and commitments seem silly to us later. I mean, why does God or the Universe care if I drink soda, or alcohol, or smoke, right?  However, our relationship with the divine and our own soul is as much about building trust as every physical relationship we have.

If we never keep our commitments to our friends or loved ones – what would those relationships be like?

Relationships are built the same way regardless of the medium of communication. Thus, we have every reason to believe that God / the Universe takes the commitments that we make in those moments – or any moments – very seriously.

The key is not to stop making these commitments as they actually are an important part of our relationship with the Universe / the Divine.  However, if we’re having trouble keeping those kinds of commitments, we may need to be more circumspect about what we commit to in the moment.

One option is to avoid committing to a totally unattainable goal.  For example, my default commitment is to stop picking my lips.  An uncommon but pernicious habit since childhood, my lips look quite destroyed when I’m stressed or bored or even just thinking because I compulsively pick at them.

Because this is the habit I feel most ashamed of and want to be free of, the promise to stop doing it is both the one I most often make and the one I most often break.  Here we’re touching on a core motivation of these kinds of commitments. There are particular habits we want to stop (or start) and, by extension, we think the Universe or our higher self also cares about whether we do these things or not.

Depending on the habit – that may or may not be true.  However, if we make a promise that is unachievable we are setting ourselves up to fail.  The commitments we make to the Universe need to be meaningful, they need to matter to us – but we don’t need to start by forcing ourselves to deal with the most difficult things in our lives.

Aside from trying to be careful of the commitments we make, the other key factor is that we need to respect these commitments once we’ve made them.

We can sometimes review the situation that provoked us to make a promise from a point of ‘illusory clarity’ after it’s over; I was never really in any danger or It was silly that I was so worried about this, etc. and, by extension, imagining ourselves ‘off-the-hook’ for any commitments we made in our momentary distress.

On the contrary, we are very much on the hook for any promises we made.  Every time I break a commitment (and I’m no saint, I’ve broken plenty), there is an erosion of trust in both my relationship with my soul-self and my relationship the Universe. I can feel an anticipatory twinge of guilt the next time I make a promise… am I really going to keep it this time?

On the upside, keeping these promises builds trust and strengthens the relationship between the embodied self and Universe (as well as the soul-self).  A strong relationship between ourselves and the Universe allows us to make the most of our current life at all levels; emotionally (relationships), financially, and – when we’re ready – to do the deep soul-self work that will help us master the lessons we came here to learn.