I know I said the last installment was the end of our Energy series on the blog. However, I don’t feel right dropping a post series making elaborate claims about the nature of Energy and the Universe without providing at least a little bit of ‘how-to.’ (if you haven’t read any of the other installments in this series it starts <here>)

I’m tempted to write that it’s better to have some meditation practice before you start trying to feel your own energy, but my own history reminds me that my first introduction to energy came without any previous meditation practice. In fact, it was the informal study of my own energy that led me to meditation – not the other way around.

Becoming energy sensitive is an exercise in developing comfort with subtlety. Too often we think something doesn’t exist if it doesn’t hit us over the head. Or my personal favorite, “if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.”

That may be true for commercial purposes or a graduate thesis… but there are plenty of stars and galaxies and all sorts of things in the Universe we can’t measure with current scientific technology that very much do exist.

As I mentioned in the second installment of the Energy series – there are certainly times where I have struggled with my own energy sensitivity; doubting it.

A few months ago, though, as I quietly worked at my desk in the office, all I could hear was the ticking of the clock on the wall. It was so loud I couldn’t concentrate. I actually had to get up and walk away for a few minutes. In a moment of association, it struck me that the clock was always ticking – just that loud, just that way. It had been for years and years, I just didn’t always hear it.

Energy sensitivity is like this. When we’re distracted, when our attention is full of other things, we don’t notice our energy, even if we are familiar with energy-sensitivity. For people who are unaware of their energy, then, it’s fairly easy to ignore. We shouldn’t mistake subtlety with non-existence, however.

Most people actually do have experience with energy sensitivity, they just don’t think of it that way. The pain in our heart from a terrible break-up or loss of a loved one, the tingly feeling that comes with a new romance, gut feelings, some types of anxiety – the physical sensations associated with all of these are expressions of what’s going on in our energy field.

If you’re interested in starting to develop your own energy-sensitivity, I recommend the (fairly standard) exercise below.

Okay, So…. How do I do it?

Allow yourself about fifteen minutes in a quiet place (where you will not be disturbed) to try this exercise. That’s fifteen real minutes not five ‘this-feels-like-forever-surely-it’s-been-fifteen’ minutes.  🙂

If you’re the type of person to be constantly checking the clock or be worried that you should be spending your time doing “more important” things, set a timer on your phone or stove or whatever so that you are able to temporarily release the clock-anxiety.

It is critical to success of this exercise that you be able to ‘get out of your head’ – if you’re worried about how much time you have, all the things you need to do, or re-hashing some event at work, home, school, etc – you are unlikely to be able to do that.

The easiest way I have found to developing initial energy sensitivity is to stand or sit (whatever is going to be less distracting) with your palms about three-to-five inches apart in front of your heart.

Some recommend rubbing your palms together until they get all tingly and warm. This can be very helpful in the beginning as it will get your attention out of your head and into your palms – where it needs to be.

Try to move your palms as close together as you can without actually touching. Hold them there. Does it feel as if the surface of your palms or fingers are pulling together? The initial sensation to ‘feel’ for is an almost magnetic attraction between the palms of your hands.

Now slowly pull them apart… what happens to that magnetic sensation as you pull? Stop at about eight inches apart – keeping your concentration on the insides of your hands only – start moving your hands close together again.

Do you feel any resistance? (Keeping to the magnetic imagery – it may feel like you’ve flipped two magnets so that they are ‘like-to-like’ and are pushing back against each other).

Once you’ve developed some initial ‘magnetic’ sensation¸ slowly move your hands towards and away from each other, as if you were clapping in slow motion. Focus acutely on the sensation between your palms and how it changes. You should start to feel as if the air between your palms develops a ‘taffy-like’ quality.

Don’t worry if you don’t feel anything the first time you try. Spend fifteen minutes really trying this exercise every day for a week and I’m fairly certain you’ll feel something by the end of the seven day period.

The people that I’ve recommended this exercise to usually get so freaked out the first time they feel something that the minute they become cognizant, it’s gone.   If this happens to you, don’t worry. If you’re interested, keep trying. As with anything in life, practicing will help your energy sensitivity to develop. Soon you’ll be able to ‘hold’ the sensation with full cognizance.

Once you’ve developed a high degree of confidence working with the energy between your hands, you can move on to exploring the energy around your full body and in your chakras. I will post some exercises for those a few months down the line.

It’s important for me to disclose that I am not an energy master, by any definition. I have become familiar with my own energy and that of the “Universe” in various ways at varying levels across a number of years of casual observation and lay practice.

Energy-sensitivity is indispensable in walking the spiritual path for a number of reasons, but it is not synonymous with the spiritual path (ie – simply developing your energetic abilities does not equate to ‘walking the Spiritual Path’).

Resources for further study

If you’re looking for some teachers who specialize in energy development, you may want to check out the following resources;

Sonia Choquette – On the surface, Sonia Choquette’s work is about intuition, but get just a bit more in-depth and it’s all based in energy and vibration. I have taken some incredibly helpful, fulfilling online classes with Sonia Choquette. I’ve enjoyed a few of her books and I’ve twice gone to her for personal appointments at key junctures in my life.

Barbara Brennan School of Healing – I have never personally taken any internet or live classes with Barbara Brennan, but her book Hands of Light was the first book I ever read about energy back in 1995.

Deborah King – A well known name in the world of energy healing.  I have taken some online energy classes from her website – fascinating stuff!

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.

Once you have created

you have responsibility, but not control.

Anyone who has ever had children knows exactly what I mean.

but you don’t need to have children to understand this

because it holds true for ALL creation

even ideas

even us

.

.

.

Photo note: I’ve been listening this week to the free broadcast of the live event in Anaheim ‘Co-Creation at it’s Best’  that’s part of the Hay House World Summit.  This morning, I looked out the window at work and ‘happened’ to see a boat floating by – pictured above.  The photo is blurry because I was zooming in to try to capture the boat’s name, but as you can see I didn’t quite get it.  The boat’s name is Intention.

I think therefore I feel…. Maybe not

In Western Civilization, from what I can see, the brain is king.  This may sound like a strange thing to say, but if you examine our philosophical history which has often driven scientific inquiry,[1] thoughts, feelings, and ideas have long been associated with the mind – which has long been associated with the brain.  In a typical Trickster trap that turns the world on it’s head (quite literally in this case), new research indicates that the composition of our guts may have more to do with what goes on in our brain than we thought[2].  I have a feeling that this research is just the first fracture of many to come that will break this firmly entrenched belief.[3]

Recently I’ve started thinking of the brain as somewhat like an old telephone switchboard operator. Calls come in and the operator works the switchboard so that the call can go through.  If the switchboard goes down no phone calls are connecting, but that doesn’t mean no one’s trying to call.  The brain, after all, is a processor.  It processes the inputs we take in via our senses, it does not (in most cases) create them.  We seem to be in a place, as a society, where we’ve decided the operator switchboard is the source of almost all the phone calls.

Late last year, as I was preparing for the birth of my second child, I was meditating for large chunks of time using, among other things, the Sounds True, Insight Meditation series[4] tracks for emotions and body sensations (these are two separate tracks).   One of the many times I was listening to the “meditation on emotions” track, I noticed Joseph Goldstein say “note the feeling tone of the mind” and I checked.  Wait… what? But I don’t feel in my mind[5].   Listening to these two tracks so often in close succession, began to tease apart the concepts of thoughts, emotions, and body sensations in my mind.  It was as if I had been holding a rock in my hand, but when I looked again a thousand grains of sand were filtering through my fingers.

There’s a reason they’re called feelings

In my experience, we seem to think thoughts and emotions go together like rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist a Grease musical reference there.)  For the first time I started to question that.  What if they are not so closely associated?

Many of us are already acquainted with how being hungry can make us very irritable.  If we’re not paying attention an argument can blow up about something completely unrelated to our hunger.  The conflict may resolve, but if we don’t eat another storm may brew before long.  In such a case, the intensity behind our emotions  is not a result of what we’re arguing about, but something else entirely.

Thus, we know that we can experience bodily sensations that cause us to ’feel’ a particular way and that those ’feelings’ can be transferred or misattributed to a thought or situation.  If this were only true for hunger, sleepiness, or sickness it wouldn’t be so difficult.  We all have experience with these bodily needs and with a little awareness they are pretty easy to spot.

Unfortunately, there are other influences that we are less cognizant of that can cause the same kind of effect.  Past life memories are one potential trigger for emotions that have nothing to do with thoughts.  We may run into a person, place, or thing from a past life and transfer the past-life emotions into the current life without even realizing it.  I don’t want to dwell on that case too much here because it’s pretty rare and I’ve already written several posts about past life influence on our present lives.[6]

What you don’t know CAN hurt you

Energetic influence, however, is more common than we may think and another input to our “feelings” that may be overlooked from general lack of awareness or sensitivity.  I have been energy sensitive[7] now for eighteen years and I still have much difficulty sorting through the energetic inputs I receive.  For example, whenever i’m in a large crowd of people (especially children) and there’s music playing or a show of some sort, i cry.  I have cried at the silliest, most ridiculous shows, shows I didn’t even think were GOOD.

My husband laughs at me good-naturedly, and I suppose it is funny.  Still, I don’t know why it happens – I don’t know why i’m crying.  It’s an emotional response that’s not tied to a thought at all.  I suspect the behavior is related to being ‘overwhelmed’ by the energy of the crowd, but I am still unsure.[8]  Another example of this occurred during my brief[9] encounter with a Christian mystical church in January 2013.

I was waiting in a comfortable, parlor-like room for services to begin and parked myself on a small orange chair that looked like it belonged in the waiting room of a doctor’s office.  The minute I sat down I could feel this tremendously strong, roiling energy at my back.  The intensely tumultuous energy was so distracting and disturbing that I couldn’t sit in the chair.

I moved to the identical chair ’kitty corner’ from the first, but while the energy in the new chair was more calm it was still incredibly powerful and deeply unsettling – too much for me; I had to get up again.  Warily, I sat on the oversize couch in the room, being careful not to let my back touch the cushions at all. That seemed to be “free” of any notable energy, and only then could I somewhat relax.

In the first example there’s a clear enough disconnect between my thoughts and emotional response to help me realize something strange is going on. In the second example, however, had I not been energy sensitive I might have taken on the emotions from the energy in that first chair as if they were my own.  If I went looking for rational (in other words, “thought-based”) reasons to explain why I was feeling that way, I might have completely misattributed those feelings to something going on in my own life.

Don’t let it go to your head

For me, these examples and experiences reduce to two fundamental ideas.  One is that we may need to start distancing ourselves from the belief that emotions are in our mind.  So far, from my experience, emotions are actually felt; they are mostly a body sensation.  Perhaps we need to really challenge where emotions fall on the spectrum between body sensations and mental activity.[10]  Secondly, we could benefit from taking a closer look at the tie between our thoughts and our emotions. Maybe we should avoid “looking” for thoughts to match our emotions or even labeling our emotions (unless we really, really understand them).

Why do we feel the need to “look” for a reason to be feeling what we are?  Perhaps it’s because, in our rational minds, we do not handle uncertainty well… I know i don’t.  By tying our feelings directly to our thoughts we may be subconsciously seeking to have ’control’ over them – if we can explain a feeling, even name it, we think we have some sort of influence over it.   In doing this we banish uncertainty to the margins of consciousness.  Unfortunately it stubbornly refuses to stay there.

The trouble with ’looking’ for a reason for our feelings is that we run a high risk of either misattributing them or transferring them.[11]  If we do that we may find ourselves having conflict (or, in the case of happy feelings, entering relationships) based on emotions we don’t really understand the genesis of.[12]  Additionally, when whatever we misattributed the feeling to gets resolved – we’ll be unpleasantly surprised and dissatisfied to find that our feelings have not resolved.

Please note that I am not trying to suggest that thoughts are NEVER tied to emotions, in many cases they are.  I am simply suggesting that we don’t take the association for granted, that we investigate.

Reach out and touch….yourself[13]

If you’re game to try separating out your feelings  from your thoughts, the first place i recommend starting is with the dual meditations of body sensations and emotions.[14]  When doing these, notice the body sensations of your emotions.  Practice just being with your feelings rather than trying to tie them to thoughts or experiences.  Instead of labeling your feelings, question them.  For example, instead of saying to yourself “this is nervousness” ask yourself “is this nervousness?” What exactly am I feeling?  A tightening in my chest? A tingling in my lower abdomen or lower back?  A tensing of my facial muscles? Your body (and your energy-body) will talk to you if you’re willing to listen.

Once you have some experience doing this in a meditative setting and feel comfortable that you can, at least, focus on an emotional body sensation, take it out of the meditation session and pull it into your daily experience.  Although it can be helpful to do a checkpoint whenever you feel something strong[15] be mindful that this can cause the misattribution confusion I mentioned earlier.  A more targeted exercise for the ideas in this post would be to do random checkpoints throughout the day whether or not you are experiencing a strong emotion.  This can help you isolate FEELING from thought.

Unfortunately I don’t have any easy answers for how to tell when you are feeling something directly related to a thought versus an energetic, past life, or bodily influence.  If you practice being with your own body sensations, though, I believe you will be able to sort this out for yourself eventually. If nothing else, it will give you another tool to help bring you into the moment – which is really all we have.

Footnotes

[1] not in all cases of course, but in many

[2] Michael Pollan writes in his latest book, Cooked, “A recent study performed in Ireland found that introducing a certain probiotic species found in some fermented foods… to the diet of mice has a measurable effect on their stress levels and mood, altering the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain…researchers found they could block the effect by severing the vagus nerve that links the gut to the brain” (pg 328)  When I read this I laughed in delight.  I’m not going to go look up the specific quote from Lewis Hyde’s Trickster book, but the first part of his book is devoted to the Trickster and appetite (or – the stomach & gut).  I don’t focus on that at all in my Trickster post bc frankly there are too many meaningful pieces in that book and not enough space in a post for me to write about all of them.  Anyway, Hyde mentions, “The Sugars in the gut provide the fuel for the brain.”  I imagine at the time he thought it was a bit of a stretch to try to connect the Trickster’s cunning to his association with appetite & the intestines (in some stories, quite literally, Tricksters are strongly associated with the intestines).  Then this little gem of research starts surfacing and some twenty years later, the connection is made for him! 🙂  It’s the kind of thing that makes you really love life.

[3] While I was drafting this post, actually, my husband directed me to an article on The Verge about flatworms retaining memories after their brains had been removed and they had grown a new one. (you can read it here)  So, first of all, the very idea that the rest of the flatworm grows a new brain turns the ‘brain is king’ mentality on it’s head.  Secondly – and this is what the article speculates – the idea that memories are stored elsewhere beside the brain also challenges this outdated belief.

[4] produced by Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein

[5] now some who read this may quibble that the “mind” isn’t necessarily synonymous with the brain – and I have also listened to meditation tracks that talk about the body-mind.  This is perfectly conceivable – however, in my experience when most people use the term ‘mind’ they associate it with the brain.

[6] I did a past life series about my own past life regression experience, the first post can be found here

[7] So this is nothing particularly special about me.  Anyone with a little patience and inclination can become energy sensitive.  The easiest, most reliable way is to meditate regularly and when you’re “in” the meditation a bit to hold the palms of your hands about an inch apart (focusing on the very center of the palm).  Move your hands / palms towards and away from each other and after a few meditation sessions (or maybe your first time if you’ve got an undiscovered knack for this kindof thing) you will feel a sensation that’s a little bit like pulling taffy between your palms… you can go from there.

[8] I started to strongly suspect this phenomenon might be related to my energy sensitivity when one of my meditation teachers who is also an energy healer mentioned that she cries during her sessions and that this is how she ‘releases’ the energy of the session (ie, the energy moving between her and her patient).  It occurred to me that my crying might also be a ‘release’ of energy that I was taking on from the crowd.  Obviously I don’t know that to be the case, but it’s the most logical explanation I’ve found thus far.

[9] and by brief I mean a matter of weeks not months 🙂

[10] There may be some who point to brain activity and use it as an indication that emotions are anchored in the brain, but remember what I said earlier about the brain being a processor.  We don’t seriously speculate that the outside world doesn’t exist just because activity shows up in a particular part of the brain when we see.  We may need to ask ourselves – which comes first the body sensation or the brain activity?

[11]  to help explain the distinction; I see ‘misattributing’ as a rationalization. “I must be feeling angry because of ‘x’” We don’t really know why we feel the way we do so we try to self-analyze and figure it out. On the flipside ‘Transferrence’ happens when we do really feel a particular way about a particular thing but some ourside influence magnifies the intensity.

[12] As another example – i’ve read in multiple places that perceived danger can heighten sexual attraction.

[13] If you cringe or laugh when you read this, good J.  I wanted to shy away from using this heading at first (which is a reference to an old Bell Telephone add “Reach out and touch someone”) but it’s a reminder to myself as much as my readers not to take me tooooo seriously 🙂

[14] It would probably be helpful, although not necessary, if you’ve meditated at least a few times before attempting this.  The Salzberg / Goldstein Insight Meditation program can be pretty good if you’re just starting out as it functions almost like a meditation ‘course.’ – and, as a bonus, has the two very tracks I’m talking about in it 🙂

[15] I have an upcoming ‘Dances with Books’ post on the book Thanks for the Feedback in which this exercise will be discussed in more detail using an example from my own life.

I don’t talk a lot about prayer on this blog.  That is not because I don’t pray or I don’t believe in prayer.  Rather, I think prayer is a concept that most people have already developed an attitude or approach to.  Also, I feel that prayer is a very personal activity and I’m not really interested in trying to get between people and their prayers.   Meditation and spiritual path work, in contrast, are ideas that may be newer to many and are areas where I may be able to bring some value by sharing my own experiences.  It could be said that prayer is a type of meditation or that meditation is a type of prayer.  However, prayer and meditation are not the same thing.  There are some fundamental differences between the two, but there is room for both practices in every person’s life.

Prayer is mostly a ‘push’ communication; meaning that with prayer we are putting our intentions out there to God or the Universe or whatever divine source you believe in.  We are asking for what we wish and our heart’s desire through prayer.  Now, I understand that this is not always true – but it is mostly the case.  Those who are familiar with ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ (also known as the ‘Our Father’) can think it through and see what I mean.  After a brief introduction, it is basically a list of wishes / wants.   There is nothing wrong with sending our wishes and wants out into the universe (or up to God, if you prefer), it is an integral part of creating the life that we want[1] and there is definitely a place for it on the spiritual path.  That being said, sometimes our prayers are a reflection of our fears and our attachments.  Looking at the types of things we ask for / wish for can give us some real insight into ourselves and who we are, point in time.  Prayer, also, is mediated by language (this statement will make a little more sense by the end of this post).  Even if we are not asking for things during prayer – maybe we are thanking God for something, for example – typically prayer is about ‘talking’ to God / the Universe / the Divine.

If prayer is about talking, meditation is mostly about listening.  There are many different types of meditation so it is hard to generalize for all. However, meditation is mostly about being with the self; listening to the body, letting the mind quiet, and just being in the moment.  This is not to say that we can’t work through a particular problem or mull something over during a meditation session.  However, the focus of meditation usually is not to ask or to ‘talk,’but rather to open and let your subconscious, your higher self, and / or the universe come to you.  Most powerful realizations about the self come after or outside of a meditation session, when your brain has had time to process what has come.  I realize there is mantra meditation and chanting meditation, etc. and these may seem a lot like ‘talking’ meditations.  However, I think the function of this type of meditation is largely to present a focal point to the mind; hence the reliance on repetitive words or phrases.  Especially when starting a meditation practice, people often need help quieting their minds and giving the mind something to do while setting a meditation practice in place can be very helpful in beginning to train the mind to settle.[2]  Once the mind is quiet the inner world unfolds before you and you merely absorb what you find in that space.

When a person becomes somewhat advanced with their meditation, there is space for meditation and prayer to merge a bit.  During meditation, we are communicating with our higher selves, the universe, etc.  In that communication your heart is sending your deepest wishes through the connection without the intermediary of your mind or language.  However, in this space, it is the wishes of your heart that are being communicated – which may not be the same as what you would typically ‘ask’ for in a prayer session.   I have felt this happen within myself during some meditation sessions, but I am not yet in a place where I am ready to abandon the comfort and assurance of ‘active’ prayer.  I think for many of us (including myself) it is difficult to give up the ‘authority’ of deliberately formulating our communication with the divine source.  Luckily, there is no real need to ‘give up’ authoring our own prayers in order to continue to grow and pursue the spiritual path.


[1] Of course, there are some caveats to this – there are always caveats.  However, that is not the subject of this post and will rather be the subject of an upcoming post.

[2] I certainly have benefitted from this kind of meditation, especially early on when it seemed like my mind would not ‘shut off’

Does the sun do more than light up our lives?

I have sometimes wondered if we (and by that I mean human beings in general) can absorb different types of energy for use.  Typically we think of getting “energy” (and by energy here I mean that feeling that gets us going / keeps us moving) from food.  But is food really our only means of picking up energy?  Some studies have shown that prolonged separation from sunlight has a negative impact on the mood and I wonder if these are pointing at a more fundamental influence that sunlight has on our energy levels.  On a personal note, I remember that when I was meditating multiple times a day in direct sunlight, I had tons of energy even though I was barely eating and I wasn’t losing any weight.    I know there are some groups out there, such as Inedia (see wikipedia for more), who maintain they can live on sunlight and water alone.  Even if it is possible to absorb energy from the sun, I don’t think sunlight is a replacement for food.  The body needs the nutrients we absorb from food to function, and although we get some vitamins from the sun, certainly not enough to sustain a healthy, active lifestyle.  Even plants, which we know get a substantial amount of life energy from the sun, cannot live on sunlight alone and require nutrients from soil or water to thrive.

Why does music make us want to dance?

Returning to the idea of absorbing alternative forms of energy (ie – not just food energy), when I listen to dance music I also feel an ‘energy boost’.  Is this just a perceived increase in energy or are my energy levels really rising?  I have read somewhere that listening to high energy / upbeat music makes the heart speed up and this is what causes the burst of energy.  That makes some sense, however – if this is the case, I would think that I would feel tired after listening to music; the way I do after a hard workout.  Conversely, though, I feel much more energized.  Perhaps my workout just isn’t getting the heartbeat thing right – but let’s look at the flipside of this argument.  How exactly is the music making my heart speed up if I’m not absorbing the energy from it to do so?  Is my body expending food energy to do this?  If that’s the case – listening to music should cause us to lose weight?  Have we ever wondered why music makes us want to dance?  Dancing is a very high energy expenditure for the body.  I don’t want to dance when I’m on the phone, or when a teacher is lecturing at me in class, nor when I sit at my corporate desk at work.  Those types of sound do not trigger the desire to dance.  So why does music do so?  I also believe there are studies out there about music affecting mood – I don’t think the idea of music affecting mood would surprise anyone.  But like sunlight, does this hint to an effect on a more fundamental, energetic level.

How can sunlight and music tangibly affect?  By which I mean, what is the `by which one thing has an effect on something else?  Usually for that to happen there needs to be some connection between the two things by which the change can be effected.   I would argue that, in this case, energy is passing from the one medium (sunlight / music) to the other (us).  And if that is the case – then is it possible that we are actually able to use or expend some of that energy?  I charge my ipod with energy from the wall outlet, the ipod uses that energy to ‘play’ my music, the music and sound waves go directly into my ears – is it impossible for me to be converting those sound waves into expendable energy?  I mean – the energy has to go somewhere right?  Is it just turning to ‘heat’ in my eardrums?

How could we test this hypothesis?

So let’s pretend you agree that the above is fairly logical and interesting.  How could we go about measuring this type of energy in the body?  It seems like you would have to start with finding a way to measure ‘usable’ energy before you can determine whether we can convert other types of energy besides food into a usable form.   I guess one way to experiment with this concept – informally – would be to have a few groups of people who all eat the same exact meals let say for breakfast and lunch (maybe you have them fast for 12 hours before then?  I don’t know how far you’d have to go back… but, this is a thought experiment, not detailed lab instructions) and after lunch then you have one group lay out in the sun for let’s say 30 minutes, another group sit and listen to high energy music for 30 minutes, and the control group can do whatever they want for 30 minutes as long as they’re not expending much energy and aren’t performing the other two activites (read a book? sit quietly? watch tv?) then you have all three groups hop on an exercise machine; treadmill? elliptical? Gazelle freestyle?  I imagine you might be able to tell if there is some differentiation in the energy output of the individuals on these machines over a period of time (high-school science project, anyone?).   Along those lines – it would also be interesting to study the energy output (by effort exerted on machine or maybe endurance) of people who are watching TV while exercising, listening to high energy music while exercising, exercising in direct sunlight (?) or doing none of these supplementary activities and just working out.  One experiment we could all try at home is measuring how long we can sustain the energy to dance without music vs. how long we can sustain the energy to dance with music.  Is there a notable difference?

I don’t mean to suggest that this is only a factor for sunlight and / or music – their could certainly be other sources of energy we might be able to ‘convert’ and use.  Obviously even if there were some studies out there that suggested this was possible there would still be lots of unanswered questions.   For example, does everyone have the ability to do this – or just some people?  Also, I would imagine lower-energy music (like ballads, etc.) requires just as much energy to play on a device for a minute as high-energy music.  However, low energy music does not have the same perceived, positive, ‘energizing’ effect on our mood or energy levels. (So there goes my wall-outlet argument, right?).   I recognize that there would need to be a scientific approach taken to this question in order to determine whether it is possible for humans to absorb and convert / use energy from sources other than food.  However, there is so much we don’t understand about even our own energy levels that I think it is a question worth exploring.