Sound and Silence

Sound and Silence

When I wrote this blog it was raining outside, mist sitting on the western hillside and a steady comforting hum in the air from the constant, gentle, deluge. It was early in the morning and the trees full of birds, each one calling into the new day to announce its aliveness and presence with their unique songs, trills, and whistles.

How comforting sounds can be.

Listening to sounds can induce many emotions. A friend of mine who could never conceive a child, cries even now at the sound of a baby’s gurgle, and who has not been moved by a song, connecting us directly to the feelings of the past, some sharp, some sad, some sweet, but always evocative.

As we grew up my sisters and I would put a particular record on the player (no ipods then) just to see our mother cry, which she did every time she heard this particular piece of music. We never did ask her why, and she never would tell us, perhaps a sign of the times when personal emotion was held private rather than something to seek attention from. Anyway, many years later when visiting her grave, we finally saw the reason for her tears. There on the gravestone of her younger brother buried next to her, was the title of that song ‘arrivederci darling’ – goodbye, ‘til we see each other again…

Sound itself is an energy transmitted by pressure waves; a sensation perceived by us as the sense of hearing. People with hearing loss can often ‘hear’ some sound, particularly the humming sound from a brass string or the boom of drums. However, as with any sense, if that sense is lost our amazing brain rewires itself to capture that under used section into the other senses, sometimes creating a ‘super sense’ such as increased sense of sight for the hearing impaired.

Sounds and Healing

Sounds have been used for healing for centuries to clear energetics blockages and reduce stress. From classical music and the sound of nature’s fauna, winds, and waters to percussive instruments like drums, gongs and singing bowls.

Listening to particular sounds can alleviate stress and expedite healing.

For some listeners, moving into a meditative state helps to calm the mind, and in turn the amygdala the brains emotion processor, allowing a cooling of process and a subsequent reduction of inflammation throughout the body. Turned outward, deep listening is a practice of deep connection.

It’s interesting to note that human beings only register the hearing of sound within a certain frequency, yet a person does not have to consciously hear something to be affected.

Watching a science based tv program on sounds that trigger fear recently, a low frequency sound was played to a group of people to (successfully) prove an increased fear activation, regardless of it being soundless. Interesting. On the other end, hearing sound from the so called ‘God Frequency’ – 963 Hz – activates the pineal gland, clearing brain fog, and giving cool clarity to thought processes and peace.

There is much more of the effects of sound on the human being to be discovered, but in the meantime the effects are certainly something for us to consider in our daily lives.

Silence

You would think that silence is the absence of sound, yet even silence can have a texture or resonance.

Who has not ‘heard’ the sound texture of a tense electric silence, perhaps with a felt potency within it that ‘anything can happen’, or experienced the awkward discomfort and tightness of a strained silence?

And what about the texture of silence after a stunning theatre performance before the applause breaks out to shatter it, or the deep dense quiet of a snow-covered mountain, the humming open silence of a dessert, or the full, soft silence of a rainforest?

Silence and Spirituality

For time immemorable people have used silence to connect with nature, the creation and the Creator.

I live on Whadjuk Noongar land in Australia, and Aboriginal people have a few words to describe silence, or deep listening. One of them, called ‘dadirri’, is practiced without judgement and with no expectation, it’s just about quietly waiting with awareness, and an inner open stillness.

Writing for Creative Spirits, Aboriginal Elder Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann described deep listening as “ … inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness. Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. We call on it and it calls to us … lived for thousands of years with natures quietness. My people today, recognise and experience in this quietness, the great Life-Giving Spirit, the Father of us all”.

Many spiritual practices include deep listening, such as the Budhist insight (Vipassana) meditation, or the Christian spiritual training of Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading. In all the phases of Lectio Divina – reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating –silence is practised, but in particular the last phase. In this phase a deep inner silence is mainatained, a open still awareness that is also an invitation to experience insights from the Spirit of God within.

As well as a deeper spiritual connection, many people use silence regularly as a mental and emotional health tool. Whatever form it takes, from long walks to quiet sitting, the practice of silence is about becoming more attuned and responsive to the inner life of ourselves, rather than reacting to the outer. 

An informal way of practicing silence – and one that quickly reveals the fruits of doing it – is to simply choose a time to practice it. Famously, Actor Steve Mc Queen practiced silence for a whole day each month for most of his life. If a day is too long for you, start with less, even a tiny 3 seconds before responding to anyone can reveal so much, not least that mostly our responses are either reactive or empty, or are often not needed at all.

So much energy and presence can be gained by consicous silence.

Silence is a significant part of many contemplation and meditation practices, with mindfulness bringing in awareness of the moment-by-moment experience to the fore, rather than seeking to silence it. If, however, you choose to be quiet or meditate to find inner stillness, know that deep silence can be hard to reach and hold against the ongoing internal dialogue and noise, regardless of how quiet or fitting the place of practice is. Hence the term to accept before beginning a silent or meditation practice is to note the term used, a ‘practice’.

Moving toward more inner silence in our lives helps us to channel our energies, meditate and rebalance from the noise and activity of the experiences of outer life. It can allow a new perspective, and within that an opportunity to recognise the paradigms through which we view the world. In turn this allows the freedom of choice, should we wish to change or expand them.

Silence is indeed golden, a golden opportunity toward achieving a deep inner quiet, and the path toward equanimity and peace.

Lectio Divina, Mindfulness and quieting Meditations can be found here …

AL

Beliefs Become Biology

Beliefs Become Biology

If you change, everything will change for you. Beliefs become biology.

This blog considers how our beliefs and other non-genetic factors activate our genes, causing them to behave differently and so change our physiology (1) . What is remarkable is how such changes can then last for multiple generations for better or worse. Consequently, the fact is that the genes we inherit from our mothers and our fathers are not our fate!

Consider that:
• Quantum physics is urging us to change our focus from the material realm and, instead, focus on the dimensions of the unseen realm and so consider a probabilistic and not a deterministic dimension to our lives.

• ‘The brain and nervous system are dynamic structures boiling with change, rewiring themselves second by second on the basis of both internal and external stimuli’(2). Indeed, the brain remains plastic throughout our lives. This and our ability to control the activity of our brains, provides us with a key to changing our lives by changing our thinking; and

• We live in inter relationship with all living things. There is no such thing as a singular idea, or desire, in life because everything is joined to everything else. Therefore, while we may want to be singular, life is so interconnected that whatever we do, say, or even think, provides multiple responses in a connected environment.

These facts are further reinforced when we consider recent genetic science. This has shown that not only are our brains ‘plastic’ and grow, reshape, and change themselves across our lifespan, but so too does the genome. (3)

Epigenetics

The study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself is known as epigenetics. Epigenetics explores how our attitudes, behaviour, lifestyle, and choices can influence which genes get turned on or off. In other words, your environment and lifestyle can change your genes! This science further highlights how beliefs become biology.

Epigenetics establishes how genes not only do not control behaviour, but beliefs (expressed in our behaviour) and our environment, influence the responses in our genes. This occurs without affecting our underlying DNA.

We have, in the way genes work, a virtuous circle of complex events that reinforces itself through a feedback loop, as follows:
The external/internal environment activates and influences the gene – affecting the expression of genes – this places the gene in a new external/ internal environment which activates and influences the gene … and so on.

For example, at a purely physical level, the way in which what we eat changes our risk profile to hereditary disease by activating latent genes.

This groundbreaking discovery finds its explanation in the science of quantum physics where all matter is recognised as being essentially comprised of energy. As neurosurgeon, Dr. Jack Kruse wrote:

Energy changes the structural and function of matter. Proteins are a form of matter. Energy sculpts what proteins can and will do and how they will act in a cell. This is called conditions of existence, or epigenetics, today. Darwin told you about both. Of the two, he said conditions of existence were by far more important. Biology has forgotten what he said back then, because for 160 years, no one had a clue how epigenetics worked. Now we do.(5)

Epigenetics is a relatively recent science in which scientists have learned that contrary to establishment belief, genes can and are turned on and off by signals from our external and internal environments, from outside the cell.

Dr. Bruce Lipton, a former medical school professor and cellular research scientist, was one of the first scientists to posit such extra-cellular control.(6) His work has subsequently been validated by other researchers.

But what is a gene and why does epigenetics affect our lives and our world view?

Genes and how they work

Genes have for over half a century easily eclipsed the outside natural world as the primary driving force of evolution in the minds of many evolutionary biologists.(7)

As the above quote highlights, genes have long been associated in evolutionary science as entities whose characteristics lasted through succeeding generations.

So what is a gene?

A gene may be defined as being:

The fundamental physical and functional unit of heredity; It is an individual element of an organism’s genome and determines a trait or characteristic by regulating biochemical structure or metabolic process.(8)

The genome is the entirety of an organism’s hereditary information. Despite early estimates that a human being comprised 200,000 genes, the human genome is now thought to be only comprised of, between 20,000 and 25,000 genes. By contrast a water flea has c. 35,000 genes.(9)

More than a third of the water fleas’ genes are unknown in any other animal and, what is notable for what follows in this chapter, those previously unknown genes are due to the nature of the flea’s environment.’(10)

What the comparison of the number of genes in a human and the number of genes in the water flea highlights is that the number of genes in a human chromosome is insufficient to even provide the code for one complex organ.

So, with such an apparent shortfall in capacity, how does a gene manage? How is it that with a defective gene that leaves an individual susceptible to a cancer, only a very small percentage of people actually succumb to cancer?

Types of genes

In essence there are two types of genes. The first type has what is known as a regulatory protein cover. This may amount to 50% by weight of a gene and, in the past, this cover was discarded by scientists. The second type does not have the regulatory cover.

The second group of genes which might relate to the colour of our eyes for example, will readily find expression through the cellular system. The first group by contrast needs to have the regulatory protein cover removed for the gene to be read by a cell. This happens through environmental signals. These include vibrational signals arising out of the environment, including thought, the frequency of which is aligned to the receptors.

So it is the environment, not the DNA that will control the activity of this protein covered group of genes.

‘Things happen in energy fields before they materialize in the physical domain of our world.’ ‘Future medicine will be based on controlling energy in the body.’ Prof. William Tiller – Stanford University

Analogy – gene and computer

The way the gene works is seen as being analogous to the way a computer works. The gene could be described as the hard drive, or, as Dr. Lipton put it, the gene ‘is the organic equivalent of a computer chip, and the cell’s equivalent of a brain.’ As such genes store and use information within their design capacity. This, to extend the analogy, includes a range of software programs. The gene effectively extends its apparent capacity in terms of the software program accessed as held on the computer chip.

This means that the input, which switches the relevant software program on, is as critical as the hard drive, or, in this example, the gene itself, in achieving the output.

For this reason, until a gene is studied in the context of the energy inputs that it is plugged into, any such study is like trying to explain the design capacity of a computer without plugging it in and studying it through the way it uses software and how those macros (11) in the software work.

If we tried to do that, we would have a very incomplete picture of the real capacity of the computer and its software. For the reality is that the ‘input signals’ that the gene receives provide the activation of different parts of the gene.

Yet in many ways this is just how establishment science has sought to study the gene. The result is that such science, together with its limited findings, is also embedded in popular thinking.

Consider this: the newsletter for the students at the Health Science campus of the University of Southern California proclaims, “Research has shown that 1 in 40 Ashkenazi women have defects in two genes that cause familial breast/ovarian cancer.…”(12)

So embedded is the deterministic medical view that defective genes cause cancer that most of us will nod wisely in agreement with the statement and expect to see cancer in those women.

Yet it is only a partial truth, for the inputs have been isolated from the consideration of the genetic factors.

Those inputs are our internal and external environments. There is a slight acknowledgement of this in some circles of evolutionary science but by and large genes are not seen to be readily adaptive.

Epigenetic mechanisms have been found, in a number of studies, ‘to be a factor in a variety of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In fact only 5% of cancer and cardiovascular patients can attribute their disease directly to heredity.’ (13) (Willett 2002, Silverman 2004)

By contrast, epigenetics has established that the inputs, both the internal and the external environment, are major factors in activating genetic expression and, therefore, of the outcome.

The gene and behaviour

“Future medicine will be based on controlling energy in the body”. (Prof. William Tiller – Stanford University.)

To understand the working of genes we must recognize a ‘first principle’ that is summarised as ‘things happen in energy fields before they materialize in the physical domain of our world.’

We, as humans, occupy an energy field and inhabit a universe made of energy. At an individual level we have seen how the brain operates by sending electrical messages across synapses. We have also seen the way the brain controls all the processes in the body.

We have looked at how every time we feel an emotion or enact a belief, the brain sends chemicals throughout the body that will often give us a physical reaction. Such patterns of behaviour and reaction can become hard wired into the brain.

It is a reasonable extension to recognise that the mental and behavioural release of chemicals not only affects the body as whole, but also parts of the body, including genes. This is exactly what science in the first decade of the twenty-first century has demonstrated.

The well published author, Dawson Church, summarised this discovery as follows:
The energy flows in neurons and genes interact with their every process. Memory, learning, stress, and healing are all affected by classes of genes that are turned on or off in temporal cycles that range from one second to many hours. The environment that activates genes includes both the inner environment—the emotional, biochemical, mental, energetic, and spiritual landscape of the individual—and the outer environment. The outer environment includes the social network and ecological systems in which the individual lives. Food, toxins, social rituals, and sexual cues are examples of outer environmental influences that affect gene expression. Researchers estimate that “approximately 90% of all genes are engaged…in cooperation with signals from the environment.”(14)

Science has long held the view that in those instances where the genes in our body have altered in some way, they can cause illness.

However, until recently this has been a one-way street of causality. The conviction was: The gene has caused illness and affected behaviour. The genes held an immutable blueprint for our behaviour, life and well-being. But epigenetics demonstrates recent findings that it is our beliefs and therefore our behaviour, as reflected in life choices, which help shape our physiological reality.

By changing our thinking and our habitual affective responses, we can change our health.

Epigenetics demonstrates recent findings that it is our beliefs and therefore our behaviour, as reflected in life choices, that will help shape our physiological reality.

There are many examples of how emotional trauma can affect not simply our psychology but also our physiology, leading to disease including cancer.

In one example, an ongoing collaboration between the ‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’ and ‘Kaiser Permanente’ undertook the ‘adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) study’ which considered the relationship between multiple categories of childhood trauma, and health and behavioural outcomes later in life.(15)

This ten-year study of over 17,000 adults found a strong correlation between childhood emotional trauma and adult disease, including diabetes, depression, hypertension, heart disease and cancer.

The ACE study has been followed up by the Mitigating Adverse Childhood Experiences (MACE) study. This tracks the correlation between the relief of adult stress (and associated childhood trauma) using Energy Psychology techniques, and disease symptoms in adults. The study was still underway at the time of writing.

The ten-year study established the interactions between emotions and gene expression. The MACE study seeks to demonstrate the possibilities of reversing the damage by switching off that part of the affected gene which has been activated.

While genes may predispose individuals to certain disabilities there are many diseases and health issues which we know are not caused by either genes or environment in isolation. These include obesity, cancer, diabetes, allergies, heart disease, osteoporosis, and longevity.(16)

Epigenetics is opening up as a largely unmapped, new and exciting field in gene related science with many large-scale research projects being undertaken around the world.

In one such project, announced in September 2010 TwinsUK, a research group based at King’s College London, and BGI, the Chinese DNA sequencing powerhouse in Shenzhen, launched the Epitwin Project, a study of epigenetic effects in identical twins. This is the largest research project of its kind to date.

In launching it the group stated that: ‘Researchers hope that epigenetics will help to answer questions about the origins of diseases which we know are not caused by either genes or environment in isolation.’(17)

By changing our thinking and our habitual affective responses, we can change our health.

The implication of epigenetics is profound. This is because the idea that genes, in the neurons of our brain, can be activated by input from our emotive centres is radical, and indicates a degree of interconnection and feedback that is at odds with the traditional, linear , cause-and-effect model of genetic causation.(18)

What does this mean for us?

The research into epigenetics demonstrates that in the case of one significant class of genes, our internal environment, as well as our external environment, shapes our biological wellbeing by removing the regulatory protein cover for a gene.

To quote Dr. Bruce Lipton, it can now be shown that we are not ‘a bundle of chemical reactions at the mercy of our own DNA.’

While our genes might control biological expression such as the colour of our eyes, they do not control biological function. In his study of cells and epigenetics, Dr Lipton found that when he took an active cancer cell from a cancer affected body, and put it into a healthy medium, the cell behaved normally.

His work in the field of epigenetics demonstrates consistently the fact that our internal/external environments, including our beliefs, can change outcomes.

Beliefs, literally, become biology.

We are not ‘a bundle of chemical reactions at the mercy of our own DNA.’

Our internal environment is reflective of our emotions, our thinking, and our beliefs. To take control of our internal environment we must consciously take advantage of the dynamic and ongoing changes that occur in our mind.

We need to grow our understanding of what is possible, so that we can now begin to take increasing control over what happens in our lives.

We need to become increasingly self-aware.

Many of our emotions and thought processes occur at an unconscious level and it is only through a process of self-awareness that we can change the effect that these unconscious strata of our minds have on our genes and, more broadly, on our being.

In recent years a new science of neuro-immunology has developed which looks at the relationship between the brain, immune system and emotions and thinking. These processes are not conscious, but to some degree can come under conscious control, or can be mediated through thinking and through behaviour.

This has led various mainstream practitioners to assert that by changing our thinking and our habitual affective responses, we can change our health.(19)To achieve change we do need to be ‘body aware’.

The reality is that, as Dr Daniel Siegel put it, much of what happens in the mind is not within consciousness, yet these non-conscious processes have an impact on our health. Bringing these negative thoughts….. to awareness is part of basic health, because those thoughts—what in my field are called unintegrated neural processes—are basically like black holes. They have so much gravity to them that they suck the energy out of life. ….. They also influence the body itself, including the nervous system and the immune system.(20)

Unfortunately, too often there is a dissonance between our consciously expressed desire or behaviour and the unconscious personal conviction of personal inability or ill health. That unconscious conviction may be shaped or supported by the convictions imprinted on us by culture or other people’s beliefs.

Some years ago, I had a total knee replacement due in part to a squash injury. Some well-meaning people wanted to tell me all about the pain that was associated with such a procedure, but I banned any such discussion and worked on a premise of a strong recovery with minimal pain.

I was up from the hospital bed within hours of the operation (dragging drips and other paraphernalia with me to the bathroom), and discharged within three days. The nurses were stunned, and the surgeon was thrilled. Three months later I was walking through the New Zealand Alps.

This is not a unique story by any means, but the point is that I did not allow my unconscious to be fed by the negativity of third parties and impede recovery. By extension, our own conviction of a third party’s recovery or well-being will help improve or retard their situation.

If you will change, everything will change for you.

Guest Blogger  Dr Brian Gordon, OAM

Access helpful mindful awareness of body, breath, mind, and sensation meditations here …

AL

References:

(1) the way in which a living organism or bodily part functions
(2) Energy Psychology Journal Fighting the Fire: Emotions, Evolution, and the Future of Psychology, retrieved 14 February 2011 from http://energypsychologyjournal.org/?p=63

[3] A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all its genes. Each genome contains all the information needed to build and maintain that organism.

(4) Energy and Epigenetics 6: Quantum Cell Theory, Life as a Collective Phenomena Available at https://www.jackkruse.com/ee-6-quantum-cell-theory-life-collective-phenomena/
(5) Truth about Food and health, ‘New Research Reveals That Thoughts Affect Genes’, retrieved 11 February 2011 from http://www.thetruthaboutfoodandhealth.com/healtharticles/biology-of-belief-bruce-lipton-genes-cell.html
(6) Eldrige, N. 2004 Why we do it, Norton, New York p15
(7) Enotes.com ‘encyclopedia of genetic disorders’ Retrieved 12 February 2011 from http://www.enotes.com/genetic-disorders-encyclopedia/gene
(8) Brown, M., Wired Science, retrieved 12 February 2011 from http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/02/water-flea-genome/
(9) Brown, M., Wired Science, retrieved 12 February 2011 from http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/02/water-flea-genome/

(10) a single computer instruction that results in a series of instructions in machine language
(11) Church, D., Genie in your genes, Elite Books, California ,2007
(12) Lipton, B. The Biology of Belief, 2005 Hays House Inc. New York.
(13) Church, D., Genie in your genes, Elite Books, California ,2007
(14) The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, Retrieved 14 February 2011 from http://www.acestudy.org/
(15) Nature.com, Largest-ever epigenetic study launched – September 08, 2010 retrieved 14 February 2011 from http://blogs.nature.com/news/thegreatbeyond/2010/09/largestever_epigenetic_study_l.html
(16) Ibid
(17) Church, D., Genie in your genes, Elite Books, California ,2007
(18) The Unconscious Mind available at http://www.mind-development.eu/unconscious.html
(19) Daniel J. Siegel professor of clinical psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute

Overcoming Depression through Resilience

Overcoming Depression through Resilience

Many of us will unfortunately suffer depression at some time in our life. The ending of a relationship, being made redundant, severe illness, these are the kinds of events that can throw us off balance, robbing us of our self-esteem, motivation, and enjoyment of life.

A friend of mine who is a psychiatric nurse said recently that she had concluded that empowerment is often more effective than anti-depressants. I believe this to be true. So, I want to share with you the resilience model that I used in the hope it may also be of benefit to someone-else.

In the late 90s I became deeply depressed. I felt physically and mentally exhausted and the world became a small, dark place flooded only with an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness. I was having suicidal thoughts. Yet within 2 months I had managed to turn this around, though it was the hardest thing I have ever done.

Previously, I had read about a workshop entitled “Strategies for Balancing a Complicated Life”, led by Dr. Marjorie Blanchard. In this workshop she introduced participants to a resilience model based on research on stress survivors (psychologically resilient people) and research on peak happiness experiences. The same ingredients were significant in both cases that is:

Perspective, Autonomy, Connectedness, Tone.

Though designed for a corporate workplace setting, over the years I modified and added to those ideas to be more generally relevant. This tool was the keystone of my recovery from depression.

PERSPECTIVE

The definition of perspective according to the Oxford English Dictionary is “a particular way of regarding something”, “an understanding of the relative importance of things”.

It is guaranteed that in the closed world of depression our thinking/feeling life will be out of balance, and we will not be seeing things in perspective. Taking a bigger picture view can help us keep things in context.

One way to do this is through finding our life direction, mission, or purpose – something deeply meaningful and of great value that can help us weather the down times. For me, it was trying to get a sense of where my life was going, and I looked to my core values for guidance before asking myself “what do I really want for my life?”.

Victor Frankl, a Viennese professor of Neurology and Psychiatry who survived the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp subsequently wrote in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, that he believed this to be man’s greatest need, greatest desire.
He also observed that the single most important factor in who survived, and who did not in the camp, was attitude.

Looking For the Positives

The attitude of looking for the positives was a vital factor in my recovery. I came to the view that everything that happens, even trauma, is an opportunity for growth and the need to search relentlessly for those opportunities. I continually asked myself “What can I learn from this situation? What can it teach me?” It may be hard to believe in silver linings when depressed, but this is a simple and effective tool to use.

A friend of mine had to experience homelessness, estrangement from family, major illness, inability to find work, and poverty, to eventually shift her thinking away from black and white, judgmental thinking to becoming a more understanding, caring and compassionate person.

Some positives we can only discover after the event, so it’s important to stay open to the possibility. There are countless examples of people whose trauma has triggered a major change in life direction in a positive way. In Australia two high profile examples are Rosie Batty and Grace Tame who have respectively made domestic violence and sexual abuse national conversations.

Believing in ourselves and our possibility is also relevant here. We may have reached a low point where the outlook is bleak but examples from the natural worlds can encourage and give hope. Think of the caterpillar that becomes the chrysalis in dark, limiting confinement and then emerges as the wonder of the butterfly. It says we are meant to ultimately live in beauty and freedom and that transformation can happen through dark times.

A great human example was famous ex-cricketer Shane Warne. He once told how he had been absolutely shattered as a teenager when he was rejected for the AFL. It had been his life dream. But “you have a choice” he said, “you can either become a victim and blame everyone, or you can use that loss to become more determined to achieve”. Working hard to perfect his bowling skills, he certainly did, ultimately being named as one of the top 5 sportsmen in the world!

Acceptance and Commitment

This was another aspect of perspective that was instrumental in my recovery. Firstly, accepting the situation (loss and depression) but then immediately asking the question “So what can I do to help myself?”

I realized I had more resource tools that were right for me, gathered over decades of personal growth and healing work, than anyone I could possibly go to, and I decided now was the time to truly test them. I also had to accept that when I found myself in a very dark place, sometimes I just had to go to bed, and I would sleep as if drugged. It was as if my being had to knock me out for a while. But there would always be some point in the day when I felt just that little bit better, and I committed to seizing that moment to do something, however small, to help myself.

Resilience to me doesn’t necessarily mean being unaffected, but rather that after each relapse you pick yourself up and try again. The important thing is to keep nudging forward.

Gratitude

Gratitude is a very healing and strengthening emotion. Even in depression there will always be something to be grateful for. I felt gratitude for the resources I had and for the opportunities in my life that had exposed me to those resources. And even with the ending of a close relationship or the passing of a loved partner, we can be grateful for the time we had with that person and the good things we experienced.

Grateful in registering life and existence as an incredible gift; valuing being born human with all its extraordinary abilities and living on this amazing, beautiful, and bountiful planet Earth, a rarity in the cosmos.Re-linking to these things in times of major stress helped me deal with day-to-day challenges.

AUTONOMY

Autonomy is about being in charge of your life, being self-determining, a sense of having choices. It is here you can create a toolkit of resources to help you in stressful times and to help maintain balance ongoingly in your life.

Everyone will be in different situations, and everyone will be open and responsive to different methods so it’s important to find what you are drawn to and what works for you. For me it was the attraction to right brain techniques, which include things like bodywork, movement, creative arts, personal imagery, creative visualisation, meditative states, intuition, and connectivity.

As depression is a form of ‘stuckness’ – the mind is stuck in habitual, repetitive, negative patterns – we need to create fluidity and space in the mind to loosen structure and facilitate positive change. I used flushing techniques like free flow writing, ‘gibberish meditation’, shaking meditation, and Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation to clear the mind and energy pathways.

The mind and body are connected so negative mental patterns can play out into the body in the form of patterns of tension. When we begin to free up these holding patterns through physical shaking or witnessing, we also begin to release the related patterns in the mind.

I found Free flow writing especially beneficial, but it takes commitment. Every day for at least a month I wrote whatever came into my mind for half an hour when I woke up in the morning. It’s a ‘stream of consciousness’ kind of long handwriting where you empty your thoughts in the moment, without judgment or censorship. As no-one else would read it, I just let it flow – the important thing is just to keep the pen moving! I found some of the writing trivial, but it can also be healing, insightful and profound.

Julia Cameron in her bestselling book The Artist’s Way uses something similar in her Morning Pages exercise towards creative freedom and inner growth.

Positive Affirmation

Another positive pattern I created was to say something to myself before bed, and then straight after waking up to reinforce it. There are many affirmations you can do and its especially useful to make one up for yourself too.

In my depression, listening to the book Conversations with God also helped to remind me of my purpose, and who I truly am beyond my everyday persona. It was very affirming. The book is about God talking with someone at a very low point in their life. He discusses a range of relevant topics with fresh viewpoints, tough love, and a sense of humour. I hope you try it.

CONNECTEDNESS

Connecting with others, talking to others, are important thing to do when you are down: being prepared to be vulnerable where appropriate and practicing respectful communication of innermost thoughts and feelings. Expressing these things through communicating can mean that, ultimately, there are no loose ends, nothing more to be said. Subsequently there is less likelihood of ‘living in the past’ with regrets.

Selecting a few close friends or family members who are caring, understanding and supportive can be critical in helping us deal with major stresses in our lives.

After about a month of struggling with my depression I began to see a glimmer of light, and at this stage I was able to consider being part of a group. I felt very vulnerable, but two things that helped me enormously were a gentle, nurturing yoga class that soothed and uplifted my bruised spirit, and joining a small choir that focused on songs about the ocean.

There has been a lot of research on the benefits of choirs for mental health. As well as being uplifting, singing stimulates the production of oxytocin which is important for bonding and a sense of belonging and connectedness.

Connecting with the Environment

Connecting more deeply to nature, whether it’s sitting by the ocean or gazing at a starry sky also helps, allowing us to find peace and balance and a greater sense of wellbeing. Dr Blanchard in her original workshop stressed too the importance of a nurturing home environment where a person feels ’at home’.

Connecting with the Breath

I found that regular breath work released stress and helped me find a place of inner quietness and calm. Using a simple practice, at least half a dozen times a day, just stopping completely, then taking a slow deep breath in through the nose, down to the belly and out through the mouth. On the out breath totally letting go throughout the whole being.

Every morning I used The Three Breath Entry – relaxing the body on the first outbreath, then emptying the mind, then letting go of everything on the third. This was followed by 6 breaths using alternate nostril breathing – pressing against one side of the nose and breathing through the other – and then taking 6 slow deep breaths through both nostrils. Finally, I’d just spent a few minutes focusing on sounds, in my body, in the space I was in and then the world outside.

There are lots of other breathing techniques you can try to see which one will be best for you such as the 4, 7, 8 (in 4 breaths, hold 7 breaths, out 8 breaths) and the square breathing method (in for 3, hold for 3, out for 3, hold for 3).

Connecting with Self

Connecting with our natural self, our true nature, is a significant factor that can take us away from depression. There are many pressures to conform in modern society that may take us away from who we truly are – our natural inclinations, abilities, and possibility both as an individual and a human being. I have concluded that perhaps the greatest pain someone can suffer is being separated from their true nature.

Japan has been a country with very strong traditions and pressures to conform. Today there is a social crisis with an increasing number of young people being unable and unwilling to function withing those limitations. Many feel a sense of shame and ostracize themselves. In one case a man had lived in his bedroom for 20 years.

If you are open to Astrology this can be a good place to begin to explore ‘Who am I?’ as you try to find and reconnect with your own nature and qualities.

Dance and Movement Therapy was also an important part of my healing and connecting with self. In western culture we tend to worship the rational mind, but science now realises that we function best when we draw on the capacities of both hemispheres of the brain.

I believe we experience and learn things with our whole being, not just the head! So, including the body as we strive to change can aid our progress. The form of dance and movement explorations I used were very much about self-discovery, connectedness, empowerment, and the bigger picture of life.

Separation

A word on separation. Sometimes we can become too bonded to another person making it difficult for us to be true to ourselves, or to let go of a relationship which is no longer working. I found the following simple exercises helpful:
Imagine you are walking up a pathway towards your goal in life (however you see that). Along the way you meet the person you are needing to separate from and you say “If I can help you let me know, but otherwise I’ll see you later” and then you keep walking away and up the path.

Another separation technique is to image strings connecting you to the other person, and then visualise taking a pair of scissors and cutting the strings.

TONE

Tone refers to our physical health and fitness and incorporates diet, exercise, sleep, and things like not smoking and limiting intake of alcohol. Scientific research has expanded enormously in these areas and found strong links between physical and mental health.

We are hearing a lot nowadays about the gut microbiome, the community of microbes that live in our gut, and how toxins from the gut can travel via the vagus nerve into the brain itself, significantly affecting mood.

Some activities that we thought occurred exclusively in the brain have now been proven otherwise. For example, 90% of Serotonin (the Happy Hormone) is actually produced in the gut.

The health of the gut microbiome depends to a large degree on microbial diversity so eating a wide range of wholesome foods is highly beneficial. Healthy gut bacteria love prebiotics like fibre so eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is also a good idea. I have found that eating a fermented food like sauerkraut (a natural probiotic) daily has had a very positive impact on my health.

The ‘stress survivors’ took care of their physical fitness, as well as maintaining a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Exercise can be anything from regular walks to workouts at the gym to dancing. Yoga and Pilates are also popular choices these days.

Scientific research has shown that exercise directly affects brain health, sending more oxygen to cells and stimulating the production of BDNF, a growth factor that builds more connections between cells. And it improves mood. I remember decades ago going to dance classes sometimes feeling a bit low and being positive, energized and almost jubilant by the end of the class!

A word on sleep. Many of us suffer from poor quality and inadequate sleep which has been shown to have a detrimental effect on mental function and mood. Our modern way of life has a lot to answer for! There are some good sleep meditations and relaxations around, also keeping the bedroom totally dark, getting rid of electronic devices from the room (and not sitting at the computer for at least half an hour before bed) can all help toward better sleep.

Finally, I come back to acceptance and commitment. The degree of depression you are experiencing will impact what you are able to do. Deep depression can mean loss of interest in food and inability to exercise because of exhaustion. Sleep can happen but be unrefreshing. So, this I had to accept in the earlier period of my depression and not berate myself but commit to doing something positive as I felt more able.

You will find your own pace. Be kind to yourself, patient and persevere. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Guest Blogger  Maggie Poole-Johnson, Stress Therapist

Spend some time with our mindful well-being meditations – Breath and Relaxations, Gratitude, Sleep, and Loving Kindness here …AL

ITS IMPORTANT to note that this blog is not a replacement for professional assistance. There are many professionals offering their services and organisations such as Beyond Blue, Head Space, Psyche Central just waiting to support you.

 

Anger Energy

Anger Energy

Anger eats energy – your energy. Anger can range from mild irritations to a raging monster of energy consumption, and it can exhaust you.

When anger manifests as energy it becomes a mental formation, and this energy formation can cause lots of suffering if it’s not managed. Some things we act on or do feed into the anger energy, and some things can syphon it off or redirect the energy, allowing the system to calm down.

Anger is a natural response to ‘perceived’ threats – but not all threats are reality.

The amygdala, where the stress response leading to Fight or Flight begins, cannot distinguish between what is real and what is not – this is why you can get frightened watching a horror movie, even though you know it cant harm you.

As anger arises there are many changes in the physical body as powerful hormones are released and the adrenal glands stimulated, moving the body ultimately into that Fight or Flight preparation.

Breathing and heartrate increase to provide increased oxygen and energy, pupils of the eyes dilate to allow more light into the eye and improve vision, blood pressure rises, muscles tighten and can tremble or shake with the extra energy. The face can pale or flush as the blood flow and increased energy of the body rushes up to the brain; the muscles of the arms and legs are powered and other processes, such as food digestion, slows or stops allowing as much energy as possible to be available, to fight or run away.

It is a state of acute stress.

Anger is a state of the mind that is triggered and then powered by emotion, stimulating action. The passion of anger can be used to motivate into useful action but here the term anger is used to describe the potentially damaging aspect.

When moving into the anger state, psychological and emotional tensions are increased by physical tension, so relaxation is a key management tool in helping to reduce that tension, and thus reduce the possibility of enacted anger.

Relaxation can be used to help slow things down at any time during the build-up and experience of the anger state. Taking a few deep slow breaths is a good start. There are many relaxation practices available, and they flow easily into the introduction and practice of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment, and calmly acknowledging and accepting any thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations that are being experienced and happening at that moment. The ability to invite mindfulness in to change a mental state during an emotional event takes practice.

Practice can begin through a number of things; being mindful of the movement of your body as you walk – the contraction and release of leg muscles, the balance as you step, and the heal-toe placement of your feet; eating a mouthful of food noting the smell, textures, taste, movement of teeth and mouth; being aware of sound or absence of sound; or mindfully breathing and noticing how the upper body lifts, the chest and belly expand, and on the outbreath the drooping and collapsing.

This sort of relaxed observation is critical to mindful thinking, whenever you are mentally aware with understanding, you are meditating. If you find observation hard to do, just start with getting comfortable about relaxing – in your walking , eating, listening or breathing – before engaging the mind. Introducing relaxation and gentleness into your practice right from the start will help produce the ‘right’ attitude and energy when redirecting the mind to invite awareness in.

It can take a lot of mental effort and energy to be aware, and to maintain that awareness, during an emotional event like anger, and practicing will ‘building the muscles’ of your mind to hold and use that energy when you need the strength. The more concentratation expended on an experience, the more energy is used, so practicing being observant and aware in a relaxed way is both useful and conserving.

Eventually, practising to ‘be present’ in times of emotional extremity rather than ‘losing it’, will save lots of energy, and more importantly, lots of suffering – of self and others.

As we move into mindfulness and observe what’s happening during the anger experience, we siphon off energy from it, deflating it as we introduce and energise a new mental state. The changeover movement creates a little pause or space between the experience and the self, a sometimes-momentary opportunity to get the mind out of the flood of emotion, and make a choice about what can happen next.

You can choose to continue in the wash of the current experience, or take a few breaths and use the introduced mindful state to observe what’s happening in your body and in your mind. How does the chest feel? the stomach? how is the breath, can you deepen it? can you slow it down? As the emotion begins to steady, you can gain more awareness and may be able to see what thoughts were/are passing through your mind during the event. ‘No one ever understands me”, ‘it’s happening again!’ “I can’t take this anymore”. You may also be able to recognise how you felt underneath the anger – sad, frustrated, confused, accused, deeply hurt …

When you are in the anger moment and you invite mindful awareness in, remember that is all that is happening. You are not trying to control, restrict or enforce yourself to do something. You are just observing what is happening, and perhaps finding opportunity to change the usual outcome. As you continue to observe each sensation as a sensation, each thought as a thought, mental activity as mental activity, will eventually come to see their nature, allowing you to recognise that nature in future to manage and avoid anger.

You are not your anger.

Recognising that, and understanding the nature of something, is the aim of mindfulness rather than wanting to make it disappear, is paramount.

When you observe whatever you are experiencing, and are aware of that observation, you are also aware of the observing mind.

When you are quietly aware, amazing insights can arise and hidden fears, expectations, and hopes can be brought into the light of understanding. You can begin to see that generalisations, negative thinking, and jumping to conclusions, don’t help you stay calm, and that challenging negative self-talk can reframe and change the way you think about self and others.

Throughout it all, it is important to maintain that gentle attitude toward both yourself and the anger, an attitude that wants to ‘take care’ of you, and it. Some people find it useful to think of challenging emotions like anger as a child. A child who is angry and upset needs gentleness, a cuddle not a smack; open arms, not suppression; and calm questions,  what’s happening? what’s hurting or causing this suffering? How can it be made better?

This gentle concentration of self to self is what invites the carefulness of mindfulness in.

Once the issues underneath the anger are found and identified, action can be taken to help ‘make it better’. Meanwhile, be patient with yourself and consider taking up the practice of generating the energy of mindfulness simply by being mindful and noticing what’s happening in and around you. You may also find it useful to undertake some of the many meditations on the internet, and on this site.

The practice of mindfulness can be entirely non-sectarian. It is a therapeutic practice that can help us to become aware of what’s feeding the ‘anger monster’ that arises from our suffering, by paying attention and understanding what is motivating it.

In the meantime, if you can, try not to avoid challenging situations that will give you the opportunity to learn and grow and, as best you can – don’t feed the monster, starve it!

Finally, it’s important to note that this blog is not replacement for professional assistance. There are many professionals offering their services and they are a resource to be used.

AL
Mindful meditations, relaxations and contemplations here …

Magic Mushrooms

Magic Mushrooms

Magic mushrooms, psilocybin or psychedelic mushrooms, have been used in indigenous cultures for religious rituals, healing, and divinatory purposes for millennia.

Psilocybin is an hallucinogenic compound, the term ‘magic mushroom’ was formed when the effect of this mushroom was found to be like that of the recreational drug LSD. Though tested in the field of medicine for the potential benefits of mental health, psilocybin is currently not accepted for medical use, however some parts of America have legalised psilocybin assisted therapy.

But this is not the magic this blog is about!

The magic of our fabulous eating mushrooms is that they are a nutritional powerhouse, jam packed with nutrients and minerals, fat free, cholesterol free – and very low in calories.

Mushrooms are the fruiting body of fungi, so not technically either a plant or a vegetable. They are bursting with B vitamins, have moderate amounts of C, biotin, potassium, copper, selenium, fibre, protein, iron, zinc, and an antioxidant unique to mushrooms. They also contain a fair amount of vitamin D which is not usual in non-animal foods – and many have a high fibre content  that can improve digestive health – maybe that’s why mushrooms are termed the ‘vegetarian meat’.

All eating mushrooms are great sources of antioxidants.

Some mushrooms, such as the Shitake, have immune stimulating properties and are antibacterial and antiviral. Shitake mushrooms have been used for medicinal purposes in China for centuries and have one of the highest amounts of natural copper, a mineral that supports healthy blood vessels, bones, and immune support.

The small white or common button mushroom has medicinal properties helping to lower cholesterol and improve gut health. It also has a range of bioactive compounds that benefit of our general health.

Porcini mushrooms come with many health benefits too. These meaty type mushrooms help to improve digestive health and reduce inflamation, and are loaded with iron and anitoxidants. Research on the anti inflamarotry aspect can be found below.*

Mushrooms have also been found to have an inhibiting effect on oestrogen which can lead to a reduction in the risk of breast cancer and Lentinan, a beta-glucan found in shitake mushrooms, has shown to have immune regulating and anti-tumour properties**

Medicinal mushroom is often produced in powders, perhaps the most common one is made from the Reishi mushroom. Reishi is part of a traditional Chinese medicinal herbal remedy taken for a healthy liver and immune function and is known for its calming properties. ***

Eating mushroom is good for your health and well-being.

Dried mushrooms rarely lose their effectiveness, even on the protein side just one ounce of a dried porcini mushroom contains 7 grams of protein. Dried mushrooms are like a condensed super healthy condiment. Use them often and variously, particularly in soups, casseroles and stews.

Use fresh mushrooms within one week (max),  and keep any mushrooms not used straight away in a dry paper bag left open in the fridge. Before use, wipe clean with a dry cloth rather than washing them in water as they absorb water and can become slimy. Mushrooms contain 80% + water so are not suitable for freezing.

When cooking, sautéing quickly over high heat, or simmering over low heat, such as in soups, are ideal cooking methods for preserving nutrients.

Fresh mushrooms such as – porcini, lions mane, chanterelle, oyster, button, shitake, enoki, portobello, morel etc – can be used in many recipes – wraps, pasta bakes, stir fry’s, omelettes, salads, pizzas, filled and grilled, plain and fresh, or gently heated in a little butter and served on toast. Yum!

Mushrooms are considered super foods, packed with nutritional goodies to help promote a healthy immune system and boost bone health. Chefs recognise their earthy, savory flavour enhancement as ‘Umami’.

Interestingly truffles are also classified as mushrooms but have signifcant differences, such as growing completely underground and having no stem, having a strong rather than mild flavour, having just a short gowing season, and often being unaffordable! Try them shaved on scrambled eggs for an indulgent breakfast or keep a few eggs in a plastic bag with some truffle in the fridge, the truffle will infuse flavour throught the shells.

Happy and healthy eating.

AL

Caution – be careful picking or accepting mushrooms grown in the ‘wild’, many contain toxins that are unsafe to eat and can cause hallucinations, vomiting, convulsions and potentially, insanity. In addition even edible mushrooms are unsafe if picked near industrial sites or train tracks etc as they may contain toxins or heavy metals. Always obtain mushrooms from a safe source. ‘If in doubt, leave it out’!

Try our Awareness of Senses meditation under Health and Well-Being meditations here

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5095342/

* *Ng, M. L., & Yap, A. T. (2002). Inhibition of human colon carcinoma development by lentinan from shiitake mushrooms (Lentinus edodes). The Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 8(5), 581-589.

***https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22207209/

 

 

Firm Focus, Soft Gaze

Firm Focus, Soft Gaze

Ways of developing a firm focus, and soft gaze.

In Vipassana meditation, we open ourselves in a wide awareness of senses, with a soft mental gaze that allows us to notice whatever is happening. If something catches our attention, we then turn toward whatever it is – thought, sound, sensation, emotion and, with gentle curiosity, investigate it.

With the soft gaze of vipassana meditation a special vulnerability and openness develops that facilitates insight, acceptance, and compassion.

In a meditation that has a firm focus, for example a specific focus on the breath or sounds, when something else catches our attention, we note/acknowledge it, then allow whatever it is to fall into the background of our attention, allowing our focus to remain firm on the chosen object.

A focused meditation helps develop resilience, fortitude, and builds a form of mental clarity.

Recently speaking to someone in the throes of fear, I wondered which way they would choose to go, softly opening to it, or acknowledging it and gently but firmly letting it go.

Both ways of working with fear, or whatever else arises, are open to us all the time, the trick is to start at the same point, acknowledgement of what is present in you.

In our busy everyday life if something has triggered a negative thinking pattern or emotional reaction, we are operating on autopilot or under the motivations of the amygdala.

But, if we can learn to be aware of when our thinking changes, or our emotions rise, the very act of noticing, of acknowledgement is enough to bring the pre frontal cortex into play allowing the ability to consciously think and choose which direction to go.

There are many books and meditations available to help develop both the clarity of firm focus and the insight of soft gaze, including how to navigate challenging emotions and re wire mental patterns as you begin to uncover your unique triggers and motivations.

Right now is always a good time to start – so why not check out our awareness and working with challenging emotions meditations  in Health and Well-Being.

AL