Delving into mindfulness

5 Feb

Although I’ve been a practicing Buddhist for a few years, it’s only recently that I’ve really read some of the Buddhist sutras- the texts that are fundamental to Buddhist thought and philosophy, and which have been passed down over 2,500 years. Stemming from my desire to get the skinny from the Buddha’s own mouth, I’ve been reading the Long Discourses of the Buddha (the Digha Nikaya), the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (Majjhima Nikaya), Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn and The Awakening of the Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh. This latter book is an excellent resource for anyone who’s interested in mindfulness, the practice emphasized by the Buddha as the foundation of the path to enlightenment. Mindfulness is a buzz word these days, but who really knows what it is? Here is my understanding of mindfulness, from putting into practice what I’ve read and heard. Try out the breathing exercises and you will be on your way to Enlightenment!

Mindfulness as a concept is quite simple: it is simply knowing what you are doing while you are doing it, and then choosing whether or not we want to do that thing. Ever go into a room and not know why you went there? Chances are, your mind was off on a tangent, effectively distracting and derailing you from your purpose! Think of mindfulness as following your thoughts and actions from point A to point B, and being aware of the journey in between. In relationships we use mindfulness to be aware of our reactions and thoughts,  dealing more skillfully with our feelings in reaction to those qualities that we find difficult in others. What we need in order to practice mindfulness is a roadmap; lucky for us, the Buddha laid out the Four Foundations of Mindfulness to give us just that roadmap: Body, Feelings, Mind and Mind Objects (or Perceptions).

1- Body: Normally, we aren’t aware of our bodies, but rather spend a lot of our existence trying to ignore them. Mindfulness of Body consists of knowing what’s going on with your body- what position it is in, following your hand and arm through space as you go to grasp something, being aware of- and sitting with- pain and discomfort, etc. Sometimes, we spend more effort and time gassing up, changing the oil and polishing our cars than we spend being truly aware of our life vehicle, the Body. Try this: as you brush your teeth tonight, become aware that you are brushing your teeth. Investigate the sensation of the brush on your teeth and gums. Get curious. Say to yourself, “I am brushing my teeth.” Feel the position of your body. Notice little things that normally go unnoticed: hmm, I’m pretty forceful with my brushing; I can feel the little bubbles around my lips from the toothpaste; I’m kind of slumped forward and craning my neck. The cool thing about mindfulness is that once you’re aware of something, you have the choice of changing it – or not. 

2- Feelings: I think you’ll agree with me here- feeling drive how you live your life. They can take us from a relatively calm state to a triggered state of rage in seconds! The secret to understanding feelings is to realize that they live in the subconscious for the most part, and the subconscious mind ‘drives our cars’ so to speak, until we bring that content out of the subconscious and into the conscious mind. Here’s an example of how mindfulness helped me not get in a car wreck once: I was driving down the road with my husband in the passenger seat, when he said something that really ticked me off! I was probably cruising for a blow-up due to other factors, and his comment was the last straw. I felt a surge of anger, and noticed that I had the urge to gun the car and make him feel as out of control and subject to my whim as I felt in regards to him! That would serve him right, I thought. But I was aware of those thoughts; I breathed, gave myself a little space, and didn’t act on my feelings. I just noticed them. I was still angry, but now I had a choice: do I act out my anger and create more bad feelings, or do I notice my anger and listen to what it has to tell me, namely that I’m feeling disregarded and belittled? Once you notice your feelings, you can ask yourself, “What am I going to do with that?” If you can remove the emotional juice from your noticing, it becomes the noticing of an observer and not a participant. Thus the Buddha asked us to categorize our feelings, to foster that role of observer: is my feeling pleasant? Unpleasant? Or neutral? Then, we can notice whether we’re clinging to that feeling or pushing it away- and by the way, we can cling to or push away both pleasant and unpleasant feelings! For example, when I was so angry at my husband in the car, I wanted to cling to that anger and get really stoked up! Anger is a powerful feeling, and it helps us feel very alive very quickly- which can be addicting, like a double shot of espresso. When I was growing up however, anger was not something that I felt safe expressing- so I repressed it. Same person, two different ways to relate to anger.

So, when dealing with your feelings, notice whether the feeling you have right now is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, and whether you’re clinging to it or repressing it, then make the choice: what choice creates the best outcome for all? Labeling feelings comes in handy when you’re meditating: “Oh, that’s a pleasant feeling” (now follow your breath and let the feeling go); “Hmmm, a feeling of fear” (now follow your breath and let that feeling go). Like Morris Albert’s 1975 song goes, ‘Feelings, nothing more than feelings’.

3- Mind:  Mind is different from feelings, in that it’s more of a background state of mind, such as agitated, distracted or grounded. It’s the flavor that’s present, the set dressing already onstage when feelings come up. Mind will collaborate in creating a feeling; if my mind state is pretty cool and comfy, then I won’t react as strongly to a verbal jab from someone; but if I’m depressed or vulnerable, it might set me off like a Roman candle! Being familiar with your mind state is a great mindfulness tool; again, it will help you make choices that support you rather than sabotage you. I was asked recently to give a talk on mindfulness, and I was aware that my mind state was somewhat nervous. My urge was to get myself hyped up on chai before the talk (why? I’ve noticed my tendency is to want to amplify what I’m already feeling), but I knew that my talk would be scattered and not at all mindful if I gave in to that urge. So by noticing my mind state, when that feeling came up I could then make an intelligent choice to support myself.  Here’s another example: someone invites you to a party, and you’d like to please her but you’re aware that there’s a subtle yet undeniable background flavor of being frazzled. You could acquiesce to your friend and go to the party, but would that choice support you and the other people in your life? You get to decide.

4- Mind objects (perception):  Buddha reminds us to “guard the sense doors”: understand that when your 6 senses come in contact with the world around you, they trigger feelings, help to create your experience and add to others’ experience in the world around you (for better or for worse). What are the six senses? Taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing and consciousness. What does Buddha mean by guarding the sense doors? Buddha knew that our senses lead to longing for things and people and experiences; they create craving. They also create aversion. And so he reasoned that if we don’t listen to music, go dancing, drink or eat intoxicants, gamble or otherwise seek out strong stimulants, we’re less likely to struggle with the clinging and aversion these stimulating experiences engender in us. Sound like a real buzz-kill? The question is, does the buzz help or hinder you?

Let’s investigate the sense door of sight. When we meditate, we’re encouraged to either close our eyes or look down through half-open eyes at a spot 45 degrees in front of us (“where the cow lies down”, in some cultures!). This will help us ‘guard the sense door’ of the eye and decrease outside stimulus in order to still our mind. How about the sense door of taste? Here’s an example from my experience: I’m addicted to the taste of Bhakti chai, a local, spicy chai I really enjoy (you’re getting that I struggle with my addiction to chai, huh?) Recently I was driving my son back to college; we’d stopped on the way there for a Bhakti chai. It tasted pretty good. Then as I drove home alone after dropping him off, missing him already, thinking about how grown up he is and probably struggling with my mortality and parenthood, etc., I was gripped with a strong desire for ANOTHER Bhakti chai! Now, I had already opened the sense door of taste by buying the first chai; now my need for comfort was screaming at me to get another chai, and now! Instead of caving in to that desire, I recognized it as a stress response. I asked myself (as my mind was screaming, just get me the frickin’ chai NOW!), what else can I do that would provide comfort, that’s not loaded with sugar and caffeine? I pulled into the parking lot for a trail I’d always wanted to explore, and took off down the trail. It took me half an hour to placate my loud mind, following my breath and repeating to myself, “Breathing in, I am here. Breathing out, I am nature” as I walked through the prairie along the sunset-lit path. Because I was aware of what was happening in the Chai/Sense Door of Taste scenario and decided to walk instead of buying another chai, I witnessed an hour of the most gorgeous sunset I’ve ever seen, pulling its healing powers into my bodymind. I also had the satisfaction of being in the driver’s seat of my own life.

The purpose of mindfulness is to bring you into the present moment, which is the only moment you have any agency in. You can’t do anything about the past, because it is gone. You can’t experience the future right now because it doesn’t exist yet. But you can look deeply into what is happening right now, influence the future and heal wounds from the past by mindfully experiencing the present moment. According to the Avatamsaka Sutra, if you live one moment deeply, that moment contains all the past and all the future in it. All these concepts are intertwined into a kind of quantum physics existence, where the Observer changes the observed phenomena and all phenomena are interpenetrating. It gets mind-twisting pretty fast!

But to simplify: mindfulness means that by being aware of our doings and thinkings through mindful practices, we have a lot more control over our own lives, and we can choose to act and think with compassion, love and equanimity. It’s not about being detached from our lives or others’ lives and levitating in our living rooms, but rather about being deeply involved in the world. It’s about making choices that support us rather than sabotage us, and we can do that only when they are conscious choices. Feelings, body sensations, mind states and perceptions that remain in the subconscious mind will continue to drive our actions whether we like it or not. But when we are aware of them, we have a choice.

So how to practice? The foundational practice of mindfulness is to be aware of one’s breath: “Breathing in a short (or long) breath, I am aware I’m breathing in a short (or long) breath.” “Breathing in, I’m aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my body.” This is a wonderful template for mindfulness practice. It can be used as an observation, or as a tool for stress reduction: ‘Breathing in, I am/feel ____. Breathing out, I am/feel _____.” For example, here’s a tool to help you observe yourself- “Breathing in, I notice I’m dissatisfied; breathing out, I sit with that dissatisfaction.” As a stress-reduction tool- “Breathing in, I notice my dissatisfaction; breathing out, I embrace and comfort my dissatisfaction.” We practice when it’s easy, so when life gets hard that ‘muscle’ has been exercised, and will work for us. And our inner physician can surface from the subconscious, giving us sage advice and insight when we pause and breathe, watching our breath.

If this practice (which comes straight from the Buddha, via our modern master Thich Nhat Hanh) is new to you, I  encourage you to start with this exercise: Breathing in, I am here. Breathing out, I am aware. As you continue breathing and repeating this phrase silently, drop the first part so that now you’re thinking, “here, aware” as you breathe in and out. The beauty of this template is that you can create a meditation for yourself at any time and anywhere, based on what you need right now in your life!

Create a meditation for yourself, and if you don’t respond to it, change it up. And if all you can manage is to notice that you’re breathing in, breathing out…enjoy each breath, and let it nurture you.

Harp Strings, Heart Strings

25 May

I was tuning my harp recently, and started thinking about all the metaphors that are present in a harp. My harp is a double-strung harp, meaning it has two rows of strings instead of one row, and so it takes quite a while to tune, so I had some time to think about it.  Read on, and consider how harps and harp music illustrate- with a little metaphorical imagination- the human condition. After every statement, please insert “just like with humans”.

It takes a long time to tune a harp.

Each string has its own tuning peg. You have to turn the peg until the string is tuned to the chosen key.

Harps are sensitive instruments; temperature and humidity changes can make them go flat or sharp.

You can tell when a harp string is in tune with its fellow strings: when you pluck it, all the strings around it resonate and sing.

One string, when plucked, sounds lovely; but play many strings together, and you get a whole variety of interesting music: melancholy, uplifting, mysterious, sweet, cheerful…

If you want your instrument to last and play well, you really have to treat it with care and respect.

There’s a sweet spot for every string, where it resonates the most and sounds best.

Harp music has been used for thousands of years to heal and soothe. (Listen to the Hurrian Hymn, written in about 1400 B.C.)

A harp is a very expressive and flexible instrument! You can play almost any kind of music with a harp. (Check out Dorothy Ashby’s jazz harp, paraguayan folk harp harp metal, a wunderkind on classical pedal harp  West African Kora, pop music, and of course, celtic music! )

Please remember this: our ultimate destiny as human beings is to realize our capacity to love, heal and make music together!

 

 

 

 

A great Opportunity!

31 Jul

We’ve now been through many months of COVID, and here’s what I’m noticing. A lot of stress, both the low-grade kind and the explosive kind; increased anxiety, anger and finger-pointing. It seems we’re in a crucible of red-hot discussion about racism and our history of slavery; social justice for people living with poverty and homelessness; and the disparities in housing, income and food security that have been hovering on the edge of our national consciousness.

When this whole COVID era hit back in March, I recognized the opportunity this gave us as individuals and as a global community: to take advantage of our forced idleness to see what was taking place; a sort of ‘come to Jesus’, rubber-meets-the-road experience that helps us understand what’s really important to us; and to examine our reactions to what was going on around us. Did an event make us anxious or unperturbed? Concerned for our own welfare, or concerned for people across the ocean?
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Here are some of the things I’ve noticed during these several months:
1- People are more aware of other people, animals and their environment in general. Folks have looked up from being wrapped up in their personal lives to be aware of the others around them. We understand now firsthand that our actions affect others
-very directly! When I don’t wear a mask, I put you at risk. And, what I do to you comes around to affect me more directly than ever before.
2- The quiet that descended on us at the beginning of COVID illustrated how very noisy our urban environment is! The animals noticed it, too, and came into the cities. This made me realize how obnoxious our airplanes, cars and industry are.
3- Along with less noise came less pollution. People around the world remarked how clean their waterways and air became within a few weeks of the COVID shutdown. And we started asking, is pollution an unavoidable aspect of ‘progress’, or can we make choices that create a world we enjoy living in?
4- After we experienced the honeymoon period of ‘a break from it all’, a lot of us started feeling out of sorts and at loose ends. In addition to our fear of losing our jobs or businesses, we realized how important physical human contact is to
our health. We also realized how much of our activity was about distracting ourselves from our minds! Slowing down and noticing our surroundings and thoughts- what a concept! Now we’re having discussions about what determines our physical and mental health: economic stability, our neighborhood and physical environment, education and a sense of purpose, and our sense of belonging to a spiritual and neighborhood community. But that first blush of caring for our neighbors (and realizing that all people on this planet are neighbors!) lost its potency;  we experienced anger, stress and a lot of fear.
5- Businesses found that their global supply chains (the companies they relied upon for materials for their products) shut down. They were unable to fulfill orders as people turned to online shopping for necessities and for distraction. Now those businesses are re-evaluating their global ties, and looking more locally for their materials, as well as considering lights-out manufacturing and the use of robots.
6- “Necessity is the mother of invention”- since we couldn’t get together in person, we turned to the internet. Now we’re so used to the conveniences and benefits of virtual meetings for work, worship and school that some of us are considering increasing our learning and working online. Others realize how much they need that in-person contact!
7- There have been so many creative and sometimes tongue-in-cheek ideas about how to make lemonade out of COVID lemons! Jamming apps for musicians; white
board art collectives; virtual holidays on the video game Animal Crossing; PPE vending machines; socially distancing ‘bumper tables’ in restaurants; drive-in concerts; and pool noodle hats to maintain social distance!

Here’s an article from the United Arab Emirates about their view of the good outcomes of COVID-19:
https://gulfnews.com/uae/coronavirus-19-surprisingly-good-things-that-came-out-of-covid-19-1.70912327

There’s one thing that pervades the whole COVID-19 experience: the use (or not) of masks. Each of us has a worldview that colors our actions- optimistic or pessimistic, trusting or doubting, etc. Your view of where and when and if you wear a mask; what type of mask and how plain or colorful and wacky its design; how you feel about others who do or don’t wear one…the COVID-19 mask has become a kind of indicator. What it indicates- morality, trust in your government or Creator or neighbor, level of honesty with yourself or others- depends on your willingness to have sometimes difficult conversations with others…and with yourself.

The beauty of using sound as a healing tool

1 May

Quite a while ago I promised to write a post about my experience using sound as a vibrational healing tool. It has taken me quite a while to write about it, mainly because I couldn’t figure out how to explain something that eludes explanation.

I knew I wanted to somehow convey what it’s like to put my hands on a person’s body and receive information from their body. What is the mechanism behind that? I think it must be vibrational. As I thought about how to explain this phenomenon, I thought about how I receive information from my clients’ bodies. Of course they tell me with their words: information about their lives, their pain etcetera. However, what the person says is often quite different from what their body presents. As a bodyworker when I listen to a person’s body, I’m mining for information: what is the craniosacral system telling me? What can I deduce from this draw I feel down into the body that snakes around and eventually ends up at the right knee? I like to say that the body is always on the phone telling us what it needs at any given moment, and a good listener will pick up the phone and give their presence to that conversation. It can be tempting to let one’s ego run the show: what if I really just want to do a craniosacral session today, and not follow the wishes of my client’s body? Nope, not an option! I must defer at all times to the wisdom of the body, to that inner physician everyone has, who knows exactly the right thing to do all the time! If I really believe this (and I do believe this!), then I will do what the body wishes, even if it’s not what I want to do. 

It’s not only my hands that receive information. My own energy field also recognizes disturbances in my client’s energy field, or “sees” some energy form in the room that is influencing my client’s energetic health. I sometimes think that the information flowing from the person lying on my massage table- who has their own energetic language and frame of reference- must be interpreted and translated and put through my filters so that I can understand it, so that it’s speaking my language. What is meaningful to me is metaphor and symbol, and so sometimes I will “see” a geometric shape above my client’s head, or over their solar plexus.  I haven’t consistently figured out what these symbols mean; and really, it’s probably better not to know, as we’ll soon find out!

The power of thought cannot be underestimated here: it often happens that when I’m listening through the top of the head to that fascial container in the body but thinking about the details of what my client told me before we begin the session, it’s almost as if the flow of information is compromised or cut off. But when I say to myself silently, “I don’t know”, the floodgates open and all the information that the body has been yearning to share with me comes through!  “I don’t know” has become my mantra in all my body work sessions where I’m listening at that deep level to the body; saying those words signals to my client’s energy that I’m tuned in to its frequency, that I’m listening openly for what the body has to say.

Just as in a conversation with a friend, the listener gives the speaker all her attention, as if this were the most important thing in the world to hear, as if she knew it was the last time she would ever get to listen to this person. And when the speaker feels truly heard by the listener, all the pain that was contained in her strong emotions is dissipated. She is free and doesn’t need to communicate any longer, because there’s nothing more to be said. There’s no more juice! The same applies to the body: when that distressed energy that needs to express itself is truly heard, it no longer needs to speak, because its energy has finally been met. The Vietnamese monk and meditation master Thich Nhat Han teaches a technique to let the juice out of any charged situation: he suggests first acknowledging the difficult emotion. “Hello my little anger”, he says. His teaching is to embrace the emotion with compassion and love, whether it’s another’s anger or your own, and in so doing dissipate its energy. Your anger has been seen and listened to, and so has become deflated and often reveals the emotion that was really underlying all that anger, perhaps grief or sadness. 

I said earlier that receiving information from my client’s body is a vibrational phenomenon. And I, too, am vibrational in nature! In order to correctly hear that information, I must ‘dial in’ to the correct frequency, and the way that I do that is use the power of precision that is inherent in words. When I feel a draw in the body that comes to rest in the right knee, I must then get specific: I run through the anatomy of the knee in my mind, asking silently, “Is this muscular? Bony? Ligamentous?” The draw I feel will tug slightly at the correct answer. Ok- it’s ligamentous. Is it the medial or lateral collateral ligament? The cruciate ligament? Tug. Here’s the amazing thing: once I’ve identified in my mind the correct anatomical, energetic or emotional structure or idea, the restriction that’s been causing the problem will release! Then we move on to the next layer. The vibrational nature of thought meets the vibrational nature of body.

So, to truly hear the information from the body requires both a wide-spectrum listening attitude, and a laser-like ability to verify what you’re hearing from the body’s wisdom.  Even as a non-bodyworker, one could use this concept: next time you’re listening to someone talk, expand your awareness and energy field, and observe what subtle information you’re picking up.

It’s at times like these that we turn to…(add the name of your addictive substance here)!

26 Mar

Words fail me. And yet, there’s so much to say! What does one say in this time of the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19? I’m reminded of a few instances when, during a bodywork session in my studio or just out of the blue, I experienced a visit from something holy and profound. Everything stopped; time stood still for me. Although I wanted to share the overwhelming enormity of it, I could not speak of it to anyone; doing so would diminish it and dishonor it. Instead, I turned inward, eyes closed, feeling the expansive nature of my body and mind that were touched by an otherworldly experience. We’ll come to why this is pertinent in a moment.

Along with just about everyone on the planet, I’m feeling anxious. This virus visitation feels anything but holy- maybe more like “Holy Sh**t!” It forces me to look at the fleeting nature of my life and of the people I love; of how I define myself, and what is important. Ooh! Am I sure I want to look at that?? It brings up all the feelings and anxieties that I live with every day, but am very good at covering up with ‘doing’. My tendency nowadays is to turn to something that will either suppress my anxiety (sleep or watching TV) or ramp up my mind so the inner busy chatter drowns out the complaining voice of the stress. The latter effect is accomplished for me by the caffeine in black tea. The problem with my drug of choice is that it jazzes up my body so that I have the illusion of joy or productivity, but it is artificial and not organic. And what do I do if there’s no tea where I am? How do I access joy then? I’m up a creek without a paddle!

This circumstance we find ourselves in now invites us to just ‘be’- since we can’t distract ourselves with ‘doing’- and that is hard. And yet, when we had access to those distractions and the ability to go to work and all the things that had to be done within a schedule, what did we crave the most? Down time, relaxation and a break from it all!

I’ve often thought the only thing that would bring our species together and heal the distance between peoples would be an alien invasion from outer space. Little did I imagine the alien invader would be a virus! Like the otherworldly experiences I mentioned in the beginning of this post, time has slowed down for us and the hyperactivity of the world has been reduced to a walk, or even a standstill.  The ‘visitation’ of this virus provides a sacred opportunity that we can embrace: to become a truly spiritual practitioner, like a monk, for a month. This is an excellent opportunity to start that daily meditation practice; to create an altar; to read that spiritual literature you haven’t had time for. The internet is at your fingertips: listen to guided meditations, learn to make bread, dance to YouTube tunes in your living room, use Skype, Zoom, FaceTime or Hangouts to reach out to a loved one next door or overseas, ‘face-to-face’! The best way to alleviate your anxiety is to help someone else: help your neighbor by bringing home-cooked meals, shoveling snow for them, or calling them up to check in on them or just chat.

Here are some tips for navigating these uncharted waters:

  • Be aware of and name difficult feelings as they occur. “This is what insecurity feels like; this is what feeling unsafe is like.” Sit with them. Greet them: “Hello, insecurity. I see you, feeling of lack of safety.” Breathe into them, and know that they are feelings- they are not you.
  • Use this wonderful mantra-maker suggested by Thich Nhat Hanh, inserting the adjective or phrase that you can really get behind and that you find gives you relief: “Breathing in, I know I’ll be ok; breathing out, I smile to my heart.”
  • Notice physical indicators of stress- biting fingernails, holding your breath- and breathe when you notice them. Recite your mantra.
  • Turn off the news.
  • Go outside and get exercise. If the weather doesn’t permit that, dance in your living room!
  • Count your blessings- literally! Make a list of all the things you’re grateful for, from the blessing that you still have a job to the fact that the sky is an indescribable blue!

Know that the positive energy you embody will not only keep your immune system strong, it will also bolster the immunity of the wider community! Be an ambassador of love and groundedness toward yourself and everyone on the planet. The corona virus outbreak reminds us that there is only this moment to be the person we wish to be!

Don’t Worry

29 Nov

We’re all thinking about climate change. More of those people who didn’t want to acknowledge it are now starting to understand that it is a reality, and we’re dealing with how we feel about it: will it affect me or my community in small or big ways? Our young people not only understand it, but are truly frightened of their future. I’ve listened to reports on the media about youth from middle school to college who are worried that the world they are inheriting simply won’t BE there! They talk about not having children themselves, because they are sure the world those kids would live in would be darn close to uninhabitable…As 16-year-old Lana Perice from Portland said during a 2017 rally, “It’s hard to not feel hopeless because it feels inevitable…Even with this inevitability, I feel proud knowing that my generation isn’t going down without a fight.”

When confronted with the words, “Our world is dying”, and “The human race could face extinction by 2050”, I’m frankly astonished: how can anyone think the world is ending in the next 30 years? But when you look at what kids are witnessing and experiencing first-hand (from forest fires to dead zones in water caused by algae blooms to massive hurricanes) and couple that with the sensationalist media that promulgates fear as a way to sell their wares, their despair is understandable. The adults they’ve looked to are failing them, and have been for decades. So, our youth are responding by taking things into their own hands, in the hope that they will force the adults into action! But here’s the scoop, my fellow adults: they need our support and help.

So- whether you’re a young person or an adult, here are my observations to allay some of your fears and put things into a different perspective.

We all agree that the current state of affairs isn’t sustainable; there’s too much pollution, population, greed, environmental degradation, etc. Good news! Unsustainability is unsustainable! If some state of being isn’t working- and it isn’t working for lots of us- there will be a correction. We are now living through this correction, and change doesn’t usually come without some suffering. If that sounds callous and disconnected from those who are really suffering from climate change, please read the next paragraph.

The fundamental problem with our society, the problem that has led to most of the ills of our culture, is the misguided idea that we humans are lots of individuals, separate from each other, who live on this rock in space with which we are not connected. When we see our situation like this, of course we feel isolated, depressed and unbalanced. Of course we act out our isolation by hurting ourselves, others and the environment! Our society is more isolated than ever, despite and because of our “connection” through the internet.  What we need now is a fundamental change in the assumptions underlying how we do everything. In our American capitalist society, the emphasis in business is, how can (fill in the blank) benefit me and my business? What’s in it for me? When we’re on social media, we’re concerned with how many ‘likes’ our post gets; we’re worried about how we’ll look to others.

Now I’m going to suggest a radical idea, but not a new one, for this moment we’re in. What if , instead of “what’s in it for me?”, “nobody cares” and “we’re killing the Earth!”, we understood this reality: that our thoughts, actions and words affect other people and indeed, all other living beings, including our Earth? And that simply by making conscious choices out of compassion for ourselves and our fellow earthlings, we are helping the pendulum of change to swing in a wholesome and sustainable direction? This idea can give us hope and direction during this time of human ‘evolutionary correction’. Because that’s what’s happening right now- we humans are going through a painful adolescence. We’re growing up!

The Buddha said, “Since this exists, that exists, and, since this does not exist, that does not exist. That is created because this is created, so if this disappears, that disappears.” Many world religions and philosophies outline this reality of interconnection. When we look at the world through a lens of interconnection, we are empowered! We understand that we depend on each other- if I hurt myself, I hurt you, and vice versa. And so my happiness is ensured when I ensure your happiness! How can this idea help us in the face of climate change? Instead of feeling overwhelmed and doing nothing, we can do SOMEthing- and know that it will have an impact, however small. And all those people in the world who are engaged in wholesome thoughts, speech, actions and all the other bits of the Noble Eightfold Path- they’ve got your back! When you allow kindness to be your guide, you’re part of the solution right here in your own neighborhood.

Need some ideas of concrete actions to take? There are many people who offer lists of ways in which we can make a positive impact;  see the site below for an example: https://www.curbed.com/2017/6/7/15749900/how-to-stop-climate-change-actions

I just want to say to you, whether you’re a young person or an older person who’s been around the block: don’t worry. Be the change you wish to see in the world, and get to understand and love your neighbor (especially the one you disagree with!), get to know and love yourself, engage in random acts of kindness toward all living beings- and know that anything you do in the name of love for your fellow earthling can’t help but lead us toward a sustainably wonderful world!

Vibrational Healing with Sound

9 Jul

Quite a while ago I promised to write a post about my experience using sound as a vibrational healing tool. It has taken me quite a while to write about it, mainly because I couldn’t figure out how to explain something that eludes explanation.

I knew I wanted to somehow convey what it’s like to put my hands on a person’s body and receive information from their body. What is the mechanism behind that? I think it must be vibrational. As I thought about how to explain this phenomenon, I thought about how I receive information from my clients’ bodies. Of course they tell me with their words: information about their lives, their pain etcetera. However, what the person says is often quite different from what their body presents. As a bodyworker when I listen to a person’s body, I’m mining for information: what is the craniosacral system telling me? What can I deduce from this draw I feel down into the body that snakes around and eventually ends up at the right knee? I like to say that the body is always on the phone telling us what it needs at any given moment, and a good listener will pick up the phone and give their presence to that conversation. It can be tempting to let one’s ego run the show: what if I really just want to do a craniosacral session today, and not follow the wishes of my client’s body? Nope, not an option! I must defer at all times to the wisdom of the body, to that inner physician everyone has, who knows exactly the right thing to do all the time! If I really believe this (and I do believe this!), then I will do what the body wishes, even if it’s not what I want to do. 

It’s not only my hands that receive information. My own energy field also recognizes disturbances in my client’s energy field, or “sees” some energy form in the room that is influencing my client’s energetic health. I sometimes think that the information flowing from the person lying on my massage table- who has their own energetic language and frame of reference- must be interpreted and translated and put through my filters so that I can understand it, so that it’s speaking my language. What is meaningful to me is metaphor and symbol, and so sometimes I will “see” a geometric shape above my client’s head, or over their solar plexus.  I haven’t consistently figured out what these symbols mean; and really, it’s probably better not to know, as we’ll soon find out!

The power of thought cannot be underestimated here: it often happens that when I’m listening through the top of the head to that fascial container in the body but thinking about the details of what my client told me before we begin the session, it’s almost as if the flow of information is compromised or cut off. But when I say to myself silently, “I don’t know”, the floodgates open and all the information that the body has been yearning to share with me comes through!  “I don’t know” has become my mantra in all my body work sessions where I’m listening at that deep level to the body; saying those words signals to my client’s energy that I’m tuned in to its frequency, that I’m listening openly for what the body has to say.

Just as in a conversation with a friend, the listener gives the speaker all her attention, as if this were the most important thing in the world to hear, as if she knew it was the last time she would ever get to listen to this person. And when the speaker feels truly heard by the listener, all the pain that was contained in her strong emotions is dissipated. She is free and doesn’t need to communicate any longer, because there’s nothing more to be said. There’s no more juice! The same applies to the body: when that distressed energy that needs to express itself is truly heard, it no longer needs to speak, because its energy has finally been met. The Vietnamese monk and meditation master Thich Nhat Han teaches a technique to let the juice out of any charged situation: he suggests first acknowledging the difficult emotion. “Hello my little anger”, he says. His teaching is to embrace the emotion with compassion and love, whether it’s another’s anger or your own, and in so doing dissipate its energy. Your anger has been seen and listened to, and so has become deflated and often reveals the emotion that was really underlying all that anger, perhaps grief or sadness. 

I said earlier that receiving information from my client’s body is a vibrational phenomenon.  In order to correctly hear that information, I must ‘dial in’ to the correct frequency, and the way that I do that is use the power of precision that is inherent in words. When I feel a draw in the body that comes to rest in the right knee, I must then get specific: I run through the anatomy of the knee in my mind, asking silently, “Is this muscular? Bony? Ligamentous?” The draw I feel will tug slightly at the correct answer. Ok- it’s ligamentous. Is it the medial or lateral collateral ligament? The cruciate ligament? Tug. Here’s the amazing thing: once I’ve identified in my mind the correct anatomical, energetic or emotional structure or idea, the restriction that’s been causing the problem will release! Then we move on to the next layer. The vibrational nature of thought meets the vibrational nature of body.

So, to truly hear the information from the body requires both a wide-spectrum listening attitude, and a laser-like ability to verify what you’re hearing from the body’s wisdom.  Even as a non-bodyworker, one could use this concept: next time you’re listening to someone talk, expand your awareness and energy field, and observe what subtle information you’re picking up. You may find that you receive intuitive information that you wouldn’t otherwise have noticed.

Using light to heal

3 May

A friend recently introduced me to a product he’s selling: small dermal patches that emit light, and which cause beneficial changes in the body. I was aware of this concept years ago, when someone gave me a very clunky light-emitting device that had been useful in helping racehorses heal! They suggested I use it in my healing practice, but it proved too uncomfortable for my clients. But 25 years later, it seems we’re witnessing a revolution in medicine and the technology to make it happen (hooray!!): a revolution that uses the tools of vibration, such as light and sound, to heal. I decided to do a little research about light therapy, and I’ve learned a lot! Let me share what I’ve learned with you. Please know that in some instances I’ve used whole sentences from these websites; I hope that by including the website addresses, I’ll avoid being accused of plagiarism! I’ve started each paragraph with the source of my information, so that it’s easily accessible to you.

https://www.aslms.org/for-the-public/treatments-using-lasers-and-energy-based-devices/photobiomodulation

First, a definition of light therapy: Photobiomodulation (PBM) is the term used to describe the mechanistic/scientific basis for using light to heal; and photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT) is the term for its therapeutic application. The wavelength of light used determines the depth of penetration into a tissue. Near-infrared light penetrates more deeply than shorter wavelengths of light such as red light.  One wavelength and one set of treatment parameters will not be effective for all conditions. This website reports that no negative side effects have been reported with the use of PBMT, although there are cautions for people with sensitive skin to go slowly with their exposure and monitor their skin’s reactivity.

How does PBMT work? Well, as with everything having to do with the human body- it’s complicated! However, there seem to be a few major mechanisms that we can talk about initially, without going into too much detail. (For further delving, please visit these webpages!)

https://joovv.com/blogs/joovv-blog/how-does-red-light-therapy-work

There are two wavelengths of light that are most used in PBMT: At the highest end of the visible light spectrum is red light, which goes from a little over 600nm to approximately 700nm. Above the visible light spectrum is near-infrared, from about 700nm to a little over 1,100nm.
Red light in the mid-600 ( 660 ) nanometer range, and near infrared (NIR) light in the mid-800 (850) nanometer range seem to be the most effective wavelengths.
Near-infrared light and red light are able to reach deep into the human body (several centimeters, and close to 2 inches, in some cases) and are able to directly penetrate into the cells, tissues, blood, nerves, the brain, and into the bones.
What’s the difference between red and NIR light?
Red and near infrared (NIR) light are both in the natural light spectrum and have been clinically proven to enhance cellular function. The main differences are that red light at 660nm is readily absorbed by skin tissue, leading to improved skin health and collagen production. Near infrared light at 850nm is invisible to the human eye and penetrates into deeper tissue, leading to benefits like increased muscle recovery and reduced joint pain. 

Why hasn’t this therapy gone mainstream until now? Mainly because it was thought that only expensive lasers could deliver the proper light wavelength needed. Here’s what Harvard researcher Michael Hamblin, PhD (widely regarded as the world’s top authority on photobiomodulation) has to say on this subject:

“Most of the early work in this field was carried out with various kinds of lasers, and it was thought that laser light had some special characteristics not possessed by light from other light sources such as sunlight, fluorescent or incandescent lamps and now LEDs. However all the studies that have been done comparing lasers to equivalent light sources with similar wavelength and power density of their emission, have found essentially no difference between them.

Ok, now for the upshot on how these wavelengths work in the body!

https://www.theenergyblueprint.com/red-light-therapy-ultimate-guide/

1-Stimulating mitochondrial energy production: these wavelengths of light are able to penetrate into cells and activate the mitochondria, directly leading to increased cellular energy production. This means that things which enhance the mitochondria translate into more cellular energy inside the cell, which allows the cell or organ (e.g. brain, heart, liver, skin, muscles, etc.) to work optimally.

Within the mitochondria is the photoacceptor cytochrome c oxidase.

When red and near-infrared light photons hit cytochrome c oxidase, it helps the mitochondria use oxygen more efficiently to produce ATP, which we all remember from high school biology is the energy currency of the body.

Here’s the link between nitric oxide (NO) and ATP:  Nitric oxide is produced by almost every cell in our bodies, and it’s an important molecule for blood vessel health. But when we have too much NO, too much in the wrong place, or when our cells don’t have the antioxidant capacity to quell the buildup of NO, it can hinder ATP from being manufactured in the mitochondria. PBMT prevents this pairing of NO with cytochrome c oxidase. It knocks the NO out and lets the oxygen in!

In essence, photobiomodulation allows oxygen into the mitochondria (and prevents NO from halting energy production).

2-Hormesis: this is the process by which a transient metabolic stressor (like a workout at the gym) stimulates adaptations that actually improve health. When applying light therapy, the transient increases in ROS (free radicals) from red/NIR light activates many of the same cell defense systems that exercise does: in response to that stress, the body adapts to it with things like improved cardiovascular efficiency, improved blood delivery to the muscles, and by strengthening and growing the mitochondria. It also involves downregulating the genes involved in chronic inflammation and oxidative stress (two keys drivers of aging and disease), and upregulating the genes involved in energy production and the internal cellular antioxidant defense system.

What studies have been done about the efficacy of PBMT? 
According to The Energy Blueprint folks, 3,000 studies have been done on light therapy’s effects on the human body. Below is one that I found:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3926176/:

A Controlled Trial to Determine the Efficacy of Red and Near-Infrared Light Treatment in Patient Satisfaction, Reduction of Fine Lines, Wrinkles, Skin Roughness, and Intradermal Collagen Density Increase, by Alexander Wunsch and Karsten Matuschka

Conclusions: Broadband polychromatic PBM showed no advantage over the red-light-only spectrum. However, both novel light sources that have not been previously used for PBM have demonstrated efficacy and safety for skin rejuvenation and intradermal collagen increase when compared with controls.

Where do I find these devices?
Suffice it to say, there are now many devices on the market, this being a capitalistic society! Try typing “Light Therapy Devices” into Google and see what happens! By the way, the little light patches my friend is selling are from the company called “LifeWave”; they have been selling these patches for a long time, but are now especially excited to have developed one that affects stem cells! If you’re interested in trying some, I’ll direct you to my friend- just email me (go to my webpage for my email address: http://www.soundhealsholistichealth.com) and I’ll give you his name, since I didn’t get his permission to include it here.
I hope you do your own research on PBMT; it promises to be a continuing topic for research. As for the promise this kind of therapy has for the future of medicine, I just say this:

It’s about time!!

The Invisible World of Energy Signatures

20 Mar

Last blog I posted, I talked about the energy signature of a room, created by the focused intention and attention of 35 or so people. We were watching a Japanese tea ceremony, known as Chado: Mike Ricci, the tea master, carefully and mindfully made and served tea to his two guests, who moved with equal care and mindfulness. The whole presentation was a meditation and a dance simultaneously, and many onlookers commented they had a sense of peace and groundedness. A woman remarked about the sound that she’d heard produced as a result of the ceremony, created by this intentional time together- or, what I’d call the energy signature of the room.

We could say that in this situation, thought energy or intention created a sound vibration, which this woman was able to perceive. And the sound created was considered a pleasant or good sound, based on the woman’s reaction! So- was this sound that she perceived the sound of peace and groundedness, the feelings that were present in the room that day? I believe so. How about the things in the room: tea pot and utensils, hand-made pottery cups, matcha tea, tatami mat, flowers in a vase…everything created and placed with intention. Each of these things also were creating their own sound, all of which added to the vibrational experience in the room. Wait a minute! Things don’t make sound…do they?

There are many people who are exploring this idea of thought making form and sound, and sound having a form, and form having a sound. Of course, people have for millennia used sound in the form of mantras to create their reality. Here’s a quote from Sadhguru of the Isha Foundation: “…today we know that if you feed any sound into an oscilloscope, every sound has a form attached to it. Similarly, every form has a sound attached to it. Every form in…existence is reverberating in a certain way and creates a certain sound. When you utter a sound, a form is being created. There is a whole science of using sounds in a particular way so that it creates the right kind of form. We can create powerful forms by uttering sounds in certain arrangements. This is known as the Nada Yoga, the yoga of sound. If you have mastery over the sound you also have mastery over the form that is attached to it.”

When you utter a sound, a form is being created. This is a concept that merits some thought! But we have to come to terms with the understanding that not all form is solid and tangible, as we are used to thinking. Rather, consider the idea that all matter- your grandma’s oak table, your cat, your cell phone- is composed of particles that have wave-like properties, and which are made up of more space between those particles than the particles themselves! In addition, these particles are vibrating. As Don Lincoln, author of ‘The Good Vibrations of Quantum Field Theories’ in the online NOVA newsletter says, “What we think of as a particle is simply a vibration of its associated field.” So “solid matter” like grandma’s oak table is something we can see, yet it has a vibration…and since vibration creates frequency, then grandma’s oak table also has an inherent sound. The table is a form and a sound at the same time; they are inextricable. So, form can have different gradations of solidity, like the human body: we too are a continuum of subtle to solid matter. Therapists use this underpinning of the human experience for healing purposes all the time; I will write about my experiences with the beauty and use of sound as a healing tool in another post.

For our current society, with its insistence that “seeing is believing”, this different definition of form is so revolutionary (which is funny, for such an ancient idea!) that I would like to remind you about one way to think about it and put it into practice: feng shui. Feng shui is the practice of placing objects in our environment so their inherent vibration supports our lives. It has been used in China for over 4,000 years. Even if we don’t know anything about this ancient practice, we can take the idea of objects having vibration and sound, and re-arrange our living rooms accordingly! Everyone has an intuitive version of feng shui: we sometimes look at a room or our clothing choices or the garden layout, and think, “This doesn’t feel right”, whereas we should be saying, “This doesn’t sound right”! Face it: the chaos that is your bookshelf is creating dissonance in the symphony of your living room! When you take away those loose papers crumpled up between two books, remove the outdated photos and the books you no longer want to read, and look again- you have removed the dissonant vibrations and created more space and harmony in your bookshelf’s song. You have intentionally changed the vibrational nature of your room- you’ve changed its energy signature to better support the vibration of your body in that space.

This awareness of the energy signatures of people, places and things can be applied to all areas of life. Are you a real estate agent who stages your clients’ homes to sell, and you want the rooms to ‘speak to’ the potential buyers? (Does that vase sing the right song for the space?) Are you considering a move and want to live in a place that nurtures you? (What sound does your body respond to best: ocean waves, city sounds, the woods?) Are you about to say something to your partner and you want your whole body to communicate what you’re about to say? (Then bring the vibration of love into your body!) Or have you reached a stage in your life where you want your surrounding to reflect who you are, not your Aunt Mabel who gave you all that stuff 30 years ago? (That old lady vibe just doesn’t fit! So why live with it?)

Consider how you can use your new awareness of vibration=form=sound to re-imagine your space, body, words and actions, to create a more beautiful existence for you, your family and the people and other beings all around you!

Musings about Energy Signatures

7 Mar

Two things happened recently that made me wonder about the concept of energy signatures.

Recently, I helped organize a Japanese Tea Ceremony at The Meditation Place in Longmont, where I live. The Meditation Place is a wonderful facility, offering many different meditation styles from groups around the city, as well as body work sessions, psychotherapy, movement therapies, and events like this tea ceremony. The ceremony itself proved to be interesting in many ways: the facilitator Mike Ricci gave us history on Chado (the Way of Tea) and included lots of interesting tidbits, including its evolution over the centuries from a political tool and social event to a spiritual practice. This emphasis on the meditative and spiritual aspect of the tea ceremony, in addition to the methodical, slow and thoughtful movements behind every aspect of the ceremony, created an atmosphere of grounding and quietude in the large space of The Meditation Place.

Afterwards, a woman who often attends my singing bowl sessions at TMP approached me. She was positively giddy as she asked me, did you hear that sound? I was confused and didn’t know what she was referring to, but she explained: “When Mike was conducting the tea ceremony and everyone’s attention was focused so intently on what he was doing, I heard a sound emanating from the room. I can’t really put my finger on it… did you hear it?” I thought for a moment and at first responded that I hadn’t heard a sound. But then as my mind tuned into that vibration that had been created by the tea ceremony, I said to her, “Oh…oh, you mean like this?”, and I proceeded to tone a sound that popped into my mind. Immediately, she said “Yes! yes! that’s it!”

The tea ceremony provided an environment of spiritual learning and experience. I believe that whenever we focus our minds, we are creating a vibration with our thoughts and intentions; a sensitive person may even hear that vibration, which is after all a collection of frequencies- sound. The folks at the Heart Math Institute would agree with me, possibly adding that the heart itself has a consciousness that imbues itself into our daily lives and experiences. This idea that our thoughts and “heart-felt” intentions create our experience is not a new one; this concept has been around for thousands of years, especially perhaps in India. The tea ceremony was a special event, but isn’t every day of our lives, even every moment of our lives, a special event? Some spiritual traditions that recognize reincarnation say that it is a very rare thing to be reincarnated as a human being; we should be grateful that we have this chance as conscious, thinking beings to create our own reality! We have a choice about our thoughts. And knowing that each thought we have creates an energy signature in our immediate environment leads us to understand how important the quality of our thoughts is. Baird Hersey, author of The Practice of Nada Yoga: Meditation on the Inner Sacred Sound, talks about “a soundtrack for your life”: he encourages us to watch people as they pass through our day, and imagine what music they’re emitting; he suggests that we imagine a soundtrack for any activity we’re undertaking, and that this will flavor and influence how we act in our lives.

Any practice like meditation that helps us observe our own thoughts and thus gives us the opportunity to guide and change them, is an important practice for every day. In fact, I would suggest that the cultivation of wholesome thoughts through meditation, whether alone in your living room or with a group of people, can change the world into a more just and peaceful place. Think about this: As you add your wholesome thoughts into the world, you change the energy signature of your community and help compose the soundtrack for yourself and your fellow human beings! Are you wondering what the second occurrence was that started me musing about energy signatures? In my next blog, I’ll talk about what I consider to be the practical applications of the energy signature concept!