The power of meditation

One of my favorite gurus is Osho… a controversial figure. He dared speak the truth even to the face of his placiddetractors. He blurted blistering opinions on almost anything from the medical establishment, to corporations, to schooling, to meditation. He was a witness to the fusing of two worlds, the West and East worlds, a fusion he deemed necessary because he didn’t seem the split that characterized the world would help us go forward.

We hear often that we live in a free world, but this is just a sweet chimera. Half of the world has been and continues to be under more or less obvious oppressive regimes. This has being going on for centuries. And the West… well, just look at the media reports on the NSA surveillance and now the more recent New York Times’ report unveiling how the AT&T has a deal with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, to which it has provided with 26 years of phone call records. Privacy has gone through the drain.

Osho understood freedom and the illusion of freedom very well.

“The freedom from something is not true freedom.
The freedom to do anything you want to do is also not the freedom I am talking about.
My vision of freedom is to be yourself.”

In “Autobiography of a Spiritually Incorrect Mystic,” a compilation of nearly 5,000 hours of Osho’s recorded talks, we learn not only about his life but also about the importance he gave to meditation.

Meditation, he said, is the only thing that can give us freedom. It will free us of the mind.

Psychoanalysis and psychosynthesis, he said, work on the mind and make us more conscious of the mind. Instead, meditation makes us observe the mind and to the extent we stop identifying with it, we transcend. Transcendence IS freedom.

Osho encourages dynamic meditation and practicing it alone… if you feel comfortable with it. The group, according to Osho is for people who have grown uncomfortable with their egos. They can “dissolve” into the group and forget about their egos for a while.

Days when we’re so gloomy…

How are you feeling today? Are you into the “pursuit of happiness”? Or are you maybe feeling miserable?gloomy-placid

Porfirio Barba Jacob, a Colombian poet who died in 1942, comes to mind. In his “Song of the Profound Life” he talks about how variable the human psyche is. Some days we’re full of joy, some other times we’re really mournful. And in any give day our mood could go from mournful to placid after just a few minutes of listening to children play and laugh. Minutia can also and, I’d say, inexplicably, spoil a whole day.

Here are some verses of Barba Jacob’s poem:

“… there are days when we’re so placid, so placid…
— Childhood at sunset, sapphire lagoons! —
That a verse, a trill, a hill, a passing bird,
And even one’s own sorrows make us smile.”

But…

“…there are days when we’re so gloomy, so gloomy,
Like in a gloomy night the crying of a pine grove.
The soul moans then with the pain of the world:
Perchance not even God himself can give us solace.”

Maybe our changing moods are just the expression of normal responses to life, to what we see, to what we eat, to what we breath, to what we hear, to a misunderstanding. Life is delightfully variable. Our variability could probably be explained as the reflection and result of the cycles that take place inside our bodies and might involve hormones and neurotransmitters. But – the egg of the chicken? – the release of our hormones and neurotransmitters are on turn prompted by mood and experience!

In a world with a pervasive “medical mentality” it looks like there will come a time where we will be all diagnosed with a mental illness. Gloomy easily becomes “depression” under the eyes of the psychiatrist and “placid” or even joyful might become “manic” under the eyes of the same physician who witnessed your sadness a few weeks before.

The new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM V) released this year, has relaxed the criteria used to diagnose certain conditions. The consequences?

As a rationale for the changes we hear the concern that many people are not properly or timely diagnosed and go on suffering for a long time without proper diagnosis and/or treatment. However, the of this “relaxed” criteria most often lead to abuse in the prescription of medications for symptoms that if not interfering with daily life functioning could be treated without invasive procedures.

Statistics tell us that Bipolar disorder affects every year approximately 5.7 million adults in the United States (about 2.6% of the population age 18 and older). Also, almost 15 million of adults are diagnosed with Major depressive disorder, with a higher prevalence among women older than 32. To this numbers add 3.3 million of people suffering from Dysthymic disorder (chronic, mild depression). And 40 million people suffering from anxiety.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys shows that  “Antidepressants were the third most common prescription drug taken by Americans of all ages in 2005–2008 and the most frequently used by persons aged 18–44 years. From 1988–1994 through 2005–2008, the rate of antidepressant use in the United States among all ages increased nearly 400%…. About one in 10 Americans aged 12 and over takes antidepressant medication.”

Are we trying to standardize a “normal” mood? Should all human beings behave the same, feel the same, deal with life in the same fashion? I wonder why aren’t we more focused on providing children with undivided attention, meaningful experiences, skills to face challenges, challenges to develop those skills… so that they grow up resilient and accepting of the variability of life.

We need not be concerned about gloomy days or despair if we don’t have placid ones. Life is variable!

I give thanks for all of my blessings!

chemistry-of-love-heartTo continue with the principles set down by Reiki founder, Mikao Usui, I want to reflect about the benefits of being grateful. Neuroscientists tell us that having a disposition towards gratitude can increase our determination, focus, enthusiasm and energy.

I have experienced once and again these benefits. Since I have made of Usui’s five principles an important part of my daily life, I look for things to be grateful even in the midst of distressing times. I’ve seen the immediate results of  shifting from whining and self-pity to gratitude. It makes you feel fuller, happier. It helps you appreciate life.

But unfortunately we live in a world driven by greed… and not only corporate greed. And greed leave us feeling unfulfilled, incomplete and unhappy.

Have you tried to sit down and set up your basic, real, needs? If you haven’t, I urge you to make a list of the things that if you go without would make your life really difficult and miserable. My list is really short after food, shelter, and health. Awareness would be one of the things I would not want to relinquish by sure. But see? Awareness is not something that you possess, it’s something that you build with practice.

If you seriously think about it, most of the things we want or think we need are not essential for our well-being. In a consumer’s society, there came a point where corporations needed to create needs in the consumer to keep up the market going. Look at the TV commercials or Hollywood movies trying to buy a lifestyle that would “make you happy.”

So you buy the ipod, the iphone, the ipad, the mac and then you need cords, and covers to protect them and cases to carry them, and then you’re prompted to upgrade every year. And if you finally buy a home, you need to furnish and adorn and clean it with the latest products in the market and then upgrade the appliances every once in a while. It’s a never-ending process that keeps us working to exhaustion, compromising the really essential things like health and family.

If instead of being grateful for what we had, greed take over (this desire for wealth or possessions) our lives would be marked by constant worry, maybe envy of what others have achieved and competition instead of cooperation.

I have no doubt that at some point in history, when we had exhausted the Earth’s resources in this “having” madness, when we had killed each other for oil (already happening) or water (corporations are already taking over the water resources), there will be a STOP sign that would make us return to a more basic existence.

I truly believe that if we focused more on giving thanks for what we already have than in having some more, we would live happier. This is not wishful thinking. Studies have already shown that feelings of gratitude directly activate the production of the reward neurotransmitter dopamine, which is also the substance that motivate us to do things.

So let’s give thanks for the wonderful day out there and the endless opportunities life gives us to learn.

My truth, your truth?

Candles
Candles (Photo credit: magnuscanis)

In Don Juan, the Sorcerer, Carlos Castaneda said,  “To seek freedom is the only driving force I know. Freedom to fly off into that infinity out there. Freedom to dissolve; to lift off; to be like the flame of a candle, which, in spite of being up against the light of a billion stars, remains intact, because it never pretended to be more than what it is: a mere candle.”

In the spiritual path, we sometimes have this illusion that we can reach or we have already reached “the” truth. We talk about things like “keeping inner peace” and “putting aside the ego” and “we’re all one.”

The problem is we have trouble recognizing that we are a “mere candle” in the infinite number of existing stars in the universe. I think that “The truth” would be beyond the summation of all the possible lights that all the possibly existing candles can shine.

When we separate from the whole, we stop contributing to the big light and still, we go around shouting “I have the light, I have the light, I have the light.” We want to show it to everyone else, we preach our truth, force our light unto others.

Holding to our beliefs as a supreme truth discovered leads us into trouble, big trouble. If we’re right and someone differs from us, then they must be wrong, uh? What follows is separation.

We fight for what we believe, which is understandable if we identify ourselves with our beliefs. But we’re not our beliefs.

Disagreements get us upset, and we snap out of balance. Her or his opinion becomes a threat for me…

What if instead, we seriously, honestly, work for integration, acceptance, union? Are we afraid to integrate a new idea or perspective into our existing beliefs? Being afraid would mean that our ego is disconnected from the soul. I bet the soul, which is adventurous, would always take on the challenge of exploring unknown territories.

I say, let’s us practice addition and multiplication instead of subtraction and division!

Let’s take what the other says, even when we disagree or feel challenged, as an opportunity to move forward, learn and integrate new perspectives.

“The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse.”
― Carlos Castaneda

Is selflessness possible?

One of the most compelling challenges in my spiritual life has been to really understand the motives underlying any feelings and actions. One of my teachers said a long time ago that a healer needs to achieve what he called “pure intentions.” However, since subconscious forces drive us, how do we know?DSC00559

For example, the most generous gestures could be driven by the need to please others or be loved. An action could give us stature to the eyes of others but only our inner core would know how many pints of selfishness our generosity hid.

But this is not a new dilemma for me.

At 15, I was already a snob philosopher who could swear with no shame that she understood Socrates pretty well. Plato’s writings got me thinking about the essence of life, about beauty and goodness and I pondered what would be the best way for me to achieve some kind of utter kindness, selflessness, integrity… only to come to the conclusion that achieving this utopic perfection would on itself be tremendously selfish because I’d be striving for it basically to feel good with myself.

Is selflessness really possible?

I follow the great egalitarian philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in that man is naturally good but becomes corrupted by the pernicious influence of human society and institutions.

I also believe with Daoists that we are born with wisdom, trust, faith, love, peace and joy and life experiences makes us learn anger, grief, fear, mistrust, resentment.

But be what it may be, we’re still black and white and all the shades in between: ego and soul, yin and yang, opposite forces characteristic of duality, struggle inside.

Maybe our life is about bringing light into our darkest places. Maybe it’s about increasing our awareness of our true essence.

Maybe enlightenment is this consciousness of the whole made of contradictions, about keeping a constant awareness of our oneness in the midst of our perception of division and differences.

The third person is essential for emotional health

A dad is trying to playfully connect with his 9 year old at a restaurant. The boy is standing to Imagehis left side and the father has his arm around him. Both seem a little uncomfortable. The dad starts throwing what feels like a math quiz at the child.

What’s the 40% of 50? the dad asks and the boy can’t easily find the answer.

The dad gives him clues, takes him to “what’s the 40% of a hundred?” to which the boy easily replies 40 and then the dad insists with the former question.

Even though this time the boy easily says 20, he is frustrated and concludes, “I’m not smart, dad.”

This simple anecdote of an interaction between father and son makes me think of a hundred things.

For one, how difficult it is to respond sometimes to the emotional needs of another person!

The father’s intention seems to be to communicate with his son, to play with him, to stimulate the child’s brain. However, he doesn’t seem to realize he’s making the child feel incompetent and stupid. Not a good foundation for a parent-child relationship, but unfortunately this interaction is not uncommon between adult and young males.

There was an implicit “leave me alone” plead from the boy that the father never got. I am pretty sure the child will remember this one as a humiliating moment where he perceived his father was more intelligent. He will probably also feel that his father sees him as a failure and therefore won’t feel proud of him. Not unlikely, the father-son memory will be recorded with some resentment that will mark even the son’s choice of career (not good for math, I will choose art).

The saddest thing though is not only that the father didn’t pay attention to the child’s discomfort (the father kept insisting) but that the dad’s good intention was not recognized either.

I believe in these cases a third person is essential. Was this a divorced father sharing weekend time with his child? The mother was not there. Would she have stopped the father from going on with the quiz to protect the child? Would she have interpreted and explained to the child what his father’s intention was?

I’ve seen how important it is for single parents to have a third person reinforce their authority, share responsibilities, explain their intentions to the child.

I’ve also seen how important it is for a child who is verbally mistreated in public to have a third person intervene and stop the abuse. It takes the blame out of him/her (“It is not something I did what explains my parent’s behavior”).

I am certain that in many occasions our perception of the world is tinted and biased because we lack the third person in our lives who can explain and interpret the facts for us. For example, a grandfather who provides a different perspective; the stranger who defends the child; the wife who explains the father’s intention; the therapist who allows for a space where emotions are acknowledged and things can be seen from a new perspective.

Let’s look for opportunities where our children can see the two sides of a coin. That will help them integrate lightness and darkness and grow emotionally healthy.

Pain management: Listening to the body

ImageMonths ago, as I started a new radio show and we were pre-recording two back-to-back programs, my focus was totally on my back pain! 

Since the producer was leaving for vacation, I didn’t dare cancel our appointment, even though I had strained my back at the beginning of the weekend and had spent three days biting bullets at home.  Interestingly, that day’s topic was precisely about pain and its management.

I don’t take analgesics (painkillers) and always advocate for natural health approaches, while listening to the body’s inner wisdom.

The morning had started very promising for me, with a little stiffness but no limiting pain. I drove the 20 minutes on the interstate and then carried my computer to the second floor. Mistake. I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t listen to my back alerting me not to carry weights. Soon my back started to resent those few pounds I lifted.

When I started to talk into the microphone, I realized that even without any medication circulating through my blood, I was feeling quite groggy. I knew my whole body was invested in repairing the damaged tissue, and not enough energy was left to brighten up my mind so that I could focus on producing a quality program.

What an incredible paradox. The program was precisely about pain and I couldn’t step out of script to describe to the listeners how I was feeling. I was afraid of sounding inconsistent or of lessening the strength of the message I wanted to convey. But now I think it would have made it livelier. People out there suffering from pain could have related to my state of mind.

Somatic pain is not just a somatic experience, I felt vulnerable, tired and distracted. I felt kind of incomplete, split into pieces, and susceptible. Like if my angels had flown away. Like if my Hun (Chinese term for Heavenly spirits) had deserted me and was now traveling to more pleasant places.

I was left feeling lonely in my flesh and I felt the pulse of this pain with such intensity that the walls of the recording room seemed to contract and expand with the throbbing.

This was not the first time I’d hurt my back, I knew the pain would go away. I knew that Reiki, insights, anti-inflammatory foods, Complex B supplements, Vitamin C, and QiGong exercises would, in just a few days, bring me back to normal, optimal function. This hope and certainty calmed me down, helping me withstand the pain, understanding it was an alarm, a signal, a call from my body asking me to accept that I need rest. I opted to listen, slow down, rest, and eat healthy.

This experience made me feel very compassionate towards all those who suffer chronic pain. I think I understand why when you suffer any kind of chronic pain the hope for relief may have left leaving in place a kind of desperate resignation where the days are counted slowly, one-by-one.

Still, I believe that pain brings us an opportunity to look into things from a different perspective. We need to take the pain to another dimension and examine it under a spiritual kind of microscope. It might give us the opportunity to face dormant emotional pains that are still unresolved. It might give us the opportunity to look at our lifestyle and ponder if some changes in how we eat, the way we move, relate or balance activity/rest need change.

As a mental health counselor, I have found that many people in chronic pain receive support and friendship only when their lives are miserable. Pain can in this way play a trick on us and subconscious needs for care and love may invite pain to stay in the body.

But pain might also give us the opportunity to reach out, openly express our needs, let others know that yes, we’re also vulnerable and would like support once in a while.

Just for today I do not worry

It’s a never-ending habit. Starts in the morning and ends before you go to bed. Drives your mood, your relationships, your decisions. I’Imagem talking about the habit to worry. You might already have read “Just for today I do not anger,” referring to the five principles taught by Reiki founder Mikao Usui. “Just for today I do not worry” is one of the five.

But how to stop worrying?

It goes on and on and invades our mind: Will you earn enough to pay for your health care needs when you get old? Will you perform as expected in the new job?
Does he love you as much as you love him?

The list is long and you keep worrying… from being late for an appointment to major decisions in life.

According to the five-element theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine, we are all born with wisdom (and the wisdom resides in our “kidneys”). This wisdom refers not only to the inner capacity of the body to self regulate, repair, regenerate and heal. It also refers to instinct, reflexes and intuition.

The baby knows the caregiver will tend for his/her needs and trusts the world. It’s driven by something that we don’t yet fully understand, to the breast, to suck its nourishment (it’s not just a reflex). The baby cries to signal a need; it cuddles because he or she knows love; it smiles because he or she responds with kindness to our care.

The newborn comes to this world equipped with wisdom, trust, faith, confidence, joy, a sense of integrity and of connection with mom. But as the baby grows up, these feelings and emotions suffer. Life is painful, frustrating… you don’t necessarily get what you ask for. As we experience the world, it is inevitable to experience – to some extent –  betrayal, abandonment and/or rejection. Mild as an experience could in many cases be, it would shape our feelings. We learn anger, resentment, grief, mistrust and fear as the result of hurt and frustration. We may even lose faith in our capacity to master the world and create our own reality.

As fear sets in, wisdom is overshadowed by it and the result is worry. We stop trusting. We no longer experience faith in our connection with the whole.

Fear becomes the enemy. It stops us from loving fully, from enjoying life, from trusting others. Worry is often the sheer expression of our fear.

Faith in the universe, faith in our capacity to create our reality, will lead us to stop worrying. It might sound cliché, but we need to really believe that “everything is going to be alright.” Not necessarily because we will always get the results we want in any given situation but because we will have the necessary wisdom to make the most of it and because, even when we can’t understand it, the results are related to something deeper: our soul purpose.

How can we help our children keep the wisdom intact and avoid the fear?

Just for today, I do not anger

ImageWhen I took the Reiki Master level class in 1999, my master told us that the mastery path consisted on achieving success in two “tasks:” One, aligning our will with the universe’s will and two, mastering the five Reiki principles:

  1. Just for today, I do not anger

  2. Just for today, I do not worry

  3. I give thanks for all of my blessings

  4. I honor my parents, elders and masters, and

  5. I work honestly (on myself)

Reiki founder Mikao Usui had developed these principles to help practitioners and students on their spiritual path.

I started to look at the principles and to find ways to apply them. Years before I took that Reiki class, I had read Richard Bach’ explanation of why we get angry. It hit a chord with me. Could it be? Is there always, as he said, a power issue behind our anger?

Throughout the years, I tested Bach’s hypothesis and it seemed to work for me; so, I shared it with others. It seemed clear that when I got angry at the guy that didn’t provide me with, for example, good customer service over the phone, my anger responded to a feeling of  something that sounded like, “who does he think I am? Doesn’t he recognize that I am not a dummy? Why does he talk to me as if I know nothing of the issue I’m calling about?” It felt that I was right in demanding more from customer service.

But what about when my anger was related to family matters? Why do we get upset with people we love? Are we really into power struggles with them? At times, the answer was a resounding yes! And so, I left Bach’s hypothesis unchallenged for the time being.

Later on, Don Miguel Ruiz’s writings offered me another pearl of wisdom. We get angry because we take it personal, he thinks. Do we? Maybe!

And there I went on testing the new hypothesis, combining it with the former one, eagerly trying to know the truth.

However, only recently it has dawned on me that anger is most likely related to love or the lack of it.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine’s five element theory, we’re born with love, compassion and kindness and life experience makes us acquire opposite emotions: hate, anger, resentment.

At first, I started to notice that, indeed, when I got upset, I could be just reacting to unkindness, which felt… fair? I mean, there is indignation and there is anger, right? Indignation is when we justly get annoyed because of something ugly, unfair, unjust or disgusting.

But there was something else. Unkindness just alerted me of the fact that I had a need to feel loved and liked. When somebody is unkind to me, I deducted, then I feel I am not loved. And this could explain the temporary falling out of balance.

Next question I asked myself was if I assumed that I shall be loved? And then, was my feeling rooted on unresolved issues from my past? But, I didn’t think so.

There is this part of me that knows only love, that resonates with love. Unkindness feels as a discordant note. And this was also part of the answer. However, I kept digging.

There was something else, I found, and the insight came out with tears. Unkindness by others also alerted me of my incapacity to love unconditionally and to totally accept others as they are.

I am love and love is what I came to experience! Since love is my north, becoming aware of how far I still am from achieving my destination obviously saddened me deeply.

I shall continue to work on the principles… I shall keep on working honestly on myself!

Why I talk in first person

On the right… a list of posts. Click on the one you want to read.

I want to issue a warning.

I talk in first person. I believe that we’re all unique and that my experiences and conclusions might not apply to every other person.

I am not shy in disclosing my shadow. Most people hide it. Unfortunately, this will invite others – sometimes – to judge me and the judgement will be based in the fact that I am a Reiki Master and have been in a spiritual path for a very long time. So, some people wonder, how come I haven’t get rid of the ugly side?

I am very careful to prevent possible judgment from expressing my wholeness. It is important to me to be authentic. I don’t want to go into denial. Only when my shadow is visible to others, they can become my mirrors and it’s through my image reflected on them that I can become aware of my own dark side.

I don’t think that being human we could really abstract ourselves from society or kill the ego. I don’t even think we should kill the ego. The ego is the regulator of our physical aspect. The ego doesn’t give us much trouble unless it’s disconnected from the soul, the soul being the light, the part of us that connect us with everything that exists.

I am not sure that we can say that we are spiritual beings living a human experience either. This for me would be a linear statement. It implies separation between physical and spiritual aspects of our being. I see these aspects as part of a whole.

Separation and fragmentation is the problem that we are facing in the world. We see our differences before we see our commonalities. We see the part before we see the whole. We need to look at things from a dialectic perspective, like Khalil Gibran did in his master piece, The Prophet.

I don’t believe either that we can say we are here to learn and evolve… being part of the whole, the soul has it all, knows it all, is perfect. It’s love and joy. Maybe all there is is love. I believe we are experiencing an adventure here with the normal ups and downs of any adventure. The physical aspect of our body allows us to become aware of certain aspects of this adventure that for the subtle part of our being would be impossible to experience.

The adventure makes us increasingly aware of our divine nature, of our wholeness.