trapped in your dogma

What is your dogma?

Lately I have been obsession with reading fiction detective stories. In the midst of Tana French’s In the Woods was a passage that blew me away. Three characters have a discussion about the need for some form of belief system and that for their Irish government and society many people see money as their ideology. Here are a few snippets:

“Nowadays it’s not just unfortunate if you have a low-paid job, have you noticed? It’s actually irresponsible. You’re not a good member of society, you’re being very very naughty not to have a big house and a fancy car.”

“If you are not rich, you’re a lesser being who shouldn’t have the gall to expect a living wage from the decent people who are.”

This made me think of the recent movies about Steve Jobs and the so called Wolf of Wall Street. Both showed these men as powerful and enviable because they made millions of dollars. We are supposed to focus on their wealth and ignore how they treated their friends and family. Material wealth is solely valued in this ideology. Personal relationships and common decency are not valued. It intrigued me that even though both movies I saw made an attempt to show these men’s corruption and single-minded pursuit of the dollar no matter who it hurt, in the end, both men were presented as aspirational heroes.

trapped in your dogmaTana French’s book also posits “the body” as another ideology or religion. Having the perfect body. Making the perfect body. Consuming the perfect diet. Tana writes, “But those reports and stuff aren’t just saying things are unhealthy – they’re saying they’re morally wrong. Like you’re somehow a better person, spiritually, if you have the right body-fat percentage and exercise for an hour a day.”

The body ideology is very prevalent in our society. From television shows where “common” people are portrayed by supermodels to magazines depicting unrealistic airbrushed icons to pills and surgeries to correct every minor feature flaw. Many adhere to the religion of the perfect body.

The belief system we consciously or unconsciously accept is the rudder by which we make all decisions, judge ourselves and others, and by which we keep score. We create our life by the ideology we choose. Our dogma defines the playground of life and success.

What is your ideology? What do you see as the purpose of living? What are the guidelines or mores to which you adhere? Look at your ideology and uncover what this means as far as what you aspire to and how you treat others. Does this belief system actually guide you towards what will be happiness for you?

What do your friends and family adhere to as their ideology? How is it different than yours? Do you feel pressure to adhere to their beliefs in order not to be ostracized? Do you have conflicts with others because they don’t accept your beliefs, or you don’t accept theirs?

Whether you call it religion, ideology or dogma, we choose what is important in life. Take a moment to look at what you find important. Is it your consciously chosen belief or just one you adopted? Is it serving you? How is it affecting others? Is it really the belief system with which you want to live your life?

the brain

Don’t trust your brain

In our scientific focused society, there is an assumption that what we think is undeniable truth. We believe that our brain is like a supercomputer built to only provide fact. But our brain can’t really be trusted.

Recently I watched a documentary on brain plasticity. I love brain plasticity because it shows we can reprogram and change our brains – with the hopes of living a better life. You can read about brain plasticity in a great book called The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge. While watching this documentary, however, I was struck by how the brain works more in illusion than fact.

Phantom pain is having sensation of a body part that no longer exists (30 minutes into the documentary). If our brain can create real pain for something that is not real, what else is it doing? What “realities” are we experiencing which are actually illusions?

the brainTen minutes later in the video, a doctor shows a how an amputee decreases his pain by tricking his mind with a visual illusion. By using a shadow box, the missing limb is “seen” as real. Through moving his existing hand but seeing it as his missing hand, pain in his phantom limb subsides. The real pain is actually an illusion which was stopped using a different illusion.

Not only can our brain be tricked into feeling or not feeling something in our own bodies, but a part of the brain, mirror neurons, makes us feel what is happening to another. This means we are experiencing something happening to another as if it is happening to us. Being an empath, or perhaps more apt having extra-sensitive mirror neurons, is why I need to protect myself in public because I pick up what others feel. And this is also why you tense up watching an action film or Dancing with the Stars because you experience what you are watching someone else experience.

Another great talk about the brain and how it interprets our surroundings is by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor the author of My Stroke of Insight. In her book and the talk, this brain scientist deftly explores how her brain broke down while having a stroke and what it took for her to be able to regain the full function of her brain again. This is an amazing look into how the brain works and again about how much of what we experience – think, feel, touch, taste, hear, see – is not “reality” but our perception and interpretation of reality.

Much of what our brain signals as reality may not be. Which got me thinking, if we can prove our brain is experiencing an illusion what is it that is aware of this illusion? What is outside of our brain’s illusion seeing it as an illusion? And if we only see our perception of reality what is really real?

I don’t have the capability to answer the questions I posit so instead I invite you to explore how questioning reality, questioning how the mind works, and questioning your perception of life can empower you to create the life you want.

sad? look inside

Look Inside to Change Your Experience

I became upset this morning when I read about the increasing number of local murders and international political confrontations. As I read, I felt sadness overtake me. I disengaged from those around me. I wanted to hide. I felt awful. The truth is however, nothing really changed in my world. Had I not read the articles I would not have even known anything happened. It was my reaction, not the events themselves, which caused me pain.

As a society, we seemingly always focus on the external; what we read in the papers, what we see on TV, our physique, our bank accounts, our favorite sports team, our political party. But we spend very little time focused on and improving what’s inside. And it is what is inside that affects our lives and our experience.

For example, over the last few months I have been having issues with my body. I have been doing what I can to change my diet, take herbal remedies, receive reflexology, and do deep cleanses all in the hope to find some relief. What I have found though is that although these steps have helped to provide some relief, one element provided the largest shift.

Working on my inside.

sad? look inside

Until I did the deep emotional work, until I reversed unhealthy beliefs, until I truly faced my inner voice and how I was choosing to approach the world, I could not find physical relief.

To make changes to your experience of life start with your insides. I am not talking about your internal organs. Take the time and find the courage to address your beliefs, your expectations, and what causes your unconscious reactions. It is in the muddled mess of your mind, emotions, and convictions that you can have the biggest impact on your life.

Awareness: All too often we skate through our days unaware of how our thoughts and beliefs are affecting what we experience. Grow your awareness to not just see the outcome of your actions and reactions, but to find the motive behind what you expect, what you do, and how you react.

Understanding: Once you find the core motive behind your actions (or inactions), explore where this motive came from. Did you learn it from your family or friends? Did it come from your religion or ideology? More importantly than uncovering where it is from, is discovering how this belief serves you – or doesn’t. Does it bring you joy? Do you think it protects you – and does it really? Do you think someone else has wronged you and you are entitled to feel hate or fear? Explore how thinking and acting like you do affects the life you lead.

Implement: Once you have awareness and understanding, if your core belief and motivator does not serve you, choose a new one. What way of thinking would serve you better? You have a choice in how you think. No one has dictated your belief system. No one enforces you to believe and act a certain way. You have the ability to choose a new way of being. And it starts on the inside.


Teach Compassion with Compassion

Recently there are been more and more reports of racism and hate crimes. The recent election cycle has unleashed negativity, fear, and hatred which has been lurking under the surface of America for a very long time. As a hopeful optimist, I see this as a blessing. We can not deal with something, we can not change something for the better, until we acknowledge it exists. Today we can not escape seeing the issues around us which gifts us with the opportunity to change.

The problem is that two wrongs don’t make a right. It is understandable to be angry, hurt, and afraid of the recent wave of hatred and senseless attacks. However, attacking the attacker does not make the problem go away.

For example, The Washington Post recently wrote about a racist attack on an airplane.  Was it wrong for a passenger to tell another to leave America because of how they look? Absolutely. Was it justified for the woman videotaping the incident to then judge, label, and attack the attacker? No. Attacking and hating someone who hates and attacks does not solve the problem. It compounds and continues it.

What does make racism go away? The answer lies in understanding “why” people hate and fear others who are different. We learn racism from parents or those around us. We grow up surrounded by those who are “like us” making others wrong and frightening. We are quick to judge, label and stereotype without getting to know each person individually. And the main reason I believe is at the root of our currently increasing problem, is that instead of taking personal responsibility for our challenges, we blame others.

compassion_loveMany people who I would not have expected to, seem to be jumping on the White Right bandwagon. I truly believe that this is not because they are inherently racist. I believe it is because there are things in their own lives that they don’t like and don’t think they can affect. It is so much easier to attack and blame another than to deal with our own challenges. It is just like the man who has a terrible boss but can’t afford to quit. He comes home and kicks the dog because that is the only thing he is bigger than, the only thing he thinks he can conquer. It doesn’t solve the real problem, but for a brief moment he feels in control of his life.

And the current issues we are experiencing are not just about the actions of one segment of people. Due to the outcome of the elections, many liberal-minded people are also lashing out in anger and hate. They are prejudice and attacking of those with conservative beliefs. These people also buy into an across-the-board stereotype and deliver it with hate and malice.

We might not be able solve the systemic problems causing our societal divide. What we can do is be part of the solution when we see it around us.

Do not attack or fear those who speak or act differently. Show compassion for their pain. Seek to understand. Provide empathy. Teach through example not through attacking or preaching. Act how you want others to act. Be the model of a good citizen. Be understanding. Be accepting. Be compassionate.

Pope Francis has a great idea for Lent and I recommend it for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The Pope believes that being solely focused on ourselves has led us to be “incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.” He calls us to “fast from this indifference, [so] we can began to feast on love.” When we look outside of our own need for self-protection, we can see we are all one. In this oneness, we can have empathy and compassion for those around us. And in compassion there is healing.


Daily Mindfulness

Last week we explored the definition of mindfulness. But how does one reach a level of constant mindfulness?  The first step is experiencing what I call the “State of Gray.”

The State of Gray is simple, and yet can be very difficult. Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, calls it being in the now. Martha Beck, author and columnist for O, the Oprah Magazine, has called it doing nothing, and most recently, wordlessness and oneness. Back around 500 BC, the philosopher Lao Tzu called it wei wu wei, or doing not-doing. Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, calls it refusing to obey the voice of knowledge. Buddhists refer to it as mindfulness. I like to call it the State of Gray, a peaceful space between black and-white thinking. No matter what this state is called, how it is described, or how one gets there, it is the very simple concept of turning off the mental monkey chatter of our left brain so we can truly be in the moment. Being in the State of Gray allows us to be free from thoughts of the past or future, free from judgments and expectations, and free to just be and experience. Excerpt from From Type A to Type Me

The State of Gray can be found in many ways. It can be found in through the practices of meditation or yoga. We can be helped to find the State through guided imagery or hypnosis. Some can even get there through solitary redundant movements like runners’ high, knitting, or playing solitaire. In my book I go into a deeper explanation of the State of Gray and how to get there. What I would like to share here is how to move from the State of Gray being a small portion of your day, to being the way you approach your life.

mindfulnessOne of my frustrations is when I meet someone who proclaims that they live a mindful life because they practice meditation for XX hours a day. Yet when I meet them, when they are not in meditation, they are not mindful. It may be true that they reach a zen state during their practice, but when they interact with the world they do not carryover the same state of acceptance, clarity, and compassion. The goal is to not to just find a pocket of peace but to bring that peace to everything you do and everyone you interact with.

The State of Gray gives us the foundation of mindfulness then, with practice, one can bring mindfulness throughout the day. Knowing that you ultimately control your body, mind, and emotions gives you the power and means to become mindful. We often feel controlled by our emotions. We allow our body’s distress to cause our negative reactions. We let our minds run wild with regrets of the past, fears of the future, or judgments based on our bias. Yet the truth is we have control over our reactions to our emotions and our body. We have control over the path our minds take.

Starting today, notice when you are reacting in a way you do not find pleasant. Then follow this simple, yet challenging steps:

  1. Stop
  2. Notice the trigger of the issue.
  3. Notice your unconscious reaction.
  4. Determine what part of your reaction you control.
  5. Then shift your reaction to something more positive.

When you are mindful, when you are truly aware, you have the power to create the life you want and the person you want to be.


What is Mindfulness?

If you are part of the Living Type Me Facebook Group, you will have seen a lot of posts over the past few months about the benefits of mindfulness. Many people have asked me what mindfulness is. I will attempt to answer their question here.

Merriam-Webster defines mindfulness as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Basically, mindfulness means being aware of and controlling your experience. You are in the moment acting, not reacting, to life.

When we are not mindful, we speak without thinking. We allow our emotions to get out of control. We are worrying about the future or regretting the past. We feel the victim of circumstances, events, and others. Without mindfulness, we are a two-year-old child. We cry when our needs are not met. We don’t understand cause and effect. We expect others to take care of us. We can’t see past obstacles. We are powerless and overly emotional.

awarenessMindfulness is being aware in each and every moment. How often do you go about your day without really being present? Have you ever driven to work and not realized how you got there? Have you found words coming out of your mouth without realizing it? When you are mindful each action, word, and thought are conscious. Being mindful means taking responsibility for what we are thinking, saying, and doing – and if it is not the experience we want, we change it.

One parable to help with mindfulness is about a young monk at a monastery.  He sees a wise old monk and asks him for the key to enlightenment. The old monk says, “Wash your bowl from breakfast.” The young monk races to the kitchen with his bowl, washes it quickly, and then returns to the old monk waiting for his words on enlightenment. The old monk again says, “Wash your bowl.” Or as Yoda would say, “Be one with the bowl.” The message is that enlightenment is achieved through mindfulness. It is not until the young monk can be in 100% in the moment while he is doing something as simple as washing a bowl that he is fully mindful, and being mindful is the foundation for enlightenment.

I first learned about mindfulness by reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Two quotes from him which give insight into mindfulness are:

“In my walks, I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” Thoreau is helping us be in the present moment. Be at work when you are work. Be with your family when you are with your family. Make sure your mind is where your body is.

“Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and without perturbation; let company come and let company go, let the bells ring and the children cry – determine to make a day of it.” Nature is a great teacher of mindfulness. A tree in summer does not spend its day worrying of the winter. Forest creatures do not panic if the path is not clear; they adapt and flow with all that is brought to them. Nature teaches us to be present, be aware, don’t judge, and simply experience.

Is mindfulness clearer to you now? What questions do you have about mindfulness? How can you begin to become more mindful throughout your day?

Next week we will explore how to become more mindful.