Becoming Mindful – Day 128 of 365 Days to a Better You

It’s amazing how much you can get done sitting perfectly still with eyes closed and legs crossed.

You’ve been taught your entire life that you can and you must rely on your five senses to interpret and understand the reality around you. We consider this process conscious awareness, but how aware and how conscious is it?

Neuroscientists estimate that your unconscious brain can process about 11 million pieces of information per second. However, your conscious brain can only process about 40 (or 3.6/1,000,000ths). Yeah. There’s a lot coming into your consciousness and experience that you’re not aware of.

That’s under pristine conditions. Consider how fragmented you are by stresses, deadlines, and multi-tasking. You have to question the quality of the conscious data you’re receiving and basing your life decisions upon.

Two things become immediately apparent. There’s a huge amount of information available to you that you’re not benefiting from consciously. Your conscious information, when used in a hurried, frazzled environment, is unreliable. I hope you’d agree that’s not a practical state of affairs.

Mindfulness is a generalized term for age-old awareness and meditation practices specifically designed to slow you down, allow you to take more in consciously, and raise your awareness.

mindfulness_definition

2012 research submitted to and published by the American Psychological Association demonstrated amazing empirical benefits such as improved focus, better memory, less depression, stress reduction, and more cognitive flexibility.

Research subjects found over time they experienced more empathy, compassion, less stress, and a better quality of life.

Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and UMASS-Amherst, has made a career of studying the benefits of mindfulness. His focus has been on general health and on people with chronic or even terminal conditions. However, the implications of his work are applicable to all our lives.

I first became aware of his work in my 20s health and psychological crisis period through his wonderful books – Full Catastrophe Living (Amazon link) and Wherever You Go There You Are Audio Version (Amazon link). They were game-changers for me personally.

If you want to go deeper on Kabat-Zinn’s research, I’ll share some links below.

Power hack: Mindfulness is a tool accessible by any human being – you included – in any moment. You don’t need a degree or special knowledge or the wisdom of a saint. You just need a quiet space to relax, breathe, let go, and become aware. The benefits to both your health and your level of awareness are amazing.

If you’re new, Gaiam.com provides these four simple steps to get you started with mindfulness meditation. We will take this deeper in a future post.

  1. Sit or lie comfortably. You may even want to invest in a meditation chair or cushion.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Make no effort to control the breath; simply breathe naturally.
  4. Focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation.

Begin with maybe five minutes at a time and work your way up to 20 minutes or longer.

Mindfulness meditation is the best tool I know of to become more aware of your environment and more awake to your potential, and more in-touch with the healing energies within.

Ray

Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

 

 

Advertisements

There Are No Mistakes – Day 127 of 365 Days to a Better You

There are NO mistakes.

Back in 1994, Barry Neil Kaufman published a book titled Happiness is a Choice. The book centered around the work he had done with his own autistic son after experts had told him there was nothing that could be done for him.

The book filled tremendous insights that are useful to each of us. One that has always stuck with me was his “Mistakes Wheel” – an adaptation of the Native American Medicine Wheel.

His wheel contains five points of wisdom. The north direction on the wheel reminds us to learn from our mistakes. The west direction reminds us to learn from the mistakes of others. The east direction reminds us to learn from the mistakes of our teachers. The south direction reminds us to make as many mistakes as it takes. Finally, at the center of the wheel, is the wisdom that there is no such thing as a mistake.

mistakes_wheel_kaufman_medicine wheel.001

The five principles are progressive. First you must be willing to see your mistake and learn from them. Next you must learn from others. This is the awareness to look at the people around you and learn from the mistakes they have made. The third step of wisdom is to see that even your teachers make mistakes and to learn from their mistakes.

I contend that fourth step is birthplace of the freedom this concept begets. Now you begin to see that mistakes are a part of the natural process of growing, learning, and becoming wiser. You stop beating yourself up for them and become a student fully ready to learn what they have to teach you.

In the last step, you break through to the bliss beyond concept. You have the full realization that there are no mistakes. It’s all wisdom. It’s all perfection. It’s all exactly what you needed to be the best you. It’s very much Tao concept that the bliss lies precisely in the chaos of the give and take between the light and the dark.

This model seems simplistic. I’d argue, if you dig a bit, there’s well-mapped path here. Whether you pursue its depths or just take this passing notice of the concept, I hope you’ll learn to see that everything is a lesson and the very concept of a mistake is pejorative judgment that cause you to miss the point again and again.

Power hack: Review your day today. How many times did you judge yourself or someone else? Did you make room for the mistakes you’re inevitably going to make? Did you see the lesson in them and can you learn to see them as not mistakes at all.

Follow your bliss. Experience your bliss. Become your bliss.

Ray

Hey, my friends! If you enjoyed this post, please checkout the Affirmations Playlist on our YouTube channel. These are affirmations you can listen to any time during your day to keep you motivated. Thank you SO MUCH for your support!

Thoughts and Prayers – Day 126 of 365 Days to a Better You

Are we all connected?

Good morning, my friends

Thoughts and Prayers? Yeah! I’m going there. If you’ve ever had something bad happened to you that you shared publicly, you’ve probably had someone say, “My thoughts and prayers are with you.”

Whenever there’s a tragedy media and social media are filled with that phrase. Often, social media being what it is, it’s delivered in the shorthand, “Thoughts and prayers.”

With the possible exception of “Thank you for your service,” when speaking to active military or veterans, “Thoughts and Prayers has become one of the great cliches of our time. Because of that, it’s come under fire for being an insincere platitude in a situation where action and not words are needed. It’s even come to the point where it angers some people.

I’d like you to consider two propositions today.

  1. Trite but true – while trite, I don’t think it’s generally insincere. In those moments of hardship and tragedy, we humans want to do something or say something to console. Often today we’re too far away or powerless to really do anything substantive and so we fill that silence with these words. For me, I put this in same category as the whole Christmas/holiday debate. If someone offers me a greeting during that time of year, I graciously accept. I’d propose we should see the intention and not the lack of originality in the expression when someone offers Thoughts and Prayers.
  2. Action Not Words – as stated in the previous paragraph, peoples’ reaction this phrase seems to revolve around the fact that it doesn’t mitigate the tragedy or tangibly help the people involved. While the words alone may not, we should not discount the power of thoughts or prayers when they become action and not just words.

There’s no shortage of anecdotal and faith-based evidence that many people focusing their minds on a particular outcome holds immense power. Prayer and directed positive thoughts/energy are two very practical ways to do that. While they may not pick up a scrap of debris or provide a meal (those are other needed actions too), we should not assume it’s doing nothing.

This story on NPR discusses research that shows couples can influence each others’ emotions and life signs at a distance.

In the story, I contend, they got one thing wrong. The report stated there’s been no evidence found that strangers at a distance can impact the well-being of someone. However, the study reported shows that the mechanism is in place for us to effect people close to us at a distance.

The only conceivable difference between the two must be emotion and the level of intention. In other words, the amount of energy being sent and the specificity. I’d doubt the universe is set up with mechanisms to recognize personal relationships.

You may recall I posted an article about Metta Meditation recently. I outlined a very practical Buddhist method of sending loving-kindness to others. I’d like to propose an experiment to test whether “thoughts and prayers” make a difference at a distance.

Here’s what I propose.

  1. Select three people close enough to you that you talk regularly, but not physically co-located.
  2. For the next two weeks, use Metta, prayer, or your own positive vibe-sending technique and send them positive energy every single day for 2-5 minutes.
  3. Be very intentional, focused, and try to do it with high emotion.
  4. Don’t tell them you’re doing this.
  5. If possible, plant several specific ways that you wish them well – health, money, career, etc. Be consistent throughout the two weeks.
  6. When the two weeks are up, contact those people and ask them how they’re doing. Get some specifics, if you can, about the areas you focused upon. Did anything extraordinary happen? Did they feel anything?
  7. If you wish, share the experiment with them, once you gather the results.
  8. Then, pretty, pretty please, share your results in the comments below. I’d love to hear how it goes.

I have done things like this many times before. It’s not a 100 percent, but I’ve seen some amazing things happen. The skeptics will crow coincidence. Let them. I am convinced we are all connected even if we don’t yet understand fully how.

Next time you INTENTIONALLY send “Thoughts and Prayers” you’ll know you’re doing some real and something that matters. The worst thing you’ve done is spent some time sending positive vibes into the world and it sure can use them!

In parting today, I want you to take a couple minutes, close your eyes, and send yourself some positive vibes. No matter what today offers, YOU’VE GOT THIS!

Ray

 

 

Is Out There Really Out There? – Day 125 of 365 Days to a Better You

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.

~Mark Twain

For centuries, wise sages and great teachers have taught that the world is what our thoughts make it. For most of us living in the modern, rational age, even if we buy into such ideas, we tend to see them as metaphorical and not literal.

Donald Hoffman, a cognitive psychologist at The University of California Irvine, has a very different perspective. He and his cross-discipline team have developed a theory that our brains are devices that literally create the reality that we perceive. They call it Multi-Modal User Interface (MMUI) and it picks up on some of the ideas of the Simulation Hypothesis and on age-old teachings from contemplative spiritual traditions.

This is a very old idea for me personally. Back in the early 1990s, I spent some time playing with the idea of whether “my reality” showed up wherever I was located. For instance, I wondered, when I was at work, did my apartment still have objective reality? Or, did it become real again by my traveling there and perceiving it.

For those who have never considered ideas like these, Hoffman’s work may seem ludicrous. However, there’s a ton of scientific evidence backing up these ideas. Two he mentions frequently in his presentations are that fully one-third of our brain is devoted to visual perception. That would be unnecessary if we are just “taking pictures” of the world. Secondly, his research has shown that Evolutionary Theory has not taught us to see truth, but rather see what allows us to survive.

The implications seem fanciful, even a little crazy by our consensus view of the world. We have made a major assumption that “reality” is something objective that exists out there and that our senses are simply designed to show us that reality.

What if our senses are, in fact, a means of taking raw data like a matrix of numbers and converting that into the reality we experience? What if we are literally manufacturing objective (agreed upon) and subjective (individual) reality from our consciousness? What if our senses have been designed, like radio receivers, to receive these impulses and manifest space and time?

The implications are broad and profound.

While we are likely mere children playing with adult capabilities, the ability to consciously control the creation of our reality would mean literally anything could be possible for us individually and collectively. Given our current state of development, that could be scary. It could also be a game-changer.

Perhaps, the tools we have talked about in our 365-day series are the rudimentary beginnings of techniques to put this into affect to change our lives and the world.

What it says about our space-time reality, our materialist viewpoint, and the nature of our existence are bigger questions to be explored. Nonetheless, these ideas open a world of vast possibility and potential, if we are willing to drop old paradigms and courageously walk through the gateway.

Thank you so much for following and reading this blog. For more motivational content, please visit the TAS Website. You are all AWESOME!

Ray

Your Brain is a Prediction Machine – Day 124 of 365 Days to a Better You

Are your experiences really your experiences or just the manifestation of a predictive model?

I came across this fascinating TedTalk video by Professor Anil Seth of Sussex University in the UK. The talk is about consciousness and I very much encourage you to watch the entire video.

Though I fundamentally disagree with his definition and proposed origin of consciousness, I find his description on how consciousness functions within living beings highly instructive. I believe it’s information you can make use to shift your patterns and your mindsets.

Please go to the 4:30 mark in the video and watch it through 14:13 (sorry you know how copyright is these days and TedTalk is not very charitable on these matters.) I’ll comment on the video below.

When Professor Seth discusses outer perception, he shares that the world is not just out there happening to you. It’s actually a function of the brain receiving signals (never directly perceiving this reality) and interpreting them. After a lifetime of interpreting these signals to mean certain things, something amazing happens. Your brain becomes a prediction machine.

Literally, your brain becomes interactive in this process and predicts what you’re about to experience or what you are experiencing. It begs the question as to whether the brain even waits for the signals or just fills in the blanks with assumptions and past experiences? You and I have both had those experiences of feeling like you’re on auto-pilot.

Though far more complex, you can think of it this way. Your brain perceives reality much the same way an algorithm in a weather prediction model predicts weather. It doesn’t need to see the weather. It just needs a vast series of data points about previous weather situations and it can very accurately predict what will happen. This is what our brain is doing all day long only on a much more sophisticated level.

Implication: Your brain is part of an automatic feedback loop that perceives reality through neural impulses and eventually gets so good at it that it can predict what’s next without the impulse. Think about this. When you’re walking do you consciously have to wait for your raised foot to touch the ground again? Do you even need to think about it? No. Your brain has experienced that action so many times that it’s predicting there’s going to be a floor there to catch the foot.

Think about how much of this process can and absolutely does become automatic. You think you’re perceiving the reality of a situation at work or in politics or in world, but often you’re not. Your weather pattern algorithm is subconsciously saying, “Ah, that’s a thunderstorm. Oh, when this set of variables come together, that means the temperature is going to be about 68 degrees.”

This is why affirmations and meditation and other consciousness tools we’ve been discussing are so important. You must get conscious of this process and make it conscious again or you’re simply a computer responding to habitual inputs.

Now think about the funny dog video in the clip. That was a computer program designed to simulate the way human perception biases what you see. It was exaggerated to make a point, but you’ve probably had the experience of buying a new car and suddenly seeing it at every stop light.

What happens when the media and social media are all abuzz about terrorism or recession or climate change. If you’re not conscious, you’re going to begin seeing evidence for these things everywhere like the dogs in the video. After enough immersion time, you won’t even recognize this is a distortion of reality. It becomes part of agreed upon reality.

You can also see the psychology of this in your personal development. If you constantly have the thought, “I suck” or “life sucks” your brain is going to start predicting that’s the world you encounter and it literally makes it so. That’s why like attracts like.

I  could take much deeper than I have time or you have patience for in this post.

Let’s quickly cover your sense of self. Your well-being, or lackthereof, is also sent to the brain as electrical impulses from all over your body. Each cell is reporting. Deepak Chopra has been talking about this in depth for decades.

Your brain isn’t down checking on your heart or your sore knee. Electrical impulses are traveling to the brain with those reports. Your brain simply scans the reports and gives you the experience.

Again, this can become an unconscious cycle. Your brain keeps getting the message you don’t feel well, it predicts you don’t feel well, and you don’t feel well. I’m not saying, or at least we’re not advanced enough in this understanding to say, that sickness isn’t real and you shouldn’t follow traditional or non-traditional means of healing. I’m only pointing out that, like the outside world, your internal perception can become a self-fulfilling prophecy in a brain designed to predict what’s next and provide that experience.

What do you do? 

Wow! This is big stuff and profound. Even getting it intellectually doesn’t get you to a point of being able to use it, but it’s a start.

Here are the implications

  1. This process is going on right now 24/7 in you and me.
  2. It’s how you are perceiving your within and your without by predictive model rather than true reality. Now you know why you have triggers. All it takes is the slightest impulse of Algebra or that despised politician and your mind begins running a pre-recorded program (a narrative) that starts creating your reality.
  3. This process is practically unconscious and remains so until you act upon it.
  4. You must get conscious of both the process and how it can and is used to condition your perception. Meditation seems like an effective way to become more conscious of the signals coming and going and the way your brain is generating your reality.
  5. Acting upon it must mean overriding the automatic, conditioned electrical signals the brain is receiving or at least interrupting them.
  6. Thoughts are energy. Thoughts are electrical signals. If you want to change the conditioning, you have to change the signals. Affirmations provide a means of changing these unconscious inputs with inputs of your choosing.

This, my friends, is science explaining how and why tools like meditation and affirmations work and why you need them in the first place.

There is a “next level” to all of this. It’s a hypothesis called Conscious Realism that uses the mathematics in the Theory of Evolution to question its biggest assumptions.

I’ll talk about that in the next post.

See you then! Thank you so much for staying with me on this drive to 365!

Ray

 

 

 

 

 

What If I’m Just Not Good Enough? – Day 123 of 365 Days to a Better You

Do you measure up? Can you really achieve this crazy dream you’re working on? Such thoughts terrorize every dreamer, at least the honest ones. No one escapes the inner voice that painstakingly dismantles you and your little dream for the fraud it is.

“Who are you?” “What makes you think you can be the next great…?”

Your heroes have done you a great disservice. They didn’t do it purposely and they didn’t do it to hurt you. They emerged into your world as these amazingly talented and successful people. That’s probably what made you aspire to be like them.

The part you missed was the years of hard work and devastating failure they went through to get where they are today. From your perspective, they’re like an iceberg. You see only the shimmering white part towering above the water. You don’t see the much larger submerged side hiding their challenges.

LeBron James was not LeBron James the first time he picked up a basketball. He had the potential to become the player you know, but you didn’t see the hours and years that went into becoming the planet’s best basketball player.

Steve Jobs was a super-smart tech geek. There are a lot of super-smart tech geeks. Some were way smarter than Jobs. Why was it him that transformed our technological landscape? Jobs spent his life working toward and honing a big vision. We all know the story of what Apple became, largely because of him. Yet, we don’t see the crazy focus and determination. We forget that he was fired, at one point, by the company he founded. Talk about a devastating setback. Many people would have folded up the tent and gone home.

The true “overnight success” is a remote rarity. “The only place where success comes before work,” multiple teachers have pointed out, “is in the dictionary.”

You need to stop comparing yourself to your heroes. It’s not a fair fight. Rachel Hollis counsels her audience, “Stop comparing your beginning with my middle.”

Your heroes are a dicey proposition. They can inspire you and deflate you all at the same time. You must remember they had the road to their mountaintop the same as you’re walking now. They had heroes they aspired to be or exceed. They had moments of doubt when throwing in the towel would have made total sense. Aren’t you glad they didn’t?

The way to reach yours is not to let your hero’s greatness paralyze you. Rather it’s to keep on walking your path so that some day someone else will see you as you see them. Then the world will be glad you didn’t quit.

Your greatness is NOT a myth!

Ray

 

 

You Are Better Off with the Truth – Day 122 of 365 Days to a Better You

We unconsciously become our past thinking until we consciously choose new thinking.

Let me ask you a question. What good is truth, if you won’t shift your paradigms?

I found the cartoon in the image above some years ago. It was one of those things that immediately struck me as a fundamental fact about human nature or at least unenlightened, unaware human nature.

Please know that some of what I’m about to say may seem like an attack on your beliefs and ideals. It is not. It is an attack on your unwillingness seek the truth, as much as you can understand it, beyond long-held and cherished ideas.

Every single human being – including you and me – has blinders and goggles on. The blinders are those things we simply refuse to see because they challenge our paradigms and our comfort zones. The goggles are tinted to show us the world through prisms acceptable to our biases. Both leave us, if we allow them to persist, far from any semblance of objective truth.

I believe truth is the highest principle we can strive to attain. Absolute truth may very well be beyond the capability of piece parts of existence like us. That kind of truth may only be attainable by the whole of existence. In fact, there is an argument that we may be here for the very purpose of experiencing things from differing perspectives.

To be a “truth-seeker” you must commit to this idea that truth is a higher ideal than the tribal concerns of groups you may belong to. If you’re not willing to concede that point, you probably can stop reading this post right here.

Power hack: For those intrepid souls who kept reading, you might have some very logical questions.

  • How can we know what truth is?
  • How can we recognize lies?
  • What difference does it make if I seek truth, but the rest of the world continues to bound by its unquestioned biases?

These are great questions. I’m sorry to say that I cannot answer any of them for you. What I can offer you and what will help you answer these questions for yourself, is this.

  • Blinders – you must do the work of understanding what your blinders are. Remember, I’m defining your blinders as those things that prevent you from even seeing truths you don’t want to see. What are your blindspots? You may need help from others to identify these.
  • Goggles – get clear on what political, religious, cultural, and educational, and class goggles you wear that color your vision of everything you see in the world. This may take some deep thought and time. Some of your biases are so baked in, they’re almost invisible to you. You must be willing to see that others may hold pieces of the truth you lack and you must be willing to adjust your point of view accordingly.
  • Generalities – biases and blindspots thrive in generalities. Truth exists in the crevices of specificity. I often say that any statement you find coming out of your mouth or wafting through your mind that begins with a generality like the following is probably an area of exploration for you.
    • Black people are…
    • White people are…
    • Fat people are…
    • Christians are…
    • Jews are…
    • Muslims are…
    • Men are…
    • Women are…
    • Rich people are…
    • Poor people are…
    • Democrats are…
    • Republicans are…
  • Insight and wisdom – as you begin to sharpen your thinking through work on your blindspots, biases, and generalities; you begin to see the world more clearly. You begin to see a less biased and more balanced version of truth. It still may be unfinished and unpolished, but you’re beginning to clarify the picture. This insight and wisdom also gives you the ability to better assess new and incoming information for its alignment with your clearer picture of truth.

I want to offer one final thought. As much as I love this cartoon for the point it makes, it’s wrong about one thing. Not all truths are unpleasant and not all lies are convenient.

Despite a massive human bias toward a negative view of the world, many truths are very pleasant. They even open us to a far better world than the convenient lies we may have accepted.

Conversely, many of the lies we have accepted are not convenient at all. They’re, in fact, very inconvenient and even destructive to us as human beings and to our civilization on this planet.

Is your endeavor to follow the truth wherever it leads challenging? Absolutely. Might it take years, decades, or the rest of your life? Probably. Yet, you have these wise promises to guide you.

  • Three things cannot long remain hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. ~Buddha
  • Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear. ~Mahatma Gandhi
  • The truth is found when men are free to pursue it. ~FDR
  • The truth is not for all men, but only for those who seek it. ~Ayn Rand

Have an amazing day, truthseekers!

Ray

Note: I did not tackle the issue of objective and subjective truth in this article. I will address that in future article. For now, simply begin the process of clearing your eyes and your mind to see things without your blinders and goggles.