Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Love

 At bedtime last night I found myself having a bit of a scroll through my Facebook roll (probably using the wrong terms there) and I came across a little video of a story about a chimpanzee who had been abused and was being nursed back to good health. 

When he was healed and ready, he was being taken to an area which was wholly protected and where he could live out his life happily and healthily with other chimpanzees. 

Jane Goodall was one of the people who escorted him to the area. She held his hand through the crate where he needed to be for the journey and she talked to him.

When they reached the place, they opened the door and the chimpanazee walked out. He had a good look around and could see he was free. 

He went and thanked the other girl there who had taken care of him and he took a few steps away from them. 

Then, he turned back, jumped on the box and wrapped his long arms around Jane Goodall and for several seconds they hugged; the most heartfelt hug of love between two creatures.

I cried openly as I watched and I am crying as I write this.

Love is all there is. Love makes the world go around. 

All the rest is mere detail. In so many years, you won't remember the detail and the detail will have vanished. Poof poof.

Be. Love.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Two ruts

 Listening to a Zen talk today I learned of the two 'ruts' of meditation. In the first rut, we settle into this moment in a more accepting way; opening to a sense of Self where the self is less present. Using other words, it's the well known form of meditation where we get in touch with a sense of peacefulness and presence that is always there, when we allow it; when we relax into it. In this state of mind, the Self isn't so present, if it's present at all. If you close your eyes and focus on the blank dark screen in front of your eyes, you will see that you aren't present in those moments.

Thoughts become less noticeable, less present as mind and body relaxes making way for a sense of peace to become visible to us. It is always there, of course, but hidden behind thoughts and sensations. And so, by allowing thoughts to drift in and drift out, not clinging to them, but allowing them, the mind sort of opens up to something that feels calm, restful; open.

It can be difficult to explain meditative experiences, but a simple way to put it is that when the body relaxes and when the mind is focused on something such as the breath or sounds, the mind wants to think less, at least eventually, most of the time. When we are all stirred up, it isn't going to necessarily go as we want it to go. 

In the second rut, there is a second way of looking at the meditation experience. Basically, the central tenet of Buddhism is that there is suffering. There's no-one likely to disagree with this at this time in history, except perhaps if you are deeply in denial. And so, in the meditation we allow it. In essence we use the seed of suffering to germinate and bloom into a hidden potential. Perhaps, is the thought, that by allowing the suffering in, a shift might be experienced where our hearts break open into something that could be expressed as grace.

Personally, I think it's a real game changer to blend Buddhist/Zen practices with our knowledge of the brain. We know that the brain actually wants to be balanced. It wants to achieve homeostasis. Sure, we are going to have all kinds of experiences in our lives from deeply sad to profoundly joyful, but the brain and body look to return to homeostasis. In other words, things will happen in our external world, but our brain and body want for there to be a continual return to a balanced internal world.

This kind of sounds like Rut 1, I think.

But, when the internal world becomes unsettled, or, as I see it, your gut instinct is screaming at you to investigate thoughts and sensations, it's less likely you are going to have meditations where you can just ignore those troubling thoughts and sensations.

When these thoughts and sensations showed up for me, I tried to go to a sort of Rut 1 meditation but sometimes found that I was using a visualization to do in my mind what I wasn't yet ready to do in real life. It was like my gut instinct was telling me what was the right thing for me but another 'part' of me wanted what I wanted and refused to listen. So, the meditations were like a half way house, inching me closer to acceptance of all kinds of realities.

I was trained eventually to keep a journal and write in it immediately after meditating, so there's a big book somewhere here where there is evidence that my brain was coming to terms with the issues that came up for me. And, yes, over time there was plenty of resting in a big open space, with a wide open heart, but at the same time, I was growing some adeptness in acceptance; of what it was to be me without adequate opportunity to express this.

Last night, I had at least three discombobulating dreams that I remember quite vividly. This is quite rare and I think I may be getting more REM sleep time. I think the dreams were confirmation of the growing realization that what I need to achieve - a number of goals - will only be achieved on my own. That is, as much as I love the idea that there can be this great love affair with another human being - a meeting of minds and shared intimacy on all sorts of levels - that's not my lot. 

I was very angry in the dream about this at the same time as I experienced the sense that I was being unreasonable because the other people in the dream were clueless to help me. I wanted guidance from people who had no sense how to help me. As well, they were otherwise engaged. What was so important to me barely registered on their radar.

To put this altogether, meditation and research into the brain, clarified for me what I wanted and why I wanted it. It illuminated that characters come into one's life that in fact are more like characters from one's earlier life and less like those characters that can fill your cup; a cup that needs a lot of filling since it was only ever half full in terms of childhood needs.

I think of it like a wall. There you are on one side wanting to merge and there is the other person on the other side, maybe wanting to merge in some way too but not able to, due to drivers that lead in other directions. Sometimes you see over the wall, or that maybe in a moment here or there you can go around the wall, but most of the time, the wall simply stands in the way.

In real life, it can feel like the frustration that comes upon me when I can't speak another person's language. We both try in our own way to bridge the gap but we can never truly overcome the lack of language.

But, it's not anger. Not any more. It's not resentment. It's an opening up into a sense of life and all it's complexities; the frailties of being human; the appreciation of trauma and the mark it leaves on all of us. Meditation, just being, silence...it tenderizes the heart, increases compassion; allows one to merge into acceptance; softens and opens the heart.

At the same time, it encourages, deeply, self-compassion. Here I am on this side of the wall wanting with all my heart to merge in with the experiences of other human beings; human beings who find the idea of merging, of being wholly seen, quite terrifying. When one accepts, the relationship with self is entirely authentic. I have wanted what I didn't get as a young person, that's clear to me. Loneliness can envelop me. And yet, I feel stronger than I have in many years. 

My cart functioned best when I made two distinct ruts in the dirt - going to a still mind and going into the suffering. When so much trouble in the external world abounds, it's a timely reminder, that the very beautiful lotus grows in mud.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Addiction

 I've been doing some reading and listening around the subject of dopamine and emotional intensity. To put it into simple language, it seems that our brains like to be in a balanced state, in a state of homeostasis. 

In today's culture, there is excess supply of ways to get dopamine in a not particularly healthy way. We can play a video game, watch porn, drink alcohol to excess, take drugs. Over time, and when the activity takes place often enough, when we are not doing those activities, our brains tilt over to the low side, a sort of depression or craving state.

It seems that our brains don't want to be either too low or too high in dopamine, or too low or too high in emotional intensity. How high or low our emotional intensity is appears to be dictated by our genes, but whether it is a high or low emotional tendency, it seems that our brains find it uncomfortable to be too high or too low and so people are motivated to raise or lower their emotional levels to optimal levels.

As I write this I know that I am mixing two areas of research together and seeing what might gel together. Since I can only use myself as an example since I don't know anyone else's internal state, I would say that my whole range of emotions weren't at all welcomed in childhood, and not really in adulthood either. I think that  low outward expression was learned and conditioned, but I think I also was born with a relatively low emotional intensity.

One example an article gave of low emotional intensity was someone seeing a dorm house on fire and walking to the hose and then walking back with it to the dorm. I don't tend to go into high gear when confronted with a dilemma, usually, although I don't back away from a dilemma either.

Inside, there's a lot more emotional intensity going on. I definitely experience the whole spectrum of emotions inside. It wasn't always so but I learned to tune into my emotional state in later life. I can experience intense bliss at the same time as I can feel deeply sad, and all the emotions in between those highs and lows.

I am keenly aware of what the researchers talk about, that either a low mood or a high mood can be uncomfortable for me. When it is uncomfortable enough, I seek to bring my brain back to homeostasis.

In the case of a high emotional state, for example, the sense of deep connection I felt with my husband on a difficult hike we did together, I think the brain just starts to come down quite naturally. I register the bliss as deeply fortunate and know it won't last. I savor the high.

In the case of anxiousness, or depression, I make a mental note that no good with come of this, and I distract myself, quite naturally bringing the emotional state up towards a balanced state.

Dopamine levels are a bit different, I think. When dopamine has been raised in an unhealthy way, not these natural leveling outs of the brain but an induced state of excess such as takes place with too much of any sort of drug (be that a substance, an activity or a person), it appears to be the case that a cleanse is vital: a dopamine fast.

As the medical people like to say, you are going to feel worse before you feel better. Unless it is an extreme situation a 30 day fast will mean that the first two weeks won't be pretty, but by week 3 you will start to feel more balanced and after 30 days, you will be sober, so to speak.

Then, it's about deciding where you want to go from there - abstinence or  a return to your substance of choice but with good solid boundaries in place.

Is it the emotionally intense who are subject to addiction of some sort? It seems so, yes. Emotionally intense people want variety and novelty.

A caveat here. Whilst I don't think I am a particularly emotionally intense person, I can be. I  think you can be enticed to experience emotional intensity; have a proclivity to it in the right (wrong) circumstances. 

This is a more complicated conversation for another day but generally I think that someone like me has a proclivity to be manipulated and that relates to an empathic nature and some appetite for intensity. You only know you are addicted to something or someone after it has happened. In fact, we are all capable of addiction to something.

Meditation is a time when the brain will naturally go to homeostasis, in time. Yoga is an activity that also allows the brain to reach a balanced state. Gardening tends to balance the brain; walking, maybe running (not a runner).

I think there is a very logical explanation for why the practice of meditation and yoga have infiltrated their way into our Western culture. When the seeking of pleasure in our culture can result in excess dopamine highs, we are in great need of tilting that situation back down to a balanced state.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Beauty in suffering

My mind can be too active (like you didn't know!) and can wake me in the middle of the night. I've found some wonderful meditation music that does the job in lulling me back to sleep; tibetan healing music.

I found the need to reach for my phone to make use of the music last night but was sidetracked by the invitation to listen to an interview. The words that enticed me were something like 'there's beauty in suffering'.

It turned out to be a long interview with someone I hadn't heard of before. He outlined a difficult childhood in England wherein school was rough and he began experimenting in various ways that led to all sorts of problems.

I had drifted off to sleep and when I roused again he had been married, the marriage wasn't a happy one and over time he found himself with three children and the payment of the house, two cars, three children and a wife. 

I think that nowadays he has found a sense of peace in his spiritual work, had been on a long and difficult hike with a master of hiking last week. He's obviously well known enough in some circles to be on the podcast so hopefully his life has turned a corner. It's not by any means perfect because he still pays for everything associated with his family though he is not allowed to see his children.

The point is that I heard enough to be able to say that he had had his fair share of suffering. I was delighted to realize that I found myself awake at just the right moment to hear him make the statement that had drawn me to the podcast in the first place.

He said something like, 'There is such beauty in suffering. When you suffer deeply, you notice the smallest good things. I think you notice them with more intensity than if you didn't suffer in that way.'

Personally, I don't think you have to be deep in suffering to notice the parting of clouds, the bees buzzing about flowers collecting pollen, the scent of a rose; the smile of a passerby. But, I do agree that these small but poignant moments of life can happen alongside suffering, possibly with more intensity.

It's almost like there is a protective part of the brain, no matter the difficulties of a life, whose work it is to say, 'Look at that! Isn't life grand?'

Monday, August 16, 2021

Nurturance

 I listen to quite a few people on topics related to integrative medicine. My husband is a big believer in an integrative approach for cancer and I instinctively feel that there is so much merit to looking at life style and the mind for a sensible approach to healthy aging and happy living.

Deepak Chopra is on the record saying, 'Emotional trauma is the beginning of disease' and I feel the same way. When we are in turmoil on the inside that's when the body and mind have little choice but to believe that something is seriously wrong with this Being.

Michal Singer said in his podcast series (I listen on Spotify) that when a disregulated feeling occurs, to go away and relax the body and let the feeling release.  

I have noticed within myself for some time a sense that I need to rely on myself. It's not just a need perpetuated by circumstance - the pandemic, for example - but a need for this Being to be quiet; deliberate; self generating.

Some examples of this are the self-hugging I learned in yoga classes; befriending myself (accepting all parts of myself as welcome), walking alone, yoga online (we are in lockdown) and looking to be alone and silent as much as possible.

A thought has been simmering away, and gaining momentum more recently, that my interactions with some people aren't really in any way equal. Equal is a loaded word. It's hard to define equality since relationships have built into them a sense of give and take, with the scales tipped in one direction sometimes and in the other direction at other times. But, I don't mean that sort of 'not equal'.

What I mean is that I began to get a sense that I was there for the other person, not for them to be a source of friendship or comfort as I was for them, not with that empathic desire that is inbuilt in me, but rather as a stable presence for them.

This feeling didn't occur with just one person but with a handful of people. When I first noticed that feeling, and for some time after, I carried on as usual. I did my best to ignore the feeling. Yet, over time, what happened was that the feeling became more pronounced. The feeling became very uncomfortable.

There is intelligence in listening to the messages of the body. I noticed that I might get to the end of an email message and feel this empty feeling in my stomach. There was no nurturance. I hadn't got a jot of a sense that I was being offered anything genuine; heartfelt. The comments felt like such platitudes it left me to feel that what was keeping me in the relationship was a sense of duty.

Last June, I was scheduled to go to a Silent Retreat for a week, and if that had not needed to be cancelled due to lockdowns this would have been a wonderful experience for me. I can try to be as silent as possible in day to day life to create a sort-of Silent Retreat, but it will never match an environment where the expectation is that nobody talks.

For empaths especially, silence is a tonic. People tend to naturally want an empath in their lives. Empaths don't ask for much from people and they often don't get much, either. I don't mean material things. I mean nurturance.

It's true that empaths like to be of service; to give. They do get a lot out of making other people happy and seeing other people happy. In my earlier years I wouldn't have thought the way I am thinking now. I was just there for people; slipped off alone when it got too much, without thought about that behavior.

I don't know if it's a good or bad development. All I can say is that I began to see interactions where I felt that something was being taken without something being given in return as like a rock clinging to my leg. I began to feel I wanted to be freed.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Insomnia

During a disrupted night's sleep I found myself reading and much like a dream, I can't remember what I read or where I read it exactly. However, the thought, which I think I read, has stayed with me. 

As I recall, a research project had suggested that people who use the word 'I' more than most were more inclined to anxiety. In it's simplest form this idea makes sense, since it suggests a preoccupation with oneself; maybe some self-aggrandizement or self-involvement.

If you look at the above two short paragraphs, there are already 7 'I's typed, so there's no doubt this sort of language is like a runaway train, and to some extent unavoidable. 

In my insomniac state the idea held some merit. So too did the work of Dick Schwartz, that our minds are made up of parts, some of which are less than useful to us. The two ideas were somehow blending together. 

Trying to do whatever might work to allow surrender to sleep I tried the idea of referring to myself as 'cindi' rather than 'I'. cindi isn't my birth name but I relate to it more and feel more authentic using that name. 

At my yoga studio I have noticed that there is a trend amongst teachers to suggest one give oneself a hug. It might happen towards the beginning or end of a class and it is a lovely, self-soothing thing to do. I think many modalities of healing are coming to see how important touch is to humans.

Blending these ideas together, I lay on my side with my arms wrapped around me and said to myself, 'it's okay, cindi, you're going to be all right'.

I felt something shift. In the past days, I had allowed myself to be rattled through external environmental factors. My internal state had become distressed. I had, through frustration, made comments that only someone with influence can make. I'm not sought for my opinions at home but rather as a place where ideas can be expressed and sorted through. No more than a word or two is necessary.

Yet a 'part' of me had demanded a voice. It was a part that hated conflict. It said things to my husband like, 'Do you really need this in your life? You're 65! Why can't you just choose joy?' It was a part that was refusing to acknowledge the facts of life; that my husband never wants to leave the arena of business; that this is his version of joy.

That's when I felt myself sinking back into that joyful place inside me. cindi is innately joyful; quiet; at peace. cindi never feels comfortable using 'I'. cindi is completely in tune with that bimbo entity. cindi hasn't a thought in her little head.

And, that's when I fell deeply asleep, awaking again at 10.56 am.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

White light

 When fully conscious of what is going on in your body - perhaps a tightness of the chest when someone makes a comment, or an overall agitation when the need to be alone is there and can't take place - there can be a recognition for an empath that there is risk of taking on the emotions, states and traits of someone else.

When going along well, you recognize those emotions /compulsions/irritations/quirks over there with the other person without being knocked off center. 'Oh, there's that , again', you might think, but without any sort of reaction beyond that. 

That's a good outcome, as I see, because it means that you are quite grounded in the moment. In other words, you are not at risk of taking on some other emotion or problem belonging to someone else. Your day hasn't been effected and on you go.

Some vague sort of expectation, however small, is part of the issue here, too.  I consciously try hard not to have someone else carry my own emotions and states. When people ask me to carry their emotions and states, which can happen in various ways (for example, not asking how I am before launching into their day's drama, or simply being self-involved whether quiet or noisy about it), I can feel that I am not worthy of expecting something from the other. This is no good thing. There's a difference between having no expectations and  having realistic expectations.

When that happens, when I just get sick enough of the other's self-involvement (or obsessive-compulsive, anal-retentive approach), I go my way. You could call this recovery, or you could call it cleansing yourself. One way or another, the decision is made within myself that my own company will work best for a time, perhaps several days or longer.  

In an ideal world, one would hold one's ground at all times, in spite of how the other is behaving. Martha Beck spoke of this recently and she got the idea from someone else, which is completely common in spiritual circles. Nothing is wholly a novel idea. It's my own rendition below.

Here's how it goes. Imagine that someone has come to you with no interest in offering you anything but instead they want you to know that they aren't having a good day. Or, they come to you in the hope that by spending some time with you, there will be some sort of respite from their work day, more or less neutral except that you have needs of your own and they aren't going to be useful fulfilling them.

You're kind of peeved about this. You've been out all day, busily running around and you want a few moments to yourself. Their presence is kind of irritating you. You don't want to lose your  balance, to fall down to some reduced state of being.

Now. Imagine a beam of white light. It's white light that resides in an eternal and cosmic way. It's light that is a source of love and healing. Imagine the clouds parting to allow the light to beam all the way from the heavens and cast its long shard of light all the way down to the top of your head. Feel the warmth, feel the radiance on your scalp. Feel the light make its way down through your head to your neck, your chest area. Allow it to fill your heart. Feel it flow through your stomach, your pelvis, legs, knees and feet. 

The light doesn't stop there. It passes through you and down into the ground below your feet, earthing you to the light, now above your head, within you and below you. You are not only filled with the white, healing light but it has come to provide a protective layer all around you, like the shell of an egg.

You are filled. Here the other person is over there. Here you are, bathed in a white and healing light that is nourishing, protective, fulfilling.

Not only that. The other seems to intuitively know, can feel your tranquil energy, and isn't so needy any more either. Nor do you need anything from the other. You're full and complete; replete.

Notice too that when you are conjuring the white light, fully immersed in the experience, there's no physical pain. Ah! Isn't that something.