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The most effective thing you can do to live longer, happier, and healthier is to meditate regularly. Not only has meditation been proven to reduce stress, which is one of the biggest causes of disease, but it also promotes telomerase activity, which increases longevity by delaying the unraveling of your DNA.
As well as the physical benefits of meditation, there are psychological benefits: spending time developing focus and awareness leads to greater clarity and perspective about your life. This results in choices that are more in alignment with your higher self, that meet your needs more effectively, and that enable you to live a more fulfilled life. My meditation has saved enormous amounts of time by making me more focused and clear when I am not meditating. In meditation I have discovered solutions to difficult problems, and simplifications that have saved a lot of time and effort.
You don’t need to meditate that much. Just get started and meditate a bit every day. When I first started meditating, I did twenty to thirty minutes per day: ten to fifteen minutes in the morning and ten to fifteen minutes in the evening. After only four months, my focus and awareness had increased to the point where I experienced the underlying nature of reality, known as the Tao. That’s how powerful and effective meditation is. However, the goal of meditation can never be to achieve anything, even to know God, or non-duality. For meditation to be effective, the objective of meditation must be only to practice. Practice is leaning into clear, focused awareness. Practice has inherent meaning and satisfaction, which you will discover from experience. In time, all of life becomes practice.
To start meditating, you need to be able to sit upright and still, with a straight spine, for a reasonable amount of time. You might want to sit on a chair with your back away from the back of the chair. Another option is to sit cross-legged on relatively thick cushion that raises your hips above your knees. I sit like this, with my legs in a tailor pose, one closer to my body than the other.
There are many different kinds of meditation. One of the most basic, and most powerful, is to pay attention to your breath. This is the technique that led to my experience of the fundamental nature of reality. To do this, you just close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations created by breathing.
You need to to allow your mind to watch the sensations, in the body, that the breathing creates. Notice if you find yourself wanting to control the breath and notice if you are controlling the breath. The process is to relax your mind and allow it to simply watch. Any time you notice that your mind has wandered to some thought about the past or the future, or even a thought about the present, then gently bring it back to the experience of the breath. You may catch yourself paying attention to a present-moment sensation or experience that is not related to your breath. As with thinking, bring your attention gently back to the experience of your breath.
The process is all about watching and witnessing without judgement. If you find yourself judging, then witness that without judging. Sometimes people will say, “I can’t meditate because my mind keeps wandering.” This is a sign that they are meditating. Don’t give up meditating because when you try to meditate your mind wanders. Your mind wanders because you are meditating. The fact that you notice your mind wandering tells you that you are in fact meditating.
In this video, I guide you in watching the breath:
If you want to learn to meditate really intensely and deeply, I recommend learning vipassana, which Buddha discovered and used to free himself from suffering. The best way to do this is at a free 10-day vipassana retreat.
A friend just called me, very upset. She told me that something went wrong at work, and that it was not her fault, but that her boss seemed to be blaming her for it. Here are the suggestions I gave:
1) Clear the emotional blockage
Whenever you feel an unpleasant emotion, it is a sign that what is currently happening is triggering an unresolved event in the past. As long as that is not dealt with, any subsequent actions will not be fully appropriate and adaptive for the current situation. A powerful and rapid way to achieve desensitization is emotional freedom techniques.
2) Find the positive (accept the promotion)
Once there is no emotional charge associated with a memory, thought, or situation, then you are free to frame it however you wish. A manager blaming you for something that you were not responsible for can be seen as an implicit sign of trust and of expectation of a greater level of responsibility. If you step into that responsibility going forward, then you are essentially giving yourself a promotion. Increased money and other benefits will follow the level of responsibility that you are promoted to.
3) Solve the problem
You may as well step back and work out how you can take on this new responsibility. Is there some way that you could easily prevent the problem from occurring in the future? Perhaps you need to manage sideways, or perhaps you need to put some new systems in place.
4) Manage the relationship
The final thing to do is to talk with your manager about the problem. You will need to tailor the approach to the individual. For example, if the manager’s personality style is enneagram type eight, then it may not be a good idea to apologize. You may, however, want to clarify what happened.
It’s most important that you work to get your needs met in the long run. To do this, you need to manage up. The more you learn to manage up, the more skilled you will be in managing down and sideways, because managing up is the hardest.
For example, if the effect of the way your manager spoke to you seemed to be demotivating to you, then you are serving the interests of both you and your manager by telling him or her: “You probably didn’t intend this, but I think it’s important that you should know that I imagined that you were blaming me, and that made me feel demotivated.” The form is “I imagined X” and therefore “I felt Y.” There’s no retaliatory attack, nor judgement about his or her tone of voice or behavior. There is only powerfully vulnerable sharing of your inner process.
What is the meaning of life? It is emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy and connection are the most important things to humans. Without emotional connection a baby will die. When an adult is lacking emotional intimacy, they will become depressed and suicidal, even if all their other needs are being met. As far as we know, we are the only meaning-makers in the universe, and therefore emotional intimacy is the most important thing in the universe; not money, not power, not beauty, not resources, but emotional intimacy.
We’re all seeking to be seen, heard, understood, appreciated, valued, connected, loved, adored, cherished, and validated. That’s what we all want, even if we think we’re trying to get more success, more money, more security, more meaningful work, more notoriety, or more leisure time.
So when we get into arguments with people, it’s typically because we’re not getting our emotional connection needs met. The problem is that most of the time we either are not aware of what our needs are, or we are scared of being rejected if we reveal them. We have learned to be ashamed of these primal needs that we inherited from our mammalian ancestors. I have written about shame and how to rid yourself of it before. When we shamefully hide what is really going on with us, we feel emotionally isolated, and we also create conditions that lead to further and deeper emotional isolation. Many couples consist of two people who are highly dependent on each other yet fundamentally emotionally isolated from each other, and from everyone else.
It is important for you to practice being aware of how you are feeling inside your body when you are having a disagreement with someone, and to experiment with revealing what is really true for you. When you focus on revealing these things that are deeply personal, and that you can be sure are true, such as “I feel hurt,” you are much less likely to be perceived as attacking, and much more likely to bring the cascade of reciprocal attacks to an end.
When you reveal what is most true for you in the present moment, it not only stops you from attacking, and makes you more vulnerable and less threatening, it also begins to build a foundation of true emotional intimacy and connection, the very thing that everyone is seeking. The other person will also then be more likely to reveal what is really true for them, further deepening a foundation of emotional intimacy.
When you have built these kinds of strong emotional foundations in your relationships, you will find that you are able to weather extreme adversity while feeling secure and supported. You, and the people that you are connected with, will then be more capable of handling the very adversities that you once argued about.
The word intuition has been used increasingly in the last decade. Intuition had become a popular topic in business. As things are changing with increasing speed we don’t have time to figure out the right thing to do cognitively, with linear left-brain thinking. Instead we have to make good split-second decisions based on partial information and past experience. Malcolm Gladwell addressed this to some extent in his book Blink.
I’ve heard spiritual teachers describe intuition as tuning into the will of God, which I interpret as getting in harmony with the Tao. The essence of the wisdom of Lao Tsu in the Tao Te Ching is that suffering ends when we are in harmony with the Tao. But often, no practical method is given for being in tune with the Tao, apart from meditating. Over time, certain types of meditation will increase your harmony with the Tao, but there are times that we really need to fine-tune our intuition quickly.
I have written about removing energy blockages and how this leads to a free flow of life energy. The life energy you feel in your body, as emotions and as other subtler sensations, is the Tao. The Tao ultimately manifests in everything you perceive, but your feeling of it in your body is the most direct perception you can have of it, without merging with it completely. You can literally feel the Tao right now in your body. Say hello.
Intuition is usually considered important when you have a decision to make. At these times, if you feel any kind of unpleasant sensation or negative emotion related to the problem, it means that you have energy blockages in your body. No matter how rational we think we are, all of us make decisions based on our feelings, and then later rationalize. When there is an unpleasant sensation, we typically make decisions that we anticipate will make the sensation go away, usually temporarily. So, this is the time to focus on clearing the energy blockages, which are the real problem.
When you have a free flow of energy in your body, there is an overall feeling of being able to choose, and decisions seem obvious. This is pure intuition. This is what it means to be in harmony with the Tao, to be clear on the “will of God,” or to feel the “Holy Spirit” flowing through you.
So next time you need to make a decision, don’t do it if there are any unpleasant sensations in your body. First stop and clear the energy blockages. Then take action when there are only pleasant sensations in your body. This is how you will have good intuition and make adaptive choices using your intuition.
Buddha was not a Buddhist. He was someone who realized how much he, and the rest of humanity, suffered; and he decided to figure out a solution. Buddha discovered, or perhaps rediscovered, insight meditation, and used it to free himself permanently from suffering. Insight meditation, also called Vipassanā, meaning insight into reality, is a very simple form of meditation in which you pay attention to the sensations on and inside your body, from moment to moment and with equanimity. Equanimity is when you don’t push something away or crave more of it; you just let it be as it is.
Everything that you perceive through your senses causes some kind of sensation to occur in your body. Some perceptions result in pleasant sensations and other perceptions result in unpleasant sensations. At the deepest level of your unconscious mind, you are continually paying attention to the sensations, grasping at the pleasant ones, and their associated experiences, and resisting the unpleasant ones, and their associated experiences. This is suffering: unconsciously reacting with craving and aversion to stimulii. When you start practicing Vipassanā, you start to realize the extent and depth of this suffering. It is continual and all-pervading.
By consciously scanning your body for subtler and subtler sensations, and consciously being equanimous with them, you can retrain your unconscious mind at the deepest level to not react with craving or aversion, to stop suffering. When equanimity is fully habitual, there is no more reactivity, and no more suffering.
The sensations that arise in reaction to perceptions are energetic echoes from the past, from when a past situation was reacted to; they are impurities in the mind that cloud perception of reality. When these sensations are allowed to arise, and are not reacted to, they can pass away naturally. When you unconsciously react, you maintain these impurities, and lay down more of them.
With regular practice of Vipassanā, not only do you get increasingly skilled at being equanimous and non-reactive, which becomes unconscious and automatic, but you also purify your mind so there is less to react to. External situations still arise, but the perception of them results in increasingly less intense internal sensations. You become less disturbed by life, less reactive, and your suffering begins to end.
While there are now so many complex forms of Buddhism, with intricate rituals and practices, Buddha wanted to keep it simple, to teach this simple technique to end suffering. It’s best to learn Vipassanā in an intensive retreat, where you can really see the benefits and establish your practice. I highly recommend the ten-day meditation retreats taught around the world by S. N. Goenka, where food and lodging is free to you, paid for by past students. These retreats are one of the best ways you could use your time, and will significantly change your life for the better.
I’m going to give you a simple model for how to think about mental health. This might not be really how things are, but I’ve found it to be a useful model. In my article on energy psychology, I explained how traditional chinese medicine (TCM) posits that heath and wellbeing result from a free and balanced flow of energy. In this article, I want to explain a little more about how energy blockages operate and how they affect your mental state. Keep in mind that all of this could also be explained in terms of neurophysiology, and I will probably do that at some point in the future. So let’s begin, and I will make it brief.
When you’re feeling any kind of negative emotion, if you pay attention you will notice that it is connected to a physical sensation somewhere in your body. Often the sensation is somewhere along your spine, in the middle of your body, either in your torso or in your head. People who practice yoga would think of this as being a feeling in one of the chakras.
The unpleasant sensation associated with the negative emotion is caused by a blockage of life energy in one or more of the energy channels, the channels called meridians in TCM. Blockages occur when we stop the energy flowing. This happens when we experience something overwhelming and we don’t think we can handle it; we hold our breath, we tense our body, we dissociate or disconnect from awareness of our body. The amount of energy needed to handle an intense situation is very high and the energy is intended to enable us to handle the situation effectively. These situations tend to occur when we are children and our threshold for feeling scared, overwhelmed, or unsafe is low; being teased, pushed, or ignored, let alone abused and neglected by a parent, can cause blockages. One client had severe relationship issues that were rooted in seeing the boy she liked when she was five-years-old kissing another girl. Stressful or traumatic situations can result in blockages if an adult is overwhelmed and does not allow the energy to flow through. A relationship breakup or a close scrape with death are examples.
Once there is a blockage, it usually appears to go dormant. While it reduces the overall flow of energy in the meridian slightly, the blockage does not seem significant because that part of the meridian is not being used. However, when a situation arises that is similar to the one when the blockage occurred, the blockage again becomes significant, resulting in unpleasant feelings. Because of the unpleasant feelings, we tend to resist the situation, and the flow of energy that is trying to help us handle the situation. In fact, it is the blockage that is resisting the flow of energy and therefore the situation. More energy collects at the blockage, and the blockage increases in size. Sometimes the blockages become so large that normal functioning is no longer possible, as in severe depression, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Because we want to be fully alive, feel the flow of all our energy, and move though life with complete freedom, we tend to unconsciously create situations that activate the blockages, so that we can then clear them. The life energy flowing through us is trying to clear out the blockages so that we can be free.
There are many different ways of clearing the blockages, various different therapies and interventions. One of the most powerful and direct approaches that I have found is emotional freedom techniques (EFT), which I showed you how to use in a recent article.
The less energy blockages you have, the more life energy can flow through your body so that you can adaptively respond to what is happening in any moment. With the blockages, you react and resist life, feeling negative emotions and unpleasant body sensations. Without the blockages, there are only positive emotions and pleasant body sensations. Where once you may have felt anger, fear, frustration, jealousy, and embarrassment, now you feel peace, calm, excitement, enthusiasm, empowerment, inspiration, and generosity.
According to traditional chinese medicine (TCM), each side of your body has twelve energy channels, called meridians, running through it, as well as two “extraordinary” channels running down the center of it. The energy that flows through the channels is the pure life energy of the universe, called qi (pronounced chi) in China, ki in Japan, and prana in India. This energy may also be considered to be the manifestation of the tao or the flow of the holy spirit referred to in Christianity. TCM posits that an unbalanced or blocked flow of qi leads to various forms of ill health and that a free and balanced flow is necessary for health and wellbeing, both physically and psychologically. The core treatment in TCM is acupuncture, in which fine needles are inserted into various points, called acupoints, along the meridians.
Towards the end of the 20th century, people in the realm of psychology and self-help in the West, including Roger Callahan and Gary Crag, developed mental health treatments that combined concepts from TCM with concepts from clinical psychology. These treatments, Thought Field Therapy (TFT) and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), respectively, are centered around the percussive stimulation of acupuncture points. Typically, a troubling thought is held in mind while a specific set of acupoints is stimulated in a given order, releasing the associated energy blockages and leading to an increased sense of wellbeing. Whereas in TFT the sequence of points is often determined by a skilled practitioner, in EFT the same set of points is stimulated every time the treatment is applied. This means that it can be easily used by people on themselves without the help of a skilled practitioner.
TFT and EFT are “meridian therapies” and are part of the field of energy psychology. To try EFT, see my article on the EFT basic recipe.
According to my dictionary, the alpha is “the dominant animal or person in a particular group.” In the animal world, and the primitive human world, this is the one with the resources, often resources that were taken from others.
As we evolve, alpha has been changing, from physical dominance, to cognitive superiority, and increasingly to a new alpha characterized by social and emotional intelligence, clear intuition, innate morality, self-preserving boundaries, skillful use of information and knowledge, interest in sustainability, and altruistic care for the race and planet. Rather than being outstanding physically, cognitively, or even emotionally, the new alpha is outstanding due to the quality and integration of the physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual parts of the self.
If alpha is characterized by the ability to get needs met, including food, shelter, medical care, friendship, love, and sex, then the new alpha is far more effective than the physical alpha or the cognitive alpha, not only in a deeply fulfilling way in the immediate term, but with increasing effectiveness over time. This is in a large part due to the new alpha being interested in increasing the wealth and wellbeing of all, as a synergistic contributor to the community and world.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this evolution is that, unlike the soon-to-be-extinct alphas, new alphas are mostly self-created. Whereas physical size and strength, intelligence, and trust funds are partly determined by ancestry, the characteristics of the new alpha are developed through a brave engagement with the adversities of life. And whereas old alphas, operating from win-lose mentalities, would strip resources from others, leaving them worse-off, new alphas produce increased abundance for all.
Rather than railing against the fat cats, we will take charge and show them a better way.
You already have everything you seek but you do not know this because it is wrapped in shame. Shame is the feeling that part of you is unacceptable. Shame says that what is wrapped up in shame is terrible and must not be looked at. In reality, if you can unwrap the bundle of shame, inside it you will find a glowing, valuable part of yourself.
As a child you were completely wonderful, and you presented this wonderfulness to the world without thinking about it. Because you had imperfect parents, sometimes they struggled and suffered, and could not see you and reflect back to you how wonderful you were. At those times, the part of yourself that you were presenting was experienced as being rejected and was labeled as unacceptable. Without realizing it, you stored away an amazing part of yourself in a veil of shame.
As you unwrap these packets of shame in yourself, one by one, you will discover increased energy, empowerment, and enjoyment of life. The things you thought you had to pine after will be given to you automatically.
The first step in releasing shame is to notice when you feel shame. When you notice that you feel embarrassed or notice that you are trying to hide something, you can remember that it is an opportunity to release shame and recover an important lost part of yourself. Practice generating the courage to take the risk to reveal the part of yourself that you have been hiding. Present it to the person that you most want to hide it from. You are implicitly asking, “Is this lovable?”
This act of revealing your hidden parts is motivated by your deep desire to know yourself and to unconditionally love yourself. The very act of revealing a part is in itself validating and self-loving. Sometimes you may experience less than an unconditionally loving response from others, but usually you will be surprised by how accepting others are of these parts of yourself. You will soon find that these parts of yourself are actually your most valuable, lovable parts.