Buddha kept it simple

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.

Clear your energy blockages

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.

This is energy psychology

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.

The rise of the new alpha leaders

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.

Discover your hidden treasures

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.

Calm down with measured breathing

What can you do if you’ve been severely traumatized? What can you do if you’re having a panic attack? What can you do if you’re so angry you want to break things? A first step is measured breathing.

While working with young people in East Palo Alto, California, one of the most most violent cities in America, I learned how to use measured breathing to provide a first line of support for children who had been in violent and abusive situations. An example was one young man who had been woken in the night by gunfire outside his house. He dived onto the floor and lay still while bullets tore through the walls and whistled over his head.

When terrifying things happen, our bodies switch into fight, flight, freeze mode, shutting down all unnecessary functionality, such as digestion and cell repair. This mode is enabled by the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that works automatically. Breathing becomes shallow and fast, blood flows to muscles, and heart rate increases. The brain operates in a mode where it is far more reactive, with the emotional areas taking control.

When we are relaxed, our bodies switch into recovery mode, enabling functions that work more slowly, such as digestion and cell repair, which are needed to prepare the body for the rare crises. This mode is enabled by the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. Breathing becomes deep and slow, blood flows to the internal organs, and heart rate decreases.

Humans are animals that have learned how to consciously regulate our actions. We override our autonomic nervous systems with beliefs and habits, and we create imaginary dangers and crises with our imagination and our ability to think about things in the future and the past. Because of this, most of us suffer from an over-activation of the sympathetic branch, resulting in tension, poor digestion, anxiety, high blood pressure, poor cell repair, and even explosive anger and panic attacks that are terrifying in themselves.

Just as you can enable your sympathetic branch by taking fast, shallow breaths, you can activate your parasympathetic branch by taking slow, deep breaths. This is measured breathing, which I show you how to do in this video. Most people, most of the time, will find that doing a few rounds of measured breathing will result in a significant reduction in anxiety, anger, and general activation, leading to a pleasant calmness.

Every time you practice measured breathing, you are creating an oasis of calm in which your body-mind can heal and grow. You will experience physical healing and also psychological healing through this practice.

Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) Basic Recipe

I have been using Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) for the past six years, for myself, for my friends, and for my clients. It is one of the most powerful tools I know of for desensitizing emotionally charged thoughts and memories and increasing the amount of time spent in a state of empowered contentment. The video below shows how I use the EFT “basic recipe” to progressively desensitize each aspect of a problem.

The points tapped, one on each of the 14 acupuncture meridians, are:

  1. the side of one hand;
  2. the middle end of one eybrow;
  3. the outside of one eye socket;
  4. the bone directly beneath one eye;
  5. the philtrum between the nose and the top lip;
  6. the indent below the bottom lip and above the chin;
  7. the middle end of one collar bone;
  8. one inch directly beneath one nipple, on the torso;
  9. four inches beneath the armpit on one side of the torso;
  10. the up-thumb corner of one thumb nail, on the side closest to the middle when the hands are joined in prayer;
  11. the up-finger corner of one index finger nail, on the side closest to the middle when the hands are stretch out palms down;
  12. the up-finger corner of one middle finger nail, on the side closest to the middle when the hands are stretched out palms down;
  13. the up-finger corner of one little finger nail, on the side closest to the middle when the hands are stretched out palms down; and
  14. the indent on the back of one hand between the tendons of the little finger and the ring finger.

To learn more about EFT, visit EFT Universe.

I don’t understand what’s happening

I met a friend last night for dinner. On the way to dinner she said, “There’s something wrong. You’re not as happy as usual.” I asked when she first noticed that I was behaving differently and she told me that it was just since I collected her.

In the past I might have directed my irritation or unhappiness at her, feeling criticized, but instead I have learned to assume that people have good intentions, which is usually the case. So I considered what might be wrong, and, not knowing, I said, “I don’t understand what’s happening.” I then pondered what might be the problem and I remembered that I had been thinking about a couple of issues in my life just before I collected her.

I said, “I think it might be something to do with” these issues, and explained the situation and what I was worried about. By the time we got to the restaurant, I had expressed to her how I felt about these things, and she had validated my feelings and given me support and encouragement.

We went into the restaurant and had a great time. When we were returning home, she said, “I just realized that you returned to your normal happy, content self.” I asked her when that happened. She said that it was when we entered the restaurant, after I had shared about the thing that was bothering me. We then talked about how my conversation with her was the basis of simple Rogerian psychotherapy, and both marveled at how powerful it is for improving mood.

Even as she was playing the role of an effective therapist, in reality a good friend, I was playing the role of an effective client, in reality a friend who is willing to be vulnerable, to accept feedback, to accept help, and to risk rejection, all in the name of not perpetuating my own suffering or replicating it in other people.

As I write this, I am reminded of an similar episode a few weeks ago when she arrived complaining about perceived unfair treatment at work, something that didn’t usually bother her. After I listened to her and acknowledged and validated her feelings, she then realized that what she was really upset about was something much more personal and painful. She cried about that, something she rarely does, and then her mood lifted and she was her usual happy, playful self.