Sighs, Growls, and Yields

Sighs and Growls and Yields

Detours in Life

Pentecost 4

 

Most of us tend to either sigh or growl when our smooth path in life is certainly diverted to a detour.  Look up synonyms for the word “detour” and those sighs and growls are easily understood.  A detour is the long way around, a deviation, roundabout or indirect route,  a pain in the … well, you know.  Very few of us encounter a detour and go “Yippee!”  Maybe we should.

 

We like to begin our day with an agenda, a plan for getting done all that needs to be done.  We might have a to-do list; we certainly have obligations to meet.  We develop a course of action and then we proceed on it.  Life, however, has other ideas and turns our well-ordered day planning into chaos.  In short, we have to take a detour.

 

We all too often think of detours as stop signs.  We need to recognize that detours are really opportunities, diversions to look at life more fully.  When I began this series, I had it all planned out.  The series will encompass over one hundred and eighty articles but I had it all worked out.  Whew!  Then a family member’s surgery, the death of a close friend, some technical issues (Updates are really exercises in patience, I’ve decided!), and weather delays made mush out of my carefully calculated series.  In short, I found myself on a detour.  And I did not like it.

 

Detours are diversion, not stop signs and yet, we tend to treat them as if they were.  Stop signs are not the end of everything, either.  A stop sign means you got from point A to point B and need to take a moment to look around before proceeding to point C.  Nothing more, nothing less is indicated by a stop sign.  It is not failure but rather a sign of progression.  A dead end street does not need a stop sign; it simply ends.

 

Another sign one encounters on the road is a yield sign.  Usually we are happy when we come upon a yield sign because it means we don’t have to come to a complete stop every time.  We can simply merge into the traffic, providing the path is clear.  I live in a town with a great many yield signs and I cannot think of one that has not been the scene of at least one traffic accident. 

 

All too often we simply merge into the mainstream of flow without really looking at where we are going.  We “go with the flow” but do we really know or care where the flow is headed?  Life is too important to simply merge into the masses.  We need to take the time to stop and discover who we really are and what we really want.  My detour with this series did just that for me.

 

My first detour sign was realizing my own aggravation and frustration that was a bit excessive.  I needed to relax and take a break.  I decided to color, a long favorite activity that has become a great stress reliever.  However, IO began to pressure myself to create a perfect picture.  I copied a picture to color and, instead of trying to make it perfect, I attempted to make it creative.    Jeff and Joan Stanford run a retreat and Joan has some great thoughts about our need for taking a detour and exploring play.  “Connecting to creativity is essential to our health… Coloring within the lines is relaxing but the power lies in creating, in discovering and expressing inner imagery.”  In short, there is power when we take a detour.

 

Sylvia Boorstein was recently interviewed by Michael McConnell for an article entitled “What to Do When Your Mind Starts to Growl” in the most recent issue of Spirituality and Health Magazine.  I purchased the issue for a peace on praying, and then discovered an article on mindfulness.  Life interrupted my reading until my sudden detour for this series had me cleaning up.  In this article Boorstein comments:  “People can get tunnel vision and get very clear about what will or won’t work in a given situation…It’s actually good to have a mind that growls so you can figure out what needs to be done.”

 

My detour had me growling and sighing and then I began to think, ponder and relax.  Within that relaxation I found the beauty of my detour and began enjoying the diversion.  The detour sign was leading me to new experiences and new pathways.  It was not a sign of failure but one of change.  That is what detours are, after all.  They represent growth.  My growling and sighing are sign of growth, not failure. 

 

It important to remember is that our lives are too important to live them merging into the masses.  We are unique and wonderfully created individuals.  We need to explore and celebrate our detours for what they are – an opening for better living, necessary growth, and brighter prospects for the future.

Feeling the Spirit

Feeling the Spirit

Pentecost 2

 

It is a common debate, especially in these times.  Similar to the age-old question of “which came first – the chicken or the egg?”, it seems that science and religion are at odds when we discuss the spirit of living.  Albert Einstein is not thought of as a great spiritualist.  He is considered by many to be the consummate scientist.  “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”

 

This series is about the detours life gives us and we all have them.  How we respond to those detours is often determined by the spirit within ourselves which is based upon the spirits we believe to exist.  IN an introduction to a chapter about C. S. Lewis, James Taliaferro wrote the following prayer:  ‘Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts.  Kindle in us the fire of your love.”

 

Taliaferro’s prayer is quite simple, just two sentences that are actually quite simple sentences.  Yet, he manages to summarize not only the season of Pentecost but the way we should navigate life’s detours.  We all believe in some great spirit, whether it be the Holy Spirit of the Christian trinity, the spirit of a great healer, the spirit of Mother Nature, or a prophet named Buddha, Mohammed, or any of the other hundreds of spiritual teachers the world has known. 

 

C. S. Lewis, at a point in his early adulthood, identified with those who claimed to be agnostic or atheist.  “I believe in no religion.  There is absolutely no proof for any of them and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best.  All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name, are merely man’s own invention.”  Within the next decade, however, he had become quite impressed with the universal longing in all cultures for a connection with a reality of a greater spirit than mere mortal humans possessed.

 

Taliaferro explains:  “Through his own study of religious experience and the arguments for and against a belief in God, Lewis came to think of the longing for joy as something that echoes and reflects the reality of God.  He sought to uncover the source and richer meaning of the goods of creation.”

 

Isn’t this what detours offer us – a chance to discover new meanings of our own living?  Let’s think about what a detour really is.  Simply put, it is a redirection of our normal path.  For months I went to a particular store following a specific route.  It was not perhaps the quickest route but it was, in my opinion, the safest and the most expedient, given all the factors such as traffic patterns, number of cars on the road, my preferences for driving with street junctions having stoplights or stop signs rather than yield signs, etc.  Then one day, about seven years into my prescribed route, a bridge was replaced.  I needed to find a detour.  There were a number of possible routes I could choose but I took one that was a bit unusual.  In doing so, I discovered a great new restaurant.

 

Would my life have been drastically altered or the quality of my living drastically affected if I had never found that restaurant?  Of course it would not have been and yet, I did find it and enjoy it.  I discovered in my inconvenience a great new place to eat and some new foods to enjoy.  I would not have starved without this experience but it did make the detour more enjoyable.

 

When I was a child we would take Sunday afternoon drives.  We were a busy family and the other days of the week we were all going in different directions.  The Sunday drives, however, were free-driving – we simply headed out in one direction until the road stopped or turned into something else.  We found new picnic areas, saw the runways being built as part of a new airport, enjoyed the sounds of nature and laughed when we had to back up half a mile because there was no room to turn around.  We sought out the detours and reveled in the joy of living.

 

One of the advantages of our Sunday drives was leaning how to tell which direction we were going.  By using the signposts of life available to us such as the position of the sun or the effect of prevailing winds on high tree tops. We discovered an internal sense of self and direction.  Yes we often got lost but somehow, by remaining calm and confident, we always found our way home, even if it meant asking for help.

 

Detours remind us that we are not here to simply follow the end of our nose but to expand our being and share our experiences.  C. Joybell C. explains it this way:  ““I consider myself a stained-glass window. And this is how I live my life. Closing no doors and covering no windows; I am the multi-colored glass with light filtering through me, in many different shades. Allowing light to shed and fall into many, many hues. My job is not to direct anything, but only to filter into many colors. My answer is destiny and my guide is joy. And there you have me.”  The true spirit of life is found in living it.  Once you realize this, you have found your own internal great spirit.

Exercise Equals Good Health

Exercise Equals Good Health

Easter 36-46

 

Exercise does a body good.  We all know that.  However, mindfulness exercises will also provide health benefits, not just to our body but for our mental and emotional health as well.  The conversations we have in this blog, into my head as well as yours, are all about creating and maintain a healthy spiritual lifestyle.  After all, if our spirit is not willing, our living will and is compromised.

 

Clinician Elizabeth Scott is a enthusiastic advocate of mindful exercises.  “The practice of mindfulness can bring many benefits to your emotional and physical health, as well as to the relationships in your life. Mindfulness is an amazing tool for stress management and overall wellness because it can be used at virtually any time and can quickly bring lasting results. Mindfulness can pull you out of the negative downward spiral that can be caused by too much daily stress, too many bad moods, or the habit of rumination.”

 

Life is messy.  We all know that.  Stress is a natural consequence of the messiness in our lives.  One of the best ways to combat stress is to meditate.  A key element for meditation is finding a quiet space, free of distractions and interruptions.  On one particularly stressful job site, I would go into the restroom, run some warm water and purposely take sixty seconds to wash my hands.  I would concentrate on the warmth of the water and imagine it radiating throughout my core.  Then I pictured all my stress going down the drain. 

 

Mediation can be a bit difficult if you are not accustomed to do it.  There are many different ways to meditate but one of the most basic is to simply listen to your thoughts.  Then imagine if someone else were saying them to you.  What would your response be?  Focused meditation relies on living in the moment.  That means putting aside what happened yesterday, what might happen tomorrow, and simply concentrate on this moment in time right now.  Activity meditation uses a physical activity or movement to help one meditate.  Some people paint, others garden and many do yoga.

 

Clinician Scott advises these ways to being to practice meditation.  “Meditation can be practiced in many different ways.  While there are numerous different meditation techniques, a common thread runs through virtually all meditative techniques:

Quiet Mind: With meditation, your thinking mind becomes quiet. You stop focusing on the stressors of your day or your life’s problems, as well as solving these problems. You just let that voice in your head be quiet, which is easier said than done. For example, start thinking about nothing now. (It’s OK, I’ll wait.) If you’re not practiced at quieting your mind, it probably didn’t take long before thoughts crept in.

Being in the Now: Rather than focusing on the past or the future, virtually all meditative practices involve focusing on right now. This involves experiencing each moment and letting it go, experiencing the next. This, too, takes practice, as many of us live most of our lives thinking toward the future or relishing and rehashing the past.

Altered State of Consciousness: With time, maintaining a quiet mind and focus on the present can lead to an altered level of consciousness that isn’t a sleeping state but isn’t quite your average wakeful state, either. Meditation increases brain activity in an area of the brain associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions, and some evidence shows that regular practice brings prolonged positive changes in these areas.”

 

Other mindfulness exercises include some we have previously discussed like deep breathing.  When we concentrate on our inhalations and exhalations, we tend to release some of our stress.  I once knew a man who would draw a square with his index finger in his pants pocket or on his pants leg under a conference table.  As he did this, he would regulate his breathing and reduce his stress. 

 

Music is also a great way to release stress and live in the moment.  It doesn’t really matter the genre of music.  Music is a communication and the feelings it evokes can be used to reduce stress and create a better sense of well-being.  Eating slowly can also be a mindfulness exercise.  Too many of us gobble our food down but if we eat each bite slowly, chewing multiple times per bite, it can be a way to fully experience the tastes, smells, sounds, and feelings of the moment.  It will also improve your digestion!

 

The mundane activities we do daily, like making the bed, washing dishes, sweeping, or cleaning a counter can be turned into mindfulness activities as can other things we take for granted.   Sometimes the biggest deterrent to practicing mindfulness is turning off the voice in our own head.    Scott encourages making mindfulness a habit and turning chores and daily activities into an opportunity for mindfulness.  “Many stressed and busy people find it difficult to stop focusing on the rapid stream of thoughts running through their mind, and the idea of sitting in meditation and holding off the onslaught of thought can actually cause more stress! If this sounds like you, the mindfulness exercise of observing your thoughts might be for you. Rather than working against the voice in your head, you sit back and “observe” your thoughts, rather than becoming involved in them. As you observe them, you might find your mind quieting, and the thoughts becoming less stressful. (If not, you may benefit from journaling as a way of processing all those thoughts so you can decrease their intensity and try again.)”

 

Martial arts expert and actor Bruce Lee once said:  “Under duress we don’t raise to our expectations, we fall to our level of training.”  The development of mindfulness and the use of it daily create a moment to moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, sensation, and surrounding environment.  This will lead to a development of heartfulness, the intentional nurturing of positive mind states such as kindness and compassion.  The world and we certainly need more of that.

Be

Be

Easter 31

 

At the beginning of this series I mentioned that it would not be the daily blog postings you have become accustomed to from me.  I believe I characterized that this series might seem “chaotic” at times.  That is because I wanted you to take time to participate in the series subject matter – mindfulness.  When we are practicing mindfulness, we are, quite simply, fully in the moment in which we are living.  More importantly, we are aware of every aspect of that moment.

 

Once upon a time I taught young children problem solving and anger management.  We used the hand in explaining to children there were steps they could take to react positively to the messy time of life.  In problem solving I taught them to first identify their problem.  That might sound silly but all too often, we get so caught up in our emotions that we are simply reacting instead of acting.

 

The second step in problem solving is to think of solutions and the third step is to imagine those solutions being put to good use.  The fourth step would be try the best possible solutions and the fifth step – to evaluate and, most importantly – do not be afraid or ashamed to start all over again.

 

The five steps of anger management sound fairly simply, especially compared to those of problem solving and yet, they are actually quite harder.  The first step is to take a deep breath.  Do not yell or scream but simply breathe.  Then we taught the children to count to five.  This puts some space between you and the root of your anger.  It also helps you to proceed with deliberate and hopefully positive action rather than simply react in a defensive and often unproductive manner.  And, we encouraged the children to count to five several times.  The fourth step was to feel good about one’s self and the fifth – well, the fifth was to problem solve the cause of one’s anger.

 

Both of these are examples of using mindfulness.  Life is messy and chaotic and we usually try to find the quickest way out of such situations.  The problem is that by doing that, taking a quick and easy way out, we tend to repeat the same actions over and over.  In other words, we create our own messes.  Take time to simply recognize the moment and simply “be”.  In your mindfulness journal record your feelings and then move forward.  Forgiving the anger does not mean you approve of what caused it.  It simply means you are moving forward and leaving it in the past.  Mindfulness is of value because it allows us to live more fully, to be that which we seek to be – the very best we can be.

Value versus Worth

Value versus Worth – Journaling

Easter 25-30

 

“The world seems to think I have no worth.  It seems to think that some people are worth more, that their substance means more, that their very being should give them certain privileges because they will contribute more.  The person who seems to be content is often overlooked.  If one feels one’s life is full enough, then one lacks value.  Living has become a race to the top of the mountain of possessions.  I quit.  I refuse to run that race.  My faith tells me I have value even if the world believes me to be insignificant.”

 

The above journal entry might seem to be an argument against mindfulness but actually, it is a great defense for being mindful.  Worth is often used as a synonym for the word value and sometimes, vice versa.  They are, however, two very different words, at least for our context of mindfulness.

 

The term value denotes importance while the word worth refers to the price or cost of an item or its usage.   “The word ‘value’ is used in the sense of ‘importance’. On the other hand, the word ‘worth’ is used in the sense of ‘the cost of production’ of a particular thing or the ‘greatness’ of a particular person. This is the main difference between value and worth.”  This quote from differencebetween.com, written by the author Aron, is an interesting explanation but I am not certain I agree.  Do you?  I would really like to hear your ideas on this.

 

For our purposes with this post and our series on mindfulness, value will be defined as the intrinsic amount of feeling an item/person brings to us while worth I’m defining as the effect it has on us, whether in terms of actual cost or perceived price.  Keeping a mindfulness journal helps us delineate between the two.

 

I have mentioned keeping a mindfulness journal before and someone asked I explain the difference between it and a diary or regular journal.  Just as the terms worth and value can be used interchangeably, journals can also serve various purposes.  A diary is both a calendar of events and a listing of hopes and desires.  A regular journal is often a tracking of a day’s events or thoughts.  The mindfulness journal helps us focus on specific moments and includes not only the event but our reactions, visceral and consequential.

 

The manner in which you keep your journal can be as varied as there are different riding a city bus.  In other words, you need to do what is best for you.  Before we discuss methods of journaling, though, let’s discuss why we would do such.  Keeping a daily log of your thoughts and feelings based on each event or creating lists that you can add to over time, such as the happiest moments of your life, the people that make you happiest, what motivates you, and what you love most about yourself will help you take action towards making your dreams a reality.  It can illustrate the difference in the worth of an activity and the value it holds in your life and help eliminate what is not productive in your living.

 

The best way to accomplish something is to set goals and a mindfulness journal will help you set achievable goals.  It can also verify that what you have set as a goal is rely something you want to accomplish.  Often we end up striving for something that someone else has decided we need.  Because our own heart is not in this quest, it will take forever and most likely not be successful.  A mindfulness journal can also help identify those things that are hindrances or annoyances.  By keeping track of such, they can be eliminated and dealt with before they become larger, more stressful issues.

 

Life is, as I have said before, messy.  No one lives without encountering frustrations and most of us face them on a daily basis.  Sometimes they seem to overwhelm us.  If you are constantly losing things, important things like bills to pay, a mindfulness journal can help identify this and with some forethought, help correct the problem.  Maybe you need to clear off a shelf and designate a certain basket or box for those bills.  By placing a table by the door I most often use and putting a bowl specifically for my keys, I stopped needing to search for them when I was leaving the house.  That one small thing saved me five minutes or more each morning.  That added up to me gaining over an hour each week and I left the house less hurried and harried.

 

A mindfulness journal is a great motivator and often can serve as the catalyst for necessary change.  Many think of mindfulness as a first cousin to meditation and I agree with that.  However, one of my favorite mindfulness writers is a financial analyst, not a yoga or spiritual teacher.  Andrea Cannon recommends mindfulness journal for this reason:  “Once you begin to realize a trend in your journal entries, you’ll want to make a list of the problems you’ve noticed and what actions you’re going to take to correct them. Fixing items around your home, workspace, and vehicle can help change your day-to-day life and can save you time and frustration. In most cases, people tend to wonder why they waited so long to make the repairs in the first place.  Procrastination is likely what made these small daily frustrations a larger problem over time. That’s why it’s so important to keep track of what needs to be changed and what steps you’re taking towards achieving these goals in a timely manner.”

 

When we journal, we put a spotlight on our day and become more aware of it.  yes it does take time but how we journal can help with just how much time.  As I said before, there are a variety of ways to journal.  One of my favorite is to get a family day planner, with columns for various family members.  Instead of using the column for each family member, though, use them for different categories.  For instance, one column is for the actual activity or scheduled event.  The next is for whether it was successful or not – no explanations, just a yes or no to the success of the incident.  The next column is for how I felt approaching it, the next for how I felt doing it, the next for the results and my feelings about that.  Then the next column is a quick, briefly worded assessment about hindrances and finally, a column for new goal(s). 

 

Here is an example of this type of journaling:

Column A/Event: Doctor’s appointment

Column B/Successful: Yes; kept the appointment

Column C/Feelings leading up to event: Bit of trepidation

Column D/Feelings during event: Informed

Column E/Feelings after event: Hopeful; positive

Column F/Hindrances: Diet changes bothersome

Column G/Goals: Eliminate eating an entire pizza, eating one slice and a small salad instead.

 

Your journal does not have to be formal.  If you would rather have an informal journal, then any blank or lined notebook will suffice.  There are a few brief formalities that precede any entry – the date, the name of the meditation practice, and how long you meditated for. Then you can write more generally about how the practice went – what distractions you had, what you did about them; what positive factors (like calmness, patience, concentration, etc.) that were present and what you did to strengthen them. You can write about factors in your life that had an effect on your practice – things like lack of sleep, or a particularly busy day, or that you felt refreshed after a day’s hiking with a friend. 

 

Mindfulness is about knowing where we are (being in the moment) and also about maintaining an awareness of where we have been (reflection) and where we are going (having goals).  A journal can help us with all of those areas of awareness, helping us to have a more unified awareness of ourselves.  An example of an informal journal might look like this: “Mindfulness of Breathing. 25 minutes. Had a hard time staying focused. Nodded off to sleep a few times — hadn’t had enough sleep. Felt a bit despondent. 

 

Psychotherapist Dr. Ronald Alexander offers these tips of journaling. 

• Schedule your time to write when you sit quietly in a peaceful, restful place, perhaps in a room surrounded by books and pictures that inspire you. You may also want to sit on a meditation chair or cushion with peaceful music playing, wrap yourself in a meditation shawl or blanket, and light a candle or incense.

• Categorize what your mind churns up. Our minds create a mix of emotions, thoughts, and sensations, all of which influence each other. The thought, “My boss is so insensitive; I can’t believe he was so abrupt with me today,” might not surface in your mind until you sit and begin meditating, and might appear not as a fully formed thought but as a headache or an overall sense of vulnerability and defensiveness.

• In meditation, it’s important not to go wherever those sensations and feelings take you but to simply sit with them, allowing them to reveal themselves. Afterward, as you write in your journal about your experience, work with a therapist, or ponder where that feeling or sensation came from, you might discover that it has deeper roots.

• Recognizing that your experience bears a powerful emotional resemblance to a past experience can be a helpful and freeing insight, but in the end, the story of its origin is just a story that can distract you from healing. If you come to realize that your defensiveness around your gruff boss reminds you of the way you reacted to your highly critical father, the value in that insight is acknowledging how deeply your mind has been programmed to respond to criticism or abruptness with fear and defensiveness. It’s easier to be patient with yourself when you recognize that your mind has actually created an elaborate neural network to support this reaction, because clearly, it will take time, patience, and repetition to change that instantaneous response.

• Don’t give too much weight to such a revelation as you can reinforce that reality. You reinforce your habitual thinking and feeling patterns when you subscribe to a narrative of suffering such as, “I can’t help being the way I am. My defensiveness goes way back to my childhood.” I call this the “big story.” It has the potential to shut you off from the art of creative transformation.

• Once you’ve identified the big story, categorize it as “old stuff” and set it aside whenever it comes up. The major healing work most people need to do is to transform and move beyond their “big story” whether it deals with their parents, lack of abundance, insecurities or fears. There’s no benefit in retelling it to yourself over and over again.

• It’s also important to let go of the “new stuff”: each “small story,” or rationalization for why your present life is the way it is. The small stories are worth examining to discover what lessons they hold, but if you hang on to them, repeating them to yourself, they become “old stuff” and part of the big story as well.

“As long as you remain in these stories, you create suffering for yourself. To change your life, you have to see the story for what it is: a way of framing events that doesn’t contribute to your happiness and holds you back from positive change. Holding on to your story, big or small, giving it life in retelling and embellishing it endlessly, will cause you pain. The point isn’t whether or not you’re justified in telling that particular story, or its veracity, but whether you’re suffering because of it. This takes practice but the more you meditate the more it will feel as if you’re simply sorting the laundry as you observe what your mind generates.”

 

Andrea Cannon explains the benefits of a mindfulness journal.  “A mindfulness journal can help you focus on the things in life that make you happy so you live with an attitude of gratitude. Rather than focusing on a crowded train, you can instead focus on the song you’re listening to and how it makes you feel, your posture while you sit and wait for your next stop, and what you’re looking forward to in your day. Over time, this will become natural so you can turn negative moments into positive experiences no matter what the day may bring.”

 

With a mindfulness journal we can begin to understand the difference between value and worth.  The opening paragraph was taken from a journal of someone who had contemplated suicide.  Fortunately, the writer realized that their value exceeded the world’s perception of their worth.  We all are valuable to this planet and no one has the right to diminish your feelings of self-worth.  Mindfulness reminds us of our own purpose and right to a prosperous living.  Start journaling and find your joy!

 

 

 

Laughter is Good Medicine

Laughter is Good Medicine

Easter 21

 

“Being mindful is just pointing out all the bad stuff” someone wrote.  Being a firm believer of mindfulness, it might surprise you that I completely understand this reader’s sentiment.  Many of us go through our daily life in a fog so as to keep from having to recognize the reality.  Mindfulness brings a great deal of that to light but seeing and acknowledging our dismay is not all that mindfulness is.  It is only half of the practice.

 

Being able to see the humor in our situations in life is critical to living a healthy life.  Yesterday I remarked about the irony of a book about grace falling down in front of me.  The corner of the book had actually caught my arm and, being a new book, made a very slight nick in my skin.  Being able to see the humor in the situation, though, actually enabled the small cut to heal faster because I laughed.

 

You read that correctly.  Laughing, science tells us, can actually be the best medicine in some situations.  Ten years ago science revealed evidence that laughter helps your blood vessels function better. It acts on the inner lining of blood vessels, called the endothelium, causing vessels to relax and expand, increasing blood flow. In other words, it’s good for your heart and brain, two organs that require the steady flow of oxygen carried in the blood. At a 2005 meeting of the American College of Cardiology, Michael Miller, M.D., of the University of Maryland reported that in a study of 20 healthy people, provoking laughter did as much good for their arteries as aerobic activity. Dr. Miller did not recommend that you laugh and not exercise but he did advise that we should try to laugh on a regular basis. The endothelium, he explained, regulates blood flow and adjusts the propensity of blood to coagulate and clot. In addition, it secretes assorted chemicals in response to wounds, infection or irritation. It also plays an important role in the development of cardiovascular disease.  “The endothelium is the first line in the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries,” said Dr. Miller. “So given the results of our study, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain a healthy endothelium. And reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

 

Dr. Miller also recommends laughter as a great tonic for other ailments.  “Laughter offsets the impact of mental stress, which is harmful to the endothelium.”  The researcher can’t say for sure exactly how laughter delivers its heart benefit. It could come from the vigorous movement of the diaphragm muscles as you chuckle or guffaw. Alternatively, or additionally, laughter might trigger the release in the brain of such hormones as endorphins that have an effect on arteries.  It’s also possible that laughter boosts levels of nitric oxide in artery walls. Nitric oxide is known to play a role in the dilation of the endothelium. “Perhaps mental stress leads to a breakdown in nitric oxide or inhibits a stimulus to produce nitric oxide that results in vasoconstriction.”

 

It has been known for some time that laughter reduced one’s perception of pain, thus enabling a person to tolerate discomfort better.  It also reduces blood sugar levels, increasing glucose tolerance in diabetics and nondiabetics alike.  Laughter can improve your job performance, especially if your work depends on creativity and solving complex problems. Its role in intimate relationships is vastly underestimated and it really is the glue of good marriages. It synchronizes the brains of speaker and listener so that they are emotionally attuned.  Laughter establishes — or restores — a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between two people, In fact, some researchers believe that the major function of laughter is to bring people together.

 

Life is messy.  That is a fact and no matter who we are, we will face the “bad stuff” at some point.  Being able to see the humor enables us to cope and move forward.  Dr. Miller advises people to do some sort of physical exercise thirty minutes a week and to laugh fifteen minutes every day.  This reminds us to not only be mindful of our physical health but also our emotional health. 

 

“I believe that if people can get more laughter in their lives, they are a lot better off,” says Steve Wilson, MA, CSP, a psychologist and laugh therapist. “They might be healthier too.”  As weird as it might sound, laughter is really a physical exercise for our bodies and our spirits.  When we laugh we go through some physiological changes.  We stretch muscles throughout the face and body, our pulse and blood pressure rises slightly and we tend to breathe faster.  This sends more oxygen to our tissues within the body which in turn creates a series of positive chain reactions.

 

Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, conducted a small study in which he measured the amount of calories expended in laughing. It turned out that 10-15 minutes of laughter burned 50 calories.  Now do not get carried away and think you can laugh off excess weight.  After all, it would take about twelve hours of laughing to counteract the effect of eating one chocolate bar.  Still, laughing is beneficial.

 

The focus on the benefits of laughter really began with Norman Cousin’s memoir, Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins, who was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful spine condition, found that a diet of comedies, like Marx Brothers films and episodes of Candid Camera, helped him feel better. He said that ten minutes of laughter allowed him two hours of pain-free sleep.  Research does not verify Cousins’ belief that laughter was the tonic for his insomnia, however,  Many believe a drama could have done the same thing and that anything that takes one’s mind off the day’s worries would have been effective.  Does this disprove the benefits of mindfulness?  No.  It does emphasize that our reactions to life are very important.

 

One of the difficulties science has in determining just how effective laughter is as medicine is that the cause and effect are hard to narrow down.  Two things are known for certain.  Laughter brings us together and since human beings are social animals, this improves their quality of life.  Secondly, appropriate laughter is not a harmful thing and if you enjoy, one should keep laughing.  Enjoying life is the best medicine of all.

Twelve Steps Forward

Twelve Steps Forward

Easter 8 – 19

 

Charles A. Francis published a book in 2015 about mindfulness entitled “Mindfulness Meditation Made Simple: Your Guide to Finding Inner peace”.  Mindfulness is an important lifestyle technique that I believe we all need but few of us truly understand it.  For that reason, I am publishing Francis’ summation he wrote about his book and the twelve steps he advocates.  His way is not the only path one can embark upon in being mindful but it is an excellent journey if you desire to engage in this journey of mindfulness.

 

I do not know Charles Francis and this really is not an advertisement for his book.  I do recommend reading his explanation of each step, however, and perhaps trying one a day for the next twelve days.  Of course, without having read the book, it might be difficult but you can get enough of an idea to try some rudimentary practices regarding each step. 

 

Step 1—“We became aware of the pain and suffering created by unmindful thoughts, speech, and actions.” Step 1 teaches you some important concepts to help you understand the practice. In this step, we’ll talk about the Four Noble Truths, which deal with suffering and how to overcome it. We will also talk about the Five Hindrances, which deal with things that get in the way of your meditation and spiritual development.

 

Step 2—“We learned how to develop our primary tools of observation: concentration and mindfulness.” Here you will learn how to use your two most important tools of observation. If we want to understand ourselves, and our relationships with others, then we need to learn how to observe the world with unbiased clarity.

We often make quick judgments based on preconceived ideas, because it’s easier than examining situations further, and often less painful in the short-run. That is, we jump to conclusions without having many of the facts. So, to observe reality without bias, we need to develop our skills of observation. Like a journalist, we’re trying to get at the truth.

 

Step 3—“We sought to eliminate the things that agitate our mind, and prevent us from achieving inner peace and serenity.” A common challenge for beginners is dealing with a racing mind. We’re often unaware that many of our daily activities are agitating our mind. In this step, I’ll show you how to identify and eliminate the sources of agitation. I’ll also give you some effective tools for calming your mind.

 

Step 4—“We learned how to structure our meditation session for maximum effectiveness, and to fit our lifestyle.” In Step 4, we discuss our meditation environment. There is no best time or place that applies to everyone, because we all have different commitments and living situations. I’ll give you some guidelines for choosing the best time and place for you. We’ll also talk about sitting position and how long to meditate.

 

Step 5—“In order to enhance our spiritual evolution, we made mindfulness meditation a regular practice.” This step deals with the actual mechanics of meditation. You’ll learn exactly what to do during your meditation sessions. I’ll give you different formats, so you can choose the one that’s most suitable for your needs, and I will even guide you through a typical meditation session.

 

Step 6—“We remained vigilant in our meditation practice, so that we continued making steady progress.” In Step 6, you’ll learn how to track your progress by keeping a meditation journal. This will help you stay grounded in proper techniques by establishing goals and measuring your progress. It will also help you stay motivated.

 

Step 7—“We became aware that other people can provide us with the spiritual nourishment vital to our development.” Other people can be invaluable sources of spiritual nourishment that will dramatically speed up your development. I will show you how to connect with them, so that you not only enhance your own spiritual development, but also that of others.

 

Step 8—“We sought to cultivate peace and harmony in our relationships and interactions with others by practicing deep listening, mindful speech, non-judging, and forgiveness.” In this step, we’ll examine how our behavior impacts our spiritual development and our relationships, and I’ll share with you some powerful tools for improving them.

 

Step 9—“We sought to dwell deeply in our spiritual community in order to enhance our development, and that of others.” In Step 9, I’ll show you how to avail yourself of the healing power of your spiritual community. I will introduce you to some more useful tools for enhancing your practice, including loving-kindness meditation, and a new meditation technique we’ve developed—writing meditation. You will also learn about the most powerful tool of all—the mindfulness meditation retreat.

 

Step 10—“We became aware of how unmindful consumption perpetuates our suffering, and prevents us from achieving true inner peace.” In this step, we’ll discuss how your consumption of nutrients and other substances can either enhance or hinder your spiritual development. As you progress in your practice, you’ll develop the wisdom and inner strength to make healthier choices.

 

Step 11—“With the strength, courage, and mindfulness we attained through our meditation practice, we confronted and overcame the wounds from our past.” Many of us have wounds from long ago that have never healed. These are serious obstacles to our development. In Step 11, I will show you how to use your emerging mindfulness to overcome them, so you can be free of them once and for all.

 

Step 12—“Having found freedom from our suffering through mindfulness meditation, we shared this practice with others, and continued dwelling deeply in the present moment through mindful living.” One of the great gifts you will receive from your practice is a deep sense of caring and compassion for other people. In this step, you’ll learn how to help others achieve inner peace as you have, and how your mindful leadership can help create a more mindful society. You’ll also learn how to apply mindfulness to all your daily activities, so that you continue making progress.”

 

This series topic of mindfulness is not designed to create more things to do in your daily schedule.  Once being mindful becomes a habit, it actually improves your schedule and your response to life itself.  The true purpose of mindfulness is to recognize the joy in living that is all around us.