Finding Inner Calm and Deeper Wisdom

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Archive for the ‘emotional stress’ Category

There is Stress

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There will always be Stress. That is because Stress is a normal and natural part of the universe. There has always been Stress. Just the fact that we live on a ball of dirt and water, hurtling through space with gravity gluing us to its surface–is Stress. We might as well get used to it. But that doesn’t mean we have to continuously suffer from it.

The Problem with Stress is that we internalize it. We worry about it. We open our mind and allow it to come inside, where it proceeds to gnaw at us without mercy. The human mind has been doing that since we lived in trees. The answer to the Stress Problem is to NOT internalize it. Isn’t that easy?

Ah yes, that’s so easy to say, but not so easy to do. So, let’s break it down and make it a bit easier to do. “Internalizing” some external thing in our life actually and simply means “thinking about it.” If you think about it, you are internalizing it. If you don’t think about it, you’re not internalizing it.

This is where so many people say, “But not thinking about it means I’m just running away from the problem.” Thus, based on their idea of being mature and responsible, they think. And think, and think. And wear themselves out by thinking. Like a rat in a roundhouse, running around and around. Which is is a terrible form of self-torment, agony, suffering, and self-abuse.

Therefore, your clear solution to Stress is not thinking about whatever you have to worry about. Or, better yet, controlling your thinking machine so that it only worries when you want it to. I advise people to write down everything they are worried about, and then study that list for one hour at 7 p.m. Or at 10 a.m. in the morning. Or maybe for a half hour at noon. Whatever gives you the feeling that you’re being “responsible.” The rest of the time you have my permission to not think about all that stuff.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

April 22, 2019 at 10:25 am

What’s Holding You Back?

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What is holding you back from attaining genuine peace of mind? What denies you the ability of staying calm and centered? What’s keeping you from achieving the true YogaGirlmeditative state? Why haven’t you had spiritual learning experiences? And most of all, what is holding you back from receiving Enlightenment?

You might guess that, because I’m asking these questions, I think I know the answer. Well yes, I actually do have an answer. Other people may have other answers, for sure. I can only offer you what I’ve learned from my own experiences and perceptions as a meditation “teacher.”

The answer is in one word: Stress.

Of all the millions of people who want to develop a useful and rewarding meditative practice, the primary reason that most of them can’t get there is Stress. When they sit down to meditate, they close their eyes, and they are immediately bombarded with unwanted thoughts and images. The underlying cause in most cases is stress. They want to achieve a quiet mind and instead, the energy boiling up from stress makes their mind sound like Radio San Juan. A non-stop series of staccato car commercials.

Many masters and teachers over the centuries have known this. Recent studies show that over two thirds of people in the U.S. suffer from a specific type of stress, namely: Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). That is stress caused by earlier injury in life, injury that has not healed.

My take on this: A person’s meditation will always be limited to some degree by unhealed trauma.

Some teachers claim that meditation can overcome PTS. That has not been my experience. Meditation is often useful for discovering (i.e., remembering) earlier unhealed trauma. And while meditation may give the student small periods of rest and recovery time, it rarely cures the problem.

So yes, by all means meditate regularly. But keep a journal of everything that disturbs your meditations. Then go back and read your notes now and then. What you have written may point you to things you weren’t consciously aware of. And when you find a persistent blockage, rejoice! Because what you’ve found may be a huge prize. It might be the key to great forward progress in your spiritual development.

First and foremost, be aware that it might scare you. Coming up against an area that blocks you is usually frightening. You may not know exactly why it scares you. But there is something behind the blockage that wounded you in the past. And it hasn’t healed.

That has happened to me three times in my life. Maybe more than three, but I remember three very clearly. In every one of those cases, I used another person to help me get past the block, find the traumatic event, and then resolve it. In one case it was a hypnotist, in another it was a close friend, and the third was a shrink.

I learned many decades ago: Explore inward until you find the monster. Then, embrace the monster. It will no longer frighten you, and it will always give you a huge gift.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

December 15, 2018 at 2:06 pm

Does Meditation Really Help?

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Will meditation help me live longer? And will meditation help you live longer?

Almost everybody with a brain knows the answer to that question. But let’s be honest, most people don’t pay much attention to what they know or intuit about meditation. They think, “Oh yeah, meditation is great, yada yada. But I’m too busy right now.”

This morning I had an ideal opportunity to test the theory on myself. I had been annoyed by somebody. Well wait a minute. Taking responsibility for my feelings, it’s more correct to say that I annoyed myself about somebody.

I had just finished Sunday brunch, and I was sitting there at the table by myself, just thinking about that self-centered, inconsiderate, unthinking person who I’d annoyed myself about. I thought okay, since it’s time to take my daily blood pressure (which my doctor has been nagging me about), let’s see what’s going on in my body. (And mind.)

My BP meter is right beside my eating place. I relaxed a bit and took my blood pressure. It was high. Since I was alone, I relaxed for 15 minutes, meditated some of that time, and took it again. It was better. I relaxed a third time, had a nice meditation of maybe 10 minutes, and took my BP a third time. For each observation I recorded the Time, BP, and Pulse Rate in my doctor-ordered BP journal. Here’s what I got:

12:30 188/100 75
12:45 170/90   74
13:15 150/80   90

Frankly, I’m amazed. I never thought it would be such a radical change. I wasn’t even on my cushion or in a good place for meditation. But I dropped my blood pressure 38 points just sitting in a chair, watching birds eating in the feeder, and not thinking (well, not much). I guess that proves my point.

Haha, I’m laughing at myself. Here I’m a meditation teacher (or coach, actually) but obviously I don’t coach myself enough. I haven’t had any doubts for decades about the effectiveness of meditation. Isn’t this like the shoemaker who doesn’t have any shoes? Or doctors who who have more heart attacks than their patients? We gotta learn to practice what we preach.

I promise to do better.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

January 14, 2018 at 4:20 pm

Torment of the Mind

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Almost everybody I know suffers from an overactive mind. They tell me they can’t sleep, can’t concentrate, and never get any real rest from all the stuff they worry about. Yes, I know the problem.

More accurately, I knew the problem all too well–until I learned a certain skill. Decades later, I wrote a book about it. To me, it’s the most important knowledge I’ve gained since I was born. But judging from the apparent popularity, it’s the most boring subject in modern civilization.

If it’s not too boring, read some more about ending your torment: Original Zen.

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

July 2, 2017 at 11:59 am

The Animal Inside You

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A few weeks back, we introduced and discussed the two main “actors” on the stage of your mind: the Boss and the Thinker. If you remember, the Thinker is your good old conscious mind that wants to think non-stop when you’re awake (and even sometimes when you’re half asleep). The Boss is the higher you that tries to gain control of the Thinker whenever you want to get into the meditative state.

EdonVortex

Sitting on a Sedona vortex

With that clearly in mind, it’s time to introduce the third major player on the stage of your mind. I call it the Animal. Indeed, it is the actual animal within you. Physically, the Animal lives in the lower part of your brain known as the Limbic System. Although chiefly concerned with your survival, that part of he brain is also the center of your emotions.

Most of the time you’ll find that in a normal, mentally healthy, well-adjusted person (hah, how many people like that do you know?) the Animal stays mostly in the background. Thus, under most circumstances you don’t have to worry about the Animal during meditation. However, if the Animal is aroused and agitated for any reason, it may render you incapable of getting into the meditative state.

The Animal is so powerful that it can completely paralyze both the Boss and the Thinker—and do so very quickly. It can hijack the entire mind/body and take total and immediate control. That’s not entirely bad; it is an important feature that helped us survive. But it can be very bad if the Animal takes control and keeps control* to the extent that a person’s mind is unable to function as it should. That situation can be identified as one or another variation of mental illness.

For instance, if you have a fight with your lover, your Animal may be out of control for a while. If a loved one dies, the Animal howls with grief and prevents you from thinking or meditating for a while. If I tried to list all the possible situations in which the Animal can create havoc in your mind and keep you from achieving inner peace, this would be a very long (and boring) post.

From my experience teaching meditation, I know that trying to learn it while the Animal is loose and raging, is futile. To meditate, the Animal must be calm and resting comfortably—aware but not fearful about what is going on. Which might mean that, before you find a meditation teacher, you may need to see your therapist first and see what can be done about that snarling, pacing, agitated Animal that sometimes runs your life.

The good news is that, once your meditative practice is well established, oftentimes you’ll be able to use your meditative state to calm the Animal. In my own case, it took me at least ten times as long to learn to control the Animal compared to the Thinker. And even now my control of the Animal is not 100% guaranteed. But at least now I can usually hold the raging Animal on his leash and, after reminding him of his limits, let him loose to snarl a bit.

*Bad experiences in your previous life might have created trauma that left the Animal in you in constant pain and unconsolable suffering. That is called post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which usually requires a special type of body therapy for successful treatment.

What is This Thing Called Wisdom?

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In the last post, we identified two parts in your mind, the Boss and the Thinker. The Boss is the higher you that you would like to have control your mind and body, at least occasionally. The Thinker, of course, is the noisy thinking machine—the conscious thought stream that wants to run your life non-stop.

In a typical modern western mind, the Thinker has taken over complete control, and the Boss is beaten into submission. These are actually like two different people—or two different beings inside you. It’s likely that you hardly know the Boss at all. You live entirely in your Thinker.

But if you’re even modestly successful with your inner development, you have separated and identified both of these inner beings. And you’ve had at least some success being in the Boss state and shutting down the Thinker. At least for a few precious moments now and then.

Shifting between these two states doesn’t mean you’re developing a multiple personality disorder. You’ve just become aware that you can “be” in different areas of your mind at any particular time. That’s actually very healthy, as I’m sure you’ll learn later on.

If you practice Zen meditation, maybe five or six times per week, and if you’re doing it right, over time you’ll learn to slip in and out of the Boss state with relative ease. Then you’ll widen the separation between the two states. You’ll learn how to be in your Boss mode whenever you want, which allows you to be an observer of the Thinker. First, you will learn to do it sitting on your meditation cushion. But later, you’ll be able to do it in a huge variety of other circumstances.

When you get really good, you’ll be able to jump into the Boss mode any time you want and watch the Thinker to see how it is performing. And here’s the real payoff: You (in the Boss mode/Zen state) will be able to coach the Thinker, especially when it’s under pressure, and give it guidance from a higher-level perspective. This is huge. This is an enormous advancement in your inner development.

There are hundreds of examples in everyday life. Here’s one: The lady looked at me with a scowl on her face, and said, “What did you do with all that money?” Uh oh. We’re under attack. My Thinker leaped into action and rapidly began formulating his defense. My Boss pulled on his imaginary reins and gently told the Thinker to relax. Slow down. Keep breathing. Allow the face to have a relaxed smile.

Then Boss gives Thinker some higher-level info it had sensed. Namely, the lady is exhibiting anxiety. She is worried about the new furniture she’s ordered, and she’s worried about how we’re going to pay for it. So relax. Let her speak her piece. But don’t be defensive. That’s not what she wants to hear.

Now the Thinker is more relaxed and having a short break to do its thing (namely, thinking). It responds calmly, “Honey, I used that money to pay off your credit card. The balance is zero, and you can use that card to buy your furniture. Now, would you like another cookie with your tea?”

Okay, that’s a silly example. But I could write a book full of such examples, some not so silly—where the higher level being inside me watches my noisy, short-sighted thinking machine, and coaches it in a variety situations.

Some people call that “wisdom.”

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

March 6, 2016 at 12:39 pm

Take What You Want, Take What You Need

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The practice of Zen meditation is self-administered and self-regulating. There’s nobody telling you what to do. You might increase your practice—or maybe even neglect it for a while—depending on what’s happening in your life. There is no guilt associated with how much or how little you practice. You just take what you need.

I’ve noticed that many of my church-going friends need a certain amount of regulation. They need to be told what they should do. And they even appear to need to feel guilty when they don’t do it. I imagine carrying the guilt for a while makes them feel even better when they finally do get to church. That’s okay with me. I accept what they need, and I certainly have no interest in trying to change them.

My purpose in life, as was given to me, is to give others who ask for it what I was given. I like that. I like that I was not instructed to go forth and be a disciple to save the world. Or any kind of religious nonsense. I don’t have to be a missionary. I don’t have to recruit people into a belief system. For years now, all I’ve done in fulfillment of my challenge is write this blog and publish a few books. Once in a while somebody shows up and wants some coaching with their meditation. No problem.

If a Zen practitioner’s life gets tough, he or she will increase the length and number of meditations. And when things are going smoothly, a practitioner is likely to slack off a bit, maybe just to enjoy life a bit more. After all, Zen encourages a moderate amount of responsible hedonism. Interestingly, some practitioners develop their own need to meditate daily. That’s okay; take as much as you want.

Now, aren’t you glad you don’t have to come here once a week and listen to me preach?

Written by Eduardo Mitchell

January 17, 2016 at 3:37 pm