I had it on my list of resolutions for this year to meditate. Growing up in India, the seeds are there all along, of course. However, they had first been nurtured when I read Dr. Andrew Weil’s Spontaneous Healing almost 20 years ago.
As I started meditating a little bit this year, the ideas from past readings resurfaced, and I also discovered new sources around mindfulness. In this blog post, I am sharing my experience and reflections.
Positive Shift from Meditation
Pranayama with a cross-legged sitting posture, a breathing meditation practice, helps me center myself mentally and emotionally. I learned about this from Sarathi Yoga Foundation. The experience of centering myself by focussing on my breathing has a soothing, healing effect on me. It also serves as a reminder for keeping a straight posture – something that I have struggled with over time. (I can’t last in a sitting position for long if my back isn’t straight, aligning vertically with my neck and head).
Body scan meditation helps me relax and calm my nerves. With this technique, I visualize myself breathing through different parts of my body in gradual progression. I had learned about it the first time from Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living, and I have his app (JKZ) on my phone. Since then, I have seen variants of this meditation in a few other mindfulness programs on Sounds True. Observing sensations in my body helps me pause or at least slow down my thinking mind. Staying in the moment can be so soothing and nurturing while it lasts. (This is one example of body scan guided meditation. I liked this video on it from Dr. Kabat-Zinn as well).
The most significant shift that I have experienced is being aware of my thoughts and emotions. While my mind wanders into memories and new imaginations, I get to observe and learn from them rather than getting sucked up into the chaos. Self-awareness is such a blessing to have.
While going through this experience, a ripple from a book made an impression on me.
Inspiration to be a Source of Positive Vibrations from The Hidden Messages in Water
Melissa, a fellow member at our Toastmasters club, Dana Point Coastmasters, gave a speech based on The Hidden Messages in Water. Dr. Masaru Emoto wrote this book, combining his insights and research.
I was very intrigued by the message, and so picked up the book. It developed a fascinating insight that water can copy and memorize information. Dr. Emoto has explained a precise technique to photograph patterns in water crystals. He showed mind-blowing images of water crystals:
- Crystals have beautiful symmetry with the vibes of positive emotions such as gratitude, compassion, love.
- When exposed to negative vibes, crystals don’t look complete.
- Music has an impact on how crystals form as well.
- Prayers show an impact on crystals.
The crystal forms show the effect of surrounding energy, vibes, mood, emotions, thoughts, words, etc. Water is, is, in that way, capturing and memorizing feelings and the energy field of the experience.
Dr. Emoto explained in the book that everything/everyone is vibrations. He mentioned Albert Einstein’s theory of equivalence of mass and energy while explaining it. Water is connected to and is responding to all these vibrations.
We, humans, are also 70% water. When you think of it like that, each individual is a tiny dot in the ocean of human life on the planet. Just as thoughts and emotions have an impact on water crystals, they affect us. My thoughts and feelings can impact not only me but also all around me and the entire universe.
Universe has collective reflection and the impact of thoughts from every one of us. Our thoughts are collectively creating and evolving the universe.
While it is a new paradigm for me to look at water in this way, reading the book inspired me to be a source of positive, nurturing vibrations every moment of my life. Do my bit to create a beautiful universe.
I had read about the power of positive thinking before zillion times. The idea of connected universal consciousness has always stayed with me, that each of us is the same Atma, or the Higher Self, or the Spirit, or the Truth, or the Pure Awareness, or the God inside. The book brought it back to the surface for me.
Another idea very well developed in the book is about the power of gratitude as a nurturing, healing, harmonizing, balancing emotion.
It always feels good when I can pause and count my blessings, see and appreciate good things happening in my life, and be grateful for what I have. The thoughts on gratitude sometimes help me be thankful for my Physical Intelligence:
- Breathing happens naturally for me. I never had to learn how to breathe; it just happens.
- I can do so many complex tasks coordinating my muscles to walk, move things, do exercise, etc.
- I eat, and beautiful things must be happening for the food to convert into energy and fuel.
- My heartbeats keep going in a consistent, never stopping rhythm.
- I can read and write.
- I can speak. I can hear. I can see. I can touch. I can taste. I can feel.
The list can go on forever – having a human body is nothing short of magic. I am grateful for that.
What is in my way? What can I do?
Going back to the idea of being a source of positive vibrations, can I be that in my life?
Yes indeed, there are so many opportunities, gratefully, when I can a source of positive vibrations – support from and time with family and friends, my youth coaching, work with customers to develop new ideas, reading that gives me wings of new ideas & expand my horizons, writing that helps me clarify and distill my thoughts, running that gives me endorphins and energy, etc. How blessed I am for seeds of constructive thoughts, being able to drive and make so many of my ideas work, and nurturing support from so many people! 🙂
Am I that source of positive vibrations every day, and every moment of it? Well, not every single moment, probably not every day.
What is stopping me?
- Being hard on myself
- Self-doubt, negative inner dialog
- Worries and insecurities
- Holding on to past experiences, grudges
- Attachment to material things and chasing after them
What can I do about it?
- Find reasons to smile with everyone, no matter what kind of relationship in the past.
- Look for positives in others’ words and actions and sidestep negative energy.
- Avoid harboring negativity to myself and others.
- Find reasons to give no matter how trying a situation or a person can be. Take baby steps in that direction; it doesn’t always have to be grand or big.
- Avoid being hard on myself. I appreciate my positives, strengths, proactive initiatives, etc.
- Create something meaningful. Contribute in a way that makes a difference to myself and others.
- Be grateful for what I have in life. I got an insightful nugget from Eckhart Tolle’s video the other day – that, having a sense of gratitude can help me connect to abundance I already have.
These can naturally allow me to purify my mind, to let go of grudges from the past, to heal and nurture relationships with others, and also to detach me from my emotions. In a way, it is allowing me to get closer to who I am – that is, Atma.
However, for me, it is easier said than done. My thoughts and emotions have strong gravitational pull putting me in the reactive mode. My past actions and vibes create an energy field that also connects me to the energy field of others. Call it the karma or pain body or the ego.
Mindfulness meditations are helping with a useful set of tools.
Mindfulness: An Empowering Practice and Tool
How can I be aware of my thinking patterns and break free?
It connected to me one more time, the idea of mindfulness – an ancient Buddhist practice. It is about paying attention to the present moment with the intent to understand and observe rather than judge. Allow whatever that emerges from inside, let it be. I am learning that mindfulness isn’t just about understanding it; it is so much more about experiencing it, trying it, or exploring it.
Breathing: When I observe my breathing pattern and feel the breath going in and out, it brings me to my senses. I can feel the breath in my nostrils and how inhalation pushes the diaphragm down to expand the space. When I can relax my abdominal muscles a little bit, I can feel the cavity expand with my breath going in, and relax with breathing out. When and if I can calm myself a little bit, I can tune in the present moment listening to sounds happening around me, I can feel the breeze touch my face if I am outside, I can smell the air, I can see the trees with leaves moving with the wind. I can see other things in the room. It serves as a pause, helping me break from the constant thinking that goes inside my mind.
An empowering reframe that I have learned from Dr. Joan Borysenko’s book is that I am witness to my thoughts and my emotions. I am the one who observes. I am an observer of my thinking patterns, feelings, and sensations. When I give myself a front-row seat to witness my mind and bodily sensations, it calms me down. It works. I am not my mind, nor my body, I can observe them.
The inner weather of thoughts is associated with feelings and sensations. There is no way to stop it. However, the idea that I am witnessing it without being part of it helps me navigate. I love one quote Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn used in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”
I saw on Sounds True, the course on Daily Mindfulness from Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach. Each 10-12 min session in the program develops one specific idea about mindfulness and then guides you into trying it. I can explore the idea – try it, experience it, visualize it in mind, etc.
One meditation provided a nice reframe for me:
- Get in my comfortable meditation position, focus on my breath to center myself.
- Think, visualize that I am the vast, open awareness like the sky.
- Listen to the sounds near and far as they emerge and dissolve without leaving any trace.
- Feelings and emotions pass by like a bubble or a cloud … they dissolve… simply observe them with peace.
- My body is floating in this awareness. Witness the sensations and vibrations in it.
- This space is full of love and compassion. All feelings dissolve in it like a droplet of pigment in a lake, disappearing without any visible mark.
- The magic, the sacredness, the expansiveness, the stillness, stays with me, channeling universal intelligence and infusing abundance of consciousness.
The above visualization works as a very empowering shift for me – that I am the vast, open, nurturing space of benevolence and love and compassion and all good things, and not an individual trapped in the cocoon of my thinking brain, or the bind of my emotions and feelings.
So much has been said about positives of empathy, compassion, and forgiveness. I got a nice tool to explore myself:
- Get in my comfortable meditation position, focus on my breath to center myself.
- Let the pain touch the tenderness of my heart – whether that is my pain or of someone else. Feel it. Allow it. Let it be. Welcome it.
- While breathing in, let the pain enter and touch me. While breathing out, visualize as if I am releasing it to dissolve in the open space. It feels good when I try it.
It creates space to feel it, and then respond to it positively. This is so much experiential… much simpler trying it, doing it, and experiencing yourself rather than analyzing it.
The space metaphor connects it for me to the previous meditation that I mentioned above as well.
I got from Joan Borysenko’s book – Minding your Body, Mending your Mind – that anger, frustration, worry, stress, grudges, insecurity, etc. all are expressions of one common emotion that is fear. There is something in my thinking pattern and ego that is threatened by the situation, or a person, or a mental block, or a past traumatic experience, or whatever it might be. It is trying to fight it by raising the guard and in the process, making it even stronger and worse. Ego is trying to hold on to the guard for its dear life, and in the process, it is putting me in the prison of my mind. In the space I got by the pause with this meditation, can I let that pain and discomfort touch me? Can I allow it and observe it in the awareness of the present moment? If yes, there is potential for it to exhume in spacious awareness, I can free myself from it. To forgive, I need to let go. To let go, I need to understand where and how my mind or ego is feeling threatened.
I read Carl Safina’s Beyond Words recently. He developed a nice parallel between empathy and fear. A flock of birds fly away when only one of them is startled – it is emotional contagion. We, humans, got the same as part of evolution – when an infant cries, for example, it sends distress signals to parents – it is the same emotional contagion. Picking up another’s distress or alarm requires you to match their emotion – that is empathy. Empathy’s roots go all the way to contagious fear. I realized from Stephen Covey’s work, being empathetic requires you to be vulnerable to feel with that person, my ego and reactive thinking patterns can get in the way for the same reasons.
Can this mindfulness meditation bring awareness to underlying thinking patterns of my mind and ego, and open doors to more compassion, empathy, and forgiveness? At least I got the tool that can hopefully make it easier for me. When I can take small steps in the right direction, even if baby steps, I like the idea that it can hopefully start a positive chain reaction.
The practice of mindfulness is about moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness, allowing each moment to unfold as it is. Letting the present moment to be – without trying to deny it, or control it, or change it, or judge it – can be difficult. I loved watching this insightful video on that from Dr. Kabat-Zinn – Nine Attitudes for Mindfulness:
Power of Pausing
I got one email recently with a link to articles from Pema Chodron, a Buddhist teacher, nun, and author.
These excerpts from Pema Chodron’s reading made an impression on me:
You know you will die, but you don’t know how long you have to wake up from the cocoon of your habitual patterns.
In one very short day, each of us could become saner, more compassionate, more tender, more in touch with the dream-like quality of reality. Or we could bury all these qualities more deeply and get more in touch with a solid mind, retreating more into our cocoon.
One of the most effective means for working with that moment when we see the gathering storm of our habitual tendencies is the practice of pausing or creating a gap. We can stop and take three conscious breaths, and the world has a chance to open up to us in that gap. We can allow space into our state of mind.
Pause practice can transform each day of your life. It creates an open doorway to the sacredness of the place in which you find yourself. The vastness, stillness, and magic of the place will dawn upon you, if you let your mind relax and drop for just a few breaths the storyline you are working so hard to maintain. If you pause just long enough, you can reconnect with exactly where you are, with the immediacy of your experience.
When you are completely wound up about something and you pause, your natural intelligence clicks in and you have a sense of the right thing to do. This is part of the magic: our natural intelligence is always there to inform us, as long as we allow a gap. As long as we are on automatic pilot, dictated to by our minds and our emotions, there is no intelligence. It is a rat race. Whether we are at a retreat center or on Wall Street, it becomes the busiest, most entangled place in the world.
Joseph Campbell: Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.
Shakti Gawain: To whatever degree you listen to and follow your intuition, you become a creative channel for the higher power of the universe.
There is so much good happening no matter where I go in the world – there are pockets of creativity, the community in local circles. I think collectively, that is making such a big difference in making our universe that much more beautiful. Engaging myself in creating something that has a meaning to me from inside, and also contributing to others, or creating meaningful value, or helping others, seems to be the best idea.
The faith, belief, and realization that I am a channel of natural intelligence, and connected consciousness of the universe, can anchor me in my journey – that is, one pause at a time.
I – the Atma, the universal consciousness – am peace, abundance, love, bliss, pure energy, stillness, vastness, sacredness, benevolence, universal intelligence. Can I guide my mind and body and intellect to identify with it and tune in to it? If so, I can be a source of positive vibrations, and I can create a beautiful universe. I am also grateful for all moments when I have been able to do that in my life, helping me make meaningful contributions, cultivate nurturing relationships, and enjoy quality engagement/experiences.
This school prayer from Diane Ackerman sited in the last chapter of the course on Daily Mindfulness resonated with me:
In the name of the daybreak
and the eyelids of the morning
and the wayfaring moon
and the night when it departs,
I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder,
as an architect of peace.
In the name of the sun and its mirrors
and the day that embraces it
and the cloud veils drawn over it
and the uttermost night
and the male and the female
and the plants bursting with seed
and the crowning seasons
of the firefly and the apple,
I will honor all life
—wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell—on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.