Science of Meditation

‘The more modern science and the ancient science of mind come together and work together, the more our knowledge will be expanded. Then eventually we can educate humanity on the importance of our inner world, our mind, in order to promote peaceful families, a peaceful society and a peaceful world.’ – His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Meditation and Mindfulness seems to be the buzz word at the moment whether it is in the media, every wellness magazine or at your local yoga class. The number of people practicing meditation is increasing exponentially, and I am no exception. It has not been an easy journey and it has taken me over 5 years to get the hang of it, but I am happy to say I am a regular meditator. In principle meditation is easy; close your eyes breathe and focus on quietening your mind. In reality, it can be really hard to get to that state where your mind is completely relaxed, but it is worth the effort.

There are many benefits associated with meditation and it is well documented in the psychotherapy world, and it is also increasingly being encouraged in the corporate world to promote overall wellness and productivity of employees. I work at a large bank and we have a monthly meditation sessions running across quite a few sites across the UK. For me this is not just an indication of the popularity of meditation, but an indication of the vast benefits of meditation.

Defining Meditation

Origins of meditation is often thought of as arising from ancient Eastern traditions including Buddhist and Hindu practices, but there are also evidence of meditative techniques in the west as far back as 20 BC. The best way to describe meditation is as state of thoughtless awareness. There are varieties of meditation techniques and practices, although some inevitably does involve sitting crossed legged and chatting, others most often involves sitting comfortably and focusing on breathing, and they do all have a common goal; to slow down, and eventually, stop the constant stream of cluttered thoughts and activities of our mind so you are left with pure awareness of the current moment, the NOW. For those who are more spiritually inclined, this is the point where you are often thought to connect with your higher self or the universe.

Neuroscience of Meditation

There have been several studies into the benefits of meditation, as far back as 1950’s and gaining more momentum in the last few decades as branches of science such as positive psychology have been established. There are clear evidence that long term meditation changes the structure of the brain including noticeable thicker cortex in areas processing attention, introspection (observation of one’s mental state) and sensory processing.

A study by Holzel et al., (2011) showed that meditation lead to increased brain tissue in the hippocampus, which is associated with learning and memory, as well as reduction in the amygdala, region connected with stress and anxiety.

Modern technology such as functional MRI scans have shown that meditative states have impact on our brain waves including reduction of beta waves (thinking state) which means that our brains stop processing information as actively as they normally would, therefore becoming more relaxed mentally and physically.

Other studies have also shown that people who mediated regularly had stronger activation of the brain that is associated with empathy and therefore leading more compassion.

one beautiful asian woman naked sitting with petal flowers in silhouette studio isolated on white background

 

Wellness and Meditation

The list of benefits arising from continuous practice of mediation is vast and I have picked out a few that stood out for me:

  • Boosts your immune system – studies have even shown that mediation type relaxation can reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence and help in reducing infections.
  • Increase physical healing – known to help in post-operative healing.
  • Emotional Balance – i.e. Meditation can make you happier by increasing positive emotions and reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Helps to build better relationships – by building compassion and increasing emotional wellbeing.
  • Increases focus by improving attention and increasing memory.

Meditation and Law of Attraction

Meditation can be a really useful tool in the manifestation process of the law of attraction. When you want to attract something in your life that you desire, meditative state is perhaps the best point to connect with the universe at a subconscious level. A lot of ‘new thought’ thinkers point to ‘theta’ waves as the key to the optimal brain state where you can manifest your desires. Theta state is the deep relaxation light sleep stage often used in hypnosis to reach the trance-like state. If you can control this state, then you have heighten ability to focus and concentrate, giving you the ability to re-programme your thinking by visualisation and re-affirming your desires.

Tips for Meditation

  1. Start with choosing the right time and convenient place; perhaps early mornings and somewhere really quite and comfortable
  2. Make sure you are sitting comfortably – spine straight and feet firmly on the ground is sufficient. You don’t have to sit crossed legged if it is not comfortable!
  3. Start with the breath – Breathing deeply slows the heart rate, relaxes the muscles, focuses the mind and is an ideal way to begin practice
  4. Meditate with Purpose – meditation is an active process and focusing your attention on single point can help; perhaps meditating to be more compassionate or meditating for general wellbeing
  5. Notice your frustrations – don’t simply try and ignore it as it is more likely to become a larger thought; so notice and then let go by focusing on your breath or the sounds around you.
  6. Small steps in the right direction can go a long way – some people click to meditation like ‘duck to water’ but others may take a longer journey to a get to a point where they can confidently say they can meditate. The key is to keep practicing; even if it is just for few minutes a day.
  7. Experiment – try different types of meditation practices; perhaps a read a book on meditation; download a meditation app or attend a local class! Different methods work for different people.

‘Quite the mind, and the soul will speak’ – Ma Jaya Bhagavati

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Love vs Fear

“There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety and guilt. It’s true that there are only two primary emotions, love and fear. But it’s more accurate to say that there is only love or fear, for we cannot feel these two emotions together, at exactly the same time. They’re opposites. If we’re in fear, we are not in a place of love. When we’re in a place of love, we cannot be in a place of fear.”Elisabeth Kubler-Ross 

It took me a long time to accept the fact that there are only two basic emotions, love and fear, and everything else is a variation on those emotions. It seems too simplistic, after all emotions are the most complicated notion for any human mind to get around. However, the more I sit down and think about it and notice my own emotions, every single emotion that I have felt, driver for it would come from a place of love or a place of fear. One of the more negative emotions I tend to feel is boredom, but surely being bored doesn’t necessarily mean I am being fearful?! Actually it properly does. My boredom properly comes from a place of guilt (I should be doing something worthwhile, but I am not) and fear of emptiness and therefore leading to more negative feelings.

Fear is important for us and for our survival, otherwise what is stopping us from jumping over a cliff for the shear thrill of it or know why we need to get out of the way of a speeding car heading towards us?! We humans have a negative set point and this has served us well in the fight for survival, but in pursuit of happiness and health, negative set point can have detrimental effect. Fear based emotions trigger release of the stress hormone, cortisol, which increases the activity of the heart (heart pounding when you are anxious is an example of this) and this helps us to get ready for any danger heading our way. However when we live in a constant state of fear or stress the high levels of cortisol can damage the heart, contribute to obesity, and weaken the immune system therefore adversely affecting our health and consequently our happiness.

Love on the other hand, is not just a fluffy happy emotion; it helps us feel more socially connected and has proven health benefits as time and time again experiments has shown that people who display more positive emotions has numerous health benefits over those who constantly display negative emotions. But more than just health benefits and the general increased happiness, love and positive emotions are fundamental to our spiritual being. Love and compassion is the central theme in many of world religions and philosophies and when we feel connected to a higher being it is often described as a feeling love, rather than a feeling of fear. Even at a basic biological point of view, without love, there is no procreation and there is no us!

Love is also a powerful tool when you are working with the law of attraction as when you are surrounded by the feeling love, you are emitting a strong attractive energy into the universe. So your emotions of love will be matched by the universal energy to bring you more circumstances and opportunities of love.

One of the things that really stood out for me in viewing love from a spiritual point of view, is a scene from the movie Interstellar, (2014 Christopher Nolan Sci-fi movie), the conversation between the main character Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey) and Dr Brand (played by Anne Hathaway):

Dr Brand: That makes me want to follow my heart. Maybe we spend too much time trying to figure all of this out without it

Cooper: You’re a scientist Brand

Dr Brand: So listen to me when I say love isn’t something we invented, it is observable; powerful. It has to mean something… Maybe it means more; something we can’t yet understand. Maybe it’s some evidence, some artefact of a higher dimension that we can’t consciously perceive. I am drawn across the universe to someone I haven’t seen in a decade who is probably dead. Love is something we are capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it yet.

Common Sense vs. Common Practice

I recently came across the concept of Common Sense vs Common Practice by the brilliant Andy Cope & Andy Whittaker (Be Brilliant Everyday) in the context of pursuit of happiness. Often most of us are clued on enough to know what will make us happy in the long run; eating healthy; exercising regularly; give up smoking; give up drinking excessively; spending money within our budget; spending time with our loved ones etc. This list can go on forever, but essentially most of what we need to do is common sense, but why do many of us struggle to put it into practice?! Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest things to do.

Even from a law of attraction point of view, we know that we must be in happy place in order to attract more of the things we want and less likely to think and feel all the negative things we don’t want. So question is if lot of things we need to do are essentially common sense, why are they not common practice? It seems for most of us, even for the seasoned self-help junkie like me, knowing is not the same as doing!

Let’s look at this biologically; our emotional centres in the brain are one of the oldest parts of the brain in evolutionary terms and emotions hard wired within us and therefore thinking differently does not necessarily mean that we will behave differently, especially if those behaviours are emotionally driven. Let’s take exercising as an example. I know I want to exercise more often that I am doing right now which is currently closer to zero times in a week! I know exercising will add to my happiness not just by improving my health, but also will improve my flagging self-esteem especially when I find my clothes are becoming a tad bit tighter than usual. I know exactly what needs to be done, but at the given times when I could exercise, I rather sit and watch TV and go for a run. I know at this point my emotions are driving me; my feeling of inertia is far more powerful than my thoughts around the benefits of exercise.

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Psychologist may describe this as a ‘cognitive bias’; a term that describes many of the human irrationality in making judgement or decisions. Although most of us will think of ourselves as rational and logical creatures, there is a part of us that are influenced by wide variety of biases, including emotionally driven biases leading to errors in judgement. In the example above, I have a ‘current moment’ bias; i.e. I am choosing to experience pleasure in the current moment, while leaving the pain for later.

So are we always destined to make irrational choices to the detriment to our long term happiness? Perhaps the only way for common sense to prevail is to make changes to our habits. Habits are things we do often and changes to our habits over time can have a big impact on our happiness.  The key is perhaps making small positive changes starting now and putting those changes into practice more often. So for me in the example above I should start with walking up the stairs or walk to the shops and do this as often as possible rather than embarking on a gruelling exercise regime in my first attempt. Chances are small changes are likely to lead to habit formation than big changes which are often more difficult to maintain in the long run.

We may struggle to overcome our irrational judgements all of the time, but building positive habits will increase the sense of ‘doing the right thing most of the time’ we can reach a happiness-medium and being in a ‘happiness-medium’ place is a great place to start when you want to use the law of attraction to attract the life you want.

“Happiness is a habit – cultivate it” – Elbert Hubbard

CHANGE AHEAD

Practical Mind Tools: Vision Board

So what is a vision board, I hear you ask. Well, perhaps not those of you who are well versed in the law of attraction and the techniques that goes with it. Perhaps there are some of you guys out there who are experts at this and I would love to hear from you on how you create your vision boards.

For the novices, vision board is simply a board where you capture your visions for your future, aspirations and desires all in one place.  This is perhaps one of the most basic and effective way of putting law of attraction into practice. After all, we are all visual creatures and what we see is more likely to affect us than having just abstract pictures in our head.

Creating a vision board is really easy:

  1. Find a suitable board, whatever size you require. I always find the blank art canvases are great for my vision board purposes, but you can use anything from cardboard to plywood.
  2. Find suitable images to fill your board with. You can use magazine clippings, writings, quotes, print outs from the internet, whatever works for you and whatever that captures your vision. It doesn’t have to be an exact match of your vision, it can be abstract or represent you vision indirectly, but as long as you can relate to it, that is the main thing. I tend to use words and pictures in my vision boards and I often like quotes that resonate with me.
  3. Then use the visions to fill the board up and stick them on securely.
  4. Main thing is put the vision board somewhere where you will look at it regularly, perhaps on your bedroom wall.

The more you look at your vision board, the more your brain gets reminded of what you want. The more you are reminded, the more you think about it. But like any law of attraction tool, you need to frame your thoughts and feelings positively. You may subconsciously create resistance by looking at it and thinking ‘oh I am never going to achieve that!’ Instead, every time you see your vision, imagine you have achieved it and how would it feel like? Bring that feeling into the present and close your eyes and feel it for few minutes.

Nowadays there is a wealth of online tools available to create vision boards; there are even apps for vision boards. So you can go crazy and go overboard with the whole thing! So my suggestion is focus on one board at a time. If your vision changes, then change the board or change the images, after all our visions are rather fluid and that is a good thing as that how we move forward and evolve.

To feel or not to feel, that is the question!

Feelings are wonderful abstract things and where would we be without them? How could we experience happiness, joy or pleasure? Yes, there is the other side to it, the feelings of pain, anger, sadness, but doesn’t these negative feelings also shape who we are? If I take my daughter as an example, she is one and half years old and her mood and feelings change quite quickly within space of few minutes. One minute she may be sad because she is missing her comforter toy and the next minute her favourite music comes on or she discovers a new toy and she is overjoyed. How can I tell that she is happy without knowing what her sadness looks like? Even for myself, how do I know I am really happy without having experienced what sadness feels like?

As adults our feelings and the emotions that they evoke are very complex. Not only we experience a range of emotions from utter joy to despair, but our feelings differ towards the same set of circumstances at different times! Our feelings are very subjective experience and its very person dependent; my feelings may evoke a completely different set of emotional response to someone who is standing next me going through the same experience, whatever it may be, may respond completely differently, depending on their beliefs, values, life experiences and personality.

It was a bad, mad, sad day!

So what has got me thinking about feelings today? Well, for a start, I had a bad day few days back; I had a day where I felt annoyed, sad and drained and I attracted situations that gave me more reasons to be annoyed, sad or feel drained. I tried to shake it off several times by thinking positively, visualising how I want things to go and even practicing gratitude.  But alas, things didn’t change and the negative circumstances just kept on coming and by the end of the day, I just really wanted to go to bed and forget about the whole day.

According to law of attraction, we attract what we are thinking into our lives and therefore, at least at a subconscious level, I have chosen to have a bad day or attracted set of circumstances in my life that led to this particular bad day. In hindsight, this was true for me. I was travelling by air that day and I was rather anxious as this was only few days after Germanwings flight went down in France. I couldn’t shake off the sadness that I felt for those involved or the feelings of paranoia that I had over getting on a plane, however mild. Also the holiday I had high hopes for didn’t pan out the way I wanted it to as the holiday destination had bad weather for the whole week and I rather spent way too  much time cooped up in the hotel room feeling rather bored.

So as I sat in the airport on our way back home, I knew I am on a verge of starting a bad day and I knew I had to change my thoughts and feelings to more of a positive vibe but I just couldn’t do it. I was trying to think and feel positive, but it really felt like swimming upstream (see below), not natural and very hard work. I just couldn’t shake off my feelings quick enough to make a difference to my day.

Looking back, perhaps this can be explained by Ester Hicks and Jerry Hicks (The Astonishing Power of Emotions):

‘The most common misunderstanding that prevents people from getting control of a situation and gaining their personal balance is the belief that I need to get to where I want to be right now or as quickly as possible. We certainly understand your desire to find the answers to your questions quickly or to solve your problems as fast as you can, but still, that urge works against you. When you feel an urgency to be somewhere else, you are pushing hard against where you are. That is upstream.’

Best thing I could have done that day was to accept my feelings for what they were and what I was feeling at that point in time does not define me as a person. I know ‘this too shall pass’ and I know I will have a better day tomorrow because a good night sleep always does wonders. Besides, now that I have been reminded what a bad day feels like, I can perhaps appreciate the next good day when I see it come up!

upstream-fog-bill-wakeley

Feelings and law of attraction

Feelings play an important part in law of attraction; you cannot feel bad and expect to attract good things. The more pro-longed the negative feelings, the more difficult it would be change them. For example, if you feel you don’t have enough money, chances are you will attract situations where you will not have enough money, it doesn’t matter how you earn. Same also goes for health. If you always felt unhappy about your body for example, how can you attract the body you want? In order for law of attraction to work for you, you must change your feelings towards your body first; you must learn to be happy with it in the first place.

Now, I know this from first-hand experience, this is easily said than done and you cannot instantly change your feelings. Your programming about self-image perhaps took good few years to achieve, so it’s unrealistic to think these feelings will disappear overnight, unlike my bad day. Changes to feelings take time, especially if they are strongly rooted feelings, but the good thing is once our feelings are in tune with what we want, and then changing our thoughts become matter of fact. Feelings can be strong enablers to make law of attraction work for you, but changing feelings and associated emotions can be hard work and with practice, feelings too, in time, can be changed and mastered.

Personal experiment….Pear-drop pendent!

pendent

On holiday, I had a perfect example of how law of attraction worked for me which I wanted to share. I would describe myself as a careless person when it comes to my personal possessions, which I have always been okay with, because I had learned at a very early age, whatever material things I loose, it can always be replaced. So on holiday, I managed to lose a gold pear-drop pendent that I had on a chain. I looked around everywhere for it and since I had walked around a lot on that particular day; I could only go back to some of the places to look for it.

That night, I visualised finding the pendent. Then I didn’t think much about it after that and certainly did not stress about it, as I know it can be replaced if need to be.  I held it very lightly in my mind and that’s about it. The last day, as we were leaving the hotel, I was tidying up and as I looked under my daughter’s cot, there it was I had found the pendent.

This is a very small example, and some people may just describe it as a coincidence or even lucky, but for me, when it was meant to work out, it felt right, almost like swimming downstream rather than upstream. This may sound contradictory, but if I really wanted to find it and I was stressed in my search for it, then it’s very likely that negative thoughts and feelings would have kicked in. ‘What if I can’t find it? It’s lost forever.’ Chances are once the urgency for finding the pendent and the fear of losing it forever kicks in I would have attracted the pendent to be lost forever. That is the simple fact of law of attraction; whatever you think or feel the most that is what you will attract into your life. So there is a case for holding whatever you want lightly in your mind, rather than wanting it so badly you start feeling the fear of not getting what you want.

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