Chatting with Phyllis Serene on Emotional Fitness

I had a wonderful time chatting with Phyllis here at Mestizo in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. We discussed a wide range of applications, all grounded in healthy emotional fitness.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this talk. Can you relate? Am I missing anything? Do you agree with how relevant I think this is for all of us?

Turning 53

It’s my birthday today!

Since I don’t have my familiar peeps around me to have a big birthday bash, I’m going to share myself as fully as I can hear. It is what I would be doing at a birthday bash, being myself, being open, telling my truth.

… being Me to the best of my ability.

To that end, I love you all, the very best I can.

Hopefully this share will work as intended… I made a lengthy playlist last night, giving as full an update as I could.

With gratitude, and my deepest appreciation, to far too many people to tag…

Short version: I’m alive. Fully alive.

If not for Enlightenment, then for a marshmallow?

Is competing against monkeys inspiring to you? Perhaps you’ve said to yourself, “if a monkey can do it, then I can!” Well, here’s something to step up to.

According to Philippens and Vanwersch (link), in their studies to test “neurofeedback and other brain-training treatments for epilepsy or ADHD”, they were able to coax monkeys to deliberately replicate the brain activity of meditation, resulting in the monkeys looking “restful [with] focus.”

“The monkeys may not realise that they are changing their brain activity, but it does show that they can consciously change their mood or state of mind,” says Philippens, and the monkeys were rewarded marshmallows for this behavior.

So, my question to you is: do you really believe that attaining a meditative state is difficult for you? I’d be happy to send marshmallows to you if that’d help inspire you. Or, perhaps you could gain results by staring at this monkey…

In all seriousness, the point of this post is that there are some things we can choose to do for ourselves, and some we can’t. A recent dialog on Facebook brought up the fact that, with the exception of people with untreated mental illnesses or mood disorders, attitudes are chosen; they are not involuntary, imposed on us by some other will besides our own. We can choose to be optimistic fearful, or ambivalent.

We can also choose our behavior, and there are countless benefits to slowing down our thinking, to becoming more aware and present; key benefits from building a practice of meditation.

You can always “act as if”. Like the old saying goes, “monkey see, monkey do.”

The Basics: Thus Spake Zarathustra (Happy New Year 2013!)

I love re-watching great movies as I get older. So much to behold and learn. It reminds me of a simple truth…

There are Truths.

A teacher of mine made me aware of the fact that there are some things in life that are true, regardless of time or circumstance. Once I became willing to believe that, and became willing to learn from others, I started seeing the truth (sic) in that statement.

For much of my life, I was a skeptic; and over time while living with those lenses on, I became a cynic. In hindsight, I see that as grossly self-indulgent, insisting life conform to the way I expected it to look. Thankfully, the unsustainability of that worldview bore itself out by bringing me to my proverbial knees, presenting me with one of my first unassailable truths, that I can’t control my entire world.

I had reached my bottom.

In the past eight years, I’ve come to appreciate an endless source of beauty and peace from that acknowledgement, and I’ve been able to recover much of what I had lost in all that time. There’s a lightness of being that is freely available when one is humble towards what they have power over, and what they don’t. Recognizing, and choosing that, is often a moment-to-moment playground of opportunity.

While there are infinite sources of innovation and creativity, which we see spring around us every day (especially thanks to the Internet), there are these Truths (with a capital “T”) that make themselves available to us. We can choose to live them or not; even become champions, insisting and defending them against apathy and confusion.

If you’re seeking truth for yourself, I encourage you to talk about it openly. While there are individuals that would try to take advantage of innocence, given enough open-mindedness, willingness, and honesty, you’ll be sure to recognize what feels Right for you.

Here’s to another amazing year ahead, 2013. I hope you are able to see the abundance of opportunities available to you, and I hope you relish the experiences you choose.

If you’re struggling at all, read this.

Note: this is a lengthy post, as it touches on a number of ideas, and all of this can apply to life in countless ways. If you have any thoughts about this post, please share them with me. I’d be very grateful. –Burt

Do you find ever find yourself tired? Frustrated? Confused or bewildered? Ever feel a little lost, unsure, under confident? Are you tired of waiting to feel cool, calm, and collected? Does it seem like life is just too busy, and you’re never going to get settled?

If you’re reading this, and eager to make progress, I’m here to tell you a simple truth.

You may not realize how close you are to the state of mind and being that you’ve been looking for.

It like looking for your lost keys, and realizing they’re already in your pocket, or feeling incredibly anxious before a test, only to realize it was far easier than you imagined.

I’m going to offer this thought to you, and, of course, you can accept it or not.

I will bet good money that you are already who/what/where you want to be, or more precisely, you’ve been in touch with that part of you, but you’ve had a hard time holding onto that feeling, that sense of who you really are.

Can you recall a moment when you felt totally connected with yourself? Maybe it was connection to feeling centered or grounded. Maybe it was your “muse”, when your creativity was flowing. Perhaps it was after some effort of preparation, for a trip, project, or test, and you felt ready; in fact, the feeling might have come after the experience, when you felt fulfilled. Maybe it was during exercise, playing a sport, creating art, or doing good work.

Take a few moments to recall what that felt like at it’s very best. Can you recognize a clarity in your mind, where there’s little else going on in your thoughts besides that sense of fulfillment, calm, clarity?

Can you recall a little more specifically, to a moment when you took a breath during that activity? That very last breath before you began… that very first breath after… the one breath when you gave it your all…

Hold on to that breath in your mind. We’re going to get back to that.

For those moments when you had clarity, within those breaths, I offer to you that these are glimpses of you in your highest self, at your very best. Bear in mind, there’s no one keeping score, or judging the quality of this; only you can know for yourself. Those moments of true honesty with yourself are precious and powerful.

Would you agree that it’d be easier going through life if you were connected to that feeling more often? How about if you felt that all the time, 24×7? While I can’t guarantee that you’ll ever achieve that feeling with every waking moment, I can say that you can have those feelings of peace, strength, clarity, power, and confidence; and that you can grow those feelings as deeply as you want. More importantly, your mind can develop and grow into being able to focus on those things that keep you connected to those feelings.

As I understand it, yogis who have attained “true enlightenment” have done exactly what we’re talking about, but deeper, and more consistently. Frankly, they don’t have much else to do, or more specifically, they choose to do nothing else except pursue that level of focus. Their focus is on developing a level of mental clarity, and what they often find is a depth of peace and serenity.

For many yogis, they will take this ability for clear thinking, and they apply it in various ways: business, personal development, further enlightenment, peace missions, etc… Some will stay focused in meditation in order to simply exist in that state of being. To do this, some yogis will devote their entire lives to develop these abilities.

So, let’s play around with the thing that you’re best at in life, or the thing that comes most easily to you. I imagine you spend a good amount of your time in that activity, or if you don’t, then when you do engage in that activity, it comes “naturally”.

What would happen if you devoted your life to that? You might become world-class, an expert, or just really competent, skilled, and capable.

The same dynamic applies to other activities that you might be less naturally talented with, and the one that I’m talking about now includes “getting centered”, “feeling connected”, or any other part of your life that you want to develop.

If you have a hard time feeling centered, I’ll bet good money that you have a busy life, that there are a lot of parts to your world, and that you’re spending a lot of energy and time keeping things together, juggling all those balls in the air.

Imagine what your level of expertise would be if you took all the devotion, time, and attention that you’ve given to all those aspects of your busy life, and distilled it down to just focusing on nothing but being.

Can you imagine that?

When it comes down to it, like so much else in life, it’s a matter of budgeting and resource management.

Can you see that?

Yet, you’ve touched that feeling of being centered, probably more often than you can count. I want to bring those instances to your awareness, to get you connected to the fact that you have experienced the state of being that you long for. And, now that you’re aware of it, you can touch it more often, more deliberately. And, just like with any other activity, practice makes “perfect”… better yet, “proficiency”.

I find the word “proficiency” to be very appropriate. We can develop proficiency at attaining that highest state of being, and because of our “training” and “practice”, we are then able to perform at that level of proficiency longer, and do more with those skills.

I’ll bet you know some people in your life that have that sense of centeredness. They carry themselves with confidence, they are reliable, they are calm. It doesn’t matter what their race, gender, religion, profession… it just doesn’t matter. What I’ve found is that there are _very_ few people that have become that way for free, without effort. I’ve found that most people that have that have gotten it through fire, effort, or hard work; or perhaps they were blessed to have been shown how to have it by others.

I propose to you that through all this confusion, frustration, and struggle, you’ve been going through fire, and no one has mentioned that you are now far closer to being fully cooked than you realize. In fact, if you’ve been struggling for a long time, you’re quite possibly close to being “cooked to perfection”. You really can now simmer and allow the flavors to deepen.

…and you can do this without changing a single circumstance in your life.

I’m going to ask you to put aside any judgment for just a moment, and allow me to describe something that often gets brushed aside too quickly. There’s a mystery to meditation that can be distracting. Remember that activity that you feel most comfortable doing? I’ll bet you’ve experienced those moments during those activities, at least touched them.

So, remember that breath that you thought of earlier? The one that had your body fully engaged in your favorite, clearest, most powerful activity? Can you take that breath now? Only do this if you can recall that moment of power!

Inhale… and gently hold your breath for a few seconds… and exhale. And feel that feeling.

If you’re having a hard time feeling it in this moment, can you imagine that feeling? Can you imagine taking that one breath? Can you _feel_ and _know_ who and where you are in that moment, at the top of that breath?

Here’s the meditation… can you hold that “state of being”, without thought, just the BE-ing? Maybe “hold that breath” for a few moments?

If that’s something you can relate to, maybe you can tease that state of being out a bit longer. It doesn’t have to last long; what’s more important is your “presence” in that moment, your willingness to again experience that feeling of connection, strength, centeredness, and clarity.

So, I’ll stop with this thought: Just remember to breath. And for every breath, you now have an opportunity to RE-capture that state of being.

Imagine that? Being _there_ with _every_ breath?

One breath at a time.

(Inspired by my new friend, Kimberly. Thank you.)

A “practical” application for meditation: kids improve attention skills

The Vancouver Sun writes about a study by Richard Davidson with school children in Madison, WI.

“It’s so widely popular and successful, the district wants us to scale it up the entire (Madison) school system,” — Richard Davidson

I put “practical” in quotes because I believe this is one of the most basic applications, and that there are far more to be discovered by western cultures. Of course, meditation can benefit people of all ages, not just kids. Also, to be clear, it is my understanding that there are masses of people who meditate, but call it something else… “getting quiet”, “preparing”, “calming themselves”, etc… Unfortunately, the term “meditation” can be distracting because it brings with it a sense of being foreign, of coming from Eastern cultures, of being non-Anglo-centric (as a generality). This is a great sadness for me because I’m sure that many leaders in America have connected with the essence of their values, have taken time to remove themselves from distractions, and brought forth great intent and focus towards making significant decisions. This is very much aligned with the essence of meditation.

I posted this article on Facebook, and a dear friend asked this: “How would you separate the mystical aspects of this from the physical? In other words, at a basic level this says that if kids practice focusing, they get better at focusing. Would you argue that there is more to it?”

Here was my response:

I’m no master when it comes to describing “mysticism” or meditation. What I’ve found, though, is that using focus as a tool leads to some amazing things, the least of which is becoming adept at how to apply focus, and what to apply it towards. As I see it, there’s a fuzzy line between mystical and physical applications, where focus can be turned into clarity, and clarity can be used towards creativity.

Is a “muse” physical? Is poetry _simply_ a product of physical, biological, and neurological mechanisms? In converse, do people oversimplify or clumsily describe the infinite using phrases of religion or “spirituality”?

For me, to step beyond the scope of the article, when I meditate, I drop my “identity” or ego to the best of my ability. From that place, I find myself vastly more capable of relating and communing with what I understand each of us to be at our core. People often use the word “Love” or “Spirit” to describe that, and I’m okay with those terms for lack of any other.

Do I think there’s something beyond that, i.e. “God”? Well, it’s a fun intellectual model to view things with, and I use it from time to time. I’ve experienced countless events that fit within that model, and it makes me happy in the same way that a really good running joke keeps working.

A women several years ago defined “religion” as “spiritual grade school”. It brought a chuckle then, but I honor the sentiment quite a bit now. I view world religions as, often, earnest attempts at describing the indescribable. The breakdowns come when human egos try to manipulate the principles to their selfish desires. In Recovery, we say “Principles before personalities” as a way to keep our egos in the right place.

More importantly, and getting back to the article, for me to live a happy and peaceful life, I’ve found that developing a strong sense of quiet is analogous to building core fitness in my body. It gives me a centeredness from which I can act with maximal capability.