“CHRISTMAS is at our throats again.”
That was the cheery yuletide greeting favored by the late English playwright Noël Coward, commemorating the holiday after which he was named. Less contrarian were the words of President Calvin Coolidge: “Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”
Which quotation strikes a chord with you? Are you a Coward or a Coolidge?
If you sympathize more with Coward, welcome to the club. There are many more of us out there than one might expect. A 2005 survey by the Pew Research Center found that more than half of Americans were bothered “some” or “a lot” by the commercialization of Christmas. A 2013 follow-up confirmed that materialism is Americans’ least favorite part of the season.
Call it the Christmas Conundrum. We are supposed to revel in gift-giving and generosity, yet the season’s lavishness and commercialization leave many people cold. The underlying contradiction runs throughout modern life. On one hand, we naturally seek and rejoice in prosperity. On the other hand, success in this endeavor is often marred by a materialism we find repellent and alienating.
On a recent trip to India, I found an opportunity to help sort out this contradiction. I sought guidance from a penniless Hindu swami named Gnanmunidas at the Swaminarayan Akshardham Hindu temple in New Delhi. We had never met before, but he came highly recommended by friends. If Yelp reviewed monks, he would have had five stars.
To my astonishment, Gnanmunidas greeted me with an avuncular, “How ya doin’?” He referred to me as “dude.” And what was that accent — Texas? Sure enough, he had grown up in Houston, the son of Indian petroleum engineers, and had graduated from the University of Texas. Later, he got an M.B.A., and quickly made a lot of money.
But then Gnanmunidas had his awakening. At 26, he asked himself, “Is this all there is?” His grappling with that question led him to India, where he renounced everything and entered a Hindu seminary. Six years later, he emerged a monk. From that moment on, the sum total of his worldly possessions has been two robes, prayer beads and a wooden bowl. He is prohibited from even touching money — a discipline that would obviously be impossible for those of us enmeshed in ordinary economic life.
As an economist, I was more than a little afraid to hear what this capitalist-turned-renunciant had to teach me. But I posed a query nonetheless: “Swami, is economic prosperity a good or bad thing?” I held my breath and waited for his answer.
“It’s good,” he replied. “It has saved millions of people in my country from starvation.”
This was not what I expected. “But you own almost nothing,” I pressed. “I was sure you’d say that money is corrupting.” He laughed at my naïveté. “There is nothing wrong with money, dude. The problem in life is attachment to money.” The formula for a good life, he explained, is simple: abundance without attachment.
The assertion that there is nothing wrong with abundance per se is entirely consistent with most mainstream philosophies. Even traditions commonly perceived as ascetic rarely condemn prosperity on its face. The Dalai Lama, for example, teaches that material goods themselves are not the problem. The real issue, he writes, is our delusion that “satisfaction can arise from gratifying the senses alone.”
Moreover, any moral system that takes poverty relief seriously has to celebrate the ahistoric economic bounty that has been harvested these past few centuries. The proportion of the world living on $1 per day or less has shrunk by 80 percent in our lifetimes. Today, Bill Gates can credibly predictthat almost no countries will be conventionally “poor” by 2035.
In other words, if we are lucky enough to achieve abundance, we should be thankful for it and work to share the means to create it with others around the world. The real trick is the second part of the formula: avoiding attachment.
In Tibetan, the word “attachment” is translated as “do chag,” which literally means “sticky desire.” It signifies a desperate grasping at something, motivated by fear of separation from the object. One can find such attachment in many dysfunctional corners of life, from jealous relationships to paranoia about reputation and professional standing.
In the realm of material things, attachment results in envy and avarice. Getting beyond these snares is critical to life satisfaction. But how to do it? Three practices can help.
First, collect experiences, not things.
Material things appear to be permanent, while experiences seem evanescent and likely to be forgotten. Should you take a second honeymoon with your spouse, or get a new couch? The week away sounds great, but hey — the couch is something you’ll have forever, right?
Wrong. Thirty years from now, when you are sitting in rocking chairs on the porch, you’ll remember your second honeymoon in great detail. But are you likely to say to one another, “Remember that awesome couch?” Of course not. It will be gone and forgotten. Though it seems counterintuitive, it is physically permanent stuff that evaporates from our minds. It is memories in the ether of our consciousness that last a lifetime, there for us to enjoy again and again.
This “paradox of things” has been thoroughly documented by researchers. In 2003, psychologists from the University of Colorado and Cornell studied how Americans remembered different kinds of purchases — material things and experiences — they have made in the past. Using both a national survey and a controlled experiment with human subjects, they found that reflecting on experiential purchases left their subjects significantly happier than did remembering the material acquisitions.
I learned this lesson once and for all from my son Carlos. Five years ago, when Carlos was 9 years old, he announced that all he wanted for Christmas was a fishing trip — just the two of us, alone. No toys; no new things — just the trip. So we went fishing, and have done so every year since. Any material thing I had bought him would have been long forgotten. Yet both of us can tell you every place we’ve gone together, and all the fish we’ve caught, every single year.
Second, steer clear of excessive usefulness.
Our daily lives often consist of a dogged pursuit of practicality and usefulness at all costs. This is a sure path toward the attachment we need to avoid. Aristotle makes this point in his Nicomachean Ethics; he shows admiration for learned men because “they knew things that are remarkable, admirable, difficult, and divine, but useless.”
Countless studies show that doing things for their own sake — as opposed to things that are merely a means to achieve something else — makes for mindfulness and joy.
In one famous experiment, college students were given puzzles to solve. Some of the students were paid, and others were not. The unpaid participants tended to continue to work on the puzzles after the experiment was finished, whereas the paid participants abandoned the task as soon as the session was over. And the paid subjects reported enjoying the whole experience less.
FOR those living paycheck to paycheck, a focus on money is understandable. But for those of us blessed to be above poverty, attachment to money is a means-ends confusion. Excessive focus on your finances obscures what you are supposed to enjoy with them. It’s as if your experience of the holidays never extended beyond the time spent at the airport on the way to see family. (If you’re thinking that’s actually the best part, then you have a different problem.)
This manifestly does not mean we should abandon productive impulses. On the contrary, it means we need to treat our industry as an intrinsic end. This is the point made famously in the Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita, where work is sanctified as inherently valuable, not as a path to a payoff.
And finally, get to the center of the wheel.
In the rose windows of many medieval churches, one finds the famous “wheel of fortune,” or rota fortunae. The concept is borrowed from ancient Romans’ worship of the pagan goddess Fortuna. Following the wheel’s rim around, one sees the cycle of victory and defeat that everyone experiences throughout the struggles of life. At the top of the circle is a king; at the bottom, the same man as a pauper.
Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” uses the idea to tell of important people brought low throughout history: “And thus does Fortune’s wheel turn treacherously. And out of happiness bring men to sorrow.”
The lesson went beyond the rich and famous. Everyone was supposed to remember that each of us is turning on the wheel. One day, we’re at the top of our game. But from time to time, we find ourselves laid low in health, wealth and reputation.
If the lesson ended there, it would be pretty depressing. Every victory seems an exercise in futility, because soon enough we will be back at the bottom. But as the Catholic theologian Robert Barron writes, the early church answered this existential puzzle by placing Jesus at the center of the wheel. Worldly things occupy the wheel’s rim. These objects of attachment spin ceaselessly and mercilessly. Fixed at the center was the focal point of faith, the lodestar for transcending health, wealth, power, pleasure and fame — for moving beyond mortal abundance. The least practical thing in life was thus the most important and enduring.
But even if you are not religious, there is an important lesson for us embedded in this ancient theology. Namely, woe be unto those who live and die by the slings and arrows of worldly attachment. To prioritize these things is to cling to the rim, a sure recipe for existential vertigo. Instead, make sure you know what is the transcendental truth at the center of your wheel, and make that your focus.
So here is my central claim: The frustration and emptiness so many people feel at this time of year is not an objection to the abundance per se, nor should it be. It is a healthy hunger for nonattachment. This season, don’t rail against the crowds of shoppers on Fifth Avenue or become some sort of anti-gift misanthrope. Celebrate the bounty that has pulled millions out of poverty worldwide. But then, ponder the three practices above. Move beyond attachment by collecting experiences, avoid excessive usefulness, and get to the center of your wheel. It might just turn out to be a happy holiday after all.
I never finished my story about Swami Gnanmunidas. Before I left him that day in Delhi, we had a light lunch of soup and naan. I told him I would be writing about our conversation; many Americans would be hearing his name. He contemplated this for a moment and, modeling nonattachment, responded simply.
“Dude, do you like the soup? It’s spicy.”
Source: Published in NYtimes 12/12/2014
Inspired by Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, in which she transforms her depression and anxiety into fullness and joy by devoting herself to a practice of noticing and writing down every moment of wonder, I decided to try it myself.
What would I notice inside if all day long I jotted down the small moments that brought a smile to my soul?
My first morning went like this:
1- A warm bed on a cold autumn morning
2- A striped kitten staring at me when I wake up
3- A tiny brown foot pressed against a furry paw
4- A 4-year old leg slung across my belly
After several weeks of praising, of carrying around a little notebook, I realized that a path of praise trains us to become artists of life. Just like the photographer captures beauty in an image, so we can capture the miracle of being alive by seeking out and orienting our attention toward wonder. Each moment carries something praiseworthy if only we can clear our eyes of the silt of routine and see the world with the freshness of a child. My son picks up a rock on our driveway and is entranced with the details of design and color that swirl through the stone. There are thousands of twin stones on our driveway, but to my son that singular stone captures his attention and he gives it due praise. We can do the same. It's a question of intention, a commitment to witnessing life through a lens of wonder, which also means a lens of love. And it's not only the noticing but the act of writing it down that opens us to a felt experience of gratitude:
“Moving the ink across the page opens up the eyes." - Ann Voskamp
“There are eyes in pens and pencils.” - John Piper
Wonder is transposed into joy when it's witnessed, and it's amplified tenfold when it's documented.
My list has continued throughout the month. I jot down wonder in a notebook or on my iPhone, a random scrap of paper, anywhere:
42. Crystalline cloudless blue sky
43. My son saving caterpillars from the middle of the road
Noticing wonder and offering praise isn't just about focusing on what we normally think of as "good" and "beautiful." Rather, it's recognizing that there is good and beauty in everything, from a sleepless night to a poor report at work. This is a difficult concept to wrap our minds around as we're deeply conditioned to seek only the positive and comfortable aspects of life.
But finding wonder in each moment or experience is another way of saying yes to life: yes to beauty, yes to scarlet and gold leaves of autumn, yes to the light in your child's face, yes to the cat curled on your lap and yes to illness, yes to natural disasters, yes to conflict, yes to pain. It's a way of shifting out of habitual resistance and developing a practice that allows us to step into the flow of the river of our lives.
57. Argument with my husband (it does, eventually, lead to more closeness)
58. Irritation with my kids (what can I learn?)
Many people greet the emptiness they feel inside with self-judgement or distraction. You reach for your computer. You check your email. You scroll through Facebook. You eat more than you need at breakfast. There are thousands of ways to distract and avoid.
But what would happen if you moved toward the emptiness with a sense of curiosity and compassion? What would happen if you became so curious about it that you were able to describe it in detail? What would happen if you drew it or danced it or wrote a poem about it? The emptiness would become the fullness. Something inside would break open and you would notice a crack in the protective shield of numbness.
You might touch pain. And as an artist of life, you would move toward that as well. There is nothing—literally no-thing—that we need to push away. It's all part of the privilege of being alive. It's the light and the shadow that only ask one thing: to be seen. It's all we really want, and it's when we can find the courage to open to the darkness and pain that we discover the pathways to joy.
Source: Sheryl Paul M.A. for MindBodyGreen.com
Some people still associate meditation with kung fu movies and 1960s hippies, or at least New Age spa resorts. But the last few years have seen meditation practice steadily growing in “mainstream” popularity. What's that about? Could meditation make sense as a part of your busy urban lifestyle?
High profile meditation enthusiasts keep cropping up, from the artists like Jerry Seinfeld and David Lynch, to board members of Goldman Sachs Group and Exxon Mobil Corp (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-22/harvard-yoga-scientists-find-proof-of-meditation-benefit.html). “Mindfulness Training” workshops offered for employees at Google Headquarters (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/technology/google-course-asks-employees-to-take-a-deep-breath.html) regularly have wait-lists of up to 30 people. And U.S. government-funded neurological studies have reported that meditation causes significant improvement in brain and immune function. (http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/content/65/4/564.short) But still, the philosophical language used to talk about meditation can seem pretty irrelevant when just getting through the day's “to do list” can be so overwhelming.
After a basic introduction, though, many people find meditation more helpful in everyday life than initially expected. Meditation starts making sense when it stops seeming like a vacation activity, and instead you can begin to use it as a tool for getting through the workweek with a sense of spaciousness! The premise is that taking time to work with your mind can actually help you go further into the other projects and passions you care about. Everyone seems to agree that it's worthwhile to take some time to train and care for the body. Why do we so rarely take the time to train and care for our minds?
When we've got a big project to complete, and the temptation to stay up late working on it, we've all learned by experience that at some point it's actually a more strategic, effective choice to take a walk, clear your head, or get some sleep. Then we can dive back in, refreshed and ready to work efficiently. This is the logic of taking the time to show up for a meditation class. But it turns out this logic applies not just for efficiency, but also for enjoyment. A refreshed capacity to listen and think clearly helps us get work done. But the most compelling part is that quieting down our habitual stress patterns gives us the possibility to experience a basic sense of contentment. We can start to enjoy our own lives!
Every teacher I've ever learned meditation from has said something like “Don't believe anything I say - test it out for yourself, in the laboratory of your own daily experience. If it works for you, use it. If not, toss it aside.” Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years in religious contexts from Christianity and Islam to Hinduism and Buddhism, but it is essentially non-religious: compatible, but inherently separate from any system of beliefs. Mindfulness practice - which has gotten so much attention through scientific studies proving its transformative effectiveness - is nothing more than noticing what's going on.
There are many ways into meditation - many different techniques. But the heart of mediation practice is actually very simple. It has to do with relating directly to our own experiences in any given moment. Stillness and stability create a container in which we can start to understand how our own minds work. By showing up for something as simple as sitting on a cushion and watching the breath, we can become more able to show up for the rest of our own lives. Don't learn to meditate because you're curious about meditation, learn to meditate because you're passionate about enjoying life.
Want to learn more? Come join an Intro to Meditation class at the gorgeous new Urban Yoga studio in Business Bay, Dubai. Class happens three times a week, and you can check out the schedule HERE. Each session introduces the tools you need to get started, some discussion on meditation in modern life, and then guides you step-by-step through the meditation practice itself. Careful though, in addition to better focus and more efficient working patterns, you might even enjoy yourself!
Urban Yoga have kindly offered our Glowpeople community a FREE FIRST SESSION (choose any class you like!) and 10% off the first package. Book online at www.urbanyoga.ae, select the 'Drop in' payment option, and simply mention Glowpeople when you get there! Please note that 'Introduction to Mediation' classes resume on October 18th, 2013.
Looking for something to help you relax?
Sound therapists were able to rate ten of the most relaxing songs, with Marconi Union's 8 minute trance-inducing tune, "Weightless", coming out on top thanks to its continuous rhythm of 60 BPM, an ideal tempo for synchronization with the heart and brainwaves, read on:
>> Hear it in our article in 'News and Views'
"Oh, it’s you again. Hello fear. October is cancer awareness month and you can’t get through a store without being bombarded with pink ribbons. Naturally, this month kicks up a lot of emotion for people, and rightly so. But it’s possible to work with our fears and use them to our benefit. Fear contains powerful messages. When we’re courageous enough to be with what scares us, we can awaken our intuition and create a new path for healing. Whether you’re worried about getting sick, you’re currently dealing with a health issue, or you’re scared and struggling in other areas of your life, don’t judge your fears, invite them to tea.
It’s common to belittle our fears and try to pre-maturely cleanse them away. But just because we’re afraid, doesn’t mean we’re toxic or failing or falling off the spiritual wagon. Fear is one of the many colors in our emotional palette, and it’s often there for a reason. There’s nothing weak or less evolved about being frightened. And guess what, you’re not alone. We’re all scared. No one is fearless.
Fear is normal and, to a certain extent, it’s important. We can thank fear when it makes us get a lump checked or tells us not to get into a van with that guy. We can have gratitude for fear when it shakes us awake or jolts us from complacency. But while fear can play a very valuable role in igniting action, we can’t let it run our lives—especially if our fears are totally unfounded or irrational. Once we receive the message (the ah-ha!) we need to disable the fear alarm, turn it off, cool it down. Because no one can thrive in a constant state of panic, our bodies aren’t built for that, and neither are our spirits.
When fear becomes your lighthouse it will perpetually lead you to darkness.So how do you get what you need from fear without letting it pull you under? Bring yourself back to the present moment. The here. The now. The pillow under your butt. The ground under your feet. The real reality. Unplug the movie in your mind and pet your dog. That’s real. That’s what’s truly happening.
Taking fear for a joy ride: My guide for dancing with the dragon.Open your heart: You know those fluttering feelings in your belly? Instead of getting hysterical, just sit with them. Breathe through them. Deeply. Slowly. Continually. Have the guts to stay there longer than you’d like. If sadness comes up, let it be there. If anger comes up, that’s ok too. Tears will probably follow. This is real and raw and wonderful. Congratulations!
Listen: Once you’ve made contact with what’s coming up for you, ask fear what it’s trying to say. Request that it communicate in a calm, coherent way. Don’t rush it… have some R.E.S.P.E.C.T., mind your manners, and don’t interrupt. Let fear speak. Listen.
Do an intuition gut check: Make a determination about whether your fear is constructive or destructive. If you agree with the fear, begin to explore how you can make a healthy shift. If you don’t agree, you can simply decline the opportunity to react. Instead of indulging yourself and peeing in your new pants, soothe your thoughts like you would soothe a nervous 5 year old.
Here’s a quick tour down one of my irrational rabbit holes: An impending doctor appointment. All I could think of was how my disease had progressed and that I’d like to invite you all to my funeral. What kind of food should be served? Should there be a DJ? No, that’s not serious enough. Who should get my good jewelry? My mom and my sister. Will Brian remember to feed Lola? Oh, god, Lola is going to die! Lola is dead. And Brian is so lonely. I love Brian and I miss him. Maybe he should start dating again. But not someone younger then me. OH MY GOD Brian is dating a hot 20 year old! I hate Brian.
If I can grab myself out of that loop, I’ll probably have a good ole laugh, acknowledge the underlying anxiety, head to Target for some trash mags or watch a great movie (while holding Brian’s hand). However, if I’m unable to see my fantasy for what it really is (stress) then the next time Brian asks where the almond butter is, I’ll tell him to ask his child bride!
Being afraid doesn’t make you inadequate: Many of us feel embarrassed and ashamed of our fears. We’ve been conditioned to believe that fear makes us weak. “Grow up. Man up. It’s not cool to be scared. Don’t be such a cry baby.” But stored up fears never make us stronger. Quite the opposite, stored up fears break us (emotionally and physically). If you want to set a powerful example for yourself and others, give your fears a voice. Talk it out. Call a friend. Chat with the friend within. Book a session with that good therapist. Pray. Ask for help. It’s all around you.
Take Action: Another way to gain clarity is to get back into my body through movement. Activating our bodies changes our perspective. A walk, a run, a bike ride, some inversions (they really help!), whatever it takes to snap out of the fear feedback loop.
Let love rule: Love is greater than fear. And love is everywhere, always. Love is the glue that holds the infinite together. Fear is a tiny drop of water compared to the ocean that is love. If you’ve ever practiced EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), you know that love and acceptance are great tools for calming your nervous system. I’ve used this statement (affirmation) many times: “Even though I’m really scared, I love and accept myself anyway.” Boom. Stress-reduction.
Lastly, sometimes fear is much easier to understand than we think. It may not have anything to do with being useful or not. It may not even really be fear. Perhaps we’re just really uncomfortable with change. New things. New information. The unfamiliar and all that goes with it. Give yourself a break. You’re human. You have many valid emotions. The trick is to stop being so critical and start applying more compassion, kindness to all aspects of you. Now go put on some cute heels or a snappy fedora and dance with your dragon (I promise you won’t get burned).
I hope this gives you some tools for difficult times."
Source: Kris Carr
Photo: Kris Carr
Scientists have long believed that by the time we turn 21 our brains stop growing. Recent discoveries have proven this is not so. Every day and for our entire lives, our brains are evolving in response to our experiences, thoughts, feelings, and actions. Exercises like these can help keep your brain sharp and neurons firing.
1-Look at the World Upside Down
Jill Bolte Taylor, neuroanatomist and author of 'My Stroke of Insight', suggests hanging a familiar item upside down. It makes the brain work differently to get the information it is looking for. Try inverting your calendar, family photos, a map, or even a clock.
2-Turn On Your Ears
Paula Oleska, founder of Natural Intelligence Systems, uses this exercise to help people stimulate the left hemisphere of the brain. Ears are very important sensory organs, but they "switch off" with excessive noise, diminishing the amount of information being received. This exercise turns the ears back on, improving clarity of hearing and overall alertness.
Firmly take hold of the tops of your ears and unroll the crease, pulling toward the back of your head. Repeat this movement, going systematically down through the whole ear. Repeat three or four times.
Paula Oleska, founder of Natural Intelligence Systems, suggests the cross crawl exercise to increase energy and stimulate memory and recall. By crossing the midline of the body, you activate the connections between the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
While standing, lift your left knee and touch it with your right hand. Then change to the right knee and left hand. Repeat for a few minutes.
Is it a vase or is it a face? Lynda Greenberg, a student of Dr. Betty Edwards, author of 'Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain', suggests trying this classic right-brain, left-brain exercise. Click on the picutre below and follow the instructions exactly and watch where you get caught up. Do you find it challenging? You can read about what's going on in your brain when you try it through the same link.
Source: Omega Institute
In 2004, Dan Buettner teamed up with National Geographic and hired the world’s best longevity researchers to identify pockets around the world where people lived measurably better, happier and longer lives. In these Blue Zones they found that people reach age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the United States.
After identifying the world’s Blue Zones, Buettner and National Geographic took teams of scientists to each location to identify lifestyle characteristics that might explain longevity and happiness. They found that the lifestyles of all Blue Zones residents shared specific characteristics. To read more about this fascinating work visit their website.
Meanwhile take this great test to evaluate how happy you truly are with your life, it's a real eye-opener:
"If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place." -Lao Tzu
Read more about Lao Tzu here!
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