Follow Your Heart, Not Your Fear: How to Make Choices That Are Right for You

Follow your heart

“Unnecessary fear of a bad decision is a major stumbling block to good decisions.” ~Jim Camp

Twenty years ago, my wife and I decided to move from Montréal, where we had lived for the first 35 years of our lives, to Nova Scotia, 800 miles away, where we had no connections whatsoever. Neither a small decision, nor undertaking, since this involved our four kids and the entire contents of our house (not to mention a dog and two cats!)

Why were we moving? We were not moving because of a job opportunity; we enjoyed the life we had in Montréal. And there was nothing—as far as we knew—waiting for us in Nova Scotia. Nothing, except our future, the next stage of our lives.

But we both had a strong, clear feeling—a felt sense—that it was time to leave. And we both had a strong, clear feeling that Nova Scotia was the right place to move to. Simple as that.

There were lots of reasons to think that we shouldn’t make this move and take all the risks involved. In the year before we moved, every attempt I made at getting work there fell through. Every attempt I made at finding a house to rent fell through. It was literally only three weeks before we moved that we finally had a place to move to!

There was plenty of worry, stress, and anxiety, plenty of thoughts saying that this was a bad decision.

By this point in my life, though, I had learned to listen to my intuition, and to the signals of my heart, to guide me in my life choices.

I had learned not let my thoughts (that is to say, my worries, doubts, fears, anxieties, and apprehensions) paralyze me in my decision-making. I had learned to have more confidence in what my body felt than in what my mind said.

There was a time when I would have wasted a lot of time and energy debating back and forth, and then made a choice I was neither sure was the right one, nor fully happy with. For the first three decades or more of my life, I was a person who struggled intensely with making choices and decisions.

I was usually afraid of making the wrong choice, and unsure of how to know whether I was making the right choice. Aside from any question about “right versus wrong” choices, I worried about what others would think, or how others would feel, if I made this or that choice.

This indecision, this self-doubt, resulted in significant stress and anxiety—sometimes, to the point of feeling too paralyzed to act at all—as well as resulting in wasted time, lost opportunities, and regrets.

Over the years, I worked in therapy on overcoming anxiety and other issues, and learned and practiced meditation and mindfulness, and yoga. Over time, and with consistent practice, I gradually learned how to find a calm center in the midst of those conflicted thoughts.

I also learned how to tune into my heart, with heart-focused meditations.

I discovered that my heart would always tell me what I really needed. There was always one clear answer from the heart, about what was right for me in any given situation. And when I experimented with acting on those choices, the outcomes were always good, and I never felt doubt or regret. There was a consistent sense of acting in alignment with my true self, my true purpose…my truth.

The fundamental basis for this approach to making decisions is mindfulness. Being mindful means being able to “sink down” below the turbulent surface of thoughts, projections, fears, and perceptions that all clamour for my attention when I have a decision to make. It means having a still center from which I can then be aware of the quieter, and subtler, signals in my body, my heart.

When you mindfully tune into your heart, when you separate from your thoughts and emotional reactions, you discover that the heart has a very clear, although sometimes, a very subtle, way of saying “yes” and “no.”

A sensation or feeling of opening, relaxing, warmth, moving toward, is a “Yes.” A feeling or sensation of closing, hardening, pulling back, tensing is a “No.”

I have learned to trust that this response from the heart tells me what is best for my overall, integral being, for my physical health, my mental health, my social relationships, my family relationships, and the unfolding of my life purpose.

Mindfulness is the basis from which this approach to decision-making stems, but making decisions this way as a practice also enhances my ability to be mindful in everyday life.

It is an exercise in letting go of attachment—attachment to desires and fears; attachment to expectations of myself, of others, or of the future; attachment to thoughts about what I “should” do; attachment to what other people might think and feel.

Most of our stress, anxiety, indecision, and doubt around making decisions is rooted in fear. We fear unknown outcomes, or we fear negative outcomes that we project might happen.

Fear reactions always serve to dissociate us from our true and integral Self in the moment.

In his book The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton talks about how a cell is either in defence mode or in growth mode; it cannot be in both at once. The same is true psychologically.

If we are—even just in our thoughts—engaged in fear, and trying to defend ourselves from negative outcomes, then the choices we make will be based in trying to protect ourselves from whatever it is we fear; they will not be grounded in hope, confidence, and faith; they will not be conducive to growth and thriving.

It isn’t necessarily easy to resist the fear, and to listen to your heart. Our brains are wired to prioritize safety; this means that the brain will pay attention to fear and let it guide our thinking. It takes practice and perseverance to find a calm center beneath and within the fear; it is the work of mindfulness, applied to actions.

Mindfulness is fundamental as it trains you to detach from the narrative of the fear-based thoughts. But making decisions to act in ways that challenge those fears takes the challenge up a notch.

Part of the solution is reminding yourself of what has always happened in the past when you acted according to these fears. You will find that there is always some kind of dissatisfaction or disappointment, if not outright frustration, that resulted.

Part of the solution is working on reducing those fears (try Energy Psychology techniques or, my favorite, Logosynthesis); and part of the solution is in “feeling the fear and doing it anyways”—pushing through the fear, and experiencing the positive outcomes.

I have come to make all my decisions in this heart-centered way, and I have never been disappointed. On the one hand, I can say that I have never been disappointed because the outcome has always been good.

On the other hand, there is a feeling that comes simply from making a decision this way, based on a felt response in the body, where I physically experience my body saying yes or no, that allows me to detach from expectations about the outcome altogether, and to feel good and confident about my decision, regardless of the outcome.

I feel good and strong simply because I am making the decision that I know is right for me.

The outcomes we wish for are not always the outcomes we need, or that will be best for us. The outcomes we wish for are often based in a sense of lack, longing, or insufficiency. In my emotional heart I may fear, I may want to avoid something, or I may long for something, desire it.

In my energetic heart, the response will not be based on any sense of fear, avoidance, lack, or insufficiency. It is based in a consistent, integral sense of Self, in relationship to others, to the world, and to life itself.

I used to be afraid of confrontation, or even of risking a confrontation by displeasing people. So when it became clear that the dynamics of my (birth) family’s gatherings were too stressful for my wife, and detrimental to her well-being, I was forced to look at it more closely and acknowledge that I felt uncomfortable in those situations, as well.

I had the usual reaction: “But it’s my family! I can’t just decide not to go for Christmas!” But in my heart I felt clearly that the right choice was to stop attending. Having to take this action and tell them caused me a lot of anxiety.

I was afraid of the anger and rejection I felt certain would come of it. I delayed and avoided.

When I did tell them, I was met with confusion, anger, and blame. The response I feared did happen. What didn’t happen is what I really feared—that I would not be okay if they were unhappy with me.

I was okay…We were okay. It made my relationship stronger because my wife knew I would take her needs seriously, and act on them, even though it was uncomfortable for me. It made me stronger, because it helped me to realize that even if I made other people unhappy, I could still be okay.

Knowing I was making the right choice for myself, there was a clear distinction between what other people might think was “right” or “wrong,” and what I knew in my heart.

Letting go of fear opened me up to growth.

The more you practice decision-making in this way, the more you develop an incredible sense of freedom, an ability to move in this world in a way that is true to yourself and to your life purpose. It helps to cultivate the “courageous self-acceptance” and the “fearless heart” described in Buddhist teachings.

And when making your decisions becomes clearer, less stressful, and less conflicted, it makes your relationships with others a lot easier. You let go of people pleasing, of guilt, of feeling like you have to explain yourself or even to compromise yourself and make decisions that aren’t right for you.

You may be afraid that if you act according to your heart, you will make people angry. And that may be exactly what happens. But your great fears of the consequences of people being angry with you never happen. You realize that even if you have to deal with loss, you have regained something of yourself.

Relationships become simpler as you feel a sense of wholeness, of integrity. You know you are acting with integrity, and so you feel comfortable affirming your choices. You feel less defensive when people disagree with you. This is a freedom we should all wish for each other, and grant each other.

And, in case you were wondering, nineteen years later, we still love living in Nova Scotia. It is home now, and we would never think of leaving. Within a couple of months of moving here I was working full-time. It has been a great place to live, to work and to raise our children and we would never think of leaving.

Our hearts drew us to a place that became home in a way that the place we grew up and began our adult lives in could never quite be. Our hearts drew us to our destinies.

A Simple Way to Calm Yourself When Feeling Strong Emotions

Peaceful Woman

“This is the root of Self. You are not your thoughts; you are aware of your thoughts. You are not your emotions; you feel your emotions…. You are the conscious being who is aware that you are aware of all these inner and outer things.” ~Michael Singer

I sat across from my colleague with a growing sense of discomfort. I had accepted an assignment from the boss, but I heard from my colleague an undercurrent of questioning and uncertainty—or so it seemed. It was so subtle that I couldn’t quite tell what was going on.

Did she not believe I could do it? Nobody else was stepping forward to meet the need. Was she saying it’s better to go with nobody than with me?

All I knew for sure was that I wasn’t hearing this outright. I decided to let it go, head on home, think about it tomorrow, and be fully present with my family instead. But the next morning as I pulled into my parking spot in front of the office, a subtle agitation rumbled in my stomach.

I walked into the quiet building and set my things down in the office, distracted by my disquiet and wishing I could focus on my task list. The thoughts prickling at me wouldn’t let go.

I laid my pen down and asked myself, “Okay, what’s going on?”

In my top drawer I keep a deck of “grok” cards that I bought from the folks at the Center for Nonviolent Communication. Each one has the name of a need or value—things like “hope,” “trust,” and “balance” show up in this deck. I frequently use these when I can’t quite put a finger on what’s bothering me.

I flipped through the cards and sorted them as I went. In the “not now” pile went cards like “freedom,” “competence,” and “creativity.” In the next pile, the “Maybe?” pile, went cards like “security,” “meaning/purpose,” and “friendship.”

I went on sorting between just these two piles until I hit one that resonated: “Acknowledgement.” That went into a new pile: “Yes.”

A couple of cards after it I found “Appreciation.” That went into the “Yes” pile too, and then I noticed something really interesting happen: I got angry.

Usually when I sort through these cards, the experience of finding the right word to put on my current needs or values results in feeling more settled, more clear. Frequently my agitation will be replaced by a sense of gratitude, or courage to act in a way that helps me meet my needs.

Typically, that is the value for me in identifying my needs. It helps me find a more straightforward and effective path toward getting those needs met. But it didn’t happen this time.

Instead, the voice in my head just became louder and more insistent.

My coworker should be grateful for my willingness to take on this new project! She wasn’t going to step in and do anything. Why wasn’t she acknowledging that I was making a sacrifice on behalf of the team?

This narrative swept me up. It threatened to pull me under.

Slowly, I started to notice another, quieter voice saying, “Why am I getting so upset? That doesn’t usually happen after I go through the GROK cards. What can I do for myself that won’t be so negative?”

I’m going to admit this was an odd experience for me. I don’t typically have this second, quieter voice. Or, if I’ve had it, I haven’t been able to hear it.

But I did hear it this time, and it called to mind Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. I read it just about a month before.

“You are not the voice of the mind,” he wrote. “You are the one that hears it.”

He suggests that when we’re bothered by something, we can change what we identify with. Rather than identifying with all of those thoughts and feelings, we can instead identify ourselves as “the observer” or witness of what is being experienced.

As I felt myself getting swept up in defensiveness against my coworker, I decided to try it. What would happen, I wondered? I started up a new voice in my head that said, “I am not all of these thoughts and feelings. I am the observer who is noticing that Amy is having a powerful experience.”

It was almost meditation, but not quite the same as my usual practice. Michael Singer might say I was doing it wrong. A psychiatrist might have a lot of questions for me—I don’t know.

What I do know is what happened inside myself. As I identified myself as “the observer who is noticing that Amy is having a powerful experience,” I relaxed. I let go of the waves of negative thinking.

I realized that I could talk to myself the way I would talk to a dear friend who is feeling unacknowledged and underappreciated. I realized I could give myself compassion.

I imagined telling myself, “I’m sorry you haven’t been appreciated. That’s hard. You are still okay.”

I admit I feel extra vulnerable as I type that out. Part of me doesn’t want to admit that I talk to myself in this way. On the other hand, this was such an amazing experience!

I was able to walk myself through processing my own needs and emotions in ways I’ve never done before. As soon as it happened, I wanted to shout it out to the rest of the world, “Hey, I’ve found a path that looks like it leads somewhere good! Come check it out!”

Do you ever feel the emotional undertow of unpleasant, uncomfortable feelings? Have you tried to resist them without success? Perhaps it would help to identify yourself as the observer.

Accept that the feelings and thoughts are there, but instead of identifying with them, try identifying yourself as the observer or witness who is noticing that this experience is flowing through.

Perhaps you already know this part of the path. Have you tried a practice like this? What works for you?

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The Face Everything Technique: Why Avoiding Difficulties Doesn’t Work

We are, all of us, amazing at avoiding things.

Our minds are less “thinking machines” than they are “avoiding machines.” And the incredible thing is that we aren’t even usually aware that we’re avoiding thinking about something.

I’ll give you a few examples:

  • Right now you’re reading this article but probably avoiding the difficult thing you don’t want to think about.
  • We are constantly checking messages, news, feeds, notifications … to avoid doing something we don’t want to face.
  • When we’re facing difficulties in life, we try to tell ourselves that’s it’s OK because (fill in the blank), or get busy with some activity or numbing agent (like alcohol) so we don’t have to face the difficulties.
  • When a problem comes up, our reaction is to want to go do something else, put it off.
  • We put off paying bills, doing taxes, dealing with long emails, dealing with clutter, because we don’t want to face these difficulties.
  • We put off exercise because it’s uncomfortable.

In fact, there are thousands more examples, every day, that come up and that we don’t even notice, because our minds switch to thinking about something else.

Try this right now: pause for a minute and think about what difficulty you’re avoiding thinking about right now.

You will either notice a difficulty you don’t like, or your mind will quickly turn to doing something else before the minute is up.

What you’ve done is part of what I call the Face Everything Technique … which I’ll explain in a minute, after we talk about why avoiding everything is an ineffective strategy.

Avoidance Doesn’t Work

Our minds want to run from whatever discomfort, pain, difficulty we’re facing … and this is a good strategy for temporarily not having to deal with difficulty and pain. So in the present moment, we might feel some temporary relief.

But what it does is relegate us to a life of running. A life of distraction and never facing what ails us. We keep ourselves busy, but never learn to deal with what’s inside us, what’s in front of us.

This means we are at the mercy of our fears, of our discomforts. We are like little children who don’t want to do any hard work, but want the latest shiny fun thing.

This results in not working on the important work (or at least putting it off until it starts to get painful). The same is true of exercise, healthy eating, finances, clutter, relationships, and more.

In the end, we usually have to deal with these things, but they’ve just gotten worse. It would have been better to face them early on, when they weren’t such a big deal.

The Face Everything Technique

This technique is based on the idea that it’s better to be aware of things, and to deal with them like an adult, instead of running.

And if we do, none of it’s that big of a deal.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Create awareness by asking, “What am I doing right now?” Throughout the day, set reminders or put little notes that remind you to ask, “What am I doing right now?” The answer might be, “Checking Facebook,” or “Switching to a new browser tab,” or “Eating some chips.” Something simple and mundane like that, but just ask yourself what you’re doing, to start to bring awareness.
  2. Next, ask yourself, “What am I avoiding?” When things get difficult or uncomfortable, we automatically switch to something else. We run. We avoid, like crazy. You’re doing it all day long, but not realizing it. Ask what you’re avoiding: some fear, some difficult task, some difficult emotion, some discomfort, or just staying present in the current moment? Name what you’re avoiding.
  3. Now face it. Just stay with this fear, discomfort, difficulty, in the present moment. Not your story about it that you’re telling yourself in your head, but the actual physical feeling in your body in the present moment. How bad is it? You’ll find that it’s No Big Deal. Stay with it for a little longer. And a little longer after that — challenge yourself.
  4. Take appropriate action. Now that you’ve faced it and have seen that it’s not such a big deal, you can act like an adult rather than a little child: you can decide what the best action is right now. If you’re afraid of doing some task, but you’ve faced it and seen that the fear is not such a big deal … you can remind yourself that the task will benefit you and others, and is much more important than your little fear. If you’re avoiding a difficult conversation with someone because you’re angry, you can see that the anger and offense is not such a big deal, and you can talk to the person calmly and appropriately, with empathy and compassion, and figure out a solution.

Of course, not all problems will just evaporate using this method, but I can tell you that you’ll be able to face many more things as you practice this method. You’ll get better at dealing with discomfort, instead of running from it as most people do. You’ll get better at not procrastinating, and doing uncomfortable tasks. You’ll be more present and more willing to stay in the moment rather than needing distractions all the time. Not overnight, but with practice.

You might have the urge to dismiss this article, to avoid practicing this technique. That too is avoidance, and I urge you to face it this moment.

This Moment is Enough

I was in a plane descending into Portland for a quick stopover, and I gazed upon a brilliant pink sunrise over blue and purple mountains, and my heart ached.

Instinctively, I looked over to Eva to share this breath-taking moment, but she was sleeping. I felt incomplete, not being able to share the moment with her, or with anyone. Its beauty was slipping through my fingers.

This was a teachable moment for me: I somehow felt this moment wasn’t enough, without being able to share it. It took me a second to remind myself: this moment is enough.

It’s enough, without needing to be shared or photographed or improved or commented upon. It’s enough, awe-inspiring just as it is.

I’m not alone in this feeling, that the moment needs to be captured by photo to be complete, or shared somehow on social media. It’s the entire reason for Instagram, for instance.

We feel the moment isn’t enough unless we talk about it, share it, somehow solidify it. The moment is ephemeral, and we want solidity and permanence. This kind of groundlessness can scare us.

This feeling of not-enoughness is fairly pervasive in our lives:

  • We sit down to eat and feel we should be reading something online, checking messages, doing work. As if eating the food weren’t enough.
  • We get annoyed with people when they don’t act as we want them to — the way they are feels like it’s not enough.
  • We feel directionless and lost in life, as if the life we have is not already enough.
  • We procrastinate when we know we should sit down to do important work, going for distractions, as if the work is not enough for us.
  • We always feel there’s something else we should be doing, and can’t just sit in peace.
  • We mourn the loss of people, of the past, of traditions … because the present feels like it’s not enough.
  • We are constantly thinking about what’s to come, as if it’s not enough to focus on what’s right in front of us.
  • We constantly look to improve ourselves, or to improve others, as if we and they are not already enough as we are.
  • We reject situations, reject people, reject ourselves, because we feel they’re not enough.

What if we accepted this present moment, and everyone and everything in it, as exactly enough?

What if we needed nothing more?

What if we accepted that this moment will slip away when it’s done, and saw the fleeting time we had with the moment as enough, without needing to share it or capture it?

What if we said yes to things, instead of rejecting them?

What if we accepted the “bad” with the good, the failures with the attempts, the irritating with the beautiful, the fear with the opportunity, as part of a package deal that this moment is offering us?

What if we paused right now, and saw everything in this present moment around us (including ourselves), and just appreciated it for what it is, as perfectly enough?

 

Five Ways to Nurse Your Ego to Health

By Patrick Cole

Five Ways to Nurse Your Ego to Health

Low self-esteem is a common problem among us. Even those who you will deny it might find hard to say that they have never faced a situation in which they were left with a bruised ego – either a bad breakup, a job loss or just a bad hair day.

Of course, some of us take these moments a bit more to the heart. It also might lead to several conditions and complexes, from a simple and long crying day to depression. So, if you are dealing with any of these situations right now, here are five ways that you can apply to your life so to try to nurse your ego to health, and make yourself feel worthy again.

1 – Accept your flaws

It might sound strange that the first way mentioned here regarding how to nurse your ego is accepting your flaws, but this is the pure and simple truth.

If you wish to ensure that you will become happier about the person that you are, you will have to accept that you aren’t perfect. But the goal here is not to feel sorry for yourself, but to forgive yourself, and to understand that you are worthy of a great life despite it.

2 – Nothing out there is perfect

On the other hand, you should be sure that nothing and nobody are perfect out there. People have flaws and problems even if they are billionaires, sex symbols, or the CEO of the biggest companies in the world. Tabloids are full of countless stories of anorexia, bulimia, cheating, bankruptcy, corruption, and more from the world of celebrities, just as an example.

So stop comparing yourself to the others and rest assured that most of what you call perfection is just Photoshop and good PR. Understand the world is as we dream it, and get ready to build yours.

3 – Congratulate yourself

If nobody is there to do it, do it yourself. If you are getting compliments, do it anyway. Being able to congratulate yourself even for your smallest accomplishments will nurse your ego and make you feel good about yourself. That is to say that you don’t need to get a promotion or win the Olympic Games so you can congratulate yourself. Anything significant that happens in your life should be used as an excuse in this case.

This is called positive self-talk, and it is a proven way to boost self-esteem. It also means to stop listening to your inner critic when it doesn’t have anything useful to say. You can also take short self-appreciation breaks throughout the day and make it part of your routine.

4 – Keep a list of your best characteristics

If you tend to forget how good you are and your best achievements in life, make a list of them and keep it where you can find it. Don’t be shy or afraid to be overestimating your qualities – here what matters is what you consider as important. Remember that this is your private list and that you can write whatever you want.

So put everything into words and you will see how writing is good for your brain – and how it will make you feel better about yourself. Studies have proved it, and you can see their applications in the classroom and real life in many schools and universities nowadays.

5 – Help other people

We all know that we should be doing it just to be a helpful part the community, but it is also true that supporting other people is a great ego booster. Nothing better than hear a thank you or see the smile on their faces after giving a hand to someone. So, make of love your true goal, and look for volunteering opportunities, or, at least, try to be more available when you know that you could be of help. It might be what you just need to feel better about yourself.

In Conclusion

There is nothing wrong in nursing your ego if what you are looking for is to increase your self-esteem. And the simple and easy five ways listed above will help on your mission that makes yourself a happier person, proud of who you are and of your achievements.

And rest assured that it will reflect on the way that you see and participate in the world. So this will be a win-win situation for everybody, starting with you.

How Spiritual Health Affects Our Lives

The “holy trinity” of body, mind and spirit is something that many people take for granted, and we do not respect this connection between the most important elements our being. To be more precise, the majority of people are concerned with only one aspect of this triangle – physical health. That is why our gyms are always full and why fitness regimes and diet products are being advertised everywhere around us, but this dedication to our physical health should not be done separately and we should always try to have balance in our lives.

The balance between good mental health, strong and vital body, and a satisfied and positive spirit is very hard to achieve in today’s hectic world or problems, meetings, appointments, and obsession with money. Our mental health is bombarded with stress while our bodies are living in polluted homes, eating unhealthy food and breathing dangerous toxins, and then it is no wonder that our spiritual “part” is “damaged” as well. However, there are certain ways that can make our spiritual entities more satisfied, and although there is no universal formula – some of those actions could restore your spiritual balance and make you happy and positive once again.

For example, many people have found spiritual satisfaction in religion, whether it be institutionalized religion or some other non-tradition form of spirituality. However, this should be done with caution, simply because dangerous cults pray on those who search spiritual balance and they can bring more harm than good.

Since every human being is unique and different, it is hard to say the exact “formula” for good spiritual health, but a lot of people have benefited from the introduction of meditation into their daily routine.
Regular sessions of deep breathing and contemplation are also a good thing, and overall spiritual health can also experience a significant boost if we invest in our mind and body. By reading and learning new stuff, or by taking regular exercise, we can improve our physical and our mental health, and these two elements will lift our spiritual levels as well.

Good spiritual health is extremely important, simply because we cannot have inner peace, hope and comfort without some sort of spiritual balance. If we want to give meaning to our lives and to lead productive and satisfying lives, our spiritual health needs to be one of the priorities. The benefits of having a good spiritual health include better mood, fewer anxieties, more happiness and satisfaction, fewer visits to the doctor’s office, and so on.
People who have found spiritual balance are more productive and perform better at their jobs, which is also beneficial for the whole community since we all affect each other in more ways than we can imagine. Also, strong spiritual health can give us mental balance in life, which can affect our relationships and our social interactions. If our mind and soul are “in the right place”, our lives will be filled with love and happiness, and this is something we all crave for.
Our mental health is bombarded with stress while our bodies are living in polluted homes, eating unhealthy food and breathing.

Happy mothering! It’s good for your health.

© Glow Images. Models used for illustrative purposes© Glow Images. Models used for illustrative purposes

Today’s woman is multi-faceted. She can be a wife, daughter, sister, aunt, mother and grandmother. As a mum, she juggles her life with raising children, running a home, work or study. As a grandmother, she often plays an important role in looking-after her grandchildren. For these women, mothering is a serious responsibility and a treasured privilege. While it’s a demanding life, it can be made easier when it incorporates happy mothering which is good for your health.

Celebrate Happy Mothering

Each year Mother’s Day celebrates the contribution women make to family life and acknowledges the importance of mothering. My earliest participation in this celebration, was the morning I proudly carried the breakfast tray into my mother’s room for the first time. Serving my Mum breakfast in bed was my way of thanking her for the love and caring she was giving me. Of course, I didn’t fully appreciate all she was doing to raise me to be a happy, healthy, good person. Yet my mother did this each day with boundless grace and love.

TIPS:

– Relish the challenges of parenting. Be pleased that you’re doing your best as a mother.

– Take pleasure in the fact that you get your children to school each day so that they can receive a good education; that you’re able to feed, clothe, and give them a safe, loving home; that through your efforts you are giving them a good start in life.

– Be glad to “Direct your children onto the right path (so that), when they are older, they will not leave it.” The Bible, Proverbs 22:6.

– Feel satisfied that through your spiritual values and example, your children will become model citizens, knowing right from wrong, treating everyone with respect and kindness, and being a blessing to others at home, school and in the community.

– Have inner contentment. Find joy in allowing meditation or prayer help you be a happy mother. “Take time to be holy, Be calm in thy soul; Each thought and each motive beneath His control.” – W.D. Longstaff .

– Be grateful for your mother’s nurturing and the selfless caring that women around the world give their own children and others. “Happiness is spiritual, born of Truth and Love. It is unselfish; therefore it cannot exist alone, but requires all mankind to share it.” Science and Health p. 57 – Mary Baker Eddy.

– Be joyous. With the help of a divine Mother-love you can fulfill your parenting tasks with poise and grace, and celebrate happy mothering.

Mind Over Matter? Mindfulness Meditation For Pain Management

 

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Pain is subjective. It is a sensory and emotional experience that can be influenced by countless factors, ranging from expectations to mood or even faith. Chronic pain can be highly despairing and significantly affect one’s quality of life and emotional state. The currently available analgesic treatments don’t always work, and pain researchers keep searching for more effective options for pain management.

In the last decades, there have been many studies proposing that mindfulness meditation can reduce pain and improve health, both in experimental and in clinical contexts.

Mindfulness meditation is a cognitive practice that involves paying full attention to whatever internal and external experiences are occurring in the present moment, as you experience them. It is a technique that combines focused attention on breathing with objective non-judgmental acceptance of arising thoughts and sensations. This means accepting an experience with an even mind, not judging it as good or bad.

One of the main doubts regarding the analgesic effect of mindfulness meditation has been how exactly it happens. It could be argued that mindfulness meditation could simply reduce pain through a placebo-like effect, or due to the context of participating in a meditation intervention, including expectations, shifted attention, the setting, body posture, breathing, or other processes associated with the simple awareness or belief that one is practicing meditation.

Recent research

In 2015, The Journal of Neuroscience published a study whose goal was to precisely determine whether or not the neuronal mechanisms of mindfulness meditation-induced pain relief were similar to those of placebo analgesia, or if they were due to contextual influences.

The study combined different approaches, including psychophysical, physiological, and brain imaging methods, to test the hypothesis that mindfulness meditation reduces pain by activating specific neurological mechanisms, different from those of placebo analgesia. Given the impact that the context of a meditation intervention can have on pain perception, as mentioned above, the study also compared the effect of active mindfulness meditation with a sham mindfulness meditation technique – one that would lead the participants to believe that they were practicing mindfulness meditation, but that would only engage relaxation mechanisms.

As had been hypothesized, it was found that mindfulness meditation decreased pain intensity and unpleasantness beyond the analgesic effects of placebo or sham mindfulness meditation. Furthermore, effective mindfulness meditation engaged brain mechanisms that were indeed distinct from those of placebo-induced analgesia or sham mindfulness meditation.

Whereas sham mindfulness meditation-induced analgesia was associated with lower respiration rates, reflecting a relaxation response, mindfulness meditation-reduced pain ratings were independent of respiration rate and were achieved via neurological mechanisms of pain modulation. Mindfulness meditation decreased the activation of brain regions involved in processing sensory information and in the cognitive modulation of pain. This study indicated that mindfulness meditation is an active cognitive practice, whereas a placebo effect arises from a more passive cognitive state.

What was still to be understood were the details of how mindfulness meditation induces the analgesic effect, what neurochemical pathways it activates in the brain. The same research group from the aforementioned study now aimed at trying to find an answer for that. In a new study, also published in The Journal of Neuroscience, they hypothesized that, given the high concentrations of opioid receptors found in brain regions associated with the cognitive modulation of pain, and the known involvement of endogenous opioids in the cognitive inhibition of pain, maybe this system could be part of the mechanisms of mindfulness meditation-induced analgesia.

Using naloxone, a drug that blocks the effect of opioids, it was shown that the inhibition of the opioid system did not affect analgesia induced by mindfulness meditation. In the control group, on the other hand, the blockade of the opioid system induced an increase in pain perception, as expected. Although there are many other neurotransmitter systems which can account for the analgesic effect of mindfulness meditation, these results are still surprising – the opioid system is one of the main modulators of pain and the fact that it apparently has no influence on the mechanisms of mindfulness meditation-induced analgesia is intriguing.

The authors of this study speculate on some alternative explanations for this effect. They suggest that “mindfulness meditation may be a complex, cognitive process that likely engages multiple brain networks and neurochemical mechanisms to attenuate pain.”

Mind over matter

Indeed, there is mounting evidence indicating that mindfulness meditation activates brain regions associated with the contextual evaluation of pain. A reduced activity of the thalamus has also been reported; this is important because the thalamus is one of the main structures in pain processing – it receives sensory information, processes it, and then transmits it to the cortex, were it reaches consciousness. The fact that thalamic activity may be reduced due to mindfulness meditation therefore indicates that it may somehow diminish sensory processing, or that it may prevent this sensory information from reaching conscious awareness.

Although there is still a lot to be learned about its processes, what seems somewhat clear is that mindfulness meditation may be an interesting alternative approach to pain management – it’s mind over matter.

References

Brown, C., & Jones, A. (2010). Meditation experience predicts less negative appraisal of pain: Electrophysiological evidence for the involvement of anticipatory neural responses Pain, 150 (3), 428-438 DOI: 10.1016/j.pain.2010.04.017

Grant, J., & Rainville, P. (2009). Pain Sensitivity and Analgesic Effects of Mindful States in Zen Meditators: A Cross-Sectional Study Psychosomatic Medicine, 71 (1), 106-114 DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31818f52ee

Zeidan, F., Adler-Neal, A., Wells, R., Stagnaro, E., May, L., Eisenach, J., McHaffie, J., & Coghill, R. (2016). Mindfulness-Meditation-Based Pain Relief Is Not Mediated by Endogenous Opioids Journal of Neuroscience, 36 (11), 3391-3397 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4328-15.2016

Zeidan, F., Emerson, N., Farris, S., Ray, J., Jung, Y., McHaffie, J., & Coghill, R. (2015). Mindfulness Meditation-Based Pain Relief Employs Different Neural Mechanisms Than Placebo and Sham Mindfulness Meditation-Induced Analgesia Journal of Neuroscience, 35 (46), 15307-15325 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2542-15.2015

Zeidan, F., Gordon, N., Merchant, J., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). The Effects of Brief Mindfulness Meditation Training on Experimentally Induced Pain The Journal of Pain, 11 (3), 199-209 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpain.2009.07.015

Zeidan, F., Grant, J., Brown, C., McHaffie, J., & Coghill, R. (2012). Mindfulness meditation-related pain relief: Evidence for unique brain mechanisms in the regulation of pain Neuroscience Letters, 520 (2), 165-173 DOI: 10.1016/j.neulet.2012.03.082

Zeidan, F., Martucci, K., Kraft, R., Gordon, N., McHaffie, J., & Coghill, R. (2011). Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation Journal of Neuroscience, 31 (14), 5540-5548 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5791-10.2011

Fulfilling Our Unique Humanity

 

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Maslow, Rogers, Satir and Erickson are just some of the scholars who have shaped and will continue to shape a core psychological paradigm – humanism.

In this article, I elaborate on the optimal conditions necessary to become the best persons we can possibly be. Some psychologists refer to this ultimate state as self-actualization. I call it the optimal phenotype. I will also expound on the core features of what it is like to become self-actualized, as per Maslow.

Genetic underpinning is only a part of who we are. Genes create possibilities. Our internal and external experiences have more to do with the structure of our autobiography.

Getting our biopsychosocial needs met consistently and met over time is an important accomplishment. We need to experience essential survival needs, needs for safety and security, of affiliation and affection, for recognition and approval, to be in place before moving towards self-actualization.

According to Erickson, achieving mastery at each of the nine psychosocial developmental levels is another significant achievement. We learn to: trust others, show autonomy, demonstrate initiative, form an identity, realize intimacy with others, show generativity by serving others, and experience integrity and transcendence at the end of our days.

Those who eventually realize self-actualization evidence four common qualities. One, they have several, very close friendships as opposed to many “friends” on the varied social internet sites. Secondly, they are intrinsically motivated as opposed to some who seek external rewards for their actions. They experience a clarity about who they are and not in the world. Finally, periods of intense joy and contentment are frequent.

We all have an opportunity to be and do the best we can, and the end result is absolutely amazing!

Be resilient! It’s good for your health

Be resilient! It’s good for your health@Glowimages

When it comes to juggling family and work, parents and workers can sometimes get bent-out-of-shape by the demands made on them. They can feel pulled in two directions or mentally stretched to the limit. When this happens, life can be a tight ball of stress. The answer? Be resilient. Stay emotionally on-track under pressure. Retain your mental balance and poise. It’s good for your health.

BE A RESILIENT PERSON

A resilient person is someone who is adaptable and recovers readily from stress or misfortune. The key to being resilient is to have a bucket-load of mental qualities, such as suppleness, elasticity, and flexibility. These thought-qualities allow you to easily rebound from stressful situations, and regain control of your emotions and your life.

It’s like the humble rubber-band. Being supple, the band can be stretched sideways a long way without breaking. It can be formed into a triangle, rectangle, square, or even rolled into a tight ball. Yet, no matter how it’s treated, when the pressure is released, the circular band easily recovers its original shape.

While the ability to rebound quickly is sometimes thought to be associated with genetics, one’s temperament, or good parenting, resilience is actually a mental, spiritual capability which we all have. No one has to think or act like a metal paperclip, which is inflexible, rigid, and when stretched can’t readily recover its form.

TIPS:

– When faced with a difficult situation, draw on spiritual resilience to help you overcome it.

– Maintain your balance in life. Be supple – bend with the winds of hardship or misfortune, and then recover quickly, easily, from trouble or stress.

– Be assured, that “The very circumstance, which your suffering sense deems wrathful and afflictive, Love can make an angel entertained unawares.”  Mary Baker Eddy – Science and Health p.574

– Affirm often during the day, that you are resilient, flexible, able to live a happy, healthy life.

– Retain your mental composure. Bounce back from disappointment or discouragement. You can do it!

Be reassured: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We suffer persecution, but are not forsaken; we are cast down, but we perish not.” Bible II Corinthians

– Mentally stand firm. Don’t stay rigid with fear or despair.

– Defeat ignorant prejudice or bullying, with courage and determination.

– Be strong. Get up each day mentally stronger than the day before.

– Practice thinking and being resilient. It’s good for your health.

Grieving, Mourning and Moving On, Part II

In this episode, we had an in-depth discussion on the symptoms of grief. We learned from Dr. Andrews that children can express grief in many ways. They may lose the ability to focus at school or they  may act out in anger. At times, some children will regress even to the point of wetting the bed when grieving. We also learned how to help them deal with their pain without being condescending or judgmental.

If we don’t learn to grieve, mourn and move on properly, we carry pain and sorrow for the rest of our lives. It manifests in the form of depression and physical illness and we often mask our grief with pills.

Grieving, Mourning and Moving On – Part I

Grieving is a real, physical, emotional response to loss.  Mourning is an outpouring of those painful emotions.  If we don’t go through the proper mourning process, the outpouring, we can become spiritually weighed down, angry and even physically ill.

Dr. Andrews shares her thoughts on the grieving process and how faith and hope can help us get well.

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