10% Happier – Book of the Month

Continuing with the topic of meditation after my last post: Meditation Explained! I would like to introduce a wonderful book for further reading. A good friend of mine gifted me this book a few weeks ago and I really loved it: 10% Happier by Dan Harris

dan-harrisI have read many books about meditation, but one thing I really liked about Dan Harris’ book is that the author is the epitome of skepticism, and he became a meditator in spite of all the resistance he initially had about it. He realized that by meditating his entire life transformed for the better.

As a known TV anchor, Harris had access to many of the leading teachers of meditation and gurus of self help in the country, so he shares his personal encounters with Deepak Chopra, Eckart Tolle, Tara Brach, amongst others.

Harris has a way with words, his writing style is enjoyable, insightful and funny. It is an easy read and a very light book, as opposed to many meditation books that can be hard to grasp or heavy to read.

He represents a large part of the population that have many misconceptions about meditation, or that get turned off by the spiritual lingo that often accompanies this practice.

I believe this book is of great value to anybody, regardless of their knowledge or interest in meditation; it is the story of one man, who was confronted with his human struggles and found meditation, which, in spite of his initial skepticism and cynical view came around and understood and experienced first hand the benefits of the practice.

Here below is an excerpt that sums it up:

“until we look directly at our minds we don’t really know what our lives are about… everything we experience in this world goes through one filter – our minds – and we spend very little time bothering to see how it works”

He shares tips and ideas that he received from experts in the field, and he uses a language that is really accessible to a wide audience. For people who are more familiar with meditation, this book is still a great read, and he offers new and interesting insights like for instance the RAIN methodology for applying mindfulness, given to him by Tara Brach.

Once you start practicing meditation and mindfulness, you can use this practical methodology called RAIN.

R: recognize, A: allow, I: investigate, N: non-identification

First you just recognize and acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, the next step is to allow them to be, this means not fighting neither your thoughts nor your feelings, letting them be without resisting them, the third step is to investigate them, to see how they are affecting you (how are your thoughts connected to your emotions or bodily feelings, what is happening in your body, etc. and last but not least not identifying with your thoughts and emotions, not letting them rule over you, understanding that your thoughts and emotions are not you, they do not define you, they are just waves that come and go and that you can simply observe without engaging nor identifying with them.

I highly encourage you to take a look at this book, it is a great read and an eye opener on meditation!

Have a Great Week!

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Don’t let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good!

I remember clearly when I was studying to become a professional photographer, I had an assignment that I could not finish, there was always something wrong with it and I kept starting it over an over (note that this was way before the era of digital photography!) Because I was working with film, I could never see the end result until I developed my film, so the whole process was quite long, and starting over meant adding many hours of work and sleepless nights.

perfectionism

My teacher finally asked me why it was taking me so long. I explained to him that I had to start over 3 times and was still not happy with my pictures. He looked at me with a weary look and said: “give me what you have right now!”
I, of course was not ready to do that, but then he said: “Susana, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good

From that day on, his advice stayed with me. If you are a perfectionist as I am, it is not easy to be content with your work, if you feel you can do better, the problem is: you always feel you can do better! so you are never fully satisfied with what you do.

Trying to do your best is a very good personal quality, however, being a perfectionist is NOT. The expectations you put on yourself, as a perfectionist, are enormous and you are bound to let yourself down over and over. You may spend crazy amounts of time in tasks that should not take you too long, you may procrastinate because you are daunted by the task at hand, you may be often disappointed with your performance, or you may be embarrassed of showing your work to others. These are all signs that you may be a perfectionist.

A few years back, when I was discussing some issues with my therapist, the fact that I was a perfectionist came into the table, and she gave me a simple little tool that I have tried to use ever since, but that I still find hard sometimes. She asked me to do something imperfect everyday and leave it like that, she said that I could start with small things that would not make me too uncomfortable, but by doing them everyday I would get used to the discomfort and would feel it less and less.

So my exercise started with something very simple: I was sending a few letters and I wrote one of the addresses wrong, so I crossed out the incorrect word and wrote the correct one next to it. The mailman would most certainly understand, but I felt really uncomfortable looking at the smudge, normally I would have torn the envelope and started all over with a new one, but I didn’t…. This was the beginning of a series of small exercise to get used to the “discomfort” of not being perfect, and it has paid off.

But just recently I saw myself in the exact same position I was years back when I couldn’t finish my photo assignment, and I realized how silly it all was. My children’s teachers announced me, very last minute, that my kids where having a birthday celebration at school (in the previous couple years these celebrations were optional, and I did not do it because my kids where summer babies, so their birthdays would not happen during the school months) however this time, the teachers made the decision for me, and suddenly, I had a rush of guilt thinking that I had not done it the years before, and that now that I had to do it, it had to be perfect.

The school celebration usually involved showing pictures of the kids (at least one picture for every year of their life) and saying something important or a milestone that happened during each one of those years. So, here I was, with one day notice, going crazy, looking through thousands of pictures in my computer, trying to find the best ones, making sure I had at least one of them for every year of their lives, getting all confused about the dates, wondering if they should be alone in the pictures or with a loved one, wondering if I should print the pictures for the kids to pass along or if I should upload them to my iPad to show them at a bigger size, etc. It took me HOURS.

Then, I had to make a cake (homemade of course!) that was the easiest task, and last but not least, I had to come up with one nice milestone for every year, which was not easy since I had totally forgotten when they did what, where they 9 months or 1 year when they started walking?

Well, I didn’t have time to do anything I had planned that day, but I was ready for the birthday celebration! (I had a pressing deadline, so I was done even if I wasn’t totally happy with it)

So, I get to the school, with the cake, the iPad with all the pictures, the list of milestones for each one (since I have twins) and very anxious about the whole thing! And guess what happened…?

When I get into the classroom and show the teacher all I brought, she tells me: Oh, no, we won’t do pictures this time, and instead of the milestones, we are just going to have every classmate say something they like about your kids, and as for the cake… well, we’ll save it for snack time, as we prefer not to give them treats now.

Of course, she was really kind in her telling me all this, and of course, nobody had asked me to do all that, but I assumed it was going to be like the other teachers used to do it in previous years, but not this time…

So there I was, thinking of ALL the time I had wasted trying to be perfect, and I just laughed at myself and remembered my wise photography teacher. Here is another way to put it:

“Done is Better than Perfect

So, if you feel you might be a perfectionist, or know someone who is, you may enjoy, or want to share this post and the related articles below.

Have a Great Week!

3 Big Perfectionism Struggles for Women

Perfectionism Test

14 Signs your perfectionism has gotten out of control


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The Truth about Multitasking

In this fast-paced world, we have come to believe that “Multitasking” is a great skill, a needed one in fact, something all of us should master and can boost about. Well, the truth is, multitasking is not so good for you.

multitasking

According to Wikipedia: “Human multitasking is the best performance by an individual of appearing to handle more than one task at the same time. The term is derived from computer multitasking.”

This new word: “multitasking” has become a synonym of efficiency, speed, professionalism, etc. which is a total lie, another illusion we live under, an illusion imposed by the crazy pace of life we are all victims of.

Constantly switching from one task to another means we are putting less attention on each task and affecting the way our brain performs, we are more likely to make errors and ironically we waste more time.

From a very early age now, we subject our young kids to tight agendas, too many extracurricular activities which, in my opinion, contributes partly to the latest epidemic of ADD and ADHD. Our kids have to move from one activity to the next with no break, and often because of lack of time they have to handle more than one task at a time, like doing their homework while eating their supper for instance. We are making our kids handle too many things at once, which is not healthy, especially for a developing brain.

As human beings, our nature, our essence, our true self is meant to BE, rather than to DO. This does not mean we should sit around and do nothing, what it means is that we have a right and a real need to find a space to just BE, like a tree, like a flower, like an animal, we need to just BE, and stop all the doing.

What happens now is that we have totally neglected our state of “being” to favor our state of “doing” to the point that we have lost touch with our true self.

We feel like we have to be doing something all the time, because we are not comfortable with just being, we are not comfortable with our most innate and natural state. So we do more and more and “thanks” to our modern technology, we now can do many things at the same time, we can send an email, while we walk the dog and listen to music; we can be on the phone while we work on the computer and eat lunch, it is simply INSANE!

Besides, this new idea of multitasking is taking all the fun out of actually enjoying any particular task, because we are not truly present when doing anything. In positive psychology, there is a very interesting concept called “flow,” it was introduced by psychologist: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Flow is the mental state in which a person is fully involved in an activity to the point of loosing track of time, this state induces great joy and satisfaction, which in turn constitutes great fuel for our brain and our overall well being.

For some people the state of flow only happens when they are forced to be totally focused in a certain task, for instance running a marathon, or climbing a mountain, these are activities where there is no room for distraction, so no room for any other parallel activity nor thought. Many people can still experience flow, however, while doing things like: painting, dancing, etc. this is especially true of artists, when they enter a state of deep inspiration.

One of the beauties of being in a state of flow is that it takes you right to the present moment, nothing else matters but what you are doing, and you are bringing all your focus to it, this means you are fully in the present. Which brings us back to the concept of being as opposed to doing. If we are in the present moment, totally present with the task at hand, we are “being” not just doing.

So the state of flow goes against the idea of multitasking, where we have no time for true concentration, no time for full attention, no time for real enjoyment, no time for being. We are not wired for multitasking, and we are creating unnecessary stress in our bodies by doing so, no matter how simple the tasks may seem.

The idea of being fully present at every moment means we do things in a mindful way, that is, in a conscious and aware state. When we do anything mindfully we are more likely to do it right, at the right time and with better results. So I encourage you to rethink your multitasking this week!

If you wish to read more about Flow, I highly recommend the book: Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Have a great week!


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Email: silvamethod@cox.net

Observing your Mind

For all my US readers, I hope you had a nice Labor Day Holiday!

This week I want to reflect on the tricks our mind plays on us and how our awareness can limit the negative effect they have on us.

monks

I have often read, heard, and written about the mind and how it works; but there are very few instances in which I have experienced first hand the separation between my mind and “me” and have noticed that I was being tricked by it. Last week I had one of those clear instances and it was really empowering, that is what inspired this post.

Our mind plays tricks on us and as long as we identify with it we are caught on its tricks, it isn’t until we can distance ourselves from our mind and realize it is not “who we are”, that the tricks loose power and our real self emerges and becomes stronger.

Our thoughts and our beliefs (that happen in our mind), as well as our emotions (that are the consequences of those thoughts and beliefs), are closely connected to one another, but none of them are a true reflection of who we are. The problem is most people get their sense of identity from them, which in turn, hinders their ability to find their true self, their true identity!

So, last week was the first week of school for my children. Although this is their second year in school, to my dismay, their first day back was quite hard, especially for my son, who did not want to go back and was really upset about it. As we got in the classroom, the teacher took him a little too briskly from my arms and walked away holding him, as he was screaming, crying and begging me not to go. It was excruciatingly painful for me (I am sure many moms can relate to the feeling).

As I was driving back home, quite upset still, my mind kept replaying the moment when she took him from me and he started yelling in her arms and reaching out for me, as I kept playing that memory in my head I was feeling more and more upset about it and angry at the teacher and guilty at letting her do that. I could see how my upset escalated as I replayed the incident again and again in my mind.

Then, suddenly I realized it, my mind was tricking me! I somehow was able to separate myself from the thought and notice that it was my mind that was inflicting pain on myself and not the incident itself. The unpleasant moment had lasted maybe one minute, his crying probably 5 – 7 minutes at the most, yet, by replaying that moment in my mind, I was making my upset last and last and last…

Right as I realized the pattern, I stopped my mind, I moved out of that thought and suddenly the pain subsided, it disappeared and I was at peace again. Just by noticing the workings of my mind I was able to ease the pain almost instantaneously.

I then remembered an old Buddhist story that I like very much and that illustrates this point:

Two Buddhist Monks were on a journey and they came to a deep river that they had to cross; at the bank of the river was a woman that asked them for help as she could not cross alone.

As monks, they weren’t allowed to touch a woman, however, the older monk carried the woman in his back and helped her cross the river.

The two monks continued their journey in silence, but the younger monk was upset and uncomfortable. Finally, at the end of their trip, the older monk asked the younger one why he was so upset and the younger one expressed his disapproval at his companion for breaking the rules and carrying the woman on his back; to which the older monk replied: “Brother, I carried her for just a few minutes, why are you still carrying her?

Aside from illustrating my point on how our mind can make a short lived event into a long lasting accumulation of pain, un comfort, anger, guilt, etc. Another important lesson about this story is that when we judge others, we often wind up carrying their doings on our backs for as long as we hold any particular judgment and attach to it.

Your mind has a life of its own, but if you become the observer of your mind and are able to separate from it, you will benefit tremendously and find inner peace in every moment, because you are not your mind, you are not your thoughts, you are not your emotions, you are much deeper than that, you are the stillness underneath all the turmoil.

Have a great week!


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*Healing with the Masters, 2012 Workshop Series start September 11th . Free online event.

*Conversations with God, with Neale Donald Walsch. 7-week online course starts September 13th Register here.

*Eckhart Tolle is coming Washington! October 4th, 2012, Get your tickets here.

Taming our Monkey Minds

For my US readers, I hope you’ve had a lovely Memorial Day Holiday!

Many of you have probably heard the expression: “Monkey Mind,” especially if you meditate or practice yoga. A monkey mind refers to the endless stream of fragmented thoughts that we have in a day. In average, human beings produce about 60.000 to 80.000 thoughts a day! Which means the talk in our heads is pretty much constant and incessant.

monkey mind

The problem with having a monkey mind is that only a tiny part of all the thoughts in our head is relevant to the present moment (which is the only thing that is true and real). On top of it, the vast majority of our thoughts are nonsense, we often dwell in the past or the future, we obsess about mistakes we might have made, we battle our guilt, we plan ahead, we worry, etc.

Also, a great percentage of these thoughts are negative, often based in fear of the future, resentment of the past and so on.

We are often drifting into fantasy, negativity and fiction, which means, we are constantly missing the point of life: being fully present each and every moment.

In short, most of these thoughts do little to help us live and function well but rather the opposite, they slow us down, make us less alert and less present, and in many cases can bring negative outcomes into our life.

Most people don’t even consider taming their monkey minds, because they think that this constant mind chatter is “normal,” and even if they think otherwise, they do not know or believe that they have the power to change it, the power to quiet their minds down!

The great news is that all of us CAN quiet down our minds and we must do so! because by doing it, we will be more alert, more present, less stressed, calmer, happier, etc… the benefits are endless!

Both, the quality and the quantity of our thoughts are very important!

My very first newsletter back in February 2011: Paying Attention to your Thoughts, will give you a little glimpse on the importance of the quality of our thoughts.

As for this particular posting, I would like to focus on the quantity of our thoughts.

The overwhelming amount of thoughts we have leave little room for true clarity and presence, so, by lowering the “amount” of our thoughts and quieting our minds we can start to see positive changes in our life. Why should we do this?
Well, because, if we don’t control our mind, it controls US! and the results are never glorious.

I once heard a very nice analogy that compared the untamed mind to a wild horse. Imagine riding a wild horse, a horse you don’t control at all… you will be at its mercy and most likely shaken until it throws you to the ground. In contrast, if you ride a tamed horse, you hold the reins, you are in control and you can choose the pace.

How do we quiet our minds?
It is a process, but the very first step is to become AWARE of our monkey mind, if we are aware that our mind is out of control (which in most cases it is) we are one step ahead, then we have to believe that we can change it. The process may take more or less time depending on every individual and their own level of awareness.

I would like to share some things that have helped me, quiet my mind:

First and foremost, the practice of meditation
Meditation is one of the best tools you can use to quiet your mind.
If you wish to read a little more on this, I wrote about this in my posting: Meditation, an incredible tool

For some people meditation may seem daunting at first and hard to understand. It is possible, however, to start by using other approaches until you feel ready to give meditation a serious try.

The practice of Yoga or another eastern discipline like Tai Chi
The idea of these disciplines is that focusing the mind solely on the movements of the body helps to bring about a state of mental calm and clarity that you can then apply to your everyday life.

Developing awareness of your senses
By tuning into our senses we can be more present. The more our senses become heightened, the more we can really feel, smell, taste, see and listen to what life is telling us in every little moment. I had a posting on this recently too: Your Senses, a Gateway to the Present Moment

Mindful activities
Another good exercise to quiet your mind is really concentrating in small tasks that we usually do automatically. For instance, next time you are cooking, walking to work, etc. try to breath deeply as you do what you are doing and solely focus on the task at hand and your surroundings.

Let’s take the example of cooking: feel the vegetables in your hands, smell the garlic you are using, look at all the colors of the ingredients, immerse yourself fully in what you are doing.

Watch your thoughts
If anything, you can start by “watching” your thoughts, do not judge them or elaborate on them, just witness them as if you are an observer that acknowledges the thoughts but does not get involved with them.

Have a great week!

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Left and Right Brain Hemispheres

I have always been very interested in how our brain works. Today I wanted to talk a little about the differences between the two hemispheres of our brain, how to understand them and make the best out of it.

brain-hemispheres

As you can see on the picture above, the brain has two distinct cerebral hemispheres, connected only by a band of nerve fibres called the corpus callosum. Even though they look anatomically the same, their cognitive functions are very different.

Although we use our whole brain to process information, most of us has a predominant hemisphere which, to a great extent, determines the way we learn and interact with the world.

Being aware of our brain-hemisphere predominance can be very useful:

  • It can help us understand our unique learning style
  • It can help us unleash more of our brain potential
  • It can bring some perspective and deeper understanding of others

Most school systems tend to favor left-brain modes of thinking, while downplaying right-brain ones. Ideally, education systems should address and honor the learning differences of each individual.

If you are wondering what are some differences between individuals with a right or left hemisphere predominance, here are some facts:

Left-brain subjects tend to focus on logical thinking, analysis, and accuracy, while Right-brained subjects focus more on aesthetics, feelings, and creativity. Here below is a chart that lists some characteristics of individuals with left or right brain predominance.

LEFT BRAIN RIGHT BRAIN
Processes in a linear, logical and sequential manner Processes in a holistic, intuitive and random manner
Is more verbal (for instance recalls people’s names) Is more visual (recalls people’s faces)
Responds to word meaning Responds to tone of voice
Responds to logic Responds to emotion
Plans ahead Is more spontaneous
Relies on reality, facts Relies on imagination, possibilities

To explain a little further LBS (left-brain subjects) vs. RBS (right-brain subjects)

Linear vs. Holistic:
LBS process information in a linear, sequential manner, from part to whole. RBS process information from whole to part, in a holistic way, they start with the answer and see the big picture before the details.

Logical vs. Intuitive
LBS look for pieces, arrange them in order and then draw logical conclusions. RBS instead, use intuition and feeling in order to find answers.

Sequential vs. Random
LBS process in sequence: in order. RBS use a random approach instead.

Verbal vs. Non-verbal
LBS have little trouble expressing thoughts in words. RBS may know what they mean but often have trouble finding the right words.

Symbolic vs. Concrete
LBS have no trouble processing symbols. The left-brained person tends to be comfortable with linguistic and mathematical endeavors. RBS, on the other hand, want things to be concrete, they need to see, feel, or touch the real object.

Reality Based vs. Possibility Oriented
LBS deal with things the way they are, if they are affected by the environment, they usually adjust to it. Not so with RBS, if they are affected by the environment, they try to change it!

It is important to note that both hemispheres of the brain deal with functions that are totally valid and complementary, thus, the ideal is to find a healthy balance between both sides, but this is only possible if we are aware of our predominance and work towards reaching a balance.

You can take this short Quiz (developed by Middle Tennessee State University), that will give you an idea of your brain predominance.

Also, I recently watched the video below, from the TED series, and it relates to this topic. It is worth watching. Enjoy!

JillBolteTaylor

Have a great week!

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