Saturday, June 16, 2007

Meditation and Mental Wellness

Meditation can help you achieve a consciously relaxed and focused state of mind. People who practice meditation report increased self awareness, greater ability to focus when concentration is needed, and also - a more positive outlook in life.

Although meditation is often commonly associated with monks, mystics and other spiritual disciplines, the forms of meditation that these individuals are known for are only a very small representation of the kinds of meditation that one can include in their daily life. You certainly don't have to be a monk or mystic to enjoy the benefits of meditation to increase mental wellness. You don’t even have to be in a special place to practice it and can meditate in your own living room, bedroom, or even at work (if you can just find a quiet place for a few minutes, depending on your workplace environment). A lot of people use a few minutes of their lunch-time or mid-day break to engage in a few moments of meditation and 'mindfulness.' This helps them feel refreshed and focused for the later part of their workday.

Though there are many different approaches to meditation, the fundamental principles of meditation remain the same. The most important principle is that of removing obstructive, negative, wandering thoughts and fantasies, and an aim at calming the mind, enabling a deep sense of focus. This clears the mind of debris (scattered thoughts and negative anti-productive thoughts) and prepares the consciousness for a higher quality of activity.

Often, negative thoughts or just external events – those of noisy neighbors, bossy officemates, that parking ticket you got, and unwanted spam – can be likened to a polluting of the mind. These things are distractions that take your thoughts off course so that you may not function doing your more important thinking and tasks during a typical day. Finding a way to filter out these external, unwanted items and shut out negativity allows for a kind of ‘cleansing’ of the mind. Once cleansed, the mind will be able to focus on deeper, more meaningful and more productive thoughts.

Some people who practice meditation regularly even shut out all sensory details - all sensory 'input' so that no sights, no sounds, no significant sense of touch is present for stimulus. In this, they try to 'detach' from the commotion around them. People often use this type of meditation in order to focus (once a quiet, calm state is reached - where external stimuli is not an issue) on deep, profound thoughts and goals. Since we are used to hearing noises and sound all the time - accustomed to sights and touch - in fact, we rely on these senses so much that we use them without thinking - this type of meditation may seem deafening and very strange at first. People who persist through the first stages where things seem deafening and odd often report a new awareness of things around them. Basically, this form of meditation allows different perspectives on sight, sound, touch, and allows one to be 'mindful' in a very focused way - about what one sees, chooses to hear, what one hears and chooses to hear and about the touch sensations that an individual chooses to pay attention to.

You may have seen meditation and meditating positions on TV and have decided that those poses seem threatening to you. With the variety of meditation techniques, and purposes for meditation, there simply are a great number of meditation variables - some which look quite 'severe' to the beginner - poses with impossibly arched backs, and painful-looking contortions – but don't worry. The greatest feature of meditation is that is is ACCESSIBLE to nearly everyone. A great 'beginner' feature is for you to just SIT COMFORTABLY! If that doesn't mean an arched-back 'pose,' then GREAT - find a comfortable sitting position! Don't even try one of the advanced poses that look so strange and uncomfortable to you. If you do - they will only be, in fact - strange and uncomfortable for you. You won't gain a lot of benefit from your meditations, as a beginner, by mirroring strange looking meditation poses or techniques. Just allow yourself to be in a comfortable position conducive to concentration. This may be while sitting cross-legged, standing, lying down, and even walking.

If the position allows you to relax and focus, then that's the best starting point for you. While sitting or standing, the back should be straight, but not tense or tight. In other positions, the only no-no is slouching and falling asleep.

Loose, comfortable clothes are helpful since your beginning goal is 'relaxation' when first starting to learn meditation. Tight fitting clothing has a tendency to make a person feel 'restricted' and tense. Heck - it's even perfectly acceptable to meditate in your pajamas! A lot of people do just this! It's a great way to start a day - and doesn't even require that you get showered, dressed or comb your hair!

The place you perform meditation should have a soothing atmosphere. It may be in your living room, or bedroom, or any other place that you feel comfortable in. (I know someone whose favorite meditation place is in the garage - complete with 'car-smell' and 'concrete floor smell' and all haha - whatever works! My friend, despite the strange location choice for meditation - is one of the most focused, productive people I know - and a great person to turn to for problem-solving when everyone else around is stressed out). You might want an exercise mat if you plan to take on a more challenging position/pose - or an out-of-the-ordinary location...or just for plain comfort. You may want to arrange a special place in your home such as a spare/guest room, den, a quiet spot in the basement, etc., so that your meditation space is tailor-made and soothing to your senses.

Silence helps most people relax and meditate, so you'll likely want a quiet, isolated area that is away from the ringing of the phone or the humming of the washing machine. Pleasing scents also help in that regard, so stocking up on aromatic candles isn’t a bad idea either.

The monks you see on television making those monotonous sounds are actually performing their mantra. This, in simple terms, is a short creed, a simple sound which, for these practitioners, holds a mystic value. This is a particular type of meditating and you do not need to perform your meditation in this way - however - it is often a good tactic that helps focus the mind. Similarly, a repeated action of breathing can be focused upon to help the meditation along. You can do this in place of the humming or mantra that you might have observed with different forms of meditation. Some people will find that if they hum during meditation, it only serves to distract them and the use of a mantra is often considered a kind of 'developed' meditation that one learns after practicing basics first. Some people can start off with a mantra, but everyone is different, so don't be discouraged, either way. Find what works for you.

The goal you're working toward is 'focus.'

Some people do better with use of their eyes during meditation and will focus on a light, an object, a candle, a corner of the room, etc. Again, this is up to individual preference and comfort. Find what works for you, focusing on a single sight. For some, meditation is done better with eyes closed and focusing on looking at something only distracts them until their thoughts are many and racing through their head.

One sample routine to practice while in a meditative state is to silently name each area of your body, pointedly focusing on each area as you do so. In doing so, be aware of any tensions apparent for any parts of your body. Spend some time, if you do find tense areas - on visualizing a release of the tension from these problem areas. You may feel surprisingly better, physically, afterward.

Meditation is a relatively risk-free practice with benefits well worth the effort and time you put toward the practice.

Studies have shown that meditation can result in beneficial physiologic effects to the body. There is an ever-growing consensus in the medical community to further study the effects of meditation. Even those who don't understand how it works will attest to the benefits of meditation.

This has just been a small sample about a way for beginners to start to consider or to begin the practice of meditation. Meditation is a great way to eliminate cluttered thoughts that might get in the way of your focus, your motivations and general goals.

Just 20 minutes or so of 'mindful thinking' or of meditation during your day can help you relax so that you perform better for the rest of the day, physically and mentally. You might find, also, you'll have better understanding and control of your emotions once you're more relaxed and focused.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Is Self Development and Improvement Really THAT Important?

Sometimes, when all doubts, fears and insecurities wrap us up in knots, we turn to the idea of, "I wish I was somebody else." More often than not, we think and believe that someone - even 'most people' - are better than we are. In reality, many people are even more frightened in life and are more doubtful and insecure than we are!

You might spot a beautiful woman sitting by herself at a party, seeming non-chalant, sipping on her drink. If you think to yourself, "she looks so perfectly calm and confident," then you might be guessing totally wrong. If you could read through her thoughts, you might be amazed that she actually has worries about "why am I alone, don't people like me?" and "doesn't anyone think I'm attractive - are my ankles fat, is my hair too short....?"

We will often look at others - especially others who appear to have WHAT WE WANT in life. We think that these things that we want will make us happier. Consequently, we assume that others who already have these things - are HAPPY! That they 'have it all together,' and they 'have everything they want.'

Often, however, they aren't happier. They put out a 'surface' image for all to see just like YOU DO!

Why not quit HOPING to be like other people - quit HOPING to be someone else and, instead, work with all the positive qualities you already possess?

If you think that you don't have enough positive qualities - THAT WON'T MATTER!

It won't matter - because - you can always IMPROVE! You can often develop the qualities that you don't think you possess right now. Often they are present, just not in use - because you've always spent your time 'hoping' to be someone else - instead of bringing out the possibilities and the good things in YOU!

Granted, you will also have some bad qualities - or unwanted qualities.

THAT'S OKAY TOO! In the same way that you can develop positive qualities, you can get your poorer qualities under control so that they don't hinder the better YOU that you want to become!

Many psychologists say that bad habits do not just go away - in fact, you should NOT just take away a bad habit....this is dangerous!

The reason - habits are coping skills - they are ways of thinking, ways of doing things, mannerisms, etc., which all serve certain functions. If they didn't, they wouldn't be present - or annoying - or helpful.

If you take a bad habit away - you take a little chunk of yourself and try to throw it away.....then you have YOU with a missing piece left over.

Either the bad habit will come back to fill the little space - or you'd better REPLACE THAT CHUNK with a CHUNK OF GOOD STUFF...

So really - you can hit two targets with one arrow!

How do you start?

Well - first, be WILLING TO LISTEN to other peoples' advice - even if, sometimes, you don't like what they say. Talk to a trusted friend - they will probably tell you things with little fanfare so that you can really learn what is likeable about you and what isn't. In fact, along with identifying how you appear to others (to your friend, at least), your friend might have suggestions about how he or she wishes you would take an annoying characteristic of yours and replace it with something he or she has already seen of you that is POSITIVE (but maybe you hadn't noticed!). Some of this might not even be very hard on you at all!

The main thing is - BE PREPARED FOR THE TRUTH! And upon being prepared, BE WILLING TO MAKE THE CHANGES that are suggested, too. (If you get to this point, then just remember YOU DID ASK)

Your friend will likely realize how SERIOUS you are about improving yourself and might even APPRECIATE that you asked for their help.

One of Whitney Houston’s songs has the words, “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” True enough. In order to love others, you must love yourself first. You cannot give what you do not have, so how could you expect to exude love if you don't, first, love YOU?

Go ahead and let people see, by example, that you are making changes, making improvements. Self improvement makes us better people, and sometimes, makes other people better, too - if they notice the changes in YOU and would like to follow suit - and if they undertake to become better themselves, like YOU did. We can inspire people, just by improving ourselves - in a way that 'telling or 'asking' people to be better will never, ever work!

You aren't a second-rate being, just because you have some flaws. Forget the repetitive thought of “If only I was richer… if only I was thinner” and so on. Accepting your true self, actually KNOWING THE TRUE SELF THAT IS THERE - is the first step to self improvement. You almost can't make changes at all - certainly not lasting ones - if you're not accepting of what exists in the first place. Acceptance doesn't mean 'giving up' because we see flaws, either - it can simply be a part of identifying what is present in our personality so that we can make changes. If we stop comparing ourselves to others, we can spend more time understanding ourselves and we can avoid looking at others, only to find out at the end that we’ve got 10 more reasons to envy them than we had when we were focusing on improving ourselves.

We all have our insecurities. Nobody is perfect. We always wish we had better things, better features, better body parts, etc. But life need not to be perfect for people to be happy about themselves. In fact, finding our faulty, less-than-perfect parts can be a HUGE motivating element for change. Self improvement and loving yourself is not a matter of shouting to the whole world that you are perfect and you are the best. It is about virtue and acceptance culminating into times of contentment and ease-with-self. When we begin to improve ourselves, we then begin to feel contented and happy.