The Suffering of lies

When is a cat a dog?

“Rahula, for anyone who has no shame at intentional lying, there is no evil that that person cannot do.” – The Buddha to his son, on lying.

This week, I am going to touch on something that has hit close to home recently.  Sadly, I discovered that a close and dear friend of mine had been lying to myself, and others, about both unimportant and important things.  I was angry and reactive at first, thinking about the wrong that had been done to me.  Over the course of a few days, I let go of the attachment of being wronged, and began reading up on lying, trying to gain and understanding of where it comes from.  I re-read portions of the 5 precepts in Buddhism, but also the reasons of why we lie and the effects on us. The major discovery I unearthed is that lying is usually born out of shame, and essentially, a twisted method to trying to be happy.

Let me start at the end of my research, as understanding the causes of lying can lead to more compassionate understanding of others, ourselves, and the purpose of the fourth precept which is “to not lie, to be truthful”. Continue reading

The Power of Desire

My best hand sketch!

We’ve all been there: That feeling to have something we don’t, or be with someone whom we aren’t.  That longing look, thinking “If only I had that/him/her, I would be happy!  I would be complete.  I would be better.”

Surprisingly, I have them.  I have them often.  Here’s one recount.

I wasn’t catching many waves (yes, we ALWAYS say that… but this time seemed lower than average!).  I was tired, my board felt all wrong, and I was constantly setting in the wrong spot.  It’s not that I was chasing the perfect wave… I was chasing ANY wave.

So I packed it all in.  The Situation was victorious over me, and I thought it better to bow out and head for the little coffee shop I like.  As I grabbed my coffee and walked out into the lot, I spied the surf shop across the way.  I never really made time for shops, but since the day was still relatively young, I figured I’d head in, grab some wax, and chat up whomever was interested in recounting surf stories.

As I wandered around, I ended up eyeing some new boards and thought it would be a harmless venture to check them out.  As I ran my fingers lightly on the smooth decks and perfect graphics, my eyes settled on a 6 foot thruster.  The graphic was simple and eye catching: 3 pencilled, wavy lines of different shades of blue ran the board lengthwise.  Looking at the board sideways, they resembled 3 cross sections of swells… bo doubt what the artist had in mind.  It was a real beauty… far better than the yellow beater I had picked up in Costa Rica years before.  As I picked her up to check the rocker and rails, I realized another thing: the board was epoxy.  Lighter and stronger than mine, I immediately felt that I would be a better surfer with her under my feet.

I liked the board.  I wanted the board.

I continued comparing this new beauty to my old rugged princess, crammed unforgiveingly in my truck.  Mine was pressure dinged, cracked, gouged, and pummelled.  The visible repairs, the faded yellow, the old footpad: This board was the obvious cause of my poor performance earlier that day.  I quickly became unsatisfied with my ride… a thought which had never entered my mind before.  As if that suffering wasn’t enough, I then began to imagine how brilliant of a surfer I could become with this new epoxy beauty guiding me to the best waves.  I would be unstoppable; immediately consistent and world class!  In my mind’s eye, the sun was shining, the swell was like clockwork, and I was catching every wave with ease.

All thanks to the new board I could purchase.

As I blinked my self back into the present, my eyes focused on the $650 price tag and I swallowed deeply.  I then let out a sigh as I contemplated how I could afford this.  I couldn’t without repercussions… either giving up some food entirely for a little while, or pulling out the credit card and creating some debt.  Either option was not favourable.

At that moment, a general sense of lack and inadequacy started making its way into my mind as I wondered where my savings were, why I couldn’t afford the board, why wasn’t I earning more money, and why had I chosen the career path I was on?

Lack.  Self doubt.  Negative criticism.  Self induced suffering.  ALl form a surfboard, and a price tag?

I smiled as I caught myself.  I eyed the board once again, and thanked it for the lesson.  I walked out to my truck, and admired my beat-up Costa Rican beauty.

Life is a wonderful lesson.

6 Things to Help Create Calm and Focus

Too often in our lives today, we aren’t in tune with the environment around us; the air, the earth, the people, or even, ourselves.  We forget to take time and focus, remain calm.  We forget the important things in life: life itself.  We begin to live by other people’s rules and ideals.  We forget what makes US tick.  We end up with a wide variety of people, all in different levels of connection with the environment around them.

Some are like the familiar co-worker – Let’s call him John.  John is there every day when you arrive to work.  He’s been there since daybreak, skipped breakfast, is drinking coffee, and has a diet consisting of, on a good day, pizza, soft drinks, and cookies.   He often complains that there is not enough time in the day, he is scattered, unfocused, never giving his all to an item, and tends to stay later than everyone else.

Then, there others… the weird ones that seem to always have life under control, and exude a calmness around them we can’t quite figure out.

Let’s call the fella that embodies this Jeff.  Jeff values work, but not more than his health.  He realizes that in order to be effective at work, he needs to be healthy, both physically and emotionally.  He has always eaten a good breakfast after a calming night of sleep.  He is calm and collected, giving his full attention to any item or conversation he is involved with.  When necessary, he stays late at work, but does not make it an expected, regular occurrence.  He is supportive of others, and seems to always have a
thoughtful, alternative point of view.

Of course, these are 2 different sides, and there is everything in between.  Which one are you like?  Take a moment and think about this.  Seriously.  Do not read any further until you have thought about your day, your energy level, your ability to focus, and calmness under pressure.

Once you have thought about where you are, continue and take a look at some simple things that could create more calmness and focus in your day.

1. Drink a glass of water immediately after waking up.  You lose moisture while you sleep, so you’re less hydrated in the morning. It’s kind of like working an 8 hour shift without any drink! A glass of water helps to restore this balance within yourself, feels good, and starts your system up for the day.

2. Take a minute to be calm, assess yourself, and your day.  If you jump straight out of bed, and rush to get to work, there’s  very good chance you rush through many things without thinking or being mindful of where you are at or want to go.  Take a minute after your glass of water to sit there, look out the window, think about the day you have, and what you want to accomplish.  If it takes getting up 5 minutes earlier, do it.  Do not hit snooze on your alarm.  Do not force yourself into rushing.

3. Eat a healthy breakfast.  Breakfast sets the energy in your body for the day.  Skip it, and you will rely on coffee and quick snacks to keep going, only to crash in the afternoon.  Aim to have a high amount of proteins and some fruit for breakfast.  This will help minimize the carbohydrate sugar hit and crash that can happen.  Have a smoothie. Eat some eggs.  Black beans with salsa.  SKIP CEREAL.  Cereal is usually starch and high amounts of sugar, with little to no protein, and leaves you hungry shortly later.  For some more ideas and a breakfast I stick to that helps my energy levels, check out Tim Ferris’s blog about breakfasts here.

4. Schedule your work tasks as best as possible, and take breaks.  Upon arriving at work, go over the important tasks you need to accomplish today, and focus on getting them done!  Then work in 50 minute increments, making significant progress on tasks during those 50 minutes, then take 10 minutes to stretch, go to the washroom, drink some water, and go over the tasks for the rest of the day.  By setting what you want to accomplish in advance of the work, and giving yourself permission to have a few minutes break every hour, you allow your mind to stay calm, more focused, and , in turn, accomplish more.

5. Do one thing that makes you smile, every day.  This is key.  Every day, we give ourselves and our energy to work, people, and thoughts. By taking the time to do something you enjoy, you give yourself some energy back.  This could be exercise, writing, playing frisbee, calling friends, walking your dog, painting, carving, playing music. Anything that you truly enjoy and smile from!  Even if only for 5 minutes, take the time to allow yourself to play.

6. Meditate, and consider the day you had.  If you meditate, have a session before bed.  Allow your self to be calm, and bring your day to completion.  If you have never meditated, check out our simple Square Breath meditation here.  If you do not want to meditate, then just take a couple of minutes and think about the day you had, bringing it to a wrap.  Breathe for a minute, then pour yourself a glass of water for tomorrow morning.

Repeat daily.  Read this post first thing every morning to help you remember.

The Happiest Man in the World

Buddha

Matthieu Ricard isn’t your ordinary person. An ex-geneticist who earned his PhD at the Institut Pasteur in Paris in 1972, he renounced the academic life and spent more than three decades training his mind so that we can better understand how to cultivate happiness.

And the results from the latest study of Ricard’s brain are staggering.

Looking at the intrinsic brain activity while meditating on compassion, scientists at the University of Wisconsin have observed the highest levels of gamma waves ever recorded in the neuroscience literature from Ricard’s brain. The study also looked at brain activity of over 100 advanced meditators, many of whom had more than 50,000 rounds of meditation experience. But none were able to reach the level produced by Ricard.

Gamma waves play a vital role in cognitive functioning. Their propagation through the brain acts as a type of neuronal synchronizer, binding together distributed networks and focusing them towards an object of attention. Scientist have proposed that gamma waves are able to resolve the ‘binding problem’ of neuroscience – how sensory information processed in sensory-specific areas of the brain are unified into a single conscious experience. Their role in consciousness is so critical, that if gamma waves stop emitting from an area of the brain called the thalamus, conscious awareness is lost and the person slips into a deep coma.

For Ricard, this implies that he is able to focus and coordinate the endogenous signals of his brain towards a single concept, percept or conscious experience. Whether concentrating on compassion or happiness, it is hard to imagine that in such a state anything but the object of focus is able to enter Ricard’s awareness.

The study also found an extreme asymmetry between brain activity originating from his left prefrontal cortex compared to his right. This asymmetry has been shown to correlate with positive emotions, while it’s counterpart – stronger activity in the right prefrontal cortex – is related to negative emotions. Putting this finding together with the high levels of gamma waves, it suggests that Ricard is able to generate such a focused state of compassion that his brain responds by producing an extreme level of positive emotions.

Despite these results, Ricard says that he is not unique. He teaches that similar levels of compassion can be obtained by anyone willing to take the time and effort. Ricard attributes his incredible abilities to neuroplasticity due to meditation training and is working with scientists around the globe to show how the brain changes its structure and function in response to meditation.

While Ricard’s place as the world’s happiest man is fascinating, the bigger take away from the University of Wisconsin study is that long-term experience with meditation is not necessary to induce neuroplasticity. The scientists found that as little as twenty minutes a day for three weeks can start to reshape the patterns of the brain and increase levels of positive emotions.

The question is – what are you going to do with the next twenty minutes of your day?

Positive Disintegration: How loss leads to growth and nothing is really negative

Imagine for a moment what life must have been like in Poland after World War II.

Cities destroyed by war.

Culture and government fractured by the initial invasion of 1939 that opened the European theatre and spawned the war.

The psychological landscape in ruins, composed against a backdrop of the horrors and atrocities that people had witnessed each other commit. Chaos – at its most extreme – leaving nothing but rubble in need of rebuilding.
Coming from this context was a man named Kazimierz Dabrowski who had a simple idea: that nothing is ever really negative.

While most of us will (fortunately) never have to experience such an extreme, we do experience our own personal devastations – crises or stresses that seem too much to handle, too devastating that they obscure the path forward. These states can emerge for a myriad of reasons, yet they all share a common element: there is a dissonance between what our present moment is and what we would like it to be.

Buddhism teaches us that we should learn to accept the flow of life, to detach and strive for compassion in the face of suffering. While this approach has its utility, taken at its extreme it neglects the opportunity that personal strife can afford.

Dabrowski called his idea the theory of Positive Disintegration. At its core, it says that loss, sadness and unease are essential for personal development. It isn’t that loss and sadness are intrinsically negative, rather that we have been socialized to believe that certain situations should elicit certain reactions and that we are to interpret our emotional reactions as being either positive or negative.

In the view of positive disintegration, emotions are contextual. There is no inherent goodness or badness to them – there is no innate suffering – only a psychological reaction to them. As such, when we contextualize the state of loss or sadness in personal life as being vital to development and growth, we can view them from a positive light and as states that are to be experienced and explored rather than remedied.

Dabrowski recognized that people start life in a state of primary integration. They behave and think in accordance with their inner impulses and what society teaches as the correct way of life. Through states of personal dissonance, where there is a discord between what you experience and what you believe, a person has a chance to enter into the process of positive disintegration. They are able to recognize that their inner values and beliefs no longer effectively correspond to the world around them. They are able to disintegrate previous belief structures, world perspectives and behavioural patterns in order to reconstruct them to be more in line with a developing set of personal values that are independent of impulses and socialization.

States of unease and tension become the motivation – the energy and catalyst for change – that are necessary to dissolve and reconstruct a person into a more complex and unique individual. Without them we would remain in a state of primary integration, aligning our thoughts and behaviours with little effort to actualize our full potential.

So remember the next time things seem blue, when loss or sadness feels too much, this is your mind’s way of telling you that there is more inside yourself to develop, that there are new opportunities for you to explore and grow through.