We all have the potential to create greatness!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Taoist Inner Smile Guided Meditation

I know, I know...meditation again? Really? This is just a recap for the lovely attendees of the Tuesday night Meditation Gathering at Center of Symmetry. Don't worry, one of these days in the near future I will get around to posting about the many and varying philosophies and practices of using our innate creativity to bolster human potential! However, for now, it is meditation once more! (In the meantime, maybe read a little "Courage To Create" by Rollo May with just a dash of Jung's take on "Active Imagination." And if you are feeling frisky, add a dollop of Natalie Rogers on top to satisfy that creative sweet tooth! Oh yeah!)

This past Tuesday I was fortunate enough to have been graced with the presence of open, willing, and curious individuals. Such a dynamic group, that connectivity seemed almost instantaneous. That, my friends, is what magic is in my humble opinion. For those who expressed interest in continuing this particular meditation as a part of your practice, I would love to recap my variation of the Taoist Inner Smile meditation.

The Inner Smile meditation is used to cultivate Jing energy, which is both your passionate, creative energy and your life force energy.

Find a place where you feel comfortable, safe, and calm (if possible). Check in with your posture, and adjust your position so that your spine is straight to allow maximum capacity for breathing. After a round of deep and mindful breaths (becoming aware of the moment of inhalation, where inhalation becomes an exhale, and how the breath moves through your body), imagine a person sitting before you. In you mind's eye, smile to them. Become aware of any physical or mental shifts that occur during your exchange with this person. Imagine a golden light emanating from your smile that reaches out to the person in front of you, and watch as that positive, golden light gently flows through their mind, down their throat, into their heart space, filling their belly, down through their root, into the ground, and circulating back to you. As it flows back to you, envision this compassionate, joyful light creeping in through your toes, dancing up through your legs, filling your root, sauntering up your spine as it illuminates each vertebrae, opening your heart space, flowing into your throat, and expanding inside your mind as it gently flows back through your smile, and out to the other person. Now, try physically smiling to that person. (Don't worry no one's looking.) Try to become aware of any subtle shifts that may be taking place. Repeat the energy exchange that you envisioned in the first exercise. Does anything change within your thoughts? Does physically smiling cause any sensation to arise within your body?

Now, imagine that the person sitting before you is someone you dislike or have negative feelings toward. Take a good long minute, while being mindful of your posture and breath, to examine their face. Look deeply into this person's visage, and in your mind's eye, smile. Are you able to imagine smiling to this person? Again, see a positive, compassionate light emanating from your smile and reaching out to the other person. Envision the same sequence of energetic exchange that you experienced in the first exercise. Positive, compassionate energy flowing from your smile, through the other's body, and circling back through your own body, opening your heart space and illuminating your mind. Next, (yep, you guessed it...) try to physically smile to this person whom causes negative feelings to arise within you. Are you able? Again, repeat the circulation of compassionate energy, and bring your awareness to areas of tension, shifting, or curiosity. Try to look upon this person with intrigue rather than disdain.

The person before you begins to dissipate, as you notice that someone was sitting behind them. You can't quite make out their face, and so look deeper into the features with curiosity and intrigue. You realize that you are looking at a version of yourself, and in your mind's eye...you smile. Releasing your positive, compassionate energy to the person before you. Letting go of any preconceived notions or knowledge we have of this self; just allowing them to be before you. Regard their presence, as the golden light swells within their body and circulates back through the space between you. Repeat that exchange of energy a few times, and then physically smile to your self. Allow the circulation of golden, cleansing light to resume until you feel complete in your process.

Finally, envision your self walking into you, and sit with your self as you tend to your breath. Breathe deep into your belly, and allow a long, slow exhale. Now, physically smile to yourself, no other being present, as you see your positive, compassionate energy flowing from your smile, out into your surroundings, penetrating deep into the earth, circulating back up through your body. Open up your heart space, and illuminate your mind. Bring your awareness to your breath, and come back to the present moment when you feel complete.

I suggest keeping a journal on hand for any insight or sensation that may arise. Also, if you plan to use this activity as a normal part of your practice, it is beneficial to document your transition between meditations. I believe that there are many experiences and emotions that are often skewed when articulated verbally, so I also keep art supplies on hand for any non-verbal communication I wish to document. It is a great enhancement to your journaling experience.

As a mindfulness practice, try smiling more. Bring your awareness to the connection between yourself and that person, and then smile secretly to yourself, and have a wonderful day!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Meet Ze Monsta

Spooky Expressive Art Activity #1: Meet Ze Monsta: Go to a quiet, dim place where you will not be disturbed. Begin to breathe deeply, with each inhale and exhale growing longer and slower. Imagine yourself in a safe, joyful environment where you feel empowered. Then, imagine that someone walks into the room. Look closely at them, noticing each and every flaw. Every grotesque nook and cranny, and then try to see what is interesting or intriguing about those grotesque qualities. Beyond intrigue, see what about those qualities you could actually love. Now, it's time to say goodbye to your visitor. Come back to reality, and blacken an entire poster-size sheet of paper with charcoal. (vine-charcoal works best). Now use the end of an eraser to draw your grotesque visitor, using the eraser to pull light and highlight from the shadow of the matter. Keep a journal handy, in case you feel inspired or insightful!

Limbic Resonance and Attunement

Though a majority of Western society values the rational, abstracting, reasoning rationality of our brain’s left hemisphere, a majority of people approach daily life through our sensing, feeling, and emotional mind. Why is there an enduring attachment to right hemispheric action and reaction in a time that seems to demand the concrete, no-nonsense functioning of our left-brain? Though the practices and interests of fast-paced society become increasingly isolating humans, by nature, are communal creatures. We approach our worlds with a forced left-brain to mask the true inclination to identify with others through our right-brain. However, our sensing, feeling selves cannot be squelched or diminished because our right-brain informs us about ourselves in relation to others and is always there, whether or not we decide to acknowledge its presence. Our right-brain informs us of new insights obtained through our pre-logical, intuitive responses to encounters with our surroundings. It sees the glimmer of a gold fleck hidden in the deep color of a blue eye; it delicately brings the pleasure of beauty to our attention. It lightly taps us on the shoulder and whispers non-verbal responses about who we are, how we feel, and how that knowledge is connected to others in our world.

In our logical society, more concerned with thoughts than feelings, there is a disconnect occurring between our actual experience and our perceived experience. The cost of masking our feelings becomes an inability to even access our feeling, and then when we do we no longer know what they are, or how to feel them. The hardest task for a therapist has become getting their clients to describe their feelings rather than the internal verbalizations of their thought process. Many people cannot distinguish the difference between their internal summation of “something”, and the way that “something” makes them feel. People forget that language is the translation of what occurs, not the actual event; much is lost in translation. Many times an experience is beyond words, and the only true way to access the authentic essence is through our sensing, feeling, and intuiting right-brain.

So, how do we get past the concrete wall of words to our truly felt experience? We must utilize the presence of Limbic Resonance. Limbic Resonance mediates our emotional ability to bond with others by tuning us in to another’s internal state. This affords us a reliable avenue to an authentic understanding of another’s emotional state. An alternative method is to pay attention to facial features and body language, but then we would still be neglecting the emotional connection if we do not “tune in” to their felt experience. The limbic activity of others can result in an almost immediate congruence between our felt experience, and that of others in our environment. At one time or another, we have all felt an energetic shift in a room as happiness turns to anger, or vice versa. The ability to read the emotional state of others is as old as time, and when we ignore the most basic and core aspects of our self, then we not only lose our ability to understand the authentic experience of others but the authentic experience, sense, feeling, within ourselves. The Hakomi method Mindfulness is helpful for those who have trouble connecting with their inner experience.

Heart Math

When referring to strong emotions, people are often prone to reference their heart. This is nothing new; throughout various historic cultures the heart has been associated with spiritual influx, wisdom, and emotions as experienced physiologically. Currently, scientific research has been diligently exploring the role of the human heart in the generation of emotional experience, and has found that our physiological heart indeed is linked to and stimulates our emotional “heart.” Your brain and body work together to produce thoughts, perceptions, and emotions; this includes your heart. Research in the budding field of neuro-cardiology has discovered that the heart plays a central role in emotional perception because of cardiac afferent signals generating rhythmic patterns within the body, affecting brain functions which in turn affect cognition and emotional processing. Bearing this in mind, the HeartMath Institute has created heart-centered techniques to lovingly shift emotional consciousness.

HeartMath techniques shift a person’s attention to focus on the area of the heart, while also shifting their intention to the self-induction of positive emotion; most commonly they will focus on the emotion of Appreciation. Appreciation has been found to be “one of the most concrete and easiest of the positive emotions for individuals to self-induce and sustain for longer periods.” By shifting the person’s attention, heart rhythm coherence is increased resulting in a pattern change for the afferent cardiac information which is processed by the emotional and cognitive centers in the brain. The newly organized afferent pattern, paired with positive emotion, naturally conditions the body to correlate the positive emotion with the calmer physiological state. A reciprocal relationship between the emotional and the physical occurs, where the positive emotional state may produce the aforementioned physical state, and the physical experience may induce the positive emotional experience.

Through employing HeartMath techniques, positive emotion-focused heart presence gives individuals the freedom to replace stressful thoughts and feelings with a positively charged reaction in the moment the shift is needed rather than waiting for the long-term process of therapy to take hold. It has also been found that this physical-emotional resonance leads to elevated levels of effective communication, steady decision making, as well as more creativity and improved problem solving. Another lasting effect, if the individual is able to regulate positive mood production, is the ability to uplift them on a regular basis.

One technique which may aid in the positive transformation process is the HeartMath strategy of Freeze-Frame. There are five steps in Freeze-Frame. First, take time out to temporarily disengage from your thoughts and feelings, working to release from stress. Second, shift your focus from your thoughts and feelings to the area of your heart. Once, you are heart-centered, allow your focus to drift to your breath and visualize your breath coming in through your heart, out through your solar plexus. Third, make a concerted effort to induce a positive feeling. Fourth, rely on your internal wisdom to guide you toward an effective attitude that will balance and distress you. Finally, quietly sense any change in perception or emotions, and hold on to it for as long as you are able.

The Freeze-Frame exercise reminds me of a Taoist exercise called the Inner Smile used to induce positive feelings toward yourself and others by taking an external smile into yourself through your heart chakra, down to your root chakra, and circulating the energy back through your system through breath. Many exercises in the Tao which are used to circulate energy for a healing effect, bring energy into or in through the heart chakra because hatred, inability to forgive, and self-loathing are all thought to deplete you Jing energy (life force). So, perhaps neuro-cardiology is just now catching onto what ancient eastern traditions have known for years.

The Hakomi Method and Mindfulness

Descartes made a significant error when he ignited the philosophical revolution of intellectualism as he informed his peers “I think therefore I am.” We are not our thoughts; we may at times be prisoners to our thoughts, but they do not create our state of being. Rather, our thoughts are the descriptive responses to our states of being. There are peaceful moments of thoughtlessness where we still exist. If your mind clears, and no thoughts pervade but you are still present, then obviously you must be more than the product of thinking. Your consciousness, your ability to exist within this moment, your divine spark of life, continues whether or not you fall prey to the manipulative narrator that is your inner dialogue. Even if you grab that chattering little monkey-mind by the tail and duct tape its mouth shut, you are still a human that is being. This state of being that is free of mental banter, allowing us to focus on the non-verbal experience of the “now”, can be achieved through the practice of Mindfulness.

If one reaches a state of peace in the time-space of now, and frees themselves from the imprisonment of being trapped in the displaced experience of “past” and “future” through taming one’s mind, how is that a product of Mindfulness? To understand the outcome, we must understand the tool we are utilizing. There are no bells or whistles swinging from the rafters of Mindfulness; its values and properties are so easy to understand and employ that all human beings have the privilege of accessing them. Mindfulness places emphasis on looking inward while honoring the present moment. While we are in the present moment, pay attention to what is occurring within your body and mind in a receptive, open manner that minimizes your mind’s ability to interfere with the nature of your experience. By being cognizant of our mental activity and participating in our own experience of the present moment, we allow the noise ricocheting through our systems to quiet into a peaceful din of fluidity. Now, our process may proceed with ease rather than with the barbaric bombardment of mental blabber.

In the Hakomi method of Mindfulness, which is usually used in a therapeutic setting, there are principles one employs to aid in the effectiveness of the process. When working with clients, a practitioner must always be aware of their own internal state. As a practitioner applies the Hakomi method of Mindfulness, they must first check in with themselves, and engage in the principle of Beingness. We honor Beingness when we become open, calmly attentive, receptive, accepting, and in contact with both our self and the client. In this state of consciousness, the practitioner goes within and simply observes what is occurring in their being. Remain open to what may arise as you calmly attend to the sensation of existing in the present; be receptive to thoughts, feelings, or senses that may surprise or inform you. Accept your experience of your internal self exactly as it is without complicating its nature through explanation. Lastly, be sure to come into contact with all parts and aspects of yourself that wish to be expressed without forcing the interaction. Above all, just be. Revel in the process of Beingness as you are introduced to your self’s experience of the moment at hand; you may find that your internal wisdom knows you better than you think it does.

This ritual of going within to experience ourselves broadens our perception of where our senses are within the moment of the present. When attending to the present moment, either with ourselves or the client, we must welcome the unpredictable, and not place judgment on the process or the outcome. Through this non-judgmental stance we show compassion for ourselves, and in turn are capable of having authentic compassion for others. In embodying this Beingness, we create a safe environment for others to accept human being rather than human doing. When checking in with yourself, do you find that you can accept your Beingness rather than you compulsion or ability to do?

Once the practitioner is aware of their state, they must review their experience of the client to prevent their interpretation from interfering with the phenomenological experience of the “now.” For this, the practitioner must retain the Hakomi principle of Organicity. Organicity is the belief that organisms have the capability to self-organize and reform in their growth process just as a seedling grows into a plant which renews itself through spreading seeds that grow into new plants. With this principle, the healing and expansion of the client is infinite; the possibility for regeneration and renewal becomes not only possible, but absolute.

As Ron Kurtz says, “Life is its own authority. Life is creative; it tends to jump around and come up with new ways of doing things.” In other words, though a behavior or thought process may appear to have maladaptive properties, in reality there is an immense amount of room for adaptation and reformation. In this interaction between practitioner and client it is imperative that the practitioner hold this belief for the client, even if the client is not yet aware of their own potential. In the way of Organicity, the practitioner is not a leader but a companion on a journey where the client becomes the guide and educator. The principle of Organicity implores the practitioner to trust the inner wisdom and abilities of the client on the path to wellness.

Along with the principle of Organicity, the Hakomi principle of Non-Violence also helps to create and support a safe and self-empowering environment for the client. When utilizing the principle of Non-Violence, the practitioner supports the defenses of the client while allowing the process to flow freely, respecting the clients feelings toward the process. The therapeutic experience is not forced or streamlined, change is not presupposed nor imposed, and the principle of Organicity is honored and observed throughout. The principle of Non-Violence is aptly named because a safe and nurturing environment is created through the willingness to yield to the inclinations and needs of the client.

Now that we’ve established what the Hakomi method of Mindfulness is, and the principles that support effective utilization of the process, how can we be sure that we are being authentic in our Mindfulness? Remember to maintain an internal focus on the present moment; as long as we do not allow our concepts of our past or future selves to dilute our experience of the present, then we remain authentic in the understanding of our self and others. Always observe what is, rather than speculating; so long as we are true to our experience of something without distorting its existence with our own speculation then we are privy to its natural essence and authentic meaning. Welcome the unpredictable; when we open to the unpredictable, we are less likely to shun a valuable learning opportunity by presupposing its nature or meaning. Embody a receptive state, allowing for the expansion of awareness; when the practitioner is an open vessel for knowledge, the client is awarded the freedom to flow in the process of exploration and conveyance. Allow feelings, senses, and information to arise while remaining passive until it subsides; by remaining passive until the entirety of a moment has been experienced allows for a complete or whole acquaintance with that moment. All of these steps lead to the authentic expression of the present moment, creating a safe environment where free expression may openly occur.

Attachment & Loving Presence in the Hakomi Method

Loving Presence is a state of mind which promotes secure attachment reactions that are the core for attaining and maintaining a healthfully emotional lifestyle. Even if someone has a maladaptive or self-limiting attachment style, such as Ambivalent, Disorganized, or Avoidant, Loving Presence provides whatever support the person may feel is absent from their implicit reality because of prior emotional or relational experiences. When we regard others while in a state of Loving Presence, we see them in a way that is nourishing for all parties involved. We honor them by seeking to view their good rather than dwell on negative aspects of self which may be present. Also, in perceiving positive or nourishing aspects of others we hold the space for our own good to arise and greet us. This way of perceiving creates connection through Limbic Resonance that may be felt by the other person, no matter how subtle, allowing them to experience that they are appreciated, respected, and even loved in a spiritual way.

When a person perceives Loving Presence their subconscious allows them to softly open to the possibility of receiving the kind of love and nourishment that they, in particular, are in need of. Each person’s needs are different, but this does not mean that we need to regard one person to the next in a different way other than to experience there uniquely nourishing qualities. Simply by being aware of their uniqueness do we open the space up for an expanded experience of their needs. Their inner wisdom guides them to the answer as we support their unique and nourishing qualities. When we can see others in their wholeness, and perceive the beauty of their humanity, we free them from the shackles of being defined by their traumas, negative experiences, and present state of unrest. By freeing others, we then free ourselves because their Loving Presence was brought to attention by our own; then everyone is limbically resonating in a state of Loving Presence.

So, how does Loving Presence feel to the recipient as well as the giver? For the giver, it is an emotional-heart centered approach to the perception and reception of the person. If you are perceiving and receiving with your feeling, sensing emotional-heart in a state of compassion or grace, then you are approaching each moment in a loving way. Thus, allowing experiences to surprise and inspire you with uniqueness. If you feel that sense of unknowing, that sense of wonder for things that normally you would have judged and categorized into a schema that you’ve already encountered, then you can be sure that you are having the full experience of who the other person is because you are regarding them as fresh individuals in a loving presence, rather than as former experiences of a schema’s stereotyping. Though the giver may now know what their own experience is, the experience of the recipient is very different. The recipient may not even be aware that they feel a loving resonance with the giver; the shift in their attitude or mood sometimes occurs without awareness of how or why. Sometimes it may be as simple as the recipient feeling welcome in the presence of the giver. Other times the presence of the giver may seem to tell the recipient “You are safe in my company. It is more than okay for you to express your authentic feelings here. We are on sacred ground because this is a space of non-judgment.” Often, when the recipient feels safe to express, emote, open, be, or give of themselves freely, they have encountered Loving Presence. This encounter open the recipient’s heart-space up to the ebb and flow or free interaction, leading them into their own state of Loving Presence so that they may then be transformed into the giver as they are also the receiver. Now the exchange of love and acceptance expands both people’s potential for authentic existence; Loving Presence is quite infectious.

School of Seven Bells

This week in meditation, like many other weeks, has been about focusing. There is a song by School of Seven Bells where the chorus repeats the phrase “Allow yourself to be breathing.” Though breathing is automatic, often times my breathing becomes very shallow and hearing those lyrics made me realize that I am barely breathing, and doing so on a regular basis. The aforementioned lyric caused me to wonder if that is my natural rate of breathing or if I am in some way not allowing myself to just “be breathing.”

A couple times during meditation, I made a point of taking the time to inhale as deeply as my lungs would allow me to. While inhaling deeply I focused not on the breath, but on the sensation of the air passing through my nose, into my lungs, and creating expansion. With a deep and filling inhale it is tempting to just release the pressure in a quick and sweeping motion. However, I tried to be as mindful of my exhalation as I had been during my inhalation, paying great attention the way my muscles, tendons, and flesh moved and changed during this process. Focusing so intently on the perpetual motion of your own body can be a bit unsettling.

I have also been trying to concentrate on my breath while also being mindful of my surroundings, which can feel overwhelming if you are outside for a walk. Processing and trying to notice each intricate message being sent to your brain through your sense organs is a large task. Recognizing the extreme amount of information, I started creating my own boundaries by walking with my eyes closed, breathing through my mouth instead of my nose to alleviate smell, and putting my fingers in my ears, so that each sense might have a chance to showcase itself. It probably looked a little strange as I was walking around my neighborhood, but it was an interesting experience. My favorite sensation to notice is the light lapping of wind against my face when I am walking with my eyes closed.
Come join us this Tuesday, and every Tuesday for meditation beginning at 6:15. http://www.centerofsymmetry.com/