Mental Health Awareness and Meditation


Every month has been made into a commemoration of some kind. May has quite a few national and international holidays ranging from National Brain Tumor Awareness Month to Celiac Awareness Month to Haitian Heritage Month to National Moving Month in the United States and National Smile Month in the United Kingdom. For a larger and more comprehensive list, please go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May

I have chosen to share about National Mental Health Awareness Month.

In recent times, attitudes towards mental health issues appear to be changing. Negative attitudes and stigma associated with mental health have reduced and there has been growing acceptance towards mental health issues and support for people with them.

Despite this shift in attitude, the idea of a mental health awareness campaign is not a recent one. In the late 1940’s, the first National Mental Health Awareness Week was launched in the United States. During the 1960’s, this annual, weekly campaign was upgraded to a monthly one with May the designated month. During this month, National Health America, the main organization which sponsors this event, run a number of activities which are often based on a theme.

Mental illnesses can take many forms, just as physical illnesses do. Mental illnesses are still feared and misunderstood by many people, but the fear will disappear as people learn more about them. If you, or someone you know, has a mental illness, there is good news: all mental illnesses can be treated.

Did you know?:
-About 1 in 5 American adults will have a mental health condition in any given year?
-But only 41 percent of them will receive services?
-About 10 percent of the American adult population will have a mood disorder, such as depression or bipolar?
-And 18 percent have an anxiety disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder?

Follow this link to see when you or someone you know should receive help. Remember, help isn’t something to be ashamed of!:
http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/finding-help-when-get-it-and-where-go

One of the breakthroughs in modern psychology and neuroscience has been showing that meditation reduces depression, anxiety, stress, phobias, addictions, and many other impairments to mental health. Plus, it feels good. Fraser Collins says: “It is estimated that we have around 50,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day and that around 70% – 90% of the thoughts we have are negative – thus creating huge levels of stress and anxiety. So the challenge is how we reduce these thoughts?”

The answer is meditation and mindfulness. If you are unfamiliar with how to meditate, please take a moment to read the cutoff below.

If you’d like company, there is a group in SL that is there for support. Visit the Landmark below for more resources and great people.
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Shanghai%20Mountains/126/134/1750

More info:

http://www.inspirationalmentalhealth.com/p/resources.html

http://www.whathealth.com/awareness/event/nationalmentalhealthmonth.html

http://www.cmha.ca/mental-health/understanding-mental-illness/

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/mental-health-awareness-week/

http://life.utoronto.ca/stories/build-on-your-strengths-mental-health-awareness-month/

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/10/10/meditation-mental-illness-anxiety-depression_n_4076036.html

http://healthland.time.com/2013/08/07/does-meditation-help-or-hinder-mental-illnesses/

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“You pass through life like early morning…”


Sakura Blossom

Dreaming, not waking 

Early morning breezes tickle,

Dandelions dance.


       Amidst many changes in my life I am called to write. There is a certain kind of feeling experienced when you leave everything behind for a completely new path. It’s a feeling like floating on a wave – not quite awake, not quite asleep, dreaming, not waking. Every moment is full of endless potential. But, then again, isn’t it anyway? It is in these times of transition that we find ourselves – our real, true, unbiased, no-illusions, self. We tend to find that the Self is completely unlimited. That, in fact, there isn’t a Self, definable as such, but a series of comings-and-goings. A kind of desperate plea for uncertainty. At first, it feels liberating. You have no responsibilities, nothing in your name, no job to get to, no school, or family, or friends calling for your attention. Everything is just space. Everything is limitless. Driving over the mountains, clearly endless blue skies above us, we felt as though we were on top of the world. We had 14 hours of homelessness, in one of the most beautiful parts of this country. The air is so much fresher all these miles above the busy cities and refineries. It’s almost too easy to forget all of this modern world.

       Forgetting is what our minds want to do. It is the easy way out of responsibility. Caring is difficult. Caring takes time and attention and energy, none of which are easily replenished as every action takes time to see the result. Caring can be overwhelming. Up here, on top of the world, there is nothing to care about. It is here where I experience true release, true happiness. You see children smiling for no reason at all, smiling at the smell of the flowers and the songs of the birds and the feel of the air against their skin. It is up here that I can truly say I understand what they are smiling for. The sun feels so close and so warm, and time slows down.

       It has been one full week since we experienced that. It didn’t take long for the 14 hours to pass and for us to take the seemingly short descent into the valley that we now call home. You see the city before you see the ocean, all lights and busy people. It is like waking from an existential dream of non-duality. The experience is much like taking that first step out of a retreat hall and onto a busy street. It’s a bit overwhelming, but you’re lucky, because you have all this stored up happy energy from the experience of release. This stored-up energy allows you to see the new landscape with fresh eyes, non-judging and compassionate. You make it through the busy city, as your new home lies on the far side, only blocks away from the vast, free ocean. You get here unscathed, still holding that happy, light energy close to your heart. This energy had permeated your whole body, and it lifted you to a lightness that was like you had become a cloud. The flowing and pulsing dance of wind and life-energy still coursed through you, with you, as you.

       As you enter your new home and proceed with all the formalities, you take a deep breath, and feel suddenly dizzy with realization. The search you have been on for your whole life, this search to be happy and free like you feel on top of the mountains, you feel it now too. It hasn’t left. The only thing that changed is your perception. Rather than seeing it for what it is, always present, you see it as something only attainable in certain environments. You close your eyes, letting your other senses experience the moment, and you feel this dreamlike happiness. Opening your eyes, it’s still there. You take a step, and still, it’s with you. A smile spreads on your soft lips and your eyes brim with tears. Regardless of what life calls on you for, you are there, completely present, and it is okay. Everything is okay. Everything is okay because inherently, you are free. You are expansive and huge, infinite. You are potential. Everything is potential.

       Cherry blossoms line the streets, mingling with flowers you don’t recognize. You can pick up probably a dozen different bird songs. You tell yourself that the steady thrum and vibration is the sound of the nearby ocean, though you’re probably kidding yourself. The tides pull at you as the pulse closer and further, grasping and releasing. Even the concrete buildings squished into city-blocks pulse and vibrate with life. Everything exists in meditation. Everything meditates.

       Abandoning your few possessions, the first stop is the bay, the soft sand squishing between your toes, the smell of salt-water and fish a welcome reminder that you are home, and you are safe.

Photo Copyright (c) April 2014, Chraeloos

Meditations on Non-duality


First, please watch the video below. It’s 12:46 so you can do this in a short time.

~~

Does everything exist as non-dual? Everything has a mere appearance, but does any of it have essence? Nothing has individual essence, therefore everything is non-dual as we perceive it as mere appearance of essence, when it is in fact empty.
Geshe-la mentions form as body, but form is everything. Body is made up of mountains and rivers, goats and birds, air and fire. Form is everything we perceive in a dual nature, which is really non-dual. Form is ever changing, flowing, shifting, walking like mountains walk. Stillness and emptiness are non-dual. Stillness is perceived, when really nothing is ever still. Even in physics we see that atoms are constantly vibrating, gravity is working on our atoms making them move around each other like planets and suns. Stillness exists only in the present moment, only to our perception, but really, form is empty of stillness. Form is empty of form.
If the world exists as non-dual, why do we perceive it as dual? Our attachment to ignorance and self-grasping. By recognizing the non-dual nature of things we can be released from attachment, grasping, avidya.
A quote came to mind: “When the wave forgets that it is the ocean, that forgetting process is Avidya.” We are each waves in the vast ocean of non-dual existence, and we have forgotten that we are part of the ocean.
Further reading:
Avidya Tree

Karma and Death


We lost a family member last week. Her funeral was Monday, and over 85 people showed up. I lost count. So fantastic how many lives she touched. Every single one of them could have stood up and said something unique about her. She was one of those rare people who always knew what to say and do, and when to say it. She brought everyone into her family, no questions asked. She will for sure be missed, but it was really nice to see how much of an impact she left. This is karma, in a sense, where her actions are still with us and will always cause ripples. When we went to visit her in the hospital I gave her a hug and my scarf snagged on her glasses, so she exists still as part of my scarf. She was listening to music and now every time I hear that kind of music I think of her; she exists still in my thoughts. She had made spanikopita and sent a huge Tupperware of the leftovers home with us in August, we never did give the Tupperware back to her; she exists still in objects and our associations to them, our regrets and wishes and happiness. She influenced so many people to do so many things, and always knew just what to do. But, she’s not gone. I don’t know if I believe in a soul or heaven or whatever else, but I do believe that by touching so many (and even if she had only touched a few) her essence will always be with us – in every song, scarf, and Tupperware. Our bodies are made of physical material – form, but the impact we leave on the world around us is really what defines who and what we are. I still feel her, just as I feel all of you. I take solace in this realization, and I hope some of you will too. 

Thanksgiving 2013 and Patanjali


It is Canadian thanksgiving this weekend. It’s the time of year when families get together and eat too much food, and drink too much drink. I’m one of the lucky ones who has a family that can be in the same room together without a major blowout (usually).

I think something we’ve forgotten in Western society is the idea of actually giving thanks. If thanking God(s) is your practice, then you probably do it on a regular basis. But here I mean, truly being thankful for what we have. I was walking home the other day, and was reminded of the municipal election coming up by all the signs posted on front lawns with people’s names. “Hey,” I thought, “It’s pretty amazing that I live in a place where we can so publicly voice our opinion without fear. I’m really thankful for that.” Then I started thinking, what else do I take for granted? I’m thankful for the fact that I can go to a studio and practice hundreds of different lineages of yoga, Buddhism, or whatever other religion or path I chose. I’m thankful that I can have friends and coworkers that can invite me to their Sikh temple, and let me know that I’m welcome any time, regardless of my skin color, family name, or background. I’m thankful that I can choose the person I love, and life our lives together regardless of race, religion, sex, or caste. I’m thankful that I can choose what kind of food I want to eat: organic, raw, vegan, vegetarian, junk food, fast food, etc. because I live in a country that is wealthy enough to have those options. I’m thankful that I can wear the clothes I want regardless of time of day, what street I’m on, or what my sex is. I’m thankful that I can chose what radio and TV stations to watch, and that I have internet that allows me to connect with anyone in the world. I’m thankful that there are government programs in place if I lose my job that will give me money to feed and shelter my family until I find a new one. I’m thankful that, as a woman, I’m allowed to go to any school I choose for any degree I choose, and I can do it without consent. I’m thankful that I can vote and protest to any peaceful extent I’d like, and for whatever topic I’d like. I’m thankful for a lot of things. A lot of them I couldn’t fit on this page. These are just the things that come off the top of my head. I’m thankful that I have the ability to change the world, because each and every one of us has that power within us. I’m thankful to be alive.

The holidays are some combination of the niyana’s and the yamah’s from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.

The niyama’s are composed of:

  • Sauca – purity, cleanliness
  • Santosa – contentment, acceptance
  • Tapah – austerity, penance, heat, discipline
  • Svadhyaya – self study, study, study of scripture
  • Isvara pranidhianani – to reflect or consider, surrender, surrender the Lord (God)

The yamah’s are composed of:

  • Ahimsa – not harming, compassion for all life
  • Satya – truthfulness in thoughts, words, and actions
  • asteya – not stealing, overconsumption
  • brahmacarya – sexual restraint, conserving creative energy

As you can see, the holidays are the *perfect* yoga practice. You can make sure you aren’t eating or drinking too much, saving some for others. You can try your best to not lie, gossip, or make commitments that even one cell in your body can’t keep. You may even go so far as to have a vegan thanksgiving to not harm any animals. You can help with the dishes, make sure you discipline yourself enough to not be rude and lend a helping hand. You can even try to love your family despite their differences and even sometimes, annoyances. You may even be able to remind yourself of a scripture or text you read recently talking about letting go of old habits and emotions. If it is in your practice, you can thank God or Gods, or Energy or Life Force, or whatever it is you thank. If that doesn’t jive for you just practice surrendering to the now. Rather than escaping into the past or future, or into a book or phone game, sit in peace and accept, or even be thankful, for the fact that you get to be in a warm house with people that love you (even if it doesn’t really seem like it) and let the time play out as the universe allows, since you can’t change it anyhow. And the easiest one of all to practice will be brahmacarya, or sexual restraint/conserving creative energy, because you’ll be too exhausted by the end of it all to even bother.

In essence, what I’m trying to say, is the holidays can be a time of joy, and they can be a time of suffering. Patanjali shows us that yoga isn’t just about your practice on the mat, that in fact it has purpose and opportunity in every moment. Who knows, maybe your positivity will be infectious.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and I do hope you have a peaceful and safe holiday. Namaste.

Sitting with Fear


Today was the first day of a six week Kundalini workshop I’m taking part in. I went in excited and thrilled to be there, and I came out wishing I hadn’t gone. This made me wonder. I hadn’t been to any Kundalini yoga classes before, but have practiced it minimally at home. I am familiar with the theory, and much less familiar with the practice. I’m much more familiar with Hatha yoga practice. Today I learned many things – chants, mantras, mudras, asanas. I even learned a bit about the chakras. Ultimately, I should have been thrilled when I left, just as I was when I entered. But, alas, here I was, a bit bummed, even.

So I asked myself, “What is wrong?” I followed the feeling. I learned two things. First, while chanting for the root chakra I had encountered a great fear. This startled me. Second, I was wary of the practice since it was unfamiliar, and I had experienced something new.

In yoga practice, especially when you go to class, you tend to experience a lot of the same things. The asanas are the same, the people are the same, the teachings are similar, and the energy is the same. What you encounter within yourself becomes familiar, and even welcome. So the experience of going to a new class with a new teacher from a different tantric background brought out this experience of fear for me that I hadn’t encountered in my practice before. After that, I was wary and uncomfortable for the rest of the practice. I kept thinking to myself, “Why did I sign up for this?” and “I wish I could just leave.”

I had to ask myself, “Why are you so afraid of encountering fear?” When it came up during the practice, I sat with it. It startled me, definitely, but I didn’t flinch. Kudos to the previous teachers for bringing to a point in my practice where I could recognize without becoming. I recognized it, for sure, but didn’t react. I was able to sit through it and continue the chant, even though with every sound the fear grew. I started wondering if it was the noise that was frightening me – usually I’m a very quiet person. Chanting is a bit out of character for me, though I’ve enjoyed it in the past.

For those who are unaware, I’ll give you a bit of background on the root chakra. Also known as the Muladhara or Mooladhara chakra, it is the chakra that sits at the base of your spine, near your coccyx. It is the chakra that deals with fundamental security and well-being, and innocence. Barbara Herring, from the Yoga Journal, says, “this energy vortex is involved in tending to our survival needs, establishing a healthy sense of groundedness, taking good basic care of the body, and purging the body of wastes.” It is the house of the unconscious. When opened, qualities that we have not realized were a part of us will emerge, “such as destructive rage, all-consuming passion, excessive desires or deep-seated anger.”(1) Others have experienced a closeness with God, great joy or freedom when activating this chakra. Because it is the home of the unconscious, emotions that we have hidden from ourselves, or that we may not even know we are feeling, arise.

In my case, the first thing to emerge was a great fear. It was the same kind of fear I experienced when I had night terrors. Thankfully, I don’t have them anymore, but that fear still lives in me. After class the teacher opened himself to any questions. Once people had left I told him of my experience and he nodded in understanding. He said that my reaction could be based on many things: a fear for my security or livelihood, fear for relationships, fear of uncertainty, or something that arose in my unconscious mind. None of those things really made me go, “Oh, yeah, that’s it!” But they definitely helped me understand that I have to work on my root chakra. He continued to say that through finding a chakra or practice I’m comfortable with, I can ground myself and work my way into the root chakra. I could chant the basic root tone: “Om Lam,” over and over just to slowly open it, and sit with whatever comes.

On the way home from class I listened to a podcast by Michael Stone, from the Centre of Gravity in Toronto. It was titled, “Feel the Fear (Heart Sutra 5)” released Mar 1, 2013. In it he mentioned the question the Dalai Lama was asked about how to deal with “deep fear effectively.” He answered:

There are quite a number of methods. The first is to think about actions and their effects. Usually when something bad happens, we say, “Oh, very unlucky,” and when something good happens, we say, “Oh, very lucky.” Actually, these two words, lucky and unlucky, are insufficient. There must be some reason. Because of a reason, a certain time became lucky or unlucky, but usually we do not go beyond lucky or unlucky. The reason, according to the Buddhist explanation, is our past karma, our actions.

One way to work with deep fears is to think that the fear comes as a result of your own actions in the past. Further, if you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.

Another technique is to investigate who is becoming afraid. Examine the nature of your self. Where is this I? Who is I? What is the nature of I? Is there an I besides my physical body and my consciousness? This may help.

Also, someone who is engaging in the Bodhisattva practices seeks to take others’ suffering onto himself or herself. When you have fear, you can think, “Others have fear similar to this; may I take to myself all of their fears.” Even though you are opening yourself to greater suffering, taking greater suffering to yourself, your fear lessens.(2)

Michael Stone went on to say that there are three steps to a mindfulness practice:

In one sit you can go from extreme bliss to extreme fear. What is interesting is not to know the bliss and know the fear, but to start to know the knowing mind. So to look at the mind that knows bliss, and to look at the mind that knows fear, and then to start to see that the knowing is stable. So when we’re fist meditating, we’re always focusing externally on the object of what we’re noticing. So if fear is arising there’s a sense of Me noticing the Fear. The second maturation of practice is when you can fully just feel fear, until there is nothing left of you – there is just Fear. There is just being terrified. And then, I would say, you could just keep going, one more level, where when you can really be in what you feel, you can then look at the consciousness that’s knowing the feeling. Look at that part of the mind that knows. Just like the Dalai Lama said to ask, well who’s knowing. So it’s like your turning around, and instead of looking at the object, you’re looking at knowing. And then you can see that the knowing is totally stable, like a mirror. It doesn’t take the shape of fear. The knowing doesn’t take the shape of bliss. It’s just knowing.

I’m sure in the following weeks we’ll be working with the chakras more, and I’ll encounter things in class that I may not be expecting, but I’ll be ready for them. In the meantime, I’m going to be doing a lot of sitting and chanting to explore what’s in here that I don’t know, and to work with this fear.

And here we think we can judge other people, when we don’t even know ourselves.

At this point, I am excited to go again next week.

1. http://www.chakras.net/energy-centers/muladhara
2. From, A Policy of Kindness: An Anthology of Writings By and About the Dalai Lama