Posts by barryjohnjohnson:

    Embracing Uncertainty

    August 18th, 2014

    Trusting the Divine

    In the field of mental health, most specifically relating to treatment of anxiety disorders, there is a concept relating to: tolerance for uncertainty. People with high anxiety have a low tolerance for uncertainty, whereas people with low anxiety have a high tolerance for uncertainty. An extreme example, is someone who suffers with agoraphobia, an anxiety based panic disorder whereby they may remain “shut-ins”, refusing to leave their homes. They do not want to leave their homes because of the uncertainty that something bad, no matter how slight the chance, might happen to them should they venture outside.

    A recovering agoraphobic once described it this way. He feared that if he went outside a pterodactyl might swoop down and grab him. After treatment, he learned to smile at this. But this was a good analogy to describe his low tolerance for uncertainty. His fear overtook reason. In his mind, there was at least some chance, no matter how infinitesimal, that there was one such flying dinosaur left, secretly hiding out, surviving all these years, and it was going to get him if he walked outside. So he didn’t leave his home.

    To a lesser degree, other anxiety issues will cause the fear of uncertainty to manifest itself in some fashion. Those suffering with Obsessive Compulsive issues may repeatedly wash their hands, in order to avoid the slightest chance of contacting some type of germ. Those with General or Social Anxiety Disorders may engage in what’s called catastrophic thinking, and avoid certain situations and activities, as again, there is a chance something will go wrong. Fears of flying or public speaking are common examples.

    The generally accepted treatment for such issues is called Exposure Therapy. It is basically a carefully planned and incremental form of the old adage that you have to face your fears; that you have to build your tolerance and learn to embrace uncertainty.

    This concept of embracing uncertainty has connotations for all of us, and there is a spiritual angle as well. How many of us has experienced or knew someone staying in a bad job or unhealthy relationship because the uncertainty of leaving those situations created more anxiety than the certainty of staying in those unhappy situations? How many people do not end up following their true life’s path because it is impractical, because there is a large degree of perceived uncertainty associated with following that path? The fear speaks out “Watch out! If you do follow that dream, a pterodactyl might just swoop down and gobble you up!”

    In the spiritual realm, there is the not-so-Secret concept, put forth in one form or another by many teachers, that the universe, or higher power, will conspire to give you what you want or need, if you allow it to. So how do we allow the universe to unfold to grant our hearts’ desires and help us manifest our true selves without embracing uncertainty? In order to let the universe unfold for us, we have to hand over the controls to this greater force. It takes courage, faith and trust that we will in fact be taken care of, that we won’t be harmed and we will end up right where we are supposed to be, even if that is different from our original intent.

    We then discover that when we trust, let go and embrace the uncertainty, the mental chatter in our own minds which expressed the fear of uncertainty, subsides. The quietness created then allows the unfolding universe to interact with our own intuition. We get clearer direction from within our own hearts. We become steadfast on a new path which may be riddled with uncertainty, and perceived as impractical by others. Ironically, we feel more certain about our direction.

    So more connected, with a quiet mind, we aren’t practicing embracing uncertainty in a careless manner. We don’t jump out into a busy street, thinking “Oh the universe will take care of me”. We use discernment. We set intentions and we take careful, mindful steps in the context of proceeding onto a new path. With fearful mental chatter gone, this skill is enhanced.

    We also practice non-attachment. We can’t embrace a new uncertain future when we are fully attached to our old lives. We also do not attach ourselves to specific outcomes after we have set our intentions. That attachment will also just create mental chatter trying to control the situation, hold on to our attachments, blocking you from aligning with how the universe is unfolding.

    Simply put, Not Knowing exactly what will happen next in our lives is okay. In fact, it is actually liberating. The ability to let go, not know and not try to totally control what will happen next is a key skill and a sign of mental health. We need to learn to embrace uncertainty. We set our intentions without tying ourselves to outcomes, and we then trust in the divine forces which are certainly present..

    As for the gentleman with agoraphobia mentioned earlier, he eventually ventured out his front door. At first, for just brief moments. A pterodactyl did not swoop down and get him. The mental chatter expressing fear of uncertainty gradually subsided. He learned to listen to his heart which told him he was safe to go outside despite uncertainties; that life is full of uncertainties which we can’t let imprison us or stop us from being who we are.

    He left his old life inside and each time he went outside, he went farther and farther.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    What You Need to Know About the Vagus Nerve

    August 18th, 2014
    The mechanisms probably worked great in the Neanderthal days when a saber tooth tiger might be looming on the horizon or outside the cave. What we may have now with an epidemic of high anxiety is a malfunctioning, overly-sensitive alarm system just like the car down the block that seems to blare at the slightest vibration.
    Threats now setting off our alarm systems include possible job performance issues, paying bills, fears of romantic rejection, or even fears that people might see through our outer persona. Meanwhile, our calming system, the vagus nerve, may be underactive, almost having forgotten how to function. What can result is a worst case scenario where the alarm system (anxiety) is always on. The scary part is that we can get used to that while it wreaks havoc upon our bodies.
    There is hope, however, in our good friend the vagus nerve. While we have to work on our alarm system not always going off, we can also work on stimulating our vagus nerve so that our body can remember how its calming system is supposed to work.
    The most effective, natural method for stimulating the vagus nerve is deep, belly breath breathing that you typically associate with yoga and meditation. And think about it, air is the very first thing we need for survival, before water and food. Additionally, in yoga class you are turning your alarm systems off, often closing your eyes, trusting your instructor and letting yourself be vulnerable. Your valiant instructor will handle any saber tooth tiger that attempts to enter this safe, nurturing domain while you stimulate this precious nerve.
    So when you are in yoga class or otherwise practicing these wise and slow breathing methods, you are working to re-balance what for many in our modern culture is an out-of-whack system. For those suffering from high anxiety, a conscious effort to implement this re-balancing act is imperative.
    Research on the vagus nerve continues. It will likely hold key information on the mind-body connection. The nerve is bi-directional, meaning it sends messages from the brain to the body and vice versa. However, 80% of its capacity is directed towards channeling information from the body to the brain. It’s how the body talks to the brain.
    Also note that the vagus nerve is the “vagabond” nerve that wanders around and surrounds our heart and core area. It is heart-centered and noted as the nerve of intuition and the nerve of compassion. When we feel safe, without threat or anxiety, these abilities and inclinations are free to expand. Not such a bad thing. Viva…or uh, long live the vagus nerve!

     

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    10 Steps to Harness Your Infinitude

    August 18th, 2014
    Ralph Waldo Emerson, who is often considered the father of the modern American spirituality movement, was once asked what most impressed him. His answer: “The INFINITUDE of the individual.”
    If you know a little more about him, you know that he meant that each person is capable of so much when they are spiritually connected and in line with their true path.
    I believe that the famous quote by Marianne Williamson also speaks to the concept of INFINITUDE: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
    I further relate INFINITUDE to the concept popularized in the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. ‘Flow’ is described as a state of being totally engaged and in touch with an activity, maximizing the use of our skills and abilities to the point that we are in a groove and the activity is performed at an optimal level. Ego is shed and we are often even oblivious to the passing of time. Playing jazz is often cited as an example
    INFINITUDE implies that we can live our life in this flow, maximizing our happiness and most fully serving our dharma, destiny and spiritual DNA. But as Marianne Williamson clearly says, the human condition seems to fear and resist this state of being as too overwhelming. It may seem safer to maintain the status quo versus moving forward through what seems like the uncertainty of what we can really do.
    Yet we see people who seemed to have found their INFINITUDE, blissfully doing exactly what they were intended to do with  ease and flow and usually prospering from it. It is an obtainable Holy Grail.
    Harnessing and capturing your INFINITUDE is work, much of it by trial and error. But when you do find it, you know it. Those who do achieve it often have wondrous stories of overcoming tremendous obstacles. And once obtained, it is a form of daily bliss.
    The following steps may help in capturing and harnessing your INFINITUDE:
    1. Identify and release self limiting beliefs.
    2. Replace self limiting beliefs with positive affirmations.
    3. Meditate daily to keep the mind clear and open to self knowledge.
    4. Journal intuitions and thoughts on our true life’s purpose. We know what it is and we have received feedback regarding it, but tend to suppress or ignore it.
    5. Set a plan in writing to achieve your true life’s purpose.
    6. Say Nay to Naysayers.
    7. Build a positive support system and join communities relating to your heart’s desires.
    8. Identify and release fears and embrace uncertainty. Your path will unfold.
    9. Listen to your heart versus your head.
    10. When feeling instances of INFINITUDE, bask in it.
    To INFINITUDE and beyond !!!
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    Walking Barefoot Teaches Mindfulness

    August 18th, 2014
    Walking barefoot teaches mindfulness. When we walk barefoot, we have to be consistently aware of where our next step will land. We can quickly adjust, shift weight and direct our foot to a safe landing to avoid thorns, bees, broken glass or even dog poo. Our minds cannot wander. The extra duty and care is rewarded with the feelings of living in the now and greater connection to nature. Each of our little piggies enjoys unrestricted freedom and sensations like warm sand or cool grass.
    With mindfulness we remain conscious of where our next thought may be headed and commensurately we can shift our mind to where we want it to be, including a neutral position until its problem solving skills are needed. Here we are rewarded with greater connection to the universe around us and peace from intrusive thoughts and ruminations.
    By extrapolation, shoes are like egos. While intended to protect, they allow us to tromp through streets of broken glass, and what have you, totally unaware of what we just walked over and generally not caring where our next step will land. They separate us from nature, constrict our little piggies, and at the end of the day, our feet are tired and don’t smell good.
    Our egos in turn protect us from the metaphorical thorns, barbs and broken glass that may come our way as we navigate often too-busy lifestyles. But in turn this double-edged sword, cuts us off from connection to the now and lets thoughts run amok worrying about what others thought of us or will think of us. By evening, we are tense, worried, disconnected and wonder where the day went.
    The moral of the story: TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES
    It’s not until we take off our shoes and shed our egos that we become mindful, feeling truly connected and free.
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    Stop “Musterbating” and “Should-ing” All Over Yourself

    January 29th, 2014

    By Barry John Johnson

     

    MUSTERBATING

    Stop “musterbating” and “should-ing” all over yourself.  I wish I could lay claim to these terms. They
    are the progeny of Albert Ellis, one of the early developers of cognitive
    behavioral therapy (which is a lot like mindfulness). I find these terms to be
    hilarious as well as an effective reminder to monitor the internal dialogue
    that often times goes on inside our psyches utilizing and energizing the words
    “must” and “should”.

    When we utilize “musts” and “shoulds” we set up all or nothing scenarios
    that will generally lead to unhappiness and generate anxiety. Such mental chatter can result from trying to satisfy other people’s expectations and it tends to be the default language of perfectionists. If these terms dominate our internal guidance
    systems, our fight or flight mode may be almost permanently affixed in the “ON”
    position.

    On the smaller scale, this dynamic may start with thoughts
    in the psyche like: “I must/should get an “A” on this upcoming test”; or “I
    must/should perform this presentation well and receive positive feedback from
    others”. On a grander scale, we could have directives like: “I must/should
    always be liked and accepted by others”.

    So after we allow language like this (not usually
    consciously) to permeate the mental scene, it gets translated by our survival
    oriented fight or flight systems as: “If I am not succeeding in meeting these
    absolutes I am then, in fact, under threat or I am not surviving”.

    Our fight or flight network can be said to be an outdated
    system from pre-historic days that served well
    when real life or death threats were common, but now it’s just kind of
    looking for stuff to do. Anything viewed as not succeeding can become “I am not
    surviving”.  The gates are lowered and the
    hounds of anxiety are released.

    The dynamic can be powerful and the consequences can be
    huge, even keeping people off their true path or calling. Societal expectations
    may dictate: “ I must/should be married with children by now”; or “ I
    must/should have a reliable profession with a nice benefits package”. Yet,
    following one’s true calling doesn’t always jibe with such common
    norms and expectations. The anxiety provoking dynamics can kick in.

    The key issue for people in this boat is then: Varying from one’s
    true path and varying from social norms both result in anxiety. The key task is
    then to discern between the two, with the caveat that the two are not always
    mutually exclusive.

    What helps with this discernment, of course, is removing the
    “musts” and “should” from our internal dialogue stream. You might inventory
    whatever  might be causing you stress at
    any one time. You then may try to determine whether a “must” or “should” is involved in placing some
    kind of excessive demand on yourself (perfectionism) or trying to get you to match the expectations of someone else or society in general.

    From there, you simply change the semantics. “ I would like
    an “A” on that test, but it’s not going to kill me if I don’t”; “It would be
    nice if I meet the right person and get married, but I certainly can enjoy life
    in the meantime”.

    Sounds easy, but it is a little harder than that. Removing
    “musts” and “ shoulds”  takes serious
    exploration and diligence.  Meditation
    will help calm the mind to more easily track your thoughts.  Journaling may help with the exploration of
    any big “musts” or “shoulds” in your life.
    Start with simple awareness.

    In the end, we can see that too many “musts” and “shoulds” do not serve us. It’s okay if some people don’t like you. It’s okay to get a “B” on that test. It’s definitely okay to go against the grain and pursue your dreams. We can relax more and be our true selves when we stop “musterbating” and “shoulding” all over our selves. :)

     

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    A SUCCESSFUL MEDITATION RESOLUTION

    October 19th, 2013

    meditation pictureWhile we can make commitments to lifestyle and behavior changes at any time, the New Year is the traditional change resolution starting point. As someone who meditates, and promotes its use, I am happy to hear more and more people say that they intend to start a meditation practice as a New Year’s resolution. My concern is that many resolutions fall by the wayside within a few weeks and meditation can otherwise be an elusive practice to integrate within our busy lives.

    I am hoping to provide some ideas to help people make a successful meditation resolution.

    To do that, I want to consider what helps make resolutions successful in general, and apply that guidance to having a resolution to start a meditation practice.

    Here we go:

    Don’t have too many resolutions. Meditation should be a singular goal or one of two or three maximum. The reality is that the more goals you have the less chance for success you will have for any of those goals. We are actually subject to a “cognitive overload” which lowers our powers of self-discipline to achieve goals.

    Do your homework. This is the prep work, the research and investment in your desired change. Do some reading on meditation. There are different types of meditation, different ideas of what meditation is. You can take a very secular approach or a more spiritual direction. There is a ton of information out there on the benefits of meditation which might enhance your motivation. Different people may have different tips on what works for them. The works of Jon Kabat-Zinn are a good starting point for a lot of people.

    Be realistic. Don’t expect to meditate like a monk on the first day. Don’t compare yourself to experienced meditators you may know. Basically, start small and build upon that.

    Have a strategy. Be specific. Write it down.

    Part of a strategy would be to start small and build upon that, i.e. five to ten minutes per day of meditation for the first month. Part of the strategy could involve seeking out a teacher, meditation groups, course work, recorded audio or visual meditation media, apps etc. The strategy should integrate the practice into your life and it should anticipate obstacles to success.  Examples would be to plan to meditate every time after a shower or after going to the gym; having a meditation audio program in your car or on your phone for easy access during busy times; attending a meditation group once per week; doing slow deep breaths throughout the day or at certain times, when not meditating.

    Don’t expect perfection. Cut yourself some slack. There may be days that you didn’t get to meditate or days whereby you feel it is just too hard, there are too many thoughts spinning in your head. Use any setback as a learning experience. Remember that meditation is a practice. You are building a skill that doesn’t come over night. There will be days that you are not meditating at all. You will simply be sitting and doing some deep relaxing breaths. That’s okay.

    Have a support system. Meditation in general, is a solitary pursuit not subject to the buddy system which can be helpful with other types of resolutions. That being said, you can still have a friend resolving to start their own personal practice and you can learn from and support each other. The books, media, phone apps available to you can be part of your support system. Find a Youtube meditation guidance video that works for you. A teacher or meditation group in your area can be part of your support system. Many yoga studios will have meditation sessions available separate from their physical yoga classes.

    Create an accountability and reward system. Simple accountability would involve looking back at each week and tracking how your strategy is working. Look at what issues which have interfered with your practice and adjust your strategy accordingly. I will say that meditation in itself is a reward for the peace and relaxation it can add to your life, but otherwise treat yourself to a meditative massage, facial or healthy meal after a certain period of generally adhering to your strategy.

    Put an emotional charge behind the resolution. I believe successful resolutions come from the heart, that there is a desired emotional state that comes from reaching a goal. People might set a promotion as a goal, but it is the sense of accomplishment, utility and/or greater financial freedom tendered which sets an emotional charge behind the goal. With meditation, we will generally receive greater tranquility, greater emotional regulation, less stress and anxiety, more focus and self-discipline.

    If you can discern the desired emotional state, how you want to be and feel, behind your meditation resolution you will have greater chance of success.

    Best wishes for a Happy New Year and successful resolutions whatever they may be :)

    by Barry John Johnson

    (Also for some basic meditation tips, check out my article on Elephant Journal: Meditation
    is not a Battle Help for Newbs the Occasional Meditator
    )

     

     

    Image Above Courtesy of  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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