Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Devil

Power, it can be strong or weak, for good or terrifying.  There are dark forces in the world but they walk on two feet.  The “devil” is a term for humans that have lost their way; it is a descriptor of behavior, not a person or entity.

When devils appear in dreams, the image means that the dreamer is about to be presented with a test.  The test will be a significant challenge to a core belief.  Non passage of the test will have long term ramifications for the dreamer.  It is not that a secondary chance to reverse the impact will not be available; it is just that the opportunity will not present itself for quite some time and the dreamer will have to live with the consequences until then.
The next few days after the dream, the dreamer must be very careful to walk their talk.  The test will directly relate to a firmly held belief, one that the dreamer has verbalized a position on.  The issue will have a spiritual component, but then most things do.  The test is not going to be something petty but it will be something that will have a great impact.

When the test comes if you are completely true to your beliefs and react instinctively based in them then it will work out fine.  If you hesitate and contemplate the direct course of action then the wrong path will be chosen because you will use human instincts to respond instead of spiritual instinct.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Stress: what. where, how

Recently I was interviewed about my views on stress from a Buddhist perspective for our local newspaper.  Below is the interview

Q: What is stress?
A:  Stress is the inability to see things as they really are which can result in physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual damage to ourselves and those around us.

Q: What causes stress?
A:  Stress can result from many different situations but it all comes down to ones inability to detach from something.  Often the primary culprit is our own ego.  We want what we want, when we want it.  We do not want things to change around us but we are powerless to stop change.  We want others to see things our way without having to see it their way.  We want to control everything and everyone around us so we hold tight to emotional reigns that lay guilt trips on those we love and work with.  We make all situations about ourselves when they usually are not i.e. someone else is having a bad day and are curt, in response we get defensive and wonder what we did wrong to irritate them. Instead of recognizing that it is the other person that is having the problem, we let our ego make it about ourselves and thereby ruin our day too.

Q: From your perspective as a Buddhist, what are the signs and symptoms of stress?
A:  The very first sign is a sense that something is boxing you in, a sense of uneasiness, sense that something is wrong even though you cannot quite put your finger on what it is.  Second, blood pressure begins to rise and our heart beat quickens.  The third sign is an inability to let go of a thought, compulsively replaying a scenario over in your mind.  If you cannot detach from the situation to let it go, and you continue to fixate on it, eventually you will feel a knot, tightening somewhere in your body.  We all carry our stress/anger/fear in the same location each time it arises, stomach, back, neck, etc.  After awhile if the emotions are not resolved, we will cause physical damage to that area of our body.

Q: What are the effects of stress on a person?
A:  Go to a hospital and look around – that is what stress can do to you.  Studies have shown that over 98% of all physical ailments can be traced in some way to stress – even tooth decay.  It lowers the immune system and allows bugs to run amuck in our bodies. (Not very scientific description but that is the essence of what happens.)

Q: How much stress is too much?
A:  One nanosecond of it.

Q: Why do you think that there’s more stress in people’s lives today than 25 years ago?
A: Multitasking, cannot shut down the electronics, taking work home and on vacation with us via text messaging, email, cell phones.  TVs are on in every room in our homes when we are awake and present, our ears are wired with sound so that we no longer have a quiet moment in our heads.  Rarely do we even eat without doing something else too.  Obnoxious pundits, politicians, newspapers, radios continuously shout about what is wrong with this or that, good news is rarely heard.  On top of all that, we are told that we must be gorgeous, sexy, and popular to have any self worth and we must buy, buy, buy even though we have no money and our charge cards are maxed to the hilt.  The question should be, “How is it possible for anyone NOT to have stress in their lives.”

Q: What are some specific ways that people can relieve stress.
  1. Take responsibility for your own stress; you caused it and you can eliminate it.  Don’t think or say “You are stressing me out!” or “It is causing me stress!”  How you react to an event is entirely up to you.
  2. Change your attitude; stop clinging to material things, image, status, sense of what is yours.  Maintaining all of it drains your energy, increases your fear and causes stress.
  3. Stop trying to control situations and other people, all you do is hurt others, make them mad, such attempts at control increases their stress and yours.  (Of course they have the option to not take the bait so their stress level will remain low but yours still goes up.)
  4. Realize that everything changes every minute of every day and you cannot stop it.  What you can do is get comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty.  See it as a surprise party every day instead of danger lurking behind every door you do not control. 
  5. Don’t prejudge situations and other people.  If we do not know all of the details about something, our mind tends to fill in the blanks.  Very rarely does it fill in with positive details, it typically goes negative.  The result is we have just made up a story about what is going to happen that has absolutely no foundation to it; our stress level just jumped up because of our inability to live with uncertainty.
  6. See the positive in everything instead of the negative.  Everything in life is a learning opportunity.  If you see is as such and you have a desire to improve yourself, and then you cannot help but see all events as positive.  Realize that everything is exactly as it should be for you to learn whatever you need to learn from the situation.  Once learned, the stress disappears.
  7. Release your anger and forgive everyone who you feel wronged you.  Release your guilt and apologize to everyone you wronged.  Both guilt and anger contribute greatly to stress.  You cannot eliminate stress without removing the core factors that cause it.
  8. Often we are stressed because we feel that we are alone, separated from the rest of the world.  This is not true.  We are all connected and what we do, say and think impacts others because of the connection.  When we stop thinking we are alone then we will stop behaviors that push others away.  Typically, we don’t even know we are doing such things.
  9. Stop living in the past worrying about what you did or did not do.  Stop worrying about the future because it has not yet been written.  The present moment is the only time that matters.  If you focus on what is happening in the moment then your stress will greatly diminish.
  10. Instead of making everything about you, dedicate your life to helping others relieve their pain and stress.  You can do this without changing your job, family or anything in your life other than your attitude.  Put others first, be a giver instead of a taker.  It is amazing how much stress is relieved when you take yourself out of the role of the center of the universe.  You will find that you begin to like, maybe even love people more which will remove their “enemy” or “stranger” designation that makes them seem a danger to you, another stress reliever.
  11. Meditation will also help.  The point is to quiet your mind so that you can get a break from the incessant chatter that causes stress.  If you focus on your breath and linger a bit longer at that point in your breathing cycle that feels most relaxed, then you will feel calmer after a few minutes.
  12. Laugh.  As soon as a stress provoking event occurs, laugh within 5 seconds.  At first it will be forced and fake.  After awhile the laugh will become genuine because you will see the silliness of getting upset at a trivial event that is unimportant in the broad scheme of life.  Laughing reduces stress.
  13. Walking meditation.  Sometimes you cannot take time to sit and meditate but you can do it while you are walking.  Slow down your pace and focus on the sensation of movement.  How do your muscles feel?  How are you swaying and balancing?  How are your joints moving?  The slower you move, the more you will be able to focus.  By giving your brain something else to focus on instead of the negative chatter, it will reduce your stress level.
  14. Finally, unplug or maybe this should be first.  Stop watching TV shows that glorify the worst of humanity.  Even though you know it is acting (even the “reality TV) the scenes of murder, hate, prejudice, pain, anger and fear still enter into every cell of our being.  Stop reading and listening to those that make money off of talking about the pain of others and what is wrong with the world.  Instead, find uplifting stations and music to listen to that inspire instead of depress.  Better yet, turn it all off and be still with your mind.

Q: What else should people know about stress?
A:  Often we hear people that come back from a catastrophic illness or a near-death experience say that they are grateful for the experience because it showed them what is really important in life.  They adopt a “Don’t sweat the small stuff attitude.”  They become people who are grateful for every moment of their lives and everyone and everything it in it.  They finally “get” what makes us successful human beings and it is not accumulation of wealth, power, fame, and status which all leads to stress.  If you want to change your life and your health, follow the 14 steps above and don’t wait until you have a heart attack from increased stress to start.  Become a person who is truly grateful – for even the small things in life – those are what really matter.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bone Spurs

Pain is interesting.  It can come and go for no apparent reason.  Take the pain of a bone spur on your heel.  You can wake up one morning and not be able to put weight on your heel without feeling like a dagger is trying to slice it off.  So what do you do?  You walk on the ball of your foot to avoid putting pressure on your heel.  After a couple hours or a day, the pain will subside by itself – maybe.

There are 3 solutions to the problem of the bone spur.
  1. Surgery to eliminate the bone spur.
  2. Bed rest or at least staying off of your foot and elevating the heel for a period of time. 
  3.  Do nothing and ignore it.  Put on a cushy shoe and get on with life.  Just work through the pain.
Which one would you select; surgery to cut out the offending bone spur?  In life, you always have the choice of responding to painful events in this way.  You take some anesthesia, alcohol or drugs, and hope someone will remove the source of the pain.  Rarely does this result in a real solution to the problem and the use of the anesthesia only complicates the issue.

The second option is to do nothing and elevate the foot, relax on bed rest.  This one is often coupled with the use of anesthesia to stop the throbbing pain.  While in bed, you read, watch TV, play computer games and such to divert your attention from what is really going on.  Yes, eventually this solution will work, but it is only a temporary fix and will come back to haunt you over and over until you address the problem in earnest.

The third option is to continue walking on it and work through the pain.  This solution is the most difficult but the results are better.  You don’t rely on someone else to fix it for you and you don’t avoid it.  You deal with the issue head on and work through it.  The solution typically takes longer to obtain results.  When you select it and actively work it, other issues may also crop up along the way.  But once you understand the problem and release it, the pain is either completely eliminated or dramatically reduced.  The next time it occurs it becomes easier to deal with.

Virtually all of the pain we face in life comes with these three potential solutions.  The one we select is often based on the amount of strength and courage we have at that particular moment in time.  We will only select the third option after repeatedly being presented with the problem and it appears that if we don’t, it will just keep coming back.  

So why do we subject ourselves to the endless cycle of pain?  Clearly, it is much better in the long run to just deal with problems as they arise for the first time.  Work it out and move on.  Draw on your inner strength.  Stand before a mirror so that you can get the full image of the problem.  If you need some help, instead of a surgeon, see a counselor to help you to understand the root of the problem.  Don’t waste time, money and false hope that someone else can fix you.  Only you can fix yourself but a shoulder to support you along the way can help you to make better choices in your own care.
You may also need a period of bed rest but do not use diversionary tactics.  Instead, use the time to regroup and to reflect, to gain personal strength, then attack the problem with a renewed sense of purpose, all will be revealed.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Celebration of National Holidays

Every country has their national holidays.  Many are tied to the celebration of the outcome of a war that won independence from another nation or victory over a nation.  There is also typically a day of mourning for those who died defending the country.

War spawns much hatred and diseases of the mind, body and spirit.  In some political parties, war is glorified, a rallying point for nationalistic fervor.  It is seen as positive precisely because it pushes people into supporting one specific agenda or party.  It fires up people to hate everyone that is not just like themselves.

Where does this behavior fall on a spiritual growth scale - pretty low.  All war is bad; it is nothing other than the clash of egos.  One person or group believes themselves to be superior over another.  It also is typically about greed, hunger to dominate, hunger to own.

What if we had a global society that did not glorify war but instead glorified peace; what would the world look like?  If video games of war were replaced with games of helping others, instead of killing them, the mindset of the players would be molded differently.  If young children were taught to play with construction blocks instead of toy weapons and solders, the world could have more projects where people worked together to solve problems instead of killing.

If you think about it, the common early developmental activities of at least this nation is to train young boys to be soldiers, to fight, to dominate.  Why are we surprised, when as adults, that is what males want to do – fight and dominate.

Now you will say, “If we didn’t then we would have no one willing to go to war, to give their lives to defend our nation and our people against aggressors.”  This is true but if in every nation of the world, children were taught to play at peaceful coexistence instead of war then we would not need to fear attack s on our borders.

So where am I going with this very old argument that has been preached by activists for centuries without making an impact?  The principle of “no self” is the key.  We are all one.  We are connected.  We are all part of the same whole.  If you kill another, you damage yourself – a part of you dies too.
Recently, I was speaking with a veteran and he told me his first “kill” was a young boy.  The child had explosives attached to him and he was sent in to be a human bomb.  The vet talked of his struggle to pull the trigger, he eventually did but the horror of the event still haunts him more than 20 years later.  Part of him died that day with the child.

We do have a choice in how we see the world and how we see the world impacts how we behave.  If every human on the planed realized and accepted the fact that we are all equal, that we are all one, that peaceful coexistence is better than domination, everyone would be happier and healthier.

In order for this to happen, the mindset change has to start with you and me.  We have to exemplify the behavior of acceptance.  We have to model the truth of unity and sameness.  We have to train our children very early on and consistently throughout their lives to recognize the oneness of all.
One stone dropped into a lake has a ripple effect in the entire body of water.  So one change in your attitude and mine, will change our behaviors that will cause a ripple effect in the sea of humanity.

Now is the time to change, before another life is ended needlessly.  You, me, him, her, they, we are all one.  Live like it.