Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Is Blogging Harmful to the Brain?

Note: Since many people are subscribed to my blog here, I'm continuing to post here. This post is also on my site at http://www.cmbarrett.com

I was at an event with friends last night. One said that too much immersion in social media lowers intelligence. Judging by some of the posts that come onto my Facebook feed, I would say the damage has been done.

Here, though, is the irony for a writer. Long gone are the days when you could submit your book to an agent or publishing house and sit back and let them do all the publicity work. (It is quite possible that those days never were.) Even traditionally published authors are now expected to put on their big-girl or big-boy pants and engage with social media.

Some of this engagement is downright soul-sucking, for example decoding Amazon algorithms. What, you might ask, is an algorithm? In its simplest terms, it's the secret formula that enables readers to find your book among the millions of books on Amazon. For me, though, the word "algorithm" conjures up memories of struggling with math, and that makes me want to curl up into a ball and read the nice book I found at the library.

I have no doubt that trying to master algorithms harms the brain, but I will conquer them. Maybe.

Other forms of social media are somewhat less frightening in the math department but still challenge me. One must always avoid saying "Buy my book" in either a shout or a whimper. One must think of entertaining things to say. This is difficult to do on demand—which brings me back to blogging.

I abandoned this blog in November, 2016, around when I first stepped into algorithmic territory. Having finally figured out how to link my blog to my site, I have returned. I don't know how often I'll post here, but I'm aiming for once a week. My aim is not that good.

Still, I'm excited to be writing my first Word Press blog entry, so for me that's a win.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Post-Election Stress Relief

So many people are stressed out, frightened, and angry. Brain biology teaches us that when the primitive brain, which controls the fight-flight-freeze reaction, is activated, it draws blood from the frontal lobes, which control the ability to think and act with the gifts of intuition, reason, and logic.

With that in mind, I’m offering a list of things you can do right now to reduce stress in your life.

1. Breathe. Stress and anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which in turn increases these feelings. We need oxygen, and we need to relax the solar plexus muscles. When you feel yourself getting stressed and anxious, stop and take several long, deep breaths.

2. Drink water. This goes along with breathing. Fear and anxiety can create toxic emotions that turn into physical toxins.

3. Take flower essences. Dr. Edward Bach began his work following the horror of World War I and the influenza epidemic. As a world-wide economic depression deepened and fascism began to rise in Europe, he developed the Bach Flower Remedies, which helped countless people restore emotional balance.

They are as helpful today as they were then. I will provide a future post about this and for today will list a few that can help immediately.

Rescue Remedy is one of the world’s most popular Remedies. Combining 5 Bach Flower Remedies, it can help with shock, trauma, terror, numbness, and other emotions.

Sweet Chestnut is valuable for despair. Mustard helps with gloom. Star of Bethlehem helps with shock and trauma.

4. Tap. If you aren't familiar with EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or other forms of tapping, this is a great time to learn. EFT Down Under is one of my favorite sites for learning.

5. Be cautious about social media. I see lots of inspiring posts on Facebook, for example, but there’s a lot of negativity, too. I’m not condemning the people who post negative articles, but I’m avoiding the self-destructive urge to click on those links.

6. Reach out to friends. For many of us, this is a time to connect to others for mutual support.

7. Be active. If you belong to groups working for social justice, increase your participation.

8. Practice mindfulness. This may mean meditation, yoga, chi kung, or any discipline that returns your focus to the Now.

9. Cherish the present moment. Mindfulness also means remembering that what we create in the present becomes our future. And fear of the future poisons the present moment.

10. Don’t hate. It’s so easy to do at present. I’m reminding myself that it takes two sides to make a divided country (or world). I may vigorously disagree with people, but to deny their humanity diminishes my own.

Finally, I’m sharing links to two poems that are guiding me through the present moment.

This links to St. Francis’s poem that begins, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

The second is Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Please Call Me by my True Names.” This is a beautiful plea for compassion.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Mindfulness Meditation

Because today it is almost too hot to think (whenever I try, I feel brain cells melting), I am doing a very short post, a poem I wrote an introduction to a seminar I led on mindfulness. Re-reading it has reminded me to be mindful and to look for those aspects of the present moment that I can enjoy.

I have an appointment with life.

It is here,

It is now.

I free myself from the stale air of the past.

I smile at the imaginary darkness of the future.

Breathing in,

Breathing out,

I open my heart to the miracle of the present moment.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

6 Mindful Ways To Survive the Electoral Season

Although this post is specifically directed to U.S. readers, the suggestions can help in any potentially confrontational situation.

After the Republican and Democratic conventions, I realized that I wasn’t looking forward to the coming three months. Some very sharp divisions had emerged, and I had feelings about the candidates that differed from those of close friends.

I didn’t want to argue. I didn’t want to prove that I was right. With peace in mind, I set out to determine how I could survive August, September, and October. Here’s my list of tools.

1. My Friends are More Important Than My Opinions.

I treasure my friendships. I do not treasure my political opinions. In the end, no matter who wins the election, I will need my friends.

2. I Don’t Want My Ego to Be Running This Show.

In the final analysis, my political opinions are no more than an extension of my ego. My ego is the one who has to be right and who has to have agreement that it’s right. I want to live outside that constricting space.

3. Kindness is More Important Than Correctness.

I may disagree with people, but it’s more important to care about them.

4. It’s Helpful to Spend Less Time on Facebook.

There are many, many opinions on Facebook. I am tempted to respond to the absolutely ridiculous things that some people are saying. Such temptations should be resisted. One way to avoid temptation is to listen to a guided meditation instead of reading an idiotic post.

5. Life Goes On.

Unless it doesn’t, in which case it was really a waste of time and energy to get aggravated about political issues.

6. The Present Moment Is What Matters.

In the present moment, there are no ballots, political debates, or disagreements. There is only the spacious Now, and how I live it will determine how all following moments unfold.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Time Out

This week I took a break from blogging to watch highlights of the Democratic Convention. As this isn't a political blog, I won't make any comments. Later this week, blogging will resume.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Mindfulness and Pardoning

This morning I thought about St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

It is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

Each line in this prayer might form the basis for meditation. This one most affected me.

“It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.”

I Only Meet Myself

I have been doing a method called shadow work, which involves deeply exploring those aspects of self that we learned as children to name wrong. We bury these thoughts and behaviors deep within ourselves, hidden from even our own awareness.

I, for example, was told that it was wrong to talk about myself by naming either my accomplishments or my problems. I made successful efforts to suppress such temptations.

That doesn’t mean they dissolved. The desire, though concealed, had an energetic charge that attracted lots of people who had no problem talking about themselves. I disliked them for their selfish and WRONG demands to be noticed.

Shadow work revealed that beneath my disapproval lay envy. Why did I have to bury my desire to express myself when they didn’t?

The more honestly I examined this discovery the more fully my judgment released. It took some time, but I learned to forgive those bad people for getting away with it.

Hidden Gold

In the foreword to The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, by Debbie Ford, Neale Donald Walsch speaks of learning that his “faults” were simply assets that he’d exaggerated. His bragging was overamplified confidence. His recklessness was exaggerated spontaneity and enthusiasm. He only needed to practice dialing down the volume of self-expression.

Herein lies the beauty and power of pardoning. If I can hear people going on about themselves without judgment, my act of pardoning them also pardons me for that disowned aspect of myself. I can look at it as a gift to be used wisely.

I am learning to balance talking about myself with thoughtful and caring listening to others. I may say, “I think I know how you feel because I have had this experience” and find other ways to build bridges instead of isolating ego towers.

With this and other suppressed aspects of myself, I am learning to uncover the gifts that have remained hidden for so many years.

Truly, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned—and set free.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Mindfulness and the Bodhisattva

In Mahayana Buddhism (practiced in Tibet, China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and Indonesia), a bodhisattva is someone who intends to become awake in order to liberate others. While most of us wake up wondering, “What can I do to make myself happy?”, the bodhisattva begins each day wondering what he or she can do to make others happy.

To do so, they don’t sink into self-hood (or ego), which they recognize as a false creation of the mind. It’s a state of “me-ness” that goes against the natural condition of oneness. Trying to hold the self apart and protected causes tension and pain. When threatened, the “me” gets angry. Observing “me’s who present more successful fa├žades causes envy.

I was sure that this “me” obstacle would disqualify me for even baby bodhisattva status. Like many people working on spiritual awareness, I was always bumping into a stubborn ego. In the midst of wondering, I came across this quote by Thich Nhat Hanh:

“A bodhisattva doesn't have to be perfect. Anyone who is aware of what is happening and who tries to wake up other people is a bodhisattva. We are all bodhisattvas, doing our best.”

That opened new possibilities. I recognized that being mindful of my habitual negative (ego-driven) thoughts ultimately means accepting them instead of trying to bury them. The way to selflessness is not around the troublesome self but through it.

Developing deeper self-esteem satisfies the need for attention of an entity I have come to see as a lonely and generally unhappy three-year-old who built an ego to clothe her naked needs.

Self-acceptance provides a better wardrobe. The warmly dressed and deeply loved child who has assumed ego form can retreat to become the inner child who supports one’s joy, creativity, and faith. With that foundation, it becomes possible to turn one’s attention to the needs of others.

When we clear out space to accept ourselves as we are, we learn to accept others as they are. That kind of acceptance teaches us kindness and generosity.

We can say, “Just like me, this person suffers, feels guilty, has made mistakes, and wants to experience love.” Every time we recognize ourselves in another, we expand our capacity for mindful compassion.

This is surely the path of a bodhisattva.