Redefining Happiness

“Happiness isn’t possible without understanding, compassion, and love.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

Many of us are redefining happiness as our favorite activities and social gatherings have been canceled or altered.  You may be finding yourself wondering if you’ll ever be able to do your favorite things again.  My tight spot on this is international travel.  I love to explore foreign cultures and immerse myself in foreign languages, but I’m beginning to wonder when that will be available again and under what limitations.  Some people based their happiness on the accumulation of wealth and possessions and are wondering if the economy will ever thrive again while others based their happiness on their status and success and are wondering where they will be able to find them.  This is a great opportunity to reexamine what it really is that makes us happy.  Were those things really offering you a sustainable peaceful sense of happiness?

What makes you happy?  This is a more complex question than one may think.  There is more to consider than simply the instant feeling of satisfaction.  Depending on how we attain that pleasurable feeling, it may be quick to fade leaving us wanting more and more.  There are many different neurotransmitters and hormones involved in “feeling good.”  One of the main ones associated with today’s definition of happiness is dopamine.  Dopamine is a reward based motivator.  It is released when we sense a possible rewarding outcome of an action pushing us towards completing it.  It is based on short term satisfaction and leaves you wanting more.

This is the type of pleasure seeking we see most often in society today.  It is triggered by likes on facebook, wins in a video game, addictive drugs, the initial feeling of falling in love, and reward based successes at work and school.  In his book Weapons of Mass Instruction John Taylor Gatto explains that a dopamine based society is “training kids to organize their time around spasms of excitement and amusement, or escape from punishment.  It addicts children to prefer thin abstraction and dull fantasies to reality.” (3)  This type of reward based motivation keeps us on a constant quest for our next “happiness” hit but always leaves us wanting more.  It is a never satiated desire that becomes quite exhausting.

Because novel situations trigger an arousal state that releases dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin (6) we can understand why people are never satisfied with what they have and always need something new and exciting to stay “happy.”  This leads to serial dating, constant job changes, hyper-consumerism, infidelity, drug addiction, and more.  It is an insatiable beast always needing more and more to make us “happy.”  In his TED talk The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, advocate of positive psychology and founder of GoodThink inc, described the no-longer functional approach to happiness which was to work hard, gain success, prove it with our possessions and status, and then be happy.  He says that with this approach to happiness, we never arrive.  Once we get to the next marker of success, instead of finding happiness, we find the increased desire to have more.  He says that rather than looking to our external circumstances for happiness we should look inward as “ninety percent of our happiness has to do with the way our brain processes the world, not with what is actually in the world.” (1)

The Danes have been found to be the happiest population in the world.  Not because they are more successful than any other nation, but because they have developed a way of being in the world that promotes comfort, togetherness, and well-being. (7)  This can be summed up in one word that is unique to their culture, hygge.  Hygge is a state of well-being brought on by a quiet, peaceful, and cozy environment shared with a few close friends dressed in worn clothing drinking a warm beverage and eating a homemade treat by fire light.  This simple scene will not trigger the release of dopamine but a far more calming “happiness” neurotransmitter, oxytocin, which is released in social bonding.  Oxytocin induces a calm warm mood that increases tender feelings and attachment and may lead us to lower our guard leading to a feeling of trust.  It allows the brain to free itself of old patterns and habits opening us to change and adaptability. (2) It is a more stable and long lasting state than the quick hit of excitement given from arousal.

In the 2020 World Happiness Report, the happiest countries were the ones in which the social environment was described as having someone to count on, having a sense of freedom to make key life decisions, generosity, and trust and where well-being was relatively equal between all citizens. (5)  All of these characteristics are linked to the “happiness” brought on by a more stable subtle condition rather than a quick hit of excitement that leaves you craving more.

So where does this leave us with the pursuit of happiness?  It means that all we need to do to be happy is to shift our perspective of what happiness is, especially right now.  If we depend on our jobs, our possessions, our status, our accomplishments, and our adventures to make us happy, then we may be very fearful of what this next stage of societal change may bring.  However, if we can find happiness in the peace and stillness within us, in the bonds of close friendship, in the trust and generosity of humanity, then we can rest assured that happiness will always be with us.   David Hawkins says that “a spiritual attitude may help us to look at life not as a place to acquire gain but as an opportunity for learning, which abounds even in the smallest of life’s details.”  (4)  If our relationship with life becomes one of gratitude seeing every experience as an opportunity to learn and grow in our spiritual world, then happiness is possible everywhere.

 

Resources

  1. Achor Shaw, (2011) The Happiness Advantage, retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXy__kBVq1M
  2. Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. United States: Penguin Publishing Group.
  3. Gatto, J. T. (2010). Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling. United States: New Society Publishers.
  4. Hawkins, D. R. (2013). The Eye of the I. (n.p.): Hay House.
  5. Helliwell, John F., Richard Layard, Jeffrey Sachs, and Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, eds. 2020. World Happiness Report 2020. New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
  6. Ledoux, J. (2015). The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life. United States: Simon & Schuster.
  7. Wiking, M. (2017). The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living. United States: William Morrow.

 

Surrendering Opinion

“Opinions are dangerous to their owners because they are emotionally charged triggers for dissent, strife, argument, and positionality.”

-David Hawkins

All humans have a difficult time not knowing.  We want answers.  We want to predict the future.  We want to control the outcome.  Our well formed systems and societies help us to believe in the certainty of our plans.  We think that if we follow the right rules, take the right steps, maintain the right course that we will end up where we want to go.  This creates a longing and yearning for verification that our beliefs, our systems, and our plans are the “right” ones.  We then develop defense strategies to prove and maintain our own perspectives constantly reconfirming that we are “right.”  This leads to rigid mindsets that fail to learn from and adapt to new conditions.  We continue on old paths that have become harmful within our new environment.  In contrast, the educated mind is one that remains open and available for new ideas ready to change and adapt to new situations.  By staying in tune with nature and the external world we can find new and innovative ways to interact with it creating a harmonious ever changing reality.

In a time of mass media and social networks we are continuously turning media messages into belief systems.  A study by Hawkins and Pingree found that the verification of thought by comparison with distorted media versions of social reality can foster shared misconceptions of people, places, and things. (1) Once our beliefs are formed we reaffirm them by feeding ourselves with more and more information that aligns with them.  Then, because we lack the intrinsic capacity for self-correction, the mind believes in the reality or truth of its own programs limited only to data collected in its internal processing systems.  The mind begins to misidentify opinion as truth and actual reality. (2)  What we are absorbing from our environment leads to the formation of our beliefs and then we seek out more sources and groups of people who reaffirm these beliefs making them stronger and stronger.

An inflexible mind creates beliefs and perspectives from its own subjective reality and then aims to verify them by changing the world to fit into those beliefs leading to cultural groups trying to impose their view of the world on other cultures. (3)  The more we forcefully change the world around us to fit our erroneous beliefs, the more we create social environments that confirm the misbeliefs. (4)  Essentially, we begin to shape our reality with our own beliefs.  This leaves us vulnerable to acting and connecting in ways that align with old erroneous beliefs rather than observing what our current situation is calling for.  If we keep an open mind and observe what the world needs we can act and connect in ways most beneficial to our well-being.

The way out of this harmful attachment to our own beliefs is to open ourselves up to as much exposure to different experiences as possible. As John Taylor Gatto says “the educated mind is the connected mind, connected to all manner of different human styles, connected to all sorts of complex experiences, some of them frought with psychological and physical peril, connected to a dizzying profusion of intellectual ideas which interconnect with one another. Most of all the educated mind is connected to itself.  Knowing yourself is the foundation for everything else. (5)  By coming in contact with difference, we give ourselves the opportunity to understand the world from varying perspectives and in varying contexts.  We can then use this information to create a broader version of reality and healthier ways of relating to it.

Contact with different opinions and lifestyles also allows us a deeper look into our own selves.  When we realize that not everyone thinks like us or sees the world like us, we are given an immense freedom to reexamine our own beliefs.  We see that we are not trapped in our own views and perspectives but can choose how we want to experience reality.  We become more mentally flexible, welcoming new ideas that may serve us better than old programmed ones.  This gives us the power of adaptability which will keep us alive and well in an ever changing world.

By actively observing the world rather than forcing our beliefs onto it, we can see what it really is rather than what we want it to be.  This involves us in a harmonious communion with life rather than a dominion over it.  When we try to dominate and control others or our environment we are acting on our own erroneous beliefs that may not be the most beneficial to us or the planet.  By putting down our need to be right, our need to know, our need to control, and surrendering to be guided by the life around us, we see, act, and contribute in ways that lead to true healing.

 

Resources

  1. Hawkins, R. P., & Pingree, S. (1982). Television’s influence on social reality. In D. Pearl, L. Bouthilet, & J. Lazar (Eds.), Television and behavior: Ten years of scientific progress and implications for the eighties (Vol. II, pp. 224–247). Rockville, MD: National Institute of Mental Health.
  2. Hawkins, D.R (2013) Reality, Spirituality, and Modern Man. Hay House Inc., U.S.
  3. Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. United States: Penguin Publishing Group.
  4. Snyder, M. (1980). Seek, and ye shall find: Testing hypotheses about other

people. In E. T. Higgins, C. P. Herman, & M. P. Zanna (Eds.), Social cognition: The Ontario Symposium on Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 105–130). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

  1. Gatto, J. T. (2010). Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling. United States: New Society Publishers.

The Suffering Mind

“To Me, the definition of hell is simple: it’s a place where there is no understanding and no compassion.  Your practice consists in generating compassion and understanding and transforming the suffering around us.”  Thich Nhat Hanh

We all have the potential to create our own hell by reacting to and feeding our suffering rather than taking the time to understand it and generate compassion.  During times of distress a lack of understanding can cause us to turn to unhealthy avoidance strategies that take us further into suffering.  We may fall into fear responses that lead to blaming “the other”, anger, aggression, and hatred.  These reactions only multiply the cascading effects of suffering passing it on to everyone around us.  In order to step out of our own hell, we need to find a calm place from which we can sit with our suffering so that we can understand its true nature and find a healthy way out of it.

Without understanding we turn to habitual reactions that increase the suffering within and around us.  In her book The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagel describes suffering as “being the passive recipient, not the initiator of one’s experience and without self-knowledge the person is driven by impulses he does not understand.”  These impulses make us want to find a culprit for our suffering and solve it by forcing them to change or punishing them.  Constantly seeking to end our suffering by controlling and manipulating our surroundings only leads to more suffering.  Healing comes when we understand that the root of suffering comes from within us and that the way out of it is by changing the way we relate to our situation.

Many spiritual and healing practices teach us that in order to end suffering we must first understand it.  The Act found in Ibid 95.16-96.42 quotes Jesus saying “learn how to suffer and you shall be able not to suffer.”  The four noble truths of Buddhism say that suffering exists and through understanding we will find a way out.  Unfortunately, understanding suffering is not something that happens in the 1/10,000th of a second it takes for us to create a thought from an experience. (2)  Without conscious awareness our brain will process perceived threatening input in the thalamus which sends the information straight to the amygdala creating a stress response instead of first sending the input to the medial prefrontal cortex where it could be processed with learned perceptions that generate a healthy response. (3) Our ability to spend time with our suffering depends on our ability to become consciously aware of it and then process it cognitively. This kind of processing is a learned skill.

Contemplative practices can teach us how to become the initiators of our own experience.  Jon Kabat Zinn describes mediation as the ability to “see things clearly and deliberately positioning yourself differently in relationship to them.”  We can see things clearly and choose how to relate to them when we are processing with our prefrontal cortex instead of our amygdala.  David Hawkins describes the changes that happen in our brain in heightened levels of consciousness saying that “we process input through our cerebral cortex which leads to less stress response, more positive emotion, and peace states that release endorphins and help support the immune system leading to healing.” (2)  Contemplative practices can give us the ability to slow down our responses and process input in a peaceful manner.

When we are able to spend more time with our suffering before responding, we begin to soften to it responding in compassion rather than out of fear or avoidance.  Only fear and aversion push us to find culprits and to pursue harming or changing them in the false hopes of ending our own suffering.  With understanding we can see that there is no need to fight suffering by causing more suffering to others.  We can generate self-love and forgiveness that then reach out and heal others.

 

Resources

  1. Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels. United States, Random House Publishing Group, 2004.
  2. Hawkins, David R.. The Eye of the I. United States, Veritas Pub., 2001.
  3. Ledoux, Joseph. The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life. United States, Simon & Schuster, 2015.

Beginning Anew

Until the 1900’s it was believed that we were born with the brains we would have for life and that after a certain age, we could no longer change them.  Neuroplasticity has blown this belief away with the wind. It is now proven that our brains continue to reshape themselves throughout our entire life span.  We are consistently able to transform our reality, abilities, beliefs, IQ, and even our genes by altering how we process information in our brains. In his book “The Brain That Changes Itself.” Norman Doidge interviews and witnesses the work of many neuroscientists who alter human potential by altering the brain.  Individuals have reprogrammed their right brain to perform functions lost in the left brain, cured paralysis caused by stroke, healed OCD habits, eliminated chronic pain, reduced limitations of autism, and cured addiction along with many other amazing feets simply by reprogramming the brain. I shouldn’t say simply because reprogramming the brain requires an immense amount of awareness, concentration, and effort, motivated by the volition and dedication to make new choices.

This may make some of us uncomfortable because it is easier to blame our bad habits and dysfunctions on things outside of our control.  We like to believe that society, circumstance, genetic predisposition, and past experience are what created our discomforts, illnesses, and psychological troubles because then we carry no responsibility.  We then search outside of ourselves for solutions turning to drugs, doctors, and acts of the world around us to make us feel better. What neuroplasticity is telling us is that healing can be found within our own minds.  If we can change how we relate to our experiences, our circumstances, and our genetic differences then we can change how they manifest in our lives. Essentially, we can heal ourselves which is a very hopeful way to approach life.

Contemplative practices like mindfulness can help us tap into the infinite potential of neuroplasticity by heightening our awareness and developing our insight and wisdom.  David Hawkins an experienced clinician, scientist, and mystic says that “wisdom considers all knowledge to be provisional and subject to change, not only in meaning, but also in significance and value.”  This wisdom permits us to put down our own perspectives and views of reality opening to greater possibility. He says that “the mind believes in the reality or truth of its own programs and is unaware that it lacks intrinsic capacity for self-correction.  It’s data is limited to only internal processing systems.” By quieting the thinking mind that is stuck within its own programming we can begin to open to wisdoms greater than our own knowledge. Within these wisdoms we will find the infinite potential to create a happier healthier world.

The path towards creating a healthy mind is not easy.  It requires a consistent cycle of observing, recognizing, investigating, understanding, and choosing to turn towards new thoughts and behaviors. One of the basic qualities of life is that it is in a constant state of change.  From cells and living organisms to ideas and mind states everything is in a constant cycle of fading away and beginning anew. This means that in every moment we hold the possibility to start fresh and turn what is dying into a new form of life.  With right concentration and volition we can use each moment as an opportunity to transform our reality into one that promotes health and happiness by putting down mindsets and beliefs that no longer serve us and picking up the ones that do. We can choose to use this time of mass change as an opportunity to begin anew creating new mindsets and behaviors that serve us much better than previous ones.

Beginning to Listen to Discomfort

In these uncertain times we are being asked to come back home and be still.  We are seeing many different responses to stillness. Some people are spending their time engaging with the drama filling their minds with questions of “why”, catastrophizing, ruminating on all the loss, and focusing on the fear and sadness.  Others are using the time to go inward and listen to what the world needs finding ways to serve our planet and others better. Many spiritual and healing practices ask us to spend time in stillness not so that we can spend more time pondering what’s going wrong with ourselves and the world but so that we can engage with a mental space or greater power that can help us transform it.

In Psalms 37:7 we read “Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.”  Here we see stillness as a means to leave behind the idea that we are served by worrying about evil and fretting about wicked schemes. We are asked to quiet all of this negative pondering and find stillness so that we can trust in God to transform us and the world.

The Quran asks us to be still and contemplate God in 3:191 saying “Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], “Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire.”  Here we are asked to focus on God as the creator of the heavens and the earth and to remember that He will protect us. Spending our time focusing on the negative prohibits us from transforming through God.

In Buddhism we are taught to find stillness in meditation so that we can understand the causes of suffering and the way out of it.  We do not sit and feed thoughts of negativity, we quiet our mind, observe our thoughts and actions, gain insight and understanding of their nature, and then work towards transforming them into a state of well-being.

Neuroscience has also proven that spending time in quiet contemplation placing our attention on what we would like to manifest in the world will actually lead to those changes occuring. This is because “imagining and acting are actually lighting up the same areas of the brain.” (Doidge, 2007) When we spend time engaged in harmful thought patterns they manifest as illness in our body and negative interactions within the world.  By using quiet moments and stillness to engage with positive thought patterns we train our brain and body to interact positively with the world.

So what are we being asked to place our attention on during these contemplative practices?  In being asked to be present with God this might mean being present with the traits of God; love, peace, kindness, forgiveness, and compassion.  In being guided to focus on the way out of suffering in Buddhism we might focus on the characteristics of happiness, non-duality, non-craving, non-discrimination, and inter-connectedness.  When performing positive visualisation we are generally visualizing things that would bring about peace and well-being like healing, gratitude, and generosity. Spending time in these mind states brings them to life within and around us leading to positive transformation.

Silence and stillness are only scary if we are not aware of how to engage with them in transformative ways.  There are many ways to engage with silence in a positive manner. Contemplative or centering prayer is a great way to engage with God in silence.  Meditation and mindfulness can be done alone, with an app, or in a group. Yoga involves the body into quiet contemplation using movement to help settle the mind.  You can also engage in visualisation exercises where you focus on positive perceptions and outcomes. Once we develop healthy contemplative practices, silence and stillness become a welcome pleasure.

 

Helping the Collective Consciousness

We have all felt the collective power of a group inspired and motivated by compassion, love and understanding.  I feel this every time I participate in a healing retreat. In practice centers I am surrounded by individuals who are diligently practicing to maintain their own well-being so that they can then pass it forward to end the suffering of others.  This energy grows in the collective and strengthens the depth of one’s own practice. Thich Nhat Hanh explains the importance of collective consciousness saying that “when we come together to practice mindfulness, concentration,compassion, we generate these wholesome energies collectively, and it’s very nourishing and healing.” (nhat hanh, 2010) Coming together with people who share the same aspiration to heal our planet and one another helps us to feel supported in our practice and encourages us to continue growing the collective consciousness.

 

Humans tend to take on the beliefs, mindsets, and behaviors of those surrounding them.  If we surround ourselves with individuals who are angry, hateful and divisive then we will absorb those attitudes and begin to behave the same.  Conversely by exemplification, our social milieu can also encourage us to behave altruistically, volunteering, donating, and caring for others. (Bandura, 2001)  For this reason we must be mindful of who we are surrounding ourselves with trying to frequent social circles that encourage positive behavior and mindsets. The more effective our well-intentioned groups become the higher their aspirations, the greater their motivation, and the more resilient to adversity they become resulting in higher performance of their mission.  (Bandura, 2001) Keep feeding the positive energies!

 

Broadening our social milieus and increasing contact with difference is also important for our personal and collective growth. We are more likely to be open to learning new ideas and practices from brief contact with acquaintances than from intensive contact in the same circle of close contacts. (Granovetter, 1983) Being in touch with a wide range of social milieus increases our understanding and acceptance of others and increases our own access to helpful ideas and practices.  We know that people who have many social ties are more likely to adopt innovations than those who have limited ties to others. (Rogers & Kincaid, 1981) By reaching out to new social groups and expanding our social network we are opening ourselves to new resources and perspectives that can help us to have a deeper understanding of our own at the same time as adopting what’s useful from others. As we reach out and connect with new social groups, we must be discerning of which ones align with our true intentions.  Stay mindful of how the ideas and practices of those you are connecting with are changing who you are.

 

The following suggestions can help you to stay mindful of your collective consciousness.

  1. Choose social groups wisely.  Be observant of the motivation and intention of the group.  If they don’t align with your true intentions then consider a different group.
  2. As you prepare for social interaction set intentions for how you would like to show up for others.  What do you want to offer the group?
  3. When you are interacting in a group take a moment to become the observer.  Notice the mood and intentions of each person. Notice the reactions created in others by their words and actions. Notice the mindset being encouraged in you.
  4. Observe how you are showing up in the group.  Are you able to stay true to your intentions? Are you sharing ideas and practices that encourage understanding, growth, and peace?
  5. If you are unable to receive or give in a way that feels true to you then you may want to consider finding alternate social connections.

Resources

Bandura, A. (2001) Social Cognitive Theory of Mass Communication, Media Psychology, Department of Psychology Standfor University, 3, 265–299.

Granovetter, M. (1983). The strength of weak ties—A network theory revisited. In R. Collins (Ed.), Sociological theory 1983 (pp. 201–233). San Francisco:Jossey-Bass.

Rogers, E. M., & Kincaid, D. L. (1981). Communication networks: Toward a new paradigm for research. New York: Free Press.

Thich Nhat Hanh (2010). Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child. Berkley CA, Parallax Press.

 

Mindful of the Media

Being mindful of what we are consuming from the media is becoming more and more important in a world that spends up to seven hours a day in front of a screen. (Pew Research)  Studies have shown that a vast amount of human values, styles of thinking, and behavior patterns are gained from extensive modeling in the symbolic environment of mass media. (Bandura, 2001)  This in turn means that the more people’s images of reality depend on media’s symbolic environment, the greater its social impact. (S. Ball-Rokeach &DeFleur, 1976)  Essentially, what we are seeing in the media is becoming who we are.  This is why it is so important for us to decide what it is we want to consume in the media in turn deciding what our perspective of reality is and choosing who we want to be within that reality.

 

As I scroll through media messages, I notice what they are doing to my mind and body.  If they are producing feelings and sensations that take me further away from who I want to be, then I distance myself and find a way to approach the information in a healthier more productive way.  Messages that invoke fear, despair, division, jealousy, self-judgement and hatred are not serving you. In a study conducted on 153 university students ninety percent said that they had a fright reaction to mass media leaving more than half of the sample with subsequent disturbances in sleeping or eating patterns, and a substantial proportion reported avoiding or dreading the situation depicted in the program or movie and mental preoccupation with the stimulus. (Cantor, 1999)  What you are absorbing from the media is changing who you are being in the world, so choose what you absorb with discernment. The fear invoked from media messages can infiltrate into your daily life making you react in ways that create more damage than the actual threat being portrayed.  You can inform yourself of what’s going on in the world while choosing to engage with messages that encourage peace, love, acceptance, and unity. Hold your own space of peace amongst the chaos so that we can continue to cultivate the good even when surrounded by disturbing messages.

 

The unmindful consumption of media can leave us susceptible to propaganda and fear inducing control tactics that create division and the dehumanization of other.  Media can alter our own moral sanctions by portraying more acceptable or rewarding outcomes for previously assumed unacceptable behavior. Fear is often used to justify otherwise considered inappropriate or immoral behavior.  When the media presents justifications of immoral behavior with evidence of threats and suggested solutions, we are more likely to act against our moral code. It has been found that people will behave in ways they normally repudiate if a legitimate authority sanctions their conduct and accepts responsibility for its consequences. (Milgram, 1974)  When we are fed stories of the threats others pose to us we begin to see those people as the inhuman other. We are then offered solutions that may include aggressive behavior on how to mitigate the threat posed by this other justifying immoral behavior as a means to protect ourselves. We then are told that the authority sanctions this behavior meaning that when we partake in immoral acts we don’t have to claim the responsibility.  This chain of events is what leads an entire nation into condoning hate, division, greed, and destruction under the pretense that it will protect our own.

 

Because media is not censored this propoganda can be started by anyone. A Pew Research Center study conducted just after the 2016 election found 64% of adults believe fake news stories cause a great deal of confusion and 23% said they had shared fabricated political stories themselves – sometimes by mistake and sometimes intentionally.  This means that we have to be more mindful than ever about what information we are consuming on the internet. We try to recognize the motivating factors behind every message and decide whether or not that message is encouraging behavior aligned with our moral values.  This does not mean that we only read things that fit into our current belief system but that we watch the reactions the message creates within us and decide whether or not it is helping us stay in a place of peace, acceptance, love, and understanding.

 

Because we now have ways to share direct information that is delivered independent of time and space and free of the controls of institutional and monetary gatekeepers we are less dependent on a mediated filter-down system of persuasion and enlightenment. (Bandura, 2001)  Social media platforms provide outlets for anyone to share their beliefs and stories allowing us to hear different perspectives and viewpoints. But in order to take advantage of this remarkable gift we have to mindfully reach out to communities of different backgrounds and beliefs striving for understanding.  In a study done in 2016 it was found that out of 376 million Facebook users having interactions with over 900 news outlets the majority of people tend to seek information that aligns with their own views. (Schmidt, A.L., Zollo, F., et. al., 2017)  It takes effort to engage with difference, but the better we understand the other, the better we understand ourselves leading to more peace and unity in the world.

Five suggestions on how to stay mindful of media consumption

  1. Before you read, watch or listen to a message from the media pause and observe your motivation for consuming it.
  2. As you are receiving the content notice what the intention behind the content is.  If the intention is not aligned with maintaining well-being and peace then be discerning about what to absorb.
  3. After you receive the content notice what reactions manifest in your body and mind.  Recognize that these reactions will stay with you long after contact with the message.  Be aware of how they will affect your interactions with the world.
  4. If you notice that what you have absorbed from the content is producing negative effects in your body and mind then work on reframing what you received or finding sources that help you relate to the information in a healthier manner.
  5. Investigate what other sources are saying about the same content.  Notice the difference in approach and delivery. As you come in contact with more sources discern which ones help you to receive the information while maintaining a balanced state of well-being.

The Mindful Consumer

Being mindful of our consumption means paying attention to what we are buying and what we are throwing away.  We purchase in a way that limits waste and promotes healthy sustainable living. A recent National Geographic article on reducing trash around the world reported that of all the raw materials we take from the earth about two-thirds become waste or the equivalent of 67 billion tons.  As we begin to notice our planet suffering the consequences of over consumption, we begin to explore ways to reduce our environmental impact.

Currently we are only capturing nine percent of waste in recycling.  Plastics are becoming more and more complicated to re-purpose. Although some companies are investigating ways to use recycled plastic to build sustainable roads, buildings, and indoor grow houses, most plastics still end up in landfills or in our oceans.  Colorado has passed a house bill to ban stores from using certain single use plastics and polyester or styrofoam. Gavin McIntyre has created a replacement for styrofoam using mycelium (tiny white roots). Individually we can do our part by bringing our own bags to the supermarket and reducing the amount of items we purchase packaged in plastic.

Fast fashion has made clothing a disposable item resulting in the production of clothing to increase by one fifth between 2000 and 2015. The world threw away over $450 billion worth of the clothes made.  There are companies beginning to make use of recycled clothing. A Dutch company Boer Group collects and reuses up to 460 tons of recycled clothing per day. Companies in Parto Italy reweave wool fibers into new garments.  You too can do your part by consigning old clothes and buying used clothes. When purchasing new clothes, buy high quality ones that you keep for much longer repairing them when possible.

An over-abundance of food has created a wasteful mentality.  One trillion dollars worth of food is wasted every year or the equivalent of one in every three grocery bags.  Some restaurants are installing smart trash cans to monitor and manage the amount of food waste they are producing while some use otherwise unwanted food to make alternative menus at a low cost.  Aeorofarms in Newark has created vertical farms that produce the same amount of food using ninety-five percent less resources than outdoor farms. You can do your part by buying only what you need.  Shop more often but buy less so that you can use all of the food before it goes bad. Make grocery lists with only the ingredients you will use for the weekly menu so that you aren’t buying unnecessary items. Cook wilted vegetables into a stew instead of throwing them away.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of the amount of products being wasted and of what people are doing to solve the problem.  Each one of us can participate in the movement by becoming mindful of what and how we are consuming. The following are five ways to increase your mindful awareness around consumption.

 

  1. Before purchasing an item pause, breathe, and assess why you are purchasing it.  Do you really need it? How long will you keep it? What purpose will it serve in your life?
  2. Before you purchase an item take the time to recognize how much energy went into producing it.  Notice what materials were used, who made it, how far it had to travel, and what it’s packaged in.  Consider if the energy and resources put into it are really worth consuming.
  3. Before you purchase an item notice how you are feeling. Are you purchasing this because you really need it or because buying it is meeting another need in you?  Can you nurture that need another way?
  4. Observe the belongings that you have already. Do they all serve a purpose?  Do you use them frequently? Do you have several that serve the same purpose?  If you have more than is necessary consider clearing the clutter by donating some of your belongings to those in need.
  5. Before you throw something out, become aware of where that item will end up and how long it will be there.  Is there another way to dispose of it that is more ecological? Can you recycle, re-purpose, or donate?

 

The waste facts in this article were found in National Geographic, “The End of Trash”, published March, 2020.

The Mindful Environment

Being mindful of what we are consuming means becoming aware of the environment we are in. What we are absorbing from the environment affects our mental and physical health. There are many ways that our surroundings are absorbed into our bodies.  Our nose has a direct pathway to the brain triggering memories, responses and even altering brain matter. It has been found that diesel and black carbon breathed through the nose create lesions in the brain increasing risk of autism, stroke, and cognitive decline.  It has also been found that the scents of the forest also called phytoncides lower blood pressure, act as an anti-viral, and increases T cells in women with breast cancer. (Williams, 2017)

 

What we see is processed by the eyes and sent in messages to the thalamus and then the primary visual cortex in the back of the brain where it is spread into three different processing systems.  The more complex and busy our surroundings the more work our brain has to do to process the information. Individuals living in cities with high light pollution feel more stressed and have higher anxiety. (Beutel, 2016)  Whereas when we are out in nature landscapes that entice our attention but don’t demand it allow the brain to recover from cognitive performance and executive attention making us calmer and more creative. (Williams, 2017)

 

Our ears receive information from the cochlea and send signals through the auditory nerve to the auditory center of the brain in the temporal lobe.  The auditory brain processes these signals in three main areas. The auditory cortex may at first cause a reflex in the form of a jump or a turn of the head.  It will then process it into a sound that can be consciously perceived and relate it to sounds heard in the past leading to the appropriate response. The more consistent and noisy our surroundings, the more work our brain is constantly doing to process and respond.  Individuals exposed to long term environmental noise have a twofold higher prevalence of depression and anxiety. (Beutel, 2016) In quiet environments our mind can relax from the consistent cycle of reacting, processing, and responding. What we see, hear, and smell is altering the state of our brain.  By changing our environment, we can change our internal state.

 

The following are five ways to stay mindful of your environment.

 

  1. Take a quick pause and name five things you see, four things you hear, three things you feel, and two things you smell.
  2. Distance yourself from the movement and productivity around you and become an observer.  Notice the looks on people’s faces and their body language. Notice the speed at which things are moving.  Can you stay calm amongst the chaos?
  3. Take three deep breaths and check in with your body.  How is it responding to your environment?
  4. Give your senses a break with at least five minutes a day of silence in a calm and comfortable place.
  5. Get out into nature at least three times a week.  This can be a 15min walk through the park or a day in the mountains.  Soak in the sights, smells, and sounds.

Staying True to You

While on retreat I am blessed with the opportunity to be surrounded by individuals who share my values and beliefs. They have the same understanding that true happiness grows when we create the right conditions. These conditions are often not what is prioritized in mainstream society. It is much easier for me to get in touch with my truth while immersed in a community that shares my values. The difficulty lies in maintaining that truth while engaging in a society that does not.

Often we experience self doubt and worry because our personal goals and priorities do not match those of mainstream thought. Instead of listening to ourselves we allow the opinions of others to create a wedge between us and our own truth. Society has many values that water the wrong seeds in us. We are told that security comes from obtaining more; more wealth, more recognition, more possessions, more work, more success. But while searching for more we lose site of what truly brings us peace.

Currently I am struggling with the collective belief on what it looks like to be successful versus content. I can feel the pull of society’s voice telling me that I shouldn’t prioritize well-being over financial security. My self-doubt and worry rises when I start to buy into values that aren’t my own. Peace comes when I recognize the difference between my priorities and those of others. As I weed out the voices that don’t belong to me, I begin to trust my own decisions.

I encourage you to take a few moments every day to look into your own values and priorities. What is it that you would like to cultivate? Are the things you’re seeking really the things that will bring you true happiness? Which desires are bringing you peace and which ones are planting seeds of doubt and worry?