Sunday, November 30, 2014

Keeping It Real on Facebook

Today, on Facebook, I was asked a question, which I answered. The response to my answer was, “It was just a question.” To which I replied, “yes, and I answered it.” The asker of the question then offered that she didn’t mean for the question to be offensive. I assured her that I was not offended by the question.  (To me it seemed like she had asked a legitimate question that deserved a thoughtful answer, which I gave.) I have no desire to ‘interpret’ why she felt the need to assure me that she didn’t mean to offend me because such interpretations lead to more problems than to understanding. 

If I really wanted to pursue it, I could’ve asked her, “Why did you think it necessary to inform me that you didn’t intend to offend me?” But I actually think it would have been a waste of our time and would keep us mired in the misunderstanding and possibly dig us in deeper. Instead I chose to assure her that I wasn’t offended and let it be. That way we were free to move onto other topics. 

But this is a perfect example of how tone can be misread on a casually written venue such as Facebook. Since it is not formal writing, in many cases we leave out the details and nuances that an accomplished author uses to create a tone in his writing. It is worth remembering that these usually aren’t carefully planned out missives and in many cases not even proofread before being published. And since it is not speaking, there is no facial expression or vocal quality to establish ‘tone’. The natural casualness of Facebook ‘writing’ can easily be mistaken for flippancy.

More often than not, what happens is the reader supplies the tone based on their perspective, which may or may not match where the writer is coming from.  

For example, let's play a little game. An experiment.
I will comment, “I can’t believe you said that to me.”  Now, without seeing my face or hearing my inflections you have no access to my actual tone. And depending on what mood you’re in when you read it, you could interpret it in many different ways.
So, how would you interpret my saying that to you?

"I can't believe you said that to me."
-Am I glad you said it?
-Or am I upset by your saying it?

-Or am I neutral about WHAT you said and just surprised THAT you said anything to me at all? 

-Am I more amazed that YOU are the one that said it as opposed to someone else? 

-Or is it more incredulous to me that you said it to ME as opposed to saying it to someone else?

-Would the meaning of the sentence be made more clear if I had added ‘of all things to say to me,” before it?

All of those interpretations could logically be inferred by the sentence as it was written. But only one interpretation is accurate. In the hypothetical case above, I said “I can’t believe you said that to me,” because I was just thinking about it before you said it and I was amazed at the coincidence that you said it to me just as I was thinking it. So, did you come up with the correct interpretation?

Probably not. We're usually wrong when we attempt that.

In countless other examples from my real life experiences on Facebook, I have made an off-hand comment intended to be sarcastic and humorous. Said comment was then addressed in a way I read as taking my comment seriously. So my retort would then be to explain how I was joking, only to have the other person explain that they also were joking. Anywhere along the way, this slight misunderstanding could have really annoyed one of us to the point of being offended or hurt.

Another disconnect can happen when someone is being serious while another person is being funny. I’m a big fan of sarcasm, which can be a powder keg in the Facebook venue; especially with people who don’t know me. 

I believe that the answer to all of these potential miscommunications is to not assume any particular tone from the writer. Since we have seen that the tone can make a big difference in the way you interpret a comment, it is always better to ask for clarification than to respond based on what you assume to be the intention. This may slow down the progress of the conversation, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing; especially if said conversation would have otherwise degraded into a misunderstanding and hurt feelings. 

And another very important skill to bring with us into our Facebook forays is the ability to not take things personally. In actuality, if you just focused on not making assumptions, then this second part wouldn’t even be necessary. But just in case you do forget the first rule and you hear an insulting or offensive tone in someone else’s post, just remember this second suggestion as your safety net and let it slide off your back. 

The things that people say are about them. Even if they phrase it in a way that seems to be about you, “You are stupid,” It is really just an observation of their experience of you in that moment. If pressed, most people who have called someone else stupid would admit that they probably aren’t actually stupid, but just that they don’t share the same perspective on the topic at hand.  If you find that you are truly offended by someone’s opinion of you, it usually means that you agree with them to some degree. Like it or not, the more touchy you are about it, the more truth you find in it.

And the third thing that I want to mention is that people will visit their insecurities onto you. Any time someone gets just outright nasty with you, they are showing you their inner pain. Not intentionally, but quite clearly, they are showing you the weakness in them that was triggered by the conversation. Don’t assume it’s about you and don’t take it personally. Thank them for being so candid and go on to the next subject. 

So, by following these simple guidelines, you’ll find that whenever someone has pissed you off on Facebook, it is usually your own doing. You have either assumed their tone, taken their statement personally or have allowed yourself to be sucked into someone’s innermost pain. Don’t take it seriously. Face the realities of Facebook’s limitations and move on. 

One more thing to consider; And this is a very important and often overlooked reality. But we see the world as we are, not how it is. In other words, if you find that ‘everyone is being a bitch today’ then take a real hard look at who is the common factor in all of your recent interactions. It is you. Whenever I find myself thinking, “why is everyone so argumentative today?” I stop and look in the mirror and ask myself, “why am I being so argumentative today?” It is a big red flag whenever I hear myself using the phrase ‘everyone is’. I’ll tell you right now that I’ve discovered that phrase is code for “I am”. 

Go forth and enjoy your Facebook interactions. It should be fun. Keeping these few points in mind at all times will help prevent your fun from turning unpleasant.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

In Support of Smiling


Each time you smile it activates health and happiness in your brain and those around you.

Smiling releases neuropeptides that help reduce feelings associated with stress. Neuropeptides are molecules that facilitate communication to the whole body when we are happy, sad, angry, depressed, excited. The feel good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are all released when you smile. This not only relaxes your body, but it can lower your heart rate and blood pressure.

These endorphins also act as a natural pain reliever without the potential negative side effects of synthetic analgesics.

The serotonin release brought on by your smile also serves as an anti-depressant and mood lifter. Many pharmaceutical anti-depressants work by increasing the levels of serotonin in your brain; but with a smile, you don’t have to worry about side effects, dependencies or addictions (and you don’t need a prescription from your doctor).

As an actor, I learned that I could affect my mood by using my body. I can put my body into a slouching position and mechanically draw the outside edges of my mouth downward and furrow my brow. All of these physicalities mimic being sad, and the physicality sends the message to the brain, which follows suit and eventually, I become sad. I can achieve the same effect with anger, fear, sleepiness or nausea. And, fortunately, I can also do it with love and joy. This is why, so often when actors play love interests for any length of time, they often find themselves with real-life feelings of love toward each other. 

You’re actually better looking when you smile. You’re viewed as attractive, reliable, relaxed and sincere. People treat smiling people differently. According to a study published in the journal “Neuropsychologia”, seeing a smiling face activates the region in your brain that processes sensory rewards. In other words, when you view a person smiling, you actually feel rewarded, and vice-versa, when someone views you smiling, you have given them a rewarded feeling in their brain.

Similar to a yawn, your smile is actually contagious. The part of your brain that is responsible for smiling when happy (or mirroring another’s smile) resides in the cingulate cortex, an unconscious automatic response area. In a Swedish study, subjects were shown pictures of several emotions: joy, anger, fear and surprise. The researchers asked the subjects to frown when they saw a picture of someone smiling. Instead, they found that the facial expressions went automatically to an imitation of what subjects saw. They smiled!  And it took conscious effort to turn that smile upside down. This is the working of nerve cells in our body called Mirror Neurons that make us automatically imitate what we see in others. So if you’re smiling at someone, it’s likely they can’t help but smile back. If they don’t, they’re making a conscious effort not to.

So each time you smile at a person, their brain coaxes them to return the favor. You are creating a symbiotic relationship that allows both of you to release feel good chemicals in your brain, activate reward centers, make you both more attractive and increase the chances of you both living longer, healthier lives. So don’t be shy. Go out there and smile generously. And don’t fight that urge to return any smiles you see. It’s natural.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why Meditate?

Ever since I was old enough to think for myself, I have been questioning life. And most specifically, I have been fascinated with humans; their bodies, their minds and their spirits.
I have studied the body extensively though educations in massage, physical therapy, personal training, nutrition, dance and group fitness instruction. All of these endeavors brought me to a study of anatomy, physiology and kinesiology. 
As a personal trainer, I soon discovered that most people have unconscious mental blocks preventing them from achieving their fitness goals. So I studied the mental realm through human psychology/sociology and was certified in a form of therapy called Neuro-Linguistic Programming. 
As an actor, I deeply studied human feelings, their cause and their expression. I practiced tapping into very strong emotional pools and learned what powers they did and didn’t have over me. I became adept at controlling and understanding these wonderful, energetic expressions of energy called emotions. 
Being raised in a household where one parent was a devout Christian and the other was an apathetic agnostic, set the stage for a lot of inquiry into our spiritual nature and investigation into world religions. In short I have made a lifetime practice of studying myself; body/mind/emotion/spirit.

The practices of yoga and Ayurveda, the practice of meditation and experimentation with holding different beliefs, in combination with all I have done and studied so far in my life, has brought me to what I consider to be universal truth.

First of all, and most importantly, our state of happiness and satisfaction comes from our own mind. It does not come from some omnipotent, separate being, but from ourselves. It doesn’t come from each other. Each individual creates his or her own happiness or misery.

There is no happiness from material objects. In fact, the pursuit of material things keeps one from being truly connected to the spirit of happiness. This is why Jesus cautions that there is “no place in heaven for a rich man.”

Secondly, it is also important to understand that there is no absolute ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thoughts. No ‘good’ or ‘bad’ actions. No ‘good’ or ‘bad’ beliefs. Everything is relatively neutral until a human brain gives it meaning. So being careful to avoid such labels is advisable.  It is human nature to want to label and categorize things, so it is very tempting to start to declare things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But as soon as we do, it can serve as a reminder to us that we are attached to our emotions and are being distracted from seeing reality.  Reality being neutral and meaningless.

Being non-attached does not mean you have to get rid of all of your things. All it means is that you don’t become attached to them. It is very healthy to understand that all of the people and things in your life are temporary. To operate without this important tenet in place is to ask for mental illness, grief and disfunction. It is an invitation to stress, anxiety and sadness. Taken to the extreme, attachment can lead to fear, violence, feelings of isolation, desperation and hatred for other people.

On the other hand, the way to achieve natural, loving kindness is to accept the temporal nature of everything. Once we accept that nothing has meaning and that we own nothing, we let go of a heavy burden and are free to vibrate love, understanding and compassion.

Attachment leads to projection. Unfortunately, it is a vicious cycle that feeds on itself. The more attached we are to the material aspect of the world, the more strongly we hold onto our perspective and call it truth, the more likely we are to assume that everyone is living in the same reality. We will lose the ability to be empathetic and will become more selfish and defensive. It is only attachment that will cause someone to declare someone else as ‘wrong’.

What we desire instead is a clear mind. One that can operate in the material world without becoming attached to it. We can use things without kidding ourselves that they are ‘ours’. The way to do this is to practice. And the practice is meditation.

No one alive knows what happens to our consciousness when our physical bodies die. But a commonly held belief is that our consciousness ascends in tact without our bodies. I have been exposed to many theories about what could happen, but I will share with you the one that makes the most sense to me. 

We are all part of a single entity. On an energetic, spiritual level, we are all the same being. We are the universe, as is everything and everyone we come into contact with on the physical plane. Each of us are temporarily occupying a separate human body for a limited amount of time.  We are given an ego to distract us from this reality and give us the illusion that we are separate beings. During our time in this body, we are meant to figure ourselves out by sharing information with each other about what we observe. Our bodies and our egos are a challenge given to us; a test we are taking.

 During our physical time on earth, we are tempted by material thoughts and objects. And we are tempted to become attached to them. Our egos will tell us that we ‘need’ these things and people and we cause ourselves great distress if we try to cling to them.  Our brilliant minds are free to give us thoughts and we are so impressed by them that we are in danger of believing them and holding onto them so tightly, that it blinds us.

One way to determine your level of attachment is to sit and meditate. The idea of mediation is to quiet and focus your mind. The untamed, unpracticed mind will offer up much distraction. These distractions, in the form of loud, invasive thoughts and feelings, are symptoms of attachment. The level of difficulty that one finds in seeking peace through meditation is exactly the same struggle that one will find once the consciousness leaves the body. 

Without the body, when we are pure consciousness, we can go one of two ways: either we can dissipate our consciousness and become one with everything (this is sometimes called ‘heaven’ or ‘nirvana’) or we can remain attached to the physical plane. Remaining attached will prevent us from becoming one with everything and is sometimes referred to as ‘hell’ or ‘purgatory’.

Meditation is conditioning for our consciousness. It is practice for transition into the next phase. The demons and blockages to silence that we experience in our mediation are the very same ones that will show up before us upon death. If we haven’t faced them enough, they will be very intimidating. If we haven’t gotten familiar with these demons through a mediation practice, they will appear to us as outside entities, when actually they are nothing more than our unbridled, attached ego. The degree of importance that we give to being attached to people and things is the degree to which we are bound to the material world and haunted by these ‘demons’. 

The practice of non-attachment is enlightenment. It is the ability to have thoughts but not be controlled by them. It is the ability to use tools but not to rely on them. It is the ability to love others as if they were a part of yourself. But at the same time it is the ability to let go of any of these things at any moment. And most importantly it is the recognition of our true nature. It is understanding and accepting that we are not separate from one another on any plane but the physical, which is only a temporary distinction. 

I know from experience that it is a simple matter of deciding to be happy that brings one happiness. But it is made much easier by accepting a life of non-attachment. The good news is that the pursuit of happiness on earth in our physical bodies is the very same pursuit that will bring us back to our source once we’re done in these bodies.

And the practices that serve to secure our ascension to the next level of consciousness are the very same ones that will bring us to our natural states of empathy, love and compassion while we are here on the planet.

Monday, November 24, 2014

JAGs 13 Principles of Happiness

I am responsible for my happiness.

 One of the quickest ways I can make myself unhappy is to try to place the responsibility for my happiness on other people. Most of the time, they don't truly care about my happiness. And the reality is that they have no control over it. When I accept that I am in charge of how I feel, it is empowering. And then I can choose to be happy in any situation.
For example, if someone gives me a gift, I can be thankful or critical. I can be suspicious of their intention or grateful for the thought. In any given situation, I have the choice of how to react.
If I want to be happy, I simply choose happiness.

I am sometimes wrong. 

I am always doing my best, but sometimes I simply miss the mark. If I go through life constantly defending my position as the right way, then I could find myself in conflict over petty things. (see #8) One of the biggest gifts I gave myself was when I allowed the possibility to be wrong into my life.
Being wrong doesn't mean I'm stupid and it doesn't mean I have failed. In fact, being wrong is often the ripest opportunity for a learning experience. Staying open to loving the reality of my mistakes, keeps me grounded and growing.  If I cannot admit that I am wrong, then I am doomed.

I am in control of nothing outside of my mind, and not everything inside it. 

I keep reminding myself that I'm not in control. I'd sure like traffic to flow more smoothly. I'd love for everyone to shop at the stores I approve of and vote the way I think the laws should go, and play to the music I like, etc.
The reality is that I have absolutely no control over other people's actions or feelings. This is a big one to accept; and it works both ways. Not only do I have no control over anyone's actions, thoughts, beliefs or feelings, so is it also true that no one has any control over my actions, thoughts, beliefs and feelings.
I cannot make anyone happy. They must choose it. I cannot make them angry, sad or anything else unless they choose it. Now, it may be true that someone who hasn't embraced Happiness Principle #1, could feel upset and blame it on me, but that's misguided, as I have no access to anyone else's inner thoughts. If I could control other people's feelings, I'd totally make everyone happy all the time and the world would be so different. But the reality is that I cannot control anything outside of my mind.
And even inside my mind, I am not in complete control. I have sat for many cumulative hours and attempted to control my thoughts. The reality is that thoughts happen in my head spontaneously. I have no control over their frequency and their content. My only control is in what I do with them after I have them.
I can choose to believe the thoughts, or not. I can choose to let the thoughts effect me emotionally, or not. I can choose to give the thoughts my time and attention, or I can choose to let them fade away as suddenly and mysteriously as they appeared. I can choose to seek the deeper meaning of any of my thoughts or I can choose to let them go. But the thoughts themselves are not within my control.

I am totally awesome, right now.

I have learned that a sure-fire way to make myself unhappy is to judge myself unfavorably. It's very easy to do; all I need is an unrealistic requirement for myself and an unforgiving attitude.
One of the ways that I've learned to make my life more pleasant and enjoyable is to give myself a pat on the back for making it this far. And to acknowledge how what I am is perfect for me right now.
It goes beyond simply telling myself I'll never have certain things-- way beyond that! Being 5'9", I can really make myself miserable by thinking I should be six feet tall. But when I actually believe that being 5'9" is the best height for me, then I have attained happiness.

I am willing and able to change my beliefs at any time.

I am quite vocal about the incredible power of beliefs. We categorize and understand all of our thoughts and feelings, and base all of our actions on our beliefs. All too often, I have seen people unable to accept a reality that is looking them right in the face, because it argues with a belief that they have. I have witnessed people believing things that defy all known laws of logic and nature.
Everyone has a unique set of beliefs. That alone is enough to convince me that there is no 'right' and no 'wrong' belief to have.
A belief that is held strongly can prevent a person from being present with reality. I have found a great deal of happiness by allowing myself to let go of old beliefs, based on new experiences. I do still have beliefs, but the only way I can know that my beliefs are valid, is if they hold up against my constant scrutiny. A belief that is never challenged never has to prove its validity. Without the willingness to re-assess a belief, it can very easily cause me to base my life decisions on a fantasy.

I am thankful. Complaining makes things seem worse. 

Being grateful is a practice. The more I do it, the better I get at it. Once I wrapped my head around it, it made more sense to appreciate what I have than to inventory the things that bother me. Complaining is the sign of a weak and feeble mind and leads to misery. A strong mind can find a way to be thankful in any given situation.
This is not to say that I don't want to change or to improve, but it means that I am thankful for what and where I am now.
If I want to get to the third floor, and I'm on the first floor, what good does it do to talk about how bad the first floor is? It puts my energy into being unhappy. But in that same situation, I could be grateful for the stairs, or grateful for my awareness of the third floor, or grateful for my ability to climb.
Being thankful attracts happiness. Complaining brings sadness.
Also, usually when I complain, it is simply a negative assessment of a neutral thing. Complaining is not healthy and doesn't bring about change. Change can just as easily occur when being thankful. The difference is, it happens in happiness mode.

I look forward to change. 

Growth is change. If we are not growing, we are dying. I relish the feelings associated with changes. Big or small, all changes are thrilling because they are signs of life.
If I look at my life five years ago, and I'm still doing the same things now as I did then, if I'm still thinking the same thoughts and having the same feelings and holding the same beliefs as I did five years ago, then I haven't grown. I have wasted the past five years.
I want to look back on my life and see growth and progress continually. I want to remain vital and active until my last breath. Seeking and inviting change is the way to do that.
Fear of change is akin to fear of maturity. Resistance to change is like putting a potted plant in a dark closet.

Everything is meaningless.

Nothing exists in the world with inherent meaning. There is no meaning to anything outside of my head. A wooden spoon is not a wooden spoon until I declare it so.
Imagine someone who never knew of spoons. If they saw my wooden spoon, they might grab the spoon end and use the handle end as a poking tool. Or they might see it as a table leg or as kindling for a fire. To that person the meaning of 'wooden spoon' doesn't enter into it.
Everything in the universe exists without meaning until it is labeled. And even then its meaning is only relevant inside the head of the label-er.

There’s nothing to be afraid of.

What is fear? Usually fear comes when I believe a story I tell myself.
"I"m going to fall." "She's going to hurt me." "I will look foolish."
When I truly live in each moment and avoid telling stories to myself, I find that there is no fear that is real. It is all imagined.
I'm not saying there's nothing to be cautious about. I definitely want to be cautious if I'm putting myself in a potentially dangerous situation.
I'm not saying there's no risk. Life is risky, by nature. But that's no excuse to carry fear into it.
But what I'm saying is that I can face a lion and I can choose to fight it or run away from it. In either case, I am more likely to be successful in my attempts if I'm centered and grounded. Fear will take me out of center and off my ground.
Even when a lion is chasing me, and I'm running for my life or preparing to fight, I can choose fear or not. But the reality is that fear is not going to help me, and will more likely cloud my judgement.
On a more day-to-day basis, when I am not faced with something as deadly as a hungry predator, all of the tiny insignificant things that 'threaten' me are not worthy of my happiness. I can face my foes with awareness and inner peace.
If I have a fear of death, (my own, or my loved ones) then it reminds me that I have allowed myself to become attached to material things (see #12) and not enjoying the moment. I'm alive now and I want to address that.

The past is over.

So much of our life is spent dwelling on things in the past. But really anything that isn't happening right now is only in our heads. Things that have happened in the past are best left there.
These past things can seem very real, especially if we mentally/emotionally/spiritually cling to them.  But they are not real, they are stories.
Once I let go of the past, I could clearly see that it was imaginary.
This allowed me to devote my full attention to what IS real. The only thing that is real is what is happening right now.
Misery loves to focus on things that aren't real. To be happy, I am empowered by being present in right now and understanding the the past is over and the future hasn't happened yet.

I am devoted to improving myself.

While I do accept that I am totally awesome right now, I am also aware of the concept of constant change. I am not a solid, static, stationary object, but a living, growing and changing organic sentient being. I will change.  So, I am devoted to pointing myself in a direction of positive changes, rather than allowing my change to happen by itself.
If left to my own devices, I may or may not continually degrade until my eventual death. Instead, I choose to be conscious of giving myself every opportunity to improve.
This might include educating myself, giving myself new experiences, making mistakes and learning from them, examining what makes me happy, or any number of other things to help me be just a little bit better than I was yesterday.

I am not attached to materials or ego.

When I meet someone, or when I take possession of some material object, I also lose it at the same time. In my mind as I meet someone, I also mourn their death. I have come to terms with the reality that nothing lasts. Everything I come into contact with is temporal and I cannot hold it or own it.
I am freely able to let go of things and people because I don't kid myself that I have ever had them.
I often see people letting themselves get really worked up about things and/or people that they have lost. But this is simply a manifestation of attachment. The degree of sadness one feels at the loss of something or someone is directly proportional to the degree to which they kidded themselves that they would have those things or people in their lives forever.
Once we make peace with the temporary nature of everything, we cannot be hurt by a sense of loss.
I enjoy things while I have them, but I don't pretend that I own it, or that it will always be there.
Not only does this eliminate the feelings of loss when the person is inevitably gone, but understanding that they will someday not be in my life, also adds a level of appreciation for them being there today.
And similarly, I find that my happiness is directly tied to how strongly I hold onto my ego. When I can hold it very loosely, or let go entirely, I find I am much more happy. Holding onto my ego would mean things like needing to be right, needing to be acknowledged, needing to feel appreciated, needing an apology, etc.
The more I can let go of feeding that selfish, childish part of me, the lighter and freer my life feels.

It is all up to me. 

Happiness is knowing what I can control and letting go of everything else. And while I cannot control anything outside of my brain, I am aware that my brain controls everything I see, think, experience and believe. So no matter what anyone else does, no matter what happens, I always choose how I feel and react.
It is my life. It is my reality. I want to be happy, and so I am. It is all up to me.
And I mean, it is ALL up to me.
I determine what everything means. I choose how I feel. I associate everything with everything else in my unique way. The world that I see is totally my doing. If I don't like what I see, that's only my fault.
It is all up to me.