Gratitude challenge: Meditation

This week, I’m doing the gratitude challenge from Habitica. Every day, I’m writing about one thing that I’m grateful for.

Today, I’m writing about meditation. It’s something that has been life-changing.

I do Anapanasati (or concentration meditation) and Vipassana meditation (or mindfulness meditation). As someone who is in recovery, it has been very important to me. It has helped decrease my depressive symptoms, regulate my mood, quietened my mind and helped me focus better (it boosted my concentration tremendously).

It’s a quiet space where I can have peace of mind and serenity. Not thinking and just observing thoughts has been proven as very beneficial for the brain. It shrinks the amygdala (the brain’s fight or flight center, which is responsible for fear and emotion, where reactions to stress start). This was only after 8 weeks of mindfulness practice. Studies show that the pre-frontal cortex gets thicker (it’s responsible for concentration, awareness and decision-making). The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain becomes weaker and the connection between areas associated with concentration and attention get stronger (according to this article).

Anapanasati meditation is, basically, concentrating on your breath and letting thoughts go as they arise. You don’t judge yourself or your thoughts.

In Vipassana meditation, you focus on the sensations in your body and you observe your thoughts as they arise, letting them go afterwards.

These two types of meditation should be practiced every day, at least two times a day because concentration meditation helps concentration (obviously) and gives us a better mood and mindfulness meditation (also called insight meditation) helps us become more aware of our body, helps us deal with unpleasant feelings and sensations and, can help us in having insights or mystical experiences. We can have this experience of everything being empty and devoid of essence, which can help us see things more clearly. See things as they are and without emotional attachment. It doesn’t mean that when we meditate every day we lose all emotion and become these numb vegetables: we will be more joyful and in touch with our feelings. And see the world as the vibrant place it is.

As Allan Watts said, when we think too much, we get further from reality because thoughts are abstract. Meditation helps us just be in the present moment, without the chatter of the mind. It is critical for people with mental health conditions because they affect how we think, feel and act. Sitting with a negative feeling is a good way of dealing with it, without repressing it. Understanding that thoughts are not you, that they impermanent and dynamic, helps us see them for what they are; for the illusions that they are. That is so powerful as it takes power from them and back to us. We are much more than our thoughts and they can be misleading. I’m not saying that thinking and analysing things is not important. It is very important but, for a matter of balance, it is also important to be in stillness. Too much thought can be the death of us. Overthinking is very detrimental to ourselve. Everything should be balanced in this life. We should speak but also be quiet, to learn from others. We should listen to music or someone speaking but also be in silence, as it is very beneficial for our health. So, you see, it’s all a matter of equilibrium, which is something I’m still struggling with.

I’ve also done mindful eating, which is a very interesting experience. The food tastes better, you chew more (which is good for our health). As someone who always eats in a hurry, it transformed the way I eat.

It’s also possible to walk and do other activities mindfully. I shall try them all, as I’m very curious about how mindfulness can change our outlook on experiences.

Meditation also helps with addiction. Either it’s drugs or tobacco, there are ways to let go of our attachment to these harmful habits. I want to stop smoking, so I will look into this subject as soon as possible and I will share my conclusions with you.

I notice that I’m more kind and more connected. I don’t get angry easily and I feel no need to harm others, as they are a part of this world where everything is connected. It doesn’t make sense to harm a part of you. I understand that everyone has a story and ways that they are hurting. That realization tells me that there’s a reason why everyone reacts the way they do. It doesn’t make sense to get involved in useless fights. It’s a matter of picking your battles. Some battles are just not fruitful and, in fact, are detrimental to us. They are a waste of energy, which is a finite resource. That energy could be spent on more important tasks or activities. It’s like that Indian wolf metaphor, where a wise man says that inside of us there are two wolves: a good one and a bad one. They are constantly fighting. Someone asks the wise man “Which wolf wins the fight?” and he replies “The one you feed”. It’s important to feed our good side and starve the bad side. This is the way to become a better person and to evolve. I know I have been the toxic person many times throughout my life and I want to let go of that side. Being mindful in every day life and observing my actions is the way to go. Always be curious about why you do things and what you can do to change. We have been scarred by trauma and that’s okay but it doesn’t mean that it’s the way it’s always going to be.

In the past, people thought personality was fixed. Now we know that there is plasticity in the brain. Personality is not fixed. We can decide how we want to be and act. So it’s up to us to decide our path, what we want to let go or create for ourselves.

I hope this made sense to you and I hope I can inspire someone to meditate today or in the near future.

I love you all and wish you are all well and healthy.

Image by Cbill, courtesy of Pixabay.

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Radical acceptance

I recently listened to a podcast about radical acceptance. It made a lot of sense to me in many ways.

I have to accept the world as it is but try to change. Just like we do in DBT with ourselves: accept ourselves but try to change. I think this is very powerful. Be it to ourselves or the world, radically accepting something can be life-changing and give us more peace in this troubled world.

Accepting myself and life itself is the path to peace. We have to ourselves: “Can I accept what is going on today?” or “Can I accept this reality?”.

When we know challenging things are going to happen, we can think about things in advance and cope ahead. For example, thinking about going outside and anticipate what may happen and how I can cope.

I accepted J’s death radically. It’s helping me let go. In the face of his death, I choose to be mindful. When we avoid things, we are not welcoming emotions and we can’t work with them, which is very important. I’m just leflt with grief and sadness for his departure. I can’t shut down the memories, that is giving them more energy. I’ve grown to accept that ignoring and avoiding isn’t the way.

Radical acceptance is a complete and total way to welcome life. Receiving life as it is in this moment. Accepting all the way from heart, mind and body. It’s an openness to the facts of reality as they are. What I am, where I came from what has happened and what is happening to me. Accepting the ones around me, without trying to change them. They have their own path to experience and evolve. I can help them with their issues but not push an agenda of how I want them to be.

My body isn’t anywhere near perfect but I accept it and love it, just as it is. I’ve learned to look at myself with compassion. Be kind to myself.

We don’t have to radically accept everything. For example, we can radically accept a thought but as a thought, not a reality. When we label as it is, as just a thought, we take the power from it. It has been very important to me to understand that thoughts are just ideas and not my reality. This was a hard concept to grasp when I had full-blown BPD. My thoughts were my reality and I just couldn’t escape. They shaped my moood. Now, if I have an unpleasant thought or feeling, I meditate. The blank mind is soothing and comforting. After a while, the feeling passes because I have accepted it.

I have been meditating for 57 days. Mainly mindfulness meditation (Vipassana). It’s been very helpful. I feel more centered and peaceful, amidst the drama. I just miss my friend very much but I’m not mad at my friend for what he did. I accept his choice. I feel much more calm and less conflicted. My concentration is in a wonderful place, I read a 300 page book in less than 48 hours. The book helped, of course, if you don’t love the book, it’s harder to read as fast (but not impossible, of course).

I definitely encourage you to start meditating, it will help you a lot, especially if you have BPD. We have mood swings and are in weird headspaces many times. It’s a good way to deal with uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. I have made a small guide for beginners that can help you start meditating with the Insight Timer meditation app. I hope I can encourage someone to meditate.

On being judgemental

Like everyone else, I have inner monologues. I challenge my thoughts a lot. I know they are not who I am and I don’t agree with myself many times. Certain thoughts are just so judgemental. It’s natural, they are judgements and the way I interpret the world but I don’t have to agree with them.

For example, a few days ago, I was on social media and I saw a post by a friend. Something harmless that didn’t affect my life in any way. I thought “I don’t respect her for doing that”. I understand where it came from, it was something I wouldn’t do but respect is a strong word. I challenged my thought. I told myself “Why don’t you respect her? Have you thought that people also don’t respect harmless things you do and it’s not okay that they do that? I mean, it’s a natural reaction but it’s still wrong to lose respect for someone because of trivial things”. Now that I’m writing about it, I understand it even better. It has to do with BPD. We idealize people and put them on a pedestal. Then, on a whim, we lose respect. In the case of my friend, I came to the conclusion that it was not right or healthy to lose respect for her because of what she did. Again, it was trivial and it was good for her, so I had no good reason to judge her for that. That made me feel more rational and in control of my thoughts. That thought wasn’t controlling my perception anymore.

People with BPD should be mindful of their thoughts. Challenge and rationalize them. Ask yourself why you are thinking that, does it come from reason or emotion, is it useful or just judgemental.

In meditation, we learn to not judge our perceptions, just observe them. I feel that, because I have a lot of frustration due to my situation, I am sometimes very judgemental and I don’t like that. Since I’ve been meditating, I’ve been more aware of my thoughts and less judgemental. That contributes to my peace and well-being.

But let’s be honest: we all judge. We judge to assess people and situations. That is very important. It’s a way to keep us safe and a way to associate with better people. As we go through life, we notice patterns. We have values and we observe and judge people we interact with. Some we would like to know better, others we want to stay away. When we are younger, we don’t make proper judgements because of our lack of experience. We associate with people that are detrimental to us and we learn from that. We learn to not associate with people with certain traits. But when certain traits are harmless and, therefore, don’t affect us in any way, we make shallow judgements. Judging just for the sake of judging. When we are frustrated, we are judgemental to feel like we’re better than someone else, to make us feel validated. “I would never do that, what is he thinking?”. That’s not where we should get value. We need to cultivate our positive traits that will make us feel empowered and good about ourselves. Things that enrich our lives and make us better people but not better than anyone else. We’ll be just us, unique and complex, striving to evolve.

Image by qimono, courtesy of Pixabay.

After meditation comes investigation

Meditation is a complex and fascinating subject. I’ve been reading about it extensively and, the more I know, the more I want to know. I’m not looking for enlightenment nor do I want to become a Buddhist. I have found that such practice is beneficial for everyone, especially those with mental and physical conditions.

Though it is very beneficial by itself, there should also be investigation. Humans have many habits. Some are healthy and others are not. If we practice mindfulness meditation, we may release negative patterns of thoughts, actions and emotions. I say “may” because some habits persist even when we are mindful of them. This is where investigation steps in.

According to the Buddha, there are seven factors of enlightenment. They are:

-Mindfulness

-Investigation

-Energy

-Joy

-Relaxation

-Concentration

-Equanimity

The difference between meditation and investigation is their focus. Meditation is focused on experiencing the present moment, while investigation focuses on what is behind that experience.

Again, these are the factors of enlightenment (or awakening) but you don’t need to have it as your goal. You can simply seek refuge in some of the practices, as they can be very soothing for the mind and body. They can bring a sense of peace and tranquility to your life, and also be a catalyst for change.

Investigation is sort of being your own psychologist (I don’t recommend you to stop going to your appointments, this should only be a complement of your professional treatment). You sit in stillness and wonder why you do certain things that are not beneficial to you, analyzing your feelings.

“When mindfulness is thus fully engaged, then we have the capacity or opportunity for the second factor of awakening: investigation of the dhammas or dhamma vicaya. Vicaya means to investigate, to scrutinize or analyze. We can take this to mean an intellectual analysis, or we can regard it in a more meditative context as a non-intellectual scrutiny.

Depending on how we regard the analysis, the word dhamma here can mean something as precise as a very particular mental state, or can more broadly mean anything of significance in our lives.”

Source: https://www.buddhistinquiry.org/article/the-investigation-of-what-is-important-the-second-factor-of-awakening/

When an unpleasant feeling arises, sit in mindful stillness. Simply ask “what is this?”, without trying to fix or alter that feeling. Sit or lie with it and let it be, while being curious about it. Focus on your experience of this feeling and how it reflects on your body. See if any memories come up that could shed light on it.

This should be done in a very light way and with curiosity . Pressuring yourself to get answers is not helpful at all. Try to let your mind relax, that is the perfect state to receive whatever answer you are looking for.When you identify the underlying emotion, it’s time to accept it and to feel how it reflects on your body.

The Buddhist law of conditionality (or causal interdependence) is the most important of the Buddhist teachings. It states the following:

“The progression of causes and conditions is the reality which applies to all things, from the natural environment, which is an external, physical condition, to the events of human society, ethical principles, life events and the happiness and suffering which manifest in our own minds. These systems of causal relationship are part of the one natural truth. Our happiness within this natural system depends on having some knowledge of how it works and practicing correctly within it, through addressing problems on the personal, social, and environmental levels. Given that all things are interconnected and all are affecting each others success in dealing with the world lies in creating harmony within it.”

Source: http://www.abuddhistlibrary.com/Buddhism/B%20-%20Theravada/Teachers/Ven%20Payutto/Dependent%20Origination/Dependent%20Origination%20The%20Buddhist%20Law%20of%20Conditionality.htm

With this knowledge and if this resonates with you, it is also possible to ask: “what is this dependent on?”. It is important to keep in mind that you might not get an answer instantly, so don’t worry too much about it.

It’s very useful to investigate our thinking and what motivates our actions. Once we realize why some thoughts and actions come to be, they can dissipate and you will have room for new (and healthier) ones.

As someone recovering from BPD, I have to say that this has helped me immensely. You have truly useful insights and it helps you grow as person. Understanding your emotional landscape and your actions are the key for change and improvement.

Image by qimono, courtesy of Pixabay.

How to start meditating with Insight Timer

Hello everyone! I’ve been meditating every day for the past 18 days. I feel more at peace with myself and I have less negative thoughts. I don’t worry as much but I’m still focused on my goals.

If you would like to start meditating and you don’t know how to start, I suggest the Insight Timer app. It’s available for Android and Iphone. I’m not being sponsored by this app, I am just very excited about it and I think it provides incredible resources.

You have access to guided meditations, talks and binaural beats. You can follow teachers and topics you are interested in. By following teachers and topics, you will be notified of any new content. There’s a 365 day playlist so you can do a different meditation every day, for a year.

I started my practice with the 2020 meditate peace challenge. Just search for “Day 1 of peace”. These meditations are voiced by Michelle Zarrin. It starts by a one minute meditation and it builds on itself. Every day you meditate for one extra minute. It’s important to start in a humble and short way, as it takes a while for the brain to get used to being concentrated. You, basically, have to concentrate on your breathing and let go of any thoughts you have, without judging them or yourself. I assure you that it may seem hard but it gets easier with time.

When you are more comfortable doing it and sitting in stillness, there is a timer you can use. You can add bells and music to it, which is very useful for being focused.

After you complete the Meditate for Peace challenge, there are other challenges by Michelle Zarrin, for gratitude, surrender, the heart and others. There is also a free course by Sarah Blondin to learn how to meditate. If you search by “Day 1”, you can find other challenges, from other teachers, that might be interesting for you. It’s only a matter of browsing the app. There are over 9000 audio tracks for you to explore.

It’s also interesting to learn about Buddhism. I recommend Dale Borglum’s talks and Dan Rotnem’s Examining the Precepts series. They are very eloquent and clear on their talks and they are a pleasure to listen.

There are also groups about various topics and practices. If you have a question, you can always ask it there.

Every time you listen to an audio track there, in the end, you can see how many people were meditating far the same time, which gives you a sense of community. You can see who was meditating around the world and in your area.

If you are like me and love stats, Insight Timer has detailed info about your practice, which comes in handy to keep track of it.

There is a short guided meditation that I enjoy very much called “Head Massage” by Andrew Johnson. It’s a self-massage and it’s truly relaxing. There is also a short talk about Vipassana meditation. Vipassana is the original name of mindfulness meditation. The talk is called “About Vipassana Meditation” and it’s 4 minutes long.

If you needed a sign to start meditating, this post is it! Start today, it only takes a few minutes and you will have a chance to relax and enjoy the present moment. Often, we are stuck in the past or the future and we forget to enjoy the amazing gift that is the present.

I find it so relaxing that I have even stopped taking a sleeping pill. It’s a natural way to falo asleep and one less pill is very good for us. I’m not advising you to quit taking a sleeping pill, if your doctor prescribed it. Some sleeping pills can have terrible side-effects, if you stop taking them abruptly. See how relaxed if you become by meditating and always talk to your doctor about stopping to take a sleeping pill. You will probably have to ween it off.

I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed sharing this information with you.

Image by Alexis, courtesy of Pixabay.

These days

I have mixed feelings about Christmas and the end of the year.I like all the food, presents and holiday spirit (at least, the one in my house). My Mother gets very happy and excited for Christmas, I love to see her like that. My Father also gets into the holiday spirit but he is still his judgemental self. I’m getting used to it, he won’t change now or ever. It’s in his nature and I respect that, though it still hurts me a lot. I understand his side and the generational gap doesn’t help. He was always very respectful to his parents, like most people in his generation. He was appalled by my disrespect, he started to think there was something wrong with me. He never realized that he was very critical and invalidating. Right at the time when I needed him the most. I can’t blame him, he didn’t know better. Understanding what we couldn’t understand is a part of growing up. Accepting and tolerating, too. We now have a civilized relationship, though we exchange harsh words a few times a week. It never escalates. I don’t allow it. We have many similarities when it comes to personality and that is why clash. Maybe one day, we’ll get along better. Or not. Who knows?

When it comes to the end of the year, I’m having a deja-vu. I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything. I immediately started to criticize myself and hate myself. Sometimes it’s necessary, you can’t be too complacent with yourself. There must be some accountability. But I was overwhelmed. I relived how I felt this whole year. Like a failure, worthless and hopeless. I have 300 days to make a change. This year has to be different. I know it’s going to be different because I have started to take steps in the right direction, I have plans and ideas. I want to continue working on my blog, consistently. I want to continue to create art. I want to get a job. I want to start exercising.

The first decision, the one that will enable me to do all of this and more, is quitting weed. It takes away all of my will and energy. Addiction is so complicated. As Wikipedia states, “Addiction is a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences”. So, I’m basically, in auto-destruction mode, if I don’t do anything about it. It’s extra-hard to do it on your own but I know I can do it.

I’ve been using a four-week plan hypnosis and positive affirmations to help me with this task and it’s helping.

An affirmation is really anything you say or think. A lot of what we normally say and think is quite negative and doesn’t create good experiences for us. We have to retrain our thinking and speaking into positive patterns if we want to change our lives.”- Louise Hay

This article is very enlightening and it shows how anyone can benefit from positive affirmations. A way to transform our reality is changing our perception of it. Words can really change the way we think and react.

Tell me what you think about this in the comment section, I would love to hear our thoughts on what I talked about.

Happy holidays and thank you for reading this.

Image by congerdesign, courtesy of Pixabay.