Vajra Blue

Mindfulness and Compassion. Understanding trauma in young people.


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Mindfulness: Transforming our inner world.

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To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

William Blake. Auguries of Innocence.

Problems.

Don’t you just love them? We all have them and many of us are overwhelmed by them on a daily basis. A few years ago I was given some tickets to the theatre. It was a play that I had wanted to see for some time, so I caught the train into town with great excitement. I had high expectations for the evening and was going to have a great time.

Unfortunately my expectations were rather rudely challenged. I found myself sitting behind one of the pillars that helped to hold up the balcony. My view of the stage was limited, and I started to fret even before the curtain went up. I nearly allowed myself to ruin my evening before it had begun.

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Mindfulness: Authority bias and finding out who is really in charge? Changing our inner world.

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A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting its shoes on,.

Attributed to Mark Twain

Mindfulness is becoming ever more popular and is in danger of being seen as a panacea for all the problems that trouble the human mind. Even when the practice is divorced from the other elements that form part of a spiritual path, it can be a useful tool for self management and helping to create greater contentment for our lives.

Practicing mindfulness can help us to work out exactly who is running the different aspects of our mental lives, and how this impacts upon our sense of fulfilment and happiness in what we do.

It can help us to avoid being fooled by the world and others.

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Mindfulness: karma in action.

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Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Sir Isaac Newton.

My son recently introduced me to a YouTube channel which featured episodes labelled “Instant Karma”. There are a series of video clips showing people who are behaving badly getting their come uppence from the environment around them.

This “payback” element seems to fit with the common conception of karma. However this is not the whole story. On a simple level Karma can be seen as “If you behave badly/well then bad/good things will happen to you.” Such a world view would make a reasonable philosophy for living our lives.

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Mindfulness: a campaign for slow friendship.

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Or should that read “who only knows your emoticon”?

If you find a wise person, Who points out your faults and corrects you,

You should follow such a sage, 

As you would a revealer of treasures.

It is better, never worse, 

To follow such a sage.

DHAMMAPADA (verse 76)

 A few weeks ago I was sitting at a café in the centre of town, enjoying a few minutes peace  with a long black when I noticed three people at the table next to me. They arrived together and after ordering their drinks they continued to sit at the same table. For the twenty minutes that I was able to observe their interactions they did not speak to each other, instead they seemed to take it in turns to pick up their phone, tap away at the screen and then replace it on the table. Then the next person repeated the procedure. To all intents and purposes it appeared that they were talking to each other by text message. The art of small talk and conversation appeared to have died a death.

I belong to a spiritual community that has spread around the world  over the last two and half thousand years. It entertains the idea of spiritual friendship as a force for good in people’s lives. Friendship is viewed as an important aspect of the spiritual journey. When people with shared interests and goals meet to share their experiences with others it can provide an environment which acts as an aid to personal and community development. allowing a free exchange of infromation and for each perosn of be of help to all the others.

This process takes no prisoners. Spiritual friendship is a fierce form of friendship. However, this is only one form of friendship that matters. Friends are important to all of us in many different ways.They are our support network when times are bad and a source of joy when they are good.

This process takes no prisoners

We need to look after our friendships as otherwise they can wither away and die, leaving us on our own and missing one of the necessary parts of being a human. Human beings are often described as social animals,  this means that we are evolved to live in groups, and that much of our development towards consciousness appears to have been triggered by this. Language, social behaviours, play all come from the way we mix as people and with the people in our world. Out of this comes the whole world of  culture, art and science.  We are driven to communicate  almost from the moment of our birth.  The evidence is that as newborn babies we start to communicate before we are our old.

The success of social media suggests that contact with other human beings is a thing that we all enjoy. But there is a huge difference between the friends we have online and those we see in the flesh. One problem with social media is that the interactions  we have with other people are impersonal and conducted via a keyboard or touchscreen. We have no context in which to understand the messages that we receive. we would do well to remember is according to linguistic research only about 7% of the information that  here when we communicate using speech is in the words that we choose to use, the rest of the meaning is in our body language, tone of voice, facial expressions etc. indeed it is entirely possible that we can make the words that we choose to use mean the exact opposite of what they literally say purely by how we say them.

When we add the lack of context to this mix we can end up in some very interesting, and scary places. There is an aphorism widely used in neuroscience at the moment that says that “neurons that fire together wire together,” in other words if we use different pathways in our brain a lot they tend to become much easier to set off,  and can cause reactions that are semi automatic so that we can respond to both familiar and unfamiliar situations in ways that we would not usually intend. Similarly if we practice using bits of our brain to excess we find that this can trigger an habitual response to events or situations in out lives. This means that we can have large and unexpected responses to minor triggers in our social environment.

A phenomenon called kindling can come into play in this situation.  In much the same way that we can create a fire from a single spark by slowly adding larger pieces of  combustible material to encourage the flames to grow,  we can adversely affect mental state I constantly rehearsing and adding small negative elements. If we have been having a bad day we might send texts to several of our friends telling them about it.  We find ourselves typing the same negative comments several times, each time we do this, it reinforces and deepens negative mental states contributing to increased levels of unhappiness. At an extreme it can worsen depression and anxiety and  lead to worsening states of mind.

Kindling can come into play.

When we meet a friend face to face and discuss our worries the situation is often very different we may well tell a friend how awful we feel, and they may well listen and sympathise, however, this conversation cannot persist for very long and we  will  inevitably move onto other topics of discussion. Just being in the presence of someone we like can have a strong positive effect on mood and well-being, and if we share our difficulties with them it is likely to be a helpful experience where we have a chance to explore our feelings and thoughts about the issue in much greater detail than would  be possible if our contact is purely on social media.

One worrying piece of research suggests that people are considerably more likely to give negative feedback over social media than to make positive, constructive comments. The anonymity provided by the Internet, combined the human tendency to pay more attention to the negative aspects of our environment (a necessary survival skill)  means that there are people who feel safe to say things that they would not normally say in a face-to-face situation at, with the results that vulnerable people can be exposed to great deal of negative feedback which will exacerbates that condition to activation of our fight or flight response, leading to a strengthening of the mood states stop

There has been a lot of research into longevity and the human condition. Blue Zones, those areas where there are unexpectedly high numbers of men and women who are living healthily into extreme old age, have been much in the media over the last few years. According to the research that has been carried out, one of the main contributing factors to the development of these pockets of healthy old people is regular social contact. This is an important contributory factor that plays a significant part in maintaining their physical and mental health, these are two important factors that contribute to a healthy and long life.

In this twenty-first century we all seem to be too busy to manage our time and environment to allow us to live a healthy life.  Over the last 50 years or so there have been various movements harking back to the old days.  In the UK the campaign for real ale rebels against the big brewers who are introducing a homogenised  keg beer, preferring to pay more money for a slowly made craftsman brewed product. and there have been similar campaigns around the world directed at bread, and food in general.

A new campaign.

I am suggesting that we introduce a new campaign.  It is time to spend more time  socialising and in direct face-to-face contact with other people.  So I would encourage you all  to join the new campaign.

THE CAMPAIGN FOR SLOW FRIENDSHIP.


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Mindfulness: living in the moment

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When you correct your mind everything else will fall into place.
Lao Tzu.

A few years ago I went through a difficult period with stress and depression.  At this time my partner commissioned this brush painting for me. It shows a bamboo leaf falling, twisting in the air, full of life, while at the same time it is suspended in a single moment. A moment in which anything is possible, a moment that is full of possibility and in which nothing can be taken for granted.

It serves as a reminder that nothing lasts, that everything is transient, and that I need to do my best to stay in the present moment, open to new experiences and doing whatever I can to remain open to whatever opportunities and options come my way. It also reminds me that making predictions can be fraught with danger, after all a dragon might just fly down and eat the leaf.

This is also one of the reasons why I like rainbows, those fleeting, numinous phenomena that only exist in the eye of the beholder. A momentary experience of physics in action, something that is best when it is just experienced and enjoyed, not analysed.

This is what mindfulness is all about. Continue reading