Can you remember what it feels like to be bored? I remember being a kid and having stretches of time where I was just plain bored. I'd have to think of things to do, which would encourage me to go see if my neighbor friends could play, or the boredom might prompt me to color, or sometimes it would even compel me to clean my room to enjoy that satisfying feeling of having a clean room when I was done.
These days it is unusual to be bored. The opportunities we have for boredom are now filled with phone time. The next time you are waiting in line, take a look at the people waiting with you. Try to find someone who isn't hunched over the blue-lit screen of their phone. Red light? Great time to refresh Facebook! (Don't do that. But people certainly do!) A few minutes early to class? Better check the headlines. We are squeezing out every ounce of free time out with entertainment from our phones. I think it's Pete Holmes on his podcast You Made It Weird (which is a great podcast, by the way!) who has said all you need to do to look enlightened in this day and age is to not be looking at your phone.
What does it matter anyway? Don't these encounters throughout the day with our phones provide us pleasure? It seems not. According to a wonderful podcast episode of Rich Roll's, where he interviews Cal Newport on the topic of Digital Minimialism, this behavior is having toxic effects on us. I highly recommend this episode, as it is packed full of thought-provoking information relating to how we interact digitally and how it impacts our health. He also gives practical advice and suggestions on how to walk back the habits we have developed around digital overuse.
Cal says that Generation Z is the first generation who has grown up immersed in technology as we know it today (i.e. smartphones), and that never before have we seen such a skyrocket in anxiety in a generation. There are also implications in their communication skills, in that they are so used to texting and email that they have a really hard time with the nuances of face-to-face communication. This is hurting them in the workplace and increasing their anxiety. These are just a couple of eye-opening facts that come from this important interview. Please do have a listen as I can't do it justice here but I can't imagine anyone not being completely fascinated and compelled to change based on the info in the episode.
I personally find phone use and social media a tightrope. For a long time I was an avid Facebook user. I typically posted every day, and I was continuously caught up on my newsfeed. I shudder to think of the hours I spent immersed in that world, and the trickiest thing was I actually felt I had accomplished something when I "caught up" on my newsfeed and had reached a post I'd seen before. I likewise felt a little sense of anxiety (too strong of a word, but just a sense of needing to complete something) when I had let too much time pass and had a lot of posts to catch up on. My heart breaks when I think of time spent with my kids when I had most of my attention on my phone. I was there with my kids in body, but my mind was in social media land.
About a year and a half ago I finally let go of Facebook. I kept my account, but I stopped posting and viewing. It took will power to get through that transition while I created a new habit of NOT checking in with it, but eventually I was able to shake the habit. Now the tightrope I mentioned previously revolves around wanting to reach people relating to meditation and try to (if I may be so bold) inject some light into social media without then getting pulled in. It is precarious, and I know I am sacrificing "followers" because I am not engaging enough on the pages of others. I just know, though, that I am susceptible to being drawn in, and it's definitely worth the result of fewer likes to resist the force of getting sucked in.
I encourage you to give yourself some space to evaluate your relationship with your phone and social media. A good gauge just might be remembering that last time you were bored. If you haven't given yourself enough time to not be instantly gratified, consider nurturing some new habits.
In meditation, the "third eye" is often used as a concentration point. This is the area between and a bit above the eyebrows. In the East it is common to see a bindi, or a small dot worn in the center of the forehead, as a symbol of this special energy point or chakra. The third eye can also be referred to as the spiritual eye or Christ center.
Anatomically, the third eye relates to what is known as the pineal gland. I read something really interesting in The Energy Codes, by Sue Morter, referring to the physiology of the pineal gland:
"The pineal gland contains light receptor cells called rods and cones, which are similar to those found in our eyes. Part of its function may be to "see" and receive the high-frequency, subtle, invisible energy of the inner world, whereas our eyes receive and transmit the visible light energy. In other words, this is the home of your inner or sixth sense."
I find it incredibly interesting that the part of the brain associated with the third eye structurally contains rods and cones similar to those found in the physical eyes! As individuals get more in tune with their third eye, concentrating on that center to bring more energy to it, it naturally begins to awaken. Where we put our attention - be that parts of the body, thoughts, aspirations, or other things - is where we send our energy. As the third eye awakens, intuition develops. The ability to have a sense about people and situations and receive inner guidance gets stronger.
Sometimes this intuitive ability is accompanied by visions. By their nature, these visions are personal and unable to be seen by others who may be in the same physical space. It's interesting then that there is a cellular correlation between the eyes we use to see the external world around us and the spiritual eye. Does our anatomy support the ability to have visions as the spiritual eye awakens?
There is so much we don't know about the brain; science is learning more all the time, but there is a vast amount still unknown. So I love hearing the things that science is beginning to discover which back up what yogis have been experiencing for centuries. Yogis - mystics of every stripe, in fact - long ago discovered a correlation between an energetic awakening at the point between the eyebrows and an ability to receive visions. It's exciting to consider that our anatomy may be set up facilitate deeper experiences relating to our inner awakening.
There was a short story I heard last year read on the On Being podcast with Krista Tippett: "The Doctor and the Rabbi," by Aimee Bender*. It's a beautiful story - the full version can be read here. In the story, the doctor is talking to the rabbi about why he doesn't pray. He says he doesn't want his prayer to take up space when he doesn't really believe in it. He imagines there being a line of prayers waiting to be received, and there are lots of prayers said by people who really believe and pray a lot. He doesn't think his prayers should be considered over the prayers of those who are really holding out hope for their prayers to be answered when his are said with such little belief. I have thought often of the rabbi's response since I listened to this story over a year ago:
“The best way I can think to describe it,” she said, “is the way, when you’re driving on the freeway at night, how everyone can see the moon in their window. Every car, on the road. Every car feels the moon is following that car. Even in the other direction, right? Everyone in that entire hemisphere can see the moon and think it is there for them, is following where they go.
This analogy resonated with me so deeply because I personally struggle with viewing prayer in the same way. I guess I don't necessarily see prayers entering a queue or line, but I feel a deeply rooted sense that my prayers aren't meaningful enough to warrant divine attention. This isn't so much about worthiness, but I suppose it's more about there being so much suffering for so many on this planet that it's hard not to categorize my prayers as nice-to-haves.
I love the analogy of prayers being heard being akin to the view of the moon being available for anyone who wants to look up to notice it. Enjoying the light of the moon takes nothing away from anyone else who wants to enjoy it. This helps me feel more power and confidence in my prayers being received. Another things that helps me is to consider prayers as energy. Everything in the universe is energy. All matter is energy, and even thoughts are energy. Science backs this up, and Einstein's theory of relativity only worked once he added the rather nebulous "cosmological constant" - which was a factor he could not account for in the universe but without which the theory wouldn't work. Likewise, quantum theory only works when "dark energy" is accounted for, which is energy that makes the math work but is still theoretical observationally. This energy which makes these theories so precise but about which we can only theorize experientially is mysterious, and personally it makes my understanding of how things "work" expand. It helps me feel more power in my prayers when I consider this energy and imagine/feel that my prayers are being carried rather practically on this energy. It almost gives a sense of tangibility to prayer.
The other "flip side" to my (irrational) internal argument over the value of my prayers is my desire to create and maintain a relationship with the Divine. When I am feeling rather weak in my effectiveness of prayer, my prayers feel very one-sided. I'm putting the thoughts out there and trying to direct them, but I'm not feeling necessarily a strong sense of being heard. But I pray anyway. I pray with the belief that even if I am not completely aligned to have a great prayer experience, I am still being heard. I pray because I want to do my part to maintain my relationship with that higher power - not just when I am in desperate need, but also with gratitude when things are going well and to just attempt to attune myself to that power when things are so-so. And then sometimes I am feeling strong in my prayer capabilities, and I feel more of a connection with the Divine. These sorts of experience are of course preferred, but the reality is that at least for me they are not always a given. The Divine is mysterious in that way.
For me, prayer is a part of every meditation I do. It was not that way in the beginning, but since I opened up to it I have felt an expansion in my heart and a new depth to my meditations. If you have not been including prayer in your meditation, I recommend giving it a try. Enjoy that beautiful moon on the long drive home.
*I highly recommend this beautiful short story, which can be found here.
Warning - this post might be triggering. I don't aim to be triggering generally (as well as with this topic in particular), but rather I like to approach topics as an invitation for considering a new way of thinking. Let's see if I can pull that off with this topic. My sense is that people don't really want to be challenged on their alcohol consumption, and possibly that is just a projection of how I felt about it before I gave it up. However, I do think it's a topic which deserves attention and examination by each individual, because it's something as a society we take for granted. If an adult doesn't have a “problem" with alcohol, they should carry on consuming it as desired, according to social custom.
I listened to a really interesting episode of the Rich Roll podcast, featuring guest Andy Ramage. Andy has created a movement he calls One Year, No Beer. It is aimed at a segment of the population not usually targeted for quitting alcohol: moderate drinkers. Most people who don't consider themselves addicted to alcohol have created a life which is infused with it, and because it's such an integral part of their lives (and the lives of those around them) they don't consider the implications of its regular use. I highly encourage you to listen to this episode to hear how he embarked on his journey, the trial and error he underwent, and the benefits he received - which are very persuasive!
I was a moderate drinker as long as I have been old enough to drink (maybe even a little longer than that - college happened!), until almost a year ago when I stopped drinking entirely. As I got more integrated with yogic teachings in an effort to deepen my meditation experiences, I learned about how alcohol dulls our energy/energetic field, and the impact of this on our meditation and our efforts to get more in tune with our energy. I was living in Italy, and alcohol was an integral part of my social life. Italians are not big abusers of alcohol - it's unusual to see someone fall-down drunk there, as opposed to, say, England or the US - but a couple of glasses of wine with dinner is normal, if not expected. Entire regions are obviously dedicated to wine production - our region sat next to Tuscany, for instance. I really wasn't interested in going dry while living in Italy, and as the concept of doing so to go deeper in my meditation journey was new I didn't really put too much thought into the prospect.
When we moved back to the US, I began giving the idea of going sober more thought. More suggestions began working their way to me - I would stumble across an article, perhaps, or hear about moderate drinkers quitting alcohol on podcasts. I had dinner with a dear friend of 2 decades who told me she was no longer drinking. All of these little incidents coalesced to propel me forward into giving quitting a try.
Because my motivation was to do with my energy and how it relates to getting even more out of meditation, I didn't really pay much attention to the other benefits I have gotten from not drinking. That's one of the things I liked so much about that podcast episode I mentioned, as Andy breaks down those physical, emotional, and productivity-related benefits so well. One of the things I have noticed more and more since I stopped drinking is the amount of people I know who are really interested in their health, to the extent that they have been on special diets for a long time to promote their health, but they make no change in their alcohol consumption. Alcohol is toxic to the body. Conventional wisdom suggests moderate drinking doesn't damage the body, but science says differently. Studies show shrinkage in the brain even for light and moderate drinkers. This seems obvious considering the primary benefit the vast majority of people are seeking through drink is the chemical change that happens in the brain while drinking. Other benefits to quitting are better sleep, increased productivity as you are not dealing with coming out from under the fog of alcohol the next day, greater clarity even when not under direct alcohol influence, weight loss, and financial gain as funds are freed up from purchasing alcohol. It was a pleasant surprise I hadn't considered when our dinner bills suddenly dropped as I stopped ordering wine with my meals!
Why not try it for yourself and see what benefits you notice? You really have nothing to lose. Check out the website for One Year No Beer and take one of their challenges to give it a try. You don't even have to try for a full year, but could just do it for 28 or 90 days. And of course, you don't have to use a specific program like this (by the way, I'm not affiliated with this program at all - I haven't used it or been paid by them but just see the potential of the movement) and could do your own experimentation. I can definitely see the benefit of approaching it with a community such as this. One of the biggest reservations I had about giving up alcohol was what I felt the expectations were of me socially. I was nervous about how I would be perceived by not partaking in the social norm of imbibing. Once I took the plunge, I personally found people to be supportive and a little curious as it comes up. As I was considering doing it, it really helped to discover that friend of mine who had recently stopped drinking. The conversation with her really gave me the push I needed to stop.
In that spirit, if you would like to consider this change and want to know more about it or would like some support, please reach out to me! I would be happy to discuss it and help you explore this step on your journey.
I thought I'd write a sister post to the last one, which was about how environment is stronger than will power until we have become spiritual masters who influence our environment more than it influences us. The truth of the power of our environment is driven home to me when I think about the times I have lived abroad. When you find ourself in a new culture, you are in a state where so much is unrecognizable - in the language (even when I lived in England and - clearly - they spoke English, words and phrases which were new to me were plentiful), the clothes, the architecture, much of the music and media, the celebrities, and so on. Slowly, over time you begin to become familiar with how things work in your new environment, and you assimilate. You learn how to move through this new place in part by emulating those around you. In time, what becomes "normal" to you as a person equates to what you see others doing in this new place - the clothes they favor, the words they use, the TV shows they are watching and bringing up in conversation.
As you become more familiar with these cultural happenings, it becomes hard to discern what are wider changes happening throughout globe and what are cultural. When I lived in England, I remember bands who would become so massive in England that I would think they must be taking the world by storm, and then I'd go visit "home" in the US and find those same bands were much more niche there. The summers were never very hot in England, so no one wore shorts in the summer. When I moved back to Indiana, I had been away long enough that it took me some time to reintegrate shorts into my summer wardrobe because I erroneously surmised on some level that there had been a fashion shift everywhere of people no longer wearing shorts in the summer, instead of the more obvious conclusion that culturally shorts were unnecessary in England on a practical level. (One particularly hot outdoor party where I wore jeans, socks, and boots shortly after moving back helped drive that point home quickly!) Conversely, when I lived in Italy and would wear shorts when it was hot but still May, I started to understand by what I saw around me and some gentle comments from Italians that culturally it was unusual to have your legs exposed until the summer.
Of course, you don't have to become a part of an unfamiliar culture to understand the influence of culture on an individual. Things are always changing in popular culture around us, even when we remain located in one place. A couple of years ago, "flossing" only meant something you did to your teeth to try to keep dental visits as short as possible. In the last year or so, we have seen the dance craze of flossing hit a fever pitch and subside again. Popular songs that you can't escape rise and drift away. Magazines at the supermarket have their target celebrities which change over time. For years in the US it seemed Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton were everywhere you looked, and now it's the royal babies.
When we see over and over the things that popular culture has deemed "important," we can get caught up in it. When every magazine has a cover story about the royal families, our brains start to believe that must be something it should care about. I'd like to suggest that the royal families, as an example, are actually not important to our growth, and so it's up to us to control our environment to not get sucked in to the shiny distractions placed all around us, vying for our attention. We have a duty to conscientiously select what media - TV shows, magazines, books, movies - we give our time and attention to which can help us continue to raise our consciousness.
I had lunch with a friend the other day who was suggesting more people seem to be becoming interested in personal growth, meditation, yogic living, spirituality, etc. She asked me if I'd noticed it, and I could only respond that it did seem that way to me, but then again I have changed. I have made meditation and spirituality a priority in my own life, and the books I read, many of the discussions I have, the documentaries I watch, the podcasts I listen to, etc, are on those topics. The world I have surrounded myself with is all on that theme, so it is reflecting those things back to me. Whether that means more and more people are leaning that way or whether I am simply a product of my environment, it is difficult for me to say. But I sincerely hope it is the former!
I am an Ananda® certified meditation teacher. I am passionate about meditation and embrace a yogic lifestyle for greater wellness physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
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