Your Brain on Social Media (especially during the coronavirus situation)

School of fish in the Melbourne Aquarium As the coronavirus takes up more of social media and in our lives, a lot of people are finding themselves on their phones and in their apps a lot more than before. And a lot of the data and posts are of doom and gloom. This is a perfect storm and invitation for your mind to get stirred up and then addicted to the drama and danger being presented by the media, the stock market, by your friends.

This post is intended to help you remember that your brain is literally designed to focus on danger signals, that your brain makes up stories in the absence of an alternative narrative, and that you don’t have to believe your thoughts. I hope this post also helps you recognize when you’re in the middle of a thought storm and how to detach from it and to give you ideas about how to calm down and get centered despite what’s going on around you.

Remember that our brains are designed to focus on danger signals. That is how it saves our lives. But danger is supposed to be a short-lived experience, not a slow, long-winded, building tsunami of a disaster that lasts week or months. But with social media and the internet, we now can see the information coming from China long before the coronavirus officially arrived on our shores. The brain fixates and makes up stories about the danger. [Note, I’m not saying that there isn’t danger or that what is happening isn’t true- just that your brain is making up future stories for you to fear]. The stories your brain is making up, about how someone in family will get sick, you’ll lose your job, the economy will tank, and on and on. That MAY be true in the future. But it’s likely not true now. And worrying about a future that may or may not arrive keeps you out of calm, presence, and coming from a place of fear and lack rather than calm and clear.

You don’t have to believe your thoughts. The first step is detaching from your thoughts. Notice what is happening in your brain. What thoughts are compulsively coursing through your mental screen? There is a circumstance: the coronavirus is novel and is likely in your country and your locality. How you think about that is entirely up to you. On the one hand, you can think fearful thoughts and feel and act fearful. Or you can think calm thoughts and feel calm and peaceful.

As examples: fearful thoughts: the coronavirus is going to rampage through my country. Millions will die. The economy will tank. There’s no good options here. Resulting fearful emotions: ahhh, this is horrible and I have to do something so I’m going to spend all my time looking at the data for virus, buy more than I need to, and drink and eat too much to help me feel better about my scary thoughts and emotions.

Calm thoughts: the coronavirus is going spread through my country, like all countries. I will learn what I need to in this momentand know that sooner or later this will pass. And there is little about this I can control so I will accept what is, in this moment, in this moment, and in this moment. Resulting calm emotions: presence, loving acceptance of what is right now.

You can also use this time to learn about how your brain starts to engage your flight or fight system and how to detach from this state. The easiest way to understand how your brain and body are reacting is to notice your breath. Is your breath shallow and fast? Are you having a harder time than usual catching your breath?

If so, then take the time to deepen and length your breath. Breathe in deeply, perhaps to a count of 6 and then focus on lengthening the out breath, to perhaps a count of 8. Do this and feel the calm return. Keep doing it as often as is necessary.

For a few days, I’ve been buffering against my thoughts by being on social media a lot more than usual and binge watching Madame Secretary (which I’d never seen before). I caught the feeling of my brain swirling around faster and faster, like a rabid squirrel trying to get up all the trees at the same time. And the top of my skull feels hotter too, figuratively. Now that I’ve noticed this, I’ve put screen time controls on my phone and consciously spent time with my phone plugged in far from me. I can feel time slowing down, that I’m able to be much more present, and my attention span is almost a long as it has been in the past.I’ve also stopped drinking and eating to feel better. Crucially, I gave myself permission that a few days of getting used to our new normal is going to take a few days. With love and understanding, I allowed myself a few days to wallow and get a bit lost in the drama of the moment.

But I know it’s not profitable to wallow too long. Getting lost in the drama doesn’t help me be a better parent to my kids, a better partner, or make better choices about what to do with our free time. Walking in the woods, jigsaw puzzles, and finally learning to play the piano come to mind as better ways to spend the passing time.

No matter what situation you find yourself in, remember to be in that situation. Not one created by your mind about a near future that hasn’t yet come to pass. You’ll know that you’re creating a story about some imagined future because you’ll be stressed. True emergencies don’t evoke stories. In true emergencies, all you have is the moment . Believe in your power to effect change in the moment you have, which is to accept this moment, this moment, and this moment. Plan ahead as needed and then let it go.

Above all, be kind to yourself as you process changes. Blaming yourself or being cruel won’t help anyone. Keep detaching from your thoughts and breathing deeply, as necessary.

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Coronavirus and Meditation- keep meditating

Keep up with your meditation practice, especially now. And it is a perfect time to re/start one if you haven’t sat in meditation recently.

Last night I spent a full hour on Facebook, researching the coronavirus, looking at projections and trying to find data on the US infection rate and projections, where I could. An hour.

This morning I woke up and was immediately seized with the obsession to get on social media or my phone to find out what’s changed in the last 8 hours. I thought, “there’s no way I can meditate this morning”. My mind feels like a barrel of monkeys, rather than my normal monkey mind thinking about all that there is to do.

I then realized this is the perfect time to meditate and ground myself. This is exactly the moment to meditate. My mind is trying to spiral out of control in fear, obsession, and worry over things I can’t control.

And so I sat. At first I thought of the R0 figures- what is the R0 of the flu versus Covid-19, the mortality of Covid-19 in Italy and South Korea, and in China. Round and round my mind went until I caught myself not being present. I have long since dropped any shame or surprise at how my mind can get trapped in recursive thinking. I just noticed that I was no longer present and centered myself again.

As I mentioned in this post the other day, there are many techniques to center yourself. I prefer this one. I close my eyes. I then focus with my mind’s eye on my third eye (the space between my eyes, a few inches back) and turn my actual, real eyes up to the third eye (eyes closed). I think feel for my dantian and I’m immediately grounded.

I sat for 57 minutes today. Not my longest by about 15 minutes but I was able to stay for 57 minutes.

Now, after the session, I can still feel how grounding my session was. My obsession to get on my phone has passed and I’m writing this blog now. My stress and compulsions seem to have evaporated.

Don’t panic. Don’t stress. Don’t fear. Instead sit in meditation. Get grounded. Do what you can to plan for a quarantine. Act on what you can control. And then let the rest go.

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Meditating with Delight

My view one morning this summer visiting a lake

As anyone who’s tried to meditate knows, meditating can be quite difficult at times. I know it’s taken me a good long year or more to finally realize there is no “right” way to meditate.  When I first began, I actually had the hardest time just setting aside the time. I resisted even the thought of meditating.  And then after a month or more, I would be able to sit for just 5 minutes until I had to lunge up off the cushion. And then I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to meditate for a few days. But gradually it took. First 5 minutes,  then 8, then 10, then 13, then 15, then 19 and so on. Now, I feel edgy and unsettled if I don’t start my day with just a 10 minute meditation [which seems really short to me now!]

Even so, some days my monkey mind is an entity that won’t be tamed. Some days I’ve gone on a long trail of unconscious thinking and it’s seems like I’ve been gone thinking for most of my session before I’ve caught myself. Some days 15 minutes feels like an eternity. But then I return to the moment, to my intentions, and the remaining 10 minutes seem to speed by.

I follow my breathe some times. I say a mantra other times. Still other times, I try to engage my third eye and “experience divinity”.  They all work sometimes and sometimes they don’t. And many days, the 25 or so minutes that I meditate seem like some of the best of my life.

I also have found that adding 15 minutes of stillness to my day adds a great deal to my meditation practice. 15 minutes of stillness is not 15 minutes of meditating, figuring out what’s next, what I forgot to do, or really doing anything. Instead, I take a few minutes in the early afternoon and enjoy 15 minutes in my sunroom, looking out on the hills that surround my house. I don’t meditate. I don’t try to do anything.  At first, in those 15 minutes of not doing anything, I would fall asleep. But now I just sit and allow my mind to be quiet. Sometimes it takes off but now my mind seems to know this is our quiet time to just be.

Tonight, I did another round of meditation just because it felt like the right thing to do. And it was magical and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have heeded the call. It was 15 minutes of pure delight, that welled in my belly and rose up through my whole body. I found myself laughing with the delight and savored every moment. It was the easiest meditation session I’ve had in ages. I didn’t want it to end.

I went into this meditation with the intention to be open to God, to be guided, and to just trust how things unfold. And I was able to spend the next 15 minutes meditating in pure delight.

If you’d like to try it, don’t stress out about the length of time. 5 minutes is a wonderful start!  Take some time to set your intention about what you’d like your session to help you with. Then set your timer and let whatever happens unfold. It may not be magical every time, but the delight that awaits you- it’s worth your time and energy!

What are some of your best meditation techniques? Anything you’d recommend?

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Extraordinary Chakra Meditation CD by Syl Carson of Bodhi Yoga

I was recently introduced to Syl Carson through Carol Tuttle‘s Chakra Resonance home study program.  During the session in which the focus was on the throat chakra, Syl brought in her [then] new Chakra Resonance Theta Healing CD.  She played part of the five-minute seed sound/Chakra Resonance for the throat chakra.  The hair stood on the back of my neck, it was so gorgeous. It was haunting, it was lyrical and I had to have it.

I thought about it and I hesitated because it actually is a CD and it appears there is no downloadable version of it any where. After some additional thought, I realized I can just buy the CD, like it’s 1999!

It arrived over the weekend and I’ve played the Throat Chakra and her Om Nama Shiva 2 again and again. It is just so lovely and so penetrating. The others are quite good as well but these are magnificent.

I wish it was on iTunes so you could sample it but it looks like Syl is still a bit old school. If you don’t mind taking a chance and spending $15, I highly recommend it!

 

 

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Are you experiencing compassion?

Image thanks to helovesus

In my post last week in working on the Root Chakra, I suggested that you set aside 10 minutes a day for some meditation designed to center and ground you. Beginning at the lowest chakra is the best place to start when you’re working with your chakras and most of them are imbalanced.

Loving-Kindness Meditations

I suggested a few minutes of loving-kindness meditations as follows:

After your 5 minutes of imperfect meditation, say the following loving-kindness affirmations to yourself -three times. This should take less than 1 minute. But put your heart into it and really bless yourself with these loving affirmations.

  • May I be well.
  • May I know peace.
  • May I be free from suffering

Here is another way to practice loving-kindness meditations.

Implementing These Affirmations

I implemented my daily meditation practice several months ago and I regularly meditate at least 30 minutes each day. It was a slowish evolution to go from 5 minutes to 30 minutes of meditation in one sitting and I really resisted meditation in the beginning. Now it seems my day is scattered and incomplete if I don’t get my meditation in first thing.

Sunday, I dedicated my meditation practice to these loving-kindness meditations. I repeated the above affirmations over and over again. However, with some sort of internal inspiration, I added in “May I know compassion”.

Instant Suffusion of Love

After I said this affirmation, I felt an incredible suffusion of love and peace encompass my body. It was simple yet transformative. I felt, at the same time, lit up inside and at a deep peace. For a time, without my volition, the compassion was directed at myself and it was a beautiful moment. And then it moved on to those in my life and I felt such profound love for them that any residual judgments or criticism I may have been harboring seemed to just melt away. And that was an even more beautiful moment.

And from there, my compassion moved to the world – to the Middle East, the subcontinent of Asia, China, and beyond. It ended full circle to come back and rest with me. What grace!

It was so moving that I practiced the same affirmations again Monday during meditation.  I realized that I sometimes feel sorry for myself and I often feel compassion for others but I rarely feel compassion for myself. It created a sense of forgiveness, of love, of space so that I can accomplish more in this life without the harsh judgement of the internal critic.

It’s at the heart of Byron Katie‘s work and by practicing it, I see its power.

How Often Do You Feel Compassion for Yourself?

How often do you feel compassion for yourself? Or do you hear your internal critic so often that you’ve identified with all that you can’t do well or the mistakes you’ve made in the past?

Given yourself the compassion that you would give your friend. Accord yourself the same level of love and acceptance that you give to everyone else.

Try It Yourself

Take a few minutes to get into a calm place. This can be a few minutes of meditation or a series of breathing in for a count of 4, holding it for a count of 4, and breathing out for a count of 8. Do the breathing cycle three times. Then do the loving kindness meditation as follows and put your heart into it and really bless yourself with these loving affirmations.

  • May I be well.
  • May I know peace.
  • May I know compassion.

You may well find that the more compassion you feel for yourself will magnify the compassion you feel towards others. It’s a virtuous cycle – the very opposite of a downward cycle.

Let me know how it goes. Did something shift in you? Can you feel the light and the love?

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