What Am I Grateful For?
In every meditation practice, I ask the 4 soul questions I was taught in primordial sound meditation at the Chopra Center. We covered the first three question in previous articles.
The fourth question is What Am I Grateful For?
At first, one might think finding gratitude is a simple task. For me however, it was quite challenging when I started my meditation practice more than two years ago. Every time I came to the fourth soul question, “what am I grateful for?” my mind would take me to all the negative experiences in my life. Then one morning, the thought occurred to me: I just had a tooth extraction and I no longer had a nagging toothache. My reaction was one of gratitude that the pain was gone. That one thought gave me a process which I now use to practice gratitude. I think about past surgeries, horrible cancer treatments that I endured, severe back pain, and other physical ailments that no longer affect me. That process allows me to feel very grateful.
Practicing gratitude is incredibly valuable in many ways. Robert Emmons is regarded as the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude with his book, Thanks! How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. He studied more than 1,000 people that practiced gratitude for three weeks. They reported a host of physical benefits such as stronger immune systems, less aches and pains, lower blood pressure, increased desire to exercise, and improved sleep. They also experienced psychological benefits such as higher levels of positive emotions, more alertness, more joy and pleasure, more optimism, and happiness. It seems that gratitude pauses our built-in negative bias. Another study in 2008 by psychologist Alex Wood in the Journal of Research and Personality, demonstrated that showing gratitude can reduce the frequency and duration of episodes of depression.
I am finding that I am grateful for the relationships in my life, both past and present. I am grateful for the support of my family, friends, past business mentors, and the wonderful community I live in.
Another way of discovering gratitude is remembering opportunities that have been given to us, whether we think we deserve them or not. We can be grateful for the skills that we possess and the knowledge we have discovered. Our practice can include gratitude for the world around us: the trees, plants, flowers, wildlife, changing seasons, or even the sight of your dog greeting at the door. Having an opportunity to help someone in need, putting a smile on someone’s face, or sharing a kind word or complement will all help us feel gratitude in knowing that we made a difference in someone’s life.
A great way to practice gratitude is to try journaling. Every day, jot down a couple of things you are grateful for. When you find yourself in a negative mood, open the journal and remember all you have to be grateful for. According to Robert Emmons, journaling is an excellent way to becoming a truly grateful person. He believes this practice works because it consciously focuses our attention on developing more grateful thinking and helps eliminate ungrateful thoughts.
Now in my daily meditation practice, when I come to the fourth sole question “what am I grateful for?” I must be mindful of the time because my list is so long.
What Is My Purpose
In our meditation practice, the third soul question is "What Is My Purpose?"
Growth and replication have been the purpose of nearly every molecule in existence since the Big Bang. The universe has grown at an astonishing rate, replicating solar systems and entire galaxies. On planet Earth, we see millions of species replicate and grow continuously. Like all other creatures, we humans have been performing our most urgent duty of reproducing for 200,000 years. Somewhere during our evolution, we have developed the unique ability to create stories, setting us far apart from all other creatures.
We have this ability to create stories about who we are and live according to those stories. We pass stories down through generations, allowing those that come after us to learn and grow. As a species, we don't just want to expand in numbers, but also expand our abilities to adapt and live more comfortably with each generation.
Our most basic purpose is to reproduce, but as we grow older and our reproductive instincts diminish, we may find ourselves asking "what is my purpose?" This usually happens when our children grow and leave home.
What we think our purpose should be does not always align with the story that we have been told. The story about how we should live our life has gotten in the way of who we really are. The story has conditioned us to conform with the social norm, which is not necessarily what our basic instincts tell us.
Through my meditation practice I have discovered that I am not a human being having a spiritual experience I am a spiritual being having a human experience. Our spirit has taken on a physical form to fulfill a purpose.
Each and every one of us has a unique special skill or talent that we can share with others. We may just plant a seed of an idea in someone, perhaps in the form of advice or a creative idea. That someone may pass that idea onto their children and they in turn may pass that idea down to their children who may use that idea to change the world. Remember, someone first had to teach Einstein that 2+2 = 4; that person was likely not a genius, but they did spark the genius in Einstein. Someone had to first teach Beethoven the piano scales when he was three years old; they didn’t have the talent Beethoven had, but sparked the genius or passion in that great piano player. Growing up, my father said to me “you made your bed now sleep in it." That simple statement has stuck with me and has caused me to take responsibility of the decisions that I make throughout my life.
Our purpose, therefore, is not only to physically reproduce, but to use our unique talents to make the world a better place for all mankind, present and future.
What Do I Want
The second soul question we ask in our meditation practice is “what do I want?” The question does not need to be answered immediately; you just put the question out there and wait for the answer to come when the time is right.
Here’s how it works..
Ask the question “What do I want?” and let any sensation, image, feeling, or thought come to you. Don’t strain or force an answer, just ask the question. Perhaps the answers will change from day to day; just go with the flow.
When Einstein was asked the question, he responded “I want to know God’s thoughts.”
You might find Deepak Chopra’s book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success interesting. In chapter two, Deepak writes “The universe operates through dynamic exchange giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of energy in the universe. And in our willingness to give that which we seek, we keep the abundance of the universe circulating in our lives.”
Receiving is the same principle as giving in order to receive we must give.
If you want Love, give Love,
If you want complements, give compliments.
If you want to laugh, make someone laugh.
If you want success, help someone gain success.
If you want to be trusted, trust.
If you want to make more money, help someone make more money.
If you want a job promotion, help someone get promoted.
Give what you want!
Be careful what you wish for, there is an old saying, “sometimes the gods grant us our wishes to punish us.”
I was having a conversation with a friend this week, discussing the Question that has been asked for thousands of years: “Who am I?” To get us closer to the answer we might want to first ask who I am not. I know that I am not my body, my mind, or my emotions. So then, who am I?
To help discover who we are, we might want to explore the voice deep within us. That voice is referred to as the silent witness, the thinker of our thoughts. When we feel conflicted or feel stress coming on, we can ask this question: “Who is thinking this thought right now?” Then simply repeat, “I Am,” immediately shifting our awareness, bringing us to a higher level of consciousness. We can then come closer to finding out that we are something other than the ego self.
The whole of the Vedanta philosophy can be summed up in the following parable recited by Vivekananda on July 30, 1895 on Wellesley Island in NY:
Two birds of golden plumage sat on the same tree the one above, serene, majestic, immersed in his own glory; the one below, restless and eating the fruits of the tree, now sweet, now bitter. Once he ate an exceptionally bitter fruit; then he paused and looked up at the majestic bird above, but he soon forgot about the other bird and went on eating the fruits of the tree as before. Again, he ate a bitter fruit, and this time he hopped up a few boughs nearer to the bird at the top. This happened many times until at last the lower bird came to the place of the upper bird and lost himself. He found all at once that there have never been two birds, but that all the time he was that upper bird, serene, majestic, and immersed in his own glory.
Just Unplug It!
Like many of us, I have several technology gadgets: a smart TV, computer, routers, iPads, Sonos sound system, etc. Most of the time, everything works well, but then for no clear reason a glitch occurs, and my device is rendered useless. After pushing buttons, trying my best, I give up and call my son, Tony. It’s become a family joke; he laughs at me, comes to the house, and fixes my problem. Most of the time he simply just unplugs the unit in question, and everything starts to work again just fine.
Worry and fear are the main source of the fifty to eighty thousand thoughts we have daily. We worry about money, our children, relationships, health, our country, the world, the environment, our job, and the long list of obstacles that we encounter every day.
Anxiety and depression are all too often the results of so much worry. As it turns out, our brains are programmed to worry. Our brain has evolved with a built-in fear center known as the Amygdala: an almond shaped group of nuclei buried deep within the temporal lobes of the brain. It is also referred to as “the negative bias,” our brains constantly analyze the negatives, watching out for danger. Our very survival as a species has relied on this ability for thousands of years but it is also the cause of why we worry so much, it’s in our DNA.
The human brain seems to crave negative information and the news organizations have recognized that. A study by Media Research Center found that upwards of 85% of the stories aired were negative on the major networks ABC, NBC, and CBS. I suspect the percentage would be even greater with cable news. More viewers mean higher ratings and more dollars in advertising revenues.
Meditation is the way I “unplug” my brain and just like my computer issues, my brain returns to normal. In fact, the science tells us meditation deactivates the Amygdala. Research from Boston University, Harvard Medical School, and the Chopra Center have been conducted in recent years using fMRI brain scanner tests with meditators. They found that after only 8 weeks of meditating, the fear center’s electrical activity was quiet, and the amygdala physically reduced in size.
Meditation has absolutely reduced my fear, anxiety, and stress. My advice to you is to meditate! Daily!
Two easy ways to start tune into the Chopra Centers 21 day meditation program for FREE. There is also a fantastic on-line program course from Chopra Center which I have taken called primordial sound meditation. It can be completed in about a week part time.
How I Meditate
After my last introduction to meditation class, I had several people asking what I do in my meditation practice. Because of the current Corona virus pandemic, I probably won’t be instructing anytime soon. The following is a script I use in my practice, but I highly recommend you look into in Chopra’s primordial sound meditation course available on-line. It is the same course I teach. There is also a FREE 21 day meditation program which is an excellent introduction to developing a meditation practice which is so important in dealing with stresses of the current crisis.
The following is my procedure for my daily meditation practice. I practice a form of meditation designed by the Chopra Center called primordial sound meditation, this practice includes using a mantra or a vibration to cancel out any sensations, images, feelings, or thoughts that disrupts our journey from activity to silence.
Each morning my first order of business is to head up to what I call my meditation room. I like doing some warmup yoga, just light stretching to prepare for meditation.
I light an incense stick, turn off the lights and throw a blanket over my shoulders. I get comfortable, putting on my noise canceling headsets. (Primordial sound meditation is Best done in a quiet Setting.)
When I’m comfortable. I set my timer. I spend two or three minutes doing some breathing exercises. Breathing through my nose deeply for a count of 4 holding my breath for account of two then exhaling for a count of 6.
I then move my attention to my heart center, feeling my breath there. In the event that I have some ach or pain I will focus my breath there. Its important to be effortless and not force the breathing.
I then begin asking the four soul questions. Asking the questions is a ritual for me each day, I am not looking for any answer I just want to ask the question without effort and let the answers just come as they may.
The four soul questions sequence:
Who am I?
What do I want?
What is my purpose?
What am I grateful for?
The next step is the I AM sequence:
We say to ourselves:
“I AM (your first and last name)” repeat it several times
Then drop your last name.
“I AM your (first name)” repeat it a few times
Then drop your first name.
“I AM, I AM, I AM” repeat it several times
Then repeat the mantra “Ah Hum, Ah Hum” several times. “Ah Hum” is the vibration of I AM.
And now begin repeating mantra AH HUM for the duration of your meditation. As you repeat your mantra, you may notice that it changes; it may become faster or louder, it may even become distorted. As it changes, continue repeating it effortlessly, without resisting or anticipating changes. It’s more like listening to it rather than saying it.
From time to time, you may notice your attention has drifted away your mantra to other thoughts in your mind, on noise in the environment, or a sensation in your body. Whenever you notice that your attention has drifted away from your mantra, gently come back to it.
When my timer alerts me, I introduce four intentions and mentally release them in being. I repeat each of them several times. The four intentions are:
Now rest for a couple of minutes. Just be. Then take a few deeper breaths and move and stretch gently. We continue to think the mantra effortlessly. If we notice we’ve drifted away from it, we gently come back to it and we let go of any expectations about the practice.
The total length of time for the meditation should be about 30 minutes. I like to use the timer on my watch which is set to vibrate. Of course, there are many timer devices available.
Developing meditation skills does not happen overnight; I have now been meditating for two years and I can honestly say my practice continually gets better and the results have been an incredible.
I will make myself available to answer questions you might have to help you perfect your meditation practice feel free to email me or call.
We all know that stress can take a toll on your mental and physical well-being. When you feel stress, your body reacts with your primal “fight or flight” response. This ancient stress response releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin, designed to prepare you for reacting to a threat like running away from a dangerous animal or fighting off an enemy. Today the threats are not the same as our ancestors, however the stress response is still very real. In these uncertain times there are financial pressures from losing a job, social isolation, uncertainty of the future, and stress in the workplace for all those who are on the frontlines fighting this disease.
Stress can cause your blood sugar to rise, suppresses your immune system, accelerate your breathing, and reduce the supply of blood to digestive organs. Researchers have discovered stress leads to inflammation and a much higher risk of developing health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, migraines, depression and anxiety, diabetes, obesity, and memory loss.
As this pandemic continues to grow, so do the stress triggers all around us. The best way I’ve found to deal with stress is through meditation. Meditation is a wonderful tool that in conjunction with following the CDCs guidelines, can help you reduce stress during these uncertain times. Personally, I have decided to stay home and have established a routine that includes: a morning and evening meditation session, doing some yoga, working on some home projects, walking, and lots of reading. I limit watching news programs to no more than one half hour a day.
My main focus is my meditation practice. My first session starts shortly after I arise and before any disruptions: for example, I don’t even look at my cell phone until after meditation. In meditation your mind goes from activity to silence. In this state, your body experiences many healing effects that oppose the “fight or flight” response including: decreasing heart rate, normalizing blood pressure, deeper breathing, and a reduction of the stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline. Your immunity is strengthened, your body uses oxygen more efficiently, and there is a decrease in inflammation.
In my next blog I will explain my method of meditation, but in the meantime I highly recommend that you get online with the Chopra Center; they are hosting 21 day free guided meditations. https://chopracentermeditation.com/experience.
If you would like to learn more about what I’m doing please visit my web site www.islandmeditations.com.If you’re looking for a good read click on my book list. I recommend two of Deepak’s books to start with “7 spiritual Laws” and “The healing self”. For your convenience, just click on a book title and it will take you to Amazon to order a copy.
The Eternal Witness
Physical and emotional pain is inevitable, it is part of life and something we all experience. Whether or not we suffer however, is a choice.
As we grow in our meditation practice, we start realizing that good and bad, happy and sad, sickness and health, pain and pleasure all exist in the experience of our Ego. The Ego is our social mask, our physical body, and our very own creation of our illusionary self. Through our meditation practice we start to identify the Silent Observer. The Silent Observer is our true self, our soul, our spirit (they’re all the same thing.) The silent observer can be found in the field of silence, in consciousness. When you get tangled up in a thought or emotion, close your eyes and ask who is the one thinking this thought right now. Just by asking the question you are shifting into a state of higher awareness, the silent observer. Remember that you are not your body, you are not your mind, you are not your thoughts, or your emotions. You are the thinker of your thoughts; you are an eternal Spirit. Our true self who has never been born, never dies. It is our eternal witness, way beyond the ego self, the senses and the mind.
In meditation we distract our thoughts that are disrupting our pure consciousness. We move from activity into silence, which is referred to as the gap. The gap is pure consciousness where there is unlimited potentiality and creativity. Meditation allows us to go beyond activity, words, thoughts, and into who we really are. The eternal witness.
“Like two golden birds perched on the selfsame tree, intimate friends, the ego and the self dwell in the same body. The former eats the sweet and sour fruits of the tree of life, while the latter looks on in detachment” -The Mundaka Upanishad
This Too Shall Pass
There is a story of King Solomon who heard about a magic ring that could make the sad happy and the happy sad. He sent ministers far and wide to look for the magic ring. They searched everywhere and talked with every jewelry maker they could find. Finally, one jeweler said he could make such a ring and they set him to create it at once. When the ring was complete, it was delivered to King Solomon. It was a simple ring with the words “this too shall pass” inscribed upon it. The ‘magic’ worked, and the ring made the king happy.
I had spoken with a friend recently about tattoos and what I would get if I ever got one. My answer was the words “this too shall pass” on my forearm. It’s important to be aware that nothing ever stays the same. The only constant in our life is change: change for the better and change for the worse. All experiences live in an instant and then become a memory forever.
Think of sitting beside a calm pond, the water so clear you can see the bottom, not a ripple to be seen. You grab a pebble and throw it into the pond, creating ripples that project out, forming a circle and obscuring the view you had of the bottom of the pond. Now imagine watching that in reverse; you summon the pebble and watch the ripples come together as the pebble pops out of the water back into your hand as the pond resumes it’s calm and clear nature. Our meditation practice allows us to take back the pebble so we can discover who we really are. We are not our bodies, we are not our mind, we are not our thoughts. We are our eternal spirit.
As I am writing this blog there is a raging snowstorm outside and I was forced to cancel my introduction to meditation class tonight. Life has its good times and bad without the bad times there would-be no-good times. We must not become attached to the good or bad times in our life because as the inscription on the ring reads “This Too Shall Pass”
We Are Soup
We live in the Milky Way Galaxy. The edge of our galaxy is over 50,000 light years away. (For comparison, our moon is 1.3 light SECONDS away.) Trying to comprehend how far a light year really is I did some math: light travels at 186,000 miles a second, so in one year light travels a whopping five trillion, eight hundred and seventy-eight billion, four hundred and eighty-nine million, eight hundred fourteen thousand two hundred and ten point one miles (5,878,489,814,210.1). Multiplied by 50,000 and we understand what “really really really big” is. The Milky Way has between 200 and 400 billion stars; that’s just the Milky Way. Add to that some 80 billion galaxies out there and that’s about the point where my mind blew up. (Did I lose you before then?) Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that the universe is incomprehensibly large. How small are we?
N.A.S.A.’s Wilkinson microwave probe, which confirms principles of quantum physics, determined that the universe is made up of 96% dark matter and energy: 71.4% dark energy, 24.6% dark matter, and 4% regular atomic matter. Of the 4% percent of atomic matter approximately 3.999% consists of subatomic particles/cosmic dust. What we are left with is .001%. Everything that we can see, you and me, the planets and stars, the desk that I’m sitting at, the trees in the forest, the car that you drive, everything we see basically consists of nothing. How small are we?
Everything that we can see are made up atoms. The atoms have a nucleus made up of protons and neutrons with electrons spinning around them. Atoms make up cells and cells make up molecules: nothing is solid. To quote a term from Deepak Chopra, “everything is a verb”, there are no nouns. All objects are either growing or decaying.
When the conditioning begins…
When I was a little boy, we were learning about the solar system, atoms, etc. in science class. I became very confused. I kept asking the same questions over and over again; apparently, I was frustrating my teacher. Using the analogy of the solar system to explain the atomic structure, I tried to understand how human bodies stayed together. There was so much space between the atoms and the subsequent molecules which make us up, why don’t we just float away? What held us together? She replied “our skin” but I then asked was not our skin made up of atoms and molecules? She replied that it was. For some time in class, I would fixate on my fingernail and all I could imagine was the atoms and molecules running around and I envisioned an entire universe on the tip of my finger. After several days I asked the question again; what then, is holding us together? My teacher replied, “Your skin, are you stupid or something?” The entire class laughed at me. Later in parent teacher conferences, she said I was a day dreamer and was not paying attention in class; my parents were not happy. I was not given a very good grade in science. That was nearly 60 years ago.
After my year-long sabbatical studying and practicing meditation, I have concluded that we are all an infinite, universal, molecular soup. We are not small, we are one with the universe, without boundaries. We are infinity, we are the universe.
From the moment of our birth, we have been going through social conditioning, feeding our ego self the illusion who we are. In discovering who we really are, we must first discover what we are not. Meditation helps us move beyond our social conditioning and helps us discover that we are not our body and we are not our mind. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.
Lifelong entrepreneur and resident of the 1000 islands. Started his meditation practice in 2018.
15.What am I Grateful For?