The Law of Attraction

People take up meditation for many different reasons. Some people just want to benefit from the health and wellbeing aspects of regular meditation, and these are considerable.

Some people want to enjoy the sense of calm, peace and tranquillity that meditation brings to hectic lives. This too is an important reason for meditating.

But many people go beyond the health reasons, because they want to explore and experience the spiritual aspects. For thousands of years, different cultures believe that using mindfulness and meditation can help them tap into cosmic and universal energy.

I thought it might be nice to reflect on the spiritual aspects of meditation, which for some people is the principal reason why they meditate regularly. I guess a word of caution is needed here though. For some, the idea of cosmic energy that we can all use makes perfect sense, but for others, it is nothing more than fictitious garbage!

You decide.

The Law of Attraction

Whenever the subject of ‘cosmic energy’ comes up, inevitably the concept of ‘law of attraction’ appears too. In basic terms, the law of attraction states that our thoughts and beliefs send certain ‘vibrations’ out into the cosmos. In turn, the universe responds by giving us a kind of customised experience that directly validates those thoughts and beliefs.

For example, if you have the belief that “you won’t get that promotion” or that “you will always struggle for money” then, according to the law of attraction, you will not get the promotion and, yes, you will always struggle for money.

You see, the universal forces that govern our planets and our lives do not discern between what we want and what we need. Those forces simply give us what we send out. If we send out negative thoughts and beliefs, then we will get negative stuff back.

What we resist persists and what we believe gets conceived.

Interesting concept!

Spiritual gurus, Noel Edmonds and a Bishop

According to those who believe in the law of attraction, what we need to do is meditate. Negative emotions carry low frequency vibrations but when we meditate, the way is cleared for higher resonating states of energy, which are associated with gratitude, joy and happiness.

It is well-known that meditation changes energy frequencies in the brain, and it is believed that during this transformation ‘refreshed signals’ are sent into the cosmos.

The idea of tapping into cosmic energy received a lot of media attention a few years ago. Noel Edmonds, who hosted many BBC programmes during the 1980s and 90s, felt that his career had come to an end when the BBC axed his regular show. He read a book about cosmic ordering and immediately started to explore the subject in more detail.

Edmonds ‘sent’ some orders into the cosmos and, would you believe it, soon afterwards he got a new show on television, which incidentally was a massive success.

In 2006, a newspaper feature appeared in the British press about Edmonds and how he credited his new show to cosmic ordering. Many celebrities came forward to say they too had used cosmic ordering to enhance their careers. However, not everyone agreed with the concept. The Bishop of Saint David’s, the Right Reverend Carl Cooper, described the notion as ‘nonsense’. He said: “It may be laudable to set goals in life, but we don’t need to dress this up in spiritual language. Intercessory prayer is part of our Christian tradition, however, it is not a divine room service, nor is it a heavenly shopping trolley.”

Oh dear, the Bishop doesn’t appear to agree with Noel!

Deal

The history and the science

It is believed that the law of attraction was first taught by Buddha, sometime around 500 years before the common era. Other religions and customs talk about similar concepts, such as karma and ‘you reap what you sow’. Shakespeare and Beethoven have been quoted as those who believed in the idea of universal energy and over 5.8 million people have ‘liked’ pages on Facebook that discuss the law of attraction.

I turned to science to see if there was any tangible evidence for the law of attraction. Interestingly, researchers who have used brain imaging technology have discovered ‘mirror neurons’. When we observe someone doing something, the pattern of brain activation that allows the person to do the thing, for example, lifting an arm, is mirrored in the brain of the observer. It is as though the observer was doing the same thing. Our brains appear to mirror the actions of those we interact with.

Amazing stuff! But, the really interesting bit about the research I read was in relation to ‘mindful intention’. Researchers found that the brain regions involved in ‘intention’ is closely related to regions involved in ‘action’. The report concluded: “What we think and feel affects how we will act and how others will act as well. The depth of our feelings and actions is a critical variable in ‘attracting’ what we want to our lives.”

So, there is some science that confirms the idea that ‘sending out positive thoughts yields positive action from others’. Perhaps, if we send out thoughts about the things we want in life, other people can pick up on those thoughts and, before long, those thoughts start circulating around the universe.

Regular meditation has been proven to change energy frequencies in the brain. Perhaps, when we meditate, our unconscious energy levels change and this opens the pathway for our positive thoughts and desires to be sent outwards.

Maybe Noel Edmonds was right after all.

As a trained psychologist, I like to keep an open mind on things. However, I will say this. I provide Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to many clients around the world, and the fundamental aspect of CBT is that ‘we bring about change in our behaviour when we change our thought process’. CBT is based on sound psychological principles, so perhaps there is something ‘spiritual’ there too. Who knows?

Do you have any thoughts on cosmic ordering and the universal energy that is available to all?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meditation at the Samye Ling international centre

I was in the Scottish borders last week and popped into the Samye Ling monastery, which is located near the village of Eskdalemuir. I had an absolutely wonderful visit, so I thought it would be good to share my experience with you.

Samye Ling is more than a monastery, it is an international centre for Buddhist training, known for its teachings and traditions of Buddhist philosophy. Founded in 1967 by two spiritual masters, Samye Ling was the first Tibetan Buddhist centre in the west. The name ‘Samye’ came from the very first monastery in Tibet.

The centre in Scotland, which is home to a community of more than 50 monks, nuns and volunteers, uphold the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, living their lives in accordance with their basic principles: doing no harm, performing wholesome actions, and training the mind through meditation.

The temple is stunning

samye1

I talked with Ani Lhamo, a fully ordained Buddhist nun, about life at the centre and about meditation. Ani explained about the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, which were formed over 2,500 years ago. Although there are many different versions of Buddhism, they are all based on Prince Siddhartha and his teachings. Through concentrated meditation, he experienced a deep realisation of true nature and what causes unhappiness.

Buddhist meditation

Buddhist methods of meditation are aimed at calming the mind and achieving insight into how the mind works. Ani explained, through regular meditative practice, the mind gradually settles into a peaceful state. It is when we enter into a blissful state that we experience insight into our being.

“Meditation can help bring about a natural sense of peace and well-being that can extend to every aspect of our lives,” Ani said. “People who meditate regularly tend to sleep better, have better digestion of food and can handle the ups and downs of life with more clarity and ease, and they relate to others with more compassion and warmth.

“Meditation is the patient process of settling our mind in the present moment so that we are fully engaged with whatever we are doing at that time.

“In modern life, we are often left feeling like there is never enough time. Busy and over-worked, as soon as we get around to doing one thing, our mind is already thinking about something else. We collapse in front of the television to chill out. But, this is not real peace.

“When the mind is constantly agitated, it is almost impossible to be happy. However, as we become practiced at meditation, our minds become more peaceful. This is ‘natural’ happiness rather than perceived happiness.

“As our practice deepens, we become increasingly in the present. This equilibrium brings stability to our minds and it brings insight into how our minds function. This is true peace and unconditional happiness.”

Samye Ling centre

Samye Ling is open all year round to visitors. It is a beautiful place to visit; the gardens and temple are stunning. They have a shop and cafe too.

The monks and nuns at Samye Ling offer short courses on meditation and mindfulness, and they offer longer retreats for people who want to explore the benefits of living a traditional way of life.

I would like to thank Ani and her colleagues for their wonderful welcome and for talking with me about the Tibetan Buddhist centre. They made my visit enjoyable and memorable.

You can hear Ani talking on my podcast.

Visit the Samye Ling website for more information.

 

 

 

Breathe your way to greater health

When stressed or irritated by someone or something, everyone knows to take a deep breath and count to ten. That would seem to suggest that a deep breath is somehow good at calming the brain. Well, latest research has found exactly that.

For over 2,000 years, Buddhists and yoga gurus have promoted the benefits of breath-focused meditation. Modern meditation practice usually starts with focusing on inhalation and exhalation. But it was generally considered that ‘clearing the mind’ of all thoughts was the aim of meditation and that focusing on breathing was a way to help us to clear the mind. However, latest research, carried out at Trinity College Dublin, has found an interesting connection between focused breathing and brain health.

Firstly, lets deal with the science bit. Noradrenaline is an important brain chemical, which is released when we are challenged and emotionally aroused. This chemical is the brain fertilizer because it helps to promote growth of neurons and it helps our brains to form new neuro-networks.

Although noradrenaline is an essential chemical, an incorrect balance in the brain can cause us some harm. For example, too little can result in lethargy, lack of concentration and even depression.

Now comes the interesting bit. The research carried out in Dublin found a connection between the amount of noradrenaline produced, our concentration levels and our breathing.

The team at Trinity College measured breathing, reaction time and brain activity in the brainstem (the area where noradrenaline is produced). They found that levels of noradrenaline increase slightly when the subjects focused on their breathing. In turn, concentration levels and reaction times improved when noradrenaline levels increased.

It would appear that focusing on our breath can stimulate the brainstem to produce exactly the right levels of noradrenaline, which improves our attention and concentration.

By focusing on our breathing for a few minutes each day, levels of brain chemicals can get regulated and optimised, leading to an overall improvement in concentration and the ability to focus longer and deeper on tasks.

Meditation has long-term benefits too

Our brains usually lose mass as we age. However, brain mass in long-term meditators doesn’t lose as much mass when compared to brains of non-meditators. More ‘youthful’ brains are less likely to suffer from dementia and memory loss, possibly because neuro-networks stay strong and healthy.

Meditation or mindfulness is often taught to people who have suffered brain injury and the results can be very encouraging. Neurons can be stimulated to form new connections and thus achieve partial repair.

So, there really is a connection between meditation and brain health. Yogis have been advocating this for many many years and the latest research would suggest they are correct. The team at Trinity have provided a deeper understanding of the neurophysiological benefits of this ancient concept.

Perhaps the secret to a healthy brain is indeed to practice regular breath-focused meditation.

For more on meditation, take a look at my podcasts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The benefits of forest bathing

What is the main similarity between sushi and forest bathing?

They are both imports from Japan!

When sushi first arrived on the shores of the UK there was much scepticism about the food. But look at how it has taken off. Perhaps forest bathing will go the same way.

What is forest bathing?

Many people might think forest bathing is something to do with swimming in a river that flows through a forest. In fact, it has nothing to do with swimming, nor bathing. Instead, it is all about using your senses to soak up the atmosphere of a forest.

Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Surprisingly, it is also one of the most heavily forested countries too. In the 1980s, The Japanese government, concerned about high stress levels, carried out research that found a two-hour forest-bathing session reduced blood pressure and lowered cortisol levels. Cortisol spikes during periods of stress and although we need this steroid, continual high levels can be detrimental to our wellbeing.

Trees release phytoncides, which are antimicrobials. These help to protect them from insects and bacteria. The research in Japan concluded that phytoncides could have an anti-microbial effect on humans. In Japan, forest bathing, known as shinrin-yoku, was introduced as a national health programme.

More recently, the Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences at Japan’s Chiba University, measured physiological effects of 280 people. Blood pressure, cortisol levels and pulse rates were measured during a day in the city and then compared with the same biometrics taken during an hour in a forest. The study found that forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol and greater parasympathetic nerve activity, which is associated with stress reduction.

Scepticism

Yes, I was definitely sceptical when I first read all this stuff about tree-hugging. And then I thought, why not give it a go. I started researching shinrin-yoku a few years ago and I am now fully hooked on the concept. I have always enjoyed walks in the forest, but I have found a whole new dimension to time amongst the trees.

Forest bathing is not simply ‘walking in the forest’. Instead, it is about allowing all your senses to experience mindfulness in nature. It is a form of meditation.

I often take small groups into the forest for art and photography therapy. One of the first things I do now is to get my group to sit down and close their eyes. I ask them to concentrate and to ‘feel’ the ground beneath their feet. After a few minutes, I ask them to concentrate on their breathing and to enjoy inhaling the scent of pine trees. Next comes sound. Concentrating on the different sounds of the forest can reveal amazing things that might otherwise be missed. Finally, after about 15 minutes, I get my group to open their eyes and look up into the canopy. I challenge everyone to find at least twenty different things. Usually they spot many more than this.

Mindfulness in nature can really help to reduce stress, and to bring about a feeling of happiness and contentment.

I would highly recommend spending some time in a forest. But don’t just walk amongst the trees, instead enjoy all they have to offer the senses. You could even end your forest bathing session with a Japanese tea ceremony, which involves taking tea infused with foraged nettles, pine needles or blackberries. The first cup is traditionally offered to the forest, as a thank you.

Let me know if you have tried forest bathing and mindfulness in nature.

 

 

 

 

 

Improve life by controlling your mind

There are many things in life that are beyond our control. World events, radical views of other people, and political decisions are some of the things that can infuriate us, causing us to have anxiety, fears and even hatred.

Often, our lives can seem out of control. Sometimes we can feel trapped in a life that is dull and boring. A recent survey concluded that more than 70% of people are in jobs they don’t like, but they can’t leave because they need the income.

In all this haze of things that can upset us, there is one thing that we can take responsibility for, and that is our own state of mind. People can control us but they cannot control our minds. And we can change our state of mind for the better. We can learn to live a life that is wonderful, even if we can’t control external influences.

How?

Transform your mind

Meditation is a means of transforming the mind. It is a way of learning to accept the life we lead in a way that fulfils us. It is a way to achieve happiness, greater physical health, and better mental wellbeing.

In this series on meditation, I am going to explore the subject in detail. I will be looking at the scientific background to meditation and I am also going to look at the various forms of mediation that are used by religious and non-religious groups around the world. Most importantly, I am going to teach the subject so that you can learn the basics. This post is a shorter version of my first podcast on the subject; Mediation Part One.

So, let’s make a start. What is meditation?

Well, it is a practice that is rooted in ancient history and it is a topic of modern science. Over the last ten years there has been an increased awareness about the subject, with many scholars, psychologists and neuroscientists carrying out research into the benefits of regular practice.

The brain is full of beta waves

If you were to hook up your brain to an electroencephalogram (EEG) during meditation you would find that your brain beta waves decrease. Beta waves dominate our normal waking state of consciousness. Beta waves are seen when we are alert, when we are problem solving and focused on a task. These waves show that the brain is active.

When we meditate, our beta waves slow down. Researchers have found that practicing meditation for 20 minutes every day, and slowing down our beta waves during this time, can have a significant effect on our mental and physical health. During meditation, the brain is able to make new neuro pathways that connect the left and right hemispheres. Scientists believe that the formation of these pathways helps to trigger healing in the body and help to reduce anxiety and mental distress.

During meditation, brain waves slow down to much lower frequency waves. When the brain changes to low frequency waves the level of neurotransmitters and endorphins in our brain increases and it is well-known that lower frequency brain waves increase the amount of serotonin, an important chemical that alters our mood. Many meditators say they reach a ‘natural high’ at the end of their session. This is usually because the level of endorphins that make us ‘happy’ increase during meditation.

Endorphins boost our cognitive ability and our ability to concentrate. They help improve our memory and our ability to learn new things.

Different waves for different things

The subject of brain waves is complicated. We have different brain waves, each of which produce different things that the brain needs. Why do we sleep? Well, during sleep our brains enter different states of activity and brain wave frequency. Chemicals are released at specific frequencies, and the balance of these chemicals is essential for mental wellbeing.

Regular meditators experience ‘extreme bliss’. This is usually achieved when brain waves slow right down to much lower frequencies; the delta brainwave. It is impossible for people to experience delta states when they are awake, it is only when we enter into deep meditation that we experience this state of consciousness.

Delta waves is known to have a profound effect on the physical body. This is when the body can really heal itself. The pituitary gland is instructed to release human growth hormones to help repair and to rejuvenate muscle and tissue. Delta waves are associated with deeper connection into the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind is where we have all the answers to life, but it is hard to reach. Only for a few minutes during sleep do our conscious and subconscious minds connect. However, during the delta state, our conscious and subconscious minds are connected and it can reveal many interesting things.

Have you ever had a “gut feel” about something? Of course you have. Where did it come from, that gut feeling. Well, it probably came from the subconscious mind. As you cultivate your delta brainwaves, your intuition will increase, bringing with it an unbelievable ability to trust your gut instincts.

Many people believe the delta brainwave is the bridge between higher planes of reality. Spiritual gurus believe it is while in the delta state of mind that they connect with life’s universal energy. This is where you can learn to tap into the forces that govern our existence.

Meditation is good for us

From a scientific point of view, then, meditation is good for us. It certainly can do no harm. The key is to do it regularly, twenty minutes every day is a great starting point. As you become good at it, your brain will go quickly into delta state, and it is during this state that the real benefits of meditation will occur.

For a longer explanation of the science behind meditation, listen to my first podcast on this series; Meditation Part One.

In part two I will look at some of the western philosophies of meditation.

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Meditation is the key to happiness

Perhaps not the key but definitely the locksmith

Okay, so as soon as you read the word “meditation”, you are going to turn off. Or, you are going to think about baldy monks or hippies on cocaine. But, please, give it a chance and read on.

“Meditation is the key to happiness”. That’s what I read recently on a blog. Well, I don’t really believe it is the “key” to happiness, it is perhaps the locksmith who can sell you the key!

I have read numerous books, features, blogs and other stuff on the subject of meditation and I have found a plethora of different theories and opinions on how it works. Even after all the stuff I have read, I still don’t know exactly how it works. But, the one single thing that is important in all of this is – it actually does work.

I started teaching meditation ten years ago. Most of my committed students would be very unhappy if someone were to stop their daily practice. That is how important it is in many people’s lives.

I want to introduce you to the practice of meditation. I am not saying you have to do this to achieve your dreams but it will most definitely help you to achieve what you want from life.

My theory

Everything we do involves energy. When we eat, talk, walk, run, even sleep, we generate and use energy. When we think, neurotransmitters in our brain link up, to create thoughts and memory. Neurotransmitters use energy. Everything involves energy.

Although scientists are good, they are still not good enough to know everything there is to know about energy. However, scientists do mainly agree that meditation allows us to capitalise on the lower frequency energies within our bodies.

The lower frequencies of energy in our bodies is where all the healing takes place. Low frequency resonance helps muscles to repair, it helps digestion of food, it helps brain chemicals sort themselves out and it helps our organs to work better.

But, there are some spooky things too. Things that I don’t understand but I will mention it for the sake of a balanced view.

Cosmologists believe that low frequency is the pathway to “connection”. It we are generating low frequency energy, we will be linking up cosmically. That’s the mystery part of meditation. That is why Buddhists, Zen monks, Taoists and a whole bunch of other ‘ists believe that meditation is the key to success.

In conclusion, I think there is some science we know about and there is a lot of “mystery” elements of meditation that we don’t know about. But, and here is the big part, meditation works.

Try it and you will be amazed

My major recommendation to anyone who wants to live a fulfilled life is to get into meditation. I honestly believe you will be amazed if you embrace this simple idea.

You will find a million books, CDs, DVDs pamphlets and other stuff to buy. You will find courses that range from ten minutes to two weeks. All these things are designed to – take your money. There is no need to spend anything at all on learning the basics of meditation.

All you need to get started is instruction on a simple technique. I have a free podcast that you can download to help you get started.

Before you listen to the podcast, find a nice quiet place to sit. It only takes five minutes so silence the mobile phone, the TV, the kids and take time out for yourself. Sit on a chair that gives your back support. You don’t need to sit in the lotus thingy. You won’t need to chant or sign. Just sit quietly and enjoy the calmness that you will feel.

I am keen to hear all about your experiences with meditation.

Before I go, here’s a funny. Why did the meditation teacher give no change when a student paid for a meditation cushion? Because change comes from within.

Check out my podcasts on http://www.ahelpinghand.biz