All of us are looking for peace of mind, which can be difficult to attain in this fast-paced, money-driven, goal-oriented world we live in. Each of us lives in the middle of our own personal tornado. Some find it natural to remain cool and calm about what they are experiencing, but for most of us, our life tornado leaves us stressed out, confused, anxious, depressed, and tired.
What I have just described is “normal life.” Painful emotions can be treated with psychiatry's arsenal of medications. Some will spend years in psychotherapy trying to gain balance.
Life Is a Game. Play It.
There really are cures to normal life suffering, cures which have been outlined over and over again by the saints, sages, and avatars throughout the world. This article is my synthesis of many world healing traditions. The details have been filled in by living in and through my own personal tornado, and by helping people find their center through decades of clinical work.
“Life is a game, play it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is love, enjoy it.”
— Sathya Sai Baba
I love this quote, and I love games. In a spiritual sense the goal of this game of life is “liberation,” freedom to get off the wheel of karma, of birth, death, re-birth, and more death. A liberated life is one in which we let go and give ourselves to each moment, fully without attachment to the outcome of any particular action. Every game has an end point or goal. Whatever your game of life is about, the only way to get there is by discovering ways to find your center and in being totally present regardless of external circumstances, or internal pain, illness, and suffering. We must learn to “be here now” in order to “get there.” It is a paradox. Really, love is the goal and love is also the road, the means of attaining the goal.
The question “Where are you going in life?” has to do with your primary focus in life. Your goal might be to be worth ten million dollars, but there is always a deeper goal. Many people want that much money so they can have peace of mind and freedom.
In my clinical work, which includes work with people suffering from a variety of illnesses as well as people who are peak performers, striving for that winning edge, I have a game plan. I first identify all the focuses in a person's life. Because I am now helping many golfers with their “inner game,” I will use that example. My work with athletes and performers helps me with my work with people with illness. A golfer's primary focus is a little white ball that she desires to send into a little hole hundreds of yards away. So, one focus of attention is the hole. Another focus is the ball. Another focus is the act of swinging the golf club. From time to time, golfers will focus on different technical aspects of the game.
Part of my job is to help golfers identify the focus and eliminate each and every distraction from the focus. But, I also want to know every focus in life. The time spent with pets and people is one focus and it has one primary goal, namely communication. Then there is time spent watching television. That is a relaxed, soft focus. When you're reading a book or this article, reading is your focus. It is a much more relaxed focus than competing with the top golfers in the world, who are trying to get a small ball into a distant hole with the fewest shots.
Spend a minute to identify all of the focuses in your life and notice the intensity involved with each focus. The idea of the game of life, as well as golf, is to keep your eye on the ball, on the focus. W h a t e v e r your main passion or mission in life is becomes your primary focus. Once we have identified all of our focus points, next we turn our attention to all the hours in a day during which there is either no focus or very little focus… like grocery shopping or going for a walk. It is during these periods when the mind picks up speed, the average person churning out an average of 5,000 random thoughts per day, and a quarter of a billion random thoughts by age 75. It is this constant barrage of random thoughts, unrelated to any particular, useful focus, that keeps us stressed out in the middle of our personal tornado. We are tossed about mentally and can't find the center, which makes life in a tornado world quite stressful.
I teach everyone I work with mantra meditation. A mantra is created out of a name of God (your name of God), Higher Power, Universal Consciousness, Divine Intelligence, or Angelic Presence—whatever you want to call him, her, or it. The mantra should be between two and nine syllables. I will not go into much detail, as I have written about mantra meditation extensively in The Light Connection . The practice is simple. As you inhale, you silently say the first half of your mantra, and as you exhale, you silently say the second half. You don't try to change your breath. Rather you just breathe naturally and silently recite your mantra. The ideal practice is five minutes twice a day with your eyes closed, and throughout the day (eyes open) during periods of soft focus. In other words, when you are going for a walk, grocery shopping, waiting at a red light, or walking to the restroom at work, you can further center yourself by reciting your mantra. The mantra becomes your “mental home base.” The more you practice, the stronger the center becomes. Mental home base is that inner place you come back to over and over again, hundreds of times a day. You can make this practice so powerful that you don't even notice the tornado in which you live, all the drama that is the play of our lives.
I have found that many people find it tedious to focus only on their mantra during mental down time. And so I now suggest that people rotate between three centering techniques: 1) mantra meditation 2) watching the breath, and 3) mindfulness.
Watching the Breath
Your breath never leaves you and is your dominant life rhythm. You can center yourself and quiet your mind by watching your breath, observing the rise and fall of the diaphragm, and the movement of air in and out of your mouth and nostrils. This is an important practice because most people raised in the Western world have become disconnected from normal breathing, which is slow and deep. Most of us are shallow breathers, who mainly take air only into our upper lungs. Shallow breathing causes stress, mental and physical fatigue, and is almost always involved in panic attacks. When you begin to pay attention to your breath as a conscious practice, you will want to breathe from your diaphragm, imagining that your lungs are large balloons. These balloons fill from the bottom first, and the top last. You should be able to see your belt or waistline moving when you are breathing from your diaphragm.
While I have been familiar with mindfulness meditation for decades, a trip to Taos and Santa Fe , New Mexico last year opened me up further to this practice. Mindfulness means, “being present and aware of whatever you are doing.” When you are eating, you become aware that you are eating, aware of the taste, texture, and aroma of the food. Most of us slam our food down way too quickly. When you walk mindfully, you become aware of your feet making contact with the ground and aware of any physical sensations within your body, including areas of tension as well as areas that are soft and relaxed.
My New Mexico trip was a journey into Native American spirituality. I have always known that Native Americans have a great regard for Mother Earth, but I didn't really begin to understand the specifics or depth of that regard until my trip. A Native American will not pluck a flower out of the ground. He will bend down, take out his knife, and cut the plant at the base, leaving roots in the ground. By so doing, he has not taken the life of that flower. It can sprout again. The Native American does not take from the earth without giving back. If he needs to pick up a stone for some purpose, he feels obliged to give back to the earth at that spot. Many Native Americans carry pouches containing tobacco and sometimes cornmeal, which they believe to be sacred. When they take a stone from wherever it has been resting, they reach into their pouch, grab some of the tobacco and cornmeal and place in on the ground where the stone had been. In this way, Mother Earth is kept in balance, and nothing has been taken from her. The Native American is mindful of his interactions with the Earth for he feels that he and Mother Earth are one.
Upon returning home, I became aware of how cut off I had become from nature, and I made it a practice to frequently notice my surroundings, including all the visuals—the plants, flowers, ocean, clouds, and sky. I stop to notice if there is wind and what direction it is coming from, and then I thank the wind, addressing it as “Wind of the North, South, East, or West.” Next, I will smell the air. Since beginning this practice, it is amazing how often I smell wonderful flowers, like gardenias. Surely they must have been there for years, but I have not paid attention. When I walk on the beach, especially barefoot, I am mindful of how my feet are making contact with the soft, wet sand, and I express my gratitude to Nature for all these wonders I have ignored for so long. I am becoming more mindful. I do recall that, as a child, I loved playing in the grass, watching bugs and butterflies. I was on the ground (grass and earth) a lot as a child. Most of us were. But as my life focus as medical doctor became more and more locked in, my connection with Nature decreased. Life has many kinds of focuses. Becoming so one-pointed in one's life that you only focus on one thing, does not serve us well.
I met an interesting, gifted psychic in Taos . He said, “You have all kinds of golden, angelic activity around your head, so I know that part of you, your mind, intellect, and spirituality are highly developed…but there is nothing going on around your feet.” This was a new kind of conversation for me. I asked him, “So, you see people with this sparkly activity around their feet?” He replied, “Sure. All the time. But you don't have any. You need to focus on your feet and get back in touch with the earth.” And so I have begun. Perhaps a few people have seen me standing in a parking lot somewhere, just standing still, not moving at all. That's because when I get out of my car, I stop to smell the roses, or the scent of burning wood, or the cool wind of the West. I notice, pay my respects, and then move on . . . mindful of each footstep.
By developing awareness and by practicing mantra meditation, breath meditation, and mindfulness, one can always remain centered and grounded. The more you practice, the easier it gets. The results are that you feel more centered. You feel more connected to Nature and to all living creatures. And you can “go inside” anytime you want to find the center of the tornado that you live in. You begin to notice the relationship of the stillness inside with Nature's beauty outside. The inner stillness can be reached when you quiet the mind. Then you can discover what lies at the heart of all the activity inside and outside you.
The Game of Life
Once you begin centering your life through these three techniques, several things will become apparent to you.
1. You will probably realize that you are in a hurry. We're all in a hurry. We're all going somewhere “important” very quickly, and once we get there, we hurry up so that we can go somewhere else quickly. We can slow down our minds, our speech, the speed of our walking, and how fast we drive our cars.
2. You will become aware of how important the breath is. Most of us are unaware and we don't use our breath for what it is, namely the fastest tool to change our energy level, our stress, and our focus.
3. Over time, your sense of what is important in life will probably change. For example, if you can easily sit for an hour, quietly meditating, you will discover that the goal of going deeper within is quite valuable, and will become a more valued focus in your life.
We live our lives with a few primary focuses, and we struggle with how easily we drift from the focus. However, meditation is not simply “holding to the focus.” Rather, it is the relationship between the focus and the drift. In other words, the drift is also part of meditation. With this attitude, you will quickly come to see that you are never doing it wrong, whatever “it” is. The issue is that it takes shorter or longer periods of time to return to your focus. It doesn't matter.
My work involves helping people identify their primary areas of focus, and identifying all the distractions to that focus. To go back to golf, when you are swinging the club and your focus is a hole 300 yards away, that is your focus. A large part of my work involves helping people identify all the things that are distractions to that focus. Most of the distractions are internal, the constant rambling of thoughts. Or the distractions are our responses to external stimuli. In either case, the cure is learning to quiet the mind and find the center.
Now, let's apply this philosophy to health and wellness. Three months ago I had a corneal transplant, my third in four years. The last two transplants rejected three weeks after surgery. I felt that in order to bring my odds of success to the highest level, I had to clearly identify the focus (successful transplant), and I also had to identify and deal with virtually anything or anyone that was a distraction to healing. I could not allow negative feelings, like fear, take hold. So, I dealt with the fear (various fears and worries) at a deep level, and banished it. I didn't repress it. I worked very hard and threw it away. I knew that bringing lots of love into my life would be very helpful and I made a point of inviting in all that love, quite consciously and openly, and then making sure that I was allowing all the love in. There is no question that love assists healing and fear hinders it. I couldn't play games with this one. Likewise, anyone dealing with illness can identify who and what are obstructions to healing, and then consciously eliminate anything that you know interferes with healing. By the way, my corneal transplants in 2000 and 2002 began to reject three weeks after surgery. I am now three months post-op and doing very well.
To re-iterate, everything is about our attention to a focus…and drifting from that focus. Do not do battle with the “drift.” Acknowledge it, and then return to the focus. If the focus is about healing, then bring your awareness back to healing over and over again. And when you are not consciously focusing on healing, return to your center through mantra meditation, focusing on the breath, or mindfulness…and cycle through these three.
Finding and then strengthening the center is your starting point for your mental game. Every other technique, no matter how important, is secondary to finding the center and quieting the mind.
We began by discussing the cure to suffering and now we return. By discovering your center and quieting your mind, peace and tranquility will begin to take root and fill your life. However, I have not yet touched on deeper truths. The core, the center, of our being IS love, peace, and joy, but these states are difficult for many of us to access, because non-stop mental activity clouds the center.
As we slow down our minds and become more present in each moment, the treasures of love, peace, and joy can begin to break through to the surface. When we “become” love, peace, and joy, suffering ceases to exist. We may still feel pain, but suffering is created when our minds magnify and interpret pain. We don't have to go in search of peace, for it is our true nature. We do need to remove the many layers of the mind that act like dark clouds obstructing the light of the sun. When we remove our inner clouds, the higher or deeper truth of our existence automatically reveals itself to us, and becomes the state of consciousness in which we live all, or most, of the time.
Dennis Gersten, M.D. practices nutritional and mind-body medicine out of his Encinitas office and can be reached at 760-633-3063. Please feel free to sign up for Dr. G's Health Digest newsletter at www.aminoacidpower.com and access 1,000 on-line pages about holistic health.
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I struggle with uncontrolled spending. I feel as if I let all my money flow out—although I have plenty .owing in. The shopping binges seem to be as addictive for me as alcoholic binges are for alcoholics. Often I give away or throw away the things I buy. Other than compulsive, addictive shopping, I'm a health-conscious, happy person. I eat semi-vegetarian, organic foods, study Ernest Holmes's writings, a Course in Miracles, and other metaphysical literature and also do yoga. I exercise by running and walking. Is there an affirmation that can help me?
K.K., Los Angeles
My feeling is that you're emulating a family spending pattern. Did either of your parents have a problem handling money? With all the good things you do for yourself, I still sense a feeling of not-deserving or a need to punish a parent through this behavior. Why do you have to make yourself feel bad? This is an old pattern to let go of now. Work with the following affirmation for a month. Just love yourself, no matter what you may or may not do. We all deserve to be at peace.
Affirm: I DESERVE TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT MYSELF AT ALL TIMES AND IN ALL WAYS.
Do you have any secrets for healing bunions? I've suffered from them for years and don't know what to do.
Physically, bunions are toxins that settle in the feet. A good nutritional cleansing program can help your feet feel more comfortable. Metaphysically, bunions represent a fear of the future. Remember, feet represent understanding and trust in Life. So with bunions, there's fear of moving forward, and insecurity about being where you are. Also, there's the feeling that too many demands are being made on you.
It's time to stand on your own two feet mentally. What is it you want to do or be? Learn to become more selfish and to think of yourself more. You've done more than enough for others. Your feet are telling you that it's your time now. So love your feet! Massage them daily with love. Move forward in life, loving who you are, enjoying yourself, and thinking thoughts that make you feel good.
Affirm: I LOVE MY LIFE. I DO WHAT MAKES ME HAPPY, AND I MOVE FORWARD IN JOY.
You've never mentioned anything about your views on the subject of a married woman having a sexual relationship (four years now) with a divorced man. What is your view on extramarital affairs?
S.K., Asheville , NC
Other people's extramarital affairs are none of my business. We're all under the law of our own consciousness. When we settle for less, we get less. The majority of the time in these cases, the relationship doesn't progress very far. Promises may be made but are seldom fulfilled. The questions to ask yourself are: “Is this what I really deserve?” “Is this what I really want, and why?” “Do I enjoy living a secret life?”
No one can tell you what to do or make a decision for you, because they're not you. They don't think in your mind. Only you can give yourself pain or happiness. I would affirm: I AM LIVING A BEAUTIFUL AND FULFILLING LIFE. I AM HAPPY AND AT PEACE. Then see how the Universe fulfills these affirmations for you.
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