From the yearly archives: "2020"

MindfulnessIn a previous article, I touched on the very basics of mindfulness. I said mindfulness was a state of mind, one in which we are aware of the self and unfolding experience in a moment-by-moment attentiveness; I called it a state of conscious consciousness. When going about our regular day, most of us operate on a predominantly auto-pilot mechanism. Most of our actions are habitual. We can execute them without much thought, even the complex activities like driving or working at our jobs, and indeed, many people do just fine under this system.

When we need our more attentive mind, we can do that, too, without much ado for relatively short periods. Holding the focus, however, is not that simple. Holding the focus requires brain power, skill, and training; each one accomplishable by most people. Brain power relates to health not IQ, skill to development, and training to hours of practice; but all are reachable for the average person. It takes enormous focus to perform as elite athletes, concert musicians, surgeons of any sort, and deep thinkers. Every one of us can improve at what we do professionally and personally, in most areas of life, by honing our focus – our conscious consciousness.

So it takes practice to develop the skill of mindfulness. And in so doing it is important to practice effectively. Yes there are techniques. More important, however, is that the practitioner understands to what he or she is attending; in other words, what is the goal in mind. For sure, it is to focus and hold the attention for as long as possible. And if the focus is lost, then the objective is to return to the focus and hold, and refocus and hold, and so on.

MindfulWith this basic intent and action, the practitioner will also need to consider some fundamental elements of our mind which are ingrained and habitual, yet completely contrary to maintaining focus. These mind habits will pull your attention away and take you down paths which are easy to get lost on. By simply having awareness of these habitual behaviors of the mind, you can keep yourself off these temporal paths of past memory and future imagination. I do not mean to knock either memory or imagination, as both serve their purpose, but as I have said, both oppose our intent to maintain focus. Discussing these elements is another of way explaining mindfulness by laying out exactly what it is not.

The first thing mindfulness is not is control. It has nothing to do with controlling the mind. While we aspire to sharpen our focus, we do not accomplish it by controlling our thoughts. Part of awareness is being conscious of your incoming and outgoing thoughts. Once you observe them for long enough you come to realize that you have no control over them anyway. Where do they come from? Why are they persistently of particular types? These answers will become clearer as you practice. Mindfulness is allowing these thoughts to come as they come, and go as they go. It is never about stopping any particular thoughts like, “I shouldn’t be thinking that.” Instead, being aware of the nature of your thoughts will teach you a great deal about your highest values. Your seemingly random stream of consciousness is directly related to your value system. I say to my students, “You will come to know your values intimately when you practice mindfulness.”

The next thing mindfulness is not is judgment. Judgment is a natural mind activity. We judge by default almost constantly: Good, bad, right, wrong, up, down, hot, cold, safe or sorry – all of these are judgments we are making constantly. We need judgment to survive; we have to select between choices constantly. As a hardwired function of the human mind, we judge things, idea and experiences with little to know thought. In fact, this system is so strong that we often allow it to make decisions for us, even in spite of evidence showing errors in our judgment. That being said, mindfulness is neither about judging our thoughts nor stopping judgment. It is the observance of our judgments without becoming attached to them. Our mind creates stories that we can easily get carried away by. Mindfulness is allowing these stories to take shape, making note of them, and allowing them to fade as abruptly as they come. It is not allowing one story to lead to the next while falling unconsciously into its stream. A seasoned mindfulness practitioner will recognize this is the standard state of the mind – the unconscious consciousness of auto pilot.

MindFinally, mindfulness is not assessing oneself, one’s life, or anybody else’s and it is definitely not comparing oneself to others. Mindfulness is being aware of present moment – as it is. It is not desiring something different, just as it is not an elation over the way things are. At its most basic: it is an acceptance of things exactly the way they are. But more precisely, it is an underlying appreciation of things as they currently are. The human mind has the tendency to seek the next desire, goal, accomplishment and/or novelty. While this may have distinct advantages – like the advancement of civilization, for instance – it can lead to an incessantly chattering mind. One reason our mind jumps from story to story is precisely because of this function. Our seeking minds find problems to solve and obstacles to be overcome; it does so naturally and automatically.

Mindfulness, however, is not wanting the world to be different; it is not wanting your life to be different. Mindfulness is loving and appreciating your life in present time. More accurately, it is observing the present moment in depth, with sharp focus, and no judgment; it is carried out with an underlying appreciation of self and circumstance. When you can passively observe the details of your life, remain poised, and not become emotionally swayed, you will be practicing mindfulness properly.

With all that being said, it is important to remember that these skills are sharpened over time and effort. You have to practice mindfulness to master it. Once you get the hang of it, you will begin to experience a depth to your awareness. You will enjoy your activities and interactions more. You will have greater insights and certainty, and you will open portal of your mind that will enhance creativity and productivity. Anything worth doing comes with difficulties, and practicing mindfulness is no exception. I can say with no uncertainty that you will find the rewards of mindfulness practice well worth the investment.

MindfulnessI’ve been teaching mindfulness and meditation courses for the last six years. The big question beginners usually have is what they will achieve from taking on the practice. This question can come in many forms, sometimes with statements like: “Will mindfulness increase my energy?”, “Does mindfulness really work?”, and “What will I get out of mindfulness?”

Many benefits come as a result of taking on mindfulness or meditation practice, from the physical to the mental to the spiritual, but most importantly it allows one to come to know oneself more deeply. This may not sound so enticing to the person looking for some real magic to come from their efforts, but I assure you that the depth of your being is far more exciting and magical than you can understand at this point. The most I can get across without your experiencing it yourself is that you will develop and learn more than you might imagine at this point – you do not even have the reference point yet to understand, but you will in time, along with a number of progressively developing powers.

The primary power you will attain is best illustrated with a story. Almost everybody is familiar with the image I’ve posted. It is a Pulitzer Prize winning photo of Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức, who burned himself to death on June 11, 1963 in protest of the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. Buddhists were banned from flying their flag in Huế city on their holy day of Vesak, the birthday of Gautama Buddha. In dissent of these orders, Buddhists gathered with their flags to protest the edict and were fired upon by government forces. Nine protesters were killed that day by gunfire.

As a result, U.S. journalists were contacted and told of an important event that would take place the following day outside the Cambodian embassy in Saigon. Reporters who were there saw a procession of 350 monks and nuns carrying banners denouncing the South Vietnamese government and its policies toward Buddhists. A sedan carrying Quảng Đức rolled ahead of the procession. When it reached its destination in front of the embassy, three monks, including Quảng Đức exited the car. Quảng Đức calmly sat down on a cushion in the traditional lotus position, closed his eyes and began meditating. Another monk, removing a five gallon gas canister, came over to the meditating monk and emptied the entire contents of the canister over Quảng Đức’s head. Quảng Đức rotated a string of wooden beads while repeating a Buddhist mantra; he then struck a match and dropped it on himself. The flames engulfed him quickly and furiously. Quảng Đức remained poised throughout. He was a master of mindfulness – he never broke his concentration.

David Halberstam of The New York Times, who was one of the reporters present that day, described it like this:

“Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think … As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.”

I once told this story in one of my classes, and the attendee, a doctor, asked, “Why are you showing us this picture?” It is simple; I want you to understand what is capable by the human mind. You see, humans have only two instincts: reproduction and survival. Like all living things, humans are driven to spread their genes and persist as life forms. And like all other life forms, humans have an instinctual drive to survive. If you are attacked, chances are you will do whatever necessary to survive – you will run, hide, fight, scratch, bite, climb, swim, and anything else that might keep you alive. You might even eat human flesh if there is nothing else available. That is what happened to Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, later known as Andes flight disaster, a chartered flight of 45 people, passengers and crew, which crashed over the Andes Mountains in 1972. The surviving 16 spent 72 days lost in the mountains before they were rescued, and ultimately had to resort to cannibalism, albeit reluctantly. They did what was necessary for survival. Their ordeal was made into a movie called Alive.

MindfulAnother film, called 127, staring John Franco, is the story of avid mountain climber Aron Ralston. Ralston goes climbing in Utah but fails to tell anybody where he was going. He has an accident and gets his hand caught between a rock and a hard place. After several attempts to free himself over days, he ultimately has to amputate his own arm. As grueling as this sounds, it is a true story, Aron Ralston did what he needed to survive. Most people would do whatever they could. It is human instinct.

And this is precisely what I want to get across with the story of Quảng Đức. What would most people do if they were on fire? Naturally, one’s instinct kicks in and they will attempt to extinguish the flames: rolling on the ground, patting themselves, and screaming at the very least. But not Quảng Đức – he sat there in quiet meditation, never moving a muscle. How did he do it? Was he some superman? Did he have special powers? The answer is no. Quảng Đức was a human being no different than you or me. He had one element, however, that he had mastered: his ability to focus his mind beyond all physical and mental distraction. It was this power that kept Quảng Đức in a peaceful composure throughout, completely overriding his human instinct for survival.

Now if this isn’t awe inspiring, I don’t know what is. Does that mean one will be inspired to emulate Quảng Đức? No but think of the potentiality of the intense focus and to what ends it may be used – it is exhilarating! If one can transcend even one’s own instinct for survival through mindfulness, what cannot be endured; what cannot be accomplished? Thích Quảng Đức has become the empyrean of mindfulness practice, the highest potentiality we can wish to attain in our own practice; to approximate, if not to become.

Mindfulness brings many benefits to the practitioner. A powerful, laser focus is the foundation for so much more. Think of the physical (sports, games, sex), intellectual, and spiritual accomplishments you can muster with such potent focus. Think of the circles in which you can play with strength of focus. Truly the world will become your playground when mastering the power of mindfulness. Your time and energy is a small price for such an enormous attribute. Start working today and increase your mindfulness potentiality to Thích Quảng Đức power. You too might affect the world long after your flame has flickered out.

mindfulnessMindfulness has become a fashionable term over the last few years, for good reason: as an ancient practice cultivated to allow practitioners to come to know themselves, mindfulness has been shown scientifically to reduce mental and physical effects of stress. Stress can be both beneficial and detrimental, depending on how one perceives it, but since most people tend to experience stress negatively, it can lead to a number of physical conditions which ultimately break down the body. In fact, stress related disorders are estimated to be responsible for 75-90 percent of all doctor’s visits, causing such problems as headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, problems sleeping, and even sexual problems. Having a tool, then, to minimize stress and its effects on the mind and body is invaluable.

Mindfulness is the deliberate attention to Self – a moment by moment awareness of what is going on around and within oneself. It is attentively observing experience as it unfolds without evaluating or judging it and also accepting what is and what isn’t, in the moment, in present time. Mindfulness is the practice of being in the here and now in full attention. I like to call it conscious consciousness – one is consciously aware of one’s consciousness when in mindfulness. Easier said than done for the uninitiated, but reaching this state is definitely cultivatable.

To understand mindfulness one really needs to understand mindlessness. Mindlessness is not a derogatory term as it is used here – it does not mean stupid, ignorant, or thoughtless. What it refers to is the state of being on auto-pilot. The human brain has evolved for a certain amount of efficiency. Like other autonomic processes, we do not have to think about our moment to moment brain activity. To understand this, it is best to first make note of processes in our body that need no conscious awareness: breathing, digestion, nutrient assimilation, waste production and elimination, cellular respiration, and the list goes on and on. Like these processes, many brain functions require no active input on our part. In fact, our brain produces thousands of thoughts per day. It is difficult to know how many, but one really comes to understand the constancy of our thought stream when trying to quiet the mind in meditation. Thoughts are like molecules produced continuously in a cell – they happen whether we want them to or not.

complexityMore importantly, they happen without our taking notice. We do not have to think about our every action. We do not have to initiate every move, only the decision, and sometimes not even that. By freeing our mind of these routine actions, we are able to concentrate more on complex actions and behaviors, we are able to think about abstract ideas, and we are able to self-reflect (as far as we know, the only species that does this). Complex thinking has led to the creation of musical masterpieces, mathematical theories, and technological innovations. It has inspired timeless art, revolutionary science and allowed us to ask and ponder the great philosophical questions of life, those that give our lives meaning. Without an automation of our primary thought system, it is questionable whether we’d have ever accomplished anything more than our most basic survival. Automation of thought is the first and foremost system used by the brain on a regular basis. More than ninety percent of our day is made up of habitual actions. According to Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winning psychologist and economist, ninety-eight percent of our mental processes are of the automatic, effortless, and unconscious kind, even though we tend to believe we are making rational decisions throughout the day. Most people are thus walking through life effortlessly unaware, allowing their automatic thoughts to flow in and out of consciousness, and create a stream of time which ultimately frames their experiences. I like to call this unconscious consciousness – consciously awake, just not aware.

This influx of automatic thoughts is barely noticed, except from time to time when a thought so pleasurable or disturbing enters the awareness causing desire or fear, and even many of these come and go with little notice. For the average person, unrestrained thought-flow, or what some call mind-chatter, can lead to anxiety, depression, mental overload, fatigue and even more severe mental illness. Unrestrained thought-flow can thus become a source of stress. Add to that all the other things we must act on in any given day, and it is no surprise that the bulk of doctor’s visits are for stress related conditions.

focusWhile many people turn to drugs and alcohol in a futile attempt to quiet the mind-chatter, these mind-alterers actually make matters worse over time. The only way to diminish mind-chatter is to pull the mind into attention. That’s why sports and exercise have been popular since antiquity. By focusing on a physical activity, the mind is forced into what Kahneman calls system 2 thinking, or one which is done with our conscious mind – conscious consciousness – effortful, intentional, and controlled. Making art and music are also amazing mind-chatter reducers. So is doing math, or thinking about anything in detail, like when you strategize or follow a protocol. Anything which forces the mind to focus reduces mind chatter (one reason smart phones have become addictive). However, even these activities, when done repeatedly can become automatic. Without a doubt, people strive to make automatic as many of their activities as possible. We call this mastery. And mastery makes what was once effortful a habituation. As a result, once we master an activity, it does have the potentiality to become an automatic process.

For all these reasons, practicing mindfulness regularly through meditation is an ideal activity. Working the mind into focused attention, about nothing in particular, is like lifting weights for the body. It is a mental exercise that enhances all other activities by the sheer strength of sharpening the awareness. This, over time, allows the mind to focus its attention during routine day-to-day activities, in other words, to attain and maintain conscious consciousness. The more we achieve states of mindfulness, the better we are minimizing stress: mind-chatter reduces, awareness improves, creativity is enhanced, and communication and personal connection deepen as a result of a meditation practice. Not only does this have positive consequences for our mental health but for our physical health as well. Health challenges caused by stress – like pain, addictions, chronic infections, and sexual dysfunctions – can be reduced and even remedied by taking up a regular meditation practice. Something as simple as a daily commitment to intentional awareness has the power to improve health and create wellness.

Mindfulness is a state of mind not easily accessed without some intentional effort. Working earnestly at focusing one’s awareness trains the mind to enter a state of conscious consciousness more regularly and with less effort. Once it is ingrained into the habituation system, all activities are illuminated by increased awareness. While it, too, will become a more automated process, it will paradoxically lead to spontaneity, as we become more conscious of every moment, bringing new meaning to our experiences. Ultimately, awareness assures our growth and development, which leads to richer experiences, in a cycle of expansion and change, keeping things novel and interesting. You can continue to walk through life on unconscious auto-pilot or put in the effort to become more aware, and thus more appreciative and attentive to the details that make your life rich.

atomThere are two primary ways to look at the world: the first is through the lens of materialism. Materialists believe that the universe is purely physical; a tangible reality that can be observed only through the physical senses or tools which are interpreted by the human intellect. A materialist would say that we can observe physical phenomena, measure them, create equations and models to represent these phenomena, and make predictions based on those equations and models. A materialist would argue that we can come to understand the entire universe, over time, by understanding the physical processes underlying it, in the same way we might understand the workings of a machine. If there is something we currently do not understand, it is simply because we do not yet understand the physics behind it. Many current theories fall under this category: The standard model of particle physics, dark energy, quantum gravity, and even consciousness itself.

Materialists are generally secularists in that they do not contemplate or even consider spiritual matters. To the materialist, the universe is made up of physical matter (particles and waves), which is the only substance we can actually measure, and thus it is the sole substance of reality. As such, physical substance is the only thing worth discussing or contemplating – all else is folly. Materialism could be summed up with the line, “Brownian motion, chance collisions and probability are what make up the nature of reality.”

Ancient GreeksMaterialism is the predominating world-view among governments, military, science, medicine, academics and media in the western world today. We see it in every aspect of life – relying on physical evidence by which to base decisions and protocol. It is neither right nor wrong: simply the way agencies set policy, conduct operations, set standards, and provide education. It has not always been this way; throughout history humans have oscillated between approaching the world from a materialist perspective (Ancient Greeks and Romans) to approaching it from a spiritualist one (Middle Ages Europe), and some have even attempted to balance the two (Enlightenment). Today, however, the major institutions of the western world are materialist in viewpoint.

Spiritualists, on the other hand, believe that a supernatural force exists which is beyond physical. While most spiritualists would agree that we are, on some level, experiencing a physical universe, there is something more, a metaphysical reality that goes beyond material substance. The substance in which a spiritualist believes may vary, as some may believe in a dual realm of material and spirit, while others believe there is a third, or primary, substance from which all other substances emerge.  Some even believe that the physical realm exists only in one’s mind; that the true nature of reality is in this primary substance. Some examples of spiritualist philosophies include Advaita Vedanta, Daoism, and monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

lightSpiritualists believe that we can transcend the body-mind of the physical world and tap into that something else which exists. This can achieved through meditation and other esoteric practices, rituals and trances, and mind-altering medicinals. Whichever method is used to achieve transcendence, the goal is always to attune to the greater reality. Spiritualists believe that means of gaining knowledge are not limited to physical, or scientific, observation, but also to reason (Enlightenment) and revelation (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). In fact, many other methods are believed to be sources of knowledge, but most importantly, spiritualists do not place a boundary around the physical world and its phenomena.

Spiritualists do not have to subscribe to a particular religion, as some people are spiritual, yet maintain no religious practice. While the modern western world views the world primarily through materialism, most people walking the planet are spiritualists (84% according to the Pew Research Center).  The line which can sum up spiritualism is, “Personality – the subjective perception – is the solid foundation and unifying principle of our existence.”

Neither materialism nor spiritualism is right or wrong – in fact, it does not appear to be a provable matter. They are simply foundations by which one views the world. Many people never even think about their foundation of reality in detail. They simply accept their beliefs without question, sometimes not even knowing how they came upon those beliefs. But for people who have a solid understanding of their philosophical views with regard to the nature of reality, it is easier to understand the decisions they make in life. Other age-old philosophical questions, such as free will are easier to contemplate when one determines how one leans with regard to the substance of the universe. Is the world purely physical, with particles and waves simply bound by physical laws? Or is there something else, regardless of what one calls it, a metaphysical force, which underlies all reality, and which can be tapped into for knowledge, guidance, presence and hope? Think about these questions to learn more about yourself and add a deeper level of meaning to your reflections. Either way, to come to know yourself is the greatest endeavor regardless of how you view the nature of reality. But by solidifying your views, you will come to know yourself more profoundly: what makes you tick, why you make certain decisions, and even where you might be going. Most importantly, your views will underlie the meaning by which you will ultimately evaluate your life: an endeavor worth every bit of energy.

America BurningAs we emerge from the fires of last week’s riots here in the U.S., Europe finds itself in the throes of unrest. With three months of moderately-strict lockdown due to Covid-19, many had reached the limits of their self-containment. George Floyd’s death was the spark that ignited an inferno which would consume American cities all across the country. Like a wildfire it spread, making its way across the Atlantic to Northwestern Europe. And in the ashes of its destruction, good people have been devastated – emotionally, financially, and legally. Some have lost their lives, leaving behind grieving loved ones, and forcing every citizen to reflect on the full implications of their beliefs, their expectations, and their future.

Not one person has been left unaffected by the combined Covid-19 pandemic and weeks of civil unrest. Businesses remained closed, despite quarantine restrictions being lifted in the strictest U.S. states. And 36 million Americans have been left jobless as a result of Covid-19. Analysts have been uncertain as to how the country will recover following the coronavirus lock downs, but many believe that unless something is done to help homeowners and renters, defaults will be abundant as people scramble to put their lives back in order.

I have no uncertainty that we have stepped into a new world in 2020. What that world will shape into is anybody’s guess, but to think it will ever return to life as we’ve known it would be foolish. Of course, some elements will remain the same – technology will reign supreme, social media will be the place to gather news, information, and entertainment, and political polarization will lead to even greater divides between people. But what, if anything, might we look forward to: what ups-and-downs can we expect along the path of reconstruction? The most honest answer is it will depend on our focus.

TechObviously, different people want different things. Every person can have a version of the future they envision to some degree. I will explain this idea more fully in a bit. But right now exists opportunity to shape your world in the way you want it. Yes you can shape society too, but do not fall victim to the belief that you can do it against the will of others. To create lasting social change, the hearts and mind of the people must be won over. Let me encourage you to think of any lasting social change, and investigate how it was accomplished. Yes violence has happened in moments of societal change, but the violence itself was not the catalyst to the lasting change, it was the inspired movement of hearts and minds which led to the transformation. Gandhi won the hearts and minds of the people. Martin Luther King, Jr. won the hearts and minds of people. Even the American Revolutionaries won the hearts and minds of the people. Without aligning these energy centers to your vision, you will be unlikely to cause lasting change. One need only consider the long chain of military occupiers in Vietnam and the drawn out fighting there to understand what I mean about failing to win hearts and minds. If your vision is big, however, and it includes the most people, you will have a greater probability of creating lasting change. I cannot stress this factor enough: hearts and minds.

MLK Hearts and MindsWhen forging a path in this new world, it would be wise to focus on your highest values. Those things that act as drivers for your decisions – things you are inspired by daily – are what you should focus on and centralize in your vision. For some people it is family, for others it is service, and for even others it is the beauty of the world (artists, poets, musicians, mathematicians, etc.). There is certainly no right or wrong in this regard, other than the importance you give it to your mission. Simply put: A mission is a plan with a purpose. The purpose is the why you do what you do, while the mission is the vision.

A powerful vision is one that has a strong purpose behind it, allows the most people fulfillment of their values, and has a coherent, specific plan to make it happen. If one’s purpose is linked strongly to one’s values, one will be more likely to see it through. Many people inject other’s values into their endeavors, but they do not have the drive to ultimately carry things out. We are driven by our true values, and no matter how good another’s values sound, if you do not truly share them, you will peter out and lose drive. A vision which allows for the greatest numbers of people to fulfill their own values will be the most powerful and longest lasting. Civil rights is one of those visions: by ensuring that all people have a right to pursue and fulfill their values, in health, wealth and freedom, failure becomes impossible. Obstacles will arise, as in any endeavor, but ultimately, people will be inspired and driven to support freedom and justice for all. Finally, a vision is only as good as its implementation. You can envision all day long, but if you do nothing to make it happen, it will remain a daydream.  Constructing a specific plan which can be communicated coherently, so that others may become inspired by your vision, is the surest way to accomplishing your goals. You will forge your way in the new world most successfully by following the principles above. Purpose, vision, and fulfillment for the most people are the ingredients for a lasting legacy.

BalanceFinally, and most importantly, is to strive for balance – in your personal endeavors, as well as for the collective or greater good. Understand that regardless of your vision, you will face obstacles in that endeavor. Obstacles are not vision-killers; they are feedback mechanisms that are in place to guide you. Your vision will be shaped and refined by the obstacles you face…and overcome. To do so you may need to alter your plan a bit. You may need to learn more, or you may need to change beliefs or perspectives. I love to read biographies on the greats of humanity to get a sense of their obstacles, their solutions, and their evolution. You will have yours in your unique way. When attempting to elicit change that is resisted by others, try to find a middle ground. Believe it or not, it is possible to exist in coinciding realities with others – that is, many people can live in worlds of their making together, even when it seems that their worlds are diametrically opposed. Find the common ground. How do you get what you love while others get what they love? That may be the very challenge for you to figure out, but what a powerful vision that is. “All you need is love” is not some hokey song lyric, but a profound truth of all human beings: How do I get what I love while you get what you love…? Living in the extreme polarities of any human issue is volatile – it brings the most stress, the least cooperation, and the baddest blood to the table. Finding the center point and striving for a win-win is the greatest achievement one can have, with the highest possibility of longevity. Game theory, a mathematical study, shows unequivocally that people do better when working together.

The chaos of 2020 has been disruptive for most people to say the least. For many it appears, for now, devastating. But in chaos there is always a hidden order, one that allows for a reconfiguration of your life at the micro-level, but the entire world in the macro. There appears to be great opportunity at this time for enormous change, so take the time and invest the energy to create the world that you want to live in. It will not come easy – so do not take this as the walk-away message. Whatever you would love to see and experience in this new world will take great effort, but it will be worth it. If you can observe the principles I have outlined here, you stand the greatest chance of lasting success. People will follow your inspired message if they can see what is in it for them. What this means for most people is how it will allow them to fulfill their own mission, according to their life’s purpose, which, of course, is intertwined with their highest values. People are only fulfilled – that is, filled-up full – when they are allowed to pursue their dreams, in their way, at their pace. If your vision for the new world allows others to do this, it will be embraced by all.

Prepare Your Spirit House (Copy)Religion and spirituality are two very different things. One is an organized set of rules by which to live cohesively with one’s fellow humans, while the other is a faith-based belief in a metaphysical reality which transcends the physical universe; and we can tap into this reality to come to know, understand and influence our roles within the matrix. Religion and spirituality are interdependent to a degree, but every individual can believe in – and thus operate within – one, the other, both, or neither. Depending on your viewpoint, your approach to life, particularly with regard to the unknown, is greatly influenced by your metaphysical beliefs.

I know people who believe our current quarantine (more accurately lockdown) is simply a dress rehearsal for what’s to come. This notion has a very distinct possibility. Apparent to many is that politics has been playing a major role in the lockdown: it can no longer be solely about a virus at this point when the numbers fail to support a continued lockdown. So I agree with the possibility of this being a precursor to a more disrupting event. I will not make any predictions here, but it will allow me the opportunity to discuss how to keep your mind and heart on the right track to navigate whatever unexpected happenings may ultimately come your way. One thing I am certain everyone can agree on is that we are in a very different world today than we were a few short months ago. And making sense of this new abnormal will require some thought and an ability to put things into proper perspective. A friend of mine has said that, along with getting your physical house in order (in the event of another long lockdown), wisdom would be in getting your Spiritual House in order as well.

Natural OrderFirst let me discuss things from an atheist’s perspective. Atheists believe that no metaphysical “power,” like God, exists. An atheist may or may not be a dualist – that is, have a belief in another realm, mind for instance, or spirit. An atheist may or may not be a physicalist either: one who believes solely in the physical universe. To the physicalist, mind or consciousness is merely an illusionary consequence of physical activity. While the atheist does not require faith in a metaphysical power, one may still have faith in the natural order of things, and by extension, a natural dynamism: as living beings, we create unseen forces which move world-wide events in space and time. This dynamic alone may be enough for the atheist to connect to what I am proposing.

Getting one’s Spiritual House in order might be for an atheist semantically unnecessary, as it may be enough for an atheist to simply keep a calm, cool head. What better than to direct one’s rational action with a clear mind? I would most definitively agree with this approach to facing the unknown; to me it is a valid strategy to simply balance the mind. But to do so successfully, one must be aware of all the looming potentialities. Create a game plan as to how you might approach each possible outcome (either good or bad). It will be imperative to first neutralize any emotionality you have surrounding each potential outcome. For example, if another lockdown could occur, it would be wise to list the ways in which this current lockdown has benefited you and others, but also how it has been detrimental. This will allow you to see how we adapt to every situation. What was life like before the lockdown? How has it changed since? List the ways in which things were previously detrimental to you. Do the same for how it served you. Make sure your lists are equal in number: keep things balanced, even if you have to dig into the depths of your mind for some time. Don’t give up. Do it for every potential pitfall you can think of: martial law, riots, or an even worse illness. This will help you face anything that might arise in the future.

ReligionReligion is the practice of living by an organized set of rules which will allow you to live cohesively with one another. Religion is a way of existing, a way of living. What we call morals typically derives from religion, as a set of principles by which to act, think, and believe. Many religious people are spiritual; however, spirituality is not absolute. Some people are raised within a religion, and may practice certain customs and rituals, but some may do so merely by rote or habit. Some historians have suggested that religion was a great way to control the masses, but things may not be as sinister as they sound. Religion is the foundation of many people’s morals, and it is by morals that people keep themselves in control. Some have suggested that society’s shift away from religion is the primary cause of what appears like increased chaos, although this point is debatable. I would argue, though, that religion is what has gotten many generations through their toughest times. Having a moral foundation, particularly when it is aligned with spirituality, can be enormously powerful for staying centered during crises, and keeping the faith to carry on. For the religious person, praying for awareness, guidance, and adaptability would be a worthwhile endeavor. And giving praise for what you have will bring your heart into alignment with the perfection of God.

Spirituality, as I have said, is a belief in something more than the mere physical. It is faith that a greater power exists, one to which the mind and heart can open, and thus bring awareness, guidance, and adaptation which every human craves. Spiritualists understand that everything exists in perfect, divine order; and as an integral part of this order, the individuated spirit-soul is also part of the future. We have a role to play in the dynamics of the matrix, so to trust in the universal order will bring the greatest sense of inner peace.

Spiritual HouseGetting one’s Spiritual House in order, then, is to connect to these greater truths and deeper realities. It does not matter your personal philosophy: when you balance your mind, neutralize your emotions, pray and give praise, and have faith in a divine order, then there is nothing you cannot conquer. Every crisis is surmountable when taking the wise actions I’ve laid out here. Some have even reported feeling divinely guided as they passed through their toughest times. To get your Spiritual House in order is to connect or reconnect with truth – you are a part of the grand divine organization. Whether that be God, nature, or some other force, it can only help you to align with it, even if just in thought. I promise that by getting your Spiritual House in order, you will be prepared for whatever awaits you, both pleasant and unpleasant, in the future unknown.

In this time of rapid and uncertain change, some things remain constant, like the ways to keep your body healthy and strong. A simple question would be: who stands the greater chance of withstanding the symptoms of a viral infection, one who maintains the health of one’s environment, or one who does not? Unfortunately, too many people fail to ask that basic, valuable question and instead argue over treatment options. Treatments are important, for sure, but whatever any particular treatment might be, the person who cares for his or her environment will handle the treatment better than if he or she does not. This is not a deep philosophical statement – it is simple logic. It does not depend on the virulence of the pathogen, either – in every way, people who care for their environment will have a greater probability of handling illness.

Staying Strong in the Era of Covid-19Athletes take many physical hits and stresses. They absolutely must condition themselves to withstand these stresses. So too warriors and soldiers of yesterday and today: only the conditioned can take the battering which results from their call of duty. Would you choose a conditioned horse for which to win a race, or would you place your bets on an older, deconditioned horse? There are almost always exceptions to the rules, but all in all, a properly conditioned person tends to fare better than a deconditioned one.

What can you do to strengthen your body? I have written a book on maintaining optimal health, so I could probably ramble on for pages. But let me keep things relevant to our current climate surrounding the coronavirus and its associated illness, Covid-19. Since it is mostly a lung cell attacking virus, keep your lungs as clean and conditioned as possible. I will not bore you with a quit smoking or quit vaping sermon, but I am certain that everybody understands that each habit increases risk. By no means would I share smoking paraphernalia at this time – bongs and hookahs might just be things of the past – smoking in the era of Covid-19 should be a solitary act. Personally, I would not hinder my resistance with any recreational drug whatsoever, but if you must, then stay moderate. Partying hard can, and often does, inhibit the immune system. If you are going to party, then just make sure you get plenty of sleep. Definitely do not go hard two days in a row.

Don’t run with masks onYou should maintain your cardiovascular conditioning. If you can run without pain, do so. Running outside on pavement is probably better than on a treadmill. Either way, get to a point of heavy breathing and sweating every time you challenge your cardiovascular system. Do not run with a mask on. Get fresh air: oxygen is paramount to cardiovascular health. Can’t run? Skip rope. Shadow box. Dance. Do whatever it takes to get your heart rate up and into a sweat. Strong lungs may not be immune to infection, but the greater the surface area of the lungs to absorb oxygen, the better for you if, in fact, you fall ill.

As always, eating whole, natural foods will keep you vibrant and well-functioning. Take this time of quarantine to cook most of your meals at home. Keep the dining out to a minimum. Try bringing down your caloric intake, if you are overweight, and exercise daily. I realize these are not always the easiest things to implement, but in my opinion they are the necessary things to do. As always, results will come down to your desire and commitment. However, keep in mind that one of the highest risk factors with regard to Covid-19 is obesity. This is not surprising information. I have made similar warnings throughout the years: Obesity exponentially increases the risk of falling ill. The reasons are many, and not necessary to delve into here, just suffice it to say that you almost always have a better chance of wellness by keeping fit and trim. Take the first step, the rest will follow.

Quiet your mind and talk to Self Keeping the mind balanced is probably the greatest key to staying strong in the era of Covid-19. The first, and most important, action you can take is to write down all the knowns and unknowns with regard to this virus. Do the research, look at the numbers. I think this activity is worthwhile, so much that I did exactly that last month with a group of students and clients (ask me how); it was enormous in reducing any anxiety we were feeling and putting things into perspective. The purpose of the exercise is to reduce fear, which can be a killer with regard to healing or worsening symptoms. Chronic fear rarely leads to better healing, so try neutralizing your fears around the virus. I can start you off with one major known: The virus is mostly mild, meaning the vast majority of people recover quickly. Some people do not even know they have it. “Vast majority” is well over 90%. Please put that number into your awareness. Seriously, research the virus, the illness, and the numbers. I am certain that one simple exercise will liberate you.

Finally, take the time to go within yourself: meditate. Quiet your mind and talk to Self – that part of you which is beyond words, thoughts, and ideas. Do this daily. Great inner strength comes from this practice. Add plenty of quality sleep and you will find your peace of mind is enhanced dramatically.

These tips are the absolute best things you can do for yourself in the era of Covid-19: Exercise, eat well, minimize smoking, sleep plenty, and balance your mind. These are the same health-enhancing behaviors I would recommend even outside a world-stopping pandemic. As I have said: some things may change rapidly, but the behaviors that strengthen the body remain constant. The numbers show that, for the most part (>90%), you will be fine. But take the time to increase your chances in that regard. Do the right things for your body and mind, and you might find this lockdown a great blessing.

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