Currently viewing the tag: "Mindfulness"

Palm Desert MeditationIn the last post, I discussed the neurological basis of quieting the mind, along with some physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of taking on a regular practice. In this post, I would like to continue the conversation by discussing a few of the more common obstacles to quieting the mind, as well as some tips on overcoming them. And finally, I will share a simple exercise that you can use to kickstart your mind-quieting endeavors.

Common Obstacles to Quieting the Mind

Anybody who has ever tried to quiet the mind through mindfulness or meditation has invariably had the experience of becoming distracted. This is because, in its efficiency, the neurological mind has many automatic processes leading to an influx of sensations, thoughts, and emotions. It allows us to operate as complex beings without tying up our focused attention by moment-to-moment neural activity. Only through trying to quiet the mind does the practitioner become aware of how little control he or she has over the myriad of inputs flowing into consciousness. Despite the utility of this automatic mental activity, the flood of mental chatter that results can severely challenge a mind that is trying to obtain silence.

The mind wants to be in control – the more automatic its processes, the more it can focus on higher-minded activities, like socializing, theorizing, or creating. When the conscious mind (that which you are in control of) attempts to focus completely, at the expense of the influx of thoughts, the unconscious mind (that which you are not in control of) will create diversions to pull the conscious mind out of focus. It does so to resume the incoming thoughts and go back on autopilot.

The three primary distractions of the mind come from its focus on sensations, thoughts, and feelings. All three are ubiquitous and constant – experienced by all consciously aware people (albeit not always consciously). It is these distractors that we try to transcend during mindfulness or meditation. The first step is becoming aware of them, of how these distractors operate; and only then can we label and release them.

Three Primary Distractors of Mind

Sensations

Palm Desert Vibrational HealingThe first primary distractor of the mind comes from somatic or body sensations. Any stimulus picked up by the receptors of the somatosensory system would constitute a sensation. The four types of sensation are superficial, deep, visceral, and special. Superficial sensations include things like touch, temperature, pain, and two-point discrimination. Deep sensations include things like muscle and joint position, muscle force and effort, deep muscle pain, and vibration. Visceral sensations are related to the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and are things like hunger, nausea, and visceral pain (chest pain, stomach pain, etc.). Special sensations are what we call the five senses of audio, visual, olfaction (smell), touch, and taste. Equilibrium is also a special sense related to the inner ear and cerebellum.

The sensory system picks up information from both the outer world and the inner being. It is a 24-hour job. Even as you sleep the nervous system senses and evaluates your lying position, the firmness of the bed, the softness of your pillow; it will make you aware of the room temperature, whether it is too hot or too cold. And it will awaken you if your bladder is full.

Since the somatosensory system is on at all times, taking in information from the internal and external environments, it is the first system to cause distractions when trying to quiet the mind. An itch on your nose, a pain in your buttock, the feel of your braces as they hug your teeth – any physical sensations come to the forefront when trying to quiet the mind. You become acutely aware of your varied sensations as you dive deeper into the practice of silence. Intentionally tuning in to your body sensations is a powerful exercise in its own right, one I walk my students through regularly. But when we desire to quiet the mind for meditation, we must shut down the senses and withdraw from the outer world.

The senses form the bridge between the inner and outer worlds. It is how we stay connected to the “reality” of material existence. But when it is time to turn inward, we can only do so by raising this bridge and shutting down the senses. In yoga, the process is known as pratyahara. The idea with pratyahara is that, until you dissolve all bridges to the external world, you will never go deep enough for Samadhi to take place. Pratyahara is specifically removing the awareness of sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. While the sensations are still there, the mind has stopped attuning to them.

Thoughts

The next common distractor of the mind is the mind itself and its incessant production of thoughts. As I have already pointed out, the efficiency of the human mind has evolved to place many functions on autopilot – not only our physiology, but also our thoughts, ideas, visions, and self-talk. Even music we have recently listened to can enter a loop and replay repeatedly in our heads.

Palm Desert DaydreamingThere is an enormous propensity of the mind to create stories – real or fantasy – which can be so engaging that our mind gets carried away with its ruminations. This can lead to what we call daydreaming – or getting caught up in the progression of a tale. Daydreaming is a conditioned habit, with some people being more susceptible than others, but the more one does, the stronger the activity becomes. Daydreams usually stem from real-world events or sensory stimuli (noise, smell, conversation topic, or movie). These stories can be intense, vivid, pleasant, or unpleasant, and may come with characters, settings, and plotlines. Regardless of one’s susceptibility, every person has this aspect of their mind. It comes from the same source as imagination, so it is important to creativity and innovation, but also extremely disruptive when left to its own accord. It is not only a major challenge in the day-to-day conscious waking state, but especially when trying to quiet the mind.

The way to prevent this distraction from carrying your mind away during silence is to note when a story is happening, label it (“There is a story”), and allow it to fade away instead of following it down its unraveling path. We tend to follow a story unconsciously, almost as if passive witnesses to it, and watch it like a movie (not a bad perspective to develop, just in the wrong scenario or circumstance). Instead, when we consciously become aware that a story is unraveling, we can snap out of it by labeling the story (“There is…), which gives the conscious mind a concrete element to recognize and thus dismiss. Without awakening to the story’s unraveling and calling it for what it is, it is allowed to continue, remaining unconscious to the mind and allowing the passive component (daydreaming) to persist.

The goal is not to remove thoughts completely, as that would be impossible, but instead to allow the thoughts to happen without being carried away by them. An influx of thoughts will always be present, but the more experience one has in quieting the mind, the more one will be able to focus despite the neural/mental activity happening in the background. The best analogy I can use is of a computer that is on and executing functions; programs run in the background – virus scan, firewall, operating programs, and so forth – but the user is not following them or observing their operation. The user is simply employing the system for its intended use, while the programs operate unnoticed in the background. This is how the conscious mind should respond to mind chatter: give no attention; simply focus on an object or release all focus altogether, and just allow the mind to float within pure presence, beyond any sensation, thought, or emotion.

Feelings

Palm Springs Emotional HealingThe next primary distractor of the mind is emotions, especially when highly charged. Every person has had the experience of being so angry, hurt, or upset that they could not think straight. Their minds went on overdrive, and they could not stop thinking about what had gotten them riled up. Alternatively, every person can relate to being infatuated with someone, something, or some experience, such that their mind loops back to their infatuation repeatedly: they cannot stop thinking about them. Both are the consequence of an emotionally charged mind.

When the mind is highly charged, it is practically impossible to silence it. Unfortunately, this is the steady state for many people, as they spend most of their waking consciousness highly charged about one thing or another. When chronic or extreme, highly charged emotional states can lead to what we label as mental illness. Not only is an emotionally charged mind a distraction to quieting the mind, but overall, it is unhealthy for the individual.

The answer to neutralizing this state of mind is far too involved for this article, but a powerful tool for overcoming it is available. Anybody interested in learning how to dissolve their highly charged emotional states should contact me. In the meantime, one can get beyond their emotions in the same way they transcend their thoughts: by becoming aware of the emotionality, labeling it, and then letting it pass. Like thoughts, emotions can lead to a story being run through your mind. Your mind can then attach to it and follow along passively, or you can notice what is happening, label it with, “There is an emotion,” and then let it fade away. The great sage, Sri Ramana Maharshi advised, “Let what comes come. Let what goes go. Find out what remains.” You may find that what remains is more real than transient emotions.

Sleep

Palm Springs Sleep HealingClosely associated with, yet opposite to, sensation is sleep: the complete loss of awareness of our senses. While sensations themselves are still up and running, our conscious awareness of them is not. Unless we become uncomfortable, we will remain unconscious of the outer world (not true while dreaming).

When attempting to shut down the mind and enter silence, the unconscious mind will work hard to regain control and it will do so through the common distractions: sensation, thought, and emotion. If the focus of the practitioner is too strong for the unconscious to overcome, then it will often go to its big gun and try to shut the consciousness down completely and send the practitioner into slumber.

This is by far the most difficult distraction for the conscious mind to overcome, but with practice, it can be done. The first thing to note is that if you are lacking sleep, it will be incredibly difficult to keep from dozing off. In those moments, it is best to just stop your practice and take a quick catnap. Even fifteen minutes can recharge you and allow the mind-quieting to happen.

The second point to note is that if you are not particularly tired, your mind is instigating the drowsiness. Just the act of becoming aware is sometimes enough to overcome sleepiness. Along with a conscious effort to focus on an object (or mantra), by withdrawing the senses, you can submerge into a true meditative state.

Sleep is a last-resort effort by your unconscious mind to take control of its function. If you can overcome that, you are on your way to laser-focus awareness and, ultimately, to meditation and what the yogis call samadhi.

Quieting Exercise

I would like to share a simple quieting exercise that you can do anywhere and at any time.

Palm Springs MeditationBegin by sitting quietly on the floor or straight up in a chair. If seated in a chair, make sure your feet are flat on the floor. Have your hands folded in your lap, or palms face up on your thighs. Your chest should be up, chin straight, and eyes closed. Focus on your breath. Abdominal breathing is ideal (and if you do not know how, watch this video). You want the breath to reach a deep, long, rhythmic pattern.

You should count your breaths up to five at first, inhaling and exhaling for one full breath. After five breaths, return to one – that is a round. Do two to five rounds. It will allow your mind to focus and not fall into passive automation. Once you feel confident that focus has been established, put your attention to your jaw – relax it; let the tongue drop away from the palate. Relax the corners of the mouth and let them drop toward the jaw. Then bring your attention to your cheekbones – let them melt downward toward your earlobes. This will release tension in your inner ear. Finally, bring your attention to the bridge of your nose. Imagine a dark, warm hole at the bridge sinking into the cranium toward the brain. These exercises are elements of pratyahara or sensory withdrawal. You can also pay attention to your hearing. Concentrate on an audible sound; within time, the auditory system will tire, and the attention will shift inward. This is Pratyahara.

Once you have reached a satisfactory state of sensory withdrawal, then just observe; invariably you will begin to become aware of physical sensations. Maybe a hair clings perceptibly to your forehead, or perhaps you feel tension in your neck and shoulders; whatever the case may be, simply become aware of the sensation and it will lessen the impact of the distraction. Feel free to scratch an itch or brush your hair off your forehead – no need to be uncomfortable – but then label the sensation by saying quietly in your mind, “There is an itch,” or, “There is back pain,” and so on. And then return the focus to the breath. The simple acts of attaining awareness, labeling distractions, and letting them go removes the distraction from your mind’s attention.

You might also have incoming thoughts about your day, particular events, or even people. Here again, without judgment on the thoughts, simply label them by saying quietly in your mind, “There is a thought about…” And then let it go.

The thought that comes may have a strong emotion tied to it, or you may even have the feeling of an emotion without an associated thought. Whether a conscious or unconscious emotion, label it, and then let it go. You do not have to understand the emotion in the moment; you certainly do not have to resolve any conflicts in the moment. No need to judge yourself or the emotion – simply become aware of its presence, label it, and then let it fade away. Bring your attention back to the breath.

Continue this exercise of withdrawing the senses, bringing awareness to and labeling distractors, and letting them go, and you have a powerful beginning exercise to quieting the mind at your disposal.

There is more you can do to reach the deeper states of meditation, but I will leave this for another article altogether. Practice the simple exercise I have outlined here to kick-start your mind-quieting practice. If you have an interest in learning the deeper secrets to a profound meditation or mindfulness practice, then please contact me. But this tool for reaching greater states of silence through pratyahara will get you far if you practice diligently. I trust you will have enormous success in your endeavors.

Quiet the Mind - Dr. Nick CamposQuieting the mind is thought by many to be the goal of meditation, but what does it mean exactly? And what can we expect from quieting the mind; what will result? Can we make the mind completely quiet – that is, can we actually attain thoughtlessness (a state of no mind)? These are some of the questions that people have when contemplating whether or not to take on a meditation practice.

To quiet the mind is to suspend active thought. The more one can achieve this state, the more one can allow the undirected, intuitive mind to guide them. The yogis call it “living spontaneously,” and along with it come many benefits, from physical to mental to spiritual. Some of these effects can be achieved immediately, while others develop over years. The immediately realized benefits will bring a sense of accomplishment for your efforts, while the more deeply cultivated effects will bring you a deep satisfaction. Not only will you realize the immediate consequences from the benefits themselves, but you will also literally shape your body, mind, and spirit simultaneously to stimulate enhanced genetic expression, psychological expansion, and spiritual development.

What are some of the benefits you can realize by quieting the mind, and what are the obstacles or challenges people face when trying to do so, and how might they overcome them? I will attempt to answer these questions here, as well as give you a sample exercise which you can use right away to practice quieting the mind and enhance your body, mind, and spirit in the process.

What is quieting the mind?

To understand quieting the mind, it is important to understand what happens in the mind that would require quieting. I have described the autonomic system of the body and brain in this article on mindfulness, so I won’t go into detail here. But what I will address is how the mind, in its automaticity, can go into self-referential and mind-wandering loops.

Self-referential thinking refers to a mental process in which individuals focus on themselves, their experiences, beliefs, and feelings. It involves thinking about one’s own identity, self-image, and personal relevance. This type of thinking can include introspection, self-analysis, and self-consciousness. For example, when you reflect on past experiences, contemplate your goals, or evaluate your emotions, you are engaging in self-referential thinking.

Quiet the Mind - Dr. Nick CamposMind-wandering, on the other hand, refers to the spontaneous and involuntary shifting of attention from the current task or external stimuli to internal thoughts and mental scenarios. During mind-wandering (daydreaming is one type), the mind tends to drift away from the present moment and becomes immersed in unrelated thoughts, memories, fantasies, or plans. This phenomenon is common and can happen during various activities, such as work, studying, or even conversations.

Both self-referential thinking and mind-wandering can be natural and occur in everyone’s mind. However, excessive engagement in these thought processes can lead to distraction, decreased focus, and a lack of mindfulness. In extreme cases, they can lead to mental disorders such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and social anxiety.

In depression, individuals may engage in rumination, which is a form of repetitive and negative self-referential thinking. They may excessively dwell on past failures, mistakes, or negative events, leading to a downward spiral of negative emotions and feelings of hopelessness. Numerous studies show a reciprocally reinforcing relationship between rumination and negative affect. Rumination tends to increase when negative emotions increase. In depressive patients, levels of rumination have been associated with the severity and duration of depressive episodes. In other words, the more depressed a person, the more they focus on how bad things are. And vice versa, increased levels of rumination have been found to increase the risk of depressive relapse in remitted patients.

In OCD, intrusive, distressing thoughts (along with repetitive behaviors) may be self-referential, leading to obsessive questioning or doubts about oneself or one’s actions. And in social anxiety, individuals may experience self-referential thinking focused on how others perceive them. They may constantly worry about being judged or criticized by others, leading to avoidance of social situations. It is important to note that self-referential thinking, like its subcategory rumination, can act reciprocally with OCD and social anxiety whereby it is both a consequence and precursor to these conditions.

To quiet the mind, then, one needs to alleviate the constant stream of thoughts and mental chatter that can lead to self-referential thinking, rumination, mind-wandering, and emotional turbulence. The mind can often become occupied with worries, anxieties, regrets, and various other thoughts about the past and the future, which can prevent one from being fully present in the current moment. Quieting the mind involves calming this inner noise and achieving a state of stillness and focus. Practices like meditation and mindfulness play a crucial role in achieving this state of mental quietude.

The Neurological Basis for Quieting the Mind

Is quieting the mind neurologically possible? Can we actually see evidence of our minds slowing down and going quiet? What happens in our brains as we increase focus and our ability to diminish the chatter? Quietening the mind is indeed neurologically plausible, supported by scientific research on the effects of meditation. Numerous studies have demonstrated that meditation can lead to observable changes in brain activity and structure, promoting a state of mental calmness and reduced cognitive chatter.

Quiet the Mind - Dr. Nick Campos

A study published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience found that long-term meditation practitioners exhibited decreased activity in the default mode network (DMN), the network of brain regions associated with mind-wandering and self-referential thinking. Excessive activity in the DMN is associated with a noisy (mind-chatter) and restless mind. Researchers note that the DMN has been found to be most highly active when individuals are left to think to themselves undisturbed or during tasks involving self-related processing, and less active during tasks requiring cognitive effort. Experienced meditators thus exhibit decreased DMN activity during meditation (and even during resting states), as a result of their conditioned focus, demonstrating a reduced tendency self-referential thinking and mind wandering.

Quieting the mind through mindfulness and meditation has also been shown to impact the brain’s neuroplasticity, the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections. Studies on meditation have shown that regular practice can enhance cortical thickness and increase gray matter density in brain regions involved in attention, interoception (the ability to sense your body’s internal environment), and sensory processing, leading to enhanced cognition, memory capacity, and general intelligence.

More gray matter is associated with better cognitive function, while decreases in gray matter are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias”

The Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Benefits of Quieting the Mind

So why should anybody care about quieting the mind? Other than some esoteric practice, what can quieting the mind do for the average person? The answer is: A lot! Quieting the mind has numerous physical, mental, and spiritual benefits available to any person who takes the time to cultivate a practice which leads to the state.

Physical Benefits

Anybody who has delved into the mind-body question knows that the two are inextricably linked. In other words, you cannot separate the mind and body into independent parts. Stress one and the other feels the ramifications, strengthen one and the other strengthens too. The first place you will experience beneficial results is in your physiology. Quieting the mind has been shown to reduce blood pressure, heart rate and symptoms of stress disorder. It does this by activating the relaxation response. Sympathetic nervous system activity (the “fight or flight” response) decreases and parasympathetic nervous system activity (the “rest and digest” response) increases. This shift promotes a state of calm and relaxation.

Quiet the Mind - Dr. Nick CamposQuieting the mind also helps reduce stress hormone levels, like cortisol and adrenaline, which are associated with the body’s stress response. It increases vasodilation, a widening of the blood vessels, which helps facilitate better blood flow, leading to lower blood pressure. It improves heart rate variability (HRV), a measure of the variation in time between successive heartbeats. Higher HRV is associated with better cardiovascular health and increased adaptability to stress. Quieting the mind has been linked to improved HRV, indicating a healthier balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activity. And finally, it helps reduce muscle tension, a byproduct of an increased fight or flight state. The more one operates in sympathetic stress, the greater the muscle tension. Quieting the mind, however, promotes muscle relaxation.

Mental benefits

As goes the body, so goes the mind, and practices which quiet the mind have a multitude of mental benefits. Not only do the physical ramifications of stress diminish when the mind is quiet, but the mental ones do as well. By reducing the psychological effects of stress, we see anxiety diminish. A 2022 study compared patients who took an intensive eight-week mindfulness meditation program to patients who took escitalopram, the generic name of the widely-prescribed anxiety drug Lexapro. They found that both interventions worked equally well in reducing debilitating anxiety symptoms.

Quiet the Mind - Dr. Nick CamposQuieting the mind improves mental clarity and focus, as well. When the mind is less cluttered with mind-chatter, it is less prone to self-referential thinking and mind wandering, and thus it becomes easier to concentrate on tasks, make decisions, and engage in activities with heightened attention and presence. Clearing mental clutter enhances productivity, learning, and overall cognitive performance.

Quieting the mind also creates a fertile ground for creativity to flourish. When the mind is calm and free from distractions, it becomes more receptive to new ideas, insights, and innovative thinking (see this article on the Noosphere). By accessing deeper levels of awareness and tapping into your innate creativity, you increase your potential to experience inspiration and novel perspectives.

And finally, although not exhaustively (there is much more), quieting the mind fosters emotional well-being. By cultivating self-awareness and emotional regulation, it enables individuals to observe their thoughts and emotions, label them, and come to understand them more deeply, and ultimately to lead to better emotional resilience.

Spiritual benefits

While not everybody attunes to the spiritual realm, the physical and mental benefits of quieting the mind may be enough; but for those who do seek a greater spiritual awakening, quieting the mind is perhaps the clearest path toward realization. Similar to the physical and mental benefits, the following spiritual enhancements of quieting the mind are by no means a complete list, but they should be encouraging enough for those wishing to cultivate a mind-quieting practice to begin and adhere to a routine.

Quieting the mind creates a conducive environment for heightened Self-awareness and insight. As mental chatter subsides, individuals form a deeper connection to their inner selves, their intuition, and their spiritual essence. This increased awareness will lead to profound realizations about the nature of existence, life’s purpose, and interconnectedness of all things. Quieting the mind is the precursor to the awakening of unconditional love – the “thank you for all that is, as it is” state of awareness.

Quieting the mind also involves moving beyond the ego – the self-centered, identity-driven aspect of our consciousness, or what we call the “I”. By quieting the mind, individuals can detach from the incessant stream of self-referential thoughts, leading to a sense of liberation from egoic patterns. This transcendence of ego can open the door to experiencing a greater sense of unity, oneness, and humility (we are all the same in essence).

Quiet the Mind - Dr. Nick Campos

Finally, quieting the mind can facilitate a deeper connection to the divine higher self. As the mind becomes still, the channel to our higher mind expands, allowing transmissions of communication between higher (soul intelligence) and lower (neurological intelligence) mind. As a result of this expansion, individuals may experience moments of profound clarity, inspiration, and communion with higher spiritual reality (approximating the highest high). This can lead to a sense of divine guidance and attunement to one’s ultimate purpose in life (dharma).

So, should you take the time to cultivate a quiet mind? If you have aspirations to maximize your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, then absolutely – it is more than worth the investment. What will it take to attain the ability to quiet the mind? What is a simple beginners exercise to kick-start your mind-quieting regimen? How will I know if I am doing it well? I will answer all these questions in part two of this article coming soon.

Conditioned MindOne of the most often repeated truths, yet also perhaps one of the most difficult to comprehend, is that you are the creator of your life. You are your own creation. Who hasn’t heard this and nodded in agreement? Almost everybody understands it on a basic level, although there is a depth to this reality which I would love to share with you here.

Most people can connect with the fact that they are products of their choices, decisions, and actions. Not hard to understand either is how our beliefs, drives and intentions also play an intricate role; yet it does raise an age-old philosophical question of whether we truly have free will (make all our own decisions) or simply have lives that are determined (a product of circumstance). If you are unaware of this fascinating conundrum, please do yourself a favor and read a little bit about this paradox – it is well worth the time. In any case, most people have a surface understanding that we do indeed create our own lives.

However, what few tend to ponder is how we do this. How exactly do we create our lives? Well, it all emanates forth from the conditioned mind. I am not speaking in terms of a conditioned behavior here, like Pavlov’s dog, but instead the state of creating conditions – a particular state that something is perceived to be in. A conditioned mind, then, is one which differentiates, reduces, and groups together elements of a thing into similarities and differences in order to understand that thing. This is a material necessity of the human mind. Put more simply: for humans to make sense of the external world, we must be able to discern this from that, here from there, and now from then. It is how we humans walk through the world.

Conditioned MindAdditionally, we have likes and dislikes which are part of our dispositions. I like ice cream, rock music, and warm weather. I dislike seafood, the smell of body odor, and cruelty to people or animals. That’s me. You might agree on all or some of these things or disagree on all or some. But I have mine, and you have yours.

You also have drives, needs, and values, however, which underlie most of your actions – in other words, why you do what you do. If you value family, for instance, you will most certainly be drawn in awareness to family-supportive activities and events. If you value a strong social life, then you will be driven to go out, meet people, make friends, and party.

Then there are needs you have like the need to feel loved and appreciated, or to be recognized for who you are, or for what you provide to others (to name just a few). And these needs, along with your values, lead to desires, and ultimately to behaviors, including your perceptual emotions. Needs, values, desires, likes, and dislikes all work together to cause you to then pass judgement onto the outer world. You see things as good, bad, right, wrong, deserved, unjust, nice, mean, attractive, or ugly, all as interpretations from your conditioned mind. True self-realization comes from becoming aware of your mind’s conditioning (in its many varieties).

Your conditioned mind, then – through your likes and dislikes, needs and values – creates your perception; that is, how you tend to see things. Your conditioned mind, equally, influences your decisions and behaviors. It’s your conditioned mind that creates your history and the narrative story you repeatedly tell yourself and others. And depending on whether you feel mostly supported or mostly opposed will determine the theme of that narrative. We all know people who skew in one direction or the other, and some of us skew in many different directions depending on the number of sub-narratives we have. In other words, we all have the potential to become a hero or victim in different areas of our lives. And it all comes down to the conditioned mind.

Conditioned MindI hope you can see now more clearly how you are, indeed, your own creation, at least with respect to the usual ways in which we create our lives and the material world around us. But things cannot exist independently. They must always be in conjunction with their antipode. Even beingness must be opposed by nothingness, and neither can be without the other. Thus, for there to exist a conditioned mind, there must also exist an unconditioned mind.

The unconditioned mind is the transcendent state – the one in which no distinction is made between antipodes or opposites. Neither this nor that, here nor there, or now and then exist in the unconditioned mind. All appear as one to the eternal present mind. The Buddha called it enlightenment (Nirvana), the Vedanta, nirguna. It is also the cause of the rising of the Christ, and the source of all mystical experiences, so some might call it God. The unconditioned mind is also known as superconsciousness, and it is available to all human beings on the planet.

If the conditioned mind is creation, then unconditioned mind is evolution, growth and transcendence. Conditioned mind brings along with creation suffering, as part of our judgment is also to discern our dislikes, defeats, and disasters. Being denied our desires can create pain so intense as to render us into helplessness and despair. And then, of course, exist our fears. Those things we wish to never encounter – hurts, rejections, traumas, and predators – which we spend great energy to avoid throughout our lifetime, but nevertheless find us anyway. These, too, are the product of conditioned mind. Unconditioned mind, however, sees no difference between heaven or hell, pain or pleasure, justice or injustice, or any other polarity. Unconditioned mind accepts all that is exactly as it is and is thankful for it. All is one to the unconditioned mind.

Conditioned MindSo, yes, you are your own creation. And in the material world, you need the conditioned mind, in a sense to do that. But you can easily get mired in the swamp of your own creation, as not all creations become the oasis we envision. However, it is through unconscious mind that we create the Shangri-la from whatever conditioned form our life has taken. Only through the unconditioned mind is it possible to find heaven regardless of the material circumstances. Conditioned mind does the creating, and unconditioned mind takes care the appreciating. When we love our lives in all their circumstances, exactly as they are, then we can be certain that we are operating in unconditional mind.

Attuning to unconditioned mind takes training and practice. I have been teaching mindfulness, meditation, and mental balance for nearly a decade. I have had the honor of sharing wisdom with thousands of novice and seasoned meditation practitioners. You too can learn to cultivate the art (and science) of attuning to your unconditioned mind. Please contact me for one-on-one or group consultations. You are your own creation. And you are your own evolution and growth inducer. This is how we walk through the world.

Meditation Los AngelesWhat is meditation? Is it what we speak of when discussing mindfulness? In short, no – meditation is tool, while mindfulness is a state of mind. A good reminder from a previous article is that we spend the bulk of our waking time on auto-pilot. This habitual activity-mode allows us to think while we drive, talk on the phone while typing, or discuss vacation plans while having sex. It is a state of mind; one which we specifically differentiate from being laser-sharp focused – or mindful.

Meditation, on the other hand, is a practice. Without a doubt, regular meditation strengthens focus, and thus it strengthens one’s ability to enter mindfulness, but it is purely a tool, one that needs to be practiced regularly and earnestly to become effective. Greater mindfulness is a consequence of consistent meditation. But meditation is not the only path to mindfulness, it just happens to be an extremely effective one. For sure, the Bhagavad Gita discusses meditation as a form of yoga, and it is a path to awareness, but by no means is it solely so: in fact, greater mindfulness is merely one consequence of many for the meditator. Meditation can be used to come to know the Self, to connect with the Source (or Absolute in Vedantic philosophy), and ultimately to unionize with the Source (samadhi). It achieves these aspirations by dissolving the boundary between self and other, between the one and many, and between sensory experience and reality.

To practice meditation is to attempt to go to the “other” side of thoughts: to allow what comes to come and what goes to go. Meditation is the start to separating the Self (true nature) from the self (body, mind, and sense of individuality). By repeatedly practicing awareness and focus, the proper conditions are beings set for release of self to Self. This state of being is called samadhi and is known to many spiritual disciplines. Because reaching this state is purely experiential, you cannot fully understand it with words alone. In fact, this is true for every stage along the way to samadhi as well, such that meditation leads to an inner unfoldment, a progression, where each layer spread out brings one closer to one’s true Self (not the self of the physical body and mind).

Mind Dissolves Meditation, by virtue of this inner unfoldment, leads to a greater receptivity to reality. As awareness expands, illusions become shattered and nightmares neutralize as a greater sense of oneness and orderliness flood the consciousness. Purpose becomes clearer, problems unite with solutions, and visions sharpen; meditation opens channels to understanding and inspiration.

Even the physical body changes morphologically through regular meditation. Studies show that meditation is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking. While taking on meditation to attain physical or intellectual prowess might be mundane, these are a few interesting side-effects regular meditation brings.

Understanding that meditation is a tool is imperative, because it is easy for some to mistake the tool for the goal, which can lead to a discontinuation of practice for sheer lack of interest or significance to the practitioner. It can also lead to a false sense of achievement and thus stagnation in others. Understanding that meditation is simply a tool to achieve varying levels of awareness helps the practitioner stay on track and open to each layer of Self as it unfolds. It also allows the practitioner to remain unattached to the tool, because Self-realization can and will occur outside of meditation as well. Attaching to the tool can prevent the practitioner from reaching deeper levels of awareness by holding onto the illusion that the tool is necessary. It isn’t. It’s just a tool.

Deep sleep meditation coursesThat tool is used ultimately to get you to different states of consciousness. Recall that mindlessness, our typical waking state, is the state of unconscious consciousness: minimally aware of moment-to-moment details. And mindfulness is conscious consciousness: intense awareness of moment-to-moment details. Samadhi, then, that state of oneness to which we aspire through meditation, is an entirely different state altogether: we can call it a state of conscious unconsciousness. This is a strange concept to anybody hearing it for the first time…conscious unconsciousness? Appreciating this term is best done by associating it with something we do every night: deep sleep. The sleep cycle is split into four stages: light sleep, moderate sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. Deep sleep is about twenty five percent of each sleep cycle and what we call restorative sleep. When a person is in deep sleep they are unaware of everything: their body, their mind, and their individuality. They are conscious in the general sense that they are not dead, but they are dead to the world for the period they are in that state. An even better example is the person who is put under anesthesia, like I was in 2006 to have my appendix removed. Just before the operation the anesthesiologist told me, “This is going to be your cocktail for the night, Mr. Campos.” And the next thing I knew it was, “…Mr. Campos, Mr. Campos, wake up, you’re done.” And that was that, time passed but to me it was instantaneous. I was in a state of unconsciousness, and I was unconscious to it.  We go there every night in deep sleep. Every person has had the experience of waking up and thinking, “Where am I, how did I get here?” That’s unconscious unconsciousness. Samadhi is being in a deep-sleep-like state, yet being aware and conscious throughout. Weird, huh? But that’s what it is, conscious unconsciousness: a truly experiential phenomenon. Words cannot describe.

The main point is that meditation is a tool to get you to a state – the state of conscious unconsciousness. Once you are there the goal changes, but I will leave that for another article. Most important for you, the practitioner, the aspirant, is the revelation along the way. This unfoldment of Self is what changes life for good.

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.

simon-migaj-Yui5vfKHuzs-unsplash (Copy)Mindfulness 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.

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Nick Campos - All Rights Reserved.