Category Archives: ideas

What Would Jesus Eat?

I’m trialling a new series.

I’m looking at diets from around the world and seeing if anything we used to do has any merit today.

Jesus would have eaten an ancient Israelite diet, so let’s see what that involves.

Surprisingly, a large number of health foods were regularly consumed by the Israelites, so we’ve got a pretty solid anti-inflammatory diet here.

Jesus is always depicted drenched in amber glow, kissed by the warm silken banner of the almighty, but could a portion of that be due to a diet full of healthful foods promoting beautiful golden skin?

Let’s check out some of the staples in Jesus’ day:

Olive Oil

Olive oil and olives grew well in this mediterranean climate, so they were abundantly used. Olive oil was likely to have been cold pressed, avoiding the damage that other heated processes can cause to this stable oil. Oilve oil is high in unsaturated fats, which are linked to lower levels of heart disease and related disorders, like high blood pressure.

Figs and Dates

Figs grew well in this climate and are an excellent source of prebiotic fibre. Prebiotics support the natural gut flora and suppress the growth of pathogenic settlers! Dates are sweet, but also contain some fibre which slows down digestion and prevents unhealthy insulin spikes from occurring. Dates were also fermented into a drink called ‘Shechar’. Fermented beverages contain probiotics which help to colonise the gut with helpful bacteria.

Pomegranates

Pomegranates are unlikely to have been a huge part of the ancient Israelite diet, but they nevertheless tout a number of health benefits. A recent study found that pomegranate extract could reduce inflammation by bringing down blood lipid levels (a known risk factor for heart disease, obesity, diabetes and a range of other inflammatory conditions). Israelites probably would have eaten this fruit fresh in season, and may have fermented it into wine to preserve it out of season.

Wine

Many of you know that too much wine can cause inflammation and liver damage over time, but a little every day can actually support health. Red wine, which is what Israelites would largely have had access to, can reduce inflammation because it contains lots of antioxidants which inhibit cellular damage.

Dairy

This is where it gets really interesting. There were no cows in ancient Israel, so milk, cheese, and yogurt were made solely from goats. Goat milk is widely accepted as anti-inflammatory. Many who cannot tolerate cows milk can drink goats milk without difficulty. Due to the naturally warm temperatures, this could also be made into a range of probiotic yogurts and even something similar to ghee or clarified butter, which has become a popular health food.

Fish

Coastal and river dwelling inhabitants would have had access to a range of fresh fish. Fish is naturally high in Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, both of which are shown to support longevity and provide anti-inflammatory effects in the ratios naturally found in marine foods. Fish were also salted and dried, producing a lean, protein rich food source that could be transported and kept in storage without going off.

Leeks, Onions and Garlic

Potent prebiotics, these three vegetables were often added to a range of cooked dishes for flavour and nutrients. These three in particular have been praised in the scientific literature for contributing to the health of the gut due to their high levels of prebiotic fibre, which help good bacteria populate the large intestine, crowding our pathogens which cannot digest it. Leeks, garlic and onion are all related, coming from the onion family.

Wheat

Any of you Keto/ Paleo people will reel in horror at the notion that wheat was a staple in ancient Israel, but this was not the refined wheat you are used to today. Most widespread was Emmer Wheat, an ancestor of Durum Wheat. Durum wheat is a much heartier grain which contains more fibre and is less processed. It also contains less gluten, which is inflammatory to the gut lining.

Overall, to eat like Jesus, was to eat surprisingly well! Lots of healthy oils with anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids. Fruits and vegetables with prebiotic fibre. Dairy from goats instead of cows, and fresh fish some of the time! On a side note and not mentioned above, meat was rarely eaten during the year, and when it was, it was largely goat, with some chicken, duck and goose. Too much meat has been implicated in heart disease as well as some cancers, most commonly colorectal.

Jesus is known for his wisdom as a prophet in Christianity, and is a guiding light for Christians across the globe, but even those of us who aren’t religious could probably learn a thing or two about health from this historical figure.

If you enjoyed this short insight into diets from around the world, let me know in the comments, and as ever, please like and subscribe for more to come!

J

Colour Me In Trust – Sensitive Data and Colour Psychology

We all know that a great deal of marketing strategy goes into making an app, more so those apps that go onto become successful and lasting presences in our daily lives.

But what if I told you that part of what makes an app successful is the colour it conveys to us in its design?

What does it say about an app that subliminally attempts to infiltrate the user’s subconscious defences with colour? Should we trust the apps that have utilised these psychological attacks?

Facebook, Twitter, Google Authenticator, the Iphone email app. What do they have in common other than their pervasive and integrated use in society?

They are all blue…

apps in blue

A harmless coincidence, I am sure many are thinking, but when we apply colour psychology, we begin to see that blue means something to the human psyche.

Blue conveys a number of qualities. It is calming and serene, indicating stability, order and reliability. These qualities are foremost indicative of a central core quality that is constancy, which in turn coaxes trust from the observer.

We naturally trust what is dependable and unchanging. This is hardwired into our DNA. Change presents danger, constancy, safety. Our primitive and precursory nervous systems submit to fear above all else, and changes in our perception of it are strong impulses, even now as we use our more developed prefrontal cortex to modulate our feelings and primal instincts.

colour me blue

What else is trust? It does not only relate to our monkey brain response to fear stimuli, but also to the quality of sedation which is linked to calmness and tranquillity. Sedation is the quality of calmness induced usually by drug use. A major class or type of drug, the sedative artificially induces sleep, quiet or calm in the patient. Blue is a natural visual sedative because of the qualities which it carries with the subconscious.

So, your blue apps are constantly signalling, often unbeknownst to you, that they are ‘trustworthy’, that you should be calm and sedated while using them.

Some of you may be thinking, ‘this sounds like a good idea – I would like to be calmer when I use apps!’ And on the surface, it is not a bad idea to encourage trust in users, but we must look at this within the wider subtext of the apps in question.

Almost always, these are apps that deal with sensitive information, personal information, data which, if in the wrong hands, can wreak personal and social havoc.

How many political scandals have involved email interceptions or coincidental ‘misplacement’ of important records and vital evidences? How many times do we need to see Facebook implicated in public data mining incidents like the Analytica scandal?

Almost none of the apps that claim the colour of trust as their own, can be trusted to secure personal information which protects the public. In some cases, these apps are actively deceiving us into selling our information for some universal need, be it connection to one another, or communication in all variety of personal and professional lanes.

With that in mind, one does wonder: ‘What does an app that has no interest in public trust need to convey subliminal trust to its users?’ It is one thing to claim you are trustworthy overtly, but to claim it in such an insidious way strikes of ill-intent from the start.

Take care to consider the colour of the apps that you use. They are telling you something without saying it to you in a way you may consciously understand. Such covert methods must be considered in the light of suspicion.

Blue blinkers hood our eyes. Actions speak louder than words. It is what you do and say, not the colour you convey, which earns honest respect. It is time our social media giants started being trustworthy, rather than dressing up in its colours. We deserve honesty, not trickery, and that your apps are blue, while your social profiles are picked clean by your providers, like carrion for crows, we are no closer to honesty and racing towards deceit.

In nature, dangerous things signal their danger in the colour they display. Yellow is poisonous and red signals danger. The primordial flush of fear we feel is written into our DNA.

Blue is not always order and trust, but sometimes deception and sedation.

The banner must meet the carrier in action, or it is a lie.

Watch for the banner your apps carry. Turncloaks and mercenaries carry many flags, almost always for pride, power or gold.

J

Chronic Illness and Vital Acceptance

If you’ve developed an illness that is now invading your every day life in a way you can no longer ignore, it can begin to gnaw away at our sense of justice.

You’re a good person, you work hard and try to get by in a difficult world. People can treat you badly and not bat an eye, but you’re not like that, and if you are, your awareness ignites you to apologise or make peace with your victim.

And yet, even so, you’ve been stricken with bad karmic juju. You’re suffering, but you feel that suffering is unjustified.

Our health is so important to our quality of life that we often get wrapped up in the ‘why?’. ‘Why is this happening to me?’ ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ ‘Why couldn’t I be someone else?’.

The ‘why’ is fine when we are dealing with the things that we can change. There are so many good ‘why’ questions that can really change the world. To some extent, a little ‘why’ can be good even in exploring chronic health problems. After all, a better understanding of our ailments can mean we can better address them and find some balance.

I’ve even written on the ‘why’ myself, exploring how a largely vegan or plant based diet can reduce inflammation in the body and improve overall health and wellness for those with chronic illness.

But, the ‘why?’ only goes so far. At some point, it yields less and less, becoming an exhausting obsession of diminishing returns. When we personalise our why’s and make them existential, we lose more and more energy, time, and happiness, to an unanswerable set of questions. When we reach this stage, we need to consider how we will accept the things which we cannot change and work on making our realities manageable, even joyful.

Acceptance is vital to living with chronic illness. We cannot continuously snarl at our illness, hoping that eventually it will subside or diminish. We cannot keep it in a box away from visitors, a morbid little secret out of the public eye. Our illness will live with us and we must accept that it continues, as do we.

Illness is unpleasant. It makes our lives hard, sometimes unbearably painful, both mentally and physically. It can be isolating, desperate and cold when so few understand how painful it is. But acceptance is part of changing that story. Don’t try to push it under the rug or pummel it into submission, but try to accept it as a part of you, aim to no longer fight with yourself.

In some respects, accepting chronic illness can make it easier to live with and tolerate. It can even contribute to recovery or partial recovery. The stress we cause ourselves when we are fighting our illness can inevitably strengthen it. The more you fight a thought, idea or perception of reality, the more power it gains over you and the more fear, panic and despair it generates.

Your reality needn’t be one of fear or aggression directed at disturbance and chaos. When you choose to allow or accept chronic illness to exist with you, rather than against you, you can begin to change your relationship to it. You can begin to be happier and lead a more fulfilling life.

We all want that, right?

J

Climb Your Ladder, Not The Ladder People Put In Front of You

I was having a deep discussion with my father a few days ago, a man filled with wisdom and silliness, a receptacle of obscure but interesting knowledge and possessing a remarkable long-term memory, much to my envy.

He said to me ‘I remember a quote from someone, I cannot remember his name (unusual, so that was for him), but he said: ‘People climb ladders, but often, when they get to the top, they realise they were somewhere they didn’t want to be.”

This seemed very profound to me and I thought about it a bit.

We seem to build ladders in the world, whether it be working up through a job, or getting married and having children, doing what is socially acceptable for us. We build our sense of progress in the world around us and showcase it to everyone saying .Hey, look at me! Look how high I am!’.

The trouble is, when we focus only on what we are to other people, we lose our ability to focus on who we are to ourselves. What authenticity can I have when I spend my life showing people what they want to see?

My father also said this: ‘When you walk out the door in the morning, somebody will hate you or resent you, even if you’re doing everything right’.

So who are we trying to be? Why do we try so hard to be loved by those who don’t even know who we are? Even still, there are those who will hate us independent of which mask we present, or even when we represent ourselves authentically.

So, I’m thinking hard about where my ladders are and what I should do with them. At the end, when all is said and done, the only thing I should be climbing is the effigy of my past selves. Up and up, I count forward from what I was yesterday and how I can become better today.

I want to climb a ladder to the best version of myself. Not the version of me people expect or want, but the version of me that allows me to be myself in a world filled with expectations about who somebody should be.

Whenever you feel that pit in your stomach or a darkness looming over your head, consider, ‘what wall am I facing and should I be climbing?’. Search for rooftops eclipsed in a halo of sunshine, warmth and bliss.

Put down your ladder down, and climb.

J

5 Signs Your Life has Become Overwhelming and How to Begin Restoring Balance

You wake up, having not slept restfully for a week now. Your thoughts are dim and dreadful. They simmer at first, then a slow-boil turns to froth and foam and flying spit in your mind’s pot.

How will I get everything done today? There is nobody to help me. What is happening? How do I stop it? The world is out to get me. I am struggling. What can I do?

Splish, splash, schloop, go the thoughts inside your head as you watch from above. There is no saving this soup now, spoiled for good. Let it all burn.

Many can relate to that boiling pressure underneath the surface. It can lead to outbursts, uncharacterful behaviour and alienation, both for the person experiencing the feeling of being overwhelmed, and for the people close to them. Here are five signs that you’re not coping well, and some suggestions to fix it.

1. You’re Acting ‘Out of Character’

We are all creatures of particular habits. Some of us are quite reserved and don’t go out very much, others are very much the opposite, seeking social events everywhere they can and many opportunities to be the centre of attention. When you notice your typical behaviours are reversing and flying to the polar opposite of your ‘normal’, you know there’s something up. As in the examples above, someone who is quiet and calm, with a smaller social circle, might decide to get drunk every night and meet strangers. This can sometimes be hard to spot from the perspective of the person who is feeling overwhelmed, but family and friends should make every effort to monitor this behaviour and offer support where possible.

2. You Don’t Care Anymore

Generally, you’re empathetic, kind, a listener and someone who is compassionate to the needs of those around you. Lately though, you’ve been feeling kind of ‘meh’. You see people in strife and it’s just not twanging on that cardio banjo in there. You know you should be feeling something, but you’re struggling to get that emotion to translate. No, you’re not a sociopath, you’re just going through a rough patch and sometimes this can make you appear distant, callous or unfeeling. It’s the people who care the most who tend to lose this ability most drastically under pressure.

3. You’re Getting Irritated by the Smallest Things

Did your housemate eat your last banana? Did someone take your usual seat on the bus? Are you about to burn to ash over the news that petrol prices are going up? Do these questions make you feel like wielding a sledgehammer of destruction, like a malevolent Thor, brimming with spite and rage? Thinking about how proportionate our responses are to the perceived inconvenience, of course, at a time when we have calmed down, can sometimes give us the opportunity to reflect on how overwhelmed we feel.

4. Australian Animal Syndrome

Like the black widow, who hides in people’s toilets to bite their buttocks, and the koalas climbing from the bush below, we begin to do one of two things, bury ourselves, or attempt to escape out of our situation. Are you hiding from your problems, getting poisonous when people enter your personal space? Or, are you fleeing up into the canopies? Hiding or running can be a surefire way of knowing you’re overwhelmed and in need of intervention.

5. Your Opinion Of People Begins to Change

People you have held dear for years can begin to become ugly in your mind’s eye. You begin to create gargoyles where angels once stood, and by the end, you are surrounded by warped caricatures of the people you once loved. This is a very disturbing and unsettling mechanism related to being in a state of overwhelm, that can begin to unravel your sense of identity, purpose and happiness. If the people you cared about are no longer friends, loneliness can set in and begin to eat away at your joy.

So, now you have a few ideas about what being overwhelmed looks like, here are some important interventions to think about, so that we don’t continue feeling this way.

Be Honest

Speak to the people around you that you feel you can trust. Tell them that you do not feel that you can cope and ask for any guidance, support or assistance they can give you. If they cannot, try not to take this personally, it may be that they have a lot on their plate too. Try to approach people who you feel will be compassionate and understanding to your plight, as some people can make their problems seem more important, which will only make you feel worse.

Seek Support Networks

At school, work or university, make sure to access any available resources. For work, it might be some time off sick, or booking a few days holiday. At school, seeing the school counsellor or speaking to a teacher you trust might help you on the path to improvement. At university, try to utilise the university counselling services and student support networks. If you’re not sure, bring it up with your personal tutor. Speak to a GP about how you are feeling and see if they can refer you for assistance. And, seek the local charity networks to see if they can help you with additional funded support.

Meditate

Meditation can be a great way to relax and calm down, but it is also an excellent tool to make breakthroughs with seemingly insurmountable life problems. One of the best techniques I find with this, is to visualise a pool, dropping in a question at the height of relaxation and inner calm, without the expectation that it will return an answer. You are trying to submerge the question into your subconscious, so that it can naturally provide you with an answer in a more intuitive way. I find the headspace app is really incredibly useful for this, so go ahead and try it out.

Are You Looking After Your Health?

One thing I begin to notice immediately when I am overwhelmed, is how it so often correlates with slipping into old dietary habits which are not good for my sense of wellbeing. If you are lucky enough to know what kind of diet works for you, then make sure to reflect on this when you feel overwhelmed. Am I cutting some corners? Can I try and cook a proper meal this week instead of dropping into a convenience store for a cheap ready meal. Often our bodies just need that little bit of extra support so that we can deal with what life throws at us.

Give it Time – Like, A ‘You’ll Still Be Here When The Sun Explodes’ Amount of Time

So, now you’ve heard me whittle on about this, that and the other, and it’s either helped you, or left you more enraged than you began (absolutely not the intention, but a hypothetically plausible outcome). Start asking yourself some questions, without demanding desperate answers. Try to give yourself time and the love and support from those around you, even if you feel that they do not always understand. Look after your body and meditate without expectation, as if answers can come between now and the squashification of the universe, which scientists are referring to as ‘the big crunch’.

I wish you happiness, fulfilment and the ability to overcome anything that life throws at you.

J

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The Commercialisation of Veganism

As I said in my last vegan related post, veganism has had such a warped presence in the media lately. It’s become a sign of political deviancy (definitely not always a bad thing), it’s become a trend or social statement amongst certain subcultures, but probably the most disturbing aspect of it’s image, and what has the most potential to destroy its benefits, are its aggressive commercialisation.

I believe the commercialisation of veganism is a slippery slope that takes the diet away from its root values.

Sure, it’s great that we have so many options now a days. For instance, we can get alternative milk products nearly anywhere – great for someone like me who has eliminated dairy. I can make sure I have something other than water to add to my porridge, and it means I don’t have to drink my hot drinks black all the time (though I don’t mind black coffee at all). There are so many types of tofu and other alternative meat products, and they’re getting cheaper. Even the dreaded vegan cheese is improving and I am seriously impressed with some of these options, no doubt attained through well meaning and dedicated research. All wonderful stuff.

However, I am falling into the convenience trap. I can go to any local store these days and pick up a vegan sandwich. It’s probably still healthier than the meat filled alternative, but the list of additives and preservatives in these meal deal sandwiches is, or can be, astonishing.

I am primarily a vegan for my health and secondarily for the planet and its animals. When I eat these easy-to-grab meals, I’m making a sacrifice in this aspect. These chemicals are not good for our bodies, and I now have to fend off the ever growing number of unhealthy vegan options available. This is fine if you’re not in it for the health reasons, but for me, it’s a shame to see more and more of this ‘technically vegan but not very nutritious’ commercial food being brought into our near view and within arm’s reach.

Macdonalds, the kings of convenience food, even launched a vegan meal just the other day. Again, it’s technically vegan, but it’s also deep fried. Is the market now going to become saturated with unhealthy vegan foods at the expense of one of its core tenets, health? As with most things that become popular, they tend to lose their roots, their original purpose and human benefits.

So, how do we combat this change? Campaigning is one thing, but we aren’t all into that, and many of us are using veganism as a way to recover from mental and physical illness.  We don’t have the time or energy yet to face the political and business side of commercialisation.

On the ground level, the individual only has two choices. To join groups where knowledge of healthy, free from additives foods can be found. We deserve to gain information from our like-minded peers on places that do nutritious vegan food that can still be enjoyed without cooking from scratch. Convenience doesn’t actually have to cut corners on health, but often it does and we must scan our local towns and cities intently to find those hidden gems, restaurants, diners and sandwich stores, that make the effort to produce good, nutritious food.

The other branch of focus is pretty straight forward and we attempt to do it all the time. We must try to organise our time so that we can cook healthy vegan food that we know will give us energy and help us recover from our ailments. We need to try hard to bring our enjoyment of cooking and preparation to life and to find ways to make food at home which is nutritious, simple and easy. It can be done, and like anything worth doing in life, persistence and practice makes it possible.

Well-being for the planet and the individual should remain the core focus of veganism going forward, and we can achieve this by drawing on our collective knowledge through local groups and working on our relationship with cooking and food preparation. Remember why eating vegan is important to you, perhaps even meditate and reflect on it a bit every day, so that you can focus on your goals and prepare yourself for daily success.

Good eating, cooking and learning friends,

J

How Meditation Can Help You Become a Better Writer

Many here will be into the art of writing.

Chances are, you clicked through to this article because you are interested in writing better content, in becoming a better communicator. And if you’re passionate and open minded, you clicked through because you can see how practising other skills can benefit your writing as well.

I am, technically speaking, a good written communicator. I have a big vocabulary, I have a knack for constructing sentences and I’m an excellent speller. Great, right?

Well, actually, no, not really.

You see, being a good writer is not about being able to spell or use fancy words or even primly perseverate your grammatical constructs (oh the artistic license).

It’s really about direction, meaning and flow.

Direction, the ability to pursue a destination tenaciously, often a thought or an idea we wish to explore. Meaning, being the ability to convey something that resonates with people. Something people are longing to understand, either about the world itself or about themselves. Flow, especially relevant to the practice of meditation, is the ability to allow your spirit to pour out onto paper without your mind putting a word in and interrupting you.

Direction is so relevant to meditation. When we meditate, we are often asked to enter our meditations with a thought or question which we are to ask of our subconscious and observe any thoughts or ideas it returns. We approach meditation with a controlled and intended trajectory. We want to know something and are ready to ask the questions we need to in order to listen to our subconscious for answers. Writing is the same. We write on a topic or an idea and as we begin on our path, our writing reveals knowledge we did not know we had to give. Our pen is a powerful exit point for the subconscious in much the same way that meditation is. Stretching our minds through meditation can allow us to claim even more direction in our writing than we may have already trained ourselves to create.

Meaning is why so many people enter meditation in the first place and often why we turn to writing too. We want to understand why we are here, who we are meant to be, why the world is the way that it is, and what we can do to make it better. Our search for meaning, the gargantuan existential questions we seek to address in meditation, will also help us tap into the meaning in our writing. When we meditate, we are constantly asking, ‘what can I discover? what can I learn about myself?’ and when we apply that to our writing, we can start to really dig into the stuff that makes writing so powerful, the meaning behind the words.

Finally, and arguably one of the things I have noticed has most greatly impacted my ability to write well, flow. Flow is the ability to focus on the task at hand and to acknowledge, but quietly and calmly relieve ourselves of interruptive thoughts. Being a naturally anxious person, I had a tendency to over analyse everything I wrote. I would scrutinise so intensely the authorial choices I had made, that often I would gridlock myself onto an island of misery. I began to hate writing because I was a perfectionist. I wanted everything, down to the last synonym, to be perfect. As with anything where we expect too much, it had the opposite effect, making me miserable in the process.

Meditation has allowed me to acknowledge my reservations about my writing. To acknowledge, but also to let them rest in the lay-bys of my mind as I drive to my destination. I now focus on what I am trying to say and not how I am trying to say it. I let my sense of direction, purpose and flow guide me as I write, where before I struggled to map my direction, find the meaning or write without my own thoughts interrupting, and even sabotaging me. I am a better writer because meditation has allowed me to let go of the finer details for the pursuit of the bigger picture. It is liberating and transformative, and I strongly recommend anyone who has the time and loves to write, take ten minutes out of their day to try it.

I hope you find direction, purpose and flow in your writing and may these principles allow you to achieve the joy in writing that I have.

J

 

Falling Asleep During Meditation

Most of us will remember a time when we meditated in an evening and started to drift off.

Meditation takes a concerted amount of mental energy and focus and falling asleep during the process can be an extremely frustrating issue for some people. In my last post, we talked about implementing meditation into a busy schedule. This post is about the dreaded drowsiness that follows your jam-packed life and how you can tackle its impact on your focus training!

Here are five ways to make sure you don’t let falling asleep ruin meditation for you.

1. Forgive Yourself – We’re human, we fall asleep when we become relaxed and this is only natural. Award yourself the positive thought that you had a nap and this is good for your body. If you were tired enough to fall asleep, you needed a break anyway. Part of the process of learning to meditate is allowing your body the space and time to understand itself. To feel the tiredness and listen to it. We are trying to give our bodies what they need. Falling asleep can be a form of listening and that is positive.

 

2. Meditate in the mornings – This one is easier said than done, believe me, I know! But waking up, having your morning coffee and taking just ten minutes to concentrate and focus, can set you up for a productive and meaningful day. Meditating before the day begins is a good way to focus the mind on the tasks ahead. Think of it like the time it takes to delicately string a bow before the marksmen shoots.

 

3. Make your sessions shorter – For some people, twenty minutes is just too long when they first start meditating regularly. Starting out with just ten minutes and working up to longer periods is the best way to make sure you don’t become tired and put off by the process.

 

4. Sit up and maintain good posture – Some people lie down to meditate and this may work in some cases, but when you come up against sleep, being so comfortable can be unhelpful. Remember, this activity is about maintaining that connection with your whole body. When your body is not engaged in some form of movement, it can switch off and we can find it difficult to connect with the sensations as well as we might when we are using it to stabilise our upright selves.

 

5. Limit the number of sessions – As has already been explained, meditation is taxing on the mind. When we first start out, meditating every day can be daunting. Like any new exercise, physical or mental, it is best to stagger the progression of time you do it. As your endurance increases, we may eventually work up to meditating every day, but for those just starting out, you might choose to meditate three days a week or only on the weekends at first. Don’t make meditation a daunting experience. It is supposed to be useful, not a chore.

So there you have it! Five easy to implement ways to reduce sleepiness and sleep associated self-chastisement during your meditations. Enjoy learning about your body and mind, but do not pressure yourself into more than you are comfortable with. Meditation is not a regime, it is a tool, and we can enjoy it on our own terms.

Happy focus, warmth and joy to you all.

J

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Meditation in a Busy World

It’s been a while since I last blogged about anything on my blog.

I have to admit, my passion for writing had all but dwindled to nothing in recent months, as I battled ever declining levels of physical and mental health. This isn’t the first time I have experienced problems with my mental health, and I am very open about it because I believe that talking about pain, heals. If you’re new to my blog, take a look at some of the background articles which explain why I’m writing.

My joy, my light, was going out.

I always imagine that there are two ways to go when you hit rock bottom. You can either give up and let the darkness take you, or you can make some drastic changes.

I couldn’t bear the next few decades in this state, so I have committed to many things, including radical diet changes. I am now essentially vegan, with the occasional lapse in having a bit of fish or meat at a special meal. I’m working on exercising, really slowly and carefully. I have quite flexible joints, especially in my legs, and so I have to be really careful about how much exercise I do in case I injure myself. The final thing I have committed to, and the topic of this post, is practising meditation, both at home and in the busy world where we spend so much of our time these days.

Keeping these pillars of well being at the top of my priority will be hard, as they are for anyone with a busy, full time job. However, they are necessary, as anyone who has struggled with their mental health knows, the alternative is much worse. I have been to some really dark places because I have not taken the time to look after myself, and it is amazing how much I am beginning to enjoy things lately because I have taken time for self-care. Neglecting our needs and accepting this as the status quo is the road to ill health and misery. With that in mind, I want to talk, briefly, about some of the ways we can employ meditation in our daily lives, when we are at work, or learning or practically anywhere.

Let me give you a recent example that can illustrate the calming benefits of meditation which can, without doubt, become a part of your busy schedule.

Yesterday, I had booked into the hairdressers for a cut and finish. For someone like me, a hair cut can be an uncomfortable experience. Often bustling, busy, loud, raucous places, filled with glaring lights and extroverts, my withdrawn and quiet presence can often curl up, further shrinking from its sizzling energy.

However, I’ve been following some meditation techniques on Headspace, an app for your phone which teaches meditation with a soothing voice and easy to follow instructions.

One of the most powerful things I picked up, were the techniques of listening to the sounds, smells and sensations of nearby space. The sound of your breathing, the rising and falling sensation of your chest. The soft pressure of the cushion by your side, or the mattress, if you decide to lie down.

It helps ground you in space. It makes you focus on now, as opposed to the fear of the future or lamenting the past. To centre yourself is to experience absolute calm. I really recommend trying a little of this out if you suffer from anxiety or depression. It can really help to bring you back to baseline if you are starting to spiral.

And this is something you can do absolutely anywhere.

Going back to my story about the hairdressers. For anyone with social anxiety and a largely reserved personality, these can be daunting places. However, I found myself naturally starting to use the techniques I had learned through meditation, to turn an experience which could be anxiety provoking, into a pleasant and calming 30- 40 minutes.

I found myself breathing steadily and deeply, staring loosely into the mirror in front of me. I started to sense the sounds and sensations around me. The gentle snipping sounds that scissors make by the ear, as my hair dresser carefully shapes and styles my unruly curls. The brief, warmth of body heat as the hair dresser brushes close by, adjusting their position to get at my tangled ends. The sound of foot steps on the hard floor, hurriedly clopping past and the ambient drone of hair dryers near and far.

I slowly began to fade away and lose myself in all the sounds and sensations. I was no longer on the defence against some perceived threat, very much imagined. It is like becoming a piece of furniture in a scene, totally blending in with an orchestra of noise, becoming silent and calm and completely malleable. The sense of you versus the world falls away, as if you were a piece of wallpaper, newly pasted on a busy background. You can become paper thin. Not literally, but in the way that you identify with what, or who you are, against what, or who, anything that isn’t you, is. It’s the active practice of dissolving the ego, a very important task for those who tend to spend too much time in their own heads.

You can really practice this anywhere, especially trying to work with this method in instances where you feel that anxiety may cause you problems. This can be busy places, or during stressful events in life, or perhaps even something like an interview waiting room, where the suspense of waiting to present yourself, can often times seem unbearable.

So there you have it, a little story from me about how observing and attuning our attention to the world around you can turn potentially unpleasant experiences into an opportunity for relaxation and a sense of ‘being’ with your environment, rather than against it. It just takes a little meditation and concentration, but we are all capable of reaping the benefits of calm and quietude, in the turbulence and chaos of modern life.

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Facebook – The New Opiate for the Masses That’s Making You Sick.

A week ago I announced I’d be leaving Facebook for a month to see how things changed in my life. This was after I did some research on how Facebook algorithms transform the way you behave online. Jaron Lanier’s ‘Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now’ inspired me to take the plunge. In his book, Lanier outlines that algorithms used on these platforms are constantly analysing your online behaviours, processing this information, and adapting your feed of information to maximise your engagement. Constantly evolving, these data-grabbing parasites find new ways to seize your attention and keep you locked in. It really works! And it’s especially effective against those of us who are compromised by our real life experiences. Let me illustrate by sharing a little of my own journey with the platform.

My Experience with Internet Addiction

Nearing a year prior to my decision to leave, Facebook had taken over my life. I was so invested in the platform that I spent most of my day getting attention, good and bad alike, as a mini kick to supplement my pathetic natural dopamine reserves. Thank you, brain, you’re so good to me. During this time, several significant life events had happened to me that knocked me off my feet. I had slipped a disk in the second year  of my degree which was causing a huge amount of pain and numbness in my legs. All the while I was working part time, hiding the fact from my boss and managing dicey personal relationships. I was cutting more and more real people out of my life as I slowly disconnected from reality. I had panic attacks, dissociation, health anxiety, and serious depression. I wanted to die, but I was also terrified of the idea of death. An unpleasant oscillation of negative emotions gripped me every day. As my real life started to implode inwards, my activities became deeply withdrawn and passive. I started to construct an alternative online persona, a confident, happy, egotistical version of myself that said whatever was on his mind. In short, a charming asshole. The feeling of having lost my voice in the real world translated to a booming, but meaningless online presence. I was clinging to control in the only corner of my life that I believed I had any left.

Little did I know at that time, Facebook, my little haven of safety, fantasy and control, was actually taking advantage of my vulnerability to keep me trapped in a cycle of depression, gasping for a breath of attention, but starved of real human connection. And these algorithms are designed to keep a person’s attention at the expense of the vulnerable. They learn the best ways to keep you online, and those most susceptible to addiction suffer the worst. How can we allow a platform that seems so innocuous and practically useful to systematically prey on the most compromised individuals in society? It’s simple, people just don’t know yet, and they really need to wake up from the stupor. Facebook has the chloroformed cloth to our face, and we’ve been under for long enough for us to forget who kidnapped us.

Would You Let an Organisation Build a Palace of Opiates in the Midst of Deprivation?

Do you know why a heroin addict takes heroin, even at the expense of his health, both physical and mental? He’s not lazy or a cockroach, he’s escaping his reality, and people who experience internet addiction on platforms like Facebook are doing the same. Groups and pages like ‘BPD meme Queen’ (BPD stands for Borderline Personality Disorder, a serious personality disorder that requires real world intervention) with over 120k likes, actively invites mental illness onto the platform, trapping more and more vulnerable people in the molasses of hollow experience.  Glorifying mental illness in the shape of memes and signposting it on Facebook is not healthy, yet it’s absolutely allowed on the platform.  I ask you, would you allow an organisation to hand out free opiates to vulnerable, struggling people who need help figuring out their reality? Would you let a giant corporation build a gleaming white tower in the centre of the most deprived area of a city, offering out free syringes for the people’s unbridled attention? I don’t think so. Yet we happily turn on our computers and let algorithms fuck with us all day long. Algorithms which become exponentially more effective, the more unwell we are.

The reality is this, you don’t need Facebook to stay in touch with people. Sure, it might be easier to use social media, it has all of your information in one place and it’s keeping it warm for you, but you do have a phone, you have messenger services, you can still send a text and ring people, even write letters (yes, we should do more of that especially). If we don’t put pressure on the networks to change, we’ll continue to experience all of these issues going forward. Facebook is making ill people worse over time, and in the best case, keeping people chronically not better.

Mark Zuckerberg – Building a Disease Free World on the Bodies of the Addicted

Mark Zuckerberg previously announced that, along with his partner Priscilla Chan, he would be donating 99% of Facebook’s shares to eradicate all human disease, founding the Chan Zuckerberg initiative in 2015. A lofty goal, but more importantly, one at odds with the very product used to fund this research. Addiction is a chronic brain disorder. It’s partly genetic, partly environmental, but according to the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a human disease. Many will argue that there are more serious and debilitating disorders, but that’s another debate and beyond this article. In its own right, addiction is a serious, debilitating brain disease that is being actively abused by Facebook’s algorithms, monitoring user behaviour, analysing the most visceral impulses of addiction, and using them against its users.

Addiction disconnects. Not only does Facebook help us unplug from reality, it does it under the guise of connecting the world. Why is this a problem? Facebook is funding its research against human disease with a technology that makes a serious human disease worse in the population. The very system that sells itself as making the world more social, more connected, is actually doing the opposite. Now, there are smarter people than me working at Facebook, of that I’m sure. Moreover, these people understand the technologies inside and out. So, given that the odds of Facebook engineers knowing everything I do and more, and yet not even advertising to the public better methods of networking, methods that are less manipulative and damaging to vulnerable people and the social fabric of society at large, what is the gig? Why isn’t this big news? Why isn’t this issue even on the radar at all? One can only imagine they have their very good, very legitimate reasons.

I’m sure.

Students! You are Prime Targets for Manipulation!

At this point many of you are probably wondering ‘what has this got to do with me? I’m not addicted. I’m just a student.’. And it’s a perfectly acceptable question to ask, but here’s the thing: As a student, you’re extremely vulnerable to Facebook’s manipulation. Students deal with higher levels of mental illness, depression and social anxiety, those being some of the most debilitating aspects for our social group. More than this, students are trying desperately to form social connections, especially when they first start out at university. Facebook and other social media platforms thrive on the insecurity of students trying to make their way on the social scene. We’re also chronically bored. Bored people find themselves spending inordinate amounts of time on these platforms because there’s nothing better to do. Procrastination, too, adds to student stress and burnout. Perhaps if we weren’t constantly having our essence sucked by horny virtual-dementor-algorithms, we’d have time to get some of our work done (I’m sure the least popular argument on this list). All of these factors make students prime targets for algorithms which want to keep you trapped in Zuckerberg’s Wonderland for as long as possible.

I’m not saying go cold turkey like I did but think very carefully about how you use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Communication, after all, is a two-way street. When we look out of the window, the things on the other side look back. The real question when using social media is who’s using who?

This article is also available at Slain Media.