Monday, September 29, 2014

Taking time to BREATHE - Meditation

The principle of meditation has been around as long as man. Many religions and alternative therapists have expounded its benefits and perhaps made more popular with the advent of eastern philosophies and yoga. For those of us that have come from a more mainstream philosophy towards life, the use of the word “meditation” can switch one off immediately.

However, there are so many physiological and psychological advantages to meditation, that we shouldn’t demonise the practical benefits over the spiritual application.

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the busyness of life and the entrapment that excessive activity brings. (See “Take time to breathe”). It concerns me that with all the supposed socials aids we have adapted to (in order to make life easier), we are in fact more pre-occupied with activity, than at any time in history. We have developed a multiplicity of communication mediums, yet the intimacy of it, (I believe) has become the poorer.

It is common place to see groups of individual’s texting or deep in conversation on the phone, whilst those they are with, are being totally ignored. This is not “multi-tasking”, its impersonal and communication at its poorest form.
I make a conscious effort to switch off all access points, in the presence of an individual, except for the person that I am presently engaged with. With so many communication gates open to us, (internet, mobile phones, advertising), we are in fact consuming noise like a sponge, and the inevitable outcome is to become immune or insensitive towards it (people). 
Our senses have a way of blanking out noise we are familiar with, and awakened to noise which we are not accustomed to such as, environmental conditions, geographic, demographics etc.

We need to take control back of our senses, for the benefit and quality of our communication. 

We cannot live life devoid of people, but we can guard and control what and when, those individuals communicate with us. By starting our day with a time to breathe, relax and think, we are more productive and able to cope with the stresses that will come throughout the day. 

I wake in the morning “naturally”, as I find being “alarmed” into the day, is neither natural nor stimulating. There are few things in my day that are prioritized as “urgent” or “life threatening”. In my working day, I prioritise importance and guard against the tyranny of urgencies. An individual that is unwilling or incapable of planning their day should not inflict that expectation upon another, unless it is life or death. If more people took time to breathe, think and plan, less stress would occupy our lives.

So what is meditation? Well simply, it is the practice of exclusion and inclusion. Excluding factors that distract our thought life and including strategies to narrow ones focus.

Take a cow! (not literally) It seems to spend its life chewing the cud and staring over fences, but in fact it is doing naturally, what it needs to do for its growth and well-being. A cow goes through a process of chewing, ruminating, regurgitating and finally swallowing. It does this in order to get the maximum extraction of nutrients from it food, until what’s left has little value and returns to the earth as waste. It is in a sense “meditating.” By focusing on the process (regardless of the view and other animals around it), it is maximising the essential building blocks of life.

The art of meditation is concentrated focus. As a child, I was gifted a magnifying glass. It didn’t take me long to figure out that concentrating the light from the sun onto a friends hand, would burn him. Later on, I learned a bigger lesson. 

The power of the sun + Magnifying glass + Ripe Corn field = Disastrous Fire.

The power released from focused concentration (meditation) is immeasurable, yet it remains “untapped” by most individuals who are busy (and preoccupied), rubbing sticks to create a fire.

Whilst there are many reported benefits to meditating, research is ongoing. Below is a list of the reported physiological, psychological and spiritual benefits that meditation may bring. Of course, ones particular belief system will determine the spiritual practices and benefits. As a Christian, my meditation time places an emphasis on connecting with God, hearing  His direction through prayer, reading His word, learning from Christs exemplary lifestyle and listening to His spirit for guidance. The focus of my meditation is to transform to His image and pattern. Romans 12:1-2.

Physiological benefits:
It increases blood flow and slows the heart rate.
Increases exercise tolerance.
Leads to a deeper level of physical relaxation.
Good for people with high blood pressure.
Reduces anxiety attacks by lowering the levels of blood lactate.
Decreases muscle tension
Helps in chronic diseases like allergies, arthritis etc.
Reduces Pre-menstrual Syndrome symptoms.
Helps in post-operative healing.
Enhances the immune system.
Reduces activity of viruses and emotional distress
Enhances energy, strength and vigour.
Helps with weight loss
Reduction of free radicals, less tissue damage
Higher skin resistance
Drop in cholesterol levels, lowers risk of cardiovascular disease.
Improved flow of air to the lungs resulting in easier breathing.
Decreases the aging process.
Higher levels of DHEAS (Dehydroepiandrosterone) prevented, slowed or controlled pain of chronic diseases
Makes you sweat less
Cure headaches & migraines
Greater Orderliness of Brain Functioning
Reduced Need for Medical Care
Less energy wasted
More inclined to sports, activities
Significant relief from asthma
Improved performance in athletic events
Normalizes to your ideal weight
Harmonizes our endocrine system
Relaxes our nervous system
Produce lasting beneficial changes in brain electrical activity
Can cure infertility (the stresses of infertility can interfere with the release of hormones that regulate ovulation).                                       
Lowers oxygen consumption
Increases respiratory rate

Psychological benefits:
Builds self-confidence.
Increases serotonin level, influences mood and behaviour.
Resolve phobias & fears
Helps control own thoughts
Helps with focus & concentration
Increase creativity
Increased brain wave coherence.
Improved learning ability and memory.
Increased feelings of vitality and rejuvenation.
Increased emotional stability.
Improved relationships
Mind ages at slower rate
Easier to remove bad habits
Develops intuition
Increased Productivity
Improved relations at home & at work
Able to see the larger picture in a given situation
Helps ignore petty issues
Increased ability to solve complex problems
Purifies your character
Develop will power
Greater communication between the two brain hemispheres
React more quickly and more effectively to a stressful event.
Increases one’s perceptual ability and motor performance
Higher intelligence growth rate
Increased job satisfaction
Increase in the capacity for intimate contact with loved ones
Decrease in potential mental illness
Better, more sociable behaviour
Less aggressiveness
Helps in quitting smoking, alcohol addiction
Reduces need and dependency on substances
Need less sleep to recover from sleep deprivation
Require less time to fall asleep, helps cure insomnia
Increases sense of responsibility
Reduces road rage
Decrease in restless thinking
Decreased tendency to worry
Increases listening skills and empathy
Helps make more accurate judgments
Greater tolerance
Gives composure to act in a considered way
Grows a stable, more balanced personality
Develops emotional maturity
Spiritual benefits:
Helps keep things in perspective (true focus and priority)
Provides peace of mind, happiness
Helps you discover your purpose, mission and destiny
Increased awareness of God and self
Increased compassion
Growing wisdom in the word of God
Deeper understanding of yourself and others
Brings body, mind, spirit into balance
Spiritual rest and relaxation
Increased acceptance of oneself
Helps to teach us forgiveness
Changes ones attitude and effectiveness toward life
Creates a deeper relationship with God
Attain revelation 
Greater sense of direction
Helps us to live day by day
Creates a widening, deepening capacity for love
Clarifies awareness
Experience an inner sense of eternity
Experience a sense of Intimacy with God
Synchronizes your life
Taking time to think and breathe is completely FREE! It requires no special equipment, and is not complicated to learn. It can be practiced anywhere, at any given moment, and it is not time consuming (15-20 min). The key factor in meditation is prioritizing ones day, in order to consciously align ones priorities. It isn't a magical cure, it is a philosophy of life. Either we are controlled by the demands of life and others, or we "choose" our priorities. That which we focus upon becomes our centrality. Taking time to process inspiration (a bible reading, biography, prayer or situation) allows us to feed from that input. 
By giving yourself permission to think, focus and breathe, your day will better cope with stresses and strains that a normal life can bring. You owe it to yourself and those around you to live life empowered and prepared. 
Spend the next week meditating on this verse and record your observations. Meditate, ruminate, mull it over in your mind and discover its wonders.
Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law does he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Take Time To Breathe

Take Time To Breathe

We "wear" activity and busyness as a badge of honour. 

My world is surrounded by individuals who are convinced that activity brings life and all movement is forward. Truth is, not all movement or activity creates or sustains life. "Moving on", "Moved on", "Cut off", "Bridges burned" are all popular euphemism’s for having taken control of one’s present status.

Take time to breathe.

The Shepherd psalm is one of my favourites. Its metaphors deal with three fundamental factors.

1. We are entrusted to a shepherd that will lead us and care for us

2. Safe provision and sustenance in the midst of anxiety are assured.

3. There is a specific pathway that must be followed in order to remain safe, sustained and secure.

Historically, (and still in many countries today), the shepherd takes responsibility to lead his flock to places of refreshing and nourishment, a midst a barren and dangerous environment. Sheep are created uniquely in that their noses and mouth are submerged during drinking. Turbulent waters can drown them quite easily; therefore the shepherd would often lay upstream from the sheep, causing the waters to be held back, thus creating calm pools (he leads me beside the still waters) for the sheep to drink.

Sheep that choose to run ahead of the shepherds and launch into the waters will often drown or be carried away in their rush to be refreshed and sustained.

It’s easy to obtain, but difficult to sustain.

We live in "The Now" world! 

Waiting and patience is now uncommon to western society. We hate queues, are often intolerant, and demand our possessions now! After all, we are worth it? Why shouldn't we have the best now? "Sign on the line and make it yours" the marketers tell us.No deposit, instant finance, delayed payments!

Remember dial-up speeds? These days we moan and groan if we cant download a file in 3 minutes!
We have imbibed an age of intolerance and character traits such as patience, peace, kindness, forbearance, gentleness, self-control and love are in short supply.

It concerns me that many can gain all, yet lose everything, for what profit is there in having much but no peace in which to enjoy it.

One’s soul consists of mind, will and emotions. If one’s mind is set on self-gain in order to sustain a ravenous will, then no true peace will be found, at any cost.
Provision is a by-product of spiritual rest.

Many years ago, I was observing a greyhound dog speeding across the fields and it was only when it stopped that I could see it only had three legs. It was incomplete, yet had developed a process by which it could regain its former activity. Many are like that greyhound! At full pace, things look normal, when in reality they are not.

Often tragedies and events happen in life in order for us to prioritise the present that in time will define ones future.

Activity is not life, although life can come out of activity.

Clinical death is the medical term for cessation of blood circulation and breathing, the two necessary criteria to sustain life. It occurs when the heart stops beating in a regular rhythm, a condition called cardiac arrest. The term is sometimes used in resuscitation research.

It is possible therefore; that an individual can have no outward signs of life and yet be alive! Show signs of life and yet be dead! The human soul can show all the signs of actual life and yet its activities are dead.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
Be led, be still, be refreshed.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He leads me besides the still waters

Taking time to breathe, means taking time for restoration! Being restored is not a one off event it is a daily process. There is no system, regime or event that can precipitate ones refreshing other than the personal responsibility to:

1. Be led
2. Be still
3. Be refreshed

Restoration by definition: is to take something back to its original state. It is not a repair or a re-fit, it is a complete stripping back to the bare bones of what we were created to be. One cannot earn it, or be active in order to facilitate it. It has nothing to do with self and everything to do with the shepherd, who will lead us, feed us and restore us.

Presently, (like the three legged dog), many are at full tilt searching for significance. Yet it’s not found in the whirl wind experience, nor the lightening in the storm, but a still small voice that is heard in this rest, from beside the streams of refreshing! 

It's a lonely place to be, as there is no fill-in music, no motivational speaker nor lighting or ambiance, it is the bare bones of creation. The breath of life.

Slow down, prioritise your activities and Take Time To Breathe.