Welcome to the Mouth of the Tiger

The inauguration has left millions of people feeling upset, enraged and demoralized. Protests are occurring world wide, and people and governments around the world (except probably in Russia) are feeling intense stress and concern. It is not an exaggeration to say that for the majority of people in the country and the world, yesterday’s inauguration was the start of a near state of emergency.

Personally, I have been feeling that. There is certainly a lot to worry about.

My own main focus tends to be health care. Every week I see people who are in desperate straits, including both pain and suffering and being suddenly unable to work, due to severe health problems. Since Obamacare came into effect, fewer of them come to my office suffering — or dying — from untreated medical conditions. Of course, the first thing he (you know who I mean – I can’t write that name) did yesterday was to sign an “executive order” undoing key protections that many of his fans need to be able to keep their own health care. (“Thanks for voting for me. Now die.”)

But on so many fronts, there is of course a lot that may happen about which millions of people are going to feel fear, anger, rage. These mental states of course only make things worse. Your body, emotions, and clarity of though are all compromised by intense feelings of fear, pain and rage.

This is not a good situation. What to do?

I am often comforted by an old saying: “the most important time to meditate is when you are in the mouth of the tiger.” I think that for the foreseeable future, this may be a useful thing to remember.

An earlier, very great president, Franklin Roosevelt, took office during a time of near-chaos, a time when people wondered if America would even be able to survive as a country. In the throes of the Great Depression, a third of the country out of work, protests, violence, national rage and despair mounting daily, he assumed leadership and reminded people in one of the great speeches of all time that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

When things are at their worst, you need to have the calmest spirit, the clearest head. It  of course seems like the thing you are least able to do. But this is where some basic skills in mindfulness meditation can be very useful.

If you are feeling the hot breath and the jaws of the tiger closing in, try this:

Take five minutes and sit down. Get comfortable.

Close your eyes.

Take a breath. Just focus on the breath.

Repeat.

Over the five minutes, try to get your breathing rate down to four to six breaths per minute. Count to six on inhaling, pause, then exhale to a count of eight. Pause and repeat.

(It is important to exhale longer than you inhale — it slows your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, gives a more peaceful feeling. Basically, if you need to rev up your energy you inhale longer and faster; if you need to calm down, exhale more.)

That’s it. For a start. For some more help with meditation, there is a set of recordings on this UCLA site that you might find helpful. (Click here.) Here is a nice set of meditation bells you might also enjoy:

Meditation gets more effective the more you do it. You are rewiring your brain every time you practice. It is a great daily practice to develop a more constant state of relaxed alertness. Calm. Clarity of thought.

If you are going to help with the resistance, or for facing any challenges in life, you first of all need to stay calm and think clearly.

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Starting a New Year

New Year has always been my favorite holiday. It’s all about a fresh start. Setting new goals. Making plans. Wondering what will happen.

A big part of the excitement in facing a new year is that it’s a chance to be creative, to build something new in the world or in our lives. It might be a bit quixotic at times, imagining a spectacular new self or better life or more good times — after all, who knows what good or bad things will actually happen? But on the whole, it does seem healthier (if not always easier) to feel optimism about coming attractions than to worry about what great past has been forever lost.

I’m working on some writing projects and wanting to focus most of my bloggy energy on this blog. I’m closing another one, dealing with weight loss issues, and planning to write about that topic here.

A few things I’ve been thinking about during the past year that I want to learn more about, so will be writing about here:

– The value of what I’ve been in my mind calling “immersive focus.” Meaning, instead of trying to accomplish 20 amazing things at a time, and so being mediocre at or totally neglecting 18 of them, it’s important to focus on just one or two things. There have been some good books on this lately, and I’ve been finding this to be very helpful in my own life recently. I’ll write about this soon.

– My own primary “immersive focus” topic has been personal health care. I’ve been pretty fortunate to have basically a symptom free life, but have always struggled with some weight issues and for 20 years or so, diabetes. But new research and some great writers on the topic have proven quite useful. I’m learning lots, and will share some of this.

– More generally, there are lots of exciting new things to talk about in the broader area of what we might call “performance enhancement,” which is really the same general topic that was of interest to ancient philosophers, to classic American “self-help” geniuses like Benjamin Franklin, and more recently, researchers in “expert performance” such as Anders Ericcson and pop writers and podcasters like Tim Ferriss. I’ll be reviewing books, sharing useful tidbits, all in keeping with the “high performance self-help” theme of this blog.

– More along the lines of actual professional psychology, I recently enjoyed a great professional workshop by Dr. John Norcross, one of the leading researchers and writers in the field of psychology. He spoke about the newest research on the importance of good relationships between therapists and clients and how to achieve them, and how that helps people get better when in treatment for problems ranging from depression to anxiety to substance use or weight loss. He has published some very useful things on  the science of self-change, focusing on what the research says actually works. This is great stuff, and I’ll be sharing some insights.

– I’m writing a book on managing what I’ve been calling “hard diets,” which are in fact neither all that hard nor, strictly speaking, diets. If you want to make lasting changes in your health, your lifestyle, your general happiness levels, this stuff might be useful. I’ll be sharing as much of it as I can in this blog in the coming months and your input will be very much appreciated. Look for ideas and reading ideas from some of the best, state of the art researchers and writers on nutrition, diet, exercise like Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of a number of books on the health benefits of “nutritarian” diets.

(Note: having just deluged you with links, I want to reassure you that I’m only sharing stuff I like; I don’t get any kind of compensation for sending you off to Amazon or anywhere else. And as best I can, I only suggest good stuff, with good research backing when it’s there.)

This blog will pick up on some of the writing from my long-defunct one that I’d been thinking of updating, the “Big Weight Loss Project.” Old posts on that will stay there. I’m also going to finally get around to learning how to manage my Facebook “authors” page, and will share details as I get it organized.

Finally, I’ll keep sharing some stuff on self-help for depression, from my books on phobias, enhancing your social intelligence (the greatest “superpower” you can have), and even some stuff from my psychological thriller, Dark Analysis (under the pen name JT Gregg.) (For these links, yeah, I could theoretically get some cash if somebody would PLEASE buy a book or two… but let’s not whine.)

Keep in touch. Let me know what you might like to learn about.

Let’s make it our best year ever.