Expanding Our Awareness

I have been in the meditation and yoga scene for quite a few years now. These things began as a practices to alleviate experiences with anxiety and depression, but have now turned into practices that expand my perception and awareness of reality – A practice that began as a form psychological therapy that turned into a deep spiritual practice.

Over the years, I have spent countless hours refining my skills. I stopped the counting around the 200 hour mark. I have read many books on mindfulness meditation and have heard many stories of people who have had profound experiences of contentedness and transcendence. Others claim to enter states of pure bliss and ecstasy.

I have always remained skeptical, even though I know intellectually that these experiences can happen in people, given the right conditions. I find my mind to be still full of so much tension, so much so that I still have difficulties letting go.

Although my experiences during things like seated meditation have been quite ordinary, I have adopted a new practice in walking, and this practice has really taken off for me.

I walk with no purpose. There is no destination, there are no headphones, there is no set pace. There are no goals of calories burned or kilometers traveled. Its literally a mindful stroll through the streets at a very slow pace.

Never have I felt so connected before as I do when I am on these walks. I walk passed things like trees, and its as if I am seeing these things for the first time in my life. I am seeing the colors in a way I am not used to seeing. I am smelling and hearing and experiencing things in such a different way, this sense of curiosity just overtakes me. Everything becomes so alive and vibrant, I just stare at things with so much intrigue, its like I’m seeing, hearing and smelling everything for the first time.

While on these walks, I feel so blissed out and in love with everything around me. I make eye contact and exchange smiles with the people who I walk passed, as I feel so open and connected. I am not distracted by music in my ears or a call on the phone and I have no place to be.

I’m in these states of peace and bliss and I lose touch with the chaos in the mind. Most of the time, the mind shuts off almost completely.

If I come across an object that catches my attention, I can get stuck in these small trances, where I just stare and get lost in the details of whatever it is that I am observing.

Our mind identifies objects and then comes to its quick conclusions about those objects, but the reality is, there is so much more to that object than what our minds tell us.

How often do we actually stop and truly observe these objects without coming to quick conclusions and labels?

For instance, what you see is not “just a tree”, as the mind will tell you, but rather it is a complex living mechanism, a whole system of cells that work together to create what you see. Your mind gives it its label, but in reality what you see is just 1% of the whole picture.

Hardly ever do we slow down and really pay attention to the finer details.

There is so much more to things than meets the minds eye. With curiosity and close observation, we can start to fully experience things for what they truly are.

The Madness of The Mind

One of the greatest challenges we face right now in the present is just this;

The human mind has become so programmed to constantly seek distraction. Our lives have become all about doing more. We pack our lives with things to do and we keep so busy, its almost manic.

Why do we conduct our lives this way? – Because the human mind is filled with madness and sickness. If you think about all the problems we face as individuals and as a species, they all start in the mind; world wars and genocides, just to name a couple. On the other end of the spectrum, its the sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction that we usually experience day to day.

We don’t want to face this reality of ourselves, so we keep distracted; we work longer hours, we watch more television, we eat more food, we take more drugs and alcohol and we become addicted to our technologies.

All of these things is partly because we are too afraid to face the madness going on inside each of us. As a result, we have become incapable of sitting still. We always have to be on the go – run, run, running away.

I spent many months away in a very isolated environment. I was living in a quiet Cambodian town and my only contact with people was when I was teaching at the local school. Other than that, I was all on my own. I was stuck with my thoughts and I learned after so many internal battles that there is no escaping what goes on inside.

As ugly as it can get, the mind will always be ticking over in the background, most of the time controlling how you feel and behave, especially if these thoughts occur unconsciously. There were times where I thought I was on the path to insanity, only to realise I had been there all along. There was nothing new going on here.

The mind was ticking over in its compulsive, mundane loops as it has always been. I was just more aware of this mental madness because I was forced to sit still with it. There were so few distractions, I had no place to run any longer.

Just like tragedy or death in the external world, we try and avoid some of these uncomfortable truths of our internal worlds. We don’t like to confront these things because most of the time, we dont like what we see.

Right now, we have the perfect opportunity to self inquire. People are on lock down and we now have no place to run or hide. So, go inward and watch the mind. Its in confronting our internal reality where we can begin to face our fears and then let go, without masking the truth with our short term band-aid solutions we are so accustomed to applying.

Entry Into Bachelor’s of Psychological Science – The Start of A New Journey

An offer of admission letter from the university of Wollongong for a bachelors of psychological science.

When I started This is Philanthropy, it was for a few reasons. One, I wanted to document my experience as a humanitarian worker in the hope to inspire and educate people around some of the social issues faced in overseas third world countries.

Another reason for starting the page was to build a platform through a content strategy that made people aware that whatever path I choose to go down, it’s always going to be focused towards nourishing and developing upon the well being of humanity.

Throughout my journey so far, I have learned that when working with people in any given context, it’s good to have a solid base of knowledge in business. That’s the case for when working alongside NGOs as a humanitarian worker. Commerce and philanthropy go hand in hand, if you are to create systems that improve upon current conditions.

But I also realised that having obtaining knowledge in the sciences is equally important. We are biological and psychological beings, and so a solid base of knowledge and wisdom in these fields is necessary for the sake of people’s development and well being.

In the context of the third world, people struggle to obtain things like education and medical support. In the first world, mental health is one of our biggest problems we currently face, and so it is important for me to be well versed in some of these areas.

I look forward to starting my next journey as a student in the sciences, building upon my aspirations to be part of this mental health crisis we experience in these more developed countries.

I’ve always said that philanthropy to me means more than signing a cheque. I believe philanthropy is also, if not more about being on the ground and working in the trenches, first hand. This is my way of being directly involved in people’s development, health and well being.

It Is Time To Go Inward

Be careful with how comfortable you become with material things. Be wary of how accustomed you are to high living. These things are like potent drugs – once you set that standard, its very hard to turn back.

Think about this – You get a job and it pays well. For the time being, you are satisfied. What keeps you in this job is the continuous increase in income its providing. On the outside, life seems good. You can purchase that fancy car, those nice clothes and you can go out for expensive dinners without a worry for the bank account.

But what happens the day you decide you no longer enjoy this job, or better yet, what happens when you discover you never liked the job to begin with? – You were just lured in by the seductive pay check.

How hard will it be then to give up that fancy lifestyle you created? You got yourself into the habit of picking at the finer things in life. Sacrificing all of that now seems impossible, because your whole identity is now tied in to your status, your title, the clothes you wear and the car you drive.

If you get your sense of fulfillment from the material things, then you leave yourself open and vulnerable because you are relying on something outside of yourself to bring you that sense of happiness and fulfillment that we are all fundamentally seeking out.

You leave yourself closed off to some of the opportunities and experiences that can develop and nourish your life, because you can no longer let go of this addictive, drug-like way of living.

It could mean that you choose to do things like stay in that job that makes you miserable and not going for the things that make you feel passionate and inspired, just because you cant let go of the dollar.

Technology is growing at exponential rates. Each of us will need to undergo career re-invention at some point. That could well mean taking a huge pay cuts. In this case, its important we learn to get humble.

During a time like this when global finance is at huge risk, its important to learn how to get fulfillment and happiness from things that aren’t material, because tomorrow things may change for the worst. Its important to learn how to live humbly, exposing yourself to a more simpler way of living.

Its not about giving anything up. In fact, you only have to gain – that sense of liberation when you realise there is more to life than the “things”.

Don’t get me wrong, nice things are nice. But they are only nice until you realise that nothing will ever be enough. You can chase and chase, like a hamster on a wheel. You will never reach your destination, because it simply doesn’t exist.

The only real destination that exists is the one within yourself.

Love During Times of Adversity

Times are tough for all of humanity. We are experiencing unprecedented events that are unfolding before us, bringing about this strange sense of uncertainty and sometimes doom.

Its during these times where we band together to offer each other love and hope – these are two of the strongest forces in our nature that will help us weather the storms.

I dont mean love in the romantic sense, but the love that comes with our desire to live life and contribute towards its well being. This is the type of love we must approach with.

What does it mean when we stare down adversity in this way? It means we must all step up and apply our courage and intelligence. These moments of adversity are the moments that bring about breakthroughs, as we learn from the lessons that help us realise that what we thought to be true was completely false, and that it is time to re-calibrate and find new trajectories that help advance us and our quality of life.

People are being told to stay indoors, and with that comes anxiety. But, now is the perfect opportunity to sit with whatever is going on, turning inward so that we can gain more insight into the true nature of who we are.

If we can find a sense of stillness during times of havoc, then we can begin to learn more about how external factors in life need not be the catalyst for how we feel on the inside. Life will happen, both good and bad – this is the nature of the beast.

Nature doesn’t know the difference between good and bad, it just operates the way it knows. Its our perception of these events that give them their labels. By using these rocky events as opportunities for self inquiry, we can start to see that external events need not control the way we feel and perceive.

We then get to decide from within ourselves how we want to respond as individuals and as a collective community.

The Tendency To Run

We all have the tendency to run away from difficult emotions and feelings.

This is the nature of the human mind. It wants to desperately avoid pain and chase pleasure.

Imagine yourself in an open grass field. There are two cats; one big scary one which you are trying to run from because you are afraid it will attack you, and a small one you want to catch because you think it’s adorable.

You end up running around in circles, trying to balance out the two extremes. You want to, so desperately save your life, but you are also extremely fixated on capturing this small cat.

This is what the mind does with pleasure and pain. The problem is, it’s a never ending battle because wherever you go, there will always be pleasure to chase and pain to deflect and avoid.

It’s in constantly avoiding and running from this pain where we suppress and reject the discomfort of some of our thoughts and emotions.

Because you have not taken the time to confront them and let your body process them naturally, these emotions get stored in different parts of the body, keeping you in a constant state of things like; anger, frustration, loneliness, emptiness and fear.

How can these things be stored in the body?

A thought begins in the mind. A thought about how much you hate your boss, or how much your partner frustrates you, or how much that person pissed you off, or how scared you are about so and so.

These thoughts in regards to fear or frustration or anger start in the brain and then become feelings in the body. These electrochemical signals that began as thought in the brain, their chemicals get released into the bloodstream and eventually get to the organs in your body.

These emotions that come from chemicals in the brain and body are forms of energy, and when you are stuck in a certain emotional pattern, your body cops a beating because there is all of this blocked energy sitting in different parts of your body.

It’s crazy to believe that this all began with a thought in the mind.

If you continue to have these thoughts, then your brain is going to continue to pump out all of those toxic chemicals to the body and those toxic chemicals of anger or fear are going to get stored in the body, continuing to feed those toxic thought patterns.

Sometimes, something as simple as lower back pain can be traced back to stress in the mind.

So then, what’s the solution?

There are many things one can do, such as changing the biochemistry of the body with nutrition. It’s like a pharmacy in there, with all these different chemicals. You can eat certain foods which helps balance out those chemicals, favourably. If emotions come in the form of these chemical signatures, then we can change those with the good things we feed our body.

Some esoteric practices like yoga and mindfulness meditation help.

Yesterday, I was dealing with some very difficult emotions. These emotions have been lingering for many months; fear, guilt, frustration, anger.

I observed how I respond to these, and I found that a lot of the time I would walk to the fridge to stuff my face with food, or I will light up a cigarette, just to deal with the discomfort.

But then, I decided to change things around and instead of reacting to the feelings this way, I sat on my bed in silence, closed my eyes and just sat in the body.

I confronted these feelings head on by simply just feeling them through.

It was painful and confronting, because I wasn’t drowning the mind in television or food or cigarettes like usual. I was there with them, allowing for my body and mind to fully become aware of them so I could process them and then let them go.

I woke up today feeling slightly different to yesterday, and I am excited to continue this process of sitting with pain and discomfort.

It’s in sitting with it and coming to a place of acceptance where you can begin to slowly peal away the layers of letting go.

On a biochemical level, your body and mind are well off because you are no longer stuck in an emotion and feeling which was most likely caused by a situation from the past.

The Physical Workings Of The Brain

There is a part of the brain called the occipital lobe, and within this area you will find the visual cortex.

This visual cortex receives, integrates and processes visual information relayed from the retinas of the eyes.

In the mid region of the brain, you will see the hippocampus, the amygdala and the thalamus. Unlike the cortex which does a lot of decision making and logic thinking, the mid region is more primitive – It’s where memories are stored and it is also known as the emotional brain.

The amygdala in the mid brain is the fight or flight response alarm. The hippocampus is where we store memories from the past and part of the role of the thalamus is to release peptides into the blood stream of the body so that we can feel the fear, or the joy, or the sadness, or the excitement when they all occur.

So, we go from taking information from our outside world via our retinas, this information travels to the occipital lobe and gets processed and then that information travels to the emotional brain and as a result, we get an emotional and physical response in the body.

Sometimes, information from the external environment may be so quick and intense, the information goes directly to the emotional brain before your visual cortex is even able to process anything.

Ive heard few describe certain events where they were so angry or afraid and they blacked out, not being able to recall some of the details. This may be a result of the emotional brain reacting before the thinking brain even had a chance to process the information and intervene with logic.

This all happens so quick, but the amazing thing about the brain is that it gives us the illusion that everything in reality is happening in sync with each other.

You start walking and you feel the floor beneath you, you hear the steps as your feet hit the ground and you can see your feet moving and hitting the ground. To you, all of this is happening in complete sync – this is another one of the minds illusions.

Whatever you experience through your senses is not entirely reality, but rather your brains representation of its external environment.

The Toxicity In Stress & Fear

If you’re prone to feeling many of the negative emotions such as fear and stress, even when there is little to no need for your brain to respond in these ways, try diaphragmatic breathing exercises.

Many people walk around constantly in a state of stress and fear. As for myself, ever since I can remember as a child I have always been prone to feeling high levels of stress and fear almost always.

This is less of a character flaw and more of a character trait and depending on what end of the spectrum you are in terms of neurosis, this will determine the level of fear you will experience in your everyday life.

To put it simply, everyone has the capacity to fear, but when that response gets triggered depends on the person. Some people walk around with fear and negative emotion when there is nothing to fear or feel negative about. This all comes down to personality type and past experience.

If you find that you are in a constant state of fear or stress, it means your amygdala, the part of the brain that is like the alarm bell that rings during situation where the fight or flight response is required is over active, sometimes even hyperactive like in my case.

Activity in the amygdala eventually becomes feeling in the body. Once signals from the amygdala reach the hypothalamus in the brain, peptides are released into the body relating to feelings of stress, anxiety and fear.

What started as signal of fight or flight in the amygdala is now a feeling you experience throughout your body.

When your body receives the signals for fight or flight, a lot of your blood travels away from your digestive system and other organs and into the limbs. With so much blood and energy in your limbs, this enables you to either escape for safety, or fight the threat.

If you are prone to stress and anxiety though, the issue is that your brain and body are going into fight or flight mode when it isn’t necessary. Even when there are no threats, the brain can imagine one and then put the body in a state of fight or flight intensity.

Eventually, this leads to more stress and fear. When your muscles are constantly tensed up because of the body’s response to the peptides released by the brain, this causes one to overextend on this natural instinct, unnecessarily.

With diaphragmatic breathing, you are bringing oxygen back into the stomach and the organs, and this calms the nerves and switches off the fear response, as all the blood rushes back from your limbs into your main organs.

After you have applied some breathing, consciously scan your environment so your brain can process that there is no danger in the present.

Working with these ancient instincts of body and mind and applying them to modern day living is the challenge, but it’s also the trick.

Image – pituitary gland attached to hypothalamus in the brain. Where neurotransmitters from the brain get turned into peptides that travel throughout the bloodstream of the body.

Defusion & Acceptance Commitment Therapy

Defusion – The separation of an emotion-provoking stimulus from the unwanted emotional response as part of a therapeutic process, in the same way as when a bomb is “defused”.

In his book, ‘The Happiness Trap’, Dr. Russ Harris introduces a technique called defusion. This is a mindfulness based technique that has you observing the thoughts in your mind. Every time you find yourself getting caught up in a thought or an idea in your mind, you simply say to yourself, “I am having the thought ….”.

For example, you have a particular stressor in your life, and as a result the mind keeps coming up with negative thoughts and stories that lead to negative emotions and feelings. I am scared about money, or my illness, or my family member, or my job – all of these stressors create negative thoughts and stories in the mind.

Pick out a particular negative thought or story that continuously plays in your mind. “I am too fat”, “I am too lazy”, “I am not smart enough”, “I am not good enough”, “I cant do this, or that”. Whatever it is, pick it out and each time you catch yourself thinking this, say, “I am having the thought that I am…”.

When I first learned this technique, I didn’t pay too much attention to the name. But, now with more understanding, I have decided to find out more. I have discovered something from reading the definition – “The separation of an emotion provoking stimulus”.

That word ‘separation’ explained so much of this for me.

In spirituality, there is a journey of one realising their true selves, outside from the egoic mind. We become so completely identified with the mind that we easily lose touch with true reality and our true selves. We get so wrapped up in all of the day to day stories of our mind, but the mind is just full of illusionary ideas about what we think reality is.

This tight identification with the mind becomes a big problem, and that is because it is not 100% truth. Its full of our own perceptions, dogmas, belief systems and judgement and it creates this sense of self; a self that can be harmed and judged.

These thoughts and stories in our minds have no real basis in life – They are just a constant stream of ideas running through the mind, most of them are negative because the mind isn’t designed to be happy. Biologically, we are built to survive and this comes with a lot of fear and anxiety. There are many problems in the world, and we are wired to survive these problems.

But the more we identify with this, the more we suffer it. This technique of defusion is what aids the separation process. A mindfulness based technique now used in ACT – Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, many practicing psychologists are now implementing this in their tool kits.

Separation from the mind, this is something that this technique of defusion achieves. Instead of becoming identified with a negative thought, you pick it out, say, “I am having the thought…”, and you have defused it.

The more you apply the technique, the less identified you become with these thoughts in the mind and the more you can experience them for what they really are, which is just a thought that most likely has no basis in reality.

Emotions & The Chemistry of Your Body

We all have the tendency to run away from difficult emotions and feelings.

This is the nature of the human mind. It wants to desperately avoid pain and chase pleasure.

Imagine yourself in an open grass field. There are two cats; one big scary one which you are trying to run from because you are afraid it will attack you, and a small one you want to catch because you think it’s adorable.

You end up running around in circles, trying to balance out the two extremes. You want to, so desperately save your life, but you are also extremely fixated on capturing this small cat.

This is what the mind does with pleasure and pain. The problem is, it’s a never ending battle because wherever you go, there will always be pleasure to chase and pain to deflect and avoid.

It’s in constantly avoiding and running from this pain where we suppress and reject the discomfort of some of our thoughts and emotions.

Because you have not taken the time to confront them and let your body process them naturally, these emotions get stored in different parts of the body, keeping you in a constant state of things like; anger, frustration, loneliness, emptiness and fear.

How can these things be stored in the body?

A thought begins in the mind. A thought about how much you hate your boss, or how much your partner frustrates you, or how much that person pissed you off, or how scared you are about so and so.

These thoughts in regards to fear or frustration or anger start in the brain and then become feelings in the body. These electrochemical signals that began as thought in the brain, their chemicals get released into the bloodstream and eventually get to the organs in your body.

These emotions that come from chemicals in the brain and body are forms of energy, and when you are stuck in a certain emotional pattern, your body cops a beating because there is all of this blocked energy sitting in different parts of your body.

It’s crazy to believe that this all began with a thought in the mind.

If you continue to have these thoughts, then your brain is going to continue to pump out all of those toxic chemicals to the body and those toxic chemicals of anger or fear are going to get stored in the body, continuing to feed those toxic thought patterns.

Sometimes, something as simple as lower back pain can be traced back to stress in the mind.

So then, what’s the solution?

There are many things one can do, such as changing the biochemistry of the body with nutrition. It’s like a pharmacy in there, with all these different chemicals. You can eat certain foods which helps balance out those chemicals, favourably. If emotions come in the form of these chemical signatures, then we can change those with the good things we feed our body.

Some esoteric practices like yoga and mindfulness meditation help.

Yesterday, I was dealing with some very difficult emotions. These emotions have been lingering for many months; fear, guilt, frustration, anger.

I observed how I respond to these, and I found that a lot of the time I would walk to the fridge to stuff my face with food, or I will light up a cigarette, just to deal with the discomfort.

But then, I decided to change things around and instead of reacting to the feelings this way, I sat on my bed in silence, closed my eyes and just sat in the body.

I confronted these feelings head on by simply just feeling them through.

It was painful and confronting, because I wasn’t drowning the mind in television or food or cigarettes like usual. I was there with them, allowing for my body and mind to fully become aware of them so I could process them and then let them go.

I woke up today feeling slightly different to yesterday, and I am excited to continue this process of sitting with pain and discomfort.

It’s in sitting with it and coming to a place of acceptance where you can begin to slowly peal away the layers of letting go.

On a biochemical level, your body and mind are well off because you are no longer stuck in an emotion and feeling which was most likely caused by a situation from the past.