Noise

A few days ago, I got this email from WWF about noise pollution destroying natural habitats in the Arctic.  Though this particular issue is that drilling for oil creates noise that is harmful to animals, it made me think about how it’s also an increasing problem for humans.

We all know that noise is bad for us- loud rock concerts, screaming children, a particularly loud brass player in the next practice room-whatever.  Blaring advertisements and overstimulation are part of our everyday life.  But there’s a far more innocuous type of noise that’s just as negative- background noise.  It’s something that we all think we tune out, but it still takes a toll on our bodies.  According to this article from Women’s Health, excessive noise doesn’t allow our bodies time to recover, so they produce negative stress hormones, causing weakened immune systems, excessive nervousness, and even heart disease.  Small noises even affect your concentration.  What I found interesting to read about wasn’t just the obvious idea that noise is negative, but that the reason why we tolerate it is out of a sort of unwillingness to be introspective: we are too afraid of our own thoughts, so we drown them out.  This article even suggestions mindful meditation to get used to hearing your own thoughts so that silence is no longer frightening.

This is a thought that really rang true for me.  I remember a time when I used to blast really loud music so I couldn’t hear my thoughts, and in fact I still do it sometimes.  When I’m at the gym, I pump my music up loud so I can’t hear myself getting tired (I really do have a lot of terrible gym habits that I am not proud of…).  It wasn’t until I really started to engage in yoga and meditation that I began to appreciate quiet.  I can understand that meditation really is difficult at first, though- and it doesn’t get easier overnight.  It’s also hard for us with our Western way of thinking to believe that it’s productive to sit and literally do nothing even for 20 minutes.  It really is, though- if you can channel your thoughts and learn to tune out the noise- not just audible noise, but also unimportant thoughts, pains, and pollution from the media- your mind will become much sharper and more efficient.  You can train your mind to do anything, with enough time- to feel physical pain less, to react differently to negativity, to focus on one task to get it done.  If you can train yourself to enjoy listening to your mind, I guarantee that you will feel better for it.  It sounds cheesy, but you really will get to know yourself better and that’s an integral part of the journey towards finding peace.  It’s worth struggling through 10 or 20 minutes of spending time with only your mind for company, no distractions.  Perhaps a mantra will help you as well.

Anyway, I know that this isn’t quite in the spirit of Fat Tuesday celebrations, but I’m sure that tomorrow everyone will appreciate a bit of quiet 😉  Namaste!

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Love (and science)

As much as I detest Valentine’s Day, it seems as good a time as any to write about love.  It’s rather a bizarre concept, since it encapsulates so many different ideas.  Most other languages actually have dozens of words for “love” to describe its many incarnations.

I think that it is important to point out the distinction between feeling love and showing love in a “romantic” way.  Showing love includes gestures like flowers and chocolate and often even saying “I love you.”  Feeling love is a much deeper thing- it’s liking how something or someone makes you feel or act.  It’s not even quite the feeling of being “attracted” to someone  because we all know that following attraction isn’t always in our best interest (Fatal Attraction, anyone?  If that’s love, be very afraid this evening).  Love really is the most pure element on earth because in its truest form, it causes us as humans to feel the most positive power there is.

How?  Science, my friends.  It is science.  The reason for these positive powers are not only good vibes you send into the universe, but also oxytocin hormones- the opposite of cortisol (stress) hormones.  But good news for you single ladies and gentlemen out there: you can generate oxytocin in many ways and reap the same benefits of love without having to put on a fancy dress or pay for an expensive dinner!

Love is not just something for two people to share.  I am very wary of the concept of bestowing it all upon one person- it’s a bit selfish, and also potentially extremely destructive (putting the proverbial eggs all in one basket, so to speak).  If you are in a genuine, healthy relationship with someone and you feel real feelings of love toward that person, great!  But don’t keep it all for yourselves- the rest of the world is just as deserving of love as your S.O. is!

Don’t focus all of your positive energy on one person; send it into the world for everyone.  This sounds airy-fairy and sort of nonsensical, but the power of positivity is frequently underestimated.  Karma is a real thing- but hey, even if you’re a skeptic what do you have to lose by being kind and pleasant to people?

Here are some ways that you can increase your oxytocin to generate more love to share with the world:

  • Appreciation:  In the same way that you appreciate things about a person you love, you can appreciate things about the world and get the same or even more enjoyment from it- just from enjoying things like a warm cup of tea or a nice walk.
  • Give Back: Just help someone who needs help- carrying boxes, cooking dinner, whatever.
  • Puppies: Well, it doesn’t have to be puppies.  Positive contact with any living thing generates oxytocin!
  • Meditation and mantrasKeep your thinking positive!
  • Chocolate and mud: It’s true, they both have lecithin- a chemical used by many homeopathic practitioners to boost your mood.  So eat a few truffles or run around barefoot for awhile!
  • Sex:  Hey, it is the #1 oxytocin-generating activity.  Just throwing it out there.
  • Anything that makes you truly happy: If you’re happy, you’re more likely to exude honesty, generosity and empathy, which are similar effects to those of oxytocin anyway!
Hopefully all you single ladies and gentlemen are having a splendid day despite all of the “romance” in the air- remember, you don’t need to be dating someone to feel love!  I am sending lots of love to all of you today and every other day as well =)

Om, Shanti…Mantras

Mantras are an important part of many yogis’ practice.  They can be anything from the traditional “om” to something complex and unique to the individual.  It’s something that I gave a lot of thought to while I was in the Tibetan settlement Bir, India last month.  I hadn’t quite made the connection between mantras as used in yogic practice and mantras that are religious prayers, but they really are quite similar- even in Western religions the idea of mantras or repeated prayers are pretty prevalent.  When I was in Bir, I noticed that many people carried malas (the Buddhist equivalent of  rosaries) and even walked around chanting.  It seems like something that brought a lot of peace to them as individuals.  Something as simple as mindfully saying words that bring positivity really can make a difference.

To me, it seems that the chief difference between a mantra and a prayer is that a prayer is usually asking a higher power for Om mani padme humguidance, while a mantra is introspective and reminds the individual to find inner power and contentment.  A popular Buddhist mantra that is printed on many of the colorful prayer flags and wheels that I saw in Bir and Dharamsala is “om mani padme hum.” The syllables have literal, earthly translations like “self, “lotus,” and “jewel.”  I was told that it’s impossible to translate the deeper implications of the words, but they represent something like “generosity, ethics, patience, devotion, poverty, and wisdom” respectively.  The idea is that these are the six tenets of life that all people must try to purify- renouncing pride, jealousy, lust, desire, ignorance, possessiveness, and aggression.  Another, more simple mantra that I often choose to use when I meditate is the hindi “shanti,” or peace.

A mantra doesn’t have to be something complex and in a foreign language, though.  It can be something as simple as “this too shall pass” or even “just get through today.”  Maybe it’s as simple as a word that just has a good rhythm when you say it.  You don’t even have to commit to only one- perhaps one day you need to remind yourself to stay grounded, but the next you just need to remember to breathe.  The important part is to identify and connect with whatever words or sounds you choose.

The power to synthesize our thoughts and contemplate the deeper meanings of them is one of the main things that makes us human beings rather than simple primates and it’s essential to making the most of this earthly life before moving on to the next one, whatever that means for you in your belief system.  Keeping a personal and positive mantra in mind both when you’re happy and when you are experiencing something difficult is a great way to keep your inner self content and perhaps even in tune with your higher power.

What’s your mantra?