Work hard on yourself

I was recently teaching a Reiki class to a very nice group of women…

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But before I go on, I should tell you that the most rewarding aspect of my Reiki classes is the interaction, the closeness that happens between all of us. We usually start the class with an activity that would help create a safe space: one in which there is confidentiality, acceptance, respect and people take care of their own needs. By the end of a 12 hour class (Reiki I is intensive, I know) people have opened their hearts and have experienced what it is to be supported and connected.

So, this group of women… after each activity we sit and reflect on the experiences and make space for questions and answers. The subject of becoming a Reiki Master and teacher came up. Someone asked how to replicate, expand, multiply the kind of closeness, intimacy and support experienced during the day. I said, “What you do is you all become Reiki Masters and teachers and pass on this gift of Reiki to other people.” 

I’m not new to the hesitation most people experience about teaching others. We tend to doubt ourselves. Would others listen to us? Do we have the authority to teach others when we still feel “incomplete,” “flawed,” “in the process of becoming”? And I think the answer is Yes, yes and yes. We complete ourselves in the interaction with others. We build ideas as we speak and the inner knowledge comes out. We let our vulnerability be seen and trust the others, and we see our vulnerabilities as the place from which we can empathize with them. We become (whatever we want to become) thanks to the collective wisdom that inspires us, motivates us to move forward, opens our eyes to new experiences.

So, then the group wanted to discuss some more about the Reiki principles. One of the five principles is “Working hard on self” and it brought quite a few questions. No, we don’t want to be hard on ourselves, that’s not the idea.

There is the perfectionist kind of hard, I said. A person who will never feel enough and will judge others by the same measure. And then, there is the honest person kind of hard. I provided a personal example: I hate mediocrity and still I’ve come to recognize that sometimes I don’t try my best, because what I do seems good enough to many. So, I need to be true to myself. I think it’s easy to fall into what Edward de Bono called the “intelligence trap:” if we’re somewhat smart, we might be tempted to using our thinking to defend our positions (and we might have the ability to do it nicely), rather than further exploring ideas and subjects until we really have a deep knowledge of what we’re talking about. Once I recognize that I’m doing this, I have the obligation to “work hard” on getting out of the above mentioned trap, and conscientiously study and keep myself up to date on the topics I’ll be teaching, writing and discussing. So, the goal of “working hard” is not to be perfect, but to be honest: to be fully aware of our potential, our weaknesses, our flaws until we get to really know who we truly are. And we’re certainly not what we do nor what we achieve nor what we have.

We spoke about two kinds of doing: there is what I do in order to have (possessions, titles, position, recognition) and this kind of doing doesn’t really lead to satisfaction, fulfillment or joy.  And there is the doing that becomes the expression of my being and this doing is pure joy on itself

 

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Disconnected…

We spend most of our lives disconnected.

As the founding executive and director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of MassachuImage result for separationsetts medical school, Jon Kabat Zinn PhD would probably say: We are disconnected from our sensations, disconnected from our perceptions, disconnected from our impulses, disconnected from our emotions, disconnected from our thoughts, disconnected from what we say and also disconnected from our bodies. And this seems to be due to the fact that we are constantly mired in worries, lost in the mind, absorbed in our thoughts, obsessed with the past or the future, immersed in our plans and driven by our desires, confused by our need to have fun and at the expense of our expectations, fears and desires, however unconscious and automatic they may seem.

Disconnected from the planet

The world is becoming increasingly polarized, our awareness of separation grows and the spending habits we have adopted disregard the responsibility we have with caring for the planet. Our fall from paradise –as a metaphor– seems to refer precisely to the beginning of this disconnection from nature that happened when humans transition from hunter-gatherer societies to become shepherds (Abel) and farmers (Cain). With the progress of agriculture, private property, States, armies and a new type of relations between men and women soon appear.

In a world progressively displaced towards urban life[1], we not only have we lost the acuity of our senses, but our instinct and intuition. Let’s take the example of a hunter: he has to learn to listen to the animal that stealthily approaches, identify the marks it has left on the ground, refine his ear to identify where a sound comes from. He needs to be able to see, feel the signs that his prey leaves on the road. In his job as a hunter, the individual needs a type of sight that would allow him to identify a target at a great distance and pursue it with his eyes. This refinement of his intuition, of his senses, of his abilities, makes him a more efficient hunter. We have lost instinct and intuition. The sharpness of our senses has deteriorated. We rely on external gadgets or additaments to make up for the loss of our senses.

Our disconnection from nature in modern life is such that we are unable to anticipate the impact that material “progress” has on our lifestyle, health, others and the planet from which we derive our sustenance. When we eat a hamburger we can’t see the relation between its fat content and the damage that a diet rich in lipids can produce on our immune system, and eventually the arteries, which years later could increase the risk of suffering a heart attack or an embolism. We only perceive the immediate gratification.

The news tells us about global warming, melting glaciers, increasing temperatures of the oceans. In the summer of 2017, the largest iceberg in the world split up from Antarctica and in 2018 the northeastern United States was hit by heavy storms of ice, rain and snow that apparently originated in the Arctic warming (this year began to melt early, in February). We know that sea levels are rising and the coastal cities in the Gulf of Mexico and the islands north of the Caribbean have been affected by more intense hurricanes and tornadoes than ever. We witness more earthquakes, devastating fires (related to droughts), endangered species, toxic algae blooms, all phenomena of unprecedented intensity[2]. The key question is whether these occurrences are a consequence of human activity or not.

One of many examples we could offer about the disconnection between our lifestyle and the impact we cause on the planet, is how comfortable we get to feel with the practice of buying products packed in plastic because (we shrug the shoulders) we can throw the container in recycling bins. But do we question where this waste is going? Much of the plastic that we throw away has to be transported (with a high fuel use) to the recycling centers. But also, the recycling process itself consumes energy or in many cases the plastic ends up being transported throughout the world[3]in huge tankers that leave a trail of lethal oil in the water, to be later deposited in batches on Third World countries fields[4]. And, what will happen to objects made of recyclable material when they their use value ends?

Another example of our disconnection: the Pacific Ocean draws approximately ten metric tons of plastic fragments to the beaches of the Los Angeles, California area. Birds, turtles, seals and other marine animals confuse plastic debris with food (their smell and appearance deceive them) and the animals can die from malnutrition, chemical poisons in the plastic or intestinal obstruction. In some cases, they get stuck or entangled in objects such as fishing nets. Can you guess where all that plastic comes from? The lack of regulation of certain industrial processes (production, waste disposal) is also responsible for both pollution and the consequences of the presence of plastic in the environment.

The United Nations has issued a resolution that seeks to eliminate plastic in the oceans in 200 countries, but they estimate that the task will take at least thirty years when it may already be too late (at present, about 115 marine species are affected by plastic debris). Presently, countries like Spain do not know what to do to dispose of the millions of plastic bottles that are thrown away every day. From the moment I write to the moment you’ll read this, it’s very likely the statistics will be worse. However, markets are still filled with plastic containers that we sometimes have no option but to buy and take home (shampoos, alcohol, medicines, all come in plastic bottles).

There is consensus in the scientific community (expressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC for its acronym in English) that human activity is modifying the atmosphere and affecting the planet. But legislators, the president of the United States, and many media still doubt these conclusions and are even reversing the advances made in the protection of the environment. The interests of large corporations, which are not willing to bear the costs of re-engineering, necessary to prevent future emissions of greenhouse gases, are behind this problem.

The careless appropriation and abuse of resources and mindless consumerism ignores the impact we’re having on the planet. Add the use we make of fossil fuels or the waste that we generate. In the main cities of countries like the United States, up to forty percent of the food that is produced is dumped and as long as the water continues to flow in the tap we will not realize the consequences of the insensible waste of water and wood, resulting from the expanding urban population.

The media also constantly inform us about acts of terrorism, wars, people displaced by violence, refugees, famines, natural calamities, human and drug trafficking, mass dismissals, corporations that sink overnight and others that are they amalgamate to form huge and all-powerful corporations. Symptoms and consequences of our disconnection as humanity.

[1] Urban population in 2014 constituted the 54 percent of the global population while in 1960 it was a 34 percent, and it continues to grow.
[2] In just a month (August-September 2017) three hurricanes, Harvey in Texas, Irma in Florida and María in Puerto Rico cause immense damages (calculated in 500 billions of dollars). Damages cause by Maria are considered the worst disaster ever registered in Dominica. At the same time, the very dry summer came with fires that affected 10.000 buildings and houses and 47,000 acres in 2017. New fires are ongoing.
[3] China recently banned the imports of foreign waste (they were recycling but the waste received was not properly sorted out). The U.S., Europe and Japan are having trouble finding an alternative. The European Union is considering a tax on plastics and some countries have started to ban the use of plastic bags, cups, plates, straws and plastic bottles. To give you an idea of the dimension of the problem: They have estimated that around 4.73 billion plastic cups are thrown away every year only in France.
[4] I hesitate in using the term Third World, which was coined in the fifties and might mean something completely different now. However, I’ll use it to designate the group of countries that are less developed technologically and where the living conditions, health indicators and income of most of the population is the least favorable.

2,800 million people living with less than US$2 a day – Could you call it progress?

Progress is defined as a concept including the improvement of human condition, “the development of an individual or society in a directpoverty_146592980ion considered more beneficial than and superior to the previous level” (Thedictionary.com). However, many people equates progress with modernization. That is why construction, road projects and in general, technological advances plus a wider access to such advances are used to measure the “progress” of a group, region or nation. But I consider this is a limited view of what  true progress is.

A holistic concept of progress should include not just the material but the immaterial aspects of life. I would see it as progress if I saw more joyful people on the streets, fewer anxious people, less rush. I would believe it is progress when more people had access to preventative physical and mental health. When fewer people had the need for consuming alcohol and other substances as prescription for fun… or to relax. When there was more compassion and real team work and cooperation; more of a sense of collectivism and less individualism; less greed and more detachment.

But when we look around we find that in the midst of astounding advances there are still homeless people in the streets (only 18 states reported decreases in the number of people living in unsheltered locations): on one end of the spectrum we find a little more than a handful of billionaires, while on the other end about 1,200 million people live in extreme poverty, trying to survive with a fixed income of a dollar a day (according to the WB) and lacking shelter, food, access to health or education. The World Bank calculates close to 2,800 million people living with less than US$2 a day. And when we look at this reality, could we really talk about progress?

To calculate progress, statisticians use comparatives, like, “How did people live two centuries ago?” “How does the quality of live in different countries or regions compare?” The first thing we find is that social inequality has grown exponentially. The gap is enormous. By the beginning of the 20th century, the statistics show, the difference in the per capita rent between rich and poor countries was 10 to 1. Today it is 60 to 1. The concentration of wealth shows us there is a large section of the world population left behind when a few others are becoming extremely rich.

And the above numbers refer only to income. Add to that picture a lack of access to clean sources of water, education or health services.

And, could we truly talk about progress when depression and anxiety multiply as mental health symptoms of unhappiness? About 75 per cent of Americans have taken antidepressants and/or meds for anxiety sometime in their lifetime. Some of them unnecessarily, just because they were feeling sad or anxious, not necessarily depressed.

How could we talk about progress when the number of suicides in a country considered the kingdom of opportunity, one of the most industrialized countries, with a commitment to the “pursuit of happiness)” with no wars in its territory, increased a 25 percent in the past 15 years (according to CDC)?

When preventable conditions have skyrocketed, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, could we claim we’re progressing? I don’t think so; these conditions clearly point to a deterioration of our lifestyle… as we move away from nature, our diets are less organic, more artificial; our air and water are contaminated; our exposure to electromagnetic fields and x-rays increases with the risk of illnesses.

It cannot be progress when the percentage of deaths due to opioids and codeine have tripled in the past 15 years. But the most telling symptom against the idea that we are progressing is that we live in an era where terrorism is rampant and racism and discrimination are starting to bloom again.

Maybe we should include among our New Year resolutions to adopt healthier lifestyles, waste less and be more compassionate, empathetic and friendly.

Happy holidays!