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Personal Development

5 Steps To Getting Out Of Your Own Way

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Have you ever felt like you get in your own way? That, when working toward your goals, your path always follows the frustrating sequence of one step forward, two steps back?

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We all get in our own way at times, particularly when it comes to the areas in life that we struggle with the most. Getting in your own way can make it difficult to take the actions that will improve your situation.

For example, if you struggle with your weight, you likely get in your own way by not exercising regularly or eating well. If saving money is the problem, you likely have adopted a mindset that isn’t conducive to creating long term wealth.

Whatever your struggle is, getting in your own way suggests that you may not have a healthy relationship with yourself in that area of your life. As such, taking action toward the goals that you set will feel difficult (at times, impossible), and you’ll often struggle to find the motivation necessary to get things done.

Below you’ll find five suggestions for getting out of your own way. Commit to improving in one of these areas, and you will likely upgrade the others as well. Self-growth is a whole process, greater than the sum of its parts, and improvement in one area will lead to transformation in another.

1. Eliminate negative self-talk.

 You’ve probably heard before that negative self-talk can inhibit your ability to achieve a goal. There are many reasons this is true, but here’s one of the most important.

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All human behaviour is the result of you choosing to either avoid pain or seek out pleasure. Think about any behaviour you engage in regularly, and you likely can deduce which one it is for you.

It’s important you understand, then, that negative self-talk is painful on a level that only we can create for ourselves. When you demand perfection, or when you berate yourself because things didn’t go perfectly or how you imagined they would, your brain associates these negative feelings with your experience.

This could be why you avoid the activity that will help you reach your goals. Show more compassion to yourself and remember that achievement is a journey. No matter who you are or where you’re from, you will experience failure at some point, but failure is necessary for growth and, as such, should be embraced rather than feared.

2. Take a new approach to stop doing things you know you shouldn’t be doing.

Have you ever found yourself doing the thing you had, just moments ago, said you wouldn’t do? Most of us are all-too familiar with this scenario.

If that’s the case, I encourage you to flip your own script and take control in another manner. Instead of focusing on the things you shouldn’t be doing, focus on the things you should. Begin referring to these things as your “non-negotiables.”

For example, if your goal is to build a business, your non-negotiables each day might be:

  1. Cold call or cold email five prospective clients
  2. Spend one hour developing or growing your business
  3. Write one new blog post for your social media outlets

In this scenario, you take the focus off the minutiae that you sometimes get distracted by or caught up in — checking social media, answering emails, improving your website, etc. — and place it instead on getting your non-negotiables, the things you SHOULD be doing, done first. Whatever happens after that happens. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that you moved the needle and advanced yourself on that day.

Apply this to any area of your life and watch how this shift in focus destroys your tendency to do exactly what you think you shouldn’t.

3. Wisely choose the people in your life that you spend time with and take advice from.  

It’s a simple solution, but if you feel like you are getting in your own way, take a look at the people closest to you. If you find that your social circle enables you to make bad choices or live in a manner that is out of alignment with the vision you have for your life, you need to change that. Going out several nights a week or doing things that violate your values or beliefs for the sake of convenience is not doing you any favours.

While I’m not suggesting that you dramatically delete anyone from your phone who isn’t helping you reach your goals, I do recommend you start consciously limiting the time you spend around them. As with suggestion #2, your goal is to achieve peace of mind. What level of exposure to your friends and family will give you peace of mind and keep you effective at the same time?

Like it or not, the people that are closest to us influence our moods, beliefs, and actions. The people around you can help you reach your goals or can be a major reason why you never get there. Only you can decide what is right for you. Just remember, when it doesn’t feel right, it’s time to make a change.

4. Negatively perceiving your past failures.

 A surefire manner of getting in your own way is to believe that the future will be just like the past. When you think about it, it’s kind of a dumb belief. If we were all doomed to repeat our mistakes, why would we ever bother trying to improve ourselves?

Deep down, you know it might be similar. There’s a good chance you’ll struggle with the same one or two things that beat you up last time. But the outcome can always change. Achievers understand that failure is a form of feedback. When you fail, you’ve learned another way that isn’t going to help you reach your goals, and that it’s time to move on and try something else.

Make it a goal to give yourself a clean slate for your new journey every time you start something new. Stop associating past failures with new ventures. If anything, look deeply into what went awry last time and seek solutions that are specific to those problems before you get started again.

5. Getting ‘unstuck’ from the cycle of stress and self-doubt.

This last one is for people who have chronically struggled with something — weight loss, making money, breaking bad habits, improving their personal lives, etc. If it’s been years and you still haven’t gotten results no matter how hard you’ve tried, you might understand what it’s like to feel like you’re in a “cycle” of failure.

  Typically, the cycle goes like this:

  1. Something external motivates you to get started again.
  2. You make a grand plan that you’re sure is going to be the solution to your problems.
  3. Day 1 comes, and you’re confident in your abilities and excited to get moving.
  4. Day 3 hits, and you’re not as confident as you were when it started. Things get hard.
  5. Day 4 comes, you fall off the wagon, slip up, or don’t take any action.
  6. Days 5-7 are typically spent feeling depressed, upset, or stressed. For some, they are also the times when you binge.

 Wash, rinse, repeat. Three to four weeks go by, and you start the cycle all over again.

The solution here is this: Break your pattern by taking bold action toward your outcome. What could you do that would prevent you from turning back? Book a spot at a workshop? Throw out all the junk food in your pantry? If excuses were not allowed, what would that action be? Leverage that understanding and do all that you can do make it happen.

You’ll be surprised at how quickly you realize that the old cycle you were stuck in no longer seems as inevitable.

Final Thoughts

While getting out of your own way can’t be solved overnight, it can be eradicated over time if you strive for small advancements in the areas you struggle most. Consider it a win if you catch yourself before falling into old habits even once.

Be objective with your experiences and don’t get upset, even if you’ve never seen anything other than nominal success followed by failure. The truth is, you are entirely more capable at this point than you’ve ever been before because of what you’ve been through. With that in mind, strive for continual 1% improvements each day. You’ll be surprised how quickly the transformation comes.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to have the difficult conversation with yourself that will serve as the catalyst for progress. Don’t be afraid to pull up the hood and look for the problems. For all of us, that’s the start of getting out of our own way.

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Awareness

Epigenetic Memories Are Passed Down 14 Successive Generations, Game-Changing Research Reveals

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    It's amazing how much information can be passed on to our offspring. Scientist have discovered that our DNA has memories, and these can also be passed down. We are talking about thoughts, feelings emotions and perceptions.

  • Reflect On:

    Biological changes are shaped by our environment, as well as our thoughts, feelings, emotions and reaction to that environment. Our DNA can be changed with belief, the placebo is a great example. Thoughts feelings and emotions are huge in biology.

This article was written by the Greenmedinfo research group, from Greenmedinfo.com. Posted here with permission.

Until recently, it was believed that our genes dictate our destiny. That we are slated for the diseases that will ultimately beset us based upon the pre-wired indecipherable code written in stone in our genetic material. The burgeoning field of epigenetics, however, is overturning these tenets, and ushering in a school of thought where nurture, not nature, is seen to be the predominant influence when it comes to genetic expression and our freedom from or affliction by chronic disease.

Epigenetics: The Demise of Biological Determinism

Epigenetics, or the study of the physiological mechanisms that silence or activate genes, encompasses processes which alter gene function without changing the sequence of nucleotide base pairs in our DNA. Translated literally to mean “in addition to changes in genetic sequence,” epigenetics includes processes such as methylation, acetylation, phosphorylation, sumolyation, and ubiquitylation which can be transmitted to daughter cells upon cell division (1). Methylation, for example, is the attachment of simple methyl group tags to DNA molecules, which can repress transcription of a gene when it occurs in the region of a gene promoter. This simple methyl group, or a carbon bound to three hydrogen molecules, effectively turns the gene off.

Post-translational modifications of histone proteins is another epigenetic process. Histones help to package and condense the DNA double helix into the cell nucleus in a complex called chromatin, which can be modified by enzymes, acetyl groups, and forms of RNA called small interfering RNAs and microRNAs (1). These chemical modifications of chromatin influence its three-dimensional structure, which in turn governs its accessibility for DNA transcription and dictates whether genes are expressed or not.

We inherit one allele, or variant, of each gene from our mother and the other from our father. If the result of epigenetic processes is imprinting, a phenomenon where one of the two alleles of a gene pair is turned off, this can generate a deleterious health outcome if the expressed allele is defective or increases our susceptibility to infections or toxicants (1). Studies link cancers of nearly all types, neurobehavioral and cognitive dysfunction, respiratory illnessesautoimmune disorders, reproductive anomalies, and cardiovascular disease to epigenetic mechanisms (1). For example, the cardiac antiarrhythmic drug procainamide and the antihypertensive agent hydralazine can cause lupus in some people by causing aberrant patterns of DNA methylation and disrupting signalling pathways (1).

Genes Load the Gun, Environment Pulls the Trigger

Pharmaceuticals, however, are not the only agents that can induce epigenetic disturbances. Whether you were born via vaginal birth or Cesarean section, breastfed or bottle-fed, raised with a pet in the house, or infected with certain childhood illnesses all influence your epigenetic expression. Whether you are sedentary, pray, smoke, mediate, do yoga, have an extensive network of social support or are alienated from your community—all of your lifestyle choices play into your risk for disease operating through mechanisms of epigenetics.

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In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that genetics account for only 10% of disease, with the remaining 90% owing to environmental variables (2). An article published in the Public Library of Science One (PLoS One) entitled “Genetic factors are not the major causes of chronic diseases” echoes these claims, citing that chronic disease is only 16.4% genetic, and 84.6% environmental (3). These concepts make sense in light of research on the exposome, the cumulative measure of all the environmental insults an individual incurs during their life course that determines susceptibility to disease (4)

In delineating the totality of exposures to which an individual is subjected over their lifetime, the exposome can be subdivided into three overlapping and intertwined domains. One segment of the exposome called the internal environment is comprised of processes innate to the body which impinge on the cellular milieu. This encompasses hormones and other cellular messengers, oxidative stress, inflammation, lipid peroxidation, bodily morphology, the gut microbiotaaging and biochemical stress (5).

Another portion of the exposome, the specific external environment, consists of exposures including pathogens, radiation, chemical contaminants and pollutants, and medical interventions, as well as dietary, lifestyle, and occupational elements (5). At an even broader sociocultural and ecological level is the segment of the exposome called the general external environment, which may circumscribe factors such as psychological stress, socioeconomic status, geopolitical variables, educational attainment, urban or rural residence, and climate (5).

Transgenerational Inheritance of Epigenetic Change: Endocrine Disruptors Trigger Infertility in Future Generations

Scientists formerly speculated that epigenetic changes disappear with each new generation during gametogenesis, the formation of sperm and ovum, and after fertilization. However, this theory was first challenged by research published in the journal Science which demonstrated that transient exposure of pregnant rats to the insecticide methoxychlor, an estrogenic compound, or the fungicide vinclozolin, an antiandrogenic compound, resulted in increased incidence of male infertility and decreased sperm production and viability in 90% of the males of four subsequent generations that were tracked (1).

Most notably, these reproductive effects were associated with derangements in DNA methylation patterns in the germ line, suggesting that epigenetic changes are passed on to future generations. The authors concluded, “The ability of an environmental factor (for example, endocrine disruptor) to reprogram the germ line and to promote a transgenerational disease state has significant implications for evolutionary biology and disease etiology” (6, p. 1466). This may suggest that the endocrine-disrupting, fragrance-laden personal care products and commercial cleaning supplies to which we are all exposed may trigger fertility problems in multiple future generations.

Transgenerational Inheritance of Traumatic Episodes: Parental Experience Shapes Traits of Offspring

In addition, traumatic experiences may be transmitted to future generations via epigenetics as a way to inform progeny about salient information needed for their survival (7). In one study, researchers wafted the cherry-like chemical acetophenone into the chambers of mice while administering electric shocks, conditioning the mice to fear the scent (7). This reaction was passed onto two successive generations, which shuddered significantly more in the presence of acetophenone despite never having encountered it compared to descendants of mice that had not received this conditioning (7).

The study suggests that certain characteristics of the parental sensory environment experienced before conception can remodel the sensory nervous system and neuroanatomy in subsequently conceived generations (7). Alterations in brain structures that process olfactory stimuli were observed, as well as enhanced representation of the receptor that perceives the odor compared to control mice and their progeny (7). These changes were conveyed by epigenetic mechanisms, as illustrated by evidence that the acetophenone-sensing genes in fearful mice were hypomethylated, which may have enhanced expression of odorant-receptor genes during development leading to acetophenone sensitivity (7).

The Human Experience of Famine and Tragedy Spans Generations

The mouse study, which illustrates how germ cells (egg and sperm) exhibit dynamic plasticity and adaptability in response to environmental signals, is mirrored by human studies. For instance, exposures to certain stressors such as starvation during the gestational period are associated with poor health outcomes for offspring. Women who undergo famine before conception of her offspring have been demonstrated to give birth to children with lower self-reported mental health and quality of life, for example (8).

Studies similarly highlight that, “Maternal famine exposure around the time of conception has been related to prevalence of major affective disorders, antisocial personality disorders, schizophrenia, decreased intracranial volume, and congenital abnormalities of the central nervous system” (8). Gestational exposure to the Dutch Famine of the mid-twentieth century is also associated with lower perceived health (9), as well as enhanced incidence of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and obesity in offspring (8). Maternal undernourishment during pregnancy leads to neonatal adiposity, which is a predictor of future obesity (10), in the grandchildren (11).

The impact of epigenetics is also exemplified by research on the intergenerational effects of trauma, which illuminates that descendants of people who survived the Holocaust exhibit abnormal stresshormone profiles, and low cortisol production in particular (12). Because of their impaired cortisol response and altered stress reactivity, children of Holocaust survivors are often at enhanced risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression (13).

Intrauterine exposure to maternal stress in the form of intimate partner violence during pregnancy can also lead to changes in the methylation status of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) of their adolescent offspring (14). These studies suggest that an individual’s experience of trauma can predispose their descendants to mental illness, behavioral problems, and psychological abnormalities due to “transgenerational epigenetic programming of genes operating in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis,” a complex set of interactions among endocrine glands which determine stress response and resilience (14).

Body Cells Pass Genetic Information Directly Into Sperm Cells

Not only that, but studies are illuminating that genetic information can be transferred through the germ line cells of a species in real time. These paradigm-shifting findings overturn conventional logic which postulates that genetic change occurs over the protracted time scale of hundreds of thousands or even millions of years. In a relatively recent study, exosomes were found to be the medium through which information was transferred from somatic cells to gametes.

This experiment entailed xenotransplantation, a process where living cells from one species are grafted into a recipient of another species. Specifically, human melanoma tumor cells genetically engineered to express genes for a fluorescent tracer enzyme called EGFP-encoding plasmid were transplanted into mice. The experimenters found that information-containing molecules containing the EGFP tracer were released into the animals’ blood (15). Exosomes, or “specialized membranous nano-sized vesicles derived from endocytic compartments that are released by many cell types” were found among the EGFP trackable molecules (16, p. 447).

Exosomes, which are synthesized by all plant and animal cells, contain distinct protein repertoires and are created when inward budding occurs from the membrane of multivesicular bodies (MVBs), a type of organelle that serves as a membrane-bound sorting compartment within eukaryotic cells (16). Exosomes contain microRNA (miRNA) and small RNA, types of non-coding RNA involved in regulating gene expression (16). In this study, exosomes delivered RNAs to mature sperm cells (spermatozoa) and remained stored there (15).

The researchers highlight that this kind of RNA can behave as a “transgenerational determinant of inheritable epigenetic variations and that spermatozoal RNA can carry and deliver information that cause phenotypic variations in the progeny” (15). In other words, the RNA carried to sperm cells by exosomes can preside over gene expression in a way that changes the observable traits and disease risk of the offspring as well as its morphology, development, and physiology.

This study was the first to elucidate RNA-mediated transfer of information from somatic to germ cells, which fundamentally overturns what is known as the Weisman barrier, a principle which states that the movement of hereditary information from genes to body cells is unidirectional, and that the information transmitted by egg and sperm to future generations remains independent of somatic cells and parental experience (15).

Further, this may bear implications for cancer risk, as exosomes contain vast amounts of genetic information which can be source of lateral gene transfer (17) and are abundantly liberated from tumor cells (18). This can be reconciled with the fact that exosome-resembling vesicles have been observed in various mammals (15), including humans, in close proximity to sperm in anatomical structures such as the epididymis as well as in seminal fluid (19). These exosomes may thereafter be propagated to future generations with fertilization and augment cancer risk in the offspring (20).

The researchers concluded that sperm cells can act as the final repositories of somatic cell-derived information, which suggests that epigenetic insults to our body cells can be relayed to future generations. This notion is confirmatory of the evolutionary theory of “soft inheritance” proposed by French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, whereby characteristics acquired over the life of an organism are transmitted to offspring, a concept which modern genetics previously rejected before the epigenetics arrived on the scene. In this way, the sperm are able to spontaneously assimilate exogenous DNA and RNA molecules, behaving both as vector of their native genome and of extrachromosomal foreign genetic material which is “then delivered to oocytes at fertilization with the ensuing generation of phenotypically modified animals” (15).

Epigenetic Changes Endure Longer Than Ever Predicted

In a recent study, nematode worms were manipulated to harbor a transgene for a fluorescent protein, which made the worms glow under ultraviolet light when the gene was activated (21). When the worms were incubated under the ambient temperature of 20° Celsius (68° Fahrenheit), negligible glowing was observed, indicating low activity of the transgene (21). However, transferring the worms to a warmer climate of 25°C (77° F) stimulated expression of the gene, as the worms glowed brightly (21).

In addition, this temperature-induced alteration in gene expression was found to persist for at least 14 generations, representing the preservation of epigenetic memories of environmental change across an unprecedented number of generations (21). In other words, the worms transmitted memories of past environmental conditions to their descendants, through the vehicle of epigenetic change, as a way to prepare their offspring for prevailing environmental conditions and ensure their survivability.

Future Directions: Where Do We Go From Here?

Taken cumulatively, the aforementioned research challenges traditional Mendelian laws of genetics, which postulate that genetic inheritance occurs exclusively through sexual reproduction and that traits are passed to offspring through the chromosomes contained in germ line cells, and never through somatic (bodily) cells. Effectively, this proves the existence of non-Mendelian transgenerational inheritance, where traits separate from chromosomal genes are transmitted to progeny, resulting in persistent phenotypes that endure across generations (22).

This research imparts new meaning to the principle of seven generation stewardship taught by Native Americans, which mandates that we consider the welfare of seven generations to come in each of our decisions. Not only should we embody this approach in practices of environmental sustainability, but we would be wise to consider how the conditions to which we subject our bodies—the pollution and toxicants which permeate the landscape and pervade our bodies, the nutrient-devoid soil that engenders micronutrient-poor food, the disruptions to our circadian rhythm due to the ubiquity of electronic devices, our divorce from nature and the demise of our tribal affiliations—may translate into ill health effects and diminished quality of life for a previously unfathomed number of subsequent generations.

Hazards of modern agriculture, the industrial revolution, and contemporary living are the “known or suspected drivers behind epigenetic processes…including heavy metals, pesticides, diesel exhaust, tobacco smoke, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, hormones, radioactivity, viruses, bacteria, and basic nutrients” (1, p. A160). Serendipitously, however, many inputs such as exercise, mindfulness, and bioactive components in fruits and vegetables such as sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables, resveratrol from red grapes, genistein from soy, diallyl sulphide from garlic, curcumin from turmeric, betaine from beets, and green tea catechin can favorably modify epigenetic phenomena “either by directly inhibiting enzymes that catalyze DNA methylation or histone modifications, or by altering the availability of substrates necessary for those enzymatic reactions” (23, p. 8).

This quintessentially underscores that the air we breathe, the food we eat, the thoughts we allow, the toxins to which we are exposed, and the experiences we undergo may persevere in our descendants and remain in our progeny long after we are gone. We must be cognizant of the effects of our actions, as they elicit a ripple effect through the proverbial sands of time.

You can join the Greenmedinfo newsletter here for updates and more information about the world of health

References

1. Weinhold, B. (2006). Epigenetics: The Science of Change. Environmental Health Perspectives, 114(3), A160-A167.

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Exposome and Exposomics. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/exposome/

3. Rappaport, S.M. (2016). Genetic factors are not the major causes of chronic diseases. PLoS One, 11(4), e0154387.

4. Vrijheid, M. (2014). The exposome: a new paradigm to study the impact of environment on health. Thorax, 69(9), 876-878. doi: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2013-204949.

5. Wild, C.P. (2012). The exposome: from concept to utility. International Journal of Epidemiology, 41, 24–32. doi:10.1093/ije/dyr236

6. Anway, M.D. et al. (2005). Epigenetic transgenerational actions of endocrine disruptors and male fertility. Science, 308(5727), 1466-1469.

7. Dias, B.G., & Ressler, K.J. (2014). Parental olfactory experience influences behavior and neural structure in subsequent generations. Nature Neuroscience, 17(1), 89-98.

8. Stein, A.D. et al. (2009). Maternal exposure to the Dutch Famine before conception and during pregnancy: quality of life and depressive symptoms in adult offspring. Epidemiology, 20(6), doi:  10.1097/EDE.0b013e3181b5f227.

9. Roseboom, T.J. et al. (2003). Perceived health of adults after prenatal exposure to the Dutch famine. Paediatrics Perinatal Epidemiology, 17, 391–397.

10. Badon, S.E. et al. (2014). Gestational Weight Gain and Neonatal Adiposity in the Hyperglycemia and Adverse Pregnancy Outcome Study-North American Region. Obesity (Silver Spring), 22(7), 1731–1738.

11. Veenendaal, M.V. et al. (2013). Transgenerational effects of prenatal exposure to the 1944-45 Dutch famine. BJOG, 120(5), 548-53. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.

12. Yehuda, R., & Bierer, L.M. (2008). Transgenerational transmission of cortisol and PTSD risk. Progress in Brain Research, 167, 121-135.

13. Aviad-Wilcheck, Y. et al. (2013). The effects of the survival characteristics of parent Holocaust survivors on offsprings’ anxiety and depression symptoms. The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, 50(3), 210-216.

14. Radke, K.M. et al. (2011). Transgenerational impact of intimate partner violence on methylation in the promoter of the glucocorticoid receptor. Translational Psychiatry, 1, e21. doi: 10.1038/tp.2011.21.

15. Cossetti, C. et al. (2014). Soma-to-Germline Transmission of RNA in Mice Xenografted with Human Tumour Cells: Possible Transport by Exosomes. PLoS One, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0101629.

16. Zomer, A. et al. (2010). Exosomes: Fit to deliver small RNA. Communicative and Integrative Biology, 3(5), 447–450.

17. Balaj, L. et al. (2011) Tumour microvesicles contain retrotransposon elements and amplified oncogene sequences. Natural Communications, 2, 180.

18. Azmi, A.S., Bao, B., & Sarkar, F.H. (2013). Exosomes in cancer development, metastasis, and drug resistance: a comprehensive review. Cancer Metastasis Review, 32, 623-643

19. Poliakov, A. et al. (2009). Structural heterogeneity and protein composition of exosomes-like vesicles (prostasomes) in human semen. Prostate, 69, 159-167.

20. Cheng, R.Y. et al. (2004) Epigenetic and gene expression changes related to transgenerational carcinogenesis. Molecular Carcinogenesis, 40, 1–11.

21. Klosin, A. et al. (2017). Transgenerational transmission of environmental information in C. elegans. Science, 356(6335).

22. Lim, J.P., & Brunet, A. (2013). Bridging the transgenerational gap with epigenetic memory. Trends in Genetics, 29(3), 176-186. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2012.12.008

23. Choi, S.-W., & Friso, S. (2010). Epigenetics: A New Bridge between Nutrition and Health Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal, 1(1), 8-16. doi:10.3945/an.110.1004.

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Consciousness

Wild Wisdom: How To Navigate Difficult Emotions

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Day and night exist; so too do joy and sorrow, anger and sadness. Yin and Yang comprise our wholeness.

  • Reflect On:

    Consider that the night has as much to offer as daytime, and is just as necessary. What new version of wholeness can we be crafted into when we embrace and skillfully work through all of what we feel?

“Each of our feelings or attitudes, no matter how negative, can evoke compassion and lead to transformation. We then joyfully realize how every negative experience has positive, growth-fostering potential, how every liability is a resource, how every shadow trait has a kernel of value, how every disturbance or mistake can deepen our spiritual consciousness . . . there is an energy of light frozen in our confusion, a luminosity we can release, if only we do not give up our mining.”

—Dave Richo, Ph.D.

Positive emotions satisfy the immediate gratification style of modern culture. They pay dividends right away. We try to keep up with pleasure, joy, and bliss in their ever-more-enticing forms. Difficult emotions, however, take patience, and require delayed gratification. The result of this gratification is a deeper sense of fulfillment that can’t be gained by direct experience with positive emotion.

Through the lens of Chinese medicine, our positive emotions are considered Yang (positive and quick) and confer Yang power. Our negative, dark, or difficult emotions are Yin. They take longer to release their nectar, as we slow down to meet them. We might have to look like outcasts for a time to reap their hidden, subtler power. These Yin experiences deliver a quieter, inner power, gradually.

A balance of Yin and Yang power is crucial. If we over-feast on Yang emotions, we can burn out and fall into an exhausted or depressive state once we can’t keep up with all the excitement. This corresponds with the modern epidemic of adrenal exhaustion. If we over-feast on negative emotions and ignore the lighter side of life, we can also end up in the pits. Sojourns into grief don’t count because they often deliver great rewards.

When Yin and Yang are in balance and healthy they mutually support one another. When we find balance between Yin and Yang emotions, we can reap the benefits of both positive and negative states. It’s not difficult to see the benefit of happiness, joy, positivity, exuberance, and inspiration—all Yang experiences. More difficult is to glean the good reasons to embrace our dark and difficult states.

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When we understand, even if just intellectually at first, why and how difficult states are absolutely crucial to our well-being, this gives us incentive to stay present and open to them and override our knee-jerk tendency to shut down and go away when they surface. What’s more, when we attune to and are patient with what’s difficult, that darkness transforms us little by little into more light, a light we cannot attain from Yang states alone. Only by staying with what’s dark can we create more love and light from what seems rotten and miserable.

So, this writing is dedicated to understanding the unique benefits that come from our difficult feelings and why it’s a good idea to stay close to them, when they visit.

Looking Deeper

Just like beauty and the beast, beneath the ugly exterior of our difficult emotions is a tender core of inspiration, soulfulness, and renewal. They return us to what really matters by revealing and empowering what we care about. If we sit with these feelings long enough, which is to welcome and let them have their way with us (at least in good part), we can reap their hidden riches (note: this is often not the case for mental illness, such as anxiety and depression).

Paradoxically, this process of staying close to difficulty eventually fills us up, quenching us with fulfillment. I’m convinced that if we don’t milk and allow ourselves to be transformed by these emotions, we live fractured lives. And as a result, we fracture the lives of others, including the Earth.

In being with painful feelings and letting them change us, they recede. The more we allow ourselves to be changed by them, the more they dissolve. In fact, they recede in proportion to how much we allow them to change us, as if their purpose were to get us to pay attention, to surrender, and to transform. From being with and working through our anger, sadness, fear, remorse, and envy, we develop genuine compassion, courage, creativity, inspiration, meaning, purpose, empathy, and greater love—qualities I call our finer jewels of being human.

We dont transform difficult emotions as much as they transform us. For this we must surrender and become vulnerable; we must have the faith and courage, humility and strength, to be changed in ways not in our control, shaped by the wild ways of nature expressed through our emotions. This way we get to become more than what we can control, or even imagine. So, if you want to live a passionate life close to nature, give way to your heart and its storms of wild wisdom come to revolutionize you.

To be changed by difficulty, we have to be vulnerable, pliant, brave, and strong enough to weather the shape-shifting of our sense of self. This requires having a strong enough core sense of self, our functional ego, one that can handle the adjustments, or in some cases, the dismantling of our sense of self. For this reason, the support of loved ones, and a therapist, is virtually essential, or at least makes the journey more productive and smoother.

Our dark, uncomfortable, or downright terrifying emotions are the other side of love. They are love’s underbelly, the deeper regions of our heart. In fact, we can often sense when someone has not entered this sacred chamber inside themselves and met their life-renewing shadow because they are generally uncomfortable around the emotional struggles of others.

The Way Out is Through

While offering nuanced suggestions for precisely how to navigate our difficult emotions is beyond the scope of this article (I offer more of that here), I want to briefly speak to the popular adage, “Don’t wallow in negative emotions.” Ironically, this might be an outsider’s perspective, coined and perpetuated by folks who haven’t entered their shadow in a significant way. For, when we do, we learn that we don’t really have much say for how long we are beset by life’s downturns.

We in fact must endure periods of what seems like wallowing and obsessing because we don’t have control over these states, nor do we have to. Nor do we have to fit in to the horse and pony show of modern living, rife with sickness, dysfunction, and obsessed with productivity and positivity. Other times, however, we will be able to snap out of a funk. In these cases we have at least some say in mitigating difficult states, apart from how they might ultimately benefit us.

We experience emotion in two primary ways. The first is in response to troubling environmental factors, events, or circumstances. In these cases, it’s usually safe to heed emotional signals at face value. Another way is to experience difficult emotions due to an imbalanced physiology such as illness (including mental illness) or another stressor. In these instances, it’s better not to listen to the voice or message of emotion and its distorted reasoning, or at least not take their perceived impact and significance to heart. For example, if you’re in a spat with your partner and irritated because you need to eat, get to sleep, be alone, or just chill out, it’s often wiser to just focus on taking care of yourself and not get into it with someone else. We might also need to grab the reins of our mind and control our negative thinking, which is absolutely appropriate during rough times—especially, for example, when we are looping negative thoughts.

All these self-help actions help “skim the surface” of feeling bad, which is to clear the superficial and temporary stress that contributes to circumstantial emotional flareups. After we self-care this way, our troubles usually seem smaller and less painful. Whatever emotional charge or realization left after skimming this top layer of stress, we can embrace and more confidently take to heart. To not self-care to relieve everyday stress is to suffer unnecessarily.

 Exercise, appropriate diet, and how supported we feel. all significantly influence our physiological state and therefore the duration and intensity of difficult emotional states.

The idea is to try to stay close to, and be with, our core emotional responses to real life events and to manage and discharge the extra energy these emotions generate due to mental obsession and physiological imbalance. For example, I might feel sad that I lost my girlfriend. I might feel extra sad if I lie on the couch all day and don’t force myself to get up and take a walk, eat something, or talk to friend. We have control over the latter, and not the former. In fact, we might not want to control our grief too much (so it can work on and change us), unless it’s unnecessarily physiologically generated and/or exacerbated by too much inactivity and stagnation.

To get in touch with our core emotions, we can activate and express them (Yang), or slow down and gently embrace them (Yin). This is where the jewels are—if we dig, or better, let ourselves be unearthed! Taking a break from digging and feeling tough feelings, however, is also crucial. This is healthy denial, when we focus on other things to give ourselves a break and so we can return to the inner work refreshed and with clearer perspective.

Lying around feeling sad all day might be helped by taking a walk, venting and being heard by a friend, or getting out to get out of our own head. Feeling angry for hours might be appropriately curbed by going for a run, pounding on some pillows, or finding genuine cause for laughter. But longer stints of grief, for example, might stay with us for months or years. Often, we don’t have much say in this. We can therefore surrender and be changed into what we can’t imagine by this wild wisdom of our deeper hearts.

An unfortunate alternative to embracing our difficult feeling states is turning to drugs, addiction, and excess avoidance, which usually create more suffering. What’s more, we miss out on the nourishing qualities hidden in challenging emotions—our finer jewels of being human—which we harvest by embracing them. Handled skillfully and with support, difficult times can be immense opportunities for growth, finding meaning and purpose in life, and reckoning with our demons. How we approach and handle difficulty is just as important, if not more so, than how we deal with easy times.

—–

Jack Adam Weber, L.Ac., MA, is Chinese medicine physician, having graduated valedictorian of his class in 2000. He has authored hundreds of articles, thousands of poems, and several books. Weber is an activist for embodied spirituality and writes extensively on the subjects of holistic medicine, emotional depth work, and mind-body integration, all the while challenging his readers to think and act outside the box. Weber’s latest creation is the Nourish Practice, a deeply restorative, embodied meditation practice as well as an educational guide for healing the wounds of childhood. His work can be found at jackadamweber.com, on Facebook, or Twitter, where he can also be contacted for life-coaching and medical consultations.


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Consciousness

Hypnagogia: The State Between Sleep & Wakefulness Could Unblock Your Creative Potential

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Hypnagogia is a state of consciousness characterized by dream-like visions and strange or abnormal occurrences. Artists have been using this state for centuries to tap into a creative field.

  • Reflect On:

    If this interests you, keep a notebook beside your bed, when you're in this state, usually early morning, write down everything you see, felt or experienced. This may provide insight into yourself.

The two basic states of consciousness we are all familiar with our sleep and wakefulness, but what about that which exists in between those states? Hypnagogia is another state of consciousness that is characterized by dream-like visions and strange or abnormal occurrences. Artists have been using this state for centuries to tap into a creative field, from which some of their most creative ideas emerge.

Take surrealist artist Salvador Dali for example, he described hypnagogia as “the slumber with a key,” using this state of consciousness as the inspiration behind many of his imaginative paintings.

“You must resolve the problem of ‘sleeping without sleeping,’ which is the essence of the dialectics of the dream, since it is a repose which walks in equilibrium on the taut and invisible wire which separates sleeping from waking,” Dali wrote in the book 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship.

The inspiration behind Frankenstein came to Mary Shelley from a “waking dream” that occurred early in the morning. She said, “I saw with eyes shut, but acute mental vision.”

Dream researcher Michelle Carr explained in a blog from Psychology Today that during this state the mind is “fluid and hypersensitive,” and often visions occur that can “express layers of memories and sensations.”

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Hypnagogia is similar to REM sleep, the state at which you are in the deepest slumber, your mind is cycling through many thoughts, ideas, memories and emotions making connections behind various concepts. Unlike REM however, during hypnagogia you are partially awake and thus conscious enough to be aware of exactly what’s going on, what you’re seeing and how you are feeling.

Is This Related To Sleep Paralysis?

If you’ve experienced this before you may know that this is a state where you feel fully awake, but are unable to actually wake up. Many people see very haunting imagery or darkness and try to wake themselves up with no luck. What if those images were trying to show you something that you have been avoiding and this state of being was actually your brain trying to assist you with facing your own darkness? Just a thought, but you never know.

The term hypnagogia comes from the Greek words for “sleep” and “guide,” which suggest the period before or after being led into slumber or coming out of it. During this state, which is brief, lasting only a few minutes your being is essentially suspended between two states of consciousness and you experience some elements of sleep combined with some aspects of wakefulness.

“You wind up in the state somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, and you experience some phenomena of sleep while you are still able to be awake and remember them,” Dr. Milena Pavlova, a neurologist studying sleep and circadian disorder at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston told The Huffington Post.

So What Exactly Is Happening In The Brain?

During hypnagogia, scientists have been able to observe the presence of both alpha brain waves — the main brainwave mode when we are awake and relaxed, perhaps daydreaming or meditating and theta brain waves, these are associated with restorative sleep. Generally, these brain waves happen individually, but it could be the combination of them both that allows for these unusual visions.

This state is perhaps the best of both worlds as your mind is going freely without any effort or active thought, but you are conscious just enough to be aware of what’s happening and remember what you may be seeing or feeling.

“Typically, there is a lot of visual imagery,” Deirdre Barrett, a clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School, told ScienceLine. ”Sometimes static images, sometimes short-moving segments and occasionally longer narratives more like REM sleep dreams. Sounds also accompany this state sometimes.”

“Hypnagogia is the shortest path for communication from our subconscious,” Sirley Marques Bonham, a consciousness researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, told ScienceLine. “Your subconscious mind might send you solutions through imagery or other sensations.”

How To Harness This Creative Potential?

Next time you find yourself in this state of being, simply observe what you are seeing and how you are feeling. Don’t try to change it, or elaborate on it, just be with it. Once you are fully awake write down what you saw and whatever else you may have experienced. This could very well be the creative inspiration you need to tackle an upcoming project. It may also hold some powerful clues for things that you have not yet dealt with. You may enjoy trying to paint or draw the visuals you saw or describe in writing the sensations that were felt. Play with it and be open to whatever comes up!

Much Love

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