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Finding Inner Strength to be Vulnerable in Relationships

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Tantric Intimacy holds the potential to connect us completely. We drop our guards and allow our whole self to flow into another person as we totally receive them as well. This creates a seemingly magical circuit of loving energy that can take us to infinite, wondrous places.

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This is very simple to say and completely natural for us to do.

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Yet, we struggle. How can we be safe to do this? How can I be open when I don’t know if I can trust this other person completely? What if I get hurt? What if I give myself completely, and my heart gets broken?

These fears keep our walls up, and so the magic of this kind of open, free-flowing connection eludes us, no matter how much tantra we study.

Your Inner Connection Makes You Whole

“Be humble for you are made of earth. Be noble for you are made of the stars.”

– Serbian proverb

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The foundation of tantra is always our personal spiritual connection. However you define God/Spirit/Consciousness/Zen, it is our deep and trusting connection to this mystery that brings us great inner strength (and humility).

As the proverb above says, we are both made of earth AND the stars. What does that mean to you? What does it mean to be made of the stars? The beauty of tantra is that it embraces both aspects of being human and blends them together to create the whole beings that we are meant to be.

For some of us, we get lost in the day-to-day movements of life — jobs, relationships, kids, politics, fears, hopes, etc. All of these things exist in the physical three-dimensional world in which we live. They are very real. They hold incredible opportunities for joy, growth, pain, and a myriad of other incredible experiences.

But we are more than that.

Somehow, we are also mystery, infinity, everything, everyone, nothingness, all-powerful, and all-knowing. This reality isn’t really possible to understand with our brain because our brain belongs to the physical world. And our language best describes things that happen in this world. Everything that happens in the “spirit” world cannot be described adequately in our language. We have words like “AWEsome,” “INCREDible,” “AMAZing.” All of these words simply mean that we cannot describe how we feel. These are all spiritually-inspired experiences.

The magic of tantra is the ability to blend these two worlds — to live within our physical bodies in our specific spot on the space-time continuum and also to know that infinite energy and possibilities flow through us in every second.

This is when we truly become tantric.

This Connection Gives Us Inner Strength

“The only thing that is constant is change.”

– Heraclitus

When we feel this deep connection within us, we become strong regardless of our circumstances. The world around us (including those people we choose to love) is always changing. This is the human condition. We are naturally in a constant state of change, growth, and flux.

Tantric Intimacy teaches that kindness and respect are the foundation of all loving connection. But although we may be diligent in how we treat others, those we love may struggle with this based on their upbringings and past experiences. So how do we still open ourselves without risking being hurt?

We cultivate this deep, inner spiritual connection.

You can do this through any path that works for you. It could be through the works of the mystics of all faiths. (Mystics always seek a direct experience of God.) It could be through meditation and mindfulness. It could be through running or horse-back riding. Whatever it is that connects you with that deep, still place where you can feel the stillness and hear your own personal guidance.

When we cultivate this deep connection, we find something called “Divine Courage.” This courage comes from within and helps us have the faith to take steps in our life that are new, exciting, and possibly a little scary. But the beautiful thing is that the courage came from within. This means that if it doesn’t work out the way we planned, we will also have that strength on the other side of the experience. That strength will give us the meditative mind to observe what happened with understanding and compassion. The experience won’t break us (even if it hurts). We will feel the growth and expansiveness of what happened instead of focusing on the pain.

This Divine Courage is what takes us to incredible places on each step on our tantric journey.

Merging Becomes Effortless

“A healthy ego is no more afraid of sacred union than a raindrop is of merging with the ocean.”

– Jalaja Bonheim

When we have this deep connection within, we are able to walk in the world quite fearless. We know that we are not alone. We are strong, yet we are completely humble.

So, when we find someone that we love, whether it is a friend, child, or lover, it is easy to be open with them. It is easy to share who we truly are. We don’t need to put up façades or pretend that we are something that we are not. We let them see right into our souls. Because of course, we know that we are all made of the same stuff. Our soul is the same as theirs.

Of course, we also have discernment. Because we are already whole ourselves, we don’t feel the need to merge with EVERYONE. In fact, it isn’t really recommended. There are a lot of people who don’t actually want to merge in that way. They just want to be near you, but to stay separate emotionally. That is awesome. We too, will feel that way sometimes.

But there will also be occasions where someone appears in our life and true, beautiful connection is possible and desired. And then we can sit in personal strength, drop our guards, and let them in. We can experience the beautiful flow that is possible between humans.

True tantric connection.

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Consciousness

A Spiritual Perspective On Smoking Cannabis: An Important Viewpoint To Consider

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    In the video below, Sadhguru shares his perspective on smoking marijuana and why it's not truly needed to achieve the feeling one may receive to do it.

  • Reflect On:

    I'm not saying there isn't medicinal value and that we should outlaw this plant, I'm saying we have a very large societal challenge, just like with alcohol, where we are not facing our inner challenges and are using substances to cover them up.

I was having a conversation yesterday about something that has always been a reflection point for me. Since I was a kid, I was never drawn to substances, even alcohol. I always felt great, high even, when just being.

As I got older and I finally tried cannabis for the first time, and then a few more times after that as years went on, I started to realize it actually brought my state of being and clarity down. The tough part was trying to explain that to others when having conversations about how these substances don’t produce a true experience of higher consciousness, but more so give you a glimpse in a sense.

Before we go on, I want to bring something up. The challenge with this topic is that we tend to get very emotional and rigid about it. Not only that, but we aggressively try to lump people into FOR or AGAINST cannabis. I’m not here to do that. I’m simply creating a reflection point as my desire is to help shift consciousness and empower us within to create a world where we can truly thrive. So for a moment, set aside your own hard coded beliefs and just be open to what this article is shining light on.

Societal Cannabis Culture

For the most part society either breaks down into people who judge cannabis as a drug that is for ‘stoners’ and are very against it. These people tend to believe there are no positives to cannabis. On the flip side are the people who feel cannabis is an amazing wonder plant that can do no wrong, and that the “highs” it provides expand the mind and we experience peace.

The truth is, cannabis has good aspects and not so good aspects to it. And while the positives can be really helpful for a very small subset of people on this planet, smoking it is one of the worst ways to use cannabis health wise. Not only that, society is using its medical benefits to turn attention away from the addiction many users have to it. This is a tough pill to swallow and makes many people aggressive and angry when I bring it up, but it’s true. In a big way, but not all the time, we are using cannabis as a society to help cope with feelings deep down that we want to shut off or hide from. As a note, we are also using food, TV and other things in the same way, but right now I want to focus on this reflection.

Cannabis can assist people with autism, people who have seizures, and in some cases it may have helped people cure cancer. There are benefits that can come from this plant being used in a proper medicinal way, but we must remember to look at the downsides that come from regular cannabis use that many simply don’t want to acknowledge.

A Note On Legalization

First off, I do not believe the plant ever needed to be illegal to begin with. In fact I’ve done much research on how it became illegal and it really had more to do with protecting an industry more than anything else.

That said, there is something to consider here that many of us aren’t looking at too clearly when it comes to what legalization really means. It means that powerful people are going to be the ones who profit most from it, that’s why it’s becoming legal. Not only that, but the reason it is taking so long is so they can get in place the many aspects required to make sure they achieve what they want: stripping medicinal aspects out of the plant profiles, controlling the seeds, and ultimately feeding society cannabis focused solely on creating a THC based ‘high’. This is no different than controlling alcohol and feeding it to society in the ways we currently do.

The cannabis industry is worth over $40 billion, making it the second-most-valuable crop in the U.S. after corn. As stated in a powerful article by GQ, “And even though weed is still federally forbidden, it sounded like whoever was behind BioTech Institute had spent the past several years surreptitiously maneuvering to grab every marijuana farmer, vendor, and scientist in the country by the balls, so that once the drug became legal, all they’d have to do to collect payment is squeeze.”

Humans should be able to make choices as to what they want to do to themselves and their bodies i.e. smoke cannabis or consume alcohol, but I believe greater education needs to be placed behind both and ultimately: we must start looking at the real reasons as to why we use both of these substances so often.

Looking At Cannabis Differently

I see that in many ways the use of cannabis is making the average user numb, in the same way alcohol does. I’ve used cannabis before, in a number of ways -smoking, edibles etc. I’m not saying the feeling is the same for every single user, but I’ve also been around thousands of cannabis users in my lifetime while they were high and you notice the same ‘vibe’ virtually every time. Perhaps there are varying degrees, but for the most part it numbs us out and sometimes quiets the thoughts to create a calmness. Is this like meditation? No, but it can be confused as that. I know, I’ve been there too.

Below is a video of a perspective on cannabis I feel is very important for us to consider. Let me be clear, I’m not saying there isn’t medicinal value and that we should outlaw this plant, I’m saying we have a very large societal challenge, just like with alcohol, where we are not facing our inner challenges and are using substances to cover them up. I am inspired to help create a world where we can truly empower ourselves form within, move beyond our mind and egoic challenges that help us grow and do just that – grow. But if we continually bury our challenges in substance, we won’t.

I believe it’s time we come to the uncomfortable truth and face the fact that as a society we have not done the greatest job in encouraging one another to truly explore, express and move beyond many of the emotional challenges life’s experiences have provided us, that are there for our growth. Think about it, do we want to just cope through life? Or do we want to truly move beyond our stuff? There is SO much suffering we can prevent by making it a societal norm to work through our challenges on a deep level. This is where I believe we must go.

Note: You can try meditation to help calm the mind and move more clearly through challenges. Here are more tools as well.

Lost relationships, divorces, losing jobs, feeling unloved, lack of confidence, depression etc. All of these things are not here so that we can use bandaids everyday to cover them up and get through them, they are here for us to learn more about ourselves, grow and evolve as people and as a society. To create a world where we can truly thrive. To get there, we must begin to face our challenges.

I made this choice 10 years ago when I started to discover meditation and inner reflection, and although I wasn’t a user of substances like alcohol or cannabis, I would use food to cover up my emotions or I would distract myself with TV, whatever worked. But I can share from experience, the incredible changes that come from shifting those stories within and gaining true empowerment will change everything in your life, and everyone can do it.

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Consciousness

Why We Get Into Fights When Sharing Information

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We’re in a time when mainstream media and traditional conversations are failing to address a number of important topics within society, anything from current events to politics and so on, and this is birthing a great deal of ‘alternative conversation’ that often stems from alternative media.

But with this, comes to the common ‘fight’ between various ideas and ideologies that is much more avoidable than we often realize. I wanted to share a quick tid bit from a recent episode discussing how we can reflect to develop better communication and connection faculties that can make a big difference in how we communicate important ideas that are emerging without creating such huge divides ad tension.

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Consciousness

Neuroscience Learns What Buddhism Has Known For Ages: Mindfulness

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Neuroscience and spirituality have been complementing each other for many years now, and one area we see a connection is with regards to mindfulness. This is defined as an attention training which can benefit health and general well-being.

  • Reflect On:

    How often do you practice mindfulness? Is it something you think about? How often do you use your consciousness and mindfulness techniques to help you with your overall health and well-being? Why was this stuff once considered 'pseudoscience?'

Mindfulness is defined as an attention training which can benefit health and general well-being. There is a lot scientific research confirming it. In this article we will present the other type of attention training called Open Focus. We believe, combining these two approaches may help to understand attention training better and to experience its benefits faster.

What Is Mindfulness?

In its most basic form, Mindfulness means to pay attention to what’s happening, on purpose, in the present moment, and to do so without judgement. Originally from Buddhist roots, it was introduced into the West by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zin and the University of Massachusetts. Since its appearance in the West around twenty years ago, many people have participated in the Mindfulness based stress reduction course and similar programs. Research shows that participants may experience profound benefits such as reduced stress, a greater sense of well-being, increased clarity and focus, and improved sleeping patterns.

According to Dr. Kabat-Zin, by paying attention in a certain way, we can switch off our so-called autopilot mode, in which we often go through life unaware of what’s happening within and around us. Living on autopilot not only means that we miss out on a lot of the richness of life, but we are also more likely to be stressed. Stress and autopilot are linked because when we are on autopilot, we are much more likely to act out unhelpful or even damaging patterns of behaviour. In other words, we react instead of respond to challenging experiences in our life. Mindfulness helps us to become aware of these habitual patterns and gives us a choice to change how we relate to challenging experiences. It’s not about taking stress away or hoping to live a life without any stress, but rather fundamentally changing how we relate to the things we experience.

On the other hand, many of us spend much of our time living in our heads. We live in a kind of virtual reality consisting of thoughts and inner dialogue, and thoughts tend to relate either to the past or to the future. Mindfulness helps us to learn how to return to the present and to what’s actually happening rather than our perceptions of what’s happening, which are often inaccurate. We practice it by cultivating greater somatic awareness — that is, awareness of the body, because the body is always in the present moment.

Ultimately, the more we practice Mindfulness and observe the changing nature of experience, the more we may begin to sense that what we previously thought of as being tangible and solid, such as our sense of self, is actually quite transitory and ephemeral. We may begin to understand what lies beyond objects arising in awareness such as sensations, thoughts, and emotions. We may begin to experience awareness itself. This is an extremely significant moment in practice and in life, when we start to experience ourselves as something greater than what we observe and our sense of being the observer.

In Mindfulness, attention generaly focuses on one object (such as the breath, sensations in the body, thoughts, or emotions), exploring it with a sense of curiosity and interest. Another way Mindfulness can be practiced is through Open Monitoring or Open Awareness, where no particular object of experience is selected and there is an openness to all that is unfolding within awareness. Here too, however, as various objects pass through awareness, attention is often paid to each object in a narrowly focused wa

What Is Open Focus?

Open Focus is the name of an attention training program created by Dr. Lester Fehmi, a neuroscientist and psychologist from Princeton University. Dr. Fehmi found that once our whole brain activity becomes more synchronous in alpha frequency, our mental and physical health improves. He created a series of mind exercises that help to cultivate this brainwave pattern, and he designed a neurofeedback EEG machine that can detect it.

On the basis of his findings, Dr. Fehmi developed The Four Attention Styles theory, which describes four different ways we can pay attention, and relates these styles to brain physiology.

According to Dr Fehmi, pain, stress, anxiety, and other challenges make our attention narrow and objective. It is natural to narrow our attention (focus) on pain or a problem in order to deal with it efficiently, but most people overuse this style in everyday life. They are unaware that it keeps them in continuous ‘fight or flight’ mode (see this post). Moreover, habitual focusing creates an impression that the reality consists of separated objects, since we can focus on only one thing at a time, leaving the rest outside of our focus. It can make us feel distant, alienated, and lonely.

Dr. Fehmi says we can begin relating to what’s difficult in a more balanced, accepting way by diffusing our attention. Diffusing allows us to see the big picture and connect (immerse) with its elements. It helps to realign with the world and to create healthy relationships. This style is linked to the ‘rest and digest’ part of our physiology and makes the whole brain activity more synchronous in alpha frequency, which can be confirmed by Dr. Fehmi’s machine (see graph below).

Untitled 2

Dr. Fehmi suggests everyone’s attention should be flexible, meaning that you can alternate between ‘narrow and objective’ and ‘diffused and immersed’ styles of attention or balance all at the same time. Dr. Fehmi says that the way we pay attention is directly linked to our well-being. Once you are able to balance your attention, you can positively influence your mind and body.

During Open Focus training, we practice diffusing by becoming simultaneously aware of many objects. The object can be everything you can focus on, like a physical object, a sound, a taste, a thought, a feeling, a sensation from the body, etc. Then you can progress to awareness of the space between objects, like the space between physical objects, the silence between sounds, or the breaks between thoughts, etc. Finally, you become aware of space between and inside objects which, according to Dr. Fehmi, helps us achieve diffused and immersed style. In this style of attending, all objects (including yourself) dissolve in space and you immerse with reality, becoming fully connected.

Are Mindfulness and Open Focus Complementary?

Open Focus and Mindfulness are not distinct and competing practices but rather highly complementary.

Mindfulness helps us to learn to pay attention to our experience and to notice how we are relating to it. Open Focus then builds upon the benefits and skills of Mindfulness by training us not just to pay attention, but to be more aware of how we are paying attention and to be more flexible in our attention styles.

We then have the benefits of two complementary practices available to us: learning to pay attention and being flexible in how we pay attention. We could say that Mindfulness is an excellent foundation for Open Focus training and that Open Focus helps us to get the most from Mindfulness training.

What Can Open Focus Offer Mindfulness?

As mentioned, much Mindfulness practice is based on a narrow way of paying attention (that is, we are focused on one object). Although it is useful in helping us to be more aware of what is happening in the moment, overusing this style may lead to tightness and overexertion in unexperienced practitioners, since many people think they have a choice of staying watchful (mindful) of what is happening, or they slip into daydreaming. They keep trying harder and it makes them exhausted and it sometimes leads to frustration and disappointment.

We therefore propose that Open Focus can bring to Mindfulness the idea of paying attention in the diffused style and the concept of attention flexibility.

Mindfulness practitioners who learn how to diffuse their attention may find that it helps them to progress. There are several reason for this.

The diffused attention style tends to quickly quiet internal chatter. For example, it is sometimes enough to become aware of sensations coming from both hands and at the same time to sense peace and calmness of the mind. It is because synchronous alpha brain waves play a top-down inhibitory role in the brain network. The quiet mind makes observing without judgment much easier.

In diffused attention style, you do not redirect your attention from one object to another, but  rather redistribute it between many objects, which are attended at the same time. The only way to do it is to attend objects in a very soft (less rigid, relaxed) way. This skill can then be used in everyday life. For example, you can stay continuously aware of breathing while listening to someone talking to you and there is no struggle between competing objects in your awareness. It helps to continuously sense the present moment and it has very practical applications (see this post).

It is important to note that in this style, one of the objects you pay attention to could be your daydreaming. Including daydreaming into the diffused attention helps to reduce struggle with it during practice. It is possible (and quite easy) to accept daydreaming as one of many objects you pay attention to (see this post). It can be easily extended to everyday life and it helps to stay present.

In order to become fully aware of the world, it can be helpful to cultivate a more diffused than focused attention style. Focused attention requires one to cut off a lot of what is really happening around us and it restricts experience to a narrow stream of sensations. In the diffused attention style, you are aware of the object and its background (see this post). This may broaden the perspective, helping to put things into context. It may also help to disable an autopilot and develop one’s ability to respond as opposite to reacting.

 As mentioned previously, Open Focus exercises cultivate an awareness of space around and inside objects. Once a practitioner is aware of space inside the object, it may become softer, lighter, and easier to be with and observe (for example when we attend an unwanted emotion). By switching to a diffused attention style, the difficulty may be diluted by a broader spectrum of attention. This could be likened to putting a teaspoon of salt in an egg cup filled with water and tasting it — the water would taste very salty. If the same teaspoon of salt were put in a swimming pool, it would be difficult to taste the salt. Mindfulness enables us to be aware that there is salt in the water, but Open Focus allows us to experience the salt in the context of the swimming pool rather than the egg cup!

The diffused and immersed attention style helps to dissolve objects like pain or unwanted feelings. Mindfulness practitioners are sometimes encouraged to bring attention to an ache in the back and to observe how this ache feels, exploring how it would be to allow the ache to be there. In Open Focus, they might feel the ache but at the same time feel the space around and in the ache together with the space in the room. In addition, they might imagine that we are part of the ache itself, allowing themselves to become immersed in the ache. This sometimes makes the pain or feeling softer, blurred with its background, and then it may naturally and effortlessly dissolve. The dissolving pain and unwanted feelings process is well documented in Dr Fehmi’s book.

Conclusion

Mindfulness teaches us to pay attention to our experiences so that we can interrupt habitual patterns of relating to ourselves and the world that may not be helpful for us. Open Focus enhances Mindfulness practice by teaching us not just to pay attention, but to bring more awareness to how we are paying attention.

As this article has demonstrated, these are two highly complementary and mutually reinforcing practices. Ultimately, with both we can learn to be present and be flexible in how we are present, after which we may uncover an unlimited sense of peace and love that lies beneath the ‘noise’ that we are usually confronted with and try to suppress.

In scientific terms, this may be regarded as homeostasis; in more spiritual language, this may be regarded as revealing our true nature or higher self. These practices may lead us to fulfil our personal and evolutionary potential and to live lives with grace and ease.

How You Can Try Mindfulness and Open Focus

We could write a lot but more about Mindfulness and Open Focus, but the best way to know them is to feel them!

You can try some good Mindfulness exercises here: Breathing Into Being, Taking In The Good, Self Compassion.

There is a choice of Open Focus exercises on Dr Fehmi’s and Tomasz’s website (the main difference is that most of Tomasz’s exercises are shorter and they are designed to introduce diffusing and to bring a quick and noticeable experience).

 MOF

This article was written with Mrs. Sarah Gulland a Mindfulness teacher who works from London, Guildford and Sussex.

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