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Contemplating Death, Dying, and All the Living in Between July 8, 2020

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“If we could raise one generation with unconditional love, there would be no Hitlers. We need to teach the next generation of children from Day One that they are responsible for their lives. Mankind’s greatest gift, also its greatest curse, is that we have free choice. We can make our choices built from love or from fear.”

– Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D.

“I cannot leave out the problem of life and death. Many young people and others have come out to serve others and to labor for peace, through their love for all who are suffering. They are always mindful of the fact that the most important question is the question of life and death, but often not realizing that life and death are but two faces of one reality. Once we realize that we will have the courage to encounter both of them….

Now I see that if one doesn’t know how to die, one can hardly know how to live—because death is a part of life.”

 

– quoted from The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thích Nhất Hạnh

Today’s post and class will be tricky for some. Today’s theme is always tricky for some. Although, I would assert that it shouldn’t be. After all, death is part of life. That can come off glib and easy to say – specifically because it is a little glib, or shallow, because it denies belies the fact that loss is hard and that most of us haven’t/don’t really face the concept of death until someone we (or someone we love) is dying. The statement “death is part of life” is also shallow because it belies the fact that even if we meditate on and prepare for death, loss is still hard. Yes, death and dying are something that we all have to deal with, but to just leave it at that is what makes the subject tricky. We have to, as Thích Nhất Hạnh instructs in The Miracle of Mindfulness, go deeper.

“The five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one[s] we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or goes in a prescribed order.”

– quoted from On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Grief by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler

 

Born in Zürich, Switzerland today in 1926, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was the oldest triplet in a family of Protestant Christians. Despite her father’s wishes, she would grow up to be a psychiatrist known for her work on death and dying, life and death, and the five stages of grief. Her ultimate work was in part inspired by her work in refugees in Zürich during World War II. After the war, she participated in relief efforts in Poland and, at some point, visited the Maidanek concentration camp in Poland. As a young woman, standing in a place of destruction, she was struck by the compassion and human resilience that would inspire someone to carve hundreds of butterflies into the walls of the death camp.

Dr. Kübler-Ross originally planned on being a pediatrician; however, she married a fellow medical student (in New York in 1958) and became pregnant. The pregnancy resulted in the loss of her pediatrics residency so she switched to psychiatry. Unfortunately, she would also suffer two miscarriages before giving birth to two children. The miscarriages were not her first (or last) experiences with loss. Her marriage would end in divorce and, when she attempted to build a Virginia hospice for infants and children with HIV/AIDS, someone set fire to her home (in 1994). The house and all of the belongings inside were lost to arson.

One of the things that stuck Dr. Kübler-Ross when she started her psychiatry residency was the hospitals treatment of patients who were dying in the United States. She began to host lectures where medical students were forced to meet and listen to dying people outside of a clinical setting. Her intention was to get medical students to “[react] like human beings instead of scientists…and be able to treat [terminal patients] with compassion the same compassion that you would want for yourself.” As she moved through her career, she continued hosting the series of seminars which used interviews with terminally ill patients. Her work was met with both praise and criticism – most of the latter because she was so obviously questioning the traditional practices of psychiatry. In 1969, she released her seminal book On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families, which provided a grief model for people who were dying as well as for those they were leaving behind.

“Those who have the strength and the love to sit with a dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body.”

– quoted from On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Dr. Kübler-Ross explained from the beginning that her outline was not intended to be linear and yet, people wanted to be able to step through the stages with grace and ease. The problem with that mindset is…life is messy and so is grieving. A perfect example of the messiness of life and death can be found in Dr. Kübler-Ross’s own life… and death. In 1995, after a series of strokes which left her partially paralyzed on her left side, she found herself confronted with the reality of her own death. Added to her grief was the closing of Shanti Nilaya (“Final Home of Peace”), a healing and growth center which she had established in the later 1970’s (shortly before her divorce) after convincing her husband to buy 40-acres of land in Escondido, California. Despite a 2002 interview with The Arizona Republic, where she stated that she was ready to die, Dr, Kübler-Ross struggled with the fact that she could not choose her own time of death. He son Ken, Founder and President of the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation, served as her caregiver for the last decade of her life. In a 2019 interview with the hosts of ABC Radio’s Life Matters, Ken said, “A few weeks before she passed she said to me, ‘Kenneth, I don’t want to die’”

“It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.”

– quoted from Death: The Final Stage of Growth by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

 

Ken Ross admits he was taken aback by his mother’s statement that she did not want to die. It turned out, Dr. Kübler-Ross was not only physically paralyzed; she was also stuck in the anger stage of her own grief model. She caught flak in the media – as if she were somehow above being human simply because she had studied, taught, and spoken so openly and so frequently on the subject of death and dying. She did not stay there (in the anger stage), however, as her family and friends encouraged her to keep living and to keep processing the experience of dying. Her son even admits that he literally pushed her out of her comfort zone by assisting her in wheelchair marathons and in visiting her sisters in Europe.

“[She] let herself be loved and taken care of, then that was her final lesson — and then she was allowed to graduate. For years I thought about this and what I realized was that’s exactly what she teaches. [When] you learn your lessons you’re allowed to graduate.”

– Ken Ross in a 2019 “Life Matters” interview on ABC Radio National

 

“In Switzerland I was educated in line with the basic premise: work, work, work. You are only a valuable human being if you work. This is utterly wrong. Half working, half dancing – that is the right mixture. I myself have danced and played too little.”

– Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. in an interview

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 8th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom, where there will be work, dance, and play. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

 

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

“Strange though it may seem to you, one of the most productive avenues for growth is found through the study and experience of death. Perhaps death reminds us that our time is limited and that we’d better accomplish our purpose here on earth before our time runs out. Whatever the reason….Those who have been immersed in the tragedy of massive death during wartime, and who have faced it squarely, never allowing their senses and feelings to become numbed and indifferent, have emerged from their experiences with growth and humanness greater than that achieved through almost any other means.”

– quoted from Death: The Final Stage of Growth by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

 

### “People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” EKR ###

How Ignorant Are You? June 13, 2020

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Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāsmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

 

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of self, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (which is attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death of loss are the afflicted thoughts.”

Yoga Sutra 2.17: draşțŗdŗśyayoh samyogo heyahetuh

 

– “The union of the seer and the seeable is the cause of pain (that may be avoidable).”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

 

“The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.”

Prepare yourself for some information that may seem surprisingly harsh and brutal. (Fair warning, some of this may be difficult to read.)

Thursday (6/11) was the anniversary of formation of the Committee of Five. Consisting of John Adams (Massachusetts), Roger Sherman (Connecticut), Robert Livingston (New York), Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania), and Thomas Jefferson (Virginia), the committee was charged, back in 1776, with drafting a document which would be approved by the Second Continental Congress and presented to England as a Declaration of Independence. The committee worked from until July 5thand, contrary to what many believe, the approved document was signed over the next several months by the various delegates. There was no single day of signing. Both the fact that people believe there was a single day of signing, as well as the fact that the committee excluded their original language criticizing slavery, is a sign of ignorance. The fact that a declaration of independence stated “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness….” but did not consider that these truths applied to women and people of color is a sign of ignorance.

Yesterday (6/12) was the anniversary of the birth of a young girl. Born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1929, Anne Frank would die in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the age of 14. Her death, as well as the deaths of her family, friends, community, and millions of others is a sign of ignorance.

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery, and death. I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that this cruelty too shall end, and that peace & tranquility will return once again.”

 

— Anne Frank, written in her diary (“Kitty”) on July 15, 1944

Yesterday was also the anniversary of the assassination of Medgar Evers in 1963. Evers was an African American civil rights activist in Mississippi, who worked as the state’s field secretary for the NAACP, worked to overturn segregation, and worked to ensure voters’ rights. He was shot (in the back and clear through the heart) in his front yard by a member of the KKK and the White Citizens’ Council. The fact that Evers had to do the work he did, as well as the fact that he was killed for doing that work, is a sign of ignorance. The fact that two all-white juries failed to convict the person how killed Evers is a sign of ignorance. The fact Evers and his wife Myrlie Evers had to teach their young children (ages: 3, 7, and 9) how to tell the difference between firecrackers and gunshots, as well as how to hide when they heard gunshots, is a sign of ignorance. The fact that many people don’t know about the thousands who marched in protest after Medger Evers was killed is a sign of ignorance.

“Freedom has never been free… I love my children and I love my wife with all my heart. And I would die, die gladly, if that would make a better life for them.”

 

– Medger Evers, June 7, 1963 (just days before his death)

Yesterday was also the anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia in 1967. The court declared any state laws prohibiting interracial marriage to be unconstitutional. The fact that states like Virginia had considered people like Richard Loving (a white man) and his wife Mildred Loving (a black and Indigenous American woman) to be criminals – even sentencing them to prison – is a sign of ignorance. The fact that they faced hate from people in their community is a sign of ignorance.

“I understand it and I believe it.”

 

 – Mildred Loving (in 2003) when asked if she understood she was “putting her name behind the idea that two men or two women should have the right to marry each other”

Yesterday, in 2016, a man walked into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and started shooting. Pulse was a gay nightclub that often, as they were that night, held theme nights which attracted a wide variety of people. 49 people were killed and over 50 were wounded in what was the deadliest (single) incident of violence against GLBTQIA+ in the United States and the second deadliest terrorist attack on U. S. soil since 9/11. Until the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017, it was the deadliest single mass gunman shooting in U. S. history. The fact that the shooting happened, that people couldn’t just go out for an evening of dancing with family and friends, is a sign of ignorance. The fact that a little over a year later there would be another mass shooting, let alone the countless before and since, is a sign of ignorance.

“There is so much love out there. I want the legacy of these kids to be that. To show the world that [being LGBTQ] is more than a label – these are people that were loved, they were caring, they were human and these hate crimes are just totally uncalled for. Unnecessary. We are here because God created us and he created us all equal – and some people don’t seem to have this kind of vision. I don’t know what kind of world they want to live in.”

 

– Mayra Alvear, one year after her youngest daughter Amanda was killed in the Pulse Orlando shooting

Today is the 89th birthday of Dr. Irvin Yalom. Born today in 1931, he is Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford and an author who pioneer of existentialist psychotherapy, who was featured in the 2003 documentary Flight from Death. His therapy and research are based on his belief that “we are here, through random events; that we are here alone…. that we are responsible for carving out own life pattern, our own meaning… we have no predestined fate…” Dr. Yalom outlines four givens: Isolation, Mortality, Meaninglessness, and Freedom (which comes with responsibility). He indicates that we are deal with inner conflict around the four givens and that our responses are either functional or dysfunctional.

“I am using the term [existential] in a very simple, straightforward way; simply to refer to existence. [As an adjective] Existential Psychotherapy means simply, a therapy focused on concerns emerging from the nature of existence.”

 

– Dr. Irvin Yalom, speaking at a 2009 Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference

 

Yoga Sutra 2.23: svasvāmiśaktyoh svarūpopalabdhihetuh samyoga

 

– “The union (yoga), alliance, or relationship between our power to see (and what we see) is the way to experiencing our own true nature.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.24: tasya heturavidyā

 

– “The cause of that [union, alliance, or relationship] is ignorance.”

In the philosophy of yoga, we might describe what Dr. Yalom calls as “functional or dysfunctional” as klişțāklişțāh (“afflicted and not afflicted”), and we can see the correlation between dysfunctional or afflicted thoughts and actions and suffering. As indicated in earlier sutras (see above), the first afflicted thought pattern is the bedrock for all the others: ignorance. Today’s sutra goes deeper into the nature of ignorance. Going deeper may help you answer the question, “How ignorant are you?”

Please join me a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, June 13th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Links are available during the Zoom call and I have updated this post.)

 

 

### ??? ###

Here Be The Wild Things June 10, 2020

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“And so we have…this critical problem as human beings of seeing to it that the mythology—the constellation of sign signals, affect images, energy-releasing and -directing signs—that we are communicating to our young will deliver directive messages qualified to relate them richly and vitally to the environment that is to be theirs for life, and not to some period of man already past, some piously desiderated future, or—what is worst of all—some querulous, freakish sect or momentary fad. And I call this problem critical because, when it is badly resolved, the result for the miseducated individual is what is known, in mythological terms, as a Waste Land situation. The world does not talk to him; he does not talk to the world. When that is the case, there is a cut-off, the individual is thrown back on himself, and he is in prime shape for that psychotic break-away that will turn him into either an essential schizophrenic in a padded cell, or a paranoid screaming slogans at large, in a bughouse without walls.”

 

– from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living by Joseph Campbell

 

How do we keep from becoming, to paraphrase Joseph Campbell, a screaming paranoid person? How do we face trauma, loss, and disability with a smile on our face, as Wayman Tisdale did? Maybe we have to go all the way back to the womb to figure out why some people survive the challenging circumstances they face in life. Maybe we have to go back even farther than that to see why some people just inherently know how to stay connected to their “inside stuff” even when life throws them one curve ball after another fast ball. Whatever the reason some people rebound and some people don’t (or don’t as easily as others), trying to figure out that reason has fascinated people since the beginning of time.

Children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, born today in 1928, in Brooklyn, New York, once said, “I only have one subject. The question I am obsessed with is: How do children survive?” Like the poets mentioned during Sunday’s class (06/07/2020), Sendak wrote about what he saw – and what he saw was a family decimated by the Holocaust and trying to acclimate to a new country and a new culture. He saw kids being kids, being alive and full of so much life despite the overwhelming and pervasive feeling of perpetual mourning. The adults called the unruly children “vilde chaya,” which is Yiddish for “wild animal.” Sendak turned it into “wild things” and wrote a children’s book that become the center of a trilogy about (you guessed it) how children survive and thrive.

“I grew up in a house that was in a constant state of mourning.”

 

– Maurice Sendak in a 2002 interview with children’s book historian Leonard Marcus

 

 

“’And now,’ cried Max, ‘let the wild rumpus start!’”

 

– from Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

 

Where The Wild Things Are, published in 1963, tells the story of preschool-age Max who, as adults would have said during my childhood, gets a little too big for his britches. He is sent to his room without his dinner because he can’t behave and, as children do, he lets his imagination take over. His bedroom becomes a magical land full of wild animals, beasts, monsters….

My amazing friend Julie K just sent me a recent essay in The New Yorker about metaphorical monsters. I found it problematic because the identity of the monsters is too vague. Sendak, however, was always very clear; the monsters in his first book were the perpetually mourning and stern adults in his family. He just exaggerated them into something endearingly grotesque. As Max manages his emotions, becoming “king of all wild things” (a. k. a. the “most wild thing of all”), he finds his way back to the regular world. Managing one’s emotions, it turns out, is the secret to making one’s way back to the regular world.

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again. You really don’t have a sacred space, a rescue land, until you find somewhere to be that’s not a wasteland, some field of action where there is a spring of ambrosia—a joy that comes from inside, not something external that puts joy into you—a place that lets you experience your own will and your own intention and your own wish so that, in small, the Kingdom is there. I think everybody, whether they know it or not, is in need of such a place.”

 

– from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living by Joseph Campbell

 

“There should be a place where only the things you want to happen, happen.”

 

– from Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

 

As I mentioned before, Where The Wild Things Are was the first of a three-part series to be published, but it is actually the centerpiece to the trilogy. In The Night Kitchen (published in 1970) follows toddler-age Mickey as he falls, naked, into the Night Kitchen, where he has to avoid getting baked into the cake batter and eaten up. Max, again, is preschool-age. Outside Over There (published in 1981) features pre-adolescent Ida, who shirks her responsibility and then has to face the consequences of making things right. It is interesting to note that while there is always a symbol of a mother and evidence of a mother’s love in all three books, Ida is the only real-live human girl featured prominently in the books and she is given (in the book) the mother’s role of caregiver – a role she initially fails to take seriously.

“When Papa was away at sea and Mama in the arbor, Ida played her wonder horn to rock the baby still – but never watched.”

 

– from Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak’s trilogy is recognized as a series which traces the psychological development of children. Each protagonist has age appropriate responsibilities, feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Each protagonist also has to navigate and find balance between the (age appropriate) expectations of the simultaneously present yet absent parent(s) and their feelings, thoughts, and emotions. One of the emotions that figures prominently, especially in Where The Wild Things Are, is rage and one of the themes that figures prominently in the books is how to manage emotions like rage. Because, as I sated before, managing one’s emotions is the secret to making one’s way back to the regular world. It is the boon, as it were, of this particular hero’s journey/cycle.

“But it is more than mere survival that Sendak aspires to, for his children and for himself. He asks the question of resilience: How do children surmount and transform in order to prosper and create? It is tempting to imagine that Sendak conceives of the trajectory of his own life and art as a model for the way he has handled these questions in his works.”

 

– from a 2009 The Psychologist article by psychoanalyst Richard Gottlieb

 

When Where The Wild Things Are was turned into a movie, therapists like Richard Gottlieb offered their clinical take on the book and the movie. Psychoanalyst and attorney Stanton Peele noted in a 2009 article for Psychology Today that Dr. G. Alan Marlatt, a psychologist who focused on addiction, “specifically developed mindfulness as a relapse prevention technique, one that assists addicted people to combat cravings. In brief, a user may imagine the urge to use again as a physical challenge – like a wave – that he or she rides out.” Then, Peele called Sendak’s work “a model of mindfulness.” For his part, Gottlieb did not think it was an accident that Sendaks’ work was so psychologically applicable. In fact, he specifically highlights various “psychological proddings and teachings” which influenced Sendak’s life – including the fact that his partner (for over 50 years) was psychoanalyst Eugene Glenn – and shares bits of conversations with colleagues who also see the value in the book.

“I’m not the milk and the milk’s not me. I’m Mickey!”

 

– Mickey in In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

 

Call it a coincidence, a coinkydink, God winking, or serendipity, but it is interesting to note that Maurice Sendak, whose seminal book has been hailed and praised by addiction experts, was born on the anniversary of Dr. Bob Smith’s last drink, which is also the anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous. Today in 1935, Bill Wilson and Smith’s wife Anne gave a severely hung-over Smith (a. k. a. “Dr. Bob”) a beer so that he would be “steady enough” to go into surgery. Hours beyond when the surgery should have ended, Smith announced that yes, the surgery was successful and that he had spent the remaining time reaching out to creditors and others he had hurt when he was drinking. Founded by Smith and Wilson, with support from Smith’s wife Anne, Alcoholics Anonymous is a 12-step rehabilitation program that has helped some people cope with alcoholism. It is also the model for other 12-step programs. While I have not counted the steps as they apply to Maurice Sendak’s work, there are very definite parallels in the way the main characters acknowledge their problems, turn inward, and offer restitution and express remorse. There are also, in the books and in recovery, humongous amounts of love and forgiveness (in particular, self-love and self-forgiveness).

“Quiet down there!”

 

– Mickey In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

 

“If Ida backwards in the rain would only turn around again and catch those goblins with a tune, she’d spoil their kidnap honeymoon!”

 

– Papa’s song in Outside Over There

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 10th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a practice inspired by the inner workings of a child’s heart and mind. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Since music soothes the wild beasts, the goblins, and the cooks, Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (NOTE: YouTube is the original playlist and includes the video below.)

 

My all time favorite rendition!

 

### “I’LL EAT YOU UP!”• “I LOVE YOU!” ###

The Virtue of Patience April 11, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Mala, Meditation, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Science, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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PATI [Latin, “suffer” > Late Latin, passio > Old French …> Middle English, PASSION]

PATI [Latin, “suffer”> Latin, patientia, “suffering”> Old French…> Middle English, PATIENCE]

– Etymology (the origin and meaning history) of the words “passion” and “patience”

Ask almost anyone, their family, and their friends if the original person is patient and you will often receive very divergent answers. There are people who cultivate patience, people who practice patience, and people who seem naturally patient. Then there’s everyone else. Or so it seems. The truth, when it comes to patience can be a little more nuanced than a single answer. It turns out we have different definitions / understandings of patience. Furthermore, our ability to be patient has as much (maybe more) to do with our situation (not to mention our neurobiology and perspective) than with our personality or habits.

Serotonin is a naturally produced chemical in the brain that sustains healthy brain and nerve function. Although it is a neurotransmitter, which helps relay signals in the brain, 90% of a person’s serotonin supply is found in the digestive track and in blood platelets. Too much or too little can affect our brain function (especially memory and learning), our overall mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, temperature regulation, and (on a certain level) engagement with the world. Too much or too little serotonin can adversely affect our cardiovascular system, muscles, endocrine system, and digestive system.

Studies indicate that next time you’re “hangry,” instead of blaming the person (or situation) pushing your buttons, you could blame your serotonin levels. You could also, however, consider your expectations.

In a 2018 Psychology Today article, Christopher Bergland described McDonald’s struggling with the “patience effect” when drive-thru customers didn’t realize their longer wait time was resulting in a higher quality burger. He also pointed out how Heinz struggled with people being irritated by how long it took ketchup to come out of an old-fashioned glass bottle back in the 70’s. Neither company changed their process. Instead, both companies overcame their issues with ad campaigns that changed customers’ expectations and, in the process, customers’ patience.

“Mice in a lab aren’t much different than humans waiting at the drive-thru or for ketchup to dispense from an old glass bottle. In a recent experiment, researchers pinpointed the role that serotonin plays in “the patience effect” depending on the confidence a mouse has that it’s worth waiting a few extra seconds for a delayed food reward…. the researchers found that stimulating serotonin production made the mice willing to wait for a food reward if they knew there was at least a 75% chance of being fed after waiting a maximum of 10 seconds. When the odds of receiving the food reward slipped below this threshold, serotonin failed to increase patience. ‘The patience effect only works when the mouse thinks there is a high probability of reward,’ [ Dr. Katsuhiko] Miyazaki said in a statement.

The main takeaway from this research is that the link between serotonin levels and subsequent behavior appears to be highly dependent on a mouse’s subjective confidence in an expected outcome.”

– Christopher Bergland, a world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist

 

Much of what’s happening in the world right now results in experiences that feel like our serotonin levels are out of whack. And that’s not a coincidence – especially when you consider the role emotional and social support play in maintaining healthy serotonin levels. To add insult to injury, unlike the people in the drive-thru, the people with the old-fashioned ketchup bottle, or the mice, we have no real expectations of when our patience will be rewarded. So, frustration – and suffering – increases.

Once again, we are caught in a feedback loop; because, studies show negative thought patterns, hostility, and irritability result in decreased health (including serotonin levels), which in turn causes us to experience an increase in negative thoughts, hostility, and irritability. There is hope, however.

Dr. Simon N Young, in 2007 Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience article reviewing neuroscience research, pointed out “alterations in thought, either self-induced or due to psychotherapy, can alter brain metabolism” and hypothesized that it could also increase serotonin levels, He also highlighted the fact that exposure to sunlight (even on a cloudy day) and bright lights can increase serotonin levels. Finally, he pointed to a third and fourth “strategy” for increasing serotonin levels: exercise and diet.

Four ways, right here, that you can do today!

  1. cultivate positive thoughts (maybe through meditation, hint, hint);
  2. step into the bright lights, baby;
  3. exercise (yoga, anyone?);
  4. and be mindful of what you eat.

If you’re available, please join me today (Saturday, April 11th), Noon – 1:30 PM for a live yoga practice on Zoom. The “04112020 LSPW” playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. My only request is that you let go of some expectations.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, please comment or email me.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

Meanwhile, regular loving-kindness meditation can improve your mood (hint, hint below). This type of Metta Meditation was part of my daily commute prior to the pandemic. Part I gives you a little background and a partially guided meditation. Part II (coming soon) includes guided meditation for the cardinal and intercardinal directions. These meditations were recorded in the Spring of 2019.

Also, mark your calendar for April 25th – the beginning of Kiss My Asana – and a special YIN Yoga event this Wednesday, April 15th, at 3:00 PM

Speaking of Kiss My Asana…

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

Pucker Up and Kiss My Asana!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. “Flashback” to one of my previous offerings dated April 11th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 11th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 11th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 11th Practice

### BE WELL ###