WEEK 13: Cultivate a High-Performance Mind

~ “The greatest discovery you’ll ever make is the potential of your own mind.”  ~  Jose Silva

I am a little behind with this week’s post for a couple of reasons, the main one being that I was away for a few days and internet access was limited. Well, actually, to be perfectly honest, that’s only partially true…the real reason is that I was a little bit intimidated by this week’s topic, at least at first. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how in the world I was going to ‘cultivate a high-performance mind’ when names like Stephen Hawking and the Dalai Lama kept popping into my head. So I procrastinated. And then I procrastinated some more.

I finally made myself read the book that the author of my Official List had suggested on his website, called “The High-Performance Mind; Mastering Brainwaves for Insight, Healing and Creativity,” by Anna Wise. I picked it up pretty reluctantly – somehow learning about brainwaves all week was not exactly my idea of fun. But I have to admit, by the time I had finished the first chapter, I was intrigued. Her ideas made a lot of sense to me…and were definitely not just for the brainiacs of the world.

According to Wise, a high-performance mind is “one that can enter at will the state of consciousness that is most beneficial and most desirable for any given circumstance.” And, as it turns out, it is something that we are all capable of experiencing, no matter what our IQ might be. As far as I understand it (and I think I have this right), if we can just learn to recognize what our different patterns of brainwaves feel like, then we can consciously shift our mind into the pattern that will be the best one in any particular situation.

The easiest way for most people to learn about their different brainwave patterns, as well as how to tap into them, is through meditation. The book offers step-by-step instructions as to how to master the four levels (beta, alpha, theta and delta) through a series of guided meditations. It’s a fairly involved process, which I totally recommend to anyone interested, but a week was not really enough time to do it any justice. So I can say for sure that I have not yet quite mastered it. I will say, however, that the experience definitely got me thinking about how incredible it is that we all have this untapped power pretty much at our fingertips…we just need to learn how to use it.

One way to learn, besides meditation, is through neurofeedback, a kind of biofeedback for the brain. By measuring an individual’s brainwaves, it’s possible to teach them how to alter their mental state, helping them to overcome all sorts of issues like depression and ADD. Neurofeedback can also help someone take their performance to the next level, whether they’re an athlete looking to improve their game, or a singer getting ready for a big gig. I was pretty curious about the process, since it was mentioned quite a bit in the book, so I decided to give it a try.

And I have to say I’m really glad that I did. Unlike the picture I had in my mind of being strapped to a chair with wires hooked up to my head, it was actually a very gentle and relaxing experience. I sat in a recliner with a few small electrodes on my head and ears, and pretty much just listened to music through some earphones for half an hour. Granted the music skipped a lot, which for me was kind of irritating, but I guess I have a very sensitive auditory system (according to the practitioner), so this is not always the case for other people. The results, however, were a little disappointing to me. Not that they weren’t interesting, but I guess I was just hoping for some great insight into what makes me tick. Or maybe even how to tick better.

Anyway, it seems to me that the most important thing in cultivating a high-performance mind is learning how to recognize it within ourselves. And I think that most of us, whether we’re aware of it or not, have experienced this higher state of consciousness at some point in our lives. A musician may feel it when he’s in the middle of an awesome riff, and an athlete when he’s skiing down the mountain, or running in the park after work. A mother might feel it when she’s rocking her baby to sleep in the middle of the  night, and a writer when he’s lost in the story he’s telling. It’s that feeling that there’s something bigger than ourselves at work, and we’re able to just give in to it, and let go.

I recently heard about a book called “Explorers of the Infinite”, by Maria Coffey, which tells the stories of some ‘extreme’ athletes and what makes them do the crazy things they do. One woman, a mountain climber, describes the feeling she experiences when she’s out there, and I believe it’s a good example of a ‘high-performance mind’ at work:

“…when you leave to go to the mountains, at first all you’re concerned about are your daily routines back home. Your head is full of chatter. Within hours, you’re in this rhythm where you’re thinking only about food, and fuel, and camps. Then, when the climb gets technical, and especially when there’s a level of danger, you become utterly present. There’s no stress, sometimes even no fear. You literally become simple consciousness. Something larger than you takes over. It’s mysterious and inexplicable. You need to go out there again and again to find it.”

Albert Einstein, who acknowledged experiencing similar moments of awareness (though probably in a less extreme way!), described them as feeling “free from one’s own identification with human limitation.” To me, this is the perfect description, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned so far with this project, it’s that if we can free ourselves from our own limiting beliefs, we are way more likely to reach our real potential.

So, maybe, if we can experience this feeling of ‘limitlessness’ more often, whether by hanging off the side of a cliff, or sitting comfortably in the bedroom meditating, we will learn to tap into our high-performance minds more easily.

And then, maybe, we’ll not only unleash our own potential, but the potential for the whole world, as well.

WEEK 12: Practice Forgiveness

“Forgiveness is choosing to love.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Being a pretty forgiving person, I wasn’t too concerned about this week’s topic to ‘practice forgiveness’. I rarely hold a grudge, and if someone has hurt me I will usually try to smooth things over with them. Luckily, in my life, I haven’t been hurt that often. A boyfriend cheated on me once, which was pretty awful, but other than that I can’t really think of anything that was so painful for me that it was hard to forgive. And believe me, I consider myself incredibly fortunate that this is the case, because from what I read in the news, there is definitely a lot of hurting going on in the world.

Anyway, as seems to happen quite often with these topics, the more I thought about forgiveness, the more I realized that forgiving other people was not what was going to ‘push my limit’ this week. What would be a little more challenging would be to see if I could forgive myself for some mistakes I’ve made along the way…and show myself some of the same compassion that I find so easy to show others.

Growing up, I was always a little envious of my friends who were Catholic because they got to go to confession every week. I thought it was so great that no matter how bad they were, as long as they went to church every Saturday and confessed it all to the priest, their slate was totally wiped clean. Sure, it may have been a little scary to go into the confessional and say out loud what they had done wrong, but knowing that they would be forgiven, no matter whatwell, it just seemed like a pretty good deal to me.

So I guess, in a way, I could look at this week of self-forgiveness as my own personal confessional. Yes, it might be a little scary to admit to myself that I’m not perfect, but hopefully, in the same way a priest offers unconditional forgiveness, I would find a way to offer the same compassion to myself. And from what I’ve learned this week, there is a power in forgiveness that can make an enormous difference, not just spiritually, but physically as well. Given my health history over the last few years, I thought it was definitely worth looking into.

I had no idea that there is a whole science of forgiveness being studied today. Two prominent professors, Dr. Robert Enright of the University of Wisconsin, and Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University, have both conducted research studies into the health benefits of forgiveness, and their findings have proven that the ability to forgive, or not forgive, can directly affect an individual’s health:

“Studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. The first study to look at how forgiveness improves physical health discovered that when people think about forgiving an offender it leads to improved functioning in their cardiovascular and nervous systems. Another study found the more forgiving people were, the less they suffered from a wide range of illnesses. The less forgiving people reported a greater number of health problems.

Plus, along with all of the new scientific research, I found a ton of forgiveness websites out there as well: The Forgiveness Project, The Forgiveness Foundation, The Campaign for Love and Forgiveness – the list goes on and on. It seems that a lot of people have discovered the power in forgiveness and are trying to spread the word.

My dilemma, however, was not that I didn’t understand the benefits of forgiveness, I just wasn’t sure what the best way was to go about it.

According to Marianne Williamson, “We do not need to know how to forgive. All we need is to be willing to forgive. The Universe will take care of the rest.” Well, I guess that makes sense, but still, not that I don’t totally trust the Universe, but I think, in this case, I needed something a little more concrete.

So, a quick internet search led me to a website, ForgiveYourself.com, which made the claim:

REVEALED! How to Forgive Yourself Once and For All – Even if You’re Unforgivable and You Don’t Deserve It”

Well, that certainly got my attention, and even though it turned out that I had to spend $25 to find out exactly how to forgive myself once and for all, I decided to go ahead and give it a try. Luckily, it didn’t turn out to be a total scam, and I actually ended up learning quite a bit about the whole forgiveness process.

It seems that our bodies have a way of holding on to stress, and trauma, and guilt in ways that can actually cause illness. Even the littlest hurt, or guilty feeling, can settle into our psyche and have the potential to cause quite a bit of havoc, not only in our minds, but in our bodies as well. And even though I’ve known this for a while, until this week I hadn’t really bothered to take the time to figure out what those things might be for me.

As it turns out, there are a few choices I’ve made in my life that still make me cringe a little when I think about them…mostly because I’m pretty sure I hurt some people I care about in the process. And whenever one of those memories pops into my head, even though it happened a really long time ago, I still feel terrible.

So it seems that those bad feelings are the source of a lot of negative energy. And even now, years later, every time I think about what happened, that memory creates even more bad energy, setting a pattern which, according to this website, can only be disrupted by forgiving myself for making the bad choice in the first place:

“Forgiveness works by freeing up your energy. We all have a tendency to hold onto events of the past and patterns of the present. But it takes energy to hold onto anything, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional. And if your hands are full, you must let go of something else. Letting go of what you’re holding onto right now frees up your energy…so you’ll be better able to handle what’s next.”

This made a lot of sense to me because, as a Reiki student, I totally believe that maintaining the flow of positive energy through our bodies is instrumental to our well-being. And, it goes to reason, that when there aren’t a lot of blocks in the way of that energy, it can flow that much more smoothly.

Anyway, the website goes on to provide a step-by-step process as to how to get rid of those blocks and, I have to say, I think it was pretty effective, at least for me. It’s a little time-consuming, so I won’t go into all the details, but having taken myself through the steps a couple of times, I definitely feel a little lighter when I think about those bad choices. I can’t change the fact that I might have hurt someone, but I can forgive myself for making the choice that led to that hurt. And, hopefully, I was able to remove some of those pesky blocks in the process, which may have been causing me a little trouble over the years. So, yeah!

The thing about forgiveness is that it is not always a very easy thing to do, whether we’re forgiving ourselves or someone else. In fact, it is probably one of the hardest things, so ‘practicing’ it actually makes a lot of sense. And, as is true with anything else, the more we practice something, the better we become at it. And the better we become at something, the more likely we are to do it, right? Which can only be a good thing, individually and as a whole. For as Martin Luther King reminded us:

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.”

WEEK 11: Treat Yourself With Respect

“To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves – there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.” ~ Joan Dideon

I’m afraid this week was one of those weeks. Between a sick dog and a house full of 20-year-old boys, I just couldn’t seem to find the time to write this post. And as the week went along, I became more and more anxious about it, because I’ve been trying really hard to stick to my Friday ‘posting’ deadline. Luckily, though, I remembered Project Guideline #5, which reminded me to ‘be flexible’, so I was able to give myself a little breathing room. And as I sit here now trying to think of something to write about, I’m wondering whether, by giving myself that break, I actually ended up doing exactly what I was supposed to do this week – treat myself with respect.

I’m guessing that the reason it’s even on the list of ‘Ways to Raise Your Consciousness’ is because if we aren’t able to treat ourselves with respect, how can we expect other people to? I am also guessing that in order to know how to treat ourselves with respect, it’s important that we are aware of our strengths and weaknesses…and therefore, more conscious of who we really are. Luckily, I am definitely conscious enough to know that the combination of a sick dog, a houseful of boys, and a self-imposed deadline could definitely put me over the edge. And that awareness allowed me to treat myself with the respect necessary to avoid making myself, or my family, crazy.

I think that, on the whole, I generally treat myself with a decent amount of respect. Especially since my health scare, I am way more conscious about the food I eat, and the exercise I get. And I suppose, now that I think about it, even my napping habit could be seen as a sign of respect…yeah! I have also grown a lot more conscious of my thoughts and ideas over the last few years, and am learning to stand up for them in ways I never could have when I was younger. Actually, this project is a pretty good example of that.

On the other hand, though, there are definitely some areas where I could use a little work. For instance, I have a pretty bad habit of saying the word ‘just’ a lot. Like, “Oh, it’s just me” when I call someone on the phone, or “I just think…” when I’m voicing my opinion. I’m not sure why I do this – and actually I wasn’t even aware of it until a friend pointed it out one day – but it is certainly not a word that elicits a lot of respect, from others, or myself for that matter.

I think that in order to treat yourself with respect you definitely have to have a fair amount of self-respect. And I think that to have self-respect, you have to really know who you are, and have confidence in who that person is. For me, in my life, I have to admit there have been a few times when I haven’t been so confident, and I may have settled for something less than I really deserved, just to be safe.

One time, when I was a 20-something, newly promoted account executive at an advertising agency, my boss asked me to make a presentation to the client. Now you have to understand, for as long as I can remember, I have had a fear of speaking in front of people, so even though this was just a small group, and made up of people I’d known for a while, I was absolutely terrified. And as embarrassing as this is to admit, and believe me, this is very embarrassing, I totally chickened out. I let my fear get the best of me. I can still see the disappointment on my boss’s face even now, almost thirty years later, when I came up with some lame excuse to get myself out of it. Yuck.

Talk about not respecting myself! And I think the reason I still fret over that decision so often is because it wasn’t just my boss I let down that day…it was myself. I knew back then, and I know it even better today, that I should have made that presentation. Sure, I might have messed up. And I might not have done the best job ever. But at least I would be able to look back without regret, because I had tried.

And, as I’ve gotten older, I am understanding better how life is, really, all about the trying. It doesn’t matter how something turns out, even though our egos will tell us otherwise, because it is the fact that we tried at all that allows us never to regret the not trying. Why it took me so long to figure this out, I’ll never know…maybe it’s been a fear of failure? Or maybe, as Marianne Wilson suggests in her book, “A Return to Love”, in a crazy, backward way, a fear of success? She says:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We are meant to shine, as children do…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

Wow, I wish I’d come across those words when I was 23, rather than 53!

Anyway, in the end, I guess that the key to being able to treat myself with respect is to be confident in who I really am, the good and the not so good, cause then I’ll know more easily what is best for me. And whether it’s letting myself off the hook to keep my sanity, or not letting myself off the hook so I’ll try something new, I should always trust that my true self knows what I need to get my light to shine brighter.

P.S. Dog is ok, boys are gone, and I am liking the Monday morning posting deadline a lot!