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 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!

WEEK 8: Take Conscious Control of Your Decisions

“A life lived of choice is a life of conscious action.” Neale Donald Walsch

I didn’t ever realize, until this week, how many decisions I actually make on any given day. From the very moment I open my eyes in the morning, I start making choices; “Should I get up now, or hit the snooze button?” “What should I wear?” “Cereal or toast?” “Grocery store or yoga?” It is one decision after another, all day long, and it amazed me to realize that, most of the time, I am not even conscious of making them at all!

Sadly, I guess this means that I must be on some sort of autopilot as I go through my day…and I think I make a lot of my decisions more by habit than anything else. Of course, in my defense, it’s probably not necessary to make a conscious choice about every single thing I do – I mean, whether I wear the red sweater or the blue shirt isn’t going to make a big difference in the way my life turns out. But the decisions I make about what I eat or how much I sleep, could actually, in the long run, make a huge difference in the quality of my life, even though, on a day-to-day basis, they seem pretty trivial. Always choosing junk food and late nights, over organic food and a good night’s sleep, would definitely affect my long-term health… so, in order to live the best life I can, it makes a lot of sense to try to be as conscious as possible in the choices I make every day.

Growing up, whenever I had an important decision to make my dad would sit me down with a pen and paper and have me write down the pros and cons. I would moan and groan my way through the whole process, insisting to him that it wasn’t going to make the decision any easier. But, and this made me so mad, it actually did help – I guess that by having to think about all the positive and negative outcomes of whatever it was I was deciding, I was better able to see the big picture, so the choice became more clear. And, even though I really resisted the lesson my dad was teaching me back then, I guess I learned it anyway, because I still reach for the pen and paper whenever I have a big decision to make. Of course, it’s much easier to take ‘conscious control’ of a decision when you are aware of how important it is – it’s not quite as easy when the decision isn’t so big. And I think sometimes it’s in those little decisions that we have the most opportunity to take control of our lives, and perhaps change them for the better.

In his book, “The Divine Matrix”, Gregg Braden talks a lot about our ability, as human beings, to make decisions, both big and small. It is something that separates us from all other living things, and is, when you think about it, a pretty powerful tool that we all have. Braden says:

‘…it’s our ability to purposefully create the conditions of consciousness…that lock one possibility of our choosing into the reality of our lives.”

Whether the decision being made is huge and life-changing, or small and inconsequential, by taking conscious control of it, and understanding how the different choices will ultimately make us feel, we have the power to choose the one that will make us feel better. It is certainly not always easy, because coasting along on autopilot is, quite honestly, a lot less work than having to always be paying attention. But I have learned this week that when I make a decision that feels good inside, then my outside world is better too.

The other night, for example, I had just finished my first draft of this post and had pushed ‘update’ to save it. Something went wrong with the internet, though, and I realized, to my horror, that I had lost the whole thing. Well, needless to say, I was pretty upset, especially since I had struggled with a terrible case of writer’s block all day, so when my husband walked through the door from work, I was on the verge of a full-out pity party. But luckily I remembered (because I had just spent the day writing about it!) that we always have a choice in the way we react to something; I could go ahead and feel sorry for myself, which I really wanted to do, and risk ruining the evening for my family, or I could take a deep breath and laugh it off, because honestly, it’s only a blog. So I shrugged my shoulders, poured a (big) glass of wine, and was able to fully appreciate the power in making a decision to feel good, rather than bad.

Anyway, it seems to me that if we could all just try to remember, both individually and collectively, that we have this power, and consciously use it for our greater good, then maybe we could get the world back on the right track. Barbara Marx Hubbard, founder of the Foundation for Conscious Evolution (www.barbaramarxhubbard.com), believes that we have arrived at a moment in our evolution when we must, as a species, take conscious control of the decisions we are making for the world, or risk destroying ourselves:

“Due to the increased power given us through science and technology, we are learning how nature works – the gene, the atom, the brain. We are affecting our own evolution by everything we do. With these new powers we can destroy our life support systems…or we can move toward a hope-filled future of immeasurable possibilities.”

We have gained so much knowledge in the last couple of centuries, from both the industrial and technological revolutions, that maybe, in our enthusiasm for all the new ‘things’ that have resulted, we’ve forgotten about the ‘things’ that really matter. Aristotle believed we should always look for the balance between too much and too little, and taught us that, “Virtue is the golden mean between two vices, the one of excess and the other of deficiency.” Maybe it’s time for us to consciously start looking for the balance between our scientific and spiritual worlds, and find the ‘golden mean’ that will help us evolve to an even greater level of consciousness. And maybe, if we’re successful, it will help us out of this mess that we’re in, for as another great thinker, Albert Einstein, warned: “Humankind cannot solve its problems from the same place of consciousness in which we created them. A new place of consciousness is required.”

So, for me, I am going to start looking for that ‘new place of consciousness’ in my own life. It may not be that easy, because I’ve been on autopilot for a while, so having to pay attention all the time may be a little hard. But I have to believe I will find what I’m looking for a lot faster if I am in control of the decisions I have to make along the way.

WEEK 6: Tell the Truth

“Our lives improve only when we take chances…and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.” Walter Anderson

As with most of the preceding posts, the topic for this week seemed, at first, as though it would be pretty easy for me. I consider myself a fairly honest person, so I just didn’t think it would be too hard to tell the truth for a week. But what I am beginning to understand as my project goes along, is that what appears simple at first glance, becomes ever increasingly complex the more I think about it. And the more I remember my rule to push myself (Guideline #7), the harder these ‘assignments’ become. So when I decided, instead, that I would tell the truth to myself this week, rather than other people, well, the bar definitely rose a little higher, taking me right out of my comfort zone. That surprised me a little, too…why would the thought of being honest with myself make me uncomfortable? Well, maybe it’s because I just don’t often think about what I truly believe, about life, or myself. A little sad, I know, but, nonetheless, pretty true.

Another thing that worried me about all of this, is that other people may perceive these beliefs of mine as somehow wrong, or different, or even worse, foolish. So I just had to keep reminding myself that nobody’s truth is the ‘right’ truth, because we all experience life differently. And what I believe to be true about something, may just not be the same for someone else…but that is ok. I think that where we, as human beings, tend to run into trouble, is when we convince ourselves that our truth is the ‘right’ truth, rather than considering that another person’s truth could be just as ‘right’ for them. Max Born, a German physicist, said, “The belief that there is only one truth, and that oneself is in possession of it, is the root of all evil”. Well, the good news is that I definitely don’t believe my truths are the only truths, so I guess I don’t need to be nervous, or worried, that I am going to offend anyone. But still…this is very scary!

So, what truths do I have about myself? Well, I am loyal. I am a little impulsive. I am thoughtful. I am fair. I am kind of lazy. I am tolerant. I am, at times, a bit manipulative (this was a hard one to spit out!).

And what are my beliefs about life?  Well, hmmm, this is a little harder. But ok, I know I believe that we are all connected. That our souls are eternal, so death is really just a transition to a different vibration. I believe we are all here to learn lessons, both individually and collectively, so that our souls can evolve. And I truly believe, that right now, we are, as a species, being spiritually challenged to evolve to the next level.

What I found kind of interesting, as I contemplated these truths, was that the things that I believe about myself haven’t changed much over the years, while the things I believe about life have changed dramatically from when I was younger. For instance, as a child I believed that when people died, they disappeared forever into a completely black nothingness. I don’t know where I got this idea, since I know I understood about God and heaven, but I remember, distinctly, laying in bed at night and trying to imagine being nothing, forever. Needless to say, with thoughts like these, I was terrified of dying, and continued to fear it well into my adulthood. But when my father passed away, it was like a switch went off in my head, and I realized that it just couldn’t be possible that we become nothing when we die…our souls must go somewhere. And this new belief, that my dad’s soul would be waiting for me wherever it is that we go, brought me incredible comfort, and allowed me to let go of the old belief that had brought me so much pain.

I guess, in a perfect world, we would always be able to recognize when certain beliefs we have aren’t working, and consciously replace them with some that may work better. And, also in that perfect world, we would accept the idea that the truths we have for ourselves are no better, or worse, than the truths someone else might have…they might just be different. In his book, The New Revelations, A Conversation with God, Neale Donald Walsch suggests, among many other things, that the world would be so much better off if, when voicing either our individual or collective beliefs, we would begin by saying, “We are all one. Mine is not a better way, mine is merely another way.”

Just imagine a world where our first impulse, when faced with an opposing point of view, was to acknowledge that it’s really ok for that person (or country, or culture, or religion) to have that belief, instead of immediately trying to challenge it, or worse, condemn it. In our family, we call this impulse to challenge each other “the oppositional reflex,” and, unfortunately, it’s a bad habit we all share, and one that definitely creates a lot of unnecessary conflict. And since I am one of those people who really hates to argue (another truth about myself), it is a habit that I would love to see broken. I don’t know why it has to be so hard to simply agree to disagree…and to not always have to be ‘right.’ Anyway, I just have to believe that the world (and our dinner table!) would be a lot more peaceful if we would just allow each other the freedom of our own truths, and not feel threatened by their differences.

I think, in the end, what this very soul-baring week has taught me is that, in order to create my perfect world, it’s not only important that I’m honest with myself, about who I am and what I believe, but that I honor those beliefs, without dishonoring anyone else’s. I know that it won’t always be easy, but for a chance at that perfect world, it just has to be worth a try.