Honoring Your Body’s Wisdom

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by DCH Park

Our bodies are marvelous instruments that combine subtlety with precision to allow us to move through and interact with the physical universe. When you go into a room, notice your sense of what the room is like. Do you get a sense for what is happening in the room – even before you really see or hear anything happening? Is it energized and excited or focused? Is it tired or stressed? Is it tense or at ease?

All of these qualities are sensed through your body, which is exquisitely tuned to transmit and pickup remarkably minute signals about stress and energy levels, states of excitement, etc.

Outside of the brain, the largest and most complex nerve center is in the heart and the third most complex nexus in the body is the stomach. It is no coincidence that folk wisdom recognizes these two areas as seats of wisdom. Nor is it an accident that metaphysical philosophies from all over the world recognize the heart and the stomach area as important.

Not only do these nexuses express their own intelligence, they generate unique electrical and magnetic fields and they respond to electrical and magnetic fields in characteristic and subtle ways.

What does this mean in everyday life and in an everyday practice? You don’t need complex electronic equipment to tune in to these signals. You already have sophisticated sensing equipment built into your body. All you have to do is be aware of what it tells you. Practice trusting your intuition. With trust and practice, it will grow stronger and more available, just as any natural ability will.

Be ready to step sideways, outside of your logical, problem-solving “mind-that-talks,” and instead to be open and receptive to felt experience in your body. The body communicates with such felt experiences and with images, not words. Words come only later, once the mind steps in to interpret or paper-over the wisdom felt through the body.

Interestingly, as you practice noticing and honoring the signals your body sends you, your relationship with your body will shift. You may notice that pain or stress is a signal to stop what you are doing and rest or do something else and that when you do this, your overall performance and results improve. You may notice that pain and suffering are separate things that do not necessarily lead to each other.

Recently we had a house guest who asked for some OTC pain reliever because she was suffering from a headache that seemed to be mounting. It wasn’t until she asked that I realized that we didn’t have any pain killers in our medicine cabinet. I don’t even recall the last time that I bought analgesics for chronic stress or tension related pain.

This wasn’t always the case. As many Americans do, I used to stock pain relievers along with adhesive bandages and antiseptic. However, now I rarely take such drugs even for acute pain. When I had kidney stone problems last year, I took some Advil for the first day that the pain appeared, but discontinued using pain relievers after that. My urologist was astonished that I wasn’t in pain because he regularly sees patients who have much smaller stones in agonizing pain.

When our guest asked for the pain killers I realized suddenly that I had gone through a big shift in perspective. The stresses and tensions that can lead to pain are recognized and dealt with before they can fester into body pain. Hence, the analgesics are unnecessary. Even acute pain can be experienced without suffering and even released without dulling the senses with analgesics.

What else may be possible through honoring the body’s wisdom? Each person’s experience is different, just as each person’s voice is unique. Dare to discover for yourself what is possible. At its heart, this is a process of being completely present with the body and body experiences, whatever they may be, with no expectations, scripts, judgment, or resistance.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Feedback Over Feed-Forward: Awareness and Acceptance

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by DCH Park

I have noticed over the years that there is a tendency for people to hold on to old ways of seeing and defining things – even of defining and seeing themselves – as they learn about who and what they truly are and begin to relax into themselves.

For example, one person may focus on studying the Law of Attraction and principles of success while holding on to a concern about making enough money to pay bills. Another person may find serenity and relief from stress in meditative practices and yoga and nevertheless struggle with getting the inconsiderate jerk who cuts him off in traffic or the selfish bastard who voted for the wrong candidate to see the light.

It is also not uncommon for some people to struggle with understanding new concepts and ways of being in terms of the old ways of being that didn’t work. After all, why else would someone explore a new philosophy unless the old philosophy felt somehow restrictive, incomplete, inaccurate, or otherwise unsatisfying? Even simple curiosity is an expression of a possibility or desire for discovery of something exciting, new, and possibly better.

If that’s the case, why hold on to the lenses and definitions of the old philosophy when trying to understand or evaluate the new philosophy? I remember reading a psychology paper once that focused on presenting and validating a new measurement tool. The new tool, it claimed, was superior to the old tool. The paper’s authors went about constructing elaborate statistical analyses of test results from using the new tool and claimed that the new tool was clearly superior because it yielded results that were statistically equivalent to those from the old tool.

I couldn’t believe it. A new tool is superior because it gives you the same results as the old tool that it’s intended to replace? How can a new tool be new if the yardstick for validating it is the old tool?

By the same token, how can a new concept or philosophy be evaluated from within the paradigms of the old philosophy? By definition, the old philosophy would be unable to make sense of the new paradigm. If it could, it would already contain the new philosophy and thus, there really would not be a new philosophy.

Columbus’ idea that the world was round was a new paradigm that didn’t fit into the world-view of flat-earthers. They couldn’t understand or evaluate Columbus’ idea because it didn’t fit into their pre-existing worldview. They had no way of understanding it except to label it as silly. This is exactly what mainstream society still does with New Age and metaphysical philosophies.

Ironically, even those who try to embrace new philosophies also do these things to some degree. The blind spot that these points of view have in common is that they don’t take themselves into account. In other words, they don’t see themselves as philosophies and paradigms that can be articulated, evaluated, altered, or rejected and replaced as appropriate.

This sort of self reference or self awareness can form a kind of feedback loop that helps to stabilize and strengthen the whole conceptual framework. Without self awareness, the mind can fall into a feed-forward crisis in which its assumed model of the world leads to erroneous outputs that worsen the situation rather than improve it.

This is a natural mistake that the mind is prone to make. Without practice, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that philosophies and points of view are tools that can be useful in creating a better life and that the tool can always be replaced if a superior way to create a better life comes along. The trap is that the mind begins to see or define itself in terms of the philosophy. It identifies with the world view contained in the philosophy. It’s as if a carpenter were to forget that his hammer is a tool in his hand and see his hammer as his hand.

Dare to take charge of your own perceptions, recognizing that they are your perceptions. You own them. You create them. They are your responsibility. You can change them. They don’t dictate the world. They don’t control you. You are in control.

Just as the carpenter can (remember or re-learn to) lay his hammer down, you can (remember or re-learn to) lay your perceptions down. Until he does, the carpenter would have a hard time petting a dog, caressing a cheek, or washing his face. Until you do, you will struggle with appreciating and exercising the potential of your own creativity.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Feedback Over Feedforward – Awareness Over Discipline

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by DCH Park

At one point during my undergraduate studies at MIT, I took a systems control class. I bring it up here because I find that some insights from that class are helpful in illuminating personal experience.

In the control class, we studied various ways to design and analyze dynamic control systems of various types, ranging from purely mechanical ones to electrical ones (which had no transistors) to electronic ones (which did). Analytically, all of these systems could be modeled and understood using the same principles. Mathematically they were identical in spite of the fact that completely different physical components and forces were in operation in different systems.

There are primarily two different philosophies or approaches to designing control circuits. One is called feedback and the other is called feed-forward. Most of the control systems in use in the world today are feedback systems.

In a feedback control circuit, a portion of the output of the system is fed back into the control circuit inputs. The control circuit combines this feedback with the operator (or other external) control inputs to automatically adjust the system.

For example, if you adjust the speaker volume in your car radio to a certain level, the volume setting is the “operator” or external control setting. As the volume setting is increased, the control circuit sends a signal to the speaker drivers telling them to work harder.

Since it’s a feedback control circuit, a portion of this speaker driver signal is also sent back to the control circuit and mixed with the manual volume setting. Typically, the feedback signal is inverted so that as the volume goes up, the feedback causes the control signal to decrease and if the volume goes down, the control signal increases.

This type of negative feedback control tends to be very stable because it tends to push the output toward a stable center – down if the output gets too high and up if it gets too low. This is why it is used so widely.

In positive feedback control, the feedback is not inverted. Thus, it tends to further amplify the system’s outputs. If the output goes up, positive feedback makes it go higher faster. This is what happens when a microphone is placed too closely to the speaker it drives. The speaker output is picked up by the mic and amplified through the speaker, leading to an unstable feedback loop that mounts continuously, destroying the signal and resulting in screeching.

In a feed-forward control circuit, there is no input that takes the system output to the external world back into the system. Certain assumptions are made about the way in which the system will behave and the ways in which the external world will respond, The (external) control inputs take these assumptions into account and are simply fed in.

As long as the assumptions are accurate, the system behaves as expected, but if the assumptions are off, even just by a small amount, the system can become disastrously unstable. Outputs may become unpredictable or even destroy the system altogether.

This is what happens when a car suddenly loses traction on a patch of ice. The car’s behavior suddenly changes so that the driver’s assumptions about how the car will react are suddenly wrong. Control inputs that are normally safe – holding the wheel straight and pressing on the brakes – are no longer safe. Instead of producing normal results – straightening out the car’s trajectory and slowing down – they do something else – promoting a spin with locked wheels (unless the car is equipped with anti-lock brake control, which all modern commercially produced cars are).

The solution to this problem is to “close the loop,” and make the external outputs of the system a portion of the inputs. In other words, make the feed-forward system into a feedback system by adding a sensor that loops back to the inputs. This is what anti-lock braking systems do.

In exactly the same way, enhancing the feedback control in your body and life can enhance your stability and equanimity. In this case, the key is to develop your facility with awareness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the seminal influences in bringing mindfulness and meditation into the medical establishment mainstream, points out that awareness, like thinking, is an inherent ability that humans possess. However, in this culture, unlike thinking, it is an ability that is not widely prized or even recognized, much less one that many people are trained in using.

Control via thinking alone is a form of feed-forward control In the body, feed-forward control is essentially experienced as a kind of numbness that cuts you off from the external world. Without feedback, there is a tendency to easily slip into a perception that the external world is on the other side of an invisible and inviolable barrier – an impossibly fine and absolutely impregnable curtain that separates you from the external world.

In the body, Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy, is an extreme example of what can happen when feedback is lost and only feed-forward control remains. Hansen’s disease victims lose sensation. Loss of sensation starts in the fingertips and toes and progresses inward. Motor function control is unimpaired.

However, because all sensation is lost, including pain, victims lose the ability to sense when they have damaged themselves. As a result, they inflict repeated trauma to affected tissues and the body begins to erode. Eventually fingers, toes, noses, and more can be lost to physical trauma caused not by the disease, but by the victim upon his or her self because the disease prevents feedback about his or her physical condition.

Hansen’s disease is an extreme example, but the same mechanism is at work in less extreme situations every day. When you feel a headache due to stress or over-work and take an analgesic instead of a break, you are choosing to numb the pain and dampen your natural feedback in favor of a feed-forward control signal to keep working or work harder.

Since feed-forward control is experienced as numbness in the body, it is expressed as discipline. In the absence of sensory connection and emotional immediacy, exertion of will remains as the only means to gain control. It is like being on one side of a wall and trying to control what happens on the other side of the wall by pulling and pushing rods that go through the wall without being able to directly see, hear, or feel what is happening, relying instead on graphical progress reports that are projected on a screen.

Cultivating your awareness is a key to addressing this shortcoming. By becoming more fully aware of the many cues that your body sends you and the depth and richness of your sensory experience of your environment, you strengthen your feedback loop. Your experience of your surroundings and even of yourself shifts. You pierce the barrier that separates you from your external world and feel the world more richly and subtly.

For example, when I wanted to lose weight many years ago, I noticed that it was a struggle as long as I approached it as a discipline. To make matters worse, I was keenly aware of flavor and the sensations of eating, swallowing, and feeling full, which became positive feedback signals that tended to amplify the unhealthy behavior and desire for unhealthy foods.

Once I began to notice other sensations, like the listlessness I felt after a food binge or unhealthy meal and the feeling of tightness and deflation I felt after just one bite of unhealthy food, my relationship with food and weight control began to change significantly. I no longer had to struggle to control something that I could grasp intellectually but not feel. I could cultivate awareness of what was going on in my body and how I felt and healthy choices dropped out of that awareness effortlessly.

Losing weight and eating more healthily were no longer hard. Given greater awareness of my body and how different foods affected my body, making healthy choices became the easiest things to do. Making unhealthy choices became hard because in order to make those choices I would have to ignore what I now so clearly felt.

If you don’t have sensation, you might hit your thumb with a hammer and not even know it. Without strict discipline and rigid attention to specific details, you might keep hammering and actually break your thumb or worse. On the other hand, with your awareness and sensation intact, if hit your thumb with a hammer, you stop pounding the nail because your thumb hurts. Taking care of your thumb becomes the easiest thing to do.

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Importance of Speaking Out – I

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by DCH Park

I have a friend who speaks of “tortoising in the world.” He described an image once of going through his daily business hidden behind a tough shell. In the image, if he stuck his tortoise head out too far, there was a good chance that it would be chopped off. He would be hurt or taken advantage of somehow. So it was safer to remain hidden.

Although most people aren’t necessarily as colorful or playful with their imagery, the fear of not being safe is surprisingly common. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising, considering how much energy various institutions devote to thoroughly inculcate such attitudes and expectations in our minds.

Once you are aware of it, you can see it everywhere; from the nursery to the boardroom. Well-meaning parents train their children to fear strangers and traffic. Political and religious leaders resort to fear to garner popular support. Huge corporations paint pictures of terrible consequences and suffering unless you buy their products or services while themselves dreading the consequences if they fail to exceed their profit projections by a wide margin. Even popular entertainment often carries messages of veiled, malevolent forces that are waiting to destroy and devour careless people in the most gruesome manner possible

The effects of fear can be seen and felt in every segment of society. Nevertheless, to the individual person at large in the world, the feeling is that he or she is alone in having to face these monsters. We are taught that it is not safe to stick our necks out too far. Fear is a ravenous monster with many faces and you can never know who might be a monster in hiding.

This explains why it is so easy for cynical leaders to take advantage of people and situations. All they have to do is identify a threat and focus people’s attention and fear on that threat to get them to do almost anything. Some would even say that the tone in society is deliberately slanted in that direction by powerful interests in order to make it easier to control people through their fears.

Whether that is true or not, it is undeniably true that general, unfocused fear is a major source of stress for many. Chronic stress of this type contributes to all sorts of physical and emotional ailments. This is well documented, yet the fear persists.

This is why it takes genuine courage to take the first few steps away from fear. It is possible to live in the light but to do so, you must first let go of the dark. Imagine a person standing on a ledge high above street traffic. The wind seems to invite letting go and plummeting to the hard pavement. An insanely tight grip on a column squeezes the blood from knuckles and seems like it is the only thing preventing a bloody end.

However, in order to walk down the ledge and step back inside, where you can feel relief and safety, you must let go of the column and take the first step. As terrifying as that prospect may be, it is the beginning. None of the ensuing steps are as terrifying or as difficult as the first – any more than the rest of the bag of potato chips is ever as tasty or satisfying as the first chip.

Once this process of releasing fear has been started, benefits can typically be felt almost immediately. It takes a lot of energy to maintain a state of chronic fear. This can be exhausting, even debilitating. However, as the fear is released, the energy that had been devoted to keeping the fear alive becomes freely available once more. Naturally, this energy can be used for any desired purpose, not just maintaining fear.

As the process continues, more energy is returned, which makes further releases even easier. A virtuous spiral opens that can ultimately carry you as high up as the fear was holding you down. Ultimately, you find that rather than expressing the fear that you had learned, you are free to express yourself. When caught in the web of fear, your choices about everything in life are colored if not determined by the fear. It comes out through the way you dress, speak, and act, not to mention the job and house you have, the leisure activities you embrace, even the friends you spend time with.

When freed of this fear, these choices are transformed. Rather than being possible mistakes or openings for attack, criticism, or ridicule, choices become opportunities to explore and express whatever it is that you truly enjoy. They become avenues to express yourself from your deepest sense of personal truth.

At this point, a further realization awaits. As mentioned above, while becalmed in fear, it is common to feel alone. This is why so many people flock so readily to cliques, groups, and organizations that define themselves by vilifying an out-group – it gives them someone or something to focus their fear (and fear-based reactions) on as well as a ready-made community to share those fears and reactions with, often in secret. They no longer have to feel isolated.

Of course, any community defined by shared fear and loathing is inherently unstable. Loss of the out-group means loss of community unless another out-group can be found and vilified. In such situations, where else can the new out-group be found but in the extant in-group? Potentially any difference or distinguishing characteristic can be used to define a new, hated out-group, which means that potentially anyone can be vilified for any reason. No one in the in-group is safe from being redefined as the enemy out-group because there is no true connection between members of the community. There is only a contrast between those defined as enemies and those not defined as enemies.

However, as you begin to express your own experience and truth, you inevitably discover that there are many others who recognize and appreciate you for your courage, truth, and sharing. To be sure, these people may not be the same ones with whom you have been associating, especially if they are still clinging to their fears, but these new connections resonate with the truest parts of your experience. True connections and community can be profoundly powerful and healing. They celebrate and support your uniqueness and creative self-expression. Each member of such a community increases his or her own freedom by sharing freedom with others.

Rather than reacting against fear and loneliness by ostracizing others and thereby cementing the experience of isolation and separation for everyone, most significantly for themselves, true community is formed when individuals feel cherished for being themselves. Rather than erecting walls that hem you in even more effectively than they keep the world out, live in and from your truth and thereby inspire others to do the same and so create opportunities to celebrate together.

Open community based on honesty, sharing, and inner truth is inherently robust and stable, although not necessarily at all directed, as closed community founded upon fear and defended with labels, secrets, and walls, almost invariably is. There is no felt need in an open community for people to look for you to reinforce their own fears and insecurities. They won’t covet your success or criticize you behind your back. They will honor truth and sincerely celebrate your success. They will be able to appreciate you and one another and themselves as unique, individual expressions of light and love.

In other words, a new possibility opens up – one of creating community based on truth and mutual respect rather than on fear and control. This is a new possibility has been spoken of by prophets, sage leaders, teachers, and philosophers for millennia. It is something that has yet to be realized on a global scale, but it is within reach of anyone in their personal lives right now.

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Gently and Firmly

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by DCH Park

I recall reading a story when I was about 10 years old – or at least I recall reading part of the story. I don’t recall what the story was called, what it was about, or who the various characters in it were. The only thing I remember is an exchange between a boy (probably about 10 or 12) and his fencing instructor. The instructor was telling the student that he was clutching his foil too tightly. As a result, his movements were stiff and cumbersome. This stiffness made his intentions easy to read, so he was ultimately defeating his own attack and defense by telegraphing his intentions.

The instructor told the boy to hold the foil as he would a small, delicate bird – tightly enough so it couldn’t get away but loosely and gently enough so that he wouldn’t crush it. Apparently, the boy was fearful enough of losing control that he was strangling the grip of his weapon. Ironically, this ended up making control harder to maintain.

This snippet has stayed with me throughout my life. I have no explanation for why. I only know that it has been very useful as a lesson and a reminder to hold on only loosely, especially to those things that matter.

In spite of its apparent counterintuitiveness, this is good advice for much of life. It is as applicable to personal growth as it is in matters of career and of the heart. I recall when I was in the Army Reserve and National Guard that although we did serious training for wartime missions, I never felt that the Army would be a serious career, much less a way to die. Certainly, I had done some serious thinking and was ready to die or even kill if the need arose, but I also had great clarity that my purpose in life lay elsewhere.

The net result was that I was able to let go of errors and failures and enjoy successes. I could enjoy the experience without worrying about possible consequences of failure or my reputation or track record. In each moment, I could let go of the overall context and just be with the moment, whether I was firing rockets in the winter snows, marching in the mud, doing paperwork, or polishing pots and ashtrays. I was there to have fun and free to really notice and appreciate the moment, whatever it held. This led to a stress-free experience in which success followed success. I advanced quickly, earning the respect and comradeship of enlisted troops as well as fellow officers and superiors.

In contrast, my regular civilian job was full of stress, frustration, and struggle for success, recognition, and reward. Unlike my part-time military job, I took my civilian job very seriously and worked very hard for advancement. I clutched it too tightly because I was afraid of losing what I had. I was unable to enjoy it or even laugh very much.

Not only did I fail to have fun, I failed to advance the way I did in the Army. This is much more than a coincidence. Think about your colleagues at work who seem to get the most work done and promotions and raises most easily. All else being equal, they are the ones who genuinely enjoy their work.

It’s common to say of such people that “of course they’re having fun, they’re getting all the raises,” but consider that this is actually backward. They are actually doing well because they are having fun. Recent research into the conditions for success bear this out – success does not lead to happiness. Happiness leads to success.

Think for just a moment about your own life and you will notice that we all enjoy spending time with people who are having fun. We not only prefer to spend time with such people, we prefer to work and play with them. We are even predisposed to help them or tell others about them when we can.

This is no less true of spiritual lessons and growth than it is for career and romance. Trying too hard and deliberately to grow makes the desired growth that much more elusive. Some teachers refuse to tell students about what they can expect or their own experiences precisely because an expectation of a certain experience can get in the way of the actual experience. Either the student continuously monitors himself, comparing his progress with the expected “norm” or the student constantly critiques herself, looking for the “right way” to do things and the “right” things to experience.

In either case, the student becomes entangled in trying to understand the experience before having it, which is backward. We must have our experience before we can understand it. In this regard, meditation has been described as a process of turning the mind just slightly inward, so that the natural powers of the mind are turned on themselves, ultimately taking us deeper. Think of a space capsule re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. If its angle of approach is too shallow, it will bounce off the atmosphere back into space. If it is too steep – if it is too direct – it will perish in heat and flame. If its angle is oblique, it may still experience the heat of re-entry, but it will survive to reach the surface.

Have fun in every aspect of your life. Enjoy your work and enjoy your home life. Be light in spirit and laugh easily. If this is a challenge, a good place to begin is to stop holding on so tightly. Stop trying to control. Let go of trying to avoid loss. Loosen the death grip on life and let it surprise and delight you again.

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Emotion and Feeling – I

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by DCH Park

There is a cliché that people are like tubes of toothpaste – if you want to find out what’s inside, just squeeze. I’ve always found this particular cliché distasteful. It seems manipulative to create pressure or stress for someone (else) just to evaluate his or her mettle. Besides, this is a false view. It is not necessary to observe someone’s behavior in a crisis in order to gauge his or her strength. This is the view from the mind and/or ego. As such, it is focused on external, surface details. It fails to consider the deeper, resonant truths that we all pick up from each other. As we learn to recognize and honor these resonances, we learn to recognize the truth about someone’s character even absent stress or pressure.

Nonetheless, there is truth in this cliché as well. I find that the notion that pressure brings to the surface what might otherwise remain buried and unnoticed can be useful – but not in the context of evaluating someone else. In particular, life offers stressors that can trigger emotional reactions and these emotional reactions can be very helpful, specifically in illuminating our own beings. Such emotional reactions can thus serve as signposts announcing opportunities for personal growth and evolution and pointing us in the direction of quickest growth.

We have considered that life and the trials that we experience might be considered as a forge in which we temper the spirit just as a sword-maker might temper a blade. The value of a trial is that we react to it. We get triggered into an emotional reaction. Such reactions are big and present and they are rooted in and therefore lead back to beliefs and decisions about the world – how it is, how it ought to be, or how (or even who) we have to be to survive and thrive in it.

These beliefs and decisions are at the heart of emotional reactions. As such, they form the core around which emotional baggage is piled up, just as a splinter, if left unattended, will become the center of infection, “piling up” pus. Removing the splinter eliminates the discomfort immediately and allows the infection to be cleared very quickly. Similarly, getting down to the core of an emotional reaction and dealing directly with that core will provide immediate relief and the baggage from years of emotional upsets drops away.

The alternative of addressing only the surface effects and not getting to the core only leads to further upsets. What’s worse, as time goes on, the upsets get bigger and more easily triggered, as the metaphorical splinter festers untouched.

This is the nature of emotion – it is critically determined by the meaning or belief that we give it or that we hold about it or the situation. The Attribution Theory of emotion states that emotional states can created by the combination of two elements. These are; (1) a physical agitation, like pain, pleasure, or even elevated heart rate and breathing; and (2) a reason to explain the physical agitation (attribution).

Thus, if someone is given a shot of epinephrine, which will elevate heart rate and respiration, without being told what it is or what it does, he or she will probably attribute the physical agitation to something else. If someone happens to be loud and obnoxious nearby, the emotion created might be anger. If an extremely attractive person enters the room, the emotion might be love or lust. This might be one reason that so many young men like to take their dates to see horror movies. The heightened state of physical agitation that they (and/or their dates) feel afterward is likely to be (mis)attributed to the date instead of to the movie.

In contrast, if the person is told what the shot contained and what its likely effects will be, no such emotion is created even if a very loud and obnoxious person is present because the physical agitation has been attributed to the shot. Thus, emotion is a created experience that is determined by our own decisions about the meaning and significance of events. Emotional reactions – even strong ones – might have nothing at all to do with the actual event. The event may merely remind us of something else and it’s the resemblance that we perceive that triggers our interpretation, invoking the meaning and creating the emotion through attribution.

The entire apparatus can be completely uprooted and permanently dismantled by tracing the emotion back to the decision it is rooted in and recognizing and accepting it as our own. In doing this, we accept responsibility for the original decision and regain conscious ability to make a new decision. This new decision can form the core of a whole new experience.

In the next essay in this series, we will contrast emotions with feelings and consider how they can be useful in different ways.

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Body-Mind-Soul IV

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by DCH Park

The body is a means to connection to the spirit. Being open to what it tells us can lead us forward, often along a path that is quick and direct. For example, an upset stomach might mean that the fish we had for dinner wasn’t quite as fresh as the server claimed and that in the future we might be well-served to treat what that server says or what that restaurant serves with caution.

On a more subtle level, an upset stomach might instead indicate that there is something in our lives that doesn’t sit well with us or that isn’t working. For example, there might be stress at work or school or problems with our neighbor, parents, spouse, or kids.

How can we tell if the signal we receive is from a minor, transitory distraction, like a not-so-fresh fish dinner, or something longer term and deeper set? One big indication is to notice any patterns in your experience. Patterns that recur are often indications that there is a deeper cause that may not be readily apparent. It’s like the Princess and the pea. To the naked eye, the irritant – the pea – is non-existent because so many mattresses have been piled on top of it. We can’t even see it.

However, to the Princess lying on the bed, it is a huge irritant. I used to think this was a silly children’s fairy tale because it was ridiculous to imagine feeling a pea through even a single mattress, let alone a stack of them. Then I realized that it is a metaphor – albeit a flawed one – of how we are taught to deal with our lives.

When something happens or we make a choice that is troublesome, we might react with guilt, self-blame, embarrassment, and fear. However, rather than dealing directly with the problem and remove the pea, we pile mattress on top of mattress, trying to bury it deeper and deeper. The flaw in the metaphor is that as we push our problems or traumatic losses down, the recurring signals we receive get bigger and more insistent, not smaller. Instead of burying the pea, we grow it – potentially to gigantic proportions – as we add layers.

It’s as if the universe gently taps us on the shoulder with the issue at first. This first tap on the shoulder is so gentle that it is easy to ignore. If we do, we can go about our business and forget the tap ever happened. But the universe inevitably returns, this time with a more insistent tapping. If we continue to ignore it, the tapping will continue to grow and eventually, the universe comes along with a 2×4 to the back of the head.

Of course, if we continue to ignore the signal, we continue to build the pattern. As the recurring pattern of upsets, annoyances, or pain becomes more and more insistent, we have to work harder and harder to go on ignoring it. One way to do this might be to anesthetize ourselves so that we are numbed to the pressure of the metaphorical pea on our backs. Of course, in such a state, it’s hard to enjoy or even be fully aware of anything else in life, including things we may want to embrace.

Ironically, though, that rarely seems to be a problem because we become completely consumed with piling one mattress after another onto the stack as we try to bury the problem-pea. Of course, as the “tapping” grows more insistent, our stack building can become frenzied as we try harder and harder to bury a problem that only grows as we bury it.

How much better would it be to remove the stack of mattresses and get back down to the pea, remove the pea, and enjoy a comfortable night’s rest without all the drugs and distractions? How refreshing would a single mattress be compared to a swaying stack that has to be climbed with a ladder?

It doesn’t take royal blood to feel the pea through all of those mattresses. Life actually makes it hard not to feel it. If what you have been doing has not worked, do something different. Break the pattern. Dare to be honest with yourself. What patterns are there in your life? What peas are in your bed?

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“Body-Mind-Soul IV” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Dealing With Stress

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by DCH Park

Stress seems to be a regular part of life. When we feel under pressure, even minor everyday things can be stressful. For some, the pressure comes from trying to measure up to expectations, meet commitments, or minimize consequences. For others, it might be frustration over other people failing to measure up. Even family (some would say “especially family”) can be a source of stress. One man used to jokingly talk about having to “detox” for a couple of weeks to fully recover from spending just a weekend with his parents. He was joking, but not far underneath the joke was a serious comment.

No matter what the focus of stress is, one thing is clear – we have the power to either make it easier or much harder for ourselves. Whenever we lose ourselves in the drama and begin to look outside of ourselves for the causes and solutions to feelings of stress, being overwhelmed, and being under-appreciated, we are bound to fall even deeper into the drama, ultimately drowning in a sense of hopelessness and despair.

At such times, slightly widening your perspective to notice that you are immersed in drama and taking time to breathe and notice the moment can make a huge difference in your view of yourself and the situation you are in. Instead of miring yourself more deeply by looking for solutions and pushing harder and harder to reach some kind of resolution in the external world, you open the way to return to the knowing that you already are everything that you need.

However, it can be very hard to remember to do this in the midst of everyday life, especially when we’re feeling anger, frustration, stress, or unnoticed and unappreciated by the world. Even engaging in a conversation with a friend can pose a challenge with regard to being fully present. We’re so practiced at abusing ourselves by complaining, commiserating, and suffering together that we don’t even notice what we are doing to ourselves. It is held in the popular culture as a way to be self-effacing and friendly but it is very damaging. Only enemies and good friends abuse and insult each other so thoroughly and persistently.

When we do this, we enlarge the illusion and immerse ourselves in it. We become lost in ego, whether we are consciously focused on friends or enemies.

One way to deal with this trap is to develop the habit of noticing whenever we become immersed and stopping to breathe and notice the moment. This provides internal space that can be used to witness your internal process and let the old habit go in favor of a new choice.

A very simple technique focuses on choosing an extraneous cue, like a certain sight, smell, sound, etc. that occurs often and developing the habit of stopping to breathe whenever you see, smell, or hear the cue. For example, this technique has been used to develop the practice of lucid dreaming. Cultivate a habit so that whenever you see your hands, you ask yourself if you are dreaming or awake. Then, when you happen to notice your hands during a dream, you can become aware you are dreaming.

In the same way, you can develop a habit of noticing a cue, such as your hands, light streaming through a window, or the smell of grass or water, to remind you to breathe and be present in the moment. This can become a personal ritual that serves the same purpose that holidays were intended to play – a special time and circumstance to remind us to pause, breathe, and be in the moment – except instead of just once a year or once a week, you get to practice every day.

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“Dealing With Stress” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Reflecting the Wisdom of the Earth: An Interview with Cynthia Hill

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Cynthia Hill

CH: Healing Gardens is a concept I came up with growing herbs to go into my products. The customer knows exactly where their products are coming from. Like lemnongrass – good for energy and you can cook with it. It’s really uplifting. Lavender is good for calming, it’s also anti-inflammatory.

I am not a doctor, but they are known to be very healing. Eating them or using them on your skin.

DCHP: Some essential oil companies go to great lengths to harvest plants from the area where they were first cultivated. The theory is that it is different maybe more potent but there might actually be a local effect with herbs.

CH: I believe that there is. The lavender I have in my garden I feel will be more conducive [to people here]. The lavender that grows here – the hitcoat – is wonderful. If my herbs are living in the same environment [that I am in], I would assume they would be conducive to my skin.

DCHP: That would make sense. I see the same sort of argument in other areas. For example with bees and honey – that locally produced honey has elements in it that are different than what you would find in honey from California or South America.

CH: The honey that is derived here in southwest PA is very good, very tasty. If I know my apiary person, I’d feel more comfortable that I’m getting a high quality honey ‘cause I know that farmer.

Herbs that are grown where you regionally live, you are less likely to be allergic to them ‘cause you are in the same exact environment. They’re growing in the same temperatures and climates.

DCHP: So what do you do in the winter months?

CH: In the winter months I focus on making herbal teas. One of my most favorite blends is an anise-hyssop, which has kind of a licorice taste, and I blend that with lemonbalm, which is also called melissa.

It’s probably one of [the] cure-all herbs. [It] is good for sinuses, [it’s an] anti-inflammatory, [it’s] good for your skin, you can drink it, it alleviates a lot of problems like dandruff and acne. Then I may add others like St. John’s Wort.

DCHP: Interesting! You grow all those herbs yourself?

CH: On the perennials, I probably have 15. Re-seeders just keep coming back.

Queen Anne’s Lace, it’s an herb that grows along the sideways. It opens up like an umbrella and has a big white flower. Well the roots are really good for your body. And the leaves and flowers, you can make a tea out of it or you can roast them and serve them over meat. It’s very tasty. And there’s also chicory. It’s kind of purplish [in] color and it tastes like coffee!

Even the red clover and the white clover you see along the side of the road is very good for you. A lot of it I don’t have to grow. Earlier this winter I was near Kennywood and found some unusual wild daisies. They are beautiful when they bloom in the spring. So now I’ll have some next year.

It’s mostly making teas and making products from the herbs that I grew all spring. I don’t sell as much tea as I’d like to but that’s a dream – to really extend out and to have teas all year round. I’d have to grow a lot to actually have them all year round. So I can really only have teas during the winter months.

The garden is one of the only places where I really feel at home. I feel relaxed. Stress-free. My mother was an avid gardener. When I was a teenager I just couldn’t get it, but now I just wanna be outside all the time. I got away from it for many years. And now I’m back to it.

DCHP: Food corporations go to [great lengths to] hide the fact that all of their foods are produced by machines. They’re trying to make you think that people are involved. There’s a real difference I find between things that are produced locally by people and things that are produced by machines.

CH: You can taste it! Immediately, immediately.

DCHP: What sort of shift brought you back to [local foods]?

CH: I guess the biggest reason probably was going into my natural skin care business. I bought a book on soap making but I never had time to read it. When [my mother] passed away I really had a rough time ’cause we were so close and I thought, “Let me take a look at this book.” Nov 5, 2003 I made my first bar of soap and it came out perfect!

That’s what really got me into the skincare business. I’ve always liked skin care, and bought it, as most women do, but that’s what really made me switch [to] it. I said, “I cannot have a natural skin care business and eat unnaturally…”

DCHP: Hmm, interesting.

CH: …because it just didn’t make any sense. I am trying to be healthier so I wanna portray a healthier way of living. And it’s a work in progress!

DCHP: What I also get is it’s not so much a question of appearances but how it affects you, how you feel.

CH: Exactly! How it makes me feel. I feel better about myself.

At the beginning [my thought was] it should be a way of life. So I decided, as a slow process, to change my way of eating. So I not only feel better, it matches my lifestyle.

And in the interim of doing that I do feel better. Being around other people who are eating positively kinda rubs off. Foods that are grown naturally do taste good. In major companies they have chemists and their job is to design taste profiles.

DCHP: I find that a lot of those mass-produced, store-bought things might taste good at first but then leave me with this bitter flavor in my mouth and this feeling of just, I don’t know, yuckiness. The ones that are the simplest…

CH: …are the best!

DCHP: And…they leave a sweetness in my mouth instead of a bitterness.

CH: Instead of bitterness, exactly.

DCHP: It sounds like you are on a crusade.

CH: I’ve been eating the wrong way a long time, you know. I have to switch back to [my old way of eating] and I’m enjoying it.

DCHP: So it’s a process of discovering. Or re-discovering.

CH: Exactly. Re-discovering.

DCHP: You said, “You have to.” But I’m not so sure that’s really accurate. What I’m hearing is you want to, that there’s a real value in your body, in your gut.

CH: Oh sure, I’m feeling better, looking better, living longer.

[Speaking about my mother passing,] sometimes we don’t realize the gifts that we get when our loved ones leave us, but they always leave us something. We just don’t know.

That’s probably why I love being in the garden… ’cause when I was a teenager I was like, (in a petulant voice) “Oh no, go pick peppermint?”

And now I find myself out there, probably listening to my mother. It’s a spiritual thing to me. The Native Americans believed that when your parents die their souls go into their children. I believe that.

I used to ask, “Where does a person’s voice go when they die?” They have to go into family. They don’t just disappear. There’s a real connection between people and plants. More than that they’re just pretty. We need them! That’s why when you talk to them they look better! Because you’re connecting!

To me that’s spiritual.

DCHP: Interesting. Is there anything else you do with 3rd Day?

CH: Well I have a natural lotion that I make. It’s a hand and body lotion. It doesn’t have any chemicals in it and it’s made from organic ingredients.

There’s also a formula that I created called Deep Muscle and Joint Cream, which is made with 13 or more anti-inflammatory herbs in an olive oil and beeswax base. If you exercise a lot it eases the strain on your muscles. If you have arthritis it helps ease it up a little bit.

Then I have a natural sugar scrub. I either select an olive oil, a grapeseed oil, or a coconut oil with the herbs and essential oils. It’s made to exfoliate the skin while moisturizing. That’s very popular now.

Then I have a daily moisturizer which is made with turmeric. Turmeric is good for healing cancer cells. So I thought it would be good for the skin. It’s turmeric and honey in an olive oil and argan oil base.

Oh, and there’s another major [product] right now – a body wash made from rosemary and peppermint. It’s very uplifting. It’s a great morning body wash.

DCHP: As I understand it, there are 2 different [business] philosophies. One of them is building relationships with people. The other is that you’re always dealing with new people. They’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and you’ll take advantage of them. But when they realize they’ve been taken advantage of, they’ll never come back.

CH:[Customers] trust me. They can get a hold of me. My customers kind of know me. They say, “Oh where’s your granddaughter? You didn’t bring her with you this week!”

And not only that, repeat customers pay the bills, customers who come once don’t.

And I’ll be honest with you, once you try it, you’ll look for me (for my products). [Once you try it, you’ll] love it.

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”Reflecting the Wisdom of the Earth: An Interview with Cynthia Hill, 3rd Day Luxury Soaps and Healing Gardens” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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