BEING PRESENT — PART ONE

In every spiritual tradition in the world you will find the key to true enlightenment is to “be here now.” That means to be in the present, in the moment, with no thought in your mind about the past, the future, or what is happening anywhere but where you are. A simple teaching, but increasingly difficult to achieve in a world in which we are constantly bombarded by distracting stimuli. But it is only difficult because of the way we are raised and conditioned, not because it goes against the natural flow of who we are.

In older times this teaching was easier to follow because the center of life was relatively small. It must have been more natural to keep your mind in the present if you lived in a village or on a farm with no transportation except a horse or mule and no television or radio or other technology, and in order to survive, you had to move from task to task each day. I noticed this in my travels to India years ago. In the country villages, not much that went on beyond the compound made any difference. Each day was concerned with what was going on at the moment, and plans for the future were limited. Ruminating on the old days was the pastime of the elders, whose memories served as teachings for you. I believe this is one reason I found it so much easier to meditate in these places — the present moment permeated all existence, and the pressure to be somewhere else was not there.

The Girl with the Pot on Her Head

There is a fable I often heard in India, in different versions but with the same ending. A simple, orphaned village girl lived in a hut, and her only possessions were a cow and a jug for its milk. Each day she took the jug full of milk to the market to sell.

One day this girl became possessed by ideas about the future, as she set the jug of milk on her head and began to walk to the village market. In her mind, she began to plan. If she could save half the money from this jug of milk, and so on each day for so many days, she would have enough money to buy a goat. Then if she could make cheese from the goat milk, and take it with her to the market and sell both milk and cheese, she could double her money. She went on like this until, in her mind, she could attract the most handsome and prosperous young man in the village to be her husband, and life for her would be so much easier! At that moment, she felt so much happiness she jumped for joy. The pot on her head clattered to the ground, spilling all the milk and breaking into a thousand pieces.

Being present doesn’t require that we have no dreams or plans for the future, but it does require that we set aside times to make those plans in a way that involves concrete steps with reachable goals, and that we then return our minds to the present moment to experience it. We may also need to set aside appropriate time for reviewing the past in order to learn from it which remembering to return our minds to the present again, for the present is all we really have. The past and the future don’t exist, so if we miss the present moment we are living in a world that doesn’t exist and therefore does not matter and doesn’t nourish our souls.

Process and Goal

Being present allows you to give yourself more to the process rather than the goal. Modern people are very goal oriented; we want machines to do all the processing for us so we can have the result to enjoy right now. You don’t need to build your own car or bake your own bread to be in the present when you enjoy having them. But because much of what we really want is not what we think we want, it is hard for us to enjoy the process of each day’s passing.

We think we want a new car. It will bring us happiness, a feeling of security and accomplishment, and make our lives easier. When we get a new car, our minds are on something else we want for the exact same reasons, and we begin to complain about the car payments and dream about a day when we no longer have to worry about them. But by the time that day comes, we will either have new car payments or something else to worry about. Most of what we worry about never happens, and when we achieve our goals the feeling of satisfaction and joy we get only lasts a limited time, then we must have new goals and achievements to look forward to.

I learned this fairly quickly as a writer and an artist. The published book and the “Best of Show” awards have their moments of true joy, completion, and satisfaction about a job well done. But by the time those moments arrive, my mind was usually well into another project. I realized early on that the doing of the thing is more important than the result.

The process itself is a kind of meditation for me. I learn about timeless things from the concrete work that comes from my mind, heart, and hands; patience, perseverance, faith, flow, and presence. Misery only comes when my limited mind takes the driver’s seat. I begin to worry about selling or showing my work, or I compare my work with that of others, or obsess about how others will judge it. I have many examples of art pieces that I sent to juried or judged shows, and that came back with comments from the judges. On one piece, there are comments about certain aspects “needing work,” while another judge at another show will praise those same things a “excellent, very fine work.” Ideally, I listen to both, see whether the criticism has any learning value, and then put them both away in favor of what I think and feel about the work.

A recent example is when I was giving the keynote speech at an international conference of the International Association of Infant Massage in Spain. I had prepared a speech that I was very excited about. Knowing the importance of visualizing what I want, I did so. When it was time to give my speech, the outer atmosphere was completely different than what I had imagined — the room was a kind of party atmosphere, with no chairs for participants! Speaking to a big group of people standing threw me off completely. I began to speak, and searching the room for friendly faces, I managed to focus on a few people who were solemn and didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves at all. As the moments went by, I became stressed, my mouth dried up and I had to drink water every few minutes. I left out a large part of the speech in a desperate attempt to end it. I managed to get across most of what I wanted to — but the moment was almost ruined for me. I’m pretty sure the audience didn’t think it was a disaster, as I did.

I berated myself, what had I done wrong? Isn’t it good to visualize a great outcome? I finally realized it wasn’t completely my fault; the environment wasn’t made suitable, and thus was pretty difficult to overcome; I told the organizers what had happened and requested a different kind of venue if I were to speak again. When I got home, I analyzed it from the point of view of what I had done. It was a lesson for me — to be flexible and try not to be attached to the external. Being able to be present with what is there and still do my best would be my visualization in the future.

The Terrible What-If

Many baby boomers were brought up on the idea of “what-if” because our parents were so profoundly affected by World War II and the Great Depression. The question of “what-if” is based on an assumption of permanence, that if we just get it right, we can achieve a state of permanent peace, harmony, prosperity, security, and happiness, and we can prevent bad things from ever happening. This is a false premise because impermanence is the stuff from which the entire universe is made. Nothing is permanent. So if we wish, we can “what-if” ourselves into the grave.

The fact is, most of our fears never occur. To dwell on and fear what could happen in the future robs us of the enjoyment of the moment. If you string all the present moments together, you have a beautiful, impermanent, constantly moving, growing, changing life. You get to experience it when it’s happening, not as a memory or a false projection of your mind. This doesn’t get us off the hook in terms of taking responsibility to appropriately plan our lives, secure our futures, and tend to our family’s well being. Taking time to do that is part of being an adult, and not taking that responsibility is to insist on never growing up, which is a type of craving.

Craving occurs when the mind becomes the master rather than the servant, and, as master, it blows its power all out of proportion and would have us believe we control or can strive to control just about everything. This causes us to worry, desire, regret, obsess and seek endlessly for pleasure and relief.

With our plans in place and a flexible attitude, we can then enjoy the present moment with all our hearts. With our children it is particularly important to understand craving, because falling into its traps robs us of moments we can never retrieve.

With our Children

When you massage your baby or change his diaper, use the opportunity to be fully present. Empty your mind, just for this short time, of anything else and be in the same space as your baby. Experience life through her eyes. Breathe deeply, relax, and allow your love to communicate through your hands, your eyes, your expression, and how you speak to and handle your baby. Using the “love bucket” concept, this is the time to fill your baby’s chalice to the brim. The stress of daily life, both good and not so good, can drain that chalice. It is your job to continually fill it again to overflowing. In this way you return the favor; your baby teaches you how to be present and you can give him the gift of inner security for life.

Our babies have a rich gift they give to us freely and openly, 24 hours a day. If you have ever longed for or fantasized about going to a far off land to sit at the feet of a spiritual master and receive the teachings that will free your soul to enlightenment, guess what? Your master has decided to come to you, through your own body— indeed, made out of your own body— and she has nothing better to do than offer you her wisdom at any moment you choose to receive it. Remember this when, just as you fill with pride at how cute and good your child is, he bites your new friend’s leg or kicks over her best vase. Remember this as you watch your baby nurse or sleep, with the total surrender of one secure in the now and empty of mental cravings.

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THE MAGIC THAT FUELS UNIVERSAL LOVE AND CREATIVITY AND IS IMPORTANT TO CHILDBIRTH AND PARENTING

Pleasure is fantastic, powerful medicine. Our bodies are designed to renew when we feel joy, our bodies blossom and mend through the delights of earthly pleasures. In humans, nitric oxide (not nitrous oxide in the dentist’s office!) is a signaling molecule in our brains, blood, lungs, and gastrointestinal systems, dilating blood vessels, raising blood supply and helping to protect our tissues. It is also a neurotransmitter that is active on smooth muscle, and it is abundant in both the stomach and erectile tissues in the penis and clitoris. The experience of pleasure such as orgasm is due to a release of nitric oxide, as is laughter, deep meditation, exercise such as yoga, aerobic activities and pleasure in consuming delicious, healthy foods.

The feeling of the release of nitric oxide only lasts a few seconds, but it is sensational, setting off many feel-good chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. You feel an incredible shift in energy and relaxation. It is the physical manifestation of vital power, called prana or chi. It is even what lights up a firefly! Research at Stanford University showed that nitric oxide is released when the egg and sperm meet, in a peak moment of universal creativity. There is an MRI video showing the moment a human sperm meets an egg, and a beautiful flash of light signals the release of nitric oxide.

Some women experience this moment, knowing they are pregnant at the time it happens. I experienced it with my second pregnancy. It is a bright, exquisite memory. It was late at night, and as my husband slept, I rose and walked to our second-floor window, gazing at the full moon. I smiled, touched my belly, and said, “Hello!” Researcher Herbert Benson, M.D., author of The Relaxation Response, said that nitric oxide is an essential element in “peak experiences of ecstatic flow. . . it is a biological mechanism that encompasses the dynamics of human belief, the creative process, the essence of physical and mental performance, and even spiritual experience.” The Universe uses this natural magic to enchant our earthly experiences and bring us toward endless happiness, or enlightenment.

Neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, the “bonding hormone” are produced and used in the brain and cells throughout your body. Oxytocin is released during orgasm, breastfeeding, and during loving contact with your baby and other loved ones. You experience a warm, happy, relaxed feeling when mood-enhancing neurotransmitters are released from the brain and gut as a result of positive events, thoughts, and emotions. You can increase the visceral joy in which your new baby floats by consciously being positive and having pleasurable experiences.

Fear and anger deplete nitric oxide, so it is helpful to cultivate your ability to feel joy and compassion and to release resentment. Actually, righteous indignation, such as when you stand up for the vulnerable or against exploitation, can release nitric oxide. Followed by actions that help you feel empowered and courageous, this kind of anger is right for you; it is only when passion makes you feel helpless, disempowered, and sad that it is not at all good for you.

There is another neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in how happy and calm we feel. It’s called anandamide. The name is taken from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means “bliss.” Anandamide was discovered back in the 1990s by scientists trying to understand the effects of cannabis on the human body. They discovered that anandamide was part of the endocannabinoid system — a network of receptors and cannabis-like chemicals (endocannabinoids) found throughout our bodies. The endocannabinoid system regulates almost every biological activity including sleep, appetite, our immune system, pain, mood, reproduction, and memory.

Anandamide both reduces inflammation and is thought to have an anti-anxiety effect. The more anandamide we have, the happier we are. This direct link between anandamide and mental well-being got a further boost when scientists discovered that regions scoring highest for happiness, such as West Africa, South America, and Scandinavia, share a special genetic mutation. This means anandamide lasts longer in their systems before being used up. So in effect, thanks to their genetic abnormality, these countries are more resilient to stress and are generally happier.

High levels of anandamide in our bodies are linked to feelings of happiness and contentment, and a lack of them to depression and anxiety. Exercise is a great way to increase anandamide levels. Not only do we release endorphins, but scientists now know the infamous “runner’s high” is also attributed to a peak in anandamide and a release of nitric oxide. It has been shown that aerobic exercise causes an increase in anandamide levels, which is associated with mood-enhancing effects. Because anandamide is a euphoriant and aerobic exercise is associated with euphoric effects, it has been proposed that anandamide mediates the short-term mood-lifting effects of exercise by exercise-induced increases in its synthesis. It has been shown that an individual’s mood improves for the remainder of the day following physical exercise and that one’s mood is positively correlated with overall daily physical activity level.

The Roles of Fathers are Changing, and it’s All Good –

With changes in wage equality, technology, and social support, the barriers to achieving stay-at-home dad status are finally crumbling.

Source: The Roles of Fathers are Changing, and it’s All Good –

Going back centuries the role of the father remained as a disciplinarian and breadwinner for his family. He was intimidating and no one to toy with. Today, more men are looking to fulfill a more rewarding role at home and take on the children full time as a  stay at home dad.

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Angry adults can influence children’s behavior as early as infancy

A new study done by UW psychologists suggests that for children as young as 15 months, first impressions may play a significant role in their early emotional behavior.

Source: Angry adults can influence children’s behavior as early as infancy

First impressions are hard for anyone to forget, but a new study done by UW psychologists suggests that for children as young as 15 months, first impressions may play a significant role in their early emotional behavior.

Brain imaging tool seeks signs of infant malnutrition

See how an imaging tool can track brain growth to provide evidence that could protect against malnutrition.

Source: Brain imaging tool seeks signs of infant malnutrition

An estimated 161 million children around the world are chronically malnourished, or stunted. Lack of food and nutrients severely harm children’s development. This can be obvious, such as when children are much shorter than they should be for their age. But it can also affect hidden parts of the body including the brain.

In this video, we examine the work of a group of scientists from University College London, the university of Birkbeck and Cambridge University in the United Kingdom who have travelled to the Gambia to test a new, cheap tool that allows doctors to monitor the brain growth of infants from birth in a non-invasive way. It is also much more accurate than traditional methods such as measuring head circumference with a tape measure.

INFANT MASSAGE: STRESS AND RELAXATION

Infant massage is one tool we have to help reshape our child’s interpretations of the world, to release her pain, grief, and fear, and to open her up to love and joy.

Touch meets a baby’s needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation, and movement. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as during breastfeeding, bathing, or massage. Carrying or babywearing also meets this need while on the go. Hugs, snuggling, back rubs, massage, and physical play help meet this need in older children.

In our great-grandmothers’ day, when a baby developed a fever, the outcome was uncertain. Each century’s children have been plagued with some debilitating disease. Though many contagions have been eliminated through improved environmental conditions and medicine, our century is characterized by a more subtle and insidious malady — stress.

Stress can begin to affect a baby even before he is born. The levels of stress hormones that are constantly present in a woman’s bloodstream directly affect her unborn infant, crossing the placenta to enter his own bloodstream. Studies have shown that prolonged tension and anxiety can hamper a pregnant woman’s ability to absorb nourishment. Her baby may be of low birth weight, hyperactive, and irritable.

If we understand that our experiences and reactions influence our own biochemistry by sending life-enhancing or fear-producing chemicals throughout our bodies, it is not difficult to understand that these chemicals are also sent through our unborn baby’s body. Her cells receive this “information” and program her structure accordingly. Thus, even before birth, a baby can unconsciously perceive the world as a place of anxiety and stress, to fight or be victimized by, or a place of safety and love, to enjoy and fully experience. This is not to say all is lost if life circumstances are less than perfect. Infant massage is one tool we have to help reshape our child’s interpretations of the world, to release her pain, grief, and fear, and to open her up to love and joy. As we evolve to be more conscious beings, we understand more deeply how important our mental states are, both to our own health and longevity and to our children’s health, longevity, intelligence, and ability to experience and give love and joy.

Babies born centuries ago in more primitive cultures had the advantage of extended families, natural environments, and relatively little change. Our children, born into a rapidly advancing technological world, must effectively handle stress if they are to survive and prosper. Thus must give them every opportunity, from conception on, to learn positive, adaptive responses to stress and to believe in their own power and adaptability.

We certainly cannot eliminate stress, nor would we wish to, for in the proper doses it is an essential component in the growth of intelligence. Let’s see how this works. In times of stress, the pituitary gland produces a hormone called ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), which activates the adrenal steroids, organizing the body and brain to deal with an unknown or unpredictable emergency. In experiments with laboratory animals, this hormone has been found to stimulate the production of many new proteins in the liver and brain — proteins that are instrumental in both learning and memory. On being given ACTH, the animals’ brains grow millions of new connecting links between the neurons (thinking cells). These links enable the brain to process information.

The stress of meeting unknown situations and converting them into what is known and predictable is essential for our babies’ brain development. But stress is only part of the cycle that enhances learning. Without its equally important opposite — relaxation — stress can lead to overstimulation, exhaustion, and shock. When stress piles upon stress without the relief of an equal portion of relaxation, the body begins to shut out all sensory intake and the learning process is completely blocked. As neuroscientist Bruce Lipton described, between the two choices — protection-related or growth-promoting — protection-related biological behaviors kick in, thus preventing growth or learning.

How does this apply to infant massage? First, massage is one way we can provide our children with relaxing, joyful experiences. Through the use of conditioned response techniques similar to those developed for childbirth by Lamaze and others, we can teach our babies how to relax their bodies in response to stress. The ability to relax consciously is a tremendous advantage in coping with the pressures of growing up in modern society. If acquired early in life, the realization response can become as much a part of our children’s natural system as the antibodies that protect them from disease.

Stress is a natural part of an infant’s life, but often our babies are not able to benefit from it as much as they could. Our fast-paced society overloads them with input, but it is unacceptable for them to cry to release tension. This double bind leads to many frustrated babies with a lot of pent-up tension and anxiety.

Massage helps babies practice handling input and responding to it with relaxation. Watch an experienced mother massaging her baby. You will see both stress and relaxation in the rhythmic strokes and in the baby’s reactions. The infant experiences all kinds of new sensations, feelings, odors, sounds, and sights. The rumbles of his tummy, the warm sensation of increased circulation, the movement of air on his bare skin — all are mildly stressful to him. The pleasant tone of his mother’s voice, her smile and her touch are relaxing and relieve the discomfort of encountering these new sensations. The reassures him that the world outside the womb is, as Dr. Frederick Laborers says, “still alive, and warm, and beating, and friendly.”

A daily massage gradually raises an infant’s stimulation threshold. Babies who have difficulty handling stimulation gradually build tolerance. High-need babies begin to learn to regulate the manner in which they respond to stressful experiences, which reduces the level of tension they develop throughout the day. Colicky babies are calmed and able to relax their bodies so that tension doesn’t escalate their discomfort. A regular massage provides our babies with an early stress management program that will be valuable to them in years to come.

INTO ADULTHOOD

Psychologists study the types of attachments we form in our infant as predictors of the types of relationships we will have as adults. People whose infancy was secure, who were held and listened to, who had good eye contact with their parents, and who were generally cherished tend to have healthier relationships with others. Getting close to others is easy, and they have no problem with interdependency (the ability to depend on and be depended on, appropriately). They have happy, trusting relationships; their romances last the longest and end in divorce the least often of groups studied. On the other hand, babies whose attachment bonds are insecure or anxious are later less sympathetic to others and less effective in getting support and help from other people. Their relationships lack trust and intimacy; jealousy and commitment problems and fears undermine friendships as well as marriages. People whose bonds are constantly broken in infancy have a much greater risk of becoming sociopathic criminals in their adulthood unless they receive serious intervention at an early stage.

The bonds of trust and love, the lessons of compassion, warmth, openness, and respect that are inherent in the massage routine will be carried by your child into adulthood. Especially if your parenting practices reflect the same values of infant massage, your child will be more likely to respond to others with compassion and altruism and to experience life as a joyful adventure in which he has the opportunity to love and be loved — to help others and extend himself in genuine service to humanity.

© 2019 Vimala McClure

Positive Parents: Wired to Connect – Discipline Shouldn’t Hurt

Positive Parents: Wired to Connect – Discipline Shouldn’t Hurt.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION FROM NEUROSCIENCE: Across many studies of mammals, from the smallest rodents all the way to us humans, the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed. When this happens in childhood it can lead to long-term health and educational problems. We may not like the fact that we are wired such that our well-being depends on our connections with others, but the facts are the facts. – Matthew Lieberman, neuroscientist and author of Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect