Threads Of Your Life

Mindful Moment – Threads of Your Life

 

Rarely is life a single thread that is easily followed from where you are to your own private destination. But that is why you are here, isn’t it? To learn and enjoy the journey. Your life and the thread in your hand may start out straight and untangled, but rarely does it stay that way for very long. It quickly becomes tangled and knotted, twisting and turning upon itself as you navigate the distractions and delusions of your path.

You may find yourself rushing along a straight path, only to see that where you are standing lies in the middle of confusion. It only takes a short while before someone’s comment leads you in the wrong direction, chasing after money or fame or that corner office you so covet until you get there. That is the point when you step back to see the threads you once followed without question no longer make sense and land you in a place with no apparent ends in sight.

There are no exits. Even when looking from above all you see is a big mess, a tangle of confusion. You pull on one end and it simply tightens the knot. You pull on another to find it leads nowhere.

The easiest way to get out is to stop trying to get out. Rather than fight the knot, simply loosen it. Work to loosen the threads until the knot is gone. You will soon find that the threads you once fought with are not as important as they once were. That is when it will make more sense to snip the line than to continue untangling the string that is left. You will realize that it was only a five dollar ball of yarn and not really worth your time to untangle the entire ball. It makes far more sense to simply snip the line.

There will be other tangles, so before you become frustrated, find a single thread and follow it. Know that it will not lead to the way out, but it will help you reduce the size of the knot in front of you. Do as much as you can and then let it go.

Change your expectation, and see each thread as a path, not the end. With a different course of action that you can jump from at any point in time, life becomes much easier to handle. Yes the knot may be unapproachable, your initial goal may seem unattainable, but if you revise your strategy and realize the original goal may no longer be relevant it all becomes very simple.

Take a single thread and straighten it out as best you can. When you have reached the end of that thread, wind it into a neat loop. Set it aside with the intention of coming back to it later. Do the same for another thread and make a new loop. Set each loop in its own place and return to the main knot. As you begin to have more loops, the size of your tangle is reduced.

At some point you will see that the strings leading to your loops become longer and longer. The tangle may not straighten itself out, but you will realize you no longer need to get rid of the know. The strings of your new loops are long enough to fit your needs without having to undo the whole knot itself.

That is the point you can snip the string and use it for whatever your project requires without having to untie the entire knotted area.

Keep doing this until you have enough strings to neatly wind them around a bobbin. Did you really need all 100 yards of string? Probably not. That was just your ego telling you it’s either you or the string. Forget about that voice. It is not worth your time or energy to the entire mess when the ten new strings will be more than enough.

Now, place those somewhere safe and throw the knot away.

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Truth & Triggers

No matter how “Zen” you may feel when you are in that flow, we all find ourselves thrown out of balance when the wrong person makes the wrong comment at just the wrong time. It almost seems as if they know just what to say at just the right to set you off.

Don’t worry, that is how they deal with the world. They live their life setting everyone around them spinning so they can remain the calm at the center of the storm. It is how they deal with the world around them. It is almost a narcissistic personality disorder, except for the fact that is has less to do with narcissism as it has to do with the only way they can feel secure is if everyone around them is spinning.

I wrote about it in my book The Simple Truth. I call it a loophole in the societal courtesies the rest of us live by. Their comment usually lies just below the response level where you feel justified in making a retort. It is not something so large that you can respond without looking like an egotistical ass. It flies just below the social radar of most people, but still it stings.

It is not like they out and out called you a name, but it was a dig. It is a trigger that they know they flicked, you know they flicked, and you have a pretty good idea everyone around you knows he or she flicked, but it was not so bad that you feel it demands a response without sinking down to their level.

It is okay, we have all been in that position. Just a few thoughts on how to handle these kinds of situations. First, let it go. Remind yourself to never allow yourself to be so caught up in the physical world that you get hurt by the actions of another or feel as if you must respond to them. A simple smirk and a rise of the eyebrow is usually enough of a response to dismiss them. You may even shake your head at the assininity of the situation, and if that is not a real word, it is about as close as I can get to calling it a passive/aggressive disorder without actually doing so [Spell check tells me it is not, but I say it should be].

You should also go one step further. Make a note of the trigger they flicked and store it for later. Once you cool down, take a moment to recognize that trigger. Admit to it and own it. Adopt it as a sensitive part of who you are. Smile at it, because it is a part of you. It is not a weakness, but a strength.

Sit down with yourself, meditate without allowing your mind to settle on the trigger that upset you like it did. Once your temperature has returned to normal, take a moment to contemplate what just happened. Replay the situation and turn it in your hands. Look at it from different angles and different perspectives. Then assess that trigger of yours. Ask yourself these three Socratic questions:

  • The first question is, has anyone said this before? If so, then this may lead to some self introspection. Is there some hint of truth to what they said, or is this the first time anyone has ever said something like this about you? If it has been said or hinted at before, then perhaps the reason it chafed so deeply is because there was a touch of truth to what they said. Do not question yourself or spend too much time pondering, but it may be worth some introspection, without getting too lost in their comments.
  • The second question is, why did they say that? Ask yourself why they said what they said. IF they did it out of anger, jealousy, or an attempt to raise themselves above you, then there is a good chance you can dismiss it. If however there was a twinge of truth to what they said, perhaps there is a lesson you can learn hidden beneath their acerbic attitude. If that is the case then perhaps you have a hint toward an attitude you yourself may take at times. Real or not, you may have been given an opportunity to change it. I call this a chance to learn from even the worst of situations.
  • The final question is, what is the nature behind what they said? Did they say whatever it was because they wanted to impress their friends or make your colleagues question your authority or confidence? Or did they say whatever it was because they saw a weakness in your personality? Either way, it again may hint at an area for improvement. If not, then it may be okay to dismiss their comment without further contemplation or thought.

Allow yourself, without allowing their comment to overwhelm you, to use their comment to explore your trigger. Ask yourself “why did that touch a nerve so deeply that I felt I had to respond?”

Try not to look at this event as an event to be angry about. Use it as an opportunity for self-growth. Look at this as an opportunity that should be met with gratitude. Each is a door to explore areas within you that may make you feel uncomfortable exploring. That is the quickest way to uncover your Simple Truth so that you may move on to living your life, on your terms, free from pain and free from delusions.

If you ever want to ask about a personal issue, please feel free to ask below. Your question will be sent directly to Jeff Cannon and held in the highest confidence.

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Be well and I hope this helps.

 

 

 

Pick Yourself Up

There will always be days, weeks, even months when you feel as if the delusions of your life are overrunning your life. It’s okay, we all get them. It’s just a signal that it is time to wake up to the real world, not the one you think you are living in, but to the real world that is all around you. It may feel like you need a shot of caffeine or a cocktail, but it’s not. You just need a bit of sleep, some healthy food, to slow down and to reach out to your community of friends and family. More than likely you are simply feeling tired of living your life in delusion. Stop thinking in terms of success and failure, winning or losing, think in terms of delusions.

I know it is not easy, but these tips will help get you back on your path to stop tripping over your own nature, to truly Awaken to your own Simple Truth.

Here are a few ways to get you back on your path and keep you moving in the right direction. After all, it is your life and now is the time to live it your way with a meditative twist:

  1. Ask yourself when was the last time you got 8 hours of sleep? When was the last time you sat down to a healthy meal? When was the last time you sat down with a friend and listened, really listened to them? What you hear may surprise you. If you do not take care of yourself nobody else will. Remember what the airline steward , and you need to take care of yourself or you will fall apart. So get some sleep, eat a healthy meal, talk to a friend and then see how you feel.
  2. Take a deep breath, roll your shoulders back, and smile. Every time you inhale feel the relaxing strength of each breath flow from the top of your head to the tips of your fingers and toes. Begin with your scalp, feel each breath flow down from your scalp to your eyebrows, your eyes, your cheeks, your lips and your jaw. Feel your tongue drop from the roof of your mouth, relaxing you as it passes down your neck, your shoulders, your arms and your fingers. Feel each breath flow down to your hips, your legs and your toes. Relax and feel the ebb and flow of that energy as it flows through you, lifting you, giving you the Focused Calm to move forward.
  3. Reach out and help someone. It does not have to be earth shattering. It can just be a smile, holding the door for someone, being fully present as you listen to them without judgment. Make someone else feel good about themselves without seeking anything in return. Then smile to yourself for doing so.
  4. Touch the earth. Even if that is the side of a building or the pavement, a sidewalk or an office floor. Remind yourself that you are connected to the earth in some way. Tune yourself in to that connection and smile as you follow that connection no matter how thin it may be. Remember electricity travels though the thinnest wire to illuminate a lamp from the tiniest of batteries. Do the same as you touch the earth to re-energize.
  5. Write down five things that you are proud of. Put that list in your pocket or handbag. Remind yourself that you have done great things in your life and will do many more in the future.
  6. Acknowledge what is happening in your life. Label the moments where you think things went wrong and acknowledge them. Let your brain know that those are just moment in your life and that everything will be okay.
  7. Stop picking up your mobile phone, stay off of social media [Facebook, Twitter, Instagram]. Pick up a book, sit back, and read instead.
  8. Stop comparing yourself to others. You are not someone else, they are not you. Just know that they are just as insecure as you are. Now, laugh at yourself for being foolish and only seeing the curated life they want you to see.
  9. Stop watching the news. Today’s news is pretty much a rehash of yesterday’s events. It does not change from day-to-day. So take a break and enjoy life instead. CNN will not mind, it will not even know, but you will.
  10. Train yourself to quit the negative and focus on the positive. Start today. Know that we are programmed to see the rain more than the sun. It is human nature from the time when we were hunter-gatherers, but it does not have to be your nature today.

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Be well,

 

 

Jeff

 

Unconditional Love

Unconditional Love, as versus conditional love, is so rare. Conditional Love is easy. I give you Love when you do something for me that I want you to do. You do the dishes, I kiss your cheek. I hold the door for you and you smile at me. You do something in the bedroom I enjoy. I return the favor. It is a give and take. At times I give more than I take. At others I receive more than I give.

But it is not give freely. There is a cost, a condition, to this kind of Love. Compliance. You will do what is expected of you if you are to receive the Love and attention you desire.

With unconditional Love there is no compliance. It is the act of simply giving. It is so rare, simply giving again and again and again. Not expecting anything in return, not asking for anything with one’s eyes or hands or heart – simply giving.

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Can you imagine what this world would be like if everyone simply gave without expecting anything in return? It would be a world filled with Jesus’, Buddhas, Mohammads and Abrahams.

I have experienced unconditional Love on occasion. At my bedside, when my mother fed me ice chips when I could not sip from a cup. When my wife lifted me up when I toppled over in rehab, neither asking if I wanted it, each simply offering, helping and assisting without expecting anything in return. On the rare occasion that I turned it down, they simply accepted that without a word, and smiled with more Love for me.

It is the Love a mother gives to her child when going through labor or when nursing. It is Loving through the pain. It is the Love a father gives to his child when explaining why the world is the way it is, free from feeling his own pain or regret, or acknowledging if his own needs are being met. Simply being present to the needs of the growing consciousness that is before them.

Unconditional Love is about caring for someone else’s happiness without a thought to the needs of the self. It is about being fully awake and aware, being fully present to the world around you, the person in front of you, to yourself.

It is not an excuse to stay in a bad marriage or relationship. It is saying I love you no matter what happens to us, not I love you no matter what you do to me.

I will love you when the sun is shining or the skies are grey.

I will love you even when I have a horrible day.

I will love you even if you do not return my love.

I will not look for love elsewhere even if you do.

For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health.

No matter what happens to us, I will Love you.

Because when I love you, I also love me.

I Love you no matter what conditions occur around us is unconditional Love.

Do not bother looking for it.

It will find you when you are ready to accept it.

If you want to feel unconditional Love simply open yourself up to it. It is all around you. It is within you.

Give it to yourself first. Hold yourself in your own heart unconditionally. Respect yourself, Love yourself, free yourself from those undermining comments you allow to fester within you. Free yourself from the self-loathing, the self-bashing you waste so much time on. All of that does nothing but distract you from the Love that is within you.

Once you see the Love within, you will begin to see the same unconditional Love within those around you. When you can feel the Love pass through you as you send it out unconditionally.

Try it.

You will be amazed at what will transpire.

Not just with others, but within yourself.

Unconditionally.

The Network of You

The Network of You.

You are not an individual. You are a collective, and the collective that is you extends in every direction – inward and out. It can be found in the mitochondria that power every cell of your body. It can be found in the bacteria of your gut; which doctors are just now discovering how important they are for your health, and without which you would not be alive today.

As much as you all like to think of ourselves as an individual, you are simply not. You are part of a collective linked together physically, psychologically, even spiritually with those around you. It is only now that we are all beginning to realize just how strong the threads that bind us together truly are.

Long before we had two arms and two legs, the ancestors of the bacteria in your gut banded together to create cells. They adapted in this way to survive. They still do to this day – ever changing to respond to the environment around them. Just as you and I do.

The thread of our collective past is still alive today. It lives in our need to connect with each other. The same need that our ancestors followed forty or one hundred thousand years ago. Back then it was to protect each other, to hunt and to farm. Hundreds of years ago it drove our forefathers and mothers to venture into the unknown in pursuit of freedom.

It is why the internet was created and continues to grow so quickly. It is why apps like Facebook and Instagram are so popular. No matter how much you think of yourself as an individual, you are part of a collective – always have been, always will be. It is in your DNA.

In so may ways I know you are trying to escape the psychological trap of the internet. On one hand you are inundated with useless information that you may think of the internet as the trash bin of humanity. On the other you are still searching to expand your circle of friends. You may call them your “online friends.” But there is a psychological connection with them. It is not right or wrong, it simply means your world has expanded beyond your physical self, on a global scale.

It is also why, in times of trouble, you should not retreat into a solitary corner of yourself. I know it is hard, but this is exactly the time to reach out to the very collective of friends and family, associates and even strangers, that is the network of you.

So where will you go from here? Might I suggest taking a step back in time; to the network that existed long before the internet was created? It is a network of energy that is all around you. It always has been. It always will be. There are no subscriber fees to plug into it. All you have to do is reach out and tap into the energy that is already there.

In many ways, reaching this network of energy is no different than reaching into the practice of meditation. You first need to settle your body in order to quiet your mind. Only when your mind is quiet can you open your heart, and only when your heart is open can you connect to the Love and energy that flows around and through each of us. It follows that wonderfully familiar pattern of Body, Mind and Spirit, or as some say – Physical, Mental and Spiritual.

The Evolution of Solitary to Collective

Even the practice of meditation changes and evolves. It used to be a solitary act, practiced alone, enabling the person meditating to become one with him or herself; to become enlightened. While it is still practiced alone, the path to enlightenment has become a communal practice. People talk and exchange. There is a back and forth as people share their experiences online and off.

Perhaps it has always been a communal act, and we are just now recognizing it as such.

Just as the evolution of the human race is the story of individuals banding together out of survival, from individual bacteria to collective cells, from collective cell to the creation of invertebrates, vertebrates, animals, mammals, and eventually modern humans, the human experience has always been one of evolving past the individual to form a collective on every level, physically, mentally and even spiritually.

Transcending the physical to the spiritual has never been something you could readily do simply by closing your eyes. It has always required a slow journey. One that first requires you to cleanse physical self so that you can open your mind. Once free from your ego, you discover you can you open your heart and touch upon the love and the energy that is all around you. Only when your heart is open can you release your spirit and touch upon the spiritual side we all carry within us.

This is not something that is easy to do alone. It is an act that is far easier to do in a community, a collective, of like minded souls. However, only you know yourself well enough can you prepare yourself for the next step in your journey – that of transcending the physical for the divine.

Transcendence does not mean you will disappear from this plane as you rise up to the heavens. It simply means you will see the world around you with a growing realization that this is not all there is. That what exists goes beyond the physical on so many levels, you will understand why you felt trapped with every choice your path gave you.

Now is the time to break through whatever walls you created for yourself. Just reach out into the network that is all around you, even though you may have never realized it. You may be very surprised at how easy it is to feel whole and complete. But you will never know until you reach out in times of trouble.

Be well, and I hope this helps –

 

 

Jeff

Meditation & Mindful Consumption

In our media-rich world, be careful of what you ingest. It may not always agree with the life you live or aspire to life. I am not only writing in terms of food and drink, but in terms of what you watch and listen to, what you read and even write.

Everything you bring into your life effects your outlook and world view. The violence you see on television or in the theater, will resonate in how your treat those you love. The podcasts you listen to and the blogs your read online all their opinions which sooner or later end up in the way you speak and think. When you hear candidates berate and undercut each other, their words affect relationship to the world around you – whether you agree with them or not.

So just stop. The residue each of these leave behind will weigh on you and drag you down into that dark world of anger and depression. It’s okay to take a break from the news, to let go of slasher films, to put down the gossip magazines and simply be who you aspire to be.

It is called Mindful Consumption – the art of placing your breath and your awareness on the things that you are bringing into your space physically, mentally and even spiritually. If, as you eat, drink, watch or listen, feel yourself sinking into self doubt or anything that resembles the darker side of yourself then simply stop and change the channel.

If you find this difficult, stand up and take a deep breath. Put your hands on your hips and curl your lips into a smile. Feel that smile spread across your cheeks and down into your lungs as you attach your smile onto your breath.

If you need to gather your inner strength, assume a power pose by standing up straight and putting your hands on your hips, or reaching your arms above your head in a big V. Give yourself the gift of a clean spirit as you shed the residue that the world wants to weigh you down with.

Mindful Consumption is easier than you may think, especially if you build it on top of a foundation of meditation.

Either way, just be careful with what you ingest. You know who you are. Don’t let them bring you down to their level. Rise above and smile into the sun that always shines above.

Be well, and I hope this helps.

Learn more about Mindful Eating and Consumption by clicking here.

 

 

 

Jeff

Q+A: Find God in Your Meditation

Before our session started a new student asked me about God and meditation. “How does it all work?,” she asked.

These are two terms I increasingly hear together, especially since the rebirth that meditation is experiencing these days. It used to be that meditation was so closely tied to Buddhism that one just accepted they were born of the same cloth. But no more, and rightly so. Now that the idea of God has pulled away from the Biblical character raining down fire and brimstone on sinners, and has become a more Loving entity, more synonymous with the teachings of Christ or Mohammad, or even Abraham, finding God within yourself is a much easier concept to pursue.

It is why so many monks, like myself, have found a balance when they practice meditation. Regardless of religious affiliation meditation is a way to transcend the physical distractions of the body and find the higher self we so often seek. It is within that higher self, that we begin to touch upon the divine.

With practice, meditation will take you to a higher level of awareness, to a place where your consciousness is free to play without the pain and distractions of the human experience we are all a part of. In so many ways meditation allows you to find enlightenment in your body and mind so that you open up to the connections we all share on a more spiritual level.

Even if you are not a practitioner of any religion or consider yourself an agnostic or an atheist, there are elements behind a good meditation practice that will connect you with those around you, uncovering the Love that is common among all sentient beings.

“How does this work?” she asked.

I explained to her that meditation is not about floating on a cloud of Nirvana. It is a practice, and like any practice it takes time to develop. We do not all become Beethoven’s or Olympic class gymnasts over night. We sit. We learn to quiet our minds. We allow our focus to develop so that our awareness can grow. As our awareness grows, our consciousness expands. And when that happens we can begin to adopt more advanced meditation techniques.

I led her through basic meditation; sitting, breathing, acknowledging and letting go. Then I led her through the Simple Truth Method, through the thought interrupting Out Breath exercise and through the connection meditation that helps you become aware the people that are near you and support you through the natural Love that is within all of us. I then showed her how to weave the Love, understanding and empathy of these people into the intentions for you to follow, is the basis for how you want to live your life.

“That is how you find God in your meditations. Not as an angry being who is watching your every move, but as a caring, loving, understanding entity that represents the Love that flows within and around each of us.”

She smiled and said thank you. I held her hand. “Remember, there are two levels of meditation. The first trains you how to sit, how to calm yourself, and how to rid yourself of the stress and distractions of the world we live in.

“The second allows you to transcend this world and introduce yourself to the Love that is God on your terms.”

Wonderful Journey Through Meditation

This is such a wonderful Journey we are all on, let’s travel it together.

Whether you follow me or not, you have probably noticed I not been posting for a while.

I took an unexpected sabbatical almost eight weeks ago, something my doctors refered to as a series of severe seizures. Sabbatical or seizures – the implication is really a matter of semantics; the reality depends on what you do with your time.

From the doctors perspective, these were not the kind of seizures that jumps into people’s minds, complete with dramatic tremors and spasms. These were more internal than that – the kind that shuts off the connection between the cognitive segments of your brain and the motor skills of your body.

I have lived through enough of these to get over the shock pretty quickly. The first few days of my forced sabbatical are nice. All of my needs were taken care of and people respond to my smiles and eye rolls without too much conversation.

I was able to see, hear, and taste, I was able to contemplate big ideas and follow them to their eventual end, free from distractions, I just could not do much about them.

There was plenty of time for meditation and contemplation. The problem was I could not really read or write; my brain simply could not track a sentence let alone an entire paragraph that covered more than a single subject. The thoughts just overloaded my wiring – you will have to wait for my article about multitasking and distractions.

What I have learned is that time becomes irrelevant. Things take as long as they take and there is not much you can do about that, except stay focused on your thought.

Over the years I have learned that if you are able to write down the big ideas and the finer points, as my father taught me to do, you end up with a pretty amazing list of topics to dive into when you can write. You also have a list of well thought out points to support them with.

This is why I call it a sabbatical. With time not being an issue, I am left with little to do except to ponder and let my mind wander as my rehabilitation gets my body caught up with my brain, and my brain with my mind – connecting all that wiring, as it were, to re-teach me to walk, to read, to write, and yes, to smile.

If I am successful, I am left with what I think are, a pretty amazing list of articles to jump into, with such subjects as:

  • The Hypocrisy of the Hippocratic Oath
  • Returning the Barriers Back into Your Life
  • Even Yogis Duke It Out
  • There is Always A Choice – The Problem Lies in Taking Action
  • Dreaming is okay, but at some point you have to work for it
  • Estee Lauder & Colin Powell: 5 Tips That Will Focus You Mind, Body & Soul
  • Hipsters and Hippies – The Mistakes They Made The Last Time Around

Also, we will begin again with our weekly emails “Mindful Moments,” s well as the launch of our much awaited program: 5 Weeks to Meditation.

This is a wonderful Journey we are all on, join me, let’s travel it together.

Q+A – What Does It Feel Like When The Brain Reboots? Seizure Pt II

Moments of Enlightenment

This is the wiring diagram of a human brain. It helps me to understand the complexities of the brain and of my recoveries.

I used to describe the recovery from a seizure as a series of awakenings, as an ongoing experience that rolls out before you and continues to grow and expand as my brain reconnects itself and comes back online. But it is more than that. It is part physical, part psychological, and yes, part spiritual.

I would describe it as an expanding experience that includes a higher level of cognition which pushes beyond where my experiential limits used to be. It is as if, once opened, the pathways that were at once limited become limitless – beyond where the eye could at one time see.

I know this is as much physical as it is metaphysical. I realize much of this is a function of my brain repairing itself and my neurons re-knitting the old pathways, but I cannot help but drop the limiting thoughts that used to define me, to peek into the void beyond the horizon.

Physically, I understand that the myelin that sheathed my nerves was probably weakened during my seven weeks of radiation. [Myelin is the insulating covering of protein and fatty substances that protects the nerves of the brain, spinal cord and body. Unlike the insulation of a power cord, it is not designed to prevent electrical shocks as much as it is to hold the electrical impulses within the neurons, enabling them to transmit signals more quickly and efficiently along the neural network of cells.]

It is one reason the doctors and I think I had my seizure  in the first place. Seven weeks of radiation has a way of wearing away the myelin, leaving the nerves a bit raw.

As the myelin rebuilds, the synapses in the brain become stronger, the neurons engage and mesh together, recreating the network and the memories that I remember having. I am sure a certain level of neuroplasticity comes into play as the brain takes into account what is going on around it, enhancing the most relevant areas first, even letting go of some areas it deems less important.

In a way, I get a new brain. As this happens, it feels as if I am witnessing my memory expand at a rapid pace. The result is a hyper fast experience of watching my mind expand, not just rebuilding its old self, but often going beyond where it was, pushing past the old boundaries, and sometimes even forgetting or ignoring where they were.

In terrestrial terms, when I first left the hospital I had a very limited awareness of where I was. We often speak of being present – well, this was it. My focus was on the pavement immediately in front of my feet. I was not worried about what happened yesterday or the day before. I was not worried about what was coming up. The past and the future were not even concepts I could grasp. Mine was a very immediate and present-moment experience, all day, every day.

As my memories and my cognition came back online, I became aware of the entire block in front of me. I began to realize at some point I would reach the end of the block, and with it the concept of the future came into being. With that concept the street names beyond the block I was on became real.

I quickly learned if I went out on a ramble I would easily become lost, as in 100 feet out, I would lose my sense of direction and have to stop for a few minutes to regain my bearings. If instead I followed a set path, i.e., walking down a street I was familiar without turning down a side street, the streets in front and behind me would start to scroll as if a map was being unrolled with every step I took. Even the side streets would start to roll out and expand in every direction.

It was a fascinating experience to watch as my brain reconnected itself. I would have sudden realizations of the stores that were on this block and the next. I would not always remember their names, but I would often remember the smell of a bakery, the energy and the bustle of a coffee shop, or the emotional connection to a bookstore. The memories were not just physical, but emotional as well.

As the grid around me expanded from one block to three and to ten, I found myself having to stop on a corner, standing still and staring blankly at a sign or a tree, as my awareness and cognitive abilities caught up with my physical location and my brain’s growing network.

When I finally made it to the Hudson River – perhaps six blocks away – I practiced a walking meditation as I took in the smell of salt in the air. I removed my shoes to feel the cold planks of the boardwalk beneath my feet. I kept to the edge of the path to feel the reeds against my legs; it was the sensations I was after.

As those came in, I begin to smell the more subtle scents along the path, I could hear the birds singing, I could even hear the wavelets along the banks of the river. I became aware of the individual sounds that make up that wonderful tapestry of white noise that we all live in.

Perhaps this is why I teach a meditation that enables my students to embrace the world around them; to acknowledge and appreciate the individual sights and sounds that make up their world without feeling the need to attach themselves to each one.

About this time I also looked across the river to see the trees and the sky and the clouds that are beyond the walls of Manhattan. I can see where the Hudson flows out into the ocean and my mind quickly puts it all into place, that yes, there is a big beautiful world out there.

This is also the moment where I let go and allow my mind to roam, not stopping it at the edges where my brain says “real” or “not real”, or separating the “physical” from the “metaphysical.” Instead I enter a playground where I allow the sensations from each to overlap.

I begin to remember what happened during my seizure. I remember feeling the overload. I remember my brain shutting down. I remember my body closing off, and I remember giving myself up to the kindness of strangers, unable to move or to respond. And it is about this time that I am reassured of the kindness of human nature. Where not once has my experience tuned into the torture scenes so often found in the movies we are forced to endure.

Instead, people have always reached out, helped, and done so with kindness. It is about this time that I find myself smiling, knowing that I am on the right path.

 

 

Meditations & Seizures to Recovery – Seizure Pt I

This past Saturday I practiced yoga for the first time in two weeks – it helped align my muscles.

Yesterday morning I enjoyed a walking meditation along the Hudson River – it helped align my mind.

Yes, the birds do sing along the Hudson. Yes there are quiet places in the middle of the world’s largest metropolis. It simply depends on where you decide to place your attention and what you decide to focus your attention on.

This post is a story of what you can do when you place your attention on a single point of focus, and where that focus can take you.

Both practices, the yoga and the walking meditation, were the first time I was able to abide them since I had a rather massive seizure on September 20th. It knocked me down and took me out for several weeks. There was no convulsions. There was a simple shutdown as my brain experienced an overload and quietly rebooted itself.

In between these events, the September seizure and my walking meditation, I have floated in a muddle of missed connections and forgotten streets, of thoughts that have gone unexpressed, and of the constant reminder that the human experience is a glorious thing to behold.

Throughout it all, I knew the information was in there, I was just unable to access it. The process of which has been a process of breathing and patience, of stopping in silence, interrupted by flashes of knowledge as my brain awakened itself.

It has been a path of following the tried and true, interrupted by frantic thoughts and the need to quiet my mind, of getting lost in a city in a well laid-out grid, of waiting on random corners as my neurons settled down, of not moving until my sense of space and direction returned to me. Of getting lost in time on a park bench, blankly contemplating a leaf in empty silence until something sparked a memory in the back of my brain and stirred my mind to life.

 

The Seizure

On September 20th, the last coherent text I sent out was at 4:39 in the afternoon. After that my wife received a call from a stranger at 6:49, telling her I was sitting in our lobby, unresponsive and not moving. Unseen by either of them, the electrical pulses in my brain had quietly lapsed as it seized.

During this time, my brain was reducing the input, shutting down my sight and my hearing as it went through its own reboot. My sight closed in on me, reducing my field of vision to a very narrow band of light. My hearing began to fail as my brain, the good computer that it is, shut off the sounds that overwhelmed it a short while before. My fingers tingled and went numb as my sole focus was to painstakingly scroll through my phone to my wife’s number in the hopes that I could find someone to dial it before everything went dark.

What usually takes seconds took me well over an hour that afternoon – all with the thought of preparing for the chance passing of a stranger.

If I could have spoken intelligibly, I knew what I would have said, but the words and thoughts were trapped deep in my mind at this point, unable to be expressed. So I sat down on the stone steps of the lobby, resigned to setting things up; remembering, forgetting, taking each step one at a time before forgetting and having to reverse direction once again, reminding myself what it was I was trying to do – prep my phone so that I could hand it to a stranger and point to the dial button.

This was how I spent the seventy minutes between those two points of contact.

I remember the conversation going on inside my head. One voice saying “this could take for hours,” the other voice saying, “Well, it’s not like we’re going anywhere anytime soon, so just breathe and focus, and move as smoothly as you can so you don’t make any mistakes.”

It was a meditation of remembering, of forgetting, of focusing and of letting go.

As luck would have it I saw movement somewhere in the lobby. I tried to speak and showed him the screen of my phone. I may have said the word “wife” but I am not sure if that is what made it out.

He called her from his phone before realizing his phone was a stranger’s number to her, and he pushed the send button on mine.

In minutes I began to hear the wail of sirens as the ambulance raced my wife for the lobby to take me to the Emergency Room at NYU.

 

Collapse & Recovery

My seizures are somewhat unique in a way. They are the result of 9 brain surgeries that have removed more than 20 tumors in as many years, as well as a few rounds of radiation that have left my brain swollen and angry.

It is not that I lose consciousness of what was going on around me. I am actually hyper-aware of the input coming in – I am just unable to process it into anything meaningful. I can walk up to a door, I know that on the other side of this door is my destination, but I am unable to understand how the door works. I can see the key in my hand, but I have no idea how to fit it into the keyhole, let alone to turn it in order to open the door.

In this case I was able to make it into the lobby of our building, but that was about as far as I could get. So, there I sat, in a stupor, patiently abiding my breath as I gave myself up to the actions of those around me, trusting they would do the right thing.

In so many ways these seizures remind me of the inherent kindness and goodness that is within us all. It would have been so easy for someone to grab my wallet, my mobile, or to shuffle me off to some nightmare scenario that screenwriters are so quick to turn into a blockbuster. But this has never happened.

Not once in all my experiences has anyone ever done anything other than to help, to assist, to see me through. For that I am eternally grateful. I am also eternally optimistic that the human experience is not one based on hate or anger or fear, but on love and compassion and understanding. That it is within each of us to reach out and lift up those who are in need, as has happened to me again and again and again.

 

The Fall

This seizure followed a fairly predictable pattern. I was running a number errands and had forgotten to take my Keppra – an anti-seizure drug. I dehydrated myself and skipped lunch which lowered my electrolytes and blood sugar, in order to get one more errand done. I put myself in what I call the danger zone, by adding level of stress to the whole situation, until I ran into a market that was loud and crowded and bright with more food choices than you could ever hope to see, and that is what flipped the switch. It over-stimulated my senses with brighter lights and jostling people and more noise than I could handle; and that is when my brain just said enough.

When then the seizure starts, it comes on pretty quickly. The signs give me perhaps a thirty or forty minute warning. It is like watching my brain shut down the inputs so that it can reboot. My field of vision quickly diminishes to create a tunnel. I begin to see flashing lights. My hearing begins to dim, and I get a numbness and tingling in my fingers and toes.

On this occasion I determined I had enough time to get home.

As I focused on the streets I knew it would not be long until my speech become unintelligible. I also knew I would start forgetting how to make the connections we all take for granted – like how to use a key in a door, how to take an elevator upstairs, or how to make a cell phone work. It is the funny thing about my seizures, I conceptually understand what something does, I simply cannot for the life of me make the connections that are necessary to make it work.

It’s kind of like being a car without a driver. The engine is idles just fine, but it’s not going anywhere without someone turning the wheel or stepping on the gas, let alone being ready to step on the brake.

In some cases if I catch it in time, I can stop the seizure by taking a cold shower to lower my body temperature, drinking an electrolyte replacement designed for marathoners called Skratch, or meditating to quiet down my brain’s activity. I can even nap for a few hours, or collapse into a deep unmoving sleep, until things seem to return to a normal path of recovery.

Needless to say, this time I missed that window of opportunity.

Instead, I felt the growing disassociation with the world as it shrunk in around me as I headed home, key in hand. I remember putting myself on as direct a path as possible. It was only a few blocks to our loft, not even ten minutes, but by the time I got to our front door, I wasn’t sure how to use the key that was in my hand in the lock.

I knew what was going on, so I stopped and breathed and settled things down. I focused on my breath until a connection was pulled together and slowly slid the key in, turning it, and opening the door.

In front of me was the steel door of the elevator that would take me to our loft. I knew what the elevator was for, but by this time I could not sync up the concept of the elevator with the idea of how to operate it [i.e., put the key in the lock, turn the key and push the button for the right floor].

I also somehow knew having my wife find me collapsed in the apartment would be less desirable than accosting someone in the lobby and getting them to call her. Don’t ask me how, but this is the way my brain works in times like these.

So I sat inside the lobby with my keys in my hand and waited. My vision continued to degrade into a very narrow band of light, into which I scrolled my phone one step at a time. I remember thinking to myself, “this is just like yoga, one movement for each breath. Slow and steady,” with the idea that if I could set everything up, if someone came in, if I could catch their attention, I could just push send and give them the phone.

As you already know, a neighbor eventually did come in. I managed to garble out the idea for him to use my phone to call my wife. How he understood I have no idea, but he made the call.

Alex, I thank you for that.

06:49 – Laura sent a text that she was on her way down and calling 911

 

Into the ER at NYU

I remember sitting there, sweating and listening to the sirens as they approached. Alex stayed with me until the ambulance arrived. I acutely aware of my head hanging down as I focused on my breath. I was aware of everything going on around me, without placing too much attention on any one detail. It was as if my brain was absorbing the events in a very distracted way. It was detached, but taking it all in, as if floating just beneath the surface of a lagoon, watching what was going on above the surface without being able to interact with it; calm and serene.

I could not see the EMT when they came into the lobby, but remember hearing them. I was trying to say something, but realized whatever I was saying made no sense. I knew what I wanted to say, but could not get the words out, so I just let it go and let them handle the situation.

I could feel them moving me this way and that, strapping me onto a stretcher and loading me out the door. It occurred to me that this was what Stephen Hawkins must feel like. Able to take in the world around him, observing and noting from afar, without the ability to interact.

Laura climbed into the ambulance and told them NYU, and off we went. The ride itself was a benign trip through which I closed my eyes. I felt safe, knowing that from this point on, everything would be fine.

When I opened my eyes, it was to the noises and lights of the ER. We had arrived at the NYU Medical Center where the doctors have had me on file for decades.  The orderlies were taking vitals and placing electrodes on my chest and head. The nurses were securing IVs into my arms. There was nothing for me to do but lie there and breathe. Everything that could be managed was being managed. I was stable.

 

Recovery

When I woke, it was to the flashlight of a nurse checking the dilation of my eyes. It wasn’t great, but they would get better.

The key difference between my seizures and the seizures caused by something like epilepsy, is that in my case, it is all about the buildup. I hover in the yellow-zone for hours until something pushes me over the edge. I get over-stimulated by some trigger, my brain gets overloaded and simply says enough as it starts to shutdown.

After the seizure occurs, the event is over. There are no follow-up seizures. It’s a one-time event before my brain goes into repair mode, busying itself as it re-establishes the neural connections it once mapped my life to. There are no cascading of electrical impulses where the brain continues to misfire. I am not sent down into a series of seizure after seizure after seizure. And yes, I consider myself extremely lucky in this sense.

It took a day or two of observation for the doctors to confirm that my brain’s activity had normalized, after which they saw little reason to keep me. In effect, releasing me on my own recognizance.

 

The Road Back

What I have learned over the various surgeries and seizures that I have had, is that the physical brain is a truly remarkable organ. Not only does it have millions of connections that not only keep the body alive, but it reorders those connections every second of every day in an infinite number of combinations to create the thoughts and dreams we call the mind.

It also reprioritizes the way in which those connections are put together, in order to better respond to the world around us. A London taxi driver’s hypocampus, the area responsible for mapping and directions is heavier and more deeply folded than yours or mine. It is a survival skill they need having to drive through the more than 10,000 streets of London that have been built up over the past several thousand years – few of which follow any kind of a grid pattern.

I was reminded of this as I began to look out the window of our apartment at the streets of Soho in Manhattan. This is the haphazard area that was laid down before the grid on Manhattan was established. No right angles. No first, second, third or fourth. Instead it is a mishmash of Spring and Mercer, Prince and Wooster, it was this pattern that I needed to access before I could leave the loft.

The amazing part of relearning the streets is that the harder I tried to picture them, the more difficult it was to do so. Instead, the more I relaxed, that more I let go, the quicker the image of the streets would come to me.

On the one day I went out thinking I would wander around the reacquaint myself with the neighborhood, I got lost within half a block. I could not remember what was North or South, East or West, uptown or downtown. I had to stop against a building and breathe for several minutes until I slowly realized where I was, and more important, where our loft was.

That was enough to send me back home for a very long nap.

On my second trip out, I thought of taking a different approach. I would take a left out of the apartment and stick to one street. As I walked down the street I read the signs as they begin to spark my memory. I could feel my brain make the familiar connections that were already there.

After several days of this I begin to visualize a grid around me. It was only a few blocks, but I begin to remember the names of the streets several blocks away. I even began to see the stores on the next block as if they were appearing out of some recess in my memory.

In between, there were moments of standing on a corner for minutes on end, unwilling to go any further until my brain could catch up with where I was. I was taking baby steps, allowing my brain to familiarize itself with the neural network it had slowly established over decades.

As my brain mapped the streets of the city, I could feel other aspects of my mind coming online. I learned it helped to put everything in a very specific place, and to not take any shortcuts. Life became easier when I was able to create familiar patterns that I could return to. As these patterns established themselves within my head, I could expand upon them more easily.

The moment I took a shortcut, was the moment I would get lost or confused, and have to take several steps backwards before starting over.
My conversation begin to get tighter. My writing became crisper. I could even remember the focus of a paragraph from the time I started and finished writing it. Oh, and autocorrect no longer confuses me by misspelling my words.