A Disease is a Dysfunction of the Mind

A disease is a dysfunction of the mind

Chants my yoga teacher, Chinook, with his Jamaican styled shorts and thick voice.

He continues, “you see people, the places where it hurts in your body, that’s your bodies way of telling you that is has a disease… Listen to the word, he repeats. “Dis-ease it means your body is diseased.”

In a full frontal downward dog, the only thing I could think about was getting out of class and getting my next meal.

My mind began to wonder, “I wonder what I am going to have for dinner tonight?”

“hmmm… there was the turkey from last night.” 

“What about schezuen chicken from last week?”

There is nothing like the half-hearted reward of mediocre Chinese located in the middle of a strip mall that is surrounded by leather and bondage stores on either end.

My mind comes back into the voice of Chinook telling the rest of the yoga class to bend into their right lunge and start working their way down into pigeon pose.

Looking across the room, a full-time yogi is effortlessly squeezing her way down into pigeon pose position.  I look down at my two duck feet and begin to try and imitate the move.

Right, if I just move my hip this way…

Maybe, if I bend my leg back…

Chinook looks up from across the room.

“Paige, move your feet up to the front of the mate and work your way down. You see you have to listen to the words. That is just called restlessness. People have a name for it. They’ll call you ADHD or ADD, but it is just because you haven’t trained your mind to be still.”

“Damn,” I think to myself. “Could he tell I was ADHD just because I was thinking about whether or not I put the turkey away from last night?” 

Speaking of which turkey sounds so good right now…

Bending my right leg into pigeon pose, I rested into the position and allowed myself to enter into a deep state of savasana.

“A disease is a dysfunction of the mind.”

The voice repeats in my mind. Instead of staying balanced in my normal state of meditative flow, I begin to argue this concept in my head.

“What does he know. He is just a yoga teacher. He isn’t an official man of medicine! I need a doctor here right this second telling me what this man means.”

A Disease is a Malfunctioning Part of the Body 

However, the more I began to think about this radical concept, I realized that Chinook was right. A disease is just a malfunctioning part of the body. In the dictionary, a disease is defined as “an abnormal condition, a disorder of a structure or function, that affects part or all of an organism.” Although, modern medicine is crucial and paramount for physiological illnesses that are transmitted from infectious agents like parasites, viruses and bacteria. The mind is a much more interesting human organ that can be affected by a variety of different internally sourced illnesses like our own thoughts. These illnesses can be caused by external factors; however, they’re manifested internally and cause more long-term pain and hardship than the majority of physiological illnesses. Diseases of the mind, do not physically shut down your internal organs like the heart, lungs or the large and small intestines. However, they do play a significant role in causing severe damage to the number one organ in our body – the mind.

We Can’t Always See Diseases 

The unfortunate part of this is that unlike physical diseases that result in a direct somatic change in some tissue or organ mental illnesses are not always visible to the naked eye.  In fact, the idea that mental instability and physiological illness are fundamentally different from one another did not arise until the end of the 18th century. Regarding medicine, this is a new development, and I think it is a new concept for civilization as well.

This could be why we’re so averse to responding to individuals who have “maladjusted” issues. One could argue that these occurrences might not be evolutionary natural for human beings.

However, we are being diagnosed with debilitating anxiety & depression left and right.

Could we be a source of parasitic toxicity to ourselves?

Are we, unnaturally, so self-inflicting that we have created circumstances and environments that have caused us to slowly damage and destroy our number one vital organ?

That is a debate for another time. However, I think it is imperative that we look into the prevention and treatment of these diseases.

Some People Are “Crazy” – We Have to Stop Blaming Them 

Chinook is right. A mental disorder is a malfunction of a vital organ that shapes our perception, creates our motivation and is an essential key to defining and creating our happiness.

When this organ is out of whack – we are out of whack. We are even, dare I say it, ‘crazy.’ And I don’t mean to offend anyone, however, I think sick would be a better word. When the mind is at dis-ease, we become sick trying to fight off the foreign body or ailment.

This ultimately makes us begin to start fighting ourselves.

Unfortunately, the mind is a tricky thing, and we don’t know enough about it to give direct and clear answers as to why some people behave the way that they do.

However, I don’t think we give people with mental disorders the love and care that they deserve. We don’t cry, send flowers and teddy bears to someone who is just diagnosed with PTSD. However, we are immediately suspicious and worried about our safety and their capabilities as individuals. I bet we also even wonder if they aren’t just ‘dramatic,’ ‘hysterical’ or ‘attention-seeking.’

And of course they aren’t ‘capable,’ they are experiencing a dysfunction that is impairing their normal behavior. However, treatment does not begin with blaming an individual for why they’re dysfunctional. You wouldn’t blame a patient in the hospital for a somatic disease that is deteriorating their internal and external organs. You would feel compassion and even a level of pity for the individuals going through these hardships.

You would see that people fighting with mental illnesses are struggling every day like individuals with physiological diseases. And I don’t think it is fair to compare apples and oranges – However, I believe the number one reason that the mental health care system has gotten so out of control with diagnosis’ and more.

Is because we’re not treating the problems from the first symptoms of distress or disorder. In fact, our society and culture exacerbate these issues because we’re too ashamed and embarrassed to come forth and admit that we have a problem.

Mental Illnesses are the New Folklore 

It goes even deeper than that. On some level, I would guess that the majority of workplaces, well-fair institutions, even family and loved ones at some point would tell themselves what you’re experiencing is fictional.

And who could blame them? Half the population doesn’t believe in a God because they simply can’t see him. It just isn’t normal to believe in something that you can’t see. However, we need to start believing and hearing these people’s stories. We need to start preventing the outbreak of these diseases by realizing our mental, and psychological health is not just as but more important than our physiological well-being.

And it begins by doing one thing. Casting aside your judgments and showing simple compassion for individuals who are distressed, sad, lonely and afraid.

Being Kind to Yourself Results in Happiness

“Kindness has a beautiful way of reaching down into a weary heart and making it shine like the sun”

Whenever I think about this quote, I always seem to imagine it regarding the amount of kindness I subject onto other individuals. It is my life-long work to be a kind individual to all of those around me. How do I do this? I begin by giving things to those in need, listening to the best of my abilities and excluding judgement from my everyday thoughts. However, that is not always so easily managed in my day-to-day life, and I believe it is because of this reason alone.

I am not always kind to myself.

In fact, sometimes, I am downright cruel to myself. I don’t see the beauty, love and magic that is given to me by the grace of God. Somedays, I am pitiful. I am shallow, arrogant and I truly believe the world revolves around me. I create episodic dramas that give me a sense of meaning beyond the meaninglessness I may be feeling in that time – because if it isn’t about me, then what’s the point?

However, that is exactly that point. It isn’t about me.

It isn’t about me.

Nothing is truly about me and I am insignificant, but that isn’t a scary or depressing revelation.  Ironically, as you’re probably reading this from my social media platform, I was thinking about social media today and the irrelevance it actually plays in my life. As I was driving to work, listening to Spa & Spa on Spotify – one of my favorite stations to help distract from the heaping amount of traffic I experience on the way to work, and reminds me to remain conscious of my normal impulse to violently flick individuals off in the middle of the interstate – it dawned on me. I could delete all of my social media channels, and  I would carry on living a completely ordinary and probably sufficient life.

No – I couldn’t do that.

How else would I get my daily dose of validation and assurance from other individuals? If I didn’t get over 20 likes of me holding my dog with the title, “He is the cutest puppy in the world.”

Because the more I perceive people in agreement with my belief that I do, in fact, have ‘the cutest puppy in the world.’ The more I truly start to believe that I am the owner of the cutest puppy in the world.

I, Paige Swanson, literally have the cutest puppy in the world. And that must mean I am worth something to someone.

However, my self-worth shouldn’t be defined by the expectations and judgements of others. Even worse, it appears that I become subconsciously addicted to this external need for validation.

Alright, if I can be the special dog owner of ‘the cutest puppy in the world,’ what magically conjured sense of entitlement can I proclaim today?

Cheese – I am the master of cheese. Just look at me with my 100+ Facebook likes.

Self-worth should be found internally

Self-worth should be found internally by a real natural love for who I am. My sense of belonging should begin and end with my utter appreciation for me. That brings me back to kindness.

If I don’t appropriate my sense of self from who I am deep down within. I will never be kind because I will never learn what it truly means to be kind to myself.

I am and will be a phony-  masquerading in sheep’s cloth, when in reality, I am a wolf desperately and carnivorously seeking the approval from other individuals to quench my self-indulging hunger one more day. Practicing self-compassion for your current position in life, whether content or trying to improve, is where self-kindness begins.

Accepting your current value socially and economically is, for me, the first steps to widening my view on others. This leaves me with this last quote:

Happiness is the result of my decision to be happy. There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way. In other words, happiness is a feeling I tap into, not an outcome of events. I can be happy without changing anything in my life except my relationship to my own thinking. I decide to be happy and commit myself to making happiness my state of mind, rather than relying on a set of circumstances to do it for me. Richard Carlson 

The totality of happiness belongs in the deep awareness and understanding that we should be kind, not just to others (this is a given) but to ourselves. Because when we stop seeking approval and validation from an outside source that smells of rotten desperation. We can stop thinking about ourselves just for one day and begin thinking about the humbled needs of others.

Now if I could just get off social media….

How I Found Zen on an Airplane

Be still and remove all judgment on others,” the phrase sticks to me like sticky rice on sushi. I repeat the phrase again, “Be still and remove all judgment on others.”

I close my eyes and begin to ponder that contemplative thought, “be still,” I repeat again to myself. Snuggling into the faux leather seat that has busted open from too much wear and now cushion padding is exposed. I begin to try and calm my mind to think contemplatively about this notion, however, noisy children behind me begin to kick my seat and the captian has turned on his seat-belt sign. “Ding,” the light turns yellow and we’re ready for take-off.

As someone who seeks enlightenment but has yet to make her mind strong like Jedi, when I hear this particular phrase, I interpret it as an observation.

Observing your surroundings, like a passenger on an airplane when it is just about to lift off, watching from the window seat the distancing passage of civilization turn – within a flash of an eye – into mountains, landscapes and rivers. Ultimately, blurring the lines of the distinctive perspective that now ceases to exist. On a micro-scale, what one might experience from the first few 100 feet of a plane ‘lift-off’ is the full-forced view of an incredible civilization.

Man-made infrastructures and populated cities with hustling automobiles, towering building and intricately designed interstates, however, as the plane ascends higher into the sky an entirely different picture can be seen from the view of the window seat. Now, what appears to be within the view of the traveler is rolling hills made from sand and rock, flat lands of desert and widening seas that chant of the seasons and time. Until you have ultimately reached a level of void – there is nothing else to observe but you and the moving aircraft.

To be on an airplane, traveling in the midst of space and time with no proper orientation is a place of observation. Zen masters would call this experience a deep understanding that all separate entities are anatta – without self, and anicca – without permanence.

It is the concept, that reality cannot be grasped in the idea of Being because being is meaningless. According to Zen philosophy, “the true Self is not an idea but an experience – the experience which comes to pass when the mind has voided every metaphysical premise, every idea with which it attempts to grasp the nature of the world.”

However, the Zen scriptures like to make enlightenment seem like this easily accomplished task. Yes! If I just sit here and stare out the window, I will finally become like the Buddha. Unfortunately, this is not the case. For in the midst of my airborne observation, I found children screaming in the back of the ear, women cackling in groups of three and my own busy thoughts. I found myself judging, passing my agitation to them as my entitlement to my own ‘sacred’ space wore me thin.

Except, that is the greatest lesson of all – when we observe individual circumstances from the perspective of a passing plane. We can gather a different, deeper macro understanding of humanity. People are no longer the bustling city landscape that is noisy and filled with distraction. They’re no longer crowded city freeways that leave no room for space.

If we sit with our thoughts concerning individuals around us and we watch them pass by like the scenery from the window seat. We see now – what they really are. We see now the noisy baby, who is crying in her mother’s arms, is scared and is just like you and me. The same beating heart that escalates as we put the trust of our lives in the hands of a pilot. Who is trusting that the men who made the aircraft did their due diligence.

Seeing that we’re not separate but all parts of a whole. All noisy, crowded beings who from a higher perspective make up a beautiful, glowing sea.

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Practicing Mantra’s That Will Bring You More Love

A mantra is a simple phrase, or a sound that resonates deeply within us. It is a phrase you repeat over and over again. One of the greatest mantras I’ve ever used is the Tibetan mantra: Om Mani Padmi Hum. The phrase is perhaps one of the most widely used mantras in our world today and for good reason.

For newly practicing yogis or mystics like me, a lot of confusion can arise when repeating the mantra. Little thoughts surface to the top of my head like, “What does this even mean?” “Why am I doing this?” However, once you begin to practice the mantra a little bit everyday you can feel a difference. It’s true.

The first step to practicing the mantra is hearing it outside your body through your ears, saying it aloud and truly thinking about its meaning. So, if you begin to practice the mantra, Om Mami Padme Hum, you begin to think about it and you inquire “Well, what does this mean?”

According to Ram Dass, author of novels like Be Here Now and The Only Dance There Is, Om means, like Brahma, that which is behind it all, the un-manifest. Mani means jewel or crystal. Padme means lotus, and Hum means heart.

So on one level, what you’re essentially repeating is that the entire universe is like a pure jewel or crystal right in the heart or center of the lotus flower, which is me, or you, and it is manifested, it comes forth in brilliant guiding light, in manifested light, in the center of your own heart.

So to begin chanting mantras, you start off chanting Om Mami Padmi Hum and what you’re saying is, “God in pure energy is like a brilliant crystal in the middle of an emerging lotus, manifest in the center of my opening heart.” You repeat is over and over again while in a state of serene relaxation and you feel it in your heart, and what you’re essentially experiencing is a trip. You’re experiencing, an awakening of your conscious perception. Informally experiencing a journey through the gateways of your corpus callosum all the way to the right hemisphere of your brain where you’re expansive and one with the cosmos.

The benefits of this practice have lasting and serious beautiful psychological effects. Instead of thinking, “Gosh. I didn’t get the job promotion I wanted today.” “I wonder if, Bob, is ever going to call me today?” Instead of all the brain chatter, which crowds our minds on a daily basis, our inner roommate, you go into mantra and you are. Once the mantra has been going on for a while, it begins to change its nature. Instead of it being stuck in the upper part of your body, in your head, the humming and prayer moves down to the center of your body and resides in the middle of your heart. Now, at this point the linguistics or meaning of it has become irrelevant to you, and you have entered a deep meditative state of unconscious flow (Alpha State of Awareness.) This is the state of deep relaxation that is extremely beneficial for your health. When a mantra is performed correctly, the point of its practice is to become synchronized with the peculiar vibration and harmony of the universe. You’re essentially “in-tune.” You’re at peace.

Here is a beautiful mantra that is meant to evoke peace, love and understanding. May your day today be full of love.

 


  

The Mind of Worry

 

I’m exactly like the person in this tape recording. I am constantly worrying, constantly trying to be a better person, as if I am not already the best the way I am. I find the line between growth and self-love to be a fine one. I don’t meditate. I don’t quiet my mind the way I should on a normative basis. Instead, I find myself relinquishing my anxiety through prayer, contemplative walks through nature and other sorts of practices. However, I am still constantly filled with an acute case of anxiety. The source of those anxious thoughts are usually stemmed from anxiety. The anxiety of not feeling worthy or good enough.  I always need to be better. There are always more books to read, a new hobby to acquire, a language to pick up, a job offer at a dream company, and I don’t have mediocre expectations of my hobbies or goals.  I am programmed to desire mastery. I can’t sit still because I want to be an expert. If I show someone a painting I did. I want my painting to be on a mastery level,  and I feel like that is when time really cuts into the practice of sitting still or being in the state of ‘nothingness.’ (Ta-Ta-Ta) Whenever I try and practice meditation,  there is a constant ticking asking me, “how can you be improving right now.” I think that is the fallacy, Alan Watts, is discussing in his tape. You get better by quieting your mind and embodying peace. You get better by becoming one with the cosmic space you are accompanying, instead of trying to move faster than the cosmic space. You allow your mind to quiet so you can find clarity and purpose. So, the little ticking gets quieter and in the moments of stillness you can resonate and find complete and total inner-happiness.

The First Time I Found Daft Punk

Daft Punk’s, Digital Love, off of the album Discovery is probably one of my favorite songs of all time. I remember the first time I truly fell in love with the poppy electronic french band. Growing up I had always heard them in the back of soundtracks or my friends jamming out to them, but I had never emotionally invested myself in their music. It was after I watched the french indie film, Eden, which documented the life of a DJ during the Daft Punk/ garage electronic movement in the 1980’s, that I realized the greatness/ historical relevance that is Daft Punk. I woke up the next morning and played Digital Love. Upon listening to the track, I was slowly overcome by the bopping bass and began to dance over and over again in my underwear. Jumping up and down and feeling the music. Doing the robot in front of my mirror and having a profound spiritual awakening listening to their music. This was during a very free and expressive time for me. I was painting everyday, creating dance pieces for galleries and learning my bongos. I would do art for hours. Switching from one medium to the next expressing myself creatively. I felt so alive in that time period. Doing art is the healthiest thing I could do with my life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t pay the bills and it doesn’t help you graduate. However, two days ago, I just graduated college. I’m thinking to myself: Now What? Who am I? Where do I go? What is my path?

However, I think my soul is telling me something pretty distinct.

Let’s go back to summer.

Let’s go back to Daft Punk.

Let’s go back to art.

 

How To Believe In Magic Again

Austin Green Belt

For those of you who forgot what it means to be magical, it would be excellent for  you to listen closely.

Magic isn’t only found in the storybooks and fairy tales you might have read when you were little. Magic can be seen in the ordinary. It is that little fluttering in your heart when you stumble upon your deepest desires. The weird feeling you get when you are thinking about an old friend and then they pop up on your cell-phone two minutes later. Magic can even be seen by the sparkle in the corner of your eye when you think of something completely new and original.

In our everyday lives, it is especially hard to see the magic.

Lately, I’ve forgotten to see the magic in my own life.
Since the winter has come and my search for a job pre-graduation has reached a pinnacle level of frustration. I have forgotten to see the beauty in my own life.

This summer, I was in a state of self-discovery and it was one of the most beautiful, mystical adventures I had ever experienced. I was in a state of perpetual spiritual bliss. Instead of waking up every morning, checking my inbox and sending out resumes. I began each morning with a deep exploration and a run through the Austin Green Belt. I can’t explain the amount of healing I experienced at that magical and beautiful place. I truly felt connected to the earth. Nature is one of the most magical things this world has to offer us. It is a place to be wild, free and completely loved. I would spend my nights under the moonlight topless and dancing as if I was some mysterious nymph no longer bounded by the laws that govern society. During the days, I would take my books of poetry, philosophy and mysticism down to the banks of the water and dip my feet in reflecting on what it truly meant to be universally compassionate to others and myself. When I would feel anxiety and the weight of the world crash down on me; I would walk the Green Belt’s trails. There I would look into the trees and sing with the birds. Little songs. And I felt magic, I felt love and I felt alive.

So, how should we continue to feel more alive everyday in our life? How do continue to see the magic?

1. Spend Time In Nature

We get up everyday and the world beats down a little harder. Our alarm clocks rings and the message from our computer beeps: 14 new e-mails. Quickly, we begin typing away, hoping, Barbara, from accounting on the 4th floor doesn’t send that incorrect excel file to our manager. In a jolt of anxious frustration, our heart just about races and flies through the roof. We develop this practice instead of taking the time to enjoy the fact we’re alive this morning. If I could offer one piece of advice. Begin your mornings with a walk, observation and contemplation of the nature that is all around you- magically. Get out of your own reality and step into the magical, infinite reality of the universe. Find peace, space and reflect. Then when you’re ready. Open your computer and begin your morning completely fresh and rejuvenated.

 

2. Slow Down

One time, I was running with a couple of great girl friends and we were running through a new part of the city. One of my favorite places to visit that looks like wetlands. I remember thinking in the back of my head, “how I am supposed to sit and enjoy this beautiful view if I am running?” When you’re spending your life always trying to catch up to something. Trying to be something. You miss the beauty that is right in front of you. You miss the birds flying with their wings stretched wide like the beautiful grasp of a mothers embrace. You miss the turtles diving from the lily pads and the sound that is reverberated from the water.

There is nothing more magical than breathing, listening and taking in the enchanting song of the wind. Of sitting with the rain and letting it wash away everything you’ve ever feared.

The only way you can find this peace is by slowing down and listening to the surrounding that encompass you.

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3. Stop Taking Nature For Granted

It’s when we stop being thankful for all that nature has given us that we stop seeing the magic in our lives. When we stop recognizing the change in the seasons and the leaves that fall like sand from the branches on the trees. We lose sight. We lose hope. We can only begin to re-connect with the healing and loving properties of nature when we realize it or we won’t always be around. When we need to get outside and breath the salty, sweet air. When we do these things. We begin to realize we aren’t superior. In fact, we’re anything but superior beings. We are conscious and awake but we’re 1/10 of million times smaller than we’d ever imagined we could be. We’re blades of grass, falling snowflakes in the infinite space that is the universe.

and it is those realizations that make you so grateful for being alive every single day.