Do You Love Yourself?

I went to a shaman many years ago for a Reiki treatment. He started the session by asking me, “Do you love yourself?” I was dumbfounded because I could not answer him. The question froze me in some way. He then changed the subject to “Who do you love?” and again, I froze, but this time my body helped me out. I felt a heavy weight in my arms as if I were holding a body of someone. I sensed into this weight, and again, I could not come up with who that might be.

We started the Reiki session without an answer. As the shaman was finishing the session by energetically clearing my body, I began to sob. It was clear who I loved. At that moment, my body revealed what I had never known. The person I loved was my grandfather, who died when I was 14 months old. I knew at that moment, with certainty, that the love I felt for him was profound.

When I asked my mother about why I might feel this way, she said that my grandfather knew he was dying when I was born. Whenever we visited him, he held me in his arms, and we were inseparable. After I heard this, I spent the next few months holding space for his loss and my appreciation that he held me in a way that made me feel deeply loved. This certainty that I was loved has sustained me throughout my life even though I did not know it was there.

Markers of Love

I recently met someone who works with a process called Neural Linguistic Programming (NLP). NLP uses a concept of the Five Languages of Love to help people become aware of love in their lives and to be able to better provide love to those around them.

When I looked up information about this process, it seems to have some scientific detractors; however, there are numerous books and workshops run by NLP practitioners who may also use hypnotism as part of their work. According to NLP, the following markers are evidence of love: Gift Giving; Quality Time; Physical Touch; Words of Affirmation; and Acts of Service.

Without getting into the pros and cons of this practice, I decided to use these measures to do an inventory of myself of these central questions “Do I love myself? What makes me feel loved? I established my grounded presence to write about my investigation into my body’s sense of love.

Do I love myself?

I give myself many gifts. As a child, I didn’t ask for things because I knew the answer would be “NO” even if those were things my brothers received. So now, I allow myself to want anything, and I provide myself with what I need and want. It gives me great pleasure, for example, when I go food shopping and buy myself a treat that I can eat on the way home. It was a big unsatisfied want as a child. I also buy myself the essential things that I need—like a hearing aid. I give myself gifts freely without making excuses that someone or something is more worthy. I often get a body sense that something is needed. Sometimes my hand reaches out for an unsuspecting item; other times, it’s a sense of urgency I feel somewhere in my body.

I spend quality time with myself. To me, this is time in presence. My WBF practice and Reiki practice are the main ways I do this. I also have many self-care rituals that support my body. Sometimes that self-love involves being with my incredible focusing partners who help me find me.

Physical touch is a magical way to help oneself feel loved. Ulla-Stina Johansson, a psychologist, and WBF blog author explained to me that the part of our brains that can react to touch is unable to discern the difference between someone else touching us and our own touch. I have daily rituals that include holding parts of my body that rose out of my WBF practice. Currently, my hands massage the area at the base of my neck on the front of my body. Then my hands move to the left and rest on my shoulder. I don’t know what the significance of this movement is, and I am happy that my hands have that wisdom.

Words of Affirmation might not be my strong point. It does not occur to me to stop to affirm anything in particular and, maybe I’m not so sure what affirmations might be needed. It is something I do not feel in my body. Neither, however, do I spend a lot of time criticizing myself.

I have chosen a life that includes acts of service. As a teacher and school leader, I saw my role as someone who created an atmosphere in which children and adults had space to do their best work. Some school leaders supported me in this way, and I felt a strong responsibility to do that for others. As a retired person, I still feel a need to be part of something that supports forward movement in myself and others. I have found that giving others the support that I needed at different times in my life helps me spend quality time with the part that was left needing.

What makes me feel loved?

Clearly, in my pre-verbal days, loving physical touch stayed with me so firmly that 40 years later, my body remembered being loved by someone for whom I had no conscious memory. I still enjoy physical contact with the people whom I choose; however, I do not limit myself to waiting until there is someone else who will touch me in a caring way. My hands are always willing to hold me when I am lovingly present to them.

I depend on others for words of affirmation. It wasn’t until I was an adult that this became a part of my life. As a young woman, a new female friend named Barbara would notice what I did well and encouraged me to see it too. It felt so amazing. I felt this in my body as if a kind mother was holding me on her lap.

Then I met my future husband, and for the first time, I felt what it was like to have male encouragement. That felt wonderful and a bit dangerous. It was scary because I perceived men as not being interested in supporting women in this way. Our 36 years together has helped me learn that his support will never be dangerous and will always be loving.

The support of these two essential people set me on a path to get an education that was not available to me before. That led to teachers and mentors, both men and women, who gave me opportunities to be my best self. In my current life, I most enjoy being with those who value themselves and have room to value others.

Gifts are enjoyable to receive. The greatest pleasure I experience from receiving gifts is that they are gentle reminders of someone’s love. When I see a gift, an image of the person finding this gift for me emerges. The present becomes a recognition of their presence to who I am.

Quality time with others is especially important to me. I grew up in a large, extended family with 16 aunts and uncles and 19 cousins and one grandmother. The times I felt like I belonged anywhere was when this group gathered and shared food, music, dancing, and laughter. What was not present in my nuclear family was made up for in spades being a part of this larger group. 

My husband and I have an extended family of friends who come together to eat good food, celebrate whatever needs a celebration, talk about the world situation, share our dedication to improving the lot of everyone.

I also value being alone with my husband. Sitting by the East River or by the water fountain outside our apartment complex always gives us a chance to pause and experience an energetic connection to each other.

I also love being with a dear friend like Robin, even if it is to go on an errand together—having time to be in the present moment with someone for whom I have a secure connection is quite extraordinary.

Once again, acts of service are paradoxical. The more I do them, the more I feel joy. For example, helping Pat Omidian in her work with refugee support personnel in Uganda allowed me to get a better understanding of what it means to be a refugee. It was an honor to be part of this experience. I felt I might have a small role in relieving suffering in this part of the world. 

As Valentine’s Day approaches and we get to eat all sorts of delicious sweets, checking in on our ability to love ourselves and feel the love of others might be an excellent way to celebrate. I do not think the experience of love is limited to these five characteristics, but each one of these qualities can be a starting point to affirm how love is an essential part of one’s life.

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The Sun Flowed Out

Photo by Diana Scalera

The morning of New Year’s Day, I happened to wake up early before the sunrise, which is rarely the case for me. Out of pure curiosity I rolled up the curtains fully to see the sky and the far mountains across my town, and realized that the atmosphere out there was so clean and quiet, even including the neighborhood parking lot and streets. I noticed everything there was so still in the veil of darkness and felt as if everyone held their breath, waiting for the particular moment—-the sun’s appearance. So I, too, kept still and quiet, standing by the window and just watching how the sky and the landscape would be changing.

The darkness gradually faded, and bits of red began to tint the clouds here and there. It was a bird’s cry which disrupted the silence, and it was the first sign for the rise of the sun. Other birds also joined with their calls as if they could not help but cry out of joy. When the bright light of the sun flowed out of the mountain ridge and penetrated through the landscape and me, I experienced “joy” myself, with my eyes closed, filled with overwhelming white light from head to toe.

Through this small drama, I felt as if I experienced Nature’s direct and powerful language, her pure feelings of joy and happiness, which I wanted to share with you at the beginning of this New Year.

Hiromi

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Escaping Digital Distraction; does mindfulness help us doze?

21st-century living is no walk in the park; like a swarm of mosquitoes buzzing in our ears, little numbered red dots relentlessly force themselves into our lives. And like a mosquito dipping into our flesh and depositing its saliva, social media profitably reminds us of our inadequacies, one nip at a time. 

Amidst all of this, mindfulness encourages us to remain, at least for a moment, detached from all the trials of modernity. Instead, it promotes a period of respite, free from our critical self-judgment, free from our obsessive planning for the future, free from ruminations on the past. Mindfulness is about simply remaining present, passively attentive to the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions that comprise our momentary conscious experience.

Over the past couple hundred years, the practice has migrated from eastern philosophy and religion into the western world as an educational tool promoting student focus, a corporate strategy fostering employee welfare, and even into the medical community as a stress-reducing, blood-pressure normalizing, weight-loss promoting, health panacea (Abbott, 2014; Ruffault, 2017).

And sleep. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if mindfulness promoted sleep? And wouldn’t it make sense? If we think that some of our struggle to tamp down the stochasticity of our EEG trace has something to do with excessive mind-wandering, self-critical rumination, and planning for the future, why not develop our mental capacity to stay focused on the present?

In people who regularly practice mindful meditation, there are visible brain structural changes in areas associated with perception, memory, and emotion (Fox, 2014). There are also clear functional differences in brain connectivity when meditators and non-meditators are instructed to lie still in an MRI scanner (Hasenkamp, 2012). And when it comes to psychology and mental health, it’s pretty clear that practicing mindfulness is good for our moods (Khoury, 2015). At the same time, mindfulness is a relatively new field, and scientists are still trying to parse out the details. 

When it comes to the relationship between mindfulness and sleep, there’s been a lot of research. According to the science search engine Web of Science, almost 600 published peer-reviewed articles. While some studies have found positive outcomes, the value of mindfulness for sleep is not universally accepted. To begin clearing up some of the confusion, a group of scientists attempted to systematically integrate the data from a collection of well-controlled sleep studies (Rusch, 2018). Their goal – the most up-to-date scientific evidence on whether mindfulness can improve sleep.

The Data – Mindfulness Helps People Sleep 

Scientists were interested in two questions, first whether mindfulness can effectively promote sleep, and second, whether mindfulness is better than other evidence-based sleep practices.

To their first question, does mindfulness work at all, the answer seems that yes, it does. Not only is it effective, but the sleep benefits seemed to be long-term; five to twelve months after completing the study people were still reporting better sleep. 

This group of studies all relied on comparing mindfulness to what’s called an “attention matched control”. For example, in one study, subjects were instructed to listen to a podcast (Radiolab) for the same amount of time as they would have practiced mindfulness. In each case, the control condition had no known relationship with sleep. While there was some variability, from 11 studies and 900 participants, on average, the authors found “moderate strength evidence” that mindfulness improves sleep.

Then came the real test, is mindfulness is better than existing sleep treatments? In this case, scientists looked at studies that compared mindfulness to things like exercise, interpersonal talk therapy, or instruction on good sleep habits (like no screens before bed, how many Tasty videos do you really have to watch anyways?) – in other words, evidence-based recommendations that on average, improve sleep. Looking at seven studies with over 700 participants, researchers couldn’t come to a strong conclusion but found no reason to believe that mindfulness is any better or worse than existing treatment recommendations.

Mindfulness as an Alternative Sleep Remedy

It is important to keep in mind that there’s a range of interventions that are already known to have a positive impact on sleep. Melatonin, exercise, and interpersonal talk therapy are all thoroughly supported by scientific evidence. But not everything’s for everyone. Some people are (sometimes rightly) suspicious of chemical pharmaceuticals, some are physically limited and therefore can’t exercise, some lack the time or resources for interpersonal therapy, and, for some people, the existing interventions just haven’t worked for them. 

This study provides the strongest evidence to date that mindfulness meditation can also improve sleep quality. While the practice doesn’t seem to be especially powerful, it does provide people suffering from sleep disturbances another option to try out on their own, which could make it an important evidence-based complement to the existing range of sleep treatments.

About the Author: Andrew Neff completed his Ph.D. in neuroscience and currently lectures psychology at Rochester University. He founded the company Golgi Productions which runs the blog Neuroscience From Underground – find more on Twitter.

References

  • Abbott, Rebecca A., et al. “Effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness based cognitive therapy in vascular disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.” Journal of psychosomatic research 76.5 (2014): 341-351.

  • Fox, Kieran CR, et al. “Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? A systematic review and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 43 (2014): 48-73.

  • Hasenkamp, Wendy, and Lawrence W. Barsalou. “Effects of meditation experience on functional connectivity of distributed brain networks.” Frontiers in human neuroscience 6 (2012): 38.

  • Khoury, Bassam, et al. “Mindfulness-based stress reduction for healthy individuals: A meta-analysis.” Journal of psychosomatic research 78.6 (2015): 519-528.

  • Rusch, Heather L., et al. “The effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (2018).

  • Ruffault, Alexis, et al. “The effects of mindfulness training on weight-loss and health-related behaviours in adults with overweight and obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Obesity research & clinical practice 11.5 (2017): 90-111.

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