Sunday, November 6, 2016

Election Relief Meditation!

Election Relief Meditation!
For a lot of people, 2016 is one of the most stressful election years ever, and a lot of people have asked me for something they can practice to keep a handle on all the negativity floating around.

 Here’s a technique you can practice in a few minutes, and you can tweak it for your other goals as well. Some people believe that this kind of exercise can actually shape the future. I’m not prepared to say that, but I think it can certainly make you feel more comfortable and confident about your future. 

Read through all the steps first, find a quiet place to practice, and then give it a try!
Before you begin you’ll need two things (they’re already inside you):
--A “resource state,” which is a strongly positive feeling
--A visualization of a positive outcome for the coming weeks, months and years.
The resource state is simply an emotional state of happiness and joy. Actors and longtime meditators can fire up such a state at will. The rest of us can use our memory or imagination to find that emotional state. Think of a time you felt really happy or joyful (I know this can be hard in the 21st century, but I think we’ve all had some kind of experience at least once, no?). Maybe it was when you were a kid, or maybe it’s a song you like (music is great for building emotional states), or a pet, a joke, a funny Youtube video, a baby or a puppy. You get the idea. If you really can’t remember anything joyful, then just imagine what it would feel like to have something wonderful and spontaneous happen that makes you grin so hard that other people can almost hear it! Once you have that in your imagination, really enter into it, really allow the feeling of joy to fill you up. Notice where it begins in your body (a lot of people feel it in their chest or face, but wherever you feel it is right for you).When you get it, and it feels good, THAT’S your resource state. With a little practice you can start to invoke that feeling separate from the memory or imagining.

Your visualization is a mental image of the kind of outcome that you’d like to experience. It doesn’t actually have to be a visual image if you’re not a very visual person. Some people prefer things they can hear or feel, and those are fine. Better still if you can include all three of those things together—visual, sound and feeling.
What exactly is the outcome you want to have happen? An end to political arguing? Your candidate being elected? The country moving happily and successfully into a prosperous future? Just a little peace and quiet? Whatever it is you want the most, so be it. Get that image clearly in your head, and, to the best of your ability, begin to add visual detail, sounds, and feelings, It’s almost like painting a picture. When you have that, you’re ready to get started.

The Meditation
Find a quiet place where you’ll be undisturbed for a few minutes. 

  • 1)      Shake out your arms and legs and shoulders and sit down. A seat with support for your back is excellent for this. You can do it lying down, but you may fall asleep.
  • 2)      Take a deep breath, hold it a moment, and exhale. Let your arms an your face feel loose and limp and relaxed. Inhale again, a little slower and more relaxed, and just notice the air going into your lungs. Pucker your lips slightly, and when you exhale, blow out slowly, like you’re trying to cool a spoonful of hot soup without spilling it. Continue to just breathe this way for a little while, say 10-12 breaths or more. Your breathing will slow down a bit, and you’ll probably become even more relaxed. At some point, you may wish to close your eyes, and this will be helpful for the next phase.
  • 3)      As you continue to breathe, turn your attention inward, and allow your imagination to explore, from inside, your belly, chest, your shoulders and your face. As you explore each of these places inside yourself, you may find areas of stress or tension, or just bad feelings. When you exhale, imagine actually blowing these tensions or bad feelings out on each exhale, and replacing them with in fresh, clean breath on each inhale. You may be able to clean some of these out in one or two breaths, some may take a little longer, or even multiple sessions. You can chose how long you want to spend. Be sure to breathe out any doubts and breathe in greater confidence.
  • 4)      When you feel you’re ready to move to the next step, bring in that resource state. Find the place inside your body that feeling starts (chest, face or wherever), and then let it expand. With each inhale, imagine you’re bringing energy into that emotional resource, and with each exhale, imagine that feeling beginning to expand. Let that emotion become an energy unto itself, an energy with color, light, warmth, and maybe even sound or motion. Use your breathing to continue to fuel it until it feels really good and begins to fill your whole self. Continue your slow breathing the entire time.
  • 5)      Now bring in that visualization of the future you want. Start by imagining it in the middle of your joyful energy. Imagine all the details—the sights, the sounds, the feelings, the smells of that happy outcome you want. Continue your breathing and begin to move your imagination into that desired outcome. Become aware of details you didn’t notice before. Become aware of how good that future feels. Become aware of all the ways that the future is improving as a result of that outcome. Energize it with your breath the way you energized your resource state. If any doubts try to creep in, just exhale them back out again. This is your time, for your own reality.
  • 6)      Enjoy it and explore it for as long as you like, or as long as you have time for, and when you’re ready, start to bring yourself back to a wakeful state. Begin to turn your attention to your physical body, and then to your surroundings. Take a deep breath and give yourself a countdown, like a rocket—5-4-3-2-1!
    Open your eyes and stand up, stretch or shake yourself out a bit.

You may feel very relaxed, so give yourself a few minutes before driving, operating machinery.
With practice your results will continue to get stronger and faster.
Share it with anyone you think might need it!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Management and Television

For 20 years, I worked in a number of fast-paced advertising and publishing offices in New York, and I got to see a lot of different management styles in a lot of different settings. I also learned a fair bit about management, and worked with managers (and was a manager, a number of times), management experts and MBAs.

Recently a discussion with some friends still in the business inspired me to write a little bit about what I've learned about how, and how not to, manage people, based on what I've experienced, including my own mistakes and successes.

"If you had to give someone a lot of advice in a short amount of time, what would you tell them?" In response to the question, my mind ran through books and videos I'd studied, and then it hit me. There's a great resource for getting a basic understanding of right and wrong ways to run groups of people, and that's on TV! Perhaps you've seen some shows where an expert is called into a failing business in order to pull them back from the brink of failure. The genre started out with Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares in 2004 (which rescued restaurants), and has expanded to all kinds of businesses (though mostly in the hospitality industry), including Hotel Impossible, Barmageddon and Bar Rescue.

Now before you get too worked up that we're talking about reality television, and it's highly possible that some of the action may be contrived or scripted, I won't disagree. I have no idea, and some of the action is clearly formulaic, for example, the way the rescuer always has a blowout before the rescue. But that in no way negates the value of what these shows can offer you.
I'll also add that some of the action and advice on the show may only be pertinent to a highly specific kind of businesses, and sometimes, the problems the business is facing is clearly out of the hands of the owner.

Nevertheless, in many of these shows that depict failing businesses, you can clearly see how mistakes in a management have had their effect of the failure.

What can we learn from these shows?
Most often we see managers/owners who are either too rigid and inflexible, or too easily influenced or not assertive enough, in other words, too strong or too weak. It's important to remember that while some of these people may have been the way they are from the start, a bad business can bring out the worst in people, and fear of failure often blinds people to what is obvious to other people around them.

The ones who are too strong may be operating out of arrogance or narcissism, they might also be working from a very narrow and rigid creative vision. It might even go back  to their own upbringing, and they may not know any better. But the result of being too strong is that it makes them blind to the circumstances that are hurting their businesses, or they may feel that the solution lies in more force. The effect they have on their staff is to stifle creativity and motivation, and they may be blind to valuable skills that their individual staff members bring. In worst-case scenarios, they can even inspire staff apathy and even sabotage.

Those managers/owners who fall into the too-weak category may be expressing a feeling of being unqualified, they may be focusing too much of their energy on other areas of their lives and neglecting the business, they may be inexperienced in asserting themselves, they may have given up once the business has started to fail. Some may be too open to outside influences and unable to make up their own minds. Their employees may be frustrated at the lack of direction, which can lead to worker apathy, taking advantage of their work conditions thorough poor performance and pilfering, and infighting, perhaps from the lack of structure and clear management.

One show that is particularly interesting for students of management is Barmageddon. Instead of trying to fix a failing business, they take the managers from two very different kinds of bars, and have them manage each other's bars for a week. For example, in one episode, the manager of a very formal, boutique cocktail bar and the manager of a wild sports bar change places for a week. It's extremely interesting to see how the staff reacts as the managers change the established patterns and customs of the work environment, and even their relationship to the customer base.

There's a fair amount of food for thought there already: management that is too strong or weak, it's influence on the staff and the business, and also the effect on the personnel when management changes.

I'm looking forward to writing more about management in future posts, but I'll leave it here for now. Check out some of these shows and tell me which your favorite is.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Hypnosis... or WITCHCRAFT?

Or maybe witchcraft is just hypnosis? If you think we have a unique, modern understanding of the mind-body connection, consider this quote which is the opening of Compendium Maleficarum, a 17th century manual for witch hunters and exorcists: 

"MANY authors have written at length concerning the force of imagination.... All are agreed that the imagination is a most potent force; and both by argument and by experience they prove that a man's own body may be most extensively affected by his imagination. For they argue that as the imagination examines the images of objects perceived by the senses, it excites in the appetitive faculty either fear or shame or anger or sorrow; and these emotions so affect a man with heat or cold that his body either grows pale or reddens, and he consequently becomes joyful and exultant, or torpid and dejected. Therefore S. Thomas.has well said that a man's body can be affected by his imagination in every way which is naturally correspondent with the imaginative faculty..."

-- Fr. Francesco Maria Guazzo, "Compendium Maleficarum" (1608)*

Of course, being  a witch hunter,  the rest of Guazzo's book goes on to discuss how, while witchcraft is all of the imagination, the power behind it comes from the devil, and is evil by nature.

The book itself is quite an interesting read, and a real insight into the state of science and psychology of it's time. You can read stories of possessions and enchantments and consider how today we might understand those things to have psychological causes rather than Satanic ones. 

"Compendium Maleficarum, by Francesco Maria Guazzo, Translated by Montague Summers (1929), Republished by Dover Books

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Politics, Sure, but What the Heck are They Talking About?

I once had a dream that I went with a friend to the Gates of Hell. It was a huge crater in the Earth covered in sick green shrubs and centuries of wrecked and ruined structures all down the slopes leading into the darkness. It was unnaturally cold and quiet, and the misty air was filled with sadness. 

As we stared into the depths, we became aware of strange, wispy, ghostly forms, flying around and around in the depths. My friend asked me what they were, and I, apparently heir to occult knowledge, told him they were the hopes and dreams, loves and hates of people who had died before they ever had a chance to resolve them. They fly around and around like lost dogs looking for home. Over thousands and thousands of years, some take on enough power and intelligence to achieve lives of their own, and they escape from the pit as demons, often very, very different from the innocent feelings they started out as, and they go forth into the world to influence people and events in ways that no one can imagine.


Here in the USA, we've got a presidential election coming up, and the internet is abuzz with all kinds of discussions. People with more common sense probably avoid political discussion like the plague, but I'm fascinated being able to learn the thinking of people with views very different from my own, and for me, the internet is an ideal place to learn. There's a lot of juvenile noise out there, but there are people representing all different kinds of politics who can have an intelligent, if heated, discussion, and that's where you'll find me.

However, there are these things I come across in discussion that confound and frustrate me, and, like the demons in my dream, seem to have a life and intelligence of their own, yet impose a powerful influence on people's thinking. And like those wispy spirits, they seem to have metamorphosed into something very different than their original incarnation. Stranger still, people possessed by these sprites assume that everyone else knows and understands them in the same way that they do. I guess you could call them memes, mind viruses, or even brain worms. NLP might refer to them as metaphors or nominalizations.

What I'm talking about are these catchphrases that people of a like mind all agree upon so insistently that they can no longer be broken down into their the component facts that once spawned them, and they have become an emotional hot-button, rather than information. In nearly all cases, these demons have wrapped deliberate disinformation around a core of fact.

Now, when I talk politics on line, I usually find myself in disagreements with people both on the left and on the right. What I see when these demons are at work is a normally thoughtful, rational individual will become emotionally charged and completely intractable when these demons are invoked. I always try to ask "what do you really mean?" or "can you define it better" or just, "I don't get it, explain it." But they never do.

Do you know what I'm talking about? Things like:
All the candidates are the same!
All Christians are hypocrites!
You don't want government involved!
All Southerners are racists!
All Muslims are a threat!
Free stuff!

And so forth.

They're generalizations. They're false, but some evidence could be found to show they're occasionally or conditionally true. The people will fight before they stop to really examine them. My experience is that these demons are pretty intractable. When they come up in conversation they're usually embedded deeply into a person's belief structure --their map of the world-- and so, are very hard to approach objectively.

But like something from an old Vincent Price movie, these evil influences spread through entire groups of people who embrace them willingly, an the demons bend and twist otherwise intelligent people to do their bidding.

I wish a I knew a way to exorcise these conversational demons, but the people so possessed seem to love them and won't give them up for anything. But at least you can be vigilant against getting possessed! Don't get sucked into the emotion of it. Don't accept the generalizations, don't be afraid to examine your own beliefs and always be willing to change and correct yourself if you're wrong, even if you've invested a lot of time and feeling.

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What's an induction? For that matter, where's hypnosis fit into all of this?

Once upon a time, hypnosis was easy. Even Bugs Bunny could do it! You know.. "You are getting sleepy... SLEEEPPPYY..." and pretty soon someone was unconscious.

Nowadays you've got prestige inductions, permissive inductions, speed inductions, conversational hypnosis and covert hypnosis. And trance-- what's a trance these days? It used to be so easy. They guy snoring was the guy in trance. But now, there's hypnotic trance, conversational trance, runner's trance, dance trance...

I guess I come up with a new definition every month, and I convince myself my understanding is ever-deepening, but I'm especially pleased with what I came up with (this month). It's a definition of "induction" that applies to all of the different styles of hypnosis (even the ones that don't officially use inductions) and it kind of clarifies a hypnotist's relation to the state they're creating in their client. Here goes:

The induction is whatever stimulates response potential.

Cool huh? So whether you're Bugs Bunny with a pocketwatch or Milton Erickson confusing the crap out of some hapless guy on a street corner, or even an actor doing a monologue, whatever you're doing to capture your audience's attention, get 'em hooked, or even just get em wondering "what is he talking about?" you're working to stimulate their response potential.

It's also a good definition because it focuses on what's happening to the client, and not hung up with what your doing, and that's a problem that a lot of beginner hypnotists have when they're studying different techniques, namely, focusing more on the induction than on what's happening to the client. And no matter how good you are, you're no good if your client isn't experiencing a change.

OK, if the induction is whatever stimulates response potential, then what's hypnosis?

Hmm.. Maybe I'll let you answer that one.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

When Meditiation is BAD for You!

I actually started writing a blog post about this very subject a few months ago, but the recent Guardian article (below) reminded me of the need for this discussion.

A friend of mine was in a psychiatric program, and the therapist INSISTED she participate in group "Mindful" meditations. It's not uncommon that a person new to meditation experience a little weird discomfort the first few times as they release stored tension (some people describe it as a "hangover"). But my friend was having full blown abreactions (powerful negative states). She requested she be let out of the activity, but the therapist demanded she participate. Each session brought up her worst thoughts and feelings, as well as anxiety attacks, and while he refused to allow her out of the practice, she was finally allowed to sit quietly while the others participated. It was better, but still very uncomfortable for her. Now I don't know the specifics of my friend's issues were for joining the group, and I know nothing about the therapist or his insistence on forcing her participation, but I did see the results of it and they weren't pleasant--increased anxiety, worry, anger, self-destructiveness.. All the stuff that one practices meditation to get rid of.  

Are There Dangers to Meditation?
Generally, no. But every person is different and there are MANY different kinds of meditation for many different reasons. In extreme situations you may find things like these (or other problems): If a person is feeling immersed in their own issues, a type of meditation like Mindfulness might submerge them even deeper in their unhappiness. Meditations that disassociate a person from their physical awareness might create disorientation or "spaciness." Meditations that focus on a deity or ideotype, like a spirit, saint or personified god, can induce odd emotional states, or even delusions. "Energetic" meditations, of the sort found in certain Chi Gung exercises can manifest physical symptoms. (A Chinese Tai Chi teacher I knew had been teaching his students in China a "fire" meditation to use during the Winter, at the time he moved to America. Six months later discovered his Chinese students had continued to practice fire meditation through the Summer and were getting all kinds of heat related sicknesses. He had warned them not to do "fire" in the Summer, but without him there, they just kept doing what they did at the time he left). Most of the time these conditions are rare, occurring only when the practitioner really puts a lot of time and effort into their practice.  

What to Look Out For
Meditation should be there to improve the rest of your life. You should feel more in-control and comfortably integrated into your everyday life, maybe even more inspired. If you find yourself experiencing any of the following, or just don't feel right about what you're doing, STOP! At last take a break, and usually things will return to normal. If you really want to continue your practice, use your break time to research different kinds of meditation.  

SPACINESS-- Feelings of disorientation, "spaciness" or confusion, particularly if it's interfering with the rest of your day, is something you want to avoid.  
NEGATIVE EMOTIONS-- As I mentioned, the first one or two times you try meditation, you may experience a little discomfort as you release physical and emotional tensions. But if these things persist, or if they get worse, stop.  
EUPHORIA or DELUSIONS-- After a bit of practice, meditation should make you feel great! But it should not alter your relationship with reality. If you find yourself becoming aware of superpowers, if spirits or gods are talking to you and telling you to do things, or causing you to separate from the people and things you normally interact with, it's probably time to take a break and do some serious self-examination.

To reiterate: there are MANY different kinds of meditation, For different people, and for different purposes. Mindfulness is excellent for some people in some situations, but it's not the only approach. And EVERYTHING has potential risks, starting with getting out of bed in the morning. But if you're feeling really out of kilter, talk to an expert.

The biggest issue with Mindfulness is that it seems to be over-hyped and insufficiently understood, but in the right situation, it can be a powerful tool, and it works well for a lot of people. Here's an excellent article from The Guardian on some unfortunate experiences. In fairness, I think they exaggerate some of the negatives, but it's worth reading, especially for those who are coaching others.
Illustration: Nick Lowndes for the Guardian

One sticking point of both the proponents of Mindfulness and most traditional schools of meditation is that they put all their faith behind a single method. If you want an all-in-one introduction that lists over 20 different techniques with an explanation of their functions and effects, so you can chose the ones that are just right for you, check out my book: