Categories
Mindset Mind & Body

On Being Brave

When my children were little, I read a story in a magazine that stopped my heart. A mom had sent her daughter to the corner grocery store to buy some bread and milk. Her daughter was walking home with the purchases when a stranger in a car pulled to the curb beside her. He smiled at the girl, used her name—which he had overheard the clerk use at the store—and told her to get in the car.

The girl, who was 10 or 11, was confused. She knew better than to get into a car with a stranger, but she had been taught to be polite and respectful to adults. Against her better judgment, she obeyed.

Luckily, a woman driving by saw the interaction and noticed the look of terror on the young girl’s face. The bystander acted quickly, blocking the man’s car with her own so he could not speed away.

It turned out the abductor was a registered sex offender recently released from prison and on parole. If not for the brave bystander who intervened, something horrible might have happened. Ever since I read that story, I have marveled at that bystander’s bravery—and her willingness to take action to save someone’s life.

What Is Bravery?

Bravery is a virtue that was considered fundamental in the ancient world, but what is it, exactly? Is it even relevant today? Let’s take a look.

In the time of the Iliad—an Ancient Greek epic poem about a hero named Odysseus that describes the last year of the Trojan War—the Greeks called bravery thumos, the Greek word for “liver.”

The Ancient Greeks believed the liver to be the seat of many emotions that people in today’s world would more readily attribute to the brain or the heart. Courage, confidence, “spirit”—these were things that came from that big, fleshy, reddish-brown organ in your torso, according to the Greeks.

Achilles, the strongest warrior of the Trojan War, who looms large in the Iliad, had plenty of thumos. But the Ancient Greeks also valued other qualities, many of which were embodied in Odysseus. It was Odysseus, after all, who made the plan to defeat Troy by hiding soldiers in a giant hollowed-out horse that he offered to them as a gift of peace. Odysseus had clever ways of dealing with problems, and shrewd judgment. He knew how to win a battle no matter what it took. He also personified persistence in the face of adversity—part of the Ancient Greek idea of bravery.

Bravery in war was a primary virtue. But the Greeks also valued cunning, pride, know-how, good judgment, and skill in war.

Aristotle: Bravery Means Balance

The Greek philosopher Aristotle, who lived several centuries after the Iliad was composed, also grappled with the question of bravery in his writing on ethics. For Aristotle, bravery was about balance: too little of it, and you have cowardice; too much, and you have foolhardiness.

Aristotle did not believe more bravery was better. He argued that bravery had to be gauged to the danger. The brave fear what should be feared, and are bold when the situation demands.

Combining Courage With Good Character

Confucius, the Classical Chinese philosopher whose ideas had a formative influence on Chinese culture, had a slightly different idea of bravery. Confucius argued that courage needed to be combined with good character. No one would admire the bravery of a rapacious evildoer, as such boldness would amplify vice, rather than embody virtue.

In fact, to possess bravery without a strong sense of right and wrong would turn bravery into wickedness, according to Confucius. In The Analects of Confucius, a collection of his aphorisms published after his death in 479 B.C., he wrote, “An ordinary person with courage but no righteousness would become a bandit.”

Bravely Breaking Totalitarian Laws

In the modern world, the best examples of bravery may be people who have gone against the current of their societies to stand up for what is right—for example, the Germans, Poles, and other Europeans who resisted the Nazis during World War II, hiding Jewish people in their homes, even as they knew they could be killed for doing so.

These resisters were truly brave. So were the Americans who lived in the Deep South before the Civil War who refused to obey unjust laws and instead secreted escaped slaves to the North where they could live freely. And the Chinese students and other demonstrators who participated in the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989 to demand democracy and freedom of speech in Communist China. Standing unarmed against a totalitarian force, the demonstrators showed extraordinary bravery.

When you are truly brave, you do not merely endure the troubles that come your way, but put yourself in jeopardy against overwhelming odds in order to fight for what is right.

Against the Consensus

While being brave was highly valued in Ancient Greece and Classical China, most people in the Western world don’t talk much about bravery today. You may hear people say someone “bravely fought cancer,” but bravery these days is more about trying new foods, asking someone you just met out on a date, or doing something that creates personal risk, like skydiving or bungee jumping.

For most people, there are certainly fewer physical threats today than there were in the ancient world. But are there fewer opportunities for bravery?

Most people feel a tremendous amount of pressure to unquestioningly go along with what is happening in today’s world, and there seems to be less tolerance for people to use their own conscience to make choices outside of the societal current.

But going along with the status quo is not being brave. Bravery is when you do something that your conscience tells you to do—or that you know is right—even though it is outside the social norm.

The situations in our lives that require courage today are often quiet ones. We show bravery when we stand up to a boss at work, defend someone from a bully, or tell a friend about their child’s missteps. When we do the brave thing in these everyday situations, we aren’t going to be recognized for our courage. No epic poem or magazine article will be written about our heroic deeds. Instead, we become everyday unsung heroes, acting with virtue in the face of challenges.

Are You Brave?

Are you sleepwalking through your life, going along to get along, or are you acting with integrity, even when it is difficult to do so? Do you make your own decisions, or just go along with whatever is easiest, and grumble about it afterwards? If you don’t make your own decisions and back them up with action, are you really your own person? Are you living a virtuous life, or a life of conformity?

There may not be an imminent battle to win or lose with swords, but these questions make it clear that the personal stakes for courage are as high as ever. When you act with cowardice or remain quiet in the face of unkindness or evil, you lose your sense of self.

When you act with bravery, you increase your self-respect. And as you act with bravery more often, you also gain confidence that you can make a difference, and aren’t helpless or passive, in your life or in the world at large.

How to Be Brave

You know when you feel afraid. Maybe your heart starts to race, or your hands get sweaty, or you start to get lightheaded. When you feel that fear, check in with yourself and acknowledge it. But don’t let the fear stop you. The voice in your head telling you not to act is the voice to ignore.

Instead, ask yourself how the person or mentor you look up to the most would act facing the same situation. Then channel that person—whether it is Jesus, Ganesha, the Biblical David who stood up to Goliath, your closest friend, a parent, your spouse, or another relative—and use their bravery as your own. This means telling your close colleague that you disagree with their decision to get a nonessential surgery (though you will support whatever choice they make); insisting that you get remunerated by your clients for the time you spent on a job even as they try not to pay you; or writing a letter to the editor or an opinion piece for the newspaper explaining why you disagree with your local politicians’ attempt to enact popular but unethical legislation.

When You Act Rightly

In his short essay “The Great Learning,” Confucius wrote that when you act rightly and affect your small sphere of direct contacts and family, it’s worthwhile because it’s the right thing to do, but also because right action reverberates to produce an outsized effect. In other words, your right action influences the people who you affect and those who see you doing the right thing. Then those people, in turn, act just a little differently with their contacts, and your circle of influence spreads like ripples in a pond. The effect you have diffuses, spreading outward through society. Maybe you can’t completely change society, but every ripple affects the whole pond. Your actions matter.

“I think it’s always brave to do what we know is right, even if it isn’t popular or will not benefit us personally,” says Christine Gross-Loh, Ph.D., an expert in Asian studies and coauthor of the book “The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life,” which includes a chapter on Confucius. “I think we all benefit in the long run by having done the right thing.”

The Butterfly Effect

The “butterfly effect” is an idea first proposed by meteorologist Edward Lorenz in 1963 and later championed by mathematicians, physicists, and other thinkers interested in chaos theory. Lorenz proposed that every time a butterfly flaps its wings, the weather across the planet is affected. The idea behind his theory is that small actions can have a nonlinear impact on a much larger system.

That’s what your bravery can do today. Being brave, in both small and large ways, has a positive impact on the world.

Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning journalist and book author. Learn more at www.JenniferMargulis.net

 

 

Categories
Meditation Mind & Body

Struggling With Meditation or Mindfulness?

In this day and age, just about everyone associates meditation and mindfulness with improved well-being. Especially now, as people deal with COVID-19, there’s an invigorated interest in staying well—mind, body, and soul.

But many people aren’t sure where to start. In my experience, cultivating a meditation and a mindfulness practice that works for you is the most important thing to do, no matter where you are in your wellness journey. This approach sets a solid foundation for improved mental, emotional, and physical health. For me, meditation was instrumental in recovering from fibromyalgia, intense chronic pain, depression, and anxiety. It helped when nothing else did.

Since the key obstacle many people face in adopting healthier habits like diet and exercise is mental resistance, starting with a meditation or mindfulness practice is one way to improve your ability to break through.

Meditation and mindfulness practices have a profound impact on mental and emotional well-being, and can improve willpower, focus, and clarity. But don’t let this fool you into thinking that they only work on your mental health. What happens in the mind has a direct impact on the physical body, too.

Meditation Versus Mindfulness

Meditation is about sitting still, and using at least a portion of that time to sit in silence. Meditation is a quiet and contemplative practice.

Mindfulness is more about tuning into your thoughts and feelings. It can include the active things you do to become more aware, or to train your mind.

Meditation is something you do to the exclusivity of other things. You only meditate. Mindfulness is something you can bring to everything you do.

For example, are you being mindful about your eating habits, or your breathing? Are you able to tune into what you are hearing, seeing, or feeling at any given moment?

Healthy Mind, Healthy Body 

Meditation and mindfulness do wonders for our health because they resolve one of the fundamental problems of modern living: an imbalance between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

All too often, the sympathetic “fight or flight” nervous system goes into overdrive, not allowing the parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system to do its work.

If this goes on for too long, you can get ill, stressed, depleted, burned out, or face a chronic condition. That’s because the hormones and physiological changes that come with an overactive fight-or-flight response deplete the body.

Meditation works to restore a healthy balance so that your body’s parasympathetic nervous system—its self-healing mechanism—kicks in. This ensures a strong immune response, better hormone balance, improved mood, better sleep, and so much more. Your body begins to regenerate and heal, working on many different aspects of wellness at once.

Mindfulness practices, meanwhile, can help us tune into our feelings of stress or anxiety and be more aware of what sets them off. That can help keep us from falling into a state of enduring stress that can occur when we are constantly revisiting stressful thoughts. If we are mindful, we can also take a break to meditate when needed, and that will help us to quickly calm down.

It’s now well established that improved mental health leads to improved physical health. Improved mental health is correlated with all those wonderful physical health benefits mentioned earlier, like improved immunity, better hormone balance, decreased cortisol (the body’s stress hormone), and more. People who identify with a sense of purpose and meaning in life also fare much better mentally, emotionally, and physically than those who don’t. Even people who are just happier on a day-to-day basis have improved health outcomes.

So knowing this, where do you start? If the mind impacts the body and the body impacts the mind, couldn’t you argue that doing anything good for the mind or body will improve your overall well-being? Yes, you can absolutely argue that, and you would be correct. But for those who want to make a rapid, noticeable lifestyle change for the better, my experience is that meditation is the fastest path to success. That’s because it helps the different branches of your nervous system work harmoniously together, which has a direct and nearly immediate impact on the mind and body.

Because meditation helps get your body into balance, it sets a very solid foundation for everything else. You’ll notice it makes creating a mindfulness practice easier thanks to increased energy, stamina, and focus. Without being mindful and intentional in life, it’s very difficult to make necessary changes that lead to sustainable health, happiness, and well-being.

In my many years of teaching meditation and mindfulness, the most common complaint I get is, “I can’t meditate, I can’t clear my mind.” There are so many reasons why you may think you can’t meditate, but I assure you, you can. Acquiring a life-changing skill isn’t like sitting in a hot tub. You should expect to put in some effort and improve gradually. There are some tips below to help you get there.

If you’re looking for a magic pill to change your life, those don’t exist, but I can say that meditation gives you a way to reside more deeply in yourself and develop a sense of tranquility that becomes available in your everyday life. Your health, mindset, relationships, and more all improve when you develop a consistent meditation practice. And since meditation makes it much easier to be mindful, you’ll find it a win-win.

How to Begin a Meditation Practice 

Tip #1: Slow your breathing.

Before you try to sit and meditate, work on lengthening and deepening your breath, which slows down your breathing rate. Your breath is directly connected to that hamster wheel in the mind, and the more you’re able to slow your breath, the calmer your mind will become. Take five minutes a day to work on your breath, and within two weeks or less, you’ll find your breathing has slowed down and meditation has become easier.

Tip #2: Meditate in a clutter-free space.

What goes on outside impacts what is happening in the mind, and vice versa. It can be hard to focus and sit still when you are surrounded by clutter. A clean and clutter-free space gives your mind space. You’ll feel calmer, more focused, and more open. This will make it easier to meditate.

Tip #3: Meditate every day.

Even meditating five minutes a day can change the neural connections in your brain. Daily consistency is key to establishing a new habit and rewiring the brain to be successful at something. Start with a few minutes a day, something easily attainable, and grow from there. You’ll find that this growth happens automatically when you commit and stick with your routine, even when it feels difficult.

Jaya Jaya Myra is a wellness lifestyle expert and go-to media expert on mind-body wellness, stress management, mindfulness, food for mood, and natural, healthy living. She’s a best-selling author, TEDx and motivational speaker, and creator of The WELL Method for purpose-filled healthy living. Visit JayaJayaMyra.com.

 

Categories
Meditation Mental Health Mind & Body

Finding Time for Your Soul

“We need to change the delusion that we need to burn out in order to succeed.” —Arianna Huffington

One of the biggest challenges to finding time for meditation—and balancing ourselves mentally, physically, and emotionally—is the burnout complex. Many of us feel the need and pressure to operate at maximum capacity from the time our eyes open until we go to sleep. That doesn’t even make sense for a machine, let alone a human being. You wouldn’t expect a car to run at top speed 100 percent of the time without its engine exploding, so why do we expect it of our minds and bodies?

Why We Need to Slow Down

While real physical dangers in the developed world are rare today, most of us suffer from internal perceptions that create stress. Our brains register these as incoming threats, triggering our body’s fight-or-flight response—that jolt of energy you feel at the top of a rollercoaster, or when a barking Doberman starts charging toward you. This physiological response narrows our focus and energizes our body to deal with a physical situation. However, for most of us, the threat we might face is an urgent email, a heated argument with our partner, or bills piling up. These daily (or hourly) stressors trigger a biochemical shift in our bodies. The clinical explanation is that our brain perceives, our nervous system activates, and our adrenal stress systems change our biochemistry to prepare our body to react to incoming danger.

The problem for many of us experiencing this stress response on a regular basis—besides that it activates a survival mode not intended for the average workday—is that it performs a variety of short-term lifesaving actions that harm our bodies when triggered too often. Those actions include pumping extra sugar and insulin into our bloodstream, constricting blood vessels, directing energy away from daily bodily functions, slowing digestion, deregulating our immune system, interrupting fertility and more.

Meditation: Why It Matters

Those who meditate daily, for even just 10 minutes, immediately discover increased mindfulness, greater sense of purpose, better productivity, decreased stress and even decreased illness. It has been proven to improve health and relationships, and to help people find a connection with nature and the universe.

Besides directly countering our stress response, meditation helps us better regulate that response in the face of future threats.

Many of us are stuck in the rut of, “I don’t have time for ___,” even when that activity is essential for our health and basic satisfaction with life. For many, that activity is meditation. Fortunately, we often have more time than we think, especially when we reclaim time dedicated to nonessential activities like scrolling social media feeds and internet browsing.

Reclaiming this time leaves an opening to meditate. Instead of plopping onto the couch to scroll through Netflix, you can truly unwind.

Meditation contributes to a positive mindset and energy, both of which are invaluable to the health of your body and brain. Positivity has been proven to increase feelings of joy, contentment and love. These positive emotions increase our ability to solve problems, find opportunities, see the bigger picture of our lives and, ultimately, be the best versions of ourselves.

Two Ways to Find Time

Want to meditate but feel like you don’t have the time? Two tips to help get you that valuable opportunity are to set “no fly times” and to eliminate your “energy zappers.”

Set and Maintain “No Fly Times”

Build intentional downtime in your schedule where you make no calls and send no texts or emails. This could be in the morning, at the end of the day, during your lunchtime—anytime that makes sense for even just 10 minutes of a break for your brain and nervous system.

Find and Eliminate “Energy Zappers”

So many people waste their valuable time on activities, functions, meetings, etc. that make no real difference in their lives. Try spending less time on things that add no value to your life and leave this space available for more important things.

When you build in downtime and cut out nonessential and energy-zapping activities, you have more time and clarity for meditation.

Eight Meditative Exercises

Not sure how to meditate? There are many ways to meditate and different ideas of what it entails. Ultimately, meditation should help you quiet your mind and gain internal clarity.

  1. Traditional or guided meditation, with or without prayer
  2. Exercise meditation (yoga, walking or stretching)
  3. Journaling and self-reflection (just two sentences to start—anything that’s on your mind)
  4. Quiet alone time (start with 5–10 minutes of mindlessness or mental relaxation)
  5. Practice self-empowerment mantras (I am valuable, I love my life, I am connected to my life’s purpose, I am getting stronger every day, etc.)
  6. Take a bath with calming essential oils like lavender, bergamot or chamomile
  7. Walk in nature, or somewhere quiet and calm (try to do this daily if possible)
  8. Breathing exercises (start with belly breathing instead of chest breathing[What is the difference? Explain] 10 times every time you go to the toilet)

Nisha Jackson is a nationally recognized hormone and functional medicine expert, lecturer, motivational speaker, radio host, columnist, author of “Brilliant Burnout” and founder of OnePeak Medical Clinics in Oregon. For 30 years, her approach to medicine has successfully reversed chronic problems such as fatigue, brain fog, depression, insomnia and lack of stamina.

Categories
Family Mind & Body Parenting Relationships Technology

How We Save Childhood

Parents across the globe are struggling with what some call the biggest parenting challenge of all time: how to control a child’s overuse of addictive technology—primarily video games and social media/smartphones—in a culture where they have constant access to it.

Teens are binging on YouTube and video games throughout the night, sending racy photos to people they don’t know, and seeing therapists for social media-related anxiety and depression. They are even dropping out of college due to an inability to leave the virtual world long enough to attend class.

Parents are in shock and wondering what to do. Why are so many families in conflict? Why are we losing our kids to this virtual world?

Kids’ Brains and Screens

The first reason this struggle has become so overwhelming for today’s parents is that they lack a basic understanding of the physiological effect that excessive screen use has on kids’ brains and the continuing impact it has on their development into adults. Parents don’t understand why their kids are so focused on screens, and they fail to see the lasting consequences of screen overuse.

Gone are the days when normal cultural patterns assisted parents with the task of building their kids’ brains in healthy ways. As children, many of us played outside until the streetlights came on, learned new skills at clubs after school, rode bikes everywhere, played a musical instrument at school, and enjoyed pick-up games (or “free play” as we now call it) in the cul-de-sac. But today, prisoners are required to spend more time sleeping, socializing, and enjoying the outside than the average teen chooses to spend on such activities.

As kids, our parents used to be our natural moral compass. They were strict yet loving—just like our coaches. We had solid boundaries, which allowed us to develop our potential. And like good coaches, parents were in charge and respected by their children. Today, game consoles and smartphones are crowding out parents’ voices, and peers have become the new source of authority in the average child’s life.

One distressed mother recently commented that her 14-year-old daughter’s phone was her best friend. The concerned mom said, “My daughter spends so much time on her phone, I feel like she doesn’t even live here anymore—it’s like she has already moved out of our house.”

To successfully raise our kids in our screen-saturated culture, parents first need education. A simple understanding of the physical, chemical, and behavioral effects of screens on our kids’ brains can get us reoriented and ready to move in the right direction again. Research continues to emerge about these effects, providing parents with new insights and better options to solve the screen dilemma.

Role Confusion

The second reason parents struggle with their kids’ screen addictions is role confusion. The notion that children are little adults contributes to parents’ inability to manage this issue. Parents can’t be the strong guides they need to be when children are allowed to call the shots about their screen usage.

Science tells us that a teenage brain isn’t just a smaller version of an adult brain, and intelligence does not equal maturity. The idea that an adolescent child can be expected to use an addictive screen wisely with just a little encouragement or training is a myth that often leads to disastrous consequences. It’s not uncommon for parents to see a shift in the climate of their homes when they reverse this thinking. For example, the mother of one 8th-grade boy reported that her son secretly asked her to keep his phone for an additional month, following the loss of his phone privileges the previous month.

“He actually wanted me to take the phone away—I think deep down it was really causing him a lot of stress,” she said.

A teen may score in the 99th percentile on his PSAT, but because the brain’s judgment center is not fully connected until the mid-20s, he or she still does not have the executive function skills required for healthy screen use. Impulse control, the ability to plan ahead, an understanding of delayed gratification, and flexible thinking are just a few of the skills that are still developing in teenagers.

Even with a brain that is still under construction, children can be trained to appropriately use certain technology—write a paper with Microsoft Word, create a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel, and enjoy a family movie—but their brains can’t be fully trained to resist the temptations and distractions that addictive tech brings. And, in fact, the lure and hold of addictive technology are working against the executive function development that’s still underway. Our kids are being set up for failure before we even put those protective screen covers on their new smartphones. Are we actually protecting our kids’ devices more than our kids?

Cultural Pressure

Finally, the biggest reason why parents struggle to help their kids manage screen time is that they’re pressured by the culture around them to think they have only one choice when their kids are begging for screens. Despite what their instincts are telling them, they feel they must hand screens over to their kids at certain ages or be guilty of “sheltering” their children. Parents are led to believe that every kid needs constant access to popular gaming and social media platforms to stay ahead, have friends, and be accepted. Making matters worse, parents have blind spots when it comes to their kids. For some reason, we believe that our child will be the one in a million that’s “more mature” or is a “good kid,” and therefore will not fall into the same screen traps as other kids.

A juvenile probation officer experienced these blind spots firsthand. “I’ve had many parents calling me in tears because their child erupted in violence against them. One mom bought her son a phone as a reward because he was doing so well in school. When his use got out of control, she tried to take the phone away, and he hit her. A lot of kids find their way into the juvenile justice system this way.”

A Better Path

Many parents are beginning to realize that there is another choice available to them. Despite what the culture promotes, there is a countercultural approach that is minimizing the screen struggle—hitting the pause button on video games and smartphones. Having an intentional plan to delay screen usage that is addictive and potentially toxic can have a life-changing positive effect on our kids’ development.

Parents who choose this path put their kids on a more balanced, healthy trajectory. They realize that violent video games are not healthy, and social media was not designed with a teen’s best interests in mind. They know that time spent consuming inappropriate content makes inappropriate use and inappropriate actions more common. As we learn more and more about the effects that screens have had on this generation of kids, parents are choosing the countercultural path and raising screen-strong kids all around the world.

The effects of making this choice are more dramatic than we realize. Kids raised with screen-strong principles are comfortable in their own skin and are usually more socially advanced than their screen-immersed peers. They are more likely to show respect for authority—the adults in their lives. Screen-strong kids and teens grow up with less stress, less porn, less anxiety, and less fear. They have better friends and become more confident as they stand out from the crowd. Since screens don’t dominate their lives and their time, space once again exists to master new hobbies and learn the life skills they need to develop into healthy adults, develop strong leadership skills, and enjoy future life success.

When parents choose a screen-strong path, they give their children the freedom to develop their potential, as well as a much stronger attachment to family. Screen-strong kids can experience the benefits of technology without the risk of addiction and the exposure to toxic content that excessive use can bring.

We don’t have to be victims of this screen culture. When parents get educated, reclaim their leadership role in the home, and choose the countercultural path, they can win the screen battle and get their kids back. Parents have the power and responsibility to choose how they will raise their kids in a screen-obsessed culture. This refreshing choice has the potential to save our kids from significant anxiety and pain, while freeing them to get ahead and develop into healthy and balanced adults. It’s time to stand out from the crowd, stand up for our kids, and become screen strong.

If you want to learn more about how screens affect healthy brain development and arm yourself with information about how to raise screen-strong kids, visit ScreenStrong.com. You will find solutions to childhood screen dependency, including the “ScreenStrong Challenge,” a 7-day digital detox for kids.

Melanie Hempe, BSN, is the founder of ScreenStrong, an organization that empowers parents to keep the benefits of screen media for kids while empowering parents to delay screens that can be toxic—like video games and smartphones. The ScreenStrong solution promotes a strong parenting style that proactively replaces harmful screen use with healthy activities, life skill development, and family connection.