Because Zen makes sense

Archive for the tag “mindfulness”

Mindfulness, arousel, adrenaline and diuresis

HPA_Axis_Diagram_(Brian_M_Sweis_2012)Last night I got an upsetting message (sms). But I did not feel upset when I read it. I just noticed it and started thinking about it. Although there was no need to answer it, I must admit that I had the message in mind for quite a long time. But I did not feel upset, anxious or restless, as far as I manage to know myself. I had gone to bed for the night, and sort of reflected upon the message.

The something strange happened. For the next three hours I had to visit the toilet six or seven times to urinate. And it was not something like a nervous bladder. I produced impressive amounts of urine, and although I had eaten cabbage and consumed coffein earlier, that could not fully explain what was happening.

The only explanation seems to be that I was indeed stressed in some way. When my adrenaline levels goes up, so does the anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), meaning that the re-absorption of water in my kidneys went down. That is a common effect of a rise in adrenlin, and also a common effect of stress. We all have experienced that, and while it is often attributed to a nervous bladder, the explanation above is always a part of it.

The interesting part of this is that while my trained brain, through meditation, handled this rationally, my visceral body acted emotionally. What we know is that the anterior cingulate cortex (dealing with arousal) actually fire in the same way when we experience something unpleasant and surprising whether we meditate or not. But while most people keep that level for a prolonged time, the activity in the cingulate cortex drops to a more basic level quite fast among meditators. At the same time the activity in the amygdala (one of the places where negative feelings arise), also drops, while the activity in the prefrontal cortex (our rational mind) increase. Those effects are among the most common effects of what we call “mindfulness”.

How ist it then, that I have had an elevated level of adrenaline, if my amygdala fires less? An important structure involved in a stress-reponse is the para-ventral nucleus (with projections ending in the piutary gland, secreting adrenaline). The PNV is influenced not only through tha amygdala (my highlightning):

If the PVN plays such an important role in the modulation of the stress response, how is this accomplished? The exact answer to this question is not known, but the afferent and efferent connections to the PVN provide some clues. The PVN receives an important input from the amygdala. The amygdala receives multimodal input from all sensory modalities; therefore the PVN receives indirect sensory input. Stress signals can also activate the PVN via the lateral hypothalamus, which receives input from secondary (higher) sensory cortical areas, and via inputs from the locus coeruleus, the prefrontal cortex, and the hippocampus (memories of stressful things!). In addition to releasing CRH into the portal system and inducing ACTH release, the PVN has strong projections to brain stem autonomic ganglia – i.e. the preganglionic neurons in the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (dorsal motor X) and sympathetic preganglionics in the lateral column of the spinal cord (T1-L2).


So it is possible that I have had a visceral stress response regardless of a possible “control” of my amygdala. The massage received ws definately coupled to memory (Hippocampus), and that may have been a pathway. The second explanation is, of course, that I actulla was more stressed than I was aware of, and that my stress-reaction was a result og a high activity in the amygdala. I prefer to think that this is not the explanation.

Anyhow, the interesting thing in this experience, was that although i did not feel stress, my body expressed s stress-reaction. Mindfulness may bolster negative feelings, but my visceral stress-reactions may still be present. But my mindfulness also implied another victory: I was aware of what was going on, so that I could avoid further distress and anxiety.

Illustration: Wikipedia



The Zen of .., the Tao of .., and mindfulness


Before the universe was born
there was something in the chaos of the heavens.
It stands alone and empty,
solitary and unchanging.
It is ever present and secure.
It may be regarded as the Mother of the universe.
Because I do not know its name,
I call it the Tao.
If forced to give it a name,
I would call it ‘Great’.

Because it is Great means it is everywhere.
Being everywhere means it is eternal.
Being eternal means everything returns to it.

Tao is great.
Heaven is great.
Earth is great.
Humanity is great.

Within the universe, these are the four great things.
Humanity follows the earth.
Earth follows Heaven.
Heaven follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.

This is from Tao Te Ching, the McDonald translation.

We read about the Zen of …, the Tao of …, and it sometimes seems that the terms are used interchangeably. And also the terms Zen and Mindfulness often seems to express the same thing. That’s right, and that’s wrong. With the figure above, I have tried to sort things out a bit.

As a firm foundation we find the Tao, the way, or the principles behind everything that exists. Tao is the eternal laws, the sustaining force of the universe, of the earth, and of all life. We can not avoid it, because it is everywhere. We can try to fight it (humans do all the time, just look at what we do with the Earth), but we shall always loose in the end. What can seem like a victory, is a deception. It’s called Tao, some would say physics, others would call it God. Whatever it’s called, our existence is based on it, our daily life is controlled by it, and in that sense we are all “taoists”. And to my opinion the good life originates from harmony with the Tao.

The “Tao of ..” is unavoidable, but in daily use the term means how to live in accordance with “the Way”. That everything is interconnected, is not any longer just “eastern philosophy”, but reflected in the quantum physics. I shall not go in to the links between Tao and physics in this post.

But since “Humanity follows the earth”, we somehow should try to catch or own reality, and not live in deceptions governed by our experiences from the past, or our worries about the future. All there is, is this moment. Everything else is mental constructs with no actual or inherent reality. And to grasp our own reality, we have to be aware. If that awareness is open-minded, with no judgments, we call it mindfulness. Remember my definition of mindfulness?

Mindfulness is an unconditional awareness of whatever emerges

To reach that kind of awareness that we name “mindfulness”, we have to train our mind. Our brain is hard-wired to accept deceptions as reality, blocking the real experiences. The mind has to be trained, just as our bodies need physical training. And that training needs focusing, on the breath, on our body, on our thoughts etc. That is Zen meditation. Zen meditation require focus, not a forced focus, but an effort to stay in a focused mode, not letting the thoughts wander freely. Zen means a deliberate focusing. The “Zen of ..” means focusing on, and trying to grasp the reality behind whatever we focus on.

But there is a continuum between zen and mindfulness, and we can not experience the one without the other. There is awareness is zen, and there is focusing in mindfulness. The circles overlap to a large degree, and in practical life we usually shift between them, with the formal meditation being more of zen, and a life filled with awareness being more of mindfulness.

I don’t know if that makes any sense to anyone but myself. This reasoning helps clearing my own thoughts, and to me that is the most important.

Mind Extension through Naturism

Formal meditation, – I can’t any longer think of a life without it. But mindfulness is more than the formal meditation. It is a way of life. Zennism, or being in the moment, embrace al existence. Being aware becomes a habit, – a habit thet often is fraud, but it being mindful is also awareness of the times when we are not mindful. We become aware of our thoughts wandering, and direct them back to here and now.


Zen is also being aware contexts. We can’t be aware of our mind if we are not aware of our body. And this unity can’t be understood without the interonnectedness with all nature, all living beings, the Earth and the Cosmos.  To me that means being aware of the sensations of my body when I am moving, when I am bicycling. And it means being aware of how I interact with my environment, with Tao.

There is nothing wrong with clothes. We need them for protection, and they are in most connections part of a community moral code. But to mindfully aware of our existence, clothes are a barrier against the genuin experience. Clothes are clutter, and contrary to a simple life. Naturism is an extension of mind, of meditation, of my work-outs, of my walking, running and bicycling.

Perhaps you believe there is no big difference between nudity and keeping the last, small, textiles on?

Try, and feel the difference. Feel the breeze and sun on places that is usually hidden behind clothes. Be mindful, and become aware of the freedom of being nude. Contemplate on your vulnerability, of your dependence, of your detachment from the usual moral codes. Feel how mind and body are one, and how this oneness extends into the nature around. Feel how i may feel strange, be aware of the thrilling excitement. Think of how you are judgmental  toward your own body. Enjoy your sensuality and sexuality. If you have been running, or cycling, how you are aching in some muscle, of where and how you feel tired. Spread your arms and legs and feel the air cooling on places you mostly hide.

If you do not like this, just get dressed again. No harm done. If you like it, making this a exiting and rewarding experience, be nude as often youcare for it, or get the opportunity to extend your mind through your body, your skin, and enjoy the feeling of being as natural as you possibly can be.

Some last words: There is no reason to provoke others with nudity, so I try to show respect to those who feel embarrassed. Most people do not mind unless you do not act as an exhibitionist, but to my opinion it is inappropriate to challenge the limits of others. I also believe such an behavior will reduce the mindful awareness of naturism as a mind extension, since the mind becomes distracted by all those social conventions  we try to avoid, blocking the real experience. Don’t be to shy, but behave properly.


My Definition of Mindfulness


Jon Kabat-Zinn has his own, and famous, definition of mindfulness:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
On purpose,
in the present moment, and

And I have always found that definition both good and precise. Trouble is the phrase “present moment”, because we ca fundamentally never be in the present moment. We can only hunt for it, because when we come close, it is already gone. Even “here and now” is not precise, although a bit closer to the truth.

The definition on wildmind.org is more true to the fundamental charecteristics of mindfulness:

Mindfulness is the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience.

But this last definition miss the essential point in the definition of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the word “nonjudgmentally”. To be real mindful one has to be aware without judgment of any kind.

So I ended up with my own definition, which is more to my understanding:

Mindfulness is unconditional awareness of what is

Everything just “is”. Nothing more, nothing less. So easy, yet so difficult.

Communication, Mindfulness, and What`s In This For Me?

When we listen to others, we are now and then more focused on our own answer, our own turn to speak, than really mindfully listening to the other. We are more occupied with our own meanings, our own role, than receiving the message from the other.

It can be several reasons for this phenomena. Sometimes it may be our social insecurity, a sort of social anxiety, being afraid of not living up to a presumed acceptable social standard in our conversation. Or it can be that we are actually more interested in expressing our own views than trying to understand the views of the other. We often would like to call that engagement when it comes to our selves, but an annoying narcissism when we recognize the same traits in others.

That different judgment of myself and the other is in itself interesting, not very fruitful, and definitely not mindfulness. I`ll leave that for now. There could be other reasons for us not really listening as well. By being aware of our own role in a conversation we surely can get more insight into ourselves. Often, and that is my view, it is about the basic thought of “what`s in this for me?”.

We are able to arrest ourselves in this trap of not listening also in situations where we are supposed to follow a lecture,f in situations where we are supposed to get new knowledge about a topic. And in situations like this I often find myself thinking that this is well known, and sometimes even that I know more about this than the speaker.

This question of “what`s in it for me” could be an inspiring question, making me listen more carefully to the other, trying to learn, to get more knowledge, to widen my own perspectives. The question itself is basically a good one. But the question could also block us from the other, building fences, if it becomes, not an openhearted willingness to receive, but a selfish focusing on my own needs and gains alone. And then my own selfishness becomes my own enemy, driving me into the position blocking the wisdom and knowledge I could get if I listened more mindfully.

This was a long introduction to my simple message. Hopefully some still hang on.

Mindfulness has learned me not so much ask “what`s in this for me”, but more “what is he/she trying to tell me”, a whole different world of gaining new knowledge and insight. Mindfulness has learned me to concentrate on the message from the other, to wonder, to be critical, but also accepting. We all try to experience through the question of “what is this”, and the question of “what is he/she trying to tell me” is a part of the same tradition, the same way of experiencing the world, the other and ourselves.

This is to me not theory. It is my own experience. I have become more concentrated, I have become more focused on the delivered message, I have become more mindful in my meetings with others. And I can tell for sure that this has enriched my life, given me more insight, made me more thankful. Hopefully, it is for others to judge, it has also made me a little bit more wise.

Post Navigation