Monthly Archives: November 2009

The Most Important Thing

oneAs is obvious from this website, I’m a big enthusiast for self-development ideas. But not in a million years to I have enough time to follow up on ALL the self-development ideas I run across, or even all of the really good ones.

So I have an idea for collecting a list of the the ONE (or perhaps two or three) self-development ideas in each area of life that make the most difference. What one think could a person do, in each particular area, that  – if they had no time to do anything else – would be the best investment for the time and energy spent?

And I’d like to start it out with self-development as a whole. What ONE think, of all the other things that a person could possibly do – would make the most difference overall to improve their entire life. I have a few ideas myself, but I’d be very interested in feedback from any readers. What one thing to you do (or have you done) that helps the MOST in your life?

Soul Mind Body Medicine

dr-sha_272_RGB_xsm Soul Mind Body Medicine by Dr. Zhi Gang Sha is one of the most unusual books on healing I’ve ever read. I had heard that Dr Sha was a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and so I expected a book on qi gong and perhaps acupressure or acupuncture. Indeed, the book is full of information on qi gong postures for an enormous range os physical and mental ailments, as well as information on meridians and energy flow. But there’s also a lot more.

Two things stand out in this self-healing system. One is that Dr. Sha places a great deal of emphasis on the spiritual aspects of healing. Love, forgiveness and self-acceptance are part of every one of the healing methods.  The affirmations are almost child-like in their simplicity, such as “Dear soul, mind and body of my liver and stomach. I love you. You have the power to heal yourselves…” etc. It may sound a bit naive to skeptical ears, but there is a strong impression of basic spiritual goodness about the writing.

The second thing that stands out is that Dr. Sha quite definitely claims specific divine revelation, guidance and gifts. Many if not all of the mantras, positions and techniques are something he claims to have received directly from the Divine. He clearly sees himself as not simply a healer, but someone with a divine mission. This could raise some suspicions that he is a potential cult-like leader. But I don’t get this feeling from him at all.

I have a pretty good nose for cults, having belonged to at least one myself. This doesn’t have the earmarks nor the feel of a cult. I get the distinct impression of complete sincerity and selflessness from Dr. Sha. The fact that he is published by Marc Allen of New World Publishing also encourages me. Marc is the American publisher of Eckhart Tolle, and I have always found his choice in authors to be excellent.

Dr. Sha’s system combines many elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine with more general new age metaphysics, such as the chakra system and the idea of karma. Added to that are his one unique techniques and contributions. The reviews he receives are some of the highest I’ve seen for any author, and I’m definitely considering trying some of them out.

Another small detail that impressed me – Dr. Sha himself posed for the hundreds of photos of the various postures used in the book – rather than delegating that (no doubt tedious) task to an assistant of photo model. I like that. It gives me a feeling that the man really cares about the material being accurate.

Dr. Sha also offers his own services as a soul healer – a blessing he claims anyone can receive for free by simply asking for it according to a pattern listed at the back of the book.

This seems like a very gentle and compassionate system of spiritual healing, and I would recommend that anyone looking for a spiritual healing system give it a try.

One Year to an Organized Life

calendar I had heard good things about Regina Leeds as an organizer, and decided to read her book One Year to an Organized Life. Call me sexist, but for some reason I haven’t gotten a lot out of organizational books by women. Perhaps it’s just the books I’ve picked, but they seem to focus on a more detailed level than I want. Of course, you could argue that it is just this level of detail that I most need.

But Regina’s book is a bit different. This isn’t simply a book of abstract principles or isolated hints. It’s a complete program for overhauling every aspect of your life over the course of a year. You can start the program at any time, because she has arranged completely independent sets of tasks, projects and experiments for each month (actually, for every WEEK of every month of the year). And these tasks include not only lists of areas of your life to organize (with excellent suggestions) but also such projects as journaling and analysis of your habits.

It’s the perfect book for someone who has no idea where to begin with organization and wants a complete step-by-step program. And since it’s arranged by the year, it would make an excellent Christmas gift for someone who wants to start the year off right. Regina will take you through getting your luggage in order, finding the right address book, decorating for the holidays and buying gifts – and virtually every organizational aspect of your life.

Regina is known as the “Zen Organizer”. Compared to the minimalism of someone like Steve Babauta, I think using the word “Zen” in connection with such a detailed organizational system might seem a bit misplaced – but I understand what’s intended. Regina’s book is just as concerned with the mental aspects of organizing, and the enjoyment of additional free time as it is with little tricks for conquering clutter.

Overall, an excellently done book – especially for someone who needs a complete organizational makeover.

Self-Healing from Colds and Flu

flu I’ve had my share of health problems over the years.  High-blood pressure, high-blood sugar. Gallbladder problems. But it’s been longer than I can remember – perhaps decades, since I’ve been sick for longer than a single day with a cold or flu.

I attribute this spell of good health with regards to cold and flu viruses to a self-healing meditation that I developed when I was a teenager – mostly by instinct or intuition. It’s always worked for me, and as the season for winter colds and flu approaches, I thought I’d share it with you.

As I said, I developed this technique from intuition. I don’t know which parts of it work and which are superfluous.  It may even be some kind of unique gift, either spiritual or physiological, that depends more on myself than on the technique. But it’s worth a try.

First of all, you need to watch for the first signs of a cold or flu. The technique is harder when you’ve run yourself completely ragged and ignored your symptoms. It’s still POSSIBLE to self-heal at this point – but it’s harder. Notice any tell-tail signs of low energy, or a funny feeling in the nose or throat that portend the onset of illness.

At the soonest convenient time, you need to get into bed. You don’t have to rush to bed immediately, but don’t go to bed late. This is a meditation, and you have to be able to stay awake for at least a few minutes and have some energy. If you wait till evening, go to bed EARLY.

Gather your warmest blankets – more than you would usually use. You want to be warm to the point of being a bit uncomfortable – even sweating. Lie down in bed, on your back, and arrange the blankets tightly around your body, cocooning yourself in mummy-like fashion. Pull the blankets up to your ears so that your head is warm and your breath is directed under the blankets.

Now relax, and let your breathing slow. Oddly (at least I think it’s odd) shallow breathing seems to work better. Breath out through your nose, if possible, and when you exhale, let your throat resist the exhale slightly so that there is a feeling of slight tension and a slight windy sound (think Darth Vader).

Now comes the part that is a bit hard to describe. Focus your attention completely inward, within your body. Imagine your body is full of a warm, golden glow. Focus on feelings of rest and stillness. At each exhale, imagine that the windy sound is the sound of warm golden flames that are burning away all viruses and disease. Imagine the exhale is the sound of a bellows stoking the inner flames of golden healing.

Continue this visualization, focusing deeper and deeper within your body. Let the external world cease to exist. Continue on with your breathing and imagining until you (hopefully) fall into a restful sleep. When you wake up, either after a brief nap or from a long night, you should find your symptoms completely gone.

I’ve now gotten to where I can recognize a cold or flu early enough (usually) that I can simply bring up the mental picture and alter my breathing while awake and going about my business and the symptoms quickly disappear.

Give it a try the moment you feel an illness coming on, and let me know how it works for you.

Breaking Out of Ruts – Stochastic Resonance

rutIn a previous post, I reviewed A Perfect Mess, a fascinating book about how randomness and disorder can actually improve our lives. Before I forget, I wanted to share one of the really exciting applications of this principle.  Here’s how it works. In one study mentioned in the book, managers with people skills problems were coached by management psychologists trying to improve their skills. They had little luck. Like many of us, they knew what they SHOULD do. They just didn’t do it. The people-habits of a lifetime were just too difficult to break.

So the researchers took a different tack. Instead of asking the managers to make a huge change to how they interacted with their employees, the researchers asked the mangers to make  SMALL changes. To ANYTHING. They could change their route to work, or what they ate for lunch, or what they wore to the office. And, strangely enough, once these small, random changes were introduced into their routines, the managers found themselves behaving differently in BIG ways. The small changes had been enough to knock them out of their deep personality ruts onto a whole new track.

Abrahamson and Freedman (the authors of A Perfect Mess) associate this strange effect with something that physicists and electronic engineers call “stochastic resonance”. This is the principle that a weak signal can sometimes be amplified, not by removing noise, but by ADDING random noise to the system. They explain it like this: Imagine someone like Igor, the proverbial mad scientist’s assistant, having to flip a large switch for an experiment. switch Imagine further that he needs to flip the switch rapidly back and forth for the experiment to work.

But alas,the switch is old and rusty and he’s just a tiny bit too weak to move it back and forth. He’s stuck. But suddenly, an earthquake hits the lab, shaking it randomly back and forth and rocking it up and down. As Igor is straining on the switch, suddenly the room lurches and helps him push the switch. The added strength of Igor and the earthquake was enough to move the switch. And soon, another jerk of the room helps him pull it back down. Most of the random movements of the earthquake don’t help him. But enough of them DO help that it is enough to overcome the stickiness of the switch and Igor is able to move it up and down.

This is stochastic resonance. It is being used for such things as aplifying weak signals, and even helping the elderly maintain their balance. It has been found, in the latter case, that a slight vibration (in other words, slight random movement) in the insoles of the shoes of elderly people help them maintain their balance as well as a 20 year old!

So… if you have a habit you need to break, or a rut you need to get out of – enlist the aid of stochastic resonance. Make small, random changes to your routine. Can’t keep on your diet? Randomly change the plates you eat on. Or change your route to work, or the TV shows you watch. Make ANY small random changes, and they may just give you the resonance you need to throw the big switch and make larger changes to your life.

Give it a try and let me know if it works for you.

A Perfect Mess


As a fan of organizational books,  methods and gurus, I thought I owed it to myself to listen to an opposing viewpoint.  The full (messy) title of this book is: A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder – How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and on-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place (long enough?). The authors, Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman, make a compelling case.

Sometimes, the authors say, organization doesn’t give us a good return value for the time, effort and money we put into it. In fact, sometimes organizing makes us LESS productive, happy and creative. They churn through example after example in many fields: personal organization, office organization, city planning, politics, science, art. It would be easy to dismiss their examples as a few strange exceptions, except that there are so many of them.

A few simple examples: On a slightly messy desk, it’s more likely that I will see my most important or urgent papers and projects right in front of me. Sitting neatly hidden in a file cabinet, it’s more likely I’ll forget them. Overly clean houses can actually make allergies worse and breed more lethal bacteria than slightly dirty ones. Many scientific discoveries were made due to disorganized accidents. The time I save by having a neat personal filing system may not make up for the time I spend filing everything in the first place, and then maintaining that system.  Companies that invest in long-range strategic planning do no better than companies that don’t.

You get the general idea. The book certainly hasn’t converted me away from believing in the benefits of basic organization. But it gives me something to think about. I better realize now the benefits of incorporating a little controlled disorder into my life. It makes life more creative, more productive and more satisfying.

Abrahamson and Freedman certainly aren’t arguing against ALL organization. The best results, they find, happen when there is a mix of order and disorder – a basic ordered framework in which some creative disorder is permitted.

The fact of the matter is, the world is a messy place. As human beings, we have strong psychological needs to catigorize and order things. We like to feel that there is a safe underlying order in the cosmos. For example, there is a phenomena, which the authors discuss, known as the “just world hypothesis”. People have a tendency to assume that when something BAD happens to someone, they deserved it. A man who drops dead of a heart attack at 45 must not have been fit. A woman who is raped must have been engaging in risky behavior. This gives us a sense of security about the world, but the fact is, bad things happen to perfectly innocent people all the time. By assuming the “just world” hypothesis, we stigmatize innocent victims.

The cosmos is a facinating combination of ordered principles and strange incongruities, and so are our lives. It’s wonderful to rely on organization to make our lives more comfortable and happy – but let’s not try to organize out ALL of the strange and wonderful mess. It makes our lives much to sterile.

If you are a VERY organized person – I’d recommend this book. It will give you something to think about. If you are a disorganized person who feels horribly guilty all the time – this book might give you some comfort.

Dream Interpretation

dream2I’ve been having a very vivid series of dreams recently, and feel motivated to write a post on the art of dream interpretation. You can find dozens of dream dictionaries and interpretation guides in any bookstore of library. With respect, I’m going to suggest that they won’t do you a lot of good.

It is true that at times, our dreams can tap into common archetypes – even at the level of the collective unconscious.  You may well occasionally dream in Jungian archetypes – particularly if you are familiar with them, or are undergoing Jungian analysis.

But most of the meanings in our dreams will be entirely individual meanings. A particular person or place or object in my dream will not have the same meaning or associations as it will in your dreams. And unfortunately you can’t simply buy a book that contains all your own personal dream meanings. You have to do the work of unravelling them yourself. Fortunately, this isn’t a difficult thing to do, and is quite rewarding.

The key to doing effective dreamwork begins with dream journaling. I’m mentioned this in a previous article on lucid dreaming. The power of a dream journal is that as you keep it, your dreams will become easier to remember, and easier to understand.  Keep the journal and a pencil at your bedside. A small flashlight or book-light is also handy – or you can buy a pen with a built-in light.  When you awaken in the morning, or if you awaken during the night, lie very still.  Sudden movement or thought can drive dreams completely out of your head. Before you move or allow youself to think about anything else, lie still and try to remember your dreams.  If you have a particularly loud alarm clock, you may want to change to something more gradual and less jarring.

At first, you may be able to remember very little. Write down whatever you remember, even if it’s only a general atmosphere or feeling. If you remember nothing, then make up a dream you think you MIGHT have had. Sometimes just starting to write down these generalities can start to draw more specifics out of your memory.

Once you get into the habit, you will beging to remember more and more detail, and more and more dreams per night. When you write in your dream journal, only write on one side of the page and leave the other side blank. This blank side will be for analysis.  Once you get enough detail coming through, start to use the blank side of your journal. Next to each dream, write down the general theme, the general mood, and any important people, places, objects or events.

Once you have done this for a few weeks, you will start to see patterns emerge. Certain themes and subjects will recur. Write these down in a separate notebook or separate page.  This will become your personal “dream dictionary”. Then spend some time analyzing these subjects. What does this particular object mean to YOU. What does it mean in your personal history? What feelings do you associate with it? What mood or atmosphere is it associated with in your dreams? Now go back and try to understand what your dreams are saying in terms of these personal symbols.

By using this procedure, you will find that you will begin to get very clear messages from your dreams, and by acting on those messages, you will find yourself acting with more confidence, and more integrity to your whole psyche.

Herbs for the Mind

herbs The book is Herbs for the Mind: What Science Tells Us about Nature’s Remedies for Depression, Stress, Memory Loss, and Insomnia by Jonathan Davidson and Kathryn Connor, both MD’s. I happened across this book in the library while doing some research to help a friend with depression and anxiety. I checked this book out for them, and they loved it.

The book focuses on four particular herbs:  St. John’s wort, Kava Kava, Valerian, and Ginkgo Biloba. What these four have in common is this: They are widely used, they have been extensively studied, they have few or no side effects, and in studies, they have been shown to be at LEAST as effective, if not more effective, than popular prescription medications for various mental and psychological complaints.

Before going further, I should probably draw the readers attention to our disclaimers.  I’m not a doctor, so my opinion is not a medical diagnosis or treatment suggestion. However, Davidson and Connor ARE doctors, and in fact Duke University psychiatrists. Their research is meticulous and cautious. If there isn’t any conclusive evidence that a particular herb helps a particular condition – they say so quite clearly.

But with the evidence in hand, the doctors find great possible benefits in the use of these four herbs. In general, St. John’s wort is well established in treating depression, Kava Kava for dealing with anxiety, Valerian for insomnia, and Ginkgo Biloba for memory loss. These are, of course, generalities. Davidson and Connor go into considerable detail about these particular conditions. They answer extensive questions on what works and what doesen’t, what to expect, what to be cautious about.

They also present information about the physiology of these conditions, the history of the herbs, and their physiological actions. If you are skeptical about the various claims of herbal remedies (and some skepticism is warranted) this is the book for you (or your doctor). Nothing but the facts.

I had to renew this from the library twice to accommodate everyone who wanted to read it, and expect to buy a copy shortly. It’s too valuable not to have in the library.  My friend, by the way, totally ignored all my disclaimers and warnings and started trying Kava for anxiety. She found it to work far better with far fewer side effects than her prescribed anti-anxiety medication.

Ken Wilber

Ken_WilberI owe a lot to Ken Wilber. Ken was recommended to me at a stage in my journey when I was quite dogmatic and narrow minded.  I went to the library and checked out “Up From Eden” – one of his earlier works. It was completely transformative.  Over the course of a month as I read the book, Ken Wilber systematically knocked all the walls out of my personal philosophy and opened me up to the beautiful scenery waiting outside my previously cramped spiritual quarters.

It’s difficult to know where best to classify Ken on this page. While his “base” is probably in trans-personal psychology, the whole point of Wilber’s life-work is an approach he calls “integral”, or “AQUAL” (All-Quadrant, All-Levels). The idea is that reality consists of several different perspectives. In early philosophy, these were called the “Good”, the “True” and the “Beautiful”.  Wilber has expanded them somewhat into four: the individual outside, the individual inside, the collective outside and the collective inside.

As the simplest example, take a human being. A behaviorist  or biologist might examine that human being in terms of his individual external aspects, examining behavior, cellular mechanics, blood chemistry, height, weight, etc.  This is the individual outside. But if we engage in this person in dialogue, as a psychotherapist, religious counselor or meditation teacher might, we get an entirely different set of information from the individual INSIDE.  Then we can look at the person’s collective outside with a systems theorist, and note such things as housing, transportation systems, communication infrastructure – physical things that make up the system of which this person is a part. Finally, with anthropologists, ethicists  and other students of the collective INSIDE, we look at the cultural groups of which the person is a part. We look at the interactions on a mental and spiritual level with other human beings.

The point is, each of these perspectives gives us different truths, and (most importantly), NONE of these truths is privileged over the others. We live in a time and culture that tends to favor individual external truths – hard science. Proponents of “flatland” as Wilber dubs this perspective, want to collapse everything else in the universe down to physics and chemistry. By doing so, they squash three additional quadrants of equally important truth out of consideration.

Wilber also spends a lot of time discussing developmental levels and states. This was particularly eye-opening to me. Individuals and societies can all be classified along a spectrum of development, and the attitudes and characteristics of individuals and cultures at the various stages of this spectrum are quite predictable. After reading Ken Wilber, you can observe the world around you and recognize that what you thought were differences in opinion among people and cultures are actually different stages of development.

Wilber’s writing is prolific. His goal is no less than creating a system into which all truths can be placed in their proper perspective and relationship. Wilber’s work really IS a “theory of everything”. Once you read Ken Wilber, you will find, when encounter a new idea or worldview, that you are mentally plotting it out on Wilber’s giant map of reality. And it always fits.

Wilbers work puts politics, science, religion, business, education and everything else into a new and interrelated perspective – one that you ignore at your peril. If you need a map to base your view of reality on, there is no better researched map than Ken Wilber.

Wilber has attracted some criticism, which is to be expected considering his system swallows up the truths of so many others. The fans of each piece of his jigsaw puzzle protest that their piece is much more important than Wilber credits – in fact, the  ONLY important piece. There have been some personality clashes at his institute and on some of his projects. The fact that Ken has coined so many new concepts and words tends to make a discussion among wilberians sound like some kind of secret cult language.  And if you don’t like getting into the details,  Ken Wilber isn’t the writer for you.  Someone like Eckhart Tolle or Alan Watts are better at simple profound generalities.

But you really MUST read him. See if you don’t find his concepts immediately useful.  Below is a brief clip of Wilber discussing spirituality in the modern world:

You on a Diet

diet2Just to give you fair warning, this is a negative review. I picked up the audio copy of You on a Diet, by Mehmet C. Oz and Michael F. Roisen with interest. I’m always looking for good diet and nutrition information, and Oz and Roisen seemed loaded with information.

And indeed, the book is FULL of excellent information. The science is both fascinating and compelling.  Oz and Roisen really know what they are talking about, and their explanations of how your body works to digest food will leave you alarmed and awe-struck.

But… as interesting as the information was, I couldn’t finish the book. It was the writing style. It just stumbles over itself trying to be witty and cute. Here’s an example from the first few pages:

“Our ancestors never thought about a diet in the way we do – and their bodies had the approximate density of granite. Us? We obsess about diet more than red-carpet reporters obsess about designer dresses, and our bodies have the consistency of yogurt.”

The writers pile on metaphor after metaphor, simile after simile, cute analogy after cute analogy until I just wanted to scream. I had to stop listening. I’ve still included a link to the book. It got excellent reviews overall. For some people, the writing style might be very attractive. It’s certainly a… peppy book.

And the content is excellent. The doctors explain how hunger, digestion and nutrition work at a cellular and chemical level. They point out all the modern pitfalls that can hijack our nutrition. After all, our digestions were perfectly evolved for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of our early ancestors, and haven’t really had a chance to adapt completely to pizza and coke.

The book (what I managed to endure of it) is full of excellent tricks for resetting the body’s appetite and digestion to the correct levels with food changes, supplements and exercise. The detailed knowledge of the terrible damage that bad nutrition does to the body at the the molecular and cellular level is scary, and very motivating.

Perhaps you can get through the corny writing style of the book and enjoy it. I wish you luck. If you do, there are other books by Oz and Roisen, no doubt written in the same cheery style.

If you’ve read the book, and had a better experience than I did, by all means let me know.

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