Escape the world

A while ago, I was at the most beautiful island of Bali. A 16-hour trip, halfway around the world, with the sole purpose of escaping that same world. I chose a yoga retreat near the town of Ubud, to do just that. The name of the retreat – “Escape the world” – was enough to get me on a plane. Seventeen other people from all over the world had the same idea. And whether they came from Europe, Canada or Australia, their stories were exactly like mine. A stressful life, the feeling that we’d ended up in a rat race with no end, and a shared feeling that there has to be more to life than work. Our teacher just smiled and nodded understandingly as we all shared our reasons for being there that week. He knew, because every week his retreat is fully booked. The world happens to be full of people that are stressed. Somewhere along the road, we all kind of seem to have lost track.

So, what better place than Bali to start relaxing. The Balinese people surely must be the friendliest and kindest people on earth. They have made relaxation their lifestyle and teach the world by example how to do it. Especially around the town of Ubud, spirituality, yoga, healing, massages and wellness are big business. They are everywhere. All the more surprising, therefore, that upon arrival in Ubud, this is not what you see at all. The town of Ubud is crazy. Cars, motorbikes and scooters are all over the place and the small town with its narrow, one way streets is completely congested for the larger part of the day.  Tourist numbers seem to have outgrown the infrastructure. Not a good place for relaxing, one might think.

But behind that first impression, the space and quietness is gigantic. The temples, hotels and retreats are incredibly calm and serene and lie in beautiful gardens and rice fields. After walking through the front door, this calmness is almost immediate. The busy life outside can easily be shut out. That was also true for my retreat. I found myself in the most beautiful surroundings (no need to compare, but Costa Rica definitely has a competitor!), met the kindest people, had the best massages ever and good company from like minded ‘escapers’. The weather was great. This surely was a good place to escape the world!

Bali retreat

Gratitude
The Balinese start their day by offering to the Gods. They have little shrines at their doorsteps, where they offer small, handmade baskets with flowers, petals, rice or incense. This way, they start the day in contemplation and gratitude. The handful of potato chips I saw in one of the baskets was either a joke from a tourist, or put there by someone who had learned from experience that his God likes something salty every once in a while.

After the offerings, people go to work. Always friendly, always calm, so it seems. This is really something, if you know how little they sometimes have or how hard they need to work to make ends meet. As one taxi driver said it: “your biggest worry is how to spend your money, our biggest worry is how to get some”. And even though I don’t consider myself a rich person, I know I am compared to most people in the world.

Bali offerings

Relaxation
The Bali retreat really got to me. Several hours of yoga a day, healthy food and drinks, time outside for walking and cycling in the rice fields, and many wonderful treatments did the job. I never felt more relaxed in my life. A difficult task awaited me back home: learning how to hold on to this feeling and live a more relaxed, calmer and happier life. Very easy to achieve on a tropical island, in a temple in Bali or on a mountain top in Tibet. The hard part is to keep this peaceful state of mind all the time. That takes mental resilience, to be able to deal with matters that show up along the way.

To start with, it is important to find a job that suits you and that brings out your qualities. For many of us, work is an important part of our life, so it better be good! It is not always possible to leave a difficult job, but it ís possible to focus on how you do your job. With respect for colleagues and clients, with care for the environment, with a helping hand for others, with mildness instead of competition. Also, we can make better use of our senses, to instinctively feel how someone is doing or if something is wrong.

Besides that, the trick is not to fight and compete all the time. To stop struggling and let things happen as you go along. To be in a state of being, instead of doing and striving. To breathe more deeply. To quiet down and pause every now and then and to stop needing action around you all the time. To exercise and to do nice things that feed you and invigorate you. To be more grateful for everything you have. To respect your boundaries. To be more assertive instead of aggressive or passive. For everyone, the ideal package will look different.

Yogain Bali

We sometimes feel like we have to take the world on our shoulders (that is why so many people have shoulder aches!). We feel that we have to solve problems all the time and that we have to compete constantly. In the yoga retreat, I noticed that this behavior exists everywhere in the Western world. They all have to go to Bali to figure this out.

As Iyan, the lovely and wise yoga teacher put it: “Bali is a special place on this planet. The nature, the people and the culture all can take you to a deeper level of spiritual experiences”. I now know this is true, but my new goal is to reach this in my own, day to day life as well. The trick is not to escape the world, but to learn how to create your world as you want it, everywhere you go. Surely, it was the beauty of Bali that helped me realise this. And although I really enjoyed the retreat, I like to think that it is better to travel halfway across the world out of sheer enthusiasm and enjoyment, instead of the need to escape that very same world.

The healing effect of color

We usually don’t give much thought to the fact that everything in our world has color. It is so obvious, that we don’t see it and don’t pay attention to it. But color is energy. And used properly, it can be an enhancement for a whole range of health related issues.

Color is energy
The topic of color is a ‘light’ topic. It is fun to play around with different colors and their effects on your energy. But is also literally a light topic. Color is simply a form of visible light. It’s electromagnetic energy that is picked up by our eyes. The energy of each color is different. And that is something we can feel and use.

Color affects us. Physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It affects our state of mind, our behavior, mood or feelings. Each color is thought to be associated with one of our seven main chakras. Each chakra corresponds to a particular part of our body and also deals with the corresponding mental or psychological aspects. Colors give energy to specific areas in the body. All colors are important for health because they carry their own unique healing properties.

Chakra colours

Chakra colours

The effect of colors in daily life
You may have a favorite color that you are particularly drawn to. Did you ever think about why that is or why you are attracted to it? And why you might be less attracted to another color? It tells something about your personality. Did you ever notice that you feel different wearing black or a bright color? Did you ever give it some thought that you intuitively pick a color in the morning because you need that color that day? Becoming aware of that can enhance your sensitivity and help you in a very practical manner in your daily life.

Colors have a universal meaning. Red, for instance, is associated with action, power and stimulation. But people have different feelings about colors and appreciate different colors. Color is therefore also subjective. Some people may associate red to danger or aggression, others may think about love. The fact that people like or dislike a certain color, gives us information about their personality. Very active and powerful people might be attracted to red, while in fact they can become over-stimulated by it. The color red stimulates action and aggression even more and that can be too much. They could use a bit more blue and green around them. Quite the opposite are very shy and quiet people. They might not be attracted to red at all, but can in fact use the qualities of the red in their lives. Incorporating more red can help them change how they feel and help them to become more assertive.

In public spaces, this also works. Large public spaces are generally very light. Hospitals are mainly light green and white, because these colors help people to calm down and relax. The calmness and stability of the green enhances health and speeds up the healing process. Think of a forest. People usually feel calm there. The soothing effect of nature has a lot to do with the green energy. The same goes for the sea. The calmness and spaciousness are relaxing, but the blue energy certainly enhances that feeling.

Learning about the effects of color can be useful in daily life. If you need to concentrate for an exam, or if you need confidence to give a presentation, yellow is a good color to use. This color is related to the solar plexus, just above the navel, which is the center of personal strength and power. It stimulates concentration and confidence. If you need to speak in public, blue is helpful, since it is related to all aspects of communication. If you need some time for contemplation or need to be inspired, dark blue and violet are useful. If you need an energy boost, red and orange are the colors to go for. But it also works in a ‘negative’ way. If you have high blood pressure, too much red will do more harm than good. Then, you want to go for the opposite colors such as green and blue. It is fun to experiment. If you need more of a certain quality or you need balance in a certain area, use the corresponding color to enhance that aspect. If you need less of something, go for the opposite color.

Ways to use color
In their book Crystals, color and chakra Gill Hale, Sue Lilly and others give many interesting examples of the use of color in daily life. And that doesn’t have to be all that complicated. Start for instance by looking at your clothes. Try different colors and feel what energy you need. Women probably have more opportunities to experiment (especially in a business environment), and they will definitely notice that they feel completely different in a black suit or a green dress. But don’t rule out the men. The simplest option is to wear a colorful shirt or tie. Go for red if you need confidence for negotiations, but use blue or green if you need cooperation from somebody, or if you don’t want to come across as dominant.

Another possibility is to use colors in your house or work space. Which color you need, depends on the type of room. For instance, if you have difficulty sleeping, go for very light colors in a cool range. Blue and green, or white, for example. It is more difficult to calm down in a bright red room. Very active children don’t need to be surrounded by many bright colors like red and yellow. If you like bright colors like red or yellow, use it in the rooms were you are more active, like the living room. Too much yellow in the kitchen or dining room can be over-stimulating to the digestive system. Yellow is better used in a study, where it can provide mental clarity and inspiration. Blues are soothing and calming. Dark blues are useful if you want to keep the noisy and hectic world outside. But in a work environment where action is needed, cool blue, grey or brown can have a negative effect. These colors affect the mood of the staff in such a manner, according to Gill Hale and Sue Lilly, that it can reduce profits. A better color combination can stimulate sales.

You can also play with the energy. Just think about the color you need or visualize a cloud of that color around you. Blend with it and surround yourself with it. Work with flowers, or crystals (wear them around your neck or in your pocket, or place them on your body at the corresponding chakra). Also, water from colored bottles has the energy of that color in it. The most serious way is going to a color therapist that can help you to look at certain aspects and try to improve them by using color. Color therapists might also use visualization exercises, or forms of energy healing with light or crystals. Aura readers look at the colors in your aura and help you to become aware of the meaning of that.

The psychological effects of color
According to Gill Hale and Sue Lilly, color should never be thoughtlessly applied. It is a vibrant, life sustaining energy that should be used with care and skill. Then, we can begin to use color to optimize our wellbeing and to heal ourselves.

Below you’ll find a summary of the effects of the seven colors that are related to our seven main chakra’s. This summary is taken from the website About.com Alternative Medicine by naturopathic doctor Cathy Wong. She has more articles about color therapy on her informative website.

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Red
Red is thought to be linked to the base chakra and the spine, hips and legs. It’s thought to stimulate and boost physical energy, strengthen willpower, increase circulation, clear congestion and is linked with sexuality. Too much red may overstimulate and possibly promote anger or aggressiveness.

Orange
Orange is thought to encourage joy, socializing and optimism, which is why it’s considered useful for depression or sadness. Orange is associated with the sacral chakra and it’s believed to benefit the kidneys, urinary tract and the reproductive organs. Too much orange is thought to lead to tiredness, pessimism and confusion.

Yellow
Yellow is associated with the solar plexus chakra. An imbalance in the solar plexus chakra is thought to promote fear, apprehension, confusion, lack of determination, introversion or power issues, which this color is believed to balance. Yellow is associated with the intellect and mental processes and is uplifting. The solar plexus chakra is also thought to influence the digestive system. Too much yellow is believed to lead to poor concentration and hyperactivity.

Green
Green is a color that’s thought to encourage emotional stability, purity and calmness. It’s related to the heart chakra, so it’s believed to help with emotional issues, such as love, forgiveness, trust and compassion. An imbalance in the heart chakra is associated with fear of relationships, mistrust, jealousy, isolation and insecurity.

Blue
Blue is related to the throat chakra and is said to be connected to the throat and lungs. It’s thought to enhance verbal expression and communication, artistic expression and willpower. It’s a calming color and is believed to help insomnia, anxiety, throat problems, high blood pressure, migraine and skin irritation.

Indigo
Indigo is associated with the third eye chakra, located between the eyes, and is related to the eyes and the lower part of the head. It’s said to encourage greater intuition and strengthen the lymph system, immune system and help purify and cleanse the body.

Purple or Violet
Purple, or violet, is associated with the crown chakra, which is at the top of the head. It’s thought to encourage spirituality, intuition, wisdom, mastery and mental strength and focus. Too much purple is thought to promote pride and arrogance.

Past lives exposed

Imagine you are walking around in a city and suddenly you get the feeling: “I have been here before”. We probably all have it, but it is a strange feeling. And what about people that can describe an entire city in detail, although they have never actually visited it? That’s even more strange. Could it be that we have memories from a past life? Does such a thing exist? Never willing to negate something I have not tried for myself, and eager to learn about healing and personal development, I thought I’d try something different. Let’s go on a journey to past lives.

The story of James Leininger
I have always been fascinated by stories about past life recollection. Especially stories of young children that have inexplicable fears, or inexplicable knowledge. One of the stories that has stuck with me, is the story of James Leininger, a boy who had knowledge of military actions and aviation that he could not have gained in his current life. From the age of two he had vivid images and even nightmares about a soldier who died in a plane crash. Based on what their son told them, James’ parents Bruce and Andrea Leininger did extensive research. Their son gave them names of people he had been with and such detailed descriptions of places, that they managed to find out whom and what he was referring to. He appeared to have been an American fighter pilot in World War II who was shot down with his plane at Iwo Jima. Both a man who served with him and the sister of that pilot are still alive, and were able to verify many things that James said. Bruce and Andrea Leininger have written a book about this: Soul Survivor – The reincarnation of a World War II fighter pilot. Their son has turned them into firm believers of reincarnation.

Regression therapy
In our western, mainly Christian tradition, the idea of past lives is not something we are brought up with. Christians generally believe in one life, that will lead to eternity in heaven if you do well. But in ancient Indian texts as well as in Chinese and Greek mythology there are many stories of past lives. So maybe, there is more between this life and heaven.

Of course, not all of us have such vivid memories of a past life as James Leininger has. As children grow bigger, they tend to forget such things. James Leininger is now 13 years old and the memories of his past life are disappearing fast. But that doesn’t mean that there are no other ways to get there.

The technique that gets us in the proper condition to visit past lives is called regression therapy, or past life regression. This therapy has been developed since the 1950s by psychologists, psychiatrists and mediums. Where psychotherapists usually only dig into the past of your current life to solve problems, regression therapists believe that problems and trauma can be created much further back, in a previous life. A psychotherapist will say that your character today represents a culmination of all the experiences you have had earlier on in your life. A regression therapist will add to this that a person has had numerous lifetimes and that problems can come from previous lives as well.

Regression therapy originated in hypnotherapy, but few regression therapists use hypnosis nowadays. For me, the best way to describe it, is that you are brought in some sort of trance, even thought therapists will generally state that they don’t do that. Let’s just say your brain waves change and you are in a state that enables you to visit places far beyond what you thought possible in everyday life. The therapist will ask questions that lead you to what appears to be a past life and enables you to give details about that.

Why do it?
If we assume that there really are past lives, what good does it do to go back to them? Why should we want to try this? Regression therapists such as Brian Weiss believe that the soul has lived many lives and will remember, subconsciously, traumatic past life events. Unresolved issues from past lives may be the cause of problems in this life. Going back to that life and back to the time a trauma happened, can release pain. This is because the reason for a problem becomes known and can therefore be transformed. This can give a most remarkable removal of symptoms. Past life experiences can resolve trauma, relieve problems, inexplicable fears and anxiety, depression without a clear cause, guilt or shame and relationship problems. It can also give a deeper understanding about a situation, self-knowledge, restore vitality and heal physical and emotional problems.

In the words of regression therapist Carol Bowman: “Past life regression is healing. You were born not as a blank slate, but as a soul rich with both the wisdom and scars from many lifetimes. We all carry memories from past lives into this life – unconscious memories that carry an energetic charge and continue to affect us. They can be things left undone, vows made, accomplishments, failures, mistakes, success, emotional debts, guilt, gratitude, traumatic and sudden deaths, wisdom, and love. These charges from the past set up patterns which are continually triggered and repeated in our present life. These patterns can be positive or negative. They can affect our relationships, behaviors, motivations, and even our physical bodies and health. Positive patterns can feed talents, bestow wisdom, influence tastes, and energize life purpose. Negative patterns fuel destructive, compulsive behavior, cloud judgment, cause injury, and block your way. By making these memories conscious, we can release the patterns that no longer serve us, freeing us to live more fully in the present. Beneficial patterns are reinforced, negative patterns are neutralized.“

Is it true?
So how do we know all these claims are true? As with many of the topics we explore at Healthy Spirit, it is not a black and white thing. There are probably just as many believers in reincarnation as there are people that believe it is all nonsense. People that don’t believe say that someone gets the ideas from a lively imagination and a creative subconscious mind, combined with some basic knowledge of history, television and suggestions that are planted in their heads by therapists. And indeed, in many cases scientific research has not been able to proof a claim of a past life. Researchers say that details are often too superficial, seen as common knowledge and not evidence of the factual nature of the memories. People that were asked to provide historical information that would allow checking, provided only vague responses that did not allow for verification. No line of research has conclusively demonstrated the existence of reincarnation. The scientific community in general considers reincarnation research to be pseudoscientific.

Then again, there is also research that supports stories of people. The case of James Leininger seems to be a good example of that. And also the work Canadian psychiatrist Ian Stevenson is interesting. Stevenson became known internationally for his research into reincarnation. His major work was a two-volume book about reincarnation and biology, in which he investigated some 200 cases of birthmarks that he believed corresponded to injuries or illness experienced in a past life.

As for me, I haven’t really made up my mind yet. I believe in reincarnation, but the regression session I did a week ago, didn’t seem to give very detailed information about a past life. I found myself in 19th Century Manchester, as a worker in a factory at the height of the industrial revolution. I was poor, lived in terrible circumstances and I did nothing but work, work, work. I was able to give details about the living conditions, the work I did, the earnings and the way I first came to the factory. But I wasn’t able to give details about the city of Manchester, or about important places there. That made me wonder. Is it all nonsense, and is that the reason I couldn’t give more information, or is it possible that I couldn’t give the information because the man I saw did not visit these places? He never left the area of the factory. He didn’t have money to go out, or to make trips.

Based on this experience, I cannot give a conclusive answer about the ‘truth’ of all of this. The images I saw were very lively. They didn’t feel like memories of myself, but they somehow felt very true. I did some research into the ‘facts’ that I gave, and it all appeared to be correct. I do have some basic historical knowledge about the Industrial Revolution and the social conditions back then. But I have never been to Manchester and I didn’t know about the importance of Manchester in that era. However, I would have liked to have seen some more details, or more facts that I could check. Just as everybody else, I am looking for proof.

In this regression as in meditation, I struggle with the question if the things I see are my imagination or the real deal. I am not sure we will ever be completely sure. As one of my teachers in the mediamistic field tends to say it: “it is not your imagination, but your ability to visualise”. That is how it works and that is why it always feels like you make it up. So to stop the struggle between imagination and the real (scientific) deal, I ask myself this question when trying new things: “did this experience serve you and did you gain anything from it”? If so, then I see that as a gift and use it in my daily life. And I don’t go looking for scientific proof against my experience. To conclude that something doesn’t exist because it is not scientifically proved (yet!), is not my style. And I think that even a scientist would say that it is foolish not to use something that has a positive impact on your life, even though his research hasn’t shown yet that it works and how.

My Way

About 11 months ago, I decided to do something crazy. The decision came rather sudden while having breakfast. While eating my buckwheat porridge, I had the seemingly random idea to walk el camino de Santiago de Compostela. Here I am now, two days away from taking the train to Southern France, where I will start my journey – on foot, walking 900 kilometres through North Spain. My destination will be the end of the world, Cape Finisterre. This blog post is for all my friends and strangers, who wonder why I am out of mind to walk 900 kilometres through Spain.

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The Camino (camino is the Spanish word for “way”), also called “The Way of St. James” is known as the most important Christian pilgrimage during medieval times. So really, people assume it is a very religious path. It is also said that this “walk” lies directly under the milky way and people claim that there are some sort of special energies around. Some hope to find themselves, God and enlightenment.

I am a very religious person, but I don’t walk 900 kilometres to come closer to God, to find God and not even enlightenment. I don’t think God can be found in a cathedral (Santiago de Compostela) or on a walk, but only within oneself. I also don’t think that enlightenment is something to keep. Enlightenment – that is just moments you occasionally get, mostly in meditation. I like to call enlightenment a mood, not a destination. So now I would finally come to the reasons why I am doing this:

1. I don’t think I am out of my mind and in fact I would like to walk 900 kilometres to be out of my mind – out of my mind, literally. For the past years, actually, since I can remember, I have been working, working, working – either at school, university or in my own business later on. Most of my life I spent worrying about tests, essays and where to get the next paycheck from. In my free time, I was worrying even more – about family, boyfriend drama, friends….and I feel that I just need a break from it all. I want to spend two months simply walking, my only worry being the next step I take. I am quite curious how my mind is going to work, what I will think, what will actually come to my mind, or maybe not come to my mind, when I am far away from home for so long and not caught up with daily business. So I really would like to be out of my mind, going far beyond mind.

EPSON MFP image

2. Another reason is to challenge my control freak personality. I am the world’s best organizer. I am so organized that I was the all time favourite student in school. Now, I am running my own business, being self-employed and still manage and organize everything, without having suffered from a burnout – yet! In relationships I am quite the same. I like to be in control – of everything. Now, walking 900 kilometres through a foreign country, completely on my own, without knowing anyone or the language is not really what you think of as being in control. I have no idea where I am going, I have no idea where or how I will sleep, where to find food or how I will survive at all. So, in two days I am leaving not only my home, comfy bed and nice shower, but I will also leave behind my control. I am having panic attacks already and writing this blog post here, honestly is just a way of keeping me focused and not running around in my flat like a headless chicken (you should have seen me an hour ago. Maybe you might have, because I was just told people can actually look into my apartment from the shopping centre roof top across my flat! Note to myself: First thing to get when back home: curtains!).

3. My final reason mentioned here is pretty much the most important to me. A lot of people have asked me: “What do you expect from that experience?” I don’t expect enlightenment, I don’t expect to be cured from an evil illness or a horrible depression, I don’t expect to meet the man of my life (even though that’s somehow my mum’s biggest dream – she is already picturing herself in her new daughter’s home, her summer residence, somewhere in Spain. Sorry, mum, that’s never gonna happen….even though I was told never to say never).

The only thing I really expect, the only thing I want to come home with, is to have a new, a better relationship with my body. You see, I am underweight. I always have been. In my childhood I was always teased and even bullied because I looked somewhat different. People still today assume that I must have some sort of eating disorder. People come up to me and say: “Oh dear, you are so thin. You must eat something.” No one would come up to a large person saying: “Oh man, you’re fat, you must eat less.”

After years of therapy and having had very supportive boyfriends, I am still not very comfortable with my own body. That bothers me, as my body really is a big part of me and I am tired of walking around with a body that I don’t really like. Some people have suggested quitting my plans of walking 900 kilometres due to my weight and health issues. They are saying I am way too weak for that adventure. Well, yes, I know that it will be a major challenge – considering the fact that I will carry one fifth of my weight on my back. But how do I know how much my body can cope with, if I don’t try? I have quit a few things, because I felt that my body is too weak to continue – and I am talking about the occasional fitness and yoga session here. It is quite hard to just quit once in Spain. I can’t just stop walking on a field hoping someone will just carry me to the next village. I will at least have to walk another 5 kilometres or so to the next village to grab a taxi that will take me to the airport – and I will have a long time until the airport to think if I really want that.

largo-camino

I am not saying that I am pressuring myself to do the 900 kilometres. Not at all. If after three days I realize that that’s all my body can do, I’m coming home – or just get the next bus to the beach and have an awesome holiday in Spain. At least I then know how much my body can really take. If I manage all the 900 kilometres, even better. But at least I have tried. And when I want to take anything from this, I want to know how weak I really am, or better to know how strong I really am, because I have a feeling that I can’t even grasp how strong I really am. The next time I look in the mirror criticizing my body I would like to remember that and remind myself of what my body was capable of.

So, yes I would like to find inner peace, but only by getting a new relationship with my body. Honestly, I think I can do that with any walk, but I decided to do the camino de Santiago de Compostela, because firstly, I always wanted to go to Spain and secondly, because it is the most popular pilgrimage, where I will be surrounded by so many people. If I am gonna faint (which, due to my circulation problems and health issues, is quite likely) I know that it will be a person, who will find me next, not a bear!)

I won’t have internet access, even though people have begged me to finally get a smart phone. But although I am a hopeless facebook junkie, I still don’t want to be connected with the world wide web everywhere I go. If any of my facebook friends are reading this: I will send text messages to my dear friend Camilla every now and then telling her where I am and how I am feeling. She promised to post these messages to my facebook wall. So if you want to know how I am doing, just check my facebook wall every now and then.

Don’t bother sending me text messages for my birthday, as my phone will definitely be switched off. And if you can, please vote for Malta at the Eurovision song contest, because the song “Tomorrow” is awesome, due to the fact that there is a ukulele in it and that my friend Dean wrote that song, and because it is just an awesome song.

Living in the Blue Zone

A new television program started on Dutch television this weekend. Forty elderly people, roughly between 72 and 96, are put together in a choir. Instead of the usual repertoire of Dutch folksongs, this choir will be different, they are told. A band starts playing we will rock you, by Queen. These are the kind of songs they will be singing; rock songs from the sixties and seventies. Are they in for it? The camera zooms in. We see blank faces, overwhelmed people. Some of them start walking away. This definitely is no adventure for them. But the vast majority of the people starts laughing. They are clapping their hands and swinging in their chairs. The energy and the excitement is coming of the screen into my living room. I cannot help but laughing.

Second youth

The idea behind this experiment is to show that older people are not useless and that they can do lots of things. They can blow us away because nobody would believe they would do something like this. The Golden Oldies, they are called. After one show, I believe it works. A 96-year old woman said that this really is not her kind of music, but she believes she can adapt and try it. Wonderful. She was shining. And so was I.

But why is that? The choir members tell us themselves: they feel twenty years younger, full of energy and they are thankful that they can participate. They were lonely sometimes, and bored. Now they have a purpose and they socialise. They feel they belong, they have a purpose again. Some were shy and did not think they could do it. They are supported and encouraged. A lady who says she does not see very well and does not speak English, gets the lyrics in a large font, and written phonetically. If some of the oldest ladies are too tired to come to rehearsal, the rehearsal is moved to their home. Everybody can participate and everybody feels that. It’s vibrant, lively and wonderful to watch.

Ikigai

What is it about our (mainly) western lifestyle that sees the elderly as a problem, a debit entry? A group that you should put away in resting homes, were you can pay someone to take care of them? How different a life do the elderly have in Japan, for example. In traditional eastern societies, old people are treated with dignity. They are looked after by their own families. They are respected for their age, their wisdom and knowledge. They are very much part of society. In Japan, there is not even a word for retirement. There is something, however, they call Ikigai; the reason for being. It comes from Iki, meaning breath, spirit or state of being.

On Wikipedia, it says: “Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of one’s ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life.” In the culture of Okinawa, a Japanese island about 550 kilometers away from mainland Japan, ikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning”, that is, a reason to enjoy life. That what makes your life worth living.

Apparently, the people in Okinawa know what they are talking about. They are known for their longevity. Individuals live longer on this Japanese island than anywhere else in the world. Five times as many Okinawans live to be 100 compared to the rest of Japan, and the Japanese are the longest-lived nationality in the world. There are 34.7 centenarians for every 100.000 inhabitants – the highest ratio in the world. On Wikipedia, we find several possible explanations for this: the diet, low-stress lifestyle, caring community, activity, and spirituality. And indeed, these factors do seem to contribute hugely to a long and healthy life. But one of the main factors, is ikigai: a strong sense of purpose. They know why they come out of bed in the morning and they are able to articulate that very well. It is their passion, their life. Whether it is taking care of the family, looking after the children, or being able to provide the family with food, as a 100-year old fisherman (still in his job) said.

Lessons from Okinawa

Ikigai: the reason to come out of bed in the morning. That is a beautiful concept. It is not easy to find your purpose in life. It takes time to figure out what you came here to do. Some people know from childhood. Others have to try different things to find out what it is they really love. In the television show I mentioned earlier, people became energized because they could do something they loved to do: singing. And nobody told them they could not do it anymore at 95. They were handpicked for a special choir and they are about to become celebrities in The Netherlands. They might have thought their life was over, but now they start a new adventure. And what about the man in his eighties, who was also selected, but who turned the offer down: with tears in his eyes he said that singing was his life, but that he couldn’t do it anymore because of a lung problem. Singing in the village choir was ok, but anything more than that wasn’t possible anymore. He was having a hard time because in his heart, he wanted to say yes. Wanted to be part of something, to belong. That sense of belonging, of having a purpose in life, is one of the reasons people get old healthy and happy.

Blue Zones

Someone who knows everything about longevity is Dan Buettner, an internationally recognized researcher and explorer who has dedicated his life to studying regions on earth with the longest life expectancy, disability-free life expectancy or concentration of persons over 100. He noticed there are several communities on earth were many people live longer than average, one of which is Okinawa in Japan. He has studied the life in that area extensively, and came up with several lessons. As we have seen, people in Okinawa have a strong sense of purpose. They keep family ties strong and maintain close groups of friends. They stay active, and maintain for instance a vegetable garden or herb garden. The food is healthy, but just as important is that it keeps them active. The Okinawans eat a plant-based diet. They don’t overeat and live a moderate life. And last but not least: they smile and have a positive outlook on life.

So are the Okinawans just lucky, or is there more to learn? Dan Buettner’s research has taken him all over the world and has shown that there are more communities and regions that have the Okinawa characteristics. The Barbagia region in Sardinia Italy, the area Loma Linda in California, the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica and Ikaria in Greece all have the same positive effects. Buettner calls these regions Blue Zones and he is studying these regions to find out what the common denominators are for a long and healthy life. In his book The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, Buettner presents the evidence-based common denominators that make people to live longer and be healthy and happy. The strong sense of purpose and of belonging, is present in all these regions. Also, the people in these communities have strong social circles that keep them active and give the right example. They all put their families first and have aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home together with the children.

To make the picture complete, here are Dan Buettner’s nine common denominators (the ‘Power 9’) for a long and healthy life:

  • 1. Move Naturally. 
The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.
  • 2. Purpose. The Okinawans call it Ikigai and the Nicoyans call it plan de vida, for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy
  • 3. Down Shift.
 Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress. What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists in Loma Linda pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour.
  • 4. 80% Rule.
 The Okinawans call it Hara hachi bu; a mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day.
  • 5. Plant Based diet. 
Beans are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat  is eaten on average only five times per month and in small sizes.
  • 6. Drink wine. 
People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly, 1 or 2 glasses per day with friends and/or with food. And no, you can’t save up all weekend and have 14 drinks on Saturday.
  • 7. Belong.
 Almost all centenarians that were interviewed by Buettner belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.
  • 8. Loved Ones First. Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home together with the children.
  • 9. Right Tribe.
 The world’s longest lived people chose –or were born into– social circles that supported healthy behaviors. Research shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So long-lived people’s health behaviors have been favorable shaped by their social networks.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Buettner says: “To make it to age 100, you have to have won the genetic lottery. But most of us have the capacity to make it well into our early 90’s and largely without chronic disease. The average person’s life expectancy could increase by 10 to 12 years by adopting a Blue Zones lifestyle.”

And as seen on television with our golden oldies, to incorporate only one or two of these denominators into your life, a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging, can significantly improve the quality of your life. I will watch again next time. It is contagious to watch someone who is happy. And not just happy, but filled with utter joy. “Well”, said one of the ladies on tv, well in her nineties, “I feel so alive and that is wonderful. I am grateful for this opportunity because I want to live. Because only when I truly live, I can forget about death. And that is why I want to live to the fullest.”

Be healthy, do nothing

One of the most ironic things I have come across in my life is that by taking the time to do absolutely nothing, I am not wasting time, I am gaining time. It sounds so bizarre, but I found it to be one of the truest things on this earth. But before I raise the question why that is, I think it is best to start to tell you how you do that. Most people don’t actually know how you do nothing.

nothing_list

What means doing nothing?

By doing nothing I don’t mean to sit in front of the telly and catch up with your favourite TV show. And I don’t mean reading, talking to a friend or sleeping either. No, that’s not quite it. Doing nothing actually means just being present, just being there. When you do nothing, you don’t think, you just are. You are living in the moment.

How do I do that?

One way of just being is in meditation, more precisely in the mindfulness meditation. You can be mindful of a lot of things, but one aspect of this meditation is being mindful of your thoughts. Students of meditation find that quite paradox in the beginning. They try to get away from thinking, yet they shall observe their thoughts. That’s a tricky one, but a very interesting aspect of meditation. In some other forms of meditation you try not to think and when you do realize that you are thinking, you pull you attention away from it and bring your attention to something else, for example your breathing. But when you are observing your thoughts, you don’t think. You are in the position of the observer. You are not the thought, you are just observing it. You look at how a thought comes up, how it builds up and how it changes. You don’t judge your thoughts, you accept them. This way of meditation, like many others, teaches you the act of acceptance. When you are able to accept your own thoughts, you can also be able to accept other things around you, like the noisy neighbour, your annoying mother-in-law or the way you are, with all your “flaws” and “mistakes” you once made.

The other thing that this thought-watching does, is, that it makes you aware of your own thinking pattern. When you train yourself to be more aware of what you think, you have the power to change it quickly. There is no need in becoming obsessed with one ugly thought. You get aware of that thought and the very second you have the power to decide if you want to keep going with that thought of if you want to change direction and think something more pleasant.

Mindfulness actually comes from the Buddhist practice, but it was Jon-Kabat Zinn, who brought this practice into the Western world. Even more, with his programme Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) he introduced mindfulness and meditation to the medical field. His programme, though rooted in the Buddhist practice, is non-spiritual and is today taught all over the Western world in hospitals, psychological institutions and even schools.

Here you can watch a talk about mindfulness by Jon-Kabat Zinn at google:

But you don’t necessarily have to sit in meditation to do nothing. You can introduce mindfulness in your everyday life. In Karen Salmansohn’s book “How to change your entire life by doing absolutely nothing” she gives the reader a few tips on how to do nothing. So, I will spoil you the joy of reading that book now by revealing a few of her secrets:

  • Drink your coffee in the morning. Don’t do anything else. don’t watch telly. Don’t read the newspaper.  Don’t talk to your partner, who is all moody in the morning anyway. Just sit there and drink. Be aware of the coffee smell. Be aware of how hot the coffee is. Be aware of how the coffee tastes, how it warms your body, what effects it has on you. Every time you start thinking, you just concentrate on the coffee smell again.
  • See yellow. Now that is a very good one. You don’t see red anymore, you see yellow. That means, every time you are on your way to a stressful appointment, to a meeting with a complicated client, don’t stress about it on the way. Don’t spend the whole way there worrying about it. Just concentrate on all the yellow things on the way. Yellow jackets, yellow houses, yellow signs. Just be aware of yellow, have a look for it and it will brighten up your day.
  • Power shower. Next time you have a shower, spend the time really enjoying it. Just be in the present moment. Ban your appointments from the shower (the thoughts of it, I mean, of course! – I wasn’t suggesting you would ask your appointments to have a shower with you!) Just concentrate on how the water hits your body and cleanses you. Feel how good that feels. Be aware of the temperature of the water and the smell of the shower gel.

Now, if you want to know more tips from that book, I am afraid you have to read it yourself. But I will share with you some things I always do in my every day life:

  • We all know that we should always be concentrated while driving the car. But most of the time, we aren’t. We are talking with the people in the car, or worse on the phone or we are just hung up in thoughts, worrying about the past or the future. I just try to focus a bit more than I should. So while driving, I try to pay attention to the car in front of me. How many people are sitting in the car. What is the colour of the car. How does the car look like. When I am at a traffic light, I watch the people crossing the street. What are they wearing. What is their hairstyle. How are they walking. Are they smiling.
  • One simple thing you can always do, every time, everywhere, is being aware your own breathing. I like to do it when standing in the supermarket queue. Instead of getting impatient for standing around and waiting and getting angry at the old lady in front of me, who is searching for 9p in her purse for a very loooooong time, I just focus on my breathing. The breath is always there, at least it should be, so it is an instrument you can always use. So I am thinking: “Breathing in – breathing out.” You can also combine in with nice words like: “I am breathing in peace – I am breathing out peace,” or “I am a soul and I breathe in – I am a soul and breathe out”.

Here is a little news report on how little school students learn about mindfulness, what methods they use to be mindful and how it benefits them:

And why is that healthy?

By doing nothing, you spend very little, at best no time, thinking negative thoughts, worrying, stressing about your day ahead. Mindfulness calms you down, not just your mind, but also your body. You are not only more relaxed during the time you practice it, you also get more mindful of your feelings and thoughts and learn how to deal with them in a more effective, beneficial way. You learn how to accept yourself and the things and people around you. It teaches you to think more positively and we all know: You are what you think!

Here you can read more about the benefits of mindfulness.

And why do I gain time by doing nothing?

Thoughts are energy. So, negative thoughts equal negative energy. With negative energy you feel run down, you can’t concentrate very well, you have no ability to think in a creative way, you might not be able to sleep. Now, lets turn this around. Positive thoughts equal positive energy. Now, you suddenly are full of energy. You can concentrate much better on what you are doing right now, you can be creative (also, because mindfulness teaches you to be very open to everything), your tasks are done much faster because you are just more present and you sleep better, because you have learnt to switch all negative thoughts off. You get more sleep, wake up fresh and have even more energy for the next day.

“Most of the time, of course, you probably don’t realize you’ve been dreaming, until after you wake up. By then the dream has already come to an end. Some people, however, are conscious that they’re dreaming while the dream is in progress. And, research now reveals, these lucid dreamers can direct their dreams much like a film director directs a film. They can create or destroy characters, fly to distant locales, change their actions and the actions of others, even alter dream weather, scenery or props.”

This text of the introduction of the book Lucid dreams in 30 days: The Creative Sleep Program by Keith Harary and Pamela Weintraub, caught my attention in my quest to finding interesting techniques for personal development. The idea of being able to decide what you are dreaming and what you are doing in your dreams, sounds really amazing. Imagine what you can practice, or try for the first time without harm. Imagine the possibilities of that. After reading a lot about the topic, I can’t say I master this idea of directing my dreams, although on occasions I know in my dream that something is ‘wrong’. Usually, that idea shakes me up so much, that I wake up. And then I am disappointed that I was close, but not completely there yet. Time to explore this topic a bit further, to see what we can do with it.

What is lucid dreaming and why would you want to learn it?

A lucid dream is a dream in which one is aware that one is dreaming. Lucid dreaming is the ability to consciously direct and control your dreams. In a lucid dream, the dreamer may be able to exert some degree of control over their participation within the dream or be able to manipulate their imaginary experiences in the dream environment. The awareness that you can have in a dream, can range from a recognition that something is not right, or doesn’t appear to be normal, to a full range ability to control every aspect of your dreams.

 

In his book Lucid dreaming for beginners: Simple techniques for creating interactive dreams, Mark McElroy says that “the vast majority of people usually go where their dreams take them, they see what their dreams show them, and they have no choice in the matter.” Lucid dreamers  don’t have that ‘problem’. They have a degree of control over their dreams: “Instead of passively enduring whatever pleasures or terrors dreams bring their way, lucid dreamers do what they want to do, see what they want to see and experience what they want to experience in a world where they are, for all practical purposes, a god or goddess.”

On her clear and informative website world-of-lucid-dreaming.com, the lovely Australian Rebecca Turner explains in detail what goes on in a lucid dream: “In normal dreams, your self awareness is shut down. That’s why they often feel fuzzy and distant. But when lucid, the conscious brain wakes up during sleep! When you become lucid, your senses become alive. You can explore the inner workings of your subconscious mind with total freedom.”

Rebecca Turner also makes clear why people would want to learn lucid dreaming, and what they can gain from it. “At first, many people are drawn to the idea of lucid dreaming for the escapism it offers”, Rebecca states. “In your virtual reality dream world, you can realistically fly over cities, meet your favorite celebrity in the flesh, or become a ninja assassin. It is way more realistic than day dreaming or playing your favorite video game. But once you get over the novelty value, you’ll understand that lucid dreaming has many personal development applications, such as creative problem solving, increasing your creativity, facing your fears, improving your confidence, practicing new skills, developing your sense of self and exploring your own subconscious.”

In short: you can be who you want to be, try out everything you have always wanted to do and live out fantasies (sure you can fly). But you can also use lucid dreaming more seriously, to overcome nightmares or find solutions to real life problems.

How to master lucid dreaming

So how can we learn this technique? Here are some tips and tricks that might help to master lucid dreaming:

1)      Keep a journal of the dreams you have. Be as detailed as possible and see if you can distinguish any patterns or recurring events in your dreams. With practice, this can help you realise that you are dreaming, if you do one of these tests in your dream.

2)     While awake, do little tests or reality checks, like looking at your hands, at clocks or in a mirror, pinching yourself and playing with the light. Ask yourself repeatedly if you are awake or dreaming. In a dream world, these tests will have drastically different outcomes (like having six fingers, a pinch doesn’t hurt and a clock shows a different time every time you watch it). When these actions become a habit, you start to do them in your dream. The repetition can help you realise in a dream that there is a difference in your dream state.

3)     Set an alarm clock earlier than normal, stay awake for a while and then go back to sleep. Studies show that the best time to have a lucid dream is in the morning. You will reach the REM sleep much faster if you fall back to sleep at that hour.

4)     While falling asleep, have a strong intention to have a lucid dream. Program your dreams as much as you can. Create an image in your head of the place you want to go, or the things you want to do, and hold that image.

5)     Keep practising. As with every new skill, practice makes perfect. There are enough books, websites and articles that claim that lucid dreaming is a skill that everybody can learn. It might take a bit of time, and a lot of that comes down to becoming conscious of your dream patterns and making a habit out of it, so that you will start recognising the patterns unconsciously, in your dreams.

Mind tricks

The dream state is the world of the subconscious. And that focuses on completely different things than the conscious mind. That means that it is not always easy to become a lucid dreamer, because the unconscious mind is prone to play a few tricks on us. In reading and researching about lucid dreaming, I came across a funny example of how our mind plays these tricks. And even funnier: this example really happened to me once as well. It shows in a hilarious way how our subconscious mind finds a ‘logical’ answer to what happens in our dreams. In my dream, I was explaining to another person how to learn to become a lucid dreamer. I told him that it is a good test to look at your own hands, because in a dream, something funny will very likely occur to your hands, like they will have extra fingers or become transparent. If you see that, you can realise that you are dreaming. While telling this story in my dream, I looked at my hands and I saw six fingers. But immediately, one finger disappeared again, and I said to the other person that that meant that I wasn’t dreaming, since I only had six fingers for a short while…

Well, with this bit of humor in the back of my mind I will keep trying. As shown by this dream, it is a topic that keeps me curious. Both consciously as well as unconsciously.

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