Meditation misconceptions

Meditation

This post originally appeared at Literal Shyft. You can also read what inspires me here.

This weekend, I attended a meditation event and once again found it magical how so many people can come together to learn and share such a life-altering, yet deeply personal experience like meditation. However, the more you learn, the more you might see certain patterns. These are some of the myths I come across frequently, which perhaps raise the stigma attached to meditation. Here are a few of the more common misconceptions I have encountered:

20-30 minutes a day, twice a day. If you’re gonna remember ONE thing from this article, let it be this. You don’t have to meditate for 20-30 minutes a day, twice a day. Just like you wouldn’t tell someone who just started working out to do so for an hour a day, 5 days a week.  Similarly, we shouldn’t tell people who are trying to get into meditation the equivalent of that. Or anyone, for that matter. Start with 1 minute. Then try 2, then 3, then 4. Decide what works for you. Do that. As my favorite therapist says: “It’s a process, not perfection.”

Regular meditators don’t get sick. Meditation lowers stress hormones, therefore, making us less susceptible to illness. However, this study shows us that while non-meditators call in sick more often(missing 67 days from work), meditators still occasionally call in sick (they missed 16).

All regular meditators have a strict food regimen. Actually, meditating makes you more mindful of your surroundings and choices in general and food choices are no exception. However, eating “unhealthy” doesn’t make you more or less of a meditator. Especially now, where it’s not just monks in Asia (cliché, I know) who practice meditation, but people of all ages, professions, descents, skepticism and cynicism levels. You can meditate regularly your entire life without ever having to change your eating habits. You can have all the cake and the mindfulness too.

There is a difference between thinking and meditating. We’re still, our eyes closed, just us and our brains…so why aren’t the thoughts that cross our mind before we fall asleep considered meditative? Or when we’re brushing our teeth? According to the Laboratory of Neuroimaging at the University of Southern California, we think 48.6 thoughts per minute or 70,000 thoughts per day. Meditation, on the other hand, is cultivating an awareness of our thoughts, or learning how to not engage with our thoughts.  In other words, meditation helps with that brain noise. Which brings me to…

Meditation = eliminating our thoughts. This is a pretty common one.  However, eliminating our thoughts isn’t an attainable goal (nor one we should be striving for). Our thoughts become the elephant in the room and the more you try not to think, the more you do. Meditation is about being mindful and non-judgmental of your thoughts, and not labeling them as good or bad.  Your meditation practice isn’t ruined if you find yourself thinking of what you’re gonna have for breakfast. You just kindly return to your breath/ mantra/ visualization…

There’s literally nothing bad about meditation. If used excessively, even elixir can turn into poison. In 1992, Shapiro, a professor at UCLA, conducted a study and found some people experienced bad side effects like anxiety, panic, confusion when meditating. Eastern practitioners suggest that these issues might arise when beginning meditators try to go too far too soon.   As with any new practice, starting slow and easy is the way to begin, and then building from there.

There’s only one (right) way to do it.  Some family, friends or teachers might praise their way as the best and the only one that “really works” while diminishing the importance of other types of meditation. However, there are many ways to meditate.  For example, When I was in Sri Lanka I meditated with a monk who taught every kind of meditation to beginners so they could compare and contrast their experiences. For example, mantra meditation doesn’t work for me, and that’s okay. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to meditation.

You need a teacher/retreat/book/… To me, the most wonderful thing about meditation is that to do it, all you need is you. Being mindful of your breath and thoughts is only up to you. Of course, teachers and books help, but they’re not necessary nor essential. What it all comes down to is how willing you are to deepen your relationship with your quietest, truest, most authentic self.

Keep calm and meditate on.

Helping others, being good and other things you wonder about when stuck in traffic

Psychology

Prosocial behavior stands for everything we do for others without expecting anything in return, like helping our neighbors with groceries or helping someone cross the street. As with almost everything, though, people have different opinions on why this happens.

All children are born with empathetic "powers" that allow them to bond emotionally with others¹. Also, Wilson et al have documented prosocial behavior in animals too², so that's cool. So it'd make sense to think we do such actions because of empathy, our core values and a sense of responsibility towards other people we share the planet with (hi guys).

Sociobiologists say this is a genetic response we use to support our genes. However, sometimes, engaging in prosocial behavior can be financially costly, time-consuming, emotionally draining, you get the point...  

According to social exchange theory, people help only when rewards (recognition, fame, etc.) surpass costs, so there's no such thing as true altruism. Boo.

I hope by now you're hooked to know whether we actually help only when helping doesn't imply something we want being at stake. I know I was at the time, so I asked 80 people, ages 20 to 40 what would they do in the following scenario(s):

Today is a very important day for you, you have an interview for the job you really want. You just hopped on your car, when a friend comes and asks for your immediate help to take them to the ER. If you take them, you can/can't get to the interview on time. You ask them if they can return the favor in the future, they say they can/can't. Referring to the scale, to what extent would you help your friend?

So 4 scenarios, the verbs in bold are the interchanging ones. No, you can't call to reschedule. Yes, you lose the job if you don't show up. No, you can't call them a cab, will you stop it with the hypothetical questions already? Participants had to pick a number from 1 to 7, 1 being I wouldn't help them at all and 7 being I would so help them. They were encouraged to include a reason for their choice.

For the record, I know we don't go around interrogating people, who just asked us to drive them to the hospital, whether they can return the favor. But, everything for science and an objectively better study, am I right?!

If we can get to the interview, help our friend and get the hypothetical reward (high reward, low cost), everyone said they would give maximum help.

Second case scenario, low cost, no reward, 20 people (both genders* equally represented btw) said they'd greatly help, a medium of 6.4 out of 7 was found. Some said they'd help regardless of reward, others said they wouldn't help because of the lack of it.

Some said they'd help because friendship is more important than a job, others because a loyal friend can get you a good job. Not very selfless now, are we...

What when our friend promises to return the favor, but we can't make it to the interview? 5.6 out of 7. Someone said they'd only help if the person was terribly sick, if not, they wouldn't risk their (granted they get it) future job. Others said they believe everything happens for a reason, so if they miss the interview, something better is in store for them.

Someone said something I strongly agree with- if their friend was in a poor health state and they could help and the company wouldn't give a shit about that, that's a company they wouldn't want to work at. Same.

Someone said they'd take their friend to the ER and miss the interview no doubt, but they'd call to let them know why they had to miss it, so they'd make a good impression. Hey, whatever floats your boat.

We don't make it to the interview, lose our dream job and our friend says they can't really return the favor, sorry, bro

6.5 out of 7! We'd rather help another human being than get that reward or job. Now, that's good news. People are good, after all. Isn't that realization exciting? Go out there and make someone's day, not for any other reason other than, YOU CAN.

Thanks for reading.

Extra:

Something strange: 2 people could give the exact same explanation and choose different numbers on the scale. People enjoy thinking of themselves as good people, so they answer as such even though their reasoning might be different. Not saying people who wouldn't help are bad. No way. Just cuz you know what I'm talking about when I refer to things as good/bad. I dislike labeling actions as good or bad. You do you, boo.

*No one openly (even though anonymously) identifies as gender fluid/agender/genderqueer where the study was conducted. I probably should've included it as an option anyway. In other news, did you know asking students to confirm their gender before a test leads to lower scores for girls?

¹ Sagi & Hoffman, 1994

² Wilson, D. S., O'Brien, D. T., & Sesma, A. (2009). Human prosociality from an evolutionary perspective: Variation and correlations at a city-wide scale. Evolution and human behavior, 30(3), 190-200.

What do you truly want?

A penny for your thoughts

This post originally appeared at Life in 10 Minutes.

I want to be able to travel whenever I want to wherever I want to. Be able to connect with people across the world and I'm working toward that by creating my website and writing what I want to share with the world.

I believe humans are inherently good. I believe so much in all the goodness that exists in the world: people, nature, animals, vibes. It's all good. I want to be true to myself while helping others. Can't wait to reach more people and write more and more and be paid to do what I so much love to do. I want to have my people by my side, my support system is so strong, I can't wait for the future when I'm making my own living and talking about it with them. My parents, S, N, A, A and everyone who truly cares.

I'm not bitter anymore for a long time now and I hope it stays that way forever. I don't have road rage anymore since coming back from Sri Lanka, I pay no attention to cars or people blocking the sideway. I remember "EVERYONE IS DOING THE BEST THEY CAN". I'm still meditating every day, I'm being good with my body. My eating habits have been back to normal for such a long time now and I couldn't be more grateful to have gone through that and out.

I want to write about women's struggles. About the little things that make our days making our weeks making our months and years. I'm being there, wherever it is I am. I'm present. There. Here. One place. I'm true to myself, this way, I'm true to the whole wide world. I feel everyone should be able to do what they want and make a living out of it. Everyone is being kind to themselves and others. Everyone is happier. Mental health awareness is being spread everywhere and everyone is more cautious and lovely and helpful and good. What I desire most is to spread that and everything I've learned and will keep on learning, helping people with my world, making someone's day is just as important as making everyone's day.

I don't talk badly about others and other's opinions don't bother me, I know who I am and why I am. Music is good and photos are good. Love is the best. I try to love as much as I can. I'm silly. I don't take life seriously, but I take my work seriously. Start contemplating when I notice my coffee cup is still very hot on how things change and that's wonderful and how good coffee is, just liquid gold indeed. Keep up with my people all across the world like Madonna just sang.

She also sang, forget about the bad times. The bad times seem far away and whenever you feel bad you remember it's normal and don't worry about it much, you take extra care of yourself. You're positive about things, even if something goes bad, find the good in that and make it better next time. Breathe the air, it's wonderful. Try to catch sunsets as much as you can. You write in the balcony while the sun sets. You meditate while the sun rises. You're there. You're halfway smiling when you're walking down the street because now that you know you can't unlearn it: it's a good life. Joy can be found in the littlest of things if you look there. Your cat loves you even though he's grumpy. Your hair looks good. The sun is being extra strong today, considering it's March; your favorite month.

Why the placebo effect is the coolest thing ever

Psychology

1994. Lanza and some other cool people published an article about this new drug that would help cure ulcer, in this fancy AF medicine journal. People were like, gimme. Besides people given the actual drug, 44 patients got placebo that looked like the real thing. Same diagnosis, tested after 2 and 4 weeks, they were cured like the patients who got Prevacid (shoutout to Prevacid btw). Placebo is inert, meaning it's not supposed to do anything, but placebo is a rebel and breaks the rules.

A long time ago,  if a monk died (RIP), at 4 pm* the other monks would gather round and read psalm 116: "placebo domino in regione vivorum" aka "I shall be pleasing to the Lord in the land of the living". Physicians started using the term placebo for every medication given to calm the patient when the doc didn't know what else to do rather than to cure. Then, placebo got the meaning it has today, actual inert substances instead of no-good drugs. Including a large range of mental/physical symptoms/disorders, with no known external factors affecting them, patients get better. The placebo response rate in depression consistently falls between 30 and 40%¹. Now that's something, right?!

Placebo relies heavily on the mind-body relationship and the main theory claims the placebo effects depends on the patient's expectations. If the patient expects medication to produce change,  bodily chemical reactions work in such a way that they produce a similar effect to the actual drug. There was no significant difference between patients with asthma that used a placebo inhaler and the ones using the real thing (I love saying the real thing) and even when asked about perceptions, they reported the same feeling of liberation as the other group of patients. ²

You've probably heard of IBS. It's a common problem of a part of the body, with no physical abnormality per se. Patients received placebo treatment in the form of acupuncture, however, the needles used didn't pierce through the skin. 44% of them reported symptom relief, 62% if the acupuncturist was caring, engaging and empathetic.³

Even though we have powerful resources to handle the challenges life throws at us, we can't use them deliberately all the time. Weger asked 40 college freshmen to complete a general knowledge test, with 4 alternative answers to every question they had to pick from.
Half the students were told that the right answer appears on the screen for a fleeting moment and even though it was too quick for them to process it consciously, their brain would register it. Hint: that was a lie. If you guessed the placebo students scored higher than the control group, you guessed right. Feeling safe in the knowledge that your brain knows the answer, lowers your anxiety making what you already know more accessible.

To quote Daft Punk,  your brain works Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.

As you might've figured by now, placebo practitioners have to use deception as a tool sometimes, and in 2010 an avid lover and connoisseur of the placebo effect, Kaptchuk, had enough and he was like "let's just tell them they're getting placebo". Just like that. However, he did inform patients about the placebo effect and how lots get better after placebo treatment. If you guessed they got better, you're right (hopefully again). Human brains just want you to get better and seems like they're all in, even if you're not giving it much to work with in the first place.

As The Weeknd wouldn't put it, just trynna put you in the best mood.

Studies have shown that blocking endorphin release, the placebo effect would also stop; suggesting that it's similar to that of an active ingredient (API). Apparently, a lot of the present neurotransmitters follow the same neural pathways as marijuana or opium. Our brains are that mighty powerful!

Skeptics claim that people suffering from chronic illnesses don't go to the doctor right away, so there is a chance they get better naturally (for a short period of time). Many doctors have been among the skeptics, not very sure what to do with this (relatively new) information. Correlation doesn't mean causation, so they can't know for sure yet, but time (well, studies) will tell, hopefully soon enough.

There are two main points we can take away from this. First, that being supportive and providing (psychological and emotional, besides medical) care can't hurt. If there's the slightest chance you telling them they're badasses means they get 0.001% better, I'd say those odds look pretty good to me.

Reminder: kind words cost nothing, BUT they're invaluable.

Lastly, our brains, ladies and gents. You find snippets of the placebo effect in lots of self-help books, with good reason. I find it magical how our brains know no scientific boundaries when it comes to serving us. Today, I feel grateful for my brain and my body and every little organism inside me working non-stop to keep me here. Here's my new all-time favorite quote from Thích Nhất Hạnh:

Because you are alive, everything is possible.

 

 

 

*I don't know why exactly then, #justmonkthings ?

¹ L. Johnston, Sebastian. Asthma: Critical Debates. John Wiley & Sons, 2008.

² Brown, Walter A. "Placebo As A Treatment For Depression", Neuropsychopharmacology 10.4 (1994): 265-269. Web.

³Kaptchuk, T. J et al. "Components Of Placebo Effect: Randomised Controlled Trial In Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome". N.p., 2017.

The only acceptable form of catcalling

Feminism

In this place where I got blueberry tea, the waiter is making eating noises, Enrique Inglesias is playing, a police officer just got a macchiato to go. I couldn’t call a cab so I just kept walking till I came across one. No cab. Guys. Some of them talked to me, some turned a few cars stopped. However, just like Nemo I kept…walking.
There’s something about midnight walks. They’re therapeutical almost. It’s just you and your thoughts (and only slightly creepy guys- on a good day). I so did not regret this walk. I saved money by not getting a cab. I moved my body. I had clearer thoughts on what had happened earlier. Also, walking at night after you’ve had a few drinks is a good idea, the alcohol starts -slowly, but surely- getting out of you.
!!! not recommended if you’ve had so many drinks you can’t walk straight.
I’m home after volunteering in a mental health placement in an Asian country for a month. I learned so much, I grew so much, I paid no attention to my comfort zone and what I would usually do, I felt part of a completely different culture to the one I’m used to, I loved it. Oh, and also, during the entire duration of the placement, where we had to walk and drive around a lot, I only got catcalled once. Once. Uno. Un. Eins. However, the first time I went out since being back, I got catcalled within (less than) two minutes of leaving the house. All women have developed a thick skin when it comes to BS like this, but the difference was shocking to me.
Shia LaBeouf says “Just do it“, well in this case, just don’t. You achieve nothing, it has no point and you’re actively sexualizing women, they’re not asking what do you think about their ass, they don’t care.


I wish to live in a world where girls everywhere can go out late at night and return home safe not repelled by humanity. Each one of us deserves blueberry tea in a cute café, we can rendezvous at the bar around 2.
Guys, don’t catcall, don’t hit on girls whose head is so far in the don’t-talk-to-me angle they could be seeing behind, don’t make girls uncomfortable just because you can and bash similar actions when you notice them in other guys. Make life easier for girls and yourself. She just wants the T(ea).

Take a lesson

A penny for your thoughts
Here’s a lesson I learned, or should I say relearned for the 55th time.Oh I can say what I want, I’m an adult. I had to write. I had to clean the house. I had to unpack. I had to delete so many emails. I had to… you get the idea. Do stuff. The thing about having a lot of stuff to do though, is that it makes you forget. What, you ask (or you don’t-you do you boo). It makes you forget everyday has 24 hours and everyone has 24 hours. You’re just human*, you can’t do it all perfectly and quickly and mindfully. All you can do is start. Even Newton knew that- objects in motion tend to stay in motion and resting objects tend to remain at rest, unless acted upon by an external force. Don’t let the overwhelm get to you, be that force and just start. The rest is (motion) history.

How to not get hangovers

Drinks

Are you going to binge watch Mad Men and are considering keeping up with the cast's drinking game? Do you want to go out and drink three bottles of wine and not worry about tomorrow's headache? Feeling tired of your hangovers causing you to 'lose' valuable morning time because you.just.cant? Feeling ready to change that? Good for you.

I've been drinking for a few years now and I can't remember the last time I had a hangover (if I ever). I'm not exactly sure how this happens- I'm just happy it does. What do I do?

I tend to go for one type of drink for the night. My favorite is red wine. However most clubs don't offer wine and some bars have shitty ones- even my favorite bar *sigh*. At said bar I always get Gin&Lemon, Gin being my second drink of choice. I like to take my liquor straight so maybe that helps.

When I was younger sometimes I would skip eating a meal just so I could get drunk easier. Since then my liquor taking skills have improved (heh) and I know that's a silly thing, usually, ends up with me unable to drink as much as I want/eating out so I can drink more/ throwing up. Berhh. Now I do the opposite, try my best to eat something before I go out.

If I'm drinking at home, I prefer munching on something while drinking. Yes, I do enjoy the uninterrupted taste of wine and wine only, but I also quite enjoy food, so quite a win/win either way. Actually, I remember a happy day at home spent just dancing, drinking rosé and eating pasta. I wouldn't have been able to enjoy all the amount of rosé that I enjoyed if it wasn't for that pasta (Thank you pasta).

I don't think I sip on water when I'm drinking alcohol, but I drink a lot of it throughout the day and I make sure I drink some more before going to bed. This is a given for me because I love love water. Cuz I'm cool just like that.

Also, it might help enjoying your drinks during extended periods of time. Obviously, having the same amount to drink in one hour isn't the same as having an entire lovely afternoon off to have the same amount. Plus, I just find more enjoyable. Yeah yeah I know a lot of people don't have time for that, however, lots of other people find/make time for that. You're gonna have to pay attention to the hangover the other day anyway, so pick wisely. More time to drink or more time to "lose" the other day being grumpy and angry and whatnot?

Moving might be a part of the cure as well. A lot of times I walk home, preferably not alone, or I go dancing somewhere. Movement kinda pushes the alcohol out of your body and makes you set for the next day.

I may have missed the most important thing, which might've not crossed my mind as a contributing factor. Hope I haven't though and that no one has a hangover ever again.