05. Consciousness vs spirituality

Expanded thinking for personal empowerment

Hello again and thank you for continuing on this journey and a warm EM welcome to anyone joining us for the first time.

Last time we had a look at the word consciousness and I shared insights from my life’s experience. The energy of the word is incredibly powerful and leads us, well it certainly did for me, to examine our beliefs and our understanding of who we are and what life is really all about. That led me quite seamlessly to question whether consciousness and spirituality were one and the same thing which segued straight into the question: “So what about religion?”

Let me start by recapping what my beliefs are regarding consciousness.

Consciousness is a simple wakefulness, one’s sense of selfhood or soul that is explored by looking within

Now let us have a look at spirituality and see if there is any cross over.

The dictionary definition tells us: noun: spirituality; plural noun: spiritualitiesthe quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things. “the shift in priorities allows us to embrace our spirituality in a more profound way”

Cognitive psychology offers us: Spirituality is a broad concept with room for many perspectives. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life. As such, it is a universal human experience—something that touches us all.

Wikipedia give us: The meaning of spirituality has developed and expanded over time, and various connotations can be found alongside each other. Traditionally, spirituality referred to a religious process of re-formation which “aims to recover the original shape of man”, oriented at “the image of God” as exemplified by the founders and sacred texts of the religions of the world. The term was used within early Christianity to refer to a life oriented toward the Holy Spirit and broadened during the Late Middle Ages to include mental aspects of life. In modern times, the term both spread to other religious traditions and broadened to refer to a wider range of experience, including a range of esoteric traditions and religious traditions. Modern usages tend to refer to a subjective experience of a sacred dimension and the “deepest values and meanings by which people live”, often in a context separate from organized religious institutions, such as a belief in a supernatural (beyond the known and observable) realm, personal growth, a quest for an ultimate or sacred meaning, religious experience, or an encounter with one’s own “inner dimension”.

And there you have it, a veritable plethora of opinion and debate over a concept that is so far beyond our cognition as to be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to define in finite terms. From my experience and based on what I have learned and put into practice I offer you my understanding of the term:

Spirituality is the acknowledgement of the infinite potential inherent in each soul which is beyond our cognition and perception, and the connection of our soul to all that is; this is explored by looking within.

The moment that we acknowledge and accept that there is so much more to our existence than we can define; and that the realm of possibilities lies within the infinite, we can begin to decide for ourselves what version of that infinite potential we wish to live out as our reality.  Nothing in the societal structure or religious instruction I received growing up supported this. I am of the opinion that all of the material that was presented and held up to me as The Truth or The Way had been created in the frequency of limitation. The very act of defining the concept of spirituality was to limit its potential. Since we do not have, or perhaps we have simply not yet mastered the art of, understanding the scope and enormity of all that is, that limitation is inevitable. For me the next logical question was, “What does that say about religion”?

I believe that religion is a man-made construct aimed at guiding and leading the masses on a unified path towards spirituality and whatever it is that each religion has adopted as their particular end goal. In my life that showed up as the concept of Heaven. It was the place that I could get to if I lived my life a certain way according to the principles espoused within its teaching. I was required to submit my will to a deity who would intercede on my behalf with God on high and who could ‘get me in’ if I lived right or conversely if I was truly, truly sorry for any transgressions I had made during my lifetime. If that sounds disrespectful, please understand that I do not function well in the complexities of life, I live by the distilled essence of matters and for me that is the distillation of all that I encountered at church growing up.

I have a very traumatic memory of sitting in a youth guild meeting one night in the 1970’s and watching a terrifying movie called The Rapture. It remains to this day one of the most shocking things I have ever seen. I think the intention was to convince young Christian children that life was finite and the consequences for not living ‘right’ were dire. I sat in that dark church in my early teens, watching two terrifying old film reels of people finding themselves abandoned by their loved ones, their friends, colleagues and community, with panicked news readers breathlessly reporting on the mystery of so many people simply vanishing in the space of a moment, and the ensuing chaos and fear. This was followed up by a drive to gather up all the remaining people and mark them with the 666-brand identifying them as loyal followers of the state. Those who held onto their Christian principles and refused the mark, were publicly and brutally put to death. This gruesome and terrifying offering was then followed by an immediate call to the alter, for us children to dedicate our lives to the Lord to ensure that we wouldn’t be left behind when the time came.

Well stuff that for a lark!!! I think it was nothing short of spiritual terrorism. The intention may well have been pure but the execution was a total miss even though we all flocked to that alter rail that night. No child in their early teens has the developmental capability to contextualise something so horrific and no counselling or discussion was offered, simply the emotionally heightened call to the alter. I had the opportunity to discuss that night with a friend recently, over 40 years later, and we both found we held a deep seated terror of abandonment and of not being good enough or acceptable enough to be ‘taken when the time came’. We also agreed that any relationship we had developed with Jesus or God or any other form of spiritual leadership did not begin on that awful night when we both sold our souls to fear and insecurity. As a child who was unwanted by her mother, to find out that she was unworthy to be admitted into Heaven was a devastating blow, it was the final proof necessary for me realise that I had no value whatsoever. On that night I dedicated myself to becoming a walking service industry simply to justify my existence. I promised to do whatever I was told or asked to do and I shut myself down completely.

Each religious order or denomination has their own version of that truth and they all ardently insist that theirs is the only way and the only truth. Wars have been fought over this throughout the ages and if that is not an egoic construct then I do not know what is! I want to state quite categorically, that I firmly believe religious order is necessary for the soul’s journey. I am not anti-religion in any way at all. I believe that people need to feel they are under the guidance and protection of someone or something so much bigger than themselves, so as to feel sufficiently protected to walk through life. Very much as a child, under the protection and guidance of his or her mother/father/guardian, will begin to explore life and discover what and who they mean to be as an adult; I believe that the protection offered by religion is the starting point for the adult to explore and discover what the truest expression of their soul is. The only departure I have from religion, as I have experienced it, is that I do not believe it is a final destination, but rather a starting point for us to discover our unique soul’s purpose and only by doing that for ourselves will we find ourselves enlightened and “made in His image”.

Heavy stuff! Well not really because life is not meant to be lived and understood in one moment and we have an entire lifetime to explore and decide for ourselves just exactly who and what we are going to be in this lifetime and beyond. The only requirement for full expression and fulfillment I believe, is that we live with an open mind and allow for the very distinct possibility that all we know may not be the sum total of all that is. I leave you with this thought: We can’t all be right… or can we?

I’m always interested to hear your opinions and I encourage feedback. However, it is essential to understand this vital truth as we journey together:

“We don’t have to agree on a single thing to be kind to one another”.

So, disagree with me by all means, own your different perspective, but know that I do not tolerate bullying, shaming or disrespect on any level and that is a hard and fast boundary for me.

Listen with EMpathy
EMbolden yourself to dream.
EMerge from your learned way of being,
and celebrate as you EMbrace your full potential.
As you EMancipate yourself from your limitations,
you EMpower yourself to live with greater clarity and joy!

Until next time when I shall discuss mindfulness and how it can impact your life, be kind to one another and honor yourself as the unique and incredibly special soul that you are.

© Copyright 2020 – Janice Melmed

04. Consciousness as a way of life

What exactly is this consciousness we are striving to achieve?

Hello again and thank you for continuing on this journey. A warm EM welcome to anyone  joining us for the first time.

On the premise that everything is energy and has a vibrational frequency that can be affected by external forces and thereby changed, I want to take a first look at the concept of consciousness. I had never encountered this word in my insular and limited up-bringing, in any other context than if someone fainted, after a period of time, they regained consciousness. It was small wonder then that I found myself so lost and confused in life. I was wholly unaware that I had control and command over my actions all along and that choice was open to me. I had been schooled hard that I was not to rock the boat or make waves and I should just do as I was told. Subsequently I was living a deeply unconscious existence playing out learned patterns and behaviours that bought me no joy at all. It took a lot of hard work and self-reflection to understand this and I am delighted to be able to share this with you today because I truly believe I am not the only lost soul on this binary planet. I’m sure there are others who have lived sheltered or perhaps protected lives where they have been taught that everything is either black or white, right or wrong, up or down, in or out, and for whom choice and self-expression are also frowned upon, if not forbidden.

So, what is consciousness and why is it so important to embrace it? Well the dictionary defines it thus: noun. the state of being conscious; awareness of one’s own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc. … full activity of the mind and senses, as in waking life: to regain consciousness after fainting. awareness of something for what it is; internal knowledge: consciousness of wrong doing.

Cognitive psychology says: Consciousness refers to your individual awareness of your unique thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations, and environments. Your conscious experiences are constantly shifting and changing.

And the people’s choice Wikipedia tells us that: Consciousness at its simplest is sentience or awareness of internal or external existence. Despite centuries of analyses, definitions, explanations and debates by philosophers and scientists, consciousness remains puzzling and controversial, being at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives. Perhaps the only widely agreed notion about the topic is the intuition that it exists. Opinions differ about what exactly needs to be studied and explained as consciousness. Sometimes it is synonymous with the mind, other times just an aspect of mind.

In the past it was one’s inner life, the world of introspection, of private thought, imagination and volition. Today, with modern research into the brain it often includes any kind of experience, cognition, feeling or perception. It may be awareness, or awareness of awareness, or self-awareness. There might be different levels or orders of consciousness, or different kinds of consciousness, or just one kind with different features. Other questions include whether only humans are conscious or all animals or even the whole universe. The disparate range of research, notions and speculations raises doubts whether the right questions are being asked. Examples of the range of descriptions, definitions or explanations are: simple wakefulness, one’s sense of self-hood or soul explored by looking within; being a metaphorical stream of contents, or being a mental state, mental event, or mental process of the brain; having phanera or qualia and subjectivity; being the something that is is like to have or be it; being the inner theater or the executive control system of the mind.

As you can quite clearly see this is not a question that is easily answered. I shall leave it to the academics and big brains trust to continue to pontificate on the matter and share with you what I believe. I believe that consciousness is a personal and individual construct. The amount of words, terms and opinions in that Wiki description actually had my eyes rolling back in my head, but I was delighted to see that they captured the essence of my personal belief and so using their words, the distilled essence of all that chatter and how consciousness showed up in my life:

Consciousness is a simple wakefulness, one’s sense of selfhood or soul, that is explored by looking within.

This is incredibly exciting to me because if you drill down to the energy and essence of that sentence, as I did all those years ago, you may find that it is telling you a) you may be sleeping on the job in your own life; b) you are a unique and individual soul and c) it is up to you to look inside yourself and find your own true essence, which brings me to d) you are in control of your own destiny. For me that is a total mic-drop moment! It was the blueprint that I used to crack the lid of my own learned and extremely limited beliefs; to pry open my clam-like mind; and to free myself to invite the simple joy of living into my life.

As always, I offer you my understanding of this concept and how it has applied to my life. I encourage you at all times to question and decide for yourself what you want to accept and onboard. I’m always interested to hear your opinions and I encourage feedback. If you disagree with me by all means, own your different perspective, but as we journey together through the quantum space, it is essential to understand this vital truth:

We don’t have to agree on a single thing to be kind to one another

My objective is to always listen with EMpathy

and help EMbolden you to dream.

As you EMerge from your learned way of being,

I will celebrate with you as you EMbrace your full potential,

As you EMancipate yourself from your limitations,

you EMpower yourself to love with greater clarity and joy!

Until next time when I shall take a look at Consciousness vs Spirituality, be kind to one another and honour yourself as the unique and incredibly special soul that you are.

© Copyright 2020 – Janice Melmed

03. Meditation as a gateway to consciousness

An introduction to the art and practice of meditation and the many benefits thereof.

Welcome back to EM and the wonderful world of consciousness. Our journey thus far has introduced you to EM and the reasons why I decided to launch it at this time. We then looked at Albert Einstein’s famous equation E=mc² and the fact that everything resonates at a frequency that can be affected by external forces. Under the right conditions, energy can become mass and vice versa. I spoke about my difficult childhood that led to me become a much-reduced version of myself; I was plagued by mystery illnesses and was not able to cope with life. I started my journey to consciousness with meditation and so it seems pertinent to discuss that next.

I found myself in the lounge of a friend of a friend. She had invited me to join her meditation group. Having lived a very sheltered life, I had never heard of meditation. Whilst I was very suspicious and nervous, my curiosity got the better of me and I found myself among a small group of people who all looked surprisingly normal. We were invited to lie on the floor or to make ourselves comfortable in a chair. Some strange music was put on the CD player, some candles were lit, and a stick of cloyingly sweet incense was lit. I had never encountered incense and I did not particularly care for it. The group leader invited us to close our eyes, to feel the chair or the floor beneath us. We were asked to center ourselves and leave the cares of the world outside. What the heck did that even mean?

Then we were invited to breathe in deeply through our noses and to exhale through our mouths. I felt as though I was surrounded by boiling kettles as everyone’s breath whistled and hissed on the exhale. I had been taught to be invisible and to leave no imprint at all and I was astonished at how these people felt so free to express themselves so noisily. I was intrigued. The group leader then began to drone in a monotone voice and took them on a journey through something called chakras. I say them and not us because I went exactly nowhere. I sat in rigid fascination while this all went on. Each chakra that he spoke about seemed to espouse a particular colour and I honestly understood nothing that he said. I sat there quietly being as invisible as possible until he eventually began to speak louder and invite everyone back into the room; We were asked to once again become aware of the chair or floor beneath us and then we all wriggled our fingers and toes, took a big cleansing breath and arrived back in our bodies! This was some Weird Shit!

Each person then described their experience. They spoke in breathless awe about the incredible things they had seen; how acutely they had felt their emotions; how they felt lighter, better, more grounded and centered. I had no clue what they were talking about. I may as well have been attending a convention conducted in Russian. The group leader chuckled at my obvious discomfort and seemed to take no offense at all that I hadn’t had a wonderful experience. He was excited to see me the following week when he assured me things would be different. Next week? You’re kidding me!!

I did go back because that curiosity of mine was driving the bus by that stage. I had finally, for the first time in my life, allowed myself to choose my path. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, it was one of the first steps I made towards recovering myself. That second evening I was sitting quietly focusing on my breath when the strangest thing happened. I suddenly saw the most incredible light show being played out behind my eyelids. I can only describe it as though I was staring at the Northern Lights. In my sheltered little life, I hadn’t heard of the Northern Lights and had no frame of reference for the experience, but it fascinated me. It felt as though I had been staring at this light show for a mere twenty seconds when I heard the instruction to come back to the room. An entire 45 minutes had passed and I had no recollection of that time.

Back in those days we didn’t have computers and Google was just a spec in the Universe waiting for the right person to imagine it, ground it and create it. Today we have a world of information at our fingertips if we know what to look for. Google defines meditation thus:

Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.

So, what exactly is this weird practice that is espoused by so many as the answer to their problems and the way to create a better world?  Well firstly, there are as many different ways to meditate as there are people to practice them. It is a highly personal process and each individual will find their own rhythm and sweet spot depending on what they want to achieve. I am going to tell you briefly about the most frequently used ones that I have tried and, as always, I encourage you to explore away at will if you feel called to know more.

One can meditate simply to clear the mind which is usually done by focussing on an object or activity such as a candle, music, a guiding voice and/or your breath. The idea is to bring your attention back to the object of focus as soon as your mind wanders. This is called focused attention. It’s a great one to start with when you first attempt to meditate. There are tons of resources available online, supporting meditation music or guided meditations (which is what I did) where someone talks you through the process and you focus on their voice. One can meditate on a specific question or problem to gain clarity which is called mindful meditation. This is a wonderful tool if you are struggling to make a decision or are troubled by something. You quieten the rush of thoughts in your mind and focus solely on the issue at hand. This works very well if you want to do some internal energy spring cleaning (more about that in a later post). Or you can try open-monitoring meditation where you notice everything around you but you do not engage your thoughts. What a great tool for learning how to discipline your thoughts and still your mind. I’ve never managed to achieve any success there. If my eyes are open my mind behaves like an unruly toddler in a toy store and grabs onto everything it sees.

In my complete ignorance and due largely to my very closeted upbringing, I first thought that meditation was the domain of Buddhist monks and spiritual people in countries like India with its roots deeply set in ancient Eastern practices. Whilst that may be where the practice found its origins, that is certainly no longer the case and meditation is practiced across the world and is growing daily in popularity. It has received great press in recent years as more and more celebrities are finding the practice is helping them in their lives; and they have the resources to spread the word. Is the meditation practice of the Buddhist monk the same as the Hollywood celebrity’s, or indeed mine? Well yes, it is, in the same way that a tree and a log fire are the same thing.

I once asked a psychologist I was seeing how meditation affects our brains and why we were able to experience such incredible visualizations and to change our emotional condition by simply breathing and focusing for a period of time. I told her about one or two of the meditation experiences I eventually began to have after much practice; visualizations that had no bearing on my reality or anything I was ever likely to encounter. She looked at me in horror and declared me an attention seeking whack job. Clearly, she knew less than I did about the practice. This was not a long-term relationship as I’m sure you can imagine, but I was definitely on to something. Scientists have discovered using fMRI imaging that when a person meditates there is a marked decrease in beta brain waves. These are the brainwaves we use to do all of our complex thinking and cogitation. Its where most of our anxiety provoking thinking happens and our greatest worries are chewed over and over.

The Frontal lobe, which is the most highly evolved part of the brain tends to go offline during meditation. This shuts down our reasoning and planning ability together with our emotions and self-conscious awareness. The part of the brain that processes sensory information relating to what’ s happening around us, which allows us to see ourselves in context to everything else, is called the Parietal lobe and it slows right down when we meditate. The Thalamus regulates our senses and this functionality is also markedly reduced in meditation. Then we have the Reticular Formation which receives incoming stimuli and puts the brain on alert, ready to respond. Meditating quietens this arousal signal. Understanding that meditation slows down all this brain activity, one can understand how it might be beneficial to the overall health and well-being. It’ s equivalent to pressing pause on all the noise and clatter going on in our minds and allowing us a brief respite to just be still. I picture this somewhat akin to pressing the knob on your pressure cooker and letting out some of the built-up pressure. It’s impossible in meditation to worry about how you look, what anyone else thinks of you, what’s happening in the street outside, the demons you have inside that make you feel anxious and worthless. It allows you, for however long you meditate, to simply be, which is a highly desirable state. No judgement, no pressure, no action needed. Just be and allow your mind and body to be free. You’ll be amazed what you discover about yourself when you do that.

The benefits of meditation include better focus, reduced anxiety, less pain, more creativity, increased compassion, improved memory, less stress and a reduction of declining cognitive functions. The great news is that you don’t have to move to Tibet or join a monastery to start meditating. You don’t have to commit vast tracts of time you don’t have. You can start with two minutes a day. Simply sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing can have a tremendously beneficial impact on your life and the more you do it the more you will want to spend time on this highly beneficial practice. Only twenty minutes can have a significant impact on your health. I make it a daily practice that when I wake in the morning, instead of reaching for my phone, I lie still and focus on my breath. Its such a small action, but I find I then start my day feeling calmer and more focused. If I find myself during the day spiraling in my thinking and going round and round on an issue, I make myself stop and I close my eyes and focus on my breath. Breathe in for the count of four, hold for the count of four, breathe out for the count of four, hold for the count of four. Repeat until you feel yourself relax and slow down. You can do this in a meeting with your eyes open of course so your boss doesn’t think you’ve nodded off. You can practice this anywhere, anytime. With practice you will be able to increase the depth of the meditation by extending the timing. I’ve never managed to get beyond a count of seven, but I’m the first to admit I have toddler mentality under instruction.

I offer you my understand of meditation and how it showed up and affected my life. If this is something you’d like to explore in more depth, I encourage you to research, experiment and find out what works best for you. If you can join a meditation group to start off with, you will find yourself quickly getting the hang of it. If not then access some of those free online resources. Just search for meditation music or guided mediation or even meditation for….  insert your specific requirement. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when everything is already there for you to tap into. The simple act of committing to spend quiet time with yourself is an act of the highest self-love and care. It may feel like a small insignificant act, but one day you will look back and realize it was in fact a quantum leap and it will have started a change process in your life where you learn to honor yourself as you were intended to do.

My objective is to listen with EMpathy

and help EMbolden you to dream.

As you EMerge from your learned way of being,

I will celebrate with you as you EMbrace your full potential,

As you EMancipate yourself from your limitations,

you EMpower yourself to love with greater clarity and joy!

Until next time where we will look at What is Consciousness and Spirituality, be kind to one another and honor yourself as the unique and incredibly special soul that you are.

© Copyright 2020 – Janice Melmed

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