Author: Tim Ong

The Art of Breathing

The Art of Breathing

Breathing is life. All beings breathe. If breathing stops, physical life ends.  

Breathing is therefore an essential aspect of life. All beings breathe naturally, in the proper way, except, perhaps, human beings. Human beings breathe normally when they are newborns, and when they are still young, until about the age of five.  

Then, as they grow up, they start to learn the wrong way of breathing. 

Breathing Correctly

The normal and healthy way of breathing is abdominal breathing, or also called diaphragmatic breathing or horizontal breathing. It is the method of breathing used in meditation and yoga. It uses the diaphragm as the main muscle for breathing in and out.  

In abdominal breathing, the diaphragm flattens when we breathe in, thus expanding the space in the chest wall. Outwardly, we see the expansion of the chest wall. The abdomen moves out as well. When we exhale, the diaphragm curves upward, reducing the space in the chest wall. Thus, we see the chest wall shrinks and the abdomen sucks in.    

This way of breathing gives the maximum uptake of oxygen on inhalation, and the maximum expulsion of carbon dioxide in exhalation. Thus, the body gets enough oxygen for the entire system, improving oxygenation to the circulatory system, the brain, the organs and enhancing the immune system.  

In addition, the expulsion of carbon dioxide reduces the acidic environment. Acidic environment is more harmful to the immune system as well as to the cells, thereby increasing the risks of inflammation, infections and mutations.  

Breathing Wrongly

On the other hand, the wrong way of breathing is called vertical breathing or chest breathing. It works by using the shoulder and chest muscles to pull up the chest wall, providing only small expansion of the lungs. The breaths are shallower, resulting in poor intake of oxygen as well as poor expulsion of carbon dioxide. Thus, we need to take more breath, making the body work more, and putting the body in a permanent fight or flight mode. 

This wrong way of breathing can lead to body ache, back ache, digestive problems, sleep problem, and tension in the body, reducing our immunity.  

How can we un-learn the wrong way of breathing? We do that by consciously reminding ourselves to breathe correctly, using our diaphragm, as often as possible.  

Breathing in Meditation 

In meditation, breathing serves another function. It is used as an object of meditation.  

We do that by placing our attention on the process of breathing. We keep our attention on the breathing process continuously, for as long as possible. If we get distracted, we simply bring our attention back to the breathing process each time our attention strays.  

There is nothing else we need to do except keep our attention and awareness on the breath. There is no need to control the breathing process. Just watch it.  

In the beginning, we will notice that the breathing is coarse and the body is tensed. As we continue to watch it, over time, the breathing will settle down on its own. It becomes more subtle, more relaxed. And it will continue to become more and more subtle as time passes.  

At first, it is as if we need to put in the effort to breathe to live. In the end, as the breathing becomes more and more subtle, it is as if life is breathing through us, effortlessly. It may even reach a state where the breath is almost undiscernible. 

As the breathing settles down, the mind also settles down on its own accord. Thinking becomes slower. Thoughts become fewer. Mind becomes calmer, and clearer.  

This is how we use breathing in meditation to bring us to a state of calm and tranquility.   

The Case for Spirituality

The Case for Spirituality

Case #1: Death-Bed Phenomena 

Death-bed phenomena are occurrences of a spiritual nature that are related to death and dying. They are found across all cultures and religious beliefs. They are experienced in the past and even in our present days. No doubt, it will continue to happen in the future. 

People have heard about death-bed phenomena for ages. 

A recent book, entitled “The Art of Dying”, by Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychiatrist and a senior lecturer in King’s College in London, listed several different types of death-bed phenomena, such as: 

  • premonition of death by the dying, or someone closed to the dying,  
  • death-bed visions of relatives and loved ones who have died, seen by the dying person,  
  • seeing an alternate reality of the other side by the dying person,  
  • terminal lucidity,  
  • Death-bed coincidences, where someone close to the dying person is somehow given a message of the death, either through a vivid dream or some other signs or visions, and 
  • Strange, inexplicable events that happened at death, such as a glowing light, or appearance of certain animals. 

Another book called “Final Gifts”, authored by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley, two hospice nurses with years of experience looking after the dying, talked about what they called “nearing death awareness” – an increased or heightened sense of awareness to what we would normally term as spiritual experience. They shared ample accounts of dying patients who talked to them about preparing for a journey or travel, being in the presence of someone who is no longer alive, or knowing when death will arrive for them. They highlight the importance for us to understand the needs and communication of the dying, and be alert to what they are trying to tell us.  

Case #2: Near Death Experience (NDE) 

Near Death Experience, or NDE, is the phenomenon of coming back to life after one has been pronounced dead. Often, this “coming back to life” is accompanied by amazing experience that is difficult for the one who has just come back from the dead to share with others, for fear of being ridiculed. Yet, this experience is shared universally across cultures and religions, each with core similarities, and yet seen and filtered through one’s own belief system. 

Two of the most recent and most compelling NDEs are that of Dr. Eben Alexander and Anita Moorjani.  

Dr. Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon of more than 25 years of experience. In 2008, he contracted a particularly virulent strain of bacterial meningitis, and fell into a deep coma. The neocortex of his brain was completely shut down. After weeks in coma, his doctors put his chance of survival at 10%, and even if he survives, he would be in a nursing home for the rest of his life.  

However, not only did he survive, but he also made a full and miraculous recovery. He also recounted a deep and profound near-death experience during his time in coma. He documented his experience in great details in his book “Proof of Heaven”, which became a best seller. 

Anita Moorjani was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2002. Rejected conventional treatment, she tried alternative treatment without much success. Eventually in 2006, almost on the verge of death, she was urgently admitted through the emergency department, where the doctors informed her family that it was too late to save her life as the lymphoma has spread throughout her body.  

Anita was in coma for 30 hours.  

In her best seller book entitled “Dying to be Me”, Anita recounted her near-death experience during those 30 hours in coma, including an out-of-body experience with accurate observations and awareness of her physical surroundings.  

Returning from her NDE, Anita came out of coma. Her tumor shrank about 70% within four days, and within 5 weeks, she was cancer-free and was discharged from the hospital. 

Anita is now a motivational speaker who encourages her audience to live fearlessly.  

Case #3: Past Lives 

Many cultures and religions, particularly those in the East, believe in past lives. Major religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism all believe that we all die and are reborn again in another life. Whether one calls it reincarnation or rebirth, the belief is that we continue to live life after life. We have lived many lifes in the past. We are living in this present life, and when we die, we will continue to be reborn into another life.  

Major religions that do not believe in past lives are Islam, Christianity and Judaism. However, that may not always have been the case. The Kabbalah mentioned reincarnation, and some early Christian groups, such as the Gnostics, believed in reincarnation. In fact, the concept of reincarnation was removed from Christian beliefs only because it was decreed by the Council of Constantinople in 553 CE. Prior to that, it was also a belief accepted by the early Christians.  

Not many scientists are keen to investigate past lives phenomena, but for those who are keen, there is actually ample evidence that can be difficult to ignore. 

Two prominent past lives investigators are Professor Ian Stevenson and Associate Professor Jim Tucker. 

A psychiatrist in the University of Virginia, Professor Ian Stevenson spent 40 years researching reincarnation and investigated more than 3,000 cases of rebirth in children worldwide. He looked into the identification of people and places mentioned in children who claimed past lives, examined birth marks and birth defects that corresponded to events of previous lives, and studied xenoglossy and phobias. In his book “Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect”, he presented 200 cases of birth marks and birth defects associated with reincarnation. 

After Professor Ian Stevenson passed away in 2007, Associate Professor Jim Tucker, also a psychiatrist, continued his work. He investigated mainly claims of past lives in children in USA. Despite living in a culture where reincarnation is not generally accepted, these American children shared past lives memories that are difficult to dismiss. Associate Professor Jim Tucker shared his interesting research findings in his book “Life before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children’s Memories of Previous Lives”.  

Case #4: Psychic Phenomena 

Psychic phenomena have been observed since time immemorial. Extrasensory perception or ESP is the claimed ability to receive information from outside of our five physical senses. Psychic abilities such as intuition, telepathy, psychometry, clairvoyance and remote viewing are all associated with the ability to gain information outside our normal physical senses, using only the mind. 

Are these psychic phenomena real? Or are they the work of clever conmen? 

The Buddhist scriptures have recorded accounts of some of these psychic phenomena. Clairvoyance and clairaudience are two listed phenomena, as is the ability to see one’s own past lives. Levitation, bilocation and even the ability to walk on water have been documented. The Bible also has an account of Jesus walking on water. In the yogic traditions, there have also been numerous accounts of yogis displaying their psychic abilities. 

Are we to dismiss them as illusions? 

Some scientists are quietly studying and experimenting these claims. Some have even claimed some degree of success. Perhaps, we should keep an open mind to these claims. 

Case #5: Meditative Experience 

Some long-time meditators have reported interesting spiritual experience with their meditation practice. Apart from the experience of absorbed concentration or jhana, which is one of mental calm and clarity, some have also reported out-of-body experience.  

Senior Tibetan monks have reported the ability to increase their body heat. Some yogis have been observed to be without food and water for weeks while in deep meditative state. There are also reports of levitation.  

Perhaps there is something to be said about the unlimited power of the mind, if we would only learn to tap into it. 

We are spiritual beings

We are spiritual beings

Ideally, we want to totally eliminate all fears from our lives, and we can only do that when we see ourselves as spiritual beings. As long as we see ourselves as physical beings, we will continue to be attached to our body, which means we will be in fear of our physical death. 

Since death is inevitable for everyone, we may as well learn to accept it, and acceptance comes easiest when we see ourselves as spiritual beings. We then see death as just a transition from one physical existence to another. Death is only a change of one physical body to another, much like changing our clothes. 

Is it a challenge for you to see yourself as a spiritual being, as opposed to a physical being? Are you still unconvinced that you are indeed a spiritual being? If so, then I invite you to do your own research on these topics: 

  • Death bed phenomena 
  • Near Death Experience (NDE) 
  • Past lives or Reincarnation 
  • Psychic Phenomena 
  • Psychic experience in meditation 

Perhaps the most convincing option is your very own personal psychic experience, such as out-of-body experience (OBE) or psychic experience in meditation. Once you have experienced it, you will no longer have any doubt about your own spiritual nature. You will know. Until then, you will have to take another person’s words for it. This is called faith. 

However, even in faith, you do not need to believe blindly. You can still demand for some sort of proof. The topics I have mentioned above are some of the evidence pointing to your spiritual nature.  

Admittedly, they may not be conclusive evidence. Nevertheless, they are supportive evidence. Seen individually, they may not be very strong evidence, but taken together as a group, the evidence becomes compelling. They should at least strengthen your faith or belief that you are indeed a spiritual being.  

Believing in our spirituality is beneficial in several ways. Firstly, it sets us on a view or perspective that is wholesome. People who are spiritual place value in virtues such as love, compassion, harmony, justice and inner peace. They live their lives in accordance to these values. In doing so, they are a blessing to themselves, their families as well as their communities. 

In addition, people who are spiritual also benefit from good health, both physically and mentally. Several scientific studies on this group of people have consistently showed that they are healthier and happier compared to the general population. They are also more grateful for what they have, and that brings about a sense of contentment and inner peace. 

A true spiritual path is one that brings us from a point of faith in spirituality to a point of knowing that we are spiritual beings. 

Making Decisions

Making Decisions

We would all like to believe that we make rational decisions, based on facts and logical thinking. However, the truth may be far from this simple assumption.

There are two ways we make decisions.

The first way is to make decisions based on what we think, and by this, we mean logical thinking. Thinking that is based on facts and reality. Thinking and making conclusions based on logical deductions.

However, we must be aware of the fact that we actually have a lot of irrational thoughts – thoughts that are not logical. Many of our thoughts are simply assumptions and beliefs. They are not evidence based. And we make conclusions and deductions based on these unconfirmed assumptions and beliefs. Not surprising, then, our conclusions are wrong.

To make rational decisions, we therefore need to verify our assumptions and beliefs, checking them with facts and evidence. We also need to make sure that our logical thinking process is valid, thereby the conclusions we come to is accurate and sound.

The second way we make decisions is based on our feelings. This would be considered an irrational way of making decisions, and often inferior to the first way. However, the reality is that many of us do make decisions based on how we feel. Sadly, we are not even aware of this fact when such decisions are made.

Without this awareness, we can be easily manipulated by others. They can easily rouse our emotions through clever and manipulative speeches. Advertisers are very good at this. Politicians too. Think Hitler. Think Trump. You get the idea.

If ever there is a need to make decisions based on emotions, then, always choose love over fear.

Examine your motivations. Are you motivated by greed, lust, hatred, anger, fear? If so, drop them, like you drop a hot iron. However, if you are motivated by love, compassion, kindness, gratitude, then you can choose and act on them.

You are likely to enjoy a better outcome with love.

Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset

Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset

Carol Dweck is a researcher in the field of success psychology for over 30 years and is the author of “Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfill your potential”.

In this book, she put forward the idea that your success in life is not as dependent on your ability and intelligence as it is on the type of mindset you have. In other words, your success in life is dependent more on the way you think and believe about yourself than about your ability and intelligence.

Specifically, she pointed out that there are two very distinctly different mindset, each with its own distinctly different consequences.

TYPES OF MINDSET

The first type is called the Fixed Mindset. A person with this mindset believes that his ability and intelligence are fixed, innate and absolute. He sees a challenge as a test that may potentially expose his lack of ability or intelligence. Thus, he is challenge-shy.

The second type of mindset is called Growth Mindset. A person with this growth mindset sees every challenge as a potential opportunity to learn and improve himself. He does not see his ability and intelligence as something fixed or absolute, but one that can be cultivated and improved upon. Thus, he is not challenge-shy and is thus more resilient than one with a fixed mindset in times of adversity.

PRAISING THE PROCESS VERSUS PRAISING THE ABILITY

One way to cultivate and enhance the growth mindset in others is to praise the process – that is to say, praise their effort and persistence, their strategies and problem solving attitude – when they are given a task or challenge to accomplished.

This is in contrast to praising the ability of the person, as if to validate that his worth is dependent on his ability and intelligence. Praising the ability can sometimes have the negative effect of reducing self-esteem and confidence.

MIXED MINDSETS

A person may have a growth mindset in one area, such as in terms of intelligence, and yet still have a fixed mindset in another area, such as in the way he looks at relationships.

A MINDSET IS A POWERFUL BELIEF

A mindset is simply a belief. It is how you see yourself and the world. It is how you make sense of your experience in the world. It is how you give meaning to your experience.

Like all beliefs, it is not an absolute truth. What is true, is that there are beneficial beliefs and harmful beliefs. So, it is important to be aware of your beliefs and examine them to see if what you believe in is helping you or holding you back from the person you want to become.

Covid-19: Examining our own fear

Covid-19: Examining our own fear

What is fear and why do we fear at all? Traditionally, we say that fear arises when the self is threatened with harm. This can be threat to the physical body or the psychological body, or both.

What are the conditions that allow fear to arise? For fear to arise, two conditions are required.

The first is that we do not see reality as it actually is. We have this fear of the unknown. Some scientists say that this fear of the unknown is innate in us. So, the more we don’t know or don’t understand something, the more we fear it. Conversely, if we know more about that thing, we have less fear of it, and if we know it completely as it actually is, we should have no more fear of it. Yet, from our own observation alone, we realise that even when we know something completely, we can still be fearful of it. This is because the second condition is also present.

The second condition is that we are unable or unwilling to accept things as they really are. If we are not able to accept reality as it is, we will resist it. Fear will arise because deep down inside, we know that we cannot win this resistance. We will lose, and then we will grief what what we have lost. We will feel the pain of not getting what we want, or of getting what we do not want.

Conversely, if we can see things as they really are, and if we can then accept them as they are, then we can eliminate fear.

How to reduce or eliminate fear

So the first step to eliminate or reduce our fear in anything is to learn as much about it as we can. We must know it objectively and rationally. For this, we need a discerning mind that is free from bias, free from the ego.

This is where the ability of our mind to examine and analyse a situation is important. In this Covid-19 pandemic, for example, we need to be able to differentiate facts from fictions, truth from beliefs, real news from fake news, rationality from fearful emotions. If we can do this well, we can reduce our fear. If not, we are only going to make matter worse. We see how nations following science are faring much better than nations that follow beliefs. Countries like South Korea, Singapore, China, and Taiwan are doing so much better than countries like USA, UK and other countries in Europe.

The next step is to have the courage and determination to change the things that we can and have to change, such as changing our lifestyle, our daily routines, our expectations, our desires, and accepting the things that we cannot change, such as the fact that the virus is here to stay for a long, long time. Accept the reality that the virus IS in our community, and then protect yourself accordingly by following strictly to the SOP – wear you face mask properly, wash your hands regularly, physical distancing, and avoiding contact with others as much as possible. Accept also the fact that our lifestyle has to change. We can no longer go back to how it was before the pandemic – at least not for a long, long time. Adapt gracefully into the new situation instead of resisting and fighting it all the time.

So, learn to see things clearly and rationally. Have the courage to change what needs to be changed, and the ability to accept what cannot be changed. Do these and you will start to be able to manage and reduce your fear.

Consciousness is Life?

Consciousness is Life?

Here is another perspective on consciousness, as explained by Sadhguru. Consciousness is life. There is no such things as my consciousness and your consciousness. Consciousness has no boundary although our mind can create a make-believe boundary. Life has no meaning beyond what meaning we give to it.