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November 19th, 2012

buddhismOptimizing our health really comes down to good daily habits. We have all really become our own ‘coaches, ’ and know that a balance of healthy food choices and nutrition, cardio-vascular exercise and stretching/yoga for joint mobility and flexibility are vital. So what about our mind, and why is ‘mind fitness’ so important?

We have ample empirical research to verify that habits of mind–that is, our subconscious out-of-view patterns of thought and behaviour—elicit a cascade of neuro-bio-hormonal effects in our bodies. For example, over-worrying, which is related to a higher set point of anxiety in the basal ganglia region of the brain, brings with it a domino effect of mood and impaired brain function. Our ‘rational brain, ’ the prefrontal cortex region, is what helps gives us an overall sense of control and well-being. When cortical function is well regulated in the neocortex, it has a soothing effect on the rest of the emergency centers of the brain and nervous system. One critical example of this is impulse control—this is the ability to regulate the stimulus for perceived need from chemical, emotional and neuronal cues from the system. When we are calm and focused, with good neocortex function, we exercise good regulation of our (sugar, food, sex, booze!) cravings and unconscious urges.

Another key aspect of neocortical function is managing perceived or real external threats. When the neocortex structures have ample blood circulation and smooth neuronal activity, the conscious, rational mind that exhibits ‘executive control’ makes calmer, more reasoned decisions. So you can see how vital it is to our physiological, psychological and spiritual balance to have good ‘mind’ health!

Luckily, we can achieve this simply and instantaneously with great effect–through meditation and breathing. Even a couple of minutes of mindfulness meditation–calmly and patiently observing one’s thoughts as part of a ‘stream’ of mental events, each with no more or less importance—has a profound effect on regulating activity in the prefrontal region of the brain. Slow, deep breathing from the diaphragm (the muscle band in your abdomen which contracts/expands the lungs) detoxifies the blood of CO2 gas, increases red blood cell oxygenation to the brain, thus regulating calm normalized activity and ‘state.’ It also slows down your metabolism and perceived level of threat/anxiety. Here’s a simple instruction:

  1. Sit comfortably on a chair or cushion, legs/arms at 90 degrees to the floor, feet on the floor. Lift your chest up (this naturally brings in the small of your back and aligns your spine). Let your head ‘float’ on the pin-bone connecting it to your spine.
  2. Eyes softly closed or loosely ‘gazing’ open at about 45 degrees down, mouth closed but lips slightly open.
  3. Follow the natural rhythm of your breath, in and out, through your nostrils. As thoughts, emotions, body sensations, urges race through your mind, just observe, let go, and come back to your breath. Adjust posture as necessary without fidgeting too much.

Like any fitness regime, don’t be put off by the challenging prospect of simply sitting with your mind/breath by making it about extended sessions, and thus the challenge of making time to do it! Even a minute or two of mindful awareness or breathing, even while sitting at your desk, on the bus, or in your car, has a powerful effect on your mind/body state. As you go, this new state of calmness permeates your daily routine and ripples into your life. YOU are in control of YOU!

Photo on 2012-11-17 at 09.22 #2 Michael A. Gordon, MSc is a psychotherapist, Aikido teacher, consultant/writer/speaker, actor and recording artist based in Vancouver, Canada. You can find his blog, Spiritual Psychology For Daily Life at mindfulyou.com, and his other activities at mindfulyoutherapy.com, senshinkiaikido.com, and mykgordon.com. Michael is working on the upcoming book: Mindful You: A Guide To Living & Loving Fearlessly, Consciously And On Purpose.

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October 16th, 2012

Two Simple Questions to Help You Set Boundaries

Often we find ourselves in the middle of conflict and confusion in our lives and our relationships, and wonder: How did I arrive here? What did I do to attract these people and situations?

While it’s important to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions, it’s also important to not devolve into self-blame and stress, but rather to simply learn from what’s happening.
The problem stems largely from a deeper internal lack of confidence and self-worth, likely from early childhood experiences of neglect or self-doubt. These forces indelibly shape our world–especially in how we learn to adapt an early age, and form the meaning of who we are and what we deserve.
Unfortunately, this perceived lack can leave us with a sum-zero equation: either we are loved completely, or we are completely unlovable. Either we have secure relationships, or we are doomed to the scary world on our own. This “child ego state” can unseat us in adult life when triggered by stressful encounters.
Here are two simple questions to ask yourself to restore dignity and healthy boundaries, along with valuing yourself in times of confused boundaries.

1. What does this situation or person’s behavior towards me negatively represent about myself?

In other words: how is tolerating this situation or behavior reinforcing low self-worth about myself?
People are ultimately a mirror for our own hopes, fears and biases. A very wise teaching from Buddhism is that “all anger stems from anger at the self.”
Some examples of this could be: Why did I not tell this person I was upset? Why do I keep lending him money if he doesn’t pay me back? Why do I confide information if I really want it to stay secret?

2. What is my worst fear about saying no?
Let’s say someone’s behavior is making you feel guilty or bad. You are left with the distorted thought of I’m a horrible person!
But when you challenge that thought to be 100% true in all situations, it quickly falls apart. Even a person with whom you currently have conflict at one point was drawn to your positive attributes!
In the end, what matters is this simple math: People either add or subtract to your life!
Do an inventory and assess, on the whole, how the five most active people in your life figure into this equation. The balance of these relationships represents your internal self-worth!

*Originally Published October 15, 2012 at 2:53 PM http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-6477/Two-Simple-Questions-to-Help-You-Set-Boundaries.html


About Michael A. Gordon

Michael A. Gordon, MSc is a busy Vancouver BC-based psychotherapist, Aikido teacher, film/tv actor, recording artist and writer/speaker. You can find his blog, Spiritual Psychology For Daily Life at mindfulyou.com, and his other activities at mindfulyoutherapy.com ,  senshinkiaikido.com and mykgordon.com. Michael will soon be releasing a book called: Mindful You: A Guide To Living & Loving Fearlessly, Consciously And On Purpose.

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June 27th, 2012
lettinggo

image-source: jnkhoury.blogspot.com

Life happens–despite whatever plans we might have been making, to paraphrase John Lennon. When we find ourselves upended by a change in our circumstances, our relationships, the ripples caused by the need to adapt or accept what wasn’t our choice can reverberate to our very core understanding and identity of ourselves. We are not ready. We can’t handle it. We are shocked and upset and overwhelmed. Much, if not most, of our reactions are based on old emotional conditioning, associations to old wounds which occurred when we had far less capacity to fully understand or process what was happening to us. And indeed, in earlier years responsibility rarely lay in our hands, though it felt that way.

And so, being creatures of adaptation to our (real or perceived) environment, we become habituated or adjusted to whatever limited response or meaning we created in the past. This can be partly understood by understanding the nature of the ‘default’ or ‘narrative’ network of our brain/consciousness. What Freud indelibly defined as Ego, the narrative network is the ‘story’ of who we are. It is the construct of ourselves that guides us through the world, contains our sense of self in relation to others; it monitors and scans the world for ways in which we need to respond or avoid situations. The alternate operating mode is the ‘direct’ network, which as it suggests, relates us to the world through the direct stimulation of the senses. It is our tactile and perceptual sense of being in the moment. We are now starting to better understand the continuum of anxiety and various mental ill-health disorders as they relate to the imbalance of these two interactive networks or modes of consciousness. As might be surmised, over-operating in the default network, to the extreme, would be associated with being completely immersed in our narrative story and any associated overreactions and thought-distortions: paranoia, schizophrenia, delusional thinking, etc. We cannot distinguish what is mind, and what is reality.

To some extent this is the fundamental predicament of the human experience. Being entirely subjective, we are constantly having to gauge our reactions and feelings against prevailing consensual reality. So when that consensual reality shifts, as in a relationship, job, our sense of security in our life or health, it can throw us into great disarray. But truly, for many of us, we are operating within a highly filtered and distorted world of illusion. This is referred to in Buddhism as Mara. More specifically, Mara is portrayed as a demon who tempts us from spiritual commitment towards our more base impulses. Fundamentally, the demon is our own inherent attachment to the notion of a fixed ‘self.’ From that perspective, this self needs to be placated, defended, to be ‘right, ’ to be protected at all costs. It keeps us stuck in the illusion of separateness and duality between self and other, between ‘us’ and ‘the world.’

When we encounter unexpected change, or change which manifested despite our persistent denial, it is this self that resists, reacts and becomes aggrieved. We become sharply aware that our entire identity has become shaped around this sense of entitlement and dishonour. But when we step back we realize that nature itself is full of impermanence, that we are part of a natural life cycle, then indeed it is our own fear and resistance that creates struggle.

One of the greatest figures in Tibetan Buddhism was the yogi and saint, Milarepa. Born to nobility, his relatives stole his inheritance as a young man, after which Milarepa is said to have exacted his murderous revenge viciously and cruelly upon a wedding party of relatives, thus setting off on a course of violent rampages. Such the story of his transformation goes that Milarepa, while walking along a road, encountered the great translator Marpa, credited with bringing the precious teachings of Buddhism from India to Tibet. Upon seeing Marpa, serenely having a drink in a field, Milarepa remarked: “Don’t you know who I am? I am Milarepa– murderer, scoundrel, thief and menace throughout this region! Why do you not tremble at my sight?”

Marpa replied: “Yes, I know who you are. And precisely because of your reputation I also know that you have equal potential in your self and your deeds for compassion and kindness, should you choose to humble yourself and alter your ways.” And thus, Milarepa began a gruelling and life-altering course of change under the tutelage of this great teacher, eventually emerging as a revered figure himself for the ages.

What Milarepa’s story teaches us is is that despite our actions, we all have the capacity for change. It is not what he have done, it is whom we choose to become. This is the gift of shame. When are able to engage vulnerability and encounter our own suffering, perhaps through our shame that we are struggling with changes, should have seen them coming, feel powerless, etc—or, in our regrettable actions against others, (and ultimately ourselves)—then we have begun the transition towards enlightenment. We can not undo what we have done, however we can also not un-know what we know, and this gives us tremendous potential to draw insight and compassion through our own vulnerability to transform our world. We are all familiar with the cliche ‘everything happens for a reason.’ Perhaps what is more apt is to remind ourselves is that:  ‘In everything, through reason, we can find wisdom, meaning and letting go.’

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June 14th, 2012

IMG_0566In Aikido, the central principle of nonresistance might easily be misconstrued as passivity. However, as with nonviolent communication, openness and acceptance of hostility or tension is not tacit validation. Rather, it is about being steadfast, calm, and thus powerfully present with what is. By doing so, we can acknowledge the reality of a moment in its true manifestation and form. Sometimes what is required is no action at all. How can this be?

When we are connected to the world through non-attachment, without limitation, doubt or ego, and extending from this virtual center in all directions at once, we move from a pivot point of infinite possibility, variable response. This is the invincibility of spirit—one which embodies and integrates us wholly in the dynamic, spiral movement of the universe. In quantum physics this is expressed through the observation that all potential possibilities exist at once in particle ‘superposition’–until quantum field collapse brings about the conditions for one probability to occur. This becomes our conscious, manifest consensual reality.

To make it our habit to be calm and positive in our intentions with all our being allows us to, in one moment, sense, absorb and harmonize with all points of contact with even the most volatile aspects of experience–both inner and outer. Truly, conflict is dissolved before it begins, because we have neutralized the seed of aggression before it can grow—from our aggressor’s mind to their potential actions, and more importantly, from our own. When we experience the universe as a vast and expansive field of love, it enfolds all disturbances within—that energy cannot sustain. When we remain in the center of that expansive field, the impulse or force of aggression from another cannot survive, because it has not disturbed our minds and thusly nor has it our capacity to respond with “minimum effort and maximum efficiency” in whatever way is necessary to diffuse the situation. When we operate from this space, we cease to see any separation from ourselves and ‘other, ’ or ourselves and the external. This is non-duality.

As it is said, the aggressor is a mirror of our own capacity and resolve to remain true to non-violence, because ‘what we resist, we become.’

Aikido is not a discipline of martial prowess; it is the path of spiritual purification and peaceful imminence in the world, the integration of the relative and the absolute–above and below. When we dedicate ourselves to the Way, we bring it more forcefully, protectively and lovingly into existence for all living beings. This is the fulfillment of the Budo principle of Senshin.

Sensei Michael Gordon, Founder & Senior Instructor
Senshin Ki Aikido (senshinkiaikido.com)

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June 9th, 2012

japanesewaveThere is no inner peace without outer harmony. There is no outer harmony without inner peace. So where do find balance? What brings us into accord?

It is the habitual nature of the mind to search for some kind of solid ground, security: that object, person, feeling, situation or place that will allow us to feel settled and without fearful or desolate emotion. The problem is that our environment becomes a mirror of our minds, and we enter into a feedback loop with that which we see we’ve created. If we feel trapped, we begin to fixate on the encroaching conditions around us. If we feel lonely, we fix our emotional bearings on the bleak landscape and scarcity of our world.

When I counsel clients who are in emotional/psychological distress, I encourage them to foster a sense of courage and resolve. The phrase I use is to ‘stay at the helm.’ Much like a sailor in a storm, our survival is inextricably linked to the stability of the ship. When we feel it thrown about in the rising and falling swells it induces a sense of panic. But being on a vessel upon the sea, we have to remember that we have intrinsic knowledge about the way of the ocean. We know if we encounter unexpected weather or potentially capsizing waves, that it is the nature of the universe within which we must navigate.

So where do we find our equilibrium in such unpredictable waters? First of all, what is helpful is to remember is that we are on a journey; though we cannot control the weather, we can determine our course to avoid trouble and to make calculated choices based on risk and reward. Where do we want to go? How much is it worth to us to get there? And thus we can embrace the consequences with a much stronger sense of purposefulness and stewardship of our inner values (and re-chart our courses!).

Secondly, we must remind ourselves that our vessel is much sturdier than we might think. It is not the physical structure on which we sail through churning waters—it is our spirit, our limitless consciousness. So, we begin to develop a tremendous sense of confidence and trust in ourselves. We begin to relate to the fear–the uncertainty and doubt, the lonliness and feelings of irrelevance in the great ocean—with an abiding sense of assuredness and steadfastness. Hold the wheel, stay the course, steady as she goes.

One of the familiar teachings on the Buddhist path follows thus: To a tiny boat, a wave seems overwhelming. To the ocean, the wave seems insignificant.

And yet, without seemingly inconsequential tides and currents, great swells would not arise in the ocean. “Emptiness is form; form is emptiness.” Thus is the experience of our thoughts, emotions, physical sensations; they define our experience, and yet, they are not us. We are all sailors upon the sea, and have the potential, birthright, and immediate and everpresent capacity to greet the sun, wind and rain with equal regard and response.

From the upcoming book, Mindful You: A Guide To Living & Loving Fearlessly, Consciously And On Purpose

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June 7th, 2012

buddha_birdAs human organisms we are defined by our capacity for self-reflection and higher consciousness. At the same time, we are the inheritors of a 30, 000 year old neurophysiology/brain which predisposes us to scan for threat and negativity. We are sensitive creatures, and we derive our learned responses and self-meaning from our early life conditioning and associations. We are often guided not so much by our conscious, integrated choices but by our unconscious (fear-based) drives.

Why is this so important to understand? For one, we operate at our best when we connect our identity and thus the meaning of our lives with an open, curious and compassionate state of mind/being. The aforementioned pervasive state of threat and defensiveness presents a difficult foundation from which to embrace a ‘groundless’ way of being and thus interact directly and neutrally with our subjective reality.

Ultimately, what serves us best is to be mindful of these unconscious patterns, to work with them, and see that in transcending our own perceived sense of limitations and ‘stuckness’ that we can have a purposeful, spiritualized life. By spirit, I don’t mean anything ethereal or mystical. I mean that we might engage the world in the myriad ways it moves us–with the intrinsic knowledge that we are inextricably part of the universe, of the matter and energy of stars, galaxies and light particles. When we get a glimpse of being able to transcend the sensory biases that, though necessary for functioning as a physical organism in the world, keep us ‘stuck, ’ then we get out of our own way, let ourselves vibrate with being. We are more open to possibility, to limitlessness, to love.

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April 25th, 2012

panicbuttonHello. You, yes you…in there. That free-floating ‘self’ and beating heart within a consciousness on this journey. I’d like to talk to you about that thing. You know what I’m talking about–that thing that haunts you just beneath the surface. No matter how much you talk about it, smoke, eat, drink, exercise, cry, sleep, have sex; it’s still there. Pervasive and unrelenting. You can dim its light, chill its heat, but you feel it everpresent. It is like low-level dread.

You are not alone. Our system is beautifully adapted to warn of us of danger–perceived or real. And if we are unable to tend to that threat, we never come back to equilibrium with a sense of ecological safety and control. It may be something in our environment: our relationships, our work. And if we can’t take action, or are caught in distorting beliefs about or self-worth to do so, we come up with very debilitating results.  Ultimately, it rests in our broken relationship with ourselves. We identify with the feeling of not being ‘ok, ’ and create some kind of meaning out of it (usually negatively self-directed). That is the survival function of what makes us uniquely conscious as human beings; even a dysfunctional meaning is still something to hang on to. And yet that same capacity for self-reflection and nuanced understanding and distress tolerance in the world knows the threshold is too low. In other words, we know we could be on more of an even keel, that there is something better for us.

So what gives? There is an entire discussion to be had from a mindfulness awareness point of view, advanced by the buddhist psychological understanding of how we struggle between avoiding pain and clinging to desire/comfort. Here though, I wish to simply address that we all have what I call blind spots–the areas of our psyche and behaviour/reactions, just outside of our conscious ‘sight.’ And I use the term ‘blind’ in the true anatomical sense. Most of us understand our ‘sight’ awareness to be the interpretation of visual input through the eyes. But the processing of that data is done in the occipital cortex in the back of the brain. And, most interestingly, research experiments show that when that area is damaged, which results in cortical blindness, subjects may actually still be able to register visual input (see) even though their brain doesn’t register the information! This is a stunning phenonmenon, and tells us a great deal about how we perceive and create meaning. It also provides a very real and metaphoric insight into how we function from ‘blind spots’ in our awareness.

Traumatizing or overwhelming events in our past may embed skewed perceptions and cognitive distortions about our role in the world that severely hold us back, and keep us ‘seeing’ the world in this way–even though we consciously know we are in the present. Why is this? Simply put, during overwhelming events or dynamics in our early past, when our social/emotional development was still limited, our limbic or mid-brain overrides our rational mind. This is noted as the fight/flight (and freeze!) response. It is an evolutionary adaptation to kick us into survival mode when threat is present. The problem is, if those events are never processed out of our system, then we are left still functioning from that limited response, as if the threat never subsided. Worse, if we are caught blaming others for our plight, it further enables the sense of powerlessness.

In short, if you are aware of that ‘thing’ lurking under the surface, or even rearing its ugly head and sabotaging what would otherwise be your conscious choice in the moment, you are very likely falling into these blind spots. In my vocation as a psychotherapist (http://www.mindfulyoutherapy.com) and as a teacher of the art of Aikido (http://www.senshinkiaikido.com), everything is oriented towards neutralizing this limited response, taking conscious control to be calm and confident. As the Zen saying goes, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

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April 1st, 2012

myk_max_gardenDepression is a real disorder. So let’s get that out of the way, should the provocative title make you want to storm the castle with pitchforks and torches; please know that I am not negating anyone’s experience, suffering or diagnosis. What I am challenging is the simple pathologizing of depression as the sum of symptoms or based solely on neurobiology.

Our mind, brain and bodies are a complex interactive system. While it is the job of family physicians, psychologists and frontline responders in mental health to try and stabilize people with mood disorders (i.e. through drugs), it doesn’t really get to the full picture. In fact, in a recent blog, I pointed out that emerging independent meta-analyses of pharmaceutical (anti-depressant, psychotropic) drugs show placebo is in effect upwards of 70 per cent. Think about that for a second. What that means is that of those patients taking SSRIs for example (anti-depressants), up to 70% or more might be responding to treatment without any actual outside chemical involvement! McGill professor Amir Raz recently conducted a survey where 65% of psychiatrists reported under-dosing their patients. In other words, patients were responding to treatment as if they were getting a prescribed dose of a drug, whereas instead of, say 20mg dosage of Prozac, the psychiatrist was only actually giving them 10mg pills. This points to what is called ‘top-down’ regulation of our system (as opposed to ‘bottom up, ’ which implies that if you treat the body with chemicals, the mind will respond with a correlating psychological improvement.

So what does this mean? Am I suggesting that one can ‘think’ their way into/out of depression? Actually, to some extent, yes. But that’s for another article. What I am addressing is that the psyche and the body are an interdependent system. Emotional awareness (and the experience of ‘mood’) are a function of how the oldest and most basic regulators of our brain respond to what is going on in the system as a whole. We have inherited a 30, 000 year old brain that is skewed for negativity. In other words, we have evolved and adapted by automatically scanning our world for danger–mostly through our five peripheral senses. However, feelings are derived from raw information fed to the brain/limbic system from a small area called the periaquaductal grey–which sits atop the brain stem (lizard brain). Neuroscientists have established that this primary organ defines consciousness in all organisms. What sets humans apart say, from chimpanzees (with whom we share 97% of the same DNA), is our pronounced frontal cortex, which regulates rational/executive function. But that tiny matchstick like organ atop our lizard brain is what signifies whether we are ‘ok’ or not.

So here’s how it works: the brain takes in information from two essential pathways: the five senses; and the autonomic nervous system. It then interprets that information through conscious awareness (sight, sound, etc & feelings). If it perceives that input to represent a threat, then it will signal the mid-brain, the Limbic system, to override and make fight/flight/flee signals flood our system. The same goes if basic regulatory functions (hormones, blood sugar, etc) signal that little duct atop the brain stem that things are not copacetic (cool, ok, normal). So, in either case, our ‘higher’ brain never gets to interpret the information–it goes straight into red alert (panic, anxiety, aggression…). Bingo! Mood disorders. What does come into our higher consciousness is then often distorted by the limited, trauma response. This can appear as negative beliefs, self-loathing, and in extreme cases, as paranoia and hallucination.

The bigger problem, however, is that the brain, at its sensory input level, doesn’t distinguish between past, present or future, real or perceived threats. This creates havoc with our (lack of) conscious, rational response. So yes, low serotonin levels or high cortisol (stress) levels in our system can signal us to take action (‘seeking’ behaviour). But these drives to seeking behaviour may need more rational consideration (i.e., do i need serotonin in the form of a cookie? Or maybe a hug, or more importantly, re-assessing a boundary?).

To make matters worse, often these triggers are the old responses based on ‘stuck’ patterning from childhood or unresolved events in our past. Our system is triggered into the same neuro-hormonal response, and in the case of chronic disorders like anxiety and depression, this elicits a chronic response: hypoarousal (depression; trying to feel ‘less’) and hyperarousal (feeling too much, anxiety disorders).

Recent research from the prestigious peer-reviewed journal The Lancet, for example, points to how childhood trauma is correlated with the onset and history of bipolar disorder. Meanwhile, ground-breaking research from UBC shows that parental stress can have a genetic effect on children. Of course, all of this still approaches the issue from a psycho-pathological purview. And while the mind/body approach is supported by evidence-based research, there is an even bigger perspective: that which speaks the the tagline of this blog–spiritual psychology.

Our evolutionary design functions to protect us from danger. But there is a cost. Our very highly tuned psyche/nervous system is still dependent on the threat/response dynamic. We seek pleasure and avoid distress. And that has been critical from an evolutionary standpoint. The problem is, and the contemplative tradition of Buddhism and its exquisite science of the mind shows us, is that if our relationship to reality is only based on seeking pleasure and averting pain, it sets us up to swing between those polarities of experience, caught in a constant kind of ‘over-steering’ and correcting of course. This, really, is the basis for our suffering. And Buddhism, so simply and adroitly, suggests that this inherent disorder is directly treatable from within, simply by virtue of what cognitive neuroscience deems ‘meta-awareness’ (or mindfulness). By doing a kind of ‘exposure therapy’ with our own thought/emotional reactions and patterns, via meditation and self-reflection, we can down-regulate the symptoms that swing us out of natural equilibrium (calm presence, openness, alertness). And in turn, brain research is showing us more and more, the activity of this kind of mindful self-regulation strengthens cortical activity and actual mass/density in the pre-frontal regions (associated with more complex, rational, compassionate thought, and impulse control).

So what does this mean for sufferers of depression? Certainly, this aversion/attatchment manifests as established mood and behavioural disorders and warrants appropriate intervention to stabilize the patient. At the same time, it represents a inherent and even commonplace challenge/condition which ties us together in our universal experience. And in a world that values material acquisition, despite the psychic, biological and environmental damage it renders, it would seem quite appropriate that we would be disturbed. And yet, our entire culture–from media to our schooling–normalizes the destruction of the world and our spiritual, individual and collective witness of trauma. For practical reasons, we are forced to some extent to deny this harsh reality to survive, and in its place self-medicate with pleasure through self-gratification. In the end, human compassion cannot, however, be assuaged with toys or fleeting pleasures. We all know this to be true; when we die, all we really account for is the love we shared in our lifetime.

I will be exploring this issue much more in an upcoming book. For now, my friends, suffice to say that while depression and mood disorders are de facto a medical issue, they are a humanistic concern as well. In my practices–Aikido, EMDR psychotherapy–mindfulness and social support facilitate the regaining of self-control, strength of self/spirit. And these, in turn, are cultivated not through compensation (either through ego or material wealth), but conversely by compassion and reconciliation of conflict. On a personal level, this may simply relate to the healing of distortions we internalized about our value in childhood, or the validity of our life’s purpose. And thus, we are moved not only personally–but collectively–to enlightened action.

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February 14th, 2012

A modest proposal: to make Valentines Day less about romance, which excludes others, and more truly about love. Universal love. International Love Day. New Love Day. Instead of New Year’s resolutions, how about Valentine’s Day resolutions:

I vow to love more
I vow to let others love me more
I vow to bring love into the world in every way possible
I vow to transform conflict with love
I vow to set my intentions from love
I vow to love myself and open to my own suffering, so that I may develop true empathy and compassion for others, and to be a vessel of understanding…

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August 17th, 2011

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Not as prevalent or culturally recognizable as Karate or Judo, Aikido is arguably the most complex, elegant and limitless of the martial arts originating from Japan. Its flowing movement and, by design, effortless blending with an opponent’s energy makes it especially relevant in today’s stressful world. So what makes this mysterious art so unique and powerful?

The word Ai-ki-do was evolved by the art’s founder, ‘O Sensei‘ (great teacher) Morehei Ueshiba. In essence, it connotes the path (“do”) of unifying (“ai”) one’s personal energy or life force (“ki”) with that of the universe. Aikido’s martial origins evolved out of a complex and long lineage of training and technique leading up to Budo (warrior arts of the samurai), and its late-stage influence from daito-ryu jujitsu (the legacy of which can be readily seen in the many wrist immobilizations and throws), and from which the founder developed aiki-jitsu, and then Aikido.

Aikido’s greatest contribution, ultimately expressed through the founder’s aims to unify humanity through self-purification and love, is as its legacy as the ‘Art Of Peace.’ What this means, in a practical daily sense, is that one is able–through the principles and experiential practice of ‘non-resistance’ in Aikido–to eradicate the habitual and aggressive reactivity of the subconscious mind, and thus karma, in the world at large.

In other words, one learns how to calmly and harmoniously blend with conflict; in its highest form, this transcends conscious action and stems agression before it takes seed. This has two layers: firstly, one becomes a calm and peaceful presence in the world, thus becoming ‘part of the solution; secondly, one’s ability to ultimately extinguish the impulse of agression before it arises in actions or intent leads to a more human society.

O Sensei,  Morehei Ueshiba,  demonstrating the minimal effort and superb control of Aikido movement in resolving conflict.

O Sensei, Morehei Ueshiba, demonstrating the minimal effort and superb control of Aikido movement in resolving conflict.

While this may seem impossibly challenging in a technical sense, or in the least intimidating, some basic neuroanatomy helps to understand what is happening on the physical and emotional level. In a bio-psychological way, what happens to the average person presented with a threat is that their mid-brain structures immediately trigger a ‘fight/flight’ response. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, associated with rational decision-making, is interrupted by a more primal response to protect the organism (run/fight, ask questions later!). By working with our subconscious minds, we can learn to override this reflex, consciously and calmly responding with only the minimal actions necessary.

In effect, by responding this way (in keeping with conflict resolution theory/technique) we also have a much better chance of abating the hyperarousal of our aggressor. On a neurobiological level, so-called ‘mirror-neurons’ come into effect, and our calm, confident presence and gentle assertive energy and movement can effectively ‘calm’ the violence of our ‘attacker.’ Ultimately, we cannot assert control over the free will of another–particularly if they are in a hyper-agitated and wilfully aggressive state.

With a spirit of loving protection, however, the superb blending movement of Aikido can quickly, smoothly and with minimal effort dissolve the attackers movement and assert control over the situation.

In our Aikido training, emphasis is placed on developing this awareness and re-conditioning the subconscious mind/body through Ki Development. Simply put, through exercises that could be described as non-reactive ‘moving meditation, ’ we make our new habit that of connecting with the groundedness of Earth, and the limitlessness of Heaven. By extending this feeling in all directions at all times, we both embody and project a feeling of ever-expanding stability and a light feeling that can benefit us in every thought and action.

It was Ueshiba’s vision to unite humanity through the spiritual practice of Aikido–through Love. And yet, as Siddartha Gautama, the ‘Buddha, ’ said of the birthright of enlightenment and liberation through mindful meditation, you cannot take action on dogma or doctrine–you must investigate and discover it for yourself…

Senshin Ki Aikido, Vancouver BC.

Sensei Michael A. Gordon, 4th Dan

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