Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

What to Eat for Optimal Mental Health

I once had a patient who was confused as to why I talked about her gut while treating her mind. To her, it seemed irrelevant. “After all,” she said, “it’s not like they are actually next to each other.”

While your gut and brain are housed in different parts of your body, they are physically connected.

The vagus nerve, also known as the “wanderer nerve,” originates in the brain stem and travels all the way to the gut, connecting the gut to the central nervous system. When it reaches the gut, it untangles itself to form little threads that wrap the entire gut in an unruly covering that looks like an intricately knitted sweater.

Because the vagus nerve penetrates the gut wall, it plays an essential role in the digestion of food, but its key function is to ensure that nerve signals and body chemicals can travel back and forth between the gut and the brain, carrying vital information between them, and making the brain and gut lifelong partners.

The Gut-Brain Romance

The basis of all body communications is chemical. In the brain, these chemicals originate from the primary parts of your nervous system (with an assist from your endocrine system): the central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord; the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which comprises the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems; and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), which comprises the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal gland.

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The Power of One Act of Kindness

When we see someone being kind or generous, it gives us a warm glow feeling inside. Researchers call this “moral elevation,” and it not only feels good but inspires us to want to do good ourselves.

But how much does witnessing good affect us—and why? A new analysis of decades of research aimed to find out the answers. The results suggest that our acts of kindness and generosity, online or offline, can have meaningful ripple effects in our communities.

Pay it forward

Researchers synthesized results from 88 experimental studies involving over 25,000 participants to measure how much our own altruism increases after witnessing someone acting “prosocially”—for example, comforting someone who is crying, donating to charity, or acting cooperatively in a competitive game. In the studies, people would read about or see someone act in a kind and helpful way, and then have the opportunity to be kind and generous themselves.

The researchers also wanted to understand the reasons why witnessing goodness inspires people and to identify the factors that increase or decrease their response.

Their analysis showed a moderately strong effect, where people witnessing altruism tended to follow suit themselves. That means that when people model kind and helpful behavior, it has a healthy impact on spreading goodness in a community.

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Grief is Love with No Place to Go

It’s true what they say: Grief is love with no place to go. When you lose someone or something, you have all these feelings that no longer have a destination. The feelings just seep out of you like air in a drafty house. To get by, you have to find people to help you. You have to find your helpers. They will be the fuel to keep you going, the spark to get you started again. Thankfully, I have had many helpers in what I call my crazy new life. 

February 14, 2018, was supposed to be a day of love. Instead of a romantic dinner with my wife, the plan was to watch our wedding video with our fourteen-year-old daughter and sixteen year-old son as a way of showing them the beauty of Valentine’s Day. My daughter Jaime had come up with the idea. 

Our family drill that morning started off like any other day. The kids were running late for school, the dogs were barking because they wanted to be fed and walked, and Jennifer and I were scrambling to get ready for work. These are the details I remember from that morning. What I cannot remember still haunts me. I can’t recall if I told my kids I loved them as they ran out the door. I was too busy telling them, “You’re late! You need to get to school.” I never expected these would be my final words to my daughter. 

Thirty-four people were shot that day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, with seventeen killed and seventeen injured. My daughter Jaime, a tough-as-nails fourteen-year-old dancer with a huge heart, was the second-to-last victim to be shot. The shooter had gone to the third floor—where Jaime was—with the intention of shooting students on that floor and those outside through a window. While the shooter was reloading his AR-15, she took off down the hallway toward the stairwell. Authorities think she was maybe one foot away from turning the corner. One foot away from safety. One foot that would have allowed her to join up with her older brother, Jesse, at a nearby Walmart, and then to make her way back to her mother’s and my arms. 

At the time of Jaime’s death, I was already struggling with deep personal loss. Just four months earlier, my brother Michael died of pancreatic cancer due to complications from his service on 9/11. He had been exposed to so much dust and chemicals while working to help out at Ground Zero that, in the end, the damage caught up with him. Michael battled his cancer heroically for nearly five years, passing away at age fifty. 

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This 5-Minute Guided Meditation is a Love Letter Waiting to be Sent

With time we might find ourselves drifting apart from our partners. We might miss an opportunity to let our partners know how much they’re loved or how much we simply appreciate them. While the idea of writing a love letter might seem outdated, taking the time to express your feelings in a relationship is an act that will always remain relevant. 

For this visualization practice, imagine you and your partner are at the end of your lives. You’ve had a great run together. And now, it’s time to say “goodbye.” From this perspective, you will write a letter to them. But first, to help you go even deeper into this perspective, we encourage you to listen to the radical generosity love letter meditation. We’ve also included a few prompts below in case you need inspiration.

As you go through this practice, think about what you want your partner to know? How did you fall in love? What were some of your favourite moments together? What do you want to appreciate your partner for? What will you miss most about them?

1. Find a comfortable seat, or if you prefer, you can even lie down on your back with something to support your head and neck.

2. Once you get settled, take just a few breaths. Feel the weight of your body supported by the earth, close your eyes, and let go of any effort to control your breath. Then, release any stress or tension you might be carrying.

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There’s Someone Missing in Your Friend Circle: You

We spend a lot of time thinking about our friends and making sure our friends feel supported. However, when we fall into the rhythm of a busy social life, we may unconsciously ignore the most necessary part of supporting our friends: learning how to be our own friend.

In a cherished friendship, we’re mindful to be as caring and wise as we can be to keep our relationship on good terms. But we don’t often afford ourselves the same caring attention.

This animation from The School of Life reminds us how to treat ourselves like we would a good friend. 

Here are the two most important ways you can be a better friend to yourself:

1) Accept yourself for who you are — then begin to grow

A friend has an easier time reading situations and avoiding emotional traps than the involved party (you). During challenging times, it can be easier for them to notice how you think and feel. Therefore, any insightful suggestions or pertinent proposals that a good friend makes are based on how well they know you: your past, your background, and your personality. It’s not because they think they have the answer and want to change you, it’s because they care about you and want to help you cope with challenges in your life. 

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