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The Art of Mindful Selfishness

The other day on my long drive home from work I heard a report on KOMO news radio that indicates that working crossword or Sudoku puzzles does not increase or maintain memory, as many believe,. That begs the question, how does one increase or even maintain memory.

That particular report mentions a few websites such as luminosity and Soak Your Head as places to go for games that help you take information that you know and relate it in different ways. This process is apparently necessary for increasing memory skills.

As I was doing my research on mindful self-care, I found three journal articles that indicated that mindfulness, in particular, mindful self-care, increased memory as well as many other mental processes, which lead to better mental health.

Let me start by defining “self-care”: Purposefully and actively taking time for yourself to do something that rejuvenates and energizes you. One important point to this definition is that activities that comprise self-care are frequently different for different people. In other words, the thing that relaxes and energies me might make you tense or board. We each need to discover for ourselves which activities are beneficial.

Self-care might include the following activities:

Watching a movie

Playing with pets

Grooming activities such as putting on makeup, getting a great haircut, taking a long bath (see The Ritual Bath).

Talking with friends

Writing in a journal

Eating right

Cooking

Exercise

Sex

Rituals

I’m sure you get the idea. Think about the things that allow you to do the more mundane things in life with more vigor.

I chose the title of this article because our culture teaches many of us, particularly women, that it is selfish to make time for our own enjoyment. It teaches us to nurture others before we nurture ourselves. Interestingly, all of the research I found indicates that self-care makes one a better caregiver.

This research shows that there are several negative results of NOT practicing mindful self-care. The list includes anger, frustration, isolation, sadness, loss of meaning and purpose, lack of joy, guilt, and shame. These feelings lead to poor mental health such as depression and anxiety. These are also feeling found to be associated with atheism.

So what is “mindful self-care” and how is it different from plain old self-care (see Mindfulness)?

We can define mindful self-care as staying present in the moment of self-care, i.e., being highly aware of physical, psychological, emotional, and work domains. One can stay present through your five senses thus making yourself aware of new sources of comfort, pleasure, and balance. Ritual holds this place in Stoic Paganism. Ritual requires change, rearranging lifestyles, planning and discipline. It causes us to develop new habits that can be a great source of renewal.

Mindfulness is a state rather than a trait. It does not include just mindful meditation although that is mainly what Stoic Paganism teaches. Other disciplines teach mindfulness such as some kinds of Yoga and Qigong, a Chinese posturing practice.

One observation you will make during mindful self-care is the thoughts that occur to you during your self-care activity. Observing without judging here is important because many of your thoughts might be lies.

For example, Thick Nhat Hanh, a respected Zen master, explains how his thoughts make excuses for him not to exercise or to cut his exercise session short. Since we think of self-care as being enjoyable, his thoughts might say, “I’m not enjoying this”, or “I’m too tired to do this” when the truth is that he will feel energized only if he completes his exercise period. When he doesn’t he continues to feel tired, and he feels defeated by his lack of discipline.

I can think of a couple of other self-care activities about which my brain lies to me. Housekeeping is a major activity that leaves me feeling better about my life yet my thoughts constantly come up with excuses not to do it. (At present, my thoughts are winning). Eating right for my body is another area that is difficult for me. Nevertheless, when my weight stays within the bounds my doctor and I have set for me, I am eager to do whatever else needs to be done.

Those among us that suffer from long-term health problems find that they must regularly change plans, often without warning, because of pain, fatigue, flair-ups of their disorder or emergency medical appointments. Self-care is of utmost importance to us since learning to give ourselves what we need, instead of fixating on what we want, can be the cure for the feelings that life is passing them by. 

So many positive things come from this practice that if the public knew them, I think that our whole culture would change its attitude toward mindful self-care.

Here is a list of what the research shows:

Reduced rumination. Several studies have shown that mindfulness reduces rumination. In one study, for example, Chambers et al. (2008) asked 20 novice meditators to participate in a 10-day intensive mindfulness meditation retreat. After the retreat, the meditation group had significantly higher self-reported mindfulness and a decreased negative affect compared with a control group. They also experienced fewer depressive symptoms and less rumination. In addition, the meditators had significantly better working memory capacity and were better able to sustain attention during a performance task compared with the control group.

Stress reduction. Many studies show that practicing mindfulness reduces stress. In 2010, Hoffman et al. conducted a meta-analysis of 39 studies that explored the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. The researchers concluded that mindfulness-based therapy may be useful in altering affective and cognitive processes that underlie multiple clinical issues.

Those findings are consistent with evidence that mindfulness meditation increases positive affect and decreases anxiety and negative affect. In one study, participants randomly assigned to an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction group were compared with controls on self-reported measures of depression, anxiety and psychopathology, and on neural reactivity as measured by fMRI after watching sad films (Farb et al., 2010). The researchers found that the participants who experienced mindfulness-based stress reduction had significantly less anxiety, depression, and somatic distress compared with the control group. In addition, the fMRI data indicated that the mindfulness group had less neural reactivity when they were exposed to the films than the control group, and they displayed distinctly different neural responses while watching the films than they did before their mindfulness training. These findings suggest that mindfulness meditation shifts people’s ability to use emotion regulation strategies in a way that enables them to experience emotion selectively, and that the emotions they experience may be processed differently in the brain (Farb et al., 2010; Williams, 2010).

Boosts to working memory. Improvements to working memory appear to be another benefit of mindfulness, research finds. A 2010 study by Jha et al., for example, documented the benefits of mindfulness meditation among a military group who participated in an eight-week mindfulness training, a nonmeditating military group and a group of nonmeditating civilians. Both military groups were in a highly stressful period before deployment. The researchers found that the nonmeditating military group had decreased working memory capacity over time, whereas working memory capacity among nonmeditating civilians was stable across time. Within the meditating military group, however, working memory capacity increased with meditation practice. In addition, meditation practice was directly related to self-reported positive affect and inversely related to self-reported negative affect.

Focus. Another study examined how mindfulness meditation affected participants’ ability to focus attention and suppress distracting information. The researchers compared a group of experienced mindfulness meditators with a control group that had no meditation experience. They found that the meditation group had significantly better performance on all measures of attention and had higher self-reported mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation practice and self-reported mindfulness were correlated directly with cognitive flexibility and attentional functioning (Moore and Malinowski, 2009).

Less emotional reactivity. Research also supports the notion that mindfulness meditation decreases emotional reactivity. In a study of people who had anywhere from one month to 29 years of mindfulness meditation practice, researchers found that mindfulness meditation practice helped people disengage from emotionally upsetting pictures and enabled them to focus better on a cognitive task as compared with people who saw the pictures but did not meditate (Ortner et al., 2007).

More cognitive flexibility. Another line of research suggests that in addition to helping people become less reactive, mindfulness meditation may also give them greater cognitive flexibility. One study found that people who practice mindfulness meditation appear to develop the skill of self-observation, which neurologically disengages the automatic pathways that were created by prior learning and enables present-moment input to be integrated in a new way (Siegel, 2007a). Meditation also activates the brain region associated with more adaptive responses to stressful or negative situations (Cahn & Polich, 2006; Davidson et al., 2003). Activation of this region corresponds with faster recovery to baseline after being negatively provoked (Davidson, 2000; Davidson, Jackson, & Kalin, 2000).

Relationship satisfaction. Several studies find that a person’s ability to be mindful can help predict relationship satisfaction — the ability to respond well to relationship stress and the skill in communicating one’s emotions to a partner. Empirical evidence suggests that mindfulness protects against the emotionally stressful effects of relationship conflict (Barnes et al., 2007), is positively associated with the ability to express oneself in various social situations (Dekeyser el al., 2008) and predicts relationship satisfaction (Barnes et al., 2007; Wachs & Cordova, 2007).

Other benefits. Mindfulness has been shown to enhance self-insight, morality, intuition and fear modulation, all functions associated with the brain’s middle prefrontal lobe area. Evidence also suggests that mindfulness meditation has numerous health benefits, including increased immune functioning (Davidson et al., 2003; see Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004 for a review of physical health benefits), improvement to well-being (Carmody & Baer, 2008) and reduction in psychological distress (Coffey & Hartman, 2008; Ostafin et al., 2006). In addition, mindfulness meditation practice appears to increase information processing speed (Moore & Malinowski, 2009), as well as decrease task effort and having thoughts that are unrelated to the task at hand (Lutz et al., 2009).

-The APA Office of Continuing Education in Psychology. What are the Benefits of Mindfulness, Daphne M. Davis, PhD, and Jeffrey Hayes, PhD.

I would like to see more of each of those traits in my life. I believe that mindful self-care is worth the work it will take to discover what activities inspire you and the discipline it will take to make it a habit.

Exercise: Make a list of those things that make you feel inspired and determine to do at least one a week.

If you have not performed one of the rituals, I would encourage you to do so. They definitely qualify as self-care and will yield the above results is practiced regularly. If nothing else, color a mandela mindfully.

Dragonram

 

 

 

 

Self-Soothing Destructive Emotions

There will be times when you cannot help but feel emotions that are not helpful. What do you do in this case? Of course, you don’t want the consequences of those destructive feelings. You want to rid yourself of them as quickly as possible. Sometimes those feelings will be momentary so you need something that will work fast – in a couple of seconds – before you embarrass yourself. Mindfulness of your environment can be a quick distraction.

 What do you hear?

What do you see?

What are you wearing?

What are others wearing?

How old do I feel?

What is the temperature around you? Are you too hot or too cold?

What are you standing/sitting on?

Who is around you?

What is around you?

Other times you will be angry, sad, scared for a few days at a time. In such a case, you could choose two or three things that you can repeat to keep yourself on the level. I’m sure that you could come up with a list of things that you use to sooth yourself when you feel bad.

Take a walk

Write in your journal

Write an email response to this article

Get a message

Talk your feelings out with someone

Listen to Imagery tapes or CDs

Learn some deep breathing exercises

Listen to music that you like

Listen to a recorded book

Watch TV

Color a Mandela

Dance

There are other things that you want to make a habit. Instead of calling them self-soothing, perhaps we could call them self-care.

Eat right

Exercise

Get regular Acupressure

Take a class (Painting, ceramics, make jewelry, crochet, etc)

Learn to meditate

Learn healthy self-talk

Take a ritual bath

Develop a “Go to Bed” Ritual

Learn “Thought Stopping”

Cast a Circle and meditate

Make a list of things for which to be grateful and read it to the Goddess.

Write a ritual about the thing that is bothering you.

Smudge yourself and your house.

Take care of your appearance (use good skin care, trim your nails, wear clean clothes.

These are things that it takes time to learn but realistically, they will prevent the experience of difficult emotions, which is much better than soothing yourself once they have been felt. My next few articles will be about some of the things you can use as self-care. You may have noticed that there was much more ritual mentioned in the last group. That is because they take time to learn and it is good to make them a habit, since they help greatly to prevent destructive emotions.

Finding Alternative Thoughts

 Unhelpful Thinking Habit Alternative more balanced thought
Mental Filter Am I only noticing the bad stuff? Am I filtering out the positives? Am I wearing those ‘gloomy specs’? What would be more realistic?
Mind-Reading Am I assuming I know what others are thinking? What’s the evidence? Those are my own thoughts, not theirs. Is there another, more balanced way of looking at it?
Prediction Am I thinking that I can predict the future? How likely is it that that might really happen?
Compare & despair Am I doing that ‘compare and despair’ thing? What would be a more balanced and helpful way of looking at it?
Critical self There I go, that internal bully’s at it again. Would most people who really know me say that about me? Is this something that I am totally responsible for?
Shoulds and musts Am I putting more pressure on myself, setting up expectations of myself that are almost impossible? What would be more realistic?
Judgements I’m making an evaluation about the situation or person. It’s how I make sense of the world, but that doesn’t mean my judgements are always right or helpful. Is there another perspective?
Emotional Reasoning Just because it feels bad, doesn’t necessary mean it is bad. My feelings are just a reaction to my thoughts – and thoughts are just automatic brain reflexes
Mountains and molehills Am I exaggerating the good aspects of others, and putting myself down? Or am I exaggerating the negative and minimising the positives? How would someone else see it? What’s the bigger picture?
Catastrophising OK, thinking that the worst possible thing will definitely happen isn’t really helpful right now. What’s most likely to happen?
Black and white thinking Things aren’t either totally white or totally black – there are shades of grey. Where is this on the spectrum?
Memories This is just a reminder of the past. That was then, and this is now. Even though this memory makes me feel upset, it’s not actually happening again right now.

Ten Thinking Errors

THE TEN Thinking Errors:

  • 1. ALL OR NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
  • 2. OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  • ·  3. MENTAL FILTER: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
  • 4. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
  • ·  5. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make negative interpretations even though there are definite facts that convincingly support positive conclusions.

   Mind reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out.

   The Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an established fact.

  • 6. MAGNIFICATION (Catastrophizing) OR MINIMIZATION: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick”.
  • 7. EMOTIONAL REASONING: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true”.
  • 8. SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself with should and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could expect to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements towards others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
  • 9. LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser”. When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: “He’s a damn louse”. Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
  • 10. PERSONALIZATION: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.

Based on information from “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, M.D.; Signet Paperback.

 

An Exercise in Mindfulness

 If you read my first paper on “Mindfulness”, you have an idea about what it means to be mindful.

 Remember the story about waking up in the middle of the night? You would have been using almost all of your senses to determine whether you and your family were safe. You listened for any unusual noises. You looked around to see if anything was out of place or worse yet, moving. If there had been anything odd to feel you no doubt would have noticed it. What if the room had been unusually hot or cold? You probably would have noticed any odd smells.

The only sense that you may not have used was your sense of taste. Therefore, I decided to build this exercise on taste.

 Prepare a small variety of foods, say four or five, and put a couple bites of each one on a plate where you can sit down and eat at leisure. Make sure you have a good mixture. Perhaps some meat, if you eat it, vegetables, raw and/or cooked, something starchy like potatoes and/or rice – just pick a nice variety. You night butter your rice or put dressing on your vegetables. I’m not asking you to eat something you don’t like.

Now, choose a utensil, sit down, and have a bite. Put the utensil down between bites and notice the food. Notice the taste. Is it sweet, sour, bitter, salty, or bland? Notice the color. Would the color be different if the food were raw/cooked?

Does this food make a sound as you chew it? To which side of your mouth does it go? Do you move it around with your tongue or your cheeks? Can you taste it if you don’t smell it? What does it smell like? What temperature is this food?

If you have thoughts that don’t apply to the exercise, that’s natural. Just let them come and then let them go. Don’t hang on to any thought that is not an observation of what you are eating.

Continue around the plate tasting other foods. What is its shape? Is it shiny or dull when the light hits it? Does it leave an aftertaste?

Does your breathing change as you chew and swallow the food? Does it vary from food to food?

With which utensil did you choose to eat?  Would your experience have been different if you had chosen something different with which to eat?

From time to time, notice how you are sitting. Do you change your position? Are you comfortable? Is there any pain or discomfort in your body?

Eat each food with these questions in mind. Did you notice things I didn’t mention? I would like to get some comments from you about what you noticed while eating mindfully. What did you learn?

 

Questionnaire for Destructive Emotions

Directions: Destructive emotions such as anger, depression, anxiety, and fear are caused when we believe something that is not true.

Before you begin to answer this questionnaire, follow the directions on “Your First Ritual”.  Then on a separate piece of paper, answer these questions as best as you can. They will help you discover the mistaken or untrue beliefs that caused the destructive emotions. I recommend you get a small spiral notebook to write in and a three ring binder to keep your materials.

 Think of a time this week when you felt destructive emotions (see emotions page). Go through the questionnaire below to analyze what you were believing at the time and the truth that will allow you to feel calm, productive emotions.

 The Situation:

  1. What was the situation?
  2. Where did this happen?
  3. When did it happen?
  4. Who was involved?

Thoughts:

  1. What was going through your mind at the time and just before?
  2. Were there images in your head?
  3. What judgments were you making about yourself?
  4. What judgments were you making about others?
  5. What might the other people have been thinking?
  6. Is there another way of looking at this?

Whole Body:

  1. What was happening in your body at that time?
  2. What is happening in your body now as you recall the situation?

Brain/Mind:

  1. List your feelings at that time? (check the emotions chart)
  2. Rate each of your feelings on a 1 – 5 scale, one being very mild and five being over the top.
  3. How do you feel now that you’re looking back at it?

Behavior:

  1. How did you act out your feelings? (Did you yell, cry, stomp out, withdraw, avoid, use some other coping mechanism?)
  2. If there was a hidden camera in the room, what would it have recorded?

General:

  1. Is this a typical example of what happens in similar situations?
  2. Are there other times when you react this way?
  3. Are there times that are different?
  4. Why is it different at other times? (The timing, the people involved, your mood, what you were thinking?)

Change:

  1. What was the lie that you believed? (Check the table of the 10 Thinking Errors.)
  2. What is the truth in this situation?
  3. How would you have behaved differently if you had recognized the truth?

 When you are finished with the questionnaire, blow out the candle and go about your day.

Your First Ritual

Recall the last time you were angry or very sad or anxious.  Now think about what happened to “make you feel that way”. I put that in quotes because you are about to discover that no person or situation made you feel anyway at all, but it is you and your belief system that caused the destructive emotions.

Now we are going to perform your first ritual.

First, meet the God and Goddesses of wisdom or knowledge.

BADB (Bibe) (Ireland)) *Goddess*
Mother aspect of the Triple Goddess in Ireland. Associated with the cauldron, crows and ravens. Life, wisdom, inspiration, and enlightenment.

BLODEUWEDD (blod-oo-eeth) ((Wales)) *Goddess*
The maiden form of the Triple Goddess. Goddess of the earth in bloom, flowers, wisdom, lunar mysteries, initiations.

DANU  ((Ireland)) *Goddess*
Probably the same as Anu. Mother of the Gods, Great Mother, Moon Goddess. Patroness of wizards, rivers, water, wells, prosperity and plenty, magick wisdom.

TALIESIN (Tal-i-ess-in) ((Wales)) *God*
God of the bards. Poetry, wisdom, wizards, music, knowledge, magick.

***************************************************************************

Prepare a tapered candle and a beverage of your liking. I use Crystal Light boiled with spices and cooled to drink from a wine glass.

Light and place the candle and place the drink in front of it.

Repeat this prayer as you look into the glass and watch the light move in it.

*****************************************************************************

Great Danu, goddess of wisdom! Goddess of Prosperity!
Guide me in my studies,
and keep my focus strong.

God of knowledge and wisdom, Taliesin

Lead me as I learn,
opening my mind to new knowledge.
Prepare me to grow and study,
as I take new steps in my journey.


Great Mother Badb, goddess of wisdom and enlightenment!
Grant me the wisdom to speak well and with clarity,
grant me the ambition to be successful and strong.


Daughter of the Earth, Blodeuwedd, goddess of wisdom and initiations
grant me the understanding to embrace the ideas of others.


Meditate for a while on what happened and how it felt when you were in the grip of these destructive emotions.  Go over it in your mind. Who was there, How did it happen, What were your thoughts?

Now raise the glass and repeat:.

Praise the God and Goddesses of wisdom!
I owe you gratitude for your guidance,
and will do you honor with my achievements.
I thank you for your blessings.

Now drink the beverage as you fully relax and know that you are ready to learn some new wisdom from the universe. Allow the candle to burn as you complete the exercise titled “Questionnaire on Destructive Emotions”.

Is Stoic Paganism for Me?

Is Stoic Paganism for Me?     

High Emotional Arousals

Yes

No

I feel tense, stressed, or on edge even when there is nothing I can put my finger on that’s upsetting me.    
I can’t seem to relax as mush as I would like to even when I try. I have to work at relaxing my body.    
I anticipate failure a good deal of the time.    
My hands shake frequently.    
I jump when a loud noise comes, even though I later find it wasn’t anything dangerous.    
It takes me longer than other people to relax.    
I’m always prepared for something bad to happen to me.    
I feel vulnerable, like many things can hurt me, even though no one in particular is trying to hurt me.    
My emotions always seem to be on, or prepared to be on, even though I try to be calm and relaxed.    
I feel depressed.    
My feelings are intense, but I just can’t get moving    
Sometimes, I just want to die    

High Emotional Sensitivity

Yes

no

It doesn’t take much to get me agitated. (I react emotionally even to minor events, like getting ready to go to the store.)    
Many times, emotional commercials make me cry.    
When I feel something I typically express it openly.    
Other people tell me I’m an emotional person.    
I believe I feel my emotions more intensely than other do.    
When someone else hurts, I frequently hurt with them.    
I seem to be keyed into what other are thinking and feeling.    

Slow Reduction In Emotional Tension

Yes

no

Once I feel an emotion, it’s hard for me to stop feeling it.    
My strong emotions seem to last forever.    
I cant stop feeling anxious or depressed without great effort.    

Distrust of Emotion

Yes

No

My feelings frequently don’t tell me how I should best behave, or what to do next.    
I can’t trust my gut reactions like others seem to be able to do.    
My feelings seem to get in my way rather than help me most of the time.    

Emotional Escape

Yes

No

When I feel tense, I do everything possible in order to feel differently as fast as possible.    
When someone hurts me, I immediately leave the room, usually no matter what the consequences of how it will look to others.    
When I begin to feel down or depressed, I can’t stand it.    
I can’t stand strong emotions, even if they are normal    

Emotional Avoidance

Yes

No

I stay away from people who make me uncomfortable, even if they are not mean to me.    
I avoid situations and people who have hurt me in the past, even when this is difficult to do.    
I do whatever I can to avoid being hurt, even though I may miss future opportunities to get what I want.    
People who know me well might call me “fraidy cat” because I won’t take chances.    
I’m afraid of my strong feelings.    

Sense of Urgency

Yes

No

I can’t wait to solve my problems, even though I know it took a long time for the problems to develop    
I would say I’m impulsive. I do things without a lot of thinking because I want quick results.    
People tell me I’m impatient because I want what I want now    
I’m anxious because I feel that my problems are so bad that they should be changed immediately. They are so bad that I can’t wait for my problems to be solved.    
I feel dread about the future. Something bad is going to happen if I’m not careful.    
I frequently do things without thinking them through.    
I feel pressure to make changes to my life.    

Rituals

Yes

No

I have developed rituals for common things that help me get things done in a more organized fashion. Examples: getting ready for work, Preparing meals, cleaning house. I have a pattern for these kinds of things that help me to get them done more efficiently.    
I love the liturgy of the church even though I no longer believe in a personal god. The prayers and rituals make me feel better and improve my attitude.    
I carry or wear symbols that represent my belief systems.    
I carry good luck charms or have “lucky” articles of clothing or jewelry that give me confidence.    

TOTALS

   

Number of Yes answers: 

< 10  Stoic Paganism can make you life even more peaceful and joyful.           

11-15  Stoic Paganism definitely has something to offer you.

16-24  Stoic Paganism will change yourlife for the better.                                

  > 24  Stoic is probably something you have been looking for for a long time.

 

Some Specific Skills that Stoic Paganism will Teach You

The following list outlines some of the aspects of Stoic Paganism:stoic paganism 1
Mastery

  • A set of strategies that places greatest emphasis on your own objectives.
  • Behavioral techniques that increase you ability to tabulate and control your emotions.
  • Processes that increase your comfort with your identity, reducing self-blame.
  • Mindfulness training to improve your observational skills.
  • Strategies to reduce self-absorbtion and self-consciousness, thus increasing your ability to accurately perceive events.
  • Rituals that will help you gain mastery over specific problems like organization, self discipline, teaching yourself confidence and directing your sub-conscience to problem solve in these areas.
  • Ritual to calm and retrain you brain into thinking on the things that will make your life reasonably happy.

Mindfulness

  • A way of analyzing competing needs and forming better compromises.
  • An approach that places great focus on your feeling as valid pieces of information.
  • A series of exercises that helps you to understand the function of your emotions increasing your knowledge of yourself.

Acceptance 

  • A set of procedures that assist you to reduce avoidance and escape as core strategies in handling emotional difficulties.
  • Strategies to reduce urgency and impulsivity, thus improving your judgment.
  • Rituals that will help you gain mastery over specific problems like organization, self discipline, teaching you self confidence and directing your sub-conscience to problem solve in these areas.

Tollerance

  • Skills to increase your ability to tolerate emotional pain.
  • Self-soothing skills to reduce tension and crisis in you life.
  • Rituals that will calm you brain by activating the sympathetic nervous system.
  • A set of techniques that help you better deal with your feelings.

For more information on what Stoic Paganism has to offer you personally, Go to the Questionaire on the page titled: IS STOIC PAGANISM FOR ME?

Introduction to Stoic Paganism – Part 2

Rituals and Why We Need Them

Why Rituals Work

There are real benefits to rituals, religious or otherwise

By Francesca Gino and Michael I. Norton

Think about the last time you were about to interview for a job, speak in front of an audience, or go on a first date. To quell your nerves, chances are you spent time preparing – reading up on the company, reviewing your slides, practicing your charming patter. People facing situations that induce anxiety typically take comfort in engaging in preparatory activities, inducing a feeling of being back in control and reducing uncertainty.

While a little extra preparation seems perfectly reasonable, people also engage in seemingly less logical behaviors in such situations. Here’s one person’s description from our research:

I pound my feet strongly on the ground several times, I take several deep breaths, and I “shake” my body to remove any negative energies.  I do this often before going to work, going into meetings, and at the front door before entering my house after a long day.

While we wonder what this person’s co-workers and neighbors think of their shaky acquaintance, such rituals – the symbolic behaviors we perform before, during, and after meaningful event – are surprisingly ubiquitous, across culture and time. Rituals take an extraordinary array of shapes and forms. At times performed in communal or religious settings, at times performed in solitude; at times involving fixed, repeated sequences of actions, at other times not. People engage in rituals with the intention of achieving a wide set of desired outcomes, from reducing their anxiety to boosting their confidence, alleviating their grief to performing well in a competition – or even making it rain.

Recent research suggests that rituals may be more rational than they appear. Why? Because even simple rituals can be extremely effective. Rituals performed after experiencing losses – from loved ones to lotteries – do alleviate grief, and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks – like singing in public – do in fact reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence. What’s more, rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe that rituals work. While anthropologists have documented rituals across cultures, this earlier research has been primarily observational. Recently, a series of investigations by psychologists have revealed intriguing new results demonstrating that rituals can have a causal impact on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Basketball superstar Michael Jordan wore his North Carolina shorts underneath his Chicago Bulls shorts in every game; Curtis Martin of the New York Jets reads Psalm 91 before every game. And Wade Boggs, former third baseman for the Boston Red Sox, woke up at the same time each day, ate chicken before each game, took exactly 117 ground balls in practice, took batting practice at 5:17, and ran sprints at 7:17. (Boggs also wrote the Hebrew word Chai (“living”) in the dirt before each at bat. Boggs was not Jewish.) Do rituals like these actually improve performance? In one recent experiment, people received either a “lucky golf ball” or an ordinary golf ball, and then performed a golf task; in another, people performed a motor dexterity task and were either asked to simply start the game or heard the researcher say “I’ll cross fingers for you” before starting the game. The superstitious rituals enhanced people’s confidence in their abilities, motivated greater effort – and improved subsequent performance. These findings are consistent with research in sport psychology demonstrating the performance benefits of pre-performance routines, from improving attention and execution to increasing emotional stability and confidence.

Humans feel uncertain and anxious in a host of situations beyond laboratory experiments and sports – like charting new terrain. In the late 1940s, anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski lived among the inhabitants of islands in the South Pacific Ocean. When residents went fishing in the turbulent, shark-infested waters beyond the coral reef, they performed specific rituals to invoke magical powers for their safety and protection. When they fished in the calm waters of a lagoon, they treated the fishing trip as an ordinary event and did not perform any rituals. Malinowski suggested that people are more likely to turn to rituals when they face situations where the outcome is important and uncertain and beyond their control – as when sharks are present.

Rituals in the face of losses such as the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship (or loss of limb from shark bite) are ubiquitous. There is such a wide variety of known mourning rituals that they can even be contradictory: crying near the dying is viewed as disruptive by Tibetan Buddhists but as a sign of respect by Catholic Latinos; Hindu rituals encourage the removal of hair during mourning, while growing hair (in the form of a beard) is the preferred ritual for Jewish males.

People perform mourning rituals in an effort to alleviate their grief – but do they work? Our research suggests they do. In one of our experiments, we asked people to recall and write about the death of a loved one or the end of a close relationship. Some also wrote about a ritual they performed after experiencing the loss:

I used to play the song by Natalie Cole “I miss you like crazy” and cry every time I heard it and thought of my mom.

I looked for all the pictures we took together during the time we dated. I then destroyed them into small pieces (even the ones Ireally liked!), and then burnt them in the park where we firstkissed.

We found that people who wrote about engaging in a ritual reported feeling less grief than did those who only wrote about the loss.

We next examined the power of rituals in alleviating disappointment in a more mundane context: losing a lottery. We invited people into the laboratory and told them they would be part of a random drawing in which they could win $200 on the spot and leave without completing the study. To make the pain of losing even worse, we even asked them to think and write about all the ways they would use the money. After the random draw, the winner got to leave, and we divided the remaining “losers” into two groups. Some people were asked to engage in the following ritual:

Step 1. Draw how you currently feel on the piece of paper on your desk for two minutes.
Step 2. Please sprinkle a pinch of salt on the paper with your drawing.
Step 3. Please tear up the piece of paper.
Step 4. Count up to ten in your head five times.

Other people simply engaged in a task (drawing how they felt) for the same amount of time. Finally, everyone answered questions about their level of grief, such as “I can’t help feeling angry and upset about the fact that I did not win the $200.” The results? Those who performed a ritual after losing in the lottery reported feeling less grief. Our results suggest that engaging in rituals mitigates grief caused by both life-changing losses (such as the death of a loved one) and more mundane ones (losing a lottery).

Rituals appear to be effective, but, given the wide variety of rituals documented by social scientists, do we know which types of rituals work best? In a recent study conducted in Brazil, researchers studied people who perform simpatias: formulaic rituals that are used for solving problems such as quitting smoking, curing asthma, and warding off bad luck. People perceive simpatias to be more effective depending on the number of steps involved, the repetition of procedures, and whether the steps are performed at a specified time. While more research is needed, these intriguing results suggest that the specific nature of rituals may be crucial in understanding when they work – and when they do not.

Despite the absence of a direct causal connection between the ritual and the desired outcome, performing rituals with the intention of producing a certain result appears to be sufficient for that result to come true. While some rituals are unlikely to be effective – knocking on wood will not bring rain – many everyday rituals make a lot of sense and are surprisingly effective.

Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

Francesca Gino and Michael I. Norton are behavioral scientists and professors at HarvardBusinessSchool. Francesca is the author of Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). Michael is the coauthor – with Elizabeth Dunn – of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending(Simon & Schuster, 2013).

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-rituals-work

 Research on the relationship between the brain and our experiences of prayer, meditation, story and liturgy is a step forward in the study of religion. Previously, religious behavior was thought to be purely cultural. Now we know there are biological correlates for many kinds of religious activities.

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, Neanderthals built altars and conducted funeral ceremonies. This behavior shows that as soon as hominid brains got big and complex enough for mind to arise, we began to wonder about the mysteries and problems of existence, and found some resolution in story and ritual.

The brain has an inbuilt tendency to turn all thoughts into actions, according to the researchers, Andrew Newberg and the late Eugene d’Aquili, both physicians at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. . Vestigial contacts that exist between the highly advanced frontal lobes and the brain’s motor areas inhibit the brain’s inclination to act out all thoughts, yet we can override this inhibition, and we often do. By mentally rehearsing actions like running, stalking or fighting, hominids probably honed those abilities and prospered accordingly.

It would be no surprise then if the brain compelled us to act out our stories. “The ideas these stories convey about fate, death, and the nature of the human spirit … would certainly gain the mind’s attention,” Newberg and d’Aquili write in their 1999 book, The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience (Fortress Press). Combine the neurological functions and the meaningful context, and we have the source of ritual’s power.

Our brains are wired for liturgy

Rich Heffern  |  Mar. 4, 2010

 We, as humans, share a deep need for ritual and connection, especially at great times of change. Ceremony helps us embrace the stages of our lives in a positive and exciting way, recognizing and witnessing our new identities.

In creating and experiencing personal ritual, you can find strength and comfort in your life, gain perspective, and move deliberately into your future. Through meaningful ceremonies, you and your guests connect with the message of the event, and it will have genuine and lasting impact on your community and relationships.

You can gather with friends and family and use meaningful rituals to acknowledge and process any of the significant developments in your life journey—in the way that you need. I am here to help.

A lot of extinct rituals are outdated for one of two reasons: Either they’re not very efficient and they now seem downright quaint compared to their modern alternatives (like corresponding with actual written letters) or they’ve just fallen out of fashion over the years (like shining your own shoes). The importance of rituals isn’t tied to their efficiency or productivity at all; they’re important precisely because they’re outdated and in the past few decades they’ve become indicative of a particular kind of old-school classiness.

On top of that, many of them are important despite — or because of — the fact that they take time. They give you the chance to sort out your life while actively engaging in a small, meaningful thing that has value in and of itself.

Rituals for men.

Rituals that involve hanging out with other guys become a routine that no longer requires a reason; you just begin to value them for their own sake. This is another opportunity to look for something people don’t do much anymore, like going to an old boxing gym (if you’re lucky enough to be near one) or having mid-afternoon drinks. It’s helpful to imagine things that aren’t just bonding activities; meeting for cigars has a suave connotation you don’t get with, say, grilling. Think classic male pursuits, or anything you can picture Gary Cooper doing, and commit to something social on a regular basis.

When you’re doing something like taking an evening walk — for no other reason than to take a walk — your mind is free to roam, and that’s when you’re most likely to consider all the important things you’d normally avoid or miss entirely. Daydreaming about nothing in particular is an active process for the parts of your brain that deal with long-term memory and problem-solving, and having a repetitive ritual that occupies your attention works the same way. Years ago, men had far more opportunities for this kind of reflection, but in the contemporary man’s lifestyle, it’s something you almost certainly need to dedicate time to.

 Modern men are often both ceaselessly busy and left with the impression that they haven’t affected the world at all. Rituals combat that feeling. Giving yourself a regular, routine excuse to have a drink with friends or a relaxed drive affords you the chance to clear your head, on schedule, every week. Working with your hands, inefficient and time-consuming though it might be, always leaves you with a real, permanent thing that you’ll always know you actually built.

These feelings of camaraderie and achievement are rarer than they once were, and in either case, the fact that you took the time to engage in that ritual makes the experience more meaningful. Rituals all work on that principle: You’re imbuing something with value because you’ve made the commitment to continue to do it. Even better if it comes with the added value of being notably classy. You’re assured that you’re doing something in a way that isn’t cheap and disposable, because you consider it relevant enough to do it right.

Rituals are important to all of us because they allow us to access our subconscious and actually change our brains. Mastering the details of a ritual teaches us discipline, self-confidence, problem solving, and allows us to connect with our sub-conscious to control 

I found an article in the Tacoma New Tribune on a study showing that those who practice religious ritual on a regular basis are happier than atheists are. It mentioned that in England a group of atheist have begun meeting once a week to see if the gathering of like minded people creates that feeling of well-being.

 We believe it is not just the gathering but the ritual involved in those gatherings that causes the beneficial effects. The gathering itself is filled with ritual. Each person has a ritual for getting ready for the meeting, there are ritualistic greetings of fellow atheists, the meeting itself is filled with ritual be it centered around refreshments, a speaker, collecting donations, etc. We chose paganism as a model of ritual because it can be practiced by an individual or a group so if you can’t find a group in your area, you can perform the rituals on your own.

 The multiple god/desses are great because they represent different aspects of life. You can choose to build a ritual around healing, gratefulness, problem solving, finances, or whatever you need to work on. Simply chose the God/dess specializing in your particular issue. We have chosen the Celtic Deities simply because if is our founder’s heritage. If you want to do the research you can use Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Nordic, or whatever group with which you identify. Almost every culture has a pagan culture somewhere in it’s past that you can draw upon.

 They do not represent actual God/desses to us, but rather that part of our brains that knows the truth or where to find it.

 If I want help with the housework, an area of constant difficulty for me, I perform a ritual centered on the Celtic Goddess Brigit, Goddess of the hearth. Meditation on a Goddess that specializes in hearth and home has lead to some enlightening information that was stored in my own brain. I have even been able to develop rituals around housework itself. Making it a “religious” practice makes it not only easier, but the practice of housework itself becomes a ritual that changes the brain in a very real way.

We have purposely left out the God/desses of war and destruction because we see no rational reason for building rituals around such negative aspects of our personalities. Most of us have excessive access to those parts of our brains without drawing them out. It is the goal of Stoic Paganism to minimize destructive emotions.

For a very thorough paper on ritual and cognitive evolution, the power of reenactment, pattern completion and connecting ritual to Cognition models of the mind, see http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1023&context=rs_theses   

Paganism is one of the easiest ways to incorporate ritual into your life.

 Make no mistake. It is difficult enough for me to imagine how a person can pray to a single god and believe that he is listening and caring about each detail that happens in our lives. Yet we were lead to believe that there are several, even dozens of gods who watch over their domains and answer each request with either a yeah or nay.

 Stoic Paganism acknowledges that these god/desses are merely idols, symbols of the need laid before them; A way to put into words and into our thoughts the answers to our problems. The large number of Celtic deities allows us to visualize just about any type of meditation we could imagine. That is how we use them in Stoic Paganism.

 These rituals don’t appear to offend these deities since no bolt of lightening has come down from the heavens to strike me down. As a matter of fact, the more proficient I becomes at these rituals, the more benefit I see from them as my own subconscious is turned to the solving of whatever problem brought me to my alter.

 I use the Celtic God/desses first because it is my heritage. Secondly, the Celts appear only to have gone to war to save their livelihood and then with viciousness that frightened even the Roman Soldiers who tried to conquer them. Part of their strategy was to change their religion to the adoration of one angry desert god bent upon punishing anyone who did not bend their knee in worship. Yet, to this day they celebrate their pagan holidays in churches guarded by stone replicas of their pagan spirits.

 To perform a ritual, simply choose a Celtic god/dess that represents the subject of your desire. For example, if you seek wisdom on a decision, conduct a rite to the god and goddess of wisdom. 

 Badb, Blodeuwedd, and Danu form a triple goddess. A goddess who appears in three different forms. Sound familiar?

 Badb is the goddess of wisdom, inspiration, and enlightenment; Blodeuwedd, goddess of earth, flowers, initiation and wisdom; and Danu, mother earth, goddess of water, prosperity, wisdom. Taliesin is the god of wisdom, music, poetry, and knowledge.

 A Stoic Pagan (SP) might use both a sapphire, used to expand intuitive wisdom, and a topaz, which promotes openness to ones internal wisdom.

 The SP Alter might also contain an iris, or perhaps some incense made from iris, the flower that stands for wisdom.

 Does this sound complicated? It is all part of learning mastery – teaching yourself that you can learn to accomplish new and somewhat complicated things.

 During such a ritual, you will focus your conscious and subconscious mind upon gaining and finding within yourself the wisdom you need to make life reasonably happy and comfortable. You’ll be surprised at the amazing things you already understand and at your knowledge of where to find what you don’t already know.

Stoic Pagansim rituals are based upon Celtic paganism because it already has a framework laid out in a way that connects with the human brain. It is difficult enough to master a ritual with a framework ready to go. Imagine designing your own detailed ritual with all of the hidden schemas that the human brain is pre-programmed to interpret. These rituals have worked for thousands of years not because there are real gods and goddesses, but because man has by trial and error, discovered the patterns that our brains already understand. I prefer not to fix something that is not broken.

 We will begin with prepared rituals that you can follow like a checklist. The more familiar you become with the patterns, the more you may want to branch out and try some rituals of your own.

 An interesting fact is that we don’t fully understand what exactly it is that changes the brain other than working through the dopamine system, so sticking to the framework that history has proven to be effective seems like a good idea to me. If you design a ritual on your own that doesn’t seem to have any effect, don’t be discouraged. Just try something else until you are successful.