meditation

Muslim Lifestyle I - The prayer

I promised that I would give some insights to my way into Islam and what I like about it. I thought that I should probably start with the prayer, since it is the topic, that might be the most repelling one when it comes to being a Muslim for Christians or other religious people. If you consider yourself an atheist who doesn't even feel able to believe in some kind of godlike entity: stay tuned. (And probably keep reading those articles, because I think they are interesting anyways :-P).

I will say this thing over and over again in every separate article: I am not an expert on this. I did not study Islam (or any other Religion for that matter) and I can only tell you, what I've been told. When in doubt: consider me wrong and correct me in the comments, but please remember to be polite. One of the people who where there, when I converted, told me: "Always remember, you are new to this religion and you will always make mistakes. I have been a muslim for 56 years now and I am still learning new things about it. When someone tells you that you're wrong, just tell them that you're new to the religion. You can even say this in 10 years from now." 

Having said this, I want to talk about the prayer. People consider it some kind of brainwashing, if you pray 5 times a day and I agree that there is something to it. Other muslims I've been talking to, agree with that as well and openly told me: "Of course you are less likely to do something bad, if you are trying to talk to God ten minutes later, asking to go to Ghannah [Arabic Word for Paradise]." (I am paraphrasing). But I do not think that this is necessarily a bad thing. I believe that most rules which should be followed in Islam make every day life easier, if everyone follows them. And I believe, that they make it healthier. I will post more on that later, but I want to say: Putting up rules, which make life easier/better and then putting a system in place to make people follow the rules, is a good idea.

Another thing that I like about praying that often is the meditation that comes with it. I already put up some posts on how much I love meditation and I've been bragging about it on social media. It is great. Praying for me basically triggers the same effect. Starting with Wudu, the religious washing procedure before the prayer, you have a powerful ritual which helps you, to take a step back, relax and refocus. James Clear wrote tons of articles on creating rituals and processes in order to be more productive. During the washing process (I do it, if I can, in some bathtub), you clean up your hands, your face, your arms and your feet (plus some additional parts) in a particular order. I like to do it with warm water, because it feels like a big stress relief and it helps me free my mind, a practice you could also incorporate in you meditation.

For me it feels, like the idea of the whole thing is, to minimize all distractions. I think this is also the main reason, why men and woman are separated in the mosque. I have prayed with families, where men and women pray together and I don't think, that this rule is very sexist (even though it kind of neglects the existence of gays and lesbians or other genders, but that's something I still have to think about later). I think minimizing distractions would be a good idea for meditation too. Distractions that are taken care of in Islam:

  1. If you are using a carpet for praying, it's supposed to have as little ornaments as possible.
  2. The floor on which you are praying should be clean. 
  3. You are supposed to clean yourself, I guess it will prevent itching and smelling xD. Especially the cleaning of mouth and nose is interesting to me, because I used to be pretty distracted by parts of my breakfast back in 7th grade, when I went to church. 
  4. Men should cover everything from their shoulders down to their knees. Women should cover everything besides their feet, hands and faces. 
  5. Every prayer follows the same order. Order helps the human brain to follow in certain patterns. Again: repetition means learning.
  6. If you can, you're supposed to pray in a group. This helps to create a feeling of community. Praying in the mosque creates a similar feeling of community for me that is similar to concerts I've been attending in the past. It feels nice to have the feeling of belonging to a group and I get goosebumps all over my body when everyone prays together (The same feeling of belonging also comes up when I see girls with a Hijab outside, but that's again another story).

So yes all in all I believe that the muslim prayer has some good things to it and I don't believe that the only reason for praying 5 times a day is to get control over the muslim. I believe it's supposed to help the muslim cope with the biggest challenges in life. The given timings force you to get a good rhythm into your life, which is helpful if you're depressed. Praying every few hours for the things which are important to you, helps you stay focused throughout the day. For example I was praying for my friend to find an apartment. Every day after one of the prayers I would call him and ask him if he had applied for some rooms, which forced him to eventually work on it, apply for rooms and eventually he got one. You don't even have to believe in god to realize that constantly pushing into the same direction will make you reach your goals.

 

Seeing opportunity

I strongly believe that hustling is 90% of becoming great. The other 10% is chance. I think chances will come along for pretty much everyone but only those who currently try will finally see the opportunity when it is strolling down the line with you. 

I've had some pretty bad days this week. I got sick, I stopped working out and my lovely meditation app (get it at headspace.com) just introduced a new meditation technique, visualization, which is pretty frustrating because I feel unable to do it. Many words, little meaning: I feel miserable.

As an result of that I've been bingewatching Gotham and House of Cards on Netflix and those are definitely shows, I'd recommend, but it's very unfulfilling. I am on a vacation with my parents. I planned to get some video cutting done here, but I lost the USB stick with all the material. I guess everyone sees my train of fought: I'm finding lame excuses. 

Tomorrow is the date of my brothers confirmation. I have big problems engaging in conversations with my family and it's friends because I feel sluggish and bad about myself, but I will take the opportunity.

Which opportunity? I will train to network and have mindful conversations under the best situation possible: I feel bad, so it's hard for me to engage into meaningful conversations or conversations that don't interest me at all. So that's quite a hard level to work on, but it's okay if I fail. It's family. Nobody cares if I leave at a certain point in the talk. I don't lose money or a relationship about it. I can just be there and work on my skills trying to hide how much I hate myself and the situation I'm being in. Sounds great, right? I'm almost pumped. Almost.

Real love

After one relationship I might not have to much entitlement to write about love, but I will just do it anyways. Who would have guessed. Anyways, I have the strong feeling that now that the relationship is over and I am in fact caring more for myself, I am also more confident in caring for others. I feel that I can finally stop waiting to be loved. I have been meditating for 40 days in a row and I feel more mindful every day. 

During the last few days I got the strong feeling that I'd rather interpret love in the altruistic way. I want to use that new quality of my state of mind to improve the lives of the people around me. Finally I feel like I can give more than what I receive. Meditation is quite awesome.

I am quite sure that I am still to unstable to be part of a two human relationship but I can still learn to be the best version of myself at any given point in time.

I can (not)

For quite some time and especially during my last relationship I've had the feeling that I can not do certain stuff. I've been feeling like I was not strong enough. During my studies I've learned that it's often times enough to just stick to some kind of behaviour or exercise or just try to do my best. 

I have been used to suppress my feelings in order to not get overwhelmed by them and it seems like I am just now learning to deal with those emotions. On somedays, like today they just feel overwhelmingly big and I feel like I could not do anything but mindfulness as it is trained with meditation and as I practice it by writing this article gives me the power of observing the feeling rather than experiencing it. I feel like I don't want to do anything today but I will do it anyways. Because I can. 

Career Advice

Yesterday I stumbled upon another interesting article. It covers the question what differs people with great career paths from those who always seem to struggle and never really seem to get out of their mediocre life. 

Even though I find the article worth reading I just want to focus on one particular part of it. It mentions another article by the NY Times which discusses the success of second generation immigrants in the US when compared to Americans whose families have been living there for a longer time span. 

It turns out that for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.

I want to become an entrepreneur. Probably it's because I have all three of those traits. As I pointed out in yesterday's post, I should really be living in the here and now, but obviously none of this traits is going to make it easier for me, as it isn't for anyone else:

But this success comes at a price. Each of the three traits has its own pathologies. Impulse control can undercut the ability to experience beauty, tranquillity and spontaneous joy. Insecure people feel like they’re never good enough. “I grew up thinking that I would never, ever please my parents,” recalls the novelist Amy Tan. “It’s a horrible feeling.” Recent studies suggest that Asian-American youth have greater rates of stress (but, despite media reports to the contrary, lower rates of suicide).

On the other hand I don't really feel like settling for a life in mediocracy. I strongly feel like I want to leave a footprint, a legacy and I almost feel blessed that I have those three traits. People ca laugh about me, I don't care (superiority complex); I will prove myself (insecurity) and I have the discipline (impulse control). I don't really know how to act on this. Certainly the different point of view on stress that is being taught in the TED Talk I linked in yesterday's article should make a difference. Also I won't stop meditating. I feel like I need to get more resilient to stress and to my negative emotions in order to win this game. As soon as I have any further thoughts, I will let you know. :)

 

Greetings from Hippocampus: Stress down!

I had a blast today. Starting with an interesting Article about depression on nymag. The article mainly covers the great influence of aerobic exercise in form of running and meditation on depression and it's symptoms. The theory explaining this is that neurogenesis, the new formation of brain cells that happens throughout the whole life span, is reduced in the Hippocampus of depressed people.

According to German wikipedia it is backed up knowledge that the volume of people with (unipolar) depression is reduced when compared to healthy individuals. I was thinking of myself, because I am a narcissist (No seriously who's the person you care for the most, when you are single?). I am pretty bad when it comes to accessing pictures, smells, tastes and sounds in my memory. I have no problem spotting them whenever I encounter anything I have saved in my brain but accessing it at will is quite a problem. I also now that I get better at it on good days. So it might not be a very consistent problem. 

I had a theory coming up that depressed people probably tend to be stressed out all the time leading to a wasted Hippocampus which then leads to poor memory. So I started looking at a few sources on that subject because I did not really believe that there should be no sources available and what shall I tell you? Of course there are.  

Those sources are listed down below in the sources section of this article. Summoning them up: little amounts of stress increase the performance of memory in mice while high amounts of stress lower it's performance. Alcoholics also show a very similar change in their brain structure and eventually stress will also increase the emotional response: fear. 

Another source suggests that especially highly intuitive, sensitive people tend to have an always firing fear response (which I clearly see in myself during bad phases). This is why people who belong to that type of person are always in some state of trauma; they are stressed out all the time. The natural response to that is often times that people live in the past or in the future rather than standing their own emotion at this very moment, which is definitely something I do a lot. I would suggest that playing computer and video games or watching TV shows would also fall into this category even though I am not quite sure about that. I mean who does not exit reality using one way or the other?

Obviously the best way to cope with this is to learn to relax and recover which is not a natural behavior for people who own that trait. Mediation comes in handy at this position as well as doing sports does. Another interesting video that my brother has shown me the other day suggests that also changing our attitude towards stress would help us improve our response to that. Another article published by the German "Spiegel" in 1978 also suggests the obvious: antidepressants and a more interesting helpful thing: releasing the bad feelings by feeding them into anger and articulating them. I know from myself that this definitely helps to get some relief. 

 

Sources

Acceptance

I started to meditate about two weeks ago. I always tried to meditate on my own but it didn't really work out for me. When I started this time, I used an app called headspace.com. It moderates you through every session and it changed my attitude towards meditation and life in general. I always want to control things. I like to change myself to adapt to the world around me, because it gives me control. I makes me feel save. 

Using this app I learned that meditation is not all about making the mind focus on your breath and that you lost the game as soon as you loose focus (Then again my all-or-nothing-mentality kicks in). It taught me that I need to accept my thoughts. It's perfectly natural to have the mind striving around. It's not important to always keep up the focus. It's just discipline to refocus as soon as you feel that your mind has wandered off. 

I've always had problems accepting my thoughts. I've always had problems accepting myself. And in my now gone relationship I sometimes had problems with accepting my spouse. Why am I wired this way? I guess that question will be answered during my therapy, but what I can tell right now is the fact, that I feel the urge to have control in order to feel save. As soon as I loose control I feel uncomfortable and in the moment I can't control myself, I can't change who I am, I start to be disappointed. Meditation now helps me accept me for what I am.

This does not mean, that I can't change myself. But instead of working on myself on the surface I need to accept my wiring and change that. I need to accept what I am before I can change it. And I need to let go. I need to be able to loose control in order to regain control over my life and my feelings. It's quite a strange lesson to learn. But I needed it.