These are mature coping mechanisms that are transcendental in nature. They are followed by men and women who have realized that life is much bigger than the naked eye and what society has taught us. They are driven to explore their full potential, discover the meaning of life and find the God within themselves.
Meditation has become a very popular and mainstream practice. San Francisco airport has a meditation room called the Berman Reflection Room. Companies such as Apple, Google, Yahoo and Nike offer relaxation and meditation rooms. The general public sees meditation as a technique as the wikipedia definition indicates. At the beginning of the spiritual, our ego learns meditation techniques in search of benefits such as relaxation, inspiration, happiness and inner peace however true meditation can never be achieved this way. As a young man interested in spirituality, I would often attempt to meditate. My personality knew that it was important to meditate to evolve spiritually. If I were to lay down trying to meditate, I would fall asleep most of the time. So I would sit, try various exercises or guided meditations. I was actually learning concentration not meditation. Both are generally confused for each other. While this was useful to acquire more control over my thoughts, after a while my body would bother me and I would stop. Not much insight would come out from these meditation attempts. In my mid-thirties, I got a concussion from a ski accident which made me very dizzy for a month. After I had recovered, as an act of grace, the nature of my meditation was completely transformed. I started to be able to meditate effortlessly for over an hour without my body bothering me. I was meditating from my heart for the first time. Previously, all my meditation attempts had originated from my lower mind. Meditation started to feel like taking a sunbath rather than something laborious to do. It became an act of non-doing. I started to feel my creator, my divine self, my body, my feelings and my thoughts. I realized that meditation was first an act of listening, feeling myself deeply and not a technique. Until we reach a point where meditation is done effortlessly from the heart, we do not understand what true meditation is. Meditation can open the channel of our higher self as long as our heart is aligned, giving us ecstatic states of consciousness. In meditation, we can listen to the subtle spheres and advance much faster on our spiritual journey. Meditation can also be used for this physical dimension. We can feel the people in our life, the potentials in our life and, as such, make much better decisions. I could feel my loved ones and their personal struggles. As a business owner, I could feel the state of mind of my employees so it was a very useful management tool too. Meditation helps us to stay aligned to live a life that feels good. Over the years, meditation has become my refuge or my conscious coping mechanism. When I am faced with challenges, I automatically meditate to regulate my emotions, calm my mind, evaluate a situation and get clarity and insights about what to do next.
- Shadow work
We are all light and shadow, made of conscious and subconscious aspects or personalities. We are a multitude within ourselves. There are times where we feel stuck in an aspect that feels bad, or one that is completely numb. These shadows or dark aspects are created in 3 main ways. First, when we experience a trauma and we are not able to digest the experience, the mind would bury it into the subconscious so that we can get on with our life. For example, a woman who was sexually abused as a child could suppress her femininity because subconsciously she believed she got in trouble because of it. Others could become unattractive and overweight as a layer of protection against men. This aspect lives in constant fear of men and sees the world as threatening and predatory. Secondly, the shadow could be a protector personality from the traumatized inner child. Using the same example, there are many sexually abused women in their childhood who are hyper sexualized. To overcome their fear of men, they learn to use their sex appeal to take control over men to overcome their own powerlessness. However, because this process is unconscious, the individual has really two shadow personalities on top of each other. In this case, it would be a succubus protecting a terrorized abused inner child. In my case, as a teenager, I had developed a mean personality to protect my powerless and unloved inner child. This personality would say hurtful words to anyone trying to bully me. When someone is mean, it is always a protector personality protecting a hurt aspect of him/herself. There are no real perpetrators, only victims who cope in unhealthy ways. Third, shadow personalities are created from shadow aspects from our primary caretakers (transgenerational traumas). We have internalized unsavory aspects of our parents so that we could keep bonding to them even if they are hurtful. This is why, as we become conscious, we need to clear the traumas of our whole family line.
These subconscious shadow aspects act like magnets. They attract life situations or people with similar vibrations that feel terrible. The slow way of evolution is to learn from these painful experiences that we have manifested from our shadow self in this physical dimension. However, as we become more aware, we are able to identify early the feelings when we are taken internally by these dark clouds or pulsions. It feels gluey, similar to feeling possessed by a negative entity. We cannot think straight and we disconnect from our daily life. We feel horrible and out of control. Attempting positive thinking would do more damage than good in this frame of mind as it would repress these aspects even deeper into our psyche. The optimal approach is what we call shadow work. We use these times of torment to perform powerful healing. There are thousands of different soul retrieval processes, each one with their own benefits but the principles are always the same. First, we embrace the negative sensations and emotions instead of resisting them. This is the process of diving into the shadow without resistance. Secondly, we validate and show unconditional love & presence to this buried aspect so that it may fully come to the surface. Thirdly, the shadow aspect comes to expression. If this step is successful, a noticeable emotional release happens such as crying. Fourth, we bring unconditional love & presence for the healing to complete and let our extraordinary body perform its magic. Fifth, the mind can then analyze and understand what happened. This last step is optional. Shadow work is extremely powerful. When done correctly, after a couple of hours, we start feeling much better and can enjoy days of feeling much better.
- Disciplined thinking
When a situation upsets us, our mind has a tendency to go all over the place. We may go to catastrophizing, stop sleeping at night or struggle to concentrate on our daily activity. All of our energy is usurped by the problem. As we sincerely attempt to start controlling our thinking process, we will realize how little control we have over our mind. We observe that thinking happens mechanically most of the times. Disciplining our thoughts and mental attention is a lifelong process. Progress is slow but well worth it. Here are the most important techniques I have used all over the years that have served me well. Let’s say that a stressful situation just entered our life and we feel overwhelmed. Not knowing what to do puts us in a very powerless state so thinking on how to respond is healthy. Putting all of our thoughts on paper, evaluate the pros and cons, the benefits and the risks, best and worst case situations can help us get clarity. Then we define a clear strategy for action. Despite this, our mind will have a tendency to wander, and we need patiently and consistently to bring it back to what we decided with our rational mind. At other times, we go to bed full of worries so we are unable to sleep. The circling worrying thoughts are what keep us awake. Stopping thoughts is possible but very difficult. Instead, I recommend we focus our attention on our body sensations to fall asleep. We focus 3 seconds on the sensations of our right shoulder, relaxing it if tensed, then 3 seconds on the left shoulder. If our mind wanders again, we immediately bring it back to the body part sensation without belittling ourselves for our short attention span. We follow the same process with the right thumb, index, middle finger, ring finger, pinkie, and every other possible part of your body. Depending of our anxiety level, we will feel automatically asleep within minutes. This practice gets better with practice.
When we go onto our daily activities, it is very important to do only one thing at a time, and not start something else until the activity is complete. In addition to making us more productive, it is an excellent habit to discipline the mind. This way, the mind will be stronger when we face really difficult situations. There are life situations that stretch us to the limit. For example, our wife is threatening us with divorce or our business is risking to go under or we are stuck at 15,000 feet in high altitude sick with no energy to go down. This came from personal experience. In this situation, we are overwhelmed with scary and self-defeating thoughts. My practice then is not to believe the thoughts. I watch them and let them pass. These thoughts would be « I am going to be alone », « I am going to lose my children », « I am losing everything I have worked so hard for », « I am unlovable. I am always abandoned at the end » or « I am going to be bankrupt », « I am a failure, a loser », « I am going to be the laughing stock of my business community », « My employees are going to hate me for letting them down », « I am going to lose my house », « I will never be successful » or « I am going to die », « I have so many regrets of things I have not completed », « I can see my own funerals and people talking negatively about me ». I let them run through the body. This can result in shaking, shedding tears, sweating or freezing. Then I go back to my resolve which could be « you are my wife, I love you and we will find a way », « I went through many challenges and I always overcome them. I will find a way », « I will put one step after another, and with God’s grace I will return safely » following the scenarios above. In the spiritual field, we talk much more about the heart than the mind. However both are just as important. A clear and disciplined mind is critical for our daily life and the advancement of our spiritual journey. And it only comes by working on it every day. The Buddhist religion offers a great variety of tools and techniques to still the mind for anyone willing to dive deeper on this topic.
Presence is a simple concept but a very difficult one at the same time. If we ask everyone if they are present, they would quickly respond affirmatively, not understanding what presence actually is. Presence was recently popularized to the mainstream by Eckart Tolle with his best-seller The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment but all spiritual traditions talk about it in some ways. When we experience true presence for the first time, we realize we have been asleep all of our life. Presence is a feeling state that is hard to describe. It is like shifting our consciousness to an observer who can see us and what we are thinking or doing at the same time. As a young man, I first practiced presence by taking some walks. As I was watching the surrounding sceneries, I was aware at the same time of the « I » that was looking. To keep my focus, I would keep my awareness on my breath, the sensations of my body or the impressions coming to all my physical senses such as birds’ chirping. Before we experience the revelation of presence, we live a very mechanical life. We are like a machine programmed by our upbringing, education and environment. We react mechanically to external stimuli and we are fully identified with any activity we perform. We have little self-awareness and introspection is superficial. We have little access to our inner world. Presence changes everything. It is the light that starts illuminating our internal life from the inside to start freeing ourselves from the programs so that we may know ourselves. At first, presence may come only a few times a day for very short moments but with practice and perseverance, we can increase how long we can be present every single day. It starts with the process of self-observation. Presence is a form of divided attention when we stay aware of our observer self, what we are doing or thinking and sometimes even our transcendental self. It is very difficult at first so it is best to start with uncomplicated activities such as walking, driving or exercising. Later on, we may move to more mental activities such as reading or writing a paper. As we start practicing presence, we become aware of the principle obstacles of achieving this state : scattered mind, undisciplined body, overwhelming pulsions and emotions, fear, identification to activities, attachments, exaggerated concern for other people’s opinions, limited energy, inner fragmentation, false personas and inner lies. Presence indicates our level of being and it is the best indicator of where we are in the spiritual path. People who have more presence have a distinct feel. They have natural charisma and an aura that affect everyone around them. People are naturally drawn to them. We cannot acquire more presence unless we work on all other unrefined aspects of ourselves. It takes personal efforts and perseverance to be more present. I recommend having practices in our life that increase self-awareness such as meditation, yoga or developing the habit to remember ourselves as we perform daily activities. However, true presence is always an act of grace. It is the non-doing in the doing. It can never be forced as we need to bring a sensitive feeling state that can only come from the heart. In the beginning of the spiritual path, it is often the ego who wants to be present to achieve all the benefits of enlightenment…with very limited results. Overtime, the ego gets smoother (and bruised) through life experiences, becomes more conscious of its limitations, and presence can be initiated from a heart space. Presence can be practiced anytime in any circumstances. This is the most important spiritual practice of all. Presence is the light of consciousness. As they go through hard times, the people who are committing to personal development naturally practice presence. This allows them to find the answers of how they attracted the current unpleasant states in order to step out of it. This is why it is a mature coping mechanism. The inevitable struggles of life become then a stepping stone to develop more presence.
It is no surprise that a number of religions such as Islam are promoting fasting. Actually, fasting, statistically, shows the highest efficiency among physical methods of healing. When animals are sick, they have no appetite. And they will fast until they become healthy. Through my personal circles of acquaintances, I got to hear about a number of people who had terminal diseases and given only a few months to live and who were able to become healthy again by the simple act of fasting. Contrary to popular belief, many diseases are caused by eating, while fasting heals. Having gone through extended fasts, I can share my personal experiences. My definition of fasting is no intake of food but as much water as your body requires. I see fasting as a powerful detoxification process. The body saves tremendous energy by not digesting and can then focus on healing. The unhealthy parts of our body become then activated. This process can be uncomfortable but if we do not resist them and let the body perform its healing work, miraculous healing occurs. In addition of detoxifying the body, there will be the activation of suppressed memories, and a lot of difficult repressed emotions and internal aspects will then be released. This is why I recommend that people going through long fasts should do it in a safe and supportive environment such as a retreat with a skilled, medically-trained and compassionate facilitator. There is another reason why a holistic setting is ideal. Fasting gives its optimal benefits when the person is able to stay centered, introspective, relaxed, attuned and contemplative. Daily guided meditation combined with energizing exercises such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong or Falung Gong practices are extremely beneficial to facilitate the cleansing process. When we are not in a stressful environment and do not suffer from a major health condition, we have the ability to survive 4 months without food (but with water) so an extended fast of 21 days poses very little risk with the right environment. It is very beneficial and much easier than people think. However, fasting should stop immediately if there are any warning signs such as prolonged weakness or emaciation. This is again where having a medically trained facilitator is so important. Many medical experts are now recommending for people to do a full one day fast per week. Another very common form of diet is called the fast 5 diet that is followed by Wim Hof. With this diet, we eat everything we want everyday for only 5 hours a day (ex. 5 PM to 10 PM), and we fast for the rest of the day or the other 19 hours. For most people, this would be the equivalent of one meal a day giving our body a break the rest of the time. During my research, I found that streneous physical exercises at the end of the one day fast boost testosterone production which increases libido, muscle mass and energy levels. Working out on an empty stomach increases the production of human growth hormone up to 1300% in women and 2000% in men. HGH have enormous anti-aging properties, increases muscle mass and improves recovery. I have followed the practice of one meal a day with exercising before with extraordinary benefits. At 46, I am enjoying again the figure and stamina of my 20s. As an extra benefit, we feel extremely alive while performing our exercise routine. For all these reasons, I have included fasting as a conscious defense mechanism.
This concludes our series on coping and defense mechanisms. As life happens, we are always coping in one form or another. I invite you to use these articles first as a means for self-observation, and slowly to start upgrading your coping mechanisms to more conscious ones that better serve you. Before all, remember to be kind to yourself on your journey of self-improvement.