Posts in Category: Mind-Body

Why we should never state our age

Here is a true story:

I went to the bank this afternoon. The good-looking young security guy on the door stared at me when I went through the exit door. I wondered if he was going to check my bag. I said, “Have I done something wrong?”. He said, “No, you look really pretty. I wanted to know if you’re taken. Would you go out with me?”. I nearly dropped dead. Nothing like that has happened to me for about 90 years.
I burst out laughing and said, “Sweetheart I’ve got two children and I’m really old.”
But he made my day!

If this lady had been interested in staying ageless, this was one big missed opportunity. Instead she rejected youth in favour of a more elderly self. By aligning herself with older people the young guard would not have found attractive (she even mentions the number 90), by using condescending vocabulary (“Sweetheart”) in the way her mother may have done before, by stating she was ‘really old’ when she was only 50, she was instructing her body to appear that way in future, even though that morning it did not. How did she react to compliments from young men when she was 30? This is how she should also have reacted now.

We are more powerful than we know. If we are interested in staying ageless, we never mention our age. We never state, “I’m really old”. Not even, “I’m too old for you”. For every such statement sends us down a rung on the ladder of decline.
Every age has a vibration. Ages where we are potentially in transition – often the start of a new decade – are danger zones for vibratory shift. When we reach 40, 50, 60 our subconscious sends a powerful message to our bodies. Belief is the foundation of all realities – see examples of physical changes in people with multiple personalities and the blog post The Vibe of Youth). Subtly, slowly, we transform into the societal archetype of our new age, morphing into the picture of those we have known who have reached that age before us.
If 50, 60 or 70 had no social meaning it would be safe to state our age. But we have all been conditioned to expect certain behaviours and appearances from humans according to how long they have been around. Even for those who look young for their age, stating it becomes a game, one of fishing for compliments. Take the following scenario:
“How old are you?”
“I don’t know. 45?” (which probably means the person looks 50)
“I’m 60 years old!”
“Wow, you look amazing.”
This does us no good at all. Looking young considering how old we are is still sending the same message to our cells and tissues : we are 60 – with all that implies – even though we may not currently comply with how the majority of 60 year olds look.
For those who wish to remain ageless, if anyone does ask us such a direct question we can say :
“Oh dear…memory fails me, ask me another one.”
“I was born in the 20th century, that much I know.”
“I’m 26.”
“Sorry, classified information.”
“In Martian years I’m coming up to 24.”
Curious individuals may use more subtle tricks to make us state our administrative age. For instance :
Oh your eldest son is 22?” and later, “So how old were you when you had your first child?”
“How many years’ experience do you have in this area?” and later, “How old were you when you got the job?”
“Of course the people who arrived in the eighties had a tough job” (use of flattery)…and later, “You must be over 55, right?”
“So how many years do you have left until retirement?”
It is not easy to find an evasive answer without sounding rude, but “I can’t remember,” and a quick change of subject is better than falling into the trap and later thinking, “It’s no good. I can’t escape it. I’m on the way out.”

Never state 4If we want the collective consciousness to harmonise with our chosen age, we do not want our “administrative” age to be “out there”. We never say “guess my age”, we never want to look “good for our age”, we never align ourselves with our age cohort, ever, unless we actually are the ‘social age’ that we wish to appear. A 26 year old who looks 26 could state her age, though it would be good to get out of the habit from the beginning. A 52 year old who looks 15 years younger should never do so, not even to him or herself, if intent on staying ageless. This is an area where a foggy memory is a good thing.
There are of course circumstances where it is impossible to conceal the number of earth years we have been around, such as in dealings with authority. In the film “The Age of Adaline”, when a police officer is startled by the age on Adaline’s ID, her instinct is to flee to another city. Such drastic measures are unnecessary. If we know we are about to have to reveal our age and yet we appear much younger, we can make an effort to veil our appearance in order to avoid the “shock” reaction in the person opposite us, which could jump our body into the parallel world where we aged like everyone else (“She said I couldn’t possibly be 65, that there must be a mistake. My appearance is therefore a mistake….”). Sometimes we can even put our adopted age rather than our administrative age on a form – the gym doesn’t need to know how old we are, nor do the supermarket loyalty card people. But this is not always possible if we want to avoid being charged with fraud. In order to avoid the startled reaction by a person who has our administrative age on file, a gorilla suit – or perhaps wearing large spectacles, ageing head-wear, severe Never state 2hair styles and unflattering clothes for the few minutes of the interview – are temporary ways of avoiding having to justify our appearance! Experienced reality surfers can choose to temporarily appear older by consciously aligning themselves with their administrative age for a few moments, but this is only advisable for those no longer subject to the hypnotic power of this world of illusions – and how many of those people are there around!? But even if we have to strip naked for a new medic (medics who have known us for years usually fail to notice we aren’t changing due to change blindness), we can rest assured that we will soon be forgotten as the doctor moves onto other patients and to his/her own worries and cares. We slip away at the end of the appointment, not to be seen again until the next scheduled routine scan…perhaps in two years. Some choose never to see a doctor at all.
A situation where change blindness can fail is when we meet someone from our past who has not seen us in many years. If they are aware of how they themselves have changed they may well express genuine surprise. If they are from our own age cohort – for example an old school friend – this is dangerous territory. They don’t have to ask our age since they know already, and their energy and memories could affect our vibration, since we are ‘entangled’ with them from the past. Humour and moving swiftly on is a way out. For example :
Never state 3“Maureen, you haven’t changed a bit. No, really. My God. You’re exactly the same. It’s incredible.”
“Must be the lighting in this bar; hey you’ll never guess who I heard from the other day.”
“Maureen, you still look like a young girl. I don’t believe it.”
“And you Betty – I’d have recognised you anywhere! Hey the risotto looks good, I’m having that. Now do I have a story for you. Remember that guy I nearly married?”

Many who apply the rule of never stating their age are mocked for their vanity. No matter, since it is not for vanity that we are refusing the age society wishes to pin on us. Instead we are aligning ourselves with our ideal age, soaking our bodies in the vibration of youth, affirming that growing younger is as natural as growing older, believing that regeneration is easier than degeneration, transcending the ageing process with the mind, which is the sole source of reality.

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The Nocebo Effect

Nocebo 3The nocebo effect is the evil twin of the placebo effect. Just as positive expectations of a drug or traditional remedy can trigger the body’s natural healing response, negative expectations can exacerbate a condition, or cause illness where previously there was none. The nocebo effect is extremely powerful, yet doctors are often unaware of the effect a negative diagnosis can have on a patient’s health. A commitment to honesty – telling the patient the worst-case scenario – can be extremely dangerous because the power of suggestion often causes us to simulate symptoms – and the underlying causes – that may previously not have been there at all. Worrying something is wrong with us can actually cause us to develop the ailment we fear.

Keith Petrie at Auckland University has studied how switching to generics from branded medication causes patients to report worsening of conditions …even though chemically they are just the same. When people believe they are on generics they report more side effects and the drug is less effective.
Nocebo 6Research by Irene Tracy at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, UK, has demonstrated that the nocebo effect can be even more powerful than the placebo effect, and yet scant attention has been paid to it until now. Volunteers were connected to an infusion pump and were exposed to heat. They were asked to rate the pain as it increased from one to ten. They were then administered a pain killer but were not told the infusion had begun. The pain rating dropped but only slightly – for example, from ten to eight. The researchers then took their blood pressure and announced the infusion would now begin, saying a ‘strong analgesic’ would be administered to help them cope with the pain. The volunteers then rated the pain at a five. The key here was the positive expectation. However, then they were told the infusion was stopping – even though this was not the case – and the pain rating increased even further than at the start – to a nine. This demonstrated the nocebo effect was so powerful it actually overrode a powerful analgesic compound. If the nocebo effect can wipe out the effect of a powerful drug, we can only imagine how strong it can be when there is no drug, and only negative expectations, such as a doctor listing possible symptoms, side effects or the worst-case scenario of a cancer diagnosis.
The brain has the capacity to control pain using opioids, since there are circumstances where pain does not serve us, but the nocebo effect appears to switch this off. It is thought this occurs via a neurotransmitter called CCK which is activated by anticipatory anxiety.
Nocebo 4If very real symptoms can be neutralised simply through suggestion, the question is whether the visible signs of ageing can also be switched off if we ignore the social cues that reaching certain key ages expose us to. An example of the mind-blowing power of suggestion is the bizarre case of Audrey Chabot, a French woman who suffered from borderline personality disorder. After giving birth in the toilet and telling her malignantly narcissistic mother, who had not noticed her pregnancy, that she “didn’t want it”, her mother smothered the new-born and hid the body. Both were imprisoned for infanticide after her father took his daughter to hospital due to her haemorrhaging. Some years after her release, Chabot’s new partner discovered two frozen new-borns in the freezer. Audrey Chabot had done the same again – twice. The incredible thing about this story is that nobody, not her family, nor those around her nor even her partner noticed she had been pregnant. A video of Chabot working in the bar in summer clothes where she was a waitress a few days before giving birth shows no sign at all of a pregnancy. Her refusal of motherhood was so strong that her body obeyed her mind.
The expert psychologist said during her trial, “Her body showed no sign, and nor did she. It was not the usual type of pregnancy denial. She lived exactly as though she was not pregnant, as if she did not want to know, terrified of becoming the cold, selfish monster she had for a mother. It was more a refusal of pregnancy, which prevents the woman’s body from developing normally. The foetus lies along the spine and the abdomen does not expand. This can change in a matter of hours if the pregnancy is suddenly revealed or accepted.”
This story demonstrates the incredible power of mind over body, and raises serious questions for the medical profession. Should doctors practise “authorised deception”, and rather than acting on the principle of informed consent while listing effects such as headache, fatigue, dizziness and “how long you’ve got”, give only the best-case scenario, emphasizing instead the body’s amazing ability to self-heal?
Ill health is not inevitable as we age. Some might also ask, is death?

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Why power posing keeps us young

Power 2Did you know that how we position ourselves can affect what hormones are released in our bodies?
Try holding something between your teeth when feeling gloomy or uneasy about something. The ‘smile’ response will trigger feel-good hormones, whether there is a reason for smiling or not. Hormones are crucial to our continuing health, but they are not independent of our will, and we can control the amount we allow into our systems. Here’s why:
Social scientist Amy Cuddy’s TEDx talk explains how her team discovered that when assuming an alpha role in a situation or organisation an individual’s testosterone goes up significantly within days and their cortisol – the stress hormone – drops. To demonstrate this they had volunteers adopt high power poses (hands on hips, legs spread for instance) and low power poses (hunched, rubbing neck, hands between knees) for two minutes, after which they were asked to spit into a vial. Their saliva samples showed that the ‘low power poses’ caused a 10% decrease in testosterone and a 15% increase in cortisol. The ‘high power poses’ led to a 20% increase in testosterone and a 25% decrease in cortisol. Nature has ensured that those in control are both mentally strong and laid back at the same time.
Testosterone 1Cortisol is one of the most damaging hormones to our DNA. Learning to adopt physical poses and facial expressions which counteract feelings of victimhood and suffering is a powerful way to combat the kind of disease and tissue damage seen in ageing. Ageing is not something that just happens with the passing of the years; it is the result of prolonged exposure to environmental stress which causes DNA damage and tissue inflammation.
Body language is part of what is known as non-verbal communication. Non-verbals govern how we feel about ourselves. Our bodies change our minds therefore, as illustrated in the above experiment, but by pro-actively adopting powerful poses, our minds can decide to change our bodies.
Priming 4Our body language changes as we age. The question is to what degree are these changes inevitable, brought about by muscle loss and skeletal degradation? Exercise increases bone density at any age and nutrition can do wonders in avoiding these problems, but our attitude to our body is also crucial. Take posture – are we walking like an old person because we really can’t walk any other way, or could we stand straighter, walk more briskly? How often do we shuffle? Do we examine the pavement or engage with the outside world? When we shake someone’s hand, is it the firm grip of a confident person, or the limp, weak handshake of someone who has given up?
Adopting the physical gait and posture of a person in their prime triggers an immediate response in the body (see Ellen Langer’s Counterclockwise experiment). Just acting as if we were young has actual effects on our physical capacities – ranging from strength, memory, mood and even leading to better eyesight and hearing. We can ‘trick’ the body into being at its best in exactly the same way that the social cues that come with turning 60, 70 and beyond ‘trick’ us into believing we ‘just can’t do that anymore’. Our daily speech should ban forever all talk along the lines of “I’m doing this course before I go completely gaga”, “I’ll go on that trip before I become totally decrepit” and “I notice I’m much more tired these days”. Fatigue in particular is quoted as being part of the nocebo effect : patients in trials receiving a sugar pill who were told the new drug caused fatigue reported feeling so exhausted on some days they could not get out of bed.
Power 3Science is slowly confirming the Latin aphorism Mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a sound body), which is just about the best medical news of the 21st century. Let’s not lose the spring in our step. Believing in our continuing vitality is an excellent tool for avoiding the physical deterioration that so often accompanies later life. So let’s fake it till we make it.

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Do our memories make us old?

Memory 3In an interview with the US celebrity magazine People in 2015, the actress Judy Dench said: “There’s nothing good about being my age. Someone said to me, ‘You have such a wealth of knowledge,’ and I just said ‘I’d rather be young and know nothing, actually.’ Bugger the wealth of knowledge.”
Older people have more memories than younger ones. Many live in the past, with regrets, and when they are less mobile and have problems hearing and seeing, they may withdraw to such an extent that their whole identity becomes someone who is ‘past it’.

Could it be that we grow old because of our many memories? That somehow the number of images and old emotions in our head causes us to enter a new identity, one of the old?

The idea of the old living with only their memories is a social meme.  A meme is a term coined by Richard Dawkins to mean an idea that spreads from one individual to another within a culture. Dawkins compares them to genes in that they self-replicate and mutate.
Is ageing a social meme?
Memory 5Memories are crucial to normal social functioning. They help us learn from experience and avoid making the same mistakes. But they can also exist in the form of a subconscious programme, such as a drive to repeat unhealthy relationship patterns. Being aware of how our memories affect us is therefore crucial. In psychotherapy we remember in order to understand negative patterns in our lives, but if we simply relive our suffering in the therapist’s chair, memory harms rather than helps us.
Memories are encoded in a set of neurons but are not a good recorder of history. Every time a memory is activated a similar but not identical set of neurons switches on. These similar neurons become part of the permanent record, even though they are only approximate updates. Others, the original neurons, disappear. This explains why memory gets vaguer and more inaccurate over time, so the fact we are getting older is far from the whole story about why memory fails.
Our past traumas define us, they are part of our identity. We love our personal tale of suffering, and fear we will lose ourselves if we forget. But there are people who seem young for their age for decades and then their physical appearance suddenly catches up with them due to a difficult life event or mental issues – such as depression and anxiety, or injustice, which can trigger other older memories. This is letting memories dictate our biological age. We think, why me, why do these things keep happening? It is as though forgetting what was done to us by others would be letting them off the hook. Memories are therefore to be handled with care. Biological age can increase if we reminisce about the worst things that happened to us.
Memory 1 - resizeWe grow old through our memories. It is not a question of denying past suffering, but rather refusing to relive it every time something unpleasant happens. We do not have to re-open the book and read it from cover to cover to apply the lessons of how to deal with difficult people or experiences. Instead we fold the memory away in a bottom drawer. We use intelligent filing. The file is on our internal computer…but we are not going to open it.
What memory is stressing you out, making you old? What memory are you going to commit to forgetting?

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Hazel works for an NGO in Amsterdam, and describes how in the 1980s she took her parents who were visiting her there to see the Whirling Dervishes. “The ritual fascinated me, and the entire audience was electrified. You could have heard a pin drop. But my parents insisted we leave during the interval. Over a beer my father laughed in disbelief at how so many people could be duped into paying money to see a bunch of guys bowing and spinning around. I remembered this when this year I watched a role-play video on YouTube featuring someone pretending to give you a haircut. I now believe every one of the captivated members of that audience was in the minority of people who experience ASMR.”

Resveratrol 7ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response and describes a feeling of well-being known as attention-induced euphoria. Those who have experienced it talk of a ‘brain tingle’, ‘shivers on the scalp’ and ‘goose pimples on the neck’, a sense not of joy exactly but of satisfaction and contentment. The feelings always go back to childhood, and were often experienced when other children played with their hair, or during a dictation, or when the teacher wrote on the board and the class was attentive. Later in life these same sensations recur during religious rituals– Holy Communion for example – or during a medical examination, hair cut or interview of some sort. The key seems to be non-threatening attention, and often gentle individual care, where you have another person’s full attention and they are focused on you. Some scientists have pointed out the similarity to physical grooming in primates, where the aim is not to clean but to bond, or the purring in a cat when stroked, and that it also induces pleasure in animals.

ASMR 4“When I was a child I sometimes experienced a pleasant tingly, shivery feeling in my scalp when someone touched or stroked me. I don’t believe it was sexual, but was always afraid to mention it in case anyone thought I was weird. It is such a relief to suddenly find ASMR is now “a thing” “.

There are now thousands of ASMR videos online. Many feature young women speaking to the camera in a soft voice, often a whisper, and assuming a maternal, reassuring role. Some have foreign accents, enabling the listener to move easily beyond the meaning and into the sensation of sound, and many feature crackling, the uncapping of bottles and ruffling noises into binaural microphones to simulate sounds being made close to each ear. There are people pretending to give you a ‘cranial nerve exam’ featuring ‘follow the light and finger’, typing sounds and close-up personal attention, which appears to be the key. Others feature the sounds of pages being turned, the tapping of lacquered nails and the crinkling of new shirts. Another video is of a young woman showing you her Middle Eastern spice collection giving you her full attention while demanding nothing from you.

ASMR 3“I recall another ASMR moment, when I was in a country where I didn’t speak the language,” says Colin, an aid worker. “When I was approached with a toy by a young child, I expressed interest in it, as I could not contribute to the conversation the adults were having around us. The child responded by bringing me, one by one, all of her cuddly toys and explaining to me in baby noises who they were. I experienced shivers over my scalp and the back of my neck. I could have sat there for hours and have hundreds of toys explained to me in this language I didn’t speak, frozen in the delicious moment. You could describe it as a sort of pleasurable seizure.”

No research has yet been done into ASMR, but what seems to be happening is the triggering of the body’s relaxation response. Like meditation it is possible the brain begins to generate theta waves, the waves of deep intuition and the magical mind, but unlike meditation it is triggered by an external force, one which is non-threatening and which requires nothing of us, but instead appears to be serving us, giving us care, attention and honouring us. Endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin may be the associated hormones.

ASMR 5The placebo effect has been explained by the tender nurturing effect of a health-care provider – the doctor is the placebo. The doctor can also be the nocebo if he/she announces “You have an incurable disease”.

It may be that the intellectualised world in which we live has all but eliminated the relaxed, ‘cared-for’ response, which in some cases appears to get more difficult to trigger with age. Feeling deep connection with our being and the environment is not something Urban Man is used to, and thus these feelings may seem surprising when they occur. Those who for years said, “I thought it was only me,” are now seeing that few human experiences are confined to only one person. If the most popular ASMR videos are currently reaching over million hits worldwide, something is clearly happening here, and it is clearly “a thing”. Fans report that the videos alleviate stress, anxiety and insomnia, and it is this that makes it relevant to anti-ageing. Anything that relieves stress levels, induces the relaxation response and rekindles a sense of connection to the Source of all that is, slows down ageing.

It might therefore be worth checking these videos out. We may find we are part of the ASMR-experiencing minority.

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Seeing is believing

It is impossible to really know whether what we are seeing corresponds to reality, and how much our social and family background serves as a filter to what is perceived by our brains. Certainly it is now well known that the environment can affect our responses radically. When care units for Alzheimer’s patients are designed intelligently, anxiety, aggression, social withdrawal, depression and psychosis all decline according to a 2003 study (Zeisel). Providing bright light can also reduce depression and keep the brain functioning optimally, since circadian rhythms affect hormone levels and metabolic rate. A study published in 2008 by the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience found that brightly lit retirement homes slowed down cognitive decline. This is not just important for the elderly – school design can account for some 15% variation in results.

Envir 4No studies have been done on the effect on the brain of moving into an assisted living facility, but it is possible the environment sends a message that primes a reduction in independence and possibly mental ability too. It is difficult to deny that our environment calls forth a response in us. Our thoughts and bodies respond differently to a work environment and to home for example; they respond in one way when faced with a shabby urban setting and another when contemplating a beautiful landscape. Graffiti for example has been described as a crime against an entire community because of the feelings of fear and decay it engenders, leading to insecurity, decline in property values and loss of services and businesses. Our environmental consciousness is largely subconscious, but all the more powerful for it, since it affects our thoughts and our bodies through the stress or relaxation response.

Envir 3The brain’s job is to maintain a coherent view of the world. It will therefore interpret what it sees to fit our assumptions, and this includes our beliefs about ageing. This begins the moment we are born. Newborns do not see the world the way we do. They cannot track moving objects but see mainly fuzzy shapes and contrast. Up to three years old their brains are making 24 million new connections every minute. What happens then is interesting – synaptic pruning occurs from age 10 to 18. This basically means that connections that have not been used are eliminated to free up space for the ones that are more useful in their environment. The brain is not fully developed until 25 (which is why teenagers cannot see the bigger picture). In this way our brains create our reality.

As we age the brain (probably the orbito-frontal cortex) puts together pieces of information to make sense of our ever-changing environment. However over time if something fails to fit what we have been taught, the brain will literally alter the information to maintain coherence. An example of this is the McGurk Effect. If we are exposed to the sound “bah” but watch a video of a person mouthing the sound “fah”, our brain will hear ‘fah’. Even when we are told the sound is in fact ‘”bah” (and verify this by closing our eyes), the moment we watch the person mouthing “fah”, the brain will again hear “fah” (see video page). Another example of how the brain discards information is motion-induced blindness. This may happen when driving at night when there are so many stimuli (lights, sounds, flashes) the brain avoids being overwhelmed by weeding out what we do not need. The same thing happens when wine experts are given white wine to taste and then the same wine coloured red. Their description of the taste alters dramatically.

So, how suggestible are we?

As we grow older, we are confronted with an onslaught of assumptions, reports, facts and figures about what it is to be over fifty, sixty, or eighty for example. It is all too easy to internalise this information and allow it to affect our mental and physical responses. But we have far more control over how we age than we think. An example of how our environmental consciousness can affect our health is stress. When faced with a challenge our sensory systems function more quickly leading to lots of mental energy. This continues as long as we feel we can cope. The minute we decide it is too much the amygdala is turned on which leads to a deterioration in brain function. However, the key here is that it is OUR decision – only we can decide when we are overwhelmed. Once the fight-or-flight response is triggered we go from creative ideas to no creative energy at all.

Envir 2Let us imagine facing a steep flight of stairs. A young person will ‘know’ they can cope, but when we are older we may think, “I can’t be expected to climb those stairs at my age.” The stress response will then pump harmful cortisol into our bodies. Unless we are aware of what we are doing, we may always react in the same way to those stairs from then on, signalling a decline in ability and fitness. Seeing the stairs as a challenge would trigger quite a different response.

70% of our brain connections change every day. From our first to our last breath everything we are doing is changing our brain. We allocate our 100 billion processors differently depending on what we put our attention on. Experiment after experiment has demonstrated that focusing on a particular skill or response will cause the corresponding area of the brain to grow.

The concepts we internalise and the words we use can cause us to get stuck in attitudes that do not serve us. Through questioning our response to the environment, and through meditation, we can transcend language and thought. The ability to think about thought, to have a sense of who we are outside time, space, our society and contemporary ideas empowers us not to be a victim of our environment but instead to transcend environmental consciousness. What we perceive and how we react to it will always be affected by the programme our brain is running until we become aware of it.

So, are we running a programme that tells us we are an old person?

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Shape shift 2Self responsibility – it won’t work for anyone who considers suffering in the world to be indiscriminate and who believes that since the dawn of humanity life has been generally miserable for the overwhelming majority of human beings, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Not for those either who get angry on behalf of starving Africans/victims of natural disasters/orphans and street children. Being sad and angry won’t help them. This is simply about taking responsibility for what happens to us.
The received wisdom is that life’s a bitch and then you die, that shit happens and happiness is fleeting and elusive. If this is our world view, shapeshifting will seem nonsense. Shapeshifters surf across multiple realities and dive deep into one they prefer.
The idea we can change from one form into another at will is deeply embedded in the collective unconscious. It occurs in Western folklore (The Frog Prince, Beauty and the Beast), mythology (the gods often assume the forms of animals or humans) and in shamanism where the shaman gives up his sense of self and assumes the identity of a plant or animal. The shapeshifter is someone who has become aware of his own infinity. When he wishes to change his circumstances, he changes himself. But despite the fact it is part of world culture, most people believe it has nothing to do with our own lives.
Shape shift 3Reality surfing is based on the idea that like attracts like. It states that consciousness and the material world reflect each other like a mirror, and therefore just as circumstances affect our mood, our mood can affect circumstances. Life, according to this philosophy, is dreamed up by what we are thinking and, above all, feeling. ‘Out there’ is part of our consciousness and it was created by us. Time is illusory. The reality surfer lives his life back to front – rejoice first, see the reason for rejoicing second. When we rejoice, the reality of being joyful already exists; our consciousness will interpret the world to match that reaction.
It is counter-intuitive and not intended to appeal to the materialist. The overwhelming majority of people will say it is at best wishful thinking and at worst complete rubbish. Many will get angry on someone else’s behalf – someone afflicted by multiple illnesses for example – and a great number will feel rage at being held responsible for their troubles. Psychologists might concede that deciding how to think about one’s circumstances can add to happiness, but hardly anyone will stand up and say that how we think will change our circumstances.
Shape shift 4This approach to living is known as reality surfing because the science behind it is the parallel worlds theory. The suggestion is that we can skip from one parallel world to another, worlds which are adjacent, slightly different from our own, and to do so we use our perception and emotions. There are many versions of me in infinity, and today I choose to focus on the version who….(fill in a goal or dream).

How do we enter the parallel reality where I am what I wish to be? By taking on the identity, definition, belief, behaviours and feelings of the person I want to be. This is the work of the shapeshifter – alter your essence and the physical world will have to shift too.
Shape shift 7We need to adopt the viewpoint of the person who never grew old (see video page, “Oldest yoga teacher“). If we wish to be shapeshifters, we must feel as the person would feel who acted and looked youthful forever, and rest in this view for the next few days and weeks. We come regularly back to the ‘body sense’ of such a person and cease behaving in ways that presuppose it is not already so.
Acting as if something is already a fact is the magical secret of the shapeshifter. Examples are setting out two glasses of wine when you are seeking a partner (and ‘seeing’ and ‘feeling’ their presence), spending a day as you would spend it if you no longer needed to work, or for us – acting as though we are young, really young, strong, without physical or mental limits, doing whatever we did when we were younger, whether it be work or play. This is going into the energy field of what we want.
What do we want to shift to today? Answer this question : wouldn’t it be nice if….?

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When the present moment is awful…

Awful moments 7Mindfulness is rapidly being adopted by the medical community as an effective way of combatting stress. It involves noticing what is going on – in the external world, and inside us, in our bodies and in the world of emotions. Mindfulness can be practised through meditation or by moving through tasks in a self-aware manner. In this way we live life fully, rather than constantly projecting into the past or the future. This is the meaning of living a true present. But what happens when the present moment is truly awful?
Nina, a primary school teacher in her forties from Aberdeen, found herself in just such a moment when during an argument on holiday her partner became physically and verbally aggressive. He bundled her into a car and, shouting insults at her, drove onto the motorway. He said he would be dumping her in a rest area and would choose one with no shops or phone. She did not know where he was taking her. She asked him not to be cruel, and he shouted that if she opened her mouth one more time, he would leave her on the hard shoulder. She fell into silence, while the car was being driven at top speed. This terrifying journey continued for seven hours.

Awful moments 6Nina used mindfulness techniques to cope, which she had practised all her life. First of all she sank into her emotions. “I am afraid. My neck and back are tense. I am cold. My legs and arms are rigid. I am terrified he will drive off leaving me with no money and no coat. It is raining and windy outside. I am afraid I will have to ask strangers for help and I will feel shame. I am enraged at the mistreatment I am enduring. I am angry with myself I chose a man capable of treating me with contempt. I am wondering how far he will go, is my life in danger? Will his rage make us crash? I am confused at how he could be so loving before. These are my emotions.”
Then, she focused on a raindrop on the window. She glanced at his body, fixed, hands gripping the steering wheel, and noticed the power he was enjoying over her. She realised this power could not last forever.
Awful moments 4Heraclitus of Ephesus was a Greek philosopher known for stating that change was central to the universe: “Everything is flux”. This moment, although it seems endless, is also in flux, she told herself.
The circumstances were external. The emotions temporary. Nina knew she was an immortal being, and that the moment could not touch her soul. Eckhart Tolle in his famous book, The Power of Now says of such moments: accept then act. Nina accepted her circumstances, then took action. There was no physical action she could take, but there was plenty that she could do in the privacy of her mind. He has taken my body captive, she thought, he is trying to frighten me. But my mind is still free.
In such moments we need to become alchemists, transforming the base metal of dark moments into the gold of the soul, into conscious awareness and detachment. When she realised she was indestructible, the resistance to the moment relented.

Awful moments 3Having located the trauma in her emotions, she set about allowing it to dissolve, imagining the tension crackling and dispersing. The earth was still holding her, the air still nourishing her body. Much of her suffering was due to what she imagined others would think of her circumstances, the outrage other women would express at being called a whore and disgusting by her partner, the ‘received opinion’ of what constituted abuse in a relationship. This caused her shame. Accepting what is without judgment is central to sensing the true present when the moment seems unacceptable. I will make this moment my ally, she said to herself, and allowed a private smile to form behind her lips. He is gripped by rage and feelings of revenge, but I am just sitting in this moment, and watching.

Nina then acted by choosing not to suffer. For seven hours she focused on joy, filling her mind with the good things in her life. Periodically the fear returned. She observed it, dived into it, and emerged once again.
Marianne Williamson talks of the law of divine compensation. She says even when we experience diminishment there is more than enough for the universe to compensate for any lack. In a car if you take the wrong turn, the GPS automatically corrects the course. Even if there is material ‘lack’ in this moment, there are ways through our energy, attitudes, perspective and behaviour to invoke peace, a peace that cannot disappear. If you stop giving a problem energy, the moment is transformed. Nina clung to this concept as the hours ticked by. She found her sense of time dissolving.

Then she recognised the signs of their home town Aberdeen. Awful moments 2They hit heavy traffic. She felt his power waning. She noticed his body language changing. He was screaming at the traffic, blaming her for the congestion, for the situation she had got them both into, in his words. He began to berate her for not speaking to him to try and ‘make things all right’. ‘You told me not to speak,’ she said. He denied this.
And then he stopped the car near her flat and she got out. He got out too and stood her opposite her, his face conciliatory. “Make me a cup of coffee and we’ll talk,” he said, sighing.
“No,” she said, and walked out of his life.

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Walk This Way

Walking fast 2Ever wondered how long you were going to live? Watch how fast you walk. In an analysis of nine studies involving more than 34,000 people age 65 and older, faster walking speeds were associated with living longer, and the faster the walk, the more predicted years of remaining life increased. Walking speed turns out to be as accurate as blood pressure, smoking history and hospitalisation as an indicator of longevity. Stephanie Studenski, a geriatric physician at the University of Pittsburgh, whose analysis appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association says, “Walking is a reliable tool to measure well-being because it requires body support, timing and power, and places demands on the brain, spinal cord, muscles, joints, heart and lungs.” By age 80, gait speed is approximately 10% to 20% slower than in young adults. As the body naturally chooses a speed which is appropriate, addressing the reason for a slower gait can resolve underlying health issues which may compromise survival. Walking fast 4Some older people adopt a penguin-like waddle. Waddling is often seen as simply part of growing older, but it is nothing of the sort. It is caused by one of three things : 1. Obesity : Look at someone who is morbidly obese and you notice that the legs are not in line with the rest of the body, due to stored fat. When walking the legs have to be spread to avoid painful rubbing together of the thighs. Try walking with cushions attached to your legs – a waddle is unavoidable. 2. Lack of exercise : Ann is a librarian in her mid-fifties. Recently she has developed a penguin-like waddle when she walks. The side to side movement is often indicative of weak muscles – the gluteus medius muscle in particular which keeps the pelvis level when standing on one leg. In fact how long you can stand on one leg with your eyes closed is an indicator of biological age. 3. Social cues : A belief that we are no longer a young man or woman can tap into modelled behaviours of older significant adults in our lives. Julia is a Tai Chi enthusiast and a full-time lawyer. On turning 50 for no apparent reason she began to sway slightly from side to side as she walked, although she was her normal graceful self when working through her Tai Chi movements. She was in fact subconsciously reproducing the gait of her mother who had been overweight since the menopause.

Walking fast 5For most of our evolutionary history, humans have had continuous contact with the Earth and walked a great deal. Walking barefoot can boost the immune system. Research indicates that electrons from the Earth have antioxidant effects that can protect our body from inflammation and its many well-documented health consequences. Floorings and plastic soles separate us from the negative electrical potential on the Earth’s surface. ‘Grounding’ ourselves by aligning our bodies with the Earth’s electrical potential promotes health and protects us from electromagnetic pollution. Multiple studies have shown that grounding can improve blood viscosity, balance, sleep, stress reactions and inflammation. It is the ultimate antioxidant and anti-inflammatory treatment. Grounding or earthing is defined as placing one’s bare feet on the ground whether it be soil, grass, sand or concrete (especially when humid or wet). When you ground to the electron-enriched Earth, an improved balance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system occurs. Our increasingly sedentary lifestyle involving days facing a computer screen followed by evenings facing a TV screen exposes us to the risk of back and knee problems and weak ‘gluts’. Walking fast 3

Finishing schools used to teach girls to walk with books balanced on their head to ingrain in them good posture and the right way of walking. The right way to walk is feet pointed straight ahead, without a slouch, and briskly.

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Will I be a clutterbug?

Junk crammed every surface – photo albums, ceramic lamps, bowls with beads inside them, a silver pitcher, framed pictures and along the window ledge small pots of African violets. A pile of recently sorted photographs and letters sat on the table before a chair. The air had the smell of a place that nobody entered. A place with cheap parquet floors but too much heavy furniture, left over from a more prosperous era. “I’ve been sorting through some heirlooms,” she explained.
In this way Ruby describes the home of her husband’s grandmother in Amanda Holmes’ book set in the 1970s I Know Where I am When I’m Falling.
Clutter 2Why are old people’s homes so often full of clutter? Some of us may have assumed that this is simply the way people used to be, and in earlier generations homes were just more crammed with stuff than they are now. But this is not the case, since having to navigate around piles of debris in the homes of older folk is something that has been going on forever.
A cluttered home is one with objects scattered around – magazines, clothing, unpacked shopping – that denotes a person’s inability to get a handle on their domestic environment. Hoarding is different, in that items are kept for the sake of accumulation of possessions, involving floor-to-ceiling storage of often useless things with a person’s living space practically eliminated. These disorders can appear at an early stage in life, but many older people become increasingly susceptible to them.
Clutter 3Part of the problem may be the consumer society; we feel we need the latest thing, or purchase on impulse. The average person has large areas in his/her home stuffed with items that they rarely, or never use. And we have twice as many possessions than we used to have 30 years ago. Many people who have had, or still have, money problems are fearful about throwing things away. Those who experienced rationing in Europe’s wars or America’s Great Depression may feel the urge to hoard ‘just in case’.
There are other reasons why older people hoard howvever. Things may accumulate on ground floors because of difficulty in negotiating stairs. Clutter can provide a sort of comfort blanket for people feeling depressed or lonely, and the thought of clearing it up may seem an insurmountable task – shame may also be experienced.
We also sometimes express fear of throwing away documents, even insurance policies and bank statements that go back decades. Emotional attachment to now useless objects – a wedding dress that is never going to be worn again, back issues of a magazine from an important time, a TV that possibly still works and was our first when we moved into the place we are living in – is difficult to sever. Parting with these possessions can feel like giving away a part of ourselves. We have invested emotionally in these objects, and experience anxiety at the thought our relatives might take them to the tip when we pass on.
If we have an older relative who refuses to clear up, even though their home is becoming a fire hazard or is at risk of attracting vermin, any suggestion we help to declutter will probably be met with resistance.
Clutter 4Ruth had been diagnosed with CBD (compulsive buying disorder). Her condition was linked to an eating disorder (she was obese), and depression due to living with an abusive, diabetic husband who needed constant care and refused to go out. Every day she would come home laden with shopping. When the bank stopped her credit card, she began ordering items from mail order companies in the names of her children and grandchildren. She also ordered gifts for neighbours she hardly knew. Eventually her daughter had to have her declared incapable of managing her affairs and was granted power of attorney. People who score highly on compulsive buying scales have a low tolerance for emotional distress. For the same reason surrounding oneself with familiar but useless objects can provide a sense of security.
Older people who clutter their homes may therefore have a very hard time throwing things away. If we do not want to turn into the sort of mad old person who lives under a pile of debris, we need to ask ourselves now whether our homes contain any useless clutter. Forcing ourselves to get rid of things we haven’t used in years and are unlikely ever to need again is a way of ensuring we never get into the hoarding habit. To find out if we have hoarding tendencies, a good exercise is to practice putting an item of clothing, old cooking utensil or scratched record in the bin. How do we feel and why?
In March 2014 a 67 year old Dallas man went missing. Police were unable to locate him for two weeks. Eventually they entered the house by cutting a hole in the roof as the door was blocked, and he was found by a cadaver dog pinned under the weight of his own possessions. The house was condemned and residents warned to get rat traps when the rodents living inside were released.
“OK I’m cleaning my house today,” said one commentator.
Clearing our living space of debris on a regular basis is an excellent exercise. It gives us space and opens the windows of the soul to new possibilities. Our homes are a reflection of our state of mind and the health of our body. So, any broken suitcases ready for the dump?

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