Brian Flatter gives a very open and honest account of his journey into wellness through mindfulness.
Can you set your mind on being thankful? Not just thankful for the big things, or dreaming or hoping that one day that “if only ____ would happen, then I will be thankful, happy and healthy”.
What I have come to learn is that setting your mind, establishing your intention in every possible moment, you will find happiness and health will follow. Through daily meditation, gratitude, coherence, and raising your consciousness, raising your awareness – thereby unleashing the power of free will, you can and will be happier and healthier.
The added component to all of this is a choice, and that choice is that every day my actions are, more often than not, of service to others. The most important aspect of all of this is that truly awful things can happen to you and you can overcome them, and still be happy.
I think that to fully understand where I am in the present, it is important that you get a picture of where all this started for me. You see, my life back in 2008 was a mess. My marriage was failing, I was disillusioned with my career, and I was coming to terms with the fact that I had been suffering from depression for the previous five-plus years. Certain events took place that required me to address the depression, anxiety, panic attacks, sleeplessness, and overall negative life situation.
What made this challenging for myself is that being a professional counselor, intellectually I knew that I needed therapy, but emotionally I had been fighting it for so many years that it was this overly proud attitude that “I’m the healer, I can’t have these problems!” Worst of all, I should be able to fix them myself. The thing is, that events will unfold that will require that you address it. Sooner or later your soul finds a way to guide you.
Whatever you want to call it, the universe, the creator, God will let you know that something ain’t right. My (current) wife and I often say that, God will drop a pebble, when that doesn’t grab your attention God drops a stone, then a rock, then a boulder, until finally you just can’t ignore the message any longer. Needless to say God dropped a boulder and I finally took notice.
So after the “stuff” hit the proverbial fan, and my guardian angel stepped in and saved me from total self-destruction I took the recommendation of a friend and found a great therapist. Now, the therapy patched me up and helped me to explore the wounds and the lingering discontent, which led to a great deal of mental and emotional healing. At the time, I didn’t have any extensive knowledge of eastern philosophy so I was fairly reliant upon traditional western psychotherapy.
At the time, I was a firm believer in cognitive-behavioral therapy (I still am to a great degree when augmented with many other approaches) which is very good in it’s own right, but my situation was pretty severe and I also needed medication to stop the cycle of depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior. So with the added help of a psychiatrist we did find a combination of drugs that brought me back from the edge, but it would be years before I found true healing and wellness.
This approach was necessary at the time given my frame of reference and paradigm at that stage of my life. I’m not here to tell you that all drugs are bad and that no one should ever use them. Western medicine has it’s place, and there is nothing wrong with incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine while you are following your regimen of medication. My hope is that those reading this who may be using psychoactive pharmaceuticals to treat their mental health concerns consider mindfulness as a means to augment their life and if possible lead to the eventual removal of the need for those drugs.
Just to give you an idea of all the stuff I was throwing at my body; Ritalin (ADHD), Lexapro (Depression), Xanax (Anxiety/Panic Disorder), Ibuprofen (almost daily for headaches, etc.), Steroid and Albuterol inhalers (Asthma). Not to mention the incredibly unhealthy eating habits, fast food every other day, morning lattes, chocolate bars in the afternoon because “I deserve it”. The junk food, alcohol and caffeine, the upper and downer roller coaster while not a clinical addiction was playing havoc on my body, mind, and spirit. What you can conclude is that everything that I was doing to address my issues was externally focused. The only way I could feel right about myself was through some outside influence. As a result there was no inner peace.
To be clear, it is also not my intention to paint a picture that is so hopeless during those years but my life was not ideal. Yes, I divorced my then wife in 2008. It is true that a great deal of my problems were in large part due to an unhappy marriage, unfulfilled and childless – having children was a major life goal of mine, and it was very difficult for me to feel whole when for as long I can remember I knew that wanted to have children of my own.
So after the divorce from eight years of a difficult marriage, I also found the true love of my life a year later. We were married in the Fall of 2010 and started a family, which is the joy of my life! What threw a wrench in this upward trend was that in 2012 my wife and I lost our first child due to congenital heart defects, which were not properly treated. After a healthy birth and strong early prognosis, our sweet Delaney Rose lost her battle and passed nine months later, she was 10 months old. During the time that our daughter was sick, she required around the clock care, and this was not only exhausting but I gained a lot of weight – almost 50 pounds. There was very little room for exercise and little time for basic self-care. From the onset of our daughter’s illness and through the time of her passing, any hope of being off medication was out the window. I just didn’t have the knowledge or awareness to cope effectively without the various drugs. The support of my wife, friends, and family was crucial and I am forever grateful for that. Our family has since grown with a boy and a girl who are healthy and wonderful additions.
So how did I overcome all of this? As with everything, it is a process. Health and wellness is not something that I believe can be achieved and left on its own accord, it absolutely requires ongoing maintenance. Everything that follows is what I believe returned me to a state of balance and health. This isn’t comprehensive and there are many other areas that I would love to share in the future, but these are what I consider to be the most essential and most powerful of everything that I have incorporated into my life. What I have learned though, is that there was an untapped power within myself, and I hope that this will help you to discover that for yourself.
Meditation and Getting to Know Your Chakras
In order to begin meditation you may not need to concern yourself with understanding or memorizing a set of rules or knowing all the chakras below. Truly there is no wrong way to meditate. It could be done for five minutes, half an hour, an hour or longer. It is about clearing your mind and finding inner peace – shutting down the noise. The best way that I find to meditate is to find a quiet place free from distractions. Since traffic, noisy neighbors, lawnmowers, passing music or loud conversation will only serve to complicate things and create frustration, help yourself by doing your best to eliminate all of what you have control over.
Personally I like to lie down, but many people suggest that this will just lead to sleep perhaps. I say, so be it, since you probably need it! I find that lying down removes even more distractions because then I’m not drawn to thinking about my body position or posture. This prevents me from judging myself, which is also part of the goal. I will say that I have been investigating getting a cushion designed for meditation, as I have read that there are some benefits in orienting yourself vertically.
The work in meditation is very challenging. I once heard someone describe it as “weightlifting for the mind”. Human beings are such busy creatures and in this modern world filled with multitasking and information overload, you will likely discover just how busy your mind is once you try to shut it down. There are many resources around the internet that you can research for yourself and to be clear you can, and probably should, spend a lifetime studying and mastering meditation.
What I found for myself is that I slowly grew my meditative experience and developed a deeper sense of what was going on within and there was a natural drive to discover more aspects of the practice. This led me to the next level really and I became acquainted with each chakra and where they are located in the body along with each function.
What you will discover is that as you explore each chakra you may uncover “blockages”, there are psychological components to each location. You may have feelings of fear, insecurity, or even obsessions with aspects of your life that are associated with each chakra. It becomes important to “clear” out those feelings. As with meditation itself, it can take a lot of study and practice to learn how to clear each chakra. Essentially you need to address any of the issues that are coming up for you and find a way to forgive yourself, and others who may be associated with that issue or reason for the blockage. This may be a newer concept for you and in that vein, I will suggest that the most important chakras to focus on here are the first three. To keep it simple I will concentrate on the colors. Although the traditional names are lovely and I believe there is power in the naming.
Red (Root Chakra or Muldhara) – This is your survival. Find a daily mantra that sings to your survival, being alive, being nourished and capable.
Orange (Sacral Chakra or Svadhishthana) – This is your passion, sexuality is centered here. Find a daily mantra that sings to your passions, embraces your sexuality.
Yellow (Solar Plexus or Manipura) – This is your family (whatever that means to you) as well as your work relationships. Find a daily mantra that will sing to your connectedness to others.
By clearing these first three chakras you are making it possible to engage with your heart center. It is so important that you are serious about learning what blocks or opens your chakras, and most importantly understanding that this is daily work required to maintain the openness and ultimately the vibrancy of each chakra. You want them to radiate with many “petals”.
As you become more skilled at focusing on, healing, and clearing these first three, you can begin work on the higher levels. The heart I find to be one of the more difficult chakras to enter and manage, it requires a deep sense of honesty about yourself and your ability to be unconditionally loving, not only with yourself but with others.
There is a very important challenge in this area where you really have to be able to seriously look at your “shadow side”. Whether we would like to believe it or not, we all have a dark side and you need to be honest with what you are capable of in that regard. This honest look into your shadow side does not mean that you act on those negative impulses, it is just an acknowledgment, a very honest one. In that acknowledgement there lies a choice and when you choose unconditional love that is when you may enter – and hopefully thrive!
Green (Heart Anahata) – This is your heart center, love. Find a daily mantra that will sing to your ability to give and receive love unconditionally! It requires honesty about your true self that some are seldom able to fully engage, some dismiss this as weak, not so.
Blue (Throat Vishuddha) – This is your truth, your whole truth and nothing but the truth. Find a daily mantra that sings to your ability to speak your truth.
Indigo (Brow or Third Eye or Ajna) – Intellectual pursuits, curiosity. Find a daily mantra that sings to your innate ability to wonder.
Violet (Crown or Sahasrara) – Higher self, universe, spirituality. I am, that I am! This is where all the work of the previous chakras comes full circle. If you are keeping each chakra clear and healthy, your crown chakra will be open and serve radiate as a beacon of all that you are!
Mindfulness, Moment to Moment
What has worked for me was to find at least two-times daily to dedicate up to 20 minutes to practice meditation. In my view, this daily work will train you to be able to create a focus in other parts of your day and to be able to set and maintain a tone for all of the various tasks you have to tackle on a daily basis. This encompasses all aspects of your life, from maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner, your children, your family members, your coworkers, your boss. Not only about the relationships but the to-do lists, daily driving, phone calls, literally everything that you have to accomplish each day. You have the opportunity to create a positive experience. If you can think of mindfulness as a spectrum that on the one end is impulsivity and reactivity to the other, which is higher consciousness, awareness, and ultimately absolute free will.
Mindfulness is ultimately a choice. A choice about how you will create your world. What we are finding not only in a spiritual sense, but also in a very scientific sense, is that the reality of our world is truly a creation of our own mind. Our world quite literally changes the moment we focus on it and everything we encounter. This is deeper that what many people would claim is your “attitude”, to me it is allowing the best of you to shine through in every moment. As Sting would say, “Let your soul, be your pilot. Let your soul guide you…guide you well”.
In your mindfulness, I will suggest that if you are having difficulty choosing how to set your mind, then choose thankfulness. I mean really go with it. As I mentioned at the beginning, this isn’t just being thankful for the big things, being alive, having enough food, shelter, etc. Get down to the nitty-gritty and choose to be thankful for all of the good, the bad, and the ugly… be thankful even for the adversity in your life. Actually find a way to be thankful for things that before all of this journey into mindfulness and healing would be a bother and source of discontent.
You see, in the struggle of dealing with all of those annoyances you learn something about yourself and for that, you should be very thankful. In a state of higher consciousness, you will realize that every little thing that bothered you, that you blamed on someone else for disrupting your life, is truly just a stimulus for which you created a response. Obviously, people can bring harm to you, and there truly are actions from others that are hurtful… but more often than not, you do have the ability to choose to respond more positively.
Service to Others
Through all of this transition in my life. Taking all of the pain and sickness, mental and physical, one of the most powerful choices that I made was to remain committed to a “service to others” mindset. This is coming from someone whose career has been all about service to others, yet I was holding back. I was overly compartmentalized in this area. Outside of the day-to-day grind of counseling, I turned it off and in the interest of brevity, could be very self-focused.
As soon as I made the choice that I am living this life in service to others, it took the focus off of myself. I will tie this into the mindfulness aspect as well. In living your life from moment to moment, with intention, and purpose…with the idea that you will be your highest, best self in every situation in the service of others you will find a lightness deep inside that will begin to radiate. You will honor yourself in this, and you will be surprised how people are then drawn to you. People will begin to see you as the best you, and this will reinforce to you that you are on the right path.
In choosing a service-to-others path, you will also need to be mindful of boundaries. It would be unhealthy to be completely giving all of the time and without regard for self-care and restoration, however if you are committed to bringing meditation into your life and making it a daily practice then you will find that taking care of yourself, takes care of itself – so to speak.
There is one little thing that I mentioned at the top, that I believe should be explored, but I am not an expert in this and have really only scratched the surface myself, and that is the concept of coherence. This is the idea that the mind and the heart should essentially be in synch. I read recently about a new diagnosis, which is the Imposter Syndrome. This is essentially a failure to internalize reality. It was written in the context of one who is highly successful who has failed to truly own the accomplishments. The syndrome or problem arises when the individual is terrified of being discovered as a fraud. That they aren’t really the success that they appear to be.
I think that this concept could be extrapolated out to include our modern connected social media culture. One may not be a success in the western traditional sense of accumulating wealth, but they have painted a picture of happiness and desirability through images they post about themselves or stories that they share about their lives that are grotesquely positive and their unspoken fear is that one day someone will get to know the real McCoy and discover that the truth is far from picture they have painted. My view on coherence would be that you choose to live a life that is not only logical and thoughtful but that actions radiate with the true self, the heart and mind working in harmony.
In closing, by no means am I the poster child for overcoming adversity, but I hope that my perspective can help you draw some connections and perhaps provide some encouragement.
At the time of this writing I am almost entirely pharmaceutical free – the only drugs that I need to use are regarding my asthma which I am still in pursuit of other remedies and perhaps cures. I have through changes in diet and exercise, lost over 50 pounds and still working on the physical aspects of my health.
As with all human beings who pursue wellness, understand that this is a journey in every sense of the word. One in which I find myself three steps forward, one step back. I falter and I struggle, but I am ever hopeful that I am able to continually raise the bar such that I live a more simple, mindful, and healthy lifestyle.
I have discovered that through mindfulness meditation, chakra work, intention, focusing on daily mantras, and gratitude I am able to overcome most if not all health concerns. Health is a very complex subject and over the past two to three years my efforts have been largely within the mind. Over the last six to nine months I have been incorporating more physical health regime, and perhaps that is the subject of another post.
The Divine in me recognizes and honors, the Divine in you. May you find a path that works for you! Thank you for reading.
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