Bioenergetics, Alexander Lowen

I reviewed another book by Alexander Lowen called The Language of The Body. You can check that out here.

So I’ll start by briefly comparing the two books.

The Language of The Body is more of a book for psychologists. It goes into detail explaining the different character structures that serve as a basis for the practice of bioenergetics. It’s interesting, but it’s a dense read.

Bioenergetics is a much more general book on the subject of bioenergetics. It starts by explaining the origins of the practice, how it grew out of Lowen’s work with a psychologist named Wilhelm Reich.

Then he goes on the give a general overview of the practice, providing lots of sketches to illustrate exercises and principles.

The book is divided according to different principles within bioenergetics such as the energetic concept, pleasure as a primary motive, reality as a secondary motive, falling anxiety, and the balance between self-expression and survival.

Of course he mentions character structures, but points out that it’s just a template and that each patient has to be treated as an individual. A few of the character structures are different from the ones in The Language of The Body. I think that’s because Bioenergetics was written twenty years later, so it’s more recent.

In Bioenergetics, the character structures are not the main focus, the practice as a whole is.

He explains quite a few exercises in the book. A few of the ones I like a lot are the bow (can also be done with hands extended overhead):

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Lying on a bed with your legs above you, as straight as you can:

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Bending over, fingertips in contact with the floor, straighten legs until there is a stretch on the hamstrings:

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All of these exercises require that you BREATHE DEEPLY. Opening your mouth wide and relaxing all of the muscles around the air passages is necessary.

What will happen is that your body will probably start vibrating, which is a good thing. It means that your chronic muscle tensions (that you probably didn’t know you had) are dissolving. This will give you more FEELING into your body.

That’s the benefit of bioenergetics: you become ALIVE. You experience life more fully, you experience emotions, you gain energy.

Forget coffee, just BREATHE.

The bow exercise is used for charging the body, then proceed with the other two.

I still really believe in the power of bioenergetics. A lot of personal development goes on in the mind, but the mind is very limited in how much it can change a person. To change a person, change his body.

 

The Verdict:
Definitely a more useful read than The Language of the Body. Easy to understand, top-notch presentation of bioenergetics.

Favorite quote:

“Freedom is the absence of inner restraint to the flow of feeling, grace is the expression of this flow in movement, while beauty is the manifestation of the inner harmony such a flow engenders. They denote a healthy body and also, therefore, a healthy mind.”

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The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh

A book written by a great Buddhist monk of the 20th century offering some great advice to the novice or the advanced practitioner of mindfulness.

This book is comprised of letters that Thich Nhat Hanh sent to his practicing Buddhist monks in Vietnam from exile in France during the Vietnam war.

So the practice is centered around mindfulness in order to keep the peace in yourself and around others in times of struggle.

One phrase the author uses to invoke mindfulness is simply “Wash the dishes to wash the dishes” or “eat a tangerine to eat a tangerine.” So often we want to get the dishes over with and move on to the next thing, or don’t even think about eating a tangerine while we eat it.

But that’s not living life now.

What we all have to come to grips with is the fact that life is lived right now, not in your head, and not in the past or the future. This is it!

It sounds like I’m rehashing the same old mindfulness advice.

But the reason it gets so rehashed is that it’s MUY IMPORTANTE.

It creates genuine fulfillment in your life. For example, whenever I’m say eating or riding my bike and I’m in a negative thought loop, I’ll notice it and switch to noticing my physical experience.

I’ll notice the wind in my face, the sound of the tires, the mouvement of my legs. Immediately I feel better.

Mindfulness is also super important for noticing emotions.

Most people in society completely override their emotional body. But the thing is, you can’t live life in your head. Your body tells you a lot more about where you truly are in your life than your mind ever could.

Developing mindfulness of emotions may take some work, but it pays off. You get to see that negative emotions aren’t really that bad after all. Also, you will be forced to be more honest with yourself about what you feel.

Finally, mindfulness helps break down the concepts your mind makes about reality. You think that feeling and sound are separate. Is that true? What separates them? What separates the knower of the sound from the sound?

Back to the book.

The first half talks about mindfulness as a general topic, provides some anecdotes, and is just a pleasant read.

The second half gives the reader a plethora of exercises in mindfulness. How to do a day in mindfulness, counting the breath, making tea mindfully, visualizing a pebble (I like this one). Even a few contemplations for more existential purposes, such as contemplations on interdependence or who you were before you were born.

It was very interesting reading this knowing that he was writing to people who were in the middle of a war. It reminded me of a documentary on Tibetan Buddhism that I saw. The Dalai Lama was talking about a conversation he’d had with a monk who was sent to the Chinese gulags when they took over Tibet. The monk starts:

“Dalai Lama, sometimes I was afraid I would lose myself.”

“Lose what, your life, your sanity?”

“No, lose compassion towards the Chinese.”

These people are true heroes. Massive respect for them.

So the moral of the story is: mindfulness. Start now.

The Verdict:

Not a bad book at all. But if this post was enough of a kick in the ass to get you to be more mindful, the book will only be a bonus.

Favorite quote:

“I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. All is miracle.”

The Damnedest Thing…

Let’s start with a story.

It started in 9th grade. I was the classic “nice guy,” pining after a girl for about 6 months. When I finally got up the courage to ask her out, she rejected me.

That set me on a pursuit to break out of these nice guy habits and gain confidence in myself. So that summer I started learning pick-up, body language, and self-help (this was what ultimately got me into personal development, but that’s not the point here).

That fall, when school started and extra-curriculars started, I was determined to try out these techniques and transform myself into my ideal of a “confident, masculine guy.” My goal here was to try to get a girlfriend, thinking that would solve all my problems.

As you can probably guess, that autumn I was miserable. I was putting on this facade, trying out pick-up lines, making sure my body was correctly positioned. I was acting confident at rehearsal, but inside I knew it was just as insecure as ever.

In the end, it “worked” and I got a girlfriend (which of course did not solve all my problems). But I knew I would have to drop this facade if I wanted this relationship to last.

So after that I lost interest in being the “cool, confident guy”, and guess what happened? It was no longer a problem. I stopped trying to BECOME confident, and in doing that I AM confident. It was no longer a problem.

And it’s not the same confidence that I was expecting, that kind of dickish personality. It’s much more genuine and more deeply-rooted than any kind of attitude.

It’s like the donkey chasing the carrot that’s always ahead of him. If he just sits back for a minute, the carrot will just swing back into his mouth.

It’s really the most counter-intuitive thing I’ve come across, but it’s happened multiple times in my life: I’ve tried to become healthy, and in doing that I became super unhealthy with an eating disorder. Now that I’m not obsessed by that pursuit, I just am healthy with very little effort. I’ve tried to make a lot of friends, so like with the first story I had to fake myself. Now that I’ve lost interest in it, I am more genuine and now have some real friends that I can count on.

And I’m thinking that the same thing goes for spirituality. Eventually you see that self can’t get out of self, so you lose interest in self, and that’s liberation. Every spiritual path will lead you right back to where you are.

I’ve heard this before, that growth is really when the problem becomes a non-problem, but I had never really grasped it or seen it in my life until now.

So confidence comes from losing interest in becoming confident. Authenticity comes when you lose interest in being authentic. Liberation comes when you lose interest in the need to be liberated. I’m willing to tentatively state that true self-help is about losing interest in the self.

So you might be asking “So, if growth comes from losing interest, then how do I lose interest?”

Here’s the catch: you can’t.

You can’t be interested in losing interest, because, as Paul Hedderman says, that would be interest.

As they say in AA, you’ve gotta stop playing God. But of course to try to stop playing God would be playing God.

 

“Self can’t get out of self.” – Paul Hedderman

 

Confusion is completely understandable, and even frustration. Every self wants to get liberation from self… as a self. Just realize that that which is confused and frustrated isn’t you.

Now, I don’t know how this works, I just know that it does. Actually “works” is not a great word for it, because you’re NOT DOING ANYTHING. It’s just happening.

I also don’t know if it’s necessary to TRY to pursue the thing first, whether it’s confidence or awakening, and then see that it’s futile. I don’t know if you can cut right to the loss of interest part. Again, bad wording, because it’s NOT YOU losing interest, interest is just lost.

So there you go: the damnedest thing, a glorious paradox. Not at all what you expected self-help to be about. Losing interest is the best thing that can happen to you. THAT’S where it’s at.

I would recommend checking out Paul Hedderman, he’s helped me see this very clearly.

Thoughts on my hobbies: parkour and theater

This is less of a lesson and more of a brain vomit for myself. I need to get these ideas out on paper. Hopefully you’ll be able to find some gems in here.

The first hobby I’ll discuss is parkour. I did parkour for three years, but sadly I have to stop this year because I’m too busy with school.

The main challenge with parkour isn’t the physical or technical aspect of it (at least for me). It was the mental part of it. One classic example is a two-foot jump: if you have a two-foot jump on flat ground, it’s no problem, but then take that exact same distance and put it as story or two up, and suddenly it’s not the same jump anymore!

There are really two main ways to combat this fear, which comes up a lot:

One way is to get physically charged up and then attack it with everything you’ve got.

Another, more subtle, but not unrelated way is to wait for a tiny window of opportunity where your fear melts away, and you feel capable of doing it. It’s a tiny interval, maybe half a second, but that’s when the jump MUST be taken.

The thing that DOES NOT work for combatting fear is rationalizing it away. You can tell yourself “I can do this, I’ve done harder stuff before…” but the fear will still be there. Talk is cheap. The best way in that situation is to just relax, and wait for the opening.

Another lesson related to fear is that once you’ve started a move, COMMIT to it. My worst falls were always when I bailed halfway through.

The second main lesson I’ve learned is that concentration is critical. Some situations like balancing on a bar are so precarious that one second of inattention can be enough to make you lose your balance. And this is definitely a developable skill through concentration on the breath for example.

My other hobby is theater. Musical theater and also straight theater. Most of this stuff applies more to straight theater and less to musical theater.

I’ve never heard of personal development people talk about theater, nor of the two being put in relation with one another. So I’ll share my thoughts on the subject.

I think that theater and personal development are intimately linked.

Because what do you do in PD? You develop then transcend your ego, who you think you are, your character.

What theater allows you to do is break out of these roles you play and lose yourself in another story. It’s quite cathartic to play someone else, to forget who you are for a while. It feels like play!

Theater is living truthfully in imaginary circumstances. And isn’t that what we do in “real life?”

At a deep level, acting allows you to see that who you think you are is ultimately bullshit. You can be whoever you want to be! I think that playing a bunch of characters allows you to feel more comfortable in your own skin.

One superficial benefit of theater is that you develop a lot of confidence in yourself and the ability to present yourself to others, because performing on stage takes a lot of guts if you’re not used to it. Also, if you play a confident character, it will force you to act confident, and you seeing that possibility for yourself will translate to more confidence offstage. And finally, it’s a safe place to try new stuff.

But it doesn’t stop there! Another amazing thing that theater has done for multiple people in my current group of close friends is it has allowed them to break out of their shells. I had one friend who was introverted to the point of just saying hello and that was it for the rest of the day. Now, after some time doing theater, he is way past that! I’ve had so many fascinating conversations with him. I’m not quite sure how that works at a psychological level, I just know it does, if you’re willing to give it a try.

Another point is about being vulnerable. If you can be true and vulnerable on stage, I think that sets you up really well for interacting with others in real life. And your communication skills, presentation skills, and comedic timing will all go through the roof!

And talk about being quick on your feet! You never know what’s gonna happen on stage, every night is different. I’ve had the experience of having a prop (in this case, a plastic flower) break in my hand during a performance as I was giving it to the girl. Luckily, I was playing Gaston, and the girl was Belle, so I just gave her the headless flower stem. It worked even better than having the flower whole! Rolling with the seeming punches is part of the game. And if you do improv, you get REALLY good at this.

Not only that, but every time you say the lines is going to be different depending on the night, your mood, or the moods of everyone else around you. It’s not so much an analytical process that you’re aware of, but after a while you get a sense of “this is how I say this line most truthfully right now.”

And at some point, when you’re really on fire, you just disappear into the scene. It doesn’t feel like an actor playing a character, you forget yourself totally and it feels like you’re truly in that situation, and the lines and actions just flow. I’ve had this happen a few times for a few seconds in the scene, and it was a superb feeling! I guess you could call it a flow state, but it felt more magical than that. Again, really subtle and not something you get right away.

On stage, one also needs a lot of awareness, and especially self-awareness. You need to know what you’re body’s doing, what you’re feeling, what you’re partner’s saying, how your line are coming out of your mouth, and what effect they’re having on the audience. You need to process a lot of stuff at once, again not consciously formed in your mind, but you must be able to pick up the subtleties of scene. You also develop mindfulness over your emotions. You might think that the lines and the actions are the only things that matter on stage, but the emotions, or where the lines and actions are coming from, are paramount.

All these things I believe can be translated into personal development: the self-awareness, the flowing with the situation, the transformation it can have on your character, or just having fun. 😉  Some of the best times of my life have been during theater, both onstage, and off.

Hopefully you found this post useful. I urge you to try both or one of these hobbies out, you won’t regret it. And if you found this helpful, please share! We need this theater-personal development idea to spread.

The Book: On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Alan Watts

This is my first book by Alan Watts. And it didn’t disappoint.

The subtitle of this book is “On the taboo against knowing who you are.” Which is an appropriate name for it.

What’s the taboo he’s talking about? Non-duality!

This book is a great introduction to non-duality from a rather academic standpoint. More on that later.

Basically, what this book shows you is that we live in a black-and-white world: the world of duality. Good/bad, left/right, male/female, me/you… The list goes on.

Thus, because we feel separate from the world, thinking we are little egos inside our heads, we are able to inflict massive harm on the world. Look at global warming. If there is an “outside world”, then that outside world has to be “conquered.” That’s a very Western attitude, of man vs. nature.

Another result of thinking I’m an ego is the creation of in-groups and out-groups. This is the case of every religion, sect, political party, even science. If everyone thinks they’re right, they’re willing to harm others to prove their point. Which leads to war, genocide, hostility, racial tensions, etc…

So, Watts presents the universal notion of God, aka the Universe, Reality, Truth, the Self. You know how the story goes. And guess what, you’re IT!

Of course, he emphasizes that you can’t understand this intellectually nor see or feel God. It’s above all the experience.

The main part of the book talks about duality, and particularly how opposites are dependent on each other. There can be no “left” without “right”.

But we most often play the game of Black-versus-White. We think that white has to triumph over black, forgetting to acknowledge that neither can exist without the other. If this is the case, neither can win. It’s impossible. In this way, it is all just a cosmic game. A game we’ve taken way too seriously. As Watts, says, it’s “as crazy as trying to keep the mountains and get rid of the valleys.”

Another point he makes is the complete paradox that society gives its citizens: “Be yourself, but play a consistent and acceptable role.” Or put another way “Control yourself and be natural,” or “Try to be sincere.” This is the double-bind societal game. No wonder most teenagers these days are confused, and most people in general frustrated. So now we go about fulfilling self-contradictory goals.

One thing that I kind of disagree with Watts about is what to do after having come into contact with this information. He says that trying to become egoless is just another egoic act. It reaffirms itself all the time. Which is true ONLY AFTER you’ve had an awakening. Once you see your true nature, THEN you know that getting rid of an ego is egoic. But the initial seeking and seeing is paramount.

Yes, seeking your true nature through spirituality is ultimately egoic. But you must do that in order to know who you truly are. Then you will see that trying to get rid of your ego is a) egoic and b) impossible because your ego simply doesn’t exist in the first place.

This part comes in the last part of the book. I highly recommend it, and if you’ve had an awakening, you know exactly what he’s talking about, that spiritual exercises for Enlightenment are egoic in nature. That’s ultimately true, but don’t forget that they’re necessary in order to know the Self in the first place.

I said earlier that this book is pretty academic, and it is. There aren’t any exercises or anything like that in here. But it’s very relatable and will give you a great conceptual understanding of this big illusion we live in.

Watts also has a few interesting parts about philosophy, namely his famous “prickly” and “gooey” philosophers.

By the way, you can get a free PDF of this book here:

https://terebess.hu/english/AlanWatts-On%20The%20Taboo%20Against%20Knowing%20Who%20You%20Are.pdf

The Verdict:

Great far-reaching book for a secular introduction to non-duality and philosophy.

Favorite quote:

For enjoyment is an art and a skill for which we have little talent or energy.

How you rob yourself of happiness

A while ago I wrote about all the habits that people do that are really detrimental to growth (check it out here). These are the foundational habits that you need to change in order to address the real reasons you’re unhappy.

These are the deeper things we do that rob us of happiness. And often, we don’t even realize we’re doing these.

  1. Judging

Yeah, who’s not guilty of this?

Be honest with yourself: you’ve judged everything and everyone you’ve ever met. Including yourself.

These are all simply your ego’s projections onto these things in order to make it feel separate and special.

But all judgments come back to bite you in the butt.

Take this example: you see someone who’s rich and judge wealth negatively. “Oh, he just got lucky, wealth doesn’t bring happiness, being rich isn’t necessary…”

Now you have just partaken in your own demise: you can now never become rich because that would be HYPOCRITICAL of you.

Another simple example: you judge someone as fat. Well, great, now you have NO CHOICE but to work out and eat right because now you fear becoming that which you judged.

Of course, I say “you” judge, but really it’s your mind putting labels on everything. You actually have very little control over it.

  1. Beating yourself up

Again, everyone has done this at some point. But simply no good comes from it.

Has beating yourself up ever helped a situation? No.

The better option is to accept whatever happened as what happened. Better yet, accept it as what happened because it couldn’t have been any other way.

Acceptance has a magical power when you start to tap into it. Life flows so much more easily.

If you make a mistake, don’t worry about it! Laugh at it! See the funny in life! Even the most advanced spiritual masters mess up sometimes.

The good news is, as your consciousness grows, you will blame yourself and others less and less, and start becoming more and more accepting.

  1. “Shoulding”

“Shoulding” is any time you tell yourself “should” in your mind.

“She shouldn’t have left me.” “I should be better at this.” “I shouldn’t be doing this.” “He shouldn’t have said that.” Even “he shouldn’t have been elected.”  😉

Should statements are simply your mind resisting reality.

And we all know, when we resist reality, what do we get? Suffering.

That’s right, Trump getting elected isn’t causing your suffering, YOUR RESISTANCE TO IT is.

So become more conscious of these should statements. They can come in many forms, not just should: “I would have been better in that part…” All part of the same story.

One of the best antidotes to should statements are questions:

  • Do I know for certain that I shouldn’t be doing this / that I should be more advanced…?
  • How do I know this isn’t the best thing that has happened to me?
  • How do I know this isn’t exactly how it’s supposed to be?
  • Can I find any evidence to back up this statement in reality?

Once you start to intellectually challenge should statements, you have to start to FEEL that they are untrue in order for them to start to permanently evaporate. This is a bit more subtle and something I haven’t mastered yet.

The problem with all these neuroses is that they’re very subtle. We’re not aware we’re doing them when in fact we are.

This is where meditation becomes so critical. You get more perspective and awareness on your thoughts, and are able to jump in and question them.

Question all of these neuroses: “Is this judgment absolutely true?” “Do I know that I wasn’t supposed to do that?” “How do I know this error won’t turn into a success?” “Apart from my opinion, can I find any proof to this thought?”

Finally, try to FEEL that these thoughts are untrue. This is ultimately what will keep them from recurrently coming up.

Remember, this is a process, a long one. Don’t expect to be rid of these neuroses overnight.

Another tip: start becoming interested in Truth with a capital T. The Absolute Truth. This will also transform your mind because you won’t be so distracted with petty judgments and such.

So jump in. Trust me, this stuff will transform your life.

The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell

Who knew all the ancients had similar myths and stories?

Apparently, Joseph Campbell.

The Power of Myth is a nice book that discusses all the parallels that exist between the myths of many different cultures throughout the world. It’s quite a fascinating read if you’re into stories, culture or religion / spirituality.

What’s surprising is that so many cultures have similar myths and motifs in these myths. Those folks knew some stuff about the human psyche.

One important aspect of the book is how new life is made. Campbell states that “Somebody has to die in order for life to emerge,” and this has been common to most cultures throughout history: human sacrifice, animal sacrifice, sacrificing oneself for one’s children… you get the idea.

Basically, it’s a fact of growth that something has to die first. In PD, one could say this means dying to your old self: forget who you were yesterday, that’s not you now.

Another thing that some of you might be familiar with is the motif of the Hero’s Journey.

Here it is in a nutshell:

  1. Starts by being seen in ordinary existence.
  2. Presented with call to action, opportunity.
  3. Rejection of the call.
  4. Forced to accept call because it is imposed upon him.
  5. Ventures into unknown territory, faces threshold guardian (first obstacle).
  6. If fails, goes to find mentor (=hero from past generation).
  7. Returns to fight threshold guardians.
  8. Faces more guardians until final boss which guards Holy Grail.
  9. Enters the belly of the whale: has to face himself, rethink his approach, look at his inner demons.
  10. When he gets Holy Grail, there is a 180 degree reversal of understanding of grail -> journey was not about the grail but about the development required to reach the grail -> finds peace and happiness in who he has become => journey to FIND himself.
  11. Tribe cannot comprehend his lessons because have not gone on journey.
  12. Hero retires as mentor.

How to be a hero 101 😉

This is the journey that all the great heroes throughout history and culture have taken: Jesus, Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins… the list goes on.

Campbell defines a hero as “someone who has given her life to something bigger than oneself.” He even argues that motherhood can be seen as a heroic act, because in the past it was essentially devoting one’s life to one’s children, and sometimes even dying in the act of giving birth.

The interpretation I like is that the Hero’s Journey is really just a metaphor for Enlightenment. This is the Hero’s Journey we’re all called to go on in the end. That’s what giving our lives over to something bigger than ourselves is truly about.

Most people don’t realize that all these stories of heroes are really just metaphors for Enlightenment (which is what religion is). But that’s ultimately what it’s about.

Campbell says that all spiritual masters have undertaken this Hero’s Journey.

He also says that for you to have a Hero’s Journey of you own, they must “follow your bliss,” which I like as a substitute for Life Purpose. Find what best “fosters the flowering of your humanity.”

But don’t get distracted by the sexy life purpose journey: the real one is still Oneness.

Another point that is important in any journey: the TRIALS on a metaphorical Hero’s Journey and REVELATIONS on a spiritual Hero’s Journey both contribute to the raising of the hero’s consciousness. Muy importante.

At some point in any journey, you will need to descend into the belly of the whale, a notion that I really like. It’s that dark psychological place into which a hero MUST descend.

That’s where the real growth happens. Go the the very root of the thing.

Ok, enough with the Hero’s Journey. Campbell also discusses the universal notion of love, which he distinguishes into 3 types:

Eros = lust

Agape = spiritual love

Amor = romantic love

I love those names! Sounds so much better than simply “love.”

He also reminds us that compassion literally means “suffering with.” Being compassionate means voluntarily participating the the sorrows of the world.

Hopefully, he points out in the case of the Bodhisattva, you complete your Hero’s Journey to Enlightenment and then come back and live with and help the rest of the world. That’s what a Bodhisattva is.

Lastly, about the book itself: I really enjoyed it. It’s in the form of a dialogue between Campbell and a journalist named Bill Moyers, who is actually a pretty smart guy in the book. It’s a really pleasant read, and full of cultural juice.

Favorite quote:

“The conquest of the fear of death is the recovery of life’s joy.”

The Verdict:

And excellent read for understanding the origins of myth and the universally-known truths of the human psyche.