Although there are some people who seem to be born with an innate sense of what is naturally healthy for them, and the good sense to stay away from what is harmful, most of us are often confused by the mixed messages we are continually getting from advertising, popular media, our peers, our families, hormones, and the inner voice which is struggling to be heard. Adolescence is an especially vulnerable time, when sound direction is greatly needed, but conflicting input abounds. But the teen years are also an opportune time to create healthy and helpful emotional, mental and behavioral patterns.
What I am about to say is not offered from a moralistic or controlling platform. My admonitions regarding drugs and alcohol and simply warnings from the Voice of Experience against some behaviors which, once indulged in, can potentially make a person miserable for the rest of their life. (Most moral strictures originate as cautions against behaviors which often prove to be harmful, which is fine. However, these cautions often become rigidly codified by fearful people who don’t take the time or the care to find their own true direction and meaning in life. It takes time and effort to go within and look for answers, not to mention that most people are afraid of what they might find - or not find - if they look within. But the fear is false - the inner essence of all of us is the essence of divine energy.)
Here’s the message: don’t think twice - think three or four or five times before experimenting with drugs or alcohol. The adolescent brain is still developing, and the risks for long-term damage are tremendous. Results include chronic depression, mental impairment (as in not being able to think as quickly or as clearly as before the damage), organ damage and failure, and the ultimate unwanted side effect: death. (Please see an excerpt from a Frontline interview with National Institute of Health neuroscientist Jay Giedd at the end of this article.)
GET HIGH ON LIFE*
There are lots of ways to have fun! There are countless ways to cultivate your personal uniqueness! To be authentically cool, develop your special traits and talents, and have fun while you’re doing it. Take a little time on a regular basis - preferably daily - having a quiet moment of awareness of your inner self and soon you will begin to have the experience of operating in accordance with your Inner Knower and you will be developing a wisdom to true your life compass. If you begin learning a centering practice when you’re young, you’ll have an amazing head start on this being-a-human-being thing. But remember, it’s never too late!
Later in this article there are two simple exercises (Connect the Dots, and Being Glow) which help you find your Inner Knower. The brain is a pattern recognition mechanism - use that quality of the magnificent organ housed in your skull to create positive patterns which will benefit you for the rest of your life!
In “Timeless Healing,” Dr. Herbert Benson writes,
“But what are the best ways for society to champion the cause of the visceral human soul? How is it healthy for society to implement remembered wellness? My colleagues and I have conducted several studies in which the relaxation response (a simple form of meditation) was incorporated into high school curricula. We found that high school seniors who were taught to elicit the response had significantly higher levels of self-esteem than did their peers who were not exposed to training about the relaxation response. Furthermore, our studies showed that students liked using the relaxation response, and there were reports from teachers of decreased inappropriate behaviors among the students who had learned the mental focusing techniques.”
I don’t want to discourage anyone from having fun - quite the opposite! I am very interested in all people knowing and operating from their deepest core being. When we are doing that, we unlock our capacity to enjoy life. This is about honoring yourself and taking care of yourself. Remember, the adolescent brain is still developing. You could really mess things up in there and end up with a lifetime of emotional and/or mental problems and possibly destroy any chance you might have of operating from your deepest core being.
Getting out into Nature is also beneficial. Good health is maintained when all of the organs and systems in a body are operating in a sympathetic vibration. Natural environments have an entraining effect on the human system (bringing all elements into sympathetic vibration). The perfectly proportionate quality of the visual aspect of mountains and streams and plants and trees and rocks imprints on the human consciousness, bringing order to the inner world. The natural landscape exists in a harmonious vibrational pattern which brings other living beings into a balanced rhythmic flow.
We have made lots of progress in our openness about sexuality as a natural function and its integral part in the human experience. However, I am concerned that talk of sex is bandied about so freely that it is not given the respect which is its due. There needs to be a balance in information about the mechanics of sex and the deep and mysterious aspects of sex.
In its most basic form, sex is a bodily function. But when it involves another person it becomes more than just a physical act. A deep energetic interaction occurs. If the parties involved don’t honor each other there can be long term detrimental effects on their energy fields. This is especially true of women, who, in general, are just naturally more sensitive and receptive than men. You may think that it’s just a physical act, as in hookups. Or you may get a thrill thinking that you’re expressing some sort of power. But if there’s not some energy of love involved you actually demean yourself, and erode your self-esteem.
Another result of impersonal or love-free sex is emotional hardening. When we harden our emotional bodies the tender and vulnerable sense of wonder within us suffers, often becoming lost altogether. Would you rather live in a society of openhearted, friendly, well-adjusted people, or a society of callous, selfish and unfulfilled people?
It all begins with me - each me inhabiting each body here on Planet Earth.
It’s certainly possible to encounter someone, have an energetic love connection with them, honor their being, experience sex together, and then never see them again, without harming the energy field of either person. But not common.
Sex is a remarkable and wonderful gift of nature, especially if it is the expression of an inner connection. In the optimal circumstances it can make us feel boundary-free, it can open our hearts wide, connect us intimately with our partner, and create a sense of mystery and timelessness. But when the various aspects of this profound act aren’t blended, there is a very real danger of people demeaning themselves and everybody involved, leading to low self-worth, and all of the emotional and mental illness which follow.
In a recent conversation with a friend I stated that I am uncomfortable with young women - girls, even - dressing and acting provocatively. She said she thinks it’s great that people know so much about sex these days, that it’s not a big, dirty secret anymore. I agreed that it’s important to take sex out of the big, dirty secret category. But because of its ability to carry and magnify love, the act of expressing sexuality without love (i.e., without honoring the essence of ourselves or the other person) can actually transmit anti-love.
My friend, who was enthusiastically supporting women flaunting their sexuality, went on to describe a scene at the pools she and her boyfriend go to. There were some young women there, with hot bodies in revealing bathing suits. There was a group of older, not very attractive men ogling the young women. My friend thought that the women had a strong sense of the power their sexuality has. In my view, the women at the bath were taunting the men (they obviously had no intention of have anything real to do with those men). They were demeaning the men and demeaning themselves by using their sexuality in a small and controlling way, not respecting themselves or the onlookers.
Sex does, indeed, have a lot of power. I think that any time power is used to control others it is a form of abuse. (Ariel Levy has an excellent in-depth discussion on this topic in “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.”)
When you’re young a strong inner sense is still being developed. We all need a reliable inner compass to navigate the waters of being as open and vulnerable as partner-sex can make us without being damaged in some way. Nature made sex powerful on purpose, to ensure the continuation of the species. It’s a strong drive, capable of altering out thinking and causing us to take actions we wouldn’t necessarily take without being under its influence. We’re flooded with hormones and our instincts seem to take over. “Hold me. Love me. Take care of me. Reflect back to me my divinity!”
Think that sexual act through. Instead of focusing on the fantasy of how it will feel emotionally, and physically, try to imagine the reality of the actual aftereffects. Maybe you are lucky and you and your partner are mature and open and caring and are capable of emotionally handling intimacy and can connect in a meaningful way. Go for it! Otherwise, be very careful. Aside from the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, there’s your precious inner self which needs to be taken care of. While you are developing your inner caretaker, you can take care of your physical needs by having sex with yourself (proven to be quite safe!).
As far as the very human physiological need to be held, Being Glow (described below) is a way that you can actually hug yourself with energy.
Here are some affirmative phrases you can say to help you learn to take care of yourself:
My intrinsic value shines forth from inside of me.
Since I value myself, I lovingly take care of myself and protect myself from harm.
ROCK and ROLL
When you are listening to music, keep the volume down so that you don’t damage your hearing! Damaged hearing DOES NOT come back - ever!
And pay attention to how the music makes you feel inside. Avoid creating unnecessary agitation. Care for your heart, and the hearts of those you share your life with.
Here are two meditative exercises to get you started on centering and knowing:
CONNECT THE DOTS
Sit in a comfortable position with your legs uncrossed and feet resting on the floor. Close your eyes and take a few deep, relaxing breaths. Bring your awareness to your feet and imagine a dot on the bottom of each foot. Then bring your awareness to your belly and imagine a dot in the middle of your belly, about an inch below your belly button. Bring your awareness up to the center of your chest and picture a dot there. With your awareness on your hands, imagine a dot in the palm of each hand. Put your awareness on the center of your forehead, and, bringing your awareness directly inward to the middle of your upper head, imagine a dot in the center of your brain.
Then, in your mind’s eye, imagine that you are drawing a line which connects the head dot with the dot in the center of your chest. Imagine two lines radiating outward from your chest dot, one through each arm to the dot in each hand, and then a line from the chest dot to the belly dot. From the belly dot imagine a line down each leg to the dots on the bottoms of your feet.
As you connect the dots you create a stick-figure, like a child's drawing, in your body.
Keeping the picture of the stick-person in your mind's eye, imagine a rheostat light switch near your hand. Gently bring up the power with the switch, causing the stick-person inside your body to glow with a warm, soothing light.
Continue breathing with deep, relaxing breaths, enjoying the feeling of inner warmth that your inner stick person engenders.
Begin with “Connect the Dots.”
Just for this moment, suspend all thoughts of yourself as a solid mass, and experience yourself as a field of energy, kind of a wave of translucent particles, a multidimensional event of different colors and densities, with movement and fluctuation flowing in and through and around the smallest bits, the cells and the atoms - clear and open and shiny and alive.
As you put your awareness on the dots on the bottoms of your feet, notice that the light in your feet is growing. As you inhale, you draw more energy into your feet and the light increases. As you exhale, the light expands, filling your feet. Inhale, the light brightens, exhale, the light expands, and your feet are glowing with light. The muscles are glowing, the tendons are glowing, the bones glow with a light of life. As the energy grows, it naturally rises up your legs, filling the muscles and bones with a warm glow, all of the cells alive with light.
With your awareness on your belly dot the light there grows and expands. Inhale, the light intensifies, exhale, and the light expands. Inhale, the light grows brighter, exhale, the light expands, filling your abdomen, your stomach and liver and intestines and reproductive organs, glowing into the pelvic floor.
Notice as this light grows it naturally rises up through your diaphragm and ribcage. And now the dot in the center of your chest is glowing with light. As you inhale the light brightens, you exhale and the light fills your chest, filling your heart, your lungs, your entire upper chest with warm, soothing light.
The palms of your hands are glowing with light from the inside out. Inhale and the dots in your hands grow brighter. Exhale and the light grows and expands. the light rises up your arms, filling the muscles and bones in your arms, your shoulders, and now your throat and your neck are filling with a warm glow.
Inhale and the dot in the center of your brain brightens, exhale - the light grows and expands. Inhale, the light brightens, exhale and your brain is being suffused with a warm and healing glow. It is like a universe unto itself, filled with countless beautiful points of light. Your skull is filling with light, your teeth are filling with light, your tongue, your eye, your ears.
It is soothing and invigorating, calming and stimulating.
Put your awareness on your entire being and enjoy this vibrant sense of every molecule and atom and cell being alive with beautiful energy.
As you continue to breathe fully, notice that the light which is generating from deep within you is beginning to come out through your skin. Your outer layer is beginning to glow with this beautiful, warm light which radiates from the center of your being. It is like giving yourself an energy hug from the inside out.
As you inhale, say to yourself, “I am loved.” As you exhale, say, “I am loving,” imagining light radiating from your inner stick-person throughout your entire being. Take a deep breath and enjoy the feeling.
On the next inhalation, say to yourself, “I am healing.” As you exhale say, “I am healed,” imagining light radiating from your inner stick-person throughout your entire being. Take a deep breath and enjoy the feeling
Enjoy this experience of connected aliveness which you have created for yourself.
When you are ready to return to your daily activities, imagine a protective layer of light around your physical body - it could be half an inch away from your skin, or a foot away from your skin, whatever feels right to you. It is wonderful to enjoy and maintain an open energy field, but it’s helpful to have some discretion about the energy that comes into your energy field. A membrane of light surrounding you can transform the energy that is coming into your field, as well as transform the energy that you send out into the world.
When you are pressed for time, or for a rejuvenating moment at any time throughout the day, close your eyes for a moment and imagine your brain and then your entire head saturated with a healing, beneficial light. Seal the vibrational benefits with a statement such as, "I feel great," “I am happy, healthy and whole," or, "I am glowing with vibrant health and vitality."
In Connect the Dots, bringing attention to the feet is grounding and stabilizing. The belly connects us with the source of vital life force. Bringing attention to the chest increases the heart energy and our ability to experience love at all times and in all circumstances. Focusing on the head brings inspiration, clarity and wisdom. And increasing awareness of hand energy helps us carry our grounded, heart-inspired wisdom into action in the world.
At first you might not see or feel or imagine much of anything. Any kind of meditative practice takes time to develop (which is, after all, why it is called "practice"). Sitting still and tuning into a quiet place inside is a “muscle” which is often undeveloped. It takes courage to be with oneself without distractions.
When you turn your attention to your inner self, ask, “How can I take care of myself? How can I discover and cultivate the special things about me that I’m good at, which I enjoy, which I can use to make some sort of contribution to the world?”
Self-expression is the key to well-being. To express self, one must have some clue about one’s self. Take a moment to get grounded and centered, to quietly listen for your inner voice. Your inner voice will reward your attention by sharing its wealth of natural wisdom, the riches that are your essence and your birthright.
*GET HIGH ON LIFE
Volunteer at humane society
Take your dog to see shut-ins
Read aloud to a shut-in (once a week, once a month)
Gardening - plant some zinnias, grow your Halloween pumpkin
Build a planter box
Help form a community garden
Take a yoga class
Take yoga teacher training
Tutor a kid in your favorite subject
Get a microscope and look at things through it
Draw artistic renderings of what you see in the microscope
Observe and memorize the constellations
Learn “Stars and Stripes Forever” on the kazoo
Form a kazoo band
Take singing lessons
Write a haiku poem
Sing your haiku poem
Add several things to this list
FRONTLINE INTERVIEW EXCERPT - Jay Giedd, M.D., Neuroscientist, National Institute of Mental Health
Dr. Geidd has spearheaded research showing for the first time that there is a wave of growth and change in the adolescent brain. He believes that what teens do during their adolescent years - whether it’s playing sports or playing video games - can affect how their brains develop.
The good news is that we are also discovering that the adult brain has much more plasticity than previously believed. With dedicated effort over time we can change emotional and mental patterning and habits. But! it can be challenging, and it makes more sense to create healthy and beneficial imprints from the get-go.
“The most surprising thing has been how much the teen brain is changing. By age six, the brain is already 95 percent of its adult size. But the gray matter, or thinking part of the brain, continues to thicken throughout childhood as the brain cells get extra connections, much like a tree growing extra branches, twigs and roots. In the frontal part of the brain, the part of the brain involved in judgement, organization, planning, strategizing - those very skills that teens getter better and better at - this process of thickening the gray matter peaks at about age 11 in girls and age 12 in boys, roughly about the same time as puberty.
After that peak, the gray matter thins as the excess connections are eliminated or pruned. So much of our research is focusing on trying to understand what influences or guides the building-up stage when the gray matter is growing extra branches and connections and what guides the thinning or pruning phase when the excess connections are eliminated.
I think the exuberant growth during the pre-puberty years gives the brain enormous potential. The capacity to be skilled in many different areas is building up during those times. What the influences are of parenting or teachers, society, nutrition, bacterial and viral infections -- all these factors -- on this building-up phase, we're just beginning to try to understand. But the pruning-down phase is perhaps even more interesting, because our leading hypothesis for that is the "Use it or lose it" principle. Those cells and connections that are used will survive and flourish. Those cells and connections that are not used will wither and die.
So if a teen is doing music or sports or academics, those are the cells and connections that will be hard-wired. If they're lying on the couch or playing video games or MTV, those are the cells and connections that are going [to] survive...
It's also a particularly cruel irony of nature, I think, that right at this time when the brain is most vulnerable is also the time when teens are most likely to experiment with drugs or alcohol. Sometimes when I'm working with teens, I actually show them these brain development curves, how they peak at puberty and then prune down and try to reason with them that if they're doing drugs or alcohol that evening, it may not just be affecting their brains for that night or even for that weekend, but for the next 80 years of their life. ...
As this second wave of over-production is occurring, it prepares the adolescent brain for the challenges of entering the next stage of life, the adult years. There's enormous potential at that time. People can take many different life directions. But about around that time of puberty, people start specializing, so to speak. They start deciding, "This is what I'm going to be good at, whether it be sports or academics or art or music." All the life choices, even though they are still there, start getting whittled away, and we have to start sort of focusing in on what makes us unique and special...”
The 60 minute Frontline program on the teenage brain can be viewed here:
©2010, Kate Moody