Oscar is 18 months old today. We’ve had him since he was 8 weeks old and he’s completely changed our lives. Dogs have a habit of doing that. I have learned so much from him in just that short time, some of which I’ve written about in previous blogs. I feel like I’m always learning so here are some of my most recent insights:
1) I can be a child any time I want
Oscar & I walked by the river this morning, close to where we live. The level was higher on account of recent rain, such that the path we often take along the river was flooded. So we had to climb up a steep bank and through some trees to get to a field.
As I clambered up the bank, getting filthy from the mud, holding onto tree branches to pull myself up, a loud ‘Yippeeeee’ burst out of me. I felt like a child again. I used to have adventures like that all the time as a child. I could have stayed there all morning. What’s the rush, I thought? I then actually went back down a bit and chose the steepest part of the bank, just so that I’d need to climb a tree to get back up again. It was so much fun.
I was reminded that we can play like children any time we want. We just need to find a tree, or a ball, or a skipping rope or hula hoop. As adults, we have this idea that we have to always behave like adults. Who said we need to? I think it would do us all some good if we let our inner child have a play from time to time.
It set my up for the day. I am feeling great right now as I type this.
2) It’s important to listen to my body
If Oscar goes on a long walk or has a lot of play time with his friends, he comes in and slumps on the floor and sleeps. He just knows what his body needs and acts on it.
Even when I feel really tired, I have had a habit of continuing to work because I have things I need to finish. But what I’m doing is putting my work before my health instead of the other way around. If we don’t have our health then we can’t work. It’s as simple as that.
Oscar reminds me to listen to my body more. If I feel tired I can sleep, hungry I can eat, light-hearted I can play. If I don’t feel hungry, I don’t need to eat (that’s never the case with Oscar). It doesn’t mean we have to just down tools every time we’re tired, but it wouldn’t do us any harm just to pay a little more attention to the needs of our bodies.
3) It’s important to take regular breaks (and make them fun if I can)
Oscar broke my laptop screen a few weeks ago. The Apple Store repaired it for me for free (Go Genius Bar!) so no harm done. If he’s been sleeping and then wakes up, and I happen to be using my laptop on the sofa (we have a lovely log fire so I prefer the living room to the office during the winter), he jumps up on the sofa and pushes my laptop out of the way, while his tail ferociously slaps me on the side of the head as he wags it with excitement. I think it’s his way of saying “You can’t choose that silvery thing over me.”
I always end up bursting out laughing as I stretch my laptop out with my hand so it doesn’t drop on the floor (failed that one time), while he then licks my face as I laugh.
It’s funny, but when Oscar wants to play, even if I’ve been feeling under pressure with my workload, the stress disappears in an instant. I stop what I’m doing and we play with his ball, ring, or one of his other toys; or we just have a play-wrestle.
It reminds me that we have a capacity to make ourselves smile at any time. We just don’t recognize how important it is or we’d do it a lot more.
4) Walking is very good exercise
Before we got Oscar, 16 months ago, I used to go to the gym 3 or 4 times a week and jog at least once a week. I convinced myself that it was the only way to stay fit. Now I don’t go to the gym nearly so much, yet I’m about 8 pounds lighter.
I hadn’t thought about it until I worked it out, but I walk around 20 miles a week on average. And it’s the consistency that matters. Many people like to walk but are not consistent enough to feel the real benefits. I’ve been like that in the past, full of good intentions but only keeping up the practice sporadically.
Having Oscar forces me to be consistent … like every day. The result has been weight loss and a healthier cardiovascular system to boot.
And another thing: I thought that by not running as much I’d have lost fitness. That was until I took part in a charity 5k and ran it in not much over 20 minutes, having not been out for a jog in several months. Walking consistently really is great exercise.
5) Love needs to be unconditional
I think we’ve all heard it somewhere. We’ve read it, heard it at a talk, or maybe we’ve seen it in a quote, or even one of our friends proclaimed it in a conversation. But have you ever really thought about what it means? Or witnessed it in action?
I’m not so sure I’d ever really thought about it until Oscar arrived. Dogs have this knack of showing you unconditional love – love without anything attached to it … not “I’ll love you if you take me for a walk” or “I love you because you feed me” or “I’ll stop loving you if you do that.” It’s just, well, “I love you” … and that’s it. There’s nothing attached. It’s just pure, simple, complete love. And it feels fantastic. It really gets you thinking.
There’s a sense of freedom in it that makes me love him even more. I don’t have to love him back, which allows the natural bond to form unimpeded with conditions. That’s the thing with unconditional love. When there’s nothing riding on it, the love is unimpeded and is super strong.
Here are some of my previous blogs about my experiences with Oscar:
Nearly everyone has experienced a placebo effect!
The fact that you take a medicine tells me that on some level you must believe in it or expect it to work, or you believe in the doctor who prescribed it, or even in the improvement you’ve heard about in other people.
This belief, or expectation, activates the placebo effect. Of course, the drug works too but your mind can enhance it….. or suppress it.
The same placebo can do opposite things, for instance, depending on what the person believes it is for. If patients are given a placebo and told it will relax their muscles then it will, but the same placebo can cause muscular tension if the person believes that’s what it does. Similarly, believing that it is a stimulant will increase heart rate and blood pressure, but thinking that it is a depressant gives it the opposite effect – reducing heart rate and blood pressure.
Some people who are given alcohol placebos, thinking they are drinking real alcoholic beverages, even get drunk.
And placebos can enhance athletic performance. In a 2007 study, non-professional athletes had been given morphine during a pre-competition training phase. On the day of a competition the morphine was secretly swapped for a placebo but the athletes still experienced an increase in pain endurance and physical performance that would be expected from taking morphine.
I wonder if they would have been banned from competition if they’d been caught taking performance enhancing placebos (PEP). As an ex-athletics coach myself, all athletes really need is a PEP talk!
In another study, 40 asthmatics were given an inhaler containing a placebo that was just water vapour, but they were told that it contained allergens that would restrict their airways. Nineteen of them went on to suffer considerable constriction of their airways. Twelve of them actually experienced a full-blown asthma attack. When they were given a different inhaler and told it would relieve their symptoms, it did, even though it was also a placebo. One person in the study developed symptoms of hay fever too after being told that the inhaler also contained pollen.
Colour can matter with placebos, because of what the colour represents to us. A University of Cincinnati study tested both blue and pink stimulants and sedatives on students, although unbeknownst to the students the stimulants and sedatives were placebos.
But the blue placebo sedatives were 66% effective, compared with 26% for the pink ones. Blue placebos were around 2.5 times more effective for relaxation that pink ones. This is because blue is generally considered to be a calming colour.
Where you live also affects the power of placebos. In a US study of migraine treatments, placebo injections were 1.5 times more powerful than placebo pills. But a European trial found that placebo pills were about 10% better than placebo injections. The reason for the difference? It’s in our cultural language. US patients tend to speak of ‘getting a shot’ so they believe in it more, but Europeans talk of ‘popping pills’, or at least they do in the UK.
On a kind of similar note, in trials of Tagamet, the anti-ulcer drug that was popular in the 80s, the placebo was 59% effective in France but the drug itself was 60% effective in Brazil – a difference of 1%. The placebo in one country was as good as the drug in another!
Studies like these strongly hint that we have far more ability to affect our health through our thinking than we might have believed in the past.
How a placebo is packaged and sold also makes a difference to its power. In a UK study, 835 women were given one of four different pills for headaches. One group received a well-known branded aspirin tablet. A second group received a simple tablet labelled ‘analgesic’, which was typical of a cheaper mass-market brand. A third group received a branded placebo, while the last group received a basic ‘mass-market’ placebo labelled ‘analgesic’.
It turned out that the branded aspirin worked better than the unbranded one, but amazingly the branded placebo worked better than the unbranded placebo – even though they were both made of sugar.
The placebo effect might even lift the power of Viagra beyond its basic pharmacological effect, at least according to psychiatrist Aaron K. Vallance, who suggested in a 2006 paper that the medicine might be enhanced because the name ‘Viagra’ is similar-sounding to the words, ‘vigour’ and ‘Niagara’. This might create a perception of vigorousness and power. I wonder if it would work so well if it was called ‘Flopsy’!
Of course, the drug works extremely well. Drugs are built to carry out biological functions in the body. I know this for a fact. My PhD was in building molecules, or organic chemistry as it’s officially known, and I spent 4 years in cardiovascular and cancer drug development in the pharmaceutical industry. But there is no question that the mind impacts the body. Imagining something, for instance, can even physically impact brain structure.
The challenge is in tapping into this latent power within us. Doctors can help or hinder, even when they don’t know they are doing it.
We know this because some of the variation in placebo effects simply comes down to the communication between medical staff and patient. For relatively common ailments at least, a doctor or physician who shows confidence or optimism about the patient’s recovery is much more likely to see the patient recovering than one who is unsure or pessimistic.
What is said and, importantly, how it is said can make a big bit of difference. But ultimately, it’s what then goes on in the patient’s mind that leads to the health-giving effects.
I personally believe that we have far more ability to affect our health and, dare I say, to heal ourselves, than we have ever thought possible. The question is how to tap into this ability.
I believe we can make a start by doing something active with our minds and believing in it. This is why I explain the science of how the mind impacts in the body in my talks and books - so that people can understand how their thinking affects their health. That way, when they apply visualization strategies, they tend to believe in themselves, and in so doing they are tapping into this ability.
Of course, this is not to be done instead of medical advice, but in addition to it. That is just being intelligent. We might as well get the best of everything.
And that includes the best use of the mind too!!
David R Hamilton PhD, How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body - For examples and explanation of the placebo effect, other mind-body phenomena, and various visualization strategies for different ailments. UK paperback, US paperback, UK Kindle, US Kindle
How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body – UK & Ireland Speaking Tour
In these workshops, I’ll share all the ways that the mind impacts the body, from the placebo effect, to how meditation impacts the brain, to how attitude affects the heart and ageing, even to how visualisation can physically impact brain structure. You’ll also learn how people around the world have used mind-body interventions (visualisation strategies) to help facilitate recovery from illness and disease, learn the principles involved, and learn and practice a few visualisation techniques.
GLASGOW – 22nd March 2014
LONDON – 29th March
NORWICH – 5th April
KINROSS – 6th April
DUBLIN – 12th April
MANCHESTER – 26th April
NEWCASTLE – 3rd May
US dates to follow … will be announced on my newsletter
1) Love is good for your heart
I think we all expect this. Biologically, love produces the hormone ‘oxytocin’. It’s why it’s often referred to as the ‘Love Hormone’ or even ‘Cuddle Chemical’ (yes, hugs produce it too). Research also shows that it is a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone. Simply put, it protects your cardiovascular system: it reduces blood pressure, helps clear your arteries of free radicals and inflammation, and even helps repair damaged blood vessels.
2) Love makes you happy
Emotionally, love makes us feel euphoric. We even feel tingling sensations in our hearts. In the brain, love elevates levels of both dopamine and serotonin, which contribute to this effect.
3) Love improves general health
Some research that compared couples whose relationship was close with those whose relationship wasn’t so much, found that couples who were in a close relationship reported their health as ‘very good or excellent’. The health reports were poorer in the other couples.
4) Love is good for your immune system
Every couple has arguments. That’s to be expected. But research shows that couples who argue in a more loving, positive way, were measured to have higher immediate immune function compared to couples who showed more negative behaviour. I guess, even when we argue, we should remember to be kind.
5) Love can help you get fit
OK, this might be obvious in the sense that regular sex is good for the heart, but there is another way that love can aid fitness. We all know that many people who start on an exercise program quit within 6 months to a year (you’ve probably been there yourself – seen it, done it, got the t-shirt), but did you know that when you work out with a romantic partner, not only do you work harder (perhaps you’re trying to impress) but you are also more likely to keep the program up?
6) Love can help you live longer
Research that compares married couples (in happy marriages) with single people shows that married people lived longer. And the good news for men is that the effect is especially pronounced in us. Seems we benefit from all that nagging good advice. Married men are less likely than single men to over indulge in drinking and smoking, which is better for health in the long term.
7) Love can lessen physical pain
Researchers who measures pain perception typically ask volunteers to place their hands in ice-water or receive electric shocks. Electric shock pain-perception-studies have shown that the experience of pain is lessened when we hold someone’s hand. And it’s even better news for females – pain decreases most in women in happy marriages who held their husbands’ hand.
I had just left a hotel with the intent to travel to Kings Cross station to catch a train home to Scotland following a lecture I gave the previous night. I passed him in the street. He was carrying what seemed to be his worldly belongings in a cluster of carrier bags, two or three to each hand. He looked so very sad, and tired, and walked slowly.
I walked on but part of me couldn’t forget him. When I reached the street corner, I looked into a café, where people sat in the warmth, protected from the cold. I thought of going in to grab a coffee. As I stood there, about to open the door, I glanced and watched the man shuffle slowly across the street. I felt like I was looking in two windows. In one was the warmth of the coffee shop and the taste of freshly ground coffee. In the other was the homeless man, alone on this cold, damp, Sunday morning, with nowhere to go to keep warm.
I went back. I crossed over the street and found him sitting down in a shop doorway. I had thought he was around 60 years old. Up close, he looked about the same age as me, only aged by loneliness and cold. I placed £10 in his hand. What happened next has left an imprint on my soul.
He had piercing blue eyes. He looked at me with the deepest gratitude I have ever known. It was like an unexpected wind that knocked me over. He made a prayer sign with his hands as he looked at me. But it was his eyes. Never before have I witnessed such raw, honest, gratitude in a person’s eyes.
I suddenly felt shame: He seemed holy in that moment, completely vulnerable, special. I, on the other hand, felt insignificant, and small.
He saw himself as beneath me, that I and others could somehow decide his fate, and choose to bestow upon him money or food as we see fit.
I walked away, fighting back tears with gulps of breath. I angrily thought, “No, you are not beneath me, dear sir. You are not beneath anyone! You have a right to happiness.”
I said a prayer for him and imagined him knowing his worth and finding happiness. It made me feel a little better, even though I still wish I could meet him again and do more for him. I was reminded of his piercing blue eyes.
When we show our vulnerability, we invite others to see our greatness! As I blended back into the crowd, not showing mine, hiding among the hundreds of faces going about their lives, many also pretending, I felt small, and weak. In that simple exchange, the homeless man was most definitely the better man.
You see, I have come to measure greatness in the courage to bear one’s soul. He showed his. I hid mine behind my wallet and my nice clothes. I chose not to show any emotion as I offered that small sum. I chose not to say anything else. My soul so wanted to speak, to say something that might make him feel less lonely, it even urged me to hold his hand for a while, but I was embarrassed by how I was feeling in that instant. I simply smiled, touched his hand lightly, stood up and walked away.
I think we should listen to our souls, or hearts, if you prefer that word, more. Life becomes so much more full when we listen and have the courage to act. It’s not easy.
I didn’t show the courage that Sunday morning. But perhaps I’ll show more courage next time my soul shouts out like that. At least I’m a little more familiar, now, with what it feels like.
I think many people nowadays have heard that gratitude is good for us, but if you haven’t, or want a recap on how and why, here’s 10 reasons below. Please share them with others so that more people enjoy the benefits of gratitude.
1. It’s good for mental health
Studies show that a regular gratitude practice (like keeping a daily or weekly gratitude journal) boosts happiness. Research that compared people who were asked to count blessings with people asked to count hassles and annoyances found that the gratitude groups were around 25% happier.
2. It helps counter stress
We get stressed when we put all of our attention on hassles, frustration, and problems. Gratitude takes our minds away from these things, thereby relieving the stress that they bring. And gratitude as a practice improves our ability to switch our focus in the moment and also helps us notice more of the good things in life that we wouldn’t normally pay as much attention to.
3. It inspires us to exercise more
We feel better when we practice gratitude and many people who do so are then inspired to do things that are good for them, including exercise. One of the findings of a 2003 research study was that people who kept weekly gratitude journals exercised more than those who kept hassles journals.
4. It helps us achieve our goals
Over a measured 2-month period, research also showed that people making gratitude lists were found to be more likely to make progress towards important personal goals. Not only do we feel more motivated when we feel good but we are also more creative and more likely to spot solutions to our problems.
5. It makes us kinder
One finding of gratitude research is that people keeping daily gratitude lists are more likely to help someone in need, when compared with people making lists of hassles.
6. Makes you feel less lonely (more connected)
Making us more kind also improves our relationships and connections with others. Some participants in gratitude studies indeed report feeling more connected to people. Some people practicing gratitude also feel more connected and part of life as a whole. It increases their sense of belonging in the world.
7. It helps us sleep better
In his inspiring book, ‘Thanks: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier’, Robert Emmons, the world’s foremost gratitude researcher, encourages us to “count blessings, not sheep” if we can’t get to sleep. Moving the mind away from worries and stresses and towards good things helps relax us, making dropping off to sleep much more likely.
8. It makes you feel more in control of your life (more optimism)
After observing that gratitude is having a positive effect on life and emotions, we begin to feel more optimistic and in control of our lives, rather than being bounced around by life events. With renewed optimism and strength, gratitude can even help us to turn our lives around.
9. People like you better
Some gratitude practices involve thinking of people we’re grateful for and the reasons why. A side-effect of this is that it improves the quality of our relationships with them. It also helps us see the best in people and therefore bring out the best in them. Overall, it make us warmer towards others. People tend to like people like this.
10. Better Health
It’s good for our overall physical health and cardiovascular health. As well as making exercise more likely, some research shows that gratitude gives us better immune systems and even lower blood pressure.
Gratitude is a practice, and like all practices we need to be consistent to get best results. I recommend you make a big deal of your gratitude practice so that you are encouraged to be consistent. Get a nice journal and draw or paint the words, ‘My Gratitude Journal on It’. I like to use a journal with nice paper and also use a pen that feels nice.
You can keep it beside your bed or carry it around with you in your bag. You can keep note of things that occur daily that you’re grateful for, and even jot down reasons why you’re grateful for particular people in your life. I’d also recommend that you also include things you’re grateful for about yourself – your personality, your strengths, your talents, who you are, the way you are with people, animals, etc … anything, really, that reminds you that you are enough!
Notes and recommended reading:
Many of these points are from my own personal observations and from feedback from workshop participants.
All research quoted above can be found in the following two books:
David R Hamilton PhD, ‘Why Kindness is Good for You’ (Hay House, 2010). In particular, see Chapter 11, “Counting Blessings” (Amazon UK paperback) (Amazon UK Kindle) (Amazon.com paperback) (Amazon.com Kindle)
As an author, the more books I wrote, the more I felt a pressure to maintain the expectations of people who read my books and came to my talks and workshops. As a self-help author, you’re supposed to be Whole, Healed, and have all the answers, otherwise, how can you justify lecturing people about how to improve their lives?
It was hard to admit that I, too, get scared, often feel insecure, am often filled with self-doubt, and that there are many times when I don’t know what to do nor where to turn.
I started to really think about this in September 2012. I was due to speak at Hay House Publishers’ I Can Do It conference in Glasgow, Scotland. The ‘I Can Do It’ events are exciting conferences, often attended by thousands of people, and feature many bestselling authors in the self-help and mind-body-spirit fields.
The first speaker of the day was Dr Wayne Dyer. I was up next. I was on home turf. This was the first I Can Do It event in Scotland, in the city where I did my own very first public talk 12 years earlier, shortly after I’d left my job as a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry. It was in 2000 as I led my very first one-day workshop called, ‘Create Your Own Life’.
I was so incredibly nervous before I spoke. I was lucky that just as I was about to open my mouth, my phone rung loudly in my pocket. At that point, I said “Oh, please remember to switch off your phones.” I hadn’t meant it to be funny but everyone laughed. It broke the ice and relaxed me … although when I say ‘everyone’, I’m meaning the thirteen people there, nine of whom were family and friends, three who I’d met in a café a week earlier who had agreed to come if they didn’t have to pay, plus the one person who had actually responded to my 8-week running advertisement in ‘The Big Issue’, the UK’s magazine created by and sold by homeless people.
The event was a financial failure. It had cost me the equivalent of a month’s salary from my previous job. But I was proud of myself that I’d had the courage to follow a dream of inspirational speaking and that I felt I’d communicated really well in the workshop. Even though I’d lost a lot of money staging the event, I was determined to make things work.
So here I was, twelve years later, standing at the side of the stage ready to speak to a crowd over sixty times bigger than the one on that first day, ready to follow one of the biggest selling authors in the world. You would think I’d be proud of myself for how far I’d come. I was now an author of 7 books and had spoken live to thousands of people around the world, and I was now doing a home gig to this mostly Scottish audience, many of whom were proud to have a fellow Scot among the line-up of international bestselling authors.
But I didn’t feel proud. I felt really insecure. I could have curled up beside the curtain and had a cry.
Growing up, I often felt like an outsider. I showed off a lot at school – academically, at sports – and talked about my achievements, all to get attention. As a child and teenager, I thought that if I could impress people they’d like me. But all that happened was that I earned the nickname of ‘Big Head’. I was trying to be liked by the cool people because it would make me feel a sense of belonging, but all it did was make me feel isolated.
I felt like an outsider in that moment standing at the side of the stage. The feeling suddenly appeared. It was like my childhood and teenage years all over again. In my mind, the other authors were the cool people – they all belonged to a gang – and I was striving to get noticed again.
We all have fears and insecurities, but we’re afraid to admit them. We think other people don’t have any. It’s just us. We fear we’ll look stupid, or small, or less than we were before, or worse still, that people won’t like us any more, or even that loved ones will start looking elsewhere for someone who is much more Whole, complete, and strong.
Deep inside we all crave belonging. To feel connected is an ancient human need. The fear of being cut off, to not belong, to not be connected is one of our deepest worries. It’s why being banished was one of the worst punishments dealt out in human history.
We hold back from being ourselves, from letting our guards down, from being vulnerable, because we fear that we’ll lose our connections. It’s more than just being worried whether people will like us or not if they see us for what we are. That’s on the surface. Beneath, is that deep need to belong. If people don’t like us any more, we won’t belong.
Pretending allows us to be as good, Whole, Healed, or as perfect, as everyone else. It lets us stay in the fold.
But we’ve got it the wrong way around. The only way to really be connected, to belong, and for love, then, to grow, is if we take off our masks, stop pretending that we’re perfect, and just be ourselves.
When we do this, we find that the connections we were afraid of losing actually become stronger. Deep or meaningful bonds are only forged when we show up as ourselves, when we allow ourselves to be seen for who we really are. All of us, without exception, have fears, insecurities, and self-doubts – about how we look, our abilities, our age, our intelligence, our sexual performances, our parenting skills, and so on.
Yes, it can be a scary thing to show up as yourself. There is an element of risk involved. Vulnerability raises to the surface these deep fears of being kicked out and no longer belonging. But it’s through being vulnerable that we obtain the connections and belonging that we so deeply crave.
It’s a lot of what self-love is. Having the courage to be vulnerable, to be yourself regardless of the risk involved, is one of the greatest acts of self-love you will ever make. Self-love takes courage, but it starts with being yourself.
I find that when I show vulnerability, like in admitting how I felt at the side of the stage, it doesn’t invalidate what I write about and teach. I used to fear that. But it enhances it. I have a much deeper experience of what I’m talking about and I feel stronger inside … like I really do belong.
And that’s because I remember that we really are all just the same.
Related Speaking Events
I Heart Me: The Science of Self-Love (3-day intensive). Click here for info
Transition to Love. Click here for info
I often wonder why it’s such a taboo subject. As a child growing up in the 70s, I learned that anything extraordinary was to be feared, that it was supernatural. That’s quite a normal attitude in western society.
But we all have a 6th sense, even if society at large, or even science, sometimes tells us otherwise.
-We can and do sense some future events.
-We sometimes sense when someone we love is suffering or needs help.
-Our intentions can impact people at a distance, especially when they are compassionate and directed towards healing.
-We sometimes feel larger, like we’re at one with the whole universe.
-We also know, deep down, that love is our essence and that it really is what makes everything work.
Most people have experienced a premonition of some sort, whether it was of an accident or disaster, or even of something they felt was going to happen in their lives. Research into ‘presentiment’ has even found the human (and animals too) nervous system reacts to future events before they occur.
During a period of depression back in the late 90s, where I was really struggling in my life, my Mum could sense that something was wrong. Even though I lived 250 miles away, she would call me up very early in the morning or even late at night, saying she just had a feeling that something was wrong but that I wasn’t telling her. Many people have experienced such a connection with a loved one.
MRI and EEG studies now even seem to confirm this connection. In a typical experiment, one person is placed inside an MRI scanner while the other person is in a different room. Once that person is given an experimental shock (like a light flashed in their eye, for instance) the brain of the one in the MRI scanner reacts.
Even more, studies on ‘distant intentionality’ reveal that actual intentions of one person can impact another person at a distance. Some research even shows changes in real-time MRI scans, or even in heart rhythms, in one person while another one sends compassionate healing intentions to them.
In some ways, the gap is closing between science and what we think of as ‘out there’ ideas and phenomena. Electrons (subatomic particles) can be thought of as being simultaneously everywhere in the universe at the same time, that is, until they are ‘observed’. In a physics lab, that means to set up an experiment to study the behavior of electrons. In the absence of observation, an electron is everywhere – past, present, and future. Does the same apply to us?
I guess that depends on your definition of ‘us’ – body … or mind / spirit / consciousness as larger than, or even separate from, the body, which takes more of a spiritual view of existence.
The above kinds of research suggests that consciousness is not actually inside your head, but in reality, You (your being, essence, consciousness) is in fact larger and, perhaps, just like the electron, everywhere. But in daily life we are always ‘observing’ ourselves, so we’re always, well, in the body. But people who have experienced transcendental states, or even had near death experiences (NDEs), when they are very much not observing (focused on) the body, tell us that our being/consciousness/spirit is indeed much larger and is very much spread out over the whole universe.
Many of them also tell us that love is what life is all about. Perhaps that’s why we all search for it. We’re even biologically wired to need love. If ‘we’ really are everywhere, in spirit, and love seems to be everywhere in society, then maybe the love we see everywhere is in fact you, I, and everyone else expressed.
I look at the world this way. I find it gives extra meaning to what we do in our lives. If we conclude that we really are much more than our human bodies, with abilities, perhaps, more than we have come to believe, then surely it will benefit us all if we remember that love is what it’s all about and so channel some of our energies towards making life even a little bit better for those around us.
I try to think only kind thought about others. It’s actually not as difficult to do than you think. The motivation to do it makes it easier and helps us through situations that would otherwise test us. Thinking that you can’t is self-fulfilling. Try it out – just for today – and see how you get on.
It’s not a failure if you slip up. That’s to be expected. The fabric of life is very much lumpy, filled with ups & downs and successes & failures, but we get better with each attempt.
And the funny thing is, the more we think kindly of others, the better we feel inside … and eventually we come to realise that peace and happiness is a product of our minds. It’s in the thoughts we think.
And as we think, so we also impact everyone and everything else.
All references cited above can be found in, David R Hamilton PhD, ‘Is Your Life Mapped Out?: Unravelling the mystery of destiny vs free will’ (Hay House, 2012) Check out the book here
There was a fierce storm in the UK last Thursday. All throughout the night we could hear the wind and rain. It was almost deafening. In the morning, our garden was strewn with torn-off branches of trees.
I was due to drive from my home in central Scotland to London. Each year in December, my publisher (Hay House) organises a Christmas party in London for the European authors. My plan was to drive because I needed a car to get to and from a speaking event 2 days later.
I delayed my early morning departure by a few hours until the weather had much improved, then set off on what is usually a simple 7-hour drive.
When I was about half way, an accident had occurred just up ahead. It was on the M6 motorway, just west of Manchester, and the M6 was now being closed. Over the next few hours, a long queue of very-slow-moving traffic was moved off the motorway and headed towards the town of Warrington to pick up a main road back onto the M6 at the next junction.
With not much else to do in a stationary traffic queue, I checked the BBC Travel News website to get real-time updates on the roads. I learned that there were two closures of the M6. The other one was about 100 miles farther, near Birmingham. I would meet that one too. At these times, most people act in one of two ways.
The first is frustration. A man in a blue car behind me was so angry when we were funnelled off the M6 that he started banging on his steering wheel – with his head! The other option is to accept what is happening in the moment. It’s not always easy to do, but I reasoned that there wasn’t really anything I could do to change the situation. I would most likely miss the party. It’s either frustration or find a way of enjoying the journey. I chose option 2.
Even the thought of having that choice was quite relaxing. I felt empowered as I dwelled on idea that I am in control of my own mind, and therefore how I feel. Just then, I caught sight of a car pulling out of a housing state and had a sudden intuition that there was probably a quicker route through the estates that would bypass the traffic queues.
I decided that trusting my intuition might be a good way to enjoy the journey a bit, regardless of whether it actually got me to my destination any quicker or not. I checked the ‘Maps’ app on my iPhone and I could, indeed, see a route through the streets. I pulled off the main road and into the streets lined with houses.
As I drove along, I felt a little buzz of crazy excitement – to be 300km from home and instead of being on the M6, I was driving though quiet streets lined with houses. It felt good to be trusting my intuition on purpose and I determined to continue trusting it, regardless of where it might take me. I passed a street called, ‘ELIZABETH DRIVE. I smiled, as that’s the name of my partner…the Elizabeth bit.
I figured it would actually be quite nice to go back and take a photograph of the sign and then text it to Elizabeth, so I did. It’s little things like these that bring complete contrast to what we could or should be doing that can actually help us to feel good. It further removed my mind from the stress of the whole ‘getting-to-my-destination’ thing.
About two minutes later, I passed another street name and, of course, I had to stop and take another photograph. This one was for ‘DAVENHAM AVENUE’. I laughed out loud.
The little intuitive side-step into the housing estates probably saved me about an hour. By the time I picked up the road back onto the M6, I began to wonder if the time-saving I’d made would actually help me get to London on time for the party. Perhaps the M6 at Birmingham would be reopened by the time I got there, I wondered. Then I’d definitely make it. I felt a little burst of satisfaction at having listened to my intuition.
But back on the M6 and heading towards Birmingham, I began to wonder why we all seem so future-focused, including myself. Why was I now turning an enjoyable experience of intuition and contrast into being ‘the reason’ I’d get to the party? It felt like I was cheapening the experience, like I was taking something away from it, that it was merely a means to an end.
We all do this, don’t we? We try to explain why everything happens to us. But does there always need to be a reason? Does the present always need to be a means to get us to the future? Such thinking is a recipe for unhappiness and, to be honest, it’s a dish that most of us serve up to ourselves on a daily basis.
Perhaps if, from time to time, we stop looking for reasons, we stop looking to the future, and just meet the moments, the experiences, as if they are the last we’ll ever have.
I had such fun diverting out of the traffic jam and into the streets of houses. Taking those photographs of the road signs might seem unimportant to many people, especially in a future-focused mindset, but it mattered to me. It was something I laughed at in the moment and it is what I most remember about my day in traffic. It’s these seemingly tiny moments that we most remember later in life. If we’re always looking to the future, our main memories are the goals we achieve. And these are short-lived, because we quickly come up with another goal. We miss so many of the moments in between. We forget about the journey.
I was soon caught up in traffic again. The M6 hadn’t reopened and I moved about 1km in 2 and a half hours. I was stationary much of the time. Great, I thought.
I did a meditation (the traffic was completely stationary, I had my engine switched off, and I did it with my eyes open). It was wonderful, and made more so with the excited edge to my emotions because I was meditating in a traffic jam. I bounced on my seat a few times afterwards. How many people could say they did a self-love meditation on the M6, I wondered?
I also listened to some great music on the radio, using the ‘Shazam’ app on my iPhone to get the name of the songs for downloading later when I could pick up a wifi connection.
I also made a few calls to friends and enjoyed a good laugh. One of my friends said, ‘Poor you, to be stuck on the road all day and miss the party’. My response was, truthfully, ‘I’ve had a great time!’ And I had.
I arrived at my hotel in London way too late for the party but I sat in the restaurant and had a lovely meal and a nice glass of red wine, and the service was excellent – smiling staff who did everything to ensure I enjoyed my stay.
Imagine if we applied this kind of thinking to our lives! My journey on the road could just as easily be the story of your life. Don’t you recognise it?
Don’t get me wrong, there is a time for future-thinking. It gives direction to our lives. But perhaps we don’t need to give it quite so much attention.
Do you want to live for the future and forget to live today, or do you want to squeeze every ounce of experience out of the moments of your life as the journey unfolds?
It’s up to you. You have that power of choice.
1) They’re good for the heart
Positive experiences with friends and family produce the hormone oxytocin. Research shows that oxytocin helps to lower blood pressure and also helps keep the chemical precursors to cardiovascular disease at bay. It is a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone (protects the cardiovascular system) and therefore good relationships with friends and family are also cardioprotective.
In fact, a 1960’s US census found substantially lower levels of heart disease in people from the town of Roseto. After years of scientific investigation into the seeming anomaly (no one under the age of 50 in the town had ever died of heart disease), it turned out that their social connectedness was they key to this. This was a highly ‘connected’ small town, where everyone knew everyone else and many households had 4 generations of family living there.
2) They help us to live longer
Most longevity research in the past has taught us that among the keys to living a long, healthy life are that we eat well, sleep well, exercise well, and manage our stress levels. But more recent research is now telling us that social interaction is actually one of THE most important factors in living a long, healthy life.
In fact, a 2010 study that looked at 188 Australians over the age of 100 found that a close network of family and friends was highly significant in determining their lifespan.
And here’s one for the men: Large-scale studies that compare men in relationships with men who are single show that cardiovascular health is better in married men, and as cardiovascular disease is a major cause of reduced lifespan, being in a relationship actually helps us (especially men) live longer.
3) They’re good for our emotional health
Having positive interactions with friends and family make us feel good. We laugh more, we feel joy, we smile more. Our spirits are generally lifted compared with not having these relationships.
Research that examines the connectivity in social networks has found that people who are more connected tend to be happier than people who have less interaction with friends and family.
And an added bonus is that we tend to be contagious when we’re happy; not in the infectious disease way but in that happiness spreads from person to person. It’s known as Emotional Contagion. Positive interactions make us happier and then we spread that happiness in the rest of the interactions we have.
4) They buffer the difficult times
Friends and family help us through difficult times in our lives. They provide shoulders to cry on when we’re struggling and they help us to find emotional and spiritual strength. Most people have lent on that shoulder and have also been that shoulder for someone else. The connection is something that is necessary for our thriving.
One study where people were given a stressful task found that they recovered faster if they were simply reminded of some of their positive relationships.
5) They’re good for the immune system
Connections with others are important for the human species as a whole. Having relationships actually ensured the survival of our species over millions of years of evolution. It’s why the oxytocin gene (which produces oxytocin and helps us bond with one another) is one of the oldest in the human genome (500 million years old).
It should be no surprise to learn, then, that having good relationships is linked with the immune system, since it is so crucial for the human species.
Indeed, a simple study where 334 volunteers were exposed to the common cold found that those who had strong relationships were about 50% less likely to develop symptoms.
Yes, you are a chemist! As you think, you shape the chemistry of your brain and blood, you shape the chemistry of your relationships, and you also shape the chemistry of your life.
I have a PhD in chemistry and was once a professional chemist. I trained in how to build molecules and found myself working as a scientist with one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.
I loved ‘organic chemistry’, which is where we stick atoms together in various combinations to construct a particular shape of molecule. My specialist fields were cardiovascular disease and cancer.
But even though we think of chemists as people who work in labs, everyone is a chemist and the labs we work in are the laboratories of our bodies, our homes, and the laboratories of our own lives. Here’s the different ways you’re a chemist.
1) How you practice brain chemistry
As you think, you practice brain and blood chemistry. When you think about someone or something that stresses you, then you produce stress chemistry in your brain and blood stream.
You elevate levels of cortisol, adrenalin, norepinephrine, and histamine. Prolonged thinking like this often leads to a build up of free radicals and inflammatory cytokines in your bloodstream. These are chemicals that play a role in heart disease and ageing. And you’re doing this with your mind!
If you were to think of someone that you love instead, or think of a moment of affection, so you produce different chemistry. You elevate levels of dopamine, serotonin, growth hormone, and oxytocin.
If you consistently think in this way, so you increase oxytocin in your bloodstream, which helps sweep those damaging free radicals and cytokines out of your blood. It is a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone. And again, you’re doing this with your mind.
To take a scientific example, research shows that a hostile mindset is linked with cardiovascular disease. People who tend to be most hostile and aggressive have a much higher risk of heart disease than the general population. An attitude of love, compassion and kindness, on the other hand, is associated with better cardiovascular health.
2) How you practice relationship chemistry
A hostile or aggressive mindset also shatters relationship quality. It steers conversations towards complaints and criticism and guides us away from the things that really matter.
When we overly focus on what’s wrong with things or what’s wrong in the world, we get so caught up in the emotions of anger and frustration that we actually miss out on savouring special moments that happen around us. During these times, we move farther away, emotionally, from those who matter most to us.
When we point the mind towards the heart and focus on what’s good and the good qualities in people, on the other hand, we sow seeds of emotional closeness. People find us more approachable and more enjoyable to be around. We gradually move closer, emotionally, to those who matter most to us, as well as build a network of people who value us for who we are.
3) How you practice life chemistry
Our thinking also shapes the events and circumstances of our lives. We move towards, or attract, those things that we give most attention to.
The trouble most of us have is that while we might have a goal or aspiration, we only give it a fraction of our focus. Throughout the day, a whole manner of things occupy a greater portion of our minds: how crap our current state of affairs is, how such and such a person is causing us stress, how we have too much month left at the end of our money, as well as, of course, a lot of happy thoughts too. But most of us generally apportion a larger percentage of our thinking to where we are and the woes of the past than to imagining and visioning our future. We need to flip this around a bit and learn to direct a better portion of our attention to where we want to go.
Even if it’s not an event or ‘thing’ you want but a state, learn to direct more of your attention inwards, perhaps through meditation.
So everyone is a chemist. I like to reflect on the fact that I started out as a chemist, left that role to study and write about the power of the mind (initially based on the placebo effect. You may have read my bestseller, ‘How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body’), and only years later realised that I never stopped being a chemist at all. I’ve just learned to practice different kinds of chemistry, kinds of chemistry that we’re all practicing in every moment of our lives. We just don’t realise that we’re doing it.
Now if we do realise it, we can impact our health in a favourable way, we can nurture and build our relationships, and we can use our chemistry prowess to shape the landscape of our lives.
Most people grow up with the idea that the mind is impotent, that its only function is to interpret life, think and make decisions. But the mind can be thought of as a force, one that pushes chemistry in the brain and body, one that brings love into our lives, and one that pushes outwards to create our hopes and dreams.
You are much more than you think you are and far more capable than you think you are! Now believe in yourself!