Getting Back to Zero

Sometimes life can feel like such a challenge. Trying to make enough money in a high inflation/high unemployment economy, keeping up with all the things you have to get done, navigating partner issues, aging parents concerns, or being broadsided by a new disturbing health issue. And if, for the moment, you have all these areas under control, there’s always global warming, war in Afghanistan, corporate control of the government and a banking system that’s run off with everyone’s retirement funds. Add to this those nagging existential questions like: Am I making the best of my life? Am I achieving my life’s purpose? Have I made a difference? It’s a recipe for despair.

What to do? Escape into a movie, a Jane Austin novel, a computer game? Unfortunately, such refuge is short lived. Once the book is shut or credits roll the demons of worry are back at their post.

A friend of mine who had been away on spiritual retreat for two weeks, complained that his blissful equanimity wore off in a matter of days. How can we get back to that delicious peacefulness? How can it be sustained over time? How can we be more like those spiritual masters we read about in books — accepting of whatever comes along? How do we get back to ZERO? Nothingness. Empty. The void. Spiritual bliss. The fool in the tarot deck blithely walking off the cliff confident in the protection of the universe.

It can feel like two separate realities vying for our attention: the reality of everyday concerns as described above, and the reality of the spirit. The reality of the spirit, open-heart, aware, compassionate, content. The spirit tells us that all is as it should be. Whatever happens it will be alright. Trust yourself, trust life. but watch out for the ego. It is the ego or rather the negative self, nafs — as my Sufi teacher calls it, that puts a negative mental twist on all our physical experience and creates the suffering and fear. It’s a matter of where you put your mind, how you interpret things.

Ok, when I am in my higher self, when I’m just back from three weeks at Sufi camp, that all makes sense.  But what about now? This moment?

Ahh! NOW. Eckhart Tolle would tells us that “NOW” is the answer. Enter the now, the present moment and suffering ceases. No past or future to concern us, only the delicious tranquility and detachment of moment to moment. In the moment, I am fed, warm, comfortable, the sun is shining, the fragrance of lemon blossoms wafts on the breeze. I am writing with ease.

Alright, this moment works, but have you ever tried to get into the moment, to meditate, to shift your mind in the midst of a mental tirade? It is amazing how violent and tenacious emotions can be. I have fought with my mind, tried to stop its awful thought loops hoping to shift into the NOW. Trying and fighting are, I assure you, not the answer. They only make the demons, the nafs, bigger.

Through much trial and error, I have found a few tools that can help me out of this situation. First, it is important to remember that spirituality is a process not a state. Like an airplane heading for it’s destination, we are always making adjustments to get back on course. So don’t waste any time beating yourself up for not being in the NOW, now.

Second, spiritual beings though we may be, we inhabit physical bodies which have their own needs, programing, energy fields and chemistry. Bliss is a whole lot easier when you are feeding your body good food. It is no accident that at my Sufi summer camp we eat very plain, simple foods — lots of rice and vegetable and very little at that. Not eating, i.e. fasting, can really bliss you out, if you can get past the first days of hunger. There is lot of debates out there about the list of “good foods.” Certainly don’t believe the advertising hype of packaged food giants. Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, as an excellent place to get some perspective on the food issue.

I actually eat a very wholesome diet — all organic, no red meat, a lot of fruit and vegetable, super blue green algae smoothies. However, I also indulge in treats and that is my downfall. Chocolate is particularly dangerous for me as are most refined sugars. They both make me more emotional, more prone to impatience, frustration and meltdowns. Astrologically, I’m already wired with a short fuse, i.e. Scorpio rising. Sugar and chocolate are like playing with matches. I’ve been off chocolate lately and it helps. Sugar is another story, hence the need for the rest of these strategies.

While you’re working on your diet, no easy assignment if you have been programed like most of us to go for the worst foods when under stress, you could try out some other body-directed strategies. I find talking a nice walk in nature very helpful to the stressed mind. A forest trail with minimal traffic sounds works best. Beaches with their sound cancelling surf are also excellent. But when I only have a short window of time, a park or neighborhood with lovely gardens will do. Cemeteries are also amazingly serene.

When you don’t have much time, which for most of us is a chronic issue, deep, conscious breathing can bring quick results. Focus on the breath going through all the various organs or chakras of your body. Feel the sensation of the breath in you lungs. Imagine it coming in through your head and flowing out through your feet. If your mind wanders, try holding your breath for several counts between inhales and exhales. Lack of oxygen really focuses the mind.

If I am dealing with a particularly persistent mental loop or my emotions are all over the map, I find that stimulating the middle of my forehead just above the brow can work wonders. Perhaps this works because it is just in front of the cerebrum, the part of the brain that handles thought and action. By stimulating this area, I imagine that I am pulling my attention away from the brain stem, the place that is activated by survival and fear. Look at my blog, Happiness in the Brain for a brief description of the three brain areas and how they involve different aspects of our life.

The following techniques are all excellent for shifting a negative mind loop. They are not just about stimulating the forehead, but it’s there:

1.    Pranayama, specifically Nadi Sodhana: A yoga breath practice of alternate nostril breathing. Essentially, you hold both sides of your nose with the thumb and ring finger to alternate breathing through one nostril and then the other. The pointer finger and middle finger are curled into your palm with knuckles press into brow and lower forehead. The sensation of these two finger touching at the spot of the third eye, together with the periodic lack of breath from the alternate breathing help to stop thoughts and bringing attention into the moment.

2.    TAT: is an energy therapy. Here the thumb and ring finger are placed at the inner corners of the eyes and the pointer finger touches the middle of the forehead. At the same time the other hand is holding the back of the head right at the brain stem. Perhaps it is transferring the energy of the higher mind to the lower. This technique includes some very useful thought repetitions, in addition to the physical stimulation, that are very effective in transforming negative thoughts.

3.    The Healing Code Book technique. I must confess, I never read the book. A friend who did read the book shared the hand sequences with me. They blew my mind. Literally. Instant empty. A flash trip to Sufi camp. I have added my own positive mental reprogramming with each gesture. You can try them out or get the book for the original instructions. Here’s my version:

  • Cup both your hands so all the fingers are together and pointing forward.
  1. Point both of your cupped hands at the middle of your forehead about 1-2 inches away.  Feel the energy coming off your fingers. Feel it in your head. Transform any negative thoughts into positive ones, e.g. I don’t know how I can keep living like this. Into “Each day I have the strength I need  and each day that strength grows stronger.
  2. Hold your hands over your heart with fingers just touching your sternal notch (throat). Feel the warmth of your hands on your chest. Imagine all the love in the universe, all the love you have ever received from parents, friends and lovers, all the love of your ancestors from deep into the past coming into your heart.
  3. Point your cupped hands on either side of your jaw about 2-3 inches away and a little behind the hinge of your jaw. Feel the energy coming from you hands into your jaw. Imagine all the negative thoughts and judgments being sucked out of your mouth by you hands. Allow your jaw to relax. Imagine all thoughts melting in your mouth until there are no more thoughts.
  4.  Point your cupped hands on either side of you temples, just 1 inch behind. Feel the energy coming into your head from your finger tips. Imagine that your fingers are filling your head with soft, gentle, expansive bliss. And this bliss crowds out all thoughts, all concerns, all sadness. There is only this soft, comfy blanket of bliss.
  • Do the whole sequence three times if possible. Stay as long as you need in each phase of the cycle.

Feeling any better?

Additional strategies for getting to Zero: listening to soothing music, meditating, chanting, reading spiritual books, and writing blogs about spiritual matters. Ahhhhh.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Grief Transformation Coach Michelle Peticolas, Ph.D. helps people transform their grief with a holistic approach to mind, body and spirit that heals trauma, reframes past attachments and releases limiting beliefs while uncovering a true life purpose and direction. If you’re ready to shift into a whole new way of being with death and loss, a new way of living your life, get Michelle’s complimentary guide, Essentials for Grieving Well at

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