Archive for December, 2009

A Guide to Making Change Stick in the New Year

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Recently I wrote the blog Neuroplasticity, Gratitude, and Your Mental Health: Food for Thought and thousands of people viewed it being reminded of the really powerful effects of counting blessings over burdens. So here we are, at the end of the year, answer these 4 questions for yourself right here, right now in an effort to move into 2010 with less stress and a greater sense of resiliency and well-being.

  1. Think back to when this year started-what were your expectations?  What did you want/hope for?
  2. What are you grateful for in this past year?
  3. What are your intentions for this upcoming year, how would you like to be (e.g., more calm, a better listener, more focused, kinder to yourself and others, more present to friends and family?)
  4. Looking forward, what are you wishing for yourself (e.g., health, feeling safe, free from fear, happiness, a sense of peace)?

Take this into the New Year, making change stick is really about setting an intention and repeatedly coming back to review that intention as if it was a doctor’s appointment. This may actually be the most important thing to do, repeatedly coming back and reviewing your intentions.

Set a time in your calendar one week or one month from today to review your answers to this page and check back on your intentions for yourself. Really, go ahead and do it now and make it a recurring appointment. Life gets too busy and distracting, allow this to be your time to review your intentions on a more consistent basis than once a year.

May you move into this New Year with the presence and kindness to live your intentions.

Below, please share your intentions and wishes for yourself and others below. Your interactions provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Most Popular Posts on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog for 2009

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

On January 16th, 2009 The Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog was birthed and I want to express my gratitude to John Grohol and all the readers who have been a part of this whether you just read a post and took something from it or whether you have been active in commenting or even retweeting.

Looking back on this year, my intention was for this blog to be an avenue for all of us to interact around mindfulness as it touches the many facets of life. I tried to create posts that were practical and accessible and that we could actually read and apply in our daily lives.  

On Mondays I started “Mondays Mindful Quote” where I posted a quote from leaders such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron, Mother Teresa, Hafiz, Rumi, the Dalai Lama, and many more. During the second half of the year I began to bring you interviews with leaders in the field such as Jack Kornfield, Jeff Brantley, Sharon Salzberg, Zindel Segal, Sylvia Boorstein, Tara Brach, Fred Luskin and more.

In 2010, stay connected and look for much more! For now, here is a collection of the Top 10 Posts for 2009:

  1. Mindfulness and Psychotherapy: An Interview with Jack Kornfield
  2. 3 Steps to Breaking Free from Procrastination
     
  3. The Science of Mindfulness: An Interview with Shauna Shapiro, Ph.D.
  4. Exploring the Upside of Depression 
  5. Refusing to Forgive: 9 Steps to Break Free
  6. Neuroplasticity, Gratitude, and Your Mental Health: Food for Thought
  7. 5 Keys to Emotional Freedom: An Interview with Tara Brach
  8. Mindfulness, Mood, and Your Mental Health

Here are a few extras from the year, enjoy!

Thank you again for following The Mindfulness and Psychotherapy blog. As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

May your 2010 be infused with healthy, safety, and a sense of peace.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

3 Steps to Gain Control of Your Mind During the Holidays

Monday, December 21st, 2009

There is a tradition on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog. Every Monday, I cite a quote or a poem that is related to mindfulness and psychotherapy in some way and then explore it a bit and how it is relevant to our lives. For me, quotes and poetry can often sink me into a state of greater understanding. So for today, here is a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“Not he is great who can alter matter, but he who can alter my state of mind.”

I’d have to agree with Emerson. When you really think about it, having our minds altered is powerful as it shades our perception of reality. If something has control over my mind, it can influence me to do anything it wants. Our minds have the potential of been filled with all kinds of distressing thoughts. There may be thoughts that we’re a success or a failure. There may be thoughts that we feel equal to others or that we never measure up. Or maybe there’s thoughts that say, “If I just had (fill in the blank), then I’d be happy.”

There are powerful influences at play in our media that really do alter our states of mind. Unfortunately, they’re usually influencing them with thoughts of “If you don’t have (fill in the blank), then you’ll be unhappy.”

 Right after Thanksgiving ended I walked into a Target to get a couple things and lo and behold all of the Christmas decorations were up. Immediately I sensed an opening in me, a state of cheerfulness and a desire to shop.

There is some kind of Pavlovian conditioning in most of us around this time that borders around spending, spending, spending.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, our economy needs a boost so it would be helpful to spend. We can also view it as a time to be generous and really give to others.

However, the real question is who is choosing your state of mind? Is it you or is it the media?

Take this as an opportunity to choose your state of mind going into this week and through the New Year.

Here are a few steps to make sure you are the one in control of your mind:

  1. Set an intention – Take a moment to really consider how you want to be throughout the rest of the holidays. If you’re going to be with family and friends, how would you like to be with them (e.g., present, listening, playful)? Or maybe the holidays are a grieving time for you this year. How can you be gentle with yourself?
  2. Be present – In order to pay attention to this intention, it’ll be important to integrate some practice that brings you to the present moment. This might be a mindfulness practice such as coming to the breath, or maybe closing the eyes and listening to sounds, or maybe taking a moment to look at all the sights around you. Or maybe reading through the Free Mindful Companion Ebook and allowing that to center and ground you.
  3. Make Meaning – The holidays are meant to be a time of meaning. For Christmas, if it is meaningful, you might consider what the birth of Jesus means to you, or if that isn’t meaningful, you might consider the meaning of being in the rare experience of spending time with people you don’t see often. Or if your holiday is Kwanzaa, you might reflect upon the meaning of your African heritage and culture. No matter your spiritual background, this can be a time to just stop, reflect and make meaning from your life.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Calming Your Anxious Mind: An Interview with Jeff Brantley, M.D.

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

Today I bring to you a wonderful mindfulness teacher, Psychiatrist and author, Jeff Brantley, M.D..  Jeff is Founder and Director of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at Duke University’s Center for Integrative Medicine, and author of the popular book Calming Your Anxious Mind: How Mindfulness & Compassion Can Free You from Anxiety, Fear, & Panic, and co-author, with Wendy Millstine, of his recent hit series Five Good Minutes: 100 Morning Practices To Help You Stay Calm & Focused All Day Long, and Daily Meditations for Calming Your Anxious Mind

In this interview Dr. Brantley answers some important questions about seeing a rise in anxiety in our culture, practical skills to help us out, and his favorite ways to take 5 Good Minutes in his daily life.

Elisha: In my own practice I seem to be seeing more people coming in with heightened anxiety than ever before. Have you seen a rise in anxiety, and if so, why are people so anxious right now?

Jeff: Yes, I think most folks would agree that there are even more sources of anxiety in our lives now, than even when I wrote the first edition of Calming Your Anxious Mind in 2003.

Obviously, worries about the economy and jobs have worsened since then, and with that are the related issues of health care costs and availability to millions of Americans. Plus there is the on-going global issue with radical fundamentalism and the harsh facts that our country has deployed its military men and women multiple times to fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Then, there is the disturbing information about environmental changes and global warming perhaps unfolding more rapidly than previously expected.

And, against all of these serious matters, our country’s political and cultural atmosphere seems to have become even more polarized and calcified into vastly different ideological camps with one result being a degradation of civility and tolerance in public discourse and in many individual relationships.  Such intolerance and mistrust surely works against enacting any positive plan of response on a national and international level, and it likely also contributes to some increased despair in the general public about the ability of our government, and ourselves, to deal with these massive problems.

So, if fear is a natural response to a perceived threat, and “anxiety” is a state of feeling fear when there is actually no immediate threat, or a feeling of fear in excess to the danger of the threat, then I think all of these factors contribute to folks feeling more anxiety-excess fear in daily life-about these things.

In short, they may be feeling fear about ideas that have not happened, or that have happened but have not impacted their lives directly, or that they have little capacity to actually affect, except to worry about them.

Also, I think that our media and sensationalist news driven culture has contributed to the general anxiety by so often showing (often in grim or gruesome detail) very disturbing images and stories, and (to my way of thinking anyway) rarely leaving the viewer with anything positive, or any real resolution or action they can take in the situation.

Then, there is the whole range of everyday issues that folks have to deal with, just living and raising families.  They haven’t gone anywhere, but now exist against this larger background of national and international issues.

In short, I think folks nowadays have even more to “worry” about and, too often, still have little guidance or support in managing the disturbing impact of the constant “news” about how bad things are.

Elisha: In light of this, what are some practical skills you can share with readers of the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog to calm their anxious minds?

Jeff:

  1. The first “skill” is actually a perspective, or wise view, you might say. That is, you are not your thoughts, and your anxiety is not a permanent identity.  Anxiety is not who you are.Once a person understands that the anxious thoughts they experience are only thoughts, and are not permanent, and probably not even accurate in some fundamental way, then the “scary story” in those thoughts will lose considerable power over them.

    And, even if there is some truth to the “scary story”, that the danger is real (one may lose a job, for example, or a loved one may be deployed to Afghanistan), it is still important to recognize that the thoughts one’s mind generates about a situation can either be helpful or add to the anxiety. For example, if one becomes stuck, ruminating on the mere possibility of losing one’s job, what is happening is that each of those worried thoughts is a signal to the body that danger is present.  So, through the mind-body connections, the worried thoughts signal the body to go into the “fight or flight” response.  The body does, and becomes hyperaroused and ready to act.

    If a person understands this reaction to threat in their own mind and body, and knows how their own thoughts about what is happening actually can contribute to the feelings of fear, then the next “skills” become more important.

  2. The second skill then would be having a method of strengthening and sustaining self-reflection or self-awareness (something many call “mindfulness”) of what is actually going on in the mind and body.  So, the noticing of bodily arousal, plus the noticing of mental/cognitive and emotional reactions and “stories” can be developed as a “skill” using mindfulness.
  3. Then, the skill of wise response can be utilized. This can include acknowledging what is happening and taking any possible practical steps to meet the problem.  For example, checking with one’s boss about the likelihood of actually losing the job.  Or, developing a plan of what to do if that happens, etc.And, the wise response must also include coping skillfully and compassionately with one’s own inner life, and reactions to the situation.  Some people call this “emotion-focused coping” as compared to the “problem-focused coping” when one develops a plan for getting a new job. So, if the mind is worried and the body is agitated, having some methods to soothe the mind and body that are constructive and positive.  These could include practicing meditation, using spiritual life, talking and gaining support from loved ones, eating better, exercising, etc, etc.

In Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Classes, we often say “you can’t stop the waves (of stress), but you can learn to surf.”

In part what we mean is that you can learn to recognize the “waves” of inner reactivity to stressors, and learn to “ride” them without making them stronger or succumbing to them.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from somebody who was really experiencing deep emotional suffering, what kind of wisdom could you give to them?

Well, that’s a tough one.

I might begin with simply acknowledging that they are suffering.  Saying something like, “I am so sorry that you have to go through this.” And, acknowledging ( to myself and to the other) that there is only so much anyone can do to take it away, but knowing that the act of bearing witness is extraordinarily powerful and comforting. Something like:  “I know I cannot take your pain away.   I know it is here and, and I am here with you.”

Then, I think a great gift for someone in pain is simply to ask them what they need or want, in that moment.  If you can assist that, then do it.  If you cannot, (and many times you will not be able to), then staying present with them is very important, if they want that.

I think many, maybe all of us; have a tendency to want to “fix” our loved ones pain, for reasons both altruistic and selfish. Altruistic because we are moved by genuine compassion to relieve the pain of another, and selfish because we can also be so threatened by the pain or vulnerability in another that we cannot tolerate being with it (or them), and hence we are “driven” to “fix” or remove the pain.

So, I think any “wisdom” is best generated from the position of willingness to simply be present (and perhaps to be silent) for the other person.  Then, as we are listening both to them and to ourselves, the “wisdom” that is most appropriate in that moment might find its voice through us.

Thank you so much Jeff!

To the readers: As always, please share your questions, thoughts, and stories below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Are You Running Toward Your Death Without Even Knowing It?

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Recently I heard Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the popular books Wherever You Go, There You Are and Coming to Our Senses, say the phrase, “[we’re] running toward our deaths.” This really hit a chord for me. So much of the time we’re just running, whether that means physically moving fast throughout the day our just in our minds. Along the same vein, I often tell the people I work with, “It just doesn’t make sense to rush home to relax.”

This may sound trite and played out to some (note: recognize the judgment), but really, isn’t it time to open up to our lives right here, right now instead of always rushing to the next moment. In the big scheme of things we really are running toward our deaths, even if just in our minds.

When we take a step back, breathe, and look at this, most of us agree that this isn’t the way we want to live our lives.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that we’re stuck, stuck in very strong conditioned habits of doing things. Stuck in social dynamics that trigger reactions in us, below our awareness, to think and act the ways we’re trying to change. Have you ever noticed that you act a similar way when you go home for the holidays as you did when you were a kid? The same dynamics often play out because your mind gets triggered with old patterns and it’s quite unconscious.

Let me also say this. Changing this intrapersonal and interpersonal dynamic does not have to be this grand proclamation at the New Year. It doesn’t have to be a big resolution, which often doesn’t work anyway. Why? Because we set them up in ways that eventually seem overwhelming to our minds and so our motivation weans.

Instead, choose moments to begin changing the circuitry in your brains. Each time you stop and take a moment out of auto-pilot and pay attention to this present moment we begin changing the neural patterns of our brains. It may not seem like much at the moment, but research is pointing the way in showing us we can actually change our brains and therefore, change our minds and vice versa.

So, why wait for the New Year, start right now, in this moment. There’s no need to race toward our deaths or even rush home to relax, take a moment to breathe, relax and let be. When the mind says, “been there, done that,” choose to engage the attitude of beginner’s mind and see things as if for the first time.

I know I’ve mentioned this one before, and I’ll be putting up more videos, but for now, you can engage with this 5-Minute STOP practice if you would like guidance.

As always, please share your thoughts about what works for you in becoming more present to your life? Or what are some ways you think you’re “racing toward your death?” Every interaction below provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Reconnect to Your Life Today! An Interview with Jack Kornfield

Friday, December 18th, 2009

In an earlier interview, Jack Kornfield shared with us his insights into mindfulness and psychotherapy. I am thrilled to have him hear again and today he gets practical with us, talking about the importance of creating connection to life, some ways to go about it, and our innate capacities for understanding, well-being, and joy.

For those who do not know Jack Kornfield, let me introduce him. He is one of the true leaders of our time in respect to the marriage of Eastern and Western Psychology. He stands alongside an esteemed group of elders such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Sharon Salzberg, Pema Chodron, and Joseph Goldstein in bringing mindfulness to the west. Not only that, he also holds his PhD in clinical Psychology which makes him so relevant to the connection between mindfulness and psychotherapy.

He co-founded Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachussets and is a founding teacher of the well known retreat center Spirit Rock, in Woodacre, Ca. He has taught in Centers and University settings worldwide with teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama. He is also author of many widely popular books translated in over 20 languages, some of which are, A Path with Heart, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry and his newest book The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology.

Elisha: Jack, one of the things you talk about in your book, The Wise Heart, is creating this sacred connection to life. It’s always been important to me to make things really accessible. What are some practical ways we can nurture our sacred connection to life?

Jack: There are many simple ways we can reconnect and these are things that we all know. First stop, take a breath and listen deeply. You are surrounded by mystery. Open to  the wild variation of human incarnation,  the play of your own consciousness.  Become present where you are. Extend this presence by taking a walk in nature, walk by the ocean, by the mountains,  wherever you are take some time to quiet your mind and open the heart.  Look around when you’re not so hurried and look in the eyes of the people you love or watch the rain clouds scudding by and the amazing colors and the puddles outside the office where you work. Sense the everpresent dance of change, how  your life is  unpredictable and uncertain and then remember that you have the capacity to be present in every moment for its mysterious unfolding.

Another way to reconnect is through ritual. I tell stories inThe Wise Heart about a therapist who worked mostly with trauma victims and people who had been tortured. It was hard to carry these stories and it  was not enough to simply listen. It became  important it was for her to create an altar for that which she held sacred and place on it Buddha and Kwan Yin and Mother Mary and Guadelupe  and Kali and a passage about the mercy of Allah from the Koran. She honored all these different expressions of the divine  and placed them for her clients to see so the people that she worked would also allow a sacred compassion to hold their pain. In some way it helped her too, so she didn’t have to carry all the suffering in her own body and individual psyche.

There is a whole chapter in The Wise Heart on the skillful use of ritual, not in a religious way, but as a reminder to bring us back to that which is sacred. We all know ways to do this. Sometimes it’s as simple as lighting a candle or washing our hands and taking a few mintues to sit quietly and meditate and pray or just return our gazing to the mystery of the maple tree outside our window.

Elisha: My dissertation was around cultivating sacred moments, that was the topic and the actual name of it, and I knew something was happening in our culture when it was published in a mainstream journal. I really came to realize that people have the ability to cultivate these moments and the number one word that came out for most people was this idea of “connection”. That’s what people felt most often was this sense of  connection which was tied to various areas of feeling well and various areas of stress reduction and relaxing into the moment.

Jack: As you can see in reading The Wise Heart , which is brings the western and eastern psychological traditions together, that one of the great underlying principles is that we already contain the wisdom and capacities that we seek, just as your research showed you. Our instinct and intuition, when not blocked, gives us intimate access to well-being, understanding, to a sense of connection and the sacred. When western psychology and psychiatry limits itself to the focus on disease and its cures, the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) and the medical model of psychology and psychiatry, we only talk about half the game or less. Because there is so much more to life and our  humanity blossoms in our human capacity for connecting, for understanding, for well-being, and for joy. I elaborate  on this with many stories. All of these other capacities are there in us.

We admire these qualities in Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, or the Dalai Lama, people we see as exemplars of this human possibility for the world. When Nelson Mandela walked out of 27 years in Robbin Island Prison after being tortured and confined and was still able to meet the world with enormous graciousness of heart, compassion and forgiveness it demonstrated our human birthright,, our innate capacity to be free inwardly, no matter where we are. There is no one who can imprison our heart and our soul. To know these capacities is extremely important when we try to bring together the great psychologies of the world and move toward collective healing. Psychology is not just about pathology, but it’s about seeing our inner freedom and connectedness, the compassion and the innate dignity and beauty of the human spirit. When we find this beauty in ourselves, then it becomes a gift to those that we encounter or those that we work with.

Thank you so much Jack for being with us and sharing your insights and wisdom.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Awaken Your Life Right Now: Mondays Mindful Quote with Carl Jung

Monday, December 14th, 2009

There is a tradition on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog. Every Monday, I cite a quote or a poem that is related to mindfulness and psychotherapy in some way and then explore it a bit and how it is relevant to our lives. For me, quotes and poetry can often sink me into a state of greater understanding. So for today, here is a quote by Carl Jung:

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.”

This is what we’re talking about at the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy blog, really awakening so we can be aware of that space in between the stimulus and response (a la Viktor Frankl), and recognize that we have more choices to make more skillful decisions in life.

The answers don’t lie outside of us, they lie inside of us. Rather than dreaming of some distant vision, we can awaken the dream inside of us, right here, right now.

However, in order to do this we need to pay attention to ourselves and sometimes the gifts are in our wounds. Jan Goldstein wrote the book Sacred Wounds which exemplifies this. Through a series of stories and the telling of his own journey, he teaches how we can succeed because of life’s pain.

This parallels recent writings on the upside of depression.

This isn’t too dissimilar from a Rumi quote that I mentioned a bit ago:

“Don’t turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you.”

In taking a moment to STOP throughout your day, you are literally breaking out of the habitual routines and moving toward becoming more awake to this life. When you are more awake, you begin to feel like you have more choice in your life.  When you feel like you have more choice, you feel like you have more hope and this is the greatest anti-depressant.

Additionally, as neuroscientists are all teaching us (neuroplasticity), with these new actions we are laying down new tracks in our brains that allow this practice of waking up to become more natural down the road.

So take the opportunity today to take some time-out to wake up! Practice looking inside, even if only for a few moments. Allow this to be a reminder; perhaps you can even do it right now for 1 minute.

1. Take an assessment of how you’re feeling physically, emotionally and mentally.

2. Bring your attention to your breath as an anchor to this moment.

3. Feel into your life.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interactions here provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Mindful Recovery and Relapse Prevention for the Holidays

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

As family and friends begin to gather during the holidays at one point or another may have to face either ourselves or a loved one with addiction. There are really very few people who are not touched by addiction in one way or another. Addiction comes in the form of alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, eating, sugar, and other compulsive behaviors that are an avoidance strategy and eventually cause distress.

When caught up in the cycle of addictive behavior, there is an inability to accept whatever is being felt in the present moment and the mind is constantly wandering onto the next ‘fix.’ So it’s safe to conclude that addiction often builds a wall of disconnection and makes it difficult to actually be present for the holidays.

If you or someone you love struggles with addictive behavior I recommend checking out the Mindfulness and Addiction series I wrote about earlier in the year.

  1. Mindfulness and Addiction Part I
  2. Mindfulness and Addiction Part II
  3. Mindfulness and Addiction Part III

Aside from those, it may be a good idea to do a bit of preparing and planning for the holidays. Here are some tips:

  1. Plan some activities that don’t focus on alcohol, like games, sports, or talking
  2. Be aware that there may be people who have addictive behaviors and don’t make the flaw of saying, “Hey, how come you’re not drinking?” In other words, don’t bring attention to the fact that someone isn’t drinking.
  3. If you have an addictive behavior, make sure you have a trusty alternative. Remember, cravings often last a maximum of 20-30 minutes. Bring a bottle of water or if sugar isn’t your addiction, make sure to bring some chocolate with you, sometimes sugar can trick the brain into feeling satisfied.
  4. Keep a number on you of a trusted friend or someone who can talk you down if a craving pops up.
  5. Take a time-out and go to the bathroom or outside and practice some mindfulness with urge surfing or another short mindfulness practice, or maybe go on a walk. If you’d like to practice mindfulness as an approach for addiction and relapse prevention, you can check out the CD program Mindful Solutions for Addiction and Relapse Prevention.

You may want to write some of this on a card and take it with you to remember because the brain may not function that clearly when cravings hit.

As much as possible, practice kindness with yourself and others during this holiday.

Please share what works for you below or any comments and questions you may have. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Create Calm in Your Life Today: Mondays Mindful Quote with Thich Nhat Hanh

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

There is a tradition on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog. Every Monday, I cite a quote or a poem that is related to mindfulness and psychotherapy in some way and then explore it a bit and how it is relevant to our lives. For me, quotes and poetry can often sink me into a state of greater understanding. So for today, here is a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh: 

“A tiny bud of a smile on your lips nourishes awareness and calms you miraculously…your smile will bring happiness to you and those around you.”

Back in September I wrote a blog post called Living Without Joy? Thich Nhat Hanh Shares a Secret. Because of the activity surrounding this blog post I thought it was good to bring back up if you missed it, but to also deepen our awareness about not only how our bodies influence our minds (i.e., how smiling can influence our moods), but how we influence one another.

Just think about if everyone you knew walked around with their bodies tense and a grimace and a frown on their face. Let’s say they never really said a word to you, but you had to be around this. How would you feel? You’re mood would likely be influenced by this and you might even start acting like them.

If people walked around you with a sense of calm, smiling at times and with a genuine care to wish you well, you would likely feel a different vibe (note: these people are not walking around with perma-smiles or a Pollyanna nature, but a genuine nature).

At the base of it all, we all want to be cared about and understood. Intentionally smiling at someone is about really wishing them well in this world.

We can do this with friends, family, strangers, and yes, even those who we are having difficulty with.

Here are a few steps to try this out this experiment today (Warning: This could be contagious)

  1. Try the half-smile experiment –  to notice how this affects you physically and your mood
  2. Imagine it – Think of a person you will likely run into today. Get in touch with the kind intention to really wish them well, to be happy, to be free from fear, to be at ease. This can be a teacher, friend, colleague or an acquaintance for now. Picture them in your mind as you say these well wishes to them.
  3. Make it real life – As you walk by them today, smile at them, remembering your well wishes (Note: if you are feeling particularly depressed and this doesn’t feel right for you at this time, that is fine, and I encourage you to revisit it another time).

At the end of the day, this could be helpful for feeling stressed, blue, anxious, relationship problems, and more. Try it out as an experiment without expecting miracles (note: expecting miracles is usually a mind trap which leads to quick negative judgment and the practice often won’t get a fair shake).

Enjoy!

As always, please share your experiences, questions, and comments below. Your interactions provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com

Finding Purpose and Meaning in Times of Change: Interview with Ronald Alexander, PhD

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Today I’m really happy to bring to you Ronald Alexander, Ph.D., who is a licensed psychotherapist in Santa Monica, Ca, practicing mindfulness-based psychotherapy, Director of the Open Mind Training Institute, adjunct faculty at Pepperdine University and Pacifica Graduate Institute, and author of the very interesting new book Wise Mind, Open Mind: Finding Purpose & Meaning in Times of Crisis, Loss & Change. I’ve actually been waiting for a book that weaves mindfulness practice with uncovering our well of creativity with a sense of purpose.

Question: What is the 3-step mindfulness approach to help us navigate difficult changes in our lives while opening up to our creativity in everyday life?  

Ron: In my new book, Wise Mind, Open Mind I discuss a three step process that combines mindfulness meditation, creative thinking and positive psychology to help readers to let go of their past; tune into the present and their core creativity; and move forward with passion and purpose.  This approach allows one to focus on the building of their “mindstrength” — the ability to very quickly and easily shift out of a reactive mode and become fully present in the moment, experiencing the full force of your emotions even as you recognize that they are temporary and will soon dissipate.

Question: In your book you have a wonderful discussion of something we can all relate to…resistance. Can you tell us a bit about the “payoffs of resistance” to us?

Ron: I believe there are five basic payoffs of resistance.  First by resisting change, we can avoid the unknown. What’s familiar may not be terribly comfortable, but sometimes it seems that the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t know. We fear that venturing into the unknown will cause us to discover painful secrets about the world and ourselves that have been hidden from us.   Secondly we can avoid being judged as “strange.” When parents are frightened by their child’s differentness, labeling them as “strange,” they’ll usually try to stifle his creativity. The child, sensing their disapproval and fearing abandonment, can shut down his creative flow and then either tries to conform to his parents’ expectations or acts out, claiming not to care what anyone thinks of him. 

Another payoff is that we can avoid failure. When we fear failure, we tend to overestimate the risk we’re taking and imagine the worst possible scenario-the emotional equivalent of our parents deserting us as children.  The fourth one is we can avoid success. Strange though it may seem, a fear of success can cause as much resistance to change as a fear of failure can. While you may consciously long for a promotion or hope that your romantic relationship will result in marriage, unconsciously you may be afraid of what will happen if these changes occur. The last payoff is that we can avoid feeling guilty. If we take a risk and make a change, we may feel guilty because we’re contradicting what others think we should or shouldn’t be doing with our lives.

Question: How can we move beyond our resistance and access our “core creativity?”

Ron: I list many ways to access one’s core creativity in my book.  One of the most effective ways though is through mindfulness practice. Mindfulness allows us to listen and pay attention to what we might otherwise overlook-whether it’s a fresh idea or a new way of perceiving a situation-enhancing our creativity and letting go of our obstacles to innovation.  I also encourage my patients to dabble in the Arts. Simply dabbling in the fine arts, with no specific goals or intentions, awakens our ability to approach life with greater openness and curiosity. If you feel that you simply have no creative abilities, consider your dreams. Most nights, your mind generates at least a few fantastical images that you can recall upon waking if you slowly bring yourself back into consciousness with the intent of remembering your dreams. I often ask my clients to work with the images of their dreams by meditating on them, writing about them, and exploring them to see what ideas and insights they have to offer. 

Another way to access your core creativity is through Mindful Movement.  Disciplines such as martial arts, tai chi, and yoga are the most well-known ways of quieting the rational mind and opening up to the intuitive mind and its connection to the numinous creative force. Any physical activity that involves discipline and a slowing down of thoughts, from skiing to dance, actually creates new neural pathways in your brain that become roads to innovation.  Finally you need to trust in the creative process.   Artists are often seen as flighty, but in my experience the most successful ones are extremely disciplined. When blocked, they aren’t afraid to shift gears, to take a walk or a long retreat, to pick up a pen instead of a guitar, to break the formula of how they’ve always chosen to connect to their creativity by trying something entirely different. Trusting that they’ll tap into that flow, they persevere long past the point when others would give up.

Question: One of the five hindrances to making change is restlessness. I see this over and over again with the people I work with. Can you explain this a bit and also how to move through it?

Ron: Well on the surface, restlessness may seem like a positive state, because it inspires you to keep moving instead of becoming stagnant. Creative artists talk about having an “itch” or urge to get back into their music or art studio. What they’re describing is a form of creative motivation that’s quite different from restlessness. Most often restlessness is simply undirected, unproductive action, such as puttering or flitting about from one activity to the next, never completing a task. In Buddhist psychology, we refer to this affliction of mind as “monkey mind.”

The hindrance of restlessness can be remedied with comfort and relaxation. Mindfulness meditation can uncover the source of restlessness so that it can be addressed.  It is likely to bring up to the surface of the water the churning thoughts and emotions that have been causing a disturbance from underneath, but after you’ve dealt with them, you can meditate on the remedy of comfort. Generating a feeling of comfort allows the mind’s frenzied activity to slow down, and triggers the sympathetic nervous system to begin releasing calming hormones into the body and slow your heart rate and breathing. In my book I describe the Comfort Meditation that can be used as an antidote at any time.

Question: If you were sitting across the table from someone who was struggling with bringing out their wise and open mind, what advice would you give to them?

Ron: Whether you know you’re ready to change or sense that you should, whether you’re struggling to accept that your circumstances have shifted or you’re feeling stuck or blocked by an unknown force and unable to move forward, it’s important to recognize that change is unavoidable. Life is continually in flux, and even that which seems immutable can be destroyed or altered in an instant. The Buddhists refer to this as the law of impermanence. Nothing stays the same, not even the rocks and the mountains, which rain, snow, and rivers sculpt over time. Each day, millions of your body’s cells die while millions more are born. Stasis is an illusion our egos create to fend off the fear of change.

When change is not your choice, you can’t avoid suffering, but you can choose to view the change as an avenue to personal evolution. You can push aside your perceived limitations and let go of the habits that have provided you with comfort, familiarity, and a false sense of safety, and go forth with fear in check, using creativity to illuminate new paths. You can break out of the dynamic of push and pull, of desire for change and resistance to it, and step past the boundaries of the known. You can recognize that while you may attain some comfort from the habit of trying to control the flow of your life, clinging to the familiar also breeds boredom and discontent. It prevents you from fully inhabiting your life and keeps you mired in regret. It keeps you small.

The secret to successful reinvention is knowing that you don’t have to greet change with apprehension and resistance, focusing on the potential for suffering, because if you take that route, you experience the very suffering you’d hoped to avoid. When it’s time for change, whether you’re losing a loved one, your perfect health, the job you loved, or the lifestyle you enjoyed, you have the opportunity to make your life even better than it is, as unfathomable as that may seem at first.

Thank you Ron!

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Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on Psychcentral.com