Archive for January, 2010

Living Well with Pain and Illness: An Interview with Vidyamala Burch

Friday, January 29th, 2010

One of the initial avenues where mindfulness started to gain recognition in the West was in medicine and psychology through working with chronic pain and illness. Today I have the honor of bringing you, Vidyamala Burch, one of the co-founders of Breathworks and author of Living Well with Pain and Illness: The Mindful Way to Free Yourself from Suffering. Vidyamala first came to the intersection of meditation and chronic pain 25 years ago after going to the hospital for spinal injury. She currently lives in Manchester and has been teaching mindfulness-based approaches to pain and illness for the past 10 years.

Today Vidyamala lets us in on how mindfulness works to alleviate suffering in chronic pain and illness.

Elisha: In the beginning of your newest book you quote 13th century Sufi Poet, Rumi saying:

Do not look back, my friend

No one knows how the world ever began.

Don not fear the future, nothing lasts forever.

If you dwell on the past or the future

You will miss the moment.

How have you applied the message of this poem in working with your own chronic pain?

Vidyamala: Living in the moment has been one of the most important ways I have reclaimed my life whilst living with chronic pain.  It all began when I was in hospital when I was 25 and had a night of very intense physical pain and mental anxiety while in a neurosurgical intensive care unit.  I thought I would not be able to survive the night and then, when I really felt I would go mad with the stress of it all, a quiet inner voice came to me that said “you don’t have to get through until the morning; you only have to do get through the present moment.” With that voice came a very deep shift in perception and my entire experience changed. I relaxed in the deep confidence that this knowledge brought:  I knew very deeply that I could not only ‘get through’ the present moment, but I could live it to the fullest, even though I was experiencing pain.

I also realized that my previous ideas about the past and the future were just that: ideas. These ideas dissolved away within the intensity of my experience and I realized that much of my experience of suffering was based on being dominated by grief about the pain I had already experienced in past moments, and fears about all the future moments of pain I imagined stretching interminably before me. But in the depths of that night in the hospital I knew very deeply that I would ever only experience pain one moment at a time, that my pain was bearable and that I had nothing to fear.  Subsequently, over many years of mindfulness and compassion meditation practice, I have also come to realize that if I can enter fully into my life as it flows through each moment then I not only have the opportunity to make peace with any pain I may be experiencing, but I also open myself to the love and joy that is always present to a smaller or greater degree.

I am able to fully taste the bittersweet nature of life and to recognize and empathise with the bittersweet nature of the lives of others.

Elisha: In your work you bring up the difference between primary and secondary suffering. Tell us a bit about that and why it’s important in dealing with pain?

Vidyamala: Very gradually, through examining my own experience, I have come up with the model of primary and secondary suffering that is based on the teaching of the Buddha in the Sutta of the arrow or the dart[i]. The Buddha talks about the actual sensations of physical pain being like being pierced by an arrow. Then, if we are not mindful or wise, we resist and resent this pain and these feelings of resistance and resentment are like a being pierced by a second arrow (or I actually think it is like being pierced by a whole volley of second arrows!) This means that we are left with an overall experience of suffering that is much greater than it needs to be.  So, in my teaching, I encourage people to examine their actual experience by moving towards it with an open, receptive and kindly attitude and accepting whatever primary suffering is present in any moment with dignity and grace.  

Honest awareness of this experience also helps to prevent the arising of unnecessary secondary suffering such as anxiety, secondary physical tension, out-of-control thinking and so on. People really seem to get this model and find it very helpful. For example, one woman talked about standing at the sink washing dishes and becoming aware of repetitive thoughts of distress about her pain and simply noting it as “second arrow – secondary suffering”, and this awareness and broader perspective helped the distress calm down and diminish.

Elisha: What is the 5 Step Model of Mindfulness for Pain?

Vidyamala: The 5 Step Model of Mindfulness for Pain is also something that I have developed through examining my own experience over many years.  I noticed that it was essential to be willing to engage with my actual experience of pain rather than block it or resist it and I noticed, paradoxically, that if I was locked into avoidance and blocking, then I also numbed myself to beauty and subtle positive emotions. When blocking I didn’t experience the pain so much, but then I only felt half alive, which was in itself unpleasant.

So I realized that, after the first step of becoming broadly aware in a general sense, the next step for becoming mindful when living with pain is to find ways to very gently turn towards the pain and allow layers of resistance, avoidance and blocking to soften with tenderness and gentleness so one can begin to feel more fully alive.  This is the second step – moving towards the difficulty.

I also knew that this was not the whole story and that, after having become more tender and open by turning towards pain and softening resistance, the next step was to be like an explorer seeking hidden treasure and to learn to pay attention to pleasurable states. So this is the third step – seeking the pleasant in the knowledge that it is always possible to find something pleasant if you learn how to pay subtle attention to your experience.

The fourth step grows out of the previous steps and is a broadening of awareness to hold both the unpleasant and the pleasant within a very stable field of awareness that is infused with equanimity. You can see steps two and three as being like looking through a close-up lens of a camera to examine the details of experience, and then step four is like pulling back to a wide-angle lens that contains great variety within the same frame. Another important aspect of the fourth step is to see into the impermanent, fluid nature of experience and to allow both the unpleasant and pleasant to rise and fall without either resisting unpleasant experience on the one hand or grasping onto pleasant experience on the other.

The fifth step is the behavioural outcome of the previous four steps and is ‘choice’ – it is learning to live with creative choice in every single moment rather than being driven by habitual reactions. 

To summarise the five steps:

Step one: Awareness

Step two: Grasping the nettle – moving towards the unpleasant

Step three: Enjoy the moment – seeking out the pleasant

Step four: Gaining perspective – broadening awareness to cultivate equanimity and hold experience in ‘a bigger container’.

 Step five: Living with choice – learning to respond rather than react

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone who had been experiencing chronic pain or a chronic pain, what advice would you give them?

Vidyamala:  The first thing I would try to do is simply connect with them as another human being who is suffering.  I would try to help them feel that they are not alone in their pain and I would try to connect with them on the basis of empathy. I would talk to them about the fact that they will ever only experience the pain one moment at a time and ask them to examine how much of their distress is based on ideas of past and future (such as dreading future moments of pain). 

I would also ask them what is pleasant in their experience right now: It might be something very simple like having warm hands, or being in a beautiful room, or feeling the gentle sensations of breath in the body. By experiencing this directly they may be a little less overwhelmed by their pain. I would try to laugh with them. One thing I have found through my own practice of mindfulness and compassion is that it is always good to lighten up. Everything is changing and if I can let go into this broad sense of flow then I experience life as being much less heavy and stuck.

So I would try to empathise with their situation as deeply as I could, and I would try to engage on the basis of enjoyment of their company as well and in this way help them realize that chronic pain is just one element of life and that it is possible to be quite light about the situation if one isn’t dominated by the pain either through being overwhelmed or through being trapped into habits of avoidance and running away. I would try to exemplify a sense of being with the pain with great honesty, whilst simultaneously having a broad and open appreciation of all the other elements to the moment as well – many of which are joyful and pleasurable.

[i] Samyutta Nikaya, 36:6 Sallatha Sutta, ‘The Arrow’.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

A Path to Keep Trauma from Destroying Your Life

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Trauma is all around us. The most obvious examples are tragedies like 9/11, hurricane Katrina, the Tsunami in Asia, and the most recent being the Earthquake and aftershocks in Haiti. Let’s look at how trauma works and what we can do about it.

When a person has an experience of an event that is emotionally overwhelming or traumatic a conditioning of thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations occur that resemble a stress response (e.g., tightness in muscles, rapid breathing, etc…). Because this is overwhelming, the mind puts it away, suppressing and repressing it, with the strategy that this will allow you to focus on other things.

In the background, sensitivity in the mind develops in order to be on guard for this happening again. This makes sense, our brains naturally adapt to try and protect us. Unfortunately, now this means, many things that are really not dangerous may be interpreted as dangerous and trigger this stress reaction, making life difficult to handle. For example, in Haiti right now, people are sleeping in tents outside their houses because of the trauma from the earthquake and aftershocks. Their bodies are on constant alert, with present tension, rapid breathing and a rapid heartbeat.  Nightmares of the trauma are occurring nightly. The mind and body are ready at any moment to jump into fight or flight. This physical and emotional havoc lead to states of intense anxiety and depression.

On a more subtle level, many of us experience trauma as children through our relationships. Maybe we grew up in a home where there was constant criticism and when someone is critical now, the body goes into a defensive reaction either shutting down (flee) or reacting with aggression (fight). Trauma can also come in the form of a depressive episode or a panic attack.

Daniel Siegel, M.D., author many books the most recent being Mindsight, describes that we all have “a window of tolerance.” The heart of working with trauma is to get to a point where the emotional reaction from the trauma memory is no longer overwhelming. We can learn to ride the edge of this window and allow ourselves to look onto the emotional and physical distress associated with the memory with “nonjudgmental awareness.” While it seems counterintuitive, we want to very carefully bring the trauma into awareness so we can eventually change our relationship to it. This is challenging and takes practice and skilled support.

One way to do this is to know what your edge is. If when bringing up the trauma, on a scale of 1 to 10 your edge is a 7, then allow yourself to ride the physical sensations of the 7 until it begins to lower. If it begins to rise, then you can shift your attention or distract yourself with something else. The ground is that there is always permission to stop approaching if you move out of your edge of tolerance. As we do this the window starts to open a bit more each time and we continue to ride the edge of it. Also, more emotions may arise that we didn’t know were there during this process of approaching and in approaching our fears, we begin to understand that we do indeed have the strength and power to be with them. This is where the work becomes transformative. Now, this is easier said than done, it takes time, and it is done best in treatment with a skilled healthcare professional.

The people in Haiti right now will be experiencing trauma for years to come. If you are interested or enjoy mindfulness as an approach to your mental health you may want to look into A Mindful Dialogue: A Path to Working with Stress, Pain and Difficult Emotions. 100% of the proceeds go to HOPE FOR HAITI NOW which will help give the Haitian people better opportunity to deal with the trauma they are experiencing individually and socially.

As always, please share your thoughts, questions and stories below. What helps you work with your edge of tolerance? Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

A Mindful Response to the Haiti Relief Effort

Monday, January 25th, 2010

This will be a special Monday’s Mindful Quote day. Today is the launch of the EBook A Mindful Dialogue: A Path to Working with Stress, Pain and Difficult Emotions ($9.99). Usually I don’t blatantly promote a book or CD of mine, but this is something that is important to know about. This book was inspired by the devastation in Haiti and 100% of the proceeds will go to HOPE FOR HAITI NOW which has no backend costs and diversifies the funds to these credible organizations: The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, Oxfam America, Partners in Health, Red Cross, UNICEF, United Nations World Food Programme, and Yele Haiti Foundation.

This EBook is a 170 page compilation of interviews and writings I have done with leaders such as Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, Daniel Siegel, Thich Nhat Hanh, Hafiz, Rumi and others. I believe this will not only be a wonderful companion in your own life, but will hopefully go onto save the lives of others in Haiti.

And now, a quote from the Dalai Lama (drumroll…):

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. 
Without them, humanity cannot survive.

The bottom line, we often take these for granted. Love and compassion is a fundamental need, we understand this by looking at infants in their first weeks, months and years of life. For example, tests have been done where a parent would look at an infant with a blank face while the infant tried to get their attention. At first, the infant would smile and coo trying to get some interaction from the adult. As the adult maintained their straight face, the infant would begin to cry and flail about. After a little while longer the infant would try to soothe himself and then fall into a state where he wasn’t doing anything as if he was in a state of depression.

We crave to be loved and to feel compassion from the time we are born to the final moments of our lives. We can give this to ourselves and it’s equally important to give it to others. In a recent post I discussed the health benefits of altruism and lovingkindness.

Before us is an opportunity to practice a mindful response to a human tragedy. Through mindfulness, we can cultivate compassion, lovingkindness and altruism that is beneficial for our own mental health and as the Dalai Lama implies, is also necessary for humanity to survive.

If you feel compelled, you can do one of two things or both:

  • Purchase the EBook either for yourself or for another. If you have been following my blog, you likely know that the interviews that have been conducted are filled with much wisdom and practical guidance. The writings I have done in there serve as a great companion to see how other leaders’ quotes apply to our daily lives.
  • Spread the word: Here is an opportunity to spread the word about this EBook which can be a support to many people and also help fund necessary relief for Haiti. If you have access to people through email, newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, or other social mediums, forward this onto them or just send them to

The social, physical and psychological trauma will be occurring for the people of Haiti for quite some time. There’s a need for a mindful response.

I have much gratitude in my heart for your consideration of this and I hope you enjoy A Mindful Dialogue.

With love,

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

The Power of Mindsight: An Interview with Dr. Daniel Siegel

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

I have been a big fan of Dr. Daniel Siegel and I am so happy to be bringing him to you today. Dan received his medical degree from Harvard University and completed his postgraduate medical education at UCLA with training in pediatrics and child, adolescent and adult psychiatry.  He is the co-editor of a handbook of psychiatry and the author of numerous articles, chapters, and the internationally acclaimed text, The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. He has also published a wonderful book on parenting with Mary Hartzell, M.Ed., Parenting From the Inside Out. His breakout book in the field of mindfulness is The Mindful Brain, which explores the application of this newly emerging view of the mind, the brain, and human relationships. His newest book which I am thrilled about is Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.

Dan has been invited to work with some esteemed people as a result of their interest in his work including: the U.S. Department of Justice, The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, Microsoft and Google, early intervention programs and a range of clinical and research departments worldwide. He has been invited to lecture for the King of Thailand, Pope John Paul II, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

He has done all this and yet, if you know him, you know he remains so personable and accessible. Today, Dan talks to us about what mindsight is and how we can use it to achieve a sense of resilience, compassion and well-being.

Elisha: I’m very excited about your newest book Mindsight. In your book you say that mindsight is our “seventh sense” and “is the basic skill that underlies everything we mean when we speak of having social and emotional intelligence.” Tell us a bit more, what is Mindsight?

Dan: Mindsight is the ability to see and shape the internal world of the mind.  When we can see with more clarity and depth the flow of energy and information that form our thoughts, feelings, and memories, we are then in a position to learn to shape that flow with more specificity and strength. Mindsight is the skill that enables us to monitor and then modify the inner world toward health in our selves and in our relationships-and is therefore the underlying mechanism of both emotional and social intelligence. 

Elisha: You often speak of our ability to help our brains achieve a state of “integration” that lends itself to social and emotional well-being. Can you tell us a bit about how this works?

Dan: Through examining a wide array of scientific disciplines, a universal but unarticulated view emerges that beneath various approaches to understanding health is a process we can call “integration.”  Integration is the linkage of differentiated elements, the connection of separate parts of a system to one another.  It turns out when systems that are open and capable of chaotic behavior-such as our minds and our relationships and our brains-move through time, they have a “self-organizing” property that moves them innately toward harmony.

This flexible and adaptive flow is created by the natural drive toward linking differentiated parts, toward integration, and is a profoundly useful view that illuminates how we achieve well-being.  Without integration, when either differentiation or linkage-or both-are impaired, we move toward chaos, rigidity, or both.  Chaos and rigidity can be seen as the fundamental ways we experience “un-health”, in our bodies, our mental life, and our relationships.  By realizing that these states of dysfunction emerge from impaired integration, it becomes possible with mindsight to peer deeply into the workings of mind, brain, and relationships to determine where integration is impaired and then very specifically cultivate differentiation and linkage in that domain of life. 

In doing this, we use the power of mental focus to strategically drive energy and information flow through the circuits of the brain or through our communication with others to promote integration. The result in the short-run is improved functioning in that intentionally created state; in the long-run, repeated activation of integrated states can lead to long-lasting changes in synaptic linkages in the brain that cultivate traits of resilience, compassion, and health-each of which our outcomes of integration.

Elisha: In your book you mention a fantastic personal story of “mindlessness” and how you used mindsight to better understand what had happened and create repair. Can you give us a brief glimpse into your “Crepes of Wrath” story and the meaning behind it?

Dan: So often in the life of parenting we may leave an attuned and connected presence with our children and instead enter an altered state of mind.  For many parents, including myself, those states can seem confusing; for our children they can be terrifying and harmful.  In the “Crepes of Wrath” chapter of Mindsight, I wanted to offer one of those episodes of “flipping my lid” to illustrate a number of points.

One is that is any of us-even people who write books on this subject-can be prone to losing the reflective and integrative functioning of a part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.   When offline, the prefrontal region can no longer offer its role to create a regulated body, balancing the brakes and accelerator of the nervous system.  We also lose the ability to stay attuned with our children, or ourselves.  We can no longer balance our emotions, becoming prone to chaos and rigidity in our feelings and actions.  In addition, long resolved fears can return and we can lose our ability to pause before reacting, becoming inflexible and then on “automatic pilot.”  Insight disappears, empathy rapidly vanishes, and we can even lose track of our moral compass.  Instead of having healthy access to our intuition, we may have reflexive reactions that drive us to do things in this state that we’d never do when we were feeling more grounded, calm and clear.  Going down this “low road” is unfortunately not uncommon in parenting.

The great news, and the reason that I wrote this chapter, is that it is possible to reduce the negative impact of such terrifying states on the relationship we have with our children, and on their development.  We can learn to detect when such flipping of our lids is about to happen and avoid them.  We can also learn skills to reduce their duration if they do occur.  Further, we need to find helpful and direct ways of making a repair with our children-but first we need to compassionately connect with ourselves.  Understanding the brain can help us move from self-blame to self-compassion, so instead of withdrawing into a state of confusion or shame, we can move toward our children with openness to describe what has happened and to re-establish our connection and their sense of trust in us. 

In the Crepes chapter, I wanted to offer a view from the inside out of how our present experiences, the meaning of events from the past, and an understanding of how the brain works can each help with mindsight skills to bring us back to connection with ourselves and those we love. 

Thank you so much for your wonderful words of wisdom here Dan.

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

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

What Everyone Should Know About the Mental Boost from Altruism

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Thanks to pioneers like Robert Emmons and Michael McCollough, we now know that gratitude can have an enormously positive effect on our mental health. Not only that, thanks to the advent of neuroplasticity, practicing gratitude can even help shape your brain in ways that promote resilience and well-being.

If you need a boost on ways to practice gratitude, check out my post on 5 Steps to Gratitude and Lovingkindness: Mondays Mindful Quote with Hafiz.

But this post isn’t just about gratitude, it’s about taking it a step further which moves into another stage called altruism. Altruistic behavior is all about acting selflessly to help serve or benefit another. Altruistic behavior has been found to be a predictor of happiness and life satisfaction (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Altruism is also tied to another hot topic in our culture today and that is compassion and kindness. In this blog I have written a number of posts about compassion and kindness because they are such good nutrition for our health and well-being. Compassion has been called an antidote to anger and kindness has been called and antidote to fear.  

Now, it could be argued that because I brought up all the personal benefits you may experience from engaging with kindness, compassion and altruism that these endeavors are not pure because you know they will serve your mental health. In other words, they’re ego-driven. Try and set this argument aside for now as we move into the social implication of kindness, compassion and altruism.

While the brain takes longer to register compassion for social pain than individual pain, the effect is longer lasting when awareness around social pain settles in. There are certain tragedies in this world that are so apparent that a compassion trigger gets set off in the brain and we feel called to action. We have an unselfish drive to help other people and this is what altruism is all about.

Whether it’s 9/11, the tragedy of Darfur or the recent devastation in Haiti, millions of people feel this calling to help. No matter how much we may be suffering in any given moment, we all have this truly bright side inside of us, it’s absolutely there.

So as they say, an ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of theory, so let’s get practical.

Consider this question right now:

Without judgment, ask yourself, where does altruism show up in my life?

Altruism could be service or funds given to a cause that you are interested in or a conscious smile to the person in the checkout line of a grocery store. Altruism could be in the act of recycling or planting some trees in giving back to the planet. It could mean volunteering at the homeless shelter or taking time to tutor someone for free. It can be in the act of knitting a hat or scarf for someone or donating food.

If you’re not noticing much, what are some ways you can consider integrating into your day? If you use a scheduling system, put it in there now to remind you to do so.

There are ways every day to show compassion and gratitude through altruism.

How is it showing up in my life?

A Mindful Dialogue  – Haiti Relief Project

As many of you know Haiti was struck with a 7.0 earthquake last week and today anothe 6.1 aftershock, leaving over 72,000 people dead and thousands more no doubt experiencing severe physical and emotional trauma. Although the global fanfare may die down after a week or so, this trauma goes on for years.

I have recently taken on a project for Haiti Relief, collecting all the interviews I have conducted with leaders in the field of mindfulness and psychotherapy (e.g., Dan Siegel, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, Sylvia Boorstein, Jeff Brantley, among many others) along with some writings I have done with quotes from poets such as Rumi, Hafiz, Ghandi, Mother Teresa, etc… and compiling into a book with the working title A Mindful Dialogue: A Path Toward Dealing with Difficult Emotions. I think this can be a great resource for you and also give you and those you care about an opportunity to engage in altruism.

Service is the greatest form of altruism so if you are interested in helping get the word out about this (e.g., through email lists, facebook, twitter, etc…), please feel free to contact me or just note that in the comment section below.

100% of the profits from this book are going to go to the Red Cross for Haiti Relief (The book will sell for $9.99).

I’m hoping to have this completed and available by Monday for purchase.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. How does altruism show up in your life or what ideas might you have for yourself or others going forward. Think big and small. Your interaction below provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

A Message to Remember: Mondays Mindful Quote with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, January 18th, 2010

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 today, I grab a quote from a man who “had a dream” lifted millions of people and whose inspiration is felt all over the world today. Dr. King Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” 

This reminds me of an earlier blog post I did which quoted Rumi saying:

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

On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. led a march on Washington to let us all know that he “had a dream”. In this dream he inspired hope, belief, and faith in millions of people. This level of hope no doubt inspired Barack Obama to believe that he indeed could be the first African American President of the United States.

The power of our minds and of belief may very well be one of the most awesome things in life. Henry Ford, father of the concept of assembly lines which so much of our system is currently built on said:

“Whether you believe, you can or you can’t, you’re right.”

We all have messages built into our heads from the youngest of ages that “we can’t.” If we’re at all lucky, we’ve had parents or a role model (like Dr. King) who have inspired us to say “we can.” Whether you believe in his politics or not, you can see that Barack Obama had to drive that message home over and over and over again in order for people to really believe, “Yes We Can.”

Here’s the rub, when we have deeply ingrained beliefs that we can’t either from childhood or from being depressed or anxious or maybe both, these negative thoughts seem so convincing. Even right now, if you’re in the depths of depression you may hear the thought, “I don’t know why I’m reading this, nothing is going to help” or “as if I could see any light or love, nobody loves me, I don’t even love myself.”

It’s sometimes not enough to just challenge our thoughts, we need something more. We need someone who is going to inspire us on a deeper level, emotionally, so we can face our pain (or keep our gaze on the bandaged place) and say, “I see that there is pain right now and I’ll care for it, I can do this.” Ultimately, even if we are inspired by a person outside of us, they are inspiring something within us that has been there all along.

So who was Dr. King inspired by? One of his influences what Mahatma Ghandi who said

“The only devils in the world are those running in our own hearts.”

In a recent interview, Therese Borchard, whose wonderful new book Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes addressed this quote and said:

This quote has been helpful regarding facing my fears. The earlier chapters of my book chronicle all of the disorders I experienced as a child and teenager-OCD, anorexia, substance abuse. I kept running away from the sadness and the depression, which would morph into these other illnesses. So when I finally sat tight long enough to feel the raw depression, that’s when I could begin to heal. As you know well, I think taking a moment of silence to pray or meditate or center ourselves everyday should be part of everyone’s treatment … because when we stop running, we are able to hear what we most need to be whole.

What have been your inspirations in life? Who have been your sources of “light?” 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

Surviving Depression: An Interview with Therese Borchard

Friday, January 15th, 2010

I’m very happy to bring to you a courageous woman and brilliant writer, Therese Borchard. She is author of the new book Beyond Blue and also pens the award winning blog Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes. Her blog also often appears on and the Huffington Post. The brave writings have caught my heart and apparently many others as they’ve been cited in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Psychology Today, Redbook,, and many more. Therese is the editor of The Imperfect Mom, and I Love Being a Mom: Treasured Stories, Memories and Milestones. With Michael Leach, she is co-editor of A Celebration of Married Life and the national bestseller I Like Being Catholic.

So without further ado:

Elisha: In your new book Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression and Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes, you offer us a courageous, sober, and humorous look into your life and your real life hurdles and blessings. I think one reason people love you so much is that you’re willing to share what most people keep hidden, so we feel connected to you. Why do you choose to be so “naked before the readers…?”

Therese: Thank you, Elisha, for such a kind introduction and an invitation to be interviewed on your wonderful blog. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I would have had the courage to become transparent if I hadn’t been through so much pain. After about 18 months of intense, suicidal thoughts, I finally told God that if I ever woke up one morning and wanted to be alive, that I would dedicate my life to helping those in the same kind of pain. That morning came, and, ironically, a few months later, I was asked to write a blog on depression and spirituality for the site

I remember the exact moment when I stopped caring so much what other people thought of me. I was hospitalized the second time, at Johns Hopkins. The man in the room next to me was beating his head against the walling, wailing that he couldn’t go on. He had been hospitalized for a year. I called my mentor and friend, Mike Leach, from my room and cried to him about being such a failure. “What happened to me?” I asked him. “I used to be successful.” He told me none of it mattered. Not in the end. That even if I was never able to work again, or drive the kids to school, that I would have a full life because I was loved … by him, by Eric (my husband), and by so many others … and that the people who love me don’t care what I do or make of my life. I guess the miracle of that moment is that I believed him, and trusted him. And go the courage to write what comes from the heart without worrying so much about what other people think.

Elisha: There’s a lot of stigma around mental illness and from your writings I know you’ve heard your share.  This stigma can reinforce deep feelings of shame and deepen the grooves of the thoughts of “failure.” Can you share with us a few of these statements, how they’ve affected you and what people should do when they hear them?

Therese: This is ultimately why I wrote the book … to educate people in hopes that we can eliminate some of the stigma. When I was getting ready to send out copies, I made a list of the people who would really “get it” and appreciate the book. I wasn’t going to give a copy to the family members and friends who I thought would shake their head and say something under their breath about victim me being caught up in my wounds. But Eric said to me, “It’s easier to give this to the folks who will agree with you. If you are serious about this mission of educating people about mental illness, I suggest you give it to those who might be confused or ticked off.” So I did. And I received some cold, apathetic responses. I expected that. But a neighbor approached me in tears and said she better understood a family member, and a good friend of mine called me up in tears. “I know I must have been one of those people who said hurtful things to you, and I am so sorry,” she said. “I just really had no idea what you were dealing with until I read this.”

One of the most hurtful statements was when a friend asked me, “Do you WANT to get better?” which suggests that getting better is only a matter of willing ourselves to get better, and that if I stayed suicidal for two years it was because I wasn’t trying hard enough. I think, if someone says something like that to me again, I might say, “Does a person with cancer or diabetes want to get better? Would you fault a person because their chemo wasn’t as effective as it should be? Mood disorders are organic illnesses, too, that can’t always be managed with will power and discipline.” Another confusing statement is that antidepressants and other medicine merely suppress your emotions. I have done a fair amount of research on that, so to that person, I would say, “If you are taking too much of a drug or are on the wrong one, maybe, but my experience is that they have allowed me to feel more deeply.”

Elisha: On The Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog I like to take a quote on Mondays and explore how it might be meaningful to our everyday lives.  In your book you quote Ghandi saying “The only devils in the world are those running in our own hearts.” Can you give us the meaning behind this quote for you?

Therese: This quote has been helpful regarding facing my fears. The earlier chapters of my book chronicle all of the disorders I experienced as a child and teenager-OCD, anorexia, substance abuse. I kept running away from the sadness and the depression, which would morph into these other illnesses. So when I finally sat tight long enough to feel the raw depression, that’s when I could begin to heal. As you know well, I think taking a moment of silence to pray or meditate or center ourselves everyday should be part of everyone’s treatment … because when we stop running, we are able to hear what we most need to be whole.

Thank you so much Therese for all your wonderful work!

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

Finding Hope in the Midst of Depression

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

In the beginning of the year I put out the blog post Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Suggestion Box: What Would You Like More of in 2010. One of the suggestions came from Jennifer. She said:

I continue to struggle (15 years) with med-resistant bi-polar disorder where I typically experience severe depression with few manic episodes. There’s such a sense of hopelessness, so I would like to see topics addressing ways to cope when so little works. I would like to see real in-depth articles/discussions on how to continue to go on when the many various approaches fail.

Thank you for what you do here.

There is an enormous world of frustration and despair that builds when we fight against something for so long and very little seems to be shifting this.

There are a number of people in my life that I would look to for answers in how to find hope (the greatest anti-depressant) in the midst of relentless times, including Therese Borchard, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, and others.

In her new book, Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes,
As she does in her blog, Therese courageously expresses her ongoing struggles with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder and lays out a number of things that have helped her. Tara Brach explores the importance of Radical Self-acceptance as a path toward relating differently to suffering. Jack Kornfield is very clear that there may be  no advice or “fix-its” when someone is deeply suffering, but merely being in the presence of another loving person in that moment may be what’s actually best.

A major depressive episode can very well be considered a Trauma (capital “T” because it is a big event) in my mind. What we know about trauma is that when we experience it, the mind becomes hyperattuned to looking for any possible sign of danger that it’s coming again. The problem with this is that when the mind is looking for something so diligently, it is likely going to find it. In other words, any nuance that the depressive episode is happening again triggers the mind into habitual patterns of trying to “fix” the issue.

One example of this is automatic negative thoughts (ANTS). The mind will go into a state of judging the or criticizing whatever seems to be a danger, such as saying, “don’t reach out, it’s much better to just be alone” or “who cares, what’s the point.” The purpose of these ANTS is to keep you away from some potential danger. The problem is, when we’re depressed, the ANTS are utterly convincing and believable and it’s difficult to bring mindfulness to them.

In an earlier interview with Therese Borchard I talked about the importance of distraction at times to interrupt a depressive cycle when you’re in it. Another critical factor is community and support. Therese Borchard’s Community is a great online community to look into. You may also want to join a local support group or have a list of family and friends to call or be with.

When you’re out of it, you may want to look at an earlier blog post I wrote that gives 5 steps to prevent relapse. You can begin creating a “Top 10 Hit List” of your most recurring ANTS and at that time it becomes easier to understand that these thoughts aren’t facts and you can catch them before they bring you to your knees. When you’re not in it, you also may have more courage and ability to bring your attention to your emotional experience and dip your toes in uncomfortable emotions, without judgment. This allows for kindness, compassion, and acceptance to develop which are all resilience factors for the potential relapse.  

Relapse may be a part of your life, but there are ways to reduce its severity and likeliness. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has been shown to have effectiveness in reducing relapse, but this is for people who are not currently in a depressive episode (because it’s about reducing relapse, not about coming out of a depressive episode).

At the end of the day, while dealing with bipolar disorder or depression can be a deep struggle, it may be worthwhile to inquire what the gifts are from it. Therese Borchard recently wrote a blog post which mentions the Top 10 Good Things about Depression.

May you be free from fear, feel safe and protected, and feel understood and loved.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. What helps you in working with a sense of hopelessness or even experiencing a depressive episode coming on? How do you find hope? Your interactions below create a living wisdom that we all benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

Welcome to the MBSR Workbook

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

This is a short video welcoming you to MBSR Workbook. It includes a brief overview of what is mindfulness and a short guided meditation.

Making Change in Relationships: Mondays Mindful Quote with Sharon Salzberg

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

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 Sharon Salzberg:

Life is like an ever-shifting kaleidoscope – a slight change, and all patterns alter.

In 1951, David Bohm wrote Quantum Theory, a book that redefined not only the way we understand physics, but also the way we see relationships. He said that if you were able to separate an atomic particle into two subunits and send them to opposite ends of the world, or even the universe, changing the spin of one would instantly change the spin of the other. Since that time, this theory, known as nonlocality, has been repeatedly validated in empirical studies, leading us closer to the understanding that we are all literally interconnected.

Relationships and community are foundations to mental health in our lives, to really feeling well. When our relationships are unhealthy or out of sorts, we’re affected.  In the New Year we often take stock of our lives and think about what we would like to be different. It can be great to look at your current relationships. Are you spending time with the people that are most supportive to you? Is there someone at work or school that you have issue with? Do you have family you haven’t connected with in quite a while that you’ve been thinking about? Is there a grudge you are holding with your partner or loved one that is keeping you both distant?

As Sharon Salzberg says, a slight change in our behavior can also alter the patterns within us and our relationships.

Whether you’re reading this post at the beginning of the New Year or you’re picking it up later, the question still remains, how do you feel about the relationships in your life today and what changes would you like to see?

This post is not meant to be a “how-to” in this moment to jump in and fix relationships your want to be different. The first thing we need to do is collect what or who comes up in our minds as we ask ourselves this question about our relationships. Allowing it to be a seed in your mind to see who comes up when considering this question. Are there people you want things to be different with and what are some actions you might take to alter the patterns of your relationships?

This is how a system works, when one part of it changes, it changes the cycle.

Stephen Levine, author of A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last asks some searching questions: “If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting?”

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