Archive for May, 2010

Gratitude on this Day: Mondays Mindful Quote with Meister Eckhart

Monday, May 31st, 2010

One of the wonderful things about holidays is their often explicit reminders to express gratitude in one way or another. I’m writing this blog on Memorial Day, which is a time to express gratitude for our soldiers who have given their lives with the intention of creating and maintaining security and freedom.  In line with Mondays Mindful Quotes, Meister Eckhart said,

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.”

We often take our freedoms for granted. Take this moment to consider your freedoms in this world. Do you have freedom of speech, the right to vote, and the freedom to practice personal religion?

What other freedoms do you have that you might be taking for granted?

Gratitude has been shown to do wonders for mental health, so go ahead and reflect on or write below what you are grateful for in respect to the freedoms have in this country or the country you are in?

Here are a couple more posts on gratitude if you’re interested:

Go ahead and write below what you’re grateful for. Your interactions below provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

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

On Working with Procrastination: An Interview with Ronald Siegel, Psy.D.

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Earlier this month I brought Dr. Ron Siegel author of the new book, The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems, on to talk to us about Mindfulness as a path to work with stress, anxiety, and Depression. Ronald D. Siegel, Psy.D. is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School where he has taught for the past 25 years, a Board and Faculty member of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy, and a long-term student of mindfulness meditation.  Dr. Siegel is also co-editor of Mindfulness and Psychotherapy and coauthor of Back Sense: A Revolutionary Approach to Halting the Cycle of Chronic Back Pain. He maintains a private clinical practice in Lincoln, Massachusetts and teaches internationally about mindfulness and psychotherapy and mind-body treatment.

Today, Dr. Siegel talks to us about how he uses mindfulness in his own psychotherapy practice, ways we can work with procrastination, and some advice he has for those who are suffering.

Elisha: In your own psychotherapy practice, how do you choose to integrate meditation or mindfulness into psychotherapy?

Ron: Therapists often ask me this question. It all depends on the needs of the person with whom I’m working. Mindfulness practices are designed to give us insight into how our minds create suffering so that we can then free ourselves from this suffering. Decades of personal mindfulness practice, together with having had the privilege of exploring these matters with experienced meditation teachers and professional colleagues, has given me a glimpse into some of the patterns that create this suffering.

Two that I’ve already mentioned are the tendency to try to avoid painful experiences (experiential avoidance) and the tendency to get lost in and believe our thoughts. Others include our tendency to resist life’s inevitable changes, our tendency to become preoccupied with trying to buttress our self-esteem, and our tendency to disconnect from others—to feel isolated and not notice our natural commonalities and interconnectedness.

So when I’m sitting with a client or patient, I’m always thinking, “how are they becoming trapped in suffering” and looking for ways to interrupt these patterns. For many people, learning formal mindfulness meditation may be helpful. In this case I’m happy to teach them some mindfulness practices in our sessions together. But for others who I don’t think would be interested in exploring these, I look instead for other ways to illuminate the patterns that are causing them suffering.

These can involve a full range of psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral or family systems explorations. As I often tell therapists who I am helping to train, mindfulness practices are not in and of themselves a complete psychotherapy, but instead can be a useful part of treatment. When I do teach practices in sessions, I try to tailor them to my client or patients’ cultural background. So I’ll present these practices in more “spiritual” language for folks who are drawn to this view of the world, and in more “scientific” language for others.

Elisha: One of the chapters you have in your book is around breaking bad habits. One major bad habit that people work with is procrastination. Can you tell us a mindfulness solution for breaking this bad habit?

Ron: Procrastination is an interesting type of experiential avoidance. Most of us don’t procrastinate when it comes to eating ice cream, but we may well procrastinate when it comes to doing our taxes or writing an article. What’s the difference? I suspect that most of the time anxiety plays a role. We’re afraid that turning to the task at hand will either bring up bad feelings (“Oh my God, I can’t believe how much I owe!”) or prove to be difficult (“I just can’t think of anything to write”). So when we procrastinate we are trying to avoid an unpleasant experience.

Mindfulness practices help us to approach unpleasant experiences. Therefore, in addition to establishing a regular mindfulness practice to get into the habit of non-avoidance, I’d suggest becoming curious about the feelings associated with procrastination. “What am I feeling in my body right now?” “What images come to mind when I imagine starting the project?” Mindfulness involves being curious about everything—investigating our experience in each moment. I suspect that doing this with procrastination will help to illuminate some pain that we’re trying to avoid. Seeing it clearly can help us to face this discomfort and in thereby get our task done.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone who was emotionally struggling in life right now, what advice would you give them?

Ron: That’s a pretty broad question. It would really depend upon what they’re struggling with. One reason I wrote The Mindfulness Solution is that mindfulness practice has been taken up by many mental health professionals as a one-size-fits-all remedy. And while in general cultivating mindfulness is useful for most of us, we each need to approach this differently depending upon our circumstances.

For example, some mindfulness practices help us to establish a sense of stability and safety in our life. These can be very helpful when we’re feeling readily overwhelmed, when our world feels unstable, when we’re in transition. Other practices help us to move toward, or uncover, difficult thoughts and feelings that we may be blocking out of our awareness. These are most useful when our life is more stable and we feel ready to tackle patterns or feelings that have been causing us distress.

Helping people to find the direction that they need to move in is something of an art—and an imperfect one at that. So the first thing I’d do is try to get to know the person across from me, to listen as carefully as I could to their experience. Once, through back and forth conversation, I felt as though I understood their situation, I’d try to identify with them what is causing their suffering. Only once we had a shared understanding of this would I venture into the realm of advice, and even then cautiously. People are so complicated, and we therapists are ourselves so limited in our understanding of what we ourselves, no less other people, need, that advice is always risky. In general I find it more useful to explore patients’ experience with them, putting our minds and hearts together to look for ways out of the patterns that are perpetuating their suffering.

Thank you so much again Ron.

To the readers: 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 Psychcentral.com

3 Ways to Get Things Done Today!

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

With so much to do in a day, it’s important to accept the fact that for most of us, our in baskets will never be empty. I picked up a book a while ago called Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (not a bad title) by David Allen. While it was not explicitly focused on mindfulness as a means to get things done, it seemed to have that flavor.

One thing he wrote about that I absolutely resonated with and that I write about at times is that unless a task has somewhere it can be put in the mind, it’s going to continually swim around in there leading to greater stress, overwhelm, distraction, and procrastination. In other words, a golden rule is that the mind needs to know there is a plan to get a task done or revisit it. The mind can then calm down a bit more and focus on the task at hand.

Here are 3 things I’ve learned from my own life and the book that have helped me be more effective:

  1. Do one thing at a time –  Choose one thing to focus on whether that’s your email, making calls, working on an important project or washing, listening to a loved one, or washing the dishes. Make this the focus and choose a period of time you will engage. Just like many of the writings I have done here, when the mind gets distracted (e.g., television, unimportant emails, surfing the web), notice the distraction, let it be and gently guide your attention back to what you’re intending to focus on in that moment.
  2. Stick to a 2-Minute Rule – This mainly applies to emails, but could apply to other things as well. The idea here is that if it takes under two minutes then just go ahead and get it done. If it’s going to take more than 2 minutes then this leads us into tip #3.
  3. Set Reminders – When tasks come up and they are going to take more than 2 minutes, they need a place holder. So set a reminder in your calendar and carve out a time to get this done. If it is something general that you don’t have to get done, but you want to be reminded of it anyway, set a general reminder to consider this later.

When the mind feels like tasks have a place and time, things start to settle down and it makes it easier to focus on what is most important. This helps us be more effective and efficient with most things we need to get done.

Part of the beauty of this all is that you can also be practicing mindfulness at the same time. The idea of being present with what you’re doing and working with the wandering mind. When your mind or behavior wanders, rather than buying into the self blame game, see if you can just treat it as a distraction, and realize that that is just the way the mind works. Compassionately guide yourself back to the task at hand.

Slowly but surely things may start to feel lighter and you may start to feel better about yourself.

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 Psychcentral.com

The Key to Happiness & Unhappiness: Shantideva & Einstein

Monday, May 24th, 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 Shantideva:

 “All joy in this world comes from wanting others to be happy, and all suffering in this world comes from wanting only oneself to be happy.”

Somewhere along the way many of us develop this notion that the goal above all else in life is for us, individually, to be happy. We begin to focus on ourselves to the exclusion of others. One major problem in depression is this painful self-focus as the ruminations just go on and on. And if our goal is to be happy, but others get hurt or ignored in the process, I promise there will be no happiness.

The fact is, we are not islands.

Albert Einstein said it well in a letter published in the New York Post (1972):

“A human being is part of the whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

I like the piece where he says, “a kind of optical delusion of consciousness.” We walk around as delusional people at times not recognizing the interconnectedness of things. The energy we give off at home, in public, or in the office absolutely has an effect on the people around us for better or worse.

So let’s get practical and start creating change today.

Here’s an informal practice from A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook:

“Human beings are social animals, and the sweetness of relationships with others and the larger world—indeed, the universe—can nourish our lives. As you deepen your connections, you’ll find increasing delight in this interplay of giving and receiving. It may even become mysterious as to who is actually giving and who is receiving.

 There are many things you can do to foster connection. Try sincerely asking a family member, friend, or anyone at all how he or she is doing, and listen deeply to what the other person says. Everyone loves to be heard and understood—to “feel felt.” Or practice random acts of kindness toward anyone, including strangers. You might volunteer to help a child, an elderly person, or anyone in need. You can offer time and energy to an organization that’s helping make the world a better place, or simply enjoy a pet, grow a garden, or pick up litter. Feel the sweetness of connecting with the world and its beings without wanting or expecting anything from them.”

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. How do you relate to this topic, what do you do? Your interaction below provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

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

Meditation as Medicine: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010


Video from a talk Bob gave last week at Google: Meditation as Medicine: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction An Approach to Stress Reduction, Chronic Pain and Illness

How to Cultivate Joy Today! An Interview with James Baraz

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Today I have the “joy” of bringing to you James Baraz, who is the co-author with Shoshana Alexander of the new book Awakening Joy: 10 Steps That Will Put You on the Road to Real Happiness. This is a wonderful book based on James’ very popular 10 month Awakening Joy Course, taught in person and on-line. James has been teaching meditation since 1978 has lead retreats, workshops and classes in the U.S. and abroad and is a founding teacher along with Jack Kornfield and others of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. James lives with his wife in the Bay Area, has two sons and three grandchildren.

Today James talks to us about the essential ingredients to incline our minds toward joy in our lives.

Elisha: One of the primary steps in your program is to set a clear intention toward awakening joy in life. Can you tell us a bit more about how we can create and nourish our intentions to get started?

James: First, let me explain that when I use the word joy I’m not talking about skipping through a field of daisies with a big grin on your face. I’m referring to all the different kinds of wholesome states that are associated with well-being from contentment to aliveness to ease and peace. There are many flavors of well-being.

A truly happy person is not happy all the time. He or she is engaged and able to meet life’s challenges with openness and authenticity. That said, every human being wants to be happy. Even those who say they don’t—well that’s their way of being happy. But most of us postpone our happiness thinking, “When I become rich or successful or meet the right partner or go on my vacation, then I’ll be happy.”  Setting a clear intention means placing happiness or well-being at the center of your life no matter what your circumstances. To do this you need to understand where true happiness lies. It doesn’t lie in the fleeting pleasure of getting the next gadget or having the next peak experience. Those things can feel good but they’re ephemeral. Real happiness lies in cultivating states that open the heart and lead to true well-being.

Elisha: What are the 10 Steps to Awakening Joy in life?

James: Each step in my course and that I write about in the book is a wholesome state that inclines the mind to well-being. In Buddhist philosophy, these so-called “wholesome” or healthy states are defined as those which lead to genuine happiness. They can all be developed and, what’s more, it’s suggested that when they are here one should maintain and increase them. Unfortunately, when we try to hold on to them or fear their disappearance we cut ourselves off from the well-being that is inherent in them. So there’s an art to developing them, enjoying them fully when they’re here but not getting caught in attachment to them.

I’ve put the cultivation of these states or steps in a particular sequence, a natural progression that unfolds and can be practiced over time. It starts with Intention to be Happy. Mindfulness, being present for your life, comes next. Third is the lived practice of Gratitude. Next, one needs to learn how to Find Joy in Difficult Times, that is, not contracting when life gets hard but learning how to open to all experience. The fifth step is The Bliss of Blamelessness, that is, living with integrity. The sixth step is The Joy of Letting Go in various areas—of stuff, of overcrowded schedules, of our limiting stories that keep us bound, of the control that we never had in the first place and, the ultimate expression of letting go, generosity. That step is followed by consciously practicing Learning to Love Ourselves. When we can do that, we’re not busy trying to get validation from everyone around us and we can allow our naturally good qualities to shine through. The eighth step is Connection with Others—letting our love out naturally, including forgiveness when our love is blocked, as well as feeling joy in the happiness of others. The ninth step is Compassionate Action, since expressing our natural capacity to care is a source of true joy. The final step is The Joy of Being: instead of trying to cultivate anything, just relaxing into your pure nature which is available at any time. Then you can listen to the rhythm of your life instead of trying to figure things out.

Elisha: When it comes to inclining our minds toward joy, what role does mindfulness play?

James: Mindfulness, the second step, plays a key role in this process. First, because it is the one factor of mind that cultivates all the other wholesome states such as kindness, clarity and generosity, as well as weakening all the unwholesome states like attachment, anger or fear. A moment of mindfulness interrupts the confused or contracted thoughts that we often find ourselves lost in. Mindfulness helps us be present for our lives and appreciate this moment just as it is without trying to make it a better one. Another reason that mindfulness is the underpinning of the program is that when a wholesome state—generosity for instance—arises, bringing mindful attention to it actually amplifies the experience. In neuroscience this is called “taking in the good.”

By letting the positive experience register with mindful attention you deepen the neural pathways to well-being. At one of the Awakening Joy classes, neuroscience expert Rick Hanson said that if you do this for thirty seconds six times a day for two weeks, you will notice a dramatic change in your level of well-being. It’s one thing to know that you feel good. It’s quite another to feel what it’s like to feel good by bringing mindful attention to the actual sensations of well-being as you experience them.

Elisha: In Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Bright-Sided she talks about the lop-sided push toward positive thinking that has been a trend in our literature; so much so that there is a refusal to even look at the unpleasant aspects of life. How is your approach different?

James: I agree with her that if you think of happiness as just trying to avoid the unpleasant while maximizing your “feel good moments” this is a very limited view of things. My approach directly takes into account the First Noble Truth of Buddhism: there is suffering in life. The interesting thing is the more we learn to open up to suffering without fear or contraction, the greater the possibilities to open to all the joys as well. But the other side is that if we only focus on suffering that in itself becomes a problem. My approach is to authentically be with “the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows,” as Taoism describes life, and see that they’re all part of the fabric of our lives. Then every moment can be experienced as worthwhile either because we’re appreciating the blessings when they’re here or deepening our understanding when life is challenging.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone who has been experiencing a real lack of joy in their lives for quite some time, what advice or wisdom would you give them to begin to awake to what may have been there all along?

James: I would first find out if they want to open to greater well-being and, if so, encourage them to get in touch with their intention to do their part to make that happen. Next, I’d ask them what does bring them, or has brought them, joy. That way they can get in touch with the fact that they have that capacity. I might have them write down a nourishment list of wholesome things that they love to do like being in nature or singing or some creative expression (I find singing every day helps tremendously!). Then I’d suggest that along with doing those things, they practice noticing as best they can any feelings of well-being when they arise—not to miss them but as much as possible, feel them in their body and take them in.

Finally, they need to be very patient with the process. Old habits have built up over time. New ones take patience and persistence. They should let go of any report card, and feel good about any positive developments and the fact that they’re facing in the right direction.

Thank you for the invaluable work you have done, James, which has provided the framework to transform so many lives.

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 Psychcentral.com

The Key to Stop Bullying from Spreading in Our Children’s Lives

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Bullying has played an increasingly large role in our kids’ lives as a result of the media and other mediums allowing for things like cyber-bullying. A recent Time magazine article came out talking about how to Deprogram Bullies with Kindness. Some of the proponents of this work include Dr. Daniel Siegel, author of The Mindful Therapist, and the Dalai Lama, among others.

This makes complete sense to me. If we can cultivate a sense of kindness and compassion in our kids at an early age and encourage the social neurocircuitry of their brains in a positive way, then perhaps we can prevent increased bullying.

So the question is what are our resources?

Roots of Empathy & Seeds of Empathy – These are sister anti-bullying programs that are in over 40 schools and intervene at the family and education level to provide the structure to cultivate empathy and compassion with parents and kids.

Parenting From the Inside Out – Here is a book by Daniel Siegel, M.D. & Mary Hertzell, M.Ed., about intervening at the parent level to explore how our childhood experiences shape the way we parent. This is all in service of helping us to foster more compassion and resiliency in our children. This book was a hard sell at first to publishers as they thought parents wouldn’t want to look at themselves when it came to their children’s issues, but would instead want a book that could fix” their children. Like those many movie houses who passed on Star Wars, since then, the book has spread like wildfire.

The Mindful Child – Here is a book that recently arrived by Susan Kaiser Greenland who started the inner kids program and also the recent site Mindfulness Together. This is a very practically oriented book that gives us the step by step around cultivating a more compassionate and caring child.

There is no doubt that infusing a culture of more caring and compassionate children starts with us. How can we cultivate more of this for ourselves so we can teach our children to do the same? Where else are they going to learn it from? Becoming kinder and more mindful has tremendous cultural implications for generations to come.

Why not start today? Spend time with mindful listening to the children in your life. Take the time to truly attune to their feelings, this is how they learn. You can also pick up a book, get engaged with a practice, and inquire deeper into the organizations listed above to see how you can begin making an impact on your own life and those of our children.

How do you cultivate kindness, empathy and compassion with children?

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. If you know other resources, please list them below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

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

4 Steps to Breaking Free from Limiting Beliefs: Don Miguel Ruiz

Monday, May 17th, 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 Don Miguel Ruiz

“You see everything is about belief, whatever we believe rules our existence, rules our life.” 

Ofcourse, whatever we believe colors the lenses of how we see the world and our very next interaction. If we believe we can’t give that speech, lose that weight or live without our Blackberries or IPhones every minute it’s going to be a heck of a lot harder if not impossible to do so. The same goes for getting throughout anxiety, depression, or addiction.

We start to integrate fundamental beliefs in this world from the time we’re in the womb. We’re already beginning to sense the environment around us, taking in and processing information.

As life progresses we start to integrate this information as truths. Everything is fresh and new, so what we see must be how the world is. If our parents were erratic or abusive, we interpreted the world as unsafe or insecure and that stayed with us as a feeling of fear to this day. Maybe there is the belief that it’s impossible to love or be loved. Or perhaps they didn’t pay attention to us and so we sprout the belief that we are unworthy.

However, at the end of the day it’s all just a story, not a truth, not a fact.

You have the ability to rewrite your life story, starting today. I’m not talking about rewriting the facts, such as having abusive parents or not being made fun of at school. However, the interpretation of those facts is what makes up your story.

You may have sadness, fear and shame connected to these interpretations at a deep level; however, you don’t have to believe the story. This will take a while to unwind the strong neural connections that lead to such strong beliefs.

How do we unwind the stories and weave new ones?

  1. Exposing the belief – The first thing we need is a sense of radical acceptance of the actual beliefs and feelings that are there. If there is a belief that you are unworthy or incapable in some way, you need to call it out, write it down, and expose it.
  2. Feeling into the emotional reaction – There will be some feeling that is tied to this belief. We also need to acknowledge the reality of this feeling and give it space. It also needs this same type of exposure.
  3. Relating to emotion with compassion – It’s not enough just to expose the emotion; we need to do something that is restorative and healing. This would be to get in touch with a part of yourself that exudes kindness, compassion and/or love. As you feel into the emotion see if you can hold it with this kind awareness. If that is difficult, imagine someone you know, living or dead, who symbolizes this kind of attention and allow that feeling to flow through you. If any judgments arise around this step (e.g., this is so Pollyanna or I can’t do this), notice those as thoughts, mental events in the mind that seemingly come and go, and come back to this practice.
  4. Rewriting the story – Saying to yourself, “In the past I have had difficulty with XYZ due to my old story, this story is not a fact, and moving forward I’m going to open up to new possibilities.”

There’s likely been a lot of practice throughout your life around whatever belief is holding you back. So, go into this practice not expecting immediate miracles, but more as an experiment. Allow yourself to practice this with patience as it may take a bit of time to grow new neural connections that automatically begin to tell a new story, one of hope, ease and success.

Begin to try it out today!

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 Psychcentral.com

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: An Interview with Christopher Germer, Ph.D.

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Today I have the pleasure of bringing to you another renowned Psychologist who integrates the practice of Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, Christopher Germer, PhD. Christopher is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Arlington, Massachusetts and author of the recent book The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions.

He is a founding member of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy, a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School, and co-editor of Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. Christopher also conducts workshops internationally on the art and science of mindful self-compassion.

Today Christopher is going to talk to us about what compassion is and why our cultures suffers from a prevalence of unworthiness.

Elisha: What is compassion exactly and why do you think it’s getting so much attention lately?

Christopher: The Dalai Lama defines compassion as the wish for others to be free from suffering. That’s a little different than loving-kindness, which is the wish for others to be happy. We need to be in the presence of suffering to experience compassion.

Compassion comes from the Latin roots com (with) and pati (suffer).  When we’re being compassionate, we “suffer with” another. However, the pain isn’t usually overwhelming because it’s tempered by a deep feeling of mutuality. The sense of connection softens the bite.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche, a Tibetan meditation teacher, says the following about compassion:

There’s some sense of being wide awake and free. At the same time, there’s some tenderness that arises without any cause or condition. There is a deep-felt sense of being tender. Not sad in a depressed way, but tender, and somewhat delighted at the same time. There’s a mixture. There’s no sadness for oneself. Nor is there sadness for anyone in particular, either. It’s like being saturated with juice, just like an apple is full of juice.

In most religions, compassion for oneself is used as an example for how to be compassionate toward others.  For example, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  The Dalai Lama considers self-compassion as necessary for cultivating compassion for others. However, nowadays it’s often easier to have the tender feeling of compassion toward others than toward ourselves.  We’re likely to feel self-indulgent or unworthy the minute we offer ourselves the same kindness we’d give to another person when they need it. Ironically, we now use the feeling of compassion for others as an illustration for what it may feel like to be compassionate toward oneself.

Why is compassion getting so much attention lately?  That’s a complex question. As the Indian sage Nisargadatta Maharaj said, the single cause of most events is the “universe of causes.” From my limited point of view, however, it’s the science that’s making the difference.

In our culture, science is the arbiter of truth, for better or worse. Compassion has always been one of those invisible qualities that makes a big difference in our lives—like love, truth and peace—but now compassion is directly observable on brain scans.  Richie Davidson at the University of Wisconsin once promised the Dalai Lama to put compassion on the scientific map, and he and other researchers around the world have done just that. Compassion falls under the umbrella of “affective neuroscience.”  There are also many psychological studies underway right now that explore the emotional, physical, and psychological benefits of compassion, such as those at Emory University and the Center for Compassion and Altruism at Stanford University.

A humorous explanation for the current interest in compassion might come from Steven Hayes at the University of Reno: “The crazies are driving the bus!”  Erstwhile hippies are now senior researchers and grant reviewers at major organizations that enable this kind of research to be done.

Psychotherapy is another place where compassion is getting a lot of attention.  Buddhist psychology is reshaping the science and practice of psychotherapy in America, and compassion is a key component of Buddhist psychology.

Finally, it’s possible that the world is getting smaller with the Internet and we feel an urgent, global need for compassion—compassion for ourselves, for others, and for our environment. News of people who die in an earthquake or a mineshaft is felt within hours in our living rooms. The only way to bear all that suffering without fatigue and resignation is to keep our hearts open with compassion.

Elisha: Feeling unworthy, deficient or defective is so prevalent in our culture. What are the factors that have led to this?

Christopher: That’s an interesting question, and one that we probably need a whole lot more research to answer!

In our American culture, we’re taught we need to be exceptional to be worthwhile. Kristin Neff, a pioneering researcher in the field of self-compassion, likes to ask, “How would you feel if somebody told you that you were “average”—average looking, average intelligence, average talent?”  Most probably it would hurt your feelings. Perhaps we’d even add a few choice comments directed at ourselves, such as, “You’re so stupid!”  “What a loser!” “No one will love you.”

Feelings of disconnection and loneliness probably play a role in our feelings of unworthiness. About 60% of Americans—20% of the population—suffer from loneliness. And being alone in one’s own mind puts us at the mercy of self-critical thinking.  Anne Lamott once wrote, “My mind is a neighborhood I try not to go into alone.”

It’s an open question, though, if people living in other cultures suffer less than we do from feelings of unworthiness.  Asian cultures seem to have a more connected sense of self, but if the culture uses shame as a means of social control, then being alone might protect us from emotional injury.  Conversely, if compassion is emphasized in parenting and social contacts, such as in Thailand, then feeling connected to those around us is probably a good thing for our self-esteem.

Kristin Neff did some cross-cultural research and found that self-compassion—the opposite of self-criticism—was highest in Thailand, lowest in Taiwan, and the United States fell somewhere in between. That means that people living in an Asian culture—where people are less likely to feel alone than in the United States—might still feel unworthy, defective and deficient.  In all three cultures, however, Kristin and her colleagues found that high levels of self-compassion predicted greater life satisfaction and less depression. It therefore seems that no matter which country or culture we come from, self-compassion is still good for our mental health!

Thank you so much Christopher!

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

How the Moments You’re Missing Can Lead to a Better Life

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

We all have things that we more or less have to do in life that for most of us automatically trigger feelings of frustration, boredom, restlessness, and even fear. These might include sitting in traffic, waiting in a long line at the post office, engaging in Jury Duty, arguing an erroneous charge on a bill, or being given seemingly busy work at our jobs. If we all sat in a room together, I’m sure we can make a list that could wrap around this good earth.

So what do we do?

Here’s a personal experience I’d like to share:

 I was called to Jury Duty not too long ago; actually, I’m here right now awaiting my fate before a judge to see whether I will be sitting on a weeklong Jury.

Last night the stream of thoughts began, “Are you serious, do I really have to take time out of my day to do this? I have so many other things to do. What time do I have to wake up again? This is going to be terrible.”

 As I drove to the courthouse today, the thoughts seemed to not be as present, but as soon as I arrived and saw the long line for security, they came right back.

As I sat down awaiting orientation, I noticed my body in a fit of discomfort. My breathing was heavy, my face constricted, and I was feeling angry that I was here. The thoughts were like a waterfall flooding over me cycling with my physical discomfort.

Along with these thoughts were intermittent thoughts of bringing mindfulness to the situation, but these were also just more thoughts, I wasn’t actually engaging with any practice.

When I realized this, I Stopped, Took a Breath, Observed how I was feeling physically and emotionally, and chose to proceed by continuing to be present with my body (This is the STOP practice).

My mind’s struggling appeared to dissipate as I noticed the tightening of my chest and was just able to be with it. I recognized that I was suffering and chose to turn toward the discomfort and look upon it as a part of me in pain that I was caring for. Much like we might imagine the archetypal mother caring for her child.

This really changed things. I found what is called, and “in-between moment” to bring mindfulness to. What was initially a depleting activity has turned into an opportunity to practice changing the way I relate to difficulty. I’m still sitting here awaiting the next step in this process, but as I type these words, my mind is quieter and the tension in my chest feels more like a subtle vulnerability. There is definitely a greater sense of peacefulness and acceptance around this judicial process and my own process.

Take it for what it’s worth. What activities do you have today that you might be able to bring mindfulness to? Any phone calls you’re waiting on hold with, red lights in traffic, any lines to wait in?

As always, don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself. Notice any judgments that arise initially such as “forget this, this won’t work,” or “yeah it worked for him, but he teaches this stuff, it’s not for me,” or “this is stupid,” etc…

Give it a chance, don’t expect miracles, and trust your experience.

Please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

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