Archive for June, 2010

Overwhelmed, Procrastinating or Depressed? Advice from Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday, June 28th, 2010

There are a lot of reasons to feel overwhelmed right now for most of us. A difficult economy, natural disasters, oil spills, war, family drama, personal conflicts, among other things. When the mind is focusing on the negative details of life, it is practicing seeing things through this lens and a cycle ensues where we even start seeing the future with this lens leading to feelings of anxiety or depression.

Mindfulness is about being aware of what lens we’re wearing when looking at life, so we can be more intentional. The unintentional act of looking toward the future with a negative lens can really sap our motivation to make any progress toward a more fruitful and positive future. After all, if its doomsday, what’s the point in even trying? This is major fruit for procrastination too.

I want to introduce you to or remind you of a practice that will help you intentionally engage your mind in a way that could lead to a more fruitful future.

Albert Einstein said:

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

So here’s a practice is using our imagination for good.

Envisioning

  1. Set aside at least a few minutes (this could even be right now) for this practice. You can do this in your mind while closing your eyes, write it out on a piece of paper, or create a vision board where you get pictures that illustrate this vision.
  2. Envision what life would be like if you were taking these steps or if you did accomplish this project. When I say envision, I mean actually take a few moments to either close your eyes or get out a piece of paper and imagine what life would be like if you dropped your anxiety or your imperfections? Or what would life be like if whatever overwhelming project you have, personally or professionally was complete? 
  3. Take a moment to feel the feelings of this envisioned future?

 Envisioning can help your mind spur up the imagination and motivation to start moving forward.

One step at a time

Once you’ve done this, consider the words of Martin Luther King Jr.:

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.”

This piece of wisdom has been said in so many different ways, maybe the most famous being “The longest journey begins with a single step,” which was attributed to Lao Tzu.

In times of depression, when it comes to being in a moment when an onslaught of thoughts are telling you it’s overwhelming or you’ll never get it all done, having Martin Luther King Jr. or Lao Tzu in mind might be helpful.

Let’s face it, there’s times where it’s a success to take a shower or get out of bed. That is a single step.

I ride a single speed bike at times over a hill. There is a substantial difference when I do it looking up at the hill engaging thoughts of disbelief at how much of the hill there is left to go versus focusing on one pedal at a time. I actually time the pedals with my breathing. When I do it like this, it seems like much less effort and I’m at the top of the hill before I know it.

This is a truism whether someone is depressed and needs to see some movement or accomplishment to get the engines going or whether there is a feeling of overwhelm in life due to a personal or professional project.

So, try out this combination. Take a moment to envision what life would be like and what the feelings would be having moved passed this overwhelming situation and just take that first step in faith.  

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

Compassion & Forgiveness: A True Story

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

In a recent posting Forgiveness Means Giving Up All Hope for a Better Past, one reader left a comment highlighting a lifelong experience he had that gives us some insight into how forgiveness really happens and its transformative effect.

Robert described his experience so beautifully that it would do it injustice to paraphrase it so I’m just going to quote him:

“A very long time ago, my next youngest brother, throughout our childhoods and after, performed the worst possible acts of psychological torture on me and our other brothers, who he most intensely hated for reasons we have never known. Other people simply cannot know the kind of pain he intentionally caused. And we never, ever reconciled, and I never, ever forgave him, even after his death at age 47, twenty years ago. Up until last year my hatred for him survived at 2000 degrees Celsius. And he was the only person I’ve ever hated. I really wanted to be at peace with him, which involved acknowledging the utter misery he must have been in to act that way, though I’ve never understood why he did it. And I did it. I did it sincerely. I tried to imagine the level of misery any person would have to be in to act the way he did. And I think I did get close to feeling like he must have, close enough, at least, to feel with him, and to walk away from that hatred. It always helps though, even now, to read material like your article of today, which soothes a large scar.”

How is this a teaching for many of us?

Robert acknowledged his aspiration to “really be at peace with him.” In a recent interview with Chopra Center Director, David Simon MD, he gave the advice of charting two points on a map, where you are and where you want to be. It seems that Robert was clear about this.

It seems that Robert began to put himself in his brother’s shoes “which involved acknowledging the utter misery he must have been in to act that way…I did it sincerely.” I would argue that this is the great art of compassion.  Through this process Robert got close enough to “walk away from the hatred.”

Sheila followed with the insight that forgiveness often begins with ourselves first and offers the lovingkindness practice as a path toward doing so. In the full lovingkindness practice, there is also opportunity to work with compassion for those we have difficulty with as well.

In practicing this art, it’s also important to acknowledge timing and that it may not be time to engage in forgiveness or lovingkindness if the trauma is still very fresh or overly intense and this may very well be best practiced with a trusted healing professional.

However, at the end of the day, when we carry grudges or hate, there is no way around it, we are the ones carrying it and it has negative psychological and physiological effects on our health and well-being. It’s a worthy endeavor.

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

Forgiveness Means Giving Up All Hope for a Better Past

Tuesday, June 22nd, 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 Lily Tomlin:

“Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.”

This quote is often met with either people saying “aha” or laughing because it is simply so true. When we refuse to forgive it’s as if we’re holding onto the past and saying “see past, I’m not going to let you have the pleasure of me letting go of you.” Meanwhile, the past is the past, it’s not happening right now in the present moment, or is it?

We keep the past alive by holding tightly to it, so perhaps it is occurring in this present moment. Now, I’m not suggesting we forget the past for the past is our teacher, however, I am suggesting that we loosen our grip on it a bit.

In a past post I asked you to consider this experiment:

“Think of someone in your life right now (maybe not the most extreme person) who you are absolutely holding a grudge against right now. There is no way you are willing to forgive this person right now for their actions. Picture that person and hold onto that unwillingness to forgive. Now, just observe what emotions are there; Anger, resentment, sadness?  Also notice how you are holding your body right now, is it tense anywhere or feeling heavy? Now bring awareness to your thoughts; are they hateful and spiteful thoughts?”

This is what lives inside of you by holding so tightly, so the question is always, who is suffering?

Thich Nhat Hanh says, “When there is a mature relationship between people, there is always compassion and forgiveness.”

There is an understanding at some point that we are all human beings capable of all kinds of atrocities depending on our genetic makeup, the environment we grew up in and the events that have surrounded and influenced our lives.

This is not a statement meant to excuse or condone an aggressive or violent action committed, however, it is a statement meant to help cultivate understanding and compassion in order for the ones who are suffering to come to terms with the way things are and slowly let go of allowing the atrocity of the past to still be occurring in this present moment.

We can begin to forgive, even though we will never forget.

One last note about forgiveness: This is not a process that occurs instantly after reading about it. This is something that is about timing, meaning if the act is fresh, you may need some distance from it before even considering engaging in this work. Even when it is the right time, it may take time and practice as the tides of anger and hate will bring you back to holding the grudge. May the understanding of this bring a sense of patience and wisdom through this process.

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

Fear of Flying? An Interview with Captain Tom Bunn LCSW

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Many of us may not think about it, but fear of flying ranks up there as a very common phobia. Today I am pleased to bring to you an interview with Captain Tom Bunn. Tom was an airline captain and licensed therapist and is President and founder of SOAR, Inc. He has helped over 7,000 people overcome difficulty with flying.

Tom was part of the first fear of flying program, which was started at Pan Am in 1975. He founded SOAR in 1982; and to offer the most effective help possible, he completed graduate school to become a therapist. He spent five additional years in training at psychological institutes, finally developing a therapy that has made it possible for everyone to fly.

Today Tom talks to us about what the fear of flying is all about, how mindfulness can help, and advice for getting through your fear.

Elisha: What are the most common symptoms you see when it comes to fear of flying?

Tom: It starts with anticipatory anxiety, mostly about giving up control, and whether the flight will be turbulent. During the flight itself, there is high anxiety or panic.

Elisha: What causes someone to have a fear of flying?

Tom: When a person’s ability to regulate anxiety when facing uncertainty does not develop properly in the first eighteen months of life, the person has to compensate. They, like Linus, have security blankets such as control, avoidance, physical escape or psychological escape through dissociation. They try to control anxiety by controlling everything in their life. When they can’t assure a perfect outcome through control, they control anxiety by having a way out. Flying allows neither control nor a physical way out. So they try a psychological way out: they isolate their awareness from the experience of flight by focused awareness, dissociation, or over-medication.

Elisha: Walk us through how you use mindfulness to work with some of those symptoms?

Tom: Their strategy for emotional control is really the polar opposite of mindfulness. The first challenge is to help them understand that mental isolation is not going to work. Turbulence, a routine part of flight, presents a problem. It, like takeoff, is dynamic, and intrudes into their isolation. Takeoff only lasts a few minutes and is over. But turbulence can go on and on. With isolation their only remaining means of emotional control, when turbulence penetrates their isolation, it causes them to experience high anxiety, panic, or terror.

It is through a form of mindfulness that is now being called “reflective function” that we are able to distinguish images produced by imagination in the mind’s eye from images produced in the eye by reality. When stress hormones increase, reflective function decreases. If stress becomes too high, reflective function fails. When it does, the person goes into a state of psychic equivalence: the contents of the mind and the contents of reality are experienced as one and the same. What the person fears is happening is experienced as really happening. They are afraid the plane will fall. When stress builds up during turbulence, they experience the plane as falling, perhaps thousands of feet. This means terror.

Medication makes the problem worse. It helps reduce day-to-day anxiety by reducing reflective function so the person is less aware of things inside that cause distress. But when medication reduces reflective function in flight, the result is psychic equivalence, and terror. When the medicated person gets off the plane, they may never realize the plunge they experienced was imagination. Instead, they believed they narrowly escaped death and they were only able to live through it because of the meds. So they continue taking meds when flying until they are so traumatized by psychic equivalence that they are no longer able to fly. There is research that shows medication increases in-flight panic.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone who had to get on a plane in one week and had a deep fear of flying, what advice would you give them?

Tom: Like mindfulness, the capacity for reflective function varies. Some people have little reflective function. In the long term, reflective function can be increased by therapy. But there is a problem with reflective function; it brings awareness of things inside ones self that one does not want to be aware of.

Part of therapy is coming to know and to accept more of what is inside. Until a person’s reflective function is robust, the amount a person needs to be protected collapse under the assault of stress hormones so they can recognize imagination and see it is not reality. Fortunately, I’ve found a way to train the amygdala to not release stress hormones when flying by linking each challenging moment of flight to a moment the amygdala regards as emotionally safe, such as what is expressed on the face of another person during a moment of empathic attunement. In such moments the amygdala lets its guard down, and stops producing the hormones that cause feelings of danger.

The amygdala is very interested in the human face. I would help them find a moment of profound connection with another person and remember the person’s face. When the moment is vividly recalled, it produces a bit of an anti-stress hormone, oxytocin. Oxytocin is produced when there is genuine attunement and empathy, such as nursing an infant, romantic foreplay, engagement, or wedding vows.

As they relive the moment, I would ask them to imagine a photograph of a plane about to land being held touching their cheek so their face and the flight scene are seen at the same time. I repeat this with each of the different flight scenes that could bring anxiety during the flight. They need to repeat the linking process until the links are established. This can be done on their own, with me on the phone, or with their therapist talking them through the steps.

Since giving up control is such an issue, meeting the person who has control makes a huge difference. I tell them to go to the boarding area early and ask the agent there to allow them on the plane at the beginning of the boarding process so, once on the plane, they can ask a flight attendant to ask the captain if they can come to the cockpit and meet the captain.

Since I can’t sit across the table with most of my clients, I use video. They first view video that explains how flying works, and then video that shows how to link a moment of empathic attunement to the challenging moments of flight. Then, I do a phone session with them to fine tune what they are doing to establish these links. And, if they get stressed at the airport, they call me on my cell phone. Therapists who have fear of flying clients can use the videos to learn how to use this method with their clients.

Thank you so much Tom for your wisdom.

To the readers: Please share your thoughts or experiences about this interview or fear of flying. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

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

Dealing with Difficult People: Sharon Salzberg

Monday, June 14th, 2010

It’s no secret that human beings are social animals and with that comes a host of potential difficulties. We can be rude, obstinate, aggressive, impatient, and sometimes just plain difficult to deal with. Sometimes when others are that way with us we take it personally and at the least it can ruin our day at the most it can stick with us for years to come.

Sharon Salzberg wrote The Kindness Handbook: A Practical Companionand in it she recites a story from the Buddha that I found a great lesson to help when people are being difficult with us.  

One day a Brahman was visiting the Buddha near a Bamboo Grove. The Brahman angered and displeased went to the Buddha and on arrival insulted and cursed him with rude, harsh words.

When this was said, the Buddha One said to him: “What do you think, Brahman: Do friends and colleagues, relatives and kinsmen come to you as guests?”

“Yes, Master Gotama, Sometimes friends and colleagues, relatives and kinsmen come to me as guests.”

And what do you think: do you serve them with staple and non-staple foods and delicacies?”

Yes, sometimes I serve them with staple and non-staple foods and delicacies.

And if they don’t accept them, to whom do those foods belong?

If they don’t accept them, Master Gotama, those foods are all mine.

In the same way, Brahman, that with which you have insulted me, who is not insulting; that with which you have taunted me, who is not taunting; that with which you have berated me, who is not berating: that I don’t accept from you. It’s all yours, Brahman. It’s all yours.

Whoever returns insult to one who is insulting, returns taunts to one who is taunting, returns a beating to one who is berating, is said to be eating together, sharing company with that person. But I am neither eating together nor sharing your company, Brahman. It’s all yours. It’s all yours.”

So what do we take away from this?

People, including us, are carrying a hold host of issues that are brought to any given interaction. If someone is being insulting, if we insult them back, we are basically accepting their insult, sitting down with them at the table and sharing company with someone who we would like rather not share company with.

So the next time someone is rude or insulting to you, remind yourself, “I am not sharing your company, it’s all yours, it’s all yours.”

Note: In this story, the Buddha was not insulting, taunting or berating prior to the Brahman’s behavior. It may be the case that we did do something prior that hurt the other person. If this is the case, then it’s important to look at our part in the picture and move toward reconciliation if possible.

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

You Don’t Deserve to be Happy? An Interview with David Simon, M.D.

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Today I have the pleasure of bringing you David Simon, M.D.. David is CEO, Medical Director and Co-Founder of The Chopra Center. David is the author of many wellness books, including his latest Amazon best-seller, Free to Love, Free to Heal: Heal Your Body by Healing Your Emotions.

His other popular books include Return to Wholeness: Embracing Body, Mind, and Spirit in the Face of Cancer; The Wisdom of Healing; Vital Energy; and The Ten Commitments. He has co-authored numerous other books with visionary Deepak Chopra, including The Chopra Center CookbookGrow Younger, Live LongerMagical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives; and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga.

David’s books Vital EnergyThe Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga; and Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives each received a Nautilus Book Award. The Ten Commitments was the winner of the 2006 Foreword Award.

Today, David talks to us about where the belief of not deserving to be happy came from, the fears that underlie it, and how he would guide someone toward emotional freedom.

Elisha: So many people struggle with the idea of deserving to be happy and one of the first things you say in your book Free to Love, Free to Heal is that people deserve to be happy. Tell us a bit about why we deserve to be happy.

David: I think the more important question is why do we think we don’t deserve to be happy? Ninety nine percent of people looking at a baby would say that of course this baby deserves to be happy, healthy and deserves to be loved. To me that’s the natural state. How did we get the misunderstanding that we’re not so sure we deserve this? I think it should be the natural state. What would be any other reason for incarnating as a human being if it wasn’t for the expansion of happiness?

Elisha: Some of the reasons we may feel this way are that we grow up in ways that bring up negative self-judgments or as you call them toxic beliefs, these feelings of unworthiness. My question to you is what are these toxic beliefs and what drives them?

David: I think there is a lot of fear that we have evolved out of, I guess if we have the memory of living in the jungle and having wild beasts suddenly snatching our children out of our hands that would naturally create fearfulness. The nature of happiness tends to give us a sense of safety and freedom. So I can imagine that somewhere in our DNA there is a fear that something bad will happen. Most of the prescriptions parents give to their kids are about reinforcing safety over happiness.

Anyone who has a child will see that soon they’ll start chasing after a ball with a big smile on their face right into the street and so you have to say “don’t run into the street” and you create these fears. So when they start wandering away, you start increasing the level of anxiety out of fear that someone might take them away, this comes along with a certain suppression of joyfulness.

I used to be able to wander freely in my neighborhood, but now you can hardly let your child wander free in a grocery store. That fear has stressed much of our natural joyfulness.

Elisha: And seems to drive a lot of negative self-judgments. In your book you talk about how the stories we believe ourselves to be are shaped by our parents, caregivers, friends and communities. You say how these beliefs can shape our lifelong struggles. This seems so powerful to me, this notion that a story can shape lifelong emotional struggles. Can you give us some insight into this?

David: Most of these core messages are learned before the age of 6 or 7, so we have almost no filtering ability to decide what is useful, appropriate or helpful. I see it with my own kids. I have an 8 year old who only now can begin to challenge important perspectives. By that time he is like a tree that is growing for 8 years and so you have a lot of influence in those 8 years that can shape the rest of its life. I think it’s woven into the core psychology of how we see the world, how we see ourselves, our expectations and our talents. I think it surrounds us at a very early level and we spend the rest of our lives unwrapping it.

That doesn’t mean we have to throw out everything, there may be a lot of good mixed in with the fear. But we’re not 2 year olds, 5 year olds or 20 years. We have the capacity to use that information, but not be imprisoned by it.

Elisha: I think that’s the key, a sense of awareness, and noticing that these thoughts and beliefs don’t define you, but come from somewhere and we can work with them.

David: It’s interesting, even if we’ve decided that a belief is not useful, it still ends up having a profound and preponderant effect on our day to day choices. Either we’re following through unconsciously on the belief or we’re reacting unconsciously or consciously against the belief. It’s interesting how these early messages and beliefs set up the blueprint of your life and then a conscious life is spent examining the drawings and maybe rearranging the structure. However, I don’t think there’s a way to completely escape it as long as you are in this same incarnation.

Elisha: Here’s a very practical question for the readers. If you were sitting across the table from someone who was suffering right now, what advice would you give them and how might you lead them down a path to greater emotional freedom?

David: Well, I would see my role as helping to be their guide as they take me on their internal journey to discover what they wanted that they’re not getting. It would take some time to create the safety and openness and I would ask the person, “What’s happening in your life that’s not working for you right now and how would you envision your life if that was working for you?”

So we would try and set the 2 points on the map. Where you are and where you want to be and then I would go a bit more deeply into both those areas, but get as much clarity as possible around how someone would envision themselves if they were happier, healthier, more loving, or more passionate about their life. Whatever vision they are seeking which is different from their present.

Then I would help the person chart the trajectory, not so much the path, I don’t think anyone can really know the path. If someone is living in Chicago and wants to get to San Francisco, but starts heading east, then we would say turn around, where you say you want to go is in another direction, so just take that first step.

I have tremendous faith and trust in a person’s internal wisdom. If we can help people quite down some of the noisy conversations that interfere with access to that, then I trust that people can be self referred and start making choices that are in line with their vision.

I would try and bring into awareness the discrepancy between where someone is and where they say they want to be and see if there is a reasonable course to bring them from here to there and back to here.

Elisha: One of the things that you said which was so important was having the person trust their inner compass and having them get connected to that rather than you charting their path, allowing them to access and connect with their own internal wisdom and allowing that to lead the way.

David: The inner compass is a combination between the mind and body. The body says, “Yes that feels good, I like how that’s feeling” and the mind is says, “I can manage the consequences of these choices in a way that doesn’t create unnecessary turbulence.”

To the Readers: As always, 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

Why are Teens More Sleep Deprived and Depressed?

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

What’s happening to our teens nowadays? CNN came out with an article recently quoting some studies that reported more than half of a 262 person sample being “excessively sleepy.” Apparently teens are only getting about 6 hours of sleep on school nights and 8 hours on the weekend? I’m among those who believe that nothing is a problem unless it’s a problem; however, I do know that sleep is the foundation for mental health and studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lead to depression. Who’s the culprit and what can we do about it?

There’s a lot going on as a teen. In my own practice I’ve noticed an increase in anxiety among teens due to mounting academic pressures. I would say even more so than this is the access to technology without the maturity to know how to use it (which arguably we all suffer from).

What do I mean by this?

The teens I work with are up till late hours of the night interacting on Facebook, Twitter and texting hundreds of times.

There are all kinds of theories on sleep, but it simply makes sense that the more light is around us, the more the brain would get confused when it’s time to fall asleep. We can do research and talk theories until we’re blue in the face; this just seems like a very logical idea.

The next logical idea is that the less sleep we get, the more imbalanced we are physically and mentally, and therefore we are far more likely to get our buttons pushed that lead us into states of anxiety or depression.

For teens, as this happens, it becomes more difficult to concentrate at school, making the pressures mount about academic competition. The more this happens, the more attractive the neuroenhancers seem like Adderall, Ritalin or even crystal meth. Which of course, lead to less sleep, among other detriments.

So, for our teens (and ourselves), it’s important to put boundaries on our social connectivity instruments.

  • Explain to your teen the need for boundaries with the computer, television and phone. You might even ask them how they feel after a short night of sleep to help them understand that over time, this leads to greater consequences and you love them and want what’s best for them. This last piece is very important as teens need this assuring positive reinforcement even if they shrug it off.
  • Remain consistent when the teen breaks the rules. If you have an agreed consequence (e.g., no phone for a day), that needs to be discussed and enforced.
  • Be a good example. Perhaps adults could also learn from these boundaries, see if you can set a good example, perhaps even making the agreement that you’ll both do it.

This isn’t an easy scenario and so the best we can do is learn from one another.

Have you encountered this with teens, what’s worked for you, what difficulties have you had?

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

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

10 Ways to Live Mindfulness Today

Tuesday, June 8th, 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  Thich Nhat Hanh:

“There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.”

Here’s the thing. Going on retreats, vacations, taking time away from the daily grind is important and can help us deepen our connection to what is truly important. However, most of our hours are spent here (well, all of our hours are spent here, but you know what I mean). So here is where we seek the power of now.

Here are 10 ways to gain freedom from suffering in daily life

Note: If you’ve heard or thought of any of these before, watch your mind’s reactions. Then ask yourself when the last time you implemented them is, that’s where the rubber meets the road. Allow this to be a gentle reminder.

  1. When awaking in the morning, before checking your cell phone for messages, take a few deep breaths and check in with the sensations of your body.
  2. Think of one genuinely kind thing to say to one person in your house before leaving the home. If you live alone, wish well for someone in your life.
  3. When driving, use red lights as signals to check in with our breath and body. Choose to take a few deep breaths and soften your muscles if they’re tense. Wish others on the road safe driving.
  4. Walk slightly slower into work or school, open your ears and listen for any birds or other sounds.
  5. Practice STOP in the middle of your day.
  6. Intentionally listen to a colleague when they’re speaking to you (mindful listening).
  7. Before leaving work or school, take a moment to look back on the day and note the work that you were proud of and perhaps some things you could do better next time.
  8. Before leaving your car to step into the house, again practice a short practice, perhaps a mindful check-in and consider how you want to be the rest of the evening. If there is family at home, how would you like to be with them, if it is just yourself, what would you like the evening to look like?
  9. At dinner, consider taking a few minutes of the meal to eat it mindfully, bringing your senses of sight, smell, and taste to the meal. Consider all the work (including your own) that brought this meal in front of you in this moment.
  10. As you lay your head on the pillow at night, consider, where was the Good today? For those who are spiritual or religious you might consider asking, where in this day did I notice God?

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

Why Accepting Pain May Heal You: An Interview with Christopher Germer, Ph.D.

Friday, June 4th, 2010

In an earlier interview, Christopher Germer, Ph.D. explored with us why compassion is getting so much attention lately and how it might heal the prevalence of unworthiness in our culture. Christopher Germer, PhD 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 shares with us the radical notion of accepting our difficult emotions, some neuroscience behind it, and a bit of advice for the rest of us.

Elisha: You suggest something radical in your book, which is the practice of accepting our difficult emotions and even responding to them with compassion. Can you give us a practical example on how someone might go about this?

Christopher: I know that’s a tall order, but we don’t need to dive headfirst into our difficult emotions to transform them with compassion–we only need to touch them.

There are many ways to do this that I explain in my book. Perhaps the easiest way is simply to label the emotion—fear, anger, sorrow. When we label an emotion, especially with” tender attention” rather than “worried attention,” the emotion seems to lose its sting.  Brain imaging studies have also shown how labeling reduces the fear response of the amygdala, the part of the brain that signals danger.

Another strategy is to find the emotion in your physical body.  All emotions have a bodily component.  For example, fear is often felt in the gut, sadness in the chest, and shame in the head.  Once you’ve identified where the feeling can be felt most strongly, you can soften that part of your body, allow the physical sensation to linger without fighting it, and direct a little loving energy to that spot on your body as if it belonged to the body of someone you love very dearly, such as a beloved child.  This exercise is called “soften, soothe, allow.”  Since emotions are a web of mind and body reactions, changing one part of the web affects the rest of it.  For example, you’ll find yourself ruminating much less after an insult at work when you can soften, soothe, and allow the pain of the insult in your physical body.

A third strategy is to use language to soothe and comfort yourself when you’re feeling really bad.  You could try the following phrases, which Kristin Neff calls the “self-compassion mantra.”  The self-compassion mantra is an exercise taught in the 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) training program that Kristin and I are currently developing.  When you’re in the midst of emotional pain, try saying to yourself:

This is a moment of suffering

Suffering is a part of life

May I be kind to myself

May I accept myself as I am

You can customize your own phrases, making sure that they’re credible and appropriate to your situation. For example, if you’re feeling guilty, you might want to say, “May I forgive myself.”   Often the greater you’re suffering in the moment you use the phrases, the larger the impact.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone who was struggling with destructive thoughts and emotions, what advice might you give them?

Christopher: That depends, of course, on who the person is and what he or she is going through in the moment.  In general, I don’t like to give advice when I first meet someone because it may feel like pushing a person away—much like women often feel when they share their difficulties with well-intentioned spouses.  Instead, I’m inclined to first feel the person’s struggle in my own body.

There’s a larger issue here, too, which rests on a core tenet of mindfulness and acceptance-based therapy: “What we resist, persists.”  Resist sleeplessness and we’re likely to develop a case of insomnia, resist anxiety and we start ruminating or suffer from a panic attack, and resist grief and we’re eventually saddled with a case of depression.  Even Sigmund Freud said, “A person should not strive to eliminate his complexes but to get into accord with them.”  What we’re cultivating is a new relationship to what ails us—a relationship characterized by moment-to-moment awareness (mindfulness) and a kindly, accepting attitude (compassion).  This relationship is less like “getting rid of” or “reducing” bad feelings and more like living safely and peacefully “in the midst of” what’s bothering us.

Pema Chödrön, a western nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, said it best:

“…we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is…not to try to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”

This approach may not sound or feel much like therapy, but it’s the invisible foundation of all emotional healing.

Here’s the riddle: We practice mindful compassion toward ourselves not to make ourselves feel better, but because we feel bad. Self-compassion is a natural, healthy response to feeling bad. Even a clever, new approach to emotional pain like mindful self-compassion will be undone if it’s used to manipulate our moment-to-moment experience. Compassion will definitely transform our emotions, but feeling good is a byproduct of compassion. And when we’re in a mindset of mindful compassion, a little space grows around our destructive emotions that allows us to make positive changes in our lives.

Thank you again Christopher for your sage words!

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

4 Questions to Free Yourself from Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS)

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

In past postings I talked about the power of thoughts and how convincing they can seem in times when our emotions are high. When we’re depressed, automatic negative thoughts such as “This is hopeless,” or “I’ll never get this right,” or “what’s the point” are swimming around. If we’re excited thoughts like, “this is really going to happen,” or “everyone loves me,” or “I feel like I can do no wrong” are prevalent. Thoughts are powerful and it’s worth becoming aware of our minds, understanding that thoughts are not facts and at times, even challenging them.

I was recently reading through a friend and colleague of mine, Steve Flowers’ book The Mindful Path Through Shynesswhere he cites four helpful questions from Byron Katie’s book, Loving What Is to challenge automatic negative thoughts (ANTS).

Here are the four questions to help challenge compelling thoughts:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?

In doing this practice, you come to understand just how many of our thoughts are simply not true. Yet, these thoughts change the way we see things and how we react in this world.

If our thoughts are going to have that much influence on us, it’s certainly worth checking them out.

However, before you can even make the decision to check them out, you need to become aware of them and step outside of them for a moment.

In other words, Stop, Take a Breath, Observe that these thoughts are going on, and Proceed with these four questions. This is using the STOP practice to get to those four questions.

Try this 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