Archive for July, 2010

Mindfulness for Teens: An Interview with Gina Biegel, LMFT

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Today it’s my pleasure to bring to you Gina Biegel, LMFT and author of The Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens: Mindfulness Skills to Help You Deal With Stress and her audio CD Mindfulness for Teens. Gina is a psychotherapist who works in private practice and for a large health management organization. Her passion and focus is teaching mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) with adolescents, children, adults, teachers, and health and business professionals.

Gina has adapted MBSR to MBSR-T for the adolescent population and conducted a randomized control trial assessing the efficacy of this program with significant results. She has published an article about her findings in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (JCCP). Gina is also currently conducting a formal research study to assess the efficacy of the Mindful Schools program.

Today, Gina talks to us about how to teach mindfulness to teens to help them focus and be happy.

Elisha: What is the difference between teaching mindfulness to adults versus teens?

Gina: I think the most important thing to pay attention to when you are using mindfulness with teens is assessing whom you are working with developmentally.  For example, are you working with teens in middle school or those in their senior year of high school?  There are many differences to notice with these two groups of teenagers.  Also, in terms of emotion regulation and coping strategies I find that teens are not as able to respond to life’s stressors, both large and small, with the same ability an adult.  It’s important to keep in mind that teens from every region of the world, nationally and internationally are going to come from a multitude of different backgrounds (e.g., socioeconomically, ethnically etc.).  It’s necessary to look at teens as a population, but within this population consider the unique aspects of the group all the way down to each individual you are exposed to.  Additionally, I find that teens are very open to mindfulness skills and to learning something new.  To many of these teens, the skills they need to become socially and emotionally balanced young adults is not where I believe they should be and mindfulness is a pathway to this and if you can plant seeds that later grow into flora all the better.

Elisha: One of the practices you have in your book is Doing Schoolwork Mindfully. Since this is such a prevalent issue among teens (and their parents), can you give us a sample session here of what this looks like?

Gina: I encourage teens that have difficulties with focus, concentration, and/or overload from anxiety before a test or with doing homework:

  1. First start and just notice their breath as it already is.  This will first, connect their head to their body, and if they are noticing their breath they hopefully aren’t noticing worry thoughts or focus on self-judgments that they “can’t pay attention,” to take a break from these thoughts even if for a brief moment. 
  2. Once they have noticed a few breaths, I encourage them to do a brief body-scan meditation, and I will offer this meditation in the room with them. 
  3. Next, I ask them to visualize taking the test or doing their homework, and to see them completing it with ease and to remind themselves that they can do their best.  This can assist in reducing the added pressure they have from themselves and from their parents. 

Once they have gone through this process, they can then begin, and if they start noticing difficulty again, to take a pause and go through this process again.  It is also a practice in being kind to the self.  For more details on this practice, teens can follow Activity 18 in my workbook or audio track 13.

Elisha: In your book you say, “Being happy and enjoying your life takes more than just a passing thought or statement; it is about actively noticing and doing what makes you happy.” How do you teach teens to do this?

Gina:  There is a saying in the mental health field, something to the effect, “if it is working do more of it.”  I notice that some teens who are suffering from depression, anxiety and the like, at times add to their suffering or make their problem(s) worse by engaging in negative-coping strategies and self-judgments. If there are things that they can do that make them happy, then do more of it.  I encourage teens to notice what healthy activities they engage in that make them happy, whether they take up a short or long period of time or if they are free or expensive.  Once they have this list, they can always turn to it when they feel like nothing in their life brings them happiness or calms them and do something from the list.  If we don’t teach someone how to be happy how can we expect him or her to automatically be happy?  We encourage teens to take a foreign language in high school, preferably for three years; I believe we need to teach them the foreign language, to most teens, of mindfulness.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from a teen who was stressed out right now, how would you engage him or her?

Gina: The most important thing is to be yourself!  I hope that I don’t come across with an all-knowing attitude instead I try to view myself as just another person on their path and if I can help in some way then that is wonderful and if I can’t, then I accept that as well.  I look at work with teens as being part of their journey.  I try to give them a different experience with an adult and not create, as much as possible, a 1-up position that can so easily be taken advantage of.  I would like to meet teens where they are.  For example, I like to use their language and share age-appropriate anecdotes that hopefully they will be able to relate to.  I also use a comfortable body posture.  After all of the aforementioned, I would mention what I notice, “It seems like you are stressed right now, what is going on… do you feel like talking about it?”  If the teen opens up then we go from there, if the teen on the other hand says, “I don’t know” or seems closed off, I might offer some red flags to notice what might be a response to stress both physically and psychologically and share with them what led me to think they might be stressed in the first place.  A few other tips would be to use mindful listening and offer respect to the teen sitting across from you; he/she might not often get listened to or treated with respect.

Thank you so much Gina! 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 Wedding Effect: An Important Life Lesson

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

There are moments of truth in life when we just can’t help but be moved by a moment. I experienced one of those moments recently. Last weekend I was at a wedding and the couple had to scramble last minute as the rain outside made it impossible for them to get married in the breathtaking outdoor setting that they had set their hearts on. After a last-minute plan B was concocted and set in place an indoor ceremony was created and we all took our seats. First came the groom with his parents and when he was in place with all the parents, groomsmen and bridesmaids, the bride appeared and there was the moment.

As the gaze of the groom and bride met I couldn’t help but notice a welling up of emotion in my heart and felt the tears come to my eyes filled with joy and hope. There was something just so beautiful about that moment and the moments that unfolded. I could sense by their smiles and the look in their eyes that the bride and groom were enshrouded in the present moment, deeply in touch with the meaning that was there (especially with the contrast of all that had just gone through).

What is it about the moment a bride and groom catch each other’s gaze that wells up those feelings in us? As I reflect on this what first comes to mind is a sense of hope, possibility and promise for the future and there’s something beautiful about that alone.

But that doesn’t seem to hit the core of it. As I inquire deeper, I can’t help but think that there is something deep inside each one of us that wants to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance and that moment is the ultimate fruition of that longing.

As this is occurring, there seems to be a deep sense of belonging and acceptance that goes deeper than just an intellectual understanding, but seems to be felt on a soul level. A commitment is being symbolically made that says I accept you and you accept me for the entirety of this life. We are partners in this life together.

In the Jewish tradition there is a saying that in this case, the bride recited as she looked into her soon-to-be husband’s eyes:

“Dodi li, va’ani lo (My beloved is mine and I am his…)”

This speaks to the core of acceptance and belonging. All the love that had been felt in the relationship up to this point is peaking in that moment as the gaze locks and the ceremony unfolds.

This longing is so primal in each of us that that moment pulls on our heartstrings as a loving resonance occurs of what is so beautiful before our eyes.

Ofcourse this reaction is going to vary from wedding to wedding and from person to person (with some seeming to go in the opposite direction), but there is enough of a common reaction to these moments that seems to make it a shared truth among many people for a longing for love, belonging and acceptance.

Now, if we can get the couple to share with us how they dealt with their stress management leading up to the wedding, that’s fuel for another post.

In the end, this is a truth we want to remind ourselves of as the marriage continues and children start becoming part of the picture. We can all take a lesson from these big moments.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and question 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 Stress Management: An Interview with Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D.

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

In an earlier post I published Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D. with his article focusing on why empathy can be a two edged sword which became very popular and later interviewed him about why recent research in the field of neuroscience has been largely a waste of money. Jeff is a psychiatrist, researcher in neuroplasticity and internationally recognized expert in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He is also author of the popular books Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior and The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force

TodayI bring Jeff back to tell us about how mindfulness and his 4 step process can not only help us break free from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) but be a path toward greater stress management and well-being.  

Elisha: In your book Brain Lock you present a four step process for working with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that has gained prominence and is being used by therapy centers around the world. Tell us a bit about this 4 step process and why it works?

Jeff: The four steps came out in brain lock published in 1996. I have a new book that’s going to be out in the beginning of 2011 and the co-author, Rebecca Gladding, is former Chief Resident in Psychiatry at UCLA and now UCLA faculty. In this new book we apply these same 4 steps in OCD to a much broader application and really use it as a means for stress management.

I’ll give you both versions.

First step is the same in both, Relabeling. There’s been great work by Matthew Lieberman OF UCLA on the tremendous power of labeling on emotional faces and other things to manage Amygdala hyper-responsiveness, in other words to manage fear and stress responsiveness. This research says if we put a label on our emotion, we can help manage our response to it. So Step 1 is Relabel.

Step 2 is called Reattribute, which in the original 4 steps means attribute the fact that the troublesome feeling or a bothersome emotion that you are feeling is a manifestation of your brain sending you a false message. So don’t attribute it to yourself, your psyche, or your upbringing, but actually attribute it to a maladaptive brain circuit. This helps give you some distance between the sense of who you are and the troublesome feeling which again helps you manage it. Then apply the impartial spectator, which is another term for mindful awareness. We’ve actually just broadened that term to be reframe in the new book.

Reattribute is good in OCD to say “it’s the brain.” In using the brain in a more abstract way we thought the word reframe might be more general than the term reattribute.

The other 2 steps are exactly the same.

Refocus is the 3rd step. Given what I had said about Quantum Zeno Effect and Hebb’s law and self-directed neuroplasticity, it should be pretty clear why refocus is very important. If you change your focus from a negative maladaptive response to a positive wholesome response that’s going to be conducive to well-being. Refocus will rewire your brain in ways that will be conducive and wholesome and adaptive to your well-being.

Then when you do this regularly, you get to the 4th step which is Revalue. In Revaluing you change the valuation you put on the initial experience. Revalue is a deeper form of relabeling, so you don’t have to go through a whole linguistic process, but you actually just get a sense of immediacy in knowing this is not a good thing to be focusing on. In other words, these feelings are a destructive brain message and I can manage my responses to and focus away from in an adaptive way.

Revalue just means you put a different valuation on the initial negative experience so you no longer need to use the linguistic cognitive reframing, you do it automatically. From a neuroscience perspective we would posit that this means that instead of needing to primarily use the cortex to do that process, it now becomes a wholesome habitual response because doing it repeatedly and intensively actually gets the basal ganglia or the habit center of your brain to take over the process. So Revaluing is basically all the steps being done by your basal ganglia in ways that would be much faster and much more automatic.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone struggling with lots of stress in their life, what would be your initial approach, what advice would you give to them?

Jeff: Well I’ve almost answered that in the 4 steps. There is a tremendous power to using labeling. Putting a linguistic label on it and doing it with a cognitive reframe. Here’s the heart of the answer, as you do these steps you begin using your impartial spectator or mindful awareness. What you want to do is get that 3rd person perspective on 1st person experience. All of these techniques are really geared toward enabling people to get a 3rd person perspective on 1st person experience.

Now being a serious Christian, I’m certainly more than happy for people to bring Jesus in as the impartial spectator. I believe this will be more than just a cognitive reframing, but certainly also a cognitive reframing. It’s probably the best way to get a real 3rd person to have a perspective on your 1st person experience. Because Jesus has access to that and Jesus can help you manage it.

In summary for all people, it’s all geared toward getting a 3rd person perspective on your 1st person experience which is what we mean by impartial spectator, a term I borrowed from Adam Smith, which is what we mean by mindful awareness, a term I borrowed from Buddha.

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

Letting Be.mov

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

This Vblog talks about important distinctions between “Letting Be” and “Letting Go” as it relates to mindfulness meditation practice and life.

It’s 12 O’Clock Do You Know Where Your Mind is?

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Here is an adapted version of a post I wrote over a year ago and it is an oldie but a goodie so I thought I’d bring it back into awareness. Enjoy!

There’s a funny print cartoon that has a man and woman sitting on the couch staring at a TV screen and the caption below reads, “It’s 12 O’clock, do you know where your mind is?” As time goes on and we grow up from children to adolescents to adults, for many of us, somewhere along the way life begins to become routine. Day in and day out whether we’re walking, driving, talking, eating, going to the grocery store, or being with our families our minds get kicked onto auto-pilot and continue to develop their habitual ways of thinking, interpreting, expecting, and relating to other people. These habits of the mind can keep us stuck in stress, anxiety, depression, or even addictive behaviors.

Here are a few habits of the mind and a mindfulness practice to help you break out of auto-pilot and gain more control over your life.

Common habits of the mind that are not effective for well-being:

  • Catastrophizing – If you’re prone to stress and anxiety, you may recognize this habitual mind trap. This is where the mind interprets an event as the worst case scenario. If your heart is beating fast, you may think you’re having a heart attack. If your boss didn’t look at you while walking down the hall, you thinking you’re going to get fired. You get the picture. This style of thinking will support increased stress, anxiety, and even panic.
  • Discounting the positive and exaggerating the negative – The news is wonderful at supporting us with this one. This is where we habitually reject or minimize any positive feedback and magnify the negative feedback. The glass is always half empty. If you catch yourself saying something positive and then saying “but” followed by a negative, you are practicing this. “I got a 95% on this test, but I didnt’ get a 100%”. Without awareness, this style of thinking will likely land you in a depressed mood.
  • Blaming – Be careful of this one. We all do it, pointing the finger at someone else for our woes or point the finger at ourselves for others woes. “If my boss wasn’t so hard on me at work, I wouldn’t be so anxious” or “It’s my fault my parents got divorced”. Just check in with yourself after noticing this style of thinking. It doesn’t cultivate any solutions and just makes you feel stuck, anxious, or depressed.

Cultivating the ability to be more present to these mind traps will help you break free from them and shift your attention on more effective ways of interacting with life. If you notice catastrophizing, actually say to yourself “catastrophizing is happening right now”, then bring your attention to your breath for a moment to steady your mind and then ask yourself, “what are some other possible reasons why my heart is racing fast (e.g. , I just ran upstairs, I’m nervous)?

If discounting the positive, come back to the breath, and then switch the “but” to an “and” so at least the positive statement get its equal weight, being more realistic and balanced. If blaming, call it out, say to yourself “blaming is happening”. Remind yourself that blaming simply isn’t effective for anyone and then come back to your breath to steady your mind and bring yourself back to the task you were just doing.

This is not an easy process, yet an important one for regaining control from the ineffective habits we develop in our minds. If we’re not mindful in our daily lives, our minds could just fall into their habitual states to the point we’re on our deathbeds asking “where did it all go?”

Just check in with yourself during the day, look at the clock and say, “It’s X O’clock, do I know where my mind is?” You may catch yourself in some mind traps and if not, just notice whatever you are doing in the moment and then continue if you still want to be doing that or change if you’d rather be doing something else.

Try to be patient through this process and not judge yourself if you find the mind traps arising. Judging yourself as bad or wrong is another mind trap that holds keep you stuck. Breathe in, breathe out, and just redirect your focus.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Do you notice when you’re on auto-pilot? What kind of mind traps do you catch in your daily life, what works for you? Writing below helps create a living wisdom that we can all share and benefit from.

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

Thich Nhat Hanh on What We May be Missing in Life

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Here is Mondays Mindful Quote with Thich Nhat Hanh:

“When we settle into the present moment, we can see beauties and wonders right before our eyes—a newborn baby, the sun rising in the sky.”

This quote directly speaks to the fact that coming down from our busy minds allows us to break out of our habitual tunnel vision of seeing and experiencing life and retreain our neural networks to open up to perhaps the pleasant things that are also occurring in our daily lives.

It’s good to be mindful of the lenses we’re using to interpret the world we live in.

These lenses are often mindlessly crafted over time through the experiences we have in the world. If we grew up in an anxious household we likely had to practice being on guard all the time creating neural networks that allowed for an anxious survival reaction to happen without the need for deliberate thought. These neural networks were adaptive when we were young, but not as adults perhaps. In fact, as adults, these networks hinder us as we find ourselves in an unconscious tense reaction to our own feelings because it wasn’t ok to express these when we were young.

Oh boy, how do we unwind these neural networks that are no longer adaptive and begin to open ourselves to pleasant events in daily life?

One answer is through the awareness of this reaction. Come down from the reactive mind and just stick to the facts of the moment, the tension in the body. In other words, interrupt the cycle between thoughts, emotions and physical sensations.  

We can also begin unpacking the pleasant moments in life to get the mind used to recognizing these. One way of doing this is thinking of moments as a collection of thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.

Here’s an example we can use right now:

Look back on this day (if it’s early in the morning, look to yesterday) and consider, was there a pleasant event, however small, that occurred today?

If yes, do you recall how what thoughts were on your mind? What emotions were there, and what were the associated physical sensations (e.g., relaxation, softness, butterflies in the stomach)?

The idea here is not to get caught in a Pollyanna rose colored lens way of looking at life, but just to get the mind used to recognizing these moments that are also very real.

Try this out. Feel free to comment below on what your pleasant event was and the associated thoughts, feelings and emotions. Your interaction below helps others flesh it out for themselves, so in a way, it is an act of care for yourself and also an act of altruism for others.

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

Why Recent Neuroscience Research is a Waste of Money

Friday, July 16th, 2010

In an earlier post I published Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D.’s article focusing on why empathy can be a two edged sword, which stirred a lot of discussion. Jeff is a psychiatrist, researcher in neuroplasticity at the UCLA School of Medicine and internationally recognized expert in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He is also author of the popular books Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior and The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force.

Today it is my pleasure to bring to you a wonderful interview with Jeff where he gives us some more insight into neuroplasticity and why the vast amount of research in neuroscience has been a “gargantuan waste of money.”

Elisha: Donald Hebb made the statement, neurons that fire together, wire together. A lot of people are now using this phrase to refer to neuroplasticity. Can you give us some more insight into this concept?

Jeff: That’s a great question Elisha! I’ve been using that principle (aka Hebb’s Law) in connection with the term “self-directed neuroplasticity” and I’ve co-authored an article in Progress in Brain Research on exactly that. This jumps right into the quantum aspect of the work that I’ve done. To give the short answer, there is a physical phenomenon in quantum mechanics, called Quantum Zeno Effect that I’ve written a great deal about.  This is work I’ve done over many years in collaboration with physicist Henry Stapp at UC Berkeley-Lawrence Berkeley labs. What the Quantum Zeno Effect does is that it allows, in a neuroscience context, for focused attention to stabilize brain circuitry

So the Quantum Zeno Effect stabilizes or holds in place the neural circuitry that is involved in whatever someone is focusing on. So if you focus on something, the neural circuitry involved in what you’re focusing on will be stabilized by this physics effect called Quantum Zeno Effect.  This is very tied in to how Hebb’s Law causes neuroplastic change. For humans, it’s specifically how self-directed neuroplasticity can allow a human being to make Hebb’s Law work for them in a creative fashion because it is very true that Hebb’s law can be summarized as saying neurons that fire together wire together.  However, there’s never been any functional way in vivo in humans to answer the question, how do you get neurons to fire together?

If they fire together, they wire together, but how do you get them to fire together? The Quantum Zeno Effect is the answer to that. So, focused attention, via the Quantum Zeno Effect will stabilize neural circuits, get them to fire together, and when they fire together they will wire together by Hebb’s Law. That is the physiological basis of self-directed neuroplasticity.

Elisha: The amount of books that have been and continue to come out in this renaissance in neuroscience is staggering; any predictions for the net effect of all of this writing and research?

Jeff: I’m going to give a somewhat controversial answer to that since even as we speak in our current era, the vast majority of neuroscience writing and research, perhaps over 99% of it, is written from such a doctrinaire ideologically materialist position that it doesn’t have very much practical application to human function, and especially to how humans can change their own brain function. It’s exactly because the quantum approach that I advocate has not been accepted in research circles, who rely on the National Institute of Health (NIH) for primary funding, that the vast majority of this output of neuroscience publication is written from a radically materialist point of view that doesn’t allow for consciousness or attention to do anything in the brain. So the materialist position does not allow for conscious attention to have a function in the brain. Attention at its best is an epiphenomenon in materialist ideology.

Because of that, this vast output of neuroscience research over the last many years is largely a waste of money.

Why? Because it doesn’t really have any real world human application. Neuroscience is increasingly looking like a passing fad – at least in its current version. Until it changes to a form in which conscious attention has physiologic effects or has a dynamic causal role in how the brain functions, all this research is basically not applicable to anything that’s particularly useful, and so the whole thing has been a gargantuan waste of money.  What’s worse, in its current version it has massively increased the use of drugs in our culture, and now is even leading to the use of electrodes being placed inside people’s brains to treat mental health problems! This goes under the Orwellian name “deep brain stimulation” and it is, in my view, a very dangerous development.  The terrible past abuses of psychosurgery seem to have largely gone down the memory hole of the current psychiatric establishment.

Elisha: When you talk about conscious attention, is one synonym of that mindful attention?

Jeff: No, it’s absolutely not a synonym, but mindful attention is one small, but massively important, sub-category of the general term conscious attention.

I would say that mindful attention is one of the highest functioning parts of what is included under the much larger category of conscious attention. You can have neutral attention and you can also have negative non-mindful attention.  A classic example of this being pornography. Pornography has a huge capacity to holds people’s attention in place, but it is certainly not mindful. But it has the opportunity to wire the brain, by Quantum Zeno Effect, in very negative ways. On the other hand, mindful attention and prayer or meditation, all traditional forms of rigorously practiced meditation would have an adaptive role in brain function. But anything that causes focused or stable attention, whether the subject matter is adaptive or maladaptive or whether it is conducive or not to well-being is going to wire the brain. Focused attention wires the brain, for good and for bad.

Mindful attention, prayer, meditation are the good examples, but there are very many bad examples.

Elisha: Another way of saying that would be as negative attention states of flow. In other words, you could have a sense of flow while looking at pornography or mindlessly shooting guns.

Jeff: Exactly, that’s why I’ve never been a big advocate of flow, unless you couple flow with a worthwhile goal. If you go out and market it the way it’s been marketed as a good in itself, you could do a lot of harm and a lot of harm has been done with that concept.

Thank you so much Jeff!

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

The Secret to Making Change in Just Minutes

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

A funny thing happened to me on the way to writing this blog. I found myself getting a late start in my day and rushing to my local writing spot in order to get going on my work for the day. My writing spot is walking distance so I was on foot.  As I hit a light at a crosswalk I found myself texting a friend of mine who is also an exercise buddy. He was telling me about the challenge of doing exercise this morning which reminded me that I skipped over this morning and my mind started planning for a time later in the day to get it in.

Part of my exercise routine is doing just 20 pushups. In that moment I realized I was waiting at a crosswalk and thought why couldn’t I just do 20 pushups right then and there. All kinds of reasons came up in my mind, “oh, I’ll just get to it later, the sidewalk is dirty, and even maybe I’ll just skip the pushups today.” 

My mind was in auto-pilot, and as I began to realize that I was reminded that this was an “in-between moment.” A moment in the day where there was a space to make a choice. I chose to do it, got down on the ground and worked out 20 pushups. Wow, it was done (and yes I washed my hands once I arrived at my destination).

In-between moments abound throughout our days. Think of any time that you’re waiting for something, which happens a lot for most of us. We wait for the bathroom, at red lights, at crosswalks, in lines at the post office, the movie theatre, the grocery store, etc… We wait on hold on the phone or during commercials while watching television.  

Waiting doesn’t need to be a source of frustration, it can be seen as an in-between moment to flexibly engage in things you’re interested in doing.

As an example, some parts of exercise don’t require going to a gym or carving out large pockets of time, but can be done in a few minutes. Practicing being present is the same, we can carve out a few minutes or even 30 seconds to practice being here by coming to our breath, or nonjudgmentally investigating the feeling that’s here. Perhaps the feeling is impatience and learning how to be mindful of it, frees us from its control.

Take 30 seconds in this in-between moment and reflect on where your in-between moments are throughout the day. Could you choose to engage in small things to help with stress reduction, exercise, or anything else that is something you’re interested in? There are often many of these moments throughout the workday.

If you need help thinking of those things you may be interested in Jeff Brantley’s book Five Good Minutesor Allan Lokos’ Pocket Peace to give good examples.

Set the intention to do engage with these in-between moments 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

Your Intelligence is Here Inside Your Body

Monday, July 12th, 2010

As we grow up in this world there is a tremendous emphasis on importance of being up in our heads to fix, do and achieve. We witness it is in the increasingly competitive environments in pre-school and kindergarten. Last I checked I believe pre-schools are asking for the kids’ resumes (only halfway joking). However, there is an entire body here that is teeming with intelligence that we are often disconnected from. Did you know you have over 100 billion neurons on in your stomach and over 40,000 neurons on your heart? The body speaks to our brain to inform us when we’re imbalanced, what emotions are actually here, and most importantly, what’s happening in our bodies is often a fact, unlike most of our thoughts.

The following is a poem that Bob Stahl (co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbookand I thought was written by Martha Elliot. Upon further research we could not confirm this and also could not find a single author connected to thsi poem, so we could not include it in our book. But, I will sneak it in here.

Allow yourself to read this over a couple times, perhaps slightly slower than you might normally think to:

Your history is here inside your body.

Your body is your storehouse

Of learnings, feelings,

Thoughts, and experiences.

Only waiting to be invited to

Reveal your treasures to yourself.

Help yourself.

As you let the learning emerge

And take shape, you can

Appreciate the wisdom of the body.

Each cell alive with

Spirit, emotion, and intelligence.

Ready to help you at any moment,

Always with you and for you.

In psychotherapy, there is a growing interest and focus on this body of ours as a means toward health and well-being.

Allow this to be a day where you spend a few moments here and there connecting to the reality of this body.

Right now: Breathe in, notice how your entire body slightly expands, and breathe out notice how the entire body slightly contracts.

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 Empathy Can be a Two Edged Sword: Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D.

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D. is a psychiatrist, researcher in neuroplasticity and author of the popular books Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior and The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. He recently sent me a write up he did on empathy titled Homo Empathicus: a creature with a two-edged sword that I found interesting and worthy to share.

Without further ado:

“Empathy is an aspect of the human mind that gets really good press, but as so with many of the qualities esteemed in our celebrity culture it’s a trait that starts to send up warning signals when looked at more than superficially.

We all tend to think we know intuitively what empathy is, and in some sense we do — empathy is that well known mental sense of “making a connection” with other people. It seems so warm and fuzzy.  But problems start when we go a little deeper and realize that empathy is a lot more than merely connecting with others.  Empathy is in fact a skill, and can very much be a cultivated ability, namely the ability to discern what other people are thinking and feeling.

Well, what’s the problem with that you might ask? Just this: there need be no particular emotion involved in that discernment.  Empathy can be practiced very effectively in an entirely cold-blooded, almost reptilian like way.

Think of the classic example of the highly skilled but unscrupulous used car salesman.  As he assesses his “mark,” the poor sap standing in front of him needing a car but perhaps short on cash and sophistication, the shark-like aspects of homo empathicus kick in: the salesman, using skills honed with thousands of previous suckers, starts assessing the emotional, educational, cognitive strengths and weaknesses of his potential patsy.  He, in some very real sense, gets to “know” him.  If he’s really talented at his craft, he actually gets “inside” his mind.   We all know the game, for we have all been on both sides of it in various ways all our lives.  It’s a deep intrinsic part of the human experience.

The problems arise when we fail to see that this salesman is using empathy just as much as the most charitable and well-intentioned social worker, in fact maybe more so.  Because the cold-blooded variant of homo empathicus is not projecting her own good will onto the other person, she is just observing and discerning what’s actually there in the other person.  All for the purpose of advancing one’s own narrow self-interest.  All very non-judgmental in its own way.  Just cold-blooded insight in action –- seeing what’s actually there.   Clearly people who are especially adept at this skill set tend to end up in politics and law, where they can really make a killing.

Recent advances in brain science are highly supportive of this take on homo empathicus.   For instance, key developments in research on the hormone oxytocin, recently called the “goody-goody hormone” in Scientific American magazine.  To be sure, oxytocin is clearly linked with maternal bonding to infants in breast-feeding mothers, and has been tied to various experimental models of enhanced positive empathy (or “mind-reading”) in social neuroscience research.

But the most recent work is digging a little deeper and disclosing the darker sides of intensified social connectedness.  For example, work in 2009 at University of Haifa showed that a dose of oxytocin increases both greed and gloating in competitive situations.  The same group of researchers followed up this study by showing that a dose of oxytocin significantly increased the ability of healthy male subjects to recognize fear in facial expressions, but not other emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger or surprise.

So yes, empathy is real and has clear biological aspects to it that are important to understand, but by no means is it always used for good or pro-social cognitive-behavioral outcomes.  It also has deep relevance to understanding conflict and the will to power that all humans share.

From our perspective, the key to understanding pro-social mental states and behaviors comes from enhancing one’s moral judgment and deepening our faith in the power of wholesome action.  And my advice to anyone standing face to face with homo empathicus is this:  assess his or her commitment to moral action and wholesome behavior, not the capacity to empathize, before you engage any serious interactions.  Try not to learn the hard way that empathy is a two-edged sword.”

How does this strike you? What are your thoughts on empathy?

As always, please share your thoughts, questions and stories below. Your interaction is a living wisdom we can all benefit from.

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