Archive for August, 2010

The Truth of Everyday Life: John O’Donohue

Monday, August 30th, 2010

John O’Donohue was a priest and a poet whose life was struck short in January 2008. Shortly before his death he replied to a question about if there was anything that haunted him. He said, “It is the sense of my days running through my fingers like the finest sand and I can’t stop it.”

Whether our minds like it or not, this is the reality. We all share a common truth in this life and that is the truth of impermanence. But it is this very truth that frees us up to recognize the wonders of everyday life.

Life becomes more routine when we deny or avoid this reality.

John wished that we “experience each day as sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.”

How could we possible do this if we’re not aware of the preciousness of life? Things are precious because they don’t last. Think about a butterfly or a flower. Many of us view these as precious because of their short lifespan.

In the context of this planet, we have a very short lifespan. In the context of the universe, this planet probably has a short lifespan.

Our moments in this life, in this day, right now, are precious and may even be considered a sacred gift.

Have you ever looked at the trees outside and truly wondered how it is that they grow? Or closed your eyes and listened to the birds chirping only to open the eyes back up again and sit in wonder about how we have all these different animals on this planet?

Have you ever wondered or been amazed at the fact that you have the ability to view the words on this page, read them, comprehend and make meaning? The complexity of our biological makeup is astounding our ability for consciousness and reflection has yet to be truly understood.  

One thing that I am clear on is that behind everyone’s emotional walls sits a wise self that is there to love and receive love and it seems from the accounts of many on their deathbeds when life gets simple that this is truly what is most important. 

Time is like fine sand slipping through our fingers, why not open our eyes to come in touch with what is most important right now.

Make this a reflection for today that you come back to.

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 Value of Our Mental Troublemakers

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Everyone gets hooked in life? You get cut off on the road and instantly fire up with anger. Or maybe someone walks by you and just says something insulting. Or maybe it’s the man or woman you live who simply doesn’t put things away the way you’d like them to be.

There are lots of troublemakers in this world that really rile us up. What would you say if I told you the moment you noticed tension rising in your shoulders and your face becoming pursed is a moment of opportunity.

Here is a video by a wonderful teacher named Pema Chodron:

We can allow ourselves to be victim to our automatic reactions or we can learn to become aware of them so that we don’t become so hooked.

When thoughts come up, we don’t have to rise to the bait!

“I’m a failure,” “I’ll never get things right,” “Today is going to be awful” need only be mental events that have an emotional charge. They don’t need to determine our fate, but instead can teach us about how to gain freedom from the automatic aversions we have in life.

As always, 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

Reconciliation

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Reconciliation is a practice. There are three aspects to cultivate reconciliation. The first is to cultivate self-compassion for our own self negative talk. Second, to the pain you caused another and lastly for the times others caused you pain. May we all discover the gateways to our own hearts and open to compassion and peace

Another Reason Why Thoughts are Not Facts

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

So you’re waiting in the hallway with your mind spinning about how it’s been a pretty crappy day and life just doesn’t seem to be moving in the direction you’d like it to. You’re friend walks by you and although you raise your hand to wave high, she looks at you and just walks by.

Take a moment to sense what happened in your mind before reading any further.

Various thoughts may have arisen in connection with uncomfortable emotions:

  • “What did I do wrong?”
  • “I’m worthless.”
  • “I knew it, nobody likes me.”
  • “What the hell is wrong with her?”
  • “What’s the point, really.”

OK…now let’s say you’re boss just told you what a fantastic job you’ve done and how she’s going to give you a 15% raise and an extra week vacation. This is great news…as your mind is spinning around all the ways this will enhance your life, your friend walks by and as you raise your hand to say hi, she just walks by.

Now what comes up in your mind?

Many people might have an alternative viewpoint here.

  • “I wonder what’s wrong with her.”
  • “I hope she’s ok.”
  • “Maybe she didn’t see me.”

Same event, different precipitating event and mood, different interpretation.

The bottom line: Thoughts simply aren’t facts, they are mental events that pop up in the mind and are dependent on our mood. In this case, dependent on the precipitating event that led to the mood of feeling depressed versus excited.

Next time your mind jumps to a conclusion that inevitably sends in you in a spiral toward depression or anxiety, check to see where your head was at the time of that interpretation. What just occurred prior? There may be some clues as to why the interpretation was made that way.

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

Change Your Brain, Change Your Pain

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Here is a past post that received considerable attention and I believe is worth revisiting. Enjoy!

Ioften say that there are two things that are unavoidable in life besides death and taxes and those are stress and pain. Pain is prevalent, be it physical pain and/or emotional pain. So we can all relate. But what if we could use our minds to change our brains and actually relieve our perception of pain this way.

Jeffrey Schwartz is a psychiatrist and researcher in the field of neuroplasticity and has written on Mindfulness and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. In a 2006 article titled “Plasticity in Brain Processing and Modulation in Pain” with Donald Price and Nicholas Verne, they said:

When sufficient attention is focused on the experience of pain relief, the associated brain circuitry becomes dynamically stable. This acute effect of focused attention can then enable the well-validated principle of Hebb (1955), namely that repeated patterns of neural activity can cause neuroplastic changes and new connectivities to form in well-established neural circuits (‘‘cells that fire together wire together’’). This type of attention-based mechanism of neuroplastic change has been termed self-directed neuroplasticity to emphasize that alterations in CNS function can be readily driven by and dynamically modified by willfully directed mental events (Schwartz and Begley, 2002; Schwartz et al., 2005). As was stated above, mental events change the activity of the brain in a dynamic manner. Basic principles of contemporary physics now enable us to place this empirically well-validated fact within theoretically coherent, scientifically grounded, and technically described context.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was first designed as a systematic program to work with Chronic Pain. Perhaps the people who have taken that course actually changed their brains so that their perception of their pain has changed. That would be truly amazing, and if that’s true, we can all take a step back, pause and sit in awe that we have the power to change our brains.

Here’s the rub: In a recent post Neuroplasticity: The Good, The Bad & The UglyI discussed how we can also place our attention in ways that change our brains in the direction where we perceive greater pain. In other words, what and how we place our attention affects the growth of our brain, which then automatically shifts our minds and vice versa in a cycle.

So when it comes to our pain, it’s important to pay attention to how we’re paying attention to our pain. Are we damning it or trying to ignore it? Research has shown that bringing the attitudes of mindfulness (e.g. beginner’s mind, non-striving, letting be, etc. …), all serve to change our perception of pain. So can this then, in effect, change the way our neurons fire automatically so the perception of pain lessens? That’s what neuroscientists are saying.

What do you think? 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

Lessons from Life’s Final Moments

Monday, August 16th, 2010

The message has been given over and over again by those who know that the final days or hours are near. Randy Pausch learned he had terminal cancer and stood up to give The Last Lecture at Carnegie Melon. In this lecture he told his class and eventually the world that “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” He spoke of recognizing being in the moment and taking advantage of it, because after all, at some point or another we may realize that we don’t have as much time as we think.

Morrie Schwartz was living his final days as a result of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. When Mitch Albom found out about this he spent every Tuesday with him learning the lesson that in this life you must learn to love yourself and those around you. He went on to write Tuesdays with Morrie.

It’s really interesting how western culture often doesn’t value our elderly – oftentimes where life’s lessons are held. We seem to get caught in a trance of automaticity and routine and life passes by without recognizing what’s most important.

One reason for this may be because of our denial of death. If you are a person who has someone close to you who has been dying or if it is yourself, you may notice many people not wanting to talk about it. Death makes people uncomfortable; it’s a reminder that we are all impermanent here.

This denial of death is one of the main culprits for not recognizing how precious life really is. When we avoid what we’re uncomfortable with, we close ourselves off to something very important.

I’ve quoted this before, but it’s a good reminder. Rumi says,

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

We can take a lesson from those who are dealing with the passing of life; things seem to become a lot clearer. All the erroneous baggage we carry seems to slide off as life’s essence emerges. Of course this doesn’t always happen, but enough of these stories have emerged that makes it worth paying attention to.

Randy’s and Morrie’s messages are not unique, it’s just that our minds make the snap judgment that it’s bad to have that reality in our awareness and so auto-pilot takes over and we avoid it. At the same time, we avoid seeing the wonders of everyday life.

We can learn from the fact that life is impermanent.

As author and meditation teacher Stephen Levine says, “If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting?”

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

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

Finding Effective Practices for a Better Life: Allan Lokos

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Today I bring to you Allan Lokos to give us some hints on how short practices throughout our daily lives can make big change. Allan is the author of the book Pocket Peace: Effective Practices for Enlightened Living and is the founder and teacher at the Community Meditation Center in New York City. Allan has published numerous articles in various areas and studied with teachers that you may be aware of such as Sharon Salzberg, Thich Nhat Hanh, Joseph Goldstein, among others.

Elisha: What are Pocket Practices, and how can they help people find peace?

Allan: Pocket practices are concise, incisive versions of the Buddhist teachings known as the “Parami” (Pali) or “Paramitas” (Sanskrit) that can help us think, speak, and act wisely under pressure. They are compact but effective practices that we develop slowly so that we can call upon them quickly, instinctively. They are light, responsive, and powerful.

Some pocket practices uplift the spirit, while others provide a method for dealing with disappointment, anger, insecurity, reactive patterns, and judgmental tendencies. Others simply bring us more in contact with the person we want to be––our kinder, more compassionate, more generous self––our true self. They don’t require a meditation cushion, sacred space, candles, incense, or a holy attitude, just a desire for a greater sense of inner peace and happiness.

Elisha: You had a long career in the performing arts before becoming an Interfaith minister and the guiding teacher for Manhattan’s Community Meditation center. What compelled you to pursue spiritual studies?

Allan: There is no simple answer to that question. I was happy with the earlier part of my life, but of course, one cannot sing beyond a certain age (unless one is Placido Domingo). Sometimes I think it was just a calling. In Buddhist terms, it was the coming together of various conditions and events. I met a few people who seemed to be at peace in a way I had experienced. When I spoke with them they all referred to spiritual aspects of their lives. I became intrigued and began to attend retreats, read books, work with teachers, meditate––that was the biggest factor, meditation. It has been transformative. Now it is my great joy to share the teachings with others in both the spoken and written word.

Elisha: If you could recommend just one Pocket Practice for every reader to try today, what would it be?

Allan: We are all subject to conditions and events outside of ourselves, and within, that can cause stress, anxiety, and turmoil. I would suggest that readers sit quietly for five minutes a day for a week and remind themselves that many things happen that are beyond our control. How we perceive these things, what our experience is of all events, is totally in our control. The specific pocket practice reads, Only I can destroy my peace and I choose not to do so. It is a good idea to do this practice every month or so until one truly owns it.

Elisha: Q: If you were sitting across the table from someone right now who was going through a difficult time, what advice would you give them?

Allan: The first thing I would do is listen. It is sad how many people go through life without someone who has actually listened to them. I believe we have the answers we need within us. Often, when we have someone who listens, without trying to fix, correct, or assist, we are able to find our way. 

A universal truth, of course, is that all things are impermanent; this too will pass. If we have courage and look directly at our suffering we will see its cause. Often as we see the cause of our suffering we also see how to alleviate it.

Thank you Allan!

To the readers: As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom we can all benefit from.

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

Your Destructive Mind Habits in 5 Short Chapters

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

There is a poem by Portia Nelson called 5 Short Chapters that speaks to the natural unfolding of learning that happens when we work with becoming more aware of the mind traps in our minds. What are mind traps?

Mind traps are those habitual thinking styles we get caught in that inevitably trap us into a cascading snowball of reactivity that leads us to greater distress. Look this over, see if you identify with any of them and then we’ll get back to 5 Short Chapters.

These include, but are not limited to:

  • Catastrophizing is a style of thinking that amplifies anxiety. In challenging situations, it expects disaster and automatically imagines the worst possible outcome. It’s a what-if game of worst-case scenarios. An example would be telling someone that it’s raining pretty hard, and they respond with “Yes, it seems like it will never stop. It’s going to flood, and we’re going to lose all our crops.”
  • Exaggerating the negative and discounting the positive go hand in hand and contribute to anxious and depressed moods as positive experiences are downplayed or not acknowledged while negative details are magnified. An example is when you say something positive, then use the word “but” to lead in to a negative statement, such as “I’m doing better at work, but I’m still making mistakes.” This discounts the positive and gives more power to the negative. Experiment with replacing “but” with “and” to give both aspects equal weight.
  • Mind reading involves convincing yourself that you know what other people are thinking and feeling and why they act the way they do, without actual evidence. For example, you may incorrectly assume that someone doesn’t like you or is out to get you. Such interpretations tend to cultivate anxiety or depression.
  • Being the eternal expert is a recipe for heightened stress, as it necessitates being constantly on guard. When being wrong isn’t an option, you’re continually on trial to defend your opinions and actions.
  • The “shoulds” are an all-too-common thought pattern that can lead to guilt or anger in addition to stress. Shoulds involve having a list of unbreakable rules for yourself or others. If you break your rules for yourself, guilt often arises because you haven’t lived up to your own expectations. If others break these rules, you’re likely to become angry or resentful.
  • Blaming involves holding others responsible for your own pain or holding yourself responsible for the problems of others. With blaming, there’s always someone or something outside of yourself that’s the cause of your suffering and pain. However, you generally can’t change others, and you may not be able to change circumstances—you can only hope to change yourself. If you perceive that the solution lies outside of you, you deprive yourself of the power to effect change.

*Adapted from A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook

In Portia Nelson’s poem she begins the first chapter saying how she walks down a street and falls into a hole. She has no idea how she fell in and says it isn’t her fault. It takes her “forever to find a way out.”

In the second chapter, she only pretends to not see it, still falls in, and still says it’s not her fault. In chapter 3, she still falls, in but now recognizes it’s a habit, takes responsibility, and gets right out. In chapter 4, she is able to see the hole and walk around it and eventually in chapter 5 she simply walks down another street.

Mind traps work the same way. At first we might not even be aware of them happening and how we get stuck in them. Then we are able to notice them, but still get stuck in them. Eventually we can notice them and begin to shift our attention so we don’t get caught in the snowball reaction. Finally, with awareness and practice, we’re able to see them from afar and walk down a different street.

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

Thinking Small Can Produce Big Results!

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

In the past I’ve written about the growing amount of people that answer the question, “Hey, how are you,” with “I’m doing Ok, just really busy.”

Busyness seems to be a growing epidemic. Even though we seem to have lots of gadgets that are meant to make us more efficient with our time, the gadgets all draw our attention and life seems to speed up. What happens when life speeds up? Well, often times what’s best for us goes to the bottom of the “to do” list.

I might ask people, “So you have this seemingly unending to-do list. Where are you on this list?” This is often met with either a quizzical look or a moment of reflection where the answer is almost always, “I’m not on it. There’s no time for me.”

Now there have been enough people writing about time management and I’ve written a few times about attention management, but today I want to bring up something different and that’s the idea of flexibility.

While I do believe that a flexible body lends itself to a flexible mind, here I’m focusing on the mind and our behavior.

If you had the time, what are some things that you’d like to do in the day? Would you like to have more time to yourself to just relax? Would you like to learn the guitar? Would you like to fit in more exercise? Would you like to be more social?

We often times have these rigid ideas in our minds about what it means to do any of the things above. For example, in order to exercise you might think you need an hour or more to go to a gym or to play guitar there needs to be time set aside for 30 minutes or more in a quiet place. Or maybe to be social you need to set up events or go out to more gatherings of some kind.

What if you flipped your mind about and thought more micro? What if we were more flexible with what we could do with our time?

For example, is there anywhere in your day you have 5 minutes to do some push-ups or sit ups?  Or perhaps is there a 20 minute time at lunch to just take a walk around your building or block?

For guitar, there are so many YouTube instruction videos that are free now that offer little 5 minute instructions. Pick up your guitar and play for 5-10 minutes; that is perfectly fine. Doing that a number of times will either get the engines revving to make more time or will simply improve your playing.

To relax, there are plenty of opportunities during the day to do this, you don’t need to go on vacation or have an entire afternoon to yourself (while that has its own merits). You can allow stop lights to be a reminder to breathe and relax the body; you can choose to wash dishes without the fervor of getting them done, but more with a mindful lens. The shower can also be a mini-retreat if practiced with mindfulness. We have many more of these examples in A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook.

Allow your mind to entertain the idea that we can do the things we like in the small moments of the day.

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

Thinking Small can Produce Big Results!

Friday, August 6th, 2010

In the past I’ve written about the growing amount of people that answer the question, “Hey, how are you,” with “I’m doing Ok, just really busy.”

Busyness seems to be a growing epidemic. Even though we seem to have lots of gadgets that are meant to make us more efficient with our time, the gadgets all draw our attention and life seems to speed up. What happens when life speeds up? Well, often times what’s best for us goes to the bottom of the “to do” list.

I might ask people, “So you have this seemingly unending to-do list. Where are you on this list?” This is often met with either a quizzical look or a moment of reflection where the answer is almost always, “I’m not on it. There’s no time for me.”

Now there have been enough people writing about time management and I’ve written a few times about attention management, but today I want to bring up something different and that’s the idea of flexibility.

While I do believe that a flexible body lends itself to a flexible mind, here I’m focusing on the mind and our behavior.

If you had the time, what are some things that you’d like to do in the day? Would you like to have more time to yourself to just relax? Would you like to learn the guitar? Would you like to fit in more exercise? Would you like to be more social?

We often times have these rigid ideas in our minds about what it means to do any of the things above. For example, in order to exercise you might think you need an hour or more to go to a gym or to play guitar there needs to be time set aside for 30 minutes or more in a quiet place. Or maybe to be social you need to set up events or go out to more gatherings of some kind.

What if you flipped your mind about and thought more micro? What if we were more flexible with what we could do with our time?

For example, is there anywhere in your day you have 5 minutes to do some pushups or sit ups?  Or perhaps is there a 20 minute time at lunch to just take a walk around your building or block?

For guitar, there are so many YouTube instruction videos that are free now that offer little 5 minute instructions. Pick up your guitar and play for 5-10 minutes that is perfectly fine. Doing that a number of times will either get the engines revving to make more time or will simply improve your playing.

To relax, there are plenty of opportunities during the day to do this, you don’t need to go on vacation or have an entire afternoon to yourself (while that has its own merits though). You can allow stop lights to be a reminder to breathe and relax the body; you can choose to wash dishes without the fervor of getting them done, but more with a mindful lens. The shower can also be a mini-retreat if practiced with mindfulness. We have many more of these examples in A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook.

Allow your mind to entertain the idea that we can do the things we like in the small moments of the day.

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