Archive for November, 2010

How to Bring Love Back into Your Life

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder.” Our brains are set up to make things in life routine and a phrase many of us unfortunately habituate to is “I love you.”

Think about how many times you say goodbye, get off the phone, or leave for work in the morning with a cursory, “I love you.” What was once a meaningful phrase has now become a habit stripped of its intent. So I’m going to propose something to practice that your mind will likely try and dismiss because of some underlying fear or discomfort. Here it is…

What would it be like to start your phone call or conversation with the people or person you are closest to with intentionally sharing, “I love you.”

Notice what the next thought is that arises in your mind. Is it a judgment or a thought that you can’t do this for some reason or another? Just check on that.

Ask yourself why? What’s so dangerous or uncomfortable about starting a conversation with a phrase which is likely the phrase you would have wished you said more of later on in life when there is greater wisdom from life’s experiences.

It may be that saying “I love you” to start off a conversation leaves you vulnerable in some way, so the judgment that arise are trying to keep you safe.

This isn’t some Pollyanna, let’s all dress up and pretend everything is roses. You would only say this if you really felt that way about the person you were talking to.

The effect I’ve found with people who do this in relationships is that it immediately sets a different and more caring tone for the conversation. If you’re used to having arguments or conflicts and you start the conversation out this way, it creates a different ground for the relationship to be more resilient. The negative thoughts aren’t quite as sticky.

You might consider trying this out as an experiment so you can let your experience be your teacher instead of the automatic judgments that arise out of fear.  It’s just worth being curious what the obstacle to love is in our lives as it truly is a major natural healing source.

Share this with your partner or close friend, try it out as an experiment, without expectations of any miracles and see what unfolds. You might just be surprised.

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

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

Your Brain on Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Thanksgiving can be considered a reminder to intentionally consider what we’re grateful for. But what would it be like if we treated this thanksgiving as a launch pad to really begin integrating more gratitude into our lives?

Sometimes the suggestion to integrate gratitude can seem trite or too simple to really be a remedy for our difficulties in life. So, why would we want to do that?

For the same reason that neuroscientists are finding that discipline can retrain our brains (e.g., neuroplasticity). So when we’re exercising or practicing meditation, the idea is not to do these with the goal of “being relaxed” in mind, but to do them to lay down new tracks in the brain so that our “auto-pilot” doesn’t automatically default to ineffective and destructive habitual strategies in the future.

Instead, when two roads diverge in a wood (in the brain), we will begin to recognize more often that there is a choice and we don’t need to be so self critical, or erupt in a rage, or binge eat, or isolate. This can only really happen as these tracks are laid down.

Robert Emmons and Michael McCollough (2003) conducted a study a while back called Counting Blessings versus Burdens. He split up a few groups of people and had one group count 5 blessings per day, one group count 5 burdens per day and one group just write about neutral events. As you may have guessed, the ones who counted blessings, experienced less stress and more feelings associated with well being.

Now counting our blessings is not meant to be a miracle cure, so we aren’t to expect miracles.

Instead, we can think of it as laying down new tracks in our brains each time we do it. The immediate result is not really the point; it’s more about retraining our brains.

So, this thanksgiving, feel free to be present with your gratitude, also be present with your discomfort (which also comes up for many during this time.). It doesn’t need to be either gratitude or discomfort; both may be present throughout the holiday. So we can approach them both with mindfulness.

However, invite yourself on this holiday to start an intentional program toward paying attention to what you are grateful for in life. You may make it a practice every night or every morning. It need only take a minute or so.

This will begin the rewiring. It’s as if seeds are being planted and every time you do this, they are being watered. It may take a while for the plants to grow, but they will.

Let me start…I’m truly grateful for all of you who have been following the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy blogs. I know I say this a lot, but your interactions truly inspire others and leave a trail of wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Be well,

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

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

5 Steps to Gratitude: Hafiz

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

steps to gratitudeSo here we are, a few days before Thanksgiving in the United States and so taking this moment while reading these words to really consider what you are thankful for. When we think of what we’re thankful for we often think of the light in our lives. Who and what represents the light in our lives?

The poet Hafiz writes in his poem “It Felt Love”:

How did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
All its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light
Against its being,
Otherwise,
We all remain
Too frightened

This is so true. It becomes easier to open up and reveal our own gifts to this world when we feel positive loving encouragement within. While for some the holidays are a time of connection and being with family and friends, for others it’s a source of stress only reinforcing a sense of loneliness and difficulty.

Nevertheless, here is an opportunity to do a practice inspired by this poem that can help us cultivate a sense of gratitude and lovingkindness during this time.

Here is short practice to feel that encouragement of light during this time:

  1. Think of a person or animal who represents light, who represents a loving and kind presence in your life. This can be a good friend who is alive, maybe someone who has passed away, a pet, or maybe a spiritual figure such as the Dalai Lama, Jesus, or even the hand of God.
  2. Take a moment to imagine that presence here, with you, looking into your eyes.
  3. Now imagine that person saying to you, “May you be safe and protected from inner and outer harm,” “May you be happy,” “May you be free from fear,” “May you be healthy in body and mind.” You can also create your own wishes and aspirations here.
  4. Now turn toward that person and say that with the same intention to them.
  5. Now imagine your family and friends with you (those who you feel difficulty with and those who you feel more ease with) and with intention, saying those same words.

Take a moment to just feel into how you are doing and whatever is there, just letting it be.

We all know that Thanksgiving is just a reminder to cultivate gratitude in our lives. May this be a springboard for you to cultivate this sense of gratitude and lovingkindness, which even though it may come with some uncomfortable feelings at times, can be a source of much psychological healing and feelings of well-being.

I deeply thank all of you who have been following the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy blog posts and for interacting below as your posts truly create a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

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

Meister Eckhart on Gratitude: The Time is Now

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Here it is, thrust on us again.  Thanksgiving is coming up for all of us in the United States and it urges us to consider all the things in life that we are grateful for. The mind may resist this for all its mysterious reason, but the fact is, practicing gratitude has been found to have enormous benefits to our mental health.

Meister Eckhart said,

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

So here we are in this moment, reading this post, and I’m inviting you to do a 1-minute practice of the things in life you are grateful for. If your mind is restless and wants to skip past this short exercise, check-in and see if there’s any discomfort. Sometimes we actually have discomfort to considering what we are grateful for and skip over a practice that has been proven to be beneficial in respect to experiencing a sense of life satisfaction and encouraging comfortable emotions in our lives.

We often take our lives and the people in them for granted. Take this moment to consider what it is you are grateful for and actually express it in the comments below. You can use a pseudonym, that’s perfectly fine

Here are some examples to get you started:

  1. Do you have freedom of speech, the right to vote, and the freedom to practice personal religion?
  2. Are there people in your life that you are appreciative of?
  3. Has anyone smiled at you today?

The fact that you’re alive means there’s more right with you than wrong with you and we can be grateful for what’s right.

I promise, there’s not better time than now to do this. As you share it below, you encourage this in others and this could have a profound effect on many of us as we move through this holiday season.

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

What Do Children Need?

Monday, November 15th, 2010

In the villages around Reggio Emilia Italy lived a woman named Loris Malaguzzi. After World War II Loris and other parents felt that children were inherently curious and needed a curriculum that was more play based and self-guided. They thought that in these critical early years, it was the children’s interests that should be of utmost importance.

Loris Malaguzzi said:

“Each child is unique and the protagonist of his or her own growth. Children desire to acquire knowledge, have much capacity for curiosity and amazement, and yearn to create relationships with others and communicate.”

Well, the fact is, we were all children at one time or another and have an innate sense of what children need.

So today this is your blog, take a moment to think and contribute below an answer to the following question:

Question for you: What is it that children actually need to thrive?

Let’s send this around the world and put our heads and hearts together here, your contribution below provides a living wisdom that many generations can benefit from.

I’ll start…see below.

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

Using the Brain to Dissolve Chronic Pain: Les Fehmi, PhD

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Today it’s my pleasure to bring to you Dr. Les Fehmi who is the co-author of Dissolving Pain: Simple Brain-Training Exercises for Overcoming Chronic Painand The Open-Focus Brainand has been a leader in brainwave biofeedback (also called neurofeedback), training individuals how to balance and regulate their brainwave patterns to improve mental, emotional, and physical health.

Today Les talks to us about how we can use our attention with an open focus to work through chronic pain for good and also some tips on what we can do.

Elisha: You mention that pain doesn’t exist in the body, but only in the brain, can you say more?

Les: Not only in the brain, but mostly in the brain. And the brain is where we can intervene to heal it. The common belief is that pain occurs solely because we do something to damage nerves in our back for example, or we have headaches because we have food allergies and ate the wrong food.

But most of our experience of pain is actually in the brain. The best example of this is phantom limb pain. People without an arm can still feel pain in that arm. Why? Because the neurons that caused the arm pain are still there and still causing pain. This explains the large number of cases of people who have pain with no seeming cause. And it can make real pain worse. But we don’t have to live with these kinds of pain, because the root cause is how we pay attention to these neurons, and the pain they hold, and we can change that.

Elisha: How is Open Focus different from mindfulness?

Les: I have not followed the approach of mindfulness practice.  I prefer my own approach, Open Focus, which may seem very similar to adherents of mindfulness.  However, our intention is to train four kinds of attention: narrow attention, diffuse attention, objective attention and immersed attention.  Learning to combine them optimally and bringing them all together simultaneously as natural awareness we call Open Focus.

Elisha: What role does our attention play in our perception and healing of pain?

Les: Our view and practice is that pain can be impacted by the four kinds of attention I just mentioned.  When attended to appropriately, and we make our awareness larger, the pain is no big deal, and it is possible to merge with pain and allow it to diffuse and dissolve.  Facing into pain, or merging with pain, is much less of an ordeal than one might otherwise think if we are using the right kind of attention.

Elisha: What role does memory play in shaping our perception of pain?

Les: The lion’s share of what we perceive is based on memories, perhaps, according to psychologists, as much as 90 percent. Emotionally painful memories that we carry in our body and mind also constrict our awareness, as we try to keep them from surfacing, and make our mode of attention more narrow, which makes the nervous system more reactive and which means we are more sensitive to pain.

Elisha: You have been a big advocate for biofeedback, can you tell us a bit about it and what we know today about who it is helping?

Les: The basic concept of biofeedback has to do with generating body information as measured by various electronic instruments.  Then this information is fed back to the user.  As a result, people can learn to control body function such as muscle tension, blood flow, and perspiration.  And even the brain electrical activity. Because the brain is so powerful because it runs the show, as it were, training the brain has a large number of beneficial effects, from better sleep to less anxiety.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone who has been suffering for quite some time with chronic pain, what advice would you give them?

Les: First, I would ask him to broaden his peripheral attention, to allow his awareness to fill up this room.  Then my advice would be to stop avoiding the pain.  Third, I would ask him to include the feeling of space all around him and permeating his body including the pain.  Then I would ask him to allow himself to merge more fully with the pain and let it spread.  It is an easy thing to do for most people.  In our clinic, no more than 10 or 15 percent of our clients have difficulty dissolving pain, even chronic pain, in the first half dozen treatment sessions.

Thank you so much Les!

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

See Yourself: Tapping into Your True Potential

Monday, November 8th, 2010

In the past post Feeling Disconnected from Life: 9 Steps to Reconnect Today I quoted Abraham Joshua Heschel saying:

“Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder.”

The purpose of this was to bring awareness to the fact that our brains are inclined toward automaticity and the thing we do in life and the ways we are tend to become habit. What was once interesting or what we used to put heartfelt attention into tends to become rote.

Six months before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a group of students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967 in a talk titled “What is Your Life’s Blueprint.”  In this talk he said:

“And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. Don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.

Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”

What would the world be like if this was held in awareness throughout the day?

What would our work be like? What would our relationships be like?

We often have these rules in our head that we “should” be someone else than who we are. This is a recipe for unworthiness and cycling of shame.

The fact is we are far more similar than different regardless of our jobs. Once we begin accepting ourselves for who we are we can tap into enormous potential to live as Michelangelo painted pictures. .

Whether you’re a housewife, a programmer, an author, a teacher, a janitor, or the President of the United States, each of us has uniquely experienced what it means to be human. We each have experienced love and hurt, perceived triumphs and failings, adventures and loneliness, and joy and pain.

We are all human beings and maybe it’s time we look inside ourselves and stop measuring ourselves up to how we “should” be and instead recognize that it’s all right here. This doesn’t mean don’t reach for the stars, but you’ll be a lot more effective if you reach for them from where you are, rather than dreaming you were somewhere else.

There are unmeasured reserves of courage and strength to live Gandhi’s words, to “be the change we want to see in the world.”

So today, pop out of routine, recognize the miraculous intelligence you hold as a human being and live as if it mattered.

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 Living as a River Can Set Us Free: An Interview with Bodhipaksa

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

how to live like a riverToday it’s my pleasure to bring to you Bodhipaksa, a longtime meditation teacher, author of Living As a River: Finding Fearlessness in the Face of Change. Bodhipaksa also started a wonderful site called Wildmind that has a number of self paced guided meditation courses and an ongoing blog to help us sew our seeds of mindfulness and compassion. As a short note, Bodhipaksa means “wings of enlightenment.”

Today Bodhipaksa shares with us what it means to live as a river, how we might gain freedom from seeing the ever changing nature of ourselves and what we can do when we’re suffering.

Elisha: What does it mean to live as a river?

Bodhipaksa: To me, living as a river means accepting the reality of impermanence and also recognizing the reality of anatta, or non-self. Our minds try to “fix” things and to see them as more permanent, static, and separate than they actually are. And one of the “things” that we treat in this way is ourselves.

The river is a a great analogy for how things are. We see a river, and we naturally make an assumption that there is a thing there that we call Thames, or Potomac, or Mississippi. But of course by the time we’ve named the river it’s already become something else ,as Heraclitus pointed out a long time ago. And our selves are like this as well.

We have an instinctual sense that we have this “thing” called a self, but in the moment it takes to have that thought — there I am, I am like this — what we labeled as the self has become something different. Both the matter and consciousness that we identify with as the basis of the self are continually changing — flowing, in fact, like a river.

Another way the river becomes a useful analogy for the self is to consider where the boundaries are. A river has to have banks. The bank, in a way, is the river, just as much as the water is. Try to imagine a river without banks. It just doesn’t work. And the banks merge seamlessly with the landscape, so there’s no end to the river. Similarly, our selves — our bodies and consciousness — end up being defined by things that we conventionally think of as being “not-self,” and there’s no defined “edge” to the self. We’re dependent upon matter, energy, and other consciousnesses outside of ourselves in order to have selves.

So our selves exist in an interdependent and “flowing” way. Nevertheless, we have a lot of emotional investment in thinking of ourselves as separate and static. In a way we’re involved in a constant struggle not to acknowledge the reality of change.

I think that ultimately comes back to a fear of extinction, and in fact there’s a growing body of evidence from psychological studies suggesting that fear of our mortality plays a major role in motivating us to create a sense of identity that we can then cling to. Rather than go into that now, however, I’d like to suggest that the energy we put into defining ourselves is like damming or even freezing the river of our selves.

When we’re least conscious of our sense of separateness — at times when we feel great love, or when we’re joyfully absorbed in something, or in meditation, or in mystical experiences — we’re at our most spontaneous and alive. When we’re caught up in constantly thinking about ourselves and our relation to others, and whether those other like us or not (to take just one example), we become stiff and clunky — like a dammed or frozen river. A lot of spiritual practice involves allowing our sense of separateness to “melt,” as it were.

Elisha: We often think of ourselves in the form of a noun. We say, “I am a man, a woman, a banker, a father, a daughter, etc…” You mention that the Self is a Verb, can you say more about this?

Bodhipaksa: To say that self is a verb is another way or recognizing what I’ve just talked about — that our selves are neither static nor separate. In fact, our selves are undefinable. Of course we put a lot of energy, as I’ve mentioned, into trying to define ourselves. All those labels defining our relationships and status are fine in themselves, but we tend to over-invest in them, and to see them as being central to who we are, rather than as things we do.

The reflective meditation practice that Living as a River is based on helps us to directly see that we can’t define ourselves even as our bodies or minds (both of which are continually changing), never mind in terms of jobs or external relationships. It’s not that any of those external things are unimportant. Part of the way my indefinable self finds expression at present is as a man, a father, and as a writer. But those things don’t define me. Often that happens with people: you’re a man, and so you behave the way you think a man ought to behave, for example.

It’s also not the case that you can somehow strip away everything you do, every relationship you have — even the body and mind — and somehow be left with some kind of “real self.” There wouldn’t in fact be anything left! But we’re also not just the sum total of all these things either, because they’re all changing. We can’t really define ourselves. We’re always looking for some “thing” that will define us — but here we are whether we try to define ourselves or not! We don’t need to be defined in order to exist.

Elisha: You have many quotes in your books to begin your chapters. Can you tell us one of your favorites and what it means to you?

Bodhipaksa: It’s a tough choice, and looking through the quotes I realize which one’s my favorite is going to depend on what I’ve been reflecting on. At the moment the one that resonates most is from Montaigne: “The beautiful souls are they that are universal, open, and ready for all things.”

To me this speaks of the freedom and spontaneity that emerge when we stop clinging to a sense of identity — when we stop trying to define our experience in terms of self and other, this and that. When we can do this, a sense of spaciousness emerges in which a genuine and deeper connection with ourselves and others is experienced, and in this we feel creative and alive.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone who was suffering right now, what advice could you give them to get them started on a path toward healing?

Bodhipaksa: I’d encourage anyone feeling pain to awaken to the truth that their pain is not them. Often we see our physical and emotional pain, and all the stories that surround these experiences, as being an intrinsic part of us. If we stand back from our pain, however, and observe it as “other,” then we have more freedom.

It’s a bit like looking at a cloud from an aircraft; you can either be inside or outside the cloud, and if you’re inside, all you can see is cloud. The cloud dominates your experience. Similarly, when we’re inside our pain looking out, the pain colors everything we see, because we’ve made it into a filter through which we experience everything else. The pain looks enormous: at least as big as we are, and maybe a lot bigger. But just as from the outside of a cloud you see that the cloud isn’t everything and that it’s surrounded by sky, so from outside our pain we recognize that our difficult experiences are just one part of us. They no longer dominate every perception, and so they seem smaller and more manageable, surrounded by the “sky” of mindful awareness.

The cloud hasn’t changed size, but we’ve changed our relationship to it and so it appears different, less all-consuming. And again, within this spacious awareness we can find joy, spontaneity, creativity, and love. And those experiences can coexist with our pain. Ultimately we can realize that our pain is not us. We’re much larger than our pain is, and we’re not defined by it. The pain is just passing through, and doesn’t “stick” to us. Realizing all this brings a sense of freedom and peace.

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

4 Steps to Better Relationships

Monday, November 1st, 2010

As soon as we open up our eyes in the morning stories are running in our minds that influence the way we see people. We have preconceptions about who our wife, husband, kid, roommate or partners are. When we walk out the door we already have ideas about who the neighbors, baristas, grocery store clerk, colleagues, and even strangers who are walking up the street are.  So the question is; Do we actually even see the person behind our conceptions of who they are?

Most of the time the answer is a resounding no.

Mother Teresa who said:

“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of not belonging.”

We live on auto-pilot in our every day relationships and our ability to automatically interpret the world can lead to disconnection, which leads to dis-ease in life.

It’s that simple.

Here is a practice to try out today with anyone you come in contact with:

  1. Put you lenses of judgment aside – Whether you believe it or not, you instantly judge someone as soon as you see them. It may be the color of their skin, their ethnicity, a memory you have of this person or maybe the expression on their face.  See if you can set that aside for a moment and adopt fresh eyes.
  2. See the person – This is someone who has a history of adventures, sense of failure, loves, fears, regrets, triumphs, traumas, family, and friends.
  3. Ask yourself, what does this person most deeply want? The answer is likely within you and it has something to do with being treated kindly and feeling a sense of belonging.
  4. Provide a gesture that feeds this need. Smile at the person, ask them if you can help, listen to what they have to say, if its family or friends tell them you love them, etc… There are so many ways to do this.

We can always ask ourselves if what we are doing is in service of connection or disconnection.  It’s a simple question that can sometimes lead to important answers and actions.

The fact is, when we or others around us feel understood and cared about a sense of acceptance and belonging arises. This breaks down a barriers and simply makes relationships better. Like anything, this takes practice.

A moment of connection may have rippling effects across many people, like a pebble thrown into the water creates ripples of waves.

Give it a try!

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