Archive for April, 2011

Mindfulness and Addiction: Part III

Friday, April 29th, 2011

This is the last blog in a 3 part series on Mindfulness and Addiction. This one is all about getting our hands dirty in practice when it comes to working with cravings and urges. Let me set the landscape. The late Dr. Alan Marlatt had a friend who was a surfer and also a cigarette smoker and no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t quit. Alan described this process of bringing attention to the breath while observing the physical sensations of the urge and watching them as they came and went. His friend said to him “It’s like you’re using the breath the surf the urge”. And so it was, urge surfing was born.

I had mentioned in an earlier blog that an urge is an impulse to engage in the addictive behavior and is expressed via physical sensations in the body. Cravings are thoughts or desires to engage in the behavior. An urge to engage in an addictive behavior can be seen as an ocean wave in that it starts small, gets bigger, crests, and finally subsides. The peak of an urge usually lasts somewhere between 20-30 minutes. Urge surfing teaches us to use the focus of our breath as a “surfboard” for riding the wave of uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and sensations rather than the usual approach of try and avoid the discomfort of the urge by using.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Find a place where you can feel comfortable and relatively undisturbed for a few minutes.
  2. Think of a situation where you feel like you might be in danger of engaging in your addictive behavior. If you have a severe addiction, you may want to choose something a little less triggering (e.g., email, internet surfing, etc…). Really imagine this situation.
  3. Begin to observe the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that are arising. You may notice desires to engage, or feelings of excitement or anxiousness, and even stiffness or tightening in the body. Just reflect on what is coming up.
  4. Now begin to shift your attention and engage with your breath. Breathing in and just noticing it coming in and breathing out and just noticing it going out of the body. You can focus at the tip of the nose or the belly. If it helps you can even say “in” as you’re breathing in and “out” as you’re breathing out. Do this for at least 30 seconds.
  5. The next step is to shift your attention to your body now. Feel into the areas of discomfort. There is no need to think about these areas, just actually feel the sensations. If there is tension, bring your attention there and just feel into it. If there is tingling, feel that. At this point the mind may wander or crave to do something else. Or maybe you’ll notice any impulses or urges to stop doing this practice. Just acknowledge them if they arrive, let them be, and bring your attention back to sensing into the feelings. It may help to even breathe into these spaces as you are being with them. Notice if there is any shift in any of the sensations or if they stayed relatively the same. Do this for at least 1 minute.
  6. Now you can open your eyes and thank yourself for taking time out to approach your discomfort, instead of typically acting on your impulses or avoidance.

See if you can try some of this next time you have a craving or an urge to get on the internet or get back to that text when, in the moment, your relaxation or family might need you more.

Each time we are able to successfully use mindfulness to ride out the craving to engage in our addictive behavior – our cravings or urges become less frequent and less intense and we become stronger, more confident, and more in control of our own lives.

Finally, it is also well known that for most people, recovery is facilitated best with the support system of a community who can share struggles, triumphs, and healthy lifestyle choices together. I recommend looking up a community in your area to join around your particular addiction. Also, if you are suffering from physical or severe psychological issues, I recommend seeking support from a medical and health care professional.

As always, please share your thoughts, comments, and questions below. Your additions here provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

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

What is the Investment That Never Fails?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Not long ago I was talking to a good friend who was starting a project on really investigating the benefits of what he called, “the good.”  That is that all of us have goodness inside that when brought out seems to not only benefit us, but those around us. The problem is for some reason we’re not always primed for it.

Henry David Thoreau said:

“Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”

I tend to believe this, but each of us may have a different idea of what constitutes, “the good.” When my friend was doing his investigation he would have calls or meetings with people individually to nonjudgmentally explore what the good was to each person.

The purpose of this was to really do an honest inquiry into what each person felt the good was in them without our usual biased lenses.

People came up with all kinds of ideas. Some felt good when connected to friends, others felt good when they finally forgave, yet others felt good when they actually gave or experienced compassion.

Yet it’s too easy to just fall into the routine of daily life and get out of touch with the wonder that can appear all around. So we need to prime our minds for the good.

One exercise that I often give people to prime their minds for the good in life is to Count Your Blessings.

Yup, we’ve all been given this advice, but we can make it into a practical exercise.

Ask yourself, “What would it be like if I woke up each morning and thought of 5 things I am are grateful for in my life each day?”

It’s way too easy for the judgments to rain saying this is some Pollyanna idea and quickly dismiss it. Notice this if it’s happening right now.

To get a reality check, as yourself when the last time you did this was? If the answer is either a long time ago or never, then those thoughts are likely just defenses to keep you away from what might be helpful.

So, put your judgments aside and ask yourself right now, what are the blessings in your life? If any of them are people, give them a call or drop them an email and tell them now.

As always, please share what your blessings are, your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

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

A Phrase to Change Your Day: Jon Kabat-Zinn

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

I was recently at a conference introducing Jon Kabat-Zinn and the beginning of the talk focused around my experience when I read page 14 of his book Wherever You Go, There You Are. This was a particularly difficult time in my life when I was feeling uneasy, confused and dissatisfied with things. Now, if you’ve read this book you know he has all kinds of wonderful suggestions in it to sprinkle the philosophy and practice of mindfulness into everyday life. But when I came upon this one section it said to try reminding yourself from time to time that “this is it.” And I said, “Really, this is it?” This is all there is? Well, apparently it was…

Later on that day I stood looking at the Golden Gate Bridge in awe at the beauty of San Francisco and the headlands and the phrase naturally arose in my mind, “this is it.” What a wonderful moment.

That phrase has since traveled with me as a friend reminding me to accept the reality of each moment as it is. When I was sad, this is it! When I was joyful, this is it! When I was anxious, frustrated, or bored, this is it!

Learning how to accept the moment as it was opened my eyes to so much more.

Jack Kornfield’s teacher Ajahn Chah, says something similar, his phrase is “It’s like this.”

Some wise person a long time ago said, “It is what it is.”

There are so many ways to drop us into the present moment, into a state of accepting the reality of what is here and out of the state of avoidance.

Try bringing this simple phrase into your life and see what happens. Once in a while say to yourself, “This is it!”

The truth is, it’s never more or less than this.

Having an understanding of where we are in any particular moment is the basis for self-acceptance.

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

Give it a try!

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

Some People Wait Their Entire Lives to Ask this Question

Monday, April 18th, 2011

mindfulness and psychotherapyThere is a well known proverb that says,

“All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.”

Do yourself a favor, read that quote over again and allow your mind to see it as if for the very first time.

Our minds are very clever and make instant decisions about whether something is important to pay attention to and act on. When our minds see something over and again it becomes routine and we glance over it without really paying attention.

What arises is, “yup, I know that one, that’s good advice, been there done that” and the day goes on without actually taking action with it.

Ask yourself, when’s the last time I actually intentionally paid attention to the seeds I plant day to day or moment to moment?

Are you planting seeds of negative thinking, self-judgment, catastrophic thinking, or isolation? Or are you planting seeds of gratitude, laughter, giving, and compassion? This isn’t meant to be Pollyanna; it’s just a very practical way to influence how our minds work.

Basically, what we practice we get. So what are you practicing at home, at work, with friends, and even on vacation? It’s worth taking an inventory.

Some people wait their whole lives before realizing the seeds they’ve planted. You can do this now.

Take a moment reflect on that. 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 24 Hour Mini-Mindful Moment Challenge

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

mindful momentA few months ago I was walking with a long time friend of mine who has had a long history of working in the field of personal and professional development. He said something that really surprised me. He had developed a discipline of checking into the present moment every minute of the day. Just for a few seconds he’s check to see where he was, what he was thinking, and how he was feeling. Over a short time he got pretty good at this and his mind just started to automatically bring him to the moment. This may seem extreme, but maybe there’s something for the rest of us to learn here.

What if during multiple moments of the day you had a mini-moment practice where you brought your mind to the present moment and checked in with yourself. What would change?

In the middle of eating breakfast and you’re thinking about the plans for the day, you bring your mind to the present and simply spend a few moments tasting your food.

While talking to a friend you guide your mind back from thinking of the next brilliant counterargument and simply begin to listen.

In the middle of an important business meeting a mini-moment is prompted and you notice your shoulder’s tightening and your mind worrying that you’re going to have to speak soon, and you choose to take a few breaths and roll your shoulders.

Maybe mini-moments don’t have to happen every minute, but what if we had mini-moments every hour. Is that so much to ask of ourselves? We can take about 20 seconds to check-in and bring our minds back to the life that is happening right now.

I hereby propose The 24 Hour Mini-Mindful Moment Challenge where you do this one time every hour.

If you need some structure to the mini-moment you can:

  1. Body – Notice how it is positioned, if there’s any tension anywhere.
  2. Emotions – Are you angry, frustrated, calm, happy, sad, stressed?
  3. Thoughts – Are you worrying, stewing, or rehashing? Are you stuck in the past or future?
  4. Location – Where are you?

Just take these 4 steps and then breathe. You’ve done it.

Of course, don’t take my word for it, set an intention to take 1 day and practice a Mini Mindful Moment every hour. Do it as an experiment for yourself and see what happens.

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

Photo by Alan Cleaver, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

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

Shortcut to Inspiration: How to Get Connected to What Really Matters

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Once in a while we all come across some information, a person, a story, or a quote that lifts us up for that moment and makes a difference in our day. What you may not realize is that momentary difference goes on to become a difference in many people that you came in contact with during the day. In their book Connected, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler make the argument that even our friend’s friend’s friends have an impact on us, that’s how deep the fabric of our interconnectedness goes. We all want to make change in ourselves and our communities and it’s important to be mindful of the fact that in order to get motivated to make change, we need to be inspired.

Recently I came across the website www.weresoinspired.com that is 100% about helping us get inspired for the better.

It started when a couple started sending each other emails every day trying to inspire one another to live as if it mattered and then made a life change to make that what they want to help others do in the moments of their lives.

It’s our natural inclination to get caught up in routine and we need little things to help us pop out of that routine and gain perspective on what is most important moment to moment.

What if some of those moments were filled with a little inspiration, what difference would that make?

One of the reasons I love quotes, poetry and stories is because they seem to make their way past the intellectual part of our brains and into the emotional regions where a deeper change can take place.

Here’s a story they tell that helps us gain perspective on the rat race we can catch ourselves in:

An American businessman took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village on doctor’s orders. Unable to sleep after an urgent phone call from the office the first morning, he walked out to the pier to clear his head. A small boat with just one fisherman had docked, and inside the boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

“How long did it take you to catch them?” the American asked.

“Only a little while,” the Mexican replied in surprisingly good English.

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The American then asked.

“I have enough to support my family and give a few to friends,” the Mexican said as he unloaded them into a basket.

“But…What do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican looked up and smiled. “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Julia, and stroll in the village each evening, where I sip win and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor.”

The American laughed and stood tall. “Sir, I’m a Harvard M.B.A. and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. In no time, you could buy several boats with the increased haul. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”

He continued, “Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening up your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village, of course, and move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles, and eventually New York City, where you could run your expanding enterprise with proper management.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, señor, how long will all this take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years. 25 tops.”

“But what then, señor?”

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”

“Millions, señor? Then what?”

“Then you would retire and move to a small coastal fishing village, where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll into the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…”

Ofcourse I’ll suggest to try adding some inspiration to the moments of your life, but one thing to always remember is to never take my word for anything; your experience is your best teacher. So as an experiment, try adding a little inspiration to the moments of your life and see what happens.

What gets you inspired? Please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom and source of inspiration for all of us.

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

Reconnect to the Good in You!

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

the good in youIs it possible that we hold more good within us than we think? Is it possible that our brains are inclined toward looking for negativity in life and breezing over those aspects that are positive? Most importantly, is it possible that with an awareness of how we are wired, we can transcend these conditionings and recognize more choice in life?

Walt Whitman said:

“I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness.”

What distracts us from this goodness?

I like talking about this in the form of nutrition. The question is what nutrition are you feeding your mind?

  • News – Many of us spend lots of time watching the news which feeds us a disproportionate amount of stressful and negative information. What often happens is our nervous system perceives this stress as a threat and acts to avoid it and so we fall into zones of distraction or wasted attention in order to avoid these uncomfortable feelings. It’s good to be informed, but the way the news does this is often not healthy for our nervous systems and the amount we digest can also be unhealthy.
  • Popular Media – Popular media can also be bad nutrition.  From the time we are young we are fed the message that unless we look a certain way, act a certain way, and even eat a certain way we don’t belong.  We learn that what is most important is power and money, these two things lead to acceptance and security. What they often lead to for the majority of us is a sense of unworthiness that clouds over our natural goodness as human beings. There is a place for entertainment and learning in the popular media and these are good things, but we need to look at the subtle messages and see how much we’re digesting.
  • Friends and Family – You may or may not find this to make the list. The people we surround ourselves with can also be healthy or unhealthy. With people I work with I’ll sometimes have them draw a social map where they mark themselves and then note people who they spend most time with closest to them and fan those in their lives out from there. I then ask them to mark who in their life are most supportive to them. What often happens is the most supportive people are on the outskirts of the map and sometimes the unhealthiest people are close to them, meaning they’re spending most of their time with them. We work on changing the map so they’re spending more time with those that support their goodness.

Actual food, exercise and sleep play a role in the nutrition of our lives in lighting up the parts of our brain that get us in touch with our natural goodness. You know this because often they make us feel good.

What are things that get you in touch with your innate goodness in life?

Please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction really does create a living wisdom that we all benefit from.

Photo by Quinn Dombrowsky, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

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