Archive for July, 2011

How Compassion Can Free You From the Cycle of Unworthiness

Friday, July 29th, 2011

In the foreword to Steve Flowers’ and Bob Stahl’s book Living with Your Heart Wide Open, psychologist and mindfulness teacher Tara Brach says that “If we cannot embrace our own frightened and vulnerable hearts, we cannot love our world.”  I think this sentence pretty much sums up the ongoing struggle most of us have with life.

In a world often devoid of a true sense of community, we grow up searching for how to belong. Social isolation is our greatest fear and many of us grow up with the mantra “There’s something wrong with me” feeding a cycle of unworthiness and shame. How we relate to our “frightened and vulnerable hearts” makes all the difference.

Imagine if you grew up in a world where the expression of your vulnerabilities and fears was met with someone just listening to you non-judgmentally and with a sense of really caring. How would you feel? If I had to guess, I would say safe and secure.

Imagine if you truly understood that deep down everyone shares these vulnerabilities and fears. How would you feel? My guess is connected.

The foundation of mental health is feeling safe, secure and connected.

In their book, Steve and Bob share with us how mindfulness training can help heal our shame and cultivate a sense of worthiness that can open up many doors of possibilities we may never thought existed.

Mindfulness isn’t only about cultivating a greater awareness of the inner workings of our minds and bodies; it’s about healing our past wounds (that are currently present) and experiencing the self love and compassion that deep down we have always needed.

When we run away from our fears and vulnerabilities by either shutting down, turning to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling or checking out with our phones,  we send ourselves the message that we are “not worth” paying attention to, feeding a cycle of unworthiness. When we’re able to locate that feeling and wrap it around a caring awareness, we send the message that we are “worth” paying attention to, feeding a cycle of worthiness.

It’s really that simple, but the practice isn’t easy because it’s flying in the face of very old and rigid beliefs about how you see yourself.

Maybe your feelings weren’t validated growing up or you were neglected emotionally, leaving you with the belief that you’re not worth being loved.  Or maybe when you were young, being vulnerable was met with some kind of attack. Now your reactions of avoidance are operating on auto-pilot just feeding an unhealthy conditioning leaving you feeling stuck.

Gently beginning to open your heart with compassion and dip your toes into your vulnerabilities is the path toward healing. In my experience, mindfulness provides a very practical and gentle way to do this.

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

A Mindful Phrase to Help with Stress, Anxiety, Depression and Addiction

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

We’ve all heard the come adage that “It is what it is,” telling us that whatever is happening is simply the reality of the current experience. But I like to add on another piece saying, “It is what it is, while it is.” This speaks to a larger reality that whatever is here is also impermanent. Bringing this saying with you throughout the day could have beneficial effects for a range of difficulties from everyday stress to anxiety to depression and even addiction.  Here’s how…

As automatic negative thoughts start creeping into your mind and you notice an irritability starting to creep in, saying “it is what it is, while it is” pops you out of auto-pilot, into the present moment and reminds you that there’s impermanence to this feeling. This reminder helps you not get so wrapped up in it and can also give you the choice to be kinder to yourself. This can help stop a spiral into a deeper depression.

When cravings in the form of desiring thoughts and urges in the form of physical impulses raise their heads, saying “it is what it is, while it is” externalizes these reactions, giving you some distance from them and enough room to choose a different response. Maybe the new action is surfing the urge and not engaging with the addictive behavior.

As the mind gets triggered into the “what if” game, looking at upcoming scenarios through a catastrophic lens, saying “It is what it is, while it is,” reminds you that you just got triggered into a mind trap and can now recognize the fear or anxiety that is currently there. The thoughts are not facts, but the feeling is. You can begin to recognize that the anxiety has a life of its own and is subject to the natural law that all things come and go.

The phrase “It is what is, while it is” isn’t mean to be a panacea to stress, anxiety, depression or addiction, of course you’ll want to integrate this into the other avenues you have found to be helpful along with finding a supportive community whether that’s a therapist, a group of peers or friends, or another form of communal support. It is meant to be a helpful tool along the way that can break up the automatic reaction just long enough to insert more space for choice to engage a difference response.

Depending on the level of difficulty, that response could be engage in the greater art of distraction or maybe approaching the vulnerable feeling with warm presence of kindness and compassion. Inevitably this is the road to transforming the feeling and giving you a greater sense of self-reliance.

Of course, saying “It is what it is, while it is” can also be used with our more comfortable emotions to give a sense of their preciousness, to elicit a sense of gratitude and savor the goodness while it’s there.

Go ahead and bring this into your day, treat it as an experiment without any judgment or expectations. See if it breaks up the habit for enough of a time to allow for a new way of thinking or responding.

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

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

Mindfulness and Addiction: Part I

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

This is part of a 3 part series in Mindfulness and Addiction.

In an age where our lives seem to be accelerating, our stress also naturally seems to be increasing. In addition to addictive behaviors potentially having a strong genetic link, it’s no wonder why so many of us are craving avoidance and escape. According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, One in eight Americans suffers with addictive behaviors regarding drugs or alcohol and it costs society approximately 250 billion dollars per year.

When caught up in the cycle of addictive behavior, there is an inability to accept whatever is being felt in the present moment and the mind is constantly wandering onto the next ‘fix.’ In the present moment, distressing thoughts and emotions can feel like unwanted guests that we can’t seem to get away from. In our fight to avoid this distress, we actually amplify stress and uncomfortable emotions such as sadness, frustration, irritation, shame, or guilt. These uncomfortable emotions often kick us into a state of mindlessness or auto-pilot, where we’re unaware of our environment and more susceptible to triggers, cravings, and urges.

Victor Frankl, respected Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, once said:

Between a stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Is there a way to slow time down to be more aware of that space and choice? In the addiction field specifically, Dr. Alan Marlatt, Sarah Bowen, and Neha Chawla, Psychologists and researchers at the University of Washington, are trailblazing a promising new approach toward addiction based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-based Stress-Reduction program, called Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention (MBRP). While clinical trials on this approach are still underway, over 30 years of prior research in the field of meditation and addiction are very encouraging.

Whether our addictions have to do with alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, emailing, or shopping, the addictive behavior is often preceded by some triggering event that sets off a flurry of uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and sensations, leading to cravings and urges to engage in the addictive behavior. An important part of recovery is being able to recognize our triggers and how cravings and urges manifest in our bodies and minds. As soon as we have this awareness, we have become present and have stepped outside of the automatic reactive cycle that enslaves the next moment. The present moment is that close. Many people have reported that the actual peak of an urge is about 20-30 minutes. We can learn to bring an eye of curiosity and non-judgment to the feelings and thoughts as we watch them come and go.

Now, this is easier said than done and takes practice for many as addictive cravings and impulses can be extremely powerful. When living with addiction one of the most powerful areas of support is a group. That is the reason for the popularity with 12-step programs and other secular support groups like LifeRing. Kevin Griffin, author of One Breath, runs classes and retreats that integrate meditation and the 12-steps. In the 12-steps they often say to take one day at a time and in mindfulness practice we play with that and say take one moment at a time.

Whether you suffer with addiction or know someone who does, add your comments and questions about your relationship with addiction below as it provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from. May you be healthy, happy, and free from the addictive patterns that lead to suffering.

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

One of Life’s Greatest Fallacies

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

In my life, as in many people’s, my in-basket is never empty. A story is created in my mind that there is so much “to do” that “I don’t have time” for the less important tasks. I have clients that I see along with a number of projects that I engage with when I’m not seeing clients. This morning I found that same story about not having time invading my mind, creating tension in my shoulders and making me irritable. My 2 year old son has an abudance of energy as many of them do and wanted to get outside with me for a little bit. In the face of the screaming voices inside my head telling me to “get to work” I decided to take him out. What happened?

As we walked outside and started to play I realized that I don’t have that much time before he grows from the stage of life. My mind imagined him as a teenager not wanting to spend time with me, but wanting to be alone or with his friends. It then jumped to him at 18 heading off to college (at least that’s my idea for him). I thought, “I’ll never be able to return to this time of life, but I’ll always be able to return to my work.”

In that moment I gave myself permission to be with him for 15 minutes and soak in this time of life. This is what I have termed present nostalgia, allowing the mind to recognize the sweet precious impermanence of this time while actually living it.

Is it really true that we don’t have the time to live as if it mattered or is this just a story in our minds?

You tell me.

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

Don’t Just Sit There, Do Nothing

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

What I’m about to say is likely not going to be news for you, but it’s a critical reminder nonetheless. On the whole, we don’t have the cultural or individual maturity to handle the speed of innovation today. Technology is giving us incredible powers to get all kinds of information at our fingertips, but our minds don’t know how to control themselves. We multitask to get more done at once. One incredibly dangerous way more and more people are doing this is by checking email, text, and chat while they’re driving.

Ghandi said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”

As you read that quote you may have the common thought, “Of course, life isn’t all about increasing speed.”

Somehow our rational minds get that quote, but when it comes to the auto-pilot of everyday life, we’re drawn into a herd mentality of getting things done as quickly as possible so we can continue to get more done.

More than ever I find people (including myself at times) with a complete confusion around the notion of taking time to do absolutely nothing. Doing nothing means just sitting or lying down and resting. Why would we ever do that? Seems like such a waste of time.

Yet, this is what we long for when we go on relaxing vacations, to just sit around a pool or a park and just do nothing, sounds wonderful in that context.

I think it’s worth reconsidering how we’re spending our time. Do we turn on the tube, check our phones or get on the computer as soon as there’s a space to fill?

What about taking a short period in the week to just sit or lie down and do nothing? If you have an intimate partner, what about just lying down with them and doing nothing, maybe just free associate and talk. This is an especially great idea if you’re having relationship or communication issues. If you have kids, do this after you put them to bed. Even just 10 or 15 minutes is great.

So, what are you waiting for schedule in some nothing doin’ today. Don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself, and let your experience be your teacher.

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 Feeling Grief is Good for Us

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

In a past blog, Ronald Pies, M.D. wrote about an experience which left him fuming when a local pharmacy lost close to 50 years of “priceless” home movies of childhood summers and memories gone by.  That same day continental flight 3407 went down and the deaths of 50 passengers that day putting everything in perspective. He said “Having problems means being alive” and even though we may struggle in this life, being alive is something to be grateful for.

Days later I learned that a very good friend’s husband was hit by a bus and left in critical condition only to pass away shortly after. He was a great man with a sweet soul and a gentle nature. He loved his animals, his wife, and kids, and seemed to always have a smile for you when in his presence. When I heard the news, I initially felt resistance to the sadness as I had so much to do that day and didn’t feel like I had time to feel it. My body was starting to feel tense and I noticed irritability arising. A little thought arose, “maybe you should just take some time to feel this, the other stuff can wait”. I found a picture of him online and stared at it for a few moments and then I realized, “I need to feel this” and just let it be. After spending some moments letting the tears roll down, the tension and irritability melted away, I began to feel much more connected to myself and more compassion and empathy arose for my friend who lost her husband.

Mindful grieving informs us to allow ourselves to feel what is there, without judgment. For me, there was sadness there and I needed to nonjudgmentally acknowledge it, feel it, and let it be. It was important in that moment that I didn’t resist it or strive to make it any different, but just feel it as it was. Ronald Pies, M.D. wrote to us, “Having problems means being alive”, and I’d add “Being alive, means grieving loved ones who pass.” Grief is a natural part of the human experience.

While many will relay common grieving experiences, every grieving experience is unique as it’s in relationship to different relationships lost. If you or someone you know has lost someone you know that grief may be something that doesn’t completely go away, but instead evolves and weaves into your life, lessening during some hours and making its presence known during others. No one can truly predict how long grief will last, but we do know one thing, it is a natural an important process in remembering and feeling the connection to those who have passed. The intensity of the grief informs us how deeply we can feel for ourselves and for others. It informs us of the deep love we have in our hearts.

Poet Kahlil Gibran informs us,

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Here are 7 tips to help during this time:

  • If you are mourning for a recent loss make sure to make time for feeling the emotions that arise, whether they are anger, sadness, or pain. There is no need to judge these emotions as good or bad and know that it is Ok to feel these and they will not last forever as all things come and go. You may even create a little ritual where you spend time with the picture or object connected to the person who has passed.
  • Friends sometimes get uncomfortable around grief and if they try and make you feel better in the moment, thank them for this, and let them know it is normal and natural to feel how you feel.
  • Make sure to also take care of yourself during this time, go out on a walk, make sure to eat healthy.
  • Try and open your eyes to the delights around you. It could be a smile on a child’s face or your own. Smelling a wonderful flower or maybe tasting your own favorite food. Even in the midst of grief we can be open to the wonders of life.
  • Know your limits and allow yourself to take a break from feeling when it’s becoming overwhelming, but make sure to let your grief know that you will come back. Make a time to revisit it otherwise it will occupy you all day.
  • Being altruistic can be a great way to move through grief. Maybe you would like to volunteer at a homeless shelter or make some things for those you care about.
  • Support has been known to be very helpful and so joining a grief or support group either online or in person can be enormously supportive.

More than anything treat yourself with love and kindness during this time. The grief will seem more acute during some times and more subtle during others. May you know deeply, “this too shall pass.”

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

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

Mindfulness and Addiction: Part 2

Friday, July 1st, 2011

In Mindfulness and Addiction Part I I wrote about the potential to use nonjudgmental present moment awareness (aka mindfulness) to become more attuned to triggers, cravings, and urges and help break the cycle of addictive behavior. I also used the caveat “this is easier said than done.”

When struggling with addiction, it becomes all too common to switch onto auto-pilot with little to no awareness of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that can tip you off balance and bring you to that next moment of grasping. In his research, the late Dr. Alan Marlatt, past Director of the Addictive Behavior Research Center at the University of Washington, gave us insight into what is helpful to be aware of.

Here are 3 things to bring more awareness to:

  1. Body-Feeling State – It helps to be aware of emotions and how they manifest in the body. Are you feeling a constriction in the chest due to anxiousness, salivation in the mouth due to excitement, or maybe tension in the body due to anger? It’s important to become aware of these emotions and instead of avoiding them through the next fix, we can learn to bring a non-judgmental awareness and curiosity to the actual feelings of them. In this approaching instead of avoiding, we cultivate compassion for ourselves.
  2. Addictive Thought  Styles – Common mind traps arise in connection with the body-feeling state. Do you notice any denial? “I don’t have a problem with my drinking” or “I just like to shop, I’ll pay off my credit cards later.” How about blaming – “It’s my wife’s fault that I smoke so much, she’s always on my back.” Rationalizing anyone? “I’ve worked really hard today and deserve this.” As soon as we bring awareness to these mind traps, we’ve stepped outside of them, are present, and are closer to being able to change our behavior.
  3. Negative Interpretations – When caught in an addictive cycle, we also usually engage in interpreting events for the worse which helps tip us off balance and become more susceptible to auto-pilot. For example, if the addiction is with alcohol, does a sip of wine mean you had a “slip” or is it a “full blown relapse”? If it’s a full blown relapse and then you consider yourself a “failure,” you’re likely going to spin in a downward cycle leading to more uncomfortable emotions and being tipped further off balance. It can happen very fast. When a recent date doesn’t call back, does that mean the romance is cooling or that the person has been busy? Again, when we automatically attribute it to the romance cooling, it can send us in a downward spiral. This is not to say just interpret everything with rose colored lenses, it’s just saying, let’s take a look at how we automatically choose the negative one and branch out from there. The list of examples is long.

The trick here is to just simply be aware of any of this when it arises without judging it. Start to notice how these 3 things are interconnected. You may feel an uncomfortable emotion set in and while you’re choosing to actually be aware of how it manifests in your body, the door in the mind opens to rationalizing ”maybe I could just have one drink, after all I deserve it.” Aha, there it is. Name it and gently bring the attention back to noticing the feeling that is there.

With this new space you might also choose to call a friend or sponsor or go to a meeting. This is not meant to be a replacement to any 12-step or other secular meetings, but can also be seen as a complement to it. Whether the view is that addiction is a brain disease or whether it’s a behavioral issue, or both, we can still become more mindful of the interplay of triggers, cravings, and urges and create more space to break out of auto-pilot, interrupt the relapse cycle, and approach our pain, cultivating more care and compassion for ourselves in everyday life.

Stay tuned, in a future post I’ll discuss one practice that can help. As always, please share your thoughts and questions below. Your insight and questions provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

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