Archive for September, 2011

7 Steps to Making Real Change Last

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the term “Mindful Recovery?”

Is it Addiction? Trauma? Depression? Or maybe something else?

Maybe it’s all of those things, but I’m going to pose this moment to be a time to look back on the last year and ask yourself, “What afflictions have I suffered this year that I am in recovery for?” Maybe this last year you let stress get the best of you? Maybe your relationship slipped this past year as you got roped into more television programs or Facebook addictions. Maybe you did slip into abuse with drugs, alcohol, sex, work, or overly accommodating people in life who abuse you.

What’s going to be different in the coming hours, days, weeks and months ahead?

Perhaps the simplest path is to make the intention an awareness of the moments you get sucked into these destructive behaviors that you want to change. In this space of awareness we draw a second intention which is to get curious about what the feeling is that you’re trying to escape from.

I think where we make our greatest error is when we make those resolutions that say, “I’m going to go the gym more, meditate more, start playing guitar or bring the romance back.” This jumps the gun. There are so many steps that occur before taking action with any of these things. There’s already a built up resistance to them and to skip over that is a recipe for failure.

What if these changes you wanted to make were couched in less immediacy? It’s helpful to actually understand what going on with the auto-pilot that lives within each one of us.

Here’s 7 steps to get underneath the hood and give yourself the change of making real change last:

  1. Set a date to do whatever it is you want to do. Whether it’s the gym, yoga, spending more time with family, or getting all the alcohol out of the house.
  2. When that time comes, don’t do anything, just take a seat or lie down.
  3. Open up to the body, what is being experienced? What’s the urge? What emotions are there? Just open up without judgment, exploring this with curiosity, as if this was the first time you were getting to know yourself.
  4. Know you are the ocean, not the waves and urge surf. In other words, watch the sensations and emotions rise, peak and eventually fall.
  5. Put your hand on your heart and thank yourself for taking time out of all your daily busy-ness for your own health and well-being.
  6. Engage with whatever it is you wanted to engage with even if there’s only a few minutes left.
  7. Repeat the practice several over and over again.

See if you can release whatever judgments are arising in your mind right now about whether this will or will not work. Don’t let yourself be enslaved by the judgments, instead let your experience be your best teacher. This is your year for a mindful recovery.

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

Voices: A Simple Reminder to Bring Us Back to What Really Matters

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

A short while ago I opened an opportunity for people to send me stories of mindfulness that can show the rest of us how it has had a practical impact on a particular event or their lives. I’m calling this column of Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, “Voices.”

A number of people wrote it with stories and now, as long as there are good stories that teach the rest of us how mindfulness can work in our lives, I will choose from them from time to time to post on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy.

Of course those that get chosen can also send me a link that I’ll include in the post where people can learn more about them.

Here’s a true story from Sara Boilen, Psy.D. about a simple way to bring us back to our intentions.

The bells rang four times an hour. It was a simple song that started with just a few notes at quarter past and blossomed into a full melody at the top of the hour. The library’s tower, just across from the counseling center’s offices housed the music maker and the source of mindful moments throughout the day.

Our group was called Everyday Mindfulness. The idea was to provide college students an opportunity to cultivate mindfulness skills that they could use when studying, struggling with stress, walking through campus, or just needing a reality check. We watched leaves, ate chocolate cake, laughed, listened, talked, and focused our awareness.

One day, my coworker Elisabeth and I introduced the idea of using the banal ringing of the bells as a regularly scheduled cue to come back to your self, your intention, your awareness, and your surroundings. We soon realized that crows, train whistles, and even car horns could serve as such a reminder. Using what was already in our everyday life, we found a gentle nudge toward being more aware.

For us, we used the bells. Every fifteen minutes we were granted the opportunity to center ourselves and in time, the bells became a reminder of the sense of community that we all found in our weekly therapy group. It became a sense of home – within each of us. A moment of pause and a gentle reminder of our intention to become more aware.

Creating reminders in our environment is a wonderful way to help prime us to what really matters. This can be the ringing from our phones, a green sticker on our computers or a picture of someone who exudes presence and compassion. Be creative, start creating reminders in your environment today.

Thank you Sara!

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

Invitation: Get Your Story Posted on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

A couple weeks ago I highlighted a therapist in Los Angeles named Stan Friedman who had a story of how he broke free from the auto-pilot of negative thinking and into a space of choice and possibility. I want to open this up as an opportunity for people to send me stories of mindfulness that can show the rest of us how it has had a practical impact on a particular event or their lives.

I will choose from them from time to time to post on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy to help give insight to the rest of us of how mindfulness can be practically applied for our health and well-being.

Of course those that get chosen can also send me a link that I’ll include in the post where people can learn more about them.

Here are the instructions for this informal invitation:

  1. Send me anything from a paragraph to a single page, single spaced of a personal story or a story of someone you know (with pseudonym if appropriate) that applied mindfulness or had a moment of mindfulness that provided some form of change. This can be in relationship to thoughts, emotions, stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma, joy, hope, gratitude, adults, teens, children, business, politics, health, you name it.
  2. Make sure woven within the writing is a practical example that we can all relate to, as if someone could read what you wrote and bring it directly into their lives.
  3. Send a word document to – That’s it!

If there’s enough I’ll try and make this a weekly event. At the end of the day learning from our peers is powerful.

I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

PS – If you missed Stan Friedman’s story on a Metaphor of Possibility, here it is.


Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

You are Exactly Where You Need to Be

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

We spend a lot of our attention day in and day out, knowingly and unknowingly trying to be somewhere else than where we are. You may have had this thought before, but still the same process continues. It’s as if our mind is in the business of constantly trying to evade life as it is.

On the subtle end it’s when we’re in the shower and planning what needs to get done at work, on the more blatant end it’s when we have a fear of heights and we stay away from getting on anything that’s taller than us. What would life be like in the days, weeks and months ahead if you truly believed the following thought?

No matter where I am, especially if I am facing a fear or pain, I am exactly where I need to be.

The truth is we cannot gain freedom in this life or even in this moment if we cannot learn the skills of being with life as it is.

The moment we recognize that we can “be with” what’s here and the moment we especially realize that with fear is the beginning of a fundamental awakening. It’s when we see that we have much more freedom in this world than we ever knew.

It’s also the moment when we start being on the lookout for fear, but in an entirely different way. We’re not anxiously afraid of fear where we walk around like a blanket of gasoline ready to erupt with any spark. We’re actually looking for the fear so we can continue to show ourselves that everything is going to be okay.

What would the days, weeks and months be like in your life if you had a credible voice inside that was saying “everything is going to be okay?”

That is the voice we begin to cultivate as we practice mindfulness of fear in our lives.

It doesn’t happen overnight for most of us, it isn’t an enlightenment that changes the face of our lives forever as has seemed to happen to very few people. It is a gradual shifting that continues to be practiced, nourished and grown over time.

The truth is you are exactly where you need to be, even in the face of fear and pain. Be gentle with yourself and what it’s like to hold this with a heart of compassion. You can say to yourself, “Breathing in I recognize this fear or pain, breathing out, holding it with a heart of compassion.” At the same time, know your limits. It be a source of wisdom to turn away from pain at times in the face of deep trauma and it can be skillful to get the support of a professional.

Take this with you today.

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

5 Keys to Preparing for Fall and Winter Blues

Friday, September 16th, 2011

As I look out my window right now and see the overcast, gray sky I’m reminded of the seasons changing and although fall is coming up, winter is just around the corner. While it’s a wonderful practice to be in the present moment, at times it’s good to look toward the future so we can use this moment for planning. I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who said, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” When it comes to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or just being negatively affected by less light or shorter days, this is a great opportunity to get your ducks in a row to stave off a depressive slide.

Here are 5 key tips to stave off any upcoming fall and winter blues:

  1. Mindfulness training – If you haven’t jumped in yet now may be the time. Mindfulness is a wonderful practice for breaking out of the ruminative cycle that can get triggered as the days get shorter. We start to open the mind to become more appreciative of what’s here instead of focused on what isn’t here. This is the seed of resiliency. If you’re in Los Angeles, I have an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) group to prevent depressive relapse starting Sunday.  
  2. Exercise – Many people wait until New Years to make the resolution, this isn’t preventative care. There’s no other time than now. If the gym is too big of a commitment, what about getting a 20 minute exercise or yoga DVD to practice to or making a 5-minute commitment to do a few sit-ups and push-ups each day. The fact is, if you’re not going to take care of yourself who will?
  3. Light therapy – For some people this is a good solution. There are many light therapy lamps and bulbs on the market, create more light at home, your body just may need it.
  4. Gratitude list – When this is brought up it can really get the automatic judgments jumping. However, did you know this is a well-researched approach to creating a greater sense of well-being? Yes, creating a daily short gratitude list of specific things in the day that you are grateful for can help incline the mind toward the good in life.
  5. Connect – While Facebook can be a resource for connection, see if you can start nurturing some regular connections with people who are supportive with you, not just acquaintances. Start making some regular plans to go to coffee, go on a hike, and join a special interest group that meets live. You can find these on If you have a family and everyone has been on their own schedule lately, create a regular family time for connection.

This is about nurturing your life, it’s about creating resiliency and most of all about getting in touch with what really matters.

Start putting some of this in your calendar as dates and little by little you will have a support for what a lot of people experience as potential difficult times.

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

A Metaphor of Possibility: Stan Friedman, PhD

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Sometimes you run across a story that provides a great teaching. Stan Friedman, PhD is a Psychologist in West Los Angeles who has such a story that teaches us a metaphor of possibility to break free from the confines of our minds and into a world of choice and freedom.

The grapevine section of highway 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco was closed due to a rare winter snowstorm, and I had to turn around and use a different route. What would otherwise have been a 5 1/2 hour drive to complete the 400 mile journey became instead a 6 1/2 hour ordeal in heavy rain and stop-and-go traffic surrounded by the frequent honking of impatient drivers in covering only 100 of those miles. It was pretty miserable out there.

I was bemoaning my fate, realizing that there was no way out of this experience for at least the next 3 hours before reaching the motel I’d had the foresight to book along the way. Once I was mindful that I was ruminating towards the future, “When I’d be out of this mess and in a safe, warm peaceful bed.”

I asked myself a question: “If there were no way out–if I had no choice but to endure this undesirable circumstance—let’s say the world were to end at the end of those 3 hours—would I choose to be out of my misery early, to take death now? After all, there’d be no way out. Or conversely, would I rather choose to live those 3 hours?

No question:  I’d take the three hours.

So here I was. What now? I couldn’t change my circumstances, but I could change the focus of my attention.

Indeed, I remained surrounded by sheets of rain and angry drivers. No doubt for the duration. But that was not the only thing going on. No less coexistent in this moment was that I was also breathing. I had body sensations. I possessed consciousness rather than oblivion. Awareness expanded: the thought that in all human history, until the last millennium even the most privileged king could make this journey no faster than this stop-and-go. That the trees to the side of the road were being nourished by the rain. That I could contact and focus upon the loving afterglow from those friends and family I had just visited over the prior weekend. I could plan in my mind details of my next adventure–unlimited possibilities loomed before me.

No doubt, left unmindful the stimulus value of the rain and traffic held the greatest pull on my attention. But once mindful of the moment, I didn’t have to passively flow with THAT current. I could choose, or at least effort, to forge another.

I am, after all, connected in my mind to all other people and things. With that reminder my experience became transformed. The rain and honking didn’t cease. They just became unimportant. There was too much else I preferred to attend to. By the time I arrived at my motel, I was in a state of peace.

I look back to that snowstorm with gratitude. The experience offers me a metaphor of possibility. What is indeed is, and cannot be changed. My awareness of what is at any given moment may be limited. But I can also remember to remember: No matter what exists within my limited range of attention at any given moment, there co-exists always something more, no less true or present at the same moment. Present circumstances go beyond merely what pulls my attention most strongly at the moment. They are unlimited.

This is my faith.

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

A Mindful Way Through Depression

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Depression is one of the most profound challenges of our time. We know that 25% of women and up to 12% of men will suffer a clinical depression in their lifetime and many more will suffer with mild depression. Author and professional blog writer, Therese Borchard writes a wonderful blog about personal experiences with depression. Whether you or someone you know is suffering from depression or some psychological pain like sorrow or grief, it can feel like a burden on the mind and heart. Maybe we hold the feeling in and we become numb, walking around like a zombie, or maybe we feel like if we actually let the tears flow they would never end. Perhaps there is another way, a more gentle way to approach the pain inside.

In an earlier blog I mentioned a way we can work with the tormented mind through acknowledging the reality of the present moment and then sending a message internally to calm the distressed mind.  For example, the mind can seem fragmented, thrashing, anxious, fuzzy, numb, or any number of other ways. These states of mind can be uncomfortable and our automatic struggle with them or judgments of them only serves to feed the depression. The problem is, this struggle and avoidance of it leads to disconnection of what we are truly feeling and so the mind begins to get the better of us.

Here is another approach:

When we notice the struggle, we want to breathe in and acknowledge the mind and while we breathe out we can say to ourselves “It’s Ok.” So if the mind is anxious, just breathing in and saying “anxious mind”, breathing out “it’s ok”.

As you do this the mind may eventually change to a different feeling. See if you can notice this and then shift with it. It may start feeling fuzzy and so you can switch now to “breathing in, fuzzy, breathing out, it’s ok.”

Tip: Notice any judgments arising right now when reading this, “this will never work for me” or “nothing is going to change how I feel, how stupid.” These judgments are likely well known to you and have become automatic. If they arise, just see if you can acknowledge them as just thoughts, let them be, and gently bring your attention back to the page. If this happens while you practicing, again, just ackowledge the thoughts as thoughts, let them be, and come back to the practice.

To deepen: When practicing, you may or may not notice tears come. However, you may feel a sense that tears are about to come, but there is a holding back. If you feel safe enough, see if you can tell yourself “Whatever is here is ok…let me feel it.” You can do this with the practice by saying “breathing in, acknowledging what is here, breathing out, let me feel it.” As the feeling comes, just continue to breathe with it and let it be. Let your body lead, if it feels like moving to the bed or laying on the couch, go ahead and do that and just stay with it, without judgment.

You can tell yourself that you can be with these emotions and “this too shall pass.” Sometimes allowing our true emotions to arise, allowing them to be, and letting them come and go can have profound implications on the safety we feel with them and ourselves.  This way of relating to our pain differently is not meant to be a panacea for depression, but is mean to change the way we relate to our pain and plant the seeds of recovery. The more we practice the more we sew these seeds. However, don’t take my word for it, please, try it for yourself.

May you be safe, healthy, happy, and free from fear.

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

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

A Simple Practice to Make You Feel More Alive

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Every day we walk outside our door to go to work, the post office, the grocery store or wherever, our mind is already ahead of itself. In many of the mindfulness-based classes I teach we start with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s raisin exercise where we pretend we’ve never seen this raisin before and proceed to bring all our five senses to it. Inevitably people come out saying they noticed so much more about the raisin than they ever knew. Many say they enjoyed it so much more and found it satisfying.

The question remains, how much of life do we miss out on day-to-day as we spend so much attention in the past and future?

Jan Chozen Bays is a physician and Zen teacher and her latest book How to Train a Wild Elephant: & other adventures in mindfulness, she teaches us many practices to engage in week to week, but here’s a simple one to show us how much we usually miss.

See the Color Blue

In this practice we’re challenged to look for the color blue in our environment wherever we go. We begin to look past the obvious, like the sky and begin to see the nuances of every day. As I practiced this I started also naturally beginning to open up to all the other colors in the day.

It’s as if my day began to light up with color and I believe this correlates with feeling well.

When we’re feeling depressed in life things seem a lot more gray, things seem less alive, there is a lack of color.

Doing this simple practice, and I mean simple, primes the mind to start seeing more color naturally and can bring an aliveness to life.

Try it out today and let your experience be your teacher.


Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on