Archive for July, 2012

Inspiration of the Day: Michael Jackson Moves Us to Make Change

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

One of my favorite songs of all time is Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror.” It’s an incredibly moving and powerful song about taking a good, hard, authentic look at ourselves to say that we are all active participants in our own health and well-being and the health and well-being of this world we live in.

If you have five minutes, press play, close your eyes, listen to the words and enjoy:

He starts out by setting his intention:

I’m Gonna Make A Change,

For Once In My Life

It’s Gonna Feel Real Good,

Gonna Make A Difference

Gonna Make It Right . . .

There’s truth to this. Studies show that altruism is linked to feeling good. In fact, if you were given $20 and spent it on another person, you would likely report feeling better than if you took the money and spent it on yourself.

Later, he follows with opening his eyes with empathy and compassion:

I See The Kids In The Street,

With Not Enough To Eat

Who Am I, To Be Blind?

Pretending Not To See

Their Needs

The brain is wired to habituate to life. All the difficulty we see in the world eventually just becomes wallpaper; an object that exists in our lives. It’s not like we’re pretending not to see their needs, we are likely not even conscious of them as our brain skips over it.

One of the themes in The Now Effect is sliding under those rapid snap judgments that objectify the people around us, and as Stanford psychologist and researcher Philippe Goldin says, seeing them as “Just like me;” people who have the same wants and needs of belonging, understanding and love.

Read over this chorus and allow it to seep into your mind and affect the hours and days ahead. You can truly make a difference, it starts with you and the ripple effects are exponential.

I’m Starting With The Man In

The Mirror

I’m Asking Him To Change

His Ways

And No Message Could Have

Been Any Clearer

If You Wanna Make The World

A Better Place

Take A Look At Yourself And

Then Make A Change

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

Mindfulness is Not a Cure; It’s Better

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Mindfulness meditation, the act of intentionally paying attention to the present moment while putting aside our snap judgments, has been shown to alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, trauma and open us up to wonders, happy moments and a sense of grace in life. But make no mistake, the longest of practitioners will tell you that they still experience the downturns, getting hooked by the inevitable frustrations of life, and anticipatory anxiety.

So it’s not a cure, but it gives us something that a cure can’t.

Implied in mindfulness is the acceptance that life is full of ups and downs. This acceptance breeds a sense of warmth and compassion that could not grow if the downs were cured. As the saying goes, it takes both sunshine and rain to make a rainbow.

Or Rumi’s quote:

“Don’t turn your gaze. Look toward the bandaged place that’s where the light enters.”

The wonderful integration of neuroscience in recent years has shown us that in those moments of acceptance, the volume on our fear circuit and ruminative cycles are turned down and we can reopen to what truly matters. We can actually grow the area of our brain responsible for empathy and willingly shift to more compassionate states of brain.

Just like riding a bicycle, eating and talking, it takes intentional practice and repetition.

Those moments we wake up to what matters is what is called The Now Effect, and it can be trained. A wonderful teacher named Tara Brach calls those moments of Refuge.

Don’t look for mindfulness to cure your anxiety, depression or addiction, look at it more as a new way of relating to life, a way of coming home, nurturing a healthier heart and opening up to the experience of being alive.

Here’s a short practice to begin or continue right now:

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

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

The Power of Lovingkindness: An Interview with Sharon Salzberg

Friday, July 20th, 2012

For those of you who don’t know Sharon Salzberg, she is one of America’s leading mindfulness teachers and authors and has played a significant role in bringing mindfulness and the practice of lovingkindness to all of us in the Western world.  She is co-founder of one of America’s premier meditation centers, Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts, and is the author of many books and CDs, including her classic Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, and her newest work, “Real Happiness.”

Today Sharon talks to us about the power of Lovingkindness, how to relate to difficult people, and some thoughts moving forward.

Elisha: Sharon, in your classic book ”Lovingkindness,” you begin by saying, “Throughout our lives we long to love ourselves more deeply and to feel connected with others. Instead, we often contract, fear intimacy, and suffer a bewildering sense of separation. We crave love, and yet we are lonely. Our delusion of being separate from one another, of being apart from all that is around us, gives rise to all of this pain. What is the way out of this?” Sharon, can you give us a glimpse into how you guide people out of their loneliness?

Sharon: Often we begin by generating some compassion for ourselves in the face of our feeling of loneliness. It is not something bad, or weak to feel. It is however very painful, and so instead of disliking ourselves for it, we can have some tenderness and kindness for ourselves. Then we use the base of that self-understanding and compassion to look at others. We know all of us at times act to automatically avoid feelings like loneliness, sometimes in quite destructive ways. We know that it takes some skill to hang in there with a feeling like loneliness, and to develop greater kindness from it.

We do reflections like, “All beings want to be happy,” to reinforce the understanding that there are many things we all share – we want to be happy, we very often don’t know where genuine happiness is to be found, and we are vulnerable to change. Each of us actually knows that life is so fragile – we can be walking down the street, and answer our cell phones, and by the time we’ve hung up it’s a different life.

We reflect on how much we do share, our yearnings and our vulnerability, and generate lovingkindness and compassion for others. We might do this through meditation practice, or through volunteering or serving in some way to try to be of help to others. The result of each path is that we start to feel much more connected, both to ourselves and to others.

Elisha: In another book, The Kindness Handbook: A Practical Companion,” you explore how something as simple as kindness can be powerful to living a better life.  Can you give us some key examples on how people can bring kindness into every day living?

Sharon: I think kindness in many ways is an overlooked force. Culturally it might be considered a secondary virtue, as though to say, “Well, if you can’t be brilliant and you can’t be wonderful, be kind. At least it is something.” Yet the reality in our lives is that kindness is a powerful transformative tool.

Kindness is often a consequence of attention – how we pay attention, what we pay attention to, who we pay attention to.

Often we are distracted or fragmented in conversation. For example, we might be talking to someone and secretly consumed with thinking about the phone call we need to make, or the next person we need to talk to. It wouldn’t take that much to gather our wandering energy and actually listen to the person who is speaking to us. That is an act of kindness.

And all too often we fixate on the negative, whether viewing ourselves or others. If we have the habit at the end of the day, of looking back at ourselves as though to evaluate, “How did I do today?” we may also have the habit of fixating on what we did wrong, say the stupid thing we said at that meeting at lunch. Our whole sense of who we are and all that we will ever be collapses into that unskillful statement. We practice to broaden and open our attention, as though to say, “Anything else happen today? Is there good within me?”

This is not a question of make believe, as though to insist that what we said at that meeting was brilliant and witty – perhaps it was quite stupid and there might be consequences for that. But that’s not all that we are, ever. To broaden our attention and include the good is also an act of kindness.

Another example is considering who makes up the “other” for us, not even necessarily because of antipathy, but just through indifference. How many people do we encounter each day where we don’t consider that this is a living, breathing, human being who wants to be happy just as we do? How many do we overlook, or disregard as we objectify them? When we make a point of trying to pay attention rather than look right through someone as though they don’t count, it creates the foundation for a natural, unfeigned and very expansive kindness to manifest.

Elisha: What about being kind to those who give us a hard time or even our enemies? How can that benefit us?

Sharon: Here it is important to understand that kindness doesn’t mean wimpiness. We can be forceful, even fierce, and have clear boundaries, and say no, all coming from a place of kindness rather than rejection or corrosive anger. Here I think of an example the Dalai Lama used, where he said, “If you have an enemy, and you think all of the time about how they harmed you, and your grievance, you won’t be able to eat, you won’t be able to sleep, you won’t be bale to enjoy anything. Why give them that satisfaction?”

So here kindness needs to include kindness towards oneself, and the understanding that if we are consumed by the negative actions of others, it consumes our lives.

We also look critically at where strength actually lies. We might think that seeking revenge will strengthen us. There is a power there because there is a lot of energy – we are not passive or complacent. But it is an unreliable and destructive kind of power when we really look at it. There’s a lot more strength in feeling ourselves not enslaved by the unkind actions of others,  and having confidence we haven’t acted in a way that will eventually bring regret to us. But none of this means we allow ourselves or others to be abused or harmed, and we just meekly accept it. With kindness in our hearts, for ourselves and others, we can take very decisive action.

Elisha: Sharon, I noticed you’re on Twitter! Can you give us a glimpse as to what some of your posts are?

Sharon: I’m just learning how to use Twitter. Sometimes I tweet quotations that have inspired me, like “Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs are people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman.

Sometimes I have written posts for blogs like the Huffington Post, and I want to try to get the word out, like a piece I wrote for the Huffington Post on trauma in the past http://bit.ly/uIOIk.

Or I announce programs that I’m offering. It’s a new world!

Elisha: If you have any advice for the readers of The Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog to relieve their distress in daily life, what would that be?

Sharon: Mindfulness itself is a very powerful tool in relieving distress. We say that mindfulness doesn’t take the shape of what it is watching. In other words, we can be mindful of beautiful, welcome experiences, difficult and challenging experiences, and everything in between. The first thing we look for is what we might be adding to the experience, especially if it is difficult. One example would be future projection, “What’s this pain going to feel like tomorrow?” along with a presumption of permanence, “It will never change for the better.” In that case, we are not only experiencing the present moment’s difficulty, but all of that anticipated difficulty, as though we knew it would never end or move or shift.

Sometimes I simply remind myself, “This is what’s happening right now.” If we can relinquish some of the add-ons, we can look into the heart of the challenging experience. There we tend to find layers of nuance, like seeing our anger is also made up of fear, and sadness, and a sense of helplessness. It is not just one thing. And we see the constantly changing nature of all inner and outer experience, and in that seeing of movement and flow we don’t feel so trapped by what is happening.

Thank you so much Sharon for your time and insight. We are grateful.

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

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

How to Train Your Brain Toward a Meaningful Life

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

mindfulness training“Life, it all goes by so fast.”

This is a phrase that is said ubiquitously by people across race, ethnicity, socio-economic class, gender, you name it. When you hear something this common – something is telling us to listen.

Why do we lose sight that life is so temporary? Some might say that we have a fear of death so we block it out of our minds, and without the awareness of death we lose sight of the preciousness of life. Others might say we just get caught up in our daily routines and stop seeing or pondering this miracle of life.

Whatever the reason, we know it happens and it may take a death or a birth to remind us of the preciousness of life.

Here is a process I created and did a national research study around to help us cultivate more of these meaningful moments.

  1. Object – Find a tangible or intangible object that has deep meaning to you. This could be a family heirloom, a spiritual object, a piece of nature, or even a memory of sometime passed.
  2. Making Meaning – As you choose this object, remind yourself of the meaning it holds for you.
  3. Mindful Check-in – Sit, stand, or lie down and bring your attention to your body and just see if you can be aware of how you’re feeling physically and emotionally in this moment. Then bring your attention to your breath, just noticing how this body breathes itself.
  4. Connecting – Turn your attention to this object and begin to engage your senses with it. Notice how it feels, how it makes you feel, see it with your eyes, hear it if there are sounds. Spending some moments with it.
  5. Thank yourself for taking the time-out of all your daily busy-ness to do this.

Doing a practice like this for five minutes a day may also help you notice moments such as this in your daily life and change your relationship to the moment from a routine moment to a more meaningful moment. Author Stephen Levine said, “If you had a year to live what would you do, who would you call, what would you say and why are you waiting?” You can also change this to an hour.

As always, please don’t take my word for engaging in this practice, try it out for yourself. Notice any pre-judgments such as “this is silly, this can’t work for me.” Try and set them aside and then re-engage with the practice. See what comes up for you. Let your experience guide you, not your snap judgments.

If you’re going to be around this Wednesday, don’t miss the Free Live Webinar 7 Steps to a Stress-Less Brain. 

Share your comments, stories, and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Antique cameo photo available from Shutterstock

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

Making a Big Therapeutic Impact in Short Time: An Interview with Dr. B. Jane Wick on Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

I’m often on the lookout for progressive new effective therapies. This led my wife and I to go check out Denim ‘n’ Dirt in Santa Clarita, CA when we heard of the advances in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. I have to admit I was dubious that integrating horses and psychotherapy would be therapeutic, but putting my mindful hat on I walked in with a beginner’s mind and curiosity.

We walked up and met with Dr. B. Jane Wick and Steve Nelson, and without getting into too many details, by the end of a single session I was pretty amazed at the incredible overlap between mindfulness and equine therapy. I was also a bit blown away by the way the horses picked up on subtle cues and in ways that this unique form of therapy helped enlighten us to some important things that needed more mindfulness.

This is why it’s my pleasure to bring to you Dr. B. Jane Wick, a psychologist of 25 years, and equine assistant Steve Nelson of Denim ‘n’ Dirt to give us some more insight into the wonder behind this work.

Today Jane will be telling us what Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is, why it has such an impact in a short amount of time, a practical example of how it works and a tip and some thoughts on how we can go about finding this therapy for ourselves.

Elisha:  Equine therapy seems to be gaining a lot of interest as a way of creating change quickly; tell us briefly what it is and why you think it has such dramatic effects?

Jane: Thank you Elisha for giving me an opportunity to answer some of these excellent questions you’ve asked about Equine Assisted Psychotherapy!

EAP is indeed gaining popularity because it helps people change in very profound ways.  It is our experience that clients who work in sessions with horses, a skilled therapist and an equine specialist are on a fast track to identifying and confronting the emotional, psychological and spiritual issues that most affect their lives.  This is true whether the client is working as an individual or as part of a couple, family or group.  There are several reasons why this approach to the growth and learning process is so effective.

First, the arena where the sessions take place is a large space in which to metaphorically create the inner reality of the client.  The actual process of physically designing this inner world and acting within it with horses engages the client physically and non-verbally as well as verbally, creating vivid insights into the world in which the client lives.

Horses are particularly well suited for engaging the client with his/her inner work.  Whereas we navigate our modern world by relying heavily on the linguistic, logic driven left side of our brain, the horse relies on intuitive sensing and non-verbal communication for its survival.  As prey animals, their senses have been honed for over 50 million years to discern even the smallest shifts in their environment.

When horses look at us, they see past our persona and pretenses to the person we truly are.  When we interact with them, they “mirror” our inner state.  We have seen horses consistently demonstrate an uncanny ability to reflect even subtle and unconscious emotional states;  this phenomenon must be experienced directly to be understood even at its most basic level. Clearly we have much to learn about how horses can sense so much about us.

Elisha: Can you give us a practical example of a way that therapy worked to raise self-awareness and help a client?

Jane: Yes, we were working with a young woman who had been sexually abused as a child and suffered from a great deal of depression and poor self-esteem.  After several sessions she was ready to talk about her sexual abuse trauma.  As she was describing her horrific experience, one of the horses came up to her seemingly wanting to be patted.  As she patted the horse the horse began to lick her arms, then her legs and finally started to really crowd her and invade her space.  The young woman froze.  I suggested that she could act to set a boundary with the horse.  She responded by pushing the horse’s head away and proclaimed, “Hey, cut it out; I’m a separate person from you!”

The horse then put his right front hoof on top of the young woman’s foot as if to “point.” I asked her what that meant to her. She responded, “He’s telling me that I really need to understand that and that I am a separate person that CAN SET BOUNDARIES.”  At this point the horse turned around and walked away.

This was a peak moment in her therapy process.  Since then her depression and self-esteem have lifted significantly and her life and relationships have continued to improve.

This is but one of many stories of people whose lives have been dramatically changed through their work in the arena with us and the horses.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone who was emotionally struggling right now and was wondering if equine therapy would be helpful to them, what would you say?

Jane: I would tell them that they most likely would gain a lot by engaging in EAP.  I have been a practicing psychologist for more than 25 years, and this is one of most effective therapies I have ever encountered.  I feel privileged to be able to offer this new experience in the service of helping people heal and live more fulfilling lives.

Thank you Jane and Steve for the wonderful work you do. By the way, I was so impressed with this work and it’s overlap with mindfulness that at some point in the future I will likely be teaming up with Jane and Steve to offer a Mindfulness-Based Daylong Retreat integrating their work with Equine Therapy at Denim ‘n’ Dirt Ranch.

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

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

The Top 10 Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog Posts

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Throughout the course of 2012 in Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, we have interacted around topics on mindfulness, neuroscience, stress and media, Facebook, the Negativity Bias, addiction, technology, resiliency, parenting and so much more.

Thank you for all your wonderful interactions, here’s a chance to give back to you.

Here are the Top 10 Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Posts in recent months. Feel free to bookmark and come back to again and again:

  1. A Simple Way to Trick Your Brain Toward Mindfulness
  2. Media Multitasking Leads to Poorer Cognitive Performance: A Mindful Response
  3. Is Facebook Making Us Lonelier: The Great Mindful Experiment
  4. 5 Steps to Balance the Brain’s Negativity Bias
  5. Why Habits Are So Hard to Break: Dr. Nora Volkow Has the Answer
  6. Are We Addicted to Our Phones? A Mindful Check-in
  7. Rumi’s Secret to Making the Changes You Want
  8. A Secret to Resiliency in Mental Health
  9. Mindful Parenting: The Buck Stops Here
  10. One of the Most Important Challenges of Our Time
A final gift: don’t miss this July 18th, 2012 the Free Webinar: 7 Steps to the Stress-Less Brain. 

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

Feeling Emotional Pleasure and Pain Means Being Alive: Pema Chodron

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

It’s not such a secret that we are a culture driven by a need for “more” in order to feel alive or happy. We are also a culture driven to try and eradicate discomfort. These underlying motivations are partly driven by media messages from businesses trying to make a buck and spending billions of dollars are marketing to drive this into our minds.

In light of this, I want to bring to you a quote from a woman who has a lot of wisdom to share, Pema Chodron:

It’s also helpful to realize that this very body that we have, that’s sitting right here right now… with its aches and it pleasures… is exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive.

Okay, maybe it’s also important to have food, clothing, and a roof over our heads for many of us to be fully human, fully awake, and fully alive, but let’s not let that small point take us away from the brilliance of this quote.

One of the truths of life is that within us lies a feeling of dis-ease. We can’t be content with where we are in any particular moment because our minds are either trying to flee away from some discomfort or toward some comfort.

Pema Chodron is simply trying to remind us that aches and pleasures are part of the human experience. There may not be a catastrophe when a pain is there, it may just be part of being “fully alive.” There may not be a need to get the wheels anxiety or distress to be set in motion. Of course, if you are under extreme distress or have an inkling that something is off physically, it’s important to get it checked out by a medical professional.

However, next time you’re feeling physical or emotional pain, know that this is temporary and say to yourself, “maybe this is exactly what I need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive.” See if you can bring your attention to it with a sense of compassion and caring. Next time you are feeling pleasure, also know that this is temporary and part of being fully alive and see if you can remind yourself to be grateful for these times.

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

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

Landmark $3 Billion Drug Company Settlement: A Mindful Lens

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

The pharmaceutical industry is the most profitable industry in America, and one of the largest pharmaceutical companies, GlaxoSmithKline, just settled a case with the federal government to pay $3 billion for health fraud. One billion will cover criminal fines and $2 billion will cover civil settlements.

This isn’t the first landmark case. In 2009, Pfizer paid the government $2.3 billion for health care fraud. This raises important questions and concerns about how we individually and culturally have been influenced by these companies and how awareness can help us see healthier choices to some of life’s afflictions.

There are many reasons for the GlaxoSmithKline settlement, one being marketing non-FDA approved drugs, marketing Paxil to minors, and providing heavy incentives to push the medications. Prior to becoming an author, psychologist and mindfulness teacher, I was selling telecommunication networks to businesses in San Francisco, California. I saw and benefited firsthand from the incentives you receive for making big sales. I had friends in the pharmaceutical industry who received those same incentives of trips to Hawaii, large televisions, cash rewards, among others for being leading sales people.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a company creating incentives to encourage sales of telecom, paycheck services, or recruiting, but it just seems a bit different when we’re talking about medication, particularly psycho-pharmaceuticals.

The advertising on television right now that puts a beautiful, heavenly scene in the background to market anti-psychotics to lighten our moods is the latest campaign that is potentially dangerous. Anti-psychotics can have real and unfortunate side effects.

I am not against medication; see my article on Depressed? Medicate, Meditate, or Both. In some instances, it can be highly supportive in getting someone to a place to integrate treatment. However, we need to be aware that there is a cash profiting business behind the sales of these medications and that means a cultural influence that more freely accepts them as a first line of attack against mental afflictions when they should be the last.

This easily and shockingly gets out of control with many people as we start to see giant “cocktails” emerging with people taking 6-10 different medications, one to offset the next.

However, with rulings like these, at least some awareness is raised, but it can easily go away with the right amount of commercials.

Again, I want to be very clear, medication itself is not bad; it can seem like a lifesaver at times. The problem is simply how as a culture we’ve begun to relate to it. If someone is suffering from intense anxiety or crippling depression, it can be a great support to relieve some symptoms in order to be open to treatment.

But when someone has just lost a loved one, we’re quick to prescribe instead of letting the grief take place. When someone is having trouble with uncertainty in their life and experiencing anxiety, many prescribing doctors may offer up an SSRI, instead of offering resources to help the person cope and learn from uncertainty. When someone complains of loneliness, medication is just a band aid. In this case, the disintegration of community for the individual and in our culture needs to be addressed.

On top of it, if we start realizing that we are responsible for our own health and well-being, we can save our healthcare system millions and millions of dollars. Congressman of Ohio, Tim Ryan makes his case for this in “A Mindful Nation.”

This is just my perspective, but I believe that with a more mindful lens on this issue, we may open up to greater perspectives and may see more choices. Sometimes that may be medication, but certainly not as much as is being prescribed today.

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