Archive for August, 2012

Why You Want to Sweat the Small Stuff

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Every day in my inbox I get a Daily Now Moment (DNM) that gives me something short enough to tweak my brain toward the present moment and to what actually matters. Here’s one that I received recently that I want to expand on:

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” ~ Robert Brault
What are those little things you can be on the lookout for today? A hug, a smile, the functionality of your body?
Sometimes it’s good to sweat the small stuff.
You may know by now, or maybe it’s news that your brain makes thousands of decisions a day beneath your awareness about what’s good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair, (more…)

Reprogram Your Brain to Improve Relationships and Heal Past Wounds

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

If you’ve followed my work, you’ve probably heard me talk about or read something I’ve written that has talked about the skillful application of doing things that prime our minds in the direction of mindfulness, health and well-being. In fact, Priming the Mind is the third step of the 5 Step Cheat Sheet in The Now Effect.

It’s a way of influencing your subconscious mind toward what I like to call healthy reactivity. Most of the time our brains are making hundreds of decisions for us from moment-to-moment and we’re never going to be conscious of those snap judgments they happen too rapidly. However, just like our brains have memorized the procedures of walking, talking and eating, so too can we have the brain memorize procedures toward mindfulness, health and well-being.

Here’s one thing you can do right now to prime your mind toward greater compassion, which is directly connected to healing ourselves and making the world a better place to live.

Writing, even for a short while, is a procedure that can be practiced and repeated and influence our subconscious minds. Writing about kindness and compassion will have our brains tilt toward being more automatically kind and compassionate toward ourselves and others, improving our relationships and healing wounds from the past. Charles Francis and Mary Sovran founded the Mindfulness Meditation Institute and have developed a writing meditation that you can do for any amount of time to positively influence the brain.

Here is something they have created that you can begin today in as little as 5 minutes a day or more. The idea is to look over the lovingkindness practice below and write it down. You don’t have to finish it, just do it for whatever time you allot. Whatever judgments arise in your mind right now, just set that aside and allow your experience to be your teacher.

The Short Practice: 

Yourself

May I be healthy and strong. May I be safe and protected. May I be peaceful and free from mental, emotional, and physical suffering. May I be happy and joyful. May I be patient and understanding. May I be loving, kind, and gentle in my ways. May I be courageous in dealing with difficulties, and always meet with success. May I be diligent and committed to my spiritual practice, and to helping others along their path. May my True Nature shine through, and onto all beings I encounter.

Everyone in your house

May every person and living being in my house be healthy and strong. May they be safe and protected. May they be peaceful and free from mental, emotional, and physical suffering. May they be happy and joyful. May they be patient and understanding. May they be loving, kind, and gentle in their ways. May they be courageous in dealing with difficulties, and always meet with success. May they be diligent and committed to their spiritual practice, and to helping others along their path. May their True Nature shine through, and onto all beings they encounter.

Your neighborhood

May every person and living being in my neighborhood be healthy and strong. May they be safe and protected. May they be peaceful and free from mental, emotional, and physical suffering. May they be happy and joyful. May they be patient and understanding. May they be loving, kind, and gentle in their ways. May they be courageous in dealing with difficulties, and always meet with success. May they be diligent and committed to their spiritual practice, and to helping others along their path. May their True Nature shine through, and onto all beings they encounter.

Your city

May every person and living being in my city be healthy and strong. May they be safe and protected. May they be peaceful and free from mental, emotional, and physical suffering. May they be happy and joyful. May they be patient and understanding. May they be loving, kind, and gentle in their ways. May they be courageous in dealing with difficulties, and always meet with success. May they be diligent and committed to their spiritual practice, and to helping others along their path. May their True Nature shine through, and onto all beings they encounter.

Your country

May every person and living being in my country be healthy and strong. May they be safe and protected. May they be peaceful and free from mental, emotional, and physical suffering. May they be happy and joyful. May they be patient and understanding. May they be loving, kind, and gentle in their ways. May they be courageous in dealing with difficulties, and always meet with success. May they be diligent and committed to their spiritual practice, and to helping others along their path. May their True Nature shine through, and onto all beings they encounter.

The whole planet

May every person and living being on earth be healthy and strong. May they be safe and protected. May they be peaceful and free from mental, emotional, and physical suffering. May they be happy and joyful. May they be patient and understanding. May they be loving, kind, and gentle in their ways. May they be courageous in dealing with difficulties, and always meet with success. May they be diligent and committed to their spiritual practice, and to helping others along their path. May their True Nature shine through, and onto all beings they encounter.

The entire universe on all planes of existence

May every person and living being in the entire universe on all planes of existence be healthy and strong. May they be safe and protected. May they be peaceful and free from mental, emotional, and physical suffering. May they be happy and joyful. May they be patient and understanding. May they be loving, kind, and gentle in their ways. May they be courageous in dealing with difficulties, and always meet with success. May they be diligent and committed to their spiritual practice, and to helping others along their path. May their True Nature shine through, and onto all beings they encounter.

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 Courage to Be Present: An Interview with Karen Kissel Wegela, PhD

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

The first time I came across the title of Karen Kissel Wegela’s book, “The Courage to Be Present,” I said to myself, “how true.” In an age where distraction is encouraged, it actually takes courage to intentionally be present to our lives.

Karen has been a core faculty member at Naropa University for more than 29 years focusing on “Contemplative Psychotherapy” – bringing together Buddhism and traditional psychotherapy. She has a private practice in Boulder, Colorado and gives workshops and lectures nationally and internationally. I think the message she conveys can be extraordinarily helpful to so many of us.

It is my honor to interview her here so we can all glean some of her wisdom.

Question: Karen, what are the differences between traditional psychotherapy and Contemplative Psychotherapy?

Contemplative Psychotherapy differs from other kinds of psychotherapy in being especially interested in what we call “brilliant sanity,” our inherent wisdom and compassion.  Although we are not always in touch with that basic nature of who we most deeply are, nonetheless, Contemplative Psychotherapists always assume its presence in ourselves and in our clients and are trained to recognize it even when it is covered or disguised by confusion and habitual patterns.

We work with our clients–and with ourselves–to uncover that sanity within all confused or painful states of mind.

A basic tenet of Contemplative Psychotherapy is the need for therapists to have an ongoing mindfulness/awareness meditation practice.  This commitment to working with our own minds every day keeps us “honest.”  We are far less likely to be distracted by our own concerns and our own preferences about what a client might do or not do. It frees us to assist our clients in actualizing their own brilliant sanity, not our ideas about what that might look like.

We take our inspiration from the Buddhist ideal of the “bodhisattva,” one who dedicates his or her life to benefiting others.  Not all contemplative psychotherapists are Buddhists, but they are all committed to nurturing mindfulness and awareness in themselves and in their clients.

Question: In your book you talk a bit about cultivating joy in therapy. How do you do that and what tips can you give readers on how to cultivate joy in their own lives?

These days, many therapists and clients are aware of the power of mindfulness practice.  In addition to the strong foundation mindfulness provides, Buddhist psychology offers other teachings that are also valuable in psychotherapy such as the teachings on the “four immeasurables,” and the “six awakened actions.” These are practices that are directed specifically toward how we relate with others.

The four immeasurables are loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. Sympathetic joy is the great delight we feel when those we love are happy.  There are a number of practices, some of which are described in my book, that help us cultivate this quality in ourselves and to help us recognize and support it in our clients.

We begin by rejoicing in the happiness of those it is easy for us to feel joy about.  Then we practice extending it to people we feel neutral toward, like our mailman or the checker at the market.  Then, we practice expanding it out to people we have a hard time with.  As we develop this quality, it includes more and more beings whose happiness we can delight in.  It is an antidote to the painful feelings of jealousy and resentment.

Question: In your book you talk about 6 awakened actions. What are awakened actions? And how can we begin to engage with them?

The six awakened actions, or paramitas, are the Buddhist description of how a fully awakened being, like a bodhisattva, would naturally act.  For us less than fully awakened people, there are various practices and contemplations we can do to help us strengthen our inherent compassionate and wakeful natures. For example, we can practice the first awakened action, generosity, by beginning with ourselves.  One common problem that clients bring to therapy is their self-doubt and even self-aggression.  Learning how to appreciate oneself can lead to our appreciating others more as well.  When we do that, we naturally become more giving toward them. 

Question: What are some core truths that you live your life by that you can share with our readers that can help alleviate suffering from stress, pain, and illness? How can they put it into action?

There are several core truths I live my life by–or aspire to live my life by.  The first is trying to recognize brilliant sanity in everyone, even the people I strongly disagree with.  This can be quite challenging.  One way I work with this is to “exchange self for other,” by imagining what it would be like to be the other person.  I ask myself how I would feel and see things as this other person.   Often this lets my heart soften.  Sometimes I ask clients to imagine what it might be like to be someone in their life with whom they are having a difficult time.

Another core truth comes from Buddhist teachings: we cause ourselves enormous suffering by trying to hang on tightly to wanting things to be different from how they actually are. Things are what they are.  We can’t change anything until we’re willing to see what’s true right now.

Something I often ask myself when I am having a hard time is, “What am I hanging on to here?”  And “Could I let go into what is really happening now?”  I often find that if I can let go, my view of what is possible becomes much larger.  Meditation practice is enormously helpful in teaching me how to let go.

A final core truth has to do with being present.  I believe that being present takes a lot of courage.  It’s not easy to be truly present.  And beyond that, being present for others also means showing up with the qualities of compassion, open-mindedness and clarity.  All of those qualities are both natural to us and also things we can nurture further through meditation,  contemplation, psychotherapy and mindful living.

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

Refusing to Forgive: An Interview with Dr. Fred Luskin

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Today I bring to you one of the foremost experts on a critical topic for individuals and relationships: forgiveness.  Dr. Fred Luskin is the Director of the Stanford Research Project on Forgiveness and author of the popular books Forgive for GoodStress Free for Good,” and his most recent Forgive for Love.He currently serves as a Senior Consultant in Health Promotion at Stanford University and is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.

Question: In your newest book, Forgive for Love,” you cite some staggering statistics in your book that over 50% of marriages end in divorce and 60% of second or third marriages end in the first 10 years. An even more alarming statistic is the survey that showed only 25% of spouses saying they are “happy together.” What’s going on here?

Dr. Luskin: Being happy long term with another human being appears to be a difficult goal to achieve in the United States over the last 30 years. I think there are some unexplored cultural reasons…primarily a culture which has been taught that it is a sign of success to have things our way. That Burger King mentality of looking to have our personal, irrelevant desires gratified makes it more difficult to achieve the kind of compromise, forgiveness and intimacy over time that a relationship requires.

I think we have been so indoctrinated by our consumer culture that we think we have achieved something when in a car dealership we choose the specific extras we want,as if that is a path to any kind of happiness and not a condition for reinforcing narcissism. When two people are conditioned in this consumer oriented way ,it makes it much harder to do the relationship work with oneself that a successful long term relationship requires. Forgiveness means one lets go of one’s demandingness for things our partner cannot or does not choose to give us and through that learn to love our imperfect mate.

Question: In a past blog, Refusing to Forgive: 9 Steps to Break Free, I quoted your 9 steps from your popular book Forgive for Good. Now in Forgive for Loveyou’re focusing more specifically on forgiveness as a vehicle for a lasting and successful relationship. If you were sitting across the table from a couple, and the man is filled with resentment because his wife has just cheated on him, what would you say?

Dr. Luskin:   I would tell the man that he first needs to feel and acknowledge the wound and deal with his grief before he either forgives his wife or decides what to do about the relationship. There are so many questions in your question.

Is the wife cheating in response to her husband’s neglect or infidelity? Is she looking for attention or paying him back for something. Is the cheating indicative of dissatisfaction with the relationship or a fear of deep intimacy?  So many reasons can cause the same behavior. As for the husband he will be best served if he finds support for his pain from people not just his wife. If he has close friends this is the time to lean on them.  Journaling, therapy or meditation are useful as he needs to acknowledge his vulnerability and loss not just express his anger.

He has a decision to make as to whether or not he wants to recommit to the marriage. That depends in part on the willingness of his wife to apologize and decide herself to recommit. Most important is can the couple create a place where they can talk honestly about their experience as a couple. He is under no obligation to remain married to this woman if he decides the wound was too brutal.That said, he does have an obligation to treat his wife as kindly as he is able.  Her bad behavior is not excuse for him to be brutish or harsh.

I would suggest he forgive her but hold her as accountable as is possible considering the quality of their relationship. In forgiving her I would ask him to admit that he made the choice to marry this woman and in each choice of partner there is a risk. He could forgive her indiscretion and unkindness without condoning it or agreeing it was OK. But, he needs to acknowledge that we marry imperfect, hurting people who make mistakes. The really important work is acknowledging his grief and deciding what is the best course of action for the future.

Question: Can you give us a glimpse into the four stages of forgiveness couples go through?

Dr. Luskin:

  1. The first step of forgiveness is self-justified upset. Say your partner has lied about something and you have talked it over and they have apologized. That is the optimal response they can make and if it is followed by change in behavior they have done what they can. But, even with her good response you stay upset and angry and feel taken advantage of for a period of time. Most people at this stage think it is their partners fault they are upset and any normal person would feel violated the way they do.
  2. The second stage occurs when you get tired of being miffed because your partner lied a few months ago. You do not like the way you have withdrawn from her or the way you act in a condescending manner.  So, after struggling, you tell yourself to get over it and move on. Your effort is primarily to spare you further suffering and there is little deep understanding of your habits or the existential inevitability of suffering.
  3. The third stage occurs when you recognize your tendency to hold grudges rather than wait until you feel pissed for weeks on end. Because you understand there are situations that focus attention on your weakness, you work hard to grow and so practice forgiveness of yourself and your partner whenever you can.
  4. The fourth stage is a felt sense of the precariousness of relationship and the frailty of human interaction leading to a tolerant and kind attitude that is difficult to ruffle. You practice gratitude and forgiveness towards your partner and self as a regular part of your relationship not because they have erred but because it is part of your desire to grow in love.

Question: What do you do with a partner who you have forgiven over and over again and they continue to lie, cheat, and offend and you feel like a doormat?

Dr. Luskin: If someone does not or cannot change problematic behavior like lying or drinking or abuse, the problem is not one of forgiveness but of self protection. An unwillingness to either clearly confront the wrong, ask strongly for couples therapy or move away/out after an egregious incident suggests low self-esteem and self-efficacy and has little to do with forgiveness.

We each have to decide which behaviors our spouses do that are deal breakers and make our standards clear both to ourselves and to them. For some, one incident of infidelity is a deal breaker.  For others, numerous drunken rages are accepted. Forgiveness soothes the emotional/cognitive pain it does not substitute for setting appropriate boundaries. If we are so weak that anything our partner does is OK because we fear losing them, then at least own that personal weakness and stop blaming the partner for how they act.

Question: Do you have any advice for the readers of the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog who try over and over again to forgive, but they can’t because the resentment is so powerful?

Dr. Luskin:

  1. I would suggest that people work on deepening their meditation practice. The ability to self-regulate is significant in forgiveness and can be practiced in short bursts of mindfulness. The sense of victimization occurs when our nervous system is regularly activated by a relationship we disapprove of and can’t control and so the sympathetic arousal is blamed on the spouse instead of calmed through breathing or visualization practices.
  2. The other thing I would suggest is the regular acknowledgement of things to be grateful for such as all the things ones partner does for us; Examples are the regular things partners do for each other such as laundry, cooking and going to work. Seeing the beauty of any effort to love and understanding the poignant drive of people from differing backgrounds and experiences trying to connect and love.
  3. Third, the reminder to be kind whenever possible. Hold that as a goal for your behavior in the relationship and with that do your best to allow your partner to make mistakes without becoming overly harsh or nasty.  Learn to grieve as a first response rather than attack.  Learn to control your speech so that kind words are used by you as often as you can.

Bottom line is to learn to become more lovable and self controlled person yourself so that you encourage the best in your partner.

Thank you Dr. Luskin, for your insights and important work! To the readers, 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

What Smartphone Phantom Vibration Syndrome is Revealing

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

A few years ago I was sitting at lunch talking to a friend when my brain picked up a subtle buzz in my pocket. I reached for the phone to see what the message might be and lo and behold, my phone wasn’t there, it was sitting right on the table. I was being visited by a phantom vibration. If you’ve experienced this, you’re not alone, it’s apparently a widespread phenomenon, but what does it mean to our daily life?

In a recent study, 89% of undergraduates experienced phantom vibrations about once every two weeks. That’s fascinating, but even more fascinating as it applies to our mental health is that people who are more reactive to messages on their phones also had a higher rate of phantom vibrations than those who weren’t.

The study suggests that targeting people’s reactivity to Smartphone messaging can help reduce these vibrations.

In my book, the very experience of phantom vibrations has widespread implications in helping us understand the relationship between our brain, perception and why we do what we do in life.

What do I mean?

This study shows us that people who use phones more and are more reactive experience more vibrations that are not even there. It’s not too far of a leap to say then that people who practice and repeat certain negative ways of seeing things, are more likely to see people and the world negatively, and it’s highly possible that their perception is a phantom or something that’s not based in reality.

Remember that phrase, “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Well, here’s another example of that to the extreme, the neurons are wiring together to create a perception that may not actually exist. We can also look at what other things are repetitive in our environment that may create phantom perception. But does it matter that it’s a phantom vibration or that the phone isn’t in the pocket? If we feel the vibration, we feel the vibration, it exists in our experience.

We can use this phantom vibration research to our advantage. If we increase experiences that have to do with kindness, compassion, forgiveness, altruism, openness and other approaches that have high correlations with happiness and well-being, can we create the effect of experiencing more of this even in the face of difficulty when our brains would normally default to the negative?

Neuroscience, learning theory and probably many people’s experience is showing us the answer is yes. A thick thread that weaves through The Now Effect says that when we intentionally practice and repeat things in life they become automatic.

And so it is, phantoms that are coming to us through our technology are once again showing us that we are active participants in our own health and well-being.

Allow this to be a moment of taking a few deep breaths, rebooting your nervous system, and check in with what’s in your environment that is passively influencing the way you see yourself and others?

What small actions can you begin to practice to shape the kind of vibrations you feel in daily life?

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

Finding Meaning in a Broken Glass

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

finding meaningHere’s a past post that I wanted to revive due to a lot of recent interest. Enjoy!

Over the course of our lives we’ve been labeled or labeled ourselves as a glass half full or empty kind of person. But what if the glass was already broken? That’s the lesson that Ajahn Chah gives to a group of students including Psychiatrist Mark Epstein, author ofThoughts Without A Thinker.”

Ajahn Chah was a highly respected Buddhist Teacher, maybe well known to some as Jack Kornfield’s teacher. What was he talking about when he said the glass is already broken and how does that relate to our lives?

He says:

“You see this goblet? For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

On the surface he was making the statement that if he considers the glass to be already broken then he can open up his mind to be more present with it and appreciate the time he has with the glass. At the same time, if it breaks, he’s not so attached because he understands the natural course of it is to break so he’s not as attached.

We can take a lesson for our lives. The question isn’t is your glass half full or half empty, the question is, are you able to see the glass as already broken? In other words, do you comprehend that our time here is short and eventually will pass? Are you able to see that the label of half full or half empty that you may be so identified with is just a story in the mind that is also already broken and will eventually pass away?

If you understand this you may just find yourself at times lying in a field beyond half full or half empty where your cup is completely empty ready to receive the wonders of life that are all around.

Worth pondering…

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

Broken glass photo available from Shutterstock

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

Is the Web Driving Us Crazy? A Mindful Response

Friday, August 10th, 2012

It’s undeniable. The bond between human and digital device gets stronger every year. The average person sends or receives four times the amount of text messages since 2007. People are starting to feel their phone vibrate in their pockets when in fact there was never a vibration. This has been called “phantom-vibration syndrome.”

There’s a historical shift happening that we’ll only begin to understand years from now.  With the wonderful things that the internet has brought us, it also hard to deny the ADHD and OCD-like qualities many of us are picking up as we continue to merge with our digital devices.

As you practice and repeat something, it becomes a habit, and whether the kick starter was a need to use the internet for business or social reason, the devices we have today are pretty good and getting us to use them over and over again. What do you need to be aware of?

The fact is, every day our brain is being trained dozens, if not hundreds, of times to check for messages; be it texting, messaging, Facebook, Twitter, emails, voicemails or any other form of notification. Threfore, it’s going to train the brain to constantly be anticipating the next message. Consider how many times you’ve been on a walk to your car, to the bathroom, in a line or wherever and grabbed for the phone in your pocket. At times, this may have happened even if you forgot your phone. It’s already a habit.

Sherry Turkle, a psychologist at MIT, already thinks we’re there. As she points out, “we are all cyborgs now.” Our brains have already merged with technology. This technology is only in its infancy and offers so many incredible gifts. We can find friends all around the world; we can get aids to help us count our calories easily to manage weight; it’s easier than ever to donate to a needed organization; with the push of an icon we can find a map and navigate wherever we want or find the top rated places to eat. This is all good stuff.

However, we’re not really going to harness the power of this technology if we’re sleepwalking through this new relationship, unaware of the tightening hold it has on our attention. As Susan Greenfield, a pharmacology professor at Oxford University says, “end[ing] up glassy-eyed zombies.”

Larry Rosen wrote a book called “iDisorder,” and “his team surveyed 750 people, a spread of teens and adults who represented the Southern California census, detailing their tech habits, their feelings about those habits, and their scores on a series of standard tests of psychiatric disorders. He found that most respondents, with the exception of those over the age of 50, check text messages, email or their social network “all the time” or “every 15 minutes.” More worryingly, he also found that those who spent more time online had more “compulsive personality traits.” (Newsweek article)

However, we can take the fear of addiction to the internet a little too far. The Newsweek article uses the following as examples of a way to make the misleading point of how dire this is:

“One young couple neglected its infant to death while nourishing a virtual baby online. A young man fatally bludgeoned his mother for suggesting he log off (and then used her credit card to rack up more hours). At least 10 ultra-Web users, serviced by one-click noodle delivery, have died of blood clots from sitting too long.”

My guess is it’s probably safe to say there were mental issues co-occurring with this, but technology usage could have exacerbated those issues.

However, we can also take it too lightly, as a Forbes article explains in We’re all Internet Addicts and We’re All  Screwed, says Newsweek. While the Forbes article has some entertaining bits that poke fun at Newsweek‘s focus on internet addiction, this article also mocks it for bringing up an important comment by Sherry Turkle, PhD, suggesting that texting while breast feeding can create stress in the mother that can get passed along to the child. Or that parents are on their devices at the expense of attending to their kids.

In other words, while these aren’t examples of heavy neglect, they are the little things that add up, and the Forbes author’s assertion that these aren’t things worth looking out for may be naive.

In this new era, it’s okay to love and feel the rewards of your Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Pinterest, Apps, or whatever, but it’s all about how far we take it. Each of us is in a pretty serious relationship with our technology, and so the question is, how can we begin to become more aware of how we’re relating to it? How is it affecting our relationships or our stress? Do we feel compelled to grab for it, it is splitting our attention and taxing our brains? When does it turn from a source of leisure and relaxation, like reading a magazine or book, to a source of stress and feelings of being overwhelmed?

Here’s today’s practice:

Start by just being mindful of how your body reacts to your digital devices. Do you notice a pull at times? What does that feel like? What happens when you just let it be, how long does it last? How long until it goes away?

After all, if we’re going to be married to technology, we might as well get to know it a bit better.

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

Learn How to Be Alone Through Mindfulness

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

alone and mindfulIf you’ve been following recent news in the mindfulness world, you may have heard about a recent study by David Creswell out of Carnegie Mellon University that showed the wonderful effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as a reduction on perceived loneliness in healthy older adults age 55-85.

Loneliness is something that most of us experience from time to time, caused and exacerbated by stress, anxiety, depression, addiction and trauma, but you may not have known how staggering the statistics truly are. A recent survey taken from the AARP showed over 44 million people are lonely and longing to connect with another living, breathing human being.

There’s a difference between being alone and lonely. The Buddhist Nun, teacher and author of “Taking the Leap,” Pema Chodron writes:

‘‘Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It’s restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or some-one to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle through meditation practice, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.’’

Loneliness implies suffering, which means that it’s not just painful, there’s a way the mind is relating to that pain that is turning aloneness into loneliness.

Often times when we’re suffering with loneliness, our brain shifts to more ruminative cycles of the past and future that lend themselves to avoidance, which is implicitly about disconnection, leading to more loneliness.

If we hold the lonely feeling with mindfulness, we’re approaching the feeling, making a friendly kind of connection, which ultimately opens us up to the part of the brain associated with openness, empathy, flexible thinking and creativity.  As Pema writes, “[it] completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.”

The Now Effect of one of these moments may be a source of clarity that there are other avenues to facilitate connection with people that haven’t been explored because of some fear that was there. Maybe one of these is joining a meditation group, hiking group, or other creative groups that facilitate connection.

Loneliness is something that is shared by millions of people and it isn’t a sentence. In fact, it can be our greatest teacher and connection around the experience of how to be alone:

It’s wonderful that research is supporting mindfulness as a way to work with loneliness. But keep in mind that the participants in this research were part of a group that included people talking about and connecting with their experiences around mindfulness and loneliness. So I’m guessing it wasn’t all about the meditation, it was about the personal connections people made.

However, mindfulness facilitates the ability to move out of avoidance and into a space of awareness where the mind can be open enough to either explore what it’s like to be alone differently, be more creative with new social options and move through the fear of engaging in those social situations.

Remember, if you can name what’s happening, you can choose to face it with mindfulness and see more possibilities than you knew existed before.

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

Man on the beach photo available from Shutterstock

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

Learn How to Be Alone through Mindfulness

Monday, August 6th, 2012

If you’ve been following recent news in the mindfulness world, you may have heard about a recent study that came out by David Creswell out of Carnegie Mellon University that showed the wonderful effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as a reduction on perceived loneliness in healthy older adults age 55-85. Loneliness is something that most of us experience from time to time as is the cause of and exacerbated by stress, anxiety, depression, addiction and trauma, but you may not have known how staggering the statistics truly are. A recent survey taken from the AARP showed over 44 million people are lonely and longing to connect with another living breathing human being.

There’s a difference between being alone and lonely. The Buddhist Nun, Teacher and author of Taking the LeapPema Chodron writes:

‘‘Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It’s restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or some-one to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle through meditation practice, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.’’

Loneliness implies suffering which means that it’s not just painful, there’s a way the mind is relating to that pain that is turning aloneness into loneliness.

Often times when we’re in the suffering of loneliness, our brain shifts to more ruminative cycles of the past and future that lend itself to avoidance, which is implicitly about disconnection, leading to more loneliness.

If we’re to hold the lonely feeling with mindfulness, we’re approaching the feeling, making a friendly kind of connection, which ultimately opens us up to the part of the brain associated with openness, empathy, flexible thinking, and creativity.  As Pema writes, “that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.”

The Now Effect of one of these moments may be a source of clarity that there are other avenues to facilitate connection with people that haven’t been explored because of some fear that was there. Maybe one of these is joining a meditation group, hiking group, or other creative groups that facilitate connection.

Having loneliness is something that is shared by millions of people and it isn’t a sentence. In fact, it can be our greatest teacher and people connect around the experience of how to be alone:

It’s wonderful that research is supporting mindfulness as a way to work with loneliness. But keep in mind that the participants in this research were part of a group that included people talking about and connecting with their experiences around mindfulness and loneliness. So I’m guessing it wasn’t all about the meditation, it was about the personal connections people made.

However, mindfulness facilitates the ability to move out of avoidance and into a space of awareness where the mind can be open enough to either explore what it’s like to be alone differently, be more creative with new social options and move through the fear engaging those social situations.

Remember, if you can name what’s happening, you can choose to face it with mindfulness and see more possibilities than you knew existed before.

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

Neuroscience and Compassion Training Predict a Better World

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

mindfulness and neuroscienceIn 2000, Dr. Richie Davidson brought over a number of monks, who practiced a form of compassion meditation, to his lab in Madison, Wisconsin for at least 10,000 hours to find out what was happening in their brains.

He hooked them up to brain imaging machines and found that when exposed to a sound of human pain, their brains weren’t disturbed, but areas of the brain involved with empathy and compassion lit up. That obviously has implications for how we can train our minds to develop compassion and regulate in the face of difficulty, but who is going to practice for 10,000 hours?

The natural question arose, what difference will compassion meditation make for the rest of us?

Here is one thing Richie and his colleagues found:

In a 2009 study, Richie Davidson and Helen Weng did another study that took meditation naïve individuals and split them up into two groups. One group was taught a common compassion practice, the loving-kindness practice, and the other was taught a cognitive reappraisal method meant to help people reframe difficulty in a more positive light.

Both methods were delivered online for 30 minutes a day and they measured participants’ brains prior to the mediation, at two weeks and then again at four weeks.

The researchers then gave participants a series of tests around fairness and giving money away to a charity. The results showed that those who did compassion practice were fairer than those who did not, but that two to four weeks wasn’t enough to make a difference in how much they donated their money earned from the study to a charity. In other words, fairness was affected, but not altruism.

However, the brain imagining piece found that participants in the compassion group showed more activity in a particular area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, and the brain imaging studies found that the higher the activation in this area of the brain, the more money was donated. So there is some neuroscientific connection between compassion and altruism.

What does all this mean to you and me?

Compassion has been linked to activating areas of the brain that are involved with positive emotion, self-regulation and resiliency. There is a link between compassion and altruism, and altruism has been linked to feeling good in life. But maybe two to four weeks of training in compassion isn’t enough time.

Just think, wouldn’t our lives and the world be enhanced if there was a bit more compassion and altruism?

Why not start practicing today? Do your own experiment; just because it doesn’t show up in a brain imaging machine doesn’t mean it’s not so. At the end of the day let your experience be your teacher.

Here is my gift to you. A five minute meditation version of the meditation they used in the study from The Now Effect to get started.

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

Monk photo available from Shutterstock

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