Archive for November, 2012

Got Anger? Self-Compassion for the Dragon Within

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

There’s a wisdom that comes from nature. When we really look at it we see that nothing lasts. That’s not meant to be a dreary proclamation, it’s meant as a truth so we can begin to see things just as they are. When it comes to our anger, we can learn a thing or two from nature.

One of my favorite teachers is Thich Nhat Hanh and he says:

“Our body is impermanent, our emotions are impermanent, and our perceptions are impermanent. Our anger, our sadness, our love, our hatred, and our consciousness are also impermanent.”

Too often when we feel anger we react from the emotional center of our brain and without full consciousness. We become impulsive and shoot off a spiteful email that we wish we could take back. Or we get sucked into a battle where we end up holding onto this venomous grudge that weighs us down and brings out irritability with ourselves and others.

Who wants this?

What happens when anger arises and we greet it at the door with our full curious awareness? Where does it go when we let it be in a space that is as wide as the sky? What happens when we see the sensation of anger as a friend alerting us to be present?

Eventually the anger settles down and we’re left with a grounded consciousness to choose the most skillful response in the moment.

This has profound implications from our relationships whether it’s with a friend, family member, a stranger, our kids, or if you’re CEO of a company and you’re learning how to effectively work with your employees.

Anger can be constructive if we can learn how to become intimate enough with it that when it flares up, it becomes like an old friend who is reminding us to be here and cues us to be present.

Get to know what annoyance, irritability, frustration and even outrage feel like in the body. See what kinds of thoughts and memories flare up when it’s present.

Invite in a moment of self-compassion:

Ask yourself, “What do I need in this moment?”

The wisdom lies within.

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

2 Mindful Minutes to Better Relationships

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

At some point in life we fall into a trance of seeing the differences in people and missing how alike we truly are. Even our enemies in life are more like us than different. At the core we all want to feel understood and cared about no matter who we are. What happens when we start seeing a connection between people? It breeds the compassion which study after study is now showing leads to feeling happier.

Whether it’s disconnection with a stranger, an acquaintance, an old friend, a family member, or even our kids, give yourself the gift of this short 2-minute practice to break this trance and prime your mind to seeing the connection that can lead to healing and well-being.

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

Source: The Now Effect

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

2012 in Review: The Top 10 Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Posts

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Whether this is your first time you’re coming here or you’ve been around for the almost four years I’ve been writing The Mindfulness and Psychotherapy column, I want to share a personal moment of gratitude and say “Thank You” for being a part of this community. This was a big year for this column,  it will become 4 years old and is also the year that The Now Effect and Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler hit bookshelves. Now it’s my turn to give you some gifts of my favorite Top 10 posts of the year. In these posts you’ll read about the power of mindfulness, the importance of self-compassion in healing, the upside to embracing dark emotions, how to be alone, why multitasking is ineffective, many short practices and much more.

May they bring you a sense of insight, ease, peace and freedom. Enjoy!

  1. Mindfulness is Not a Cure, It’s Better
  2. 7 Life Lessons for Dr. Seuss
  3. The Power of Self-Compassion
  4. Depression: Medicate, Meditate or Both?
  5. The Science Behind Why Everything You Do Matters
  6. The Upside to Embracing Dark Emotions
  7. Learn How to Be Alone through Mindfulness
  8. Neuroscience and Compassion Training Predict a Better World
  9. Media Multitasking Leads to Poorer Cognitive Performance: A Mindful Response
  10. A Simple Way to Trick Your Brain Toward Mindfulness

One final gift as a thank you is a video in The Now Effect that has been the most popular one of the year. Go head, do this short Mindful Check-In practice and enter into the holidays with a bit of mindfulness.

I hope you enjoy these and please feel free to 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

Results: The Wall of Gratitude

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Recently I wrote a blog titled Need to De-stress? Build Your Wall of Gratitude and people started posting all kinds of things they’re grateful for. Another wonderful 30 second practice in the day is to look at a wall of gratitude, so I’ve compiled a number of the responses and you’ll find them below. Consider how the responses below come from people who are just like you, wanting the same fundamentals of belonging, feeling understood and cared about.

Take a few deep breaths and notice what it’s like to witness the gratitude of the human spirit.

Lisa: My health, the ability to run, my school and all the amazing people Ive met there who have had a positive effect on my life. Living in San Diego, near the bay and the beauty that surrounds me.

Michelle: I have wonderful health that I am grateful for. My beautiful dog who makes me smile. I am blessed with an amazing father who is with me every day in my heart in the five years since he passed away. My loving, sweet, kind, gorgeous boyfriend who I am blessed to share my life with. My family is healthy and many are nearby. Just a start…thanks!

Tids: The fact that I am here at all.

Linda: I am grateful for my body, even though it hurts all the time..I am grateful for my meditation practice and all the new teachers that have come into my life.

Andrew: My therapist!

Jennifer: I am grateful for my husband and my children, the spouses they have chosen to be my new children, and my precious granddaughter.

Maria: I am grateful to have found this mindfulness training this past year. It is really helping already with the holidays. I’m remembering to STOP more often and focus on my breathing. Thank you, Thank you! :)

Susan: That I can be awed by nature’s breathtaking beauty – large and small – from the ocean sparkling around Diamond Head to the glistening rain water on individual leaves.

Helen: That I live in a country that helps me care for my two disabled daughters and with people who accept them as they are. :)

Anne: What I am grateful for is being a sensitive person. Used to feel that it was a curse. Now I feel it’s a blessing.

Terry: that i can pause at any time of the day place both hands over my heart and wish myself well and mean it!!!!

Andra: I am grateful for being alive. I have a family, friends, health, a home. I am in need of nothing. I am able to communicate, to be aware, to feel.

Jennifer: Elisha thank you for asking this question. There is so much in my life that I am grateful for….I wake everyday with a chance to see my daughters grow and learn. I work with some of the most courageous people I know. I am truly loved. I have a healthy body that walks me through my life in a rich way and a mind that is curious to stay mindfully present while I walk. When I am truly living NOW…there is nothing to NOT be grateful for! This kind of presence is a gift…that we ultimately give ourselves…but that has become attainable to us because of people like yourself…let’s start with gratitude for that!

Just because have an automatic negativity bias doesn’t mean that’s destiny.

Keep the practice alive continue to comment on The Wall of Gratitude about what you’re grateful for. Make it a daily practice that move through Thanksigiving and just becomes a part of your life.

The results could be life changing.

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

Need to De-Stress? Build a Wall of Gratitude

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Unfortunately, our brains don’t seem to be built to pay attention to what’s good in life, but more to what seems urgent or threatening. That makes sense as fundamentally safety and security trump happiness and well-being. However, having our minds roll around in past hurts and regrets of the past or potential catastrophes in the future isn’t really keeping us safe nor is it making us happy. It’s more likely stressing us out. It’s a lose, lose. At times it’s skillful to grab hold of our minds and incline them in ways that create a reinforcing spiral up to feeling good.

One of those ways is to build a wall of gratitude and here’s how.

Every day I get a Daily Now Moment (DNM) in my inbox and today I received one that said:

Wall of Gratitude – Day 1:

Here we start another week of gratitude, but this time it’s going to be slightly different.

Every time you get this email, with a single click, reply in the community with what you’re grateful for:

Writing these down will not only support you but by checking back in you can watch a communal wall of gratitude grow.

Here’s the method behind this madness.

We need more than just ourselves to make a habit stick. If we want to prime our minds toward happiness, it’s skillful to not only intentionally consider what we’re grateful for in our day to day, but also to get inspired by others who are doing the same.

Here’s the kicker.

When you contribute to the wall of gratitude, it’s going to inspire others and it’s crucial for you to know this because being of service to others, a form of altruism, is one of the greatest factors to our health and well-being.

Why?

Because when we’re of service to others we feel connected to something greater than ourselves which studies show is a direct correlate to feeling good.

Go ahead and see what others are saying and also contribute to what you’re grateful for in your life and let the ripple effects follow.

Watch the wall grow and let it continue to inspire more and more of this in your 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

One-Minute to Stress-Less Travel During this Holiday Season

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

The holidays are already upon us and for many people that means trains, planes and automobiles, as a means of traveling to see friends, family or just getting out of dodge. One of the companions that often travels with us that we’d rather not be there is stress and anxiety. The holidays are stressful enough for many of us, but tack on travel and it amps it up that much more.

One of the things that can help us shift out of our stress and anxiety is to become present, get outside of our heads and widen our perspective. I’m fortunate enough to have worked with a number of people who struggle with stress and anxiety around travelling and in the work some true wisdom comes from them that I now get to share with you.

Here’s a one-minute tip that comes from a new release called Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind. You can use this anywhere and anytime while traveling to begin neutralizing the stress and stepping into what really matters.

Be an Ambassador of Compassion

“When sitting on a plane (or substitute your mode of transportation), see the ‘choice point’ by considering all the other people on the plane who are also struggling with being an anxious traveler. Remember, up to 40 percent of people struggle with some form of anxiety about traveling. Be an ambassador of compassion, connecting with your heart and saying;

May you feel safe and protected.

May you be at ease.

May you be free from fear.

May you be happy.”

The fact is stress around travelling is more prevalent than we usually imagine. Just practice this as an experiment over and again without expectation and see what you notice. Even holding that phrase in your mind can be helpful in getting out of your own head and back into your life.

What would life be like in the days, weeks and months ahead if more people practiced being The Ambassador of Compassion during this high travel season?

We might not only reduce stress, but bring the joy back to traveling.

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

Note: The $.99 Kindle version of Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler is short 20-page version and is NOT the same as the paperback.

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

Depression: Meditate, Medicate or Both?

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

The World Health Organization estimates that by 2020, depression will be the second largest issue in ill health worldwide. Clinical depression is defined as a persistent depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure for at least two weeks along with a number of other physical and psychological symptoms. These could include poor sleep, loss of appetite, a sense of hopelessness and others. Studies have now found that the more often a person experiences depression, the more likely they will be to experience it again (70-80% chance of relapse for people who have suffered two or more episodes).

But depression doesn’t usually occur alone and is often mixed with other issues such as anxiety and panic. So what do we do, medicate, meditate, both?

The Psychiatric field has found medications that increase the flow of certain neurotransmitters in the brain that can help relieve these feelings of depression. However, because of the relapse rate, the American Psychiatric Administration had to come up with three phases of treatment with medications, acute, continuation, and maintenance. Acute medication treatment was aimed at relieving symptoms during a depressive episode. Continuation treatment was for prescribing medication for 6 months after the episode had passed and maintenance was to prescribe for up to 3 years.

So what’s the problem here? What happens after 3 years? What about the people whom medication doesn’t agree with or unable to take?

Medication was not meant to be a permanent solution to mental health issues because they don’t target the supposed causes of the episode itself, but more to help relieve symptoms for a period of time so people who are suffering could cultivate the stability and skills to support themselves moving forward. Medication can be a wonderful support; however, it’s important to also cultivate the skills to work with the potential relapse of depression moving forward.

There is a more effective long term strategy.

Whether you take medication or not, you can learn a new way of relating to distress; rather than avoiding it, you can learn to approach it and live in the midst of it. We can learn to be grateful during the good times and graceful during the more difficult times. This ability to cultivate the skill of surfing the difficult emotions that arise has profound consequences for what follows.

When we spend our time hating and cursing the distress it’s as if we are sending negative energy into a blob of negative energy. The negativity we’re sending is food for that blob and it only grows. We don’t realize that the way we are relating to our depression, adds to it. It’s difficult to grasp this concept if we’re in the depression and that is why this approach is best when the episode is lifting or has lifted. Here is where medication can be supportive.

What we practice and repeat in life becomes automatic, that’s just the way our brains work.

What would be different if we practiced and repeated doing the exact opposite from what our brains want to do when difficulties arise? Here’s a picture I’ve shown before from The Now Effect that is an example of a simple yet effective practice:

“If all you did was put your hand on your heart and wish yourself well it would be a moment well spent.” ~ The Now Effect

The poet Hafiz said,

“Don’t turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place, that’s where the light enters.”

Mindfulness is a practical approach in learning how to keep your gaze on the bandaged place, because ‘the how’ really matters. We want to dress the vulnerability with a kind, warm, supportive and curious attention, but this is not something most of us have learned how to do, but it is a skill that all of us are able to learn.

Working with mindfulness and meditation in this way is only one approach toward depression that is showing encouraging results  in studies for preventing depressive relapse. However, there may be other ways that are supportive to you.

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

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

Mindfulness at Work: An Interview with Mirabai Bush

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Most of us spend the majority of our day at work. It follows that an essential place to bring mindfulness to is at work. Mirabai Bush is the author of Working with Mindfulness (MP3), a key contributor to Google’s Search Inside Yourself Program, Cofounder of The Center for Contemplative Mind and Society and so much more. Today is a joy to bring her to you to explore how bringing mindfulness to work can help us reduce stress, increase productivity, use more creative problem solving techniques, and improve relationships.

Today, Mirabai talks to us about what it means to bring mindfulness into the workplace, how it can bring deeper meaning, the benefits of mindful listening, the why and how of  informal walking practice, and a simple practice to enhance relationships at work.

Elisha: When it comes to the workplace, you have found a fundamental flaw in our minds when we think of work like “Love is for home and discipline is for work.” One of the foundations to bringing mindfulness into the workplace is through an approach called Right Livelihood, can you tell us more about that and the benefits?

Mirabai: I first heard the words “right livelihood” while learning to meditate in a Buddhist monastery. Meditation teacher S.N. Goenka said, “If the intention is to play a useful role in society in order to support oneself and to help others, then the work one does is right livelihood.” Other teachers expanded on that: Do work that is ethical and helpful to your personal development. Do no harm though your work. Cause no suffering to yourself or others. Use work to nourish understanding and compassion. Remember that all life is interconnected. Be honest, be mindful of what you are doing.

When I asked my root teacher, Neemkaroli Baba, what work I should do, he said, “Love everyone and serve everyone.” That has kept me busy. Livelihood can be a path of inquiry and awakening, of coming closer to truth. All work that we do–from shipping Buddhas from a monastery store to guarding inmates in prison–has embedded in it questions that help us to transform our work from busyness to awakening. In retreats I led for the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, a biotech scientist asked, “How can I develop products that sustain life, not destroy it?” An architect asked, “How can I create a contemplative building—a space in which the inside is larger than the outside?” A lawyer asked, “Can I be a zealous advocate and still have compassion for my adversary?” An anti-globalization activist asked, “If I give up my anger, where will my motivation come from?”

Approaching work as right livelihood encourages us to explore these questions in the context of our full lives. How can we live a meaningful and authentic life and still support our families and ourselves? What is the connection between ethical work and capitalist democracy? How can we contribute to social change that moves us to a more sustainable world?

These retreats were open forums to delve into practical challenges and barriers we encounter at work, and to investigate how our work can and does impact the whole world. Organizations don’t change suddenly, but as employees become committed to principles of right livelihood through mindfulness and compassion practice, they will change a company in important ways. They will—

  • Apply standards of conduct that are aligned with their personal values
  • Recognize that business is not an isolated entity—it is interconnected with all other life and its actions affect all other life
  • Encourage generosity
  • Use right speech
  • Listen carefully to others, both within and outside the company
  • Work better in teams and communicate more effectively
  • Tolerate ambiguity, not knowing, paradox
  • Recover more quickly from negative information and difficult situations
  • Encourage responsibility to those who work for and depend on the company—fare wage, health care, maternity/paternity leave, etc.
  • Exercise humility
  • Be compassionate and loving
  • Create products that support life.

Committing to right livelihood leads some of us to look for new work that we identify as meaningful and others of us to look for more meaning in the work we are already doing. A mindful workplace supports and nourishes the workers who are already sane and mature and encourages kindness, sincerity, and basic decency for all employees.

Elisha: You mention some important facts that come out of the International Listening Association that 45% of our time is spent listening and 75% of the time we’re apparently listening we’re actually distracted. That the average attention span is 20 seconds and from what we hear we only recall about half of it and a few hours later maybe we have 20% retention. How do you explain Mindful Listening and what are its benefits? One of the most important activities in workplace is listening.

Mirabai: Deep or mindful listening is a way of hearing in which we are fully present with what is happening in the moment without trying to control it or judge it. We let go of our inner clamoring and our usual assumptions and listen with respect for precisely what is being said. Very few of us have fully developed this capacity for listening. The practice of listening has many dimensions. We listen to our own minds and hearts and, as the Quakers say, to the “still, small voice within.” We listen to sounds, to music, to lectures, to conversations, and, in a sense, we listen to the written word, the text. There is a well-known image of the Tibetan poet and mystic Milarepa, sitting in his familiar listening posture, with his right hand cupped over his right ear. He is listening for the Dharma, or the truth.

Deep or mindful listening requires that we witness our thoughts and emotions while maintaining focused attention on what we are hearing. It trains us to pay full attention to the sound of the words, while abandoning such habits as planning our next statement or interrupting the speaker. It is attentive rather than reactive listening. Such listening not only increases retention of information, but encourages insight and the making of meaning. It can reveal the role of not knowing and not judging and help us to maintain an open receptivity to new ideas, important for growth in any workplace.

Elisha: I consider Thich Nhat Hanh to be a great teacher, someone who has influenced my life. You note a wonderful walking practice of his in your program where you instruct us to combine phrases with steps. “Stepping with your right foot, I have arrived, Stepping with your left foot, I am home.” Can you tell us how this applies to the workplace?

Mirabai: Walking meditation is the practice of paying close attention to the ordinary action of walking, a helpful practice for people at work, who usually walk at least sometimes during the day. It is a way of using a natural part of life to increase mindfulness as we become aware of the movement of each step; the exercise engages the person in life directly. It is not thinking or contemplating life while walking (which is also delightful), but being mindful of the verse (as in Thich Nhat Hanh’s verse) or of the muscles of the body, the movement and placement of the feet, balance, and motion. Once you learn the practice, you can do it almost anywhere. It frees the mind and helps you feel fully present on the ground. So when a person walks in the workplace to another office or a meeting or a lunch date, he or she is more open and mindful when arriving at the destination, ready to be present for the next agenda.

Elisha: Relationships are fundamental to our lives and can be trying in the workplace. Can you give us a practice that we can use immediately to enhance relationships in the workplace and act more positively to others? 

Mirabai: One powerful practice that we call “Just Like Me” is usually learned in pairs, so that each person is looking in the eyes of their partner and silently repeating phrases spoken by a meditation leader about the person across from them: “Just like me, this person has known physical pain. Just like me, this person has done things she regrets. Just like me, this person wants to be happy….” and so on. This compassion practice is designed to shift perspectives and deepen the understanding that we human beings are similar in important ways, no matter how vast our differences. We all need food, and shelter, and love.

We crave attention, recognition, affection, and, above all, happiness. Resentments, disagreements, and estrangements hurt all parties because they reinforce feelings of separation. And that separation is true only at one level–this activity helps us remember how we are connected by our humanity. And one person can do it alone by bringing to mind a difficult person and repeating the same phrases silently. It softens the negative feelings we have for another, and working together often becomes much easier.

Elisha: Do you have any final thoughts about what really matters in bringing mindfulness into the workplace?

Mirabai: What matters in the workplace is what matters in our lives—using every moment to learn from experience so that we grow in insight, wisdom, and compassion.

To hear a clip of a practice that Mirabai to help people with change at work you can find it here.

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