Archive for February, 2013

What City is a Beacon for Happiness?

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Recently I wrote a post about the second wave of mindfulness, moving from an approach to support us individually, to something that is being applied throughout multiple sectors in our culture including education, politics, government, business, the military, our prisons, and is at the forefront of healthcare and science. This is where we’re headed. Recently, New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg put out a challenge to the cities of America to find solutions to our most entrenched challenges. Santa Monica, California put out a compelling response, forming for the first time a “Well-Being Index” that measures the well-being of an entire city.

What would be different if we moved beyond our awareness of personal well-being and could see the well-being of an entire city? How would this inform decision making at a governmental level? This is the piece that is missing in helping people make change. It sounds fascinating to me.

Here’s the short video they made that lays it out:

In this case, now city governments play a role and take responsibility for the social aspect of their constituent’s well-being.

Now, some people might say that the less government the better, but we’re talking about raising our awareness city by city as to how we’re doing. Not to mention that anyone who knows anything about how change works, knows that our environments play a critical role in supporting us in making the changes we want to make.

In my mind this brings us together leading to greater connection and less disconnection.

Connection leads to balance and balance leads to happiness. It sure would be great if we had our local cities on board with this.

Want to create happier cities across America and the globe?

Maybe one place to start is with a well-being index. You can vote for it here.

There are many other cities who are putting out initiatives as part of the Mayor’s challenge and if you have the time check those out as well.

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

Get Ready for the Second Wave of Mindfulness

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

A while ago I walked into a particular publisher and saw every title of their upcoming books having “mindfulness” in the title and I was concerned that it was getting watered down. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As of today, mindfulness has evolved within America and has the potential to have a greater influence than we had ever imagined. Leaders around the country are implementing it in early child development, the military, education, politics, neuroscience, medicine, healthcare, business, the prisons, at-risk youth, and of course, psychotherapy. In this post I’m going to highlight a few key things that are happening that you may want to know about and how our culture is ripe for a second wave of mindfulness.

There’s a new magazine that just launched called Mindful that highlights all the latest people and developments around how this is changing our nation and the world as we know it. I highly recommend subscribing to this, there is a tremendous amount of credibility behind the team that is developing it.

There’s a movie that is coming out in summer 2013 called The Mindfulness Movie, by Paul Harrison, that puts together 35 of the world’s mindfulness leaders into one film looking at its effects in neuroscience, psychiatry, relationships, sports, psychology, and quantum physics. This also comes with a core training program.

Here is the current trailer:

Professor Joel Bakan wrote a book called The Corporation and in it he said if corporations were human, they’d be diagnosed as psychotic. Well, there may be a remedy for that. There has been a lot of talk about the integration of mindfulness in business and leaders like Janice Marturano, eMindful.com, among others are making it happen. Janice is Director of the Institute of Mindful Leadership and does live classes in companies such as General Mills and is making a big impact on leaders in corporations. eMindful is another company you want to know about that runs live online classes to the public and also directly into companies. Research on their 12-week Mindfulness at Work® program was published in the Journal on Occupational Health showing significant stress reduction for employees and also reduction in healthcare costs for companies. Further research has shown a return on investment of up to 25 to 1. Those are highly significant numbers impossible to ignore.

Elizabeth Stanley, Ph.D. runs the Mind Fitness Training Institute and they are currently part of a project training the U.S. Marine Corps in mindfulness. The boys at the Holistic Life Foundation are transforming inner city youth in Baltimore and have recently received significant funding to increase their efforts. Megan Cowen and her colleagues bring mindfulness into schools at Mindful Schools. My wife, Stefanie Goldstein, PhD and I recently started the CALM program – Connecting Adolescents to Learning Mindfulness and are seeing significant results. A number of others are bringing mindfulness to earlier education like Goldie Hawn, Daniel Siegel, Amy Saltzman, Gina Biegel, among others.

What you see above isn’t even the half of it. We’d need many pages to list the mindful heroes and sheroes out there making a significant impact in their respective field. Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan does a great job giving in overview in A Mindful Nation and there have even been many more who have cropped up since then. 

Interest in mindfulness has also ignited scientific interest in compassion and self-compassion. In my opinion, these are two primary elements toward healing ourselves, our relationships, and potentially the world. If we can learn to see each other as people, instead of objects, with greater understanding, caring and inclination to help ourselves and one another, that is going to be powerful.

The field is wide open like never before and I am really looking forward to it.

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

Bonus: Here you’ll find some tips on how to weave mindfulness into your everyday life.

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

Being at Peace with Food: An Interview with Brandt Passalacqua

Monday, February 18th, 2013

One of most essential relationships in life is with the food we eat. What we bring into our bodies affects our level of energy, ability to pay attention, and general well-being. That is why being mindful in our lives has to integrate the food we eat. Brandt Passalacqua, author of the audio program Being At Peace With Food, is also a speaker who discovered yoga and meditation after struggling with his weight, food and substance addiction, and serious illness. Since founding Peaceful Weight Loss™ Through Yoga, his personal journey has served as an inspiration to countless others looking to make peace with food. You can also check out his webinar here.

Today, Brandt talks to us about what our most impactful bad eating habits are, how he developed a healthy relationship to food, a meditation to get us started and a little advice at the end. 

Elisha: Hi Brandt, to get us started tell us what some of the most impactful negative eating habits are that affect us today?

Brandt: I believe it’s mostly where and when we eat. We live in a culture that has completely lost its rituals. It’s pretty abnormal to live in a society that has such weak rituals around food. Many skip breakfast because we’re racing out the door. Many skip lunch because there’s too much to do at work. We eat in our cars because it’s fast and easy. We eat while we check our emails or watch TV. We don’t necessarily eat at the same time as our coworkers or spouse or ourselves on any given day. No wonder we are confused. Any one of these things are perfectly fine, but when you put it all together it adds up to a disorienting chaos. So when we find ourselves eating mindlessly directly out of the fridge between meals – why should we be surprised? Is it really that different than the rest of the day? The people I work with usually find some sort of consistent pattern of eating that they enjoy. This is often a huge relief. I know it was for me.

Elisha: You have a history of having been overweight. How did you develop a healthy relationship with food? 

 

Brandt: I fell into yoga practice after an illness. I tried yoga out of desperation trying to heal myself. After doing gentle physical practices – breath work and deep relaxation practice for many months – I noticed an amazing side effect: I lost weight. The practices encouraged present centered thinking, which in turn lessened my anxiety greatly. And with that anxiety gone I could see my behavior around food more clearly. With this clear vision I was able to begin to make choices about how, what, and how much I was eating. I had never experienced the freedom to choose like this. My past of broken promises to myself about losing weight faded – so in the present I was able to decide what was best for me. Over the next several years this way of being became more and more natural. Now I can generally make good choices for myself and when I don’t, it’s not a big deal because a moment of bad eating behavior is isolated and it doesn’t take over or spiral out of control.

Elisha: Can you give us an example of a meditation that can help us develop a healthy relationship with food?

Brandt: Sure. Change happens in increments. We love big dramatic ideas and change because fantasy is appealing. But real change starts here and now. Goal setting has its place and it can be inspiring at times to imagine ourselves happier and healthier. But really all of the changes that we need to make will begin in the present. Each moment we have the ability to choose what is best for us, and this translates to food.  In fact, we usually will make the right choice – if we are grounded in reality. The here and now. This takes practice. It’s not what we are necessarily used to doing. Despite our beliefs and stories to the contrary we are actually more at peace when we are in the present.

This simple breathing meditation is used for grounding, bringing us into the here and now. I suggest making this a regular practice. Possibly after waking in the morning but anytime of day would be perfect.

Find a comfortable position where you won’t be disturbed for 3-5 minutes. Take a big inhale and hold the breath for a moment – and breathe out of your mouth with a big sighhhhh.

Let’s take a couple more of these breaths. Find a nice big breath in – hold the breath – breathe out with a sighhhh. Find another big, full breath in – hold it at the top and breathe out with a sighhhh. Releasing tension from the body. Let the breath return to its natural state without controlling it.

Now watch the breath as it comes in and as it leaves the body for a few breaths. Breathing in, breathing out…

As you breathe in gently say to yourself – “I” and as you breathe out gently say to yourself – “Am”

Continue to breath in this way – Breathing in – I – Breathing out – Am This simple practice helps us start where we are no matter where that is. It can be used throughout your day and as often as possible.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone who has had a lifetime of struggle with negative eating habits and body image what would be the message you would give to them?

Brandt: That’s a big question! The main thing I would say is this: Transformation is possible for everyone. But be nice to yourself – change happens in increments. One or two small pieces at a time. Don’t rush the process even though you want to. Simply entering into the processes of present centered thinking is enough. Meditate or breathe, or learn to relax the body, or mindfully move. Do just one of these things that appeals to you.
The other thing to remember is that you are normal. There is nothing wrong with you. More than half our population has some sort of issue around food. Just start where you are. Find some peace every day. When the next move forward opens up in front of you, step through that door. We all make perfect choices in the present.

Elisha: Thank you so much Brandt, this was great and hopefully inspires many of us to have a wiser relationship with food and health! You can listen to a sample track of Brandt’s album here.

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

3 Steps to Evolving Valentine’s Day: A Day of Connection and Compassion

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

It’s a dreaded day for some and a joyous for others. Whether we like it or not, Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Since the 11th century it’s been a time representing romantic love and by the 15th century it was a day to express love with flowers and greeting cards of some kind. But maybe there’s even another evolution that this day can take. Can it be that we can include romantic love but even make this day a day of greater meaning that transcends and includes romantic love?

In my mind it’s the case that all people, if not all beings, at the core want to feel like they belong and that they’re loved.

Why not make Valentine’s Day a day for all people in the greater relationship of humanity. This is a day where if you’re in a relationship you can have your romantic version and also a wider Valentine of all humanity, enhancing intimacy and compassion.

Here’s a rich three step Valentine practice for the couple, yourself, and for all people:

  1. Romantic Couple Valentine:
    May you feel loved, May you feel accepted, May you feel free, and May you feel at peace.
  2. Individual Valentine:
    May I feel loved, May I feel accepted, May I feel free, and May I feel at peace.
  3. Everyone as a Valentine:
    May we all feel loved, May we all feel accepted, May we all feel free, and May we all feel at peace.

If you’re part of a couple do this with all three. If you’re not, you can do step one with a good friend in mind.

The meaning of Valentine’s Day has evolved through the centuries. We can make this the next evolution of it starting today, deepening intimacy with ourselves, our loved ones and the rest of humanity.

Practice this and see what you notice.

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

5 Benefits to Practicing Digital Awareness

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

I recently led a workshop focused on helping us develop a wiser relationship to our technology (Smartphones, IPads, computers, television, etc.). In the beginning of the workshop I explained how as much as we feel that technology is a part of our lives, historically, we’re really just becoming acquainted with it. We talked about how in many ways, the people who came to the group were like “Digital Warriors,” at the frontier of optimizing this new wiser relationship to technology.

Here are a five benefits we found and one thing that surprised me most about what would come in life we practiced more digital awareness.

  1. Have More Balance – All participants felt that they didn’t have a balanced relationship with technology. Every single person interacted with their email or messages as one of the first things they did when they woke up and many felt that this primed the mind toward wanting to check for messages more during the day.
  2. Master Your Cues – We discussed the importance of being aware of cues that instantly trigger the brain toward making the decision to engage. A cue can be a person, place, thing, time of day, emotion, sound, thought, etc… Many people said a cue was being alone or waiting. Others said, it was feeling stressed or in times when there was a transition from one event to another. It could also be the sound or blinking light that triggered a need to check. Awareness of cues is essential if we want to get back in the driver’s seat and sit in a space of choice, that Now Effect moment.
  3. Open Up Possibility – If people were more aware of these “choice points” they said that they would rather rest, take a walk, be more intentional about connecting with people or go out in nature more. They might take a break checking Facebook for 20 minutes, instead of realizing there is a choice to do something more restorative. Get in touch with that choice point would be adaptive.
  4. Nurture Intimacy over Connection – We discussed the difference between connection and intimacy and how we often go after connection at the expense of intimacy. We can be very connected, but online, the connections may not be fulfilling or intimate. Perhaps we need a bit more intimacy over having many connecti
  5. Cultivate Sacred Space – We also talked about the importance of taking “sacred space,” times in the day that are technology-free, if that’s possible. Research shows that intimate connections around the dinner table are adaptive for our kid’s development. Maybe intimate conversations as adults with friends and colleagues have a similar effect. Or are there times when we can take a walk and not be connected and instead default to connecting with nature, our self-reflections or just the surroundings around us”

This is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, everyone acknowledged the profound gifts technology is offering us, and it’s just about refining our relationship with it. In other words, a maturing process in the relationship.

Take Away

People in the workshop said that if they put digital awareness to work in their lives they would feel greater self-respect, more at ease, happier, more open to possibilities, less anxious, more mastery, and greater self-alignment with values.

What thoughts do you have about becoming or being a digital warrior?

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

Play with a Wiser Relationship to Your Smartphone

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

When I sit and reflect on the neuroscience of our relationship to Smartphones, many ideas come to mind and I’ll list them out in a moment. As for the brain, it’s common knowledge that when we practice and repeat things in life, the habit formation is tied to an area of the brain the size of a walnut called the basal ganglia. We also know that dopamine is a chemical that drives motivation and pleasure. A message arrives and there’s a reward to going and checking it, so the dopamine drives our behavior to check. One thing we may want to consider is that alongside all the wonderful things technology brings, it also often triggers our stress response. In the emotional center of the brain is the amygdala or “fear circuit” that can be easily triggered out of some perceived danger of missing a message.  In other words, our Smartphones get linked to a biological stress or anxiety response.

At some point we have to pause and ask the question, “How’s this working for ya?”

One thing that most people would agree on is that at this point in time, technology, while being a great resource, is often controlling us more than we’re controlling it. It’s time to accept the reality of that and with this acceptance, step into a space of choice to build a more mature, effective and wiser relationship to it.

In a recent post I gave a number of ways to Optimize Our Relationship to Technology, but here is one more fun way you can do this in social settings.

Make it Social

When you get together with a group of friends of family around a meal or any social setting, see if the priority is to actually “be with” your friends, family or colleagues. Know that your brain is also conditioned to a certain habitual reaction to automatically being drawn to incoming messages.

Of course you could always put it on silent or turn it off, or even make a meditation out of watching your bodily reactions to the incoming message as I note in The Now Effectbut this game makes it social and will be much more fun.

Stack all the phones on top of one another and create some beneficial consequence for whoever picks up the phone first. If it’s around a meal at a restaurant, whoever picks up the phone first might pick up the tab of drinks or maybe the whole meal. If it’s at a house or just a social gathering, whoever picks up their phone first has to dance in the middle of everyone for a good minute.

Whatever you do is great; make it fun while bringing awareness to what truly matters.

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

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

Finding Your True Refuge: An Interview with Tara Brach, PhD

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

All of us have an innate desire to heal our suffering and step into a wiser and happier life. Today it is my great pleasure to bring a favorite author, teacher and psychologist of mine who is at the forefront of integrating mindfulness into psychotherapy and our lives. Tara Brach, PhD is author of the recently released and the soon-to-be-a-classic True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heartbestselling book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha, and many more. Tara has weekly podcasts from her Wednesday night sitting groups and is senior teacher and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington. She embodies and emphasizes that beneath the turbulence of our minds and hearts is a loving awareness that as we learn to tap into over and again can reveal a source of resiliency, peace and genuine happiness.

Today, Tara will talk to us about her own journey through suffering that led to true refuge, the differences between true and false refuges, key practices to begin with this in our lives, how this applies to anxiety and depression and a final message for us to walk away with.  

Elisha: One of the aspects of your book that I deeply appreciated was your personal journey from suffering to find your true refuge. Can you share a little of that with us here?

Tara: I decided to write True Refuge during a major dive in my own health. Diagnosed with a genetic disease that affected my mobility, I faced tremendous fear and grief about losing the fitness and physical freedom I loved. My prayer became “May I find peace…May I love this life no matter what.” I was seeking an inner refuge, an experience of presence and wholeness that could carry me through whatever losses might come. During the ensuing years, the practices of presence and self-compassion I teach in True Refuge served in carrying me home over and over to a place of openheartedness, peace and wellbeing.  I gained a real confidence that the refuge I was seeking was right here within me.

Physical sickness has not been the only life challenge of course! My first book, Radical Acceptance, grew out of the suffering of feeling personally deficient and unworthy. Because most of us are so quick to turn against ourselves, the teachings and practices of radical acceptance continue as a strong current in True Refuge: nurturing a forgiving, understanding heart is a basic step on the path.

Elisha: What’s the key difference between false refuge and true refuge?

Tara:  When Siddhartha Gotama (the Buddha to be) encountered impermanence and life’s inevitable suffering, his response was: “Let me find that which is changeless, which is deathless, which is without sorrow, which is unborn and undying, that is a true refuge.”  He sought, and found, the timeless and loving awareness that is our true nature.  A true refuge is none other than this—our own awakened heart and mind.  The book is designed around the three archetypal gateways to, and expressions of, true refuge —awareness, truth (of the present moment) and love.

In contrast to true refuge, a false refuge is that which is subject to change. A false refuge may provide a temporary sense of comfort of security, but creates more suffering in the long run.  We might feel unlovable and take refuge in pursuing wealth or success.  Maybe we fear being criticized, and take refuge in avoiding risks and always pleasing others.  Or we feel anxious or empty and take refuge in alcohol, overeating or surfing the Web.  Instead of directly facing the places of woundedness or hurt, we are using a substitute to soothe ourselves.  We habituate to leaving the very presence that is our portal to freedom.

Elisha: What are some key ways or practices that people can begin exploring their own experience of finding true refuge?

Tara:  The universal strategy for awakening to true refuge is training our hearts and minds.  Mindfulness—paying attention without judgment to the unfolding of moment-by-moment experience—is at the core of these trainings.  In support of mindful awareness is learning to focus and concentrate the attention.  This is often done with an object like the breath or sound or sensations.  And interdependent with mindfulness are the heart practices—lovingkindness, forgiveness, compassion for self and others—that soften and open our hearts.

Our challenge, of course, is learning to navigate difficult situations with presence.  In True Refuge, I offer a version of the acronym RAIN that many laypeople and mental health professionals have found invaluable.  RAIN is a tool for applying mindfulness and the letters represent the following:

R- Recognize

A- Allow

I- Investigate with kindness

N- Not-identified (also Natural Awareness)

In applying mindfulness to challenging situation, we are undoing the conditioning that keeps us imprisoned within the experience of a separate and limited self.  As we bring presence and self-compassion (part of the I in RAIN) to the inner tangles, we begin to realize more and more, that this caring presence is our essence, and that we are not who we thought we were.  The identification with the story of an egoic self becomes more transparent and we awaken to the light, warmth and space of our true nature.

Ego is still there to help us navigate, but we are not exclusively identified with it. Rather, we are resting in a universal intelligence and love—our true refuge, our true nature.  And this flows through the ego, expresses through our unique body and mind.

Elisha: Recurring anxiety and depression are highly prevalent forms of suffering that appear to be only increasing in our culture. What thoughts do you have on how true refuge applies to the moments people feel themselves slipping into those dark and fearful places again and again?

Tara: When we feel very cut off, that’s suffering.  Our true sickness is homesickness.  As the Buddha taught, our suffering arises from forgetting who we are.

Each of the gateways to true refuge is there to guide us home when we begin to slip into suffering.  In True Refuge, I describe outer expressions of the gateways as well as inner.   For instance, the outer part of the gateway of truth would include listening to inspiring podcasts, reading books that can guide us, going to meditation classes, finding a good therapist.  The inner facet is deepening our commitment to contacting what is here in our present embodied experience, and perhaps with the support of RAIN, of a teacher or therapist, discovering a healing (less identified, more free) relationship with the difficult energies that are arising.

Another example of inner/outer is with the gateway of love.  The outer expression would be turning toward the support of spiritual friends, and the inner would be the heart meditations that enable us to feel the vastness and tenderness of love in our own being.   To move through anxiety and depression we need the gateways of truth and love.   And each of these, reveals the formless awareness—the Beingness that is what we are beyond the conditioning of the egoic self.

We might also turn toward the outer refuge of awareness—the example of an inspiring spiritual being—to remind us of our potential to awaken and renew our faith.  And finally, we can turn directly to the inner refuge of awareness, intuiting the alert inner stillness, the timeless presence and Oneness that is our formless essence.  I like the metaphor of ocean and waves:   If you trust you are the ocean you are not afraid of the waves.

Elisha: What is the core message here that we can take into days to find greater peace and freedom in weeks and months ahead, what would it be?

Tara: In the moments that we pause, deepen our attention and regard this life (within and around us) with kindness, we find our way home. In time, we realize that the loving awareness that is here is more the truth of who we are than any story we have been believing about our life.

What we seek—the peace, freedom, love—is always and already here.

Elisha: Thank you so much Tara for your timeless wisdom.

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