Archive for May, 2013

Wherever You Go, ‘Here’ You Are

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

“Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote a wonderful book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, but perhaps it’s more accurate to say, ‘Wherever you go, here you are.’

At any given moment, whether you’re waiting at a stop light, waiting for a plane to take off, in line for a movie ticket, or getting ready to present at a meeting, here you are.

The truth is you’re never anywhere but here.

When we learn to embrace the hereness, all things come into place.”

~ Excerpt from Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler

All modes of suffering including anxiety, depression, trauma reactions and addictive behaviors arise from the brain’s very simple strategy of trying to get away from here.

If we can learn how to be okay with being here, a lot of the cycling of suffering will cease to exist.

However, there is a caveat. Here is not always the best place to be if we’re feeling too unstable emotionally. Trying to grit our teeth and be here when we’re in the midst of a panic attack or an extreme trauma reaction may only exacerbate the feeling, because there’s not a spacious container for it to process through. In that case, it’s perfectly okay to employ the “Great Art of Distraction.” Sometimes it can be quite skillful to turn to your IPad, the television or go on a walk while focusing on all the sights and sounds around us.

But if we feel a bit more stable and we can ride the edge of that window of tolerance, our brain begins to learn that it’s okay to be here and it doesn’t have to freak out or judge us so harshly.

In fact, there may be something to learn by being present to what’s difficult. I often quote the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi saying, “Don’t turn your gaze. Look toward the bandaged place, that’s where the light enters.”

Perhaps you learn how to apply the healing art of self-compassion and so the wound now becomes a teacher bearing gifts.

Try today to pause from time to time and just say, “Wherever I go, here I am.” Or just shorten it to say, “Her I am” and see what you notice.

You can learn to get better and better at being here in this life and open up to the wonders all around.

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

Breaking Bad Habits: Interview with Dan Goleman and Tara Bennett-Goleman

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

thoughtfulwomanWe all have habits that we want to break and that is why I’m thrilled to bring to you today Daniel Goleman and Tara Bennett-Goleman. Daniel Goleman is an internationally known psychologist who lectures around the world and has many classic books including Emotional Intelligence which has over 5,000,000 copies in print. Tara is author of The New York Times bestseller Emotional Alchemy and her new book Mind Whispering: A New Map to Freedom from Self-Defeating Emotional Habits that can help us transform our emotions, improve our relationships and connect us to the inner wisdom that has always been there.

Note: On Saturday June 1st, come spend a day with Dan and Tara as they speak to us live in Los Angeles, California at UCLA about how to break free from the self-defeating habits that don’t serve us.  

In this interview Dan and Tara will take us through some neuroscience of habit formation, how Mind Whispering can help us break free from our self-defeating habits, the importance of entering positive mind states, and some final words to help us along the way.

Elisha: We all have habits we’d like to break. Can you give us a brief background into the neuroscience of habit change.

Dan: As we form a habitual routine – like riding a bike or avoiding the anxiety of an intense emotion – the brain shifts its operation from the zone of awareness to an unconscious zone, from the top part of the brain to the basal ganglia near the very bottom. Once stored there, these routines operate automatically and for the most part without our fully noticing them. We can only change them by once again bringing them into awareness.

Elisha: A fundamental source of human suffering is our self-defeating habits. What is Mind Whispering and how can it help us shift out of this default mode?

Tara: Mind Whispering draws together practices and principles from several sources – the neuroscience of habit change, Eastern and Western psychology, and even horse whispering. One main method is what I call “mindful habit change.” The first step is recognizing that we are in the grip of an unhealthy emotional habit once again. That’s where mindfulness begins to help. Once we surface the self-defeating habitual routines, like anxious clinging or emotional avoidance in a relationship, we can challenge and change them. And the more often we repeat that, the more the new habits can become a more healthy default mode.

Elisha: In your book you talk about entering positive modes as a path toward healing. Give us a bit more background on this and how we might apply it.

Tara: The big divide in the mode spectrum lies between our insecure, distorted, negative modes and the healthy range where we feel secure and confident, effective and flexible, positive. Emotional habits are on a spectrum. Some of them can change through awareness and intentional shifts. But others are harder to see – and they may have served some purpose for coping with a difficult situation.  For this range its important to acknowledge their symbolic reality with a sensitive attunement and understanding. In Mind Whispering there are many ways to shift to the healthy mode range. Each mode has its own best steps to take.  If the modes are not too intense, sometimes a gentle priming – like thinking of people you love, or talking with one of them, can make the shift.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone who was stuck in their self-defeating mind, what advice might you have for them?

Tara and Dan: Sometimes it’s not helpful to offer advice – especially if the person is not looking for it. Better to empathize and attune to them. You may have more of a sense of what their actual needs are. It’s better not to project what we think is best for the person. If you are in your secure mode, you can be kind, sensitive and empathic – a good listener. See if you can tune in to what they need in that moment, and what you can give. For example, think of something they might appreciate but not have to ask you for – a caring gesture, going out of your way to be helpful to them. Even giving your full attention can be comforting to someone who is in an insecure mode.

Elisha: Thank you Dan and Tara for sharing your thoughts and wisdom with us.

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

Thoughtful woman image available from Shutterstock.

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

The Need to Parent with Presence

Friday, May 24th, 2013

parentsThe reason there is no definitive guide on parenting is because every baby and child is unique and all parents come with unique baggage from childhood and genetics. Becoming a parent is wonderful for stirring up all of those old memories and connections from our own upbringing. Mix this in with our fractured attention spans and we begin to see why it is becoming increasingly important for us to learn how to practice presence with our own thoughts, feelings and emotions so we can have the ability to do that with our children.

Note: To get more direction with the power of bringing more presence into your parenting please join my wife, Stefanie Goldstein, PhD and I, as well as 20 other leaders such as Marianne Williamson, Harvel Hendrix, Don Miguel Ruiz, John Gray, and others for a powerful Parenting with Presence FREE teleseminar, hosted by Susan Stiffelman author of Parenting Without Power Struggles, June 4-7.

One of the things that make it difficult to be present as a parent is because as children we coped through disconnection. For many, childhood was a time of betrayal and invalidation where parents were potentially disconnected from their inner worlds of thoughts, feelings and emotions. As a result, security and trust wasn’t fostered and this bled into our intimate relationships and we swore that it would be different with our kids.

One of the most important gifts a parent can give a child is their presence, validation and security. When we’re present with our children, it lays a path for attunement and resonance. Attunement is when the parent is aware and present to the child’s inner world of thoughts, feelings and emotions. When attuned, a state of resonance occurs where the child “feels felt.” Think about anytime you felt completely understood. It breeds a sense of safety and when a person feels safe, they cultivate the ability to trust.

This is an invaluable gift to give a child.

BUT…It can enormously challenging at times to be a parent. Author and blogger Therese Borchard often writes about her struggles being a mom and suffering with depression. As a parent, we are now responsible for a whole host of new responsibilities, trying to do the best we can while feeling guilty that we’re not doing enough.

Mindful parenting informs us to first begin to practice attuning ourselves and others to develop trust. Sometimes just taking a moment or two to let the dust settle and tune into how we are feeling physically, emotionally and mentally can be a wonderful gift in helping to cultivate self-attunement and resonance. Through this process, we can begin to come down from the chaos in our minds and trust ourselves.

When practicing with yourself, you can begin to do this with your children. If you find that all day you have been frantically running around, practicing continuous fractured attention and not paying attention to your children, rather than riddling yourself with guilt, see if you can recognize that you are now present, let that be, and invite yourself to be present to your child now.

If the little one is crying because he skinned his knee, you might notice the urge to make a happy face or give him a lollipop to ease his woes. See if you can instead validate his feelings, letting him know that his response is appropriate and allow it to come and go. This teaches the child that it’s OK to feel hurt and it’s OK to cry when you get hurt. This earns the child a sense of security within him or herself.

This could be more difficult if you have many children and the crying becomes contagious. So when the voices arise that you’re not fit to be a parent, see if you can be aware of that trap, become present and remind yourself that you’re good enough.

As is said in The Now Effect, we will never be the perfect parents so let go of the burden of that fantasy. However, we can be good enough as the well-known Psychologist Donald Winnicott pointed out. Mindful Parenting is the process of being aware of how you were parented affects your style of parenting and also to make it a practice to be present and attuned to your child’s inner world. If you stray from this, that is perfectly fine, just let it be, and invite yourself now to be with your child.

As soon as you notice yourself drifting, you are present and can shift to tuning into to your child’s inner world. It is that close. Be compassionate to yourself knowing this is a practice.

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

Family image available from Shutterstock.

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

The New Mental Health Bible – DSM-V: Friend or Foe?

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

The new holy bible of psychiatric diagnosis is about to go on sale tomorrow. No matter what our conclusions of it are, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is destined to be a best seller as it is the defacto guide to mental illness that most all institutions, physicians, therapists, healthcare providers and educational systems use. But it’s important for us to take a step back once in a while and ask, is this book helping or hindering the field of mental health and in turn, our individual and cultural stigma of mental health?

It has also struck me as strange that someone could struggle with, let’s say depression, and show completely different symptoms than the next person struggling with depression, yet it’s still major depression. Are we just creating another dis-ease from the human experience of suffering? For example, the experiences of anxiety, depression, and Post-traumatic stress disorder all show over activation in the fear circuit of the brain, the amygdala.

Now we don’t want to reduce mental health conditions just to neurobiology because there’s more to it than that. However, I often think of panic attacks and depressive episodes through a trauma lens. Do these always need to be teased out as different and given a specific label like this?

Here’s a new label for you: Apparently there’s a new diagnosis for kids of “disruptive mood dysregulation disorder” a term that was earlier referred to as temper tantrums.

There is a place for diagnosis, it gives us a common language and allows us to test interventions that can be helpful to one group of people suffering with similar symptoms. Also, some people feel relieved with a diagnosis because something concrete has been identified and can be worked with.

However, since the dawn of man there has been suffering and perhaps creating more diagnoses complicates the human condition. Perhaps the answers to healing are simpler.

What do you think?

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

Watering the Seeds of Depression, Watering the Seeds of Resiliency

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

megaphoneheadI often write about the demanding and criticizing voices in our heads a lot because it is so amazingly prevalent and I figure just about anyone can identify with that and almost all of us need support with them. Every day these voices kick in out of habit telling us “I can’t do that right” or “what a failure I am.” More often than not we become overwhelmed by them and indulge them, and as Thich Nhat Hanh says, “water the seeds of our own suffering.”

What if we were able to see these voices as having good intentions? How could this ever be?

Many of us have past wounds in our lives whether it was parent seeming too busy to pay attention to us or losing someone early in life, or being the victim of assault. Voices start arising inside us to help us maintain some control over our environments to keep us safe from being wounded again. These voices may judge us or others so we don’t get too close and run the risk the danger of either losing them or being hurt by them. Or maybe the voices just criticize us so we don’t have to face the discomfort inside and spend all of our time taking care of other people. Although at the end of the day, these voices serve to water the seeds of our depression and anxiety, they can be viewed as trying to help.

The end result is that we can learn to be more kind and caring to ourselves instead of damning and hating.

What would change if instead of damning and hating these voices that keep us down, we learn to be a bit kinder to them, acknowledging their presence, and then choosing a different path. For example, if the voice arises “you’re not good enough, don’t even try it,” try and notice it and see it as a part of you that is simply trying to keep you safe from a past wounding experience. When the bad voice arises rather than entertaining it, thank it for trying to keep you safe and rather than cursing it, see if you can acknowledge the pain. You can tell yourself that you know this is a difficult task, but that was then and this is now and you’re going to give it a shot anyway.

Easier said than done, but in practicing and understanding that even our damning voices have the intentions of keeping us safe, we can begin to shift from watering the seeds of depression to watering the seeds of resiliency and even happiness. We can all break the habitual cycle of sending hate into ourselves and instead sending compassion and care.

See if you can notice the inner voices from past wounds in your life that keep you from getting too close to others or risking success to keep you safe from harm. When they arise, thank them for trying to keep you safe. Notice what a difference this can make than struggling with the messages.

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

Megaphone head image is available from Shutterstock.

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

How to Get a New Lease On Life: A Teen’s Revelation

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

It was all from a single leaf.

“I had no idea,” she said. “I thought I knew exactly what they felt like, I was shocked. When I think about it, I realize now how reactive I am to things around me. I think I know exactly who this person is or whether I’ll like a certain experience or not. When a test comes my brain interprets it as something to be feared when maybe it isn’t. Wow, amazing.” This 17 year old girl was talking about an experience she had on a mindful hike that my wife and I lead as part of a mindful teen retreat.

What can we gain by stripping our preconceived notions of things and engaging life with fresh eyes?

Maybe a renewed lease on life.

Thinking of our brain as a sponge is not a new metaphor, but it’s accurate. The sponge is made of memories that are constantly referenced to make sense of the worlds inside and outside of us.

While this is essentially adaptive for helping us walk, talk, and have highly enough hand motion to drink without spilling liquid all over our shirts, it’s not always good when it makes our perception of how we see other people and our abilities in life routine.

Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder.”

Sometimes just entertaining seeing something with fresh eyes, whether it’s a conversation with a friend, eating something or even just touching a leaf, can open up a world of possibility you didn’t know was there before.

Consider for a moment. What in your life has become routine? Who do you think you’re an expert on? What do you feel so certain about? What would it be like to spend a short time every day choosing to put what you know aside and open up to something with fresh eyes?

Would you rediscover some wonders in life that you had been blind to? Might you open up the possibility of learning something?

You don’t grow new neural connections by being the eternal expert on things. Neurons fire together and wire together as a result of learning.

Now that we know the brain is plastic and continues to shape itself throughout the lifespan, we can open up to seeing things differently.

Are you someone whose mind often tends toward the negative or shutting options down? Do you tend to believe worst-case-scenarios? Do you think you have the world’s number?

The danger of the brain is that it makes things automatic and our perception of reality fixed so it can handle more complex tasks.

Like the 17 year old girl, choosing to see life with a beginner’s mind taught her not to always buy wholesale the stories her mind was telling her. Perhaps there’s more to life than we know.

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

A Time-Tested Organic Medicine for Stress, Anxiety and Depression

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Everyone has tough days and for some the days seem to be a never ending string of murkiness. All of our mental afflictions, stress, anxiety, depression, addictive urges and trauma responses are experienced as contractions in the body. An antidote to this would naturally be opening the body up and that is one among many reasons why yoga can be helpful. But to take it one step further, laughter opens our bodies up, vibrates core areas where the stuck energy resides while simultaneously igniting resiliency centers of the brain.

Do yourself a favor, simply watch this 3-minute video and see what you notice:

Laughter is a stress reliever and it’s wise to add it in as a natural medicine to whatever anti-anxiety or anti-depressant regimen you’re using. But you don’t need to go to India to practice this and in fact, you can benefit from this without even having a group to do it with.

If you’re in comfortable place with no one around, try just laughing to yourself for about 15 seconds and see how your mind and body feels.

If you notice a lift, have gratitude for this. In fact, spread this feeling of gratitude out to all the people and places in the world where healing and gratitude is needed. May all people feel an alleviation of suffering, may we all be able to enjoy love and laughter again.

You can take this practice into subtle areas of your life by practicing smiling and see if it’s contagious to others.

As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Breathing in I calm my body, breathing out I smile.”

If you just read this and didn’t try any of it out, put down your judgments and defenses and play a little, no one is watching. Allow your experience to be your teacher. This may be one of the best gifts you’ve given yourself in quite a while.

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

A Mindful Writer: An Interview with Diana Gould

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

It’s not often that I interview someone on the mindfulness and psychotherapy blog who has put out a novel. However, Diana Gould has had a long career in film and television and in her practice with mindfulness. She currently teaches at InsightLA in Santa Monica, California and has recently released her first novel ColdwaterShe has also put out a special  Coldwater Challenge contest: Find the Mindfulness! Nestled within the pages of this noir thriller are little nuggets of mindfulness teachings. How many can you find? Make a list, give your reasons, and submit to contest@insightla.org. The winner will receive your choice of a free basics class at InsightLA or a personal consultation with Diana about dharma practice & writing or both!

Today, Diana talks to us about what inspired her to write this novel, how mindfulness integrates into the novel, the themes of destruction and redemption are applicable in our lives, and some thoughts for the times we are suffering.

Elisha: What inspired you to write Coldwater?

Diana: I had been writing for film and TV for many years.  Although literally hundreds of hours of television had been produced from scripts that I wrote, developed or produced, I rarely had the experience of seeing my true values and vision reflected on the screen.  There were always layers of corporate or collaborative intervention which either shaped, changed or discarded what I’d written.  Although I am very grateful to television for the income it provided and the skills it taught me, I longed to produce work that was creatively self-expressive in a way that TV never could be. Coldwater is that work.

I had two ideas about Coldwater before I began writing it.  The first was to tell the story of someone filled with fear and self-loathing, who made the transformation to self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, and self-esteem – a transformation I had made myself.   The other was to tell a story about someone who had always relied on drugs and alcohol to deal with fear and difficulty, who was confronted with bigger fears and worse difficulties, but had to face them clean and sober.  As someone with many friends and family members affected by the disease of addiction, who has seen the challenges of recovery at close hand, I knew this was a story that had dramatic – and heroic – potential.

Elisha: How has your mindfulness practice been integrated into the book?

Diana: This is a great question.  I feel that the years that I have spent doing mindfulness meditation helped me describe my characters at the level of body sensation, mental image, internal conversation, and to describe scenes and locations with specificity of sights, sounds, smells and touches.  In other words, the things that I notice in my own mindfulness practice gave life and veracity to the scenes and characters I was writing about.  But the writing process itself, I discovered, cannot really be done “mindfully.”  It is necessary to see and hear people places and things that are not there.  While writing, the mind goes off into imagination and story-telling – just what we bring ourselves back from doing in meditation!  I cannot be “in the now” and be writing at the same time.  However, learning to hang out and be comfortable in “don’t-know mind” is very helpful.  A lot of writing time is spent staring into space and not knowing what comes next, and learning to be okay with that.  (Actually, for me, that is the hardest challenge of writing.)

And sometimes, the answer to problems that seemed unsolvable while at the computer, will bubble up in meditation the next day.

Elisha: Your book speaks of destruction and redemption, can you tell us more how this might support the reader in their daily life?

Diana: Ethics and morality, non-harming of ourselves and others, plays a crucial part in one’s sense of well-being.  The book explores the consequences of doing harm to self and others, and offers the possibility of redemption if we take ownership and responsibility for our actions.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone who was struggling physically or emotionally, what thoughts might you have for them?

Diana: I would very much want them to know that what seems endless is not.  That there are very concrete and specific ways of being with painful emotions and experiences that can help transform them. That very often what we think is the worst thing that could happen to us turns out to be the best.  That if we have the courage to open to the darkness and not run from it, it can contain the source of our relief.  That as Rumi has said, “the wound is where the light enters.”  That happiness is possible.  Freedom is possible. That everything we could possibly want is contained within each present moment, if we just learn how to recognize it.

Elisha: Thank you Diana!

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

Photo of Diana Gould courtesy of the author

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

Make Gratitude a Practice, Really

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

rosecrpdWhen we think of what we’re thankful for we often think of the light in our lives. Who and what represents the light in your life?

The poet Hafiz writes in his poem “It Felt Love”:

How did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
All its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light
Against its being,
Otherwise,
We all remain
Too frightened

This is so true. It becomes easier to open up and reveal our own gifts to this world when we feel positive loving encouragement within.

Here is an opportunity to do a practice inspired by this poem that can help us cultivate a sense of gratitude and lovingkindness right now.

Here is short practice to feel that encouragement of light right now (what do you have to lose):

  1. Think of a person or animal who represents light, who represents a loving and kind presence in your life. This can be a good friend who is alive, maybe someone who has passed away, a pet, or maybe a spiritual figure such as the Dalai Lama, Jesus, or even the hand of God. 
  2. Take a moment to imagine that presence here, with you, looking into your eyes. 
  3. Now imagine that person saying to you, “May you be safe and protected from inner and outer harm”, “May you be happy,” “May you be free from fear”, “May you be healthy in body and mind”. You can also create your own wishes and aspirations here. 
  4. Now turn toward that person and say that with the same intention to them. 
  5. Now imagine your family and friends with you (those who you feel difficulty with and those who you feel more ease with) and with intention, saying those same word.

Take a moment to just feel into how you are doing and whatever is there, just letting it be.

I would be willing to bet that if I hooked you up to a brain scanning machine while you did the practice above we’d see a shift in activity to your left prefrontal cortex. What is that associated with? Resiliency.

Gratitude is a practice. May this be a springboard for you to cultivate this sense of gratitude and lovingkindness, which even though it may come with some uncomfortable feelings at times, can be a source of much psychological healing and feelings of well-being.

I deeply thank all of you who have been following the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy blog posts and for interacting below as your posts truly create a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Red rose photo available from Shutterstock

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