Archive for June, 2013

Would You Rather Be Over-Informed or Happy?

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

onlineNot long ago I wrote a blog post that quickly resonated with thousands of people called “Living in a Brainwashed Culture of Urgency.” I want to take that discussion to the next level highlighting not only the habit in our culture toward urgency, but also to being overly informed. The reality is our digital machines make it so easy to get an abundance of information at the touch of a fingertip. For the most part, the need to know all the latest news whether it’s social, political, sports, health, or what-have-you actually gets in the way of our happiness.

But, it seems like we need all that information.

Do we?

Somehow the media has us at the digital counter saying, “Super-Size me please.”

Like an addiction to food, most of the time we ingest it because it’s either a habit and we don’t know what else to do, or it’s a way for us to check out from feeling bored, anxious or generally uncomfortable with the moment.

In the previous post I talked about how through mindful eating people often have the experience of enjoying the food in a way they never had before. Or the opposite where one man said he’d been shoveling raisins down his throat his whole life only to realize now that he doesn’t even like raisins.

When we spend all the in-between-spaces in our day, the moments where we might otherwise be waiting, ingesting an onslaught of information, we don’t even have a moment to be self reflective to see if we even like the media we’re ingesting. Or we don’t have the space to see the other things that might be more nourishing to us o make us happy.

The point here isn’t that engaging with the various forms of media is a bad thing; it can be a great source of play, joy, insight and relaxation. It’s just the frequency and intensity of attention that we give it that for many people, whether they know it or not, has become a source of stress. The brain can only handle so much without getting stressed.

Take a look at all the activities you do in a day and ask yourself, how often do I “check” (an obsessive compulsive term) an application, the web or the television for some form of media input?

Be on the lookout for moments of “checking” the media. Is there something I might like to do that may be more rewarding, like calling a friend, stretching or a little mindfulness?

In this moment right now you have the opportunity to break free from this addictive behavior, reclaim your time and attention and start the practice of pay attention to what really matters to you. This is the effect of mindfulness or The Now Effect.

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

Woman on-line image available from Shutterstock.

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

3 Key Mindfulness Practices for Calm, Self-Compassion and Happiness

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

flowersWhen it comes to mindfulness, there are a number of great short practices that help us be more present to our lives. In this post I’m going to reveal three key mindfulness practices that can help us pause, break out of auto-pilot, step into emotional freedom and even open up to a source of connection that is ultimately healing to ourselves and the world. Plus, I’ll reveal a new practice that people are starting to love.

I know it sounds lofty, but give them a shot and let your experience be the teacher.

1. STOP

Here is a simple practice that simply guides us into pausing, being present and opening up to what matters.  Here is an adapted version of this practice:

S – Stop.

T- Take a few deep breaths.

O – Observe your experience (Body, Emotions, Thoughts).

P – Proceed with the question: “What is most important for me to attend to right now.”

2. RAIN

Made popular by Tara Brach, PhD, this practice is great for gaining emotional freedom. The key differentiator with this practice is it has you go deeper into investigating and becoming intimate with the difficult emotion that is there. Ultimately you arrive at a place where you are no longer identified with it, there’s some freedom there.

R – Recognize the feeling.

A – Allow it to be as it is, without resisting or clinging to it. “Breathing in, allowing, Breathing out, letting be.”

I– Investigate and become intimate with the emotion just as it is. This is not an analytical inquiry, but instead a sense of feeling into the experience. Here is where you may apply a warm and caring attention to see where it is in your body. Notice how big it is, what the shape of it is. You might ask, “What does this feeling believe?” or even “What do I need right now?” Here we can arrive at some perspective and wisdom to decide how we might go forward with it.

N – Non-identify is a natural state that arises in this process. We’re no longer identified with the feeling, it is occurring within our awareness, but it no longer controls us.

3. SAFE

Finally, my current favorite practice combines these, but adds another critical element that inspires what I consider to be a cornerstone healing modality of self-compassion and compassion. Like STOP, the acronym just happens to be so fitting to what we all ultimately need to feel happy. When we don’t feel safe, our brains don’t allow for our natural states of joy, calm and happiness to arise.

S – Soften into the feeling. This is akin to the “R” of rain, but implies a type of gentle attitude to bring with it. “Breathing in, opening to the vulnerability that is there, breathing out softening into it.”

A – Allow it to be as it is, without resisting or clinging to it. This is the same as in RAIN.

F – Feel into the emotion that is there with a kind attention. This is the same as the “I” of RAIN, but clearly states the experiential aspect of feeling into the experience. In doing this we can still drop in the questions, “What does this feeling believe” and “What do I need right now?” When we discover this we might send that internally. For example, if we sense that we need to feel loved and to feel safe, we might say, “May I feel loved, May I feel safe, etc…”

E – Expand awareness of all people who also experience this vulnerability. The fact is this vulnerability of difficult experience is also a human experience. This is the big differentiator from the previous practices and a core component of self-compassion. Here is where we understand that we are not alone and that in this very moment there are thousands if not millions of people who are experiencing this very same feeling. The “E” of SAFE is where we inspire connection with the rest of humanity. In this practice we can also take what we learned from the “F” of SAFE and send it outward saying, “May we all feel loved, May we all feel safe, etc… SAFE is a complete practice that I find myself and many others discovering transformative moments with. You can practice gaining freedom, insights and self-compassion from what’s vulnerable or difficult, while also while inspiring a sense of connectedness outside of yourself that is ultimately healing.

You are welcome to play with any of these practices as an experiment and spread them around.

May that be a source of healing and joy in this life.

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

Woman smelling flowers image available from Shutterstock.

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

Living in a Brainwashed Culture of Urgency

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Whether you like it or not companies know exactly how to get in your brain and control what you’re paying attention to. Everything today is about tricking our brains into a state of urgency. Think about how the news is delivered, “Breaking News.” Or how about how your phones is configured, everything plays to a sound or blinking light that tells our brain, this is something we need to pay attention to right now. Applications have become increasingly popular because they give you up-to-the-minute update alerts on whatever you want from news, to sports scores, to the newest Groupon or sale.

Everything is urgent and important. 

Or so it seems.

How do we better understand that this is all an illusion that is occurring in this very era we’re living in?

How do we begin to see that this new urgent-based culture is shaping the very structure of neural growth in our brains and therefore changing the way we think and make decisions?

What are we missing out on by constantly being drawn to these false urgencies?

I tell a story in The Now Effect of a time I was leading a group of people in a classic raisin eating meditation. In this practice you imagine you’re coming down from a distant planet and find this object (which is a raisin) and the intention is to investigate this object as if this was the first time you’ve ever seen it.

In order to do this you use all your senses from sight, to touch, to hearing, to smell, and finally taste.

Many people have the experience of noticing things about the raisin that they never noticed before, like it has a crackling sound when you move it around near your ear. Or others have the experience of a single raisin being so satisfying. In this one group a man at the end had an “aha” moment. He said, “You know, my whole life I’ve been shoveling raisins down my mouth, handfuls at a time, and it’s only now I realize…I don’t even like raisins.”

This begs the question. To what extent does living with cues of such urgency serve us? Do you like being prompted with urgency by the billboards, our phones, or the television? Maybe it’s just become routine and it’s like you’re shoveling all this content into your mind only to realize later that you don’t even like it. What else may be more important in the moment that you’re missing out on?

The good news is that we can learn to get better and better and noticing this illusion of urgency and stepping into that space between stimulus and response where perspective and choice lie. That is the very definition of The Now Effect.

In this space of choice you can even ask yourself, “Do I want to pay attention to this right now? On a scale of 1 to 10, how urgent is this really? What affect does this have on my daily stress? Are there more important things I’d rather be paying attention to?”

The way I see it, gaining this freedom from false urgency is the most important practice of our time, or so we’ll come to understand in the years to come.

Now, this may seem simple, but it’s not easy, because our brains have been conditioned for years now to believe that all these forms of media are urgent and important. That means it’s now become a default, meaning it’s what happens when there’s no awareness.

In this moment right now, you have the ability to break free from the illusion of urgency and step back into your life. All it takes is recognizing the reality of the illusion and being on the lookout for it.

As an initial practice to play with, take today to be on the lookout for the illusion of urgency and see what you notice. Is there a space to step into greater freedom?

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

Feel S.A.F.E Again – The Power of Vulnerability

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

fatherandsonOur most fundamental need in life is to be safe. When we feel safe, the body relaxes, we become more flexible in the way we see life and are generally happier. But throughout life we all suffer different traumas and feel vulnerable. Maybe we were made fun as a child at school, were a child of divorce, felt inadequate as a parent or perhaps suffered more severe traumas such as some form of physical or sexual abuse. All of these are now reference points for your brain to bring up from time to time arousing feelings of insecurity and vulnerability.

How to we heal insecurity and feel safe again?

I’m going to give you a simple acronym to play with that builds on the practice that Christopher Germer, PhD and Kristen Neff PhD use to cultivate self-compassion called “Soften, Soothe, Allow.” The new acronym of S.A.F.E which I’ll explain in a moment, integrates the ability to inquire a bit deeper into the vulnerability that is there and expands a wiser, more secure awareness of our common humanity.

The acronym for this practice is S.A.F.E:

  • Soften – When a vulnerability arises, whether it’s a feeling of sadness, anxiety, grief, anger, or shame, take a moment to gently soften awareness into that area of the body. At this point you are just resting your awareness into this area. If it helps you can say, “Breathing in, I am aware of this vulnerability, breathing out softening into it.”
  • Allow/Accept– We’re not striving to change this feeling, or make it any different, we’re just allowing and letting be. Acceptance doesn’t imply that you are okay with it or want it there, it’s simply acknowledging the reality of its existence. Here you are just saying to yourself, “allowing, allowing, allowing.”
  • Feel into it with kindness – Now we have the opportunity to deepen our awareness and investigate the feeling. You may choose to put your hand on your heart or wherever you feel the sensation in your body. This applies love or kindness to the feeling which may shift it all by itself. The brain also has to map the sensation of the touch with is inversely correlated with mental rumination, turning the volume down on negative thinking.
    • As you feel into it you might ask, “What does this feeling believe?” Does it believe you are unlovable, unworthy, or perhaps that if you allow it to be, it will consume you?
    • Ask the question, what does this feeling need right now? Does it need to feel cared for, to feel secure, to feel a sense of belonging?
    • Whatever the answer, see if you can wish that for yourself. For example, May I feel loved, may I feel secure, may I feel a sense of belonging. Make this personal to whatever your needs are.
  • Expand awareness and wishes to all people – Whatever your vulnerability, it’s important you know you’re not alone. Feeling vulnerable is part of the human condition and millions of people struggle with the same source of vulnerability that you experience. But when we’re feeling vulnerable with anxiety, depression or shame, it becomes all about us, we need to also impersonalize the experience and get out of ourselves.
    • Now is the opportunity to make that realization real by imagining all the other people who struggle with this same feeling of vulnerability and to wish them all the same prayers that you just wished yourself.
    • For example, May we all feel loved, may we all feel a sense of safety and security, May we all feel that sense of belonging, etc…

Then see what you notice.

Take this with you and play with it as an experiment, letting go of expectations and opening up to curiosity to see what you notice.

You are an active participant in your own health and well-being. You can feel S.A.F.E again, you can feel whole, let the past be the past and enter into the security of the present moment.

"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

“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

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

Father and son image available from Shutterstock.

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

A Quick Exercise to Calm Your Brain

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

RIGHT NOW, practice;

Breathing in:

                I calm my brain.

Breathing out:

                I feel the gift of my body that is here.

                          ~ Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler

It happens to all of us.

Our brains are wired to get caught up in the routine of everyday life. It seems like the older we get, the more responsibilities we have and the easier it is to practice that continuous fractured attention that we’ve all become so accustomed to.

The joke goes:

There are two teen fish in the ocean talking to each other about the day’s events. An older fish swims by and says, “Hi boys, how’s the water?” The two teen fish look at each other confused as one says, “What the heck is water?”

And so it is, we’re so used to being caught in the stream of life that we lose sight of our ability to just slow down, enjoy and be grateful for the simple things, like our bodies.

In many spiritual traditions, a morning prayer is to be aware of and grateful for the functioning of our bodies.

Whenever you catch yourself getting lost of overwhelmed in the myriad of details in daily life, you can pause and take 30 seconds to do this short practice from one of my favorite little books Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind:

RIGHT NOW, practice:

Breathing in:

                 I calm my brain.

         Breathing out:

                 I feel the gift of my body that is here.

Of course, you don’t have to be caught in the details to do this; making it a daily practice can ground you to the present moment and open your mind up to the good in life.

Creating this awareness, balance and gratitude may be the greatest gift you can give yourself.

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

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

The Power of Vulnerability – Feel S.A.F.E Again

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Our most fundamental need in life is to be safe. When we feel safe, the body relaxes, we become more flexible in the way we see life and are generally happier. But throughout life we all suffer different traumas and feel vulnerable. Maybe we were made fun as a child at school, were a child of divorce, felt inadequate as a parent or perhaps suffered more severe traumas such as some form of physical or sexual abuse. All of these are now reference points for your brain to bring up from time to time arousing feelings of insecurity and vulnerability.

How to we heal insecurity and feel safe again?

I’m going to give you a simple acronym to play with that can begin transforming your relationship with feelings of vulnerability, open you up to a wiser perspective and begin to feel more secure.

The acronym for this practice is S.A.F.E:

  • Soften – When a vulnerability arises, whether it’s a feeling of sadness, anxiety, grief, anger, or shame, take a moment to gently soften awareness into that area of the body. At this point you are just resting your awareness into this area. If it helps you can say, “Breathing in, I am aware of this vulnerability, breathing out softening into it.”
  • Allow/Accept– We’re not striving to change this feeling, or make it any different, we’re just allowing and letting be. Acceptance doesn’t imply that you are okay with it or want it there, it’s simply acknowledging the reality of its existence. Here you are just saying to yourself, “allowing, allowing, allowing.”
  • Feel into it with kindness – Now we have the opportunity to deepen our awareness and investigate the feeling. You may choose to put your hand on your heart or wherever you feel the sensation in your body. This applies love or kindness to the feeling which may shift it all by itself. The brain also has to map the sensation of the touch with is inversely correlated with mental rumination, turning the volume down on negative thinking.

    • As you feel into it you might ask, “What does this feeling believe?” Does it believe you are unlovable, unworthy, or perhaps that if you allow it to be, it will consume you?
    • Ask the question, what does this feeling need right now? Does it need to feel cared for, to feel secure, to feel a sense of belonging?
    • Whatever the answer, see if you can wish that for yourself. For example, May I feel loved, may I feel secure, may I feel a sense of belonging. Make this personal to whatever your needs are.
  • Expand awareness and wishes to all people – Whatever your vulnerability, it’s important you know you’re not alone. Feeling vulnerable is part of the human condition and millions of people struggle with the same source of vulnerability that you experience. But when we’re feeling vulnerable with anxiety, depression or shame, it becomes all about us, we need to also impersonalize the experience and get out of ourselves.

    • Now is the opportunity to make that realization real by imagining all the other people who struggle with this same feeling of vulnerability and to wish them all the same prayers that you just wished yourself.
    • For example, May we all feel loved, may we all feel a sense of safety and security, May we all feel that sense of belonging, etc…

Then see what you notice.

Take this with you and play with it as an experiment, letting go of expectations and opening up to curiosity to see what you notice.

You are an active participant in your own health and well-being. You can feel S.A.F.E again, you can feel whole, let the past be the past and enter into the security of the present moment.

"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

“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

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

4 Steps to a Shaping a Wiser Brain

Friday, June 7th, 2013

artistotle thoughts

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ~ Aristotle

I’m not so sure I agree with you Aristotle. There are plenty of educated people who have trouble entertaining thoughts without accepting them. In any intense emotional state we become strict believers of the thoughts we think. If you’re depressed, educated or not, you often accept the thought that things are hopeless. When you’re anxious, educated or not, you believe that catastrophe is around the corner.  It may be more accurate to say, “It is the mark of a wise mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

But what helps us shape a wiser brain?

Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., author of My Stroke of Insight, says that the biological time-span of an emotion is 90 seconds.

That is the time it takes for your body to sense some event, for the brain to process it, and for the noradrenalin to flush out of your system.

But do your emotions, especially negative emotions like anger, fear, and shame last only 90 seconds? Of course not.

Why?

Because your brain continues to kick up negative thoughts over and over again, continuing to fuel the emotional response. Training a wiser brain means beginning to get enough distance from a thought to be able to investigate it.

The Now Effect is based on a very simple quote by Viktor Frankl’s:

“Between stimulus and response there’s a space, in that space lies our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and freedom.”

In taking a moment to just acknowledge a certain thought, there’s a space between awareness and the thought itself. This space has now become a “choice point.”

In this space of choice we can get a bit more distance and perspective from them with these four great questions from Byron Katie. As an example let’s use the thoughts, “I’ll never be happy again.”

  1. Is it true? – Maybe your first reaction is yes.
  2. Is it absolutely true? – This makes us step back a bit more and really entertain it. In taking a bit more space we might acknowledge that we can’t say with 100% accuracy that this is true. An opening has been made.
  3. How does this thought make me feel? – This gives us some more perspective into the power of this thought. “I’ll never be happy again,” makes me feel sad, tired and unmotivated.
  4. What would be different without this thought? – This allows us to potentially experience not only the power this thought has on us, but also the potential of what life could be like if we stopped accepting this thought as true.

We can take this a step further and say, “Who would I be without this thought?” Sometimes we become so identified with certain painful beliefs that we only see a limited, small self. This question opens this up to see the light and potential within.

As we continue to get space from our thoughts, entertain them, but become more skillful about which wants we accept and which we don’t, we begin to train a more flexible and wiser mind.

Any of us can do this.

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 with the Wall of Gratitude

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

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, take 1-Minute right now 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