Psych Central

Archive for May, 2011

A Summertime Compassion Training Opportunity

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Summertime means bugs (particularly, stink bugs in Eastern US).  Bugs bug us.  We don’t like to be bugged so we kill bugs.  We are playing gods, taking it upon ourselves to decide matters of life and death.   No big deal, right?  After all, it’s just a bug, right?  Right, it is just a bug.

Where am I going with this?  Right here, to this thought: you are missing an opportunity for compassion-training.  Get yourself a $30 dollar BugZooka (which is a battery-free, catch-and-release, pump action hand-vac) and spend this summer practicing compassion.

Let me clarify a couple of things.  First, I am not advocating for bugs.  I am advocating for myself.  I live in the world that is more of a jungle than it theoretically has to be, in a world that plays mindless god left and right, in a world that could certainly benefit from a bit of compassion-training.  This kind of world is unsafe, for me, for you, for anyone.   So, my interest in compassion-training is entirely self-serving.  Sure, I care about the bugs too.

Case in point, one recent morning as I got up to wash my face there was a moth in the sink on its back, flapping its wings.  It was stuck.  Its wings were “glued” to the walls of the sink by the moisture.  I opened the trashcan and rummaged for something thin yet hard to help the moth peel off away from the surface of the sink.  I found the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper and tried to use this.  It didn’t work: as I tried to scoop up the moth, I kept damaging its wings and it would flap wiggle its body in desperate agony.  I felt like Saddam Hussein in a torture chamber with a  captive audience.

I knew the BugZooka wouldn’t work in this situation because the wet moth would be stuck inside the capture chamber and I’d have to scrape it out somehow.  So, I opened the faucet, hoping that as the water fills up the moth might be able to flip over on its stomach at which point I could try to scoop it out once again.  It didn’t work.  It got sucked into the drain to its death.  I felt bummed out for a moment: as primitive of a life as it was, it ended.  There was no lingering guilt (after all, I did the best I could) just a moment of regret, a moment of identification, a moment of compassion, a moment of humanity.


Had a Taste Yet?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

A thought-provoking passage from a story Yam Gruel by the early 20th century Japanese writer Akutagawa:

“Yam gruel is a gruel made by boiling slices of yam in a soup of sweet arrow-root.  […]  It was regarded as the supreme delicacy. […]  Accordingly, such lower officials as Goi could taste it only once a year when they were invited as […] guests to the Regent’s Palace. […] On such occasion they could eat no more of it than barely enough to moisten their lips.  So it had been [Goi’s] long-cherished desire to satiate himself with yam gruel.  Of course, he himself did not confide his desire to anyone.  He himself might not have been clearly aware that it had been his life-long wish.  But as a matter of fact, it would hardly be too much to say that he lived for this purpose.  A man sometimes devotes his life to a desire which he is not sure will ever be fulfilled.  Those who laugh at this folly are, after all, no more than mere spectators of life.”

I have but one question for you today, but I’ll state it thrice:

Are you aware of what drives you and why?

What yam gruel are you still chasing?

Have you had a taste of life yet?

++++++++

Note to Mere Spectators of Life: if you happen to have the wisdom of merely noticing “what is,” without chasing it, I salute your equanimity!

Reference:  Rashomon & Other Stories, by Ryunosuke Akutagawa


Mindful Loving

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Knowing how to forgive is an essential, if not the essential skill of mindful loving. I’d like to offer you an example of betrayal and forgiveness, from Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is a very complex work with multiple layers of meaning. To date, the book has been translated into 65 languages – more than any other novel. So, for those of you who aren’t familiar with this work, I will only summarize the part of the story that is relevant to the topic of betrayal and compassion.

Winston Smith, a civil servant/bureaucrat responsible for maintaining the propaganda of the Party, is a citizen of the Big-Brother totalitarian regime. He falls in love with Julia, a mechanic that repairs novel-writing machines. They develop a romantic-dissident relationship in a society that had banned both love and freedom of thought.

They are set up by a party member, O’Brian, and are eventually captured by Thought Police. They are interrogated and tortured. O’Brian explains that the Party wants power for the sake of power and aims to extinguish any form of free thought and individual partiality (such as romantic attachments; love, after all, is a form of partiality and individual bias). During this psychologically and physically trying re-programming and re-education, Winston quickly breaks down – he confesses anything just to escape further turmoil. O’Brian, who is personally responsible for this re-education, however, is not convinced. He believes that Winston still loves Julia. To help Winston break through this attachment, he designs a custom-made torture for Winston.


No Big Deal: Just the End of the World

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

End of the world?  No big deal!  The world ends every day.  And begins every day, in all of its ordinary perfection.  No reason to fear this continuous ceasing-and-arising.


Mind Rinse

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Have a swig of mind rinse (of the Pattern Interruption series):

Life is hardware with software.  Hardware without software is dead matter.  Hardware with software is living matter.  But hardware and software are not two.  Software is when hardware softens.  When hardware softens to enable self-reflection it becomes software.  Software is just self-aware hardware.

Hardware that is aware of self is also aware of other.  Life runs on self-other duality: to know other is to know self; to know self is to know other.  But, of course, self is other and other is self (since this world knows no true separateness).

Confused?  Enlightened?  Doesn’t matter as long as this reading served as a neural cleanse of sorts for your mindware.  When you started reading this you were mentally at point A.  Now you are mentally at point B.  Your mind moved on (even if your body hasn’t).  It’s always like that: mind rinses itself.  What’s next?  C for yourself.

Postscript: When lost in flow, find flow to rediscover yourself.  Whether it’s from A to B or from B to C or from A to C is irrelevant.  No need to get hung up on the informational specifics of the content that flows through your mind.  Flow itself is the anchor.

Related:

Circle of Choice

Architecture of Pattern Interruption

Pattern-Bound?  Take a Detour

[image source]


Understanding Emotional Eating

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Emotional eating is misunderstood and often unnecessarily demonized. However, emotional eating — that is, eating to feel good, often termed “compulsive eating” — isn’t the problem. It’s emotional overeating and mindless emotional eating that can be both psychologically and physically unhealthy. Emotional eating works as a coping strategy and stress reliever if approached with mindfulness and moderation.

Emotional Eating Is Inevitable

Whether you eat or overeat, whether you eat mindfully or mindlessly, one thing is clear: people only eat what they like to eat.  How a particular food tastes is a fundamentally emotional consideration. Let’s face it: your body doesn’t give a hoot whether you eat something that tastes good or not so good, as long as the food isn’t rotten. Taste  is the business of the mind — a matter of pleasure. Bottom line: Everyone eats for pleasure, so emotional eating is inevitable.


From Neurosis to Nirvana

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

Acceptance is the difference between neurosis and nirvana.  A single u-turn covers the entire journey from neurosis to nirvana.  What u-turn?  A choice to accept what is, one moment at a time.

Resources: Present Perfect/Lotus Effect

[image source]


Food Addiction? Nah!

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Some beat themselves up: “I just can’t stop eating. I am a food addict.” Nah! Andrew Weil and Winifred Rosen, in their 1983 book Chocolate to Morphine: Understanding Mind-Active Drugs place (as evidenced from the title) chocolate and morphine into one and the same broad category of drugs, explaining that humans have a seemingly innate interest in altering their consciousness.

Naturally, chocolate and morphine are in different leagues.  But the principle nevertheless holds: everything you eat is chemistry, i.e. drugs.  Anything you eat for pleasure alters your consciousness (from its baseline of boredom to a more pleasurable, i.e. more stimulated state).

So, ditch the word “addiction” from your vocabulary.  It means nothing.  Whether you are “addicted” to morphine or tiramisu, motivationally, you are a pleasure-seeker.  And fundamentally there is nothing wrong with seeking pleasure.  The path we take on this road of pleasure can be certainly more or less precarious, legal and illegal, socially sanctioned or socially stigmatizing, but the destination is always the same: wellbeing.

So, if you have labeled yourself as a food-addict, then I suggest you retire this psychologically toxic concept from your mind.  You are a seeker of wellbeing who is still mastering the learning curve of moderation.

resources: Mindful Eating Tracker


Thin Ice of Presence

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Meaning is an association of what is now with what once was…

Take a look at any object in your immediate environment: say, you are looking at a “so-called” (I’ll explain the “so-called” parenthetical in a few moments) cup. Say, I picked it up from your desk and asked: “What is this?” You’d say: “A cup.” And I’d say: “No, what is this?” After a moment of bemusement, you might offer: “A mug?” And I – with the best of the poker faces – would stay firm: “No, what is this?”

After a pause and/or after a little friendly prodding from me, you might suggest: “A container for liquids?” To welcome the emerging looseness of your associations, I’d kick the door of your mind with a more clue-like question: “Yes… What else could this object be?” With this prompt, you’d likely fire off a series of ideas: “A paper-weight, a weapon if you throw it, a small hand-held shovel…”

So here we are: what used to be a cup now has acquired some additional meanings, by virtue of re-association…

Where am I going with this? Okay: let me reiterate the thesis: meaning is an association. When, as kids, we first encounter a new object, we ask: “Mom/Dad, what is this?” “It’s a fork,” Mom/Dad programs our mind… “And this (fill in the blank)?” Mom/Dad: “This is (fill in the blank).”


Dao Food

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Deng Min-Dao wrote: “If you give the masters something to eat, they will eat.  If they have nothing to eat, they forget that there was ever such an activity” (1992, p. 224).  Hmm.  Masters of what?  Must be masters of self.  Hmm.  Why would a master of self be so nonchalant about eating?  Must be already full, I suspect.  Full of what?  That’s for you to figure out. 

Here are your choices:

a) full of self

b) full of dao

c) full of emptiness

d) all of the above

Good luck, eater.

Excerpt from Reinventing the Meal (2012, in press)


Reinventing the Meal
Reinventing the Meal
Present Perfect
Eating the Moment
The Lotus Effect The Smoke-Free Smoke Break
Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. is the author of The Lotus Effect, Present Perfect, The Smoke-Free Smoke Break, and Eating the Moment: 141 Mindful Practices to Overcome Overeating One Meal at a Time.


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