Archive for August, 2012

Drive-Thru Smoking Cessation

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Please Do Not Block Drive-ThruThe standard smoking cessation quit-date timeline is 1-2 weeks.  Here’s an example of this kind of blitzkrieg quit-date advice from a 2003 American Cancer Society publication, “Kicking Butts”: “Pick a quit date – about seven to fourteen days from now.” (p. 88)

7 to 14 days?  Really?!

Here’s another recent (2008) example of the same: “Setting a definitive quit date […] is one of the surest steps a smoker can take to promote successful quitting.  […]  We recommend that the quit date be no more than 2 weeks away when set.  This gives smokers adequate time for preparation without allowing too much time during which [smokers] can lose motivation to quit” (Perkins, p. 83).

Two weeks are “adequate time” for quitting one of the hardest habits?  If that were, indeed, so, why would we see such sky-high relapse rates so early in the recovery process?

“Without allowing too much time during which [smokers] can lose motivation to quit”? Wait a second: if the smoker’s motivation is so frail as to expire within a couple of weeks then what are we doing rushing people into the batting cage of post-quit cravings?

The Lila of Eating

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Stacking blocksAs kids we like to role-play, pretending and testing the boundaries of our reality. We even play dead. Any game of pretense is both a learning about the world and a learning about oneself. In trying to divine what it would be like to be so-and-so or such-and-such, we figure out who we are as we notice our sameness through all the roles we play.

But what is it that remains constant and immutable as we morph from one pretense to another?  What can we learn from play about our inner nature, about who/what we are?

This question is an ancient game of knowledge, and we play it out every day when we eat. Eating is also an exchange of information, a role reversal: The eater eats food and becomes food for another eater, for no other reason than to live.

Eating is also a form of play or lila, a Hindu concept which is “understood to be purposeless divine activity” (Haberman 1994, 229). Lila is a form of cosmic drama, the game of self-perpetuating creation. It’s a journey through the forest of life that transforms the traveler through an endless cycle of change for no reason other than mere play. This is a powerfully sobering and liberating proposition: that “all life is lila, or purposeless play” (Haberman 1994, viii).

Psychology of Presidential Ambition

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

The Baking Ballot[“Psychology of Presidential Ambition” was originally posted on 6/12/2010.  On the encouragement of a reader, I decided to re-post this blog-post.  The players have changed, but the central question of the article remains: What is the psychology of presidential ambition?]

A moment before I sat down to write this blog, I poured myself a cup of lotus tea and yelled the following into the living room where my wife was watching Cesar help another fearful dog out of its phobic bind: “Hey, babe, as a naturalized citizen, I can’t run for president, right?”

“Right!” she yelled back and asked in return, with one of those are-you-crazy chuckles: “What, you were thinking about running?!”  Hell no!  I happen to enjoy that special brand of American citizenship that comes with a fail-proof ego-check: even if, for some reason, my ego were to blow up with a manic-grade delusion of grandeur I can never – thank god! – find myself in a position of telling three hundred million people how to live their lives. I secretly relish this particular perk of my naturalized citizenship.   But as safe as America is from my pretensions of leadership, it isn’t safe from my opinions on the psychology of presidential ambition.

So, a couple of days ago I am watching Jon Stewart interview Tim Pawlenty about his possible presidential ambitions.  At a glance, I liked the guy.  He struck me as well-informed, fast on his thinking feet, not without a bit of defensiveness, laconic, a decent listener, and, generally, a bit Obamesque.  Jon Stewart took enough interest in the guy to have him stick around for a couple of rounds of “unedited” prying.  So, when asked once again about whether he would consider running, Pawlenty shares that to run for a president in this country you have to be rich and/or famous and/or have a “shtick.”

I agree, with a minor addition: you also have to be psychologically healthy.  I think it’s about time we have presidential candidates undergo a series …

Smoking as an Expression of Mind-Over-Body Values

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

120825-3As a smoker, you probably haven’t thought of yourself as a health-nut, but, in a way, you are.  If you are not a smoker, surely, you haven’t thought of smokers as health-nuts.   And yet an argument can be made that a smoker is a health-nut.

(If you are a smoker, you are probably slightly intrigued and want to read on.  If, however, you are a non-smoker, let alone a public health official, you might be thinking: “What’s this nonsense?!  Is this guy serious?!”  I am and I ask that you set your judgment aside and take a moment to understand the phenomenology of your fellow human being who chooses to smoke.  (By the way, we – Pavel and Marla – don’t smoke.)  I realize I am making a very unpopular point but even unpopular points have to be made now and then.  Judgment of the unpopular is easy. Understanding of the unpopular is hard and requires an open mind. My goal is clinical: to validate in order to help.)

Let me explain.  One way of looking at ourselves is to say that we are a combination of body and mind.  Both body and mind are equally important halves of one human whole, right?  In theory, yes. In practice, no.  People differ in terms of what they value more.  Some value physical health over mental health.  Others place mental health over physical health. Both sets of priorities are existentially valid.

Indeed, who is to say that you’d do better with an unhealthy mind in a healthy body than with a healthy mind in an unhealthy body?  It’s a classic existential dilemma and whatever you decide is okay by us (Pavel and Marla).  We are clinical libertarians, and we feel that it’s simply nobody’s business to tell you what you should value more in your life, your body or your mind.

Thus, as a form of coping, smoking is an expression of mind-over-body values.  Indeed, when you choose to cope (which is mind-business), you are paying for your emotional wellbeing with the coin of your body.  In other words, …

Mindful Eating: Process is the Point

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

KomondorWhat’s the point of eating? To live. What’s the point of living? To eat. See the circle? Sometimes people ask, “Do you eat to live, or do you live to eat?” My answer is usually “both and neither.” Notice the circle disappear.

As you eat your next meal, ask yourself, “What is the point of all this?”

Then consider this: Life is a process, not a point. To reduce the process of life to a point is artificial.

So, as you eat your next meal, restate the question: “What is the process of all this?”

Notice what changes when you shift from “What is the point of all this?” to “What is the process of all this?” Notice which question closes doors and which opens doors.

Ponder this perpetual carousel of eating and living. Eating Earth we become Earth. Is that pointlessness or privilege? I say, “both and neither.”

Each time life travels around this circuit of change, it changes the very path it treads with its footsteps. Eating—the metabolic churning of matter—is like a lottery drum that constantly rearranges the variables of life.

You are alive. You—a random, unique, and ever-changing constellation of matter—have won the ticket of existence. Time to play. Time to eat. Time to live.

Open your eyes to the process.


adapted from Reinventing the Meal

Creative Commons License photo credit: I. Péter


Reinventing the Meal: Table of Contents:

Introduction: Escape from Circularity

Chapter 1: When the Meal-Wheel Rolled In

Chapter 2: First Course: Reconnecting with Your Body

Chapter 3: Second Course: Reconnecting with Your Mind

Chapter 4: Third Course: Reconnecting with Your World

Chapter 5: Reclaiming the Calorie

Chapter 6: Reinventing the Oryoki Meal

Chapter 7: Reinventing the Dessert

Chapter 8: Reinventing Fasting

Chapter 9: Reconsidering the Ahimsa Meal

Chapter 10: Reconciling Social Eating and Mindful Eating

Chapter 11: Rethinking Obesity

Chapter 12:: Reinventing the Iconography of Eating

Chapter 13: Reinventing the Species

Conclusion : The Sapience of Eating

Share your mindful eating experiences at Mindful Eating Tracker

Eating is Yoga

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

The Sanskrit root of the word “yoga” means “to yoke.” Therefore, yoga is literally union. In truth, all of your existence is yoga. You are made of this world. You depend on this world. If this world ends—locally or globally—you end too. There is no absolute self-sufficiency, and therefore no stand-alone self.

All separation is relative, a trick of the mind. Un-trick yourself at your next meal. Recognize that you are not apart from this world but a part of this world. Eating, just like breathing, reminds you of this union.

As such, the behavior of eating is yoga.  Eating unifies.

Let your dinner table become a yoga mat for your mind.  And stay in the asana you are in: when you eat, eat.

Adapted from Reinventing the Meal

Creative Commons License photo credit: owlmonkey

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Awareness

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

“100 reasons why I’m worth €13.95″

As a clinician, I believe that self-esteem (as a treatment goal or as a self-help goal) is overrated.  I am a far bigger fan of self-acceptance.  Here are some thoughts regarding self-esteem and self-acceptance.

On Conditionality of Self-Estimation & Unconditionality of Self-Acceptance

However you slice it self-esteem begins with self-judgment.  After all, to estimate is to evaluate, to appraise, i.e. to judge.  Judgment is when we evaluate something against a standard, against a condition of worth and value.  As such, self-estimation is inherently conditional. 

Through the process of self-estimation we try to see if we meet a certain condition of worth.  If we do, we have self-esteem.  If we don’t, we don’t.  This dichotomous, dualistic, conditional view of self cuts us apart and fragments our wholeness.

The process of self-evaluation is never over.  As we go from one situation to another our evaluation of ourselves changes.  If I play chess with my neighbor, I feel like a king.  If I play it with a grand-master, I feel like a pawn.  This is the inherent instability of self-esteem: it is dependent on the circumstance and the yardsticks of worth by which we evaluate ourselves.

Brain-to-Brain Interface

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

In 1963, a Spanish-born neuroscientist, Jose Manuel Rodriguez Delgado, stopped a charging bull with a remote control.  Delgado – a kind of neuro-torero – implanted a radio-controlled electrode inside the bull’s brain (in the caudate nucleus area) and, in so doing, set a historical precedent of connecting a living brain to a machine.

The brain-machine interfaces have come a long way since those days.  The 2014 World Cup in Brazil – if all goes as expected, with the help of the Brazilian scientist-physician Miguel Nicolelis – will open with a kick-off by a paralyzed man wearing a brain-controlled exoskeleton.

But, as is always the case with technology and science, we are running a little ahead of ourselves.  While, as a civilization, we are essentially (in a historical sense) on the verge of Cyborg-dom, we are yet to fully plumb our own Humanity.  And for that, we need not brain-machine interfaces but brain-to-brain/mind-to-mind interfaces.

So far our attempts to understand each other have been indirect and sloppy.  With nothing but language, empathy, and arts in our toolbox we’ve been mostly lost-in-translation.  Is direct inter-personal contact with each other even a possibility?  What would it feel like?  What would it mean?  Would the inter-personal suddenly become intra-personal?  Would a Collective of Us experience itself as a We or an I? After all 100 billion stand-alone neurons inside your skull do experience themselves – in all their multitude – as a Oneness that You Currently Are.

Completely Incomplete, Perfectly Imperfect

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Meditation Rock 4Everything that can exist – at any given moment – exists.  Reality is entirely complete.  It has no holes.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, is amiss.  The discrepancies that we see are the differences between the ideal reality that we have dreamed up and the actual reality that has manifested at a given moment.

Whether we like what we witness or not, whether it matches our definitions of perfection or not, it is what it is and it is continuously changing.  This is the mind-boggling perfection of reality: it is ever renewing, progressing from one state of completion to another, with or without us, with or without our consent or approval.

My guess is that this stubborn independence of reality rubs you the wrong way.  It threatens your sense of control.  You don’t like this constant change (and resist it), you like status quo (and try to preserve it), and you struggle with constant succession of unfinished business (and seek closure). 

A Deep Bow of Dependence

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

There is no you without the environment, no Ego without the Eco.

There has never been a truly independent life, a life that exists in a total and absolute vacuum.

Face this fact: you are fully and completely dependent on all that’s around you.

Eating is there to remind you of this dependence, of this interconnectedness.  Next time you sit down to eat, consciously own this dependence. Yes, you do depend on this lowly green pea on your plate, and on this bite of an apple, and on this slice of bread, and on this glass of water.  As your chin dips down towards food, turn this forward leaning into a bow of gratitude.  There is no you without this.  So, bow down to yourself: this lowly green pea, this bite of an apple, this slice of bread, this glass of water is about to become you.

So, as your chin dips down towards food again, turn this forward leaning into a deep bow of a greeting: here I come, I am this.

adapted from: Reinventing the Meal: How Mindfulness Can Help You Slow Down, Savor the Moment, and Reconnect with the Ritual of Eating

Select books by Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.:
Mindful Emotional Eating Reinventing the Meal
Present Perfect
Eating the Moment

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