Psych Central

Essential Skills of Mindfulness and More: An Interview with the Authors of Sitting Together

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

glassesI began the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy blog on Psychcentral.com over 5 years ago now. Since then I’ve written hundreds of posts on the intersection of mindfulness and psychotherapy. Recently a new book has been published called Sitting Together: Essential Skills for Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy. While this is a wonderful and practical guide for therapists, someone who is not a therapist would also benefit from the guidance and exercises.  Today I have the benefit of interviewing the authors of Sitting Together; Susan Pollak, MTS, Ed.D., clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and president of the Institute of Meditation and Psychotherapy, Thomas Pedulla, LICSW, faculty at the Institute of Meditation and Psychotherapy and Ronald Siegel, Psy.D., author of The Mindfulness Solution and also faculty at the Institute of Meditation and Psychotherapy.  

Today Susan, Ron and Tom talk to us about introductory practices we can use when feeling overwhelmed, when Lovingkindness is best practiced, the critical importance of equanimity and when not to use mindfulness.

Elisha: What do you find to be the most effective introductory practice(s) for a client who is feeling overwhelmed with the stresses of life?

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The Power of Surrender: Why Giving Up is an Act of Courage and Wisdom

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

In our culture the notion of surrendering has a negative connotation to it. It means you’ve been defeated and that you’re powerless. But if you look to the world’s wisdom traditions you’ll find that the idea of surrendering is a courageous act that creates more insight and freedom from the unnecessary mental struggles of life. 

The 13th century Sufi poet Rumi uses a wonderful metaphor to bring this to life:

Very little grows on jagged rock.

Be ground. Be crumbled,

so wildflowers will come up

where you are.

You’ve been stony for too many years.

Try something different.

Surrender.

Many of us harden into patterns of life that keep the struggle going. We can’t seem to let go of the self-judgment because our brain believes it’s there to keep us in line. We numb out to the world through eating, drinking, over-use of social media, among so many other ways.

Question: Why is our brain so afraid of surrendering our unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving?

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The Neuroscience of Resiliency: An Interview with Linda Graham

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

From time to time I’ll bring you a leader in the field of Mindfulness who I believe has something to really teach us. Linda Graham, MFT is the author of Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being, where she does an excellent job showing us how mindfulness can help to rewire our brain for greater resilience. Linda has a wealth of experience as a seasoned clinician and also as a mindfulness teacher and practitioner.

Today she’ll talk to us about what parts of the brain to bolster for resiliency, a practice to help us do just that and the critical roles of compassion and equanimity.

Elisha: What makes someone resilient has been one of the foremost questions of our time. Are there parts of the brain we want to pay attention to when thinking of resiliency?

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5 Steps to a Worry Cure

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

We’ve all heard the saying that in life there are ups and down and there is the classic eastern saying that life is filled with 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. With this there’s the wisdom that all things come and go, but the brain has a funny way of amplifying the sorrows and minimizing the joys for good evolutionary reasons. Whenever the brain perceived something as “bad” it starts to worry about it. But often times there is no real utility to the worry, it only serves to dig us into a deeper hole and blinds us to the joys that might be waiting around the corner.

Here is one of the best cartoons I’ve found that says it like it is:

Pleanuts worry cartoon

Here are 5 Steps to a Worry Cure

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One Simple Practice to Awaken Joy and Happiness in Your Life

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently creating a new 28-Day Basics in Mindfulness Meditation Program that I’m hopeful will be supportive to many people in launching or deepening their mindfulness practice. As I completed the program I had a wonderful feeling of accomplishment only quickly to be followed by the thought, “Okay, now onto the other book you’re writing on Uncovering Happiness” and immediately my shoulders got tense. I feel so fortunate for the work I do because not too long after that some voices arose in my mind that saved the moment for me and ultimately are a great source of my own happiness.

The main voice that arose said, “Hold on a minute you really worked hard on that, is there a space to appreciate this and can you have joy for your own joy?” Here is some proof that I must’ve changed some neural architecture in there to make this awareness arise spontaneously.

What followed was a more conscious mindful joy practice with the intention of planting the seeds of my ability to feel joy for my own joy and extend that sentiment to people I care about and eventually to all people.

The Following is a Practice for Awakening Joy

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All I Really Need to Know I Learned in an Earthquake!

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

seismographIt was 6:25 am today when the bed started to shake. I heard a picture frame hit the floor outside our bedroom door. Our youngest son was in the bed with us at the time and woke up and said, “What is going on Daddy?” He didn’t seem too worried and either was I having grown up in Los Angeles where the earth’s little “shake and bake” routine happened from time to time. This was a pretty good one with a magnitude of 4.7. I went to check on my other son, he was still asleep, hadn’t even stirred. One thing it did remind me of was that from time to time, life throws us little reminders to pay attention to what matters.

This morning I was reminded that “Life is about who you love and how you love them.” I gave my son and wife a big hug.

As mindful as we can train to be, we can never control what happens to us in any given moment. Training the mind in presence is a way of preparing the mind to respond with more presence during the difficult events of life (and of course to the joyful events as well).

I’ll never forget the year my wife was pregnant with our first child and it seemed like everywhere I turned people were telling me, “Savor this time, it all goes by so fast.” It didn’t matter what race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status the person was coming from, it was a universal experience.

But this experience doesn’t belong to people who have kids; this is a universal experience across human beings that we often wake up to after some a loss or

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The Power of a Mindful Minute in Schools (and at Home)

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

pencilA “bellringer” is a short activity that some teachers put on the board in the beginning of a class so students have something to do while attendance is being taken. Recently, one teacher among a quietly growing group tried something radically different to start his class –a mindfulness practice. What did he notice? Student participation is up and class disruption is down. He also noticed that the quality of their writing was far better and students wanted to continue the practice.

This is completely in line with a growing number of anecdotes talking about the power of bringing mindfulness to kids, tweens, teens and older adolescents.

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Can You Choose Happiness?

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

The concept of choosing happiness can be an incredibly controversial topic. For anyone who has experienced distressing experiences like anxiety, depression, addiction, chronic pain, trauma or a stress-related medical illness, to say “choose happiness” can appear shaming. When conditions are genetic or biological nature, there is no choice and pain is inevitable. However, while we can never change what happens to us in any given moment, with awareness, we can choose how to respond to it.

Let’s take a closer look at what “choose happiness” can mean and how it may be the most powerful phrase we know to change lives.

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A Day Without a Smartphone: A Short Satire

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

After a mysterious blue fog surrounded the boundaries of America, there was a communication breakdown and all Smartphones and computers disappeared. Everyone woke up late as the economy halted and people were left in a state of shock unclear on how to relate to one another. Riddled with “phantom vibrations” coming from their upper legs, stress began to build with no access to their favorite social media sites. It wasn’t long before social unrest broke out leaving people to meet outside in the streets.

But what happened next wasn’t expected.

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60 Seconds to a Stress-Less Life (and a More Compassionate World)

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

The Now Effect is based on a very simple quote from a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor named Viktor Frankl. He said, “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 our freedom.”  But for most of us that space is non-existent as the speed of the day skips right over it. From the moment we wake up, the brain already has a routine preplanned that skips over the spaces where life is unfolding. It knows that maybe after we wake up, we make breakfast, drink our coffee, read news on our phones, take a shower, get dressed and the rest of the day unfolds like this. Sadly, for many of us our lives go on like this until some crisis wakes us up. But we don’t need a crisis, right now we can train our brains to break this pattern.

Philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel said:

“Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder.”

The most popular practice I know to take back control of our lives and step into the choices and wonders that are all around us is the STOP practice. A few years ago when A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook came out I did a YouTube video of this practice and it has almost 70,000 views. A year ago when The Now Effect came out I put a more professional video out again and it already has almost 10,000 views. The reason this is so popular is because it benefits children, adolescents, adults, parents, politicians, educators, athletes, business people, and any human being. It’s necessary for healing stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma and stress-related medical conditions.

The fact is, we all need to learn how to: