Archive for July, 2009

Why Keep Your Heart Open in Hell?

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

In my own life I have always felt stories and metaphors with morals have been powerful in helping me really get a message on a deeper level. This is no secret, that’s why Chicken Soup for the Soul and Aesop’s Fables have been so enduringly popular.  There is something about them that seem to hit us on an emotional level where their messages really stick. When I was starting out as a Psychologist I set up times with leading therapists to glean their wisdom to support me in really getting started on the right foot. I asked one therapist the question, “In your time as a therapist, what has been one of the greatest things you’ve learned?” He looked up and began to think. After a few moments, he looked back in my eyes and said, “While people may come in to see me once a week or so, the real therapy happens in their daily lives. I could spend an entire session with a couple trying to explain and enact the therapeutic concept of remaining present, empathic, and compassionate to the other even during difficult times and while this may support them in the moment, the message may or may not stick with them throughout the week where the real therapy occurs. But, if I ask ‘Can you keep your heart open in hell’, this may really stay with them and they are more likely to be able to grab it when difficulty arises. If they use it during difficult times that is when change really happens.  

“Can you keep your heart open in hell” to me, says, in those moments when we are wrought by our habits that keep us stuck in perpetual avoidance of what’s uncomfortable or foreign, can we stay with that discomfort and open up to ourselves or another with a  sense of compassion and love. What difference would this make? Yes, what difference would it make if we were able to put ourselves in another shoes a bit more often instead of reacting with defensiveness or attacks? What difference would it make if we were able to sit with …

7 Ways to Forgiveness: A Reader's Perspective

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Not too long ago, I wrote the blog How Do We Forgive Ourselves? As a follow up to the blog Refusing to Forgive: 9 Steps to Break Free. Many people have commented on these blogs which is the real benefit of the blogosphere in action. The wisdom that arises out of these blogs comes from the community of readers and people learning from one another. So I want to really thank you for that.

Recently, one reader, Lisa, said she didn’t have a “magic formula,” but through her experience listed 7 ways toward forgiving ourselves. Here is her mindful comment:

  1. Blame and responsibility are not the same thing. Accepting responsibility for one’s actions is not the same as punishing oneself. Punishment is self-destructive and does not help at all prevent future mistakes because nothing is learned; responsibility is healing. Responsibility means understanding what made us make mistakes and take action to prevent similar errors in the future.
  2. Mistakes and poor decisions are part of the human condition. NO ONE is above that. We all have made mistakes, and we all will.
  3. Sadness and remorse are expected feelings, and I do not think we have to get rid of them in order to move on. I feel that part of me will always be sad or regret things (not) done in the past, but the key is to understand that those feelings are just one part of me, not who I am. They do not define me. Trying to stop feeling sad in order to feel better is a recipe for being stuck in sadness forever. Feel the sadness and the pain, fully and consciously. I have found that only that way am I able to put sad feelings in perspective. They don’t go away, but they become smaller and less defining.
  4. Overwhelming guilt often turns into violent behavior (not necessarily in the physical sense, but in the sense of treating ourselves poorly because we feel we deserve it), but hurting ourselves will not change what upsets us, it will just hurt …

Mondays Mindful Quote: Jon Kabat-Zinn

Monday, July 27th, 2009

There is a new tradition starting today on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog. Every Monday I’m going to cite a quote or a poem that is related to mindfulness and psychotherapy in some way and then explore it a bit and how it is relevant to our lives. For me, quotes and poetry can often sink me into a state of greater understanding.

Here is today’s quote that Christy Matta, MA reminded us of in her comment from the blog post 10 Quotes for a Mindful Day

 “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

In everyday life we are guaranteed to have things rise and fall all the time. At one point someone we know is having a baby and close to the same time someone is passing away. Someone is getting married, while another couple is getting a divorce. During a certain phase of life this may seem like the worst time that will ever be and two months later something wonderful happens.

Everyone has ups and downs, sometimes seemingly more extreme than others. To make this more specific to mental health issues. If someone is struggling with Panic Disorder, the panic attacks have an initial lift of the wave, peak, and then eventually come down. Cravings and urges for addictive behaviors follow the same course as well as compulsions for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Those struggling with bipolar disorder certainly understand the rise and fall of these waves.

The distress comes up as waves of sensations coming and going. Our work is to learn how to surf them so that we come to acknowledge the wave when it is there, become present to it, and now have the choice to get on the board and ride it out with a greater sense of ease and grace.

The late Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and it’s all Small Stuff, had a chapter that I always appreciate that was titled “Be Grateful for the Good Times and Graceful during the more Difficult Times.” In The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran speaks about how all …

Got Stress? How Cultivating Sacred Moments can Help

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Therese Borchard, author of the popular blog Beyond Blue and her upcoming memoir Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes (January, 2010), recently wrote about 7 Ways to Prevent Burnout. In this blog she summed up a book by one of her favorite authors, Robert Wicks, who laid out a path toward integrating spirituality into daily life in an effort to prevent stress and live the lives we want.  Definitely worth the read and if you have any aversion to the word “God” or “spirituality,” just replace that term with “higher self” and see how that works.

In 2005, I conducted a national study in an effort to see people could in fact cultivate what I called “sacred moments” and see what effect that had on their stress and well-being. Lo and behold, in practicing 5 minutes a day for 5 days a week, for 3 weeks, there was a significant positive effect in stress reduction and well-being. What was so fascinating to me was that for many it allowed them to touch a sense of spirituality when they felt they had never been able to do this before.

 A quote from one participant:

 “[I experienced sacred moments] through this process. I never noticed any Spiritual moments before this. [The words] unique holy and worthy of reverence was not within the scope of my intellectual reaction of things. To be able to pray was something that I was not willing to [do]. What I like about [the sacred moment practice] is it allowed me to explore spirituality in a nonthreatening manner and for me that was special and unique.”


If you want to give it a spin, here were the same instructions the participants were given:

  1. Choose an object – This object should represent something special, precious, or sacred to them. Almost anything can be sanctified and considered a sacred thing. According to Emile Durkheim (1915), known as one of the originators of modern sociology, “By sacred things one must not understand simply those personal beings which are called gods or spirits; a rock, a tree, a pebble, a piece of …

Can Mental Practice Improve Your Performance?

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Ever dream you could be more confident in social situations, ace that presentation or that you would actually be a better athlete? Results from a comprehensive study by Feltz and Landers in 1983 indicated that we can actually significantly improve our performance on a variety of tasks through visualization and mental practice.  The researchers found that people can improve in areas such as sports, academia, social situations, or even musical instruments.  Since this time many professional athletes have been engaging in this practice.

Here’s how you can try:

  1. Choose a task – Choose some task or skill you’d like to improve. This could be shooting hoops, talking in front of people, or refraining from overeating when the desserts are all over the table.
  2. Visualize - take a moment to close your eyes and visualize this scenario, really picture yourself there.
  3. Rehearse – Really practice performing whatever this task is with great diligence, mentally rehearsing it and imagining yourself doing this well with great skill. Do this for at least 5 minutes a day.
  4. Review - Once in a while check in to see if your performance is improving.

Like anything, this takes practice and you aren’t expected to be an olympic athlete or a rock star after a few tries. Give it some time and trust your own experience.

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

Top 10 Mindfulness & Psychotherapy Blog Posts

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Throughout the course of writing the blog Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, we have interacted around topics on mindfulness and forgiveness, grieving, meditation, medication, depression, stress, anxiety, self esteem, anger, and many more.

Here are the top 10 blogs for Mindfulness and Psychotherapy:

  1. Refusing to Forgive: 9 Steps to Break Free
  2. Feeling Grief Means Being Alive: 7 Tips to Help 
  3. What Everybody Should Know About the Dangers of Meditation 
  4. Depression: Medicate, Meditate or both? 
  5. How Do We Forgive Ourselves? 
  6. Trying to Fix Your Depression? You May Be Adding to It Instead 
  7. Stress got you down? Try this tip to balance throughout the day 
  8. Calming Your Distressed Mind 
  9. 7 Ways to Mindfully Boost Self-Esteem 
  10. When You Can’t Forgive: Hope is Not Lost

In following this blog, are there any topics that you haven’t seen covered that you would like?

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

Unwanted Feelings Knocking at Your Door? Try this…

Friday, July 17th, 2009

There are many things in life we don’t seem to have control over in any given moment. These can be emotions that arise, things happening to us in our job or family situation, or how people react to us. How we naturally turn to fight these things, we inevitably end up feeling frustrated or upset which triggers us into some form of escape or avoidance (e.g., substance abuse). How can we be more skillful?

It’s important to acknowledge that we can’t control all things that come at us. Life just seems to happen sometimes. However, we can start cultivating a radically new relationship toward these automatic unwanted feelings that arise so we don’t amplify the situation and instead lend our experience toward more peace and calm that make for more effective actions.

“Letting be” is a key phrase I often use with people when it comes to difficult feelings and experiences. This implies an acknowledgement of what is happening and an “allowing” instead of “fighting against.”  This attitude is important in taking care of ourselves and enabling us to see what we really need in that moment more clearly. This may not be easy, but it’s a critical practice.

Try: One way to practice accepting difficult feelings is through the body where they often arise. Doing gentle stretching or yoga is a way to experience this while also being kind to your body at the same time. In doing these practices, you will undoubtedly feel some form of burning sensation (may be pleasant or unpleasant or both). When doing these practices, allow this feeling to be and even begin to breathe into it. You might say to yourself, “breathing into this feeling, I soften it, breathing out, I open to it.” Always knowing and respecting your limits when doing this. If you want professional support with this, check out a beginner’s yoga class in your area. This gives you the intimate experience of approaching, instead of avoiding, difficult feelings, and being able to manage yourself through it.

When unwanted feelings arise in daily life, you can turn your attention to it in the same way you did with the …

10 Quotes for a Mindful Day

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

 Sometimes quotes can be just the bite size piece of wisdom we need to pop us into a mindful state of mind. Here are 10 quotes from leading people in the filed of mindfulness that might just do that.

  1. “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” ~ Dalai Lama
  2. “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” ~ Dalai Lama
  3. “There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
  4. “If it isn’t good, let it die. If it doesn’t die, make it good.” ~ Ajahn Chah
  5. “If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.” – Pema Chodron
  6. “As soon as we wish to be happier, we are no longer happy.” ~ Walter Landor
  7. “Hatred never ceases by hatred; it only ceases by love.This is a timeless truth” ~ Joseph Goldstein
  8. “There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
  9. “Realize that this very body, with its aches and it pleasures… is exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive.” ~Pema Chodron
  10. “When we scratch the wound and give into our addictions we do not allow the wound to heal.” ~ Pema Chodron

What are some other quotes that you resonate with? Please share your thoughts, quotes, and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from. To get more quotes and little injections of mindfulness into your daily life, feel free to sign up for the Mindful Living Twitter at

The Tipping Point, Mindfulness and Your Mental Health

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a best-selling book called The Tipping Point. In this book he discusses different products or ideas that have come up in history that at some point caught on to the masses. While it seems like crime may drop out of no-where in the mid-1990’s in certain cities or that Sesame Street just hit it big, a lot of little things happened to get to a tipping point where things catch on like wildfire.

This can be a great metaphor for how many different stresses can arise in daily life to lead us into states of depression, anxiety, panic or addictive behavior. A variety of different interactions are at play between our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors during any mood shift and an awareness of them can give us the ability to intervene before we reach the tipping point.

The scenario: Maybe you woke up in the morning feeling tired; your brain associated that with a past depressive state, so you start to feel a bit down. As you’re taking a shower, your mind begins to swim with all the responsibilities there are to do at work and home and by the time you get out of the shower your heart is racing a bit and your breath is slightly shallower.

On your way out of the house you forget to say goodbye to your partner leading to feelings of disconnection and a memory of a recent argument bringing up feelings of frustration with the relationship. Moving through a barrage of traffic, subtle feelings of anxiousness are at play about being late, while thoughts swirl around about how you wish you would wake up earlier. By the time you arrive at work you feel overwhelmed and at the tipping point, ready to explode or implode. The thought comes, “I hate my job, things are never going to get better.”

The interplay among all the various elements subtly build upon one another without our awareness. In practicing mindfulness we become more intimate with our thoughts, feelings, and emotions by learning to approach them and watch them with an attitude of curiosity or beginner’s mind. We become …

Compassion: An Antidote to Anger?

Friday, July 10th, 2009

Mindfulness teacher and author Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

The nectar of compassion is so wonderful. If you are committed to keeping it alive, then you are protected. What the other person says will not touch off the anger and irritation in you, because compassion is the real antidote for anger.

There’s often misinterpretation between the words anger and aggression. Anger by itself is not an issue. It is important to be able to notice when we are getting angry, frustrated, irritated, or annoyed because it is often a signal that something is amiss. With that awareness we have the ability to choose what we want to do with it. It is the behavior of aggression and hostility that put people on the defense and cause problems.

When we cultivate compassion, we begin to soften the reactivity of aggression and hostility that often stems from anger.

What is compassion?

Compassion is a quality of awareness that combines identifying with another’s feelings (i.e., empathy) while understanding the position the other is in.

Inherent in the definition of mindfulness is non-judgment and another quality of it is “kind attention.” So as we cultivate a practice of nonjudgmentally placing kind attention on our own experience, we naturally begin to elicit feelings of self-compassion which then begins to flow outwards to others.

To cultivate compassion for another, try this: Allow yourself to imagine the sorrows and pains that the other person holds. During this life they have certainly had disappointments, failures, losses and wounds so deep they may not feel safe to share. Imagine them as your own child, feeling frightened and in pain, and how you may want to comfort them.

Sometimes, through practice, we come to understand that compassion may very well be the greatest antidote to the reactivity that can stem from anger and a pathway toward constructive-anger.

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

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Books and CDs by Dr. Elisha Goldstein:
Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind

The Now Effect: How This Moment Can Change The Rest of Your Life
A Mindfulness-Based
Stress Reduction Workbook

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