Archive for August, 2009

Mondays Mindful Quote: Dalai Lama on Kindness

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Welcome to Monday’s Mindful Quote. This is a new tradition at 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 a great and potentially controversial quote to start the week out by the Dalai Lama:

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

Is it really always possible? When someone cuts you off on the highway or another person has 14 items in the 10 item or less express line, is kindness possible? Or how about when we’re feeling particularly stress, anxious or depressed, is kindness even possible then? Or when someone is abusive toward you?

Many would argue that the doorway to happiness is to a life geared toward kindness.

However, kindness does not mean that you have to agree with what someone is doing or even be tolerant of it.

To go even further, kindness is not about enabling or perpetuating a person’s harmful behavior. Offering a heroin to somebody who suffers with heroin addiction because you can’t stand to see him or her in pain, is not an act of kindness because it enables further suffering.  Allowing someone to be verbally or physically abusive to you follows the same road as that is certainly not kind toward yourself or the other.   

What about kindess toward ourselves? Fundamentally, we need to learn how to be kind to ourselves. Many of us find that the most difficult practice of all. That is why in the practice of cultivating kindness, we begin with ourselves.

More often than not when I ask people all the things they have to do that day, there is a long list. When I then ask, “And where are you on this list,” a quizzical facial expression forms as if I were speaking a tongue from another planet. Whatever the reason (that’s for another blog), we’re just not kind to ourselves and that makes it difficult to spread that out to others.

Kindness …

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy: An Interview with Zindel Segal

Friday, August 28th, 2009

It is my honor to interview Zindel Segal, Ph.D., a specialist in depression and creator, along with Mark Williams, Ph.D. and John Teasdale, Ph.D, of the increasingly popular program for depressive relapse, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). He is also the Morgan Firestone Chair in Psychotherapy in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto and has co-authored the books Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: A New Approach to Preventing Relapse, and The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness.
MBCT is an 8-week program that is an adaptation of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction that has been proven effective for issues such as stress management, anxiety, chronic pain, and more. MBCT integrates methods of mindfulness and Cognitive Therapy throughout the 8 weeks to help us become more aware of, and shift our relationship to, the thoughts and actions that often lead us to depressive relapse. With this awareness, we are able to change our relationship to them, and have a greater opportunity to not relapse and live a life of greater self acceptance, freedom, and joy.

Question: Why are mindfulness and cognitive therapy such a good marriage for mental health?

Zindel: Both these approaches help the person changes their relationship to thinking.  In cognitive therapy, using the Thought Record allows a thought to be considered as an idea or a hypothesis that can be examined from different viewpoints – evidence supporting it and evidence not supporting it.  This may suggest that our thoughts, when we notice them, are provisional and that we do not have to engage with them at the level of content.  In mindfulness practice, watching thoughts arise, rest and move through the mind allows a similar awareness of thinking as something that can be observed and does not have to be engaged with.   Recognizing that we can choose to step out of unhelpful automatic and habitual thought patterns, helps reduce our reactivity and allows us to deal more skillfully with challenges in our lives.

Question: What is the current state of affairs …

How Facebook Can Ruin Your Friendships: A Commentary

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

OK, I couldn’t pass this one up because Facebook and Twitter have become such revolutionary mediums of a new type of communication. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Bernstein wrote about How Facebook Ruins Friendships. While the underbelly of the article is humor, there is some real truth to how this new form of communication might be affecting the quality of our relationships.

It’s worth taking a look.

On the one hand, many people have been able to connect with past friendships and it can be fun and meaningful to see what is going on with people in your life. It’s also a great medium to get the word out about extraordinary moments in life like having a baby or someone being ill. It can also be entertaining at times to read about what your friends are up to. This is all stuff that can lift someone’s spirit and in a way, make them feel more socially connected which is a hallmark of mental health.

However, is there a dark side?

In her article Bernstein says:

Like many people, I’m experiencing Facebook Fatigue. I’m tired of loved ones-you know who you are-who claim they are too busy to pick up the phone, or even write a decent email, yet spend hours on social-media sites, uploading photos of their children or parties, forwarding inane quizzes, posting quirky, sometimes nonsensical one-liners or tweeting their latest whereabouts.

What about that? For many, Facebook and Twitter are becoming mild addictions where hours are spent reading up on so many different people. I don’t know about you, but I really know people who have now shifted their preference of communication from the telephone to social networks or texting.

If this becomes the primary way to communicate, i think it’ll be difficult to sustain deeper and more mindful relationships because we miss out on physical and emotional nuances that we would normally pick up in-person or on the phone. Bernstein quotes psychologist and author of “The Psychology of the Internet,” Patricia Wallace, “Online, people can’t see the yawn,” the love in another’s eyes, or the feeling of warmth that comes across in the inflection from …

Mondays Mindful Quote: Pema Chodron on Difficult People

Monday, August 24th, 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 from the blog post 10 Quotes for a Mindful Day

 “If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.” Pema Chodron

Sure, it’s happened to me. I was driving on the road enroute to the office to see a patient and it seemed like everyone on the road was fleeing from some oncoming catastrophe that was about to hit at any moment (including me). One guy sped by me, cutting me off and was inches away from hitting me. “Hey,” I yelled hoping this guy gets in an accident to teach him a lesson. I felt the anger burning in my heart and mind.

I noticed my muscles tense and my hands white knuckling it on the steering wheel. “Wait a minute,” I thought “I don’t know this guy; I don’t know the issues he’s dealing with right now. He’s obviously in a place of unawareness or maybe even anxiousness. Maybe he actually is running or going to some catastrophe.”

I began to wish him well, safe from harm and from accident. I knew that if he actually was well, he wouldn’t be driving that recklessly and everyone, including him, would be safer on the road. So I had no qualms about wishing him well.

In this way, this man became my teacher, helping me understand that I don’t need to react so aggressively in my mind (or my behaviors). I can acknowledge my anger and still try and put myself in another’s shoes for the purpose of gaining perspective. It even helps me to wish another well as I know there are so many in pain and who are suffering and it’s often from a …

3 Steps to Making Change Stick

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Whether we’re trying to work on stress, anxiety, depression, or addiction, many of us try to integrate new practices in our lives only to find that they don’t really stick. The gravity of our everyday lives begins to weigh in and we just get pulled back to the place where we’re most comfortable. We can end up isolating, catastrophizing, or reaching for whatever pacifies us.  

Integrating mindfulness into daily life is the same. Here are 3 things to do in order to have a better chance at sticking to it:

  1. Know the practice – If you’re trying to integrate the ability to become more present in your daily life, choose what you want to practice. You may want to integrate more formal practice that would come in the form of a sitting meditation or mindful yoga. Or maybe you want to integrate more informal moments of just being present to whatever you are doing. Or maybe both. Having an awareness of what you want to do is the first step.
  2. Set up reminders – As much as we’d like to think, “I got it all up here, I can remember,” there’s no fault in setting our environments up to support us in making the changes we want to make. For example, Stillness Buddy, is software program that apparently will remind you to have more mindful moments. The Mindfulness, Anxiety, and Stress Guide in Aliveworld will bring you through an entire mindful living program where it prompts you to set up reminders in daily life to remember to do practice.
  3. Support network – Many of us have the rule in our heads that “I can do it on my own.” The fact is, you are more likely to actually integrate a new practice if you have others alongside you who are trying to do the same thing. Finding a group of people in your area or on the web that you can connect with is very important to sustaining this practice. You can connect through the challenges, learn from others, and feel part of a community. The community also serves as reminder that this is important in …

Working with Stress, Pain, & Illness: An Interview with Bob Stahl, Ph.D.

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Today I have the honor of interviewing Bob Stahl, Ph.D., a longstanding Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (New Harbinger, February 2010), the audio CD Mindful Healing: Working with Change, Forgiveness, and Lovingkindness, along with 12 others Mindful Healing CDs and a Qi gong DVD. He is also a mentor, colleague, and friend. He has helped thousands of people rediscover a sense of peace and balance in everyday life.

Question: Bob, what words of wisdom could you give people out there who are currently struggling in life with stress, pain, or illness?

It can indeed be very difficult when we face stress, pain or illness.  What helps me is to open to the experience of my suffering rather than putting energy in resisting it.   When I acknowledge my feelings rather than suppressing them, I feel more freedom.  I believe there are opportunities here to develop deep wisdom if we can work with our suffering from a mindfulness perspective.  The Buddha talked about the The Five Remembrances that we cannot escape from:

1.    I am of the nature to grow old.  I cannot escape growing old.

2.    I am of the nature to have ill health.  I cannot escape having ill health.

3.    I am of the nature to die.  I cannot escape death.  

4.    All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature of change.  I cannot escape being separated from them.

5.  My deeds are my closest companions.  I am the beneficiary of my deeds.  My deeds are the ground on which I stand.

These remembrances are powerful to reflect upon and I try to contemplate them every day.

May we open into our fears so that we may find our hearts,  Here are some wise words from Jennifer Welwood in her poem “Unconditional”:

Willing to experience aloneness,
I discover connection everywhere;

Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lives within;

Opening to my loss,
I gain the embrace of the universe;

Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end.

Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me
And becomes itself transformed
Into its radiant jewel-like essence.

I bow to the one …

Back to School: 3 Tips to Get Your Kid on Track

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

That’s right, it’s creeping around the corner. It’s time for parents and caregivers to jettison their kids back to school. Some kids handle this really well, feeling excited to get the new notebooks, pens, and pencils, while for many, it’s downright stressful, a time filled with anxiety. It’s not too shocking that kids have difficulty managing uncomfortable, when their role models (us) model that same issue.

Here are a few mindful tips you can do as a parent to help your kid de-stress and improve focus in time for school:

  1. Breathing - Adults practice it, why can’t kids? Although with a kid, what you might want to do is integrate a little play into it. Maybe your child has a favorite stuffed animal or small toy. Have them put it on their belly and practice slowly making it rise and fall. After they have done this successfully, see if they can do it without it. Then let them know that when the butterflies come, they can practice this to help themselves.
  2. The Sense Game – Play a game where the child brings attention to a certain sense. Ask them what they notice. For example, if they are outside, play a game where you close your eyes and try to identify the things you are hearing, smelling, or feeling. Open your eyes and ask them to tell you what they are seeing. You can also bring this into their eating, especially for those that often inhale their food. The key here is to bring play into it.
  3. The Listening Game -  Mindful listening is a critical skill to learn for adults and kids. We often don’t model it very well and so it’s not passed on. The key here is the difference between hearing and listening. Any of us can hear something, but not really take in the message. Listening implies that we are actively engaged in the content as well, taking it in, registering it and being thoughtful in our response. One way to do this is by playing the game of making eye contact with whomever is speaking and no one can talk until the other person is …

Get Your Life Back with the Mindful Check-In!

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

Those who have been following my blogs know I write a lot about how easy it is for us to get kicked into auto-pilot. It’s is as someone is in our mind working the gears and we’re just going through the motions.  I often quote Abraham Joshua Heschel saying, “Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder.” I want to give you something very practical to do during the day that is coined in the upcoming A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (New Harbinger, 2010), with a foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, that I am co-authoring with Bob Stahl, Ph.D.

The term is called Mindful Check-In and here is an excerpt from A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook with the instructions to practice for a few minutes at a time:

Now we’ll introduce to you a brief, three-minute practice to give you another taste of mindfulness: the mindful check-in. This short, powerful practice allows you to recognize how you’re feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally and will help you recenter yourself in the present moment. We recommend that you incorporate this practice into your daily life, using it as often as you like during the day and combining it with the breathing practice you’ll learn in chapter 3.

                Do this practice in a relaxing environment without distractions, such as the phone. You can do it either lying down or sitting up, but if you lie down and find yourself falling asleep, try a more upright posture. We suggest practicing with your eyes closed, since the main point of focus is your inner experience of your mind and body; however, you may keep them partially open if you prefer. (Note: The actual workbook has over 8.5 hours of audio guided meditation practice, but for the purposes of this blog, here is the transcription of the practice to work with).


                Take a few moments to be still. Congratulate yourself for taking this time for meditation practice.

                Begin this mindful check-in by feeling into your body and mind and simply allowing any waves of thought, emotion, or physical sensation to just be.


                Perhaps this is the first break you’ve taken amidst a busy day. As …

Distressed Kids? Try Using Dr. Charlotte Reznick's Imagery

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

Often times in my blogs I’m writing about working with adolescents and adults, but in working with children or pre-teens, imagery can be incredibly helpful. One of the best child educators and Educational Psychologists I know who uses imagery with children is Dr. Charlotte Reznick. In her new book, The Power of Your Child’s Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success, she lays out 9 tools to help kids deal with issues such as stress reduction, overcoming fears of abandonment and disasters, dealing with bedtime issues, coping with losses, handling anger, and achieving greater success in creative ventures at work and home.

One of the tools she uses to help kids calm themselves is the balloon breath. Here’s how it works:

What it is: Just like some of the mindfulness practices I have laid out in previous blogs, this is a simple technique of breathing slowly and deeply into the belly while paying attention about two inches below the belly button. The child imagines a balloon blowing up and then deflating. This imagery allows the child to better practice this type of diaphragmatic breathing which often centers and calms children.

Dr. Reznick explains how kids use it:

“Fifteen-year-old Terrance, who was frequently upset, was able to calm himself and reduce his stress from an 8 to a 2 (on a 0 to 10 scale) by practicing his balloon breath several times a day. He found it made him feel especially peaceful when he focused his attention on his heart.”

In school, children are taught about English, math, history, and many more didactic topics. However, some of the fundamental concepts of learning how to become more present and calm are often left out. I am so happy that Dr. Reznick is helping fill this gap as it can set a more solid foundation for these children as they grow and develop with the necessary tools to help regulate themselves during difficult times.

In her book she provides a script to work with the children, tips for troubleshooting and real life examples to help guide us.  To learn more about these tools, you can go to Imagery for Kids

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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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