Archive for October, 2009

5 Keys to Emotional Freedom: An Interview with Tara Brach

Friday, October 30th, 2009

I am very happy to bring you and interview with Tara Brach again. If you missed the last interview on Radical Acceptance you can view it here.  Tara Brach is a clinical Psychologist who has been integrating mindfulness and psychotherapy for many years. She is author of the popular book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha, the CD Radical Self-acceptanceand her newest CD, which I highly recommend, Meditations for Emotional Healing: Finding Freedom in the Face of DifficultyShe is also working on a new book calledTrue Refuge (Bantam, early 2011). Tara has weekly podcasts from her Wednesday night sitting groups that address forgiveness and compassion and is senior teacher and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington.  She really embodies and emphasizes the importance of acknowledging our aversions in life and cultivating compassion for oneself and others as a means toward mental health.

Question:  Tara, you put a lot of work out there that incorporates mindfulness and psychotherapy. Your newest being the upcoming CD Meditations for Emotional Healing: Finding Freedom in the Face of Difficulty From all of these, can you give us 5 key elements emphasized in emotional healing and spiritual freedom?

  1. Aspiration – The entire spiritual path arises out of our sincere aspiration to awaken. As one Zen master put it, “The most important thing is remembering the most important thing.”  We each have our own way of sensing what is most important.  It may be to be present, to know who you really are, to love without holding back, or to help others be free of suffering. Try to begin the day by reflecting in a fresh way on your aspiration, and pause through the day to remember what matters. This remembering will wake you up from the daily trance and energize your unfolding towards freedom.
  2. Daily practice – A daily meditation practice is a gift to your spirit.  Even if it is for a short time, take the …

3 Steps to Breaking Free from Procrastination

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Tom was taking a Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course with me and really had wonderful intentions to do the practices that were assigned week to week. However, at the time he was to sit down to do the practice, he noticed these thoughts in his mind telling him that doing this practice is a “waste of time” and he could be doing better things like watching television, eating, or flipping through a magazine.

And so it was…

When it comes to procrastination or inertia to make changes in our lives, it’s important to cultivate an awareness of what it really is. In order to do that, we need to break it down and name what is happening.

Once we can name it, we can face it, and when we can face it, we can work with it.

Here is a 3 step process to breaking through procrastination:

  1. Name it – Over the years, we have developed so many habits in our mind that are very strong because they’ve had a lot of practice. Through current research in the area of neuroplasticity, we now know that what we pay attention to and how we pay attention lays down the tracks to our minds. So if we practice avoiding or doubting, that’s the way our minds will habitually drift on auto-pilot. So, it’s important to come up with a name for the “tape in the mind” or automatic negative thoughts that are taking you away from your original intention. Some of my clients have made up terms like “doubting mind,” “sabotage mind,” “distraction mind,” or even “baloney mind,” to add some humor to it.The key here is that once we name it, we’ve stepped outside of the auto-pilot and now have a choice to redirect. However, to make this stick, it’s difficult to just redirect to the intended action, we first need to get a better sense of this feeling that we’re trying to avoid.
  2. Redirect to physical feeling – There is always some physical feeling that is associated with avoidance. We may notice it as tension in the face, maybe a constriction in the chest, …

Want Emotional Freedom Today? Mondays Mindful Quote with Rumi

Monday, October 26th, 2009

There is a tradition on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog. Every Monday, I 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. So for today, here is a quote by Rumi:

“Don’t turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you.”

Here is yet another quote that points us to the reality of what most of us habitually try to avoid or react to. The way to emotional freedom is through “being with” and embracing that which is painful or difficult in us rather that “trying to fix”, push away, or run from it.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with trying “to fix” things. Without this ability you wouldn’t have the seat you’re sitting in, the computer you’re looking at, or the clothes you’re wearing (if you’re wearing them). Most the time we’re not even aware we’re trying to avoid it.

However, when it comes to our emotions, trying to think our way out of them is only a path of avoidance. This avoidance creates further suffering.

Think about it for a second. What happens when you try and think about becoming less anxious or depressed? You go up into your head and start swirling around about why this is happening and maybe what you can do about it. In other words, we add stress to discomfort.

Another way to look at this is to ask: Where are you not? You’re not paying attention to the reality of the moment which is this feeling, the feeling of sadness or frustration or even joy. Yes, for many of us joy is mixed up in uncomfortable feelings so we avoid that too (more on that in another blog).

It is in the very moment that we become intimate, in a nonjudgmental way, with our discomfort, that we send the message internally that we care about ourselves (“the light enters you”) and this begins to transform the moment.

Franz Kafka, author of Metamorphosis, said:

“You can hold back …

The Mindful Path through Shyness: An Interview with Steve Flowers

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

I’m very happy to be interviewing Steve Flowers, MFT, author of the excellent new book Mindful Path Through Shyness: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Help Free You from Social Anxiety, Fear, and Avoidance. Steve is also a psychotherapist, co-director of the Mindful Living Programs, leading mindfulness retreats for health professionals, and director of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) clinic at Enloe Medical Center in Chico, California and online at

Today we’re talking about a very important topic that so many people seem to suffer with.

Question: What is the difference between shyness and social anxiety and how prevalent is it?

Steve: Shyness is a human temperament often described in terms of personality traits that many regard as positive, like modesty and being quiet and demure. But some aspects of shyness aren’t positive and create what I’ll refer to as problematic shyness. These aspects include feelings of being unsafe in interpersonal relationships and feelings of social anxiety, which lead to protective behaviors.

People with problematic shyness have thoughts and emotions that are self-critical and self-absorbed. Trying to conceal those fears and perceived inadequacies can lead you to enclose yourself in a private self-consciousness, and although this enclosure is meant to protect, it actually imprisons. Shyness is experienced in individual relationships or may also come up in groups of people. The most recent polls show that self-reported shyness has been steadily increasing and at least 50% of the people in the United States consider themselves shy.

People that are shy experience social anxiety but may not meet the criteria for the diagnosis of social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia).  Social Anxiety Disorder is an intense fear or even terror of humiliation or embarrassment in relation to groups of people. It’s very difficult to overcome and can be disabling. For this reason, social phobia is substantially different from shyness and is classified as a mental health disorder.  It can greatly impair a person’s life and cause much suffering.

Question: In your book you talk about shyness patterns and how this can lead to “problematic” shyness.  Can you tell us a bit …

Getting Help Through the Mindful Tweet

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Let me just open by saying that the way I really believe change happens with us is in our daily lives. Having a space to remind us of that is enormously helpful.

For most of us, the changes we want to make are not supported by the people we spend most of our time with. There may be groups or pockets of people we connect with that help us stay-on-the-course of living the lives we want, but otherwise it’s really hard to make change.

Kagan and Lahey (2009) found that only 1 in 7 heart disease patients told by their doctor to change habits or face death, actually change their habits.

So thanks to the advent of the internet, we now have more opportunity to engage with groups that are supportive to living the life we want and more opportunity to engage with groups and media that go in the opposite direction.

I created the Mindful Living Twitter feed to allow people to get popped in a mindful place or exposed to mindfulness-based material on a daily basis. How might this help?

With this new concept of neuroplasticity, the ability of our brains to be reshaped throughout the lifespan, we have come to understand that how and what we pay attention has a serious impact on us. In other words, if we are entertaining anxious or depressive thoughts, those pathways are laid down in the brain. So the next time a thought comes up, it is more likely to go down the anxious road because it has been paved so many times.

The Mindful Living Twitter feed found at,  or any feed that you find that is supportive to living the life you want is meant to surround you with the type of instruction and material to help you lay down those tracks of a mindful brain.

You are also welcome to the Free Mindful Companion Book to sift through during moments when you’re needing a mindful companion.

The point here is to surround yourself with the type of people, information and practice that you want more of in your life.

Try it out!

As always, please share your favorite twitter …

Mondays Mindful Quote: Henry Ford on the Power of Thoughts

Monday, October 19th, 2009

There is a tradition on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog. Every Monday, I 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. So for today, here is a quote by Henry Ford:

“Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right.”

In my former life (or profession), I used to do sales and run outside sales teams running all over the San Francisco Bay Area talking to executives in companies and trying to find the best solutions with the products we had. It was an exciting time and one where I was often searching for phrases would make sense to my team to motivate them in the right direction.

When I came upon this one by Henry Ford I thought it was powerful. I saw a tremendous amount of negativity and self judgment among the employees in these companies with many of them believing they could not succeed. I saw how this sapped their energy, motivation, and ability to go the extra mile to make the sale.

Applying a mindful lens to this phrase, we can begin to see how we identify with our thoughts and how that then forms our actions, which then lead to consequences often confirming our beliefs.

In other words, if you don’t believe or identify with the thought that y cannot do something, you’re really not going to have the motivation to do it and you will likely not accomplish it.

On a deeper level, we’re talking about our attachment or identification with our thoughts in our mind, mistaking them as who we actually are. We might say “I am a person who never succeeds at being assertive.” Or maybe we think “I simply cannot tolerate this feeling of sadness,” or “I’m just an angry person, I’ll never change” or “I am a person who will always be alone.” There are plenty of thoughts to choose …

What is Most Important in Life? A Lesson from Tolstoy

Friday, October 16th, 2009


There is a story by Leo Tolstoy of a king who had everything he needed, but he had three questions that nagged at him.

What is the right time to do any one thing?

Who are the right people to listen to and work with?

What is the most important thing to do at all times?

He figured that if he knew the answers to these questions, he would be free of any anxiety and never have any issues.

He called upon all his countrymen to a contest to see if anyone had the answers. Hundreds of people came in.

For the first question there were a variety of answers. Some people told him he needed to fill out a calendar and follow it to the tee and then he would know what the right thing to do was. Others had other theories.

For the second question, again, some people listed religious leaders; others said he needed a wise counsel to rely on, while others said the military is who he should surround himself with.

The third answer brought similar responses from science to religion to the military.

Underwhelmed by all these responses, the king dressed in peasant clothing and walked up to visit a wise hermit on top of the mountain, for he may have the answer.

The hermit was busy plowing a garden and the king said, “Excuse me, wise hermit, you do not know me, but I have come to ask you three questions.”

After asking the questions the hermit smiled, patted him on the back, and continued on. The king soon saw that the hermit looked tired and offered to help and began plowing himself. After some time, the king asked the questions again and was interrupted by the sight of a naked man running through the hills with blood spilling from his stomach.

The bleeding man made his way to the hermit and king and the king swept into action and began tearing his own shirt to dress this man’s wound. The hermit and king went to lay the man down to rest in the cave where the hermit stayed and the king’s eyes began to close from exhaustion.

When he awoke he …

Can Mindfulness Help You Break Through Sexual Challenges?

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Mindfulness is all about learning how to be intimate with yourself once again: In other words, turning toward your thoughts, feelings, and emotions or others with a kind or loving awareness.

Derek Walcott’s poem of Love after Love is recited in most Mindfulness-Based Therapy programs because it is so accurate. Walcott says, “You will love again the stranger who was yourself.”

So if mindfulness is about becoming intimate with our selves and with life, then it seems like it would be a natural fit to weave mindfulness with sex, right?

A handful of years ago I began to create the curriculum for a program called Mindfulness-Based Sex Therapy, taking traditional sex therapy theory and techniques and weaving it into the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) curriculum.

 I thought that integrating the attitudes of non-judgment, openness to experience, non-striving toward any particular goal, and letting things be as they are could relieve a lot of sexual pressure that is involved with sexual challenges.  This is not a brave new concept; the classic texts of Masters and Johnson seem to integrate pieces of this in their work to support people who have aversion or anxiety around sex. The acts of Kama Sutra and Tantric sex also integrate some of this work. However, it is not presented in the palatable way that I believe the Mindfulness-Based Therapies are.

Research and personal experience tell us that practicing mindfulness also allows us to be more flexible (mentally, but also physically if combined with stretching or yoga) and creative leading to more opportunity to experience pleasurable sexual experiences in ways that we may have been closed off to in the past.

Fortunately or unfortunately, my mind began to wander off (as it does) and I began to get involved with creating an online interactive guide that brings people through a program for Mindfulness, Anxiety, and Stress, a number of mindfulness-based CDs for various mental health challenges, and then began the journey of co-authoring A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn and coming out in February, 2010 (forgive me, shameless plug).

I still think it’s a great idea and believe many people would benefit …

The Biggest Disease Today: Mondays Mindful Quote

Monday, October 12th, 2009

There is a tradition on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog. Every Monday, I 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. So for today, here is a quote by Mother Theresa:

“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of not belonging.”

When I conducted my national research study in 2005, one aim of it was to distill down the essence of feeling well. What I found was the word that people said more than any other in their experience was a feeling of “connection.”

As human being we are wired toward connection. We need to feel a sense of community, a sense that we belong, we are not so alone, in order to feel healthy. The problem is our culture makes it very difficult to belong from the start.

From the time we are young, we are sent the message that we need to look a certain way or act a certain way in order to “fit in.” We try to fit in because we have this drive to belong and in our culture we often don’t jump toward accepting those who are different. In fact, history shows us that we fear those people who are different and often are quick to judge, isolate and even oppress.

So imagine that if belonging is so important to our health and well-being and we are a culture that is quick to cast out those who are different, it is easy for a deep seeded fear to be planted in each of us from a very young age that perhaps we won’t belong and this would be intolerable. When we perceive not belongin and because this feeling is intolerable, we look for ways to escape from it. So we avoid these feelings by falling into …

Refusing to Forgive in Relationships: An Interview with Dr. Fred Luskin

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Today I bring to you one of the foremost experts on a critical topic for individuals and relationships, Forgiveness.  Dr. Fred Luskin is the Director of the Stanford Research Project on Forgiveness and author of the popular books Forgive for GoodStress Free for Good, and his most recent Forgive for Love. He currently serves as a Senior Consultant in Health Promotion at Stanford University and is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.

Question: In your newest book Forgive for Love, you cite some staggering statistics in your book that over 50% of marriages end in divorce and 60% of second or third marriages end in the first 10 years. An even more alarming statistic is the survey that showed only 25% of spouses saying they are “happy together.” What’s going on here?

Dr. Luskin: Being happy long term with another human being appears to be a difficult goal to achieve in the United States over the last 30 years.   I think there are some unexplored cultural reasons…primarily a culture which has been taught that it is a sign of success to have things our way.   That Burger King mentality of looking to have my irrelevant desires gratified makes it more difficult to achieve the kind of compromise, forgiveness and intimacy over time that a relationship requires.    I think we have been so indoctrinated by our consumer culture that we think we have achieved something when in a car dealership we choose the specific extras we want as if that is a path to any kind of happiness and not a condition for reinforcing narcissim.    When two people are conditioned in this consumer oriented way it makes it much harder to do the relationship work with oneself that a successful long term relationship requires.   Forgiveness means one lets go of one’s demandingness for things our partner cannot or does not choose to give us and through that learn to love our imperfect mate. 

Question: In a past blog, Refusing to Forgive: 9 Steps to Break …

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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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