Archive for November, 2009

Depressed or Overwhelmed? Mondays Mindful Quote with Mother Teresa

Monday, November 30th, 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 Teresa:

“We can do no great things – only small things with great love.”

If you haven’t heard this quote before it is a classic and so meaningful to our everyday lives. In essence, this is a quote that can be seen as embodying the essence of humility. However, I think there’s also a different way to see it.

In times of anxiety or depressed mood, a number of unwanted feelings arise and the mind tends to look at the mountain and not see the little steps it takes to get up that mountain. As a result, it seems completely overwhelming to climb the mountain and motivation is sapped immediately leading to inaction which then confirms the depressed mood.

What if we were able to summon this quote when we were feeling overwhelmed to remind us that we don’t have to do a great thing (e.g., cleaning the entire house, working out for a hour, making a gourmet dinner), but instead can break it down to do small things, with great love.

One time I was explaining this to a man I was working with who was an artist. He made pottery. He said, “I don’t understand, when I make the pot I just go ahead a make it. However, I’m not feeling motivated to make pottery lately and so I just don’t do it, I’m such a failure.” As we got into it, we began to break down his work into little things.

He had to decide which clay to buy, get his tools prepared, wedge the clay and then spend time with it shaping it. There were other steps involved too.

I said to him, …

The Five Ways We Grieve: An Interview with Susan Berger Ed.D.., LICSW

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Today I bring to you Susan Berger, Ed.D., LICSW, who has spent her life working with bereavement and counseling those who face significant loss. She not only trains professionals in her unique approach, but lectures widely in the professional healthcare field, business, government and university settings.  This is a highly important topic as loss affects us all. Her latest book The Five Ways We Grieve: Finding Your Personal Path to Healing after the Loss of a Loved One provides a path toward personal healing and growth.

Q:  Susan, you suffered your own traumatic loss at a young age.  Can you tell us a bit about that and how your life changed? 

My father died of Hodgkins Disease when I was eleven years old.  He had been sick for all but three of those years, so I watched him gradually become weaker and weaker, go from walking to walking with a walker to becoming bedridden.  My mother had to bathe him, and one night when they thought I was sleeping, I heard him say “I want to die.”  Soon after, he did die at the age of thirty-five. 

My family’s life changed forever.  Our hopes and dreams for moving to a better neighborhood and better schools vanished.  My mother was a first-grade teacher, and took on additional jobs at Sunday School and summer camp. My brother, three years younger than I, lost his male role model, and became very withdrawn and isolated from family and friends.  For most of my life, when I was asked to tell people about myself, I would start by saying “My father died when I was eleven.”  That had become my identity.         

When a loved one dies, you lose your identity. I became a girl without a father, and our family became a struggling single-parent family, when the prevailing model of the happy family was portrayed ubiquitously on TV shows like “Father Knows Best.”   I felt “different” and didn’t know where I (and my family) “fit” in the world.  I had also been introduced to the process of dying and death, attending my …

Neuroplasticity, Gratitude, and Your Mental Health: Food for Thought

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Thanksgiving can be considered a reminder to intentionally consider what we’re grateful for. But what would it be like if we treated this thanksgiving as a launch pad to really begin integrating more gratitude into our lives.

Sometimes the suggestion to integrate gratitude can seem trite or to simple to really be a remedy for our difficulties in life. So, why would we want to do that?

For the same reason that neuroscientists are finding that discipline can retrain our brains (e.g., neuroplasticity). So when we’re exercising or practicing meditation, the idea is not to do these with the goal of “being relaxed” in mind, but to do them to lay down new tracks in the brain so that our “auto-pilot” doesn’t automatically default to ineffective and destructive habitual strategies in the future.

Instead, when two roads diverge in a wood (in the brain), we will begin to recognize more often that there is a choice and we don’t need to be so self critical, or erupt in a rage, or binge eat, or isolate. This can only really happen as these tracks are laid down.

Robert Emmons and Michael McCollough (2003) conducted a study a while back called Counting Blessings versus Burdens. He split up a few groups of people and had one group count 5 blessings per day, one group count 5 burdens per day and one group just write about neutral events. As you may have guessed, the ones who counted blessings, experienced less stress and more feelings associated with well being.

Now counting our blessings is not meant to be a miracle cure, so we aren’t to expect miracles.

Instead, we can think of it as laying down new tracks in our brains each time we do it. The immediate result is not really the point; it’s more about retraining our brains.

So, this thanksgiving, feel free to be present with your gratitude, also be present with your discomfort (which also comes up for many during this time.). It doesn’t need to be either gratitude or discomfort; both may be present throughout the holiday. So we can approach them both with mindfulness.

However, invite yourself on this holiday …

5 Steps to Gratitude and Lovingkindness: Mondays Mindful Quote with Hafiz

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

So here we are, a few days before Thanksgiving in the United States and so taking this moment while reading these words to really consider what you are thankful for. When we think of what we’re thankful for we often think of the light in our lives. Who and what represents the light in our lives?

The poet Hafiz writes in his poem “It Felt Love”:

How did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
All its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light
Against its being,
We all remain
Too frightened

This is so true. It becomes easier to open up and reveal our own gifts to this world when we feel positive loving encouragement within. While for some the holidays are a time of connection and being with family and friends, for others it’s a source of stress only reinforcing a sense of loneliness and difficulty.

Nevertheless, here is an opportunity to do a practice inspired by this poem that can help us cultivate a sense of gratitude and lovingkindness during this time.

Here is short practice to feel that encouragement of light during this time:

  1. Think of a person or animal who represents light, who represents a loving and kind presence in your life. This can be a good friend who is alive, maybe someone who has passed away, a pet, or maybe a spiritual figure such as the Dalai Lama, Jesus, or even the hand of God.
  2. Take a moment to imagine that presence here, with you, looking into your eyes.
  3. Now imagine that person saying to you, “May you be safe and protected from inner and outer harm”, “May you be happy,” “May you be free from fear”, “May you be healthy in body and mind”. You can also create your own wishes and aspirations here.
  4. Now turn toward that person and say that with the same intention to them.
  5. Now imagine your family and friends with you (those who you feel difficulty with and those who you feel more ease with) and with intention, saying those same words.

Take a moment to just feel into how you are doing and whatever is there, just letting it be.

We all know that thanksgiving is …

Finding Purpose and Meaning in Times of Change: Interview with Ronald Alexander, PhD

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Today I’m really happy to bring to you Ronald Alexander, Ph.D., who is a licensed psychotherapist in Santa Monica, Ca, practicing mindfulness-based psychotherapy, Director of the Open Mind Training Institute, adjunct faculty at Pepperdine University and Pacifica Graduate Institute, and author of the very interesting new book Wise Mind, Open Mind: Finding Purpose & Meaning in Times of Crisis, Loss & Change. I’ve actually been waiting for a book that weaves mindfulness practice with uncovering our well of creativity with a sense of purpose.

Question: What is the 3-step mindfulness approach to help us navigate difficult changes in our lives while opening up to our creativity in everyday life?  

Ron: In my new book, Wise Mind, Open Mind I discuss a three step process that combines mindfulness meditation, creative thinking and positive psychology to help readers to let go of their past; tune into the present and their core creativity; and move forward with passion and purpose.  This approach allows one to focus on the building of their “mindstrength” — the ability to very quickly and easily shift out of a reactive mode and become fully present in the moment, experiencing the full force of your emotions even as you recognize that they are temporary and will soon dissipate.

Question: In your book you have a wonderful discussion of something we can all relate to…resistance. Can you tell us a bit about the “payoffs of resistance” to us?

Ron: I believe there are five basic payoffs of resistance.  First by resisting change, we can avoid the unknown. What’s familiar may not be terribly comfortable, but sometimes it seems that the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t know. We fear that venturing into the unknown will cause us to discover painful secrets about the world and ourselves that have been hidden from us.   Secondly we can avoid being judged as “strange.” When parents are frightened by their child’s differentness, labeling them as “strange,” they’ll usually try to stifle his creativity. The child, sensing their disapproval and fearing abandonment, can shut down his creative …

Mindfulness, Inc.: What You Need to Know

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Mindfulness has really broken out in a big way, becoming very popular among more and more people. However, there is a danger here that we need to all be aware of. The way of approaching life can bear wonderful fruit, it has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, prevent against future relapse of depression, change perception of chronic pain, help with eating disorders, cultivate joy, compassion, kindness, satisfaction with life and even change neural pathways in the brain.

Obviously being the host of The Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog, I am a big fan of living a mindful life. It is a way of life for me and has been life changing.

But wait; there is a danger in things that become popular in any capitalistic world. People can see something that is sell-able and as a result will exploit it in the hopes of reaping economic rewards.

There are pros and cons to this. The pros is that is gets the words out, how wonderful that so many people are learning about being more present to life and becoming introduced to being more aware of their minds. This is a very good thing we might say.

However, the cons are when people begin to use mindfulness with the primary purpose of cashing in on the popularity. In this respect, it becomes shallow and the real rewards of becoming more intimate with life becomes a far and distant dream. Some people get dragged into their narcissistic tendencies, craving to be recognized and to be famous and the shallow nature of this leads to a lack of efficacy in the practice.

It’s inevitable that Mindfulness, Inc. is already occurring and will continue to grow. Remember, this isn’t a bad thing in itself. It has wonderful consequences, but it’s important to be aware that with this will also bring some mindfulness approaches that are promising a “quick-fix” in service of the “quick-buck” and will lack depth.

Remember this, while mindfulness has its practices that we can all learn and cultivate a discipline with, it really can be considered a way of approaching life; Learning how to relate to …

A Short Video to Get You in the Mood

Monday, November 16th, 2009

The Mindful Mood that is…

Often times the day seems to become routine and before we know it piles of responsibilities from work and home have stacked up and we feel like chickens running around with their heads cut off.

I suggest taking a couple minutes to practice the video below 2-3 times a day for a week to come down from the busy mind, focus your attention, ground to the present moment and refocus to what you’re really intending to pay attention to in the moment. It may help to actually put it in your calendar at first.

When can you practice? Look for the “in-between” moments. These are moments before you are about to take a break or while you’re waiting for someone. As you get the hang of this you won’t need this video and can practice it when parked in the car, in the bathroom, or while waiting in line.

Note: When the mind says, “forget it, this isn’t going to work,” as much as possible, just note that judgment as a mental event in the mind that is happy to keep you at status quo. Your work is to become aware of these types of thoughts, let them be, and come back to this practice.

Click through to see the video…

Greater Self Esteem with a Stroke of Your Pen: An Interview with Vimala Rodgers

Friday, November 13th, 2009

It is my pleasure to bring to you today a woman who has helped thousands of people and revolutionized the benefits of tuning into our handwriting as a way toward greater self esteem and self image. Vimala Rodgers is an educator, Director of The International Institute of Handwriting Studies, and author of multiple books including, Change Your Handwriting, Change Your Life, and Your Handwriting Can Change Your Life!, and her newest book which is a comprehensive course with book, cards and audio CD accompaniment, called Transform Your Life Through Handwriting.

Question: Vimala, many people struggle with the issue of low self esteem and harsh critical self-judgments. In your most recent book, Transform Your Life through Handwriting, you guide people through a program to change the way their minds think by mindfully tuning into the stroke of their pens. How does this work?

Vimala: As a Psychologist, you know that it is the subconscious mind that interprets what happens to us, and from that, it dictates who we see ourselves to be (i.e., our self image), not who we ARE. It is not the hand per se, but this same subconscious mind who moves our pen to reaffirm this. Each stroke of the pen makes a statement about the image we hold of ourselves. By adopting Self-affirming writing patterns we redefine that self-image in a positive way. It takes 40 days of committed writing to realign the neurological patterns in the brain. In scientific jargon, this is called “cortical remapping,” or the brain’s ability to rewire itself.

Question: Tell us how handwriting can be a kind of meditation or yoga?

Vimala: Each letter in The Vimala Alphabet is soul-based. In other words, as we move the pen, each letter is designed to access the noblest part of the psyche. As writers use this alphabet on a regular basis, each stroke of the pen awakens them to an awareness of what is commonly called their “Highest Self.”  If you’ve studied Yoga, as I have for over 30 years, you know that …

What's Up with Mindfulness Retreats? What You Need to Know

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

In an earlier blog I had asked the question Can You Handle 5-Minutes of Solitude, which was an off-shoot of another blog that asked Can You Handle 24 Hours of Solitude? What’s this all pointing to?

In writing the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to explore the real power and potential that a retreat experience offers.

Mindfulness retreats are experiences that are offered all over the country and all over the world that people from all walks of life participate in. Some of these retreats are offered in silence where individual’s are simply guided in a variety of meditation practices throughout the day (including mindful eating), while others may not be in silence.

For example, I lead both kinds of retreats with the one coming up near Santa Monica, Ca on Saturday November 21st being a mixed retreat focused on emotional resiliency during difficult times. In this retreat participants will be silent part of the time to give a very different experience of being able to go a bit into these practices. While the other part of the day will include doing practices and then processing giving people the opportunity to connect and deepen understanding and insights around what arose.

People lead such retreats all over the country. In Southern California, InsightLA also offers a variety of different retreats. Two other popular centers are Spirit Rock in Northern California and Insight Meditation Society on the East Coast.

Another retreat center that offers donation-based silent retreats is the Goenka Centers all around the world. Most retreats offer a sliding scale so you can afford to come.

Note: Judgments and thoughts often automatically arise in the mind when thinking of a retreat such as “I don’t have time for retreats” or “I don’t deserve this time”, or recently one person brought up the thought “retreats are only for the wealthy.” Often times these thoughts are quite automatic, stemming from some resistance. I would encourage you to explore these thoughts and maybe the resistance that’s there.

One thing we know is that there’s a difference between thoughts and facts. …

10 (More) Quotes for a Mindful Day

Monday, November 9th, 2009


Four months ago I wrote a blog post titled 10 Quotes for a Mindful Day. Since then I began an increasingly popular tradition called Mondays Mindful Quote where every Monday I post a quote that I think has some relevance to Mindfulness and Psychotherapy and then explore the quote.

Here is a list of 10 (More) Quotes for a Mindful Day, with some having links back to blog posts where I have explored the quote. There is a lot under these links, so feel free to bookmark this page and come back to it over and again. Enjoy!

  1. “You can hold back from suffering of the world,
    you have permission to do so,
    and it is in accordance with your nature,
    but perhaps this very holding back
    is the one suffering you could have avoided.”
    ~ Franz Kafka

  2.  “Don’t turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you.” ~ Rumi
  3. “Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right.”  ~ Henry Ford
  4.  “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of not belonging.” ~ Mother Teresa
  5. “Nothing endures but change.” ~ Heraclitus
  6. “To be in harmony with the wholeness of things is not to have anxiety over imperfections.” ~ Dogen Zenji
  7. “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
  8. “Every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.” ~ Viktor Frankl
  9. “When the resistance is gone, the demons are gone.” ~ Pema Chodron
  10. “You lose your grip and then you slip, Into the masterpiece.” ~ Leonard Cohen

    All of these quotes are reflected in the work done with mindfulness and psychotherapy for emotional healing.

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

Mindfulness & Psychotherapy

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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
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