Archive for December, 2009

A Guide to Making Change Stick in the New Year

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Recently I wrote the blog Neuroplasticity, Gratitude, and Your Mental Health: Food for Thought and thousands of people viewed it being reminded of the really powerful effects of counting blessings over burdens. So here we are, at the end of the year, answer these 4 questions for yourself right here, right now in an effort to move into 2010 with less stress and a greater sense of resiliency and well-being.

  1. Think back to when this year started-what were your expectations?  What did you want/hope for?
  2. What are you grateful for in this past year?
  3. What are your intentions for this upcoming year, how would you like to be (e.g., more calm, a better listener, more focused, kinder to yourself and others, more present to friends and family?)
  4. Looking forward, what are you wishing for yourself (e.g., health, feeling safe, free from fear, happiness, a sense of peace)?

Take this into the New Year, making change stick is really about setting an intention and repeatedly coming back to review that intention as if it was a doctor’s appointment. This may actually be the most important thing to do, repeatedly coming back and reviewing your intentions.

Set a time in your calendar one week or one month from today to review your answers to this page and check back on your intentions for yourself. Really, go ahead and do it now and make it a recurring appointment. Life gets too busy and distracting, allow this to be your time to review your intentions on a more consistent basis than once a year.

May you move into this New Year with the presence and kindness to live your intentions.

Below, please share your intentions and wishes for yourself and others below. Your interactions provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.


Most Popular Posts on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog for 2009

Monday, December 28th, 2009

On January 16th, 2009 The Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog was birthed and I want to express my gratitude to John Grohol and all the readers who have been a part of this whether you just read a post and took something from it or whether you have been active in commenting or even retweeting.

Looking back on this year, my intention was for this blog to be an avenue for all of us to interact around mindfulness as it touches the many facets of life. I tried to create posts that were practical and accessible and that we could actually read and apply in our daily lives.

On Mondays I started “Mondays Mindful Quote” where I posted a quote from leaders such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron, Mother Teresa, Hafiz, Rumi, the Dalai Lama, and many more. During the second half of the year I began to bring you interviews with leaders in the field such as Jack Kornfield, Jeff Brantley, Sharon Salzberg, Zindel Segal, Sylvia Boorstein, Tara Brach, Fred Luskin and more.


3 Steps to Gain Control of Your Mind During the Holidays

Monday, December 21st, 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 Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“Not he is great who can alter matter, but he who can alter my state of mind.”

I’d have to agree with Emerson. When you really think about it, having our minds altered is powerful as it shades our perception of reality. If something has control over my mind, it can influence me to do anything it wants. Our minds have the potential of been filled with all kinds of distressing thoughts. There may be thoughts that we’re a success or a failure. There may be thoughts that we feel equal to others or that we never measure up. Or maybe there’s thoughts that say, “If I just had (fill in the blank), then I’d be happy.”

There are powerful influences at play in our media that really do alter our states of mind. Unfortunately, they’re usually influencing them with thoughts of “If you don’t have (fill in the blank), then you’ll be unhappy.”

 Right after Thanksgiving ended I walked into a Target to get a couple things and lo and behold all of the Christmas decorations were up. Immediately I sensed an opening in me, a state of cheerfulness and a desire to shop.

There is some kind of Pavlovian conditioning in most of us around this time that borders around spending, spending, spending.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, our economy needs a boost so it would be helpful to spend. We can also view it as a time to be generous and really give to others.

However, the real question is who is choosing your state of mind? Is it you or is it the media?

Take this as an opportunity to choose your state of mind going into this week and through the New Year.

Here are a few steps to …


Reconnect to Your Life Today! An Interview with Jack Kornfield

Friday, December 18th, 2009

In an earlier interview, Jack Kornfield shared with us his insights into mindfulness and psychotherapy. I am thrilled to have him hear again and today he gets practical with us, talking about the importance of creating connection to life, some ways to go about it, and our innate capacities for understanding, well-being, and joy.

For those who do not know Jack Kornfield, let me introduce him. He is one of the true leaders of our time in respect to the marriage of Eastern and Western Psychology. He stands alongside an esteemed group of elders such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Sharon Salzberg, Pema Chodron, and Joseph Goldstein in bringing mindfulness to the west. Not only that, he also holds his PhD in clinical Psychology which makes him so relevant to the connection between mindfulness and psychotherapy.

He co-founded Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachussets and is a founding teacher of the well known retreat center Spirit Rock, in Woodacre, Ca. He has taught in Centers and University settings worldwide with teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama. He is also author of many widely popular books translated in over 20 languages, some of which are, A Path with Heart, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry and his newest book The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology.

Elisha: Jack, one of the things you talk about in your book, The Wise Heart, is creating this sacred connection to life. It’s always been important to me to make things really accessible. What are some practical ways we can nurture our sacred connection to life?

Jack: There are many simple ways we can reconnect and these are things that we all know. First stop, take a breath and listen deeply. You are surrounded by mystery. Open to  the wild variation of human incarnation,  …


Are You Running Toward Your Death Without Even Knowing It?

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Recently I heard Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the popular books Wherever You Go, There You Are and Coming to Our Senses, say the phrase, “[we're] running toward our deaths.” This really hit a chord for me. So much of the time we’re just running, whether that means physically moving fast throughout the day our just in our minds. Along the same vein, I often tell the people I work with, “It just doesn’t make sense to rush home to relax.”

This may sound trite and played out to some (note: recognize the judgment), but really, isn’t it time to open up to our lives right here, right now instead of always rushing to the next moment. In the big scheme of things we really are running toward our deaths, even if just in our minds.

When we take a step back, breathe, and look at this, most of us agree that this isn’t the way we want to live our lives.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that we’re stuck, stuck in very strong conditioned habits of doing things. Stuck in social dynamics that trigger reactions in us, below our awareness, to think and act the ways we’re trying to change. Have you ever noticed that you act a similar way when you go home for the holidays as you did when you were a kid? The same dynamics often play out because your mind gets triggered with old patterns and it’s quite unconscious.

Let me also say this. Changing this intrapersonal and interpersonal dynamic does not have to be this grand proclamation at the New Year. It doesn’t have to be a big resolution, which often doesn’t work anyway. Why? Because we set them up in ways that eventually seem overwhelming to our minds and so our motivation weans.

Instead, choose moments to begin changing the circuitry in your brains. Each time you stop and take a moment out of auto-pilot and pay attention to this present moment we begin changing the neural patterns of our brains. …


Awaken Your Life Right Now: Mondays Mindful Quote with Carl Jung

Monday, December 14th, 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 Carl Jung:

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.”

This is what we’re talking about at the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy blog, really awakening so we can be aware of that space in between the stimulus and response (a la Viktor Frankl), and recognize that we have more choices to make more skillful decisions in life.

The answers don’t lie outside of us, they lie inside of us. Rather than dreaming of some distant vision, we can awaken the dream inside of us, right here, right now.

However, in order to do this we need to pay attention to ourselves and sometimes the gifts are in our wounds. Jan Goldstein wrote the book Sacred Wounds which exemplifies this. Through a series of stories and the telling of his own journey, he teaches how we can succeed because of life’s pain.

This parallels recent writings on the upside of depression.

This isn’t too dissimilar from a Rumi quote that I mentioned a bit ago:

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

In taking a moment to STOP throughout your day, you are literally breaking out of the habitual routines and moving toward becoming more awake to this life. When you are more awake, you begin to feel like you have more choice in your life.  When you feel like you have more choice, you feel like you have more hope and this is the greatest anti-depressant.

Additionally, as neuroscientists are all teaching us (neuroplasticity), with these …


Calming Your Anxious Mind: An Interview with Jeff Brantley, M.D.

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Today I bring to you a wonderful mindfulness teacher, Psychiatrist and author, Jeff Brantley, M.D..  Jeff is Founder and Director of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at Duke University’s Center for Integrative Medicine, and author of the popular book Calming Your Anxious Mind: How Mindfulness & Compassion Can Free You from Anxiety, Fear, & Panic, and co-author, with Wendy Millstine, of his recent hit series Five Good Minutes: 100 Morning Practices To Help You Stay Calm & Focused All Day Long, and Daily Meditations for Calming Your Anxious Mind

In this interview Dr. Brantley answers some important questions about seeing a rise in anxiety in our culture, practical skills to help us out, and his favorite ways to take 5 Good Minutes in his daily life.

Elisha: In my own practice I seem to be seeing more people coming in with heightened anxiety than ever before. Have you seen a rise in anxiety, and if so, why are people so anxious right now?

Jeff: Yes, I think most folks would agree that there are even more sources of anxiety in our lives now, than even when I wrote the first edition of Calming Your Anxious Mind in 2003.

Obviously, worries about the economy and jobs have worsened since then, and with that are the related issues of health care costs and availability to millions of Americans. Plus there is the on-going global issue with radical fundamentalism and the harsh facts that our country has deployed its military men and women multiple times to fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Then, there is the disturbing information about environmental changes and global warming perhaps unfolding more rapidly than previously expected.

And, against all of these serious matters, our country’s political and cultural atmosphere seems to have become even more polarized and calcified into vastly different ideological camps with one result being a degradation of civility and tolerance in public discourse and in many individual relationships.  Such intolerance and mistrust …


Mindful Recovery and Relapse Prevention for the Holidays

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

As family and friends begin to gather during the holidays at one point or another may have to face either ourselves or a loved one with addiction. There are really very few people who are not touched by addiction in one way or another. Addiction comes in the form of alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, eating, sugar, and other compulsive behaviors that are an avoidance strategy and eventually cause distress.

When caught up in the cycle of addictive behavior, there is an inability to accept whatever is being felt in the present moment and the mind is constantly wandering onto the next ‘fix.’ So it’s safe to conclude that addiction often builds a wall of disconnection and makes it difficult to actually be present for the holidays.

If you or someone you love struggles with addictive behavior I recommend checking out the Mindfulness and Addiction series I wrote about earlier in the year.

  1. Mindfulness and Addiction Part I
  2. Mindfulness and Addiction Part II
  3. Mindfulness and Addiction Part III

Aside from those, it may be a good idea to do a bit of preparing and planning for the holidays. Here are some tips:

  1. Plan some activities that don’t focus on alcohol, like games, sports, or talking
  2. Be aware that there may be people who have addictive behaviors and don’t make the flaw of saying, “Hey, how come you’re not drinking?” In other words, don’t bring attention to the fact that someone isn’t drinking.
  3. If you have an addictive behavior, make sure you have a trusty alternative. Remember, cravings often last a maximum of 20-30 minutes. Bring a bottle of water or if sugar isn’t your addiction, make sure to bring some chocolate with you, sometimes sugar can trick the brain into feeling satisfied.
  4. Keep a number on you of a trusted friend or someone who can talk you down if a craving pops up.
  5. Take a time-out and go to the bathroom or outside and practice some mindfulness with urge surfing or another short mindfulness practice, or maybe go on a walk. If you’d like to practice mindfulness as an approach for addiction and relapse prevention, you can check out the CD …

Create Calm in Your Life Today: Mondays Mindful Quote with Thich Nhat Hanh

Monday, December 7th, 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 Thich Nhat Hanh: 

“A tiny bud of a smile on your lips nourishes awareness and calms you miraculously…your smile will bring happiness to you and those around you.”

Back in September I wrote a blog post called Living Without Joy? Thich Nhat Hanh Shares a Secret. Because of the activity surrounding this blog post I thought it was good to bring back up if you missed it, but to also deepen our awareness about not only how our bodies influence our minds (i.e., how smiling can influence our moods), but how we influence one another.

Just think about if everyone you knew walked around with their bodies tense and a grimace and a frown on their face. Let’s say they never really said a word to you, but you had to be around this. How would you feel? You’re mood would likely be influenced by this and you might even start acting like them.

If people walked around you with a sense of calm, smiling at times and with a genuine care to wish you well, you would likely feel a different vibe (note: these people are not walking around with perma-smiles or a Pollyanna nature, but a genuine nature).

At the base of it all, we all want to be cared about and understood. Intentionally smiling at someone is about really wishing them well in this world.

We can do this with friends, family, strangers, and yes, even those who we are having difficulty with.

Here are a few steps to try this out this experiment today (Warning: This could be contagious)

  1. Try the half-smile experiment –  to notice how this affects you physically and your mood
  2. Imagine it - Think of a person …

Mindfulness and Psychotherapy: An Interview with Jack Kornfield

Friday, December 4th, 2009

It is my profound honor to bring to you one of the true leaders of our time in respect to the marriage of Eastern and Western Psychology, Jack Kornfield. He stands alongside an esteemed group of elders such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Sharon Salzberg, Pema Chodron, and Joseph Goldstein in bringing mindfulness to the west. Not only that, he also holds his PhD in clinical Psychology which makes him so relevant to the connection between mindfulness and psychotherapy.

He co-founded Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachussets and is a founding teacher of the well known retreat center Spirit Rock, in Woodacre, Ca. He has taught in Centers and University settings worldwide with teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama. He is also author of many widely popular books translated in over 20 languages, some of which are, A Path with Heart, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry and his newest book The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology.

Today he talks with us about the connection between East and West psychology, his work with Dr. Dan Siegel, and how his own trauma in life has influenced his work with himself and others.

 Elisha: You are a well known as a leader in the continuing dialogue of Eastern and Western psychology and are very skillful in how you marry the two. With all of the suffering that many of our readers experience, how do you see each supporting the other and where do you see this dialogue heading in our culture?

Jack: The suffering that is experienced by people is described in the Buddhist tradition as the first noble truth of the Buddha. The Buddha says that life entails a certain measure of suffering and no one is exempt from that. There is pleasure and pain, gain and …


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