One of the initial avenues where mindfulness started to gain recognition in the West was in medicine and psychology through working with chronic pain and illness. Today I have the honor of bringing you, Vidyamala Burch, one of the co-founders of Breathworks and author of Living Well with Pain and Illness: The Mindful Way to Free Yourself from Suffering. Vidyamala first came to the intersection of meditation and chronic pain 25 years ago after going to the hospital for spinal injury. She currently lives in Manchester and has been teaching mindfulness-based approaches to pain and illness for the past 10 years.
Today Vidyamala lets us in on how mindfulness works to alleviate suffering in chronic pain and illness.
Elisha: In the beginning of your newest book you quote 13th century Sufi Poet, Rumi saying:
Do not look back, my friend
No one knows how the world ever began.
Don not fear the future, nothing lasts forever.
If you dwell on the past or the future
You will miss the moment.
How have you applied the message of this poem in working with your own chronic pain?
Vidyamala: Living in the moment has been one of the most important ways I have reclaimed my life whilst living with chronic pain. It all began when I was in hospital when I was 25 and had a night of very intense physical pain and mental anxiety while in a neurosurgical intensive care unit. I thought I would not be able to survive the night and then, when I really felt I would go mad with the stress of it all, a quiet inner voice came to me that said “you don’t have to get through until the morning; you only have to do get through the present moment.” With that voice came a very deep shift in perception and my entire experience changed. I relaxed in the deep confidence that this knowledge brought: I knew very deeply that I could not only ‘get through’ the present moment, but I could live it to the fullest, even though I was experiencing pain.
I also realized that my previous …
Trauma is all around us. The most obvious examples are tragedies like 9/11, hurricane Katrina, the Tsunami in Asia, and the most recent being the Earthquake and aftershocks in Haiti. Let’s look at how trauma works and what we can do about it.
When a person has an experience of an event that is emotionally overwhelming or traumatic a conditioning of thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations occur that resemble a stress response (e.g., tightness in muscles, rapid breathing, etc…). Because this is overwhelming, the mind puts it away, suppressing and repressing it, with the strategy that this will allow you to focus on other things.
In the background, sensitivity in the mind develops in order to be on guard for this happening again. This makes sense, our brains naturally adapt to try and protect us. Unfortunately, now this means, many things that are really not dangerous may be interpreted as dangerous and trigger this stress reaction, making life difficult to handle. For example, in Haiti right now, people are sleeping in tents outside their houses because of the trauma from the earthquake and aftershocks. Their bodies are on constant alert, with present tension, rapid breathing and a rapid heartbeat. Nightmares of the trauma are occurring nightly. The mind and body are ready at any moment to jump into fight or flight. This physical and emotional havoc lead to states of intense anxiety and depression.
On a more subtle level, many of us experience trauma as children through our relationships. Maybe we grew up in a home where there was constant criticism and when someone is critical now, the body goes into a defensive reaction either shutting down (flee) or reacting with aggression (fight). Trauma can also come in the form of a depressive episode or a panic attack.
Daniel Siegel, M.D., author many books the most recent being Mindsight, describes that we all have “a window of tolerance.” The heart of working with trauma is to get to a point where the emotional reaction from the trauma memory is no longer overwhelming. We can learn to ride the edge of …
This will be a special Monday’s Mindful Quote day. Today is the launch of the EBook A Mindful Dialogue: A Path to Working with Stress, Pain and Difficult Emotions ($9.99). Usually I don’t blatantly promote a book or CD of mine, but this is something that is important to know about. This book was inspired by the devastation in Haiti and 100% of the proceeds will go to HOPE FOR HAITI NOW which has no backend costs and diversifies the funds to these credible organizations: The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, Oxfam America, Partners in Health, Red Cross, UNICEF, United Nations World Food Programme, and Yele Haiti Foundation.
This EBook is a 170 page compilation of interviews and writings I have done with leaders such as Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, Daniel Siegel, Thich Nhat Hanh, Hafiz, Rumi and others. I believe this will not only be a wonderful companion in your own life, but will hopefully go onto save the lives of others in Haiti.
And now, a quote from the Dalai Lama (drumroll…):
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.
Without them, humanity cannot survive.
The bottom line, we often take these for granted. Love and compassion is a fundamental need, we understand this by looking at infants in their first weeks, months and years of life. For example, tests have been done where a parent would look at an infant with a blank face while the infant tried to get their attention. At first, the infant would smile and coo trying to get some interaction from the adult. As the adult maintained their straight face, the infant would begin to cry and flail about. After a little while longer the infant would try to soothe himself and then fall into a state where he wasn’t doing anything as if he was in a state of depression.
We crave to be loved and to feel compassion from the time we are born to the final moments of our lives. We can give this to ourselves and it’s equally important to give it to others. In a recent post I discussed the health …
I have been a big fan of Dr. Daniel Siegel and I am so happy to be bringing him to you today. Dan received his medical degree from Harvard University and completed his postgraduate medical education at UCLA with training in pediatrics and child, adolescent and adult psychiatry. He is the co-editor of a handbook of psychiatry and the author of numerous articles, chapters, and the internationally acclaimed text, The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. He has also published a wonderful book on parenting with Mary Hartzell, M.Ed., Parenting From the Inside Out. His breakout book in the field of mindfulness is The Mindful Brain, which explores the application of this newly emerging view of the mind, the brain, and human relationships. His newest book which I am thrilled about is Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.
Dan has been invited to work with some esteemed people as a result of their interest in his work including: the U.S. Department of Justice, The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, Microsoft and Google, early intervention programs and a range of clinical and research departments worldwide. He has been invited to lecture for the King of Thailand, Pope John Paul II, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
He has done all this and yet, if you know him, you know he remains so personable and accessible. Today, Dan talks to us about what mindsight is and how we can use it to achieve a sense of resilience, compassion and well-being.
Elisha: I’m very excited about your newest book Mindsight. In your book you say that mindsight is our “seventh sense” and “is the basic skill that underlies everything we mean when we speak of having social and emotional intelligence.” Tell us a bit more, what is Mindsight?
Dan: Mindsight is the ability to see and shape the internal world of the mind. When we …
Thanks to pioneers like Robert Emmons and Michael McCollough, we now know that gratitude can have an enormously positive effect on our mental health. Not only that, thanks to the advent of neuroplasticity, practicing gratitude can even help shape your brain in ways that promote resilience and well-being.
If you need a boost on ways to practice gratitude, check out my post on 5 Steps to Gratitude and Lovingkindness: Mondays Mindful Quote with Hafiz.
But this post isn’t just about gratitude, it’s about taking it a step further which moves into another stage called altruism. Altruistic behavior is all about acting selflessly to help serve or benefit another. Altruistic behavior has been found to be a predictor of happiness and life satisfaction (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
Altruism is also tied to another hot topic in our culture today and that is compassion and kindness. In this blog I have written a number of posts about compassion and kindness because they are such good nutrition for our health and well-being. Compassion has been called an antidote to anger and kindness has been called and antidote to fear.
Now, it could be argued that because I brought up all the personal benefits you may experience from engaging with kindness, compassion and altruism that these endeavors are not pure because you know they will serve your mental health. In other words, they’re ego-driven. Try and set this argument aside for now as we move into the social implication of kindness, compassion and altruism.
While the brain takes longer to register compassion for social pain than individual pain, the effect is longer lasting when awareness around social pain settles in. There are certain tragedies in this world that are so apparent that a compassion trigger gets set off in the brain and we feel called to action. We have an unselfish drive to help other people and this is what altruism is all about.
Whether it’s 9/11, the tragedy of Darfur or the recent devastation in Haiti, …
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 today, I grab a quote from a man who “had a dream” lifted millions of people and whose inspiration is felt all over the world today. Dr. King Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
This reminds me of an earlier blog post I did which quoted Rumi saying:
“Don’t turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you.”
On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. led a march on Washington to let us all know that he “had a dream”. In this dream he inspired hope, belief, and faith in millions of people. This level of hope no doubt inspired Barack Obama to believe that he indeed could be the first African American President of the United States.
The power of our minds and of belief may very well be one of the most awesome things in life. Henry Ford, father of the concept of assembly lines which so much of our system is currently built on said:
“Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right.”
We all have messages built into our heads from the youngest of ages that “we can’t.” If we’re at all lucky, we’ve had parents or a role model (like Dr. King) who have inspired us to say “we can.” Whether you believe in his politics or not, you can see that Barack Obama had to drive that message home over and over and over again in order for people to really believe, “Yes We Can.”
Here’s the rub, when we have deeply ingrained beliefs that we can’t either from childhood or from being depressed or anxious …
I’m very happy to bring to you a courageous woman and brilliant writer, Therese Borchard. She is author of the new book Beyond Blue and also pens the award winning blog Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes. Her blog also often appears on Psychcentral.com and the Huffington Post. The brave writings have caught my heart and apparently many others as they’ve been cited in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Psychology Today, Redbook, Salon.com, and many more. Therese is the editor of The Imperfect Mom, and I Love Being a Mom: Treasured Stories, Memories and Milestones. With Michael Leach, she is co-editor of A Celebration of Married Life and the national bestseller I Like Being Catholic.
So without further ado:
Elisha: In your new book Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression and Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes, you offer us a courageous, sober, and humorous look into your life and your real life hurdles and blessings. I think one reason people love you so much is that you’re willing to share what most people keep hidden, so we feel connected to you. Why do you choose to be so “naked before the readers…?”
Therese: Thank you, Elisha, for such a kind introduction and an invitation to be interviewed on your wonderful blog. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I would have had the courage to become transparent if I hadn’t been through so much pain. After about 18 months of intense, suicidal thoughts, I finally told God that if I ever woke up one morning and wanted to be alive, that I would dedicate my life to helping those in the same kind of pain. That morning came, and, ironically, a few months later, I was asked to write a blog on depression and spirituality for the site Beliefnet.com.
I remember the exact moment when …
In the beginning of the year I put out the blog post Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Suggestion Box: What Would You Like More of in 2010. One of the suggestions came from Jennifer. She said:
I continue to struggle (15 years) with med-resistant bi-polar disorder where I typically experience severe depression with few manic episodes. There’s such a sense of hopelessness, so I would like to see topics addressing ways to cope when so little works. I would like to see real in-depth articles/discussions on how to continue to go on when the many various approaches fail.
Thank you for what you do here.
There is an enormous world of frustration and despair that builds when we fight against something for so long and very little seems to be shifting this.
There are a number of people in my life that I would look to for answers in how to find hope (the greatest anti-depressant) in the midst of relentless times, including Therese Borchard, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, and others.
In her new book, Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes,
As she does in her blog, Therese courageously expresses her ongoing struggles with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder and lays out a number of things that have helped her. Tara Brach explores the importance of Radical Self-acceptance as a path toward relating differently to suffering. Jack Kornfield is very clear that there may be no advice or “fix-its” when someone is deeply suffering, but merely being in the presence of another loving person in that moment may be what’s actually best.
A major depressive episode can very well be considered a Trauma (capital “T” because it is a big event) in my mind. What we know about trauma is that when we experience it, the mind becomes hyperattuned to looking for any possible sign of danger that it’s coming again. The problem with this is that when the mind …
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 Sharon Salzberg:
Life is like an ever-shifting kaleidoscope – a slight change, and all patterns alter.
In 1951, David Bohm wrote Quantum Theory, a book that redefined not only the way we understand physics, but also the way we see relationships. He said that if you were able to separate an atomic particle into two subunits and send them to opposite ends of the world, or even the universe, changing the spin of one would instantly change the spin of the other. Since that time, this theory, known as nonlocality, has been repeatedly validated in empirical studies, leading us closer to the understanding that we are all literally interconnected.
Relationships and community are foundations to mental health in our lives, to really feeling well. When our relationships are unhealthy or out of sorts, we’re affected. In the New Year we often take stock of our lives and think about what we would like to be different. It can be great to look at your current relationships. Are you spending time with the people that are most supportive to you? Is there someone at work or school that you have issue with? Do you have family you haven’t connected with in quite a while that you’ve been thinking about? Is there a grudge you are holding with your partner or loved one that is keeping you both distant?
As Sharon Salzberg says, a slight change in our behavior can also alter the patterns within us and our relationships.
Whether you’re reading this post at the beginning of the New Year or you’re picking it up later, the question still remains, how do you feel about the relationships in your life today and what changes would …
In two earlier interviews, Jack Kornfield shared with us his insights into mindfulness and psychotherapy and the real practical importance of creating connection in everyday life. 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 theDalai 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 Jack talks with us about the nature of fear and how to work with it to help us live the lives we want.
Elisha: One of the primary emotions that we all struggle with is fear. In your experience, how do you lead people through working with fear?
Jack: Fear is central to our human life. The poet Rilke says, “Ultimately it is upon your vulnerability that you depend.” In fact we are vulnerable to one another, to the environment and how we treat it and how it affects us, we’re vulnerable to sickness, old age and death, as the Buddha …