Archives for March, 2010

Love, Sex, and the Male Brain: A Controversy

A recent opinion piece on CNN came out about a book by Dr. Louann Brizendine, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCSF, that caught my attention and so I had to read further (a sign of good marketing). The book is The Male Brain, a follow up to her past book, The Female Brain, and it basically states that the classic stereotypical male attributes (e.g. automatically looking at women's breasts, lacking empathy, oversexed) can now be explained from a neuroscientific perspective. In other words, neuroscience can now explain John Gray's famous book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.

I thought, "Wow, this is astounding," but something didn't feel 100% kosher here. I dug deeper. In a New York Times book review, Emily Bazelon more or less says that Brizendine's book is a highly lopsided account of the facts for the purpose of high power marketing. She says:

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Learn to Cultivate Joy Right Now!

I’ll be interviewing James Baraz in the not-too-distant future, but I thought the topic that he writes about his latest book Awakening Joy: 10 Steps That Will Put You on the Road to Real Happiness is pertinent enough to let you know about it now rather than later so you don't have to wait to know about it. I have people that come into my practice all the time that lament about losing their sense of “joy” in life. So how do we cultivate more joy in our lives?

The practice is one that takes some audacity and intention. Why audacity? Because we live in a culture that seems to focus on distress so often and feel there is an unworthiness for experiencing joy. If you’re not feeling particularly well, you may have had the experience of feeling aversion to those who were expressing joy at the time. A voice might have crept up, “If only he was feeling a little lower, then I’d be happy.” This is nothing to be ashamed of, it happens quite automatically because it reminds us that we aren’t experiencing the joy we’d like.

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10 Ways to Bring Meaning into Your Life

My life can often appear to be hectic. At times it feels like I overload myself with more things than I could possibly ever accomplish. As I’m going to sleep, my mind wanders with all the things I need to get done, and when I’m awake during the day I catch my mind thinking about all the things that need to get done. Take a shower, make coffee, eat breakfast, brush my teeth, write, go see clients, etc. ... When I'm not mindful, at the end of the day I can truly ask myself, “Where did the day go?” Enough of these, and I can ask myself the same questions in weeks, months, or even years! Can you relate to this?

So when I feel like these questions are coming up, I do some brief exercises that help bring me to the present moment and remind myself that I’m living.

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The RAIN Practice: Monday's Mindful Quote with Rumi

Here we are again with Monday’s Mindful Quote. In a famous poem, 13th century Sufi poet Rumi lays down a radical notion about welcoming pain in life, rather than avoiding it to experience emotional freedom. As you read the following poem, remember, the words speak as a guidepost, reminding us which way to go. After the poem, I will introduce you to a practice from A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook that you can begin taking into your daily life to work with difficulties (but read the poem first).

This being human is a guest-house.

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The Neuroscience of Happiness: An Interview with Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

I am delighted to bring to you neuropsychologist, meditation teacher and author of the hit new book Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, Rick Hanson, Ph.D. Rick is co-founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, which also publishes the monthly Wise Brain Bulletin and hosts the website. He is also author of the Meditations for Happiness audio download and co-author of the Meditations to Change Your Brain CD set.

Today Rick talks to us about how we can use our minds to change our brains, to help our minds in everyday life.

Elisha: You quote a popular phrase that came from Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb, saying that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Can you let us in on the significance of this quote?

Rick: Hebb and others were trying to understand how we learn things, from remembering what we had for breakfast to the emotional learning that is the residue of happiness – at one end of the spectrum – and trauma, at the other end. In other words, how does mental activity change neural structure? A pretty important question! Hebb developed the theory, since borne out in its essence by subsequent research, that it is the simultaneity of firing (within a few thousandths of a second) of neurons that are connected with each other that leads to strengthening existing synapses – which are the junctions between neurons – and to building new ones.

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Two Questions You Must Answer to Live the Life You Want

Here's a question to consider (and this isn't one of the two): When the mind pops up with the statement "I am such a failure," what is the underlying value that it is in cahoots with?

We all have values in life, some we're aware of and some we're not. Values are the road signs that guide us in the direction we want our life to go. Maybe we value good physical or mental health or perhaps being a good friend or politically active member of society. But values aren't always pointing us in healthy directions and sometimes we're not even aware of what our values are.

Perhaps we value never failing or never being vulnerable. Or maybe it is a hidden value that we must always be right. Where do these values get us?

I promise you that you care about where you are going in life. The simple fact that you are reading this post right now tells me that you care about your health and well-being.
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Uncover Your Enemies' Secrets: Monday's Mindful Quote with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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 Wadsworth Longfellow:
If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each [person’s] life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm any hostility.
First, in order to make sure we’re all on the same page, let’s define hostility. Hostility, in the way I am using it, is a sense of internal ill-will toward someone: In other words, wishing someone harm. When it is hostile action, it can be identified as aggression.

At the core, we are all human being that are born into this world with a set of genetic predispositions, but also with a brain ready to be shaped by its environment. If you have a spiritual background, you also have your own beliefs as to what a baby in this world is born with.

However, somewhere along the way, babies and children come into contact with some of the potential harsh realities of life. We all experience trauma (less severe) or Trauma (more severe) growing up, and this affects our ability to discern and regulate ourselves as we get older. Maybe the parents were so overstressed that there was very little empathy that came toward the child and, as Dan Siegel has said many times, the child didn’t “feel felt.” Or maybe there was physical or sexual abuse, leaving the child to internalize shame and anger toward him- or herself and project it out onto the world. Or maybe the child was overweight and so was made fun of growing up, only to leave a deep wound of insecurity.

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Mindfulness and Trauma: An Interview with John Briere, Ph.D.

Today I am proud to bring to you John Briere, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, and Director of the Psychological Trauma Program at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. He is past president of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and recipient of ISTSS's Robert S. Laufer Memorial Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement. John has authored a number of books, including Principles of Trauma Therapy: A Guide to Symptoms, Evaluation, and Treatment, Psychological Assessment of Adult Posttraumatic States: Phenomenology, Diagnosis, and Measurement, and Therapy for Adults Molested As Children: Beyond Survival, Second Edition. He lectures frequently on the intersection between trauma, therapy, and mindfulness.

Today, John talks with us about trauma, and how he uses mindfulness to address it. Some of the work in this interview is from John's latest book-in-progress tentatively entitled Beyond Suffering: Trauma, Psychology, and Mindfulness in the Western World.
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Neuroplasticity: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

If you've been following recent developments in the field of psychology or neuroscience or if you've been following my postings, you've heard the term neuroplasticity before. This term refers to the discovery in recent years that the brain is actually malleable throughout the lifespan and we have the ability to grow new neural connections. This has tremendous implications for our mental health and anything that has to do with human training, both hopeful and detrimental.

Now, this isn't the first time this idea has come up. In the late 1800s, Freud hypothesized about this calling it the law of association by spontaneity, and in recent years neuroscientists have come up with the catchy saying, "neurons that fire together, wire together."

In other words, how and what we pay attention to has tremendous implications for how our brains grow.

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