Archives for May, 2011
Mindfulness and Psychotherapy has been gaining a mounting interest among thousands of clinicians and clients. The following is one in a series of informal conversations between Trudy Goodman, Ph.D., Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. and Steven Hickman, Psy.D., the teachers for a unique upcoming professional training retreat entitled "Mindfulness in Psychotherapy" to be held October 2-7, 2011 at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center in Southern California. This series is primarily aimed toward clinicians, but I'm hoping if you are not a healthcare professional you can also gain some insight from it. Enjoy! Today Steve, Trudy and I talk about the importance of mindlessness in the therapeutic session. Steve: Today as I worked with a particularly frustrating client whom I experience as quite intransigent and unwilling to make change despite constantly extolling his desire for things to be different, I was caught off guard. I had just pointed out his apparent lack of motivation to change, and he replied by asking in a slightly defensive tone of voice, "Do you talk to all your patients like this?" I'm embarrassed to admit it, but he called me on my mindlessness in that session. Fortunately, I was able to make use of the moment clinically.
Happiness has been a major buzz word in magazines, books, online blogs (like this one) and a source of philosophical inquiry for centuries. The fact is, happiness is what people want in life and it sells. But what is happiness and is that really the aim of life? Some pretty influential people seem to think so. It is the Dalai Lama who tells us “I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy” and Aristotle who said “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” These two leaders are from different cultures, religions and philosophies, yet have markedly similar views. I believe wholeheartedly that we all want to be happy. So we walk down the aisles of the book stores, see the magazines at the checkout lines or surf through the various blog posts and news stories and see invitations to read this or do that to be happy. But do we know what we mean when we say we want to be happy? Are we all talking about the same definition of happiness? The simple answer is no.
Mattie was born on July 17th, 1990 with a genetic defect leading to Dysautonomic Mitochondrial Myopathy. He was bound to a wheelchair his entire life until he body finally came to rest at age 13. But Mattie was born into this world with a gift, a gift that lead all 7 of his books, including Heartsongs, Hope Through Heartsongs, among many others, to become NY Times Bestsellers and landing him on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, Good Morning America, Primetime, The Today Show, CNN News and many other programs many times to share wisdom with millions of lives. When I heard what Mattie’s final words to his Mom were, it popped me into a space of clarity. This 13 year old little boy said: “Choose to inhale; do not breathe simply to exist.” How many of us just exist in a choiceless world? How often do we actually choose this breath? Of course the body will continue to breathe if we don’t choose to breathe, it’s automatic. The newsflash that we may not think about is many of our thoughts and behaviors over time have also become just as automatic as breathing.
You may have heard about the hot topic of bringing mindfulness into the workplace and the benefits of: Stress-reduction Increased clarity of mind, balance, energy, zest for life Improve complex problem-solving and decision-making Enhanced leadership More emotional intelligence, less reactive Mood regulation and immune system enhancement You might have even says it sounds like a good idea. Maybe you even practiced it a couple times. But the dependable habitual ways of thinking and acting take over and it goes by the wayside. So let this post be an opportunity to commit or recommit to cultivating mindfulness at work. Take a few deep breaths right now after reading these words. Then go down the list and honestly ask yourself, when was the last time I did this and where can I bring it into my day? Here are 9 ways you can start today:
For this APA Mental Health Blog Party, I’m going to get right down to it. If there’s one major lesson I’ve learned it’s that we can’t always control what happens to us, but true freedom lies in cultivating the awareness to choose how we want to respond. Mindfulness is key to mental health. In my work I see people who have suffered from addiction, anxiety, depression, and multiple forms of trauma. The fact is, they didn’t choose to struggle with this pain and stress, it just happened to them. An unknown person once said: "A diamond is just a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well." But how do we get to the place where we can handle this stress exceptionally well? That’s the trick. It doesn’t just happen overnight and it’s often a lifetime practice and one that thrives with patience.
Some say the fact that most of us are so filled with self-judgment is an evolutionary impulse to keep us safe from danger. If the mind is constantly on the lookout for what’s wrong, we’re more likely to be prepared for it. Ralph Waldo Emerson lays out the problem: "Most of the shadows of life are caused by standing in our own sunshine." Or maybe Nelson Mandela echoing Marianne Williamson’s words says it best: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” Very good question Marianne. Whether it’s an evolutionary automatic negativity bias or a developmentally constructed belief system from wounding as a child or both, the fact is, many of us are afraid of our own light. Something in us heavily guards against it saying, “I can’t do that,” or “I’m no good at this,” or “That’s not important.” And then the shadow is created.
A while back I wrote a post with the inquiry, “Is it Time to Unplug?” The question was rhetorical in a way saying that in our culture there are too many things to pay attention to and when we end up abusing all our options, we become overconnected and this feeds mental and physical dis-ease. But, what about when our work requires us to be plugged in, what can we do then? First it’s important to break down how we pay attention to technology. At times we are focused and need to get things done so we power through a number of emails. Other times we need to do research and so we surf the web looking for content and resources. This is an effective use of attention. However, other times we get overwhelmed by mounting projects and we use technology as a distraction or a way to “kill time.” Maybe we start answer unimportant emails or start surfing the web for brain dribble. This is what is called a distracted or wasteful zone of attention. So what can we do when we really feel like we want to Unplug, but we can't because our work requires us to be Plugged in?
I love how more and more research is coming out in the field of neuroscience pointing to neurological correlates of things we’ve all known for years. It’s validating. One of the number one things that drive us nuts is outside noises we can’t control. It’s the car alarm, the neighbor’s noisy stereo, or a friend’s baby who can’t stop crying. Cathy Kerr, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School and her colleagues recently found that meditators are quicker and more precise at adjusting the alpha wave rhythms in the brain. These are brain waves that help regulate the transmission of sensory input from the outside and are also a sign of relaxed activity in the brain. So, as she put it in a recent NY Times article, “If you’re reading something in a noisy environment and you want to be in a bubble, you might use your alpha rhythms like a volume knob, to turn down the volume on neurons that represent sound from the outside world.” Participants in her study who took an 8-week mindfulness course were asked to turn their attention their left hand or foot. These participants showed quicker and more precise alpha waves than the people who did not practice the meditation. What does this mean to the rest of us?
In his or her wisdom, an unknown person once said: "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." Osama Bin Laden is dead. What does that mean exactly?