In our culture the notion of surrendering has a negative connotation to it. It means you’ve been defeated and that you’re powerless. But if you look to the world’s wisdom traditions you’ll find that the idea of surrendering is a courageous act that creates more insight and freedom from the unnecessary mental struggles of life.
The 13th century Sufi poet Rumi uses a wonderful metaphor to bring this to life:
Very little grows on jagged rock.
Be ground. Be crumbled,
so wildflowers will come up
where you are.
You’ve been stony for too many years.
Try something different.
Many of us harden into patterns of life that keep the struggle going. We can’t seem to let go of the self-judgment because our brain believes it’s there to keep us in line. We numb out to the world through eating, drinking, over-use of social media, among so many other ways.
Question: Why is our brain so afraid of surrendering our unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving?
We’ve all heard the saying that in life there are ups and down and there is the classic eastern saying that life is filled with 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. With this there’s the wisdom that all things come and go, but the brain has a funny way of amplifying the sorrows and minimizing the joys for good evolutionary reasons. Whenever the brain perceived something as “bad” it starts to worry about it. But often times there is no real utility to the worry, it only serves to dig us into a deeper hole and blinds us to the joys that might be waiting around the corner.
Here is one of the best cartoons I’ve found that says it like it is:
A “bellringer” is a short activity that some teachers put on the board in the beginning of a class so students have something to do while attendance is being taken. Recently, one teacher among a quietly growing group tried something radically different to start his class –a mindfulness practice. What did he notice? Student participation is up and class disruption is down. He also noticed that the quality of their writing was far better and students wanted to continue the practice.
This is completely in line with a growing number of anecdotes talking about the power of bringing mindfulness to kids, tweens, teens and older adolescents.
The concept of choosing happiness can be an incredibly controversial topic. For anyone who has experienced distressing experiences like anxiety, depression, addiction, chronic pain, trauma or a stress-related medical illness, to say “choose happiness” can appear shaming. When conditions are genetic or biological nature, there is no choice and pain is inevitable. However, while we can never change what happens to us in any given moment, with awareness, we can choose how to respond to it.
Let’s take a closer look at what “choose happiness” can mean and how it may be the most powerful phrase we know to change lives.
Have you ever thought about what your thoughts really are?
Consider for a moment even as you’re reading this the voices and images that are naturally appearing in your mind as your brain processes this sentence.
Close your eyes for 10 seconds. Imagine you’re in a dark movie theatre and just watch these mental events forming and unforming. Some are voices questioning what you’re doing, others are telling you what you should pay attention to, or yet others are just a string of different images shifting and changing (You can also be guided through this practice).
Even after looking at them are hearing them in your mind right now, are you any closer to understanding what thoughts are?
The truth is not a single scientist can tell you for certain what a thought is, but somehow we become highly identified with them.
We say, “I am a teacher,” or “I am a good person” or “I am a failure” or “I make the best chocolate chip cookies” or “I am an addict” or “I am a depressed person” or “I am unworthy, unlovable and defective.” The stories go on and on.
From the time we are born we collect these stories to define who we are and what we can achieve in this life. When the thoughts are judgments, can we say for certainty that they’re true? The answer is almost always, no. But the thoughts lead to feelings or the reinforcement of feelings that were already there. Inevitably they feel true.
What it comes down to is we are not our thoughts, not even the ones that say we are.
How do I know this?
In a study out of the Journal of Communication, researchers showed how media multitasking not only makes for poorer cognitive performance and makes us less effective at home and work. It turns out that even the idea of multitasking is a myth. In an interview with the National Institute of the Clinical Applications of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM), Dan Goleman, PhD, author of the recent bestselling book Focus talks about how the concept of multitasking is a myth, why it makes us less effective and how we can get more focus.
You can watch this one hour interview free on Wednesday February 5th, 2014. This series also lines up Dan Siegel, Rick Hanson, Daniel Amen, Bruce Lipton, Helen Fisher, among others.
It turns out that according to cognitive science the brain cannot handle more than one task at a time. Multitasking is a process of incredibly fast switching of attention. Just like a computer that has many programs open, when the brain multitasks and rapidly shifts back and forth the performance ultimately goes down.
I always say if there’s anything we’re assured of in life besides death and taxes, it’s stress and pain. While that may seem like a doomsday statement, if you look at it again, it’s actually quite freeing. If you know stress and pain are inevitable, then you can learn how to be grateful for the good when it’s here and be graceful when the stress and pain arrives.
Here’s a short passage from Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind that gives voice to this.
“It is what it is, while it is. Nothing lasts forever. Difficulties will pass and so will the wonders; tune in to the preciousness of life.
Bring this awareness into the moments of your day, tuning in to what really matters.”
Life is so precious.
How can we get better and better at setting aside the trivial mind traps that keep us stuck and drag us down into states of anxiety and depression?
Believe it or not, five years ago starting a blog called Mindfulness and Psychotherapy seemed like a risky venture. At the time, some people I mentioned it to said, “Well, there are a whole lot of blogs that come and go within a year.” The integration of mindfulness, compassion and neuroscience as a therapy in our daily lives has now become key to millions of people. Through posts and interviews we’ve looked into practical applications for stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma, grief, happiness, joy, self-compassion, forgiveness, relationships, business, medicine, technology, politics and so much more.
Since the inception of this blog we’ve seen the publications of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, The Now Effect and Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler. It has been incredibly rewarding to share these years with you and I wanted to thank you all deeply for all your interactions, they have been a source of living wisdom for me and the other readers to benefit from.
Now, here are my Top 10 Favorite Posts from 2013:
Once in a while a moment occurs in your life that causes your jaw to drop open in awe. Recently, my wife, Stefanie Goldstein, PhD and I were at Denim N’ Dirt Ranch in Santa Clarita, California giving a workshop on mindfulness for equine-assisted psychotherapists. The premise of the workshop was to teach how mindfulness and self-compassion enhanced presence for the therapists and ultimately made them more effective at the work they did with their clients. But what happened was completely unexpected and I might even borrow a word from one of the participants, “magical.”
We were all sitting in a circle in the horse ring, here’s a picture of me talking and my impromptu horse assistant “Jazz” encouraging me.
Science points to the statistic that our minds wander on average about 46.9% of the time from what we’re intending to pay attention to. This statistic is mainly from an adult population. Now, imagine if you grew up (and you might have) with all the digital distractions of the modern world and you can inflate that number. The alarming piece is that research shows that kids’ ability to resist distraction predicts how he or she will fare health-wise in adulthood. Dan Goleman, PhD author of the international best seller Emotional Intelligence and his new groundbreaking book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence shows us the science behind why the mental asset of attention may be the most important thing to focus on this year.
But while science and theory can peak our interest change never happens unless we put it into action. That’s what I’m glad Dan created an audio series that complements the book, giving us the practical techniques to increase focus of adults, teens and kids.