Tis the season to feel a bit down, overwhelmed and stressed. When the mind is focusing on the negative details of life, it’s practicing seeing things through this lens and what we practice and repeat creates a habit of thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations. I call this getting caught in a “depressive loop.”
Mindfulness is about being aware of what lens we’re wearing when looking at life, so we can be more intentional. The unintentional act of looking toward the future with a negative lens can really sap our motivation to make any progress toward a more fruitful and positive future. After all, if we’re anticipating doomsday, what’s the point in even trying? This is major fruit for procrastination too.
Feeling depressed lights up the avoidance circuits in the brain. It’s experienced as a disengagement from life. In Uncovering Happiness I go through the science and practice of a handful of natural anti-depressants that live within every one of us.
But when we’re feeling overwhelmed with life, our negative thinking arises again, “What’s the point” or “Who cares.” But these thoughts are not facts, even the ones that say they are.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had some wise words for us about this.
You may or may not have heard by now that our brain is wired to pay attention more frequently, and with great veracity, to what’s negative. This doesn’t mean that the good moments in life aren’t happening, we’re just not wired to pay attention to them.
Because as a human race, we’re wired to survive, not be happy.
I have a theory that in this moment in time we’re going through an evolution as a species where because of the overabundance of things pulling our attention, we’re being thrusted into growing our awareness – the kind of awareness that breeds balance, well-being and a greater sense of what matters.
So people are being turned onto mindfulness more. More spaces are offering it, more institutions are studying it and there’s greater media to
Mindfulness just continues to grow and not only positively influence people’s lives, but is now influencing so many sectors of our society. I can’t help but imagine how it’s going to impact the years that follow (Maybe I’m a bit on an idealist, but I’ll hold that label lightly).
The following is my futurist’s take on The Mindfulness Revolution.
Wikipedia Entry 2050:
“The Insight Age is a period in human history characterized by the shift from a “continuous fractured attention” brought on by The Information Age through technology, to an age based on an expanded awareness, an increasingly ability to harness control of our attention to what matters. The onset of the Insight Age is associated with The Mindfulness Revolution, just as The Digital Revolution marked the onset of The Information Age.
During The Insight Age, the phenomenon is that that the mindful industry creates a present-focused society surrounded by leaders in various sectors spanning their influence on how education, business, politics, healthcare, and other service sectors operate.
In our current culture, the mindful industry fosters insight for individuals to be more aware of their personal needs, increasing
Note: There are plenty more, but I thought these top the charts.
Myth #1: Mindfulness if for taking a time-out from life, quieting the mind and reducing stress.
Truth: I think this is the #1 myth out there because it’s my experience that this is how people initially experience the practice. One of the greatest entry points to mindfulness in the West is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This is a fantastic program with wonderful science behind it, but the name is just for marketing. The ultimate goal isn’t meant to be stress reduction. The goal of mindfulness and MBSR is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional and physical processes, recognize the connectedness between people and operate in the world with greater self-compassion and compassion.
However, the initial practices can often give people sense of relief from a busy mind and can then be equated with a mental break. While there’s nothing wrong with using it this way, it also minimizes the power of mindfulness.
The paradox here is when we’re able to do just be present to our minds, emotions and bodies, the stressful relationship tends to quiet down, but when we try and quiet the mind down, we often add fuel to the fire.
Myth #2: You need to carve out plenty of time in a serene “mindful” space.
For a number of months now hundreds of people have been taking the Basics in Mindfulness Meditation: 28 day program challenge to bring more mindfulness, self-compassion, compassion and balance into their lives. Throughout the course questions are asked that I field and one came in recently that I thought important to bring to all people as it is a seminar question of our time.
Hi Elisha, Thank you for this very helpful course. I notice that my thoughts start whirring around in my head when I have had an emotional encounter. I try to accept the thoughts, acknowledge it being there, then focus on breathing or the body scan but my mind races back to that emotion I experience of sadness. How can I pull myself into the moment when this happens? Will appreciate your advice.
The best way to get the brain to change it seems is through engaging novelty. Kids are doing it like crazy, everything is new. I remember when my oldest was born and we’d walk around the neighborhood. I’d grab a leaf on a tree and say, “See this, this is a leaf. Look closely at the shape and see how it has veins.” In the process I was interacting with life as if for the first time and it inspired wonder and joy within me. I tapped into something important and I knew it.
In the now famous book Tuesdays with Morrie, Morrie points us in the direction of happiness:
“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
Almost 19 million Americans have periods where they feel a lack of pleasure or interest in what was once pleasurable and interesting. They feel tired and heavy, potentially overly emotional or numb, and experience an onslaught of negative and self defeating thoughts that can keep invading the mind over and over again. The more periods of this depressed mood we have in life, the more likely we are to fall back into them again. Why does this relapse occur and how can mindfulness offer hope?
Falling into a depression feels traumatic and just like getting bit by a dog causes us to be fearful of and oversensitive to dogs, our minds and bodies become oversensitive to associations with the depression causing our brains to flinch at any sign of a relapse.
Feeling low mood is normal for everyone, but if we’ve experienced depression in the past, this may be a trigger for a relapse. If we feel tired or if we notice sadness, the mind pops up with the worry “uh oh, that is how I felt when I was depressed, maybe I’m getting depressed”. Our minds begin to go in overdrive with negative self judgments, “I am a failure” or “I am weak” or “I am worthless”. It then tries to solve the mystery as to why we are becoming depressed again and the more it tries to solve this puzzle, the deeper it sinks into depression. Think of a worried, judging person coming at you trying to solve your problems when you’re already not feeling well. Probably not what you’re looking for. You see, it’s not the low mood that’s the problem here, it’s the way we get stuck in habitually relating to it that pours kerosene on the fire, with our minds continuing to fan the flame rolling us into a full blown depression.
The practice of mindfulness teaches us a different way to relate to our thoughts, feelings, and emotions as they arise. It is about learning to approach and acknowledge whatever is happening in the present moment, setting aside our lenses of judgment and just being with whatever is there, rather than avoiding it or needing to fix it. It’s the mind’s attempt to avoid and fix things in this moment that fuels the negative mood.
With Uncomfortable Emotions
If sadness is there, instead of trying to fix it or figure it out, we might just acknowledge the sadness, let it be and get a better understanding of what we need in the moment.
If self-judgments arise (e.g., I am weak, I am a loser) out of past sensitivities to having been depressed before, we can acknowledge that they are associations from the past, let them be, and then gently bring ourselves back to whatever we were doing. In doing this, we’re stopping the ruminative cycle that might occur between our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and behaviors that can play off one another leading into another relapse (I call this “The Depression Loop” in the upcoming book Uncovering Happiness).
Now, this is easier said than done and it takes practice.
Many media outlets have been talking for a number of years now about how ubiquitous mindfulness is, the impact it’s having in a variety of sectors and all the wonderful science that continues to be published. But I noticed that many people in the media don’t talk much about the actual formal practice of mindfulness meditation and that’s probably because it can be a hard habit to establish. One thing I’ve learned is if you want to establish a practice you have to look directly at what’s getting in the way and allow those obstacles to be your greatest teachers.
Here are five obstacles that have been in people’s way for thousands of years and the antidotes to get over them.
Antidote: We have to remember that thoughts are just thoughts; they’re not facts (even the ones that say they are). When we notice this doubt slipping
You’ve heard it before, we’re a sleep deprived nation. If you took a poll, you’d likely find most of your friends feel more tiredness than they would like. That is why 5-Hour Energy Drink and other products like that are so popular. They perk us up, make us more engaged and interested in daily life. But there is another thing you can do, feed your mind specific mindful attitudes and practices that inspire a natural sense of engagement, curiosity and energy.
There is no doubt about it, mindfulness helps us wake up!
The practice of mindfulness opens our eyes, it’s meant to be an active practice where we’re intentionally focusing on some point of attention with an eye of curiosity. Just like
Recent I had an eye opening dream while I was asleep.
I was in a war torn region and superheroes existed (Keep in mind I have a couple younger kids).
I was injured somehow, but some of these superheroes were telling me I could fly.
As I tried to fly, I felt a little lift but kept falling.
A few people who were the enemy were chasing me and I was afraid. I ran and tried to fly, but couldn’t get that far (At this point you are welcome to psychoanalyze me).
The superheroes told me:
“You have to believe, believe you can fly and you can do it.”
At that point I decided to risk it, I leaned it a bit further and took a leap (literally and figuratively), believing that if I did this I would fly.
Lo’ and behold I was up in the air flying around. I couldn’t believe it.
As the dream continued I was able to help some people, but I would lose my belief from time to time and had trouble getting up in the air.
I remembered the words, “You have to believe, believe you can fly and you can do it.” I risked again, took the leap…