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?
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:
Everyone has ups and downs in life, sometimes they’re more extreme than others. Today I am thrilled to bring you an interview with Toni Berhard, someone I deeply respect and a longtime practitioner and leader in mindfulness. She is author of her newest book How to Wake Up helping us navigate these ups and downs with greater ease and also the past award winning book How to Be Sick which speaks of how to live with greater peace with chronic illness. Toni was dean of students at the University of California Davis School of Law and the writings and practices in these books have been inspired by over 20 years of personal practice.
Today, Toni talks to us about why it’s so hard to be present to our lives, practices that Toni finds to be personally impactful, why we have to navigate joy, and some personal advice for the rest of us.
Elisha: You say that the key to peace and well-being is to be present for your life as it is. Why is that so hard to do?
One of the secrets to wiring our brain toward happiness is in the simple understanding that what we practice and repeat starts to become more automatic. Call it a happiness or resiliency habit and it’s something that anyone can create. We all have thoughts and behaviors in our lives that lend themselves toward unhappiness, a neutral state, or happiness. While the brain defaults toward paying attention to negative stimuli to keep us safe, we are active participants in our health and well-being and can nurture a happier and more resilient brain.
Here’s a suggestion to start with that comes from the 365 Daily Now Moments:
A research study just came out in the Journal of Neuroscience where scientists at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston used sea snail nerve cells to reverse memory loss. The scientists were able to help the cells compensate for memory loss by retraining them when the nerve cells were primed for optimal learning. Of course they’re hoping this has implications for working with Alzheimer’s, but the implications don’t stop there, it could also support a neuroscience for learning to trust ourselves in times of difficulty.
A wise man once said, “Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your unguarded thoughts.”
~ The Buddha
I want to share with you an important “Now Moment,” the short action-oriented pieces that come at the end of most of the chapters in The Now Effect. This little instruction can be enormously helpful in bringing to light how to gain freedom from thinking and since thinking can be our number one bad habit, often launching us into increased stress or downward spirals of automatic negative thinking; it’s a good thing to loosen our grip on.
A while ago I walked into a particular publisher and saw every title of their upcoming books having “mindfulness” in the title and I was concerned that it was getting watered down. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As of today, mindfulness has evolved within America and has the potential to have a greater influence than we had ever imagined. Leaders around the country are implementing it in early child development, the military, education, politics, neuroscience, medicine, healthcare, business, the prisons, at-risk youth, and of course, psychotherapy. In this post I’m going to highlight a few key things that are happening that you may want to know about and how our culture is ripe for a second wave of mindfulness.
How we start the morning often sets the stage for how the rest of the day unfolds. Of course life throws us curve balls in the middle of the day, maybe you get a stressful email or someone rear ends you with their car or you lost that deal that you were looking forward to. Anything can happen in the present moment, but how we start our day can often affect how we greet those challenges.
Here are four tips to start your day that will help you with the inevitable ups and downs that you get handed.
As children, we can’t help but get in touch with creativity, we’re starting to learn how the world works, everything comes from a beginner’s mind. As we begin practicing and repeating things, the brain eventually figures it out and moves onto the next thing. Eventually, our curiosity for most things fades away as life begins routine and we miss out on the possibilities around us. That is why I’m always impressed and inspired when I find someone who uses creativity as a modality for healing.
Today I wanted to bring to you a former New York television executive Deb Eiseman, who after suffering debilitating chronic pain after a car accident found healing through creativity. Her life has now been transformed from one riddled with chronic pain to feeling happy as an artist and designer. She contends that it was through finding her creativity that she was healed. Can we do the same?
Elisha: Can you tell us what role finding that little $2.98 water color set played in your healing?
We’ve all heard the common adage that “It is what it is,” telling us that whatever is happening is simply the reality of the current experience. But that’s not the whole truth. The Now Effect adds, “It is what it is, while it is.” This speaks to a larger reality that whatever is here is also impermanent. This saying can enrich our lives, helping us move through the difficult times with more grace and also illuminating what’s precious in life before we miss it.