If you’ve been following recent news in the mindfulness world, you may have heard about a recent study by David Creswell out of Carnegie Mellon University that showed the wonderful effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as a reduction on perceived loneliness in healthy older adults age 55-85.
Loneliness is something that most of us experience from time to time, caused and exacerbated by stress, anxiety, depression, addiction and trauma, but you may not have known how staggering the statistics truly are. A recent survey taken from the AARP showed over 44 million people are lonely and longing to connect with another living, breathing human being.
There’s a difference between being alone and lonely. The Buddhist Nun, teacher and author of “Taking the Leap,” Pema Chodron writes:
It’s not such a secret that we are a culture driven by a need for “more” in order to feel alive or happy. We are also a culture driven to try and eradicate discomfort. These underlying motivations are partly driven by media messages from businesses trying to make a buck and spending billions of dollars are marketing to drive this into our minds.
In light of this, I want to bring to you a quote from a woman who has a lot of wisdom to share, Pema Chodron:
It’s also helpful to realize that this very body that we have, that’s sitting right here right now… with its aches and it pleasures… is exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive.
Okay, maybe it’s also important to have food, clothing, and a roof over our heads for many of us to be fully human, fully awake, and fully alive, but let’s not let that small point take us away from the brilliance of this quote.
One of the truths of life is that within us lies a feeling of dis-ease. We can’t be content with where we are in any particular moment because our minds are either trying to flee away from some discomfort or toward some comfort.
Here is a post I wrote a couple years ago that I wanted to revive as it’s increasingly important in the context of the fervor that is surrounding mindfulness as a wonderful antidote to stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma chronic illness or as the seed of empathy, compassion, happiness and just a better life.
The following story shows us how even with the best intentions, it’s easy to fall into a trap of using meditation in a way that keeps us stuck in the perpetual cycles we’re wanting to heal.
Whether we’re in the midst of a storm of anxiety or depression or we’ve come out of the storm but are in fear of relapse, strong uncomfortable emotions can seem like the devil’s spawn that we try our best to ward off against.
For many of us there is a fear that these strong emotions will be overwhelming and lead us back into the great abyss of depression or another round of intense anxiety. However, it is in this very struggle of non-acceptance or non-acknowledgment of this feeling that our misery becomes compounded.
Although our minds believe they are doing the best thing for us, their acts are often driving the exact habitual mind traps we’re trying to neutralize.
What’s another way?
A number of years ago a story came out of renowned national violinist Joshua Bell playing in a DC Metro stop during rush hour. By the end of his playing a few people were there standing around but everyone else was rushing by.
Watch this 2-minute video and then we can look at how our brains are wired to miss the wonders of our lives that could very well be the secret to happiness and resiliency.
I often write about the demanding and criticizing voices in our heads because they are so amazingly prevalent and I figure just about anyone can identify with that and almost all of us need support with them. Every day these voices arise out of habit, telling us “I can’t do that right,” “I’m never going to achieve that,” or “I’m not good enough.”
More often than not we indulge and get overwhelmed by these limiting beliefs or as Thich Nhat Hanh says,” we water the seeds of our own suffering.” The end result is we end up hating ourselves. But what if these voices were trying to help us in some way?
That may sound crazy, but really, consider it for a moment. What if these negative and limiting voices were looking after our best interest?
A while back I wrote the blog Neuroplasticity, Gratitude, and Your Mental Health: Food for Thought and thousands of people viewed it and were reminded of the really powerful effects of counting blessings over burdens.
This made me think of two critical elements that can help shape our happiness and success.The first is proactively looking at what it is we actually want in life. The second is looking at a key element that can help prime our minds toward the happiness and success we are looking for.
The places we work and the people we surround ourselves with are likely not trying to put mindfulness at the forefront of their lives. We’re also looking for that perfect quiet time to sit, stand or lie down and practice intentionally, paying attention to the present moment with fresh eyes. Sometimes we get restless, agitated, bored or begin to doubt ourselves that we can ever truly be mindful and so we reactively avoid it.
The following is a quote by the 15th century Indian poet Kabir that I love to bring up again and again because it gets underneath these obstacles and drops us into mindfulness.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the term “Mindful Recovery?”
Is it Addiction? Trauma? Depression? Or maybe something else?
Maybe it’s all of those things, but I’m going to pose this moment to be a time to look back on the last year and ask yourself, “What afflictions have I suffered this year that I am in recovery for?” Maybe this last year you let stress get the best of you? Maybe your relationship slipped this past year as you got roped into more television programs or Facebook addictions. Maybe you did slip into abuse with drugs, alcohol, sex, work, or overly accommodating people in life who abuse you.
What’s going to be different in the coming hours, days, weeks and months ahead?
Perhaps the simplest path is to make the intention an awareness of the moments you get sucked into these destructive behaviors that you want to change. In this space of awareness we draw a second intention which is to get curious about what the feeling is that you’re trying to escape from.
I think where we make our greatest error is when we make those resolutions that say, “I’m going to go the gym more, meditate more, start playing guitar or bring the romance back.” This jumps the gun. There are so many steps that occur before taking action with any of these things. There’s already a built up resistance to them and to skip over that is a recipe for failure.
What if these changes you wanted to make were couched in less immediacy? It’s helpful to actually understand what going on with the auto-pilot that lives within each one of us.
Here’s 7 steps to get underneath the hood and give yourself the change of making real change last:
A couple weeks ago I highlighted a therapist in Los Angeles named Stan Friedman who had a story of how he broke free from the auto-pilot of negative thinking and into a space of choice and possibility. I want to open this up as an opportunity for people to send me stories of mindfulness that can show the rest of us how it has had a practical impact on a particular event or their lives.
I will choose from them from time to time to post on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy to help give insight to the rest of us of how mindfulness can be practically applied for our health and well-being.
Of course those that get chosen can also send me a link that I’ll include in the post where people can learn more about them.