compassion Articles

Uncovering Happiness: Four Questions that Can Transform Your Life

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

When it comes to our self-critical thinking, Byron Katie has created a brilliant set of four questions to free us from our negative depressive minds. For example, if you say, “I’m such leavesinhandcrpd an idiot,” we ask 1) Is it true? 2) Is it absolutely true? 3) What happens when you believe that thought? and 4) Who would you be without that thought? The effect of this is that it objectifies the self-judgment, gives us freedom from it and opens us up to a sense of freedom that’s there. They can be really effective.

When it comes to overcoming longstanding emotional struggles we have to not only get space from the self-critical mind, but also encourage the positive beliefs about ourselves that the critical mind has buried. In one part of Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion I share the following four questions to work with in order to open us up to possibility, install these positive beliefs a bit more and even encourage positive neuroplasticity. In doing this we can become more confident in ourselves and ultimately more resilient (and a bit happier).

Four Questions for Uncovering Happiness


Mindfulness Can Quiet Down the A**Hole Voice in Our Heads

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

I was recently interviewing Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier for an upcoming online symposium on Uncovering Happiness. I really enjoyed spending time with him is-it-true-is-it-helpful
rapping about what happiness is really about and why mindfulness and compassion can help inspire it. But one of the things that really made me laugh was when he said it can stop you from being an A-hole.

It’s so true and here’s how.

Our inner voices can be a real pain sometimes, critiquing us, telling us what we can’t do or what will go wrong if we try. We wouldn’t want friends that spoke to us this way, so why do we tolerate these voices? They create irritability which only goes onto reinforce the A-holes in our minds. As I mention in my upcoming book Uncovering Happiness, this is a big part of what drives the depression loop.

In a study a few years back Norman Farb and his colleagues at the University of Toronto published a study that showed how practicing mindfulness meditation reduced activity in the part of the brain associated with a wandering and critical mind. This was


A Mindful Gift from Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) to All of Us

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

thich-nhat-hanhLast week I wrote about Thich Nhat Hanh’s brain hemorrhage landing him in the hospital. The most recent update from Plum Village shows that while his condition is still in a critical stage he has opened his eyes and even reached out to touch the attendant next to him. In continuing this time of honoring his life I wanted to share with you one of the gifts he has given me that I often share with others.

These are the short phrases he weaves into breathing or walking that helps us be more present, loving, grounded, and aware in daily life. If you don’t already, consider trying these out as an experiment in your daily life and seeing what you notice.

For example,

  • You may take three steps while breathing in and say “Breathing in, I calm my body” and then with the following three steps “Breathing out, I relax.” You can then shorten this to saying “calm” as you breathe in, and “relax” as you breathe out.

Thich Nhat Hanh is in the Hospital, But He Will Never Leave Us

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

YesterdayI received a message that one of the greatest mindfulness and compassion teachers to grace this planet was in the hospital after experiencing a “severe brain hemorrage.” Signs show that he may pull through, but what a scare this has been for those who have been blessed by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. If you’ve been a reader of this blog or alive possibelany of my work you may know how much he has influenced my work and my life. Thich Nhat Hanh or Thay as his followers call him is/was a sort of prophet of awakening and hope.

He said, “Because you are alive, everything is possible.”

He reminded us of the sacred ground we live on and how to walk on it:

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”

He lived with wisdom and compassion and shared with us how we can oo, even with the difficult people in our lives:

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”

He revealed to us the simple yet powerful ways to ignite the joy that’s within each of us:

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

He conveyed to reality of our authentic beauty and of radical self-acceptance:


Top 5 Myths about Mindfulness Meditation

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Do you know the myths about mindfulness and what is true or false about this swelling revolution? Take a look at what I think are the top five myths about mindfulness.top-5-banner

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.


Use Your Difficult Emotions to Gain Emotional Freedom

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

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 unbinding the heartcourse 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.

Here is the question

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.

Here is an answer


The Neuroscience of Resistance and How to Overcome It!

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

We all experience resistance everyday when we’re trying to do something that matters. Whether you want to sit and meditate, work on a new project, get out and exercise, whatever it is that is in the direction of growth, resistance comes CogniFit Brain Plasticity
alive. In my next book Uncovering Happiness (can’t wait to share it with you – January, 2015), I explore some of the neuroscience behind what keeps us stuck in a depressive loop and how to get unstuck and even find our natural anti-depressants and thrive.  While resistance lies within a depressive spiral, you don’t have to have had experienced depression in the past to know resistance, it’s a universal daily experience for all of us.

But the deeper question is, where does it reside in the brain and how do we overcome it?

I don’t believe anyone has conducted and brain scan specifically on resistance, but one thing we do know is that the right side of the prefrontal region that lies behind your forehead lights up when we’re trying to avoid something. This same region also lights up with negative emotions.

One thing we’re wanting to do is intentionally practice and repeat shifting the activity to the left prefrontal region that is more associated with approaching things in life and with resiliency.

The fact is resistance is relentless, it’s a deeply ingrained wiring that we all have to move away from what the brain anticipates to be uncomfortable and stay with what’s comfortable.  Not only is this hardwired into most of us, but we’ve practiced is so often that it’s strengthened the default. The brain has such a lock on us, that we’re not even aware of it.

This is why procrastination is so common.

So what do we do about it?

K.N.O.W  Your Resistance


You Can Find Happiness Here: A Tip from Mitch Albom

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

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.”


Create Confidence Over Depressive Rumination

Monday, August 18th, 2014

shutterstock_150673370Almost 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.
With Self-Judgments
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.

Confidence with Rumination Practice:


7 Essential Lessons I’ve Learned as a Psychotherapist

Monday, August 11th, 2014

alive possibelOne of the wonderful surprises of being a therapist all these years is how big the gift of being of service can be. I have the privilege of knowing people intimately and supporting them in opening their hearts and uncovering happiness. When I sit with that, it gives me an immense sense of purpose. Herein lies life’s beautiful paradox: The more love you give away, the more love you have. The ripple effects give me immense joy.

Through this experience I’ve realized at times it’s important to relay back what I’ve learned.

1. Essential Books to Have at Your Bedside

Aside from Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion (debut: January, 2015) - wink! – I’m a big fan of books that keep it simple. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who writes simply and elegantly and I am a fan of many of his works. Taming the Tiger Within and The Miracle of Mindfulness are some of my favorites.

2. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?

That there’s an end goal.

I don’t mean that people need to be in therapy for an indefinite time, but there’s a faulty notion of achieving some end state. This focus makes therapy more difficult as the mind is cluttered with an expectation instead of focusing on learning. Even if insurance only covers 10 sessions and wants a definitive end goal, we have to always keep in mind that therapy is a vehicle for learning and while we can begin to master certain ways of being, growing and learning about ourselves in life never ends.

3. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?


Mindfulness & Psychotherapy



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Books and CDs by Dr. Elisha Goldstein:
Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind

The Now Effect: How This Moment Can Change The Rest of Your Life
A Mindfulness-Based
Stress Reduction Workbook
 

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Recent Comments
  • Awm: I too wonder about the term “joy of life”. When I remember to live in the moment, life is a little...
  • Kumara: Oh dear, Elisha, you got the 2nd question wrong again: 2) Is it absolutely true? “Is it possible that it’s...
  • David Cummins: Love it. Thanks for sharing.
  • LJM: I came online looking for news as I heard about his being in the hospital. It is a good idea to hold this...
  • RenzoB: Sara – I would recommend finding some materials on Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) which...
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