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Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author Thich Nhat Hanh once said, "Peace in oneself, peace in the world." Iconic singer and songwriter Michael Jackson wrote, "I'm lookin' at the man in the mirror, I'm asking him to change his ways. No message could have been any clearer, if you wanna make the world a better place, just look at yourself and make a change." In The Now Effect you may have read about the science behind why everything you do matters, The social scientists Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, and James Fowler, PhD, conducted a study to look at the effect of social networks. To determine if there was a causal relationship for obesity, they mapped the relationships of 12,067 people who had more than 50,000 connections to other people that were assessed repeatedly from 1971 to 2003 (not online social networks such as Facebook but physical networks of people). They found that, indeed, “birds of a feather flock together.” However, they found something much more interesting: obesity doesn’t start and stop with immediate friends and family; it is “contagious” by up to three degrees of separation. They also went on to find that loneliness is contagious by three degrees and that each person you have in your life
Some days are just bad days when we wish we could give up this whole adult charade, go to recess, and get back to when times were a bit simpler. Amen. Life seems to get too serious as an adult, more responsibilities mean more worries, more stress, and more body aches. I've spoken to hundreds of people about this exact issue and posed the question: "What does play mean to you?" Sadly, often the response is a blank look, as if the term "play" is a foreign word. Then I ask them to remember what play was like when they were kids. Many people remember play as an unstructured time where they were engaged in something interesting, enjoyable and satisfying. Even just this reflection can begin to rekindle the flames of play. You can try it out right now to see what I mean. If, like me, at times you feel like giving up on adulthood, then I ask you, "What would the days, weeks and months ahead be like if
When people practice mindfulness they say things like, it makes me calm, it softens my body, it helps me be more aware of choice or I seem to be more clear about what matters. The question I love to follow with is, "what would the days, weeks and months ahead be like if there is more of this in your life?" After this, there is often some kind of "aha moment." They say, "Life would be really good." With that in mind I want to share seven Mindful things you can today Today! Relax - Mindfulness is not about relaxation, this is true. However, learning how to relax supports your mindfulness practice. In fact, it's so important that I'm spending the first month of a six month Course in Mindful Living teaching people how to really calm their minds. When you do this, it not only supports your mindfulness practice, but your mindfulness practices also supports the awareness to do things that support ease. It's a spiral up! Find moments of awareness in the day to pause and soften your body, relax. Use your breath - It's the most portable anchor we have. It's a wonderful practice to start your day, settling into your breath or even just taking a few deep breaths. If you're feeling overwhelmed, see if you can notice where you experience it in the body while staying connected to your breath. Then see what you notice. Pay attention to food - This was my introduction into mindfulness. Paying attention to food can not only help us find more joy in it, but
In 2010, when A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook was about to be published I stepped into my publisher and right there on the wall were printouts of dozens of covers for all the new mindfulness books coming out in the next year. In that moment I said, "Oh no, mindfulness is going to get watered down and people are going to get turned off to it." Well, that didn't happen, but something else has... The Current Mindful Wave - Shallow Waters are Noisy Science and technology have brought on the dawn of delivering mindfulness in a million different ways. The options are endless at this point, you can access mindful learning through a variety of apps at your finger tips, you can pick through various meditations or find an ever expanding list of self-paced pre-recorded courses online, you can find it live online and if you're lucky you can find a local group to access in-person. You can learn it in businesses, schools, healthcare companies, Buddhist centers and in secular meditation studios popping up all over the country. In many ways this is so incredible, but in the process it seems like the stage of mindfulness has reached a point there's a lot of "mindful noise" out there that has the potential of making it difficult to decipher what the practice is anymore, who is credible and where to start or continue. For example, learning mindfulness is not just about sitting down and practicing mindfulness. There are other important factors to weave in to optimize the integration of the practice in daily life. One example is the essential need to take the time and space to learn how to create calm and stability in our minds in preparation to settling into many of the practices that are just being offered through most apps and programs out there. It's like telling someone to get on an untamed horse and just ride. This usually doesn't go well. As a result, many people have difficulty truly realizing the fruits of the practice in any enduring way for themselves and in relationships. The Next Mindful Wave - Still Waters Run Deep
Even though I have an awareness of my relationship to my smartphone, even though I take measures to limit my use, even though I have strong boundaries with my kids around their usage, if you asked me whether I feel like I have a handle on my relationship to it, I'd give you an unequivocal NO! The more I talk to people about their relationship to their tech, the greater sense of belonging I feel. For most people, every time they see someone reach for their phone there's a bell that goes off in the mind that creates an urge to grab their phone. Every time they're slowing down or waiting anywhere, the idea or urge to check the phone arises. Like an addiction, I know this is unhealthy and yet with all my mindfulness and with all the techniques out there, I struggle with this too. At last I'm finally understanding what this is all about and what to do about it.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "Not he is great who can alter matter, but he who can alter my state of mind." I'd have to agree with Emerson. Many of us think that we have control over our reactions, but the reality is most of the time we are walking around reacting to all kinds of things. Our brain is taking in information through it's various appendages (eyes, ears, mouth, legs/arms, nose), translating the information and making decisions of what is good or bad, right or wrong, necessary or unnecessary, urgent or non-urgent, important or unimportant. We only learn about some of these decisions after we've acted on them. Corporations know about this and so they put out subtle cues in the advertising that say "If you don't have (fill in the blank), then you'll be unhappy." Right after Thanksgiving ended I walked into a Target to get a couple things and lo and behold all of the Christmas decorations were up. Immediately I sensed an opening in me, a state of cheerfulness and a desire to shop. There is some kind of Pavlovian conditioning in most of us around this time that borders around spending, spending, spending. Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, our economy can always use people spending money on it. We can also view it as a time to be generous and really give to others. However, the real question is who is choosing your state of mind? Is it you or is it the media? Take this as an opportunity to choose your state of mind going into this week and through the New Year. Here are a few steps to make sure you are the one in control of your mind:
Thanks to pioneers like Robert Emmons and Michael McCollough, we now know that gratitude can have an enormously positive effect on our mental health. Not only that, thanks to the advent of neuroplasticity, practicing gratitude can even help shape our brains in ways that promote resilience and well-being. If you need a refresher on ways to practice gratitude, check out my post: 5 Steps to Gratitude and Lovingkindness: Mondays Mindful Quote with Hafiz. But this post isn’t just about gratitude, it’s about taking it a step further to another stage called altruism. Altruistic behavior is all about acting selflessly to help serve or benefit others. Altruistic behavior has been found to be a predictor of happiness and life satisfaction (Cambridge University Press, 2009). Altruism is also tied to another hot topic in our culture today and that is compassion and kindness. In this blog I have written a number of posts about compassion and kindness because they are such good nutrition for our health and well-being. Compassion has been called an antidote to anger, and kindness has been called and antidote to fear. Now, it could be argued that because of all the personal benefits you may experience from engaging with kindness, compassion and altruism that these endeavors are not pure because you know they will serve your mental health. In other words, they’re ego-driven. Try and set this argument aside for now as we move into the social implication of kindness, compassion and altruism. While the brain takes longer to register compassion for social pain than individual pain, the effect is longer lasting when awareness around social pain settles in. There are certain tragedies in this
There's a practice I've been doing for a while that is so simple and yet so impactful in working with difficult people and also bringing a sense of balance and perspective in the moment, it's almost shocking to me. I live in Los Angeles, which is well known as a city with one of the highest degrees of traffic. If we were to be able to peek into the average LA driver's brain I think you'd see a hyperactive amygdala and most of the blood flow moving out of the prefrontal cortex. In other words, LA drivers can be a large group of difficult people with emotions and stress running high. One day while I was driving here I was cut off by some sports car that seemed to be speeding weaving in and out of the car lanes. My teeth locked together and my shoulders tensed and what went through my mind is only appropriate on HBO. In that moment I realized how tense I was and likely how out of control that driver was. It made me think of all the cars on the road and how many people were very likely tense in their cars. That simple recognition sparked the beginning of something important. My shoulders dropped a bit and the question arose, "What is it that I'm actually needing right now?" The word "ease" came to mind. So I said...
Most people believe that waiting is a waste of time and it's best to fill that time with something... anything. Whether we're in line at a the grocery story, waiting at a doctor's office, or sitting at a stoplight, the brain seems to be cued to fill that space. Nowadays, many of us pull out our phones and begin sifting through various messages, reading over documents, or surfing the web. However, the belief that waiting has no value is mistaken. In fact, the secret to a sense of personal control, general satisfaction with life and even success, lies in learning how to find peace with waiting. We've all heard the famous adage, "Patience is a virtue" or "Good things come to those who wait." Easier said than done, why? We're not in control of our brains Because underneath the subtle yet intolerable experience of waiting is a little anxious gremlin that fears being alone. This gremlin is operating on old software that says if you're alone that means you're not being protected by your clan and it's a threat to your safety. In those small moments of waiting, the gremlin takes the controls of your brain and reaches for something to "be with" so you're not alone anymore. In other words, the anxious gremlin is in control and you're not. Studies are clear that lacking a sense of control is associated with negative stress, anxiety and depression. Also, the more we let the gremlin run our brain, the stronger it gets - or as the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb says, "neurons that fire together, wire together." Using waiting for good
Ajahn Chah was the spiritual teacher to many leading mindfulness teachers. He had a wonderful saying when it comes to being present in life, "It's like this." This saying always stuck with me as a great truth and a way to bring me back to the moment when my mind was spinning due to something stressful or difficult. In 2011, I realized that not only is "it like this," but my mind would quickly begin swimming again and I would then say, "ah, and this too." When I said, "and this too," it brought me back once again to being here. However, recently I found a new, practical and powerful use for the phrase, "It's like this...and this too" that has everything to do with cultivating perspective and happiness. It's like this... There's nothing like the uncomfortable emotion of negative stress, anxiety, sadness, anger, shame, guilt or disgust to get the head spinning. It's natural, the brain is trying to figure out how to balance us. So it jumps to the future thinking of worst case scenarios so we can be prepared, or it ruminates on all the negative facts of the past so we can use our history to mine for optimal decisions. At best, this auto-pilot mental looping keeps us stuck and at worst exacerbates the difficulty. In that moment, when we say, "It's like this," this moment is exactly like this, we're pausing to see the mental looping, the emotion, the physical sensation, the urge to engage in this destructive behavior. Neuroscience shows that when we note things it down-regulates the amygala or alarm center of the brain and brings activity back to the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the emotional regulator. So at that point the body starts calming down a bit, we're no longer in the throws of the mental and emotional looping and have widened the