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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
As a Dad of 3 young boys I'm always interested in what the latest research says on how we should be introducing screens to our kids. Screens are a part of daily life now for almost everyone, they're not going away, nor should they. Most adults don't have a good handle on their screen use, so it's easy to wonder how can we even be a model to our kids? Even so, knowledge is power and so I want to share some interesting research with you that gives some answers to the question: Is it possible to overstimulate the developing brain? Dmitri Christakis is a pediatrician, parent and researcher who had looked into this quite a bit. He reminds us that watching screens not too long ago wasn't something we introduced to kids until later in life. At the moment, the average 5 year old is engaged with screens about 4 hours per day. Additionally, the content they are exposed to is far more fast paced then ever which keeps them engaged, but can have major negative impacts on their ability to pay attention. Compare past programs like Mr. Rogers with current cartoon programs like Pokemon or Powder Puff Girls. In a Tedx talk Christakis says, "Prolonged exposure to rapid change can pre-condition the mind to expect high levels of input which leads to inattention later on in life. " Here's the Tedx talk to watch (Warning: Images will not be rapidly changing, so if your brain has had prolonged exposure to screens you may not have the attention span to watch this - just kidding - sort of).
Let's start with the bottom line: Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has been shown to be equally as effective in preventing relapse as anti-depressant medication. This came from a study conducted at the University of Exeter where researchers randomly assigned 424 people into a group simply taking anti-depressant medication and another group going through an 8-week MBCT course. In this course participants learned mindfulness skills, how to relate to negative thoughts differently, and how to recognize signs of relapse and take action. The MBCT group were offered four follow-up sessions within the year and after two years many had tapered off the medication. The results found that the relapse was similar (44% for MBCT group and 47% for anti-depressant medication group). This doesn't mean that if you're on anti-depressant medication you should get off of it, but it does provide hope that we have the power within us to train our brain with natural anti-depressants. These are incredibly hopeful and encouraging results and it's been accepted as a primary intervention for depression in England and Wales. The Bad News MBCT is still hard to find for a lot of people. While an increasing amount of people are being trained in it, it's still largely unavailable to many of us. The Good News The Center for Mindful Living is now offering an 8-week live online MBCT course. The next course begins September 27th and the class is only open to 15 participants. More Good News: Building Natural Anti-Depressants.
The rise of mindfulness has been incredible. In part it seems like many of us are responding to a radical fast pace of living where we're in a constant state of doing, doing and doing some more and longing for something to help us create balance in our lives. The answer has been a variety of mindfulness programs that place a heavy emphasis of "being" to balance out the "doing." Mindfulness is a fundamental skill for anyone in this day and age and yet at the same time it can go too far. In the formal practices of mindfulness we do meditative exercises like breathing meditation, the body scan, or an open awareness practice. All of these focus on training the brain to "be with" experience. We need this training because the alternative is the brain's default to try and fix our stress by kicking into auto-pilot and constantly planning in the future or looking to the past to figure out the present. This juggle between the past and future only adds stress to our mind and body. Learning how to "be with" helps turn the volume down on all this thinking and can often bring us into a state of balance. Sometimes this state of balance teaches us important lessons, like in life all things come and go, otherwise known as the law of
We live in a time where there is simply too much to pay attention to. Our nervous systems are overloaded leading many people to disconnect and now we're seeing rising levels of anxiety and depression. In fact, there isn't a single person I know who hasn't experienced these in one form or another. But when you try to convey what anxiety depression really feel like, words never really do it justice. Katie Joy Crawford is a photographer who through her own experience has created 12 stunning photos she calls, "My Anxious Heart" depicting how anxiety and depression feel. Allow this to be a mindfulness practice, take a breath and look at each picture, notice what kinds of thoughts, emotions and sensations arise. Does the picture resonate with you in some way or at some point in your life? A picture is truly worth more than a thousand words. "depression is when you can’t feel at all. anxiety is when you feel too much. having both is a constant war within your own mind. having both means never winning."
A number of years ago I created a free email-based program called "Daily Now Moments." Every day people get an email into their inbox that is meant to inspire a moment of mindfulness or give some practical guidance in the direction of emotional freedom and happiness. One of the practices is called "The Freedom Practice" and I wanted to share it with you because it can be so useful in gaining freedom from styles of thinking that don't serve us and keep us stuck in stress, anxiety, depression and even our addictive behaviors Sometimes I call these styles of thinking "Mind Traps." Mind traps are styles like catastrophizing, blaming, exaggerating the negative and discounting the positive or just your most common negative thoughts.
The Freedom PracticeWhen you first notice a mind trap or common negative thought, first stop, take an intentional deep breath and from this more mindful space, move through these next four steps (Name, Feel, Release, Redirect):
Most people I've met, if not all, would try like to be happy. There are all kinds of books on happiness, courses on happiness, and documentaries on happiness. So why aren't we all just happier? If we're approaching happiness as some goal to achieve, we're almost always going to reinforce that something is wrong with us and fall short. If we see it as an unfolding process of learning, we will most likely be able to be more grateful for the good times and more graceful during the more difficult times. I can't reinforce enough the critical importance of seeing happiness practices as something to continue to play with and learn from, rather than using them to achieve some desired end state. You might be able to taste happiness if you see it as a performance, but only with a learning mindset will you find more mastery with it. Here are 5 Practices for Daily Happiness
Be PlayfulWe NEED playtime and we need it daily! One of the first scientists to embark in the field of neuroplasticity, Marion Diamond, showed how rats that have toys and playmates inevitably ran mazes more efficiently and also showed growth in an area of their brain (the cerebral cortex) involved with cognitive processing. Play enhances social bonds and social learning, key areas for generating happiness. How do we figure out what play means to us? This is going to mean different things to different people. What's playful to you, may not be playful to me. You may enjoy competitive sports, board games, or going out and doing something — anything. Making it prosocial with friends adds another level of engagement.
One of the primary pathways to an enduring happiness is facilitating a sense of connection. When we feel connected we feel balanced, when we feel balanced, we often feel happy. The problem is as we grow up in this world, we have to learn how to shield ourselves from vulnerability and so we build up walls or put on armor that make connection more difficult. One of the most powerful (and challenging) practices to do is look into another person's eyes for a prolonged period of time as it immediately makes us feel vulnerable. It may not matter whether it's a stranger or someone you've been in a partnership with for over 50 years (sometimes this makes it more difficult). But when we do it, it's fascinating what arises. Check out this short video from Soul Pancake to see some of the surprising results of people making connection:
Stress seems to be the underlying issue with many of our aversive conditions whether they're psychological or physical. My good friend Shamash Alidina, author of the international bestselling book Mindfulness For Dummies and his newest release The Mindful Way through Stress: The Proven 8-Week Path to Health, Happiness, and Well-Being, comes to us today to share the direction of mindfulness in our culture, how it impacts his life and a couple quick tips from his book to get us started. Elisha: Welcome Shamash! Shamash: Great to be here with you. Elisha: Mindfulness is enjoying quite a boon in the West, where do you see mindfulness currently in our culture and where is it going? Shamash: I think mindfulness is still very much in its infancy in our culture. The general public hears about it from time to time, but I don’t think it’s still fully accepted. But we’re certainly on the path towards that happening. The level of interest in mindfulness and it’s growth is exponential at the moment. As for the future, I don’t know! I have little doubt that in the next year, the research evidence will continue to
Let’s keep this simple. 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. Why? Because as a human race, we’re wired to survive, not be happy. BUT, 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