It seems like every day interest in mindfulness is reaching new heights. All the major news networks have covered it and recently Sharon Salzberg was on the Katie Couric Show explaining how to achieve mindfulness. But the question on many people’s minds is; has mindfulness become another form of snake oil, claiming to cure everything under the sun from anxiety to sneezing? Last week a post broke out on the New York Times claiming there is a “Mindfulness Backlash” afoot where some people are questioning the science, seeing it packaged as a commodity and even warning against it.
It doesn’t appear that there is a single person on this planet who is not affected by depression in some way. You’ve either experienced it directly or you have a family member or friend who has been caught in the throws of it. One in 10 adults report depression and that doesn’t count the millions more that live in the shadows of shame and the millions more on top of that who simply live with some low grade life of apathy that doesn’t appear to lift. For this reason it has become one of the most important topics of our time.
That is why I am so happy to bring to you Jonathan Rottenberg, PhD, author of The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic, to give us some insight into why depression is so tenacious and how we can begin making small shifts toward greater health and well-being.
Elisha: Jonathan, what I find so interesting about The Depths is how you explain depression in evolutionary terms. Tell us more about the evolutionary manifestation of depression as we know it today.
Jonathan: Mood is a very ancient adaptation. It’s easy for most people to see that high moods could be useful in energizing behavior to pursue rewards, but, low moods are useful as well. Low moods focus attention on threats and obstacles and restrain behavior. When conditions are unfavorable, or when goals are unreachable, low moods pause behavior to ensure that an animal does not engage in fruitless efforts. This efficiency is important given that resources of every sort — time, energy, or money — are finite.
From my experience the gender that is overwhelmingly attracted to mindfulness is women, men aren’t quite as attracted to it. Why is this? In the early days, the man’s greatest responsibility was to protect the tribe. Our brains have been crafted over thousands and thousands of years to guard against vulnerability. The problem with mindfulness for men is that the practice of it asks us to look toward and open up to vulnerability because that is where the gold is. We are also asked to relate to it in very feminine language like with “warmth,” “tenderness,” and “gentleness.” However, the physical threats that men were guarding against in the past, in most cases, are no longer the threats of modern day. But the brain hasn’t figured this out yet and treats emotional vulnerability as a threat, keeping men from truly reaching our highest human potential.
But things are changing! There is an evolution afoot as more men are starting to see the benefits of integrating mindfulness into daily life.
If you’re a man or you know one, here are five reasons why I think men should give mindfulness a try.
The intention of being more present in our lives is continuing to grow and touch an increasing amount of people. I have friends who I never would have imagined practicing mindfulness who now sit in daily meditation. When I look at the Seattle Seahawks, think of our Army Vets or politicians sitting in the “Quiet Caucus” room, I’m filled with a whole lot of hope. When I see an increasing amount of kids and teens being taught mindfulness in their schools I see possibility. My wife and I ran a family retreat at Denim N’ Dirt Ranch and long before the deadline it was sold out showing me an increasing desire of parents wanting to bring this into their families. As people start to engage mindfulness I’ve noticed a few things they begin to do differently.
Here are 7 things people who practice mindfulness do differently:
Practice Being Curious
One of the essential attitudes of mindfulness is beginner’s mind. This is engaging something as if for the very first time. People who practice mindfulness bring this attitude with them throughout the day. When they take a shower, they might imagine it was the first time feeling the water, smelling the soap, or watching the steam as it shifts and changes before their eyes. Novelty is one of the fastest routes to creating new neural connections.
Even a meal or snack becomes a chance to pause and reflect on how this simple peace of food holds everything in it, the earth, wind, rain and sunshine. All the people from around the world who contributed in making the ingredients and putting them together into what it is in that moment. This simple snack becomes a source of gratitude and a moment of recognizing the interconnection of all things.
Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder.” Curiosity leads the mindful person to get back in touch with the wonders and possibilities of life.
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:
It’s no secret that millions and millions of people around the world struggle with their relationship to food. Today I’m excited to bring to you my friend and colleague Dr. Susan Albers, author of her newest book Eat Q: Unlock the Weight-Loss Power of Emotional Intelligence that can be a support to many of us especially with the upcoming holidays. Susan works at the internationally renowned Cleveland Clinic and you may also recognize her from the Dr. Oz TV show, read about her in Shape or Fitness Magazine or have one of her previous books.
Today she talks to us about why emotional intelligence can help us with our eating habits (she cleverly calls this EatQ), how it can help us lose weight and a tip we can start implementing today.
Elisha: Why is EatQ important to you?
There have been a lot of headlines lately about the 6-minute clip of comedian Louis C.K. telling Conan O’Brien why he doesn’t give his kids Smartphones. He thinks they’re toxic, “especially for kids.” He says kids can say “you’re fat” to another kid via text and then don’t see their reaction, they don’t get to build empathy. While this is a worthwhile point for every parent to consider at this time in our culture, his next point was even more impactful and it gets to the heart of what holds us back from experiencing more joy and happiness.
Here’s the clip:
It is my profound honor to bring to you one of the true leaders of our time in respect to the marriage of Eastern and Western Psychology, Jack Kornfield. He stands alongside an esteemed group of elders such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Sharon Salzberg, Pema Chodron, and Joseph Goldstein in bringing mindfulness to the west. Not only that, he also holds his PhD in clinical Psychology which makes him so relevant to the connection between mindfulness and psychotherapy.
He co-founded Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachussets and is a founding teacher of the well known retreat center Spirit Rock, in Woodacre, Ca. He has taught in Centers and University settings worldwide with teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama. He is also author of many widely popular books translated in over 20 languages, including The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, among others.
Today he talks with us about the connection between East and West psychology, his work with Dr. Dan Siegel, and how his own trauma in life has influenced his work with himself and others. He will be speaking with Dan Siegel at the LifeSpan Learning Conference on The Neuroscience of Well-Being, Mindfulness and Love October 5-6th at UCLA
Elisha: You are a well known as a leader in the continuing dialogue of Eastern and Western psychology and are very skillful in how you marry the two. With all of the suffering that many of our readers experience, how do you see each supporting the other and where do you see this dialogue heading in our culture?
When someone is training for a marathon or any regular exertion of physical exercise, any credible trainer would emphasize the importance of resting the body. If you don’t rest the body, the probability goes up for injury. Our brains run in exactly the same way. All day long most of us are doing some sort of mental gymnastics – problem solving, planning for the future, and putting out fires. Just like our bodies, if our mind doesn’t get proper rest (besides good sleep), we are likely to burnout with symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression.
Here are 7 tips to get in the habit of putting your brain to rest:
(Note: If you catch the judgment, I’ve heard of these before, check in to see when the last time you did them was. If it’s been a while, make a plan now).
Ever since mindfulness began spreading its wings in Western culture, there has been the fear that it would be stripped down, diluted and packaged for sale by greedy money-hoarding capitalists just wanting to make their bank accounts fatter. If this happened, inevitably it would just become a passing trend that the public would eventually grow weary of. The most cautionary piece about this was an article published on Huffington Post called Beyond McMindfulness. While the sentiment of commodifying mindfulness into a marketable technique is alive, and worth cautioning against, it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.