One 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?
A family of four, with two young boys, walked into a Chinese restaurant. The family was sat at a table adjacent to a couple of older women who had already been eating their food. From time to time the father would catch the woman at the nearby table looking over at his family and shaking her head in what seemed like judgement. He was confused, what was she so disapproving of? This happened about two more times. Unnerved a bit, he noted this interaction to his wife. Before the food came he got up to bring his boys to the bathroom to wash their hands and as he did this she stared him down one more time and shook her head in what felt like disgust.
This father was me and this woman had broken through my mindful barrier and cued my fight or flight response.
I used all kinds of effort to stay present and mindful, but it was as if I was possessed and something inside of me was fighting to come out.
When you’re focused on any activity, whether it’s your email, listening to a friend or sitting in a formal meditation practice, your mind is bound to wander. In The Now Effect I introduce the phrase “See, Touch, Go” as a way to remember how to work with the wandering mind. When it wanders we “See” that it wandered, then we “Touch” or spend a moment with the thought, and “Gently Go” back to the initial intention. Recently a friend opened my eyes to how this phrase can be adapted to be a simple and practical way to strengthen a more compassionate brain.
I can’t wait to share it with you.
I’ve been spending a lot of time recently creating a new 28-Day Basics in Mindfulness Meditation Program that I’m hopeful will be supportive to many people in launching or deepening their mindfulness practice. As I completed the program I had a wonderful feeling of accomplishment only quickly to be followed by the thought, “Okay, now onto the other book you’re writing on Uncovering Happiness” and immediately my shoulders got tense. I feel so fortunate for the work I do because not too long after that some voices arose in my mind that saved the moment for me and ultimately are a great source of my own happiness.
The main voice that arose said, “Hold on a minute you really worked hard on that, is there a space to appreciate this and can you have joy for your own joy?” Here is some proof that I must’ve changed some neural architecture in there to make this awareness arise spontaneously.
What followed was a more conscious mindful joy practice with the intention of planting the seeds of my ability to feel joy for my own joy and extend that sentiment to people I care about and eventually to all people.
A “bellringer” is a short activity that some teachers put on the board in the beginning of a class so students have something to do while attendance is being taken. Recently, one teacher among a quietly growing group tried something radically different to start his class –a mindfulness practice. What did he notice? Student participation is up and class disruption is down. He also noticed that the quality of their writing was far better and students wanted to continue the practice.
This is completely in line with a growing number of anecdotes talking about the power of bringing mindfulness to kids, tweens, teens and older adolescents.
Well as you may know by now mindfulness has made the cover of Time Magazine. This means that mindfulness has arrived, right? When I first heard this I said to myself something I said to myself over a decade ago which was “this practice is going to reach the mainstream world, it something we sorely need right now.” But watching a short clip on MSNBC made me curious about whether it’s being conveyed in a way where people are going to truly get the benefit that the science of mindfulness promises.
Let me explain.
I always say if there’s anything we’re assured of in life besides death and taxes, it’s stress and pain. While that may seem like a doomsday statement, if you look at it again, it’s actually quite freeing. If you know stress and pain are inevitable, then you can learn how to be grateful for the good when it’s here and be graceful when the stress and pain arrives.
Here’s a short passage from Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind that gives voice to this.
“It is what it is, while it is. Nothing lasts forever. Difficulties will pass and so will the wonders; tune in to the preciousness of life.
Bring this awareness into the moments of your day, tuning in to what really matters.”
Life is so precious.
How can we get better and better at setting aside the trivial mind traps that keep us stuck and drag us down into states of anxiety and depression?
Smiling is something almost all of us could do a bit more often. Past science shows that smiling – especially the kind of smile that involves the muscles around the eyes – creates a specific type of brain activation that’s connected to being in a happy mood. More recent research shows that even adopting this kind of smile, known as a “Duchenne smile” leads to lower heart rate levels and quicker recovery from stressful activities. Resilience and positive brain activity are maybe good reasons to grin a bit more in our lives, but there’s even a better reason.
The following video will show you exactly what that is.
Over 10 years ago I had a realization that we walk through life often times unaware of all the sacred moments that are there. I was curious whether we could become more aware of these moments as they were happening and also were they possible to cultivate? After conducting a national research study I found that not only can we train ourselves to be more aware of them and we can also cultivate meaningful moments. Not only that it’s associated with stress reduction and increased well-being, but all the interviews pointed to a common theme of feeling more connected to life.
What is sacred in life is right in front of us and we often time don’t realize it until it’s passed. We’re “too busy” in our own heads to see it.
Now I’m going to share it with you.
Everyone has ups and downs in life, sometimes they’re more extreme than others. Today I am thrilled to bring you an interview with Toni Berhard, someone I deeply respect and a longtime practitioner and leader in mindfulness. She is author of her newest book How to Wake Up helping us navigate these ups and downs with greater ease and also the past award winning book How to Be Sick which speaks of how to live with greater peace with chronic illness. Toni was dean of students at the University of California Davis School of Law and the writings and practices in these books have been inspired by over 20 years of personal practice.
Today, Toni talks to us about why it’s so hard to be present to our lives, practices that Toni finds to be personally impactful, why we have to navigate joy, and some personal advice for the rest of us.
Elisha: You say that the key to peace and well-being is to be present for your life as it is. Why is that so hard to do?