Have you ever thought about what your thoughts really are?
Consider for a moment even as you’re reading this the voices and images that are naturally appearing in your mind as your brain processes this sentence.
Close your eyes for 10 seconds. Imagine you’re in a dark movie theatre and just watch these mental events forming and unforming. Some are voices questioning what you’re doing, others are telling you what you should pay attention to, or yet others are just a string of different images shifting and changing (You can also be guided through this practice).
Even after looking at them are hearing them in your mind right now, are you any closer to understanding what thoughts are?
The truth is not a single scientist can tell you for certain what a thought is, but somehow we become highly identified with them.
We say, “I am a teacher,” or “I am a good person” or “I am a failure” or “I make the best chocolate chip cookies” or “I am an addict” or “I am a depressed person” or “I am unworthy, unlovable and defective.” The stories go on and on.
From the time we are born we collect these stories to define who we are and what we can achieve in this life. When the thoughts are judgments, can we say for certainty that they’re true? The answer is almost always, no. But the thoughts lead to feelings or the reinforcement of feelings that were already there. Inevitably they feel true.
What it comes down to is we are not our thoughts, not even the ones that say we are.
How do I know this?
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.
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:
At times I’m a sucker for acronyms and when I find one where the name fits what it is trying to spell out I grab onto it. A few months ago I heard an acronym that knocked my socks off and spoke to the underlying secrets of healthy living and happiness. Dan Siegel, MD is a renowned neuropsychiatrist and author of many books, the latest being Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain where this incredibly relevant acronym is spelled out. In this book he explores what we know about the adolescent brain and how to navigate these critical years for optimal health and happiness for teens and parents.
Dan will be in San Diego on Saturday, February 8th delivering a talk to the public at the Bridging the Hearts and Mind of Youth Conference.
The brilliant acronym is ESSENCE and we can all take a lesson from it.
Since Jon Kabat-Zinn appeared on Bill Moyers in 1993, research on the applications of mindfulness has soared exponentially. If you’ve been following this blog you’re highly aware of that already. His Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program has splintered off into Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for depressive relapse, Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) for addiction, Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP), MB-EAT for eating disorders and many more.
After the research became clear, corporations starting coming out of the woodwork interested in the applications of mindfulness for stress, productivity and reducing healthcare costs. Every year now it seems that Google, Facebook, Intel, Twitter and many more take part in the Wisdom 2.0 conferences, curious about how to integrate this into their work environments. Emindful.com has a 12-week live online program that has clear evidence of reducing stress in the workplace, increasing productivity and reducing healthcare costs. Mindful Schools, CALM for Teens, among others are bringing it into the school systems and now Apps for the various Smartphones are abundant.
But you know something has hit mainstream when Hollywood takes notice. In a new film by Paul Harrison, appropriately titled “The Mindfulness Movie,” we see leaders come together such as Rick Hanson, Dan Siegel, Mark Williams, Dan Millman, Kristin Neff, Jeffrey Schwartz, and so many others (including myself) to weave together important mindful insights about what it means to us and where it is all going.
Here’s a short clip to see what I mean:
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.
Throughout the last number of years mindfulness, the practice of cultivating awareness, has gone mainstream into all kinds of sectors and ages of life. Researchers have a seemingly unending amount of data at this point to its efficacy for health and well-being. For many it’s a kind of feel-good aspirational practice to be connected to or identified with. However, the reality is, it’s completely useless unless it’s actually practiced in daily life.
We can all write and read blog after blog, book after book or go hear speaker after speaker, but until we actually implement this into our lives, it’s fairly useless. Not much changes unless we put something into practice.
Take gratitude for example.
It’s become such a cliché to say, “be grateful” that many people roll their eyes when they hear this. But when’s the last time those same people practiced a gratitude ritual in their
I’ve always been interested in the wisdom of our elders and often do a practice with students and clients when they’ve seemed to veer off the path of what truly matters in their lives. I ask them to project themselves forward many years from now looking back onto this very moment right now, what do they wish they would’ve done? Bronnie Ware is an Australian Nurse who spent many years working in palliative care caring for those who were dying. She eventually published a book called the The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
Regrets can be seen as something that’s good if they give us insight into what we can change today for the better. Here are the Top 5. Use them as north star to help guide your actions in the days that follow toward an even more fulfilling life. Although we can veer off the path, when we notice the star, we can always come back to it.
Top 5 Regrets of the Dying:
One of the secrets to wiring our brain toward happiness is in the simple understanding that what we practice and repeat starts to become more automatic. Call it a happiness or resiliency habit and it’s something that anyone can create. We all have thoughts and behaviors in our lives that lend themselves toward unhappiness, a neutral state, or happiness. While the brain defaults toward paying attention to negative stimuli to keep us safe, we are active participants in our health and well-being and can nurture a happier and more resilient brain.
Here’s a suggestion to start with that comes from the 365 Daily Now Moments:
“Knowing the way you think and where you place your energy allows you to step away from the various stories and mind traps that don’t serve you and enter the space of awareness where you can consider alternatives for creating a more flexible, healthier mind.”
~ The Now Effect
Cheerios recently came out with a commercial that has brought to light how our learned mental models about how things in life “should” can create powerful emotional reactions. A recent Cheerios commercial depicts a mixed race American family pouring some cheerios. While there were many positive comments, many of the comments online were so racist and extreme that they had to take off the comments section online.
Here’s the commercial: