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.
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.
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.
Recent I had an eye opening dream while I was asleep.
I was in a war torn region and superheroes existed (Keep in mind I have a couple younger kids).
I was injured somehow, but some of these superheroes were telling me I could fly.
As I tried to fly, I felt a little lift but kept falling.
A few people who were the enemy were chasing me and I was afraid. I ran and tried to fly, but couldn’t get that far (At this point you are welcome to psychoanalyze me).
The superheroes told me:
“You have to believe, believe you can fly and you can do it.”
At that point I decided to risk it, I leaned it a bit further and took a leap (literally and figuratively), believing that if I did this I would fly.
Lo’ and behold I was up in the air flying around. I couldn’t believe it.
As the dream continued I was able to help some people, but I would lose my belief from time to time and had trouble getting up in the air.
I remembered the words, “You have to believe, believe you can fly and you can do it.” I risked again, took the leap…
British author Aldous Huxley, most famous for his book Brave New World, spent his life digging into the world’s problems and through that experience inevitably became quite a spiritual man. I guess it rings of Rumi’s quote, “Don’t turn your gaze. Look toward the bandaged place, that’s where the light enters. Late in his life at one of his final public speeches he said something illuminating, “It’s a little embarrassing that after 45 years of research & study, the best advice I can give people is to be a little kinder to each other.”
What would life be like if we each practiced being 10% kinder each day?
10% kinder to ourselves.
10% kinder to one another.
Scientists John Gaspar and John McDonald from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia have recently discovered that we have an anti-distraction mode in our brain (See an overview here or the actual study here). This means that focusing on what matters moment-to-moment is not only about intentionally paying attention to something, like reading this blog post or listening to a friend, but also about suppressing all of the distractions in the background.
Why is this important to us and what can we do about it?
I began the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy blog on Psychcentral.com over 5 years ago now. Since then I’ve written hundreds of posts on the intersection of mindfulness and psychotherapy. Recently a new book has been published called Sitting Together: Essential Skills for Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy. While this is a wonderful and practical guide for therapists, someone who is not a therapist would also benefit from the guidance and exercises. Today I have the benefit of interviewing the authors of Sitting Together; Susan Pollak, MTS, Ed.D., clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and president of the Institute of Meditation and Psychotherapy, Thomas Pedulla, LICSW, faculty at the Institute of Meditation and Psychotherapy and Ronald Siegel, Psy.D., author of The Mindfulness Solution and also faculty at the Institute of Meditation and Psychotherapy.
Today Susan, Ron and Tom talk to us about introductory practices we can use when feeling overwhelmed, when Lovingkindness is best practiced, the critical importance of equanimity and when not to use mindfulness.
Elisha: What do you find to be the most effective introductory practice(s) for a client who is feeling overwhelmed with the stresses of life?
In our culture the notion of surrendering has a negative connotation to it. It means you’ve been defeated and that you’re powerless. But if you look to the world’s wisdom traditions you’ll find that the idea of surrendering is a courageous act that creates more insight and freedom from the unnecessary mental struggles of life.
The 13th century Sufi poet Rumi uses a wonderful metaphor to bring this to life:
Very little grows on jagged rock.
Be ground. Be crumbled,
so wildflowers will come up
where you are.
You’ve been stony for too many years.
Try something different.
Many of us harden into patterns of life that keep the struggle going. We can’t seem to let go of the self-judgment because our brain believes it’s there to keep us in line. We numb out to the world through eating, drinking, over-use of social media, among so many other ways.
Question: Why is our brain so afraid of surrendering our unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving?
We’ve all heard the saying that in life there are ups and down and there is the classic eastern saying that life is filled with 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. With this there’s the wisdom that all things come and go, but the brain has a funny way of amplifying the sorrows and minimizing the joys for good evolutionary reasons. Whenever the brain perceived something as “bad” it starts to worry about it. But often times there is no real utility to the worry, it only serves to dig us into a deeper hole and blinds us to the joys that might be waiting around the corner.
Here is one of the best cartoons I’ve found that says it like it is:
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.