Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Year's Resolutions?

I've been trying to decide if I want to make New Year's resolutions this year.  There are a lot of benefits to doing this -- mostly that when you make a conscious committment to something I think it becomes more likely that you will at least make an effort to stick with it.  My problem has been trying to come up with personal goals for the next year.  I browsed some websites for ideas and found the top ten New Year's resolutions among people in the United States.  Here they are along with my thoughts about how they might (or might not) work for me:

1. Lose weight and/or get in better physical shape:  I'm pretty satisfied with my current weight and I exercise 3 to 4 times a week already.  I'm ok with that.

2. Stick to a budget: Ok, I admit that I could do a better job budgeting.  However, I'm also realistic enough to know that I look at a budget as a guideline and that it would be very difficult for me to go by an exact budget.  That being said, why make a resolution I know I can't fulfill?  Still, I might consider something like, "Save $200 a month," but I already try to do that anyway.

3. Debt reduction: I don't really have a lot of debt and I'm steadily paying on what I do have.

4. More quality time with family and friends: I think I do a pretty good job with this.  I visit my parents (and often my sisters and nieces are there too) once a week and talk to them more frequently.  Every couple of months my sisters and I get together for a "sister day."  I do Saturdays with one of my best girlfriends almost every week, and I talk to my best friend in Georgia at least once a week.

5. Find my soul mate: I don't think this is a valid goal because it's something a person doesn't have much control over.  A better goal might be, "Date more often" or "Meet two new people."  Plus I'm dating someone and I'm relativley satisfied with the relationship.

6. Quit smoking: I don't smoke.

7. Find a better job: That was my resolution for 2008 and I did it.  I like to stay in one place for a few years and I'm ok with where I am now.

8. Learn something new: This actually isn't a bad resolution.  I just have to decide what I might like to learn.

9. Volunteer/help others: I've ran into some problems finding volunteer work that's outside of normal working hours.  Also, I'm a therapist so I help others for a living.  One of the reasons I chose the profession is because I wanted to help others and also because I wanted to feel good about what I do every day. 

10. Get organized: I'm really not that disorganized.

I'm not saying my life is perfect -- far from it.  I think I'm just satisfied with the way it is.  I don't know if that's a good thing or if it's a cop out.  I like "learn something new" as a goal -- I've been thinking about taking an art class and have actually looked into it.  I wonder if "take an art class" is ok for a New Year's resolution.  I kind of thought New Year's resolutions needed to be major life changes.  Maybe I'll just keep it simple this year...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Epistemology

Relevant to the topics of spirituality and psychology is the concept of epistemology.  Epistemology deals with how a person knows that something is true, i.e., what evidence a person accepts as proof that a particular thing exists.

Some spiritual disciplines ascribe to the belief that truth is known through direct experience.  A Christian might believe in God because he has seen a person healed through prayer (although others might not except this person's healing as proof that God exists) or because he has felt the "holy spirit" move through him.  Buddhists believe that one can eventually experience his or her true essence through the continued practice of mindfulness meditation.  Whenever this practice is explained the person doing the explaining always cautions that the experience of one's true essence cannot be adequately described; one has to experience it directly in order to understand it.

Also prominent among spiritual disciplines is faith epistemology, i.e., "I believe in something; therefore, it is true."

Psychology, in its struggle to be accepted as a "real science" (as opposed to a "pseudo-science"), also looks to direct experience as proof that something exists.  However, the field of psychology will not except subjective experience; proof that something exists must be demonstrated objectively via testable hypotheses and observable results (that can be duplicated).  In short, psychology has moved towards relying on the scientific method to determine what is true.

In doing a bit of background research I found that epistemology is a very complex subject (philosophical in nature) with numerous types and subtypes.  What struck me was that none of the types and subtypes I read about seemed to be sufficient in and of themselves; it does not appear that any one method is the absolute and correct way for determining what is true.  There are different types of truth and many ways of knowing.  Truth cannot always be reduced to "either-or;" frequently we must think of it as being "both-and."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Psychology and Spirituality as Overlapping Disciplines

I've long been interested in the overlap between psychology and spirituality.  The similarities in the two fields are reflected in how readily the psychological community has embraced Buddhist practices such as mindfulness as legitimate means for improving mental health.  (I think the Buddhists were way ahead of us on that one -- they realized centuries ago that inner peace is something that is both spiritual and psychological in nature).

Even the meanings of the terms "spiritual" and "psychological" overlap.  "Spiritual" is a word with multiple meanings, both objective and subjective.  When a person describes himself as spiritual we usually have to ask him to clarify what he means by this, as the word tends to have different connotations for every individual person.  To one person spiritual might mean, "of, from, or pertaining to God."  In this case, when he describes himself as spiritual he is referring to his relationship with God or some other diety.  Some who call themselves spiritual speak to their relationship with nature.  In this instance they may be referring to the intangible "spirit" that is inherent in all things natural.  In consulting the dictionary I found that both of these meanings are correct.  I also found that spiritual can be defined as "of or relating to the mind or intellect."  This definition suggests that spiritual and mental are one and the same.

This is, in fact, very consistent with what the Buddhists believe.  They believe that consciousness is the essence of the universe and that we can experience our essence through mindful awareness (attention).  (I do realize this description is in no way a complete representation of the Buddhist belief system.  I'm just keeping it simple; a full description of Buddhist traditions is beyond the scope of this post).

What about psychology?  The dictionary defines psychological as "of, pertaining to, dealing with, or affecting the mind, especially as a function of awareness, feeling, or motivation."

So how do psychology and spirituality overlap?  At the very least we can say that both fields deal with the mind to some extent.  Both also deal with awareness, although perhaps not always in the same way.  It seems to me that both disciplines seek to answer the question "Who am I?"  and that they both seek to help people find happiness and inner peace.

I hope to write more on this topic but for now I think I've said enough:-)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Using both hands

I recently read a book by David Richo entitled, "The Five Things We Cannot Change and the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them."  In the book he suggests a spiritual practice in which we hold both hands out palms upward and imagine them holding "opposites."  For example, I feel fear, which I hold in one hand, and I go forward and do whatever it is I'm afraid to do, which I hold in the other.  I hold my desire for things to be a particular way in one hand and I hold the reality that things aren't the way I want them to be in the other hand.  I hold an unpleasant situation in one hand and acceptance of that situation in the other. 

I think this practice is one that promotes acceptance.  It discourages an "either/or" mentality (e.g., "Things must be this way or I simply can't tolerate it") and promotes a "both/and" mentality (e.g.., "I don't like the way things are and I accept that this is just the way it is right now.  What can I do in light of this reality?")  We create more suffering for ourselves by insisting that things be a certain way.  I've been doing this recently in my romantic relationship and it's been causing an overwhelming amount of stress.  Today, I'm holding out both hands...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Attention

I've been dating someone for about seven months.  He's a great person in so many ways.  Unfortunately, he's also a very busy person.  He's got a child and he's a graduate student trying to finish his thesis.  He's also a bit of an entrepeneur and is trying to start his own business.  This doesn't leave a lot of time for me.  For a while I was ok with this, or at least I tried to be.  I worked on tolerating the discomfort of uncertainty caused by not knowing exactly when I would see him again.  I worked on giving myself attention when I felt lonely instead of expecting to get it from him all the time.  I worked on accepting him as he is and learning to love him for him as opposed to loving him for how he could meet my needs. 

But lately I'm just not happy.  I have a hard time trusting my perception of the way things are though.  Maybe he's giving me enough attention and I'm trying to get him to fulfill a need that I should be meeting myself.  How do I know how much attention is "enough?"  Is it fair for me to ask for more than he's able to give?  Am I being too demanding?

I know that no one can really answer these questions for me.  It just helps me sometimes to get my thoughts out of my mind and onto paper. 

Sunday, December 6, 2009

First love




Do we ever again love like the first time we fell in love?  I think maybe some people do, but most of us never again love in a way that is so naive, so innocent.  The first time we fall in love we give ourselves wholeheartedly without inhibitions.  We've never had our hearts broken so we have no fear to hold us back.  Because we lack this fear we allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable.  Yes, first loves (like the loves that follow) are full of projections, expectations, and fantasies.  But they are pure.

After we've known the pain of heartache we never love the same way again.  We hold a part of ourselves back because we are afraid to open ourselves up again to the possibility of being hurt.  We come to each new relationship with our emotional baggage, making it harder and harder to attain the intimacy we desire.

I've noticed that as I get older my romantic relationships seem to become more complicated.  I certainly don't allow myself to get swept away by my emotions the way I used to.  I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing but often I find myself holding things in because of the fear I talked about earlier.  It's sad because one of the things I want most in a relationship is to be able to openly share my thoughts and feelings and to have them validated and understood. 

And of course it's not just my emotional baggage making things complicated.  I've been in relationships with men who have known the pain of divorce, sometimes more than once.  They've had the experience of embarking on a lifelong journey with someone they loved only to have the journey cut short.  They've felt the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations and shattered dreams.  They've been betrayed and are afraid to trust.  They've vowed not to make the same mistakes they made in the past.  But sometimes the "mistakes" weren't mistakes.  Sometimes the only "mistake" they made was allowing themselves to love. 

These are just reflections -- I don't have any answers or suggestions.  I do, however, have hope that I can eventually (and perhaps gradually) sort through my emotional baggage and go on to establish a healthy relationship with another person who is able (and willing) to do the same.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thoughts on creativity

I recently wrote a post on creative block.  One of my readers commented that he really enjoyed my thoughts on creativity and hoped I would write more about it.  I've done a little more reading on the subject and decided to share some of my thoughts.

There are a multitude of theories and perspectives on creativity and the creative process.  There are books, websites, lectures, podcasts, and DVD's dedicated to teaching others how to be more creative.  Creativity is obviously a quality our society values.  So how does a person jumpstart the creative process?

One website, creativityforlife.com, suggests that being present can make a person more creative.  When a person is fully present in each moment he becomes more aware of the world around him.  The more aware a person is the more he or she can take in.  When a person takes more in more possible sources of inspiration become available.

Interaction with other people also stimulates creativity.  Talking to others exposes us to new ideas; being with others exposes us to new experiences.  Both of these are potential sources of creative inspiration.

Ironically, creativity is not something that can be "created;" creativity is inspired.  A person can do things to make himself more open to the creative process but creativity cannot be forced.  It is something that arises spontaneously.  I find it interesting that improvesation is a technique used to encourage creativity.  I think this is very apt.  It seems like the best way to spark creativity is to NOT think and just see what emerges.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Disappointment as a process

I've been working through the exercises in a workbook by Cheri Huber called, "How You Do Anything is How You Do Everything."  (This is, by the way, an absolutely wonderful workbook that really stimulates self-reflection in a way that is quite different from anything else I've ever seen).  One of the exercises asks, "How do you get disappointed?"  It goes on to ask you to try to identify the process of disappointment.  Here's what I wrote:

The Process of Disappointment:

1. Pre-Existing Mental States:
Desire (ego mindset): Desire for a certain thing to happen

Attachment: Attachment to a specific outcome

Expectation: Expect a certain thing to happen/expect people to behave a certain way
(Assumption = people should always behave in a kind and respectful manner)

2. Event Occurs:
Outcome is not what is desired or expected

3. Ego Injury:
Disappointment
Sadness
Hurt
Betrayal
Anger
Frustration

Thoughts contributing to disappointment/ego injury:
*He should...[do a certain thing or know better than to do something, etc.]
*She shouldn't...[act that way, treat me that way, etc.]
*He/she did this to me on purpose.
*Why me?  [In life, everyone experiences pain and bad things happen to everyone.  Why would one person be exempt from this?  The real question is "Why not me?"]
*I should've known better.  It's my fault.
*This isn't fair.
*This shouldn't be happening to me.
*I won't let this happent to me again.  [This triggers defensiveness].

Here's the thing.  People don't always behave how we think they should.  Despite our best efforts things don't always turn out as planned.  Bad things happen to everyone -- no one is exempt from this.  It is natural to feel disappointment (or any other emotion).  We do not, however, have to get stuck there.  The thoughts listed above are unhelpful and inaccurate perceptions of reality.  We can begin to recognize the thoughts, assumptions, and/or beliefs we have about ourselves, about other people, and about the world that contribute to our suffering.  Then we can ask ourselves what it takes for us to let these go.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Creative block

I haven't posted a new blog entry in over a week.  It seems like it's been forever.  I feel guilty about this, which makes me think that perhaps I'm putting too much pressure on myself.  After all, isn't blogging supposed to be a hobby -- something you do for fun?  Why, then, would I feel guilty about not doing it for a week?

The truth is I've been going through a sort of "creative block."  (Writers call this "writer's block" but I don't really consider myself to be a "writer" so I'm calling it creative block).  I was a bit curious about why this happens so I decided to spend a few minutes seeing what the internet has to say on the subject.  One website, voodoochilli.net, describes creative block as "running low on the fuel that fires us to art."  That led me to wonder what exactly IS the fuel that fires us to art.  I personally believe that for many people this fuel is EMOTION.

Another website, onwired.com, also talks about creativity needing fuel.  It suggests that a good mood is great fuel for creativity.  This seems to be consistent with my theory that emotion is the fuel that drives creativity.

Wikipedia, the expert on all things great and small, states that depression can cause creative block.  I found this interesting because it suggests that not only does emotion FUEL creativity it can also STAND IN THE WAY of creativity. 

Personally, I think depression is the most likely culprit for my recent lack of creativity.  There have been several times in the past week where I've thought about sitting down and composing something for my blog but then decided I just didn't feel like it.  Fortunately, my mood seems to be improving enough to get my creative juices flowing again.

There are a couple of lessons I've taken away from this experience.  1. Take a few days off if necessary and 2. Don't beat yourself up about it.  Everyone needs a break sometimes.  3. Don't be afraid to push yourself to do things you "don't feel like" doing.  If you wait until you feel like doing something you might never get it done.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Faith

Sometimes I feel and connect deeply with the belief that I can be happy no matter what is going on in my life externally.  During these times I am at peace.  I find joy in little things.  I am hopeful about the future.  I do not get upset when something stressful or unexpected takes place.  I accept reality as it is and I am confident in my ability to handle what happens.  These are good times, especially because I have suffered from periods of depression since adolescence and for years I longed to feel at peace with myself and the world.

Unfortunately, mood disorders appear on every branch of my family tree.  Even for those who were never formally diagnosed with a mood disorder there are antecdotal stories about each person's life that suggest some sort of disturbance of mood.  I have come to accept that I inherited a genetic predisposition to depression.  I have also accepted that there will most likely be times throughout my life when depression threatens to rear its ugly head.

So sometimes I feel and connect deeply with the belief that I can be happy no matter what happens in my life.  These are good times.  There are also times when I neither feel nor connect with this belief.  These times are difficult.  Sometimes I feel distressed.  Sometimes I feel empty.  Often I don't feel like doing anything at all.  These are times when faith becomes important.

Faith means believing in something when you have no proof of its existence.  For me, it means believing that I can be happy no matter what even when I don't feel that way.  It means knowing that my life has a purpose even when I can't remember what it is.  It means trusting that bad feelings pass and that things always get better. 

Faith is how I deal with sadness.  It's how I get through bad days.  I shared this because I think sometimes we all need a reminder that hard times, like everything else in life, don't last forever.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Compassion

As a helping professional I talk a lot about compassion and I place a lot of value on it.  I decided to explore what exactly is meant by compassion. 

Compassion is first (but not only) a feeling.  It is an emotional experience.  When you feel compassion for someone you feel pain, sorrow, and sadness because that person is suffering.  You imagine how that person feels and you try to put yourself in that person's shoes.  You empathize with that person.

Compassion also requires action.  To be compassionate one must not only feel compassion but must also EXPRESS sorrow and sympathy to the person who is suffering.

Finally, compassion involves a desire to alleviate the other person's suffering.  Along with that desire comes a willingness to take some action to help alleviate the person's suffering if it is possible to do so.  If there is nothing that can be done to help the person change his or her situation then the compassionate thing to do is to simply be with the person and to let the person know you care.

Compassion is not a passive state and it goes beyond just a feeling.  Compassion is something you practice by taking action to alleviate the suffering of others.  When we say we are compassionate we must ask ourselves -- are we doing that?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Being absent




There's a lot to be said for being in and attending to the present moment.  It enables you to experience life and to live fully.  NOT being present often causes us to miss out on experiences or to not completely enjoy them because our minds are somewhere else instead of taking in all that is happening in the moment.

I wonder, though, if there's a place for NOT being present.  Sometimes I enjoy fantasizing about things that will probably never take place outside of the confines of my mind.  I often relish remembering the details of a particularly wonderful experience.  (Although I would have had to be fully present during the experience to notice the details I later wish to recall).

Sometimes I don't feel like being present.  Sometimes it's nice to just let my mind wander where it will.  I wonder if there's anything wrong with that.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Look for similarities

I found something I wrote in my journal a couple of weeks ago and I wasn't sure if I'd posted it on my blog or not.  I went back to look through my posts and didn't see it but I could've missed it.  I'm going to post it now -- I apologize if it's something I posted before.

One of the ways the ego defines itself is by differentiating "self" from "other."  Probably many of us tend to notice the ways other people are NOT like us.  A good strategy to start letting go of the ego is to start noticing the ways that we are SIMILAR to others.  Noticing the similarities between yourself and other people promotes compassion - if that person is like me then he or she must experience the same feelings that I experience.  When you see someone get upset stop for a moment and remember a time when you felt that way.  If you encounter someone who is going through a difficult time try to imagine what you might feel if you were in a similar situation.  Putting yourself in another person's shoes -- understanding how that person feels -- is called empathy.  Empathy is one of the core components of compassion.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Still confused...

If things could be the way I wanted them in a relationship I'd want to be with someone I could talk to.  I'd want to be with someone who cares how I feel and what I think and who asks me to share my thoughts and feelings with him.  I'd want to be with someone who wants to spend time with me, someone who  makes me a priority in his life.

I struggle with whether I'm selling myself short because I'm not getting these things or if I'm being patient with my current relationship and letting things unfold.  Am I learning to be satisifed with the way things are or am I depriving myself of opportunities to have what I want?  How long do I let things unfold?  How long do I stick around to see if the relationship will develop into something more serious?  Maybe I'm fooling myself -- but how do I know?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Control




Tonight I invited my little sister to go out for a couple of drinks with me.  (Of course I say "little" even though she's 23 years old).  She asked her boyfriend if she could go and he got angry.  She told me it was better for her to stay home and keep the peace between them.

I almost got annoyed.  First, she had to ask her boyfriend for permission to go somewhere.  Second, he got mad because she wanted to go have a drink with her sister.  Why would he get mad about that?  Why is she letting another person control her?  She's better than that!!!


I ALMOST got annoyed but I stopped myself.  The control thing is MY issue.  If there's any one reason I'm 27 years old and have never been married or even engaged it's because I'm afraid of committing myself to a relationship only to have that person control my life.  When I was 19 I was in an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship for three years.  Towards the end of the relationship there were a few incidents where he became physically abusive.  Over the course of that relationship I gradually cut off friendships because my boyfriend at the time always got mad if I wanted to do anything with my friends.  He constantly accused me of cheating so I did everything I could to avoid interacting with guys so as not to make him suspicious.  The relationship was so toxic and yet I was completely caught up in it.  After three years I finally ended the relationship.  I vowed to NEVER let anyone control me like that again.

I realized that the appropriate response to the situation with my sister was not to get annoyed but to be compassionate.  If anything, I can understand the feeling of wanting to keep the peace in a relationship at all costs.  It's not what I wish for my sister but she's also old enough to make her own decisions.

I asked my sister if she wanted to make plans to go out next weekend.  That way she could give her boyfriend a week to get used to the idea.  She said ok.  I guess we'll see what happens.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Love means being happy for him


The special man in my life has an interview with the company of his dreams next week.  He was so excited when he told me and I was genuinely excited for him.  I offered to help him prepare for the interview and have been scouring the internet to find questions this particular company typically asks its interviewees.  I hope the interview goes well and I hope he gets the job.  I really do.  But it's hard for me.

The company has offices in twenty cities in the United States and in other locations across the world.  It does not, however, have a single office in Virgina where we both currently reside.  The closest office is a three and a half hour drive from here (and that's on a good day with no traffic).  The next closest location is a six hour drive and the closest after that is an eight hour drive.  The rest aren't within driving distance.

The point I'm trying to make is that if he gets this job he'll be moving away.  I don't know what that would mean for us -- we haven't talked about it.  Just thinking about it makes me very anxious. 

But loving him means loving him for who he is, not for how he makes me feel or for whatever needs he fulfills for me.  Loving him means not clinging to him at all costs.  Loving him means allowing him to pursue his dreams and desires.

Maybe we'll decide that I should go with him if he has to move.  Or maybe he won't want to make that commitment. 

Loving him means being willing to let him go if I have to.  It's just hard.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Security

Most of us spend a lot of time seeking security in life.  We strive for financial security, physical security, and emotional security.  When we are secure we feel comfortable.  We want to be secure because we believe it will make us happy.  But will it really?  Personally, I don't think so.  I think our search for security actually causes suffering and makes us unhappy.

What are we really seeking in our quest for security?  Well, I checked out the dictionary and found some interesting definitions for the words "secure" and "security."  Here are a few, accompanied by my analysis:

*A guarantee
There are no guarantees in life.  Life comes with a lot of uncertainty.  Thus, when we strive for security we are trying to obtain something that doesn't exist. 

*To guard from risk of loss
It is impossible to guard against all loss.  Loss is a part of life.  At some point in our lives we will all experience loss.  Yet we try to avoid it by seeking security.

*Stability, continuance without change; permanence
Real "stability" does not exist.  Things in life are constantly changing.  Nothing is permanent.  When we try to keep things as they are or to make them permanent by clinging to them we create a lot of anxiety and suffering for ourselves.

Most of us look for things in life to make us feel secure.  Security, however, is just an illusion.  That is why the "feeling" of security is transient.  Someone or something may give us a temporary feeling of security but when the illusion fades the reality will still be there: nothing is ever certain and nothing lasts forever. 

Perhaps we would be better served by learning to acknowledge and accept the uncertainty that is present in life and learning to tolerate the discomfort and anxiety that this causes.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Everyday mindfulness

I've read several books and articles on mindfulness.  I'm not really the type of person to jump right into things when I become interested in them.  Rather, I prefer to gather as much information as possible before getting my feet wet.  Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the best approach to mindfulness.  From what I've read, mindfulness is not something that can be adequately explained with words -- it has to be experienced in order to be understood.

Two books I've read recently -- "The Joy of Living" by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and "Mindfulness in Plain English" by Venerable H. Gunaratana Mahathera -- suggest dramatically different approaches to mindfulness.  "The Joy of Living" endorses integrating mindfulness into your life in any way possible.  Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche says that being mindful for periods of as little as 30 seconds is a worthwhile endeavor.  He iterates that a person does not have to spend long periods of time meditating in order to make mindfulness a part of his or her life.

In "Mindfulness in Plain English" Ven. H. Gunaratana Mahathera supports a more formal approach to mindfulness.  He states that there is only one correct way to practice mindfulness meditation and that this method must be used in order to experience the benefits of mindfulness.

I found this very discouraging, as the practice advocated involves meditating by focusing on the breath for a minimum of 20 minutes a day.  I just don't see myself doing that.  I strongly prefer Mingyur Rinpoche's less formal approach, as he suggests practices in which I am actually likely to engage.

I think mindfulness is helpful no matter how a person practices it.  Even brief moments of mindfulness are beneficial.  Anyone who has paused for 30 seconds to focus on their breath knows how calming and rejuvenating this can be.

I encourage people to adopt whatever kind of mindfulness practice works for them.  Mindfulness in any form is a practice that enriches one's life and enables a person to be more fully present in each moment.  After all, how you live each moment is how you live your life.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thoughts like leaves on a stream


I'm not sure if I like this drawing -- most of my artwork is mediocre at best -- but I like the concept behind it. One of the key concepts of mindfulness is mindfulness of thoughts.  Being mindful of one's thoughts means watching them go by without "chasing after them" or getting caught up in them.  It's simply observing your thoughts as they occur.  Various books and articles I've read on mindfulness suggest different techniques for doing this.  One technique is to imagine a parade marching by and see your thoughts written on placards or banners.  Another is to imagine your thoughts written on leaves as they float by on a flowing stream.  That, of course, is the premise of this picture.

"Picture yourself as you are in a relationship" - an illustration


Sunday, October 25, 2009

"The Unsatisfactory Nature of All Existence"


I'm almost finished reading, "Mindfulness in Plain English," a primer for mindfulness meditation written by Venerable H. Gunaratana Mahathera.  Towards the end of the book he writes,

"Through this intensive study of the negative aspects of your existence, you become deeply acquainted with dukkha, the unsatisfactory nature of all existence.  You begin to perceive dukkha at all levels of our human life, from the obvious down to the most subtle."

Have I ever!  I've started to notice how I gravitate towards pleasant experiences and how I tend to get caught up in negative emotions and have difficulty just sitting with them and exploring them with mindful curiosity.  I've become increasingly alert and aware during enjoyable activities and when I find my mind slipping away from the present moment I catch myself and remind myself to be present.  The thing is I'm catching myself doing this A LOT -- I'm definitely a thinker and my mind seems to always try to slip away from the present moment.  I get frustrated with repeatedly having to remind myself to fully experience whatever I'm doing so that I can fully ENJOY it.  I"m wondering if this is causing me to enjoy things less than I did before.

The thing is, though, I'm not sure how much I was really enjoying things before.  Maybe I'm really experiencing the fullness of life for the first time and am just frustrated with the fact that my mind keeps pulling me away from it.

I am, however, fairly confident that this is just a passing phase on my journey...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Are we more productive when we're suffering?

Have you ever noticed that when you're happy and content you are less motivated to create things?  Maybe it's just me.  I know that I've been the least productive during those periods in my life when I'm content with myself and with the world.  My most productive periods have occurred when I was in a lot of emotional pain.  I wrote or painted or drew and the creative release eased my suffering.  Even now I find I have more to say when something is bothering me -- I guess writing it down helps to sort it out. 

And think about some of the great writers, artists, musicians, and actors throughout history.  Many of them were depressed and/or on drugs.  Some died of overdoses.  Some committed suicide. 

It makes me wonder if emotional pain doesn't serve some great purpose for humankind. 

As for me, I'm making an effort to do more when I feel just fine.  I'm not sure that the quality of my work will be as good as those times when I'm creating to release negative emotional energy but I think it's important for me to try...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Perception

In my last post, "Thoughts Aren't Reality" I talked about how helpful it is to remember that each person's experience of reality is shaped by his or her perceptions.  My life and particularly my relationships significantly improved once I stopped accepting my interpretations of events as absolute truth.  I also teach my patients to do this; in fact, it is often one of the core methods of change I use throughout the therapeutic process. 

I've found it difficult, however, to not be able to trust my perceptions.  I wonder if there is an objective reality that exists somewhere outside of me or if everyone's reality is different.  If nothing is "real" -- if reality is just a product of each individual's mind -- then how do I know what to act on and what to let go?  Is this where I try to observe my perceptions and the feelings they generate mindfully and wait for the answer to arise?  Is that how I would go about improving my intuition?  In some ways I feel frozen -- not sure if my perception of certain events are accurate (or if there is such a thing as an accurate perception) and so not sure if I should act on them. 

It's very confusing and unfortunately I don't have the answers to these questions, at least not yet...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Present Moment - A Drawing


Thoughts aren't reality


I'm really beginning to understand how much perception influences a person's experience of reality.  When I say perception I mean a person's thoughts, feelings, interpretations, beliefs, assumptions, past experiences, etc. 

In his book "The Joy of Living" Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche points out one way our perceptions shape our reality:

"The more deeply we believe something is true the more likely it will become true in terms of our experience.  If we believe we are weak and incompetent no matter what the reality is we will experience ourselves as weak and incompetent."

What lesson can we take from this?  One thing I'm learning to do is to question my perceptions.  When I catch myself reacting to something someone else does I look for the assumption I've made that's caused this reaction.  Usually, I've taking something personally, assuming, "He did that because he doesn't care about me," or "She's so inconsiderate.  She doesn't even think about my feelings!"  Once I've identified the assumption I ask myself, "Is there another way of looking at the situation?"  Almost invariably there is.  For practically any given situation there is more than one way to look at it.  I might not know which of these ways of viewing the situation is "correct" but I recognize that my original interpretation of the event might be inaccurate.  This prevents me from acting (or overreacting) on impulse.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Brief thoughts on religion


I was raised in a Christian church.  I still consider myself a Christian.  And yet, I am also very fascinated by the ideas and concepts of Buddhism.  Some people might find themselves in a spiritual crisis over this but in many ways the more I learn about Buddhism the more consistent it seems with Christianity.  Many of Jesus' words and parables seem to carry the same messages that Buddha gave to his followers.

What fascinates me about Buddhism is its close relationship to psychology.  I'm a mental health therapist and I see one of my jobs as helping to alleviate others' suffering and helping others to find happiness.  One of the reasons I became interested in mental health to begin with is because I was looking for answers about how to alleviate my own suffering and how to find my own happiness.  Everything I've learned so far about Buddhism indicates that its purpose is to show people how to alleviate suffering and bring about happiness.  I feel like I've finally found the answers!!!

In the book Mindfulness in Plain English Venerable H. Gunaratana Mahathera speaks to the relationship between Buddhism and psychology:

"[Buddhism's] flavor is intensely clinical,  much more akin to what we would call psychology than to what we would usually call religion.  It is an ever-ongoing investigation of reality, a microscopic examination of the very process of perception.  Its intention is to pick apart the screen of lies and delusions through which we normally view the world, and thus to reveal the face of ultimate reality."

I really love that summary!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I Wonder

I wonder if "enlightened" people -- people who have transcended the ego -- ever get their feelings hurt.  I suppose not, as it is actually the ego that is wounded when one's feelings are hurt. 

I had a very up close and personal encounter with my ego over the weekend.  It was Friday night around 9:30 PM and I still hadn't received a phone call, a text, an instant message, or any other form of contact from the special person in my life.  Now usually I'm able to recognize when I'm overreacting or jumping to conclusions -- I remind myself that my thoughts are just thoughts, not facts.  For some reason, however, my ego got the best of me Friday night.  "He doesn't want to talk to me," I told myself.  "Something's going on.  He doesn't want to see me anymore." 

Before I could stop myself I sent him a rather sarcastic instant message: "Thanks for calling." 

"When did I call?" he responded.

"You didn't," I wrote back.

"Well I got a message from you saying thanks for calling," he replied.

"I was being sarcastic," I typed.

"Why?" he asked.

At that point I realized he had no idea why I was upset and I realized my ego had gotten the better of me. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Poem

It's Hard to Remember:

I find it hard to remember
That I've learned something different
That thoughts whisper like voices
But I don't have to listen.
That doubts cast their shadow
But I can see light
That I can just let it be --
I don't have to fight.

It's hard to remmeber because
It feels like forgetting
When I accept what is given
I feel like I'm letting
Life pass me by
While I just observe
Like I'm settling for less than
What I deserve.

It's hard to remember
Yet time after time
I turn towards acceptance
With my heart and my mind.
I'm open
I offer my heart with great fear
Every moment uncertain --
I'm present, I'm here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What Is versus What Is Not

At any given moment we can choose to focus on one of two things: what is or what is not. 

What is not includes the past, the future, how we want things to be, how we don't want things to be, etc.

When you choose to focus on what is not you engage in an internal struggle against what is -- the present moment.

The present moment is the only moment that exists.  The past and the future exist only as concepts in your  mind.

According to spiritual teacher Nirmala (www.endless-satsang.com) when people notice their tendency to struggle against what is they often try to change this habit and thus begin struggling with their struggle to accept what is.  They judge themselves and think that it is bad for them to have trouble accepting the present moment.

Nirmala suggests that it is enough to simply notice the struggle, for in doing that you are allowing yourself to experience what is happening in the present moment.  By simply noticing yourself struggle against what is you are, in fact, accepting what is.

The ego is what causes us to struggle against the present moment.  We transcend the ego by recognizing when it is at work.  Thus, by recognizing that we are having trouble accepting the present moment (and that the ego is responsible for this struggle) we are learning to transcend the ego and to connect with our true nature.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Letting Go and Being Present

I have wondered on many occasions if I'm in the wrong career.  My first job after graduating from college four years ago was in a very toxic work environment.  After working there six months I concluded that I should've done something different with my life and decided to go back to school.  I applied and was accepted to the doctoral program in Biological and Developmental Psychology at Virginia Tech but ultimately decided not to go.  (It would take me forever to explain the reasons I chose not to go and it's really not relevant to the point I'm trying to make anyway).  I stayed in this toxic work environment for a total of three years in order to gain experience and to get licensed as an independent practitioner.

About a year and a half ago I started a new job .  When I started this job I was very excited -- surely I would discover that I'm in the right career field and that this is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life.  After all, THIS was my dream job -- to be an outpatient mental health therapist.  This is what I'd dreamed of doing since I was 15. 

Unfortunately, I just didn't like it as much as I thought I would.  I found myself hoping that patients wouldn't show up and counting the hours until I could go home.  I couldn't understand why I wasn't enjoying my work.  I wanted to help people -- what was the problem?

Recently I've had a sort of epiphany.  I realize that I've been too focused on helping people - I put a lot of pressure on myself and feel bad if my patients don't make progress.  I worry so much about whether I'm being helpful that it becomes unpleasant for me and I just want it to be over.  I find myself not liking the patients who have problems I'm not adept at treating.  The patients I like best are those with problems I have solutions for.   

A couple of weeks ago I decided to try something different.  Instead of worrying about how to help my patients I focused on just being present with them.  The experience has been a positive one.  I've found that the hours go by quickly and that I enjoy listening to what my patients have to say.  I've also found that I'm often able to respond spontaneously with appropriate feedback.  I'm amazed that I actually know what to do and what to say without having to plan it out.  I think over time I might even learn to trust that I have what it takes to be helpful and that I don't have to try so hard.

I wanted to share this because I think the "solution" to my problem is probably the solution to a lot of other problems as well.  For anyone who finds themselves not enjoying something as much as they thought they would I think the answer is this: stop thinking about it and just be present. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Awake -- A Drawing




Here's some more of my mediocre artwork:-)

Thank You!

I initially created this blog at the advice of a friend who thought it would be good for me to share my ideas with other people.  He told me that he started a blog during a very difficult period in his life and that it was very helpful for him.  One comment he made in particular stood out in my mind: "It's like I had people rooting for me."  Now I know how he feels.

I want to thank everyone who commented on my post, "I Still Haven't Said I Love You."  After reading your comments I really did feel like I had people rooting for me.  It was a great feeling!  I'm going to take your advice -- I'm going to tell the special person in my life that I love him.  Now that I've made the decision it's just a matter of working up the courage and finding the "right" moment.  Again, thank you for your feedback!!!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Acceptance and Suffering

Suffering is caused by refusing to accept the reality of the present moment.  Suffering is greatly reduced (or even eliminated) by accepting the reality of a situation instead of engaging in an internal struggle against it. 

I recently read an article entitled "Stages of Acceptance" found at http://www.ultimatehealthliving.com/.  The article talks about how to go about accepting what is in the present moment and suggests the following three stage process:

1. Be Present: Allow yourself to experience whatever feelings you are having about the situation without judging them as good or bad.  Tune into your body and to where in your body you are experiencing your emotions.  (e.g., tension in your chest, emptiness in your stomach, tightness of muscles in arms or legs, etc.)

2. Conscious Doing: Identify what needs to be done and accept that this is what you need to do.  Don't spend your time thinking, "Why do I have to do this?  I don't want to do this.  I shouldn't have to do this."  These types of thoughts cause suffering.

3. Reflection: After the event is over spend some time reflecting on your experience.  Meditate or journal about your experience.  Is there any lesson you can take from it?  Were you able to work through your feelings about the situation?  If not, these unresolved negative emotions are likely to resurface during future difficult situations.  When we deal with our negative emotions as they occur we don't carry them with us into future situations.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

I Still Haven't Said I Love You

A while back I wrote in one of my posts about whether or not I should say "I love you" to the special person in my life.  At the time I decided I shouldn't because it was obvious to me that the primary reason I wanted to tell him I loved him was because I wanted him to love me too.  I've continued to think about it -- whether I should say it or keep it to myself, whether my feelings really constitute love or if they're more indicative of attachment. 

I believe that I'm becoming less attached to him.  When we're together I spend more time noticing things about him and paying attention to what he says, what he does, and who he is as opposed to focusing on how he makes me feel.  I'm making a real effort to see and know him as a person. 

Despite this, I don't think I'll ever stop wanting him to love me.  I don't think I can say I love you and not feel hurt if he doesn't say it back.  I would love to believe I have it within me to be that selfless -- to love without expecting anything in return -- but I don't know if I can do it. 

I don't know so I just keep my feelings to myself, at least for now...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Ego and Attachment

I think a lot about attachment and just wanted to share my thoughts. 

Attachment is always generated by need for one of the five A's (acceptance, appreciation, affection, attention, or allowing). 

When we are attached to something we believe that we need it in order to be happy.  We think our happiness depends on it so we fear losing it (because we think we will no longer be happy if we lose it).

The ego looks for things to identify with (i.e., to become attached to).  Desire for physical comfort, emotional comfort, financial security, etc. can never be fulfilled.  Once you have the object of your deisre you will crave more and more of it.  Once you obtain it you often have trouble enjoying it because you begin to worry about losing it.  In this way, desire produces attachment.

What we don't realize is that we don't need anyone or anything in order to be happy.  All you need to be happy is within you.  It is futile to seek happiness from external sources -- external happiness is temporary.

To overcome attachement focus on giving to others what it is you desire.  If you desire affection be affectionate towards others.  If you desire attention give others your undivided attention.  If you desire acceptance give to others your unconditional, nonjudgmental acceptance.  If you want appreciation then show your appreciation to others.  If you want allowing then allow others to pursue their dreams without passing judgment on them. 

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mindfulness and Love

I just read an article by Polly Young-Eisendrath entitled "The Training of Love."  I found the article on Integral Options Cafe, a blog dedicated to discussing "all things realted to a Buddhist, integral worldview."  The blog can be found at http://integral-options.blogspot.com/

The article discusses the Buddhist perspective of love.  I'm particularly interested in this topic because I've had such poor luck in love in the past and I'm hoping that by trying something different I will get a different outcome -- I'm hoping this but, of course, am trying to remain essentially non-attached to the outcome of my endeavors:-)  Anyway, here are some of the ideas from the article that I found helpful:

*To love means to be willing to get hurt.

*Love requires knowing the other person -- seeing him (or her) for who he is  (including flaws) and loving him for these reasons.  Love is NOT loving a person for how he or she makes you feel -- that is attachment, which is loving someone because of how that person can fulfill your needs.

*All things are impermanent.  When you love someone you do so with the knowledge that all people get ill and all people die.  Love requires a committment to loving someone while these things are happening.

*To idealize is to ignore the ups and downs of life that inevitably occur.  When you idealize someone you think that by being with this person you can escape suffering -- no one can escape the ups and downs of life.

*There are good feelings and bad feelings -- everyone experiences them and no one is exmpt.  Acceptance is learning to experience all feelings equally and without judgment.  Love requires acceptance.

*You never "arrive" where you want to be in life.  When you reach a high point in life you might think, "I've finally arrived.  I'm where I want to be.  I have what I want to have.  I've achieved what I wanted to achieve.  I can be happy now."  Things will inevitably change, however, because nothing is permanent.  In life there will be highs and there will be lows.

*Acceptance allows you to maintain your balance through the ups and downs of life.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Three Modalities of Awakened Doing: Acceptance, Enjoyment, and Enthusiasm

I am (FINALLY) nearing the end of Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth."  One of the book's final chapters talks about The Three Modalities of Conscious (or "Awakened") Doing.  Tolle describes these as the "three ways in which consciousness can flow into what you do...[ways]...in which you can align your life with the creative power of the universe."  The three modalities are acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm.  Whenever you do something, according to Tolle, if you do not bring to the task one of these three things you are creating suffering for yourself and/or for other people.

Reading this reminded me of an example from my own experiences, a time when accepting a situation brought about enjoyment.  I was at an all-day festival with my friend.  We'd been there for about eight hours and I was exhausted.  I really wanted to go home.  Unfortunately, I'd ridden to the festival with my friend and he wanted to stay.  Initially I was irriatated.  I was cold and tired and my feet hurt.  I pulled one of our lawn chairs to the back of the crowd and sulked.  "I hope he's ready to go soon," I thought to myself. 

At some point it occurred to me that I would be better off if I simply accepted the fact that I was going to be at the festival until it ended instead of sitting there sulking and wishing I could leave.  Once I made the decision to accept the situation as it was (staying at the festival even though I was tired and cold and my feet hurt) my entire attitude changed.  I folded up the lawn chair and went back into the crowd where I found my friend and his brother dancing and having a good time.  My friend pulled me over and started dancing with me.  I swayed to the music and watched the performers on stage.  I ended up enjoying myself immensely. 

If I hadn't made the decision to accept that I was going to have to stay at the festival one of two things would have probably happened: either I would have spent the rest of my time there sitting and sulking or I would have eventually found my friend and insisted that we leave, causing suffering for him by bringing his good time to a premature end.  Instead, I was able to forget about my sore feet and join in on the fun.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Five A's - Affection

I've talked a lot in previous posts about the "5 A's," the needs all of us have and that most of us try to get met in the context of our interpersonal relationships (particularly intimate relationships).  The 5 A's are attention, affection, appreciation, acceptance, and allowing (being allowed to pursue your innermost wants and desires).  The 5 A's are a concept introduced by David Richo, author of "How to be an Adult in Relationships."  Richo asserts that other people can  fulfill our needs only 25% of the time (in other words, we can only expect other people to give us 25% of the attention, affection, appreciation, acceptance, and allowing we need) -- ideally, each person is responsible for fulfilling his or her own needs the remaining 75% of the time.  If we are unable to do this we find ourselves placing unrealistic demands on others to meet our needs and becoming angry, upset, or disappointed when they are unable to do so. 

In a recent discussion with two close friends one friend asked me how a person would go about giving him or herself affection.  I was stumped.  How DO you give yourself affection?  In seeking to answer this question I first consulted a dictionary to obtain an adequate definition for the term.  I wasn't satisfied with the dictionary's definition and so went to the thesaurus.  I was able to generate a list of synonyms for affection.  This, in turn, enabled me to identify different ways that affection can be expressed.  What follows is a list of synonyms for affection, each of which is accompanied by a suggestion for giving it to oneself.

How to Give Yourself Affection:

1. Fondness: To give yourself affection, make a list of things you like about yourself.

2. Passion: Do an activity you're passionate about.

3. Enjoy, savor: Get a massage, a manicure, or a pedicure and enjoy and savor how good it feels.

4. Savor: Minfdully eat your favorite food.  Notice the texture, the taste, the color, etc.  Chew slowly and savor the experience.

5. Pleasure: Do one thing that gives you pleasure.

6. Rejoice: Plan a celebration in honor of something you've done successfully.  The celebration can be big (a party) or small (a private ritual).  It can be in honor of a major achievement or of something as small as successfully getting through the work week.

7. Triumph: Make a list of your accomplishments.

Feel free to add your own suggestions!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Consciousness

I am not conscious -- I am consciousness itself.  What an interesting concept!  It takes some getting used to. 

Friday, September 25, 2009

A great practice

I just read something great on this website -- http://jeremytaylor.com/ -- and thought I would share it.  One of Dr. Taylor's articles talks about projection.  In summary, he states that whenever you encounter a situation in the world that touches or moves you in any way (positively or negatively) it is a projection -- if you didn't have the emotional structure in your own psyche that corresponds to the situation in the world then you wouldn't even notice it.  It is because you already have it within you that it catches your attention.

He suggests a way to re-own one's projections.  Whenever you encounter something that touches or moves you in any way you should stop and say to yourself, "I am that too." 

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Brief thoughts

Just a couple of thoughts today -- When I say that something makes me happy does that mean that I need that thing in order to be happy?  Is it more appropriate to say that something "brings me happiness?"  Is the difference between the two just a matter of semantics?  And if something makes me happy then wouldn't my automatic response be to want to keep that thing and to be afraid to lose it?  I know when you are afraid to lose something it means that you are attached to it.  So when something makes me happy do I automatically become attached to it?  If so, then that leads me to wonder -- is it wrong for something to make me happy?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Being present

I'm feeling pretty anxious today -- I've got a lot of stuff going on in my life.  I'm trying not to get caught up in my thoughts about all these stressors (I am not my thoughts -- I am the one who is aware of my thoughts) but I'm having a hard time.  It's ok -- I'm not judging myself for it.  It simply is. 

I have a patient coming in for an appointment in about 30 minutes.  My challenge for today is to set aside my problems (and my thoughts about my problems) so that I can be fully present for my patients.  This is one of the most difficult things for me (and probably for many helping professionals). 

In this moment, I am aware of my anxiety.  I am aware of my thoughts about what is going on in my life.  In this moment, I am fully present with my thoughts and my emotions.  I only hope that in the next moment -- the moments I share with my patient -- I can be as present as I am right now.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Awareness of the ego at work - Defensiveness as an ego mindset

The other day my special someone and I were talking about our past relationships.  He said that one relationship in particular was the best he'd ever had and that he probably will never have a relationship like that again.  I immediately became defensive and started trying to find something wrong with this girl he once loved so much.  I felt inferior and tried to make myself feel better by pointing out her flaws.  That was my ego at work. 

Whenever a person feels inferior (or superior) to another person he or she can be sure that his or her ego is at work.  The ego strengthens itself by distinguishing itself from the "other."  The ego has a need to be right and for the "other" to be wrong.  That's where defensiveness comes in.  When I tried to find something wrong with my special someone's ex my ego was trying to make itself right and his ex wrong. 

To overcome identification with the ego all we have to do is be aware of when it is at work.  The moment we do this we become more than our automatic thoughts and reactions; we become the one who is aware of these thoughts and reactions.  We cannot stop the ego from engaging in its mindsets; we can only be aware when it happens.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Remembering what I already know

It seems that the more I learn about mindfulness, acceptance, the ego, etc. the harder it is for me to remember what I already know.  Today I found myself experiencing a lot of anxiety about several things that have happened in my life seemingly all at the same time (when it rains it pours).  I was only briefly immersed in my thoughts and worries before remembering that I am not my thoughts -- I am the one who observes my thoughts.  So I stepped back and observed all of my worries nonjudgmentally.  "See," I thought to myself.  "There's no reason to be anxious.  You can get rid of your anxiety."  THEN I remembered that the whole purpose of mindfulness is to experience your feelings, not to push them away.  (Oops).  So I allowed myself to feel anxious.  I guess I almost got ahead of myself -- I was so focused on moving beyond my ego that I forgot to simply be in the present moment. 

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My thoughts on Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth"

I 've been reading "A New Earth" by Eckhart Tolle and taking notes as I read -- I do this a lot with books I think have important messages that I want to remember.  I usually put my notes in a journal and refer back to them when I find myself asking, "What did that book say about [whatever topic]?" 

Anyway, so far I've found a lot of useful information.  The one thing that has stood out the most for me is this: Not only must I be aware of when the ego is at work in me I must also be aware of when the ego is at work in others and not react with resentment, by taking it personally, or by becoming defensive.  These reactions are also from the ego -- it does no good to respond to ego with ego. 

This is something I need to work on.  I don't often take things personally but I'll admit that from time to time I catch myself thinking, "I can't believe she would say such a thing about me!" or "How could he do such a thing to me?"  The "to me" in each of these are evidence of the ego at work.  They are evidence that I am responding to the other person's ego with my own ego.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mindfulness Is...

Mindfulness Is:

Mirror thought: It reflects only what is presently happening exactly the way it is happening without biases (shambhala.com)

Nonjudgmental observation: The ability of the mind to observe without criticism (shambhala.com)

Intentional focused awareness: (dr.orlipeter.com)

The practice of being fully present and alive, body and mind united: (shambhalasun.com)

Awareness of perception: a nonjudgmental quality of mind that does not anticipate the future or reflect on the past; not thinking, not interpreting, not evaluating (contemplativemind.org)

Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

Awareness of the present moment with acceptance: (iahb.org)

Moment by moment awareness: Keeping one's consciousness alive to the present reality; keeping one's complete attention to the experience on a moment-to-moment basis; the nonjudgmental observation of the ongoing stream of internal and external stimul as they arise (Christopher Germer, Ph.D.)

The mind watching the mind: (mcmanweb.com)

Awareness of change: Observing the passing flow of experience; watching things as they are changing (shambhala.com)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Random pastel drawing


"Sunset"

The Ego

So I've just started reading "A New Earth" by Eckhart Tolle.  I have to admit that I was a bit wary at first (and maybe I still am).  I tend to steer clear of things that have been brought to the forefront of popular culture by a daytime television talk show (no offense whatsoever to Oprah -- she's great).  Still, a friend loaned me the book and I thought I'd give it a fair shot.  I'm only on page 8, reading the section entitled, "The purpose of this book."  I have to admit that I'm a little excited.  It says that if I continue reading I will learn about the main aspects of the ego and about how the ego operates.  By identifying how the ego works I will learn to recognize it instead of identifying with it.  This sounds very similar to  the concept of "ego mindset" introduced by David Richo.  For me, knowing how the ego operates has helped me to recognize when it's at work.  For example, when I'm afraid of losing something I know automatically that it's because I (my ego) am clinging to the thing I'm afraid of losing.  In other words, I know the ego is engaging in one of its mindsets and that I don't have to go along with it.  I can simply recognize that my ego is at work, observe it nonjudgmentally, and stay with whatever feelings I'm having at the moment.  If this book will help me learn more about how to do this then I'm truly looking forward to reading it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

True love versus attachment

It's extraordinarily difficult to give affection, attention, acceptance, appreciation, and allowing to another person without wanting or expecting anything in return.  The difference in giving these things without expecting to get them in return and giving these things with the expectation that the person will also give them to you is the difference between true love and artificial love.  True love requires you to love without expecting anything in return because you love the other person for who he or she is, not for how he or she can meet your needs. 

This is something I'm really struggling with.  It's easy for me to give affection, attention, acceptance, appreciation, and allowing to another person -- for me it comes quite naturally.  I tend to get angry, however, when the other person does not do the same for me.  The fact that I become upset about this suggests attachment -- If I didn't expect to get these things in return I wouldn't be disappointed when it doesn't happen. 

One thing that helps me is to view both myself and the other person with compassion.  First myself -- I give myself permission to be human.  Humans become attached.  Humans seek to get their needs fulfilled by other people.  It's ok for me to be human.  Second, the other person -- I realize that he is not intentionally withholding acceptance, attention, affection, appreciation, and allowing.  He is giving what he is capable of giving at this time in his life.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Present moment versus planning for the future

So I'm torn between leaving things as they are, which at this point in my life includes a great amount of uncertainty, and attempting to create some security for my future.  It's hard to know when to accept things the way they are (that's what I've been working on -- accepting things as they are, even when I don't  like them) and when to do something to change the way things are. 

I suppose the first step is always to accept things as they are -- how do you know what to change if you don't know what you're dealing with?   Maybe where I'm stuck is deciding if I'm ok with the way things are in my life right now.  I know the future is always uncertain but isn't there something to be said for planning ahead?  Living in the present moment doesn't mean never thinking about the future.  In fact, can't I do both at the same time -- can't I be fully present as I sit and make plans for my future? 

I think I've made such an effort to accept things as they are that I've forgotten something very important -- there are many things in life that I have to power to change...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Attachment

So I was just talking with the special person in my life and he mentioned that he will probably be moving out of the area.  I've known this since I met him but I've tried not to think about it and to enjoy the time we have together.  Still, when he mentioned it it made me feel immensely sad.  I'm afraid of losing him.  Fear of losing someone or something is a sure sign of attachment to that person or thing. So I'm just allowing myself to feel sad and scared for now -- giving myself attention and permission to feel my feelings.   

Attachment and Acceptance -- Saying I Love You

So I'm debating whether or not I should utter those three words that change everything to my special someone.  In considering this I've thought a lot about why I want to tell him I love him.  My initial thought was that I want to tell him because I want him to know.  So I asked myself why I want him to know.  I didn't immediately have an answer to this question so I looked at what's stopping me from telling him.  That's easy -- I'm afraid of saying "I love you" and being met with absolute silence in response.  It would go something like this:

Me: "I love you."
Him: Awkward silence.
Me: Awkward silence.

I realized that if he doesn't feel the same way about me I would feel completely rejected.  Which made me realize that I want to say "I love you" because I want his acceptance.  In other words, my fear of rejection stems from my desire for acceptance.  This leads me to conclude that I want to say "I love you" for selfish reasons -- because I want him to love me too.  Which suggests that my feelings are more about attachment -- that is to say, the focus is on him meeting my needs, not on me loving him for who he is. 

To me, this means that I'm not ready to tell him I love him.  I think I should wait  until I can say with certainty that I love him for him, not for the needs I want him to meet for me.  How will I know when this moment has arrived?  I suppose I will know when I am no longer afraid that he will not feel the same way -- when it no longer matters how he feels about me at all.  I wonder if this moment will ever come.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Recommended book by Cheri Huber

http://www.livingcompassion.org/keepitsimple/howyoudo.html

This is one of the best self-help/self-exploration books I've ever come across.  I'm working my way through it now.  The exercises really make you think about yourself, the things you do, and why you do them.

Mindful breathing

So today I heard my mindfulness bell go off right before I got in the shower.  The mindfulness bell is a great tool I downloaded from this website: www.minfulness.dc.org/mindfulclock.html  You can set it to chime randomly or at certain times.  I leave my computer on most of the time and have it set to chime randomly every  hour.  The bell serves as a reminder to take a moment to simply be in the present moment.  I usually do this by taking 30 seconds or so to focus on my breathing.  Now I have a pretty active mind -- I'm constantly thinking about something.  The idea of trying to focus your mind on whatever is happening in the present moment is very difficult for most people because the mind instinctively wanders; this is definitely the case for me.  It helps for me to have words I can repeat in my mind while I'm breathing; this gives my mind something active to do and helps to prevent it from wandering.  When I practice mindful breathing I close my eyes.  While I inhale I say in my mind, "Breathing in, I breathe in."  As I exhale I say to myself, "Breathing out, I breathe out."  This helps me to fully focus on my breath, which grounds me in the present moment.  What a refreshing way to start the day!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mindfulness Handout -- Surfing the Waves

Mindfulness Handout -- Why Mindfulness?

Mindfulness Handout -- What is Mindfulness


I created a bunch of mindfulness handouts to use with my patients.  If anyone would like a copy let me know and I'll email this or any of the others I post in the original Microsoft Publisher format.

Remembering to be mindful of positive feelings too

I'm finding that I often forget to practice mindfulness when I'm experiencing positive feelings -- I tend to use it as a coping mechanism to help me deal with negative emotions.  It's possible that I might not be the only one who does this so I thought I'd remind everyone to take a moment to be mindfully present when you're feeling good too!

Here are a few quotes:

"People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong.  Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?"
-Thich Nhat Hanh
This is what I was just talking about in my post!!!  I think it should be my mantra for the day:-)
"You only lose what you cling to."
-Buddha

"Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional."
-The Dalai Lama

"The chief cause of suffering for human beings is an inability to have things be the way they are."
-Unknown

"If you desire to know where your spiritual work lies look to your emotional pain."
-Alan Cohen

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mindfulness of feelings

I woke up feeling sad this morning and wasn't immediately sure why.  As I stood in the shower I decided to observe the physical sensation of that sadness in my body -- where in my body I felt it, the quality and intensity of the sensation (a little pressure on my chest and shoulders, not extremely heavy or intense, slightly unpleasant), etc.  I spent about a minute paying attention to these sensations.  I allowed myself to experience the sensations without trying to change them or push them away. 

After acknowledging and attending to the physical sensations associated with my emotional state I attempted to name what I was feeling.  "I'm feeling sad," I thought to myself.  "Disappointed," I thought again.  "Disappointed?" I thought.  "What has happened recently or is happening now that would cause me to feel disappointed?" I asked.  I'm a little embarassed by the answer -- I was feeling disappointed because the special someone in my life was supposed to call last night but never did.  I was a bit frustrated with myself for being upset over something so silly.  I knew he was helping his sister move last night and probably didn't call because he was out later than expected.  There was no reason to be upset.  I didn't beat myself up though.  Instead, I was compassionate towards myself.  "It's normal to feel disappointed," I told myself.  "It's okay to feel that way."

I think that when most people experience an unpleasant emotion their automatic response is to try to get rid of it by, for example, pushing it away or doing something to make themselves feel better.  If I'd done that this morning I might have ended up being in a bad mood all day.  I might have snapped at my special someone or been angry with him the next time we talked.  Instead, I allowed myself to experience my emotions; in doing so, I better understood what I was feeling and why I felt that way.  Once I acknowledged and accepted my disappointment it became less intense.  I immediately felt a little better.  In turn, I was able to remain calm when my car overheated on the way to work and I had pull over and get out in the torrential rain to put antifreeze in it.  I was still calm when I missed my exit and had to go several miles out of my way.  Although it had been "one of those mornings" I was able to handle it because I wasn't carrying around unresolved emotional baggage. 

Monday, September 7, 2009

My drawing of the Tree of Life

I'm no artist and it seems that I've been particularly uninspired of late.  Still, I thought I'd share some of my at best mediocre art work.

Attachment

I'm still working on non-attachment.  Today I found myself wondering how my special someone feels about me, hoping that he cares for me the way I care for him.  While it's normal to feel that way it's also a sure sign that I'm attached to a specific outcome (i.e., I want him to feel the same way about me that I feel about him).  Attachment to a specific outcome inevitably leads to disappointment if the desired outcome does not come to fruition.  I must remind myself again that true love means loving someone for who they are, not for how they make me feel.  True love does not mean giving someone affection, attention, acceptance, appreciation, and/or allowing (the five A's) because I want that person to give me love in return.  That's selfish love -- it revolves around me and is contingent on how the other person can meet my needs.  True love means loving someone no matter how that person feels about me.  True love means focusing on the other person's needs, not on my own.  The focus is not on oneself and one's own needs because true love transcends the self and is bigger and purer than any one individual person.  I'm learning, but I still have a long way to go.

Abstract

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Why People Cheat

So this post doesn't apply to me directly.  I was thinking, however, about why people cheat and it occurred to me that the answer is completely relevant to many of the things I've talked about in my posts.  Typically, people cheat because their need for one or more of the five A's (attention, affection, acceptance, appreciation, allowing) is not being fulfilled.  They blame their partner for leaving their need or needs unfulfilled and turn to someone else to meet them.  If you've read any of my previous posts you might recall that on average, we can reasonably expect other people to meet our needs (i.e., give us the five A's) only about 25% of the time.  We are responsible for meeting these needs for ourselves the other 75% of the time. 

So ok, where is this going?  Well, when a person has the urge to cheat in essence he or she becomes aware of his or her desire for attention, affection, appreciation, acceptance, and/or allowing.  If he or she could learn to simply sit with this urge/desire (this is a mindfulness technique called "urge surfing" that was introduced by Jon Kabat-Zinn in one of his books on mindfulness) and observe it with unattached curiosity and without judgment he/she would being to learn to meet his/her needs him/herself and would not have to seek out someone else to meet them. 

Elisha Goldstein briefly describes the technique of urge surfing on his blog (found at http://www.aliveworld.com/members/elishagoldstein/blog): This is the idea of bringing attention to the breath as the urge is rising and using it a surfboard to ride the waves of sensations associated with the urge as they come and go. Strong urges usually last about 20-30 minutes and sometimes less.

While the technique is typically used to "ride out" urges or cravings associated with addiction it is effective in helping to ride out any urge, including the urge to seek out another person to meet one's needs or to satisfy one's desire for attention, affection, appreciation, acceptance, and/or allowing.  

That is not to say that there may not be real problems in a given relationship.  Still, I think most of us would agree that cheating is not the way to solve relationship problems.  Ride out the urge to cheat and learn to meet your own needs 75% of the time - this will better enable you to deal with any problems that exist in the relationship.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A drawing of my feelings

How do you know if you believe you need a partner in order to be happy

Most  people aren't aware of their core beliefs and how they affect their thoughts, feelings, perceptions, etc. on a daily basis.  I'm going to borrow a definition of core beliefs from someone else because a full exploration of the concept is beyond the scope of this post.  According to Lynne Forrest (found at http://lynneforrest.com/html/core_beliefs.html), core beliefs are "deeply rooted convictions...[that]...originate in childhood and become the lens through which we view ourselves and the world around us. These basic, but often erroneous notions rule and limit us until we bring them into consciousness and begin to challenge them."


So the first step is being aware of your beliefs.  Here are some indicators that you ascribe to the belief that you need a partner in order to be happy:

1. When you're not seeing anyone you feel compelled to "get out there" and date and/or you're constantly on the lookout for a potential partner.


2. When you are seeing someone you become very anxious, especially if he/she doesn't call or contact you regularly.  You worry that he/she will lose interest in you.  You worry about "losing" him/her -- this is a sure sign that implicitly you believe you need him/her (or some other partner) in order to be happy.

3. You don't feel content unless you are dating someone.  (You feel discontent or unhappy when you're not seeing anyone).


4. You stay in an unhappy relationship because you're afraid to be alone.

5. You're a serial monogamist -- as soon as one long-term relationship ends you move immediately into another one with little time in between.  Or you don't end one relationship until you have a prospect for another relationship lined up.


6. When you feel sad or lonely you think to yourself, "I wouldn't be feeling this way if I had a boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/partner."

7. You feel bad when someone asks you if you're seeing anyone and you have to say no.


8. When you're not seeing anyone you feel like "something's missing."  When you are seeing someone you feel fulfilled or complete.


9. You worry that something is wrong with you because you haven't found the person you're supposed to spend your life with.


This list certainly isn't exhaustive and I will try to add to it as ideas come to me.  Also, feel free to give me suggestions by leaving a comment.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ego Mindsets: Fear and Desire

Right now I am aware of my desire for attention, affection, and acceptance.  More simply put -- I want to be wanted.  Isn't it silly that I feel so unwanted because the special person in my life didn't call me back last night after we talked earlier in the evening?  I am aware of the desire to be important to him, the deisre to be loved by him...which shows me that I still have a lot of work to do.

One thing I can be proud of is that I didn't get angry at him for not calling.  I think this is an indication that I'm learning to care about him for who he is and not for how he makes me feel or for what he can do for me.

I didn't always used to get angry when I felt hurt (which is what feeling unwanted amounts to -- feeling hurt) but over time I learned to use anger to defend myself.  (This is the ego mindset of fear -- "I perceive a threat in you so I am on the defensive").  It seems strange that I am now asking myself to break down that defense and to feel the hurt -- to sit with that hurt, understand where it comes from, comfort myself, and give myself compassion and attention.  I think when I started using anger to protect myself from emotional pain I probably wasn't capable of doing this.  I needed ego strength before I could fully experience my negative emotions.  That's what Buddhist philosophers mean when they say you must first have an ego before you can transcend the ego. 

I think I am ready to stop using anger to defend myself from my feelings.  I don't need it anymore...

Self-Defeating Beliefs

How the way I seek out security makes me feel more insecure:

1. Belief: "I cannot be happy without a partner."

Makes me feel compelled to

2. Date frequently/seek out a partner

Triggers

3. Insecurities about my relationships with men ("Why won't anyone commit to me?" "Is there something wrong with me?")

Generates

4. Self doubt; discontent; unhappiness

Reinforces

1. Belief: "I cannot be happy without a partner."



It's a self-perpetuating cycle. I've only recently become aware that I engage in this self-defeating cycle of behavior.  This discovery has reinforced my committment to be mindful when I find myself wanting one of the Five A's (as opposed to trying to get someone else to meet my need for attention, affection, etc.). In order to extinguish my faulty belief that "I need a partner to be happy" I have to learn to meet my own emotional needs at least 75% of the time. I know I'm not the only person (and definitely not the only woman) who feels like she is complete only when she has a significant other in her life. I'll talk more about this in future posts.

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