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


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 ( 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  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

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.

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