Mindfulness Coaching

Why is Emotional Intelligence Worth Developing?

The old 1950s paradigm that a leader must ignore or suppress her/his emotional urges has been thoroughly discredited over the last 20 years of research. Instead, research shows, time and again, that leaders that are aware of their moods, emotions, and drives, can leverage that competency to drive positive organizational change. While logic and intellect have made our lives easier in many ways—giving us indoor plumbing and high speed internet—they do not motivate people. By placing too high a value on brainpower rather than heart-power, we inadvertently demotivate the teams we lead. Why?

A Leader’s Emotional Field

Because our emotional field acts like an unseen force that either motivates or discourages the teams of people we lead. Our emotions have a profound impact on shaping the perceptions around us. To convey this point, look at the following photo and see if you can answer the question: Which monster is bigger?:

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Both monsters are, in fact, of equal size.

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Also, look at the following shape. See if you can trace the spiral:

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The shape appears to be a spiral, but is, in fact, a series of concentric circles. The visual distortions in both pictures are produced by the backgrounds. In the picture of the monsters, the lines make the monster in the back appear larger. And the background tiles in the image above give the illusion that what we are seeing is a spiral. Our attentions tend to be drawn to the most obvious object, like the monsters, and in so doing, we often overlook the background and its capacity to shape our perception of what we experience.

As leaders, our emotions are like those background lines or tiles. Maybe we want our team to focus on meeting their numbers; closing a deal; or putting out a fire. The background of emotion we inject into the achievement of tasks and goals acts as a sort of frame that contextualizes our team’s experience. If, for example, we are scared that our team will not make its numbers, and unaware of the intensity of our fear, we will inadvertently demotivate. Unless we are aware of the emotional fields we create, we, as leaders, will not be aware of our impact upon those we influence. As a result, we will be powerless to wield these unseen forces and silent messages that shape, not only our teams’ experiences, but, ultimately, the destiny of the organizations we lead.

Emotions are infectious in a way that concepts are not. Unlike like logic or analysis, emotion drives action. Without emotion, we are not inspire. Exhilaration, loyalty, fury, and affection give our work lives vibrancy and purpose. Attraction, desire, and enthusiasm draw us toward people and situations, while fear, shame, guilt, and disgust repel us from others. In all cases, emotions act as an all-pervading guide. Emotion has a way of drawing us into almost immediate alignment in a way that thoughts cannot. That's why watching movies in the theater can be more powerful than when we watch them at home. We are surrounded by others’ emotional responses. It is also why stampedes form in stadiums when crowds of people are filled with fright or anger. And we all know what it is like to work in environments where emotions like worry, doubt, and cynicism pervade. Emotional fields like these have an incredible capacity to take the wind out of our sails.

Emotionally intelligent leaders recognize that in order to harness the trust, creativity, and positive will of individuals, groups, and organizations, that is to motivate others toward greatness, he or she must know how to tap into and influence the emotions of those around him or her. Researchers at management the consulting firm, Hay/McBer, have shown that emotional competencies are twice as important in contributing to leadership excellence as are pure intellect and technical expertise . Additionally, the United States Office of Personnel Management oversaw an analysis of the competencies deemed to set superior performers apart from barely adequate ones for virtually every federal job. For lower-level positions, there was a higher premium on technical abilities than on interpersonal ones. As people advanced in their position, interpersonal skills became more important in distinguishing superior from average performance. In other words, it’s more important for leaders to be likeable than it is for them to be smart.

The goods news is that research demonstrates that E.Q. (Emotional Quotient) is learnable. Emotional intelligence is not just something some people are born with and others not, like I.Q. The essential set of skills, the core, in fact, is developed through mindfulness training, which is a simple, age-old, time-tested technique that builds self-awareness and empathy.

Fasting from the News

Over the last year, I've made it a point not to turn on the news. I started noticing that I became sleepless with anxiety from the content coming in about ISIS. I realize that for many, turning off the news could be seen as a form of denial, but I see it as a form of mindfulness. I'm attempting to bring awareness to what my nervous system can handle. If I can't handle it and, more importantly, I can't impact it other than worry about it, what good is it doing me? And, more importantly, what good is it doing the people I impact, my wife, our families, and my clients? If I'm coming from anxiety, how can I possibly generate positivity in that situation? I figure that if I can help transform it, it's not going to come about through knowing more and more information. It's going to happen in the little ways I interact with others. Maybe it's denial or small mindedness or maybe it's knowing the difference between what I can change and what I cannot.

To Everything There is a Season

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“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; A time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (King James Version)

Every time we attempt to keep something that makes us feel good, it somehow slips through our fingers. The feeling we used to have when we’d meet our sales quota no longer gives us the same jolt. Likewise, as we attempt to ward off unpleasant experiences, we get caught in an array of patterns and behaviors that limit us. If we experience panic whenever we are called on to speak at a meeting, we avoid meetings altogether. These are extreme examples of some things that we subtly do all the time. We’re trying to maintain an eternal state of happiness, peace, joy, ease, power, prestige, etc. And, at the same time, we are trying to ward off fatigue, depression, irritation, anger, anxiety, doubt, etc.

Unfortunately, the universe does not function the way we’d like it to. Life has more of a cyclical nature. The Buddha made this a central part of his teaching. He called this law of change, Impermanence, and pointed out that all conditions are highly unstable and in constant flux. All things change, disappear, and eventually no longer satisfy us. All things are born, live for a while, and eventually pass away. This is reflected everywhere: in the life of planets, the human body, a rose; in the rise and fall of conquering nations; in the condensation of water from the ocean into clouds, from clouds to rain, from rain to rivers and lakes, and then back to the ocean again.

We all experience cycles of success (when things come relatively easily to us and we thrive), cycles of failure (when nothing seems to go right), and disintegration (when we have to learn to let go in order to make room for something new to happen). The compulsion to derive a sense of self worth and identity from our achievements makes it hard—if not impossible—to accept the cycles when we are not productive. We cannot always function at high levels. Sometimes we are creative and generative, and sometimes we are not. There are no magic bullets or tricks we learn that will ever make us fire on all cylinders all the time. We experience periods of creativity, but we also experience stagnation, too. A down cycle can last for moments, hours, or even years.

We forget that, at some point, sometimes sooner and at other times later, all experiences fade. Instead, we agonize about things that are completely out of our control. Of course, when we can influence something, we can actually help to shape an outcome, but much of life is beyond the sway of our will. The Buddha’s approach to working with that which is beyond our control is called upekkha. Upekkha translates as equanimity, a perfect, unshakable balance of mind, rooted in the insight that all things are unstable, that nothing is constant, and this unpredictability is impersonal.

The Taoist tradition tells the story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.

“Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.

The story above can be a little deceiving. On first glance, it may look as if the farmer is apathetic, but upekkha is not an emotional emptiness, a sort of lack of enthusiasm. Instead, it is non-reactivity, non-judgment. The old farmer’s equanimity was formed out of the presence of his mind, the willingness not to get lost in the habitual interpretation of what is good or bad, right or wrong, but, instead, to remain open to the unfolding and mysterious nature of life.

The point of upekkha isn't to turn away from life. Instead, it's about avoiding being trapped in clinging to what feels good and attempting to avoid what doesn't. When wanted things happen, we get to enjoy them, to relish in them, but we also recognize that they're temporary. They won't be here forever, so we do not lose the balance of our mind as they fade or change. The same is true of those moments and periods where we are not well, when we experience pain, anxiety, depression, anger, etc. Whatever the experience, we recognize that, “This too shall pass.”

From the standpoint of impermanence, we should not ask why bad and good things happen to us. Wanted and unwanted events do not point to either a beatific or malefic influence beyond us. Change, from the Buddha’s standpoint, is a basic law of the world—not unlike gravity or relativity—and, thus, is impersonal. From this neutral standpoint, the question to ask is not, “Why is this happening to me?” but rather, “How do I work with it skillfully?”

For all of us, life can be a roller-coaster ride. We do not always have a say over its vicissitudes. One method of holding onto our sanity is learning how to ride the horse in the direction it’s going. The more we understand the fallacy and implausibility of eternal pleasure, ease, strength, clarity, power, etc. on an experiential level, the more peace and acceptance we develop around discomfort and the less grabby we get when these qualities slip through our fingers. In short, paying attention to pleasant and painful sensations and everything in between both polarities in a non-reactive way makes us suffer a lot less.

Living in the Here & Now

Training And Development Like most mind/body therapies, mindfulness isn't exactly new. Its roots are old, but for decades, mainstream culture viewed it as alternative or plain weird. Then came a perfect storm. About a decade ago studies began proving that mindfulness could be a key to fighting disease and, in fact, change the very structure of the brain. The concept of mindfulness is both super simple to understand but not particularly easy to master. Mindfulness is a a present moment, non-reactive awareness. Most of the time, we all habitually rehearse past experiences (if only I'd _____) or anxiously planning/avoiding a particular future (what if____ happens? or how do I avoid ___ from happening?). Because we all are so habituated to agonize about what's already happened or what might happen, present moment awareness can be completely elusive.

But unlike some forms of meditation, mindfulness is not about stopping thought. Instead, mindfulness is the practice of learning to observe all of our mind's shenanigans, letting all of those wild thoughts come and go. Instead of getting preoccupied with understanding or making sense of the thoughts, we develop the knack for observing them, kind of like watching clouds passing across the sky. They move in and then they move out. Through this process of simply noticing, we strengthen an observing quality in the mind. We develop the knack for noticing the contents of our minds without being overly identified with them. They're just thoughts, after all, and they come in, stay for awhile, and then eventually pass away.

If that sounds a little mind-numbing, it is not. Long-term mindfulness practitioners aren't checked out. The practice does not stop us from caring or wanting to have impact. Rather, it heightens our awareness of the possibilities to do so, possibilities that are not necessarily accessible to us when we're dwelling on the past or future. When we're lost in this sort of "un-mindfulness", research shows that we're activating our sympathetic nervous systems, driving our bodies into fight-or-flight responses. Living this way for a sustained amount of time has all sorts of deleterious effects on the body and outlook on life.

Mindfulness not only counters this by stimulating the "feed, breed, rest, and digest" parasympathetic response, which means we have fewer stress hormones, like cortisol, coursing through our veins at any given time. Hence the links between mindfulness and reductions in blood pressure, heart rate, and inflammation. Not only can it alter our stress levels, but it also has been proven to change the very structure of our brains, a process called neuroplasticity. Mindfulness has been shown to thicken areas of the brain that control emotions and stress responses within just eight weeks of daily practice. That's why mindfulness can mean the difference between absolutely "losing it" and staying centered when a boss arbitrarily gives a raise to a peer and not to us.

Start Your Practice

Begin You can try it anytime, any place, in almost any situation. And once you get the hang of it, you'll automatically be more mindful, without much effort. It's a good idea to start with a timer. That way, you're committed to staying put for a particular period of time.

Posture It does not matter, though, whether you sit in a chair or on the floor. What does matter, however, is that your body is relatively comfortable, and you can remain in the same posture for a sustained period of time. The posture is like a tripod of a camera. The steadier it is, the more you’ll see.

Breath If posture is like the tripod of a camera, the awareness is like the lens: if it is clouded or agitated, you may see forms but no detail. That’s why you focus on the breath. The breath is an object the awareness can steady on for a sustained period of time. The subtler the mind, the more detail you’ll see. Just observing the breath calms the thought patterns of the mind, brings you back into the present moment, awakens clear seeing, and brings the awareness toward the interior.

Sensations Once the attention is razor-sharp, you point it in the direction of the interior. This is where you train to be both sensitive and, at the same time, non-reactive. Move your attention throughout the body in what’s known as a body-scan, shifting the awareness from head-to-toe and toe-to-head, noticing sensations that crop up depending on where the attention is drawn to. Start the awareness at the top of the head, move down to the face, the neck, throat, shoulders, arms, hands, chest, upper back, belly, mid and lower back, pelvis, genitals, legs, and feet. And then return from the toes back up the same way you came down. Repeat this until your timer goes off.

Just Notice/ Don’t React Feeling sensation in the body like this can sometimes be overwhelming, boring, uncomfortable, and, at times, downright painful. Nobody likes to feel pain or discomfort, but mindfulness instruction is very clear: Don’t react. Just notice. In other words, if you feel discomfort, try not to move away from it. One way we try to move away from discomfort is by trying to understand or make sense of it. So if thoughts arise, notice them and label them, “Thinking.” And then come back to the sensations in the body.

Curiosity It can be immensely helpful to observe with a quality of curiosity. Curiosity tends to lower the risk associated with meeting our edge. It also opens us up to being surprised to find unexpected truths. Finally, it's child-like and exciting.

Distraction If you notice that you are distracted for good chunks of the time, don’t be too hard on yourself. There is no such thing as a good or bad meditation. A wandering mind does not mean failure. The fact that the mind wanders throughout is just data. In all likelihood, if you stay with the process, you'll also notice moments when the mind is very still and clear. We are not attempting to achieve a state of no-thinking. Instead, we are observing the various states of mind.

One method of tracking our progress on the path is to consider the amount of time we were able to stay present. This can be very difficult and to do so can be extremely frustrating. The place to start, instead, is to consider the amount of times we were able to come back to the present moment. As we keep applauding our return, we slowly encourage our awareness to keep returning.

A Passionate Life

There are three yogis in a cave. They’ve been there, practicing meditation for the last 10 years. Around the tenth year, something moves by the mouth of the cave. One yogi murmurs, “I think that was a rabbit." A year later, another yogi whispers, “No, I think that was a squirrel.”

Six months later, the third one blurts, “If the two of you don’t stop fighting, I’m going to have to leave this cave."

There’s a misperception that to be mindful means to be a detached navel-gazer in a cave, that being present and aware is devoid of creativity and passion. Mindfulness, in fact, highlights our passions.

By bringing us fully into the experience of the here-and-now, we are more aware, allowing us to appreciate each moment with far greater subtlety: a bursting feeling in the heart when we realize we are in love; the uplifting quality of a new and creative idea; the power when we sense our connection to a cause that aligns with our deepest values.

Because our senses are more enhanced, we can grasp more clearly what is actually calling us among the myriad, transitory complications of our modern lives. We can also see who we are with less judgment and more acceptance. Sometimes even more importantly, we see the inauthentic roles we have been playing out, those roles that do not reflect who we are essentially.

When we stop wanting to be someone else, we can finally recognize our unique gifts, talents and passions and what we want to do with our “one wild and precious life.” We can let go of playing by everyone else’s rules—our parents, our bosses, our partner’s, society— and start to ask the question, “What matters to me?”

Make Your Life Your Message

When asked for his message for the world, Gandhi responded with the now famous line, “My life is my message.” Is your life a reflection of your message? To live such a life, is to live passionately, as Gandhi did.

Webster dictionary defines passion as, “a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept.” At its core, passion is an interior force, a sort of current that drives and energizes us to understand and merge with the object of our passion. It can be an activity, a quality of mind, a path and, of course, it can be another person or animal. When we are not living in accordance or in harmony with our passions, our lives feel discordant, lifeless, flat and hollow.

In contrast, when we live with passion, we are compelled and fueled with enthusiastic emotion. Whatever the object of our passion, it connects us to a greater sense of purpose, the feeling that we are part of some greater whole. It also leads us to a greater understanding of what makes us unique; whatever the object of our passion, it is our very own.

It is not something to be found somewhere other than where we are. It is already inside of us, yet for most of us, passion is ill-defined. Instead, it is a lived experience that emerges in subtle inklings. It can show up at the birth of a child, a sunset, the completion of an arduous journey or the beginning of a new one. Our passions often can be discovered in the activities where we completely lose ourselves, be it a sport, a hobby or a particular kind of problem solving.

We are not always aware of our passions because we are so busy with our to-do lists. It also does not help that many of us were told that our passions were not practical, that if we followed them, we likely would not succeed or we would not make enough money to get by. We learned to turn a blind eye to the glimmer of a calling. Regardless of the cause, for most of us, our passions are hidden.

Obsession and Clinging

Our passions can also blind us. When our passions control us, they can lead toward obsessions. When overdone, passion can completely undo our lives. Just think of the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, lechery and sloth. In Buddhism, each sin is considered a form of grasping or clinging. When we obsessively clinging to the pleasant feelings that passion can fuel, we forget that like all things, even passion is impermanent: it comes; stays for awhile; and eventually passes away.

We are all vulnerable to obsessive passion. We all get lost in it sometimes. Wealth, power and fame can be alluring for each of us at times. Mindfulness practices are not moralistic. Because we meditate does not mean that we should not abstain from enjoying the things we have or pursue success.

Instead, our practices have the potential to show us our embodied response of when passion has overtaken us and when we have become attached. We can be sure that we are working with clinging when we find ourselves on the hunt for increasingly greater thresholds of success and, at the same time, are despondent at its loss or evading quality.

Mindfulness practice helps us maintain an even quality of mind. It helps us to see that whatever success we have attained in following our passion, it does not define us, nor is our happiness dependent on it. The practice itself helps us remain discerning. We use the practice to distinguish wisdom from delusion, to make choices that are life enhancing not only to ourselves but others, as well.

So enjoy what lights you up. Explore all the varieties of California Pinots. Protest race inequality. Make music that delights you. Sweat your prayers. Make love with abandon. And bring your mindfulness practice to each experience: breathing with it, sensing it and ride the wave all the way until the end. And when it is over, let it go.

The Art of Collaborative Conversations: The Design

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IMG_1086Our lives are made up of the relationships we have.  None of us is an island unto ourselves.  We need others.  Our brains are actually wired for collaboration.  We get rewarded with serotonin, the happy neurotransmitter, every time we collaborate.  And when our lives flourish, we live collaboratively within intimate relationships, communities, and with the greater world.  Our relationships are built upon and fed by the conversations we have.  Conversations, in this case, aren't just verbal.  We're having a conversation, for example with our civic body when we don't vote.  We're in conversation with our circle of friends when we're engaged and even when we're disengaged.  And a lot of what we don't say in a relationship fashions how we relate.  In each case, it's really the quality of our conversation that impacts who we are and the impact we can have in the world.

Stop Assuming and Start Designing

The main reason conversations breakdown is that we go into them with too many assumptions.  We assume, for example, that we know what the other person wants and needs from the conversation and that they know what we want and need.  Sometimes this works, but often times, conversations, especially the important ones--the one's about a shared future, about how to handle a difficult situation, or past resentments--end in breakdown or leave us feeling off or incomplete.  Mostly the reason why we're left incomplete from the conversation is that we never designed it or set an intention for it in the first place.
It doesn’t work to leave these conversations to chance, to just wing it. When we design our significant conversations before we have them, we create the possibility to collaborate and to get to completion. A designed conversation is one in which both people have agreed to the parameters of the conversation before entering into it.  By the way, the design doesn’t end once the conversation gets underway. It is constantly being re-negotiated. That way the structure remains fluid.
It may seem a bit artificial, at first, to initiate a design with someone in the beginning or even in the middle of an ongoing conversation, however, the results are powerful, magical, and pivotal to any enduring relationship. It's an incredibly powerful way for conversations to go somewhere, to have impact.   A pre-designed conversation creates a structure where both people can feel safe.  It's also a structure that is flexible enough where both people can take risks, to not skip over hard-truths or filter themselves.
Below you will find a 6- Point Plan on how to design a conversation:

Designing a Conversation

STEP 1: Get Clear About the Situation

First ask yourself the following four questions:

  • What am I noticing about the situation? What do I notice the issue to be? What is my perspective?
  • How do I feel about what I see? Do I feel mad, sad, glad, inspired?
  • What do I really want/need?
  • What am I willing/not willing to do?

STEP 2: Go Back to Step 1

Don't engage in the conversation until you're clear on the 4 questions above.

STEP 3: Invite

Start the discussion by inviting the person to a discussion.  Don't just spew on them.  Give them a choice.  You might say:  I am noticing "x" coming up for me, and I'd really like to be able to speak about it with you.  When can we speak about this? And where would you like to meet?

By the way, it helps to meet in a neutral space, one where neither of you is at an advantage or disadvantage.  It can also be helpful to walk and talk--which is disarming--versus to sit face-to-face--which can be confrontational.

STEP 4: Design the Conversation

Before the conversation gets going, initiate the design by asking and speaking into the following questions:

  • What would you like to get from the conversation?  What I expect is...
  • What exactly do you need and want from me?  What I want from you is...
  • How do you want me to be with you if you become shut down, hurt, angry, and/or sad? How I want you to be with me is…
  • What could I say or do that would really support you in this conversation? What would really support me is…

STEP 5: Keep Redesigning

Once the design is set, stick with the agreements you made in the fourth point.  If you need to alter the design, say, so.  Be as explicit about the design of the conversation as you possibly can be.  Do not assume.  Do not assume. Do not assume.

STEP 6: Get to Completion

All conversations are seeking completion. When a conversation is complete, we know and feel it.  Nothing more needs to be said.  All that is left between you and the other person is love and affinity.  And when a conversation feels incomplete, we can sense that, too.  If, on the first round, you're still left incomplete, go back to the four questions on #1.  Keep repeating all 6 steps until you get to completion.

 

The Mind/Body Connection

In the years following my brother’s death, I investigated anything and everything that might help me snap out of my grief, anger and worry. I read every self-help book I could get my hands on. I took part in residential retreats in which I swung a plastic bat into a pillow, imagining that I was hitting the negative aspects of my parents in order to heal cathartically. I tried all sorts of diets. I became a vegetarian. I fasted. I even had a stint in which I ate nothing but potatoes. My heartache and sense of loss lingered. When a friend invited me to my first yoga class, I found myself attempting to replicate an intricate series of movements that left me completely fatigued. And then the teacher said,

I am going to teach you to meditate. Ready? Sit down. Cross your legs. Sit upright. Close your eyes and focus on your breath: air coming in, air going out. Let go of your thinking. Each time you’re lost in thought, return to the in breath and the out breath.

After a few moments, he whispered,

Notice the sensations within your body? Do you feel all that movement and tingling? That’s your body’s internal pharmacy healing itself. Stay focused on that.

After minutes of sitting there, attempting to notice my “body’s internal pharmacy,” I began to perceive spasms of emotion roiling through my intestines. I could feel those places inside that felt scared, empty and alone in grief and anxiety.

I had learned to talk about my distress with my therapist—where it came from and how I might think about it in a way that made it more tolerable—but I had never had a direct feeling perception of it. As I invited these waves of unpleasant emotion to wash through me, the internal knots of pain slowly begin to unravel.

While we tend to think of intelligence as residing somewhere behind the eyes, in our cranium, many native traditions indicate that intelligence is located throughout the body. While our thinking mind helps us make sense of the world intellectually and provides executive control, the body is the place of transformation. Our intelligence is not just mental. Other parts of our body provide powerful insight and intuition.

The Gut Brain Our gut is known as the second brain. It consists of more than 500 million neurons, about the same amount as in a cat’s brain. In fact, our bowel produces over 95% of our total serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates our feelings of happiness. The gut is quite distinct from the thinking mind in that it speaks in declarative tones via sensations. It says things like, “Yuck,” “Yum,” “Ow!” “Mmm,” “No way!” “Yes!” and “No!” Unlike the thinking mind, the mind in our gut doesn’t second-guess. It simply calls out what it senses.

Complementary medicine advocate Deepak Chopra used to tell the story of an interview he had with the late co-founder of Sony Corporation, Masaru Ibuka, who liked to “swallow” a deal before he signed it. If Ibuka had an important choice to make, he would do his due diligence: consult with key people, review market data and research sales reports. But he didn’t stop there.  

He’d have his assistant prepare a Japanese tea ceremony, which is actually a type of meditation. Once the tea was prepared, he’d hold a “yes” or “no” question” in his mind. He would then take a sip of tea and listen, carefully observing how his body responded to how the tea felt in the stomach. If it felt good, he interpreted that as a “yes;” if it didn’t, it was a “no.” “I trust my gut and I know how it works,” he said. “My mind is not that smart, but my body is.”

The Heart Brain The heart also has its own consciousness and intelligence related to issues of relationship, passion and morality. When people are sincere, we often say they are “speaking from the heart.” When they need an honest conversation, they have a “heart-to-heart.” When they throw themselves into an activity, we say that they are doing it “with all their heart.” Even our gestures indicate the importance we give to the heart; when people point to themselves they generally point to the heart. Modern science is showing us that these figurative expressions actually reflect a physiological truth.

More than a simple pump for blood, the heart is a brain unto itself. It has somewhere between 40,000 and 120,000 neurons. The heart sends more information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. Like the brain, the heart is neuroplastic; it can grow and change. It continues to create new neuronal connections as our emotional and empathetic capacities continue to expand.

We now have scientific evidence that the anatomical heart sends us emotional and intuitive signals to help govern our lives. It does so through a number of different hormones, the primary one being oxytocin—the hormone associated with labor and maternal bonding, and is also involved in relational bonding, emotion, passion and values. The heart produces equal amounts of this hormone as the brain itself.

Health and Mind/Body Connection While I am a coach and mindfulness teacher, I am also an acupuncturist and herbalist. Most of what I treat is stress-related illnesses, such as chronic pain, digestive disorders, low-grade depression and anxiety. We all know that blood is essential for the body’s healthy functioning. Over the years of doing this work, I have come to realize that tension contracts the body, which obstructs the blood’s flow. In my training as an acupuncturist, I was taught that acupuncture and natural medicines restore it, but I also found out—through trial and error—that unless the underlying tension is dissolved, these modalities only give temporary relief. Despite graduating from a four year Masters Degree program, I initially felt pretty inept at my craft. No matter what acupuncture points or herbal remedies I prescribed, very few of my patients got the help they were looking for.

At some point, I got so fed up with my lackluster results that I started to teach mindfulness to a patient who was trying to give up smoking. I asked him why he smoked. He said he was lonely, that he hadn’t had an intimate relationship for many years. As he learned to feel and welcome the sensations of pain and heartache that smoking numbed, the addiction slowly lost its hold on him.

Once I learned to work with my smoking patient, I began to receive a steady stream of patients with similar heartache. Some had lost loved ones to death. Others were struggling with grief, loneliness or a lack of passion. Some were saying yes to partners, jobs and bosses when their guts were saying no. I’d treat them with acupuncture, but I would also help them uncover and let go of the underlying feeling states by teaching them mindful awareness. I have come to discover that when we dissociate from our hearts and guts, it not only affects us emotionally, it also wears at our health. We tend to put emotions into the category of the mind, but emotions are not just mental phenomena. They’re bodily experiences, too. We feel them in the form of sensations. Some of us feel our hearts racing and shortness of the breath when we are anxious. Some get belly aches when we are nervous. I personally cannot eat when I am about to give a presentation. A friend of mine gets migraines before examinations. As a culture, we have attempted to disconnect the mind and the body, but they are intricately connected. While modern medicine tends to treat them separately, more holistic approaches address both mind and body.

A sore shoulder may be the result of tendonitis, but it can also be caused by stress. When we feel anxious or under pressure, we grip. We can take anti-inflammatories and hope that the pain will go away, but if we don’t give our attention to the pattern of gripping associated with the anxiety, medicine will only have temporary effect.

When we are sleepless, anxious and in pain, our bodies are speaking to us. If we can slow down enough to heed their messages by non-reactively feeling the sensations in our body, we can learn a lot about the circumstances we find ourselves in and the path forward.

Creating a Morning Ritual

In The Power of Myth, the great mythologist, Joseph Campbell said, “You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning. You don’t know who your friends are. You don’t know what you owe anybody. You don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”

This is what the morning ritual is about.  It’s a time and space of “creative incubation.”  It’s the place where you come back to day after day to look into the mirror, to see not just the lines that are accruing on your face, but to see the beautiful wisdom that wants to and needs to emerge through you.  It’s a time where we don’t need to understand or make sense in conventional terms, but simply to be connected to the essence of life.

Morning rituals are times when we spend 15 minutes, 30 minutes, one hour or whatever time you need to connect with yourself, to connect to spirit or whatever term you want to call the great mystery. The heart of all ritual is about connecting.  It's about establishing a relationship to ourselves and our emotions, and also about letting go in an unadulterated way to the creative urges that are moving through us.  It’s not about getting caught in doing it right or following someone else’s prescribed ritual to a tee.  One day, you might wake up and want to do some yoga postures.  Another day, you may just want to read poetry or write in your journal.    Maybe it’s just about sitting with your sadness or lying down with your exhaustion.  The important thing is that you meet the experience in a flexible and adaptable way such that you find your inner connection.

Some people do not do morning rituals because they say that they do not have time, but all that is needed is 15 minutes.  We can all surrender 15 minutes of our sleep time for this period.  And even though we may have time in the morning, we often feel too distracted.  We want to check our emails, or the Facebook feed, anything but go to the mat or pillow.  One trick I often teach my clients is to roll their yoga mats out or set up their meditation cushions right next to their beds. That way, when they wake in the morning they stand up and get immediately on their yoga mat or sit down on your meditation cushion.

Below are some possible items that may fit nicely into a morning ritual of your choosing.  These are meant simply as suggestions and are not intended in any way shape or form to be performed in a fixed way or in chronological fashion.  Take what works.  Remove what doesn’t. These are just rough guidelines for you to use as a tool.

  1. Start with an invocation.  An example might be a loving kindness meditation  The one below comes from the vipassana tradition as taught by S.N. Goenka:May I be filled with peace.May I be filled with harmony

    May I be filled with loving kindness.

    May I be healthy and safe.

    May all beings  share in my  peace.

    May all beings share  my  harmony.

    May all beings share my loving kindness.

    May all beings share my goodwill.

    May all beings near and far, seen and unseen, human and non-human, sentient and non-sentient  be  happy.

    May all beings be peaceful.

    May all beings be free of suffering and ill-will.

    I forgive all  those  who  might  have  hurt  or  harmed  me, knowingly  or  unknowingly, consciously  or  unconsciously,  by  their  deeds  of  body, speech,  or  mind.

    I seek  pardon from  all  those  whom  I  might  have  hurt  or  harmed, knowingly  or  unknowingly, intentionally  or  unintentionally, by  my  deeds  of  body, speech,  or  mind. All  are  my  friends. None  is  my  enemy . All  are  my  friends. None  is  my  enemy.

    May  all  share  my  peace.

    May  all  share  my  harmony.

    May  all  beings be  happy, be  peaceful, be happy, be happy

  2. Extend your gratitude. One of my teachers, Angeles Arrien says, “Begin and end the day with gratitude. When the heart is open, anything is possible. Gratitude extends curiosity. We want our curiosity to be greater than our criticality.” You might express a prayer of gratitude that is your very own, or you may use one that you’ve learned. Or you can take up a gratefulness practice.  Check out Brother David Steindl-Rast’s Gratefulness.org (http://www.gratefulness.org/p/)
  3. Take action that lifts your spirit? Examples might be an anonymous act of kindness, something that might surprise and delight someone.  Maybe it is doing some yoga postures, some breath work, and/or some seated, lying, or standing meditation.  Maybe it is about drinking coffee or tea with a loved one while reading poetry.
  4. Set intentions by asking yourself, “What is the value that would support my well-being today? What would comfort or strengthen me?”  Examples include: trust, humor, flexibility, compassion, or humility. Wait and watch for that to be revealed to you.  And then imagine placing that value above you, below you, to your left, your right, inside of you, outside of you, and all around you.
  5. Call on your allies: your teachers; your ancestors; your favorite animals, birds, flowers, or trees for their guidance: “Oh ancestor, please live through me today to support the common good for all humanity and for the betterment of all our relations.”
  6. Remind yourself of certain proverbs, sayings, poems or stories your teachers have taught you.  A reminder I often love coming back to lately is from Angeles: “Anything that is at my gate, I can handle; otherwise, it wouldn't be there.” Others might be: "This too shall pass" or the old Beatles line, "All you need is love." You might read a story from a spiritual tradition that resonates with you.
  7. Finally, consider a pattern of behavior that you want to let go of today. Examples might include negative self-talk, pessimism, or gossiping.

 

 

A Mindful Approach to Shame

The most challenging thing my clients face is how to deal with their emotions.  Emotions can be such an inconvenience, especially the ones we're always trying to fix or overcome; the ones we beat ourselves up about; and those that we hide from others.  These are what I consider the "shame-based emotions." We don't live in a world that has a great deal of intelligence around emotions.  Some therapists encourage us to express them.  As kids we're taught not to say anything, "if you don't have anything nice to say."  When we see a friend or co-worker, and they ask, "How are you?" our reflexive responses tend to be, "Good.  You?"  When I was in my early-20's, I started to experiment with my responses to that question.  Each time I gave a nuanced answer, like "I'm feeling blue today," the responses I'd get were often so weird and uncomfortable that I just stopped. We all know that life isn't one smooth and happy ride, and yet we don't live in a culture or a time in history that acknowledges that fact.  The very nature of emotion is that it isn't stable.  The Greek god associated with our deeper emotions and dreams is Neptune.  Neptune is also the god of water, oceans, and seas.  The Greeks understood that our emotions were like the sea, untamable, unfathomable, and amorphous.  We live in a culture and period that would like to and seeks to get a handle on everything around us.  We might hang on to every word of  a pundit that predicted the 2008 market crash.  We might seek advice from self-help books and inspirational speakers.  We even make big purchases, like homes and cars to feel secure.  And we often won't rock the boat in challenging relationships and jobs, all so we won't feel certain emotions.

Why?  We're downright afraid of our feelings, not all of them, but some, and especially the ones that we wouldn't describe when asked, "How are you doing today?"  Part of the reason we're so averse to feeling shameful emotions is that we don't know how we'll handle them when they come up, or to put it another way, how they'll handle us.  One of the emotions my client Tom avoids at all costs is sadness, and it's really getting to be a problem in his relationship with Jane, his wife.  So when Jane inadvertently says something that hurts, he doesn't even notice that he's upset.  From the outside, it's obvious.  The expression on his face absolutely changes.  And when she asks him what's upsetting him, he's quick to say, "Nothing.  Nothing," and then adds, "Leave me alone!"  At which point, he sulks for a few days until the mood passes.  And when he finally emerges, he feels remorse and vows to never do it again, only to start that cycle over, again.

Tom isn't unusual.  When we don't like a particular emotion,  we do everything we can to avoid it, often to the point where we carry a great deal of shame around it.  One client, Gina, feels so ashamed of the ways that she manipulates her boyfriend into "not leaving me."  She can't help it, she claims, that she feels the urge to try to distract him from wanting to leave her.  She says, "I  just don't want to feel lonely."  We're all afraid to feel certain emotions.  That's the human experience. It's equally human that when we avoid our painful and shameful emotions, they tend to follow us like the plague.  The Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, famously said, "What you resist persists."  Jung found that patients could not help but enlarge aspects of themselves that they wouldn't embrace.  The more they hid, denied, or covered up that which they were ashamed of, the greater the problem became.

Throwing the Book at Ourselves

If we're ever going to change, if we're ever going to find a way of working with these painful emotions, we need to start by having a new relationship with them.  We tend to regard emotions like anger, sadness, anxiety, jealousy, or loneliness as bad or wrong.  Anything that's bad or wrong needs to be arrested or subdued.  That's where shame enters.  Shame is a form of self-loathing that we add to an already challenging situation.  When we add shame to an emotion, it's a form of self-punishment.  We penalize ourselves much like a judge or jury when we hold our emotions as either wrong or bad.  And, in addition, we continue to paralyze ourselves, making it impossible to learn or evolve from the experiences we're in.  In fact, when we throw the book at ourselves like this, we end up as Tom keeps ending up, repeating the same experience again and again.

Emotion is a reply or a response to a stimulus.  That's really all it is.  And when we try to overcome, deny, or attack ourselves for even having the emotion, we miss out on the deeper learning the emotion is trying to make known.  To become adept at listening to our emotions is to gain access to our inner experience and to be led into an inner life.  What's required of us is something absolutely counterintuitive.  What's needed is that we develop the knack for staying aware of our emotions when they come up and restrain ourselves from judging them and reacting to them.

Refraining from Reaction

Contrary to popular belief, our emotions are not the thoughts we have about the way we feel. These thoughts are the stories we tell ourselves, which are made up of our opinions, judgements, and beliefs.  The domain of emotion is totally different from the domain of thought.  Emotions, in fact, are really quite a physical phenomena.  We feel our emotions.  We feel them in our bodies.  As soon as we feel emotions, especially painful ones, we tend to react to them by forming stories about their source and  almost simultaneously seek strategies to try to get away from them.  This process of feeling--->identification---> reaction happens so quickly that unless we're really paying attention, we rarely notice it happening.  Why?  Because the brain does not distinguish emotional pain from physical pain.  For the brain, they are one and the same.  And so we reflexively try to get away from pain. The only problem is that emotions, even the painful ones, aren't eradicated through these knee-jerk reactions.  In fact, they tend to create more problems.

Lisa, came to coaching because her husband is threatening to leave her; he claims that she's "not present in the relationship."  Through a little inquiry, we quickly discovered that she's angry with him for not showing up as an equal partner.  But she doesn't want to "rock the boat" because she fears her anger and the devastation it might cause.  Her father was quite verbally abusive to her mother and sister, and she's afraid of the damage she'll cause.  She's so habituated to avoiding her anger, that she's almost completely checked out of all her relationships, especially the one that means the most to her.  In other words, as soon as she feels anger, she identifies it as wrong or bad, and all at once becomes absent.  And she's so habituated to this reaction that she doesn't even notice it happening.  It's gotten to the point, now, where she can barely be in the same room as her husband.

Realizing We're Triggered

Before Lisa was ever going to be able to work with her feelings of anger, she was going to have to learn to slow down enough to notice the emotions or feelings she was reacting to.  The only way she would be able to do that was to let the domain of thoughts go and enter into the domain of feelings, bodily feelings.  It took some coaxing, but as she got habituated to meeting the emotions in her body, she stopped reacting to them in the same way.  Anyone can easily develop the ability to observe painful emotions that come up when we're triggered.  Being triggered literally evokes a biochemical experience, a cascade of feelings, usually uncomfortable, accompanied by shallow and rapid breathing.  If we develop the knack for staying attuned to the body and/or breath, we can short-circuit a lot of the drama of our lives, especially the fabrications we make up that result from our knee-jerk reactions.  Our body and breath give us warning signals to alert us to a painful emotion long before we've reacted to it, and it's gotten out of control.

Body-Scan

One of the easiest ways to discover our emotions in the body is to locate them with a body-scan.  When we scan the body, we do a quick scan for gross, uncomfortable sensations from head to toe.  We scan the surface  and interior of of the body from top to bottom and back to front; so, a body scan might look like this:

Head, face, neck, throat, shoulders, arms, hands, chest, upper back, belly, mid and lower back, pelvis, genitals, legs, and feet.

My client, Jenny, tends to feel her anger in the hollow in the back of her knees.  Others feel it in the chest as a tightness or a heaviness.  Some feel it like a stuck feeling in their bellies that keeps moving around or like a piece of steak caught in the throat.  Given the fact that our bodies are the ground for this internal feedback, it's critical that we develop a relationship with them, to develop a daily habit of attuning ourselves to the inner framework of our bodies, to actually wanting to know what's happening inside of us, even when we experience an unpleasant feeling.  We have to alter the language, "What's wrong, here?" to, "What's here, now?"...Pause...Feel...and then, "What's here, now." ...Pause...Feel...and then, "What's here, now."

Short Exercise

Briefly scan your body from head to toe and notice  if any feelings or sensations stand out.  Allow yourself to stay with a sensation for a minute or two with a quality of curiosity. "What's here?"  Just locate whatever emotions or sensations are in your body, and stay with one or two of the sensations for a sustained period of time.

Laser-Focused Attention and Soft-Global Attention

My 20's were tumultuous years.  I spent a good deal of those years feeling lonely and lost, emotions which exacerbated an already sensitive gut.  The only thing that would quell the discomfort sometimes was lying prone on the floor or in bed, closing my eyes and just feeling my way through the he knots in my belly.  That's what they felt like on first glance.  Then the initial tightness around the gut would give way to subtler sensation in the belly, almost the feeling of scurrying mice, until, at some point, I could pinpoint a locus, a central point from which all the sensations were emanating from.  It was as if all of the tightness in and around the belly was a sort of bracing or guarding to protect this central, vulnerable point. When we learn to meet our emotions in the physical form of our bodies, it initially feels gross.  If we're patient, the guarding or protection fades, and the sensations require subtler and subtler awareness.  If we keep our awareness connected to the domain of the body, we will begin to notice a variety of sensation with accompanying emotions.

The sensations tend to require a laser-like focus.  All the attention is pointed toward one single spot.  Occasionally, however, it can be useful to alternate between a concentrated, focused attention and a softer, full-bodied awareness.  This second type of awareness allows us  to be conscious of the underlying mood or tone and gives us a sense of what's changing overall.The laser focused awareness gives us an almost microscopic view of subtle body sensations.  It can sometimes be useful to label the sensations associated with laser-focused awareness and the emotions associated with soft-global awareness as a way to stay present and to stay out of the storyline in our heads.  Here is a very simple labeling classification that comes from the five elements:

 

SymbolKey-150dpi

 

  • Air:
    • laser-focused awareness sensations: floaty, light, and moving
    • soft-global awareness emotion: afraid, anxious, apprehensive, fearful, frightened, hesitant, jittery, nervous, overwhelmed, panicky, and shaky
  • Earth:
    • laser-focused awareness sensations:  heavy, fixed, grounded, stuck
    • soft-global awareness emotion: apathetic, blah, dull, fatigued, lethargic, listless, numb, stuck
  • Fire:
    • laser-focused awareness sensations: cold, cool, hot, and warm
    • soft-global awareness emotion: agitated, angry, annoyed, bitter, cold, disgusted, disheartened, dismayed, edgy, exasperated, harried, irate, irked, irritated, and mad
  • Water:
    • laser-focused awareness sensations:  deep, moist, sticky
    • soft-global awareness emotion: anguished, blue, brokenhearted, dejected, despair, disappointed, downhearted, gloomy, jealous, morose, mournful, and  sad

Staying with Curiosity and Noticing Change

The wisdom and insight that we discover from paying attention in this way requires a sustained form of looking along with a quality of curiosity. In other words, if we just notice how we feel and draw quick conclusions as to why we feel what we do, we don't actually get the learning our difficult emotions have the potential to reveal to us.  And because they're uncomfortable and our brain seeks quick resolutions to their occurrence, there's a propensity for all of us to try to figure them out quickly, so we don't have to feel them. When we bring our attention to the body sensations and immediately try to understand, make sense of, or grasp why we're feeling the way we feel, we short-circuit the deeper learning our emotions offer us.  If we're trying to meet our discomfort with the aim of getting rid of or fixing the feelings with answers and justification, we enact a subtle form of rejecting our feelings.

Instead, what I want to posit about painful emotions is that it can be immensely helpful to incorporate patience, curiosity, and a quality of welcoming into the inquiry.  Curiosity tends to lower the risk associated with meeting our edge.  It also opens us up to being surprised to find unexpected truths.  Finally, it's child-like and exciting.  When we are welcoming of painful emotions, we soften into and invite them in, rather than tightening and resisting them.  Welcoming of painful emotions can be immensely challenging, especially if we are prone to avoiding them.  It can sometimes be helpful to have an outside support who can help us feel safe enough to welcome.  If an outsider isn't present, we can also occasionally bring a gentle and caring hand to the area of the body where we feel our emotional pain, caressing the area in a nurturing way.  I sometimes even have clients hold a pillow or teddy bear to feel connected to a child-like welcoming.

When I first tried to teach my client, Kevin, how to pay attention to his body's experience of anxiety rather than trying to understand it, he closed his eyes, felt inward and reported a tightness in his chest.  He then opened his eyes and said, "Oh I am nervous.  It's probably because I have a lot on my mind today."  And while this is an absolutely valid interpretation of his experience, it's still a speculation on the cause of his anxiety. So I asked Kevin to welcome the tightness in his chest and to start to get curious not about "why" he was feeling this way but just to be curious about the sensations.  He closed his eyes again, and I asked him, "What are you noticing, now?"  "Well, the tightness is gone.  I don't feel anything in my chest."  And so he opened his eyes, again.  So I said, "Great, no more tightness in your chest.  What's there, now?"  Reluctantly, he closed his eyes, again, and after a long pause, he settled inside and said, "I didn't realize this before, but I guess I feel sadness."  "Where do you feel sadness?"  I asked.  He pointed to his upper belly."  "Great," I said.  "Not great that you feel sad.  Great that you're noticing that.  Stay with it and see where it takes you."  So we sat quietly for a minute or two while he stayed with his inner feelings and sensations. At some point I noticed tears dropping down his cheeks. "What's happening?" I asked.  "I just really miss Jenny," his ex-girlfriend.

Kevin's story is very revealing about the journey into our emotions. We tend to just scrape the surface of them when we try to understand them before we've given ourselves time to feel them.  When we bring both an inquisitiveness and a welcoming to the feeling experience within our bodies for a sustained period of time, even when the feelings are uncomfortable and, at times, unbearable, we start to notice that they change, thus, giving us access to richer emotions that reveal a greater depth to our inner experience. And if we stay with the feeling experience, rather than avoid it or fix it, the first thing we'll notice is that it changes.

Surrendering to the Descent

That's the nature of all emotions and sensations; they're constantly changing.  What the next sensation will be can't be predicted.  Nevertheless, I tend to see a pattern in my clients when they develop the skill set of looking.  There's a kind of descent that initially takes place, and for some of my novice clients, that descent can be a bit unnerving.  As we go down, in, and through to the heart of the emotions and sensations that we've spent years and sometimes even a lifetime trying to get rid of, fix, overcome, or hide from, it can be a little scary. Even worse, it can feel like the descent is never ending.  Below is a visual representation of this experience.

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The essence of the model above is that before we're ever going to develop wisdom, clarity, and insight, we have to be willing to surrender to the feeling experience, tracking it as it changes from stuck and tight fear, to hot and burning anger, back to fear, and then all the way to sticky and heavy gloominess.  While it sometimes doesn't feel like it will ever come, we do, in fact, always reach a bottom, sometimes in minutes, sometimes in hours, and other times in days.  At some point we get there, and once there, it can feel chaotic or as if something inside is breaking apart.  And for some of us, it can feel like labor. Nevertheless, when we reach the bottom, we experience a sort of disintegration and reintegration.  While the experience is a whole lot less pleasurable than sex, reaching bottom is almost the same as reaching orgasm.  We can no longer hold the energy or intensity, and, thus, experience a sort of spilling over into a new perspective and sometimes even a new life.  This moment is really the moment of transformation we all seek.  It's the moment some people wait a lifetime for.  In many ways our painful emotions are invitations to this new awareness.

This breakthrough is described quite well by the Tao Te Ching, "When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be."  Letting go, in this sense, is really letting ourselves go into the feeling experience of the painful or difficult emotions so that we can incorporate and include what we have previously prevented, resisted, or tried to overcome.  Once we've reached the bottom of the ride down, we start to develop the capacity to be comfortable with the emotion. It no longer runs us.  We stop feeling the need to react to it.  More significantly, as we integrate, rather than reject, we experience more wholeness, more clarity, and a vastly different outlook on life.  If we allow them, our emotions can be powerful enough to completely alter the way we experience the world.

Don't Do It Alone

Because this descent can be unnerving, it can be immensely helpful to have a guide along the way, especially someone who isn't particularly biased, like a family member or a friend.  A well-reputed mind-body coach, somatic therapist, or teacher who has years of experience with clients can ease this process for us.  Other places where we might develop the knack for dropping into the domain of the body are mindful dance classes, yoga classes, and meditation classes and retreats.  It's important that the classes be less oriented around performance or competition, but, instead, the focus is each individual's one's own internal and personal experience.

Brief Summary

  1. Noticing uncomfortable feelings accompanied by shallow and rapid breathing when we're triggered.
  2. Scan the body from head to toe looking for gross and uncomfortable sensations.
  3. Alternating laser focused attention and soft, global attention.
  4. Identifying the elemental quality of the sensations: air, earth, fire, and water.
  5. Staying with curiosity and openness and noticing change.
  6. Surrendering to the descent until we've reached the bottom.
  7. Integration, insight, and clarity,

If you'd like to learn more skillful means of working with shameful emotions, please contact me for a complimentary assessment:

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Knowing When to Let Go

rk_15.jpg

rk_15At some point, all of us face the need to evolve.  It's almost an imperative in spiritual practice that if we are to experience the aliveness of life, we must keep growing.  And sometimes that means letting go of what no longer serves us or that we serve whole heartedly.  If we don't let go, we suffer.  And yet doing so can be grueling.  I wanted to share a teaching from 'The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna' about knowing when to let go.  Ramakrishna was a 19th century, Indian mystic.

When we plant a sapling we put a fence around it so that cattle will not eat it or nobody would accidentally crush it under one's feet.  But when the plant starts growing into a large tree, the fence should be removed and taken away.  If the fence is not removed in time then it might even hinder in the growth of the tree.  The trunk of the tree may even get trapped within the fence.  Moreover, after the sapling turns into a big tree neither can cattle eat it up fully nor can people crush it under their feet accidentally.  Likewise, the tree will drop fruit that will feed the cattle and the people who once threatened its very existence.

Whenever we begin anything new, especially the discipline of spiritual practice, we need to protect the fragility of our endeavor.  When I first started my yoga practice, it took me a few years, but I had to learn the discipline needed to maintain a daily practice of yoga: going to bed early, waking early, eating properly, resting enough, getting enough mental and emotional stimulation, etc.  I needed that discipline in order to grow within my practice.  And I loved it!!!  It fed me deeply.

Spiritual Arrogance

But, after awhile, I started to feel like the fences I'd created for myself only created more rigidity.  I'd find myself judging non-practitioners as "unconscious."  The fragility I'd once felt around my practice gave way to a quality of spiritual arrogance.  A lack of curiosity is  a sure sign for each of us that either we need a new challenge or we need to find a new way into the practice we're committed to. This is where it's critical to remove the fences that once kept our fragility from being devoured.  Distinguishing when it's time to give up or alter the discipline and what exactly to give up is highly individual.  That's where having a good teacher or a community of friends on the journey with us can be extremely helpful.  What is clear, though, is that at some point aspects of the structure stop empowering transformation and, instead, only harden us.

Very few of us have the courage to let go of what no longer serves us, though.  Why?  Because our identities get wrapped up in the external recognition and kudos we receive.  These external boons can be enticing, but they can easily be traps for all of us.  When you're considered 'advanced' in a community and you're identified with your role in it, it can be a sort of identity suicide to let go.   I am not saying that we should completely stop looking to the outside for recognition.  As humans, we long for and need this recognition.  But we're all so starved for it, that we tend to forego our own authentic experience and expression of fulfillment in order to be loved, liked, wanted, admired, needed.  And then we miss the opportunity to live a rich and full life on our own terms.

Knowing When We've Deceived Ourselves

When we're attuned enough to our inner wisdom, however, we know when we're 'b.s.'-ing ourselves.  But when we're not, it can be extremely helpful to have people in our lives that offer us the space of honest communication. If  we don't have this, it can be helpful to empower our inner witnesses, the neutral part of us that is noticing all the time, noticing what we're saying, doing, and experiencing.  That part of us can notice when we're "should-ing on ourselves."  I love this expression.   When we're "should-ing," we say we do what we do not because we love it but because we "should" do it.  That's a good sign that our heart is no longer in it.

The point of all practice is to bring us to the heart of our innate wisdom.  It is not to end up more disciplined.  Paul Meuller-Ortega aptly said, "Eventually as Seekers, we must become Finders."  Knowing when you've discovered an access to your innate wisdom is not  a form of spiritual arrogance.  It's just something that's not empowered within spiritual traditions.  What is empowered is hierarchy.  Tapping into our innate wisdom does not necessarily lend one to becoming recognized in the external sense.  But that it isn't recognized by a community of seekers is not of significance.  What's important is that we not only recognize this indweller that the yogis call the purusa, but that we share it, that we have the courage to give our gift.  That's the part of Ramakrishna's story in which the tree drops fruit for everyone, even the cows and humans who previously threatened its existence.

The point of all spiritual practice is to attune us to our truth, our innate wisdom, and our joy.  This is what the yogis call, Sat-Chit-Ananda.  The point isn't to win in some hierarchical game that all traditions can't help but maintain.  The point is to find access to our inner strength, our magic, and our gifts and to trust them.  I'll end with the following quote from Joseph Campbell, the mythologist who inspired the Star Wars trilogy and who coined the term, "follow your bliss."  In this quote Campbell helps us to not mistake the trees for the forest:

What is important about a lightbulb is not the filament or the glass but the light which these bulbs are to render; and what is important about each of us is not the body and its nerves but the consciousness that shines through them.  And when one lives for that instead of the protection of the bulb, one is in Buddha consciousness. Campbell, Joseph. Myths to Live By. 2011. The Joseph Campbell Foundation (JCF)

 

Living with Doubt

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There's an inner process to change.  In the outer sense, all that's required is that we leave a job; start a new relationship; tidy up our resumes; or enroll in a class.  But what gets us to the threshold of outer change is a subtle, mysterious process that requires a capacity to track our inner lives.  So much of what we read in the self-help world is the "just-do-it!" methodology.  Just go to a Landmark Forum or Tony Robbins' Unleash the Power Within, and by the end of the weekend, you'll be walking on hot coals and doing your best to get all your friends to enroll in the same program you got snookered into yourself.  While these trainings offer powerful reminders that we're much more capable than we give ourselves credit for, they tend to give lip services to but undermine our relationship to our inner lives.  Even worse, after we've shelled out hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for these trainings, we're often left feeling even more stuck than when we began because on top of feeling unsure about our next steps, we, now, feel weak or inferior because taking those steps isn't as easy for us as The Landmark Forum Leader or Tony purports them to be.  Maybe that's why we sign up for the Level 2 course.  Real and substantive change doesn't happen in a weekend.  What's required aren't quick fixes, new tricks, or gimmicks.  What's needed are two things we already have: attention to our interior lives and the capacity to live with confusion.  I personally am in the middle of what I consider to be a major work transition that I think is demonstrative of this notion that substantive change is 80% an inner job/ 20% outer. About a year ago, I started to feel a dimming of interest in one of my current work projects.  I've been co-running an Ashtanga Yoga program in San Francisco with a friend of mine for five years, and I stopped feeling that magical feeling I'd previously felt about running a Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga program.  While each student always brought something new and alive to the class, I kept bumping into a kind of been-there-done-that, burned out feeling along with the sense that there was something "out there", something unclear waiting for me.  I'd had these sort of feelings before. I'd been running these programs, for a little more than fifteen years, so aversion isn't new hat.   Like all feelings, this one would previously come and go.  But in this case, these feelings were persistent.

Distinguishing Reactions from Callings

It's often hard to detect when a feeling is just a passing reaction or when it's a message from the deeper interior.  We all have periods of time when our jobs or our relationships don't satisfy us.  That's normal.  The notion that we're always supposed to be happy all the time is a myth.  Even the best of job or relationships can go stale on us or just irritate us to the core.  That's normal.  But when that difficulty is prolonged, it's often an inner message that it's time to slow down and reflect on what we're bumping into.  Often times, we get busy trying to alter our lives or situations to make our discomfort go away only to discover that we're in a new relationship or new job meeting the same feelings again.  Sometimes the message from the interior is that, in fact, it is time for a change.  Deciphering the inner codes can be quite difficult.  It can be immensely helpful to have wise counsel as well as a community of friends on the path with us that we trust enough to help us distinguish the wisdom of our inner callings from the voices that deceive us.

So I shared the experience with my coach, my wife, and my partner in the project.  I said, "Okay, I'm feeling burned out. I'm starting to wonder if co-running this program is coming to an end for me.  I want to give voice to this experience, but I don't want to make a decision. I want to wait and see if, in fact, I am done, or I am just a little burnt out.  I'd like to revisit this conversation in two months."  In the meantime, it was important for me to test my hypothesis.  Was I really done?  Or was I just experiencing a message from the interior saying, "Slow down. Stop giving your energy.  Find a new way to work."

Sure enough, after two months, the feelings had passed.  I felt reinvigorated by some responses I'd had to some blog writing I was doing about the intersections of yoga and life coaching and started to see that the project I was in was a great platform for the expression of this cross-breeding.   But then a friend contacted me and said, "I'd like to partner with you to do some coach-consulting work in corporations."  And my response was, "Yes!!! I'd love to do this!"  But with a little deeper reflection, I came to the sad conclusion that I was still teetering on burnout.  There was no way I could take on another project.  I just didn't have the energy reserves to take something like that on.  My days were too filled with teaching classes, seeing clients, and treating patients, that I couldn't possibly give this new project the attention it needed.  This recognition had me feeling extremely frustrated .  And so, here I was, once again, thinking that it was time for a change, but somehow I wasn't quite ready.

Are We Really Meaning  Making Machines?

This is where I imagine most coaches and self-help workshops would throw me off of the cliff.  They'd tell me, "Just do it!"  All change has the tendency to be dummied down by these so-called change-agent experts:

No action = No change

No change = Procrastination

Procrastination = Bad/Unhappy

Action = Good/ Happy

And while this perspective, no doubt, gets people into powerful action, it's the kind action that makes them feel cut off from their interiors, which, by the way, deliver messages slowly and subtly and require not so much boldness but softness, receptivity, and awareness to detect and decipher their messages.  Many self-help programs regard humans as machines that misinterpret everything and, thus, need reprogramming so they can function as better machines. Disregarding all of the self-help jargon I'd acquired over the years, I thankfully held off from making a decision for another few more months.  And then I had this experience that absolutely changed me forever.

The Teacher Appears When the Student is Ready

After an arduous bike ride to the top of Mt. Tamalpais, I stood on a hillock overlooking the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco Bay, The City of San Francisco, and the East Bay.  As I stood there taking in the scenery, I felt a sense of gratitude for the beauty that surrounded me, and so I started to do a little, improvised gratitude jig, somewhere between a yoga sun salutation and a dance.  As I did my gratitude dance, I started to hear a clicking noise behind me that kept the rhythm.  And when I turned around, I saw this raven standing only a few feet from me with a seed of sorts in its beak. The clicking was coming from the raven's beak making contact with the seed, and I had this clear sense that the raven was relating to my movements by keeping the rhythm.  I continued to dance my gratitude dance around the hillock.  Each movement I made to the left, the raven moved to the right.  Each movement I made to the right, the raven moved to the left.  We were in a dance together, and the raven was keeping the rhythm.  At the same time this dance was taking place, I'd had this intuitive sense that the raven had a message for me.  Who knows whether I was making it up or not, but it was a message that moved me:

"It's time to let go, to stop dancing someone else's dance, to dance you're own steps, and to trust them."

For me this was code for the fact that I'd spent the last 20 years faithfully following a tradition.  I'd been a student and teacher of a deep and old tradition of yoga, but, nevertheless, someone else's interpretation, someone else's ideas, and it was time for me to learn to trust a deeper and more personal wisdom, the one that was moving through me.  Gulp.  I'd been a student of and run these sorts of programs for so many years because they had given me access to deep teachings, the security of a teacher a community, a sort of authority to back up my own teachings, and an identity.  Now, the raven-teacher was giving me the the sage advice, "Let go!"

One might read this as a sort of self-aggrandized interpretation of an experience, a sort of glorification of narcissistic tendencies, but the inner sense of clarity the experience evoked in me was profound and true.  I realized, in that moment, that my need for change wasn't so much about leaving the program or about being burnt out.  Rather, it was about making room for something more personally truer to enter.  I realized that I had to make space for that to come about.  And for that brief moment, I felt released.  Released from the burden that by leaving, I was betraying my students, my partner, or the tradition.  It was a visceral experience, this clear sense that not only was it okay to make a change, but I was being called forth to make it.  And while I'd been preparing for this moment for the nine months of back-and-forth, the inner teacher's message had clearly arrived.

Holding the Tension

Within a week of this experience, my partner and I met.  I shared my decision, and we both wrote a public announcement about that decision.  By the way, this doing, this action required little to no effort.  Even though most self-help programs focus on action, that wasn't the challenge.  The challenge was living with the uncertainty for almost nine months.  One of my teachers used to call this form of waiting, "holding the tension."  Holding the tension is another way of saying, living with uncertainty.  It's called holding the tension because it feels uncomfortable to live between a question, to live in ambiguity. Each of us has a propensity to try to get ground underneath our feet by wanting certainty or clarity.  That's why we turn to self-help programs, gurus, yoga traditions, techniques, methods, and philosophies.  But if we're following our inner guidance, the messages come in only when we're really ready.  Sometimes we must undergo a trial by fire before the message is clear.  You can't coax the interior into a "yes or no decision" in a weekend. It is much more subtle than that.  But when the message is announced, it comes in declarative tones from that still small voice within: "Call her."  "Go to New York." "It's time." "Let go!"  And when we disregard these messages because they're inconvenient, we sometimes find ourselves in the throws of depression.

And Continuing to Live With Uncertainty

Tomorrow is the last day I will be teaching at Mission Ashtanga.  I can't say that I am not sad or even that I don't regret my decision.  I can't tell you how many times my doubting voice has entered.  Right after I made the decision to leave, I started to like teaching, again.  All of the previous feelings of burn out have completely gone away.  In fact, some aspects of my teaching, which previously had been driven by a proving energy, are gone.  I don't have to prove anything to anyone anymore.  And as that's gone away, I am just enjoying the process, which has me thinking, at moments, "Why the f-ck am I doing this?"

But I know, within a much deeper place of my being why I am doing this.  This decision is not whimsy.  I had to struggle valiantly with the decision.  I had to endure lots of back and forth while continuing to live with uncertainty.  And since that certainty came, I have to be willing to trust it in spite of the fact that I want to second-guess my decision. I get that my ride is unique to me, but I think that the essence of my experience is universal, that if we want real and substantive change, we have to be willing live for sustained periods with the discomfort of ambiguity and doubt.  In fact, one might say that most of life requires us to get accustomed to uncertainty.  The sooner we get that message, the less we'll fall prey to quick fixes and the more authentic our lives will be.

So as I enter the next step of this journey, I have some more ambiguity I have to live with:  What is my next step?  What is the deeper and more personally authentic expression I am being called forth to bring about?  To be honest, I have no f-cking clue.  I've made several stabs at it over the last few months since making my decision.  Every time I start to get something down, I feel like I am met with more confusion and uncertainty.  I've tried to put deadlines and timelines on the process.  I've spent hours trying to distill a message.  All of my efforts have been in vain.  In spite of my frustration with this process, I'm pretty clear that if I am patient and am willing to live with the uncertainty and a low-level of frustration, the next step will clarify itself.  Who knows, maybe I'll crumble and send away for Tony's Power Talk CD's.

How do we get to belief: Is it through faith or practice?

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I just came across this TED Talk by Karen Armstrong, author on comparative religions, that I think is particularly important because it points to the difference between spiritual practice and modern, religious expressions of faith.  While this talk is about the Golden Rule--'don't do to others what you wouldn't want done to you.'-- what I found of particular interest was her commentary on the etymology of the word, belief.  We have an awkward relationship with the world, belief today.  Before reading on, consider the way this word, belief, makes you feel or what it makes you think of.

Belief, in its original, 17th century sense meant, "an intellectual ascent to a set of propositions; I commit myself, I engage myself."  In other words, trust in God was not something that one simply decided.  It was through committed action that rendered one's relationship to God.  In other words, belief was something that was discovered through practice.  It wasn't just something you just swallowed down while ignoring common sense.  You engaged in a set of disciplines on a day-in and day-out basis that gave you access to the deeper mysteries that lie at the heart of the teachings.  As Armstrong says, "Religious doctrines are meant to be summons to action. You only understand them when you put them into practice."

The source text of yoga, The Yoga Sutras, which is dated to the first century, around the time of Jesus, describes the results of all spiritual practice--higher powers, subtle states of awareness, and, clarity-- but the bulk of the text is organized around the practical application, "the doing," how we attain these experiences of yoga.   While there is a sort of worldview that The Sutras hinge on, it's never explicitly described, nor does it particularly matter whether the yogi believes in it or not.  Following the practice is enough, not because it leads one to being a good, moral yogi.  Morality--good versus bad--isn't the game of Eastern spiritual practices.  Instead, through commitment to practice, a sort of wisdom or insight is gained, the sort of insight that one can trust.  By the way, that's the same thing as belief as Merrian-Webster describes it, "a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing."

In a way, I can't help but see that our attraction to the East stems from our modern religions having lost their way.  Instead of providing us with a path, as they used to, many expressions of modern religion ask us to adhere to a comprehensive understanding of the world that divorces us from our common sense.  At one point several years ago, I tried to evoke a debate with an orthodox Jewish friend's interpretation of the Torah.  His response was that we couldn't carry on a discussion because he understood the Torah to be written by God, whereas I understood it to be written by men.  In other words, in order to carry forward a good discussion, I'd have to disbelieve what I knew to be true.  Bummer.  What makes this even more of a bummer is that modern religions sanction this sort of divide.  Some even sanctify wars.

I am not suggesting that all Eastern spiritual practice is perfect or that all religions promote xenophobia.  The problem isn't the religions, it's the people that practice them, the one's that bring a sort of rigidity and orthodoxy to them.   I've seen yoga teachers who's whole lives are dedicated to adhering to and promoting a severe approach to tradition, even when it creates injury, both to themselves and others.  These people may be adept at contorting their bodies, but they never really grow.  Practice, like religion, has the potential to be a trap, as well.

The role of discipline is to enlighten us, to awaken us to that which isn't obvious.  It's designed not to be an end unto itself but to allow us to comprehend mysteries. A mystery is a religious truth that's hidden.  It's only through practice that it becomes obvious.  Once obvious, we can trust in it.  To get there is a journey.  In a way, each of our lives is a journey that's revealing one great mystery.  And for each of us, that mystery is very individual.  To take a set of propositions on faith is a sort of bypass of that journey.  Blind faith is like claiming to know a subject we never studied before.  Our job, as I see it, is to be willing to take that journey.  It can help to have signposts of those who have come before us--whether they come from spiritual or religious traditions--to guide us on that journey.  Ultimately, though, that journey is very individual.  But if it is taken, wholeheartedly and with courage, the result is a sort of belief that is different from that of blind faith because it's the sort of thing that you know in your bones, even in those moments when you've lost your way.

What Are We Really Afraid Of?

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IMG_1083Franklin Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."  If I'm really honest with myself, the only thing that holds me back is my fear.  When I think of somewhat risky things that might enliven my life, often the first thing that comes over me are subtle bodily warnings with anticipatory images, either of failure or mediocrity.   So much of what stops me and my clients from risk-taking, trying out something new or making  creative mistakes is a fear of something unknown. My friend and coaching peer, Peter Bostelmann, and I were discussing this very topic over lunch today.  I was describing this urge to take on a new project, one that would challenge me to give my gifts and, at the same time, would be an expression of what I sense my life purpose is all about.  As I attempted to share the details of that project, being the good listener that he is, he noticed that I was holding back, even being a bit shy about it.  When we looked closely together, I could see that much of what held me back was a part of me I'd rejected, a younger part of me that felt  ashamed for wanting to share myself for fear of being dismissed or disregarded as frivolous.

He helped me identify that part of me that doesn't want to feel old childhood feelings again.  That fear of really taking a risk and following my heart, he posited, might just be the avoidance of feeling those feelings again.  I believe what he's saying is true. When I look at different aspects of my childhood, I can see that a lot of what stops me is that I was either taught or I decided that certain parts of me were whole and others were broken, incomplete, or misaligned.  A lot of the work I've done, either in coaching, in therapy, on the yoga mat, or on the meditation cushion has been in service to healing those parts that feel fragmented.  And yet, I also recognize that not everything gets healed and even when there is some healing, those fears that stop us are still present.  Why?

Morbidity

Maybe our fear isn't run exclusively by our avoidance of certain past experiences and wounds.  Maybe, in addition, what stops us is our inability to anticipate our future.  All that we're capable of knowing with certainty is that we will die, that at some point we will have to say goodbye to our loved ones, let go of all that we have created, and surrender to the great mystery called death.  I wonder if what's stopping me isn't just that my dad didn't tuck me in one night when I was seven years old.  I know that had an impact on me.  But maybe what stops me is that I know that one day it will all go.

I've been facing that recognition more and more, the idea that at some point we all are forced to let go of what we love.  As I continue to open my heart ever more to my wife, Melissa, I keep running painfully into the fear, that at some point either she will die or I will die.  It's a horribly morbid thought, but one can't help but notice it when intimate ties grow stronger.  I wonder if that's what makes vulnerability so challenging with those we are most intimately connected to, like our significant others, our parents, and our siblings.  We rarely consciously face the thought that eventually we will have to say, "Goodbye,"  but I wonder whether somewhere in the back of our minds, we sense or even premeditate that loss and, as a result, guard our hearts, so we won't have to face the intensity of the pain once it actually occurs.

Hindsight and Foresight

Does our aversion to past experiences create this low-grade, unknown fear? Or do we fear and thus protect ourselves from the fact that some day it will all go?  Either way, we, unlike any other species in the world are cursed and/or blessed with hindsight and foresight.  These two perspectives do funny things to our nervous systems.  They're not always the most empowering.  In fact, they're often paralyzing.  Is it my past that's holding me back?  Is it my fear of eventual success, failure, or mediocrity and eventual death that stops me from taking the great leap into the unknown?

Ultimately, it doesn't really matter.  All that matters is that I find the place inside that doesn't fear the fear and, at the same time, hold a healthy regard for it, too.  I suppose that's the learning in all of this meandering for me.  That's where I have to look.  Courage, then, is the willingness not to take on the anticipated journey all at once but to just take the step that's presented here and now, the one that's right in front of me, the one that I fear but also the one I know is where I am called.

The Neuroscience of Happiness

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I wanted to share some ah-ha's I experienced while listening to a TED Talk by Shaun Anchor, author of Happiness Advantage.  What  l love about Anchor’s message is that our cultural orientation around fixing what’s wrong is being invalidated by science.  So, if we’re depressed, we go see a so-called 'expert' who diagnoses what’s wrong and treats the problem. That way of looking at things may apply well in engineering or technology, but it doesn’t really pan out too well for us humans in our quest for happiness.  And, most importantly, neuroscience is actually demonstrating this to be true.

DO-HAVE-BE

We live in a cultural paradigm rooted in doing and having in order to be happy:  by working harder, working elsewhere, getting that raise, finding that partner, etc. we will be happier.  We all have experienced the fallacy of this way of thinking.  We’ve all succeeded in one way or another but eventually discover that we don’t, in fact, experience the happiness that we thought the job or the paycheck would bring us.

Anchor demonstrates that research now shows that “90% of long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes this world.  If we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success, we can change the way we affect reality.”  Another way of saying this is that if happiness is where you come from, you don’t need to go out and look for it; in fact, it comes to you.

Dopamine: The Happiness Neurotransmitter

From a scientific standpoint, when we’re happy, the neurotransmitter, dopamine is released in the brain.  By the way, research has shown that acupuncture's main effects in the body are to release dopamine.  Dopamine not only affects an overall sense of wellbeing, but it increases our capacity to learn, be creative, and experience increased levels of vibrancy.  In fact, “Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral, or stressed.”

Practicing Happiness

The good news is that it doesn’t take a whole lot to develop the knack of optimism, positivity, and happiness. Anchor sites research that has found that the brain can be rewired within 21 days doing the following three practices:

  1. 3 Gratitudes:  Writing three things you’re grateful for.  This results in the brain “starting to scan the world not for the negative, but for the positive.”
  2. Journaling about one positive experience you’ve had over the last 24 hours. “This exercise teaches your brain that your behavior matters.”
  3. Meditation “allows your brain to get over the cultural ADHD that we’ve been creating by trying to do multiple things at once, allowing us to focus on the task at hand.”
  4. Random acts of kindness: Praising someone in your social support network.

What’s exciting about Anchor’s message is that science is demonstrating what yogis, meditators, and mystics have been saying forever, happiness is right here and right now, and it doesn’t take much to recognize it, just simple daily practice.  My hunch and hope is that as scientific findings start to show up in mainstream media, we’ll all experience a cultural paradigm shift from trying to fix what’s wrong with ourselves and one another to appreciating each of our unique gifts.

The One Minute Meditation

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A client of mine just forwarded this one minute meditation off to me designed by Elena Brower .  What I love about it is that it quickly tune you in, opens your heart and quiets the mind. Instructions

  1. As you finish reading this sentence, take a few healing breaths
  2. Smile
  3. Soften your eyes
  4. Imagine feel your heart to be as big, as alive, as open and as receptive as your brain.
  5. Stay with this opening for one minute.
  6. Feel how much softer it is in your heart now?

Your mission, should you choose to accept it

Bring this open, soft state of the heart-mind, no matter what the context, no matter how vexing or crazy it seems in front of you.

I dare you.