Mindfulness Related

5 Things That You Should Know For Getting Through Times When You’re Feeling Really Down

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What you resists persists.  Carl Jung

It may seem counter-intuitive, but after a certain amount of distraction necessary to meet your daily obligations, further complete distractions however adaptive or dysfunctional, and yet effective, will prolong your suffering.  The only way out of these feelings is through.  That means letting yourself feel them fully without trying to escape.  You don’t need to do this for hours or days on end, that will become over-whelming and counterproductive, but they do need to have some time to just be there, because they are there anyway, whether you want them to be or not.  Take this time to figure out what they are trying to say to you.  Embrace those messages and yourself fully with compassion and understanding.  When you feel that the work is done then you can just let them be there without overthinking, over -analyzing, or resisting.  Just note the sensations, where they are, how they feel, and let them be.  That is the best way to let them go…

And be sure to give yourself time.  Who knows how long you are going to need to snap out of this.  It may be longer than last time, or not as long – no matter.  Give yourself the time – if you don’t it will just make things more difficult.  Remember the only way out is through, all the way through…

Avoid the Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda game

Would you kick a friend when they are down?  Would you kick your enemy when they are down?  The second option is debatable but I’m sure you get my point.  Avoid, at all costs, kicking yourself when you’re down.  Thoughts like “I could have done this sooner”, “I should have tried that”, “If only they would have I would have” are nothing more than hindsight.  It is true that hindsight is twenty-twenty but it does little to enhance the present.  When you find yourself tormenting yourself with thoughts like these, it is important to do what you can to get present and stay present.  That means staying out of the future too with thoughts like “Next time I’ll be sure to…” and so on and so forth.  Your peace and your power are always in the present.  Right now you need to find your center and find your sense of peace.  It is in the present and it is in a quiet mind.  Practice mindfulness throughout the day.  Set a bell on your smart phone to remind you once or twice an hour to come back to the present.  And be sure to meditate to find some peace and silence, and to find yourself within the pain.  Your true self will always be there waiting for you.  Take a nice long rest in this space and revive.

This too shall pass.

I realize that this adage may sound as cliche as can be, but it is true and it is wise.  I cannot promise you that you won’t feel this bad or worse ever again.  But what I can promise you is that at some point you will feel better.

Take some time to observe your thoughts in your mind and your feelings and emotions as sensations in your body.  Notice how quickly even they pass, lasting often less than ten seconds each.  Really take the time to do this and you will find encouragement.

Even as you cry notice that it rarely continues for more than a half hour or so.  For those of you afraid to cry hold onto this thought and do your best to let go and let those tears come.  Even if you think you might not be able to stop crying once you start, you will most definitely at some point be able to stop.  Crying is the best way to release the pain and you will find that you feel a much-earned and much-deserved sense of relief after doing so.

Reconsider Buddhism’s 4 Noble Truths

  1.  All life includes periods of suffering.
  2. Suffering exists from attachment and desires.
  3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases.
  4. Freedom from suffering is possible from practicing the Eightfold Path.

You don’t need to practice the Eightfold Path to benefit from these Noble Truths.  You don’t need to give up all attachment or desire either.  What is suggested is to consider how our extreme attachments and desires cause us pain.  If we hold things more lightly, wherein we are content with what arrives and not so distraught by what doesn’t, or what departs, we will not suffer as extremely as when we deny that our human lives are characterized by impermanence.  Things change, we change, people come into our lives and depart, the same with opportunities, the same with problems.  There will always be pain when we lose what we cherish, or fail to achieve what we desire, but suffering arises from our resistance to this fact of life.  We can’t escape the pain, but we can ease the  pain by avoiding the suffering that comes with clinging and resisting.  Hold all things lightly, and you will have peace at all times, even when you’re feeling down.

Do all things soothing.

This recommendation comes straight from me and basically means that until you feel better, don’t worry about the things that can wait.  Put them on hold.  Until you feel better do only what makes you feel calm, and soothed, nurtured, and taken care of.  This will be unique to you of course.  If you have a hard time thinking of what sorts of things this might be, imagine a perfect parent coming along and giving you exactly what you need right now – what would those things be?  Then give those things to yourself.  For me its a lot of reading and eating things I ate when I was little.  And in pajamas of course.  For another it might be a day or so playing video games.  For another person it might be a weekend getaway or a day on the golf-course, a day with the kids or a day volunteering.  Whatever is going to feed your soul is what you need to give to yourself.  And whatever you do, be sure to feel entitled to it because you absolutely are…

If you are feeling so down that you are not able to meet your daily obligations and/or you are contemplating harming yourself or suicide, please immediately contact me, another helping professional, your nearest hospital emergency room, or a trusted friend or family member for help.  You may dial 911 to obtain help or a phone number for a crisis line as well.

Keep well,

Susan

Stare That Green-Eyed Monster Down…

O beware, my lord, of jealousy;  It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

Shakespeare, Othello

This morning I unexpectedly found out a friend of mine is in Italy once again.  Third time in a year-and-a-half.  While I am happy for him, at the same time I find myself pea-green with envy.  I’ve been dying to return since I went for my first time almost six years ago now, but for one reason or another, or several, I have not yet been able to.

So what to do with these icky feelings I wasn’t expecting to encounter so early in the day?  I took a few moments to sit mindfully with them, to stare them down so to speak, to see what they had to say.

It comes as no surprise that I found desire, clinging, grasping.  I am a grasping type for sure, and Italy has a lot to offer this Buddhist sub-type.  Art, architecture, fountains, fashion, cars, beautiful objects and land to feast your eyes on…  And the food to feast your taste-buds on…  And the music for your ears…  And the beaches and the warm ocean for your touch…

Did I mention I really love Italy?  To that I extend self-acceptance.  And yes there is also sadness there that I have not yet been able to visit again.  To that I extend the only thing I can, self-compassion.  But to that feeling of sadness I also extend two other gifts – gratitude and motivation.

Gratitude that I have been fortunate enough to visit this wonderful place before.  And gratitude that my friends and so many people in the world are also free to visit there and enjoy everything it has to offer…  Gratitude that the country lives in peace and its wonders will most likely be preserved for generations to come…

As far as motivation, motivation to do what I can and will do to ensure that I keep on going after all of the things that bring my life joy, and meaning, and most importantly peace of mind…

Keep well,

Susan

 

 

On Letting Go…

New loved ones, in many and most ways, are the most exciting and significant additions to our lives.  But like any new addition to our lives, they will put a dent in our well-worn routines and cause some minor upheaval until a new routine that suits two rather than one can be established.

This will happen even with the smallest additions such as kittens and puppies.  Because with pets our needs can continue to take priority, it is only a matter of time until we have them assimilated into our pre-existing routine with usually only some minor yet anticipated changes.

With infants it is the exact opposite and their needs and routines must take precedence over ours until they begin to mature.  We all know this and find it easy to accept, even if not necessarily easy to endure.  It’s just what is best for them.  After a certain amount of growth we can look forward to integrating their evolving and maturing routines with our pre-existing routines to create a nicely flowing whole family routine – that is unless they have their own unique psychological, medical, intellectual, or talent-related needs that must take priority.  Even that can be worked out in time though.

But with a new mate we have two people with two different sets of roles, priorities, and habits, who to a given extent still maintain some level of identity of themselves as individuals.  Some of these roles – such as giver and receiver of love and affection – are complementary and naturally become routine.  But what happens to those other roles and factors when they aren’t quite compatible?  Role/personality discrepancies such as student versus nine-to-fiver, scheduler versus spontaneous planner, everything has its place versus its place is wherever I put it, etcetera…  What happens with all these trivial things that can make a somewhat well-organized and very busy life feel like chaos – sweet and somewhat endearing chaos – but chaos nevertheless.

At times like these it is helpful to recall Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths.  The first is that suffering – or in this instance the impatience arising from the time it takes to establish a new routine – is part of life.  The second is that clinging – wishing we could just stick to my routine or that he would hurry up and figure his out so that we can figure “ours” out – exacerbates that suffering.  The third is that it is MY thoughts, feelings, and desperate attempts to quickly solve the problem, and not the problem itself, that are causing my impatience for a quick escape from chaos and return to peaceful order.  Return to Truth number one, life is just messy sometimes…

Although my mind and anxiety have other things to say about the matter, I am doing my best to practice letting go.  My bathroom is cluttered, we’ll get extra shelving, until then let it go…  The bedsheets are sideways, that’s cute and completely irrelevant, so let it go…  My desk is covered in papers and clothes, I can sit on my bed with my laptop instead, not a problem, let it go…  He’s asleep at 7:00 p.m., he’s going to be up all night and unable to get up in the morning, but really I am still free to go to bed as usual, not my problem, let it go…

Naturally some may feel a bit prickly when it comes to a lot of letting go, like in some way things are out of balance and they are losing their power with too much letting go…  When that stirring of resentment arises I just need to think of things like the following: sitting in bed together giggling, no need to let this go, the cute way he wishes me good morning when I first open my eyes, no need to let this go, a Caribbean vacation I am now looking forward to, no need to let this go, warm hands on my back when my muscles are sore, no need to let this go, that great feeling of knowing you have made someones day easier in some way, again and again, no need to let that go, the excitement of considering ways to make his life better, no need to let this go, looking forward to coming home to his smiling face, not letting this go…

Things which matter most much never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Keep well…

 

 

E – Evaluation of Your Experience

“Feel goodism” is a term that often appears in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy publications, and in the health and wellness community in general.  It refers to the idea that feeling good is the definition of psychological health.    It easily follows from this idea then that not feeling good some or all of the time is a sign of a problem which requires elimination.

Its easy to see how the media heavily encourages this attitude – happiness and good times are desirable and are therefore really easy to sell.  Its also easy to see how our social rules discourage us from letting those who we are not particularly close to know when all is not well.  This leads us to believe that most people are feeling good most of the time.  When a person asks you how you are doing, something that will easily occur several times a day for the average person, how many times are they really looking for an honest answer?  How many times do we provide one?  Very few.  We are all socialized to put on an act regarding how we’re really doing.  This isn’t particularly harmful in and of itself, and has useful functions for society as a whole.  But unless we are sharing our thoughts and feelings with those closest to us or a helping professional, it becomes a problem when it leads to the belief that your negative feelings are exceptional, and therefore abnormal, when they’re usually perfectly normal.

Stop and take a look around you right now and evaluate the first ten things you notice as either good or bad.  For items that you weren’t entirely sure about, did you find yourself thinking something along the lines of could be better or could be worse?  Now turn your attention to yourself and evaluate how you’re feeling right now mentally, physically, and in terms of life goals.  Were you able to come up with the same sort of simple and almost automatic evaluations about your current state of health and success?  Did you notice that absolutely everything we come in contact with or experience, whether tangible or not, can be evaluated?

As I’ve mentioned before, evaluating is yet another activity that our minds tend to do on autopilot.  As long as we notice this for what it is, simply activity of the mind, then it really isn’t a problem.  However when it isn’t noted as simply what it is, it provides us with something to struggle with and resist, which exacerbates psychological distress.

Try practicing the following mindfulness technique each time you find yourself evaluating something.  Quietly say to yourself:  “evaluating”, and then let that thought go and return your attention to whatever it should be focused on.  Also try practicing gratitude.  Although this is essentially a form of evaluation, it is more moderate and leads you away from that natural tendency to cling to what is really desirable, and to really resist what is not.  Once every day, list five things that you are grateful for.  Even if you’re going through a tough time right now, if you make a point to do this, you will always be able to find those five things, even if they are as simple as your pet cat, the roof over your head, or your ability to walk.  There is so much good in our lives if we just keep our eyes open to it.  And don’t forget to consider all the neutral aspects of your life too.  When you do you’ll find you have more to appreciate than you might have thought.

Keep well…

 

 

F – Fusion with your thoughts

Before you read this post, pause for a moment and think about your life.  Imagine that you were beginning e-mail counselling or therapy with me today, and you were to send me an e-mail with an outline of your current difficulties, what caused them, and the effects they have on your life.  What information would you include in that initial e-mail contact?

Next, think about your family and friends.  Consider what they might include in their initial e-mails to me.  Then think of the people who you used to have significant relationships with, yet for whatever reason no longer do.  What do you imagine their initial e-mail might be about?  Or should be about?

Now think of your favourite tv shows, movies, or books.  Think of the most memorable characters and consider what information their initial therapy e-mails might include.  Do this until you have a general idea of each person’s “story”.  All you need is a general idea, then continue with the post.

Take a moment now and notice how you were able to think up a basic explanation, summary, or ‘story” for each of these individuals.  It probably wasn’t very difficult either.  Gathering information and analyzing it into explanations is something we all tend to do.  This is especially true when we’re searching for a satisfactory answer to any variant of the question Why?

It seems paradoxical that we are often initially attracted to an air of mystery yet are unsettled by mystery at the same time.  We find comfort in a sense of understanding and predictability.  We find comfort in our stories and explanations, in our roles, and our conceptualized self.  This isn’t a significant problem when we can hold our stories lightly.  However, we are limited when we identify with our stories and explanations to the extent that being right is given higher priority than being effective.

The problem with our stories, even when they’re true, is that they can be self-limiting in the sense that the options to a more meaningful existence often do not exist within the story.  Somehow these options partially invalidate the story, and for that reason they are overlooked or disregarded.

Lets consider a common example that we can all agree is a very painful story.  This is the story where a child is abandoned by a parent at a young age.  Having little to no ability to understand what would make an adult leave their family, children easily draw the conclusion that it must have something to do with them.  So this child grows up believing the story that they are unworthy of love.  It is true that they were abandoned by someone who supposedly loved them.  It is also true that they experience feelings of being rejected and unloved.  It is true that they have beliefs that they are unlovable.  On some level perhaps we can even agree that the parent who abandoned them didn’t love them enough to stay, and in that sense this explanation is socially supported or reinforced.  This story dictates this person’s conceptualized self as someone who is unloveable, or someone who will ultimately be abandoned.

We can see which elements of this story are true.  We can also understand why someone would come to the conclusions about themselves that they have after experiencing this sort of childhood.  And we can sympathize with how painful believing in this story must be for them.  It all fits, it’s all true, but does this story work for them or against them?

When you are stuck on making progress in your life, and particularly when you are stuck by your beliefs, it is wise to return to the question:  Which will you believe, your mind or your experience?  (This is a fundamental strategy used by Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – ACT)

If we look for solutions to finding love within this story, things aren’t looking very good.  However if we look outside the story, where the story is just a set of facts that have no real bearing on what happens next, we see plenty of options for pursuing and finding loving relationships.  If we look outside of the story, we see that there are plenty of people who have had a parent leave them at a young age, who are now in healthy and loving relationships.

Return to your story now and consider what it has done for you.  Is it working for you or against you?  How many of what you have been lead to believe were excuses, are really just reasons?

More on the difference between reasons and excuses next post, until then keep well…

 

Faulty Wiring

 

The mind is its own place and can make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven.

John Milton, Paradise Lost

 

In my opening blog post I mentioned the idea that it just doesn’t seem like life is meant to always be easy, or that we’re meant to always feel happy, and offer the simple explanation:  That’s just not how we’re wired.

According to Relational Frame Theory (RFT), human language and higher cognition (our thoughts), if not properly understood or related to, can cause us psychological distress.  Our mind’s ability to compare, evaluate, predict, relate any thing to any other thing, and fear things that we have never before experienced, has caused it to become our own worst enemy in a sense.

If we look at the situation from an evolutionary perspective, it is easy to understand why.  The mind’s ability to relate and predict in this way allowed us to master the external environment and climb to the top of the food chain, despite being a less physically advantaged species than others.  If we turn things around, we can also consider how happiness, contentment, and lack of worry, would have been counterproductive for our evolutionary advancement.  We would have remained at the mercy of the elements and predators.

Our minds evolved to function this way to keep us safe from harm.  This has been very effective in the external world where if you don’t want something most often you are able to find some way to eliminate it.  In the internal world of our minds, our experience works by addition.  Once we experience something, actually, or vicariously, it becomes integrated.  Our thoughts often function like an internal vigilante who has something to say about everything, and who is constantly throwing up red flags.  In our internal world it seems that the more we want certain thoughts, feelings, and urges to go away, the more they tend to linger.

 

What you resist persists.

Carl Jung

 

Rather than seeking to eliminate unwanted content of the mind, the most effective strategy is to simply step back from the mind and notice thoughts for what they are:  simply content of the mind.  We are also helped by noticing feelings and emotions for what they are:  simply clusters of physical sensations often paired with certain impulses to act.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)  is one of the approaches that I use most often in my work with clients.  According to ACT, psychological suffering is caused by experiential avoidance (unwillingness to experience painful feelings), cognitive entanglement (taking your thoughts too literally), and subsequent psychological inflexibility (loss of room to maneuver in life).

These processes can be summarized by the acronym FEAR.

F – Fusion with your thoughts:

– taking your thoughts too literally.

E – Evaluation of your experience:

– good/bad, negative/positive, acceptable/unacceptable, wanted/unwanted

A – Avoidance of your experience:

–  unwillingness to have certain thoughts, feel certain feelings, encounter certain events, and all the strategies to accomplish this avoidance

R – Reason giving for your behaviour:

–  believing that you cannot have or do certain things if certain thoughts and feelings are present, or until they go away

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy suggests the healthy alternative to FEAR is to ACT:

A – Accept the content of your mind as no more or less than content of your mind.

C – Choose a personally valued life direction.

T – Take action and commit to pursue a life based on your own unique values.

The next several blog posts will discuss each of these processes and alternatives individually and in more depth.  Until then, consider what acceptance and awareness can bring to your life.

And keep well…

 

4PeaceOfMind

How many times a day do we find ourselves confronted with things happening in our own lives, the lives of our loved ones, and even the lives of strangers, which are perfectly explained by Lennon’s quote:  “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.”  It’s a simple yet universal truth that is too often swept aside by the constant and seemingly endless flow of our mind’s evaluations, judgments, fears, comparisons, what if’s, how come’s, why’s, why not’s, shoulds, should nots, I need to do this, I want to get that, and the list goes on and on…  This is what our mind does best.  How often do we even notice?

We all crave peace of mind.  Some of us search for it by pursuing a perfect life.  Others achieve a false peace of mind by turning away from life toward the numbness of addiction or the ease of distraction.  But deep down we’re always left with a feeling that escape is not the answer, nor is it truly possible.  Life will bring us ups and down no matter how hard we strive for perfect balance.

I confess that I crave peace of mind possibly more than anyone I’ve ever met, and have been seeking the secrets to peace of mind since I was a teen.  It has been quite a journey, and I wish I could say that the journey is almost over, and I have it all figured out, but I certainly do not.  All I am growing more and more certain of is the idea that life was never meant to be like we’ve been lead to believe – that if we do x, y, and z, we’ll live happily ever after.  Everything I’ve learned thus far through experience and study has pointed to the reality that life is not meant to be easy, and we’re not always meant to feel happy either.  That’s just not how we’re wired.

Fortunately, I have found though that peace of mind is very much within our grasp, and in fact resides within all of us.  We just have to practice awareness and acceptance.  Often much easier said than done I know but that’s all part of the process.  We are also fortunate in that everything in life offers us an opportunity to practice – from success, to boredom, to conflict, to catastrophe.  Everything that we encounter in life provides us with an opportunity to grow.

Keep well…