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New 28-Day Meditation Challenge Begins Today

RealHappinessAtWorkToday is the first day of the 28-Day Meditation Challenge based on practices found in Sharon Salzberg’s books: Real Happiness, and Real Happiness at Work. I participated in this challenge last year and have made a commitment to participate again this year. I hope you will join me by making your own commitment to 28 days of meditation practice.

Each week of the Meditation Challenge has a different focus:

Week 1: Concentration
Week 2: Mindfulness
Week 3: Lovingkindness & Compassion
Week 4: Bringing the Practice to Our Lives

For those of you who are reluctant to make a commitment to meditate every day, you don’t have to commit to lengthy meditation sesssions in order to participate. On her website and on SoundCloud, Sharon Salzberg provides audio recordings of three brief meditations, each only 2-3 minutes long. Here are the links to those meditations:

Drinking Tea Meditation

Sound Meditation

Touch-Point Meditation

For further information about the this year’s meditation challenge, go to Sharon Salzberg’s website and read about 28-Day Meditation Challenge 2015.

To read more about my participation in last year’s challenge, you can read the following posts from last February:

Seeking the Middle Way

Balancing Mindfulness of Emotions with Lovingkindness

The Many Benefits of Gratitude

The Greatest Love of All

 I will keep you posted on my progress and I hope to hear from those of you who plan to join me.  Are you ready to take on the challenge?

 


7 Steps to Mindful Awareness

 Do you make regular visits to yourself?

–Rumi 

iStock_000002128470XSmallRecently, while reading the book True Refuge, by Tara Brach, PhD, I was struck by her concept of the sacred pause.  I appreciated her description of the steps involved in pausing and arriving in presence and started playing around with the concepts in my mind.  I began to conceptualize it a little differently because my original introduction to mindfulness, close to 20 years ago, was through the lens of Dialectical Behavior Therapy(DBT), which I started learning when I participated in my first week-long training with Marsha Linehan on how to teach clients mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness skills.  Beginning to integrate these two  approaches to mindfulness, as well as concepts learned from workshops and courses with Sharon Salzberg, Tara Brach, Ron Siegel and others, produced these seven steps to mindful awareness.

Step 1: Setting the intention

The first step in this process is to decide that it is important to pause and check in with yourself and then set your intention to do it. Setting aside a time and making a commitment to make it a priority helps make it more likely you will actually follow through with it. Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg put it elegantly: “let the power of intention lead the way.”

Step 2: Pausing

Taking time out from our daily lives so we can reflect on our internal experience and get to know ourselves better starts with pausing.  I believe it is a sacred act because we are pausing in order to come home to ourselves instead of staying in “automatic pilot” mode all the time. 

One way to initiate the pause is to take three mindful breaths.  It is helpful to lengthen the out breath so that it is longer than the in breath, because this helps us to ‘step on the brakes’ by engaging the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, which slows down our breathing and heart rate and calms our bodies. 

Step 3: Arriving

Arriving involves sitting in an alert posture–attempting to find a balanced position that is upright, not slouched, yet relaxed, not stiff or tense–and then focusing attention on an anchor.  The anchor can be internal or external, depending on what keeps you in that state of balanced alertness–focused, but not too intensely, and relaxed, but not sleepy and zoned out. 

Options for internal anchors include continuing to focus on the breath or doing a body scan (see What is an interoceptive body scan meditation?). External anchors involve shifting the focus to become mindful of one or more external sights, sounds, scents or sensations (i.e. the tactile feel of anything you can touch).  An easy way to remember these external focal points is to think of the four ‘S’ senses, since all 4 words start with the letter ‘s’.

In a meditation course I took with Tara Brach through NICABM (National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine), the following was one of the ways she guided us to arrive in presence:

“Take some moments to arrive. You might just make sure your senses are awake so that as
you come into stillness, you find your posture that can support being alert and being relaxed.

As you close your eyes, take a moment to connect with what’s right here for you.
Let’s just notice if you can hear the sounds that are around you – just listen with receptivity.

Feel the life in your body. You might feel the sensations in your hands. You might loosen the belly a little and breathe in deeply. Let the out breath be gentle – feel the letting go. Once again, inhale deeply and then with a slow out breath – just let go.

Feel the breath and feel your body.”

 Step 4: Being Present

Once you have “arrived” you are in a state of alert stillness. The idea is to be fully here now.

Step 5: Noticing

The next step is to mindfully observe your present experience, including noticing what is happening in your body, both internal sensations and impulses to move a part of the body (like when you feel the urge to scratch an itch) and noticing any emotions and thoughts you are experiencing in the moment.  The following way of mindfully noticing is my adaptation of part of the Three Minute Breathing Space from the Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) curriculum that I learned during a NICABM course I am currently taking with Ron Siegel, PsyD on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy.

Now you can take the first step of becoming aware of what is going on with you right now.
Start to become conscious of what is going through your mind: what thoughts are around?
Here, as best you can, just notice thoughts as mental events, observing them without becoming attached to them.

Then note the feelings that are around at the moment. In particular, turn toward any
sense of discomfort or unpleasant feelings. So, rather than try to push them away or shut
them out, just notice them, perhaps thinking to yourself, “Ah, that’s how it is right now.”

And with sensations in the body, ask yourself, “Are there sensations of tensions, of holding,
of letting go? Are there any other sensations in the body? Are there any urges to move any
part of the body?” Become aware of them, simply noticing whatever is arising in this moment.

 Step 6: Accepting

Marsha Linehan talks about radical acceptance.  This means you are accepting even that which feels unacceptable about your present experience without judgment. However, recognizing that we are only human, we may not always be able to suspend judgment. Then it is important to radically accept our difficulty being able to accept what we are experiencing.

 Human beings are not able to achieve perfection, even though we strive for it.  Therefore, it is logical to accept our imperfect attempts at pausing and being mindfully present.  Research has demonstrated that we are distracted from our immediate goals an average of 47% of the time.  Therefore, it makes sense to accept mind wandering as inevitable.   Also, the urge to avoid unpleasantness and discomfort is a natural impulse, so we deserve acceptance and understanding when we resist facing uncomfortable realities.  So it becomes evident that this step is needed every step of the way, not just in chronological order.

Step 7: Returning

 The final step is one which is also necessary every step of the way, not just after completing the other six steps.  There are two important ways that we practice returning.  We gently  return our attention to mindful awareness of present experience when we notice that the mind has wandered, over and over again.  We also return our attention to our chosen anchor whenever we start to become too uncomfortable or overwhelmed by our present experience. Then we return to focusing on our broader experience again when we are ready.

 

What do you think of the concept of the sacred pause? How do you pause and become mindful of your internal experience? If you tried the above method, please share your experience below.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with others. You may also enjoy reading, Seeking the Middle Way and Balancing Mindfulness of Emotions with Lovingkindness.


The Benefits of Mindfulness

I have been talking a lot about mindfulness in this blog and I decided it was time to explain why I am so enthusiastic and determined about developing this skill.  Mindfulness involves  focusing on the present moment, non-judgmentally, with acceptance and compassion. This can be done informally, as we go about our daily activities, and in formal mindfulness meditation practice. So the question is: what are the benefits of becoming more mindful and accepting of our present experience?

iStock_000002128470XSmallAccording to Ron Siegel in The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems, “a wealth of scientific evidence” shows that mindfulness can have a profound effect on our lives. Researchers have demonstrated “changes in both inner experience and outward behavior” and have recently been able to show changes in “brain functioning and brain structure” due to advances in  brain scanning technology.

Richard Davidson, a researcher at the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, teamed up with Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, to study the impact of mindfulness training on brain activity. They recruited stressed workers in a biotechnology firm and taught half of them mindfulness meditation 3 hours per week over  8 weeks.  The other workers served as a control group who were not taught mindfulness meditation.  At the start of the study, all the participants had significantly more activity in the right prefrontal cortex, a pattern found in people who are anxious, depressed or hypervigilant (frequently scanning the environment for danger). At the end of the study, the group who were taught mindfulness meditation had significantly more left prefrontal cortex activation than the control group, which is the brain activity pattern for people who are generally content, with fewer negative moods. Additionally, the group of meditators had a greater immune response, indicated by more antibodies than the non-meditators after receiving the flu vaccine.

Sara Lazar, a biological researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, studied MRIs of long-term meditators and non-meditators. She discovered that the meditators had thicker cerebral cortexes than non-meditators in the prefrontal cortex, sensory cortex, and anterior insula. Thicker areas of the brain are indicative of enhanced capabilities in those areas. All three areas are involved in paying attention to sensory input and the prefrontal cortex is also involved in working memory–which helps us keep thoughts in our minds long enough for reflection, problem-solving, and decision-making. Research also showed that the degree of thickness was proportional to the amount of meditation experience and the differences were even more pronounced in older participants.  In another study, Lazar found increased density in a part of the brain stem involved in the production of the mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin after 8 weeks of mindfulness practice. The most pronounced changes in density occurred in the brains of those who practiced the most. These individuals were also the ones who reported the greatest increase in their sense of well-being.

A school-based program of mindfulness awareness practices (MAPs) for second and third graders, ages 7-9, was studied by Lisa Flook and her colleagues at UCLA. The program was provided to students two times per week, for eight weeks, for a total of sixteen 30- minute practice sessions.  Children with self-control problems who received the mindfulness training showed greater improvement in their regulatory abilities than children who did not receive the mindfulness training.

To summarize, research has shown significant reductions in anxiety and hypervigilance, improvement in mood, attention, emotional regulation, working memory, and immune response, and promising findings with regards to cognitive functioning as we age.  I am most interested in improving my self-discipline, working memory and ability to shift attention from distractions, which will hopefully also help improve my time management skills. What benefits of mindfulness would be most helpful to you? 

 


A 3-Step Process for Shifting Attention and Regaining Focus

iStock_000002128470XSmall

I am noticing a pattern in my efforts to develop healthy habits.  When I add a new habit to my routine, it causes a temporary setback in the habits that I already established. 

I recently started doing regular brain training exercises to enhance my memory, attention and flexibility through Lumosity. This coincided with an unanticipated change in my work schedule that caused me to have to leave 1/2 hour earlier in the morning, which  affected my meditation and exercise routine.  The first week, I played the brain training games on 6 out of 7 days but did not meditate or exercise at all.  The second week, I did brain training 4 times and also succeeded in meditating several times. Now in the third week I am continuing brain training and meditation and also getting more serious about exercising again. 

I decided to add brain training to my routine because:

  •  I have been watching people I care about struggle with memory loss as they get older and my memory has  never been great to begin with.
  • While I have greatly improved my ability to stay focused over the years, I still have difficulty shifting my focus when I am absorbed in something compelling and need to get other things done.

 After the first two weeks of brain training, I have already seen significant improvement in my working memory and selective attention and more limited improvement in flexibility through the task switching and response inhibition games.  Hopefully, doing both brain training and meditation will have a synergistic effect that helps me improve my mental flexibility since that has been the hardest skill for me to develop.

Mind wandering is an expected part of meditation.  Bringing my attention back to the focus of my meditation, whether it be my breathing, body sensations, sounds in the environment or my emotions, helps me to develop mental flexibility.   Wendy Hasenkamp and her colleagues at Emory University studied mind wandering and attention during focused concentration meditation and identified a 3-step process for resuming focus: awareness, shifting, and focusing.

  1. AWARENESS:  Becoming aware of mind wandering during meditation helps me to practice monitoring conflicts between my intentions and my actions, my goals and obstacles to achieving them. This is believed to be a function of the salience network of the brain, which helps distinguish between relevant and distracting stimuli, according to Wendy Hasenkamp and her colleagues.
  2. SHIFTING: The most challenging skill for me to apply in my daily life is to be able to shift or reorient my attention as needed.  This skill involves the executive network of the brain, which is thought to activate attentional disengagement and redirection skills for the purpose of following through on tasks deemed relevant to goal achievement.  The flexibility games in Lumosity appear to develop the same skills; the response inhibition games seem to be designed to promote attentional disengagement and the task switching games seem to be excellent practice for redirection of focus.
  3. FOCUSING: The focus phase is what I have been practicing the most, both through meditation and persistent  choosing to prioritize practicing new habits. Hasenkamp and her colleagues believe the focusing phase involves executive system working memory. This involves keeping goals in mind through repetitive selection, or active rehearsal, to achieve sustained attention.    I suspect that the development of my focusing ability is the reason why my working memory and selective attention skills in Lumosity are showing so much improvement and why I have been able to get back on track so quickly when obstacles interfere with my routine.

 Does your mind wander a lot?  Do you have difficulty with awareness, shifting, and focusing skills?  Have you tried anything that has helped you to improve these skills?  Please share your thoughts below.  


A Lovingkindness Project for Schools to Combat Bullying

cooltext1588048789I have been practicing  lovingkindness meditation for several months now, so when I read an article in my local newspaper about an anti-bullying program that tries to promote kindness and compassion, I started to wonder if introducing lovingkindness meditation into our schools would help combat bullying. 

The Star Ledger article was about 18 year old Ashley Craig and the non-profit foundation she started, Students Against Being Bullied (SABB), which focuses on setting up “dedicated texting lines in the school to allow bystanders to anonymously report incidents and victims to seek help, safe rooms with staff to provide refuge for students before classes begin, and monthly programs to promote community, kindness and compassion.”  I was impressed with Ashley Craig’s passion, determination, inventiveness, and commitment and encourage everybody to check out the foundation’s website (http:studentsagainstbeingbullied.org). 

 As I reflected on the foundation’s goal of promoting community and kindness, it occurred to me that introducing daily lovingkindness meditation  could potentially accomplish even more than monthly programs.  So I played around with the idea in my mind and came up with a way for schools to institute lovingkindness meditation as a community practice.  First I modified the traditional lovingkindness meditation so the words were particularly relevant to a student population. Then I came up with some ideas of how to implement a year-long lovingkindness project in the schools. 

Lovingkindness Meditation for Schools

Start with three full breaths.  Breathe in through your nose, imagining you are smelling a flower. Breathe out through your mouth, imagining you are blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. Try to make the out-breaths last as long as possible.

Recite the following out loud:

May I be safe
May I be peaceful
May I be free from suffering
May I be filled with lovingkindness
May I be happy

May my family and friends be safe
May my family and friends be peaceful
May my family and friends be free from suffering
May my family and friends be filled with lovingkindness
May my family and friends be happy

May my classmates be safe
May my classmates be peaceful
May my classmates be free from suffering
May my classmates be filled with lovingkindness
May my classmates be happy

May my teachers be safe
May my teachers be peaceful
May my teachers be free from suffering
May my teachers be filled with lovingkindness
May my teachers be happy

May the entire school be safe
May the entire school be peaceful
May the entire school be free from suffering
May the entire school be filled with lovingkindness
May the entire school be happy

May all people be safe
May all people be peaceful
May all people be free from suffering
May all people be filled with lovingkindness
May all people be happy

Suggested Plan to Implement the Lovingkindness Project in Your School

1. Have a teacher meeting and a parent meeting to introduce the Lovingkindness Project
2. Have an assembly for all students introducing the Lovingkindness Project.
3. For younger grades, have teachers follow up with discussion of what it means to be safe, peaceful, free from suffering, etc.
4. In older grades have teachers lead discussion of the difficulty of having good wishes for people who have harmed you and encourage students to try to include everyone. For those who are unable to include those who have harmed them, encourage them to try to say a separate phrase “May those who have hurt me be filled with lovingkindness”.
5. Say it over the loudspeaker every morning at the same time
6. Have teachers model participation for students
7. After one month ask students to make a pledge to do it every day, including weekends, vacations, sick-days, etc. for the entire year
8. Ask teachers and parents to take the same pledge. Teachers would replace “classmates” and ‘teachers” with  “students” and “fellow teachers” in their meditation and parents would change their meditation to include  “my child(ren)’s classmates” and “my child(ren)’s teachers.”
9. Continue doing it over the loudspeaker daily
10. After 3 months (or right before thanksgiving) have group discussions about the impact
11. At the end of the year have an essay contest about lovingkindness

Please share this idea on social media and suggest it to schools you are involved with. Together we can make a difference!

Note: If you have any suggestions that could further enhance this project, I would love to hear from you.  Please share your ideas on my trauma blog, From Where I Stand.  Since this post is cross-posted on both blogs, I disabled comments here so all comments will be in one location.


Harnessing Radical Acceptance & “I Want” Power to Enhance Self-Control

APA-BlogDayBadge-2014The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that persuades you to get up to meditate and exercise when you feel like staying in bed, helps you to resist the extra helping of dessert, and motivates you to start working on the project that you feel like putting off until tomorrow.  According to Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist at Stanford University,  the main purpose of the prefrontal cortex is to bias the brain towards choosing to do “the harder thing.” 

Kelly McGonigal describes the three regions of the prefrontal cortex involved in motivating us to make the harder choices as specializing in “I will” power, “I won’t” power and “I want” power. The region near the upper left side of the prefrontal cortex handles “I will” power. It helps you start and stick to boring, difficult or stressful tasks. The right side of the prefrontal cortex specializes in “I won’t” power, helping you resist urges.  The third region, in the middle of the prefrontal cortex, focuses on your desires, goals and priorities and helps you decide what you really want in life, then set the intention to pursue it.  

I am getting much better at “I won’t” power.  I am much more able to resist unhealthy food choices than I used to be and I am successfully losing weight. I have made a lot of progress with “I will” power, as demonstrated by my efforts to add daily meditation and exercise to my routine.  When I do concentration meditation focusing on lengthening the breath in the morning I am much more likely to choose to exercise that day.  I did it 5 days in a row one week and then 3 times the following week. However, it is still very easy for me to fall out of the habit. 

The good news is that I am motivating myself to get back on the horse much sooner than ever before.  Partly this is because I am not judging my lapses in discipline as failures.  I am practicing what Sharon Salzberg refers to as “stealth meditation,” incorporating mindfulness into my day, not just during formal meditation practice. One form of stealth meditation is practicing radical acceptance and self-compassion over and over again when I have setbacks in my efforts towards achieving my goals. That helps me get back on track faster.  The other thing that is helping me get back on track is that I am investing a lot of “I want” power into this endeavor.  I have made a commitment to keep working on developing healthy self-care habits and I am quite persistent when I am determined to accomplish a particular goal. 

In what ways do you use “I will” power, “I won’t” power, and “I want” power? Which of these forms of willpower are challenging for you? What do you do to try to overcome these challenges? Please share your thoughts  in the comments section below.

For information about Mental Health Blog Day and to read other contributor’s posts, follow this link:  http://ow.ly/wSKlZ 

 

If you are interested in reading more about Kelly McGonigal and “The Willpower Instinct,” you can read the following posts:

A Willpower Tug-of-War Between Different Parts of Self

Can Simple Breathing Exercises Enhance Self-Discipline?

For more information about Sharon Salzberg’s meditation strategies, you can read:

Seeking the Middle Way

Balancing Mindfulness of Emotions with Lovingkindness


Can Simple Breathing Exercises Enhance Self-Discipline?

iStock_000002128470XSmallBalance continues to elude me.  My private practice became busier than usual in the weeks before Passover, when my personal life also requires more of my time, so there was no time for writing and this blog was neglected.  Not only that, but it also complicated my attempts to get back on track with my efforts to add exercise to my balancing act.  I had successfully moved past the obstacles I wrote about last month and was back to meditating every day and exercising 4 times per week. That lasted two weeks and then I got so preoccupied with work and family obligations that it fell apart again.  I am back on track with the meditation but the exercise is still a challenge.

I returned to Kelly McGonigal’s book, The Willpower Instinct, for additional inspiration. She mentions that daily breath focus meditation can teach the mind how to handle inner distractions, such as cravings, worries and desires, as well as outer distractions, such as sights, sounds and smells.

I realized that I had gotten away from basics in my meditation practice. I have been focusing more on guided compassion and reflection meditations,  and wasn’t taking time to focus on the breath.  So I am getting back to basics. 

Kelly McGonigal also describes the benefits of slowing down our breathing to 4-6 breaths per minute, 10-15 seconds per breath.  Slower breathing improves heart rate variability (the moment-to-moment and beat-to-beat variations in heart rate) and  activates the pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain involved in self-regulation). This helps shift the brain from stress mode to self-control mode. According to McGonigal, a few minutes of slowed breathing can give the willpower reserve a boost, helping us to feel “calm, in control and capable of handling cravings or challenges.” 

Here are the steps Kelly McGonigal describes in her book:

  1. Time yourself to see how many breaths you normally take  in a minute.
  2. Begin to slow down your breathing, without holding your breath.
  3. Focus on exhaling slowly by pursing your lips and blowing out gently and completely.  Exhaling in this way will also enable you to breathe in more  deeply.
  4. After a few minutes of breathing this way, time yourself  again to see how many breaths you are now taking in a minute.  Heart rate variability starts to increase once you get below 12 breaths per minute and continues to improve steadily as your breathing gets slower.
  5. Daily practice will help you to slow down your breathing even more, which will maximize heart rate variability, pre-frontal cortex activation and the ability to handle self-control challenges. 

My plan is to start my mornings with a form of breath meditation that focuses on lengthening the breath, to help me choose to exercise.  The initial results are promising.  On the first morning I did the breath meditation I not only went to the gym, but I also chose a healthier breakfast than I felt like eating and resisted the urge to procrastinate. The next day I exercised again and had other similar improvements.I will keep you posted and let you know how it works out.  :-)

Please add your comments below and share this post on twitter, facebook, and other social networking sites. 

You also might be interested in reading:

A Willpower Tug-of-War Between Different Parts of Self for more about “The Willpower Instinct.”

 What is an Interoceptive Body Scan Meditation? for more about heart rate variability.

 

 


Receiving the Liebster Award and Paying it Forward

liebster award

The Liebster Award was created to recognize new blogs in a “pay it forward” manner. The word ‘liebster’ is German for ‘favorite’ or ‘dearest.’

 I am grateful to Dorlee M from the Social Work Career Development blog for nominating my blog, My Balancing Act, for this award (http://www.dorleem.com/2014/01/social-work-career-development-receives.html).

 The origins of the award are unclear and the rules have varied over time. In this incarnation of the award, the rules, as I understand them, are as follows: 

  • Thank the person who nominated you for the Liebster Award.
  • Answer the 10 questions posed by the person who nominated you.
  • Pay it forward by nominating 10 blogs with less than 3000 subscribers or Facebook fans.
  • Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer if they choose to accept the award. 

10 Questions Dorlee posed for nominees to answer: 

  1. What are the best three words that would describe you? 

genuine, caring, and determined 

  1. What do you hope to achieve with your blog? 

I am working on achieving a more balanced life and decided to share my process to help keep me honest, and to help others who are striving for greater balance, by offering tools and strategies gleaned from my personal and professional knowledge and experience. 

  1. Which of your blog posts is your favorite, and why? 

The post on body scan meditations is one of my favorites, because I did something different by recording a guided meditation and including an excerpt in the post.

The Greatest Love of All is also a favorite, because I used lyrics from a song that is meaningful to me to illustrate my point and shared about my passion for singing and how I turn it into a form of meditation. 

  1. What has writing taught you? 

Writing this blog is challenging me to be more courageous and transparent about my own struggles, to help me to grow and to help others to know they are not alone when life’s journey is difficult.  It is also challenging me to let go of my perfectionism. If I am tweaking the wording or the layout or looking for the source of a fact I want to include and it is taking too much time, then I am learning to let it go. 

  1. What advice do you have for pushing through fear? 

 I actually wrote about this in my post, Balancing Mindfulness of Emotions with Lovingkindness. I wrote, “It is the fear of fear that causes us to avoid it and try to block it from our minds.  When we face our fears, they become more manageable.”

To illustrate this point, I like to tell clients the story of Vishne and the Hindu gods, which I first heard at a training presented by Linda Sanford.

Vishne and his fellow Hindu gods lived in a castle in the sky. One day Vishne had to go away on business. After he left there was a knock on the door. When the Hindu gods opened the door, they discovered a monster standing there. They became frightened and the monster gobbled up their fear and got bigger. This made them more frightened and the monster gobbled up that fear as well and grew even bigger. This continued for some time with the monster getting bigger and bigger as the gods became more and more scared, until the monster had taken over almost the entire castle. Then Vishne came home and took one look at the situation and knew exactly what to do. He walked up to the monster, shook his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Vishne. Who are you?” And the monster became smaller and smaller and smaller until he was much smaller than Vishne and not scary at all. 

  1. What are some of your favorite quotes? 

“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” –Hillel

 “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson 

 “You must be the change that you wish to see in the world.” —Mahatma Gandhi

 “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” ― Vivian Greene 

  1. What do you do for self-care and/or relaxation? 

Meditation, exercise, reading, doing puzzles, listening to music and singing, I also love to swim and do tai chi. 

  1. How did you find your current position? 

I’m in private practice so I created my current position. 

  1. What advice do you wish someone had given you before starting your career? 

I wish someone had explained how important it is not to overextend yourself, to guard against unintentionally encouraging dependency in your clients, and not to be so sure that you are right that you fail to listen to another point of view. 

  1. What are three things on your bucket list?

Becoming a serious student of Qi Gong and Tai Chi, becoming fluent in Spanish and Hebrew, and writing a novel about the parallel lives of a psychotherapist and one of her clients.

Paying it forward- My 10 nominations for the Liebster Award:

Allison Andrews, PsyD – Practical Strategies and Emotional Support for the Parents of Quirky Kids http://www.allisonandrewspsyd.com/blog/ 

Judith Barnard, MSW, RSW  – From Distress to Peace: A Mindful Life http://judithbarnard.wordpress.com/

Dr. Ann Becker-Schutte, PhD – Help at the Intersection of Physical & Mental Health http://www.drannbeckerschutte.com/

Mirel Goldstein, LPC – Goldstein Therapy – Clifton, NJ Counseling Blog http://goldsteintherapy.com/blog.html/

Ricky Greenwald, PsyD – Once Upon A Time… Trauma Institute/Child Trauma Institute Blog http://www.childtrauma.com/blog

Cathy Hanville, LCSW  – Thoughts of a Psychotherapist http://www.cathyhanville.com/cathy-hanville-lcsw-blog/

JoAnn Jordan, board certified music therapist  -  Music Sparks – Music to spark a better life http://www.music2spark.com

Barbara Lavi, PsyD – The Wake Up and Dream Catalyst http://wakeupanddreamcatalyst.blogspot.com/

Kathy Morelli, LPC – BirthTouch – Marriage, Motherhood, and Mental Health http://birthtouch.com/

Carolyn Stone, Ed.D. – Blog about helping special needs children and adolescents and their families http://www.drcarolynstone.com/blog/

There are many other blogs that I enjoy reading. I chose these because they are relatively unknown and deserving of greater attention, and new posts are added regularly, at least once a month. Also, to my knowledge, they have not been nominated before. Otherwise, Dorlee’s blog would definitely be on my list!  Even though it was difficult to choose which blogs to nominate, it is my pleasure to pay it forward. 

 10 questions for my nominees to answer:

  1. What is your vision for your blog? What are you hoping to communicate via blogging?
  2. Which of your blog posts is your favorite? Why?
  3. What are the 5 things you like most about yourself?
  4. What is your proudest achievement?
  5. What is your greatest challenge?
  6. What are you most grateful for?
  7. What do you do for self-care?
  8. Who do you admire and why?
  9. What are your favorite quotes?
  10. What do you hope to be doing in 5 or 10 years?

Nominees, I hope you will all accept this award and then pay it forward, as I have done with you.

Accepting this award led me to do some reflection on my career and my life to enable me to answer some of Dorlee’s questions. It was a worthwhile challenge that enabled me to get some new insight and perspective. So thanks again, Dorlee, for honoring me and my blog with this award. 

 

 


The Greatest Love of All

The greatest love of all
     Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
     Inside of me
                                                  The greatest love of all
                                                       Is easy to achieve
                                                  Learning to love yourself
                                                       It is the greatest love of all

iStock_000002128470XSmallThe song, The Greatest Love of All, has a lot of meaning for me.   I resonate with its lyrics on a deep level.  And I love to sing.  Singing is one way I express myself.  I have fond memories of belting out the words of this song, with great feeling, with a close friend. It was a very empowering experience.

Singing can also be a form of meditation for me.  I choose a song that speaks to me and sing it mindfully, several times in a row, while reflecting on its meaning and how it impacts me and my life.  On several occasions, I have meditated on this particular song.  One thing that I have reflected about is that learning to love myself was not “easy to achieve.”  It was a journey that involved many years of therapy and other growth work. But once I reached that destination, I discovered how powerful self-love can be. 

I’m not saying that I am perfect at it.   I still have occasional doubts.  During the Real Happiness Meditation Challenge  this month, I discovered that these moments of doubt are more easily overcome with regular meditation practice.  I came to appreciate that mindfulness of emotions, letting go of emotions and thoughts, lovingkindness meditation, and shifting the balance to more frequent mindful noting of the  positive, were a powerful combination of practices that have already helped me to strengthen my self-awareness, self-compassion, self-acceptance, self-regulation, and self-love.

It has been two months since I began to develop my daily meditation habit. Now, even when I falter for a day or two, I easily get back on track.  It no longer feels like an effort to meditate daily. It feels like a part of me. 


The Many Benefits of Gratitude

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” –Epictetus

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” –Oprah Winfrey

iStock_000002128470XSmallGratitude is an important practice for optimal well-being.  It helps us to appreciate what we have, instead of focusing on what we don’t have.  Research studies have demonstrated that people who cultivate a sense of gratitude have lower levels of stress and depression, higher levels of empathy, generosity, and helpfulness, and are generally more satisfied with life.

Robert Emmons and his colleagues have been studying the nature of gratitude and its potential impact for human health and well-being for the past decade.  In addition to the above effects, their studies indicate that  people who adopt a daily gratitude practice have more high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others,  better sleep quality and duration, and higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to control groups that focused on hassles or social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others). Those who kept weekly gratitude journals  exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, and were more optimistic about the future compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events. The researchers also noticed that participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important academic, interpersonal and health-based goals over a two-month period compared to those who did not make gratitude a focus of their attention.

Sarah McLean describes how to make a gratitude list in her book, Soul Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation. She writes about how difficult it can be to think of things to be grateful for when experiencing challenging life circumstances and points out that gratitude is even more essential when we are suffering, because it can transform our perspective about difficult situations.  She suggests that when it is hard to come up with things to put on the list, we can appreciate our ability to perceive the world around us with our senses and how amazing our bodies are at automatically sustaining life through our beating hearts and flowing breath.  We can also be grateful for having enough food to eat, a roof over our heads to keep us dry, and clothing to keep us warm.  In her gratitude meditation, Sarah McLean also encourages us to appreciate our own positive qualities, such as wisdom, creativity, awareness, stability, flexibility, and love.  I would add to the list the qualities of passion, humor, playfulness, determination, perseverance, compassion, and generosity.

It is the 24th day of the Real Happiness Meditation Challenge. Focusing on what I feel grateful for in my daily meditation has helped me to  develop greater life balance, fostering a more positive attitude about negative situations. In the course of my life, gratitude has helped me to transform suffering into meaningful growth and purpose. How has gratitude helped you in your life?