Friday, 17 November 2017

The Gift of Silence: Quieting the Mind - Tara Brach


The Gift of Silence: Quieting the Mind –

Through all spiritual traditions, there is a valuing of silence and stillness. When the mind has quieted, it becomes possible to see into the truth of what we are. Yet quieting can turn into a battle with the process of the thinking mind. This talk explores practices that allow us to settle in a natural way, the presence which is silence itself, and the wisdom and love that flows freely when we live from that silence.

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4 Strategies for Mindful Parenting

Every parent knows that having children is a field ripe with emotions. Frustration, anger, boredom, joy, love, or fear—name an emotion, and it’s probably there on the wild ride of parenting. But this can also feel like the tipping point into insanity. When parenting becomes difficult, it is important to see that these challenges can be turned into opportunities for working with your inner reactivity. As your child (or you) begin to slip into the fifth meltdown of the day, or as you watch your mind check-out from reading the same book for the millionth time, mindfulness can help bring you back to a more spacious and vital sense of the present. In this interview from 10% Happier, mindfulness teacher Alexis Santos offers four tips to cultivate a practice of mindful parenting.

Breathe Interest into Your Routine

Our attention is habitually attracted to “peak moments,” moments that seem pleasant, fun, or exciting. You’ll certainty be in the moment when your kid falls and scuffs her knee, but what about the times things are less attention-grabbing and more routine? In instances where you want to zone out, bring mindfulness to the breath. The breath is a reliable companion, and it’s also always fresh. When you use attention to experience each breath as a unique and interesting event, you can ripen seemingly repetitive moments of parenting into ones that bring your attention fully back to the present-moment interactions you’re having with your kids.

You’ll certainty be in the moment when your kid falls and scuffs her knee, but what about the times things are less attention-grabbing and more routine?

Be Bored

When breath practice is not riveting and you find yourself 100% bored, simply commit to the experience of being bored.  Boredom can be a fascinating exploration when you are willing to feel it. How does the texture of your boredom feel? Where does it arise in your body? Using boredom as an exploration of present experience can add more zest to those moments, while simultaneously strengthening your mindfulness practice. Mundane moments can be useful times to step back and find a sense of ease, regardless of the monotonous circumstances.

Feel When You’ve Lost Your Cool

If you find yourself at the brink of unproductive anger, you are not a bad parent for losing your patience. This is a perfect time to check back with your internal experience and not act out. Don’t get lost in the drama in front of you—instead, pause and feel into your body’s reactions. Even if the pause is only a millisecond long, giving yourself space is a chance to see the emotion bubbling up and work with it with more awareness. Seeing and feeling the emotion helps avoid the situation from escalating, and it will support you to stay composed in challenging times.

Relax into the Imperfection

Most people feel that their sphere of responsibility has grown exponentially upon becoming a parent. You are the lifeline for the health and well-being of your child. While making sure they are safe, secure, and loved is absolutely paramount, it is also important to know your limits. Ultimately, there are many things that you won’t be able to control, no matter how hard you try. It is important to remember that life is not always predictable. Plates will break, tears will be shed, and difficulties will inevitably occur—this is the reality of being a parent and being alive. In these situations, don’t overextend your responsibility. When appropriate, practice letting go, and relax into the imperfection. You can find satisfaction and even gratitude in those moments if you give yourself a break to embrace life as it unfolds.

 

For more from Alexis Santos  and Dan Harris, check out some free guided meditations from 10% Happier.

 

Let Go of Being the Ideal Role Model

Raising the Mindful Family

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Thursday, 16 November 2017

Meditation: The Silence That is Listening (14 min) - Tara Brach

Meditation: The Silence That is Listening ~

Listening to sounds is a powerful way to quiet the thinking mind and connect with the natural openness of awareness. This meditation emphasizes the anchor of listening, and guides us to relax through our bodies and let sounds wash through us. In this receptivity we find a homecoming to full presence and peace.

photo: pixabay

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How Labels Help: Tame Reactive Emotions by Naming Them

It was a particularly difficult day. My then nine-month-old daughter had a terrible night and left my wife and I with only a handful hours’ sleep. Needless to say, we were slow getting up and out the door that morning.  Before we left, my wife and I “discussed” who should’ve gotten up with Celia during the night (we’d been down this road before—these back-and-forths never help solve this issue, and somehow, we yet again veered this way). We barely spoke in the car the rest of the way to work after we dropped our daughter off at daycare.

And then I was hit by one issue after another once I walked into my office. An upset parent who’d left a voicemail who urgently needed to talk to me.  A clinician who needed help dealing with a student in crisis.  An important meeting I needed to chair that I’d forgotten to put in my calendar. And worst of all, I must have used a ladle to scoop my sugar into my coffee travel mug that morning.

I sat with my face in my hands at my desk for a moment.  I was seething with what life had deposited on top of me. My temples were pulsing, and my clock said it was only 9:30. Somehow, I remembered what I’d recommended to clients many times, but usually forgot to do myself.  It was a nice therapeutic “nugget” that made sense, but seemed like it should be innate to me, an experienced therapist: “Name it”—or as I’ve heard psychiatrist and mindfulness expert Dan Siegel say—“Name it to tame it.” In other words, say to yourself, out loud, what negative emotion you’re experiencing, as you’re experiencing it, in order to get some distance from it. As the clinical wisdom goes, simply labeling a difficult emotional experience allows you to take the reins back, if only briefly.

I was a therapist—this simple labeling practice was for my child clients to use. I was far beyond such “basic” strategies. I was wrong. I needed to return to the basics.

I’d recommended this emotional labeling to clients for years, but I’m fairly certain I’d never tried it myself.  Again, I was a therapist—this simple labeling practice was for my child clients to use. It was “Self-Management 101.” I was far beyond such “basic” strategies. I was wrong, because I sat at my desk with distress rippling through me. My mind was electric with ranting, and I was on track for a less than effective, connected, and creative day. I needed to return to the “basics.”

Labels Help Us Move On

The recommendation comes from a solid foundation. Research has shown that mere verbal labeling of negative emotions can help people recover control.[i] UCLA’s Matthew Lieberman refers to this as “affect labeling” and his fMRI brain scan research shows that this labeling of emotion appears to decrease activity in the brain’s emotional centers, including the amygdala. This dampening of the emotional brain allows its frontal lobe (reasoning and thinking center) to have greater sway over solving the problem du jour.

And this is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness gives us that moment of space as reactive emotions (like anger) are rising up. If we can see the anger, then we don’t have to be it—we can mindfully notice the body and mind crackling with reactivity, and acknowledge (or “name”) our emotions as we’re having them. Doing so seems to help us disengage from them. We can see them, and then we can begin to choose how to react instead of reacting under the sway of intoxicatingly strong emotions. We can choose to act to open ourselves and connect with others, rather than be carried away in a flood of emotional neurochemicals that wash us over the cliff.

If we can see the anger, then we don’t have to be it—we can mindfully notice the body and mind crackling with reactivity, and acknowledge (or “name”) our emotions as we’re having them.

Mindfulness Practice: Managing Strong Emotions in the Moment

In the coming days, when you find your body and mind getting tense with upset (and the more you’re aware of exactly how this manifests in you, the better), encourage yourself to attach words to your experience.

Often, thinking in terms of the metaphor of your hand in front of your face can be helpful.  When you start, you ARE your anger, sadness, fear, etc. It is your hand over your face. Can’t see anything, can you?  The emotion is attached to you—it IS you.

As you progressively label your emotion, creating more and more “distance” between the raw emotion and “you,” the observer (sparking awake in your frontal lobe), begins to see things more clearly: the emotional “hand” moves farther away from your thinking and reasoning mind’s eye.

Here’s a possible domino effect of reactive thoughts that might show up for you:

*  Event occurs . . .

*  Body stiffens, clenches . . .

*  “I can’t believe this!” / “They are so wrong!” / “This shouldn’t be!” . . .

*  “I am angry / sad / frustrated / humiliated / etc.”

*  Body stiffens, clenches more

* “I’m going to let them have it!”

 

And now, naming the emotion right AFTER the body first stiffens, surges, or in some way alerts you that upset is here:

 

*  “My body is telling me I’m angry, sad, etc.” (deep, slow breath in)

* “I’m having thoughts that this is upsetting.” (slow exhale out)

* “Anger . . . anger . . . anger . . .” (deep, slow breath in)

* Body slows down (slow exhale out)

* “Sad . . . sad . . . sad . . .” (deep, slow breath in)

What do you notice?

You may notice a “distance” that develops as you label your thoughts and emotions after the initial event. Instead of reacting and either lashing out or shutting down, you (in a matter of seconds) can ignite your frontal lobe, slow your body and mind, and choose your response. You can connect with your experience, as well as the possibilities around you. Instead of digging a deeper hole, you can climb out of the episode.

Practice this labeling whenever you can. Don’t be discouraged when you find yourself swept away in emotional currents. Our emotional reflexes run deep (inside the brain), and change comes only with significant practice and patience.  The practice is awareness: to get better at catching yourself.  Labeling an emotion helps you create distance from it. From there, we can choose how to respond instead of being led by our triggers.

I still argue with my wife about who should go pick up my crying kids. I catch my rigid, “she’s so out of line” thinking more than before, and I put it out at arm’s length.  More than ever before, I can choose to do something that binds us together instead of blasting us apart.

And if mindful labeling doesn’t work, as a husband, I’ve learned to simply stop talking and go clean something.

References

[i] 1. Putting Feelings Into Words: Affect Labeling Disrupts Amygdala Activity in Response to Affective Stimuli. Matthew D. Lieberman, Naomi I. Eisenberger, Molly J. Crockett, Sabrina M. Tom, Jennifer H. Pfeifer, and Baldwin M. Way. Psychological Science 2007;18(5):421-428.

 

  1. Subjective Responses to Emotional Stimuli During Labeling, Reappraisal, and Distraction. Matthew D. Lieberman, Tristen K. Inagaki, Golnaz Tabibnia, and Molly J. Crockett. Emotion 2011;11(3):468-480.

 

  1. Neural Correlates of Dispositional Mindfulness During Affect Labeling. J. David Creswell, Baldwin M. Way, Naomi I. Eisenberger, and Matthew D. Lieberman. Psychosomatic Medicine 2007;69(6):560-565.

 

A Meditation for Moving On

Meditators Under the Microscope

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Wednesday, 15 November 2017

What to Do When Things Fall Apart

Drip. Drip-drip-drip-drip. I was putting the finishing touches on dinner. It had been a long day and I was idly leaning on the kitchen counter, enjoying a micro-moment of peace when something splashed onto my head. DRIP DRIP DRIP. “What in God’s name was that?” I looked up and saw water dripping from the ceiling onto my stovetop. Then I heard the upstairs toilet flush. And the drip became a stream. And the truth was revoltingly clear: Ready or not, a literal and figurative fecal hurricane had hit the fan. Serenity now.

It takes practice to be able to take things less personally. It takes practice to see the delicious-looking worm hiding the hook and choose not to bite.

Some days, it seems pretty obvious the world is out to get you (even without a major plumbing disaster like mine). The coffee pot just knew you were late for an important meeting when it jumped out of your hands and leapt to its death on the tiled floor, didn’t it? Whaddyagonnado? Stuff happens.

But the next time you feel harassed by kamikaze kitchen appliances or any of life’s large and small indignities, take a breath. Feel your feet making contact with the ground and bring your full attention to your body right there in the midst of the chaos. This almost ridiculously simple way to interrupt a volcanic moment could be the difference between trapping yourself in an emotional nightmare and finding humor in the midst of life’s unsavory moments.

Still, if your habit is to go all Tony Soprano when someone cuts you off in traffic, you’ll probably find it challenging to instantly change your behavior. We humans can be emotional firecrackers. Your most powerful ally will be your ability to accept yourself in all your gory glory. Sometimes rage, sadness, and a myriad of other strong emotions will be part of your experience, too.

We can learn to accept the whole shebang. We can find peace in the eye of the hurricane, but it takes practice.

Why? Because just when you think you’ve gotten out, the habit of overreacting drags you back in. That’s what habits do. When you can remember that, you can be crafty: Try making a list of your usual triggers and reactions. Carry it in your wallet. Come to know your list intimately. You might discover yourself biting the same hooks over and over—and when you can see that, you are better equipped to make a fresh choice.

It takes time to retrain a lifelong habit—even when you can see yourself teetering on the brink of giving in to it. A student at a mindfulness workshop came to me discouraged, saying, “I got angry at my boss, again. And even though I was able to see myself about to blow my top…I exploded anyway.”

When you are able to stay with whatever shows up—including the repulsive, the disruptive, and more than likely a heap of unfairness—you may find new ways to work skillfully with what’s beyond your control.

This was music to my ears. I was thrilled to hear he had noticed what was happening as it was happening—even if, that time, he still reacted. If you approach your practice with the expectation that it will make you as calm as a plastic novelty Buddha, you may become disheartened when you still feel unruly and aggravated—in other words, when you are still you. A perfectly fine you.

Take a broad view for a moment. If you can break out of the bubble of your personal experience, you’ll notice that you are part of humanity, essentially no different from anybody else. You will have to deal with life’s difficulties, no matter where you live, who you know, or what you have. When you are able to stay with whatever shows up—including the repulsive, the disruptive, and more than likely a heap of unfairness—you may find new ways to work skillfully with what’s beyond your control.

It takes practice to be able to take things less personally. It takes practice to see the delicious-looking worm hiding the hook and choose not to bite. And most of all, it takes practice to be kind to ourselves throughout, staying present to the entire unfolding show: one breath, one thought, one choice at a time.

This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of Mindful magazine.

 

What to Do When You Feel Stuck in Negative Emotions

A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit

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Tuesday, 14 November 2017

What is Your Phone Doing to Your Relationships?

Phubbing is the practice of snubbing others in favor of our mobile phones. We’ve all been there, as either victim or perpetrator. We may no longer even notice when we’ve been phubbed (or are phubbing), it has become such a normal part of life. However, research studies are revealing the profound impact phubbing can have on our relationships and well-being.

There’s an irony in phubbing. When we’re staring at our phones, we’re often connecting with someone on social media or through texting. Sometimes, we’re flipping through our pictures the way we once turned the pages of photo albums, remembering moments with people we love. Unfortunately, however, this can severely disrupt our actual, present-moment, in-person relationships, which also tend to be our most important ones.

The research shows that phubbing isn’t harmless—but the studies to date also point the way to a healthier relationship with our phones and with each other.

What phubbing does to us

According to their study of 145 adults, phubbing decreases marital satisfaction, in part because it leads to conflict over phone use. The scientists found that phubbing, by lowering marital satisfaction, affected a partner’s depression and satisfaction with life. A follow-up study by Chinese scientists assessed 243 married adults with similar results: Partner phubbing, because it was associated with lower marital satisfaction, contributed to greater feelings of depression. In a study poignantly titled, “My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone,” Meredith David and James Roberts suggest that phubbing can lead to a decline in one of the most important relationships we can have as an adult: the one with our life partner.

Phubbing also shapes our casual friendships. Not surprisingly to anyone who has been phubbed, phone users are generally seen as less polite and attentive. Let’s not forget that we are extremely attuned to people. When someone’s eyes wander, we intuitively know what brain studies also show: The mind is wandering. We feel unheard, disrespected, disregarded.

A set of studies actually showed that just having a phone out and present during a conversation (say, on the table between you) interferes with your sense of connection to the other person, the feelings of closeness experienced, and the quality of the conversation. This phenomenon is especially the case during meaningful conversations—you lose the opportunity for true and authentic connection to another person, the core tenet of any friendship or relationship.

In fact, many of the problems with mobile interaction relate to distraction from the physical presence of other people. According to these studies, conversations with no smartphones present are rated as significantly higher-quality than those with smartphones around, regardless of people’s age, ethnicity, gender, or mood. We feel more empathy when smartphones are put away.

This makes sense. When we are on our phones, we are not looking at other people and not reading their facial expressions (tears in their eyes, frowns, smiles). We don’t hear the nuances in their tone of voice (was it shaky with anxiety?), or notice their body posture (slumped and sad? or excited and enthusiastic?).

No wonder phubbing harms relationships.

The way of the phubbed

What do “phubbed” people tend do?

According to a study published in March of this year, they themselves start to turn to social media. Presumably, they do so to seek inclusion. They may turn to their cell phone to distract themselves from the very painful feelings of being socially neglected. We know from brain-imaging research that being excluded registers as actual physical pain in the brain. Phubbed people in turn become more likely to attach themselves to their phones in unhealthy ways, thereby increasing their own feelings of stress and depression.

A Facebook study shows that how we interact on Facebook affects whether it makes us feel good or bad. When we use social media just to passively view others’ posts, our happiness decreases. Another study showed that social media actually makes us more lonely.

“It is ironic that cell phones, originally designed as a communication tool, may actually hinder rather than foster interpersonal connectedness,” write David and Roberts in their study “Phubbed and Alone.” Their results suggest the creation of a vicious circle: A phubbed individual turns to social media and their compulsive behavior presumably leads them to phub others—perpetuating and normalizing the practice and problem of “phubbing.”

“It is ironic that cell phones, originally designed as a communication tool, may actually hinder rather than foster interpersonal connectedness”

―Meredith David and James Roberts

Why do people get into the phubbing habit in the first place? Not surprisingly, fear of missing out and lack of self-control predict phubbing. However, the most important predictor is addiction—to social media, to the cell phone, and to the Internet. Internet addiction has similar brain correlates to physiological forms like addiction to heroine and other recreational drugs. The impact of this addiction is particularly worrisome for children whose brain and social skills are still under development.

Nicholas Kardaras, former Stony Brook Medicine clinical professor and author of Glow Kids, goes so far as to liken screen time to digital cocaine. Consider this: The urge to check social media is stronger than the urge for sex, according to research by Chicago University’s Wilhelm Hoffman.

These findings come as no surprise—decades of research have shown that our greatest need after food and shelter is for positive social connections with other people. We are profoundly social people for whom connection and a sense of belonging are crucial for health and happiness. (In fact, lack thereof is worse for you than smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity.) So, we err sometimes. We look for connection on social media at the cost of face-to-face opportunities for true intimacy.

The urge to check social media might be stronger than the urge for sex.

How to stop phubbing people

To prevent phubbing, awareness is the only solution. Know that what drives you and others is to connect and to belong. While you may not be able to control the behavior of others, you yourself have opportunities to model something different.

Research by Barbara Fredrickson, beautifully described in her book Love 2.0, suggests that intimacy happens in micro-moments: talking over breakfast, the exchange with the UPS guy, the smile of a child. The key is to be present and mindful. A revealing study showed that we are happiest when we are present, no matter what we are doing. Can we be present with the person in front of us right now, no matter who it is?

Studies by Paula Niedenthal reveal that the most essential and intimate form of connection is eye contact. Yet social media is primarily verbal. Research conducted by scientists like the GGSC’s Dacher Keltner and others have shown that posture and the most minute facial expressions (the tightening of our lips, the crow’s feet of smiling eyes, upturned eyebrows in sympathy or apology) communicate more than our words.

Most importantly, they are at the root of empathy—the ability to sense what another person is feeling—which is so critical to authentic human connection. Research shows that altruism and compassion also make us happier and healthier, and can even lengthen our lives. True connection thrives on presence, openness, observation, compassion, and, as BrenĂ© Brown has so beautifully shared in her TED talk and her bestselling book Daring Greatly, vulnerability. It takes courage to connect with another person authentically, yet it is also the key to fulfillment.

What to do if you are phubbed

What if you are phubbed? Patience and compassion are key here. Understand that the phubber is probably not doing it with malicious intent, but rather is following an impulse (sometimes irresistible) to connect. Just like you or I, their goal is not to exclude. To the contrary, they are looking for a feeling of inclusion. After all, a telling sociological study shows that loneliness is rising at an alarming rate in our society.

What’s more, age and gender play a role in people’s reactions to phubbing. According to studies, older participants and women advocate for more restricted phone use in most social situations. Men differ from women in that they viewed phone calls as more appropriate in virtually all environments including—and this is quite shocking—intimate settings. Similarly, in classrooms, male students find phubbing far less disturbing than their female counterparts.

Perhaps even worse than disconnecting from others, however, Internet addiction and phubbing disconnect us from ourselves. Plunged into a virtual world, we hunch over a screen, strain our eyes unnecessarily, and tune out completely from our own needs—for sleep, exercise, even food. A disturbing study indicates that for every minute we spend online for leisure, we’re not just compromising our relationships, we are also losing precious self-care time (e.g., sleep, household activities) and productivity.

So, the next time you’re with another human and you feel tempted to pull out your phone—stop. Put it away. Look them in the eyes, and listen to what they have to say. Do it for them, do it for yourself, do it to make the world a better place.

 

This article was adapted from Greater Good, the online magazine of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, one of Mindful’s partners. View the original article.

 

Be Smarter than Your Phone

The Hidden Cost of Phone Addiction

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Friday, 10 November 2017

Power of Prayer: From Longing to Belonging - Tara Brach


Power of Prayer: From Longing to Belonging ~

When we bring a full presence to prayer, it becomes a powerful pathway of homecoming. This talk explores how prayer heals the pain of separation, and offers practical guidance in what poet John O’Donohue calls “unearthing our ancient belonging.”

“What’s it like if you bow your head and whisper and call on something larger?”

from earlier that evening: Meditation: Relaxed Attentiveness

photo: pixabay.com

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