community

Using Meditation to Tame this Mind of Ours

Leave a comment   , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Share Button
parenting

(Photo Credit: Dollar Photo Club)

By Nicolina Santoro, MA

Mahayana Buddha, the progenitor and prophet of the middle way, had encapsulated an entire philosophy into short, clear directives. “Commit not a single unwholesome action, Cultivate a wealth of virtue, To tame this mind of ours; this is the teaching of all the Buddhas” (Rinpoche, 1993). Meditation is part of the practice of taming the mind. Often described as the still mind, or still waters of the mind, meditation appears to be a kind of martial art for one’s thoughts. To even begin to feel the stillness of mind that comes with the practice of meditation, one must endure the onslaught of thought as it runs through the beginning meditator’s mind rampantly. Even more interesting, is the realization that this pattern of thought is a regular occurrence in the mind. Meditation highlights the never-ending barrage of thought, as the student tries to negotiate the noise to a place of quiet within the mind.

Meditation is actually a common practice among many different platforms of faith, although called many different names throughout time, but the goal of calming the turbulence in the mind remains the same. The practical applications of meditation have far reaching benefits to those who suffer from a variety of illnesses. Mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and manias have all shown to be positively affected by the regular practice of meditation. Some of the therapeutic benefits of regular meditation practice include enhanced self-esteem, reduction in feelings of hopelessness and depression, and a sense of spiritual connection.

Since the mind, by its various sense mechanisms can create and maintain a subjective reality, one seems to be at the mercy of the mind and its myriad of emotional states of being. Thoughts create emotional experiences based on the electrical impulses that send messages to various chemical centers to whip up recipes for certain emotional states. These emotional states hold tremendous power over self-efficacy, and emotional well-being. Most people have had the experience of having a “bad” day, or a lack of desire to get out of bed. These types of feelings and their sources are often overlooked by people experiencing them, as the emotional tide they create has a strong influence in coloring one’s perceived reality. Over time, the continuing pattern of similar emotional states can create long-term relationships between neurons in the brain. In other words, relationships between a thought and the subsequent emotional state that the thought triggered become a learned response with different chemical markers for different emotional states.

Meditation is the act of awareness, noting a thought as it travels through the mind’s eye, rather than grabbing on to it for dissection. It is in the act of dissection that the emotional response is created. A sort of fixation then occurs, making it very difficult to regain a sense of calm detachment which is the focus of the meditation practice. Observe, but be not of the waves of thoughts that roll through the ocean of conscious awareness, and breathe which is certainly not as easy as one might think.  Buddhism imparts that suffering, and dis-ease are certainly inevitable in life however, there is an opportunity for personal transcendence in the observation rather immersion in this state of suffering  (Rinpoche, 1993). A meditation posture is grounded, comfortable yet deliberate. One may elect to sit on the floor with legs crossed in front of them, arms relaxed and poised comfortably in the lap, eyes closed. One then begins to notice their breath, every inhalation and exhalation is noted in the awareness space. As this practice begins, the mind seems utterly flooded with thoughts, worries, randomness, and chaos. However, through each breath, the subject becomes accustomed to the flow of thoughts which become a sort of background noise, and the central focus of breathing creates an altered or trance like state in the consciousness of the meditator. This altered state of being allows the meditator to observe self from a place of detached compassion which is the place of mindfulness that the Buddha described.

Common mistakes that people make when entering into the practice of mediation exists in the misapplication of the quiet mind concept. The term is slightly misleading. The mind, it seems, is never truly quiet. Thoughts run constantly because the mind is always taking in information, processing it, encoding it, retrieving it, and deciphering it. The stillness of mind exists in the unfettered observance of this process. Unfettered meaning that one never holds on to, or tries to single out the thoughts as they steadily move through conscious awareness of the subject. As meditation becomes familiar to the mind itself, the thoughts no longer control the emotional state of the meditator, and stillness is observed by a state of total acceptance, and symbiosis.

The meditation process has been reported to be difficult, and even frustrating to those who are new to the experience, but long term benefits have also been relayed by those who were able to get through the frustration, and experience the trance-like state where feelings of calm and clarity exist. Meditation as a response and treatment for stress is now common advice from health practitioners even in the west because of the positive impact it has on the central nervous system (CNS), (Fontana, 1992).  The effect that mediation has on the body is noted further in the American Psychological Association’s book entitled Integrating Spirituality into Treatment. Meditation lowers respiratory rate, heart rate, and brain wave states, placing the body in a state of rest which is very helpful in dealing with chronic anxiety. Meditation has also been used frequently in the redirection of addictive behavior because of the altered state that it can enhance bio-chemically. In behavioral and cognitive behavioral types of therapeutic interventions, meditation is also useful in the reprogramming of negative thinking, through the natural change in thought patterns that are facilitated by the practice.

Research conducted by Lindgren & Coursey, published in 1995 shows a strong positive correlation between the use of meditation practice and increased feelings of well being among those who suffer from severe forms of anxiety and depression.  Those who are being treated for more severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have also reported positive cognitive effects on mood and self-esteem. These trends can enhance the level of care that practitioners bestow upon their clients, giving them the tools to help alleviate some of the distress associated with negative automatic thinking, placing some of the control back in their hands with regard to better self-care.

Self-care is something that even mental health practitioners overlook for themselves. In the mental health fields, burn-out among therapists and social workers is high. The culprit seems to be a lack of self-care and over extension according to the APA. Regular meditation practice can also help alleviate the stress that in the field of mental health seems almost inevitable to its practitioners. Self-care processes that the APA advocates include the awareness of the levels and types of stress in the practitioner’s environment, case load management, outside support networks, and extra-curricular activities that promote a sense of health and well being. A professional support network, boundaries, and realistic expectations upon the self are also highlighted as areas to which the practitioner should attend for optimum results. The clarity that accompanies regular meditation can also invigorate a flagging practitioner, providing a sense of calm and clarity toward the greater good of all concerned.


References

American Psychological Association. ed. by Miller, W.R. (2006). Integrating Spirituality into Treatment: Resources for Practitioners. Washington: American Psychological Association.

Berger, K. S. (2006). The Developing Person. New York: Worth Publishers.

Fontana, D. (1992). The Meditator’s Handbook. Rockport: Element Books, Inc.

Lindgren, K., & Coursey, R. (1995). Spirituality and Serious Mental Illness: A Two-Part Study. Psychosocial Rehabilitation Journal, 18(3), 93-111. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Rinpoche, S. (1993). The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Share Button
Share Button


The Components of Trustworthy Relationships

Leave a comment   , , , , , , , , , , ,
Share Button

cassie-blog

(Photo Credit: www.pinterest.com)

By Cassandra Vogeli, Psy.D. Candidate, M.A.

“Life isn’t fair. But Relationships can be.” – Janet Hibbs (2010)

In her book, Try to See it My Way: Being Fair in Love and Marriage, Janet Hibbs outlines the importance of fair give and take within relationships. We each come into life from families with various ideas about what is fair, what we are entitled to (constructive and destructive), and how to go about getting such needs met. Unfortunately, sometimes these ideas about fairness and the ways we go about meeting our own needs can end up working against our closest relationships and us.  Nagy & Krasner (1986) suggest that in order to create healthy and balanced relationships as well as get our needs met in a way that is constructive within our relationships; we need to understand our own fairness model. Hibbs (2010) outlines four very useful and practical elements in the process of being fair within relationships; first I will outline them below and then use them in an everyday example so that you can see what they look like in action.

  • The first is a concept called, reciprocity. Reciprocity as defined by Hibbs is, “The balance of mutual care and consideration.” Reciprocity is the act of giving to a partner or relationship with trust that they will reasonably give back in some way at some time. Be aware not to mistake this with tit-for-tat giving, where one might say, “I will do this for you (ONLY) if you do this for me”; this type of giving erodes trust.
  • The second concept is acknowledgment. Acknowledgement, although often undervalued and overlooked, is kind of a one-two punch for constructively giving in a relationship. It serves to give credit to your partner, affirm their good intentions, as well as validate their reality. This means putting yourself in your partner’s shoes and recognizing their effort or positive intentions.
  • Next there are (fair) claims. Fair claims are part of an earned entitlement based on past giving within the relationship, to ask for one’s needs to be met, or to request certain destructive behaviors to end. In order for a claim to be “fair” it should: (1) be realistic (2) not take advantage of your partner’s trust and (3) it must be earned between the two relating individuals.
  • The last element outlined by Hibbs is trust. Trust is created through each of the aforementioned: reciprocity, mutual acknowledgement of efforts and intentions, as well as fair claims. Trust can be built or depleted through different acts of reciprocity, acknowledgment, and fair claims. Trust grows when needs are considered, even if they are not met, this is important to remember. The more trust that exists within a relationship, the more a healthy “closeness” can exist between the couple (Hargrave & Pfitzer, 2003). Hibbs’ summarizes trust beautifully: “In a healthy relationship, you’re able to give freely and trust that you’ll receive care in return.”

Now let’s see these four elements of fairness in action. In the first example I will outline a situation in which reciprocity, acknowledgement, fair claims, and trust are not utilized:

Consider the couple James and Sara, who have been married for 12 years.  One evening Sara is working late, so James decides to cook dinner and have it ready when Sara arrives home. Sara enters and is so pleased to find dinner on the table for her.  After the couple finishes eating, Sara enters the kitchen and James sits down on the couch to wind down from the day. Upon entering the kitchen Sara sees a gigantic mess awaiting her, dishes everywhere, food all over the floor and counter tops, pans coated with a layer of sticky residue, and all she can think is, ‘why does he always make such a mess when he cooks!’ Trying to hold it together, Sara begins to clean the kitchen silently hoping that James will join in to help her. By the time she wades through the mess by herself, she is fuming, and her attempts to curb her aggression are futile. Unable to ignore the bubbling aggression, she explodes at James. “You always make a huge mess when you cook! You never clean up after yourself!” Triggered by her aggressive outburst James retorts, “You never appreciate anything I do, nothing is ever good enough! I tried to make dinner for you as a favor and this is the thanks I get?” Sara, still fuming, shoots back, “I didn’t ask for this! I would have rather picked up a pizza on the way home then have to clean up this mess!” The fight escalates and the emotional “bank account” within the couple system is eroded.

Now let’s look at how this situation may have gone using the four elements of fairness Hibbs outlines:

This time when Sara enters the kitchen she decides to handle things a bit differently.  Using acknowledgement, she states, “I appreciate you making dinner for me, I know you did it as a favor because I had a long day.” Not disregarding her own feelings, she makes a fair claim, “I am exhausted after today. Could you clean the kitchen for me?” James tired as well, acknowledges Sara and also makes a claim, “I bet you’re tired, I apologize for making such a big mess. I’m really beat as well, would it be okay with you if we left the dishes tonight and did them in the morning?” Sara acknowledges his effort and agrees while she also makes a claim for James to be more conscious of making a mess when he cooks and the couple leaves the situation having built trust and reciprocity, instead of putting more stress on their relationship. Following these guidelines may help to ensure that we grow from mistakes and shortcomings, rather than depleting our relationships unintentionally.

If you are interested in learning more about fairness within relationships, or about your own fairness model, I recommend checking out “Try to See it My Way” by Janet Hibbs. It is a wonderful book full of great resources and hands on exercises to really help your self-awareness and your relationship with your partner grow. Happy reading!


References

Boszormenyi-Nagy, I., & Krasner, B. R. (1986). Between give and take: A clinical guide to contextual therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Hargrave, T. D., & Pfitzer, F. (2003). The new contextual therapy: Guiding power of give and take. New York: Routledge.

Hibbs, J. B., Getzen, K. J. (2010). Try to see it my way: Being fair in love and marriage.

Penguin Group, New York, NY.

Share Button
Share Button


Enhancing Resilience

Leave a comment   , , , , , ,
Share Button

resilience-pic (Photo Credit: Danielle Kambrey)

By Dr. Jennie Lorena Thomas

Most of us may not like to be reminded of this, as being human means we will face pain at some points during our journey through this world. Unfortunately, we cannot avoid this life’s truth no matter who we are. Fortunately, we now know that the sooner you internalize this truth and grieve your losses, the happier, less stressed, and healthier you will feel and live.

Thus, while you journey towards this truth, let me reinforce the truth of the strength our resilient spirit is capable. This spirit or energy essence can allow us to stand up to, and breathe through any adversity; it allows us to shine both inside and out. In fact, Change Basics (Russell and Russel, 2006) contains resiliency tips that solidify this point.

  • Proactive people actively engage change and shape their own vision, keep their locus of control focused internally, preserve their self-efficacy, have a strong self-confidence and self- assurance, and are aware that their choices influence their response to challenges
  • Develop a personal meaning and vision so they have a clear belief and vision of what they want to create. They allow that purpose to propel them forward, so when adversity approaches, they can see it through hopeful eyes as a possible opportunity and stay focused on the larger more realistic view of life beyond it
  • They nurture interpersonal competence, our ability to truly empathize with others, thus magnifying their social awareness and interpersonal efficacy
  • They remain flexible and adaptable by staying aware of what’s happening around them so they can then make sensible adjustments in response.
  • They take a moment to think before acting. The more you practice the skill of organizing your thoughts and feelings; the result tends to yield an inner focus and outward stability. (Prioritizing to-do lists, and then following that prioritization, will enable you to manage your time effectively)
  • Strive to problem solve by analyzing and breaking down complex challenges to discover and explore their root causes. Recognize and clearly define the interdependence of these challenges within the larger system, and then set manageable goals.
  • Connection with community is important in attracting healthy caring and supportive relationships that create love and trust, provide effective mentors, and offer encouragement and reassurance. This is a foundation for continued personal efficacy.

 

Ways to Strengthen Resilience

After reading through these examples, perhaps select one tip a day and work with it a bit. For example, take the flexibility concept and consciously work on growing your awareness of your surroundings for a day. See the ways you’re less flexible and perhaps choose to let that some of that rigidity go. Alternatively, be that problem-solver for a day by taking a problem and breaking it into its constituent parts, then analyze how the parts fit together, and see how your various responses can be part of the problem and solution. Just observe how things can become more manageable. And add an extra kick of self-confidence to your day. Speak from your belly, look people in the eye, straighten your spine and put your shoulders back a bit. Feel yourself grow taller.

What everyone needs to know is that we actually have access to everything we need for a balanced life: awareness, determination, vision, creativity, love, passion, faith, and intuition. These human endowments begin to be realized when we focus on them, and they come into full bloom when we let them ripple through us, further building our innate resilience.

Admittedly, the journey as life students is sometimes arduous, often working full-time, and/or going to school while taking care of our families, maintaining ourselves, working to complete our degrees, get that position, that promotion, or that bonus. Let me now acknowledge each of you—great job for your hard work and continued effort. Keep smiling and know you are not alone.

 


References

Mary K. Alvord, PhD, Director, Group Therapy Center at Alvord, Baker, and Associates, LLC, Silver Spring, MD

Robin Gurwitch, PhD, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Russell and Russel, (2006) Measuring Employee Resilience, Published in the 2006 Pfeiffer Annual Training

Jana Martin, PhD, private practice, Long Beach, CA; (2003) President of the California Psychological Association

Ronald S. Palomares, PhD, Assistant Executive Director, Practice, American Psychological Association

Share Button
Share Button


World Sickness and the Thirst for God

Leave a comment   , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Share Button

World Sickness image

By Nicolina Santoro, MA, IMF 77972

Once upon a time, in the vast kingdom of the helping professions, there lived a therapist whose thirst for knowledge and desire to aid in the process of personal and interpersonal change was unrivaled in all the land. This therapist had taken it upon herself to rewrite the story of her own history in a manner that changes the context of painful past experiences from blockages into tools that create a larger understanding and empathy for those she has chosen to serve in her work.

This constantly evolving therapist became immersed in theory and work of great minds such as Carl Rogers and William James. Realizing that human potential is vast, she wanted to understand how important stories and fairy tales were to constructing the memories that colored the landscape of reality, a reality that seemed to have the power to dictate how people see themselves and live their lives.

These dominant fairy tales permeate the fabric of our perceptions which also bump up against the lives of others we come into contact with out in the world. Personal narratives or “life styles” are filled with characters that are archetypal in nature, influencing us to play out repetitive sequences in life. These characters tend to take on the personas of stereotypical themes that are reinforced by learning them at a young age, or by the social referencing effect of our dominant culture.

William James calls the mental fatigue effect of living in an environment laden with unrealistic scenarios or fairy tales “world sickness.” It appears as though living in a world dominated by stereotypes and fairy tales could be implicated in the aggravation of many types of mental health issues.

How can we address the fatigue, depression, anxiety, and thought distortions that world sickness creates and impacts?

Let’s start with being gentle with ourselves. When we imagine a supreme spiritual being, the embodiment of certain characteristics seems to be present across many cultures. Some of these characteristics include unconditional love (a love that exists beyond judgment), a superconscious presence that never dissipates or abandons, and the ability to create out of seemingly thin air. For the scientists who have a different path, god could also be described as the picture of what we theorize as the highest human potential. We have the potential to express this in our own reality by living our lives in accordance to our deepest and strongest values while moving away from comparing ourselves to the unrealistic standards or “fairy tales” woven into the fabric of our society, loving ourselves and others through the lens of acceptance and vulnerability, a gentler version of happily ever after.


References

James. W. (1902). The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study on Human Nature. Longmans, Green & Co. London, UK.

Miller, W.R. (2006). Integrating Spirituality into Treatment: Resources for Practitioners. Washington: American Psychological Association.

Share Button
Share Button


Learning From The Loss Of Robin Williams

Leave a comment   , , , , , , ,
Share Button

Ron Henry/Flickr/Creative Commons

By Leona Kashersky, Psy.D.

When I learned of the tragic death of Robin Williams two weeks ago, tears came to my eyes.

I valued his mind and contribution to the arts and humanity, as did so many in the world who share in the loss of this beloved comedian, who took his own life on August 11, 2014.

Not only did I feel an emptiness at the thought of never seeing another new Williams’ masterpiece, but knowing that so many looked up to him, I feared that his end could inspire those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts to follow his example.

Recent studies have shown that when a mentor, parent, loved one, or admired celebrity commits suicide, communities can become vulnerable to more tragic loss of the same kind.

As such, I’d like to speak to Williams’ specific situation, and address some general suicide risk factors in hopes that education could help us to grieve and prevent further harm.

O’ Captain, My Captain: Robin Williams’ Struggle

It is well documented that Williams had a long battle with substance use, and mental health professionals have hypothesized that he also suffered from bipolar disorder.

In early July, he checked himself into rehab, though news reports stated that he did not technically relapse. This readmission into rehab was right after his new sitcom The Crazy Ones was canceled after only one season. Whether or not Williams actually relapsed or was preventing a relapse, it is important to recognize that he was proactive in addressing his need for help.

Further, Williams had just started a new medication to treat his newly diagnosed Parkinson’s disease; his medication did come with warnings related to depression and suicidal ideation.

Risk Factors, Warning Signs & Intervention

Though we don’t know the complete details of Williams’ personal life, there were risk factors present in Williams’ history and current life situation that indicate that he was vulnerable to suicide.

Most suicides occur within three months following the treatment of a major depression, as the patient’s energy increases and before negative and destructive thoughts decrease. This leaves individuals in the initial phases of treatment at risk to follow through on suicidal thoughts. Moreover, even individuals who have a drug, alcohol, or eating disorder in full remission can be 10 percent more likely to complete suicide and are at higher risk. Professional monitoring is needed in the form of regularly scheduled counseling to teach healthy coping skills for managing stress.

In addition, patients starting some new medications that are not related to mental health treatment can be at risk of developing depressed and self-destructive thoughts. When patients are warned of the side effects, they don’t always remember the warning was given when the thoughts start to intrude. Often, patients are caught off guard and can be at greater risk of harmful behaviors.

Most people who contemplate suicide do not want to die, but rather feel disconnected from others and are likely experiencing difficulty thinking creatively about how to solve life’s challenges.

Here are some more general risk factors and warning signs that can help you identify and help those considering suicide:

Risk Factors

  • Mood changes or depression
  • Peer and/or family conflict
  • Perfectionism/overachievement
  • Poor coping skills
  • School or work failure
  • Drug or alcohol use


Warning Signs

  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Recent break up
  • Running away
  • Talking about suicide (even if it sounds like a joke)
  • Dramatic changes (for the worse) in personality and/or appearance


9 Initial Interventions for First Responders to Suicide: 

  • Be patient and nonjudgmental
  • Treat the problem seriously
  • Do not try to talk the person out of it
  • Do not be afraid to ask direct questions about suicide
  • Communicate your concern and support
  • Offer yourself as a caring listener until professional help can be arranged
  • Try to evaluate the seriousness of the risk presented in order to make the appropriate referrals to mental health professionals and emergency services (i.e. 911)
  • Do not swear to secrecy. Contact someone who can help if the individual will not get help personally
  • Do not leave the person alone if you feel the threat of self-harm is immediate


Ted Eytan / Flickr / Creative Commons

At the “Mrs. Doubtfire” House, 2640 Steiner Street, San Francisco, CA, USA. Ted Eytan / Flickr / Creative Commons

 

Community’s Role in Suicide Prevention

As community members interested in preventing suicide, we must work together to identify, reach out, show compassion, and educate people who are or who know someone that may be at risk.

As a larger community, we can support individuals in developing a spiritual practice that fosters community inclusion and engages individuals in altruistic projects that inspire them to help others or the environment. Programs that build a sense of mastery and inspire a sense of community inclusion rather than alienation are known to be effective in preventing suicide.

In addition, community can support centers that provide organized outings for cultural enrichment, specialized training, education, sexual counseling, crisis intervention, and health care.

We can find a Healing Pathway!

Healing Pathways offers its condolences to everyone who loved Robin Williams dearly. We hope that we can all grieve together as a community and teach each other how to move through pain and sadness with compassion for each other and ourselves.

Share Button
Share Button