What Is Mindfulness Anyway?

Sharon Salzberg wrote a piece for the On Being blog entitled, “What Does Mindfulness Really Mean Anyway?” UnknownFrom her websiteSharon Salzberg is described as “a meditation teacher and author. She is the cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts, and has played a crucial role in bringing Asian meditation practices to the West. The practices of mindfulness and lovingkindness are the foundations of her work.”

In my work, I frequently ask my clients to do a Mindfulness Meditation with me. It helps to ground us, to center us and allows us to more wholly get into our work together. When we are not working together, I recommend that my clients do the exercise on their own.

mindfulness meditationThe specific Mindfulness Mediation exercise that I do is called, Lovingkindness, which I learned from Elaine Retholz. It goes like this: “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be safe, may I live with ease.” I recommend that my clients practice saying those phrases several times a day, while paying attention to their breath. I suggest that they do it on a regular basis and particularly when they’re feeling anxious or ungrounded.

In the blog post, Salzburg says that “…the difference between suffering and happiness all depends on what we do with our attention. Mindfulness is what can permit us to no longer feel like victims of our negative emotions. Instead, it allows us to understand our intentions and gain awareness of our emotions as they arise. As they arise, we pivot, we continue to pay attention, and our world continues to open up.”

“Science agrees, which is undoubtedly part of the popularization. mindfulnessA 2011 study conducted at Mass General Hospital, with the headline ‘Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in eight weeks,’ examined the brain structure of 16 participants for two weeks before and after they took an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Progress text at the UMass Center for Mindfulness (MBSR). Results showed measurable changes in participants’ brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. Meditation actually produced actual changes in the brain’s grey matter.'”

I’m curious what you think. Feel free to contact me here. What has your experience been with meditation? What does mindfulness mean to you?

You Exist

I see youPeople come to therapy for a number of different reasons. Frequently they are struggling with something and they want support or guidance. I feel honored to do the work that I do and grateful to my clients for allowing me to accompany them on their journeys. For some reason, there is still shame around not being able to get through a struggle on one’s own or even struggling. One of the most important things that I try to convey to my clients is that they are not alone and that they exist.

When we feel unheard, unsupported and unloved and we all struggle with these feelings at some point in our lives, it’s important to know that to someone else, anyone else, that we matter, we exist. During times when all is well, it’s also important to know that we exist. David Isay of NPR’s Story Corp, agrees. Here is a link to his amazing talk at TED.

Isay said, “In 1998, I made a documentary about the last flophouse hotels on the Bowery in Manhattan. Guys stayed up in these cheap I existhotels for decades. They lived in cubicles the size of prison cells covered with chicken wire so you couldn’t jump from one room into the next. Later, I wrote a book on the men with the photographer Harvey Wang. I remember walking into a flophouse with an early version of the book and showing one of the guys his page. He stood there staring at it in silence, then he grabbed the book out of my hand and started running down the long, narrow hallway holding it over his head shouting, “I exist! I exist.””

Isay’s TED talk is 21 minutes short. It’s filled with so many terrific pieces of wisdom. I want to listen to it over and over again. I hope that you get as much from it as I did and I hope that you know that you too, exist.

Contact me here and let me know if you could tell someone that they exist, who would it be and what would you say?

Why Did That Friendship End?

In the blog/podcast/website/probably something else that I’m forgetting, is an excellent post by Courtney Martin entitled, Struggling to Find the Silver Lining in Severed Friendships. 

“As resilient as I experience myself to be in so many situations, as good as I am at drawing a thick silver lining around an otherwise The Dalai Lama (R) and his friend Robertdark moment, there is one particular version of life’s pains that I feel weak and stupid about processing: severed friendships. Throughout my life I’ve had a few very dear friends that either drifted away on an ever more quickly moving river of miscommunication and disappointment, until I couldn’t see them anymore, or vanished in one fell swoop — as if abducted by alien invaders.”

Most everyone has experienced the ending of a friendship. It can be years in the making or seemingly sudden, at least to one of the two people in the friendship. I wonder how you have experienced this. Were you the ender or the receiver of the news that the friendship was no longer working? How did you process the ending? Is it easier for there to be no explanation or a conversation or even a series of conversations?

happiness-2Martin also writes, “I want everyone to have the same story about something, especially if I’m involved.” Does this sound familiar? Although many of us know that it’s unrealistic for us to assume that at all times, others will see things the way that we do, we still yearn for that kind of understanding and connection. We all want to be validated.

And yet what draws many of us to others and what makes those relationships interesting are differences of opinions. Many, if not most are similar but true friendships are ones in which we are able to learn from, as well as be supported by, another person.

When friendships are severed, how do we move forward? I love the image that Marin gives of losing a friend is like losing a body part. “I think I’m so bad at letting friendships go — either suddenly or gradually — because it feels injurious to me to stop loving someone once I have started, like I’m cutting off a limb, and yet blood will just keep flowing in that direction. I’ve never stopped loving any of the friends I’ve lost.”

What has your experience been with ending friendships? I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to contact me here. 

What’s Your Experience With The Couch?

While researching for something that inspires me enough to want to write about it on my blog, I came across an article in the Opinionater Section of the New York Times, sub-headed under another section entitled, From The Couch.

I enjoy reading these articles. They are written by psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists and others who fall under the heading of Psychotherapist. I like to discover what my colleagues are
experiencing in hopes that I will learn something new and somehow apply it to my work with my clients. Frequently, I learn something new and apply it to my own life.

After reading a particular article, I went to the comments section. The responses were fascinating. Some people wrote about everything but how the article made them feel and some identified with the patient/client. Others seemed to be offended by the author. They felt that he was manipulative. One person wrote, “Perhaps the therapist doesn’t realize that the authoritarian, engineered therapy dynamic itself can stoke his clients’ infantilization and intimidation.”

That was just one of the angry sentences that one person wrote. There were many more like it in her letter. I then read another article, enjoyed it and went to the comments section again.

That same person whom I quoted above, wrote equally angry couchremarks to other articles found in From The Couch. It made me wonder about the negative experiences this particular person must have had in therapy. That’s where I went right away but maybe she’s a provocateur, maybe she just likes to stir things up. I’ll never know. What I do know is that the anger with which she replied was prevalent in every comment section on every piece that I read.

All of the comments that I read by everyone made me think about the relationship between a therapist and client and that it’s unlike any other. It’s intimate but one sided. The therapist generally doesn’t share too much about herself with the client and the client shares everything (from joys and angers to secrets and lies) with the therapist. The therapist’s role is to create an environment in which the client feels safe enough to express his/her feelings and thoughts. For some, this can be challenging when the relationship is so one sided. For many, it’s easier because the roles are clear.

I wonder what your experiences have been as a client or as a therapist. Perhaps you’ve been on both sides of the “couch.” Let me know. You can contact me here. 

Do Secrets Make Us Sick?

Laura Starecheski reports on health for NPR’s Science Desk. She reported on this piece that is on NPR’s Health News. It is entitled, Can Family Secrets Make You Sick?

In 1980, Dr. Vincent Felitti, the (current) Director and founder of Preventive Medicine for Kaiser Permanente, was trying to help obese people lose weight. When they did, he was stunned to watch many of them gain the weight back. What he learned was that the weight was being used as a shield, protecting these patients from the outside world.

our little secret 2The protection was covering a secret; many of Dr. Felitti’s patients were sexually abused as children. Before the obesity study, Dr. Felitti, never thought to ask about sexual abuse or any other kind of childhood trauma during his intakes but he soon realized how important it was to ask.

Once secrets are exposed, Telling the secretthere’s something that can be done about them. When secrets are brought out into the light, they have less power. Dr. Felitti learned that when secrets are not exposed, they can turn into physical and psychological illnesses.

“Over time, especially when you’re young, experiences of neglect and abuse and stress impair those circuits,” Gunnar (a developmental psychologist) says. ‘You’re less able to tell yourself not to eat the ice cream, or smoke the cigarette, or have that additional drink. You’re less capable of regulating your own behavior. And that seems to be terribly important for linking early experiences with later health outcomes’.”

Parents, teachers, doctors, therapists and anyone in the helping professions, has a duty to help children feel safe. If you’re an adult holding on to a secret, contact me if you’re ready to share, I am here to listen without judgement and to help you.

Mindful Poem

“Everyday I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight” is taken from a poem called, Mindful by Mary Oliver.

Unknown-1

Mindful
by Mary Oliver

Every Day
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It is what I was born for—
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world—
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant—
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these—
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

em2-003Oliver was recently interviewed for, On Being. “On Being is a Peabody Award-winning public radio conversation and podcast, a Webby Award-winning website and online exploration, a publisher and public event convener.”

The Mindful poem was the subject of the blog from On Being. Parker Palmer is the columnist. He wrote that he is mindful and finds something everyday that “more or less kills him with delight.”

What a wonderful way to go through life. It’s a discipline to be mindful in this way, especially on a daily basis. Is it something you could do? Every day? Would you like to try? I’d like to know 

Why Is The Recent New York Times Magazine Article About Adoption, Relevant?

When I saw the cover of the New York Times Magazine Section I winced. I wondered if the article written by Maggie Jones, entitled, “Why a Generation of Adoptees is Returning to South Korea” would frustrate me as so many adoption related articles do.

It’s been a while since I read something that didn’t sensationalize adoption. I’ve worked  in the field since 1999. I’ve read hundreds of articles, read many books, seen many documentaries, talked with dozens of children and adults who were adopted and hundreds of parents. I’ve attended workshops, lectures, meetings, classes, etc. And yet after all this time, I still have a lot to learn. That’s why I read this article and I’m glad that I did.

The author, Maggie Jones, is an adoptive parent. Her article was thoughtful, engaging and informative.  AdoptionAlthough she didn’t adopt from Korea, she adopted one daughter domestically (she is of Japanese and African descent) and her other daughter was born in Guatemala. Despite this, the research that Jones did is applicable to anyone interested in adoption.

“My husband and I are of a generation that is supposedly savvier and better educated about raising adopted children. We have done some of the “right things”: traveled with our kids back to Guatemala and to Japan (where my older daughter’s birth mother lives). We’ve advocated for open adoptions (with mixed success) so our daughters would have access to their records and contact with their families. Our daughters’ friends and their school are diverse. And my husband and I try not to shy away from talking about the complexities of adoption and race.

Two hands of different races togetherStill, my daughters don’t see themselves reflected in my and my husband’s faces. They will confront racism in their lives, which neither my husband nor I ever have. My children are happy and deeply attached to us. But while the predominant narrative of adoption focuses on what is gained, each adoption also entails loss for both the child and her biological family. It’s a loss I can’t fully know and one I can never entirely heal.”

That last sentence encompasses everything that I believe about addition. I appreciate the honestly with which Jones describes her experiences and the fact that adoption is an emotionally complicated process. There is so much work that adoptive parents need to do and Jones seems aware of her responsibilities. I admire her honesty and thorough research. I’m so glad that I read her piece.

If you have any questions about this article or about adoption in general, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to contact me.

Is It Grief or Depression?

Patrick O’Malley wrote an article for The New York Times entitled, “Getting Grief Right.” O’Malley is a psychotherapist. His article is about the work that he did with a particular client, whom he refers to as, Mary.

Grief 2Mary lost her daughter to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS. She contacted O’Malley because he too lost a child and Mary thought that it would be helpful to work with someone who had an idea of what she was going through. She had gone through two therapists before contacting O’Malley.

During a session Mary asked, “’What is wrong with me? It has been almost seven months.’

Very gently, using simple, nonclinical words, I suggested to Mary that there was nothing wrong with her. She was not depressed or stuck or wrong. She was just very sad, consumed by sorrow, but not because she was grieving incorrectly. The depth of her sadness was simply a measure of the love she had for her daughter.”

Sometimes a client goes into therapy because they feel that they are reacting incorrectly or for too long, to a painful experience.

“To be sure, some people who come to see me exhibit serious, diagnosableGrief symptoms that require treatment. Many, however, seek help only because they and the people around them believe that time is up on their grief. The truth is that grief is as unique as a fingerprint, conforms to no timetable or societal expectation.”

If you have given yourself a timetable to overcome your grief, you may want to read O’Malley’s article in full. What did you learn? I’d love to know. You can contact me here.

Do You Have a Fear of Rejection?

Carolynn Aristone, MSW, LCSW is a Couple and Marriage Counselor. She wrote an article for Good Therapy.com, entitled: How to Overcome Fear of Rejection.

In Aristone’s article, she cites, The Pain of Social Rejection, written by Kirsten Weir for the American Psychological Association. Weir Stressed couplewrote that “our need to belong and for acceptance, links back to our early survival skills. Weir cites brain research which reveals that the areas of the brain that register pain due to physical injury, the dorsal anterior cingulate and the anterior insula, also register the emotional pains of rejection.”

Do you recall a psychic pain due to rejection that was so deep that you felt it in your body? One client said that her heart actually hurt when she was rejected by her boyfriend. laidoffAnother client felt physical pain throughout her entire body and was unable to move after she was fired from a job she had for over 20 years. The emotional and physical pain is real. The question is, what do we do about it? We want to get rid of it and feel better but feeling any kind of pain is a part of life and not necessarily something to get rid of. The problem occurs when we only feel pain and are unable able to live life.

Aristone says that “rather than value this (rejection) warning sign, this important bodily communication, we fear it. The pain becomes unbearable. We attach all kinds of meanings to the pain, to rejection itself. We perceive rejection as an absolute truth about who we are or what we can achieve. Somehow, this primitive survival signal creates a slow, painful death—of our spirits.”

Aristone goes on to list “five ways to transform how you respond to this difficult experience.” I don’t agree with all five of her points but I do love these:

  1. Expect rejection SOME of the time. I have no idea where I heard this, but someone once said to me, “You see that gorgeous girl? Someone, somewhere, is sick of her [crap]!” Like that girl, you, too, will be rejected, no matter how attractive you are, how much money you have, or how nice you are—someone will “get sick of you” in some form. Not everyone is compatible, and you will not meet everyone’s needs at all times. If you can accept this, you can decrease the personalization of rejection, maintain faith, and keep trying.
  2. Stop making rejection your whole life story. Assuming the identity of “victim” will not attract or keep a mate. The more you cling to the “rejected” role, the more you suffer. There is more to you than your rejection. Surround yourself with friends and family who support you. These people serve as a reminder of your worth. They are a part of your love story. To overcome rejection, you must connect with people who love you.
  3. Real intimacy is possible only when both partners become vulnerable.

Rejection is a part of life. There’s no way to avoid it. However, the way we think about it affects us greatly. The three points above are useful tools in dealing with rejection. If you have been suffering from feelings of rejection, I want to hear from you. I want to help you. Feel free to contact me here

Happiness and Sadness in Music

This is my second post about music. Click on this link to read this first one.

Little girl is enjoying music using headphonesMusic can be so powerful. It has the ability to soothe us, join with us, put words to our feelings of hope and despair. As with poetry, a certain verse or chorus can make us feel as though someone else knows exactly how we’re feeling at a particular moment.

The Spectrum of Joy and Sorrow in a Song (Your Audio Selfie) is an article by Bekah Johnson who writes about what music can do to help us through difficult times as well as join us in happiness. Jen Raffensperger, a listener shared that when her father died, she found peace in a song by Josh Ritter entitled, Lantern.

The verse that helped Jen to get through the pain was:

“The sky’s so cold and clear
The stars might stick you where you stand
And you’re only glad it’s dark
‘Cause you might see the master’s hand
You could cast around forever
And never find the peace you seek.”

And yet, in the very same song, the following verse offered Jen feelings of hope about her future:

“Throw away those lamentations
We both know them all too well
If there’s a book of jubilations
We’ll have to write it for ourselves.”

Jen says, “We get to create some of the joy in our own lives; we get to experience it with loved ones, with friends. For a four-minute song, it encapsulates for me just this huge spectrum of the joy and sorrow that come into our lives.” 

Music has the ability to pick us up when we’re down and rejoice with us when we’re sad. Lyrics can sometimes articulate for us what we cannot say ourselves. That’s probably one of the reasons that we hold musicians in such high regard. They have the ability to help us not feel alone.

What songs or melodies resonate with you? I’d love to know.