Having a Hard Time Sleeping? Do Nothing!

Do you toss and turn in bed? Can’t get to sleep (or go back to sleep) no matter what you do?

I’ve been there and one thing is sure: insomnia is frustrating!

It’s also bad for your health. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. It has also been linked to changes in brain function, poor decision making, difficulty with problem solving, depression, and even suicide.

Unfortunately, many of the classic strategies for overcoming insomnia don’t work all that well. You probably know this. I bet you’ve already tried some of them.

New research suggests there may be a path forward, and it isn’t what you think…

Controlling Sleep Doesn’t Work Very Well

One reason the natural things we do to solve sleep problems aren’t very effective is that they invite you to do too much, precisely when you need to do nothing. What does that mean? Think about it this way…

Your body knows how to sleep. It should be darn good at it too … millions of years of evolution tends to work out the kinks. Get out of your own way, do nothing to wake yourself up, and voila: you sleep.

But your logical problem-solving mind is only a few hundred thousand years old … surely not more than a couple of million. We know that because our closest relatives don’t have symbolic language – the core element of our thinking processes. Your mind sure knows how to problem solve … but it is not very good at sleep because it is not very good at doing nothing.

The problem with most existing psychological sleep interventions is that they too invite you to do too much.

Let me ask you this. If you are half asleep and you start trying to solve a problem, any problem, what happens? That’s right. You wake up. Solving a problem is the brain equivalent of sprinting around the block. Hardly likely to encourage snoozing.

So what is the first thing you do when you wake up in the night and start to worry? You try to put the worries out of your mind or you try to convince yourself things aren’t as bad as all that. You treat your thoughts as problems to be solved. The problem: all that mental stuff is waking you up!

The Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) community has an alternative: psychologically flexibility. Basically, that means allowing thoughts and feelings to show up, then gently attending to what helps move you in the direction you value. In that case of sleep that mean noticing the temptation to problem-solve (e.g., to push away worries and anxieties), and instead to do nothing. Your body know how to sleep. Your mind? Not so much.

Studies have shown that psychological inflexibility is a key player in sleep problems. Recent studies have also shown that training people to be more psychologically flexible helps reduce insomnia in those who have chronic pain and chronic fatigue.

So if you’re an insomniac, what’s the bottom line for you?

Accept Your Experiences

Let’s face it. Suppressing your night time thoughts and feelings or struggling to go back to sleep just doesn’t work that well. You probably already know this. If you have sleep problems, I’m sure you’ve tried it. Has it worked for you?

Try becoming more psychologically flexible instead. Here are three techniques you can experiment with:

  1. If you can’t sleep, rest. In many cases, it’s the focus on trying to sleeping itself that keeps you from getting to sleep. By allowing yourself to simply rest and respectfully declining your mind’s invitation to problem solve, you are more likely to get to sleep more easily or fall back to sleep after you wake up.
  2. Just noticing. Worry keeping you awake? Instead of ruminating on it, just notice it. When worries arise imagine they are words written on leaves that are floating down the river. They come in, they go out. Notice them dispassionately. That is all. Add or subtract nothing.
  3. Accept your thoughts and feelings about insomnia. I don’t mean resign yourself to insomnia. I mean to be present with your reactions without grabbing at them or manipulating them. Instead of rejecting these reactions, just hold them the way you would a child. Then let your body do what it knows how to do.

These techniques are counterintuitive. That’s true. But what have you got to lose? Maybe some useless problem solving time?

The next time you are trying to get to sleep here is a better idea. Get in bed, close your eyes, and do nothing at all.

Many Thanks to Steve Hayes for this post. Steve is the founder of ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy). Dr Russ Harris brought ACT to Australia and trained me to be an ACT Therapist. ACT is very much a Mindfulness based therapy. Feel welcome to book a One-on-One session with me. Mindfully Yours as Always! – John

Hostile Workplaces

Hostile Workplace

Most of us have lived through an unpleasant time at work. When it ends, we sigh with relief and assume all will now be fine. Unfortunately things aren’t that simple.

A hostile environment can change us, we learn strategies to cope, to get our work done despite the difficulties. However, the very strategies that helped us to survive a dysfunctional workplace can be counter-productive in a more supportive environment. And in a cruel twist of fate, it seems to be almost impossible to unlearn something that you learnt when you were scared or stressed. So we often continue to be defensive, aggressive or self-protective even when it is no longer needed.  We can’t seem to get rid of the mental junk we have acquired during our painful experiences.

So how do you let go of problematic interpersonal behaviour and start to behave in ways that work? Here are some tips:

1. Start with self-compassion. The less you beat yourself up for your failings, the more you will be able to notice the times when your behaviour isn’t working.

2. Get present. Mindfulness helps us to act on our good intentions. In this moment now, what is happening? Try to notice your behaviour moment to moment.

3. Do a self-assessment and get feedback from people you trust.

4. Don’t just change as a reaction to what others want. Spend some time thinking deeply about your values. Who do you want to be at work? How do you want others to experience you? Changing your behaviour is a hard slog, linking the change to your values will help you to keep going.

5. Aim to gradually evolve your behaviour rather than suddenly transforming yourself overnight. Just focus on one or two small changes and see if you can repeat those behaviours over and over until they are a habit. Then pick some more behaviours you would like to change.

6. Get really present in your interactions with people. Notice the impact of your behaviour on others. See if you can get out of your head and into this moment now.

7. Accept that when you feel threatened you are likely to revert to self-protective and unhelpful behaviours. Consider what might trigger that in you and make a plan to be particularly mindful and self-compassionate in those moments. Hold those feelings gently.

8. Seek feedback on your progress but accept that it may take people a while to notice that you have changed. Our opinions of others are quickly formed and slow to change.

Many Thanks to http://workingwithact.com for this post. The aim of Working With ACT is to translate the latest evidence from behavioural science, mindfulness and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) into the workplace. Check them out! Love & Laughter Always! – John

Transforming Pain – Part 2

 Feel Inside

In Part 1 of this article, we explored how mindfulness transforms pain. No matter how painful our thoughts, feelings, sensations, emotions, and memories, when we respond to them mindfully, with an attitude of openness and curiosity, we transform them. They will still be painful, but they will have much less impact and influence over us; but when we truly accept them – when we drop the struggle and make room for them – they no longer function as barriers that hold us back, or threats that scare us off, or burdens that pin us down.

However, we can also transform painful thoughts and feelings through linking our pain to our values. For example, sometimes when I go to the gym, I fuse with thoughts such as ‘This is such a pain. I hate doing this stuff. Why do I have to do this? I can’t wait until this session is over!’ And guess what happens? That’s right; the session turns into a life-draining ordeal; an endurance test; an unpleasant experience to get through as fast as possible. But something very interesting happens when I unhook myself from those thoughts, and reconnect with my values, and take a moment to reflect: ‘I am choosing to be here, because I value taking care of my body, and looking after myself. And this will give me more energy to invest in other important activities, like connecting with and taking care of my loved ones.’ At that point, the pain transforms. It is still unpleasant; I am still hot, and sweaty, and tired, and short of breath, with screaming muscles; but it becomes a purposeful, meaningful, consciously chosen experience, instead of a tedious ordeal. I have made this pain meaningful: it means I am taking care of myself.

For yet another example, in my training workshops for health professionals, I always do live demonstrations of therapy. This brings up a huge amount of anxiety for me – in case I screw it up badly in front of a large audience of peers and colleagues – and typically my hands are literally dripping with sweat. But I remind myself that people generally find these demonstrations helpful; and I say to myself, ‘I am willing to have this anxiety in order to help others’. Instantly, this transforms the anxiety, linking it to my value of helping, and my goal of running a good workshop. And as a lovely bonus, that makes the anxiety much easier to accept.

For one last example, suppose we lose a loved one. Obviously we are going to experience all sorts of incredibly painful feelings. But what happens if we consciously acknowledge that this intense pain is linked to our values of being loving and caring? I ask my grieving clients to feel their pain and their love simultaneously; to acknowledge their sadness, fear, and loss and at the same time, get in touch with their love for the person who is dead or dying, and experience how the two are intimately connected. I ask them to make room for both the love and the pain; they always go together.

And at a later stage, I often ask this question, ‘Suppose I could give you a choice. Choice One: this terrible pain will instantly disappear and you’ll never feel anything like it ever again – but you will lose the capacity to love and care; you will no longer care about anyone or anything, ever again. Choice Two: you really get to love and to care; you have the opportunity and ability to build all sorts of rich, meaningful, loving relationships throughout your life – but that means that when you lose someone you love, you will feel pain like this. Which would you choose?’

When people choose option two, as they always do, there is an instant change: immediately the pain has become meaningful; it is pain in the service of loving and caring. It’s still extremely painful, but it’s no longer meaningless; it’s now linked to important values.

Thus, in the ACT model, we would never ask someone to accept pain purely for the sake of it; what would be the point? We would only ask someone to accept pain if it were in the service of values-based living; e.g. if it would help them to take better care of themselves, or engage more in life, or take life-enhancing courses of action, or pursue meaningful goals, or build richer relationships, etc.

If you are a therapist, coach or other health professional, it is essential to remember this; when working with ACT, we must always explicitly link acceptance of pain to values and values-guided goals. There are many ways to do this. For example, we might ask our client, ‘Are you willing to make room for these painful thoughts and feelings, in order to do the things you want to do (e.g. to be a loving mother, or to take better care of your body, or to attend that important event)?’ Or we might ask ‘In making room for this pain, what are you standing for (e.g. courage, self-compassion, love, self-care, being available to loved ones)?’ Or we might ask, ‘If you weren’t struggling with/running from/fighting with/ this pain, what would you do differently with your life?’ – and then, whatever the answer is to that question, we would use it as the motivation to drop the struggle with the pain. (Note: one of the most common reasons why clients resist accepting painful emotions is because the coach or therapist has not explicitly linked it to values and/or values-congruent goals!)

Similarly, if our client is in the midst of some acceptance exercise, i.e. actively opening up and making room for a painful emotion, we might remind her of the values and goals linked to this acceptance; for example, ‘And as you breathe into and make room for that anxiety, take a moment to reflect on why you’re doing this – e.g. so you can fly on airplanes/start public speaking/socialise more/go out on dates/really be there for the kids when they need you.’ Or we might say things like, ‘Are you willing to make room for that tightness in your chest, those sweaty hands, that racing heart, those knots in your stomach, if this is what you need to make room for in order to pursue that career change/go to the places you want to go/be authentic, open and intimate in your relationships etc.’

And of course, we don’t have to wait until a coach or therapist asks us these questions; we can ask them of ourselves! Why not try it? Next time you’re in pain, try to complete one of these sentences: ‘I am willing to have this pain in order to ….’, ‘In making room for this pain, I am standing for …’, or ‘Allowing this pain, instead of fighting or running from it, will enable me to ….’ There are never any guarantees with ACT, but please do try it; I hope and trust it will be helpful.

Thanks to Dr. Russ Harris for this post. (scroll down for part 1) Russ trained me as an ACT Therapist which in turn, not only enriched my own life but also countless others. ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy) is a combination of latest Western Psychology and Ancient Eastern Mindfulness. Very simple… very powerful! Love & Laughter Always! – John

Some ACT Definitions

The human brain

Like any technical approach, ACT has it’s own jargon. We will try to avoid jargon as much as possible on this site but there are some words that it might be helpful for you to understand if you are to ‘get’ what this is all about. These words are:

1. Fusion

This is where we get entangled with our thoughts and ‘pushed around by them’ (Russ Harris). We focus our attention on the contents of our mind (our thoughts, memories, assumptions, beliefs, images etc) rather than what we are experiencing through our five senses.  We then make decisions and take actions based on our internal experience (thoughts, memories etc) rather than what is really going on in the world.

“In a state of fusion a thought can seem like:

  • the absolute truth
  • a command you have to obey or a rule you have to follow” (Russ Harris)

2. Defusion

This is where we can observe our thoughts and see them for what they are – just products of our busy minds.

“in a state of defusion, you recognise that a thought:

  • may or may not be true
  • is not a command you have to obey
  • is not a threat to you
  • is not something happening in the physical world – it’s merely words or pictures inside your head
  • can be allowed to come and go of its own accord” (Russ Harris)

3. Experiential Avoidance

This is where we focus on trying to avoid or get rid of painful thoughts and feelings and as a result avoid taking actions that are important to us (giving a speech, asking to be included in a project team, giving honest feedback). As a result our life gets narrowed down – we don’t take important steps to create the life we want.

4. Acceptance

This is choosing to adopt an open,curious and receptive attitude to internal experiences (such as thoughts, emotions, memories and urges) as they arise, even when they are unpleasant. There is a lot of good research that tells us this is likely to be a good idea.

The theory in ACT says that is fine to control thoughts and feelings as long as:

  1. It is actually possible (which is usually in low stress situations!)
  2. It doesn’t get in the way of doing what matters and living a full life.

5. Willingness

Willingness involves deciding, ‘Where you want to go in life and then heading off in that direction, even if that means feeling some pain along the way’.

Transforming Pain – Part 1

Baby Stillborn

Life involves pain. It visits us in a multitude of different forms every day: the emotional pain of disappointment, frustration, boredom, anxiety, regret, resentment, sadness, guilt, etc.; and the physical pain of injury, illness, and aching body parts. There is no way for any of us to have a pain-free life (unless you happen to be in a coma). We all know this intellectually, of course. But we all find it hard to truly accept pain in reality.

Where ACT differs from most other approaches to pain, is that we don’t try to avoid or get rid of the pain; instead, we aim to fundamentally change our relationship with it. And as we do that, the pain itself transforms; it no longer holds us back, or brings us down; it is no longer toxic or life-distorting; it loses its impact and influence over our lives.

When we look at our pain mindfully – i.e. with a genuine attitude of openness and curiosity, in much the same way that a young child might look curiously at a ladybird or a butterfly – we discover it is different to the way we initially perceived it. It’s no longer the horrible, terrible thing we thought it was. It may still be painful, and unpleasant – but it’s no longer something we need to fight with, run from, or get overwhelmed by. When we look mindfully at a painful thought, image or memory, we call that ‘defusion’. And when we look mindfully at a painful feeling or sensation, we call it ‘expansion’ or ‘acceptance’.

It requires an act of faith to look at our pain in this way. Our society has trained us to regard pain with suspicion; to treat it as the enemy; to judge it as bad, toxic, a sign of abnormality, a barrier to living well; to either do battle with it, or flee from it.

But if we can put these ideas aside, and look any painful thought or feeling with genuine openness, and genuine curiosity – in other words, if we respond to it with mindfulness – we will find there is no need to struggle with it or hide from it. Instead, we can drop the struggle, and make peace with it.

Many people think that ACT does not try to change your painful thoughts and feelings, but this is not the case. You see, acceptance is a profound form of change. When we accept pain, we transform it. When we make peace with pain, the pain changes. It might go by the same name – for example, it might still be called anger, sadness, or fear – but when we make peace with these painful emotions, we transform them; they exert much less influence over us; they create much less disruption and stress in our lives. Fear accepted is not the same as fear struggled with; anger allowed is not the same as anger suppressed; sadness given room is not the same as sadness pushed away.

The more we learn to make peace with our painful thoughts and feelings – the more we allow them to freely flow through us, neither fighting against them, nor getting swept away by them – the more our lives change for the better. Instead of wasting our energy and effort in futile battles with parts of ourselves, we can invest it in living by our values, taking action to do the things that matter in life.

Of course, that’s easy to say, but not so easy to do. So what’s the best way to learn any difficult skill? Break it down into small steps. A trainee firefighter doesn’t go out to a huge out-of-control bushfire on his first day of training. He starts by learning on small fires, carefully lit, under controlled circumstances. And gradually, over time, he develops his skills, until eventually he can handle those huge bushfires.

It is the same with our pain. If we haven’t had much practice at responding to our pain mindfully, it’d be somewhat futile to leap in and attempt it with raging anger or overwhelming grief or sheer terror. Instead, we need to start small, and develop our skills over time.

We could pick just one painful thought, memory, image, feeling or sensation, and observe it with curiosity and openness, and see if we can drop the struggle with it for just ten seconds. Then we could pick another one, and do the same thing. And then another.

And then we might try for fifteen seconds, or twenty seconds, or thirty seconds, and so on.

We can look for opportunities in everyday life to practice this: when stuck in traffic or a supermarket queue, we could practice on our frustration and impatience. When running late for an appointment we could practice on our anxiety. When our kids are not listening to us, we could practice on our irritation. And as we do this, we transform the pain even further. Because those painful thoughts and feelings are no longer merely pain; they are now also opportunities for us to develop a powerful, life-enhancing skill. And remember too: that when it comes to learning a skill, every little bit of practice makes a difference, no matter how brief it may be.

Thanks to Dr. Russ Harris for this post… can’t wait for Part 2! Russ trained me as an ACT Therapist which in turn, not only enriched my own life but also countless others. ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy) is a combination of latest Western Psychology and Ancient Eastern Mindfulness. Very simple… very powerful! Love & Laughter Always! – John

My Book – Please Help!

Sabotage Clowns

Please help me find an artist who can draw clowns. The script I am working on involves the central character (The Teenager) who is the Ringmaster in his Circus (His Life). I am the monkey (Mindfulness Coach) on his shoulder whispering mindful messages to teach the teen how to handle painful thoughts and feelings. There are many clowns (His Thoughts), not only happy and joyful, but also scary type clowns such as ‘ why me’ ‘what’s the use’ ‘not good enough’ ‘I’m fat’ ‘I’m ugly’ etc. It is envisioned the book will have about 64 pages with something like 180 drawings.

My eventual goal is to distribute this book to School Counsellors, Youth Organisations and anywhere else that will in a small way help with the growing problem of Youth Suicide. I will also have a free website to help parents, carers, teachers and therapists work through the book with teenagers that need guidance with handling painful thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Please send your thoughts and suggestions or simply contact me and I will keep you up to date with progress in this much needed project.

E-mail:         mindwarrior@myacn.net.au              Love & Laughter Always! – John

Two Countries at War

Buddha Mind

Thanks to Dr Russ Harris who wrote the best seller ‘The Happiness Trap’ and also trained me as an ACT Therapist. (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy) This is an excellent metaphor for Acceptance.

Imagine you live in a small country that shares a border with a hostile neighbour. There is long-standing tension between the two countries. The neighbouring country has a different religion and a different political system, and your country sees it as a major threat. There are three possible scenarios for how your country can relate to its neighbour.
The worst-case scenario is war. Your country attacks, and the other one retaliates (or vice-versa). As both countries get pulled into a major war, the people of both nations suffer. (Think of any major war, and the huge costs involved, in terms of life, money and wellbeing.)
Another scenario, better than the first but still far from satisfactory, is a temporary truce. Both countries agree to a cease-fire, but there is no reconciliation. Resentment seethes beneath the surface, and there is the constant underlying threat that war will break out again. (Think of India and Pakistan, with the constant background threat of nuclear war, and the intense hostility between Hindus and Muslims.)
The third possibility is genuine peace. You acknowledge your differences, and allow them just to be. This doesn’t get rid of the other country, nor does it mean that you necessarily like it or even want it there. Nor does it mean that you approve of its politics or religion. But because you’re no longer at war, you can now use your money and resources to build up the infrastructure of your own country, instead of squandering them on the battlefield.
The first scenario, war, is like the struggle to get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings. It’s a battle that can never be won, and it consumes a huge amount of time and energy.
The second scenario, a truce, is definitely better, but it’s still a long way from true acceptance. It’s more like a grudging tolerance; there’s no sense of moving forward to a new future. Although there is no active warfare, the hostility remains, and you are resigned to the ongoing tension. A grudging tolerance of thoughts and feelings is better than an outright struggle, but it leaves you feeling stuck and somewhat helpless. It’s a sense more of resignation than of acceptance, of entrapment rather than freedom, of being stuck rather than moving forward.
The third scenario, peace, represents true acceptance. Notice that in this scenario your country doesn’t have to like the other country, approve of its being there, convert to its religion, or learn to speak its language. You simply make peace with them. You acknowledge your differences, you give up trying to change their politics or religion, and you focus your efforts on making your own country a better place to live. It’s the same when you truly accept your uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. You don’t have to like them, want them, or approve of them. You simply make peace with them and let them be. This leaves you free to focus your energy on taking action—action that moves your life forward in a direction you value.

Be Mindful! – The key is to look at your thoughts for what they really are… just thoughts. No need to dwell on them, act on them, fight with them or try to avoid them. Take notice and let them go, like cars passing your house! Love & Laughter Always! – John

A Freer (Happier!) Way to Think

 Mouse Dance

Deepak Chopra shows us how to bring lasting joy back into our lives.

Every day unwanted thoughts enter our minds: “What’s wrong with me?” “I keep doing this to myself,” “I’m stupid,” “I’m all alone,” “I never get a break” and “How will I ever get out of this?” Our minds are vulnerable to negative thoughts, causing us doubt, worry, anxiety… and frequently, it’s the same negative thoughts that return over and over.

Repetition is a sign that you need to change. A part of you is calling out to get your attention. These thoughts are like having a rock in your shoe. It’s not reasonable to ask the rock to quit hurting you or to see it as your enemy. The pain the rock causes is only asking for a remedy.

The first step is making a decision, one that only you can make: to walk away from the false solutions and futile tactics that have kept you stuck in your mental misery. It’s not the thoughts that are making you miserable; it’s the lack of a viable strategy.

Psychologists have asserted for decades that there is a huge difference between having a negative thought and turning it into action. Yet this lesson never seems to sink in. Thoughts are just fleeting mental images. They have no consequences until you choose to make them important. Let’s look more closely at the choices that will help you take the mental rock out of your shoe.

1. Turn Negativity into Positive Action
If an obsessive thought is a cry for help – and it is – bring the help that’s asked for. You wouldn’t neglect a crying child, yet we all neglect our negative thoughts, which are the mental equivalent. Let’s say you are in a difficult situation and you start thinking, “What’s wrong with me?” or “How will I ever get out of this?” Acknowledge that you are feeling scared, which is the real event occurring in your mind. Don’t push the anxiety away. Take a break and walk away from the immediate stress. Sit quietly and take some deep breaths. Do your best to centre yourself.

Once you feel calm enough to address the situation, make a plan. Write down the possible steps you can take that will be positive, achievable actions. (The point here is to use the rational side of the brain rather than giving in to runaway emotion.) Once you have your list, put the positive actions in order of which to do first, second and third. Now take the first step. Turning an emotional event inside yourself into a set of rational steps is one of the best ways to rise above the level of the problem to the level of the solution.

2. Get a Healthy Outside Perspective
If a negative mental habit – like feeling insecure, scared or helpless – has been with you for a while, you need to check if your plan for action is workable. Seek outside validation. Go to someone you trust, preferably someone who displays the qualities you want to acquire (e.g., a firm sense of self, a lack of fear and plenty of self-reliance), and discuss the practical things you intend to do. I’m not talking about the kind of adviser who says things like “Get over it,” “Everyone feels that way” or “Poor thing.” Such statements are cop-outs. Seek someone who genuinely empathizes and can validate your plan to change.

3. Don’t Indulge the Level of Futility
We’ve already discussed our propensity to keep doing what never worked in the first place. But futile tactics are insidious. They keep coming to mind over and over, despite their record of failure. The difficulty is that you have wired your brain, setting down a groove that is all too easy to fall back into. Grooves can be erased only by forming new grooves.

If you find yourself falling back into self-defeating thoughts, stop and say, “That’s how I’ve been approaching the problem. And it doesn’t work.” You will have to do this more than once, and yet each time is useful. The more you stop indulging the level of futility, the more mental energy can be devoted to new tactics. Please note, I’m not saying that you should fight your old mental habits. That’s a recipe for more misery, as all wars are. Your aim is simply to notice what doesn’t work, which is a form of mindfulness or self-awareness.

4. Expand Your Awareness
When the mind is constricted, it becomes like a tight muscle—you can’t expect it to move as long as it’s cramped. The things that constrict the mind: old conditioning, outworn beliefs, ritualised thinking, habit, inertia, fear and low expectations. These are challenges you need to confront as honestly as possible.

Having a closed mind doesn’t feel good, so whenever you detect any kind of inner discomfort, the first tactic should be to expand your awareness. Let’s say that you feel resentment toward someone else. Clearly, that is a contracted mindset. If you were more open-minded, you’d start to tolerate that person, see their good side, and stop waiting for something new to blame and dislike them for.

In and of itself, open-mindedness solves all kinds of problems that are the result of narrow-mindedness. But to achieve it, you need to stop believing that being stuck, judgmental, opinionated and self-important ever works. You must learn to know yourself better, to follow the model of tolerant people rather than prejudiced ones, to turn away from victimization and so on. For years I’ve recommended meditation as the most effective way to expand awareness. Also useful are mindfulness, self-reflection, prayer, contemplation and counselling.

5. Take Full Responsibility
Your mind encompasses the best of yourself and the worst. It holds the greatest promises and the greatest threats. Our minds create our reality. Once you face this fact, it can be overwhelming. We all secretly want to escape responsibility for creating the situation we find ourselves in. We don’t want to face painful truths. Change feels like risk. Our minds are used to projecting blame and judgment upon others. So much promise goes unfulfilled this way. In truth, the power to create your reality, which begins by building a mature self, opens the way to life’s greatest joys.

6. Develop a Higher Vision of Your Life
It would be sheer drudgery if you took responsibility for only the bad things in your life. You are also responsible for the good things. If you have a vision for yourself, you can aim higher. The good things become more meaningful because you are heading for long-term fulfilment. This is much better than a string of short-term pleasures, nice as they may be. People without a vision can amass a lot of small pleasures. This kind of immediate gratification is everywhere in our society; distractions are a multi-billion-dollar business. Look at your daily quotient of idling around the Internet, video games, channel surfing, movies, snacking, shopping, and merely hanging around.

These distractions are hangovers from adolescence, when immaturity was a natural state. They drop away when life moves on and you undertake the project of building a self. The point isn’t to become self-serious and reject having fun. The point is to aim for higher satisfactions that last. By developing a vision of what your life is about, you are asking, “Who am I?” and then turning your answer into positive actions.

7. Make Full Use of Your Successes
We began with the universal problem of mental misery, tracing it back to the mind being an enemy instead of an ally. When you start making your mind into a friend, each step forward needs to be reinforced. That’s how the brain gets new neural pathways that last. Without reinforcement, your successes will seem to float away while your problems will seem to stick around. In reality, negativity has no power to defeat positivity. Both forces exist in everyone’s mind. The real issue is to bring in as much light as you can. Negativity acquires its power through repetition, being unconscious, judging yourself and focusing on setbacks. Positivity gains its power by celebrating our successes, associating with people who are good role models, learning to be emotionally resilient, being objective about your situation and, above all else, acquiring self-awareness.

I realise that I’ve set out a plan for overcoming mental misery that sounds daunting if you are used to following futile tactics—most of which only postpone the day when you make a tremendous discovery, that you are not life’s victim or fate’s pawn. But you are the creative centre of your own existence. The greatest power we have is the power to create reality. Mental misery denies you that power. Taking positive steps to turn our mind into an ally is the escape route everyone has been seeking for centuries. The essence of wisdom is to see that there is always a solution once you realise that the mind, which seems to create so much suffering, has infinite potential to create fulfilment instead.

Many Thanks to Deepak Chopra – Love & Laughter Always! – John

Art of Listening

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” Ralph Nichols

My personal definition for art is “a loving and holy expression of self”. Art is a language I speak.  Listening is an expression of art.  Using the analogy of art I am able to focus more on the subject of listening.  Language and meaning are mysteriously and continuously in search of expression.  When I listen with empathy I discover a fleeting glimpse of comprehension.

A primary need of the human condition is to understand and be understood. Active and artful listening requires focus, discipline, and humility.  When the art of listening is executed well, a feeling of respect, and an acknowledgement of value are rendered.  I call this Love.

M. Scott Peck defines the Art of Listening as bracketing, the temporary giving up or setting aside of one’s own prejudices in order to experience the speaker’s world from the inside.  I equate the term bracketing to being in the present moment.  I can think of nothing more dynamic than a conversation with active listening and expansion of self-resulting in a new direction of topic.  A shared microcosm of discovery becomes electrified by the gift of being understood and understanding.

“A man who lives right, and is right, has more power in his silence than another has by his words.” Phillips Brooks

It is my dream to communicate my language of art with empathy and understanding.  It is the Art of Listening. How can it be practiced?

  1. Listen with your heart not with your head.
  2. Be in a museum of quiet while focusing on the art “listening”.
  3. Breathe deeply and relax your body.
  4. Wait for the opportunity to ask an effective question.
  5. Maintain eye contact.
  6. Paraphrase the internal meaning with the external words.
  7. If you interrupt (this is what I am famous for) ask forgiveness, and return to #1!
  8. If you feel rejected or ignored try the art of listening.
  9. Listen consciously without external noise.
  10. Schedule a time to listen.
  11. Practice listening every day, in your day-to-day interactions.
  12. Listen for the story.
  13. I find the stories to be the best part of listening.
  14. Listening helps me hear me.
  15. Artful listening feels good.
  16. Mindful listening helps me know your gifts.
  17. I feel holy when I “hear” someone speak.
  18. I love me more when I take the time to listen.
  19. Listening can be done without words.
  20. Listening is an act of compassion.

Many Thanks to Monica Macha for writing this post.

Love & laughter Always! – John

A New Relationship to Thoughts and Feelings

This new relationship to thoughts and feelings is one of recognizing thoughts and feelings for what they are. Sometimes this is easy, you instantly see the falseness, uselessness, or ridiculousness of a thought. At other times, it isn’t so easy. Some thoughts have a number of feelings attached to them, which makes those thoughts especially “sticky” and difficult to not believe.

Thoughts and feelings that are very convincing have to be investigated carefully and often repeatedly before they lose their hold on us. For instance, those who grew up with abuse or without the proper nurturing often strongly feel and believe that they are unlovable. Thoughts and feelings such as these need careful and deep examination, usually with the help of a professional, before they are no longer believed. This can be difficult work, but it is important work, because such thoughts and feelings shape and limit us, often much more than we realise.

The new relationship to thoughts and feelings that is possible is one of recognizing and accepting them as part of the human condition but realising that they don’t define us or say anything at all about who we really are. Isn’t it great that the petty, angry, judgmental, unkind, and discontent individual that our thoughts often make us out to be isn’t who we really are and that we can move beyond feeling and behaving in these destructive ways? Our true self is inherently good, kind, and in love with life.

Isn’t that what we all really want, to be our best self instead of our worst self? Well, the good news is that we really are our best self and not our worst self, since the worst self is created and maintained solely by believing our negative thoughts and acting out the negative feelings that come from those thoughts.

Thoughts and feelings arise within all human beings, and they are very similar from one human being to the next. The stressful thoughts and feelings that you have are nearly the same as the ones I and everyone else has. We are all in the same boat as human beings, and no-one escapes this fate. And yet, it’s also possible to become free of the domination of such thoughts and feelings.

Even enlightened or spiritually awakened people have stressful thoughts, but they’ve realised the truth about their thoughts and so are free to have something else define them and determine their experience of life. They’ve learned to live as their true self within this human life. And so can you. The secret that these individuals know and have known throughout history is now available to all who are ready to receive it.

The skills, or steps, for becoming established in a new relationship to thoughts and feelings are:

1.    Noticing stressful thoughts and feelings;
2.    Allowing and accepting stressful thoughts and feelings;
3.    Investigating stressful thoughts and feelings;
4.    Reframing stressful thoughts; and
5.    Being with stressful feelings.

Obviously, to become free of our stressful thoughts and feelings, we first have to be aware of what we are thinking and feeling. Sometimes awareness alone is enough to disidentify from a thought or feeling and be free of the stress it’s causing. Awareness gives us a little distance from a thought or feeling, a little objectivity. For example, I might be hurrying around and feeling stressed-out, but as soon as I become aware of the “hurry up” voice and the tension in my body, that awareness may interrupt my behavior enough to allow me to see that I need to slow down. Then if I choose to slow down, that would put an end to feeling stressed-out.

With some stressful thoughts and feelings, however, more than just becoming aware of them may be needed to disidentify from them. Sometimes we have to spend a little time with a stressful thought or feeling, acknowledging it, letting it be there, and experiencing it fully, without resisting it or pushing it away, before we can come out from under its spell, because it may be that we need to discover more about it. In the previous example, if I hadn’t been able to stop hurrying because unconsciously I was afraid that something bad would happen if I did, then taking a little more time and noticing that fear was also there along with the sense of hurry might be enough to calm the fear and allow me to continue more peacefully. If not, staying with that fear a little longer and investigating it further might be called for.

Allowing and accepting a stressful thought or feeling gives it space and time to be there and opens the door to experiencing it fully and discovering something more about it. Without first allowing a stressful thought or feeling to be there, how can we investigate it? And if we don’t accept it, why would we be willing to investigate it? Allowing and accepting a stressful thought or feeling makes it possible to have a new relationship to it, one that is neither identified with the thought or feeling nor pushing it away, but curious about it and open to it and to finding out more about it.

When we stop being identified with a stressful thought or feeling, it stops feeling like my thought or my feeling, and it becomes just a thought or feeling. It’s more like humanity’s thought or feeling rather than ours personally. Paradoxically, disidentification makes it possible to relate to our stressful thoughts and feelings more intimately than when we were identified with them, because if they aren’t ours, then we don’t need to resist them or push them away.

When we no longer think a thought or feeling is bad or that it means something bad about us, then we won’t feel the need to run from or reject it. This is why accepting our thoughts and feelings is so important. Acceptance counteracts our natural inclination to reject a stressful thought or feeling and allows for the possibility of disidentification and investigation, which leads to freedom from that piece of conditioning.

From From Stress to Stillness: Finding Inner Peace in a Not So Peaceful World by Gina Lake, which will be released in December.

Love & Laughter ~ John