I recently read this Huffington Post piece that I really love. It speaks to people's misconceptions about who goes to therapy and why. In my practice I see individuals who are extremely intelligent, motivated and courageous. They may not see themselves that way at first but it is clear to me. It takes a lot of guts to walk into a therapist's office; it takes guts to look at where you are in life and the things that may be getting in your way.
So what does seeing a therapist say about you? That you are invested in yourself and in making the most of your life. That you are brave enough to look at yourself and to do what needs to be done, with the guidance and support of an experienced therapist.
Much has been written about how addicted we are to our technology, especially our cell phones. My guess is that you are reading this on your phone right now - if not, your phone is probably within reach this very moment.
Does technology make us happier? That is definitely a topic too big for this little blog post to tackle. But I can share some ways that technology can make us happier. Here are some apps that I have used and recommend:
Track Your Happiness: This app is only available from the Apple App Store (sorry!) but is very cool and you should check it out if you have an iPhone. This app is actually a research project, but by participating you get to find out what makes you personally happy. It buzzes you at random times throughout the day to ask what you are doing and how much you are enjoying whatever you are doing. Also, interestingly, it asks how engaged you are in what you are doing - which research shows to be more of an indicator of how happy you are than how enjoyable the activity actually is. It also prompts you to track your sleep and to list things you are grateful for, which is good for happiness overall.
Insight Timer: This is another app, but this time it is available on both Apple and Android platforms (phew - and sorry Microsofties!). When I started training in Mindful Self-Compassion, many of the teachers raved about this app. I already had a meditation app I was using, so I just sort of shrugged my shoulders and figured there couldn't be anything that exciting about this one. And then I finally tried it out and immediately began telling my clients and students about it. It is great! Besides having a timer option, it is also full of prerecorded guided meditations from teachers like Jack Kornfield, Kristin Neff, and Tara Brach. It also tracks your meditation time so you can see how much time you're really getting on the cushion. It also has a community element, where it shows you how many other people are meditating at that very moment in the world, and allows you to send notes to each other. I have found myself meditating more since using it - and that's what really matters, right?
Way of Life: This app is only on iPhones. Yikes! I guess I'm showing my Apple bias, eh? Maybe if you know of an Android equivalent you can leave it in the comments below :) Anyway this app calls itself "The Ultimate Habit Builder & Breaker". It utilizes a simple concept - tracking what we do each day - to help us form new habits and gather data about how much we actually do certain things. For example, you may want to start exercising more frequently. You simply enter "Exercise" in as one of the things you'd like to check in on each day. You can set reminders to help you remember, but most likely just knowing you have to check in about it will help motivate you to do it. Maybe after using the Track Your Happiness app you realized that you feel happier when you make your bed every day. You can then use the Way of Life app to turn that knowledge into a habit!
There are most likely many many many more ways that our phones can make us happy (Trivia Crack, anyone?) but here are my top 3 recent finds. I would love to hear if you have other apps or websites that you use to cultivate happiness in your life!
Here in Seattle the cherry blossoms have been blowing our minds for a few weeks already. I love cherry blossoms because they are a lovely lesson in impermanence; I can't enjoy a bunch of blossoms without also thinking of how they are going to disappear soon. That awareness of their impending disappearance encourages me to savor them even more intently; to really gaze and smell and absorb the experience.
And really, we could gaze at everything in our lives with the same affection. Everything is impermanent; as I look above my computer screen right now I see many trees. Those trees will someday die. If I hold that knowledge in my mind, I find myself peering at them a bit differently - more curiosity, more noticing. What else can I apply this to? I can't think of anything I can't apply it to - my work, my body, my relationships, my family - all of it is impermanent. And if I bring that impermanence into awareness, it shifts my experience of all of these things.
Since today is the first day of spring, I think it is an excellent time to talk about impermanence. So much of what we see outside right now is change. My hope is that you can notice this world of ever-present change and be reminded to savor as many moments of it as possible.
It's January. Can you believe it? I know many of us have just made it through the gauntlet of holiday gatherings, frenzied shopping experiences and an excess of food (and maybe drinks!). And after all of that excess we are faced with the New Year - a time when we feel a pull toward goal setting, making changes and starting fresh. We are going to go to the gym! We are going to eat salads! We are finally going to clean out that closet!
But what I've been noticing in myself and hearing from friends is that we actually need rest. We may not be black bears, but does looking at that photo of the bear taking a nap inspire some longing? Would you like to put on your cozy sweats and take a nap? Instead of trying to fight the urge to be still and comforted, I want to encourage you to honor that urge as wise. You may need more restoration time than you are used to giving yourself - and that is ok.
In Mindful Self-Compassion we talk about looking for the "Ahhhhhh". Go ahead, make that noise - a big, contented sigh. Maybe do it a couple of times. And now that you are feeling a little more relaxed, reflect on what you want right now, or tonight, or this weekend. What would give you that contented feeling of "Ahhhhhhh" - would it be cleaning out the closet, or taking a walk, or cuddling up with a book? It could be any of those things - or a million others - but I want to encourage you to honor what comes up. If it's watching a movie in your sweatpants, great! Maybe you need some hibernation. See if you can make a little more room for being, instead of doing. We've got a great big year ahead of us, and I'd love to see us all make room for ourselves and our needs in this year.
Here's to a rested and content 2015!
I've been MIA from the blogosphere for about 6 weeks, but I'm back! I've spent this time digging in to Kristin Neff and Chris Germer's work on Mindful Self-Compassion, including spending a week with them (and other teachers and teacher trainees) learning how to teach an 8 week course. I'm excited to say that I taught the first section of the course last night and it went great! I feel like this work is so important and that it is needed badly by so many of us. So what is it that I'm actually talking about?
Mindful Self-Compassion has three basic components:
If you check out Kristin and Chris's websites above you can find downloadable guided meditations. I give these to clients to use all of the time, and I listen to them quite often myself. If you've got 20 minutes to spare (I bet you do!) you can give it a try and find out just how good it feels to be a little nice to yourself.
As a mindfulness based therapist, people often ask me how mindfulness works. Allow me to try and explain one of the ways that mindfulness works - and no, REM doesn’t really have anything to do with it.
Have you ever had the experience of being in the car when nothing good is on the radio? This may be a little dated, now that everyone has their ipods plugged in and whatnot - but maybe there was a day you forgot yours at home, and you were at the mercy of the radio gods. Maybe you rotated through each preset button on your radio, glancing down from traffic every few moments to see which station was playing what. Nope, this doesn’t sound good. Try button 2. Ugh, this song again? Try button 3. Commercials. This lady’s voice drives me crazy. Button 4. Nope, don’t like this song. Push button 5. Who even programmed this station? I never like this music. Back to station 1 . . . and on and on it goes. Cycling through the preset stations looking for something that we want to hear. Maybe you are getting more irritated here, not finding something that you want.
Or maybe you remember that there are more radio stations on the air than the presets on your car, and that by reaching past the buttons to the round knob, you can actually scan through a wide spectrum of radio frequencies. Your choices are not limited to the few you have previously chosen.
This is one of the ways that mindfulness works. Our brains work a little bit like a car radio - except that instead of choosing a preset button, our neurobiology creates it’s own presets based on what gets chosen the most. Evolutionarily, this has been really helpful. Good job, brain! What this also means, though, is that the rest of the entire spectrum of experience usually falls outside of our awareness. Right now, what do your feet feel like? Close your eyes for a few moments, what sounds do you hear? Practicing mindfulness gives us the ability to direct our attention, and remember that what we may be experiencing in this moment isn’t the whole story. So when we are stuck in thoughts that aren’t helping - worried about the future, for example - we can remind ourselves that there are other stations we can tune in to. We can pay attention to what the breath feels like at the tip of our nose. We can look at the sky and really take in the clouds or the blue. We can stare at a tree and watch it be still or move in the breeze. We can scan our bodies and find out what sensations exist there right now. And with practice, we can start to change the presets in our brain - or at least add some more.
What do you think? What are your preset stations? What helps you remember to scan your awareness? I’d love to hear your experience of using mindfulness in the comments below!
Mindfulness, or paying attention to what you are doing while you are doing it, has been shown over and over again to make people happier. I know this. I tell clients this. Does that mean that I always remember to practice it? Nope!
I spent some time recently thinking about what I could do to help people remember to be mindful - even for just one moment each day. I was reading this great book “the mindfulness solution: everyday practices for everyday problems” and read the following bit: “Mindfulness allows us to experience the richness of the moments of our lives. We actually smell the roses, taste our food, notice the sunset, and feel our connections to others each day.” Hmm . . . roses . . . food . . . sunsets . . . obviously, I was immediately reminded of instagram. So I dashed off to my instagram account to do a search for people posting daily mindfulness stuff. I found - to my disbelief - that no one was doing it.
Within a half hour my new @citta_psychotherapy instagram account was up and running, and I’ve been posting pictures with the hashtag #mindfulmoment ever since. My goal is to remind, encourage and inspire people to take at least one moment to be mindful every day. This doesn’t mean just taking an artful photo and using the hashtag. It means being mindful of what is happening in that moment, either while you are looking at my picture (what are you feeling? What memories does it trigger? What are you doing right now?) but also when you post a picture with the #mindfulmoment tag.
I heard an interview on NPR some time ago where they were talking about how we are sort of predisposed to be less engaged with what we are experiencing if we are recording it for future use. What they are finding is that we don’t actually remember the vacation, because we were just taking pictures of it the whole time. Or the gourmet meal, or the beautiful sunset - whatever it is, our brains know they don’t need to record it if we are recording it externally. And that means we aren’t really taking in the experience. The interviewee on NPR said that it is easy to overcome this predisposition, by consciously paying attention to (or being mindful of) what we are taking photos of. So this is my hope - that by encouraging the use of the #mindfulmoment hashtag, you will be reminded to pause and experience the moment, to feel what is stirred in you while looking at or posting a photo.
I’d love for you to join the #mindfulmoment movement. You can follow me at @cittapsychotherapy, or search the #mindfulmoment tag - and post your own!
There was one Sunday, not long ago, when I had a splitting headache. I didn’t want to have a headache. I shouldn’t have had a headache. I grouchily thought through all of the common headache culprits and decided that I did not meet any headache instigation criteria. I thought to myself - “This isn’t fair! I have been going to physical therapy. I’ve been getting massage. I’ve been doing my exercises. I’m plenty hydrated. I don’t deserve this headache! What, am I just going to have to deal with a lifetime of unfair headaches?” I spent the day arguing with the reality of my headache. I went to my previously scheduled massage, which didn’t put a dent in my headache (or my mood). I came home, even grumpier, ruminating about the unfairness of it all, and mumbled to my husband that I was going to try to take a nap for a few hours. I still didn’t think my headache should be here and I was going to try to ignore it by sleeping. After an unsuccessful-at-headache-negation nap, I laid on the couch, getting angry about how this headache had ruined my entire Sunday. It was already 6 in the evening, and I had precious few hours left in my weekend. It wasn’t fair! I was trying to stay mindful, paying attention to the sensations of my headache, noticing it pulse and fade. But whenever it returned, I felt agitated. The story in my mind would wind up again - “It isn’t fair! I don’t want it!” Looking at the clock again and feeling disappointed in the time, I accepted that I wasn’t going to be able to get much done today. I just didn’t feel well, and that was that.
And then it dawned on me.
I could take some ibuprophen.
This had not occurred to me in the last 8 hours of suffering through this headache.
Within 45 minutes my headache was gone, and I was reminded of this equation that I love to forget. Pain, multiplied by the resistance to that pain, equals suffering. I found myself both smiling and rolling my eyes at myself. Had I addressed the pain immediately, instead of trying to a) fight it or b) ignore it, my day could have gone much differently. Instead, I spent the day resisting my pain and getting stuck in my suffering. The moment I accepted the reality of my headache was the moment I was able to do something about it.
Does this sound familiar to you? If so, I’d love to hear about it! How do you get stuck in your suffering?
I'm a mindfulness based psychotherapist in Seattle.