Permission to use quotations from this page is granted, subject to appropriate credit being given to the author and the full title of the book or christopherdines.com as the source. © Copyright 2017. Christopher Dines
Transcending Fight, Flight, Freeze And Faint Responses – Featured in The Huff Post UK
Having walked the earth for roughly 200,000 years, human beings have made incredible progress in a relatively short period of time. We outlived Neanderthals and rose to incredible heights with regard to intellect, creativity, morality, curiosity and self-awareness. We have become acutely aware that we are conscious beings, capable of monitoring our own thoughts, feelings and actions. Many of us have experienced awe-inspiring moments of bliss while walking on a beach, enjoying breathtaking views of night skies or listening to wondrous, entrancing music.
Consider how much progress human beings have made with respect to being able to create and understand new languages, to read and write, construct liberal and democratic societies, and bring about an explosion of social and fiscal progress reducing global poverty by half since the 1990s. We are by far the most creative species on the planet but conversely, we have an uncanny tendency to self-destruct, both individually and collectively.
Due to our own self-awareness, of which we have a competitive edge over all other species on the planet (at least in theory), human beings tend to feel a sense of superiority, forgetting that we too are “animals”. We may be highly sophisticated but nonetheless, we are primates. Furthermore, unless we continue to develop the higher regions of our brain, we can still react to vicissitudes and stress in a similar fashion to a furious ape or a frantic chimpanzee squabbling over resources and territory.
Such outbursts and random acts of primitive behaviour can catch us completely off guard. How many of us have suffered the humiliation and embarrassment of a row or outburst in a public space such as an airport or a train station? Consider how many times you have randomly lost your temper or overreacted to trivial matters, and consequently felt remorseful and ashamed about this? Many of us experience random “freeze” responses or a sudden “flight” response in the midst of real or imagined danger, which can often trigger a full-blown panic attack.
Furthermore, think about how often you have been mentally, emotionally and physically triggered and pulled into primitive survival modes without any warning whatsoever. While it is truly good news that we can use our brains to elevate reason and creativity, our primitive nature must be tempered, otherwise we risk reverting to impulsive and irrational behaviour. In other words, it is crucial not to let our primitive modes of survival get the better of us.
The brainstem (which produces the fight, flight, freeze and faint responses) is roughly four hundred million years old. Our primitive regions (brainstem, limbic area) are firmly established in the human brain and needs to be monitored as often as possible, especially if one is recovering from addictive behaviour, trauma or PTSD/Complex PTSD.
The brainstem, hippocampus and amygdala are extremely powerful and therefore, the prefrontal cortex (the most advanced area in the brain, and exclusive to the human race) requires constant nurturing to neutralise, temper and transcend the ancient reactive patterns in our brains. The prefrontal cortex is roughly four million years old and when we nurture it, we amplify our capacity to demonstrate compassion, empathy, imagination and rational thinking.
Multiple breathing techniques, be it that of yoga or mindfulness meditation, can certainly help to enhance the prefrontal cortex and thus bring about more calmness, clarity and a higher thought-life. The difficulty with regard to tempering the most primitive areas in the brain is that flight, flight, freeze, faint (FFFF) responses are an instant reaction to a perceived threat and therefore, much quicker than the responses of the “rational brain”. In other words, it takes time and effort to develop the prefrontal cortex before it can respond to (FFFF) responses effectively.
For example, a month ago I was triggered by a “freeze” response while walking through a busy high street on a humid evening (I have been recovering from grave trauma for many years now). Had this episode occurred thirteen years ago, when I was just starting to dedicate myself to recovery, it would have led to a severe panic attack. However, on this occasion, when my freeze response kicked in, I had developed enough association fibres in my brain (as a result of enhancing the prefrontal cortex) to soothe and override the extreme bodily reaction. I started to practise conscious breathing and box breathing which slowed down my heightened responses. Anyone who has experienced a (FFFF) response will testify that it can be quite overwhelming and debilitating.
While undesirable reactions can still get the better of us from time to time (even those of us who meditate regularly) we can learn to temper primitive modes of survival one day at a time.
Depression: Removing The Stigma – Featured in The Huff Post UK
Since the days of ancient Greece, when Hippocrates attempted to uncover more information regarding “melancholia” or “black bile” as it was then referred to, doctors have been striving to understand and treat depression or major depressive disorder as it is now termed by many healthcare professionals.
Although the tide is turning with regard to depression being recognised and accepted as a genuine mental illness, there is still misunderstanding and at times, intolerance and a lack of compassion with respect to this condition. There is nothing “shameful” in having a mental illness, but unfortunately there is still stigma attached to this in contrast to the more understanding and caring attitudes generally engendered by physical illness. Unfortunately, people suffering from depression can still be judged as being somehow ungrateful, weak or indulging in self-pity, purely because their condition is not physically visible and this means that it is often concealed and much needed help is not sought.
Co-author of, “The A-Z Guide to Good Mental Health” and expert on mental wellness, Jeremy Thomas states. “Mental illness is no more about failing or failure than a physical illness. It happens.” He continues. “The first step in fighting depression is recognising it and deciding to seek help. Sometimes getting help can be difficult in itself and you may need to keep trying. You are not alone. Depression is, in the majority of cases, eminently treatable, and the sooner you can begin to access help (social and professional) the shorter this debilitating illness is likely to last.”
According to the most recent 2017 data (February 2017), The World Health Organisation (WHO) has documented that over 300 million people suffer from depression worldwide and by and large, women are affected more than men. Keep in mind that many people live with depression without seeking professional help and that there are vast numbers of undocumented sufferers in war-torn countries and parts of the world where there is no help for any form of mental illness. “It (depression) can cause the affected person to suffer greatly and function poorly at work, at school and in the family. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds.”
While most people feel subdued and emotionally “flat” from time to time, clinical depression makes life very difficult indeed. Other categories of depression include mild depression, bi-polar (formerly known as manic depression), postnatal depression, prenatal depression, dysthymia and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Similar to an anxiety disorder or an addiction such as alcoholism, someone is much more likely to suffer from depression if a member of their family has had a history of the illness. The National Health Service (NHS) states. “Doctors describe depression by how serious it is: Mild depression – has some impact on your daily life. Moderate depression – has a significant impact on your daily life. Severe depression – makes it almost impossible to get through daily life; a few people with severe depression may have psychotic symptoms.”
Although medication is usually suggested by GPs, mindfulness is also proving to help many sufferers ease the symptoms of depression and reduce the likelihood of a full-blown relapse. Since the early 2010s, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has received much media coverage, primarily because of the well researched data by Zindel Siegal and Professor Mark Williams. UK MBCT explains. “Mindfulness takes a different approach. It helps develop our willingness to experience emotions, our capacity to be open to even painful emotions. It helps give us the courage to allow distressing mood, thoughts and sensations to come and go, without battling with them.” The MBCT research continues. “We discover that difficult and unwanted thoughts and feelings can be held in awareness, and seen from an altogether different perspective – a perspective that brings with it a sense of compassion to the suffering we are experiencing.”
Generally speaking, it is suggested by most medical doctors and counsellors to enquire about depression if one has been feeling hopeless and very low for more than four weeks. It is always best to seek professional advice because a person may misdiagnose themselves as being depressed when they are actually grieving a loss. Grief is a natural human response to a loss (although suppressed grief can be very serious – read my HuffPost UK blog on ‘healing from trauma and frozen grief’), whereas depression is a mental illness. It is crucial to seek help if this illness is suspected and even more important not to isolate. Depression thrives on isolation.
Making Peace With Anxiety – Featured in The Huff Post UK
In the aftermath of the recent harrowing terrorist attack in Manchester (and other similar episodes across Europe) it is natural for people to feel anxious as they go about their daily business in a big city and while anxiety can be a motivating factor to propel us into action, an anxiety disorder is much more intense and can be physically debilitating, while severely hampering our ability to function on a daily basis. Anxiety disorders affect tens of thousands of people throughout the UK and can cause panic attacks, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and lead to awkwardness in casual settings (social anxiety).
I used to be utterly tormented by social anxiety, feeling out of place and occasionally frozen in my ability to create a spontaneous conversation. Consequently I became even more self-conscious and avoided social gatherings. Thus, I self-medicated with mood altering drugs (alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana), which actually perpetuated my anxiety. Social anxiety can be so intense that it can lead to social anorexia, meaning that a person literally starves themselves of having a social life of any sort. According to Anxiety UK, “Social phobia can also be classed as ‘specific social phobia,’ such as when there is social phobia only in specific situations like public speaking. The fear of behaving in an embarrassing or humiliating way can lead to a complete withdrawal from social contact, as well as avoidance of specific social situations such as public toilets, eating out etc. The physical manifestations of this phobia include blushing, shaking and sweating etc.”
Anxiety disorders often accompany eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and other mental illnesses such as bi-polar and addictive behaviours (alcohol addiction, pornography addiction). However, the medical profession have accepted that anxiety disorders can be genetic. A person is five times more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder if a parent has experienced the same condition. Anxiety is a common symptom of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and can be heightened while using caffeine or withdrawing from alcohol and/or powerful mind altering substances. Many people report being riddled with anxiety while flying, driving and before an academic exam.
Anxiety disorders can create utter misery in the workplace and more often than not the person experiencing this will literally “suffer in silence” rather than asking for the necessary help and support. According to Chloe Brotheridge, an expert on anxiety and author of “The Anxiety Solution”, “Most of us will openly admit to feeling some anxiety at work. Most of us assume that it’s just part of the job, but for some of us, it’s a bit more serious than that. Anxiety becomes so overwhelming that it haunts people’s working lives, limits their career aspirations or cuts their career short.”
Young people are reporting much more frequently that anxiety is having a detrimental effect on their emotional and mental well-being. The aforementioned Anxiety UK charity reports, “Even some of the most confident people you know may have suffered with anxiety. Recent research suggests that as many as one in six young people will experience an anxiety condition at some point in their lives, this means that up to five people in your class may be living with anxiety, whether that be OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), social anxiety and shyness, exam stress, worry or panic attacks.”
Having awareness with regard to the different anxiety categories can be a relief for many people who have suffered with this but one of the most effective (and counterintuitive) ways to mitigate this often distressing condition is to attempt to make peace with it. Personally, I did not want to go down the medication route. Firstly, I have an addictive personality (I am in long-term recovery for drug and alcohol addiction) and secondly, I only use prescribed medicine if it is absolutely necessary. Of course it is imperative that anyone who has sought help for an anxiety disorder follow their doctor’s advice. The NHS suggests, “Going on a self-help course, exercising regularly, stopping smoking, cutting down on the amount of alcohol and caffeine you drink”, and additionally I have found mindfulness and yoga meditation techniques to be very helpful.
Many people have reported a similar experience and the medical field is encouraging patients to practise mindfulness regularly to reduce levels of anxiety. Below are some techniques that have worked for me and many others:
• Practising mindfulness meditation every morning for at least twenty minutes (before being distracted by work/news/social media)
• Regularly taking long deep breaths throughout the day
• Applying oneself to alternate breathing (pranayama yoga breathing)
• Rather than dissociating and attempting to suppress anxious feelings (numbing out), be present and feel the anxious emotions thoroughly. The paradox is that we transcend anxiety (and stress) when we pause and allow ourselves to feel our emotions fully in the body. The uncomfortable and sometimes distressing physical manifestations of the anxiety will then subside and calmness will return
• Regular mindful walking (with no distractions such as mobile phone) and yoga stretches
Healing From Trauma And Frozen Grief – Featured in The Huffington Post UK
The last few weeks have seen some groundbreaking moments with respect to mental health awareness. Prince William created a warm and open dialogue with the pop star, Lady Gaga, with regard to mental illness and the importance of seeking help. Similarly, over Easter, Prince Harry revealed that he had carried suppressed grief for decades as a result of the traumatic death of his mother, Princess Diana.
Many children have experienced some degree of trauma in their formative years (even in seemingly functional and emotionally intelligent families). However, when a child or adolescent is unable to have this trauma properly validated and therefore suppresses emotional pain or grief, mental illness is likely to manifest in one form or another. As identified by the late Swiss psychologist Alice Miller: “It is not trauma we suffer in childhood that makes us emotionally ill, but the inability to express the trauma.”
Many young people gravely affected by years of suppressed trauma might not even recognise the symptoms until well into adulthood and learn to survive or “cope” by dissociating from their emotions or finding other (often self-destructive) ways to numb or block their feelings.
Nevertheless, the human body stores all trauma in the tissues and similarly the amygdala and hypocamus amass memories and associations with regard to past traumatic events. This can place enormous strain on ones mental and physical health. Recently in “Psychology Today”, Dr. Susan Lachmann wrote: “When you’ve endured collective or individual trauma, your trust in how things are supposed to be is drastically altered. In turn, your sense of safety and connection to yourself and others is negatively impacted. You are bracing for the next impact, whether or not one will follow.”
Some traumatic events (or a series of events) may even lead to PTSD. According to Dr. Shamini Jane one grave traumatic event in childhood can be as serious as three years in a combat zone. The recent breakthrough studies, together with the frank revelations of an increasing number of people in the public eye are paving the way for society as a whole to create conversations about the wider context of trauma and therefore, those hitherto overlooked, will be able to receive the help and treatment they need.
In the addiction/emotional health field it is now recognised that trauma can also have a “drip-feed” effect. For example, constant fighting in a household, regularly witnessing domestic violence or being repeatedly shamed or subjected to humiliation slowly eats away at one’s true sense of self and furthermore can drastically heighten fight and flight responses, as well as impairing cognitive function. All of this can be utterly debilitating and cause chronic anxiety, depression or other symptoms of mental illness. Consequently, many young people self-medicate with powerful mind and mood altering substances (rather than asking for help) which can lead to addiction.
The good news is that people can heal from trauma. In recent times Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) has become popular with psychotherapists. Counselling and deep feeling work (allowing oneself to truly feel suppressed grief and mental/emotional pain) and mindfulness can be very effective. The most important thing however is to create a safe environment that gives sufferers a chance to have their voices heard and their emotional pain validated. Tremendous healing takes place when someone is allowed to share their experiences and know that, perhaps for the first time, they are being listened to without fear of being judged.
Learning To Live With Uncertainty – Featured in The Huffington Post UK
With so much ambivalence surrounding Brexit and the EU, President Trump’s new world order, the refugee crisis, bioterrorism, uncontrolled artificial intelligence, the North Korean crisis, climate change and stagnant wages for the masses, it is understandable that so many people feel intensely anxious with regard to global and domestic affairs. Compound these fears with personal problems (health, family, finance) and there is a very real danger of becoming pessimistic and cynical.
Uncertainty has always been a part of the human experience. For instance, in 1962 during The Cuban Missile Crisis many believed a global nuclear war was inevitable. Last century Britain was directly involved in twenty-five wars (two of them brutal global conflicts). In other words, security is an illusion – there are no guarantees. The paradox is that it is often during times of great uncertainty that creativity is unleashed. A good example of this was the advent of Alcoholics Anonymous. Post World War I and shortly after the Global Depression, at a time when alcoholism was annihilating the very fabric of family life, Alcoholics Anonymous was born (this life-saving movement burgeoned while Hitler was plotting to dominate the world). After centuries of oppression, a few enlightened men and women led the civil rights movement.
As long as people hold differing views and opinions, conflict will inevitably arise and in its wake, uncertainty. The question is: how do we live with uncertainty and transform our anxieties into creative solutions? It is often in moments of great turmoil and upheaval that people access intuitive ideas and find innovative ways to resolve their difficulties. A solution might manifest as a “light-bulb moment” or, conversely a solution might simply be surrendering to what is. When uncertainty arises in my life I repeat the mantra, “Accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can”. This sentence is inspired by the classic serenity prayer. I have wasted many hours trying to reverse or change things that are out of my control (i.e. past events and other people’s behaviour).
Yogis, Zen masters and the wisdom traditions have long been in unanimous agreement that life is a balance of holding on and letting go, changing what we can and accepting when the outcome is beyond our control. Thus the saying, “You have control over action alone, never over its fruits.” By applying this simple ancient Eastern philosophy, my everyday reality has become more productive and far less stressful.
The cardinal principle with respect to addressing uncertainty is to consciously and emotionally let go of trying to control results and to anchor oneself in the present. It is by bathing oneself in the present moment that one can access infinite potential and creativity. Daily meditation and yoga have helped me to let go of outcomes and to be reasonably comfortable in times of uncertainty and as a consequence, my mental health and relationships have greatly improved.
Mental Illness And Suicidal Thoughts – Featured in The Huffington Post UK
Mental illness is complicated. Therefore, in this blog I am going to keep the focus on my own personal experience (after all my experience is not an opinion). The reality is that even though life has materially improved for millions of people in the United Kingdom since the 1950s, the rise of mental illness is at an all-time high. Depression, anxiety, burnout and addiction affect one in four people every year in the UK.
There is a lot more information available to the general public with respect to mental illness and mental health care, which has helped to lift some of the stigma historically attached to this but there can still be a lot of shame associated with being labelled “mentally ill”. There remains a widespread fear in the workplace that by seeking help for any kind of mental or emotional illness, one is vulnerable to being labelled as “unstable”, “unreliable” or “weak” (particularly in the financial sector) and therefore not fit for the job.
As a young teenager I remember only too well the sense of isolation I felt living with chronic undetected anxiety and depression, while at the same time trying to manage my drug and alcohol dependency and lacking the vocabulary to express how I was truly feeling. Some days were so bad that I could not get out of bed. I often used cocaine to jolt my system but the come-downs were awful. Other days I was riddled with anxiety and so, I used marijuana to “calm me down”, which often backfired and created violent panic attacks. I used all sorts of mind and mood altering substances (MDMA, marijuana) for medicinal purposes. The most effective way for me to deal with my unmanageable emotions was to medicate with alcohol. I was afraid of going to see my doctor while attending high school and to confess my substance addiction for fear of him suggesting that I stay abstinent. Back then, I could not contemplate the thought of quitting drinking or using drugs, let alone process my frozen grief and childhood trauma.
Although I did not ever cut myself, my high school friends and I used to burn each others hands with flames and press hot metal rims on clipper lighters under the guise of “being able to take pain”. However, in hindsight burning hot metal onto our hands was a way to alter our emotional suffering by creating a physical pain. This is another form of self-harm that often goes undetected amongst young boys.
Although I went to see a psychologist I did not get the emotional relief I was craving. I knew that something was not quite right in my mind. My cognitive ability was limited at the time, although the creative part of my brain was able to function quite well. The only thing that stopped me from taking my own life in high school was my previous passion and love for music. Had I not had music to fall back on, as a DJ, and knowing that I could barely sit still in a class room without causing conflict with a school teacher and other students, suicidal thoughts could have led me to take devastating action. Tragically, many young boys and men do take their own lives and again, the rate of suicide in this demographic is rising at an alarming rate. According to the Mental Health Foundation, “Suicide and self-harm are not mental health problems themselves, but they are linked with mental distress.” The foundation points out that, “Between 2003 and 2013, 18,220 people with mental health problems took their own life in the UK.” The foundation continues, “Suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 years in England and Wales.”
The only other time I felt suicidal after my teens was in my early twenties three years into my substance abuse recovery (three years clean and sober) when I left the music industry and did not know how to grieve this major loss. Also, much of the suppressed emotional pain stored in my body came up to the surface rapidly and all at once. It was like my inner world was having an earthquake. The combination of losing a career I previously loved and being exposed to raw suppressed trauma took me off guard. Luckily I was a member of several brilliant support groups and I had a handful of friends who were amazing therapists who supported me during a difficult time.
Today at thirty three years of age, my mental health is “good enough”. Last year (2016) was an emotionally difficult time as a result of processing more frozen grief, but luckily I had no suicidal thoughts, which shows me that my mental and emotional health has improved. I still have to be mindful every day and I emotionally live one day a time (especially regarding my addictive personality). The crucial factor that saved my life was asking for help. If a person suffering in silence can reach out and ask for help, their life can change dramatically.
Christopher Dines’ new book, “The Kindness Habit: Transforming our Relationship to Addictive Behaviours,” co-authored with Dr Barbara Mariposa is out now.
Authenticity Is Good For Your Mental Wellbeing – Featured in The Huffington Post
The importance of being authentic never really dawned on me until I came into recovery in 2004 from grave alcohol and cocaine addiction and was consequently confronted with having to take a self-appraisal. Since then I have been going through a gradual process of letting go of childhood survival traits and masks that no longer serve me as an adult. Prior to getting sober I thought that in order to get on in this world I had to present an appearance of “having it all together”. This was a result of feeling fundamentally flawed and unlovable due to my past toxic shame and guilt, emotional wounds and low self-worth.
I have since come to realise that being authentic means that I no longer have to waste energy trying to micro-manage my reality through “people pleasing” and “expecting perfection” from myself and others. Being authentic brings the freedom to let go and loosen my grip of control. I can appreciate the importance of self-care. For many people however, the notion of “being authentic” is a tall order because it requires us to expose our vulnerability during the early stages of retiring from our layers of masks. A new support network is often required to break free from the deep layers of the “false self”.
Not so long ago I came across a clip of a woman being interviewed on CNN who had decided to retire from a glamorous child/adolescence acting career at twenty-two years of age in order to soul search. She described her acting career as “living someone else’s dream”. That immediately prompted me to continue watching. I soon realised that it was the Canadian-American actress, Lisa Jakub. Her major roles included Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire and Alicia Casse in Independence Day. I decided to contact her and see how she managed to access authenticity and overcome the fear of truly being herself. Today, Lisa Jakub spends her time travelling in the USA writing and public speaking with respect to the importance of mental health awareness and how being authentic is crucial to mental and emotional wellbeing. She is the author of “You Look Like That Girl: A Child Actor Stops Pretending and Finally Grows Up”.
“I started working as an actor when I was four years old, so by the time I was twenty-two I had been working for eighteen years and I think like a lot of people who have been working for eighteen years, sometimes they just feel like they are ready for change.”
She continued. “That is very much how I felt. I enjoyed a lot of time working in the film industry but at a certain point, I realised that it’s not what I saw for myself long-term. It didn’t feel like an authentic path for me. I wanted to see what was out there in the world. When I voluntarily removed my label as an actor, I wasn’t very sure what was left of me. That was really an exciting and terrifying thing to explore.”
“It was a massive change to leave Los Angeles, leave my career, leave my friends, leave the only life I had ever known but I really did not want to become one of those train wreck former stereotype actors that we’re all sick of hearing about. I wanted to take that step to find myself a life that felt more rewarding to me.” She said.
I asked Lisa Jakub if she feels like she is being more true to herself, as a result of retiring from acting and exploring her innermost thoughts and feelings. “I feel that authenticity is something that I need to work on every day. And I think it can be really easy to slip back into the mindset and momentum of routine or doing something because it looks impressive to other people. Today, I feel great about the work I am doing and the community around me and the relationships that I have with my family and my spiritual life.”
She continued. “We get so much external input about what success looks like. Whether it is money or status or possessions — I feel like it’s very easy to get lost in that. When we step back and actually look at the things that make us feel fulfilled in our lives, it’s not so much about the possessions or the status. It’s really about the connections and creativity and doing the work that we think makes a real difference.”
Lastly Lisa Jakub shared how choosing authenticity has given her more awareness and acceptance around her mental health. “I believe that acceptance is fundamental and so I have had to realise in some ways anxiety is just a part of who I am. There is research now that says anxiety, depression and mood disorders can be genetic. And so, I think that that point of acceptance is really important to me to realise that this is real.”
Jakub continued. “It’s not that ‘I’m overly sensitive or just being dramatic’. From that point of acceptance, I work on cultivating those tools that make life a little bit easier for myself. Those tools really centre around meditation and yoga and anchor me in the present moment.” Lisa Jakub can be found at www.lisajakub.net
Christopher Dines’ new book, “The Kindness Habit: Transforming our Relationship to Addictive Behaviours,” co-authored with Dr Barbara Mariposa is out now.
Recovering From The Effects Of Growing Up In An Alcoholic Home – Featured in The Huffington Post
The effects of growing up in an alcoholic dysfunctional family are detrimental to mental, emotional, spiritual and physical development as a child growing up with an alcoholic parent(s) and/or grandparent(s) will often lose their authentic sense of self and attempt to escape their traumatic reality by creating survival traits and many seeking refuge behind “masks”. According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, “The effects of parental alcohol misuse don’t just disappear once children reach eighteen or move away from home. Problems often continue into, and sometimes only become apparent in adulthood.” For many adults who grew up in an alcoholic dysfunctional family the ramifications start to appear in adulthood. Many adult children of alcoholics become perfectionists and workaholics, while others become alcoholics and/or drug addicts.
I had the opportunity to ask Claudia Black Ph.D. about the consequences of growing up in an alcoholic family. Black is the author of the recovery classic “It Will Never Happen To Me” and is the Clinical Architect at the Claudia Black Young Adult Center at The Meadows in Arizona, USA. “In an alcoholic family young people live with fear not knowing what to expect and become vigilant to every possibility. Emotions become repressed and twisted. Feelings are often not shared and when expressed often punished. I find by the time a child is nine years of age they have their own well developed denial system particularly around their emotions.”
In the addiction field alcoholism is often described as a “family illness” and for many people this can be a difficult concept to fully grasp. Black explained. “This means the entire family becomes negatively affected and in turn systematically impact upon each other. The addiction becomes the central organising feature that others are reacting to. This reactivity is often an attempt to stabilise, and in doing so there is a tendency to ascribe to rigid roles which are inappropriate, such as a child becoming a parent’s confidante. They engage in unhealthy ways of communicating and unhealthy boundaries occur. All of this is in an attempt to bring order to chaos, predictability to unpredictability, so the intent is not bad but it nonetheless creates dysfunctional ways of relating.”
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often associated with adult children of alcoholics. I asked Claudia Black Ph.D. what her view was with respect to adult children of alcoholics receiving appropriate treatment for PTSD. Black answered. “I have no doubt that when working with people who grew up with addiction, I am often working with someone with trauma responses and in some cases it is as severe as PTSD. But I think some people confuse the two. People’s long-term trauma responses can be simple or complex, mild or severe.”
Black continued. “PTSD is often described as a set of accumulated, chronic, unprocessed fight, flight, and/or freeze responses. I personally think the depression, the anxiety and the addictions which people who grew up with addiction often experience themselves are just that – their fight, their flight and their freeze.”
According to Black some adult children can confuse PTSD with PTSS. She explained. “The term posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) is a newer term which describes the more common and less severe short-term trauma responses. And even more will experience consequences more subtle but nonetheless hurtful to their lives.”
As someone who works in the addiction field, I am a believer that adult children of alcoholics will benefit greatly from practising mindfulness. Claudia Black Ph.D. shared. “Mindfulness practices of any sort are wonderful for adult children. They help to attend to the trauma we hold in our bodies. They calm the limbic system, the emotional part of our brain. They allow us to be focused in the here and now and not live a life based in our fear reactions; they make it possible for us to think more clearly, they lessen our obsessive and ruminative thinking.”
Black continued. “Tai chi and yoga, crafts such as beading and knitting are quite meditative and research strongly shows the benefits. Drumming, song, dance, are all ways one can engage in mindful practice. Colouring, as silly as it sounds, is beneficial. Walk into any bookstore today and you will see a stand for colouring books for adults. People are finding they are less stressed when they colour! There is a growing body of research that correlates any kind of engagement in the artistic process as healing. Our relationships with animals are another resource for many people.”
If you are an adult child of an alcoholic and/or dysfunctional family, recovery is possible one day at a time. Attending support groups, therapy and mindfulness can be very beneficial.
Christopher Dines’ new book, The Kindness Habit: Transforming our Relationship to Addictive Behaviours co-authored with Dr Barbara Mariposa is out now.
Super Brain, Super Genes And Alzheimer’s – Dr. Rudy Tanzi Interview (Part Three) Featured in The Huffington Post
Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD is recognised internationally for his exceptional work in helping to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Continuing my conversation with Dr. Tanzi, I asked him how close he and his team at Harvard are to finding a cure. Note: to read ‘part two’ visit this weblink.
He answered. “I think it’s fair to say that we have learned through a variety of methods what pathology in the brain drives Alzheimer’s disease and we’ve learned that we have to stop that pathology very early – fifteen years before there might be symptoms. As analogous to cancer, as soon as you have it you have a cell that’s dividing awry. That starts to cause a tumour and that’s when you start treating cancer. You don’t wait until you have the tumour and you certainly don’t wait until you have the symptoms of organ failure because of a tumour.”
He continued. “To date, with Alzheimer’s we’ve done just that. We wait until somebody already has dementia, meaning that if it’s a cancer, that tumour has already grown to three inches, in which case you’ve already waited until the pathology has started to destroy the brain.”
The co-author of New York Times best seller “Super Genes”, explained in further detail. “We’ve now learned that the pathology comes early. We can start to detect when the pathology starts occurring, fifteen years before symptoms. I and others are developing drugs and therapies that stop that pathology from forming. To stop that pathology some people will need drugs and help but the lifestyle changes I mentioned earlier regarding diet, sleep, exercise and stress reduction together with meditation also help to limit that pathology in the brain. So you do what you can with lifestyle but for some people that’s not going to be enough or it’s too little too late, so we need drugs to stop the pathology.”
I asked him if he had any new drugs on trial to stop the pathology. “I have a couple of drugs, one in trial and one going into trial. Pharmaceutical companies are still mainly targeting the first Alzheimer’s gene I found in the 1980s thirty years ago called APP. So there are thousands of people working on this problem all around the world and I think we’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, by realising that you don’t wait till this disease strikes. You treat the pathology fifteen years before it harvests symptoms and now we’re learning what that pathology is, the genes that lead to that, the lifestyle changes that lead to that and how to limit that and that’s also guiding drug discovery which is very exciting right now.”
Dr. Tanzi went on to say. “So you might ask, well what about the people who have the disease right now? I mean how do we help them and there we get back to inflammation. If people already have Alzheimer’s disease, it’s really inflammation that is the big enemy and so luckily my lab over the last couple of years has discovered the Alzheimer’s genes that curb inflammation and we’re now targeting those through new therapies and drugs. Those are currently in the works and that’s going to be most important discovery for people who have this disease right now.”
Finally, I asked Dr. Tanzi if it is possible to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. “Let me impress the full list of things we can do to help reduce the risk of succumbing to Alzheimer’s. I’ve already mentioned diet. A Mediterranean diet is probably the best. Taking care of the gut health with probiotics like yoghurt or using probiotic supplements is also beneficial. With regards to exercise we should aim for at least ten thousand steps a day (using one of the devices that measures this). We also have to take care of our intellectual stimulation by learning new things. Making new synapses gives you more resistance to this disease. We talk about the importance of being socially engaged because loneliness is a big factor for Alzheimer’s.”
Dr. Tanzi concluded by emphasising the importance of plenty of sleep. “And finally, sleep. It’s during the deepest stages of sleep that the brain cleans out the plaque and other debris that leads to Alzheimer’s disease which can also lead to Parkinson’s disease. You need to cycle in and out of REM several times per night. If you’re not getting seven to eight hours sleep, you’re not engaged in that dreaming cycle enough and so the bottom line is four to six hours is not sufficient to clean the brain, especially as we get older. So it’s never been more important to get seven to eight hours sleep per night.”
Christopher Dines’ new book, The Kindness Habit: Transforming our Relationship to Addictive Behaviours, co-authored with Dr Barbara Mariposa is out now.
Super Brain, Super Genes And Alzheimer’s – Dr. Rudy Tanzi Interview (Part Two) Featured in The Huffington Post
Continuing my conversation with Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD (Dr. Rudy Tanzi), I asked him about the process of developing super genes, the importance of practising meditation and if he could elaborate on his work in the prevention and potential cure of Alzheimer’s disease. To read “part one” visit this weblink.
Dr. Tanzi’s most recent New York Times best seller, “Super Genes”, co-authored with Dr. Deepak Chopra has been widely acclaimed. I asked Dr. Tanzi if he could explain the concept of super genes. He answered. “Well it’s a similar idea to super brain, which is that you can either have your brain just do what it wants where your subconscious is driving or you can choose to observe your subconscious and what your brain is doing. Your base line brain is your subconscious, which has been developed by all of your experiences, fears and desires and you’re being reactively conditioned in everything you do based on a reality map of where you’ve already been. This reality map is based on all of your fears and desires, which have been developed by memories of pain, which create fear and memories of pleasure, which create desire.”
Dr. Tanzi continued. “We say: where do I get things to make me feel good? How do I avoid things that make me feel bad? We’re constantly striving for goals that are based on fears and desires based on reality maps that are housed in our subconscious. In the super brain you choose to observe what your brain is doing. You choose to observe your subconscious, you choose to observe your feelings, thoughts, sensations and imagination and by observing all of this you become an active player in guiding your brain to what you want to be. By guiding your brain, you are training your brain to become a super brain.”
He then dived into explaining super genes. “In a similar way, you’re born with genes from your parents that you can’t change and those genes are predisposing you toward certain tendencies, behaviours, disease susceptibilities etc. Again, by being conscious of that by paying attention to certain aspects of your lifestyle (including diet, exercise, sleep, how you deal with stress, how you deal with your brain) you are actively shaping the activity of your genes.”
This is quite a revelation seeing that so many of us have been led to believe that we cannot alter how our genes express themselves. Dr. Tanzi, however, disagrees. “So while you’re born with certain genes from your parents, the expression of your genes is determined not only by the genes themselves but by how you live your life and how you live your life is also defined in habits and routines. Habits and routines are driven by your subconscious and that gets back to ‘super brain’. If you actively observe what’s going on and you take charge; now your gene expression is going to be conditioned on how you choose to live your life, your choices now matter, you’re in control.”
With respect to improving the expression of our genes Dr. Tanzi elaborates. “So you choose to have a better diet, you don’t eat junk food, you choose to get eight hours sleep, you choose to get enough exercise, you choose to meditate and deal with stress. By doing all this routinely, new habits programme your genes via a process called epigenetics. So with every habit you make or break, you’re programming or reprogramming your gene expression without even knowing it and that can either be beneficial to you or to hurt you.” He continued. “So when you take charge, when you decide, ‘I’m going to live my life in a way where my habits are going to epigenetically programme my genes for healthier gene expression’, then you’re on your way to developing what we call super genes.”
I asked Dr. Tanzi why he emphasises the importance of incorporating meditation into our habits. “Well meditation is just one way to alleviate stress and if you think about the big killer in the body, it’s inflammation. Whether it’s heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s; inflammation is what really hurts you the most and takes you out. Inflammation is meant to help you. Your body, when it causes inflammation, is doing this as a way to fight infection, as a way to drive wound healing. So inflammation is a process that’s meant to take care of you, but too much inflammation can lead to organ and tissue damage.”
Dr. Tanzi continued. “So as we get older the main thing we have to learn to do is to regulate and limit chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is affected by our diet, by our sleep, by our exercise, but also by our levels of stress. Stress plays an important role in driving inflammation not only in the body but in the brain, so learning how to have a ‘super brain’ is one way to deal with stress and on a daily basis, a great method for stress reduction is meditation. When you meditate you’re taking time to actually clear your mind of all of these feelings and thoughts and images and sensations and getting in touch with that part of you that is pure awareness. In spirituality they call it ‘the soul’. There are a lot of names for it. When you can finally tap into that pure awareness that is the observer of the brain, this is what meditation does. This alleviates stress which plays a big role in driving gene expression that will help fight chronic inflammation – the main enemy as we get older.”
This interview will continue in part three (soon to be published). Dr. Tanzi talks about several factors which can help in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and the importance of sleep.
Christopher Dines’ new book, The Kindness Habit: Transforming our Relationship to Addictive Behaviours, co-authored with Dr Barbara Mariposa is out now.
Super Brain, Super Genes And Alzheimer’s – Dr. Rudy Tanzi Interview (Part One) Featured in The Huffington Post UK
I had the pleasure of talking to Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD (Dr. Rudy Tanzi) with respect to rewiring and developing the human brain and the process of creating super genes. We also talked about the benefits of practising meditation and his work in discovering a cure for Alzheimer’s and prevention of the disease.
Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD, is the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University and the Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Dr. Tanzi is a New York Times best selling author. He is co-author of “Super Brain” and “Super Genes” with Dr. Deepak Chopra. Dr. Tanzi co-discovered the first Alzheimer’s disease gene and is the co-author of “Decoding Darkness: The Search for the Genetic Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease”.
My intention was to find out how we can develop a ‘super brain’ (a subject he wrote extensively about with Dr. Chopra). Dr. Tanzi said. “As Deepak Chopra and I wrote in ‘Super Brain’, you are rewiring your brain with every new experience and every reaction that you have to that experience”. He continued. “If you use Dr. Dan Siegel’s idea that the brain is an organ that’s bringing you four different things at any one time: sensations, sight, sound and smell etc., images which are part of your imagination (a lot of that is envisaging memories of the past or what the future might hold), feelings and then thoughts. Siegel uses the acronym SIFT to describe this process. And so your brain is SIFTing all the time.”
Dr. Tanzi emphasised that observation is essential. “Your brain is rewiring all the time based on those processes but the emphasis that we make is that you need to take the time to be the observer. Be the self-aware ‘being’ taking advantage of the gift your brain has given you in self-awareness to observe and be the witness of SIFT.”
He re-emphasised the importance of monitoring our brain and reflecting. “In other words, stepping back at any given moment and giving yourself a chance to say, What are these sensations I’m experiencing? What are these images? What’s my imagination doing right now? What feelings am I experiencing right now? What thoughts are going through my head? So in this sense the mind becomes like an ocean of SIFT and you become the captain of the ship, navigating that mind and when you actively observe the different processes taking place in the brain, you drive connection, you drive linkage between brain regions, you drive linkage between the regions of the brain involved with imagination, with sensory cortex of different types, with the amygdala and thalamus and areas of feeling and areas of thought and cognition.”
The revelation that we can integrate all areas of our brain is fascinating. Even more inspiring, Dr. Tanzi reminds us that our brain creates our everyday reality. He went on to say. “Your brain brings you your world. Your entire world is brought to you by your brain, so how your brain is wired really defines the world you are living in. If you take time to observe what your brain is bringing you, driving connections between these regions, that brings integration – integration of mind and brain is what will then optimise the wiring of your brain to bring you the world that you will most enjoy and give you a good life. This is really the central basis of the book ‘Super Brain’.”
Sadly many people still believe that a ‘super brain’ is exclusively the domain of high achieving academics. However, Dr. Tanzi challenges this myth. “The super brain does not depend on knowledge. A super brain depends on being aware that your brain is bringing you thoughts, and along with those thoughts your brain is bringing you feelings and imagination, while also incorporating sensory information about the world around you.”
Dr. Tanzi went on to elaborate on ‘how’ to develop a super brain. “To develop a super brain, the key word is ‘integration’. Meaning, you are allowing your brain stem and your limbic system (feelings and some of the basic instincts of survival such as fight or flight) to integrate with the more recently evolved frontal and pre-frontal cortex that bring with it a sense of self, purpose, meaning, and creativity, in which case you’re now blending the part of your brain where you imagined your world and who you are in the world with the part of your brain that ensures you survive in the world.”
Dr. Tanzi continued. “When you balance the survival parts of the brain (which are the older parts of the brain for survival) with the newer parts of the brain (that bring a sense of self-awareness and meaning and purpose and creativity), you not only survive but you thrive. So the integration of brain regions brings you from mere survival to, I guess for lack of a better word, thrill.”
Feeling our emotions without internal resistance is very effective in the process of healing emotional wounds and enhancing the human brain. Dr. Tanzi expanded on this. “Don’t try to control it, don’t try to regulate it and don’t try to edit it or filter it. Simply by ‘observing’ will bring balance that converts you from a base-line brain, (which simply permits you to survive and do the bare minimum) with your reality map to support that ‘survival’ into actually ‘thriving’, where the brain integrates information at all levels and this is what makes great things possible.”
Dr. Tanzi suggested that some of the greatest minds in history accomplished brain integration. “Da Vinci, Mozart and Galileo had all parts of their brain firing. I like to use this term 3D brain because I think about the survival part of the brain and the brain stem as the drive to survive. I think about the limbic system feeding our fears and desires as the desire to live and to achieve. Then I think about the frontal cortex as the vision, the creativity, the meaning, the purpose and that’s the dream. So when you have the drive, the desire and the dream all together that’s when great things are possible; that’s the 3D brain, that’s when you have a super brain. It simply begins with integration by observing what your brain is doing in those different regions and taking the time to do that.”
I wanted to find out how Dr. Tanzi views consciousness. I asked him frankly, does consciousness direct the brain or does the brain govern consciousness? Dr. Tanzi replied. “It really depends on how you define consciousness. Without a brain obviously you’re not conscious. The medical definition of consciousness is ‘awareness with attention’. So for example, you could be in a coma and have an awareness that’s entirely internalised even down to just a small part of activity in the brain, but you don’t have attention to the outside world. So the scripted definition of consciousness is to be aware of your world and to be able to have attention where you combine attention to the world with awareness.”
He continued. “From a neuroscience standpoint, you say, ‘well the brain is producing consciousness, i.e. the brain allows you to be aware and to focus your attention.’ So from a medical stand-point that’s the definition of consciousness – the brain produces consciousness, but from a more metaphysical, spiritual and theoretical standpoint you can say well where did the brain come from? Does the brain exist as a physical entity in a particular universe or is the brain itself a product of a more primal awareness? And what I mean by that is that we take for granted that there is existence.”
Dr Tanzi directed his answer to the importance of realising ‘existence’. He emphasised. “We have to go back to the fact that the first thing there is, is existence. Without existence, you don’t exist. Well, what is existence? To exist one must be aware of existence. So to me the primal basis of existence is awareness and everything including ourselves and our brains are products of awareness.” While Dr. Tanzi agrees on many things with his co-author, Dr. Chopra, he has a slightly different perspective on the consciousness debate. “I know that my co-author Deepak Chopra talks about consciousness as being primary. I like to use the word ‘awareness’ because I think awareness doesn’t require attention.”
This interview will continue in part two (soon to be published). Dr. Tanzi talks about producing super genes, practising meditation and several factors which can help in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
Christopher Dines’ new book, The Kindness Habit: Transforming our Relationship to Addictive Behaviours, co-authored with Dr Barbara Mariposa is out now.
Mindfulness Burnout Prevention – Featured in The Huffington Post UK
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) deteriorating mental health will represent one of the most serious health challenges to Western society of the twenty-first century. The WHO report states, “In the World Health Report 2001 that we devote to mental health, we bring updated figures which show that four of the ten leading causes of disability worldwide are neuropsychiatric disorders, accounting for 30.8% of total disability and 12.3% of the total burden of disease. This latter figure is expected to rise to 15% by the year 2020.”
Similarly, Dr Barbara Mariposa refers to this report in her blog, “Stress, anxiety and depression are predicted to be the second biggest causes of ill health in Western countries by 2020.”
Overwhelming stress, anxiety and the effects of depression are taking their toll on people from all walks of life. All of us can “burn out” regardless of social or economic status but there is no doubt that financial concerns can place enormous additional strain on those already struggling to juggle the day-to-day pressures of everyday modern life.
High achievers are not immune from burnout either. The founder of The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington changed her lifestyle after a rude awakening. She suffered from burnout and exhaustion, “When I collapsed in April 2007, I was by our society’s definition very successful, but by any sane definition of success, I was not … As long as our culture defines success as money and power, we’re stuck on a treadmill of stress, sleep deprivation, and burnout.”
Stress, anxiety and mild depression (also substance misuse) have in the past been very problematic for me. As a matter of fact, in summer 2004 I burnt out while DJing, which left me no choice but to seek help and change my lifestyle completely. It was a huge wake up call — I had hit a dark rock bottom. While I have improved dramatically in the last twelve years, I am certainly not immune to stress and anxiety and I can still succumb to feelings of despondency from time to time. Nonetheless, I have found several invaluable tools which help me to take care of myself and reduce the risk of burnout re-occurring. Practising mindfulness in all areas of my life has been the most wonderful investment I have ever made into my mental, physical, spiritual and emotional well-being.
Below are eight gentle suggestions which I put together in an eight-week course format, inspired by my book, Mindfulness Burnout Prevention: An 8-Week Course for Professionals. They are well worth exploring:
• Present-Moment Awareness, Equanimity and Calmness
— Focusing on the present moment brings clarity with regard to our thought-life, emotional state, behaviour and immediate environment. Such clarity will reveal when we are neglecting our wellbeing. The more we practise present-moment awareness, the easier it is to see how futile it is to be attached to an outcome. We can begin to flow and demonstrate equanimity during life’s vicissitudes. There are many different ways to practise present-moment awareness, however the simplest way is to get into the habit of watching the breath. Throughout the day pause on a regular basis and observe the breath flowing through your body. This is a good start.
• Communicating Mindfully
— When I burnt out I was in a mild state of self-delusion. I thought that “I was fine” even though my body was giving me clear signals that I was exhausted. I pretended to be “super human”, and so, I was being dishonest with myself and my fellows. Had I been able to communicate mindfully how I was truly feeling, I would have been able to slow down before it was too late. It’s worth learning how to be honest with yourself and others by communicating with clarity. Ask yourself, “How am I really feeling?” “Am I mentally and/or emotionally overwhelmed?” “How often do I feel resentful towards my current circumstances?” “Am I dissatisfied or frustrated in my job/career?” “When was the last time I ate healthily or rested my body?” “How often do I take gentleness breaks?” “Am I communicating mindfully with my colleagues and family?”
• Focus, Alertness and Concentration
— A lack of focus, alertness and concentration show that we are not anchoring ourselves in the present moment. Naturally, this will increase the likelihood of making mistakes and being less effective. Being able to focus on the task at hand releases stress and can be very fulfilling, even if it is something relatively mundane or “unimportant”. Similarly being alert and aware of our mental commentary helps us to detach from mental noise and destructive thoughts. Note: being alert is very different from being “hyper-vigilant”. The latter is emotionally draining and usually a symptom of PTSD or unresolved childhood trauma. Being alert is a calming emotional state and goes hand-in-hand with a dedicated daily mindfulness practice.
• Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence
— Mindfulness is a wonderful way to practise “being” instead of compulsively “doing”. Mindfulness is consciously being aware of our thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations and being aware of the external world with clarity. Practising mindfulness on a daily basis will boost mental and emotional wellbeing and lessen the impact of stress, anxiety and depression. It can also enhance our spiritual wellbeing. We can be mindful of our lifestyle and the company we keep. Rather than being on auto-pilot, we can pause and respond to events rather than reacting and being thrown off course by the slightest problem.
Similarly, emotional intelligence helps us to monitor our emotions. We can feel our feelings (pain, sadness, fear, sorrow or joy), without being overwhelmed by them. We can learn to recognise that while it’s important to validate our feelings, we are not our emotions (we have feelings but we are not our feelings).
• Emotional Resilience
— Life is difficult. Building a successful career in a global economy is a tall order. Bringing up a family also brings many challenges. However, when we develop emotional resilience we can persist and progress in our affairs. Rather than trying to force our way through life (which is counterproductive and leads to grave resentment) it is much healthier to focus on our efforts instead of potential outcomes. The fruit is in our efforts. It’s the process that makes life fulfilling, not just a result. Remember that there are over seven billion people who also have personal desires, thus no matter how hard you try to push, resistance will be close by. The next time you find yourself trying to force your way through life, breathe and emotionally let go.
• Body Scan Awareness and Meditation Practices for Stress
Being aware of the condition of our body is essential. If we can listen to the human body and be aware of its needs, we will reduce stress. We know that memories are stored inside the muscles of the human body (traumatic or joyful memories). The human body remembers everything. Similarly, the human body informs us through feelings, aches and sensations when it needs to be nurtured or requires time to rest. By scanning the body with various meditation techniques we can boost our emotional wellbeing and reduce stress. Ask yourself “How is my body feeling in this very moment?” “How often do I pay attention to my body?” “Do I give my body regular exercise?” “How often do I allow myself downtime?”
Learning to direct compassion inwards is probably the kindest thing that we can do for ourselves. It’s so easy to direct blame towards ourselves. When we are kind and compassionate towards ourselves, self-care becomes natural. If we nurture and take care of our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing, we are far less likely to burn out. It was Jack Kornfield who said, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” Therefore, ask yourself on a regular basis, “Am I directing compassion inwards?” “Do I put enough time aside to relax and unwind?” “Am I allowing myself to believe cruel things about myself?” “What can I do right now to be more compassionate and loving towards myself?”
• Cultivating Gratitude and Appreciation in the Workplace
Regularly reminding ourselves about things we cherish and appreciate will shield us from adopting a negative frame of mind. While we cannot be appreciative all of the time, we can pause once a day and reflect on the things we can be grateful for rather than focussing on what is “missing”. Writing in a gratitude journal can be very helpful or talking to your spouse/partner or a friend about your thankfulness will amplify your emotional health.
Christopher Dines is the author of Mindfulness Burnout Prevention: An 8-Week Course for Professionals.
Walking – A Simple Way To Practise Mindfulness – Featured in The Huffington Post UK
Mindfulness meditation has been widely recognised as a simple practice to enhance mental and emotional wellbeing. According to the Mental Health Foundation (UK), “People undertaking mindfulness training have shown increased activity in the area of the brain associated with positive emotion – the pre-frontal cortex – which is generally less active in people who are depressed.” As a matter of fact, scores of testable scientific evidence has shown that mindfulness can assist to rewire the human brain and boost equanimity.
Although mindfulness courses are selling very well in the United Kingdom, many people still find it difficult to develop the habit of practising mindfulness on a daily basis, however. Luckily, for people who find it almost impossible to sit still for twenty minutes twice a day in silence, mindful walking can be a helpful alternative practice. According to the NHS, something as simple as regular walking can have huge physical benefits in reducing the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers, but the added bonus of enhanced mental health are less well known.
Millions of people walk every day in the United Kingdom, nonetheless this does not necessarily equate to ‘mindful walking’. Due to the fast pace in a city, adrenaline and stress often hamper an opportunity to enjoy a mindful walk. Distractions can also come into play in the countryside if we are glued to a mobile phone hence sabotaging any chance of enjoying present-moment-awareness and truly absorbing the beauty of our natural surroundings.
The mind can often be so busy that attempting to be present can become frustrating. It is the internal mental commentary about our lives that often sweeps us away from being present during a walk. However, with regular practise we can slow things down and connect with mindful walking. Enjoying the feel of connecting with grass, sand, or leaves in a forest are my personal preferences, however mindful walking can be enjoyed in a big city too.
For example, when I used to live in London I made a habit of walking on Hampstead Health. This grounded me and provided a sense of privacy. Many cities in the United Kingdom are blessed with wonderful parks and spaces where it is possible to connect with nature.
It is important to point out that while nature has a “unique selling point”, walking through a busy high-street can be a tranquil experience if practised with a sense of ease, openness and acceptance. It is the yearning to be somewhere else that amplifies tension and stress while rushing through a busy town or city. However, when we fully accept our situation and go with the flow without attempting to “fix” ourselves, inner peace can be felt – there is no more “fighting reality”. I have experienced many peaceful walks in the heart of London by applying several simple mindfulness techniques. It comes down to our intention and willingness to accept our current surroundings. Below are a few suggestions to improve mindful walking:
• If possible, slow down. If you are in a big city, this might be going against the grain, but this automatically calms things down (unless you are intending to power walk, which is an entirely different practice). Naturally, appointments must be kept however setting out a little bit earlier gives you some leverage.
• Listen to external sounds. Rather than silently cursing traffic noise listen carefully to the sounds around you. Be aware of the contrast between the sounds and your mental commentary. Similarly, if you are in nature, notice the sticks crackling on the ground as you walk over them. Pay attention to the birds singing and so on. Tuning into external sounds stops us from being distracted by mental commentary. After a while, this practise can allow us to become deeply grounded into the nowness of life.
• If your mind sweeps you away from the present moment, anchor yourself back by focusing on the tensing and releasing of the muscles in your legs, feet and arms. This technique can also help you to feel at one with the earth. Mindful walking anchors us into the present moment and helps us to appreciate every subtle movement of the body.
• Pay attention to your breathing. Notice how you breathe without any effort on your behalf. Be aware of air flowing through your nostrils and feel your chest rise. Every so often, take several deep breaths.
Online Porn Addiction – Featured in The Huffington Post UK
I have no desire to get into a debate about the rights and wrongs of the adult entertainment industry. The purpose of this article is to expand the conversation about online pornography addiction. Last week the American celebrity Pamela Anderson and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach co-authored an article, Take the Pledge: No More Indulging in Porn for the Wall Street Journal with respect to the effects of excessive consumption of pornography. They wrote, “This is a public hazard of unprecedented seriousness given how freely available, anonymously accessible and easily disseminated pornography is nowadays”.
According to their major source (American Psychological Association) porn consumption amongst men is between 50% to over 99% and 30% to 86% amongst women. These are staggering figures. In spring 2016, Utah, USA, declared that pornography addiction is a “public health hazard”.
In British society most open-minded people fully accept that alcohol addiction (alcoholism) is something to be taken seriously. It is something that we would rather brush under the carpet but even the Government grudgingly puts aside a modest budget for public services to tackle the problem every year. After all, substance misuse can destroy the very fabric of a family home and diminish the prospect of any kind of “ordinary” life. We accept that eating disorders are grave addictive behaviours and gambling addiction is widely acknowledged. However when it comes to “pornography addiction”, many scoff. Even though porn consumption involves anticipation, sexual stimulation and ultimately orgasm, these “payoffs” cannot possibly become addictive to a person who has an addictive personality? Why the non-logical bias?
Generally speaking, many Brits still feel uncomfortable when sex is brought up in a conversation (even the younger generations to whom easy access to online porn is no big deal) and attempt to offset their embarrassment by laughing it off or resorting to smutty innuendo (in true “Carry On” fashion). I suppose it is therefore no surprise that when a conversation arises with regard to online porn addiction, ridicule often ensues.
When I travel across England to facilitate mindfulness-addiction workshops at residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres, men and women who are already in some sort of recovery program from an addiction (perhaps alcoholism or heroin abuse) are very reluctant to talk about their problems around online porn, although this reticence is less common amongst those under the age of forty-five .
The primary reason many addictive personalities find it so hard to come out of hiding and ask for help in this area is because of the shame and stigma attached to porn addiction. By and large, any form of addictive behaviour is shamed in society and this lack of open-mindedness, compounded by high levels of denial around porn as a real addiction leads to many feeling unsafe in asking for help.
Many people are able to use porn safely with no apparent adverse effect but it really comes down to a few simple questions: If you are accessing pornography on a regular basis, how does it make you feel after using it? Do you feel ashamed or guilty or experience some kind of “comedown?” Are you able to stop using porn promptly? Are you compelled to view it and while watching it are you scanning through different vlogs to find “the perfect hit”?
We know in neural science that any addictive behaviour releases dopamine and leads to an emotional crash after the “hit” has worn off. The behaviour is often secretive and solitary, thus, one of the primary characteristics of addictive behaviour is set in place, that of isolation.
The primary problem, as with all grave addictive behaviour is due to mental/emotional isolation, suppressed grief, trauma and a lack of belongingness. Online pornography addiction, just like alcohol addiction, can be addressed, one day at a time with the help of therapy, counselling and twelve-step fellowships such as Porn Addicts Anonymous.
Self-Love & Self-Compassion – Featured in The Huffington Post UK
The concept of ‘self-love’ is often viewed with suspicion as being a form of self-indulgence or even self-obsession. Some may point to the myth of the young Narcissus who fell in love with his own image reflected in a lake. We are more inclined to focus on serving others and contributing to the greater good rather than entertaining a frothy notion of ‘loving oneself’.
While I fully subscribe to being of maximum service to others and serving with integrity and without being attached to an outcome; service that does not start with oneself can soon become counteractive. It is not possible to be of maximum service to our fellows if ‘our own cup isn’t full’ – we can burn out, become resentful and confuse ‘helpfulness’ with controlling others. In other words, how can we truly love and serve another human being if we fail to love and serve ourselves?
For instance, if we start the day with an emotional and spiritual practice (for example mindfulness meditation, yoga or prayer), read inspirational literature and take moderate exercise we have practised self-care and are much more likely to have the power to be of benefit to others. If we pause throughout the day and explore our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical well-being, this will recharge our internal flow of energy and make us more effective.
Self-love and self-care, however, consists of more than just daily meditation, yoga and exercise. Self-love is directing compassion inwards. It is accepting our emotional wounds and having the courage to heal and be empowered. Self-compassion is taking the risk of coming out of hiding and showing our vulnerability – when we come out of hiding and talk about the shame we feel around our addictive behaviour (with trustworthy friends), we can heal.
Tragically, so many of us suffer from self-loathing. Unless we approach this with gentleness we will find destructive ways to suppress our toxic shame (usually through addictive behaviour). Think for a moment of when you revisit a high-school photo or even on occasion, when you catch a glimpse of yourself in a shop window. Does this trigger a toxic feeling of shame or self-criticism? How do you feel when you think about your past ‘failures’? Does this bring up aggressive and shame-based emotions? There are many ways to detect a lack of self-compassion and self-love.
When we are mindful and have decided to practise self-compassion and self-love, life will give us plenty of opportunities to heal. A major part of self-compassion is to be gentle – to go easy on ourselves. This is why in a book I co-authored titled, The Kindness Habit: Transforming our Relationship to Addictive Behaviours, I wrote: “When we practise self-compassion, we look after ourselves just as though we are nurturing a small child. This is what the author John Bradshaw meant by ‘reclaiming our inner child’. In recovery, we can begin to nurture our inner child and connect deeply with our heart and spirit.”
What steps can you take today to practice self-kindness, self-love and self-compassion – to nurture your Inner Child?
Addiction or Addictiveness? Featured in The Huffington Post UK
Whether it is the recent controversy surrounding the discovery of fentanyl in Prince’s home or media coverage of a former British sports star slowly dying of substance misuse, the subject of “addiction” is increasingly being drawn to the attention of the general public and viewed as an illness rather than a shameful lack of “self control”. Secretary Hillary Clinton referred to this during her brutal battle in the Democratic Party presidential primaries 2016 when alluding to the heroin epidemic in New Hampshire (USA) in the following way: “Plain and simple, drug and alcohol addiction is a disease, not a moral failing—and we must treat it as such.” In the United Kingdom the Duchess of Cambridge became a patron of the charity Action on Addiction and many people with a high profile in popular culture have openly shared their experience of overcoming one form or another of addictive behaviour.
Many drug and alcohol residential rehabilitation centres now market themselves as “addiction” hubs instead of using pre 1980s words such as “alcoholism” or “para-alcoholism” rehabs. Today, addiction therapists and counsellors readily accept that addictive behaviour takes many forms and can manifest as substance misuse, sex and love addiction, shopping addiction, pornography addiction and self-harm to name but a few.
A high percentage of alcoholics who get physically dry every year in the United Kingdom and start practising some sort of total abstinence recovery-based program will swap their alcohol/drug addiction for another destructive addictive behaviour within a very short period of time and according to Dr Claudia Black, 70% of chemically dependent people will relapse after attempting to get to clean (there are similar studies to that effect in twelve-step fellowships). If real recovery is truly going to permeate our society, an expanded dialogue of the meaning of “addiction” would be helpful.
Cross-addictive-patterns of behaviour reveal that “addictiveness” rather than “addiction” to one particular substance or behaviour is the primary problem. I have observed this pattern for over ten years whilst facilitating mindfulness addiction workshops at residential rehabilitation treatment centres across England. Unless the understanding of “addictiveness” becomes part of the recovery conversation, addictive behaviours will prevail.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that addictiveness is so often passed down through generations. Addictive behaviour such as grave alcohol or drug abuse brings so much toxic shame into a family home that many families consciously avoid acknowledging or addressing the problem and therefore the downward spiral remains uninterrupted.
When an addict recognises that addressing an addictive behaviour (although crucial) is only the beginning of the process of recovery, he/she can start to get to the core of their addictiveness. Various theories suggest that suppressed grief, unresolved childhood trauma and isolation often lie at the root of addictiveness and I would fully subscribe to this. Addictiveness is usually a manifestation of unrest and internal emotional suffering that has not been healed. The following steps have been recognised as crucial in starting the process of healing from addictiveness:
- An addict (of any sort) must recognise that they have a problem and then reach out for help. This is extremely hard for most addicts to accept. To acknowledge the problem will cause a lot of discomfort and to ask for help brings a sense of vulnerability due to the historic stigma attached to all forms of addiction. For addicts who have been ostracised socially or suffered any form of neglect or abuse during their upbringing, this is a massive hurdle and those who do ask for help usually take this course of action as a last resort having hit some form of “rock bottom”.
- A human being suffering from addictiveness can heal from the effects of isolation by attending regular support groups. There are excellent therapy groups and twelve-step fellowships which can breathe new life into a pained existence. Addicts need non-shaming fellowship with people who understand what it’s like to be utterly addicted to a destructive behaviour. Belonging and fellowship is crucial for their social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
- Uncovering the underlying causes of addictiveness can be very disturbing and therefore most addicts minimise their emotional suffering and deny their suppressed grief. While denial can be a helpful shock absorber or coping mechanism after a traumatic event, it no longer serves an addict when they start their recovery programme. And so, when disturbing memories and painful emotions rise to the surface, it is crucial that this process takes place alongside non-shaming counselling or therapy. It is dangerous to address addictiveness by oneself.
The key thing to remember is that recovery from addictiveness is a slow painstaking process but with gentle daily efforts to heal, huge improvements will manifest. After all, life improves when we improve.
The Kindness Habit – an excerpt (Introduction)
I have learnt that if we develop wholesome relationships, life becomes far more fulfilling and enjoyable – we begin to feel a sense of belonging. Conversely, if we do not have healthy relationships, our reality becomes dysfunctional, addictive and destructive. The most important relationship, however, is with ourselves.
Sadly, many relationships are governed by an addiction of being ‘outcome-orientated’. The desire to fix unresolved childhood emotional trauma and suppressed grief is so intense that rather than going deep within our hearts to start the process of healing, we look to ‘fix’ ourselves by using a ‘thing’ or a ‘substance’ or a ‘person’ until we realise that they cannot fulfil us, therefore creating even more suffering and a yearning to be loved.
I’ve learnt through my own personal journey that no one can fill the empty void inside – I had to bring out my authentic self (inner child), my Higher Power and reconnect with my heart and spirit with the aid of fellowship and people on a spiritual path. I learnt to direct love and kindness inwards before I could truly be kind and loving towards others.
Tragically, because many addicts are not given sufficient love, nurturing and non-shaming dialogue at crucial stages in their early emotional development, they are on a quest to find contentment from a source outside of themselves.
Their parents might have provided bountifully for them; however, their parents were never fully emotionally present while parenting, which made their children feel starved of emotional nourishment.
Some addicts do not even have basic parenting and instead are beaten, sexually abused, left to be looked after by a dysfunctional ‘carer’, put in orphan homes or rejected by their community. If you calculate the millions of emotionally neglected children and observe them growing up together trying to ‘get by in life’, you will understand why many adults (adult children) have addictive personalities.
Regardless of the different stages in our human development, unless we learn how to create loving and fulfilling relationships (with ourselves and others), addiction will follow – not necessarily as a manifestation of substance misuse but in the form of codependence, compulsive thinking, unhealthy relationships, sex and love addictions, overeating, insidious incarnations of self-harm and so on.
Dr Barbara Mariposa and I have framed this book in the simplest way: through a friendly, practical and compassionate dialogue. The questions asked are inspired by genuine enquiries that have been presented to us during workshops, classes and retreats. The purpose of co-writing this book is to bring clarity to the reader and help answer the many challenges that people have with respect to addictiveness, recovery and authentic fulfilment.
Part 2: Emotional Resilience – an excerpt from Mindfulness Burnout Prevention: An 8-Week Course for Professionals
On the Teen Ink YouTube video channel, writer, musician and philanthropist Peter Buffett was interviewed by an audience with respect to his journey into success and finding his purpose. A teenage girl asked Peter Buffett what was the most important life lesson he had learnt from his father Warren Buffett, the financial investor and teacher.
He replied, with respect to his father: “He’s just not attached to an outcome. While following your passion is important, not being attached to the outcome might be more important, because then you’re not predetermining where you might go or what might happen—you’re just present in what you’re doing and trying to be the best at it or the most effective or whatever it might be. And so, I would say that’s probably the greatest lesson I learnt from both my parents, quite honestly, is to not be attached to the outcome of something”.
If you intend to strengthen your emotional resilience muscles (which is essential to being successful and emotionally well), developing the habit of letting go of the outcome is imperative.
The habits of emotionally resilient professionals
• A habit of thoroughly enjoying being of service and having an appreciation for the work one does
• A habit of doing more than is expected (no one can truly excel by doing just enough to stay employed)
• A habit of wishing people well and expelling feelings of jealousy and greed from one’s consciousness
• A habit of practising mindfulness meditation for at least 20 minutes every morning and taking time to reflect on one’s attitude and activities before retiring at night
• A habit of remembering to breathe properly and to pause throughout the day—breathing deeply into stillness
• A habit of training the brain to be emotionally intelligent
• A habit of expressing genuine gratitude for the positive and negative experiences in life
• An open mind and a willingness to move with the times, even if it causes emotional pain and a feeling of discomfort
• A habit of being mindful of one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours—an awareness of what is happening in the present moment and an ability to observe events with clarity
Part 1: Emotional Resilience ― an excerpt from Mindfulness Burnout Prevention: An 8-Week Course for Professionals
The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”. What exactly did he mean by that? To be aware means that we are fully aware of our own awareness. Imagine what would happen if we developed the habit of not taking things personally at work and remained emotionally resilient. How would our productivity and focus improve? The mental stories that we tell ourselves have the power to enhance or sabotage our wellbeing. The art is to realise that mental stories are simply thoughts, beliefs and memories. Once we know this, we are free from our mental shackles.
An employee might have developed new skills and qualities to succeed in the workplace, but because she is fixated on previous difficulties and disappointments, she panics and feels that she will not be able to cope. Similarly, many of us have felt anxious and afraid when our professional lives take a turn for the better due to negative memories. Thoughts such as ‘This is too difficult’, ‘I’m afraid of missing this deadline’, ‘What if I fail?’ and ‘What if my contract is terminated?’ can recycle themselves continuously until we feel emotionally drained and are utterly consumed with tension.
The sad truth is that millions of competent and otherwise brilliant human beings are limited by the mental shackles in the mind.
The mental commentary and persistent anxious thoughts trap them into reliving the same emotions and behavioural patterns. Their history and personalised biographies prevent them from being free and liberated. Many of us have a private cinema in our minds that projects terrifying imaginary outcomes and a constant stream of memories of loss and discord.
The mental monologues are so potent and powerful that, unless we can anchor ourselves in the present and break the spell of compulsive thinking, we are trapped. The truth is that most of our day-to-day worries, fears and concerns are highly unlikely to manifest and so many hours are squandered in unnecessary suffering.
The only solution that I have found after years of research and unrelenting practice is to make a commitment to train myself to operate in the present moment as often as possible. Positive self-talk and motivational techniques can be helpful but the long-term solution to transcend our negative mental commentary is to be present.
The author and teacher Nanice Ellis complements the realisation of letting go of mental stories with the following wise words: “Stories like ‘he must not care’ or ‘if she loved me, she wouldn’t have done this,’ are the breeding ground for so much sorrow. Most of the time, the stories that we tell ourselves and believe, have more to do with our own personal history, rather than the actual relationship that seems to be the cause”.
Awareness of emotion ― an excerpt from Mindfulness Burnout Prevention: An 8-Week Course for Professionals
Some people find this extremely hard to accept and feel that their emotions must be expressed at all times, even in the workplace, but this is a counterproductive way to behave.
Sometimes our feelings signify clarity and sometimes they are distorted due to an inaccurate perspective imprinted on the human mind. Human emotions can be delicate and without a steady calmness to be alert, present and in-tune with how we and other people feel, we will make it extremely difficult for us to be effective professionals. All wise men and women have come to realise that to be serene, considerate and tolerant is not just a matter of adopting virtues, but is essential in order to bring harmony and equanimity into human relationships.
It is important to point out that no one can truly make a rational decision without the emotional brain being activated in some way. Even the person who is most effective at maintaining clarity of thought will base his/her decision on some measure of feeling. In other words, the idea that we can make decisions which are purely rational is a misnomer.
Human beings are not robotic machines—our minds and brains are phenomenally complex. Practising mindfulness can enable us to achieve a healthy balance between intellect and emotion, which is a key component of emotional intelligence.
Being conscious of our breathing ― an excerpt from Mindfulness Burnout Prevention: An 8-Week Course for Professionals
Conscious breathing anchors us into the nowness of life and gives us a fresh outlook, no different from how a baby observes reality without mental commentary. The baby enjoys watching the world and human activity without any limiting mental concepts spoiling his or her perception. Naturally, we all have to evolve from the helpless state of babyhood, but to be able to tap into that wonderful ability and truly BE in the moment is immensely liberating.
Conscious breathing is being aware of the life breath that flows within and through us without any effort on our behalf. When we make a conscious choice to observe the life breath, enjoying and appreciating our breathing, we tame and calm the mind.
We observe that we are all in rhythm with the breath that we require in order to function and live in our bodies. Just as we are dependent on the sun to keep our planet fruitful and plentiful and just as the sun is connected to us, we too are all connected to the collective life breath.
When we meditate and honour our breathing, we realise that the life breath does not change and is the most consistent process in our lives. Our bodies change as we move through the various chapters of the life cycle. Our opinions, beliefs, perspectives and perceptions change. Even the transmutation of our planet evolves every second. However, the life breath remains constant until we draw our last breath. This indicates that the life breath transcends the polarity and changes in life.
Calmness negates exaggeration ― an excerpt from Mindfulness Burnout Prevention: An 8-Week Course for Professionals
Calmness is a quality that allows us to temper our emotions and communicate with people in a favourable way. Calmness is perhaps one of the finest qualities that we can access. You do not need to be a trained Zen master to be calm; however, an honest desire to realise equanimity and resilience is necessary to maximise your potential in the workplace.
Calmness can be realised in relaxed or alert states of consciousness and is a reflection of mindfulness. For instance, if you are a person who gets very easily excited, loses their temper too often or is repeatedly rattled by the slightest annoyance, your perception of reality will be exaggerated.
A thought life based on distortion and exaggeration can only lead to repeated misjudgements and unwise decisions. Naturally, this is not desirable in our professional lives. An ability to feel emotionally steady in the face of perceived victory or loss, boom and bust, can be called calmness or mindfulness realised in one’s consciousness.
Alter Your Brain in 10 Seconds: Mindfulness
I hope you’re well and flowing into the day with optimism, presence and equanimity. Awareness of the amazing capacity of the human brain is growing daily and there is increasing evidence of the huge benefits of mindfulness and emotional well-being.
One of the many steps we can take towards altering the brain to make ourselves feel happier, more appreciative and calmer is a very simple one. We can literally train ourselves to be happier. Neuropsychologist and writer, Dr. Rick Hanson, suggests that if we create a positive emotion such as gratitude and hold on to this feeling for 10 seconds (no less), the brain starts to rewire itself. The key is to do this several times a day and bathe the brain with appreciation.
To compliment this practise, if you can be utterly present in the moment without thinking for 10 seconds, you’ll be rewiring your brain and as a result, feel more peaceful and tranquil. It’s possible to not think for 10 seconds. For instance, we can sit at our desk or on the sofa and look at an object and give it our full and undivided attention.
As soon as we start to label or think about what we are looking at, we are not being present. At first, you might manage 5 seconds before mental chatter begins again. Thus, the more we practise, the longer we can widen the interludes of being present without thinking. This is the art of mindfulness in its fullest and most vibrant manifestation. We might find that we have a busier mind than we had previously recognised, nonetheless new awareness gives us an opportunity to improve.
I’ve been practising this and it works but it does require alertness and an intention to be present. As Professor of Neurology at Harvard, Dr Rudy Tanzi, wrote, “How you react to every experience modifies your neural network and, thus, the world you live in.”
- Put aside 10 seconds every couple of hours to feel grateful and sink into the emotion of appreciation to rewire your brain.
- Put aside 10 seconds to observe an object without mentally labelling or commenting on it. This will help you to create a sense of calm and to be present. The intention, after much practise, is to experience longer periods of presence awareness so that a new habit of full-time mindfulness can flow into your day-to-day affairs.
- Gently persist and flow with the present moment.
The Life Breath ― an excerpt from Mindfulness Meditation: Bringing Mindfulness into Everyday Life
The most efficient way to transcend unsettling thoughts is through the life breath. When we bring our full attention to the life breath, it becomes a gateway to access a deeper and higher level of awareness. We can see our aggressive and disturbing thoughts for what they really are: shallow, short-lived, frequently wrong and at times, comical. Therefore, pay attention to your breathing as often as possible. This is the bedrock to inner peace and tranquility. Anytime you are whisked away by a non-productive or negative thought, focus on your breathing.
This is why in the book, “Manifest Your Bliss: A Spiritual Guide to Inner Peace”, I wrote, “When meditating, let the thoughts come as they may whilst remaining alert. When you begin to get emotionally attached to a negative thought bring your attention back to your breathing”.
If you must take several deep breaths to start the process of mindfulness, do so. After several deep breaths, allow breathing to flow naturally, being aware of the process. This is a powerful way to uncover inner peace because it is impossible to be swept away with thoughts if we are purely focused on our breathing. This is why Thich Nhat Hanh, says, “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
The beauty of mindful-life-breath meditation is that you are not restricted to having to sit in the lotus position to be present. Whether you are on a busy train, driving a car or walking down a crowded high-street, you can easily remind yourself to focus on your breathing. Appreciate the subtle sensation of oxygen flowing in and out of your nostrils. You can be jostling with crowds at a busy train station, and yet be in the most blissful and serene state by honouring the present moment through paying attention to your breathing.
This is not to dismiss making a commitment to attend regular meditation groups or to sit down quietly on your own to practise mindfulness meditation. This simply means that you can be present throughout the day, not just at specific times, which is the true realization of mindfulness.
For instance, I have met quite a few men and women who attend mindfulness-based workshops and are excellent at sitting still in a group for an hour but when they leave their meditation group, they fall back into being unconscious and unaware of their busy minds. They fall back into being a subject of the human ego. This is part-time mindfulness.
The true purpose of attending a mindfulness meditation retreat or class is to remind ourselves to practise this way of life throughout the day. As mentioned in a previous chapter, I would suggest that you do attend a regular mindfulness class or meditation retreat but do not rest on your laurels by falling straight back into unconscious behaviour after the group has finished.
11 Great Reasons to Practice Mindfulness Meditation
The ancient practice of mindfulness meditation has once more found its way into many people’s lives in modern society. Neural-scientists have discovered the vast health benefits (both mental and physical) of this practise, something which had been uncovered by the early Zen masters over 2500 years ago. Mindfulness is helping millions of people across the planet to access tranquillity and serenity in an uncertain and unstable 21st Century.
Mindfulness has been an invaluable practice for me personally and helped turn a troubled, disconsolate, adolescent into a calm and emotionally balanced man. There are countless case studies which demonstrate the same positive results for people who were once deeply troubled by crippling anxiety and emotional imbalance and who, as a result of practising mindfulness meditation have been able to access peace of mind and also improve their physical health.
Sharpen your focus and the human mind
Mindfulness meditation helps us to focus on the present moment, meaning that we can honour our tasks with alertness. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/streams-of-consciousness/2013/02/18/a-surefire-way-to-sharpen-your-focus/
Many of us suffer distressing symptoms of anxiety such as panic attacks (I certainly used to!) – Thankfully, anxiety can be alienated by practising mindfulness meditation. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967
Reduce stress and day-to-day pressure
The daily grind of being human can take its toll on many people. However, stress can be reduced with a regular mindful practice. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/pages/mindfulness.aspx
Assists the treatment for heart disease
Heart disease is one of the biggest killers in modern day society. Much research into mindfulness assisting the treatment for heart disease is uncovering great results. http://www.ccjm.org/content/77/Suppl_3/S85.full.pdf+html
Improves the brain
Not only does mindfulness improve the human mind but it also enhances the human brain. How incredible! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/15/mindfulness-meditation-brain-integrative-body-mind-training_n_1594803.html
Lowers blood pressure
Meditating on a daily basis lowers our blood pressure. http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/10/16/mindfulness-based-stress-reduction-helps-lower-blood-pressure/60790.html
Reduces chronic pain
Many people suffer from chronic physical pain. There have been many case studies of mindfulness helping to reduce physical pain. http://psychcentral.com/lib/using-mindfulness-to-approach-chronic-pain/00016290
We all require a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep has all sorts of dysfunctional effects on the human being. Practising mindfulness meditation in the evening is a great way to sleep peacefully. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sleepless-in-america/201401/mindful-sleep
Enhances self-awareness and mental and emotional well-being
Self-awareness is everything. It is the core foundation of our lives and governs our perspectives and perceptions of reality. Through a regular mindfulness practise in everyday life, self-awareness and emotional well-being are enhanced. http://selfdeterminationtheory.org/SDT/documents/2003_BrownRyan.pdf
Reduces feelings of hate and enhances love
No-one can be happy and peaceful while harbouring ill feeling towards oneself or towards others. Scores of research show that mindfulness enhances empathy, compassion and love. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/02/meditation-compassion-do-good_n_2993793.html?utm_hp_ref=healthy-living
Slows the aging process down
UCSF study suggests a possible link between mind wandering and aging, by looking at a biological measure of longevity. http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2012/11/13153/wandering-minds-associated-aging-cells
Meditation Techniques (Part 1) ― an excerpt from Manifest Your Bliss: A Spiritual Guide to Inner Peace
There are a number of techniques to play around with to bring bliss to the surface of your consciousness. Try these for yourself and have fun exploring the different technologies of being still. Gently rub your hands together in order to feel your life energy flow through the body and bring your full awareness to your thumbs and fingers. This takes your attention away from drifting off into compulsive thinking and back into the present moment. Or you can move your toes around, while focusing on the life breath. The movement of the human body, while paying attention to your breathing will bring you back into bliss-presence.
When drying your body after a bath or a shower, rather than going on auto-pilot, slow down and observe your body, as your hand holds the towel and dries off the water drops. This type of meditation can be practised on a daily basis and will clear the mental fog of obsessive thinking. When you write with a pen, try to slow down and feel every letter and word that you are putting onto paper. Observe the plain paper come alive with ink as you direct the pen from left to the right. You will notice that your hand-writing is far more pleasant to read and will help to quieten noisy thoughts.
When you tie your shoe laces, slow down, be calm and feel every movement in your hands. Bring your attention to the rhythm of your fingers moving, while enjoying your breathing.
When you are preparing food or making a fresh salad, as you chop the cucumber, slow down the pace of cutting the vegetables and observe the motion of every slice separating from the main source of food. Even when you are washing a salad with water, observe the bright textures and illuminating colours. Observe the lettuce, carrots, peppers, onions, spinach, tomatoes and cucumber. They all have their own unique shape and energy vibrating off them.
Meditation Techniques (Part 2) ― an excerpt from Manifest Your Bliss: A Spiritual Guide to Inner Peace
Another powerful meditation technique is to be aware of the awareness, observing the flow of compulsive thinking. When mental images play on the screen of your mind, observe them without judging (don’t identify yourself with them). Let the thoughts come as they may whilst being aware that you are not your thoughts.
When you begin to get emotionally attached to a thought (a mental image) bring your attention back to your breathing. This will give you clarity and a clear, pure and calm awareness that will manifest in your day-to-day activities. By practising this technique as often as possible, you will no longer be reacting but instead, will be responding to what life delivers. You will no longer be on “auto-pilot”.
When an aggressive or destructive thought enters the mind, you will be quick to dis-identify from it, due to your level of awareness, thanks to meditation. You will be able to quickly realize that, “I am not those thoughts”. When meditating, let the thoughts come as they may whilst remaining alert. When you begin to get emotionally attached to a negative thought bring your attention back to your breathing. The life breath is one of the richest and most magnificent gifts that we possess. All of us share the same oxygen, which resonates with the eternal realization of Oneness.
Most people’s breathing is very shallow, which perpetuates anxiety and produces aggressive thoughts. As you flow into the habit of focusing on the life breath, you will naturally learn how to breathe again which, will become the bedrock to inner peace.
Transcending the search for external perfection ― an excerpt from Mindfulness Meditation: Bringing Mindfulness into Everyday Life
Listen to most people’s complaints. They resent their work because they believed that there job would bring them joy. Ironically, when they do attract their dream career, they complain about new obstacles that have appeared which they did not anticipate. People complain about their partner or friends because of an unconscious expectation that their partner or friends were supposed to bring them happiness. This lack of awareness causes most of our problems, and could so easily be resolved with a slight shift in our awareness.
The search for the “perfect human being” will always result in disappointment. All human beings make mistakes and we all have areas in our lives which will never be as developed as they are in others.
On the other hand, we have great gifts and assets which could make others feel inferior. Therefore, a present human being will accept this and not try to pigeon-hole or judge people based on mentally conceptualized ideas. On a higher level of awareness, where everything is perfect in the nowness of consciousness, no thought activity is necessary in order to appreciate the richness and beauty of life. However, on a lower level of awareness (operating from the mind), there will always be faults and contrasts to find in each other.
The shift is a realization that happiness is a state of being. This is why in the book, “Manifest Your Bliss: A Spiritual Guide to Inner Peace”, I wrote, “Happiness is our natural state of being that cannot be found in anything external. Once we stop “searching” for joyful feelings in people and things, no matter what polarity the external world brings us (positive or negative), we can still be aware of the inner peace that resides in our consciousness”.
Higher levels of life ― an excerpt from Mindfulness Meditation: Bringing Mindfulness into Everyday Life
When we explore our awareness and reach higher realizations of pure consciousness, we are able to witness our minds in action. Mindful living raises us to higher levels of awareness that not even the most gifted intellectual minds can access if they do not honour the present moment.
Unless a human being is able to monitor and observe his thoughts, no matter how skilled he may be at dissecting information or memorising knowledge, he cannot access intuitive breakthroughs nor can he ever be truly at peace with himself. But where do inspirational thoughts and ground-breaking ideas appear from? Thought is certainly not a by-product of the brain. A thought is an image we see. For instance, if you were to think of a lake, you would see a lake in your mind’s eye, however there is no lake in your brain.
Your brain acts as a screen for thoughts to be projected onto. The brain does not produce thoughts and yet thoughts have a direct impact on the brain and how our neural networks behave. We know in modern neuroscience that repeated thoughts, compounded by a coherent behavioural structure, change our neural networks which, in turn, begins to alter our perception of reality. As a result, our cognitive behaviour can change to produce higher expressions of life such as developing an abundance mindset, becoming loving and compassionate and having a deeper appreciation for being of service to one another in a harmonious way.
When we are able to reconstruct our thought-life, we not only affect our brain but directly impact the lives of others. Through mindfulness we can directly improve the prefrontal cortex in the frontal lobes of our brains, transforming ourselves into highly effective and peaceful human beings. Whenever we still the mind of thought, we allow the brain to access the highest level of awareness. As we still our thoughts, we are allowing pure consciousness to bathe us with a joyful and blissful state of being. As written in the programme of Alcoholics Anonymous, “Our thought-life will be on a much higher plane when our thinking is clear of wrong motives”.
When we explore thought activity in our consciousness, we observe that our minds are instruments which are pilots of the brain, altering the feelings, emotions, behaviour and activities taking place in our cells. However, being the observer behind the activity of thought (thought that impacts the brain), we come to realize a stupendous power that transcends all of our worries, concerns and fears.
Thankfully, through expanding our consciousness we can also improve our physical health. All doctors now recognise that strain and stress on the human nervous system and body can produce all sorts of disease. Through being consciously aware and by monitoring stressful and uncreative thoughts, rather than emotionally attaching ourselves to them, we can prevent all sorts of stress-related illnesses.
The great sages and spiritual teachers from the early movements of self-awareness have pointed out to us our ability to explore consciousness. The Buddha revealed the illusions of the mind and Lord Krishna shared that, “When meditation is mastered, the mind is unwavering, like the flame of a lamp in a windless place”.
Can mindfulness heal trauma & negative memories? ― an excerpt from Mindfulness Meditation: Bringing Mindfulness into Everyday Life
Accessing the present moment cannot change past events that have occurred. If we have been mentally, emotionally, sexually or physically abused, the memory of this will affect our behaviour (particularly when the thought of the event is very intense). Mindfulness cannot erase a potential reality that manifested through you because the entire field of life has infinite potential realities. The Hollywood film “It’s a Wonderful Life”, illustrates beautifully the potential for differing circumstances to unfold as a result of choosing an alternative course of action or making a different decision.
Therefore, whatever distressing memories you have cannot be entirely deleted from your consciousness. Scores of psychologists and psychiatrists have attempted to make such alterations, when treating people who have been sexually and/or physically abused or people who have suffered with grave emotional compulsions such as sex and love addiction and co-dependency. However, mindfulness can transcend any heavy or toxic memories of guilt, shame, inner rage and terror and open our awareness to the nowness of life where everything is realized as brand new, fresh, vibrant and joyful.
When a negative memory jolts us to act out in a dysfunctional pattern such as substance misuse, overeating or under eating, compulsively seeking sex, over-indulging in work or even exploding with fierce inner rage; if we are mindfully present and awake, we can see that the distressing memory is just a powerful thought trying to seduce us into irrational behaviour. The thought that drives us to relive someone abusing us can dissolve within seconds if we are not attached to it, meaning that by being able to observe the memory (being the witness behind thought activity), we are not identified with it. If we are no longer personally identified with a harmful thought or a tragic memory and can say to ourselves, “This is just a thought”, we transcend the toxic energy and realize we are free.
We might, for example, be enjoying watching a film, when all of a sudden, a negative memory is triggered resulting in a painful emotion. Through practising mindfulness, the ability to realize that it is just a thought is enough for the energy behind the memory to lose its power and momentum. Mindfulness does not erase negative memories; it transcends them giving us back our deepest power which resides in our hearts.
Even someone who has witnessed or experienced extreme violence can learn to detach from the distressing memories and no longer be enslaved by them. The story of “my trauma” is eventually accepted as “events that have happened but no longer have any power over me”.
Flowing into Peace ― an excerpt from Mindfulness Meditation: Bringing Mindfulness into Everyday Life
Peace of mind is essential for individual and collective tranquility and for love and fulfilment to be realized. Happiness, creativity, joy and compassion can only flow when we are peaceful within ourselves. All ancient and new spiritual traditions guide us to access inner peace so that we can be useful and effective human beings. Quality of life eludes us when we are consumed with anxiety and fear.
Consider a gifted musician who plays the piano beautifully. He might have the most incredible music to express and share with the world but unless his piano is properly tuned and able to function, the music cannot be expressed through his instrument.
Or a gifted poet who has an oasis of beautiful poems to contribute to the world but whose pen is broken so that no words can be written. Or imagine a beautiful lake that has a stream of fresh water flowing through it. If the stream is clogged with debris and litter it makes it extremely difficult for clean water to pass through, creating stagnation and pollution. Similarly, we must humble ourselves to be open to receive a new peaceful energy into our consciousness if we want to lead happy and fulfilling lives. We must open our minds and hearts to allow purity and a new creativity to flow within and through us.
We cannot share peace with the world if we are unable to realize it within ourselves and we certainly cannot express love if we have internal negative emotional blockages. External peace begins with inner peace, which is why Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within”, meaning that if we first address our mental conditioning in a harmonious way, we can enjoy a peaceful and abundant life. Similarly, The Dalai Lama XIV said, “We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves”.
Listening ― an excerpt from Mindfulness Meditation: Bringing Mindfulness into Everyday Life
When practising mindfulness, as with the realization of love, compassion and forgiveness, understanding ourselves and others becomes an essential way of being. Understanding brings us a great opportunity to practise compassion for other people’s perception of reality. It will be increasingly difficult to be of maximum service to the world if we cannot or will not be open-minded and understanding towards people who might “appear” to be different from ourselves. When we can love someone who is not like us, we are living mindfully.
Many of our family, social and professional troubles arise as a result of us feeling we are not being heard or listened to. Thus, we can often feel hurt or rejected. When someone feels that their feelings are being undermined or that they are not appreciated, resentment ensues. If this is not immediately addressed, mental contamination and hostility will manifest.Therefore, listening to others’ concerns and more importantly the feeling behind their words is the foundation for understanding others. This practise is imperative, more so than at any other time in human history due to the incredible technologies that have created fast and easy access to different cultures and spiritual practises.
Through interacting on the internet, we can tap into all sorts of collective perspectives from different countries, religions and even at the level of local and global politics. This is all wonderful but if we are not able to, or at least be willing to, understand others’ perceptions of reality, hostility and conflict will ensue.