Mindfulness Rewrites


Change Your Life with Mindfulness


Welcome to Mindfulness Rewrites,our blog which is focused on helping others achieve mindfulness in everyday life. I'm Linda Miles, Ph.D., and I've been a mindfulness practitioner for over 30 years. I use mindfulness in my personal life, as well as in my profession as a marriage and family therapist.

You may have found this blog because you heard about mindfulness and want to learn more about it. Or perhaps you stumbled upon it while looking for ways to cope with illness, addiction, stress, negative emotions, or other personal challenges. Either way, we’re glad you’re here!
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This post's topics: Understanding Mindfulness




Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Power of Meditative Prayer




þ  Do you find yourself feeling spiritually empty or confused?
þ  Do you ever wonder if or worry that you’re “not doing it right” when you’re seeking to connect with a higher power?
þ  Do you find it difficult to find the words or to articulate your feelings in prayer?

THE ART OF PRAYER

In 1886, Russian writer Leo Tolstoy penned the short story of the “Three Hermits,” a parable about the power of faith. The story follows the voyage of a bishop sailing through smooth waters to the Solovetsk Monastery in the company of other pilgrims; along the way, their ship comes across a little unnamed island where three unnamed hermits live “for the salvation of their souls,” as explained to the bishop by a resident fisherman. Upon the bishop’s request and after quite a bit of fuss, the captain is convinced to stall the ship and the bishop is rowed to the island and to meet the hermits.

Upon arriving on the island and meeting the three old men, the bishop promptly offers them his benediction and an offer to mentor them. When the bishop asks the hermits about their method of prayer, the hermits reply with apparently the simplest prayer that the bishop has ever heard: “Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us!”
For the bishop, this very simple mantra does not suffice. “You have evidently heard something about the Holy Trinity,” he tells them, “but you do not pray aright … That is not the way to pray; but listen to me, and I will teach you.” And he begins to teach them the customary Lord’s Prayer as found in the Scriptures. The hermits doggedly repeat the prayer after him, trying their very best to memorize it despite their age and feebleness.
At day’s end, the bishop sets out towards the ship again, blessing the hermits and bidding them to pray as he’d taught them. As the boat approaches the ship, he can hear the voices of the hermits, carried over the water, as they determinedly repeat the Lord’s Prayer over and over in order to remember it. Near dawn the very next day, hours after the ship sets sail once more, the bishop—sitting on the deck and unable to sleep—witnesses a miraculous sight: “the three hermits running upon the water, all gleaming white, their grey beards shining, and approaching the ship.” The pilgrims wake; they, too, are unable to believe their eyes.
The three hermits, running on the water “as though it were dry land,” call out to the bishop that they have come to him because they forgot all the words to the Lord’s Prayer and wished for him to teach them again.
The bishop, humbled, crosses himself and bows before the hermits with genuine humility, realizing and admitting to them that “your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Pray for us sinners.” The ship sails off and leaves the three hermits in peace to return—still gliding over the waves—to their island and their pious lifestyle. 
“True prayer is measured by weight, not by length. A single groan before God may have more fullness of prayer in it than a fine oration of great length.” –C. H. Spurgeon

NOW


When the bishop first met the hermits, he attempted to teach them to pray “the right way”, spending hours with the hermits and trying to make them memorize the unfamiliar words. Instead, the encounter taught him an enormous lesson: that the formality or the form of prayer matters far less than the authenticity and whole-heartedness of a prayer, whatever it may be and in whatever form. Far better an illiterate man’s genuine, heartfelt prayer than a “cultured” man’s formal yet pretentious, judgmental, or absentminded prayer.
®    Notice The bishop’s first encounter with the hermits is indicative of the manner in which he initially approached prayer and how he judged the ways in which other people connected with God. It was only after he saw the miracle of the three humble hermits walking across water—an echo of the Biblical miracle of Jesus walking on water—that he realized how much more pious and heartfelt their own illiterate or seemingly foolish prayers were. He noticed that he had been set in his ideas and had lacked the flexibility and humility to accept different—and, very likely, better—ways of praying.
®    Opportunities… Once the bishop realized that the hermits’ simple yet faithful prayer was obviously blessed and “right” in the eyes of God, he had the opportunity to change his own mentality and approach.
®    Within... The greatest lesson the bishop would ever give would be the one he accepted and taught himself through witnessing the humbling power of the hermits. He realized that he was wrong to have judged the hermits for their different methods. This inner realization unleashed within humility and the graciousness to admit that he was wrong, and that he was neither worthy nor needed to teach the hermits; that they, instead, had been his teachers. This was clearly a journey that would forever change him.
“In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” –John Bunyan


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Friday, June 8, 2018

Navigating Through Emotional Upheaval: From Prejudice to Peace



þ  Do you cling to grievances?
þ  Do you harbor abusive, negative, or otherwise toxic thoughts against your partner—or anyone else?
þ  Do you marinate in perceived slights? Do you feel yourself helplessly inclined to wallow in hurt feelings even when a part of you suspects that your perceptions may not indeed be well-rounded or correct?

PREJUDICE SHATTERED, LOVE UNLEASHED
In her seminal novel Pride and Prejudice, the beloved 19th century English novelist Jane Austin explores the damage that can result from too much egoism or—as the book title itself insinuates—prejudicial thinking.
The protagonist of the novel, Elizabeth Bennett, is a young spunky woman who, being the second of five daughters in a relatively poor but upstanding British family, has the “nerve” to desire to marry for love. Acclaimed throughout the novel for her good-natured impertinence, wit, and social intuition, Elizabeth nonetheless falls prey to her prejudices concerning Mr. Darcy, a wealthy gentleman who slights her at a ball when he refuses to dance with her. She later overhears him saying some rather derogatory comments about her, further adding insult to injury. Her pride is offended by his ego and snobbery, and she promptly slams the door to a future relationship.
“I have faults enough,” Darcy vouches for himself later, within Elizabeth’s presence, “but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for it. It is, I believe, too little yielding—certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of other so soon as I ought, nor their offenses against myself […] my temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.”[1]
In time—spoiler alert!—Mr. Darcy actually finds himself attracted to Elizabeth and tries to make amends. He proposes marriage to her, only to be confronted by her with examples of his pride and snobbery. To his credit, Mr. Darcy is able to take stock of his effect on others and indeed does make amends. Ultimately, Elizabeth is forced to confront her own closed mind, prejudices, and her unwillingness to forgive him. Only when they both examine their own personal foibles and overcome them can they clearly acknowledge and appreciate one another, and can then envision a future together. Mr. Darcy proposes again; this time Elizabeth accepts.

“‘Your defect is a propensity to hate everybody.’
‘And yours,’ he replied with a smile, ‘is willfully to misunderstand them.’”
-Pride and Prejudice

NOW
Pride and Prejudice examines the everyday biases and prejudices that are both innate to the human condition and further emphasized by societal and cultural conditioning. Jane Austen breathes to life a colorful cast of characters who grow through the examination of their own faults and fall-outs, revealing how true character development can only happen through self-analysis, forgiveness, and love. As Darcy and Elizabeth discovered, we all have the choice to break through old stereotypes and biases, and to subsequently liberate ourselves and embrace those around us. We have the power to align ourselves every day with our personal chosen values.
The NOW strategy, as applied here, can enable us to do this…
²  Notice. It’s important to notice and acknowledge our personal strengths and weaknesses. “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone” applies in every scenario—especially regarding relationships. Darcy and Elizabeth would have never been able to cultivate or maintain their love without self-examination.
²  Opportunities. Although they certainly did not understand this initially, the moment when their paths crossed was a huge crossroads for both Darcy and Elizabeth. They had the opportunity to grow upon meeting each other. In relationships, as in any circumstance of our lives, we always have the choice to become either better or bitter.
²  Within. Darcy and Elizabeth had to wrestle with their own demons before approaching each other with clearer minds and open hearts. There’s always room for improvement, they say, and self-improvement is the biggest room in the house. Clearing out toxic energy makes way for positive emotions and healthy attitudes.  

THE PATH TO MINDFULNESS
A 2004 University of North Carolina study of “relatively happy, nondistressed couples” showed that couples who practiced mindfulness saw notable improvements to their degree of “relationship happiness”. In addition, they experienced improved and healthier levels of “relationship stress, stress coping efficacy, and overall stress”. This is because mindfulness is a conscious practice that fosters compassion for one’s self and for others.
We’re human; conflicts are an inevitable part of life’s journey. In a relationship where two individual characters must compromise and collaborate together in constant close proximity, it’s natural that we won’t always see eye to eye with one another. Imagine such an instance, when your stress or negative emotions are triggered by something your partner says and does (and by your ensuing reaction). 
Anger is an immediate response and bitterness is the path; These emotions call forth reactions instead of principled responses. So many regrettable thoughts and actions happen in such moments. I once did a talk in a bookstore and noted that the phrase “Sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us” was inaccurate—thoughtless and cruel words can cause lasting damage, leaving emotional scars that fester long after broken bones have been healed. There was a songwriter in the audience named Sarah Malcom; she subsequently wrote a song entitled: “Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Can Break My Soul.”
Instead of holding on to this negativity, you can consciously choose to behave differently. Let’s visualize it together. Picture yourself in that heated moment when you are flooded with anger, resentment, and judgement. What if you were able to feel and acknowledge those emotions without reacting destructively toward yourself or your partner?
 Remember that you don’t need to be physically or even verbally abusive to be violent. Even thoughts can be destructive, especially because they are inadvertently reflected in our attitudes and behaviors. For instance, you will become withdrawn and critical during an argument when you’re thinking toxic thoughts. The other person’s negativity feeds off yours, and vice versa, and before you know it you’ve probably both said or done regrettable things.
Practice observing your brewing emotions and thoughts without getting caught up in them. And instead, why not strike when the iron is cold? Let yourself cool down and cool off, and share your feelings and thoughts when you are ready and are capable of clarity and compassion.
You won’t regret it.

“Prejudice of any kind implies that you are identified with the thinking mind. It means you don’t see the other human being anymore, but only your own concept of that human being. To reduce the aliveness of another human being to a concept is already a form of violence.” –Ekhart Tolle

PRACTICE
Imagine that you are on a sailboat in the ocean, and navigating these waves is the course of life. No matter how well you adjust the sails or gun the engine, you’ll inevitably be blown off course sometimes. The most capable fishermen and sailors understand that sometimes the best thing you can do—or the only thing you can do—is to simply ride out the storm. Let the feelings blow through you and then pass. Ride out your mental storm. It’s just a cascade of chemicals, you know, based on fear. These are just waves that wash over you. Haven’t you noticed that it’s much easier to stay afloat when you relax your body rather than when you tense up and panic in the water?
Embrace the storms, then, on your journey. Don’t resist them, but don’t let yourself drown within their drama either. Keep yourself grounded with these mantras:
Storms always pass. There is no need to panic or fear.
Ride out the storm. Feelings blow through me… feelings blow out of me…
Later I will analyze the storm. Now I need only observe it. Now I will hang on and pull through.
Later, you will have the clarity of mind to sit down and better analyze the storm, and to understand what caused it. You can also discover the lessons you learned by observing the storm: what feelings and resistance did you notice? What helped you pull through? How could you make this transition easier in the future?
Use the storm as an opportunity to gain new skills to temper your emotional upheavals. Above all, remember that storms are a part of life, but you have the power to navigate your way through them. You will always return to calm clear skies.

 “Obstacles do not block the path; they are the path.” –Anonymous





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Friday, June 1, 2018

Out of Your Head and Into Your Soul


out of your head and into your soul

“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” –Jon Kabat-Zinn
. . .
Do you fear that you’re missing out on life?
Are you waiting for something? To be loved? To be successful? To be happy?
Do you often feel like life is simply carrying you along, as something beyond your control?

In ancient Greek mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful youth who caught sight of his reflection in a pond one day and became completely enamored with it. It is said that he lay down by the water to gaze at his face, growing obsessed with his own image. Since he was unable to obtain the object of his desire, he died where he lay, overcome by grief. Sounds pathetic, but in many instances it’s a frighteningly accurate metaphor. The term “narcissist” is derived from this myth, and it tellingly refers to a person who is self-enamored and self-preoccupied, often to an obsessive and dangerous degree.

In his novella The Beast in the Jungle, author Henry James introduces us to exactly such a character: John Marcher, an extremely self-centered young man who is convinced that he has been selected by fate for a special event that will occur in his lifetime. He encounters a sensitive and intelligent young woman, May Bartram, who listens to John’s theory concerning his personal foreboding and conviction that he’s destined for greatness. May offers her friendship and agrees to watch and wait with John until this special fate comes to fruition. For many years, John sits idly and refuses to let May get close to him, ignoring the love of a good woman and killing time as he waits for his “spectacular fate”.

The story unravels to become a tale of lost life and lost love; it is only after May dies that John realizes that he’s missed most of his life—and the opportunity for true love—while waiting for a rare, strange, and self-concocted “event” that never happens. By living in his head and focusing on a fantasy, he missed the true meaning of life. He missed out on friendship, love, purpose, adventure, discovery, and self-growth. Gambling for nothing, he lost everything.

Narcissists typically do not empathize nor can they appreciate the beauty of the life that surrounds them. They exist at the opposite end of the spectrum as opposed to mindfulness. John “woke up” when May died; this was the emotional event that triggered his realization—too late—that life extended beyond himself.

Mindfulness is about exactly that: waking up to the world and connecting with life.
. . .
“By breaking down our sense of self-importance, all we lose is a parasite that has long infected our minds. What we gain in return is freedom, openness of mind, spontaneity, simplicity, altruism: all qualities inherent in happiness.” –Mathieu Ricard
. . .
As a teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the University of Massachusetts’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, Jon Kabat-Zinn says: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” By cultivating conscious awareness of the present moment, we extract ourselves from our own toxic thought patterns. By learning to sense and see and appreciate life, we need not regret an unfulfilled existence. Mindfulness is a practice that can immediately ground us back into the world, helping us delve within ourselves while simultaneously shifting us beyond ourselves.
As mindfulness is all about “living in the now”, the idea suitably circles back to the NOW philosophy:

     Notice.


Look around you and experience the life and love that surrounds you. It is right beside you! If you haven’t seen it, open your eyes and your mind. It’s easy to remove those mental blinders and barriers, as long as you truly want to.

Opportunities.


Seek out and you shall find opportunities to grow and connect with life without judging yourself. By staying in the moment with those who are nearest and dearest to us, we can cultivate compassion, love, kindness, and morality within us—and then extend this compassionate attitude towards others.

Within.


By becoming more mindful, you will achieve a stronger inner peace. It is foremost beneficial to you, and then—from you—it explodes tenfold out into the world around you. You can be deeply affected by the people around you, and can gain insight from and power over their thoughts; never forget that this is mutual—so work to make a positive impact.
. . .
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” –James Baraz
. . .
Not sure where to start? Dr. Kabat-Zinn lists the following simple exercises as key components to mastering mindfulness:

  • Pay attention to your breathing in the present moment.
  • Notice what you’re sensing right now—use all of your senses. What can you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste? Increase your awareness of your body’s physical sensations to better ground yourself in the moment.
  • Understand that your thoughts and emotions are like clouds. They will come and go and will always pass through; they need not define you.
  • Keep a look-out for negative thought patterns so that you recognize them and then can make changes.


Get out of your head and get into your soul. Don’t waste life—live it. And begin living it now. If you do it now, you will always have time.
. . .
“In this moment, there is plenty of time. In this moment, you are precisely as you should be. In this moment, there is infinite possibility.” –Victoria Moran
. . .


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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Sexual Healing Through Mindfully Being


  • Do you often feel repressed emotionally or physically, and unable to find a way to release pent-up emotions?
  • Are you unable to savor the present moment when trying to connect with your significant other? Do you feel helpless in expressing yourself or incapable of helping others open up to you?
  • Have you found yourself unable to connect sexually and meaningfully in your relationships?



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THE TOXICITY OF REPRESSION

In his novella On Chesil Beach, award-winning author Ian McEwan introduces us to a young virgin couple—Edward and Florence—who are staying at a beachside hotel on the night of their honeymoon. The author transports us back to 1962 (ironically enough, on the chronological cusp of America’s sexual revolution). Within the pages of this book, he explores the communication problems, missed opportunities, and the inability of this couple to express and discuss their sexual issues and needs. Though “well-suited” for each other, the two of them suffer from an inability to effectively communicate their emotions, fears, and needs.

As a result, their wedding night turns into a travesty due to deep misunderstanding, painful past conditioning, and ensuing defensiveness. Florence, sexually abused by her father as a child, has a post-traumatic experience when attempting sex with her husband; Edward, anxious to consummate the marriage, prematurely ejaculates. Both are flooded with shame, and they each deal with it by blaming one other caustically. They have no language to discuss their sexual history, differences, or desires. Worse, they have no words to work through their conflict. As a result, they dissolve their marriage quickly, not even able to express their ultimate regret...

“On Chesil beach he could have called out for Florence, he could have gone after her. He did not know, or would not have cared to know, that as she ran away from him, certain in her distress that she was about to lose him, she had never loved him more, or more hopelessly, and that the sound of his voice would have been a deliverance, and she would have turned back. Instead he stood in cold and righteous silence in the summer’s dusk, watching her hurry along the shore, the sound of her difficult progress lost in the breaking of small waves, until she was a blurred, receding point against the immense straight road of shingle gleaming in the pallid light.”

“Life is precious, and mindfulness gives us the tools to live deeply, to connect authentically, and to open our hearts fully.” –Meena Srinivasan

NOW

There’s a saying that sex is only 10% of a good relationship and 90% of a bad one. The fact that you’ve probably heard this phrase—or something like it—or could easily Google it online right now is not coincidental. A few decades ago, a sexual revolution—a time period which, in the U.S., is perceived to have begun in the 1960s—erupted within society, challenging old myths and mindsets of the why, what, and how of sex and sexuality. And while our society has indeed come a long way in its willingness and capability to acknowledge, discuss, and appreciate this most vulnerable, intimate, complex, and essential element in a healthy romantic relationship, there is still much misunderstanding and miscommunication around the issue.

Mindfulness helps us discuss the nature of our darker side; we learn to shine a light on unresolved conflicts and to lay our cards on the table. In this way, it can greatly help in dealing with sexual feelings, repression, fears, and desires. Walking through the acronym NOW, we discover how the process unfolds:

  • Notice. In On Chesil Beach, Edward and Florence could have saved themselves so much heartache if they’d only noticed their conflicting emotions—before, during, or even after the catastrophic beginning of their honeymoon. If they’d been aware of these feelings and had acknowledged them, they’d have the chance to discuss them and could have cultivated mutual understanding and compassion.
  • Opportunities. This was an opportunity where both partners could bare their souls and really get to know one another. They’d be vulnerable, honest, and accepting—and, in doing so, more powerful and loving and lovable than ever before. They could have been each other’s loving witnesses to hurts, fears, and inner turmoil.
  • Within. If they could have developed the ability to explore their thoughts and hearts, and become aware of the defenses and unresolved hurts that they’d accumulated inside of them, they would not have felt the need to attack each other. They would have realized that their hurtful defensiveness would have been a faulty mechanism to get rid their toxic shame—and they would have had the opportunity to choose another way.


THE PATH TO MINDFULNESS

Edward and Florence’s experience is not, unfortunately, contained in fiction. The struggle is real and more common than you might have imagined. Yet as catastrophically as their story unravels, the solution to their issues is straightforward. If either of them could have noted their conflictual emotions and brought them to light, if they could have practiced mindfulness and compassion instead of defensiveness and fear, and if they could have responded to their conflict in a way that made them better instead of bitter, they could have saved and strengthened their relationship. Mindfulness is the practice that promotes self-compassion and empathy for others. Regarding the issue of sex—intensely personal and fraught with possibilities for misunderstand—mindfulness can provide a tremendous breakthrough to create and maintain and loving, lasting union.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet explores the power of words; the term “poison in the ear” refers to the capability of language to wound. We all carry emotional and mental baggage within us, consciously and subconsciously, and it’s essential to examine the source of our thoughts and emotions instead of mindlessly flinging our luggage upon our significant others. Communicating mindfully is the antidote to that “poison.”

“His anger stirred her own and she suddenly thought she understood their problem: they were too polite, too constrained, too timorous, they went around each other on tiptoes, murmuring, whispering, deferring, agreeing. They barely knew each other and never could because of the blanket of companionable near-silence that smothered their differences and blinded them as much as it bound them.” –On Chesil Beach

PRACTICE

As a family and marriage therapist, I recommend a practice called Sensate Focus. Originally recommended by Masters and Johnson, this term refers to a set of specific sexual exercises that are used to cultivate intimacy and compassion between couples. Participants are encouraged to focus on their own personal experiences—tuning in to all their physical senses—and increasing their awareness of their own and their partner’s needs and desires. The focus is on an exchange of affection and connection; the objective is not to orgasm as much as it is to intimately and physically connect with the other person in the moment.

Typically, the couple is instructed to pleasure one another in a mindful way, avoiding intercourse so as to focus on the sensual awareness of their partner’s skin and mindfully connect in the present moment. As a result, the sex itself generally and significantly improves, as the act is now based upon newfound trust, appreciation, connection, and purpose. Had Edward and Florence taken the time to really get to know each other, appreciating and understanding and respecting one another, their love and empathy would have freed them from shame and blame.

They could have created a meaningful connection through—quite literally—sexual healing.

“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” –Lao Tzu
Discover more about mindfulness in "Change Your Story: Change Your Brain." 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Choosing Joy: Using Mindfulness to Increase Joy in Life


Do you want more joy in your life?
Do you dwell on the negative in your day?
Do you want to live more in the present moment?

For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-lived life.
                                          Melville


Leah, a middle-aged administrative assistant, had a history of depression. She had experienced problems in her past relationships and isolated herself because she felt like a loser. She did not want to repeat that pattern, but her new partner began to complain that she was always negative.
Leah sought help to learn mindfulness to help her become aware of her negative thought patterns. She tended to apply a negative filter to her thinking. Cognitive psychologists have found that this type of despondent thinking is prevalent in those with depression and can be changed. Negative filter thinking refers to when we focus on the negative and discount the positive. The brain is like glue for negative and Teflon for positive. Leah started to notice the Teflon effect when she was given compliments or positive attention, and she observed the frequency of sticky negative thoughts.
 Leah realized that she learned this way of thinking as she grew up and the fact that she could change her thinking and behavior gave her hope. Many people were raised in households with little joy and ample negative thought and behavioral patterns. Our models for thinking about the world are formed at young ages and become unconscious. By gently shining a light on inner-injurious thoughts without judging herself, Leah was able to become aware of why she felt and acted as she did. Through her practice of mindfulness, she could live more fully in the present moment.
 By slowing down and experiencing the moment it is possible to feel more alive, and you'll find that sensory perceptions are heightened. It is too easy to rush through life and not take a few minutes to enjoy the simple things. Leah began a practice of staying in the present moment and experiencing joy in simple acts like washing dishes. She let herself take in the lemony aroma of the soap. She slowed down for a few special moments to experience the feeling of the soap on her hands. By developing mindfulness skills she learned to be able to focus on the now and the pleasure of the moment. Joyful moments began to be sticky while her negative thinking became more like Teflon. Since thought and feelings are meant to come and go, she practiced letting go of  the detrimental glue of her negative preoccupation. As her focus changed to appreciation and celebration of life, she began to notice joy, love, and miracles in the everyday.

As Leah's inner experience began to change, she smiled more and spoke more positively about life. Relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman has shown that couples who thrive over time have a 5 to 1 ratio of positive interactions over negative ones. Leah's relationship improved as her negative filter weakened and she could expand her experience of  joy. Research has shown that mindfulness practice can help those suffering with depression. Symptoms of depression are reduced with a regular practice and parts of the brain associated with negative arousal shrink in size. Volume and activity in brain centers associated with calm awareness are increased.



Choosing Joy 

  • Savoring moments of joy, like holding the hand of a baby, playing with a puppy, or stepping on fall leaves becomes a thought habit and the brain likes to repeats habitual ways of thinking.  
  • The feeling of joy is a practice; As you practice, your brain wires neural networks to fire in the direction of joyful thinking.
  • As neuroscientist Dr. Wayne Drevets observed, “In the brain practice makes permanent." Fortunately because of neuorplasticity, we can reroute our brains in the direction of gladness at any age. 
  • Notice if your thoughts are Teflon for positive and glue for the negative. Imagine letting thoughts pass through your mind like clouds overhead.
  • Imagine a neural railway and that you're laying track toward enticing stations.
  • Look for joy in everyday things; open your eyes and imagination. Practice staying present in your body. Learn to focus as you experience moments in the day. Let your attention come into your senses as Leah did by smelling the soap when washing dishes and feeling her hands in the water.
  • Develop a simple practice of mindfulness and practice it daily to increase your ability to feel joy in the moment. So much of life is spent replaying what happened in the past or imagining what might happen in the future that people do not fully experience the present.
  • As you practice mindfulness you begin to realize that you can choose joy in the moment by getting away from repeating negative thought patterns and using your senses to fully experience the gifts of the present moment.


Your Turn

Take a moment to close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Breathe deeply using your diaphragm. Let your attention scan your body. Notice places of tightness or tension. Imagine that the tension is a knot and in your mind release the knot gently. Let it go. Feel the tension loosen.
Imagine a time when you were very happy. Allow yourself to experience that feeling. How does your body change as you recall this memory? Open your eyes and look around the room until you see something that gives you pleasure—a picture, a book, flowers. Allow your attention to linger on that sensation.
Train your brain to go to places of peace and joy. Set an intention to focus on joy instead of attack thoughts. As you do this you may experience small changes in your mood. Over time, your ability to choose joy and peace of mind will increase.
You will find if you practice this throughout the day, even for a moment at a time, you will see objects in more detail and begin to experience peaceful joy.
            There is no right way to practice noticing your past thoughts and recreating them in the present. Keep trying this until it feels right for you. This is a very simple practice, however most people do not do it long enough to really make a difference. Make a commitment to set a time to practice. You can set a chime to ring on your phone as a reminder. You can do this alone or with others.

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