Seize The Moment (A Friendly Message In A Bottle)

A fresh perspective often helps. It is like placing a new operating system into a computer that is not working right. Our older, more habitual ways of thinking and being take ahold of us really quick and before we know it we are sucked in and being held hostage by them. All logic goes out the window and once again we are lost in habitual negative thought (rumination). This is why I thought I would send you this friendly message in a bottle.

Seize the moment! The moment is all you ever really have. If you really examine all those worries spinning around in your mind, how many are actually happening right now? How many of your worries are actually grounded in the reality of this moment? How many of your previous worries have actually turned out that way you thought they would? (Probably none or at least very few.) It is important to ask yourself these questions if you want to seize the moment.

It might sound harsh but believe it or not most people just want to remain stuck and live in despair. Emerson called this a quiet life of desperation. When it really comes down to it, most of us just want to keep doing what we have been doing, just stay stuck. Things seem easier this way. We don’t really want to try. We don’t really want to understand why we feel the way we do. We don’t want to see what is really going on because then we would be forced to change. “Waiter! Can I just have another drink please!”

Why are we like this? Continually just perpetuating our own unhappiness?

Fear.

Fear causes people to prefer consistency, security and practicality. What is that old saying? Fear disguises itself as practicality. Something like that. We prefer the practical. We want to play it safe so we can remain secure. But there is a big problem with this way of thinking. When we make choices from a place of fear and we let fear run our lives, we often end up living lives we are not happy about living. We end up in places we don’t want to be in.

But people seem to prefer security over living the life they really want to live. We want a scripted plan so that we do not have to deal with the uncertainty of the future. The irony is that uncertainty or the absence of security are always here. No one knows what is going to happen tomorrow no matter how scripted your life is. No one has control over the uncertainty of life no matter how good at worrying they are. There really is no security even though we work so hard to create it. Worry is often a main symptom of of the never ending striving to defeat uncertainty.

When we really are seizing the moment, living life fully- anything can happen at any moment. But being present in this moment, realizing that what we are worried about happening is not happening now, frees us up to live more fully in this moment. Whether you need a scripted life or you are able to accept the general uncertainty of life- the future rarely unfolds just how you think it will.

Mindfulness is a helpful practice because it helps us to be able to put fear aside so that we are not making choices from a place of fear. I know that many people think this sentiment is morbid but the truth is that you are going to die. Maybe tomorrow or maybe in sixty years. Whatever the case- it will always feel too soon, so why not do what you want to do? Why not live the life you want to live? Why not seize this moment and live this moment fully? Why keep putting this off because in this moment you insist on continuing to make choices from a place of fear?

Mindfulness practice allows us to sit down with ourselves, ground our attention in the present moment and see clearly what is actually going on now. We are then better able to make a logical and clear assessment of reality when we do this. We are better able to see through all of the worry, self-doubt, self-loathing, fear and push through these negative emotions. It is only by pushing through these more unpleasant emotions that we can then seize the moment and really begin to live the kind of life that authentically feels like a good fit for us right now.

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Mindfulness and “My” Depression

On Sunday, an old, familiar friend dropped by my house to say hello. I knew he was coming so I had some time to prepare. This old, familiar friend commonly goes by the name Depression. I prefer the name Melancholia but refer to him as Depression. Depression is a feeling of despair, a kind of “what is the point?” Depression feels similar to when you lose a game that you cared about winning. It is a feeling of ultimate defeat, a pain-filled turning inward into oneself because there is no place else you want to go.

There is an aspect of depression which is genetic. Depression runs deep in my family lineage. My grandfather did not leave his home the last twenty years of his life. He sat in his recliner listening to classical music and pretending to play a violin. A defeated classical musician no longer feeling any sense of purpose in the external world.

Depression is also situational. There is much to be joyful and grateful about but there is also equally as much to be depressed about. Depending on which direction the mind leans in will often determine how a person feels. For many like myself, life can be a continual seesaw ride, back and forth between depression and gratitude.

I don’t mind depression. There is a lot of beauty which can be found in this state. Sometimes I feel like it is a very honest assessment of the state of things. Depression can be very fertile creative ground. But sometimes depression can create as much physical pain as any bleeding wound would.

This is where I found myself on Sunday. Why was not nearly as important as the awareness that I was experiencing depression (emotional pain) and then the acceptance of it.

My practice of mindfulness is not about being a happier or better person. Thankfully I don’t have the expectation to feel more happiness, less depression and anxiety in my life the more I practice mindfulness (I did when I first started though). I think that the moment a person has an expectation that any practice will make them a happier, less anxious and less depressed person is often the moment a person gets discouraged with any kind of practice.

In its foundational form, mindfulness is the ability to keep our attention planted in the present moment. To be here. To live in the here and now rather than in the illusory future and past. The present moment is the terrain of mindfulness practice and the more a person practices the more they can hang out in the present moment, no matter what is happening.

Being present does not mean expecting things to be a certain way in the present moment. If I am anxious or depressed in the present moment and I do not like it or fight against it, this will only make things worse. Being present means being aware of whatever is arising in the present moment and accepting it as it is. Not attaching to it more than need be. Like a rainy day, since it is already here why not just accept it? Once we can accept, we can begin to move towards our baseline (a more grounded state of being).

Depression, anxiety, anger and many other difficult emotions tend to be very sticky. They stick to us and cause us to deeply identify with them. We refer to them as My depression, My anxiety, My anger and on and on. The very word My implies a future and a past. My is always attaching to every emotion and thought it has. My is the opposite of acceptance. What a dreadful state My can be!

The moment we are able to bring our attention into the present moment, My loosens its grip on whatever emotion it is carrying around. It realizes, “Oh things are not as terrible as I think,” and then it begins to loosen up.

Saying it is My depression is as inaccurate as the sky saying, “It is My cloud.” Nope! Just like emotions, clouds are continually moving across the sky. I suppose a cloud could somehow be blocked for a bit by the sky, but eventually it would dissipate. No matter how hard it tries, the sky can not hang on to clouds. Same with My and emotions! The moment we call it My depression or My anxiety, we block the emotion and keep it around for A LOT longer than need be. But eventually it passes no matter how attached we want to be. Are you still feeling the same emotion now that you felt last Saturday afternoon? Most likely not (unless you are still attaching My to it).

All emotions eventually pass. Whether it is the most painful depression or the greatest joy, it passes! I often think of mindfulness as a practice of hanging on in the present and letting things move through. Mindfulness is the ability to let emotions move through just like the sky allows the clouds to move through (sorry for the cliché analogy but it is early and my mind is not coming up with anything better). Mindfulness has nothing to do with being a happier and less depressed person. Ironically though- a sense of well-being and calm is what tends to happen more often when we are not attached to My emotion.

Ps…..I don’t feel depressed now.

How Mindfulness Changes A Life (For Good)

I was interviewed by a Los Angeles news channel. I never thought I would say that. I am not big on media. Have had no desire to be on the news. Don’t watch television. Try and ignore current events the best that I can. But when asked to come on the channel and be interviewed about what mindfulness is and how it can help with anxiety, I thought, Why not? Why not try and pass the information along to others who could possibly benefit from it?

It was ironic that I was there to talk about how mindfulness can help with anxiety since in that moment, I was applying the technique I was there to talk about. I was feeling anxious the moment I walked into the news studio. All the cameras and bright lights made me very aware that all eyes would be on me. Yikes! I was kindly greeted by a young lady and asked to sit in a chair while waiting my turn. She pointed out where I could get some complimentary coffee and donuts if I liked. I thanked her but decided to decline the potential panic attack that more coffee and a sugar-filled donut could generate in me.

As I sat in the chair, I noticed I was still feeling very anxious. Interesting, I thought. What was I anxious about? I realized I was worried that I would make a fool of myself. That I would say something wrong. Public humiliation. That I would mess up and be negatively judged by others. All kinds of negative thoughts were flooding my brain. Fortunately, I knew the difference between anxiety and fear. Fear is a perfectly natural human emotion that is the result of an immediate threat. Anxiety is the expectation of a future threat. It is normal and even beneficial for a person’s survival to feel fear but the emotion of fear does not need to turn into anxiety. Anxiety just makes us unwell.

I reminded myself that, “Right now, I am fine. None of the potential threats I am imagining in my head are happening. In this moment everything is ok.” This helped me to pull back from my thoughts, become aware of reality (where I was in the present moment instead of being caught up in the imagined future inside my head) and ground myself in the right here, right now. My nervousness dissipated. My blood pressure and heart rate went down. I felt much better. I then felt like I could cope with whatever challenges lay ahead.

Before I went on, there was an entomologist being interviewed about bugs and the outbreak of a certain kind of insect that may destroy all the palm trees in Los Angeles. Then there was the head of LATrump.com who was talking about how wonderful Donald Trump is and how sketchy Hillary is. Since I am not a supporter of Donald Trump but respect everyone’s right to their own opinion and position, I had to use all of my mindfulness muscles to feel my feet on the ground, follow my breathing and not say, “You really believe this?” Once the Trump supporter (who seemed like a very nice lady) was done being interviewed, the newscaster said something like, “Well ok. That’s a lot! Very intense. Thank goodness up next we have Randall Sokoloff, a mindfulness teacher, who can help teach us all about how to calm down.” I laughed under my breath at how ridiculous this sounded.

Once it was my turn, I sat in the chair behind the news desk. The newscasters said hello to me and one asked how to pronounce my last name. The lady who was putting the microphone on me said, “So what is this mindfulness thing? Is it some sort of religious or spiritual thing?” I said, “No.” “Is it a metaphysical thing like being hypnotized?” “Hypnotized, are you kidding me?” I said. I couldn’t help myself. “It is the opposite of being hypnotized. It is about being right here, right now.” She looked at me like I was nuts, so I took the opportunity to elaborate. “Just become aware of your feet on the ground. Just come out of being so caught up in your thoughts right now and notice your feet on the ground. That’s mindfulness” She looked confused. She looked down at her feet. I don’t think she got it. I let it go.

The newscasters talked to me a little bit about what I did and seemed very interested. I asked one of the newscasters, “If I mess up could we do a retake?” She gave me a look and told me that everything would be fine, to just go ahead and use my mindfulness. I thought this was funny. As a mindfulness teacher, I appreciate how sometimes this mindfulness stuff gets thrown back at me in comical ways.

Suddenly, I was on tv. The newscasters came alive, like switching on a light bulb in a dark bathroom. “Today we have with us Randall Sokoloff, a psychotherapist who uses mindfulness techniques with his clients and has a mindfulness group in Claremont, California. Since I think we could all use some anxiety relief just about now I am interested in hearing what Mr. Sokoloff has to tell us about finding some relief in these anxious times. Hello Randall! Thanks for being with us.” I was on. As I talked, I noticed my voice sounding a bit shaky because of whatever residual nervousness I was still feeling. I was thankful to the newscaster who helped me out by saying, “I tell you, just from the sound of your voice alone, I am already feeling more relaxed and calm.”

Everything flowed from there. I guess you could say I was in the zone even though my anxiety was never all gone. I went on to talk about what anxiety is (the expectation of a future threat) and how a person could use mindfulness to effectively manage it. I wonder if they knew that I was practicing what I was talking about on the spot? Suddenly I shifted the focus off of me by asking the newscasters to bring their attention to following their breathing and become aware of their hands touching their desk. One of them was so impressed by how much more grounded he immediately felt. It was as if I just showed him an alternative life option he never knew existed before.

Six minutes were up before I knew it. One of the newscasters thanked me and was asking how people can get in touch with me if they wanted to come to one of my workshops and I was thinking, Done already? I was just getting started. I need warm up time! There was still so much more I wanted to say and I wondered if what I had just said made any sense. I was nervous! I wanted a retake. Suddenly I was feeling regret and worry about not being as a good as I wanted to be. Ten minutes ago I was feeling anxious because I was focused on the future. Now I was worrying about the past. My crazy mind.

I shook a few people’s hands and like often happens when people find out that you work as a psychotherapist, I listened as several people told me about various challenges in their lives. As I always do in this situation, I told myself to just stay present, follow your breathing and let the person finish talking while doing the best you can to listen and empathize. On my way out of the news studio I was happy to be done. As is almost always the case with this tempestuous anxiety that I have had for most of my life, nothing that I was worried about had actually happened. It was all just in my head.

Walking to my car, I was aware of my feet on the ground, sounds that I was hearing and my breathing. I was also aware that I was still concerned I had somehow messed up. Maybe I didn’t say the right things? Maybe I didn’t make any sense? I was in the past. “What is done is done,” I told myself and then let those thoughts go to wherever thoughts go when they disappear.

As I drove home, I realized that there was no way that me ten years ago could of done something like this. No way. My anxiety would have kept me far, far away. Even though being on the news is such a small and fleeting thing, in many ways it is these kinds of small accomplishments that are a larger testament to how the practice of mindfulness can really change a person’s life for good.

Procrastination, The Importance Of Putting Everything Off

“A nice piece of modern contemporary philosophy and contemplation about the way we live our lives in the modern world.” -Tracie Sokoloff

Nothing makes me happier than the complete absence of all obligations. Nothing. To be alone in wide open time and space, free to go and do whatever I want, is the ideal condition for myself to exist within. Free to listen to music, free to write, free to make art, free to fall asleep in my garden, free to go for a long walk, free to drift in whatever direction I get blown in without any concern for time or things that must be done- this is what I consider to be basic human freedom. Human freedom is a basic need that we all share and the more that this basic need goes unmet, the more we experience mental and physical illness. (It is ironic or tragic that in the society we have created, the more this basic need goes unmet the more material and financial gain we often get. This is why in America more people are on psychiatric drugs and suffer various addictions than any other country in the world.)

For close to thirty years now, I have managed to put everything off. As I get older I am becoming more skilled at doing this. Prior to thirty years ago, I still put everything off but I had my parents continually placing in front of me what I was trying to put off. Without anyone forcing my hand, I am able to keep everything away. The difference between myself and most Americans is that I see what is often referred to as procrastination as a very healthy behavior (if done right). In fact, I feel it is necessary to put things off in order to live a life free from as may obligations as possible. I have always believed that the person who dies with the largest amount of things put off or not taken care off, has lived the fullest life. In a society where a person’s value is in equal measure to the amount of obligations that they have, we must actively engage our ability (which we all have) to put things off, if we want to live free from this often self-made prison.

In order to successfully put things off for as long as possible (in order to live more fully now), it is important to know how to be alone. If an individual is not able to be genuinely alone without anxiety, it will be difficult for he or she (or it) to free themselves from all obligations. Putting things off will be a struggle for the individual who is not able to be alone. By being alone what I mean is the ability to be completely undisturbed by the outside world. To shut the entire outside world out as if it was not even there. When we shut the entire world out, people who want something from us no longer exist. Other people become like trees or clouds in the sky- they are just there, coexisting along with us rather than wanting or demanding something from us or us needing something from them (obligation means to need something from another person or for another person to need something from you). To be free of obligation means to not need anything from others and to not be disturbed or anxious about what others might need from you. This is why being alone is a skill that is crucial for successfully being able to put things off.

The skill of being alone is in great decline in American society. This is one of the most tragic phenomena of our time. The ability to be alone is disappearing in front of our eyes. Individuals can no longer even be alone while sitting on the toilet! Most individuals sit on the toilet with some kind of digital device in their hand. These digital devices (computers, smartphones) serve one fundamental purpose, to prevent people from feeling alone. Most of us can’t handle being alone. We don’t like how it feels. We become uncomfortable and anxious, feel like we are missing out when alone and digital intervention comes to our rescue. This is tragic because the human soul needs to be alone in order to flourish. Less time alone equals less soul and more mechanization (which is what the corporations who sell us these products need and want us to become- mechanized).

The one phenomena that differentiates our period in human history from any other period is that we can now avoid being alone even when we are alone. Our phones and computers are doorways through which the outside world can slip in and fill our aloneness. Most of us voluntarily open up this door for the outside world to come on in when we are alone because we have forgotten how to be alone. Being alone is a skill that requires practice. Once we are constantly interrupting our aloneness by checking our emails, texts, Facebook and Instagram our ability to be alone becomes weaker and weaker until we can not be alone anymore without some sort of distraction present. This is a human tragedy.

If we are not able to shut the outside world out and be fully alone, we will not be successful at freeing ourselves from all obligations. As long as we let the outside world in, even if we manage to put most things off, we will still be tormented by the lingering feeling of all the things we are not getting done. There is no greater waste of time (life) than putting things off while worrying about what we are not getting done. The entire world must be completely shut out, forgotten about or neutralized (meaning everything is just how it should be) in order for a person to successfully put things off. Our day is spent doing exactly what we want to be doing, free of any extraneous concerns or worries, free from the constraints imposed on humans by time. We are fully content and at peace in our aloneness, not worried about what is being left undone or missed out on because we are fulfilled (engaged) in our lives now. This is what it means to be free and the only way to be truly free in our contemporary world is to put everything off.

The Mindfulness Guy

Some things are far beyond our control. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t see them coming. Today, I was officially inaugurated in as The Mindfulness Guy. Not by choice. Not by want. Just by fate. Had no idea that it was going to happen. I just went to the market to get a few things for dinner.

I never set out to be The Mindfulness Guy. I have set out to be many things in my life (professional tennis player, fiction writer, abstract painter, successful blogger) but everything that I have set out to become on my own terms, has failed. The things that I did not set out to become, that I became as a result of necessity, destiny or practicality (security) seem to be the things at which I succeed.

I live in a town but I prefer to call it a city. The reason why I prefer to call it a city is because no one waves here. People keep to themselves. In a town, it seems like strangers, acquaintances and friends are always waving back and forth at each other. Not here. I work as a mindfulness psychotherapist. I lead mindfulness groups. I work with individuals, couples and families in private practice where I teach them mindfulness skills. This is what I do in the city where I live.

I’m not a Buddhist. I’m not spiritual or religious. I am not very interested in matters pertaining to psychology or the neurobiological aspects of brain functioning (like most mindfulness teachers are). I have no desire to have a following (like most mindfulness teachers do). I try to work as little as possible (most mindfulness teachers seem to work all the time). I’m just a guy who enjoys practicing mindfulness and helping others to live less stress filled lives.

For at least a decade I had debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. I was depressed and angry most of the time. I was an alcoholic and habitual marijuana user. There were few things that I enjoyed more than numbing my unruly brain with substances. I was introduced to a few people who were serious mindfulness practitioners, started practicing with them regularly and in time the panic attacks, intense anxiety, depression and uncontrollable anger went away. Despite my skepticism, I was impressed that mindfulness actually worked for me. So I have stuck with it.

By no real effort of my own, it just so happens that I am able to teach others what I was taught. People can take it or leave it. This is as far as I go with my work as a mindfulness teacher. I don’t read much about mindfulness. I don’t go to lectures about mindfulness. I do not watch videos about mindfulness. When speaking with others I don’t refer to myself as a mindfulness teacher or psychotherapist and I prefer not to talk about mindfulness when I am not working. I just practice mindfulness because it helps me. This is why I was shocked when I was in the market looking for maple syrup (and wondering if I should buy molasses instead) and heard some lady shout: “Hey mindfulness guy, help us!”

At first I thought, “Who’s the mindfulness guy?” I looked around the market to see if I could catch a glimpse of my competition and suddenly noticed that a lady, dressed in the market’s uniform, was kneeling down above a body that was wiggling all over the floor. The strange thing was that this lady was looking directly at me.

“Hey mindfulness guy, come here please!!,” she yelled in my direction. “Who me?” I said pointing at my chest. I do not know why I was so surprised at being the one who was being summoned, but I was. “Yes, please come here NOW!” I quickly grabbed a random maple syrup off the shelf, put it in my basket and then walked over towards where the woman was kneeling down. A large group of people, all with shopping baskets hanging from their hands, gathered around the woman wiggling around on her back, on the floor. The kneeling woman who called for me was the store manager and I recognized her because she had come to a few of my mindfulness groups. She told me that the person wiggling around on the floor was having a panic attack. She asked me to use mindfulness to help settle the person down. This was a very unusual situation for me to be in.

I admit, I was slightly annoyed. When I am out in public I do not like to be bothered. I prefer to just go out, do my thing, maintain some degree of anonymity and then return home. I am not the type of person who says hello to people I recognize and then engage in brief conversation. I would rather avoid this. Why I am this way I do not know. One of my previous therapists called it anti-social behavior disorder after I had walked past her on the street one day and pretended not to see her. She knew I did. I do not see the need to label this behavior “anti-social,” I think it is just a fundamental aspect of being an introvert.

But now I had to come out of my self-created shell. I had to act like an extrovert and make conversation with a woman who was wiggling around on the floor in a state of extreme panic. The woman looked like she was in her mid-forties and I noticed that her hair was dyed purple and she had a nose ring. She was wearing a Bernie Sanders For President t-shirt and was sweating profusely, shaking, hyperventilating, stomping her feet down onto the ground and shouting out, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”

I have certainly been in this similar panicked situation myself, but never on the floor of a crowded supermarket (thankfully). I noticed that Huey Lewis And The News was playing on the store speakers and I wished someone would turn it off. “This man can help you, he’s the mindfulness guy,” the store manager said to the woman wiggling and sweating and hyperventilating all over the ground. The Mindfulness Guy? Really? Did you have to introduce me to her in this way?, I thought to myself. But there was no time for my ego right now. I had to act. I had to figure out how to teach mindfulness to someone who was in the middle of a panic attack on a supermarket floor. I decided to do a body scan.

“Oh god, oh god, I can’t breathe!,” she kept saying. “I can’t breathe!, I can’t breathe!” “Ok, ok. Everything is going to be all right. You are going to be fine, I promise you. I just need you to really try to notice the sensations that are present in your feet. Just become aware of the sensations in your feet,” I told her as I rested my hand gently on her chest. “I can’t breathe! I cant breathe!,” she kept yelling out. “Please, just pay attention to your feet. Notice the sensations in the soles of your feet. Can you feel tingling sensations? Are your feet warm or cold? Can you feel pulsations in your feet?” I asked. “I can’t fucking breathe and you want me to feel my feet!?” the lady shouted out at me. Ok, this is not working, I thought to myself.

She continued to wiggle, shake, sweat and hyperventilate. I decided to do some basic mindfulness breathing with her. “Ok, I want you to just focus on your breathing moving in and out through your nose. Just follow your breathing as it moves in and out through your nose. Don’t try to control your breathing, just let it move in through your nose and then back out again. Just follow the breath with your awareness.” As I told her this I was modeling how to do it for her and occasionally she would look at me and watch but then she suddenly said, “I can’t breathe you son of a bitch and you want me to follow my breathing! Help me! Oh god help me! I can’t breathe! I don’t want to die! Get me a doctor not this fucking mindfulness lunatic!” I couldn’t believe that this woman was shouting this at me. I was only trying to help. It was embarrassing but I had to remain calm. I could not take her insults personally. I needed to act fast before everything was lost.

I noticed that there was a large stack of Alhambra bottled waters by my side. The water was on sale. A few times in the distant past I had used the splashing cold water on your face method to calm myself down from a panic attack. I quickly grabbed a bottled water from the stack, which caused the entire stack to come falling down on to the ground. Bottled waters bouncing around everywhere. But this was a crisis situation and in a crisis no one cares much about maintaining how things look. You just need to do what you got to in order to get control of a situation. So I opened the bottled water and poured it out all over the panicked woman’s chest and face.

I could hear gasps of shock from the crowd that had gathered around as I emptied the water bottle onto the woman. They could not believe what I was doing. I knew that if this did not work I was doomed. I would be killed in a supermarket by an angry crowd who would use their shopping baskets to clobber me.

This is why I was so relieved when I noticed the woman suddenly stopped wiggling. She sat right up, looked directly at me and said, “What the fuck?! What did you do that for?!” She used her hands and shirt to wipe the water off her face. She shook out water from her drenched hair. “You son of a bitch! What did you pour water all over me for?!” The woman was so angry that she stood right up off the floor, like suddenly she had gotten all of her muscle back. I stood up along with her not sure what to do next. I was concerned that the woman would attack me since she looked enraged. All I could think to say to her was, “Can you at least breathe ok now?” And then there was a silence. All I could hear was the terrible music playing on the store speakers.

The woman’s face immediately changed. She looked around for a moment as if she was trying to figure something out. I stood there waiting for whatever was going to happen next. This is a big part of my mindfulness practice, the practice of just being comfortable with uncertainty and just allowing things to unfold naturally while keeping myself present with what is. I focused on my breathing as I noticed that the woman was realizing that her panic had gone away. Her angry face suddenly turned into a happier face and then everything turned upside down. This complete stranger threw her arms around me and gave me a very constricting hug. Now I could not breathe but all I could do was stay present with the discomfort and put my arms around her. She kept saying, ”Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you so much. You are truly the mindfulness guy. You saved my life!” I could feel her tears on my neck and thought to myself, oh shit.

The hug lasted a lot longer than I would have liked but it stopped right when the crowd suddenly started clapping. The woman let go of me, stepped backwards towards the crowd and joined them in giving me a standing ovation. I noticed some people were crying. And then something really unexpected happened. The woman, the store manager and the large crowd standing around all began chanting: ”Mindfulness Guy!!, Mindfulness Guy!!, Mindfulness Guy!!, Mindfulness Guy!!” They repeated this over and over again and I thought it would never end. I wished they would stop but I just stood there thanking them because I did not know what else to do. It felt humiliating to be the center of attention in this way but I followed my breathing, stayed aware of sensations in my body and accepted what is.

The store manager walked up and hugged me and then kissed me on the cheek. She said, “Thank you so much! I need to come to more of your mindfulness groups. Please let me know when you check out. I want to give you a 50% discount.” Thankfully the crowd gradually dispersed but suddenly there was a long line of people, still holding their shopping baskets in their hands, and now wanting to shake my hand and get a business card from me. Business had been slow lately and I thought that this could be a good way to get some new customers. I felt excited about the prospect of my business picking up again but when I reached into my pocket to grab my wallet (within which I kept my business cards) I realized I had forgotten my wallet at home. This does not look good, was the thought I had. I picked a bottled water up off the ground and drank it down.

The End.

How To Radically Improve The Quality Of Your Life Right Now.

The real question for any human being who is struggling or suffering is, “How can you change the here and now rather than needing to get someplace else in order to feel better?” When we practice mindfulness techniques we are engaging in a strategy of mental freedom: the transformation of the negative, habitual and familiar ways of being into more calm, content and self-regulating ways of living.

The main point of mindfulness meditation is to gradually learn how to identify your own habitual, negative, self-destructive thought patterns and then to be able to bring yourself out of them. You are learning how to become aware of when you are lost in habitual thought and then you are learning how to shorten the duration of these negative thought patterns by focusing your attention on the present moment and then letting the thoughts go.

When I teach people this simple technique the most common answer I hear is, “It is so obvious and simple but so hard to remember to do!” It is hard because we are so easily absorbed into our negative ways of thinking. These ways of thinking are familiar and habitual. They are learned when we are kids and most of us reinforce them for our entire lives. Even though these negative thought processes cause us so much pain and suffering, we still refuse to let them go.

It is through the continual practice of mindfulness meditation that we gradually learn that we do have a choice, we can chose to let negative thoughts go. Doing this on a daily basis can radically improve the quality of your life. It really is that simple but you have to be willing to practice it. No one can do it for you and I guess this is what ultimatly makes it hard.

I used to be so deeply identified with negative, habitual thinking. It was never ending. I was angry most of the time, always stressed out and worried about everything. I had a severe anxiety disorder, which landed me in more emergency rooms than I want to admit. I was always angry at my parents and even after years of therapy I could not get the angry thoughts out of my head. (It did not help that they were continually behaving in ways that upset me.) The only temporary “solution” that I found that worked was Paxil and booze. But once the booze wore off and the Paxil kicked back in, I felt sedated most of the time with a low level feeling of anxiety, impending doom and anger just waiting to break through the surface. It was a really unpleasant cycle that I never imagined I would come out of. Fifteen years later and lots of time spent practicing mindfulness meditation- and the cycle has ended only because I am now able to stop it before it gets started.

Through the practice of mindfulness mediation I have cultivated the ability to be aware of when I start to become identified with negative, habitual thinking and 95% of the time I am able to let these thoughts go and return my focus to a more peaceful and satisfied present moment awareness. What a remarkable difference this has made in my overall quality of life! No longer lost in the same, repetitive, negative thought patterns that held me hostage for so many years.

The same old habitual, negative thought processes are still there. I presume they will always be there more or less. It is how my brain developed. But by noticing when I begin to become identified with the negative, habitual thoughts and then by letting them go, I am continually able to change my here and now experience. Where once I would be angry or anxious for hours, days or weeks I am now able to feel calm and at ease in under five minutes (most of the time). I am able to transform my present moment experience so that I experience more well-being and contentment and be much, much less caught up in the drama that once filled my entire life.

This is how we radically improve the quality of our lives right now. It is a continual practice of being aware of and then letting habitual, negative thoughts go. I have trained as a psychotherapist, been through years of my own psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, read immense amounts of self help books. I have been in and out of doctor’s offices and endlessly searched for answers and it is only this simple mindfulness technique that I have found really works when properly applied. It is all we need to do. We just have to be willing to do it. Again and again and again. Day in and day out.

Letting the negative, habitual thoughts go by bring your attention back to right now. What one meditation teacher I studied with calls, “Hearing the birds chirping in the trees rather than being lost in the thoughts whirling around in your tired mind.”

Reflections While Sitting In A Chair

I sit down in my chair. I set my meditation timer for thirty minutes and then place the palms of my hands on my knees. I feel the material of my sweat pants. I straighten my spine, place both feet flat on the ground. I notice my shoulders are constricted so I loosen them down towards the ground. I move my chin slightly in towards my chest. I then close my eyes.

Here I am, sitting in a chair. I am aware of myself as I am in this moment. I can feel the back of the chair pressing against my spine. I notice the bottom part of my body pressing into the seat of the chair. There is the sound of a distant train. Birds are singing their songs.

I follow my breathing as oxygen moves in and out through my nose. I notice my chest expanding and contracting with each inhalation and exhalation. There are a plethora of sensations in my body. Tingling sensations. Pulsations. Pressure. Tightness. A pleasant feeling of relaxation and space.

I am just sitting here doing nothing except being present with life. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. Just sitting.

I pay attention to my breathing as if I were on a walk with a friend. Breathing in and out. I notice that my brain is generating a lot of thoughts. It’s busy upstairs, I think to myself. I notice how I am thinking about many different things. Thoughts that come out of nowhere and go back in to nowhere. I continually let thoughts go by returning my attention to this moment.

There are so many chirping birds out there. Why are they making so much noise? What are they so happy about? Thinking, I tell myself and then bring my attention back to the present moment. In the distance I can hear cars speeding by. There goes a siren. Hope someone is getting the help they need. An airplane moves across the sky. I follow the sound of the airplane until it disappears.

Is that an owl that I hear? Maybe not. what could it be? There is a fly buzzing around the room. I can’t stand the sound that a fly makes as it flies around the room. So much nervous energy! Chill out man! Should I get up and swat it? No just learn to live with it. Let it be there and respect all life. I realize that I am lost in thought again and no longer paying attention to my breathing. I return my attention to following my breathing. Breathe in, breathe out, I repeat to myself. I notice the sensations of my feet touching the ground.

My head has tilted backwards, causing my chin to point slightly up towards the sky. I slowly bring my chin back down towards my chest. Feels more comfortable this way, I think to myself.

A bird flies past my window.

It’s a bit cold in this room. Should I get up and turn on the heat? Just be present with the cold. Just let the cold be there. Ok. Follow your breathing. I notice that I am telling myself this. Thinking again, I say to myself.

There is the sound of a barking dog. What kind of dog is it? Another airplane moves across the sky. I hear a high pitched beeping sound. Maybe it is a truck in reverse? There is a tingling sensation all over my body. I smile as I realize that I am fully aware of the experience that I am having in this moment. Fully present and aware. How pleasant it feels to just be fully here in this moment. It comes on quick and then goes away just as fast.

I notice a painful sensation in my back. Maybe I should move a bit just to lessen the pain? No, just let the pain be there. Accept the pain as it is and just continue to follow your breathing. I notice that I am thinking and I return my attention to following my breathing, hearing various sounds, feeling my feet on the ground, noticing my chest expanding and contracting with each breath. I let the pain be there as it is. The pain becomes tolerable. I can live with it.

Another airplane is moving across the sky. So many airplanes. Humans are so busy, always coming and going and moving at such high speeds. It’s a kind of collective madness. The world needs to slow down! I notice that I am thinking again and return my attention to my breathing.

I follow my breathing as it moves in and out through my nose. Breathing in, breathing out. My dog barks. My head falls back without me even noticing. I bring my chin back down towards my chest. I am aware of my chest expanding and contracting with each breath. How much longer this is going to last? I notice that I am thinking again.

So many other thoughts that keep coming and going. Thoughts about this, thoughts about that- mostly nonsense. It seems as if my brain is moving as quickly as the cars and airplanes out there in the world. I notice all different kinds of thoughts. There is a judgmental thought. There is a worried thought. There is an angry thought. There is a thought about the future. There is another judgmental thought. Thought after thought, like a stream with no end.

I get caught up in certain thoughts. The fearful and judgmental thoughts are particularly sticky. Just being aware that I am thinking allows me to return my attention to the present moment. I let the thought go. Again and again.

This is the only thing I need to be doing right now, I tell myself. I am present with my life as it is right now.

And then there are more thoughts. When is the dam timer going to go off? Hasn’t it been thirty minutes already? I notice that I am thinking again and then return my attention to my breathing. The singing birds are now quiet. An airplane moves across the sky. Busy air travel day, I think. I feel my digestion. I notice a pain in my gut. It could be cancer. It could be an ulcer. You are getting older. There you go again, I tell myself. Just by being aware of the fearful thoughts I notice that the thoughts disappear. I return my attention to my breathing. I feel calm.

There is the sensation of pain in my back. There is a openness in my chest that was not there before. Bird sounds and a ringing sensation in my ears. I am breathing. I am just sitting here in a chair. I notice how good it feels to be present with my life as it is. I am just being. I smile.

Maybe I should meditate again later? I want to keep feeling this way. There is an absence of all anxiety. Thinking again, I tell myself. I notice the sound of truck. There is that fly again. Just let it be.

I sit there. Fly sounds. Cars sounds. Bird sounds. Airplane sounds. My life.

The palms of my hands are still resting on my knees. My chin is pointing up at the sky again. My hands feel cold. There are various pulsations in my fingertips. Is that an owl that I hear or some other kind of bird?

The timer goes off. I open my eyes. I smile.