A Different Relationship to Sadness

"We had some very important evidence here that suggested that the ability to work with sadness in people who had recover from depression may determine whether they're able to go on and sustain the benefits of treatment or whether they're going to relapse. But how do you work with a trigger of relapse like sadness when sadness is also a feature of our universal human experience? We weren't interested in trying to eliminate sadness. We weren't interested in trying to get people not to feel sad. What we really needed to do was help people develop a different relationship to their sadness. And what does that mean in terms of trying to teach people certain skills. This is really the point at which mindfulness comes into the picture."

~ Dr. Zindel V. Segal, from "The Mindful Way through Depression," TEDx Talks, April 2014

See also:

Williams, J. M. G., Teasdale, J. D., Segal, Z. V., Kabat-Zinn, J., & Sounds True (Firm). (2007). The mindful way through depression: [freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness]. Boulder, CO: Sounds True. [Sounds True, library]

Mindfulness Research Guide

How Much Fiction

"Our memories are constructive. They're reconstructive. Memory works a little bit more like a Wikipedia page: You can go in there and change it, but so can other people…

Maybe my work has made me different from most people. Most people cherish their memories, know that they represent their identity, who they are, where they came from. And I appreciate that. I feel that way, too. But I know from my work how much fiction is already in there. If I've learned anything from these decades of working on these problems, it's this: just because somebody tells you something and they say it with confidence, just because they say it with lots of detail, just because they express emotion when they say it, it doesn't mean that it really happened. 

We can't reliably distinguish true memories from false memories. We need independent corroboration. Such a discovery has made me more tolerant of the everyday memory mistakes that my friends and family members make...

Meanwhile, we should all keep in mind, we'd do well to, that memory, like liberty, is a fragile thing."

~ Elizabeth Loftus, from "The Fiction of Memory," TED Talks, June 2013

See also: 

  • West of Memphis [library]
  • Nathan, D. (2011, October 14). A girl not named Sybil. The New York Times. [online
  • Nathan, D. (2011). Sybil exposed: The extraordinary story behind the famous multiple personality case. New York: Free Press. [library]

Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Excerpt from "The Trauma of Being Alive," by Mark Epstein, The New York Times, August 3, 2013:

"I like to say that if we are not suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, we are suffering from pre-traumatic stress disorder. There is no way to be alive without being conscious of the potential for disaster. One way or another, death (and its cousins: old age, illness, accidents, separation and loss) hangs over all of us. Nobody is immune. Our world is unstable and unpredictable, and operates, to a great degree and despite incredible scientific advancement, outside our ability to control it...

...The willingness to face traumas — be they large, small, primitive or fresh — is the key to healing from them. They may never disappear in the way we think they should, but maybe they don’t need to. Trauma is an ineradicable aspect of life. We are human as a result of it, not in spite of it."

See also: Epstein, M. (2013). The trauma of everyday life

The Work is Up to You

"A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary."

~ Thomas Carruthers

From "What to Look for in a [Meditation] Teacher," by Ken McLeod, Unfettered Mind, July 2012:

There are three roles a teacher plays. He or she reveals to you possibilities, shows you how to train and develop the skills and capabilities you need, and puts you in touch with the patterns in you that inhibit your being awake.

You may find these three roles in one person, or, possibly, in three different people.

For the teacher as possibility, your interaction may be through ritual, it may involve transmission, or it may be just being with them.  Periodic interact is helpful: you see what being awake looks like in actual life. Regular interaction is not absolutely necessary. It is enough that your interaction awakens new possibilities in you, and you set out to cultivate them.

For that, you need an instructor. With the teacher as instructor you do need to have regular interaction. You first learn a practice, do it on your own,  and then go back to tell your instructor about your experience, what you have assimilated, what questions you have. You learn and assimilate, and then you are ready to learn more. As you develop the skills and the ways to build abilities, more and more responsibility shifts to you. You first learn how to do the practice, then do it until it becomes second nature, and then train still further until there is nothing left in you that inhibits it.

And that last level brings up the need for the teacher who points out patterns. You can't always do it on your own  — you need actual interaction, in person. Directly or indirectly, the teacher points out what you've been doing for years without ever being aware of it. It can be tough, experiencing this viscerally.

This is not psychotherapy, i.e., working with your therapist to work through the patterns. The teacher's role is to point out the patterns and show you how to apply your training to them. The work, then, is up to you.

Many people approach a teacher, or approach spiritual work, in order to give, or receive, or exchange a certain kind of attention. If you approach practice this way, you are reinforcing reactive patterns, the antithesis of waking up.


Somewhere Else

Dennis Palumbo from"Dennis Palumbo and Kelly Get Unblocked," Waking from the American Dream #33, September 15, 2011:

"There's no intrinsic meaning to anything. We just decide what something means. And as a result, there's this idea that if I just work hard enough, I can just bang out all the dents and defects in me and I'll be terrific. And when I'm terrific I'll be lovable and what I do will be successful. 

See, my view is exactly the opposite.

I think that because we see what successful people seem to look like and the lives they seem to have -- I mean that's why tabloids are so successful, that's why reality shows are successful -- people are looking at these lives and going, "Oh, man. If I ever lived there..."

One of the most powerful things about what I do for a living -- I've been in private practice for about twenty-four years now -- I have people in my practice who are so successful, they're the kind of people I used to envy. And I would think their lives must be perfect. Well, I know from personal experience their lives are not perfect and that they still struggle with their art and still struggle in terms of how good they are, how talented they are.

Let me put it this way. There is a sentence that I think will take years off your spiritual journey and save you thousands of dollars in therapy bills. I probably shouldn't say it.

And the sentence is simply this: Everybody thinks that the party's happening somewhere else and it isn't.

Right now, like it or not, this is your party. This is it." 

Dennis Palumbo was formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter) and is now a licensed psychotherapist, Psychology Today blogger, and mystery author. His latest crime thriller is Fever Dream

Loosening the Grip of Emotions

From “Anxiety? Banish the Thought,” The Week Magazine: Health & Science, Jan. 20, 2011:

So many Americans suffer from anxiety and depression that antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft have become household terms. But new research suggests that mindfulness therapy—a sittingmeditation-based treatment with roots in Buddhism and yoga—can help people with mood disorders feel better without drugs.

“I was skeptical at first,” Stefan Hofmann, a psychology professor at Boston University, tells the Los Angeles Times. “I wondered, ‘Why on earth should this work?’”

Yet after reviewing 39 studies on the practice involving 1,140 patients, Hofmann’s team concluded that mindfulness therapy relieved anxiety and improved mood; another study published  last month found the treatment is as effective as antidepressants at preventing relapses of depression.

It doesn’t work for everyone, but experts have found that training patients to observe their own immediate thoughts can often loosen the grip emotions have on their minds—MRI scans of patients’ brains display shifts in mental activity.

Jordan Elliott, a 26-year-old marketer, began mindfulness therapy for debilitating anxiety four years ago; he now meditates for 10 minutes each morning and has stopped taking Prozac. “When a negative thought pops off in my head,” he says, “I say to myself, ‘There’s a thought. And feelings aren’t facts.’”

*     *     *     *     *

See also:

We Can Be with Both

“Psychology has refined such a nuanced observation, understanding and insight about the particulars of our human psyches. And certain existential truths that are universal, of course. And there is a realm that we call absolute or universal. It’s not separate. We can call it emptiness, there are so many names. But it’s completely interwoven. It’s one with, it’s connected to, the words don’t express the fact that it’s not  separate from the particular. And the trick for us as practitioners, whether we are practitioners of psychology or meditation, is to really see and unite these experiences so that we can be present with the ordinary moments of our life, and more and more hold an understanding of those moments as Weeds and Purple Flowersbeing deeply significant, expressions of the truth of that moment. Not truth with a capital T that some reified, always true…but the truth of that moment because it’s life. It’s life in the form of you, me, this moment of experience. And then, when we really can truly know that, so many things are possible for us. We don’t have to be afraid of experience or afraid of our own minds. Of course, we like flowers, we hate weeds. We wish for happy experiences and we kind of dread scary sad ones. But as practitioners we can really be with both.”

~ Trudy Goodman, from “Zen, Vipassana, and Psychotherapy,” Buddhist Geeks Podcast: Episode 173 (May 24, 2010)

No One But You

Shrink Rap Radio "The most important thing is to cut out the noise of your life and be quiet with yourself for a while. The thing that helped me [was to ask myself] How do I feel? What do I miss? What do I yearn for? What am I going to do with my one and only precious life that I know of? How do I want to spend it? Do I like the people I'm with now? How do I want to feel when I get up in the morning?

Most of the time we're all so busy completing tasks that we don't have any space to think about those things. And many, many people in history have sat down and done that -- whether you're van Gogh or just a regular guy -- and gone, You know, I don't want to live this life anymore, I want to live that life.

And it is, I think, important for everyone to take seriously. If you have a yearning, to take a pilgrimage away from the life you're living now to one that you think will be more fulfilling. You owe your life to no one but you."

~ Dennis Palumbo, discussing changing careers with Dr. Dave on Shrink Rap Radio (Episode #159 - Therapist to The Hollywood Stars). Explore Mr. Palumbo’s writing.

Forgetting and Remembering the Self

Quotes from Zen master Mitsunen (Lou Nordstrom) excerpted from “Enlightenment Therapy,” by Chip Brown, The New York Times Magazine (April 26, 2009):

Illustration by Shout“The Zen experience of forgetting the self was very natural to me…I had already been engaged in forgetting and abandoning the self in my childhood, which was filled with the fear of how unreal things seemed. But that forgetting was pathological. I always had some deeper sense that I wasn’t really there, that my life and my marriages didn’t seem real. In therapy with Jeffrey [Rubin] I began to realize this feeling of invisibility wasn’t just a peculiar experience but was maybe the central theme of my life. It was connected to my having ‘ability’ as a Zen student and to my being able to have a precocious enlightenment experience. In a sense it was as if Zen chose me rather than that I chose Zen.”

“One of the most important insights I got from therapy with Jeffrey is that subconsciously I want the depth of my suffering to be witnessed by someone. I want to be seen for what a strange fellow I am. As a young guy I got off on the sense of being different. There was some arrogance and elitism in it. The positive spin of the surreal nature of my childhood was that there must have been some special destiny for me. To give up tenure, to become a monk, I embraced an aggrandized narrative. What Jeffrey has done is indicate that forgetting the self is not a constructive approach. What one needs to do from a psychoanalytic perspective is remember the self.”

“As a boy I consciously constructed this idea that I’m in a situation that makes no sense whatsoever. The only meaning I can glean from it is that there may be some kind of completely different life in store for me. There will be a compensation. I am owed.”

“This abandoned life of mine is like the abandoned boy, and I am the mother I never had who returns to claim that life and embrace it. It is a source of great pathos to reflect that without the therapy experience I might have died without having been reunited with my life! And in that sense, without having truly lived.”