This “10% Happier” podcast – hosted by Dan Harris – with Dr. Jud Brewer was fascinating. Taught me to think of addictions as being on a spectrum. But it’s the stuff at the 24-minute mark that really grabbed my attention. That discussion involved the possibility of negative emotions serving as the basis for a habit. How our brain can set up anger or anxiety to lead to a behavior that then becomes a habit.
Habits are comprised of three things: the trigger, a behavior and then a reward. The example given – hearing the latest news about the pandemic, then planning something due to that, like a new side hustle gig – with the reward being an anxiety loop over the planning. This habit in turn makes us feel like we’re in control because the “reward” distracts from the root cause – the negative emotion felt when we heard the news that kicked it all off. In other words, we might be using our anxiety as a crutch so we don’t think about what we’re anxious about…
Of course, I also like hearing about the use of meditation to bring your “anxiety” sea levels down so that there won’t be a breach of the sea walls when something small happens…
As part of my “Year of Living Mindfully” program, the teacher is gradually rolling out different techniques to assist us in our practice. The latest is called “Focusing,” developed by Eugene Gendlin in the United States forty years ago – and now is a global phenomenon. It’s a simple technique, yet one that’s hard to explain as Gene mentions several times in his book entitled “Focusing” (the book is $8, a very easy read).
The idea is to listen to your body in order to learn what really ails you. For example, you might have been telling yourself for a while – weeks, months, years, perhaps even decades – that you are not worthy for some particular reason. It’s a story that you tell yourself over & over again. But if you listen to your body, you might find that real story is different. That your problem is something else. Something that you can take action & rectify. The case studies in the book are fascinating.
Gene was a psychotherapist and he wondered – with a group of colleagues – why therapy worked for a relatively small slice of patients but not with most of them. They performed studies, recording thousands of actual sessions with patients – and found out that there was an identifiable reason why this was so. The difference wasn’t the therapist’s technique – nor what the patients talked about. The differentiator was how the patient talked about their problems. But that was just the outward sign, the actual reason was what the patients were doing inside themselves.
The theory behind focusing is that our body holds all of our abilities, our experiences and our suffering. However, our monkey mind may be blocking us from seeing the true causes of our suffering. Focusing is a practical self-therapy technique that allows you to identify & change the way you handle your problems.
Like I said, Gene’s book is an easy read, essentially a manual about how to focus & identify your “felt sense” (and then use it). There are six steps:
1. Clearing the Space – Essentially sitting quietly and relaxing, observing your problems from afar – ignoring the monkey mind – and letting your top problem bubble up to the top of your list.
2. The Felt Sense – Don’t analyze the problem. Instead ask “what does this problem feel like?” As with the last step, the challenge is to ignore the static, the stories you’ve been telling yourself – and get to the aura of the problem. What you feel in your body.
This takes some practice to achieve. And once you truly feel it, just stay with that feeling. Even if it’s uncomfortable, just stay with it as it moves from fuzzy to clear.
3. Finding a Handle – Now try to discover what’s the quality of that felt sense. Do that by seeing what image, term, combination of words or phrase best describes it. Again, this is not analysis conducted by your conscious mind. This intuitively finding the core, the crux. At this point, the precise nature of your problem might be changing slightly from what you learned earlier as your body guides you to be more precise.
4. Resonating With the Handle & Felt Sense – This step involves a comparison. You’re double-checking that the image/words of the handle matches the felt sense itself. You want that feeling of just right to bubble to the surface. If it doesn’t, you should tweak your handle.
When you get a match, let it sit with you for a full minute. Sixty seconds is longer than you think. But it’s important that you do that for all these stages when you think you’ve got what you’re looking for. Your body will guide you to the truth if you give it a little time.
5. Asking – Typically, a handle that fits well allows you to feel a slight shift in the problem that you initially uncovered. If you know what the shift is, move on to the next stage. But often you won’t and you’ll need to give yourself a minute to ask the felt self – directly – what exactly is the shift. Stick with the unclear felt sense and ask it over & over until you get clarity.
For example, if your handle is “jumpy,” you can ask yourself “what is it about this problem that makes me so jumpy?” Ask yourself these open questions, but don’t let the analytical conscious mind answer. Let the felt sense answer. So you wait to get the answer.
6. Receiving – You need not believe with what the felt sense tells you. Just receive it. You will soon experience that when a shift comes, another will soon come. What your body then says will be quite different. These are the questions that you should ask yourself about this shifted problem (ask both the backwards-looking and forward-looking questions; what has the problem been – and what can I do to fix it):
– What is this, really?
– What is the crux of the problem?
– What is under this?
– What needs to happen for me with this?
– What would it take to feel better?
It often isn’t possible to deal fully with a particular problem in one focusing session. There may be a few, there likely will be many. It could take weeks or months. The beauty is that you can always pick up where you left off from one focusing session to the other.
As our dear friend Dave Lynn blogged a few days ago, Marty Dunn passed away earlier this week. Marty Dunn. Wow. Where do I start? Smart as a whip. Memory like an elephant. That smile. That broad sweeping smile.
Marty started at the SEC a few weeks before me, soon after we both graduated from law school. He quickly moved up the ranks, landing in Corp Fin’s Office of Chief Counsel at a time when that office handled most of the Division’s high-profile matters. Over his long tenure there, Marty not only wrote the bulk of the rulemakings, the interpretations, emanating out of Corp Fin – he mentored generations of top-notch securities lawyers. Everyone loved Marty.
Not only was Marty so wonderful with people, he was also a phenomenal public speaker. The best. I always marveled at his ability to casually address any topic, making it seem off-the-cuff. You could always count on Marty to provide a bounty of humor during his remarks. A rare commodity in our profession.
As will happen when someone passes on, you think back to how they impacted your life. Marty bailed me out when I was at my lowest. I had escaped law firm life and tried an entrepreneurial thing that didn’t pan out. I had two young kids & a wife at home. So I called Marty to inquire about coming back to the SEC – something not easy to do, particularly because I had broken my informal three-year commitment my first time around. There was a pause on the line. Then he simply said “fax me your resume.” Before you know it, I was back in Corp Fin.
My heart goes out to Linda and his three daughters in College Park, Maryland, where Marty lived most of his life, always near his family & his friends. Love ya brother.
You can gain inspiration from any source. It doesn’t have to be a traditional “mindfulness” resource. I listen to comedian Adam Ferrara’s podcast – and this interview with Alan Zweibel had some nuggets. Alan was one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live. At the 46-minute mark, Alan talks about how even Stephen King feels insecure – and that we all need kindness from strangers.
Adam & Alan talk at that spot in the interview about Stephen King’s book – “On Writing” – and they share these two nuggets from it:
– “Art is not a substitute for your life. You still have to live your life.”
– “Writing is refined thinking.”
It’s been a real challenge to not feel unbalanced the past few weeks. 10,000 joys & 10,000 sorrows. This dharma talk from Jonathan Foust has helped me gain some footing. Here’s a few points that Jonathan made:
– Try to get to a place that’s neither for – or against – something.
– Keep your heart open to experience and not get lost in emotions.
– A steady mind can help you to see what’s true – and also allow you to show compassion so you can act with empathy.
– Being balanced is the flower of meditation. It gives you the courage to face your pain and the cruelty of the world.
– Let things be as they are.
A well-known tactic to unlock your creativity is to develop a habit of spending five minutes each morning pouring out a few pages of longhand “stream of consciousness” writing. You don’t pause. You don’t think. You just scribble whatever enters into your head.
This journaling approach has been around a long time but it became more popular when Julia Cameron touted it in her wonderful book, “The Artist’s Way,” which essentially is a guide to cultivating creativity. In this blog, Julia notes “morning pages serve to prioritize, clarify, and ground the day’s activities. Frequently fragmented, petty, even whining, morning pages were once called “brain drain” because they so clearly siphoned off negativity.”
When you’re done with your journaling, it’s typically full of gibberish and gets tossed. It ain’t pretty. On occasion, you might have uncovered a few nuggets that may help you in your daily life. But that’s not the goal – the goal is to unclutter your mind so that it’s more focused for the rest of your day. Here’s a 7-minute video from Amy Landino that explains the morning pages process well. By the way, I typically write out one page – not three as recommended by Julia & others – and seem to get plenty of benefit…
Joseph Goldstein has this wonderful rule of thumb about “wise speech”: “You can’t talk about someone unless they’re present.” Similar sayings include “The words that leave your mouth says more about you than the person you are putting down.” and “Talking badly about someone else while they aren’t there to defend themselves says more about you than the person you’re talking about.”
That’s a brilliant way to become more compassionate – and free yourself from the binds that come from gossip. Being successful in following this rule of thumb is not easy to do. For sure. But I’ll give it a go…
Long ago, I was given a Tibetan “singing bowl” as a gift. I rarely used it until recently. You rub a mallet along the inside edges of a singing bowl in a swirling motion to produce a type of bell sound that vibrates and emits a rich, deep tone. The frequencies from the bowl are said to help to clear the energy flows within your body (this article talks about chakra balancing & brainwave entrainment). They help you relax and heal (this article discusses a study that backs this up, but there is scant scientific research overall).
Different bowls produce different sounds & frequencies. The size of the bowl doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter whether the bowl is made of metal or crystal. You should try out different bowls and see which frequencies appeal to you. Of course, you don’t need to own a bowl – you can listen to hours of them being played on YouTube (use search term: “Tibetan singing bowl”).
If you use a bowl while holding it in your hand, there should be something that the bowl rests upon in your palm. If you use a bowl with another person, clear yourself first before you hand it off. That way you raise that person into your frequency rather than slip into their frequency.
Not sure from which of Tara Brach’s podcasts I heard this, but I jotted it down because it spoke to me: “We speak about losing our minds as if it were a bad thing. I say, lose your mind. Do it purposefully. Find out who you are really beyond your thoughts and beliefs.” Well, I’m losing my mind right now…and I’m not sure it’s a good thing. But I do think Tara was talking about a different context…