Monthly Archive: May 2017

Modern living – Online

My laptop broke several weeks ago.  After trying everything I could to fix it myself, I finally had to send it away for three weeks, finding a much older standalone PC to use in the interim. I expected that it would be inconvenient having to use something that wasn’t portable and that was very limited and relatively slow.  What I didn’t expect was how incredibly lost I’d feel.

With the loss of my portable PC went also my routine of meeting up for coffee with friends and working alongside them, of walking every day to meet them, of knowing where all my important files were and being able to access them, of conversing with and connecting to my online world with ease and at any time.

I felt I’d lost my independence and began to feel powerless, at the effect of “old ways”.

Within a week, I was a mess: I spent hours trying to get the older PC to do what it couldn’t; I felt isolated and miserable; I gained weight. In short, I felt lost. I remember a short series that Oprah did inviting families to live without smartphones and TV for a week, and having to have at least one meal together every day. It would typically take them a week to adjust: at first they resented it and felt much like I did; then they began to like the change.

Well, I never liked the change. Most of my business is online – I see many of my clients online. But the one thing I really appreciated from this experience was how pretty much all of us are completely dependent on online.  It is simply part of our everyday lives.

Imagine for a moment what the continent of North America would be like – emotionally – if all laptops and smartphones stopped working. Oh I know – there are going to be some doubting Thomases out there who really believe they’d be fine.  To you, I challenge you to try it! Try living without all convenient online access for 2 weeks. This isn’t about planning a vacation away from technology – it’s about carrying on your ordinary day without it.

I agree with so many of you that we are too dependent on modern online technology. And yet it’s convenience is something we probably can’t simply eliminate: our entire world, including communications and how we work depends on it.  But perhaps we can do something that would help us become more independent of it.

  • Set your priorities, making one of them online free time. Every morning I highlight three things that must be a part of my day. One of them is getting outside.  I recall a friend telling me a story of her visit to a famous Chinese garden in Beijing: it was Spring and the park was filled with people enjoying the cherry blossoms.  There was a lake and people could enjoy the lake using paddle boats.  She recalled one such boat passing by that was filled with young women –  every one of then with their eyes glued to their smartphones. The setting of that story could be anywhere these days, but it isn’t only youth – it’s all of us. We can chose to deliberately spend time in Nature with no online connection for an hour or two.
  • Build in redundancy. This is a disaster recovery principle that might save you a lot of grief. It isn’t hard to do and doesn’t take a lot of time to maintain, although it may take you some time to build. Make a list of contacts and procedures that you need to have in the event that your online access crashes; then develop a process of storing or printing off that information periodically so that you have it in a non-technical form if you need it.  I do something similar with my living situation – have the bare essentials that I would need to support myself if I were to lose electricity for a week or two.  This kind of preparation can eliminate worry, if you take the time to maintain it.
  • Practice mindfulness.  I say this for so many things. It’s really the best way to learn to accept what is – not what we can do something about, but what we can’t do anything about.  Developing a daily mindfulness practice helps us deal relatively calmly with whatever comes our way.

In today’s modern living, I don’t believe we can go back to the way we lived prior to online technology without pretty severe consequences.  But we can gain a level of independence that makes us less a slave to it, or to anything else.

This newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1, but most often is not referenced in part 1 (it offers a different point of view); the third is a quote. I hope you enjoy all three parts.

Sherry Turkle: Connected, but Alone?

ted
Quote of the Week
Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone.
-Steven Spielberg
Announcements
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co

Fidget Spinning

Fidget Spinner

Have you noticed when you get anxious wanting to find a diversion that lets your mind keep going and that keeps you semi-occupied at the same time? I think that’s why solitaire is so popular – it’s kind of mindless and at the same time, engaging.  It helps us use up some of the nervous energy we generate when we’re stressed or heading into overwhelm.

What’s happening on Facebook and in anxiety support groups is the introduction of toys called Fidget Spinners and Fidget Cubes.  These gadgets are supposed to help people calm down through diversion – because playing with these gadgets requires a certain amount of focus and attention. Even if a person doesn’t manage to calm down, they may at least contain their anxiety by engaging in Fidget Spinning.

Fidget spinners are three pronged devices that can be hand-held, with a centre bearing that, when pressed, makes the spinner spin. Sounds incredibly simple, and it is; so simple, in fact, that there are disputes among many inventors who simultaneously came up with these toys – virtually all in response to their own need to control stress.

Even though they’ve been around for a few years, they really only gained in popularity when kids started using them and trading them. That’s when teachers began to notice both their benefits and problems. Yes, they served as a distraction, reducing anxiety, but they also became an addictive pastime – much like solitaire.  Solitaire isn’t addictive if what we’re doing engages us; but give us endless lists of things to do that are gruelling, and solitaire becomes incredibly attractive.  Just so with Fidget Spinners – to the point that schools are considering banning them.

The interesting questing for me is: How can these and similar devices be used to help someone through stress, and when are they simply adding to the problem?  I believe the answer to both parts of this question lie in what it is that’s causing the stress.  If it’s something important to us and we’re nervous about the end result, then distracting that kind of nervousness with something like a fidget spinner seems like a good thing.  If, however, we are engaged in tasks that don’t inspire and that generate in us a sense of powerlessness – like, for me, having to sit through hours of algebra – forced to do something I have no interest in just because someone else thinks I should do it.  In that case, eventually the spinner is gong to take over, and it isn’t such a good thing.

In my own life, I play solitaire when I watch TV; sometimes what I’m watching is engaging and worthwhile for me; and sometimes it’s interspersed with what I don’t love – like violence. It’s easy to block out the violence if I have something like solitaire to turn to.

Fidget spinners may be new, but the idea isn’t. Think of worry beads, or balling up Kleenex and endlessly rolling it between thumb and finger, or chewing gum, or knitting.  The list is probably as long as you want to make it. Bottom line: fidget spinning may prove more useful in highlighting a pre-existing problem than in solving one.  Either way, it’s worth considering.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

Make Visible your Shining

Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.

-Robert Bresson

I spent time with a dear friend of mine today – Jane Mactinger.  She’s a Shamanic Healer – unique in her own way, and very powerful. One of the things we talked about was becoming visible. So many of us – Jane and I included, shy away from making what we shine in visible to all around us, fearing we might offend someone.  Even deeper, fearing we might be exposed as some kind of phoney, even though, for people like Jane and myself, we have more than enough credentials and training to back anything we claim. Perhaps it’s more a Canadian thing, but I know there are a lot of us out there – in hiding.

I listened to Martha Beck recently talk about self healing, and in her talk she mentioned the name for Hawaiian healers – Way Finders.  When children show a natural talent as healers, these children are trained in navigation, and eventually earn the title of Way Finder.  When I heard that, I knew what I was, because that’s exactly what I teach – how to find your unique way to live a life filled with joy. My training in Gestalt and other psychotherapeutic modalities, my studies in ancient philosophy, my training in shamanic healing techniques and ways, and my experience in being what so many of my clients strive to become – uniquely qualify me for that title. And yet, I hesitated in applying that term to myself.

Then I listened to many others, and read the above quote, and realized that I, along with Jane and so many others, are depriving not only ourselves but also others by remaining hidden in the bushes of false modesty.

Each of us has something only we can offer the world, and in openly offering it, we can’t help but enrich ourselves and our community.  If you’re not yet sure what yours is, try this:

  • What brings you joy? Find a place where you can safely explore this question without interruption. It may be your own space in your home, or it may be a park where you can walk and explore. Once you’re there, close your eyes for a few breaths and let go of the day, the week, of anything that might distract you. Then, begin to remember times where you were happy, content.  There’s a shamanic tequnique called recapitulation, where you begin by noticing how your body feels when you experience a certain memory; then you travel back to the last time you felt that physical sensation, recalling the event that went along with it; then the time before that, and so on, until you can’t remember any others. In this instance, begin by noticing how you physically feel when you experience joy – a warmth in your belly, and sense of rising or lightness – whatever it is, take note of it. Then begin recapitulating all the times when you experienced that feeling – what you were doing, where you were, who you were with, etc.. All the things that made up that event, learning the kinds of things that bring you joy.
  • Make joy a priority. Now that you have more knowledge of what brings you joy, make a commitment that you will make this experience a daily priority. It doesn’t have to be big, or take long.  I love sitting quietly every morning with a coffee, watching the morning unfold.  This simple pleasure brings me joy and sets my mood for the rest of the day. I make sure that, no matter what else happens that day, I do something that brings me joy.
  • Make it real. Bring it into your life, starting today. You might be surprised how this simple change will begin to re-color your life.

I want to mention how this newsletter is structured, because I’ve discovered some confusion with some of my readers.  The newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1, but most often is not referenced in part 1 (it offers a different point of view); the third is a quote. I hope this eliminates the confusion, and that you enjoy all three parts.

Earth, Wind and Fire – Shining Star

 

Quote of the Week
You’re a shining star
No matter who you are
Shining bright to see
What you could truly be (what you could truly be)
-Earth, Wind & Fire – Shining Star
Announcements
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co

Non-Judging, one of the 7 pillars of mindfulness

Judgment

I first read of the 7 pillars of mindfulness in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book on mindfulness Full Catastrophe Living. These pillars are Buddhist principles that help us be present and mindful in our everyday living. The 7 meditations I offer to anyone who signs up on my website www.thehjoyofliving.co are based on these, and I use them in my own meditation practice.

The one I’d like to cover today is non-judging. When we judge, we form an opinion about something.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – it’s how our mind works – comparing and weighing whether something is good or not good for us.  It’s important to our security to be able to judge.  It’s what our minds do best – if our assumptions are solid and we have all the facts.

But judging can also be a sign of our lack of self-acceptance. For instance, when I find myself judging the way a friend addresses me, it’s probably because I’m not feeling good about myself and am afraid that others will feel the same about me. Let’s say I gained 5 pouds seemingly overnight; this is something I’m sensitive about, so I’ll likely notice if someone comments on my appearance, take it the wrong way, and generate a judgmental story in my mind that makes me feel miserable.

On the other hand, when I’m feeling good and confident, I’m far less sensitive to any supposed slights. When I’m feeling on top of my world, even if someone came up to me and was explicit about my size, I’d probably laugh it off, knowing that what they said was really about them and not so much about me.

When I’m busy judging, it means my mind is occupied, and I’m not even able to really see what’s actually going on around me. The act of deliberately not judging what comes into awareness means we are with whatever comes up, as an impartial witness.  It allows us to feel what the judgments hide – the pain or anguish that’s really going on inside us.

Some people believe that meditation is a means of making ourselves feel calm. Sometimes that happens. But at other times, we aren’t calm, and during those times, meditation helps us be with our lack of calmness, without judging that lack of calmness as good or bad, as some kind of failure or lack on our part.

I invite you to discover your own way of judging in your world, by takeing 10 minutes and noticing your own judging patterns – along with any underlying feelings that might arise. And when you do this, do it with kindness and compassion for whatever it is you find.

 

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

Laughter

Picture this:  you’re with a group pf people – some you know, and the topic of discussion is about politics.  The mood is dark – you might feel angry or you might feel the tension rising.  Then someone cracks a joke and everyone laughs with a combination of appreciation and relief.  The underlying cause of the tension hasn’t gone, but the people in that group start to relax. And with that relaxation comes a greater willingness to listen.

We are always grateful to that person who has the skill of using laughter in a genuine way, because, as this small example demonstrates, laughter has a really important social function. Sophie Scott, Neuroscientist and stand-up comic, studies laughter. In her talk on Why we Laugh,  she talks about the physiology of laughter and hints at laughter’s social impact. I want to focus on the social impact of laughter.

All mammals laugh.  For so long, we (some of us) thought that only people laughed.  Not true.  All mammals laugh, and we (as mammals) laugh for two reasons: as a response to some form of physical stimulation (like tickling) or play. Specifically with humans, we are 13 times more likely to laugh for social reasons than over jokes. We laugh to show our friends we understand them, that we like them. Laughter helps us to regulate our emotions and to create bonds with others.

Further studies by other scientists have focused more on these social aspects of laughter.  Dr. Robert Levinson in California conducted a study where couples were put into a stressful situation; one person was to tell the other about something that bothered them about their partner.  This natural generated tension in anticipation. What Dr. Levinson found was that those people who dealt with this touchy topic using positive laughter were able to relieve the stress immediately. In fact, when following these and other couples, he found that those couples who use laughter reported higher levels of satisfaction in their relationship, and tended to stay together longer.

By now, we’ve all heard of laughter yoga, where people combine deep breathing techniques with forced belly laughter.  Even though it’s faked – at least at first – it does supposedly produce positive physiological effects in our bodies. But it isn’t for everyone.

The thing to take away from what we now know about laughter is this:

  1. Laughter – positive laughter (vs. derisive laughter) – decreases stress hormones and increases endorphins;
  2. Laughing socially – including at ourselves in this way –  helps us gain perspective and balance; and
  3. Laughter connects us with those we love.

Everyone underestimates how often we laugh. As a social experiment, spend a day noting when you laugh, and how it alters you in that moment.

I want to mention how this newsletter is structured, because I’ve discovered some confusion with some of my readers.  The newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1, but most often is not referenced in part 1 (it offers a different point of view); the third is a quote. I hope this eliminates the confusion, and that you enjoy all three parts.

How Laughing at Yourself Can Change the World | Brad Jenkins

Quotes of the Week

Time can be kept by clocks and calendars, measured in inches and wrinkles, and caught in images and photographs. But if we are lucky, it can also be counted in a life well spent, full of learning, love, and laughter.

-Cameron Diaz

Blessed are those who laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused

-Anon

Announcements
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co

Affect Tolerance, or How to Love Pain

mindfulness

Affect tolerance is all about learning to tolerate chronic pain.  It’s a big topic, especially around mindfulness practitioners, because being mindful can help someone learn to be OK with chronic pain – even love it!

Having a mindfulness practice helps in at least three ways: it helps us bear pain, it helps us accept aspects of ourselves that we try to ignore (which only serves to intensify the pain), and it helps us adjust our priorities to those that are more in line with life and wellness.

  1. It helps us bear pain. Often when we’re in pain, we make it much worse with our self-talk. “This is intolerable!” “I just can’t do anything with this pain and it makes me so angry!” – are two examples of how we can make the pain we feel remain centre-stage. Learning to separate our negative and un-helpful self-talk from the actual sensations not only provides some objective detachment, but also calms the talk.  This can very effectively reduce the actual sensation of pain. You can see this yourself the next time you feel a pain, say, in your hip: sit in a way that supports that painful part of your body, close your eyes, and breathe.  Then go to the actual area of pain, and imagine breathing right into that area – without attempting to alter the sensation; simply breathing into it; being with it. Do this for a few minutes and notice if there are any changes in the sensation as a result.  Most often, you will notice there is a change – a diminishing or softening of the sensation.
  2. It helps us accept ourselves as a whole, instead of limiting that acceptance to certain parts of ourselves. Pain can be a “pain”, but it can also be a friend – by telling us when we’ve gone too far. As we age, our bodies become increasingly limited in their ability to respond to our demands. Instead of fighting this, honoring what our body is able to do – and not able to do – is going to make us – ultimately – more content, moving from self-judgment and self-criticism to self-appreciation and support.
  3. It helps us adjust our priorities – to those that better serve us. This is closely linked to self-acceptance, and is really an extension of that idea: comparison to others who we judge as more fit or less in pain can only lead to misery. For instance, I can compare myself to my slim friend who can eat anything she wants, then judge myself wanting because I can’t eat anything I want without gaining weight and adding pressure to my knees.  Or, I can chose to focus instead on my successes – my depth of knowledge on what truly nourishes me, for instance; which I have only because I must watch what I eat. My priority can be to be ‘better than’, or it can be to be healthy and happy with what I have.  My choice.

My mother, for a number of reasons, had severe osteoporosis in her old age.  Because of this ailment, she had trouble walking and was almost constantly in pain. At first she fought it and ultimately made things worse by doing so.  Then she learned to accept and live with it, getting on with her life as best she could. She didn’t have a mindfulness practice – not much was known about mindfulness in the Western world at that time – but she did learn to really appreciate what was available to her, along with her limitations.  I can only wonder now what having a practice could have done for her.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

Intimacy

Before I begin, I want to mention how this newsletter is structured, because I’ve discovered some confusion with some of my readers.  The newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1, but most often is not referenced in part 1 (it offers a different point of view); the third is a quote. I hope this eliminates the confusion, and that you enjoy all three parts.

I want to begin and end today with two quotes from Martha Beck on intimacy. The first is:
Remember, intimacy increases with honesty. Share less to keep people away and more to draw them closer.

It may seem obvious – at least the first part – but so often we end up not saying what’s on our minds. To protect our friend; to protect ourselves; to protect our family. At least, that’s what I say to myself when I hide some part of the truth.  But really, it’s more complicated than that – and much more simple.  It’s complicated because, while I may be protecting someone, I’m also afraid – of ridicule, of making someone upset, of getting hurt.  And that’s the deep-down simple truth of it – because deep down, I’m afraid of getting hurt.

So I hide away, protecting my fragile ego behind politeness, authority, absent-mindedness, distraction – anything that will prevent a possible confrontation. And a possible painful moment. I’m not always like this. For me, it’s when I expect to be ignored or talked down to. For you, it might be a different reason, like feeling rejected, or abandoned, or even manipulated or controlled.  Whatever the reason, most of us avoid being honest at times with people in our lives who don’t deserve it.

It takes courage to be ourselves all the time, and there is a huge payoff: true intimacy.
Here are three things you can do the next time you’re temped to hide behind a front rather than be honest with a loved one:

  • Take a breath and notice how you feel. There’s always a feeling that accompanies our desire to hide.  Mine is a tightness in my chest just below my Adam’s Apple. It tells me that I’m afraid, and I have an urgent desire to protect myself. This is what my fear feels like and I’ve learned to recognize it.
  • Take another breath and take charge.  That part of us that is in fear is very young and, just as with any child, needs reassurance from a responsible adult that they are safe because the adult is with them.  We need our conscious selves – our inner adult – to take charge, knowing that – with rare exceptions – there is nothing actually life-threatening out there. And the only way that can happen with any success is if our inner child feels safe and in good hands.
  • Take a third breath and act. Once our inner child and adult are in sync, we are able to act from a calm, considerate and mature place; from a place of intimacy and empowerment.
Pema Chödrön – Fear and Fearlessness

 

Quote of the Week
Conflict in close relationships is not only inevitable, it’s essential. Intimacy connects people who are inevitably different. -Martha Beck

Announcements
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co

Mindful Intimacy

Mindful Intimacy

Almost a year ago, I attended a conference on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, sponsored by Harvard University.  I was going through one of my all-too-frequent periods of physical challenges, so all I could manage was to get myself to the lectures in-between resting in my room.  Fortunately it rained a lot, and the friend I’d planned on meeting had to go elsewhere, so resting in the cool darkness of my room was perfect! I’m glad I made the effort; the quality of the talks and their speakers made it all worth-while.

One of the speakers was Willa Miller, Founder and Spiritual Director of Natural Dharma Fellowship in Boston.  She began with a stretch, and then a meditation, so that we could be supported in being present for what she wanted to share with us. A beautiful, and highly meaningful way to share her talk on Mindful Intimacy with us.  This isn’t, after all, a topic that can be truly appreciated without bringing the audience along. She lead more meditations during her time up there (I can’t recall how long she was up there – it felt like no time, but was probably an hour and a half). With each one, she spoke of and demonstrated the intimacy of solitary meditation.

How so? In 5 ways, we all shared the moment:

  1. Learned from a teacher – Ms. Miller was up there, leading us all one meditation at a time – something we all shared in as a result;
  2. Our relationship to the breath – since this was her focus, it was also ours;
  3. Our relationship with the present moment – there is no intimacy without presence, and being mindful is all about being present;
  4. With our immediate senses – similar to breathing together, we were, each of us, aware of hearing her voice and feeling our breathing;
  5. With our mind’s content – because she was teaching us as we meditated, we had something to focus on and think about, while at the same time, being fully present.

This kind of meditating practice is often called Relational Meditation. Its surprisingly intimate, and perhaps for this reason, energizing.  I left that lecture feeling well for the first time in a week.  I’m not claiming it was the meditation, but we do know that connection heals; that connection is, indeed, essential for human growth and wellness.

And so I leave you with this suggestion:  experiment with meditating by yourself and in groups, then note how you feel energetically.  I’d love to hear your feedback, and invite you to leave a comment below.

Time enough for courtesy

Imagine this:  You’re standing in line at the bank. These days, because almost everything is done online or at ATM’s, standing in line at the bank can be very long and tedious, because no one stands in line unless they have something complicated to do.  You begin to fidget, thinking about the list of to-do’s for the day that probably won’t get done if you stand there much longer. You’ve been there for what seems like an hour, and finally feel you might reach the teller in another 15 minutes, when someone enters, looking harried, and cuts in front of you.  This person is loaded down with ledger books, cheques and cash bulging from a number of pockets.  Not a quick service.

What do you do?  You might feel shocked and say something like: Excuse me, the end of the line is behind that 10th person! You might feel outraged and simply move in front of them, leaving it to the person behind you to deal with it. Or you might take a breath and have a talk with him or her to discover what’s going on.

I’ve done all three at different times. From my personal experience, only the third alternative leaves me feeling good and at peace.  No matter how rushed I am, not taking time to consider the other person never pays off.

So easy to say – and agree to. So hard to do when we’re rushed. Therefore. I have a challenge for you: next time you’re rushed, no matter what you’re doing or where you are, set your watch and take 10 minutes to do nothing.

Time Passing – Stephen Wilkes

time

Quote of the Week
Life is not so short but that there is always time enough for courtesy.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Announcements
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co