Monthly Archive: December 2014

A History of Christmas – Celebrating the Return of Light

Christmas is about a lot of things, not only the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Church officials don’t really know when Jesus was born, and chose to celebrate in December because there was already a festival – a very important one, being held then.winter solstice

Winter solstice has been important to most if not all cultures from the beginning because it marks the shortest day of the year North of the Equator and the longest one South of it.

For us Northerners, it represents the beginning of renewed light, a promise of renewed hope, that things can only get better from that point.

And with that in mind, may I wish you a year of renewed hope, where things only get better in your life, and in the life on our planet.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

Resistance – I don’t have time!

We’re only a few days away from a major celebration, Christmas.  Even a week ago, at the grocery store, it was really hard to find a place to park, and inside people were – I swear – running around, as if they really had no time for shopping! Almost everyone was like that; it leant an air of frantic chaos to the store atmosphere.

What is it about Christmas preparations that make us so stressed for time? For me, when I find myself engaging in this energy, it’s because I have a list, and on this list is absolutely everything that will make the day perfect.  It’s actually over the top – almost none of what I plan is necessary, or even a good idea.  And yet, I feel a need to leave no stone unturned.

For me, it’s because I want something that isn’t real any longer – I want to resurrect the days of childhood, when Christmas Day was a day of magic.

For some of us, Christmas is a fearful time – fear of being alone, fear of offending, or if you’re like me, fear of having to face the sad fact that Christmas isn’t magic for me anymore.

I actually noticed this a few years ago, and decided then to begin a new Christmas-time tradition: one that fits this time of year, and who I am now, much better.  My new tradition makes this time of least sun – this dark time – a time of quiet reflection; of sitting in a comfortable couch, after a lovely meal, and reflecting on my year.  Sometimes I spend this quiet time with close friends; this year I’ll spend it with my partner.  It’s a time of gratitude – of reflecting on what I have to be grateful for.

Deepak Chopra talks about the 4th Vedic spiritual law of success, the Law of Least Effort. It’s not so much the opposite of resistance, bur more a lovely way of recognizing what resistance is really about. When we feel frantic, or constantly out of time, it’s often because we’re resisting something that our inner wisdom is trying to tell us – we’re full of energy and keep pushing it down, because it isn’t something we want to acknowledge – like my desire to turn back the clock.  Once I took a moment to acknowledge what I really wanted, I was able to bring it out into the open.  All that energy I’d used up on ignoring my deep desire was now free to celebrate it.

This principle of least action – of no resistance – opens up our world to harmony and love, where we can “easily fulfil our desires”.

Chopra believes there are three parts to living this principle:

  • Accept the reality – let go of struggling against what simply is, and instead, begin the day with an attitude of open acceptance. Whether we struggle or let go, things will continue to be what they are. Accepting that Christmas is no longer magic, for instance.
  • Take responsibility for working with what is – once we let go of our resistance to a situation in our lives, it frees us to see how we can creatively work with it.  There’s no longer any need to blame others, or ourselves, for what simply is. I took a moment and found a way of really enjoying this time of year.
  • Cultivate Defenselessness – Letting go of blame means we no longer have anything to defend; no other opinion to resist. We can stop fighting and resisting and begin to be open to the glory of our day.

You can learn to cultivate non-resistance.

I want to invite you to my free webinar, 3 Brief and Unusual Strategies to Manage Stress on January 5, 2015. You’ll be able to use these short, yet powerful, techniques anywhere to transform your day from stressed out to super, freeing yourself from that rock you might be stuck under.  If you’re interested , click here to register.

No Time – The Guess Who

Quote of the Week
Resistance is the energy, not the enemy
– Laura Pearls



From Scientific American – The Benefits of Meditating

As we age, our bodies and our ability to focus diminishes. Meditating can not only make us feel better but can actually make us healthier.

In 2005, the Dalai Lama addressed the Society for Neuroscience at their annual meeting, and posed this question: What relation could there be between Buddhism, and ancient Indian philosophical and spiritual tradition, and modern science?

Scientific American, November, 2014

Scientific American, November, 2014

The Dalai Lama had already inspired the study of meditation and brain activity, which influenced the launching of a number of scientific experiments comparing the brain scans of experienced meditators with tens of thousands of hours of practice and neophytes or non-meditators. Here is what the scientists found (From “Mind of the Meditator”, in Scientific American, November 2014).

  1. Regular meditation can rewire brain circuits, producing beneficial effects on the mind, the brain itself, and on the whole body.
  2. Experienced practitioners were found to have a greater volume of brain tissue in the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for processing attention, sensory information, and internal bodily sensations.
  3. There is some evidence that meditation may diminish inflammation and other biological stresses at the molecular level.

According to Dr. Sarah McKay in her explanation of how meditation changes our brain, a group of Harvard Neuroscientists discovered that our brain structure can change after only 8 weeks of meditation practice. Interestingly, Mindfulness-Based stress and depression reduction classes are 8 weeks long. We know it takes 8 weeks to change a habit, and this corresponds to what the Harvard scientists have found.

In layperson’s terms, we can say that regular meditation practice can rewire our brain, prevent illness, and increase awareness and attention, both of our world and within our own bodies. And this change can begin within 8 weeks of practice.

I can’t think of anything that can match the power of meditation on our health. Meditation gives us the ability to live life healthier and happier.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.


A Shamanic Wheel of the 9 Pillars of Mindfulness

the 7 pllars of mindfulness plus 2

A Shamanic wheel begins with the 4 cardinal directions of East, West, South and North, and adds the non-Cardinal directions of South-East, South-West, North-West and North-East, always culminating in the Centre, or Void space.

The directional wheel is the base of any other wheel, each superimposed on it and each aligned with it. It would be too much information to discuss the aspects of each direction, in terms of elements, attributes, or worlds in any detail. Instead, I will say only what is connected to the pillar in each direction.

Trust is in the South, and the South is a heart space. That means that Trust involves trusting ourselves and in doing so, opening a space to give open-heartedly without fear.

Non-Judging is in the North, and the North is the place of the mind, of thinking. Non-Judging, then, means being receptive to what comes our way, remaining neutral to how we receive it.

Non-Striving is in the West, and the West represents the physical. It is saying that striving only wears us out, and rather to look for ways of living that lets us flow.

Letting go is in the East, and the East is about Spirituality, where we determine through our values how we live. We can’t do this if we have attachments to things, people or ideas. The only way to live with passion and spirit is to live on the edge of the unknown, with no attachment – ready to spread our wings and fly.

Acceptance is in the South-East, the place of self-love, of an opportunity to alter our attitude and approach to life, accepting – as the Serenity Prayer suggests – what we can and cannot change, knowing the difference.

Beginner’s Mind lies in the South-West, the place of dreams, of open and closed symbols. With the attitude of a child freshly coming upon something new, we can have no closed symbols.

Patience lies in the North-West, and is needed to change any patterns that may be hampering us. It is the place of pattern and timing.

The North-East is about relaxation and focus, about the design and choreography of our energy. It is where we need to be to have trust, non-judgment, non-striving, letting go, acceptance, beginner’s mind, and patience. That is, we need to be fully Present.

The Centre is the place of the void, both the beginning and the end. As human beings, we strive for homeostasis, just as all things in existence do, and another word for homeostasis is Balance. It is the result and the reward of living mindfully.

Living day to day has it’s ups and downs. That is part of the natural rhythm of life. And as with living, so with mindfulness – there will be “good”, “bad” and “neutral” days. Taking each day mindfully means accepting what is for that moment, no matter what.


Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.


Reacting to Life – Responding to Life

There’s a quote by that famous person – Anon – that speaks of our personal value –

Your value does not decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.

We so often react to life because we fear being devalued by others, or because we were devalued in the past.  It’s hard not to.

Responding to life, on the other hand, comes from a place of self-love and self-regard.  We know we’re not perfect. We know not everyone is going to agree with us, or even like us.  Our regard for ourselves, in those moments of responding, is independent of all that.

Deborah Kimmett in her blog in Huffington Post, told a story that illustrates this beautifully.  She had written a play and wanted some feedback.  So she gave it to two colleagues to review.  The first came back with a criticism.  Immediately, Deborah went into self-blame and chastisement.  Then the second colleague came back with the same criticism, and Deborah’s negative self-talk escalated.

Fortunately for her, the second colleague was willing to spend some time with her asking questions and making suggestions.  She was still pretty deflated, but it didn’t last because she had some way to move forward.

Whenever we react, it’s because we have preconceived notions about ourselves that don’t always match what’s real.  They’re always based on past experiences, and often on experiences that we misinterpreted. If we can learn to catch ourselves when on the verge of reacting, we can save ourselves a lot of needless pain.

Deborah learnt from her experience, and we can learn from her.  Here are 4 things you can do the next time you feel the heat of reaction overcome your better judgment:

  1. Recognise the signs. When we react, there’s always a powerful and compelling emotion that accompanies it.  If you can recognise it, then you can use it to help yourself out of reaction and into response.
  2. Take 10 breaths.  Attributed to Thomas Jefferson, this piece of ancient wisdom is true in any age.  Breathing – deep breathing – actually calms that part of our nervous system that goes into action when we react.  So, simply breathing for a few moments will alter your state and bring you back into control.
  3. Keep quiet. While you’re experience strong emotion, keep quiet.  It’s so easy to say something you can’t take back in the heat of a reaction. Wait until your head clears before putting thoughts and feelings to words.
  4. Forgive yourself. If you do end up reacting, you have two choices:  either beat yourself up, carrying the guilt and shame of that; or acknowledge what you’ve done, make restitution, forgive yourself, and move on.

Quote of the Week

Life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it
– Chuck Swindoll

The 7 Pillars of Mindfulness Plus 2

In John Kabat-Zinn’s book “Full Catastrophe Living”, he begins with a discussion on the foundations of mindfulness practice. These foundations include the 7 pillars of mindfulness; I have added 2 more, making the 7 pillars of mindfulness plus 2. Each pillar is connected with non-doingall the others; all are aspects of the attitude and approach we take to being mindful.

These pillars are Trust, Non-Judging, Non-Striving, Letting Go, Acceptance, Beginner’s Mind, and Patience, as well as Presence and Balance. I’ve added Presence and Balance as pillars because they complete the connection is a special way. I’ll be talking about how they complete this connection next week. This week I want to focus on what makes them pillars.

Cultivating the healing power of mindfulness, in Kabat-Zinn’s words, means bringing our whole being to the process. And this means setting our intention of consciously cultivating the attitudes, as best we can, of trust, non-judging, non-striving, letting go, acceptance, beginner’s mind, and patience. If these are consciously cultivated, then we are present and moving into balance. What does it mean to cultivate the attitude of trust, or any of the pillars mentioned?

Trust means learning to trust our own experience, feelings and intuition. It is impossible to become like somebody else. We can only become more fully ourselves. And so it is better to trust our own intuition and authority, even if we make some mistakes, than always to look outside ourselves for guidance. In practicing mindfulness, we are practicing taking responsibility for being ourselves and learning to listen and trust our own being.

Non-Judging frees us to be with whatever arises. Our mind labels and categorizes according to what we deem as good, bad or neutral – depending on how it makes us feel. This habit can dominate the mind, making it hard to ever find peace within ourselves. When practicing mindfulness, we learn to recognize when we are judging, then assuming a stance of impartiality, and as best we can, observe what unfolds, including our reaction to it.

Non-striving is an unfolding that we are inviting to happen within us. Almost everything we do, we do for a purpose, to get something or somewhere. Meditation, on the other hand, has no goal other than to be ourselves. We allow everything we experience from moment to moment to be here, because it already is. The invitation is to simply embrace it and hold it in awareness. We do not have to do anything with it.

Letting Go is a gift we give ourselves, a space around our hearts that is free of attachment, free to be with whatever is here and now. Letting go is a way of letting things be, of accepting things as they are. Often our minds get caught up in holding onto pleasant thoughts, or holding off on thoughts or feelings we deem unpleasant. Cultivating an attitude of letting go, or non-attachment, can teach us about what we are holding onto.

Acceptance means taking each moment as it comes, and being with it fully, as it is. Acceptance is seeing things as they actually are in the present. We often spend a lot of energy denying and resisting what is already fact. This prevents positive change from occurring. The attitude of Acceptance sets the stage for knowing what to do because we have a clear picture of what is actually happening. If we attend on the present, we can be sure that whatever we are attending to in this moment will change, giving us the opportunity to practice accepting whatever it is that will emerge in the next moment.

Beginner’s Mind lets us be receptive to new possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own experience. No moment is the same as any other. The richness of present moment experience is the richness of life itself. We sometimes let our beliefs about what we think we know prevent us from seeing things as they really are. To see the richness of the present moment, we need to cultivate Beginner’s mind, a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time.

Patience is simply being open to each moment as it unfolds knowing that, like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, things can only unfold in their own time. Patience is a form of wisdom. With patience we understand and accept that sometimes things must unfold in their own time. Like the butterfly, the process cannot be hurried. When practicing mindfulness, we cultivate patience towards our minds and bodies by giving ourselves room to have whatever experiences we are having.

Presence is a state of mental awareness, physical alertness, and emotional acceptance of what is with us here and now. In Pema Chodron’s words “your everyday practice is open to all your emotions, to all the people you meet, to all the situations you encounter, without closing down, trusting that you can do that”.

Balance is what we are all striving for as human beings and even as living beings. It’s a fundamental law of nature that everything that exists strives to achieve homeostasis, and for us, that means achieving, as best we can, a balanced emotional, physical, mental and spiritual state of being. And that means living mindfully.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.