Tag Archive: relationship

Mindfulness and Mindlessness

I meditate every morning – for at least half an hour. Sometimes, I end up gaining energy and a kind of delightful groundedness from it that can carry me through the rest of the day. Sometimes, I feel it’s little more than sleeping sitting up, where the entire time can go by in a blink.

Ellen Langer would call the first instance one of mindfulness, and the second one of mindlessness.  Ms. Langer is a social psychologist at Harvard University, who has studied Mindfulness and what she calls Mindlessness since at least the 1970’s.  In a recent podcast, she spoke about what mindfulness really means for her.

She defines Mindfulness as the simple act of actively noticing things. For her, being mindful doesn’t necessarily involve meditating or yoga, or any particular recommended way of being. All of these things can be mindful, and they can also be unmindful, depending on how we are while we do them.

From her studies, experiments and research, she concludes that most of us are mindless most of the time, and that this mindlessness is at least a major contributor to illness and unhappiness in our lives.

In one study, for instance, which she terms Counter-Clockwise, she has a group of men in their 80’s live in a retreat for a week that has been retrofitted to around 20 years earlier. These men were to act as if this retrofit were in the present (i.e., as if they were 20 years younger).  What she discovered, by measuring their physical and emotional well-being after that week, was that they not only felt 20 years younger, but that their hearing, vision, memory and strength had all significantly improved.

Her work addresses the mind/body question in an intriguing way: most of us still separate the mind from the body – looking at how the mind influences the body and vice versa.  She doesn’t make this distinction. Instead, she sees mind and body as inseparable.

With this perspective, the Placebo can be seen as a powerful and valid drug instead of a mistake; one that unlocks our brain’s inner pharmacy, and gives us mastery over our own health. How empowering that is!

I could talk endlessly about the implications and applications stated and implied by Ms. Langer that come from her approach and perspective, but will offer up one that we can all use right away: re-invigorating our personal relationships.

Most, if not all, of us can find ourselves getting too used to our life partners.  The prevailing wisdom when that happens is to change things up; to freshen that relationship by making it new again.  And some people manage to do that with success.  Or, you can try this:

Every day for a week, make a point of actively noticing 5 things about your partner. For instance, you might notice today that he or she carefully folded their pajamas before leaving for work. What you notice doesn’t have to be profound; it simply needs to be something you actively engage in in the moment.

What happens?  A revitalized connection to your partner.


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 .


The Rigid Character Structure

rigid character In the first part of the 20th century, Austrian Psychoanalist Wilhelm Reich developed a theory explaining how we respond both physically and emotionally to the challenges we meet in life, especially in early life.   For the past few weeks, I’ve introduced you, in broad terms, to Character Structures in general, and to the Masochist, or Endurer, the Oral, and the Schizoid.  This week I’ll introduce you to the Rigid body and character type.

The Rigid structure is sometimes depicted as square, or rectangular: squared shoulders, straight back. Somewhat military. When I try to imagine a rigid stance, I imagine someone like General Montromery, or Spock.

The main issue with the Rigid is early control: of being exploited by (usually) one parent – often unawares – to fulfill that parent’s own needs.  The father, for instance, who insists his son follow in his footsteps, or become a doctor, or go to a particular school – regardless of the child’s wishes and needs.  The child finds that they must swallow this parent’s beliefs, whether he believes them himself. To do so, he learns to separate his own feelings from his thoughts, developing a “stiff upper lip”, calmy and effectively doing what’s needed, regardless of what he may be feeling.

The Rigid, in separating feelings from beliefs, may find himself in dry long-term relationships and passionnate short-term ones, never reconciling his emotional needs with his life goals.  He’s the person who needs different partners for sex and for love.

At their best, the Rigid person is the righteous, clear-headed thinker. Reliable. Organized. Thorough. (And the best of all character types, according to my Rigid friend.)

The primary challenge for the Rigid is to learn to recognize, and then trust, his own beliefs and feelings.

Next week, I’ll introduce the Psychopath, or Challenger character Type.  If you find this series interesting, and want to know more, I along with my friend and colleague Jane Mactinger will be holding a workshop on Character Structures in the near future.  Stay tuned for a date and time.


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 .

Do you have a relationship with your therapist?

When people think about therapists, the first image that comes to mind is of a patient lying on a couch while the therapist sits across from them doodling on a notepad and watching the clock. Too often, therapists are labelled as shrinks or analysts. chickentherapyhutUnfortunately, therapists are not usually associated with words like … guide or ally.

According to Wikipedia, psychotherapy is “a general term referring to therapeutic interaction or treatment contracted between a trained professional and a client, patient, family, couple, or group”. Therapeutic treatments for clients are usually in linked to mental disorders. Wikipedia defines mental disorders, using the medical model for psychotherapy, as a “psychological pattern or anomaly, potentially reflected in behavior, that is generally associated with distress or disability, and which is not considered part of normal development in a person’s culture”.

Many therapists don’t think of their clients as being “ill”, but as individuals who are stuck in life patterns that are no longer working. They need the eyes and ears of a trained professional to help them identify these patterns and help to change them. A good therapist will interact with his/her clients, builds relationships, and listens to their goals and dreams. This approach falls under the ‘relationship model’ because therapeutic treatment depends on the relationship that is created between the therapist and client.

Author and clinical psychologist, Michael Owen’s poignant description in his book The Maya Book of Life puts words to the experience of the psychotherapeutic process. “Psychotherapy is not about alleviating symptoms or becoming better adapted but rather about developing the capacity to suffer, experience, and enjoy truth – the truth about oneself and the truth about others. As a result, life gets better.”

Which psychotherapeutic approach appeals most to you? If you’ve ever gone to a therapist, how did it help you and what might you do differently in the future?

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