Tag Archives: Meditation

ADHD, MDHD*: Attention, Mindfulness and the Zeitgeist of Disorder

IMG00054-20100925-1729Four articles in three sections of today’s The New York Times on how we do (and don’t) focus our minds – and how we can (and might) do so for the better.  They’re onto something.

In his review of Daniel Goleman’s new book, “Focus:  The Hidden Driver of Excellence,” Nicholas Carr describes how Stephen Dedalus “monitors his thoughts without reining them in” as an example of open awareness, one of many types of awareness Goleman details (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/books/review/focus-by-daniel-goleman.html?smid=pl-share).  In “Jumper Cables for the Mind,” Dan Hurley reports on tDCS at Harvard’s Laboratory of Neuromodulation, and research that shows low voltage electrical brain stimulation seems to enhance any number of cognitive functions(http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/magazine/jumper-cables-for-the-mind.html?smid=pl-share). David Hochman, in “Mindfulness at Every Turn,” details the increasing reach of mindfulness: the Marine Corps, Silicon Valley, The Huffington Post (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/fashion/mindfulness-and-meditation-are-capturing-attention.html?smid=pl-share).  And Clive Thompson’s “Brain Game,” the subject of Walter Isaacson’s review, proposes an increasing reliance on “intelligence amplification,” human cognition harnessed to the power of computers (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/books/review/smarter-than-you-think-by-clive-thompson.html?smid=pl-share). 

As a psychologist and psychotherapist who has been involved in mindfulness education since the late ’60’s (when it was called meditation), and integrative medicine before it had a name, this explosion of interest in expanding awareness and increasing attention – improving the powers of the mind – thrills me.  I’m all for anything that increases compassionate awareness and improves attention:  for my clients, my patients, our children, and certainly myself.

The idea of “more, better” is as American as it gets, and I’m all for more and better when it comes to the mind.  But I’ve got some reservations about the how of all this.  The selling of mindfulness seems somehow antithetical to the very acceptance mindfulness cultivation strives for.  And it may seem a strange thing for a psychologist whose focus is on problem solving to say, but life is not simply a problem to be solved.

Hegel supposed that all art is a reflection of the time in which it is created; the same is no doubt true of the psychological arts.  Ours is a time when excellence is valued.  Not necessarily the pursuit of excellence, however.  We like our accomplishments big and easy and fast.  And the improvement of mental functioning, while often shockingly quick when we begin proper training, is indeed a lifelong practice.  In it for the long haul, not simply for today’s trend.

Training takes practice.  So why bother?

When we correlate attention solely with achievement, we limit what the mind can do even as we improve our chances for success.  Just as an efficient laser requires vast numbers of atoms in an excited state, our human laser-like focus, so crucial for excellence in completing many tasks, requires a ramping up of very specific kinds of attention.  As we learn more about the brain’s neuroplasticity – and apply ever more sophisticated technology – exciting real life applications will allow us to improve attention.  An eye surgeon focuses his attention as well as his laser beam, and a good thing that is.  But while a  laser can attain and sustain this heightened excitation and focus, we, on the other hand, experience stress in response to the demand for constant laser-like focus.  We can focus our attention sharply and well – but only for so long.

We also require rest.

But what is the nature of the rest we require?  Not the sort of lack of attention we often choose: multi-tasking, zoning out, mindlessly watching tv, texting while talking and walking.  Divided attention does not refresh, it simply provides a break from the intensity of single focus attention.

What is the awareness that refreshes?

Open awareness, mindfulness, the meditative state.  The form really doesn’t matter.  Pick and choose,  try a form that suits, or try one and switch to another.  What matters is the ongoing practice of focusing awareness, even while accepting all the gyrations of mind that accompany the attempt to do so.  We can quiet the “monkey mind” with practice, but not by ignoring or drugging away our thoughts and feelings.

Focused attention AND open awareness.  We need both for success in accomplishing our goals, and success in living a fulfilled life.  Both.  And both can be improved – greatly – through practice.   It may seem an oxymoron, but research has shown what generations (and other cultures) know: the work of improving attention and awareness mean less stress, increased productivity, and happier lives.

* Mindfulness Disorder, with and without hyperactivity

Copyright © 2013  Marlin S. Potash, Ed.D.  All rights reserved.  

Soothe the Stress: A Conscious Breathing Meditation

I was recently asked to put together a conscious breathing meditation for someone who finds reading an easier way to focus than listening to a pre-recorded meditation – and for whom simply returning to a focal point may well be simple, but is not at all easy.  The following meditation is meant to be read, either silently or, if one wanted to, recorded in one’s own voice.  Thought I’d share it here for anyone else who might find it helpful.  Comments – always – appreciated.

Make certain you won’t be disturbed.  Turn off the tv and quiet all electronic devices.  Close the door and quietly yet clearly tell yourself you have decided you will now do a conscious breathing meditation.  Determine if you will give yourself 3-5 minutes, or if you might set aside 15-20 minutes.  Either way, consciously decide you will now do a breathing meditation, and gently tell yourself you will now begin.

Sit comfortably, by which I mean sit with your feet uncrossed and on the floor, and your hands uncrossed in your lap or resting on the arms of the chair.  Let the chair support your weight;  feel the floor under your feet. Or lie down comfortably – supported and uncrossed – on the floor.  If your body wants to shift position as your meditation progresses, that’s fine.  Just start out uncrossed and supported by chair or floor.

Close your eyes and focus your awareness on your breath.  Nothing to do, nothing to worry about, simply notice your breath coming into your body, and moving out of your body.  And again.  And again.  As you focus your awareness on your breath, you may notice your breathing gets deeper – or more shallow.  If it changes, fine.  If it does not change, fine.  Simply focus your awareness on your breath as you inhale and exhale. Notice your breath coming into your body, moving through your body, and moving out of your body.  And again.

Good.

Now allow your awareness of your breath to gently shift, as you focus on HOW you inhale through your nose.  Notice how your breath fills your chest and belly. And then focus on HOW you exhale, also through your nose.  Nothing to do, nothing to change, just focusing your awareness on your breathing however it is in this moment.

You are becoming mindful of your breath, focusing your awareness on your breath, becoming conscious of your breathing.  Nothing to do, nothing to worry about; no correct way, no incorrect way.  Simply focusing your awareness on your breath.  As it moves into your body, as you inhale through your nose.  As it moves through your body, filling your chest and belly with breath.  As it moves out of your body, as you exhale through your nose.  Notice how it is your breath moves into, through, and out of your body.

Good.  As you continue to focus your awareness on your breath, imagine it is as if your breath were breathing you.  As if you were watching a movie called “My breath is breathing me.”  You needn’t do anything; your breath continues with or without your conscious awareness.  You are now choosing to be aware of your breath.

Focus your awareness on your breath as you inhale through your nose.  Focus your awareness on your breath as it fills your chest and belly. Focus your awareness on your breath as you exhale through your nose.

Your mind may wander: remembering something you must do, worrying about a deadline, wondering how you are doing at this meditation.  Minds wander.  It is what minds do.  When your mind wanders, when you become aware of your mind wandering, bring it back to focus on your breath, easily and gently.

Focus your awareness on your breath as you inhale through your nose.  Focus your awareness on your breath as it fills your chest and belly. Focus your awareness on your breath as you exhale through your nose.

Again.  And again.  And again.

Good.

You may find it helpful, as you breathe in, to say to yourself, ‘Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.’ And as you breathe out, to say ‘Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.’  Or “Breath in” and “Breath out.”  Or you may find it helpful, as you breathe, to count your breaths.  If you care to try one of these, do try it.  If not, do not.  Either with or without one of the above, you are focusing your awareness on your breath, recognizing your in-breath as an in-breath and your out-breath as an out-breath. And gently bringing your mind back to awareness on your breathing when it wanders.

Focus your awareness on your breath as you inhale through your nose.  Focus your awareness on your breath as it fills your chest and belly. Focus your awareness on your breath as you exhale through your nose.

Again.  And again.  And again.

Good.  And when you have finished, remember you can bring this feeling of focused awareness with you, as you slowly open your eyes and return to the room.

 

Copyright © 2012 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

You and Your Therapist: Part V. Take a Therapy Vacation

Hot time, summer in the city.  Thoughts go to the Cape, the Hamptons, the Jersey Shore…

Well, maybe not specifically, but the imagination does drift to escaping the city’s humidity at the beach, by the pool,  in the country. Oh, the lazy days of summer!  So, should you take a therapy vacation?

Who, you?  Your therapist?  Yup.

You:  You stop working in therapy, really;  you phone it in.  Oh, you show up – most of the time – but your head’s not into it.  You forget to do your homework (you were going to meditate, exercise, daily, remember?).   You’re finding it too hard to resist the long weekend away, the chance to catch the new movie in air-conditioned bliss on a summer Friday…

Your therapist:  Juggling everyone else’s summer vacation schedule and wondering:  take August off, since patients are out of town, or be one of the few therapists in town, available for patients?  Struggles with patient-envy:  patients enjoying being on vacation, therapists worrying if they’ll have a practice come autumn…

Sometimes, a vacation from therapy’s the way to go.  If you’re not going to fully invest your energies in the process (either patient or therapist), don’t waste your/her time and money.  If you’re running on empty, therapy becomes a matter of diminishing returns – something that’s often noticed only after that break.

So go for it.  Time for a break so you can return, refreshed, ready to work, learn, grow, change.  Time for a therapy vacation.

Just remember: you don’t want to lose ground or forget what you’ve learned so far.   A break from therapy – summer vacation – isn’t an excuse to forget everything you’ve learned in therapy.  And it certainly isn’t an excuse to forget to pay attention to what’s good for you – and what’s not.

Copyright © 2011 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

Can’t Be Said Much Better Than This…

Life’s never easy.  We can decide what we want.  (Well,  some of us can;  for others, even knowing what we want is not so easy). 

There’s much we can choose, if we are fortunate.   And we are all, all of us, quite fortunate (even when, on those bad days, we don’t feel that way).  And though there’s no sure-fire path to getting it all, good psychotherapy can help find – and clear – the path to happiness.  Search, question, focus, discipline, know what matters, meditate, learn about and face oneself honestly in the company of a therapist who listens and “gets it”: safe landing, real contentment and true happiness are indeed possible.

Even if there’s no guarantee of getting/having even what we (think we) need.  Even if it’s finding and traveling the path to, not being and staying at some desired destination.

Sometimes therapy’s about listening – both the therapist, and the patient – to the felt need.   Permitting the feelings, the desires, the sense of urgency:  wanting what we want, when we want it.

And then accepting that it is however it is.  And if we share our most private wishes with someone who hears, gets it – and accepts us as we are – well, sometimes, maybe, that’s really as good as it gets.  And it’s quite good enough.

Is it any wonder people fall in love with their therapists?

Copyright © 2011 Marlin S. Potash.  All rights reserved.

A Happiness Meditation

And this, from my dear friend, my wise friend, Fiamma Arditi,
Director, journalist at Senza Frontiere film festival:
The Chemical Reaction Within

“Happiness belongs to those who are easily contented.”
— Aristotle

Here’s a gentle reminder that Happiness is a state within us.  It is a chemical reaction based on where we put our focus, and from which perspective we choose to experience the world.

We are the ones who hold the key to lasting happiness. And we are the only ones who can deprive ourselves of the happiness that we all desire and deserve.

Sometimes, all it takes is a whisper of gratitude, to draw our focus back to our hearts and away from the discontentment and negativity that our minds are naturally attracted to.

This past Christmas, I took on the responsibility of cooking for our extended family. And when I was in the kitchen, preparing the food, I found my mind wandering off, thinking about negative things, thinking about things to complain about, thinking about certain people who made me upset.

I caught myself doing it, and was alarmed by the negative feeling it drew into my inner space.

And then I started to consciously redirect my attention towards being thankful. It was like a game.

As I was chopping vegetables, I would say –sometimes verbally- “I am so thankful that I have the resources to buy vegetables. I am so thankful for this knife, without it would be difficult to cut vegetables.” Standing at the sink, I would say, “I am so thankful that I have water. I am so thankful for this beautiful sink. It’s so useful and cool looking.”

Going to the fridge to get the ingredients for the next thing I was cooking, I’d say, “I am so thankful I have a fridge. I am so thankful for the fridge full of food.” Standing over the stove, “I am so thankful for this pot. I am so thankful for the beautiful gas stove, it has provided so much for our family’s needs. I love that it’s stainless steel and black.”

When I dropped something on the floor, as I picked it up, I would admire the beautiful wood floor, which we never take the time to appreciate, “I am so thankful for the wood floor, I love the red tint it reflects.” And as I am saying this, I would be reminded, “I am so thankful for this house. A house with all the characteristics we once dreamed about, and it became a reality. Thank you Universe for always watching out for my needs and always fulfilling my dreams.”.

This went on for some time.

At first, it felt fake and forceful, but slowly, the feeling of love and warmth over took me, and the whole experience of cooking became a dance with the flow of life; a pleasant experience; a meditation.

I became lost in the presence of that blissful hour, in the kitchen, lost in the abundance of each moment, with overflowing love.

It doesn’t take a lot to get you started on the path of being thankful.

Gratitude is the fast track to contentment, and contentment for our present life situation, contentment of this moment regardless of what is in front of us is the key to happiness. Simple.

Next time you find your mind wandering off to the land of discontentment, complaining, or negative thoughts, don’t give yourself a hard time. Instead, try the simple method above of giving thanks, to those things you are immediately interacting with.  ~ Fiamma Arditi

Stop!

stopIs it just me, or does it seem that everything is revving faster and faster by the day? I know that as we age, even baby boomers don’t move or think as fast as we once did. But I am starting to think it’s more than my just getting older and slower and crankier. It seems to me that the number of emails and texts and twitter alerts keep increasing exponentially. That the computer or handheld or cellphone – or all of them – seem to be on all the time, in every room, no matter what other activity’s the main event.

Witness: Despite a sign in my waiting room, and the expensive and rare luxury of an hour devoted exclusively to them, more and more patients “have to” leave their phones on during session: the kid might call, the market might fall, can’t miss anything at all.

Witness: Even people who a year ago vowed never to be “one of them” now text (they’ve been talking on the cell phones they vowed never to get for some time now) while crossing 96th and Madison. Or Times Square. Like your Aunt Harriet, model of decorum and good sense. Or your chill yoga instructor.

Witness: Despite tragic reports of car and subway and train crashes, drivers still convince themselves that, as long as they’re talking hands-free, they can pay sufficient attention to three things at once: the road, their phone conversation, and whatever else is going on in the car.

Witness: Despite numerous research studies that show multitasking is in fact less efficient than focusing on one thing at a time, we cling to the fantasy that we can somehow squeeze more into our day if we do two, three, even four things at once. That continually shifting gears, or paying attention to multiple things at once, helps us learn, when it fact it hinders learning. (How much do you miss about your dinner companion when your eyes are scanning every cute girl walking by?).

And it’s not just about the limit to what we can assimilate, or the eye strain from staring at the screens, or missing the eye contact you only get when you are only talking with the person with whom you are talking. No, what’s also bothering me is the sinking feeling that we’re all working for our technology, rather than the other way around. Everyone else does it, so we have to, too, to keep up. But there’s just too much to absorb before we’re saturated. And unfortunately, there’s still more and more to absorb.

I don’t know about you, but I need a rest. I want a rest. It’s summer, and I want time to just do nothing and stare at some clouds, wonder if they look like trees or if they’re cumulous or not…I want to enter into a conversation with no goal or agenda in mind, and no “excuse me’s” for the Blackberry calling, or a bevy of Iphones to the right of the soup spoons…

I want unplanned and unpaced time. I’m even starting to get nostalgic for the old days around the family dinner table before answering machines and cell phones and computers and more (well, not the quarreling part, or the “eat your dinner because of the starving children in ___ part). When the phone rang, there were glances around the table to see that everyone was accounted for, and some adult said something like, “Let it ring. We’re all here, having dinner. Whoever it is, if it’s important, they’ll call back.”

To do what you are doing when you are doing it… to only do what you are doing, fully and completely, trusting that, if important, they’ll call back again. That’s the break that refreshes, when the noise and the busyness stop…Now that’s today’s ultimate luxury: being in the moment, with no beeps or ringtones to interrupt quiet time, a quiet mind.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

On Blowing Bubbles in the Real World

bubble_colorful_colors_221291_l1You can’t walk into a job interview in your suit while blowing those drippy summertime bubbles that come in a hot green plastic container. You can’t give your elevator speech to the new networking contact with a qualified, live lead while sitting on a bench in Central Park blowing bubbles.

Or can you? Should you? (You can see where this is going…)

You need breaks from real life: to play, to float above the problems, to not deal. And you need breaks from taking breaks: to get up off the sofa and write that document, make that tough phone call, run the numbers. Most of the time, you oscillate between the two. It’s easier that way. Work while you’re working, play while you’re playing. No distractions, in control, not too sloppy.

But what would happen, how would life feel, if you infused the two? If you didn’t wait for Saturday night to have “time off” or wait until Sunday night to “plan the week?”

What would happen if – just for a moment, here and there – you dealt with the hard realities with a smile on your face and a bubble wand in your hand? Well, for one thing, you’d notice who thought you were nuts and avoided you (though arguably in New York that takes an awful lot), and who smiled along with you, maybe even wanted a go at the wand.

To make the largest bubble you can before the thin film breaks, you have to breathe easy, deliberately and deeply. You slow down, you focus, you let go (For a moment. You can easily get it back, all that tension, if you need it). With conscious awareness, you take a breath and focus gently on the ephemeral here and now. You know all too well the bubble’s going to burst. They always do. That’s part of the challenge, the pull, maybe even the fun. You try yet again: for a bigger bubble, a bunch of tiny bubbles, two intersecting bubbles. Or a laugh, a smile, even. Just to yourself. Or, maybe even better, a shared glance with a kindred spirit.

It only takes a conscious moment. Just a few moments can make a big difference helping you get through these tough recession days, shifting perspective, giving you a much needed and appreciated breather. So that when you return to the challenges of your daily life, you do so refreshed, energized, feeling less frantic and more positive. By creating a sort of resiliency reservoir, the same daunting challenges don’t feel the same.

It’s easy to lose the smile when the demands of daily life crank up. And they seem to more and more these days. Financial woes, 24/7 email and cell phone and internet, the markets open somewhere pretty much all the time – all of them demanding your attention. And someone else nipping at your heels – evaluating you at your job, dumping their job on you, lying in wait for your job. Seems as if there’s never enough time or bandwith. No wonder you get edgy, short-tempered, exhausted.

Who’s got the time or energy for anything besides accomplishing something or vegging out in front of the tv? Who’s got time to be conscious and focused on the little joys? Maybe you do, just for a moment. In fact, just imagining it might almost do the trick.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.