Developing Sustainable Intimate Relationships through Mindfulness

Wendy Strgar, intimate relationship expert and author, stresses the role of mindfulness as a pathway to developing a sustainable intimate relationship.  In her books and blog she openly shares the ups and downs, troughs and deep valleys, of the 30 plus years of her relationship with her husband.  Her blog, Making Love Sustainable, has a category of posts devoted to mindfulness.  Wendy’s first book, Love That Works: A Guide to Enduring Intimacy, highlights developing intimate relationships as a learning journey for both partners.  Her latter book which provides a guide to awakening and sustaining intimate relationships focuses on “deep presence” and “attention” as key ingredients of a sustainable and rich intimate life.  I will draw on this latter book to share some of Wendy’s insights into how to sustain an intimate relationship through mindfulness.

Mindfulness for developing and sustaining an intimate relationship

There are very clear lessons in Wendy’s second book on sustaining intimate relationships that link directly to the nature of mindfulness as defined by Jon Kabat-Zin and the definition provided by Diana Winston.  Here are some key points that Wendy makes about developing and sustaining an intimate relationship:

  • Paying attention: Wendy’s longest chapter is devoted to this topic which she considers makes the difference between “fleeting pleasure and lasting happiness” in a relationship.  Her broader focus for a discussion of attention is being fully engaged in something that you love, that enriches you and makes you fully yourself.   A narrower focus that she emphasises is paying attention to your thoughts about yourself and your partner – since our thoughts create our reality.  In practice, this means dealing with negative self-stories on the one hand and developing a growing consciousness of how we think about our partner (a neglected area of personal inquiry).  As we have mentioned previously, “we are not our thoughts” nor is our partner solely what we think they are.
  • Being present: Wendy emphasises presence and being in the moment as key ways to communicate love and respect in an intimate relationship. If our mind is continuously wandering and we are lost in thought (about our “to-do list” for example), we cannot be truly present to the other person. In her blog post, Gifting Your Real Presence, she discusses the relationship benefits of being fully present and ways to achieve real presence.
  • Deep listening: the art of deep listening involves both paying attention and being present.  Wendy suggests that these aspects in combination develop the capacity for “full-body attention” and enable our partner to “feel truly heard”.  This art of listening requires that we do not “try to solve the other person’s problems or to steer the conversation” to something about ourselves and our achievements (to avoid the emotive content of the conversation).  In Wendy’s view, “attentive listening” serves to “enliven our intimate connection”.
  • Being non-judgemental: it is very easy to become obsessed with the negative spiral of identifying our partner’s faults and deficiencies (often to defend our own position or our sense of self-worth).  We can get into the negative habit of highlighting their lack of congruence – the inconsistency between their words (particularly their advice to us) and their actions. Again, paying attention to our thoughts about our partner will surface this tendency to judge and/or project our negative traits onto our intimate partner.
  • Developing the intention to focus on the relationship: Wendy suggests that an intimate relationship should be viewed as a container or environment that sustains “an atmosphere hospitable to love” (and intimacy).  This entails focusing on cultivating the relationship rather than the singular pursuit of our own needs at our partner’s expense or subservience to the assumed needs of our partner out of a sense of obligation.  Focusing on the relationship could also mean exploring the “unwritten rules” in the relationship. When we focus on cultivating the relationship atmosphere we can also think of the analogy of a garden.  Wendy suggests an intimate relationship needs the fertile soil of “showing up” in the relationship (translates to “sharing”), the pure water of setting aside time for intimacy, and the fresh air of clear and unambiguous communication.  
  • Bringing openness and curiosity to the relationship: this aspect lines up with Diana Winston’s explanation of mindfulness.  This entails a readiness to learn about our-self-in-the-relationship (through self-observation) and to get to know and understand our partner intimately – including their needs and preferences, communication style and their energy pattern.

Reflection

Developing a sustainable intimate relationship involves a lifetime pursuit of learning and focused intention to cultivate a loving environment for the relationship (rather than just accepting established patterns of saying and doing things which may be injurious to sustainability).  As we grow in mindfulness, we can learn to pay attention, be fully present, listen deeply, observe non-judgmentally and develop self-awareness and an unadulterated awareness of our partner (not contaminated by our unfulfilled need for attention derived from a deficient childhood).  Being mindful in an intimate relationship does not involve losing our self in the relationship but finding our self through the relationship.  It entails showing up fully in our life to enrich the relationship and engender intimacy through mutual appreciation and gratitude.

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Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Being Joyful for the Joy of Other People in Your Life

In a previous post I explored ways to cultivate joy in your life and provided a guided meditation on this practice.  The foundation for letting joy into your life is gratitude and the associated savouring of what is good in your life such as your achievements, friendships or your child’s development.  Genuine appreciation and gratitude displace the tendency to be envious of others’ success and joy.  However, we can work positively towards valuing and rejoicing in the good fortune of others, which in turn increases our own joy in life.

Diana Winston offers a meditation podcast, Taking Joy in Others’ Joy, designed to help us to be joyful for the joy of other people in our life.  This guided meditation is offered as one of the many weekly podcasts provided by MARC at UCLA and available through their online archive.

Barriers to being joyful for others

Diana points out that it is natural to experience barriers to being joyful for others.  These may take the form of feeling envious of their success, coveting what they have (whether a possession or a person) or feeling an inexplicable sadness when we become aware of another’s joy.  One way to address these blockages is to identify what we are feeling and to name the feeling so that we can control it.  What we will often find is that our sense of shame (for experiencing strong negative feelings) will cause us to hide these feeling from our self (not own up to them) and/or to camouflage them when interacting with others.

Michelle De Kretser, in her book The Life to Come, gives a very good illustration of this camouflaging of feelings of envy.  Michelle, when discussing the relationship between Cassie (a creative writing student) and her friend, Pippa (a successful, published novelist), highlighted how we can avoid confronting the unwelcome feeling of envy:

Cassie had hit on the strategy of dousing the envy that flickered up in her around Pippa with a stream of (fabricated) compliments.

While this approach may hide our true feelings from others, it does not address the underlying barrier to being joyful for the joy of other people in our life.  Being honest with our self about our true feelings, naming them and understanding how they reflect in our behaviour can help us to reduce the barrier.  Diana offers a supportive approach in her guided meditation podcast mentioned above.

A guided meditation on empathetic joy

In addition to addressing negative feelings that act as barriers to being joyful for others, it can be helpful for us to take a constructive approach through regular meditations designed to develop empathetic joy – appreciating the joy of others resulting from a specific accomplishment or the experience of good fortune.  The joy of others may arise through their concerted efforts to develop a skill, overcome a difficulty or achieve something that is important to them. 

The starting point of this meditation is to become grounded through your posture, mental focus and the process of using an anchor to maintain your attention and relaxed state of mind and body.  Once you have achieved this groundedness for a reasonably sustained period (e.g. 10 minutes), you can shift your focus to cultivating empathetic joy.

Firstly, you focus on the good fortune or enjoyment of someone who is close to you, with whom you have a strong relationship.  You can then picture their joy or enjoyment over a specific accomplishment or piece of good fortune and extend the desire for their joy to be increased and sustained, e.g. “May you continue to be happy and joyful and experience further success and happiness in your life.”

The next focus in your meditation is on a person with whom you experience some degree of discomfort over their success (avoid focusing on someone whom you are totally envious about) – you might have a twinge of envy that you do not entertain or dwell on to any significant degree.  In your meditation, you then apply a similar expression of good will towards this other person, moving beyond negative thoughts or feelings (as you bring them into focus), to a genuine expression of good will – wishing them increased, sustained joy and happiness.

Reflection

Being joyful for the joy of other people in your life, can be very challenging in some situations.  Where we have strong negative feelings towards them (e.g. envy or covetousness), we will experience barriers to rejoicing in another’s joy.  Being honest with our self about these feelings, their origin and strength, will help to remove these barriers.  The regular practice of the empathetic joy meditation can serve as a supportive practice to cultivate the capacity to be joyful for the joy of others and to experience vicarious joy.  As we grow in mindfulness through these types of loving kindness meditations and reflection on our behaviour, we can increase our self-awareness; develop self-regulation of our thoughts, feelings and behaviour; and build our connectedness to others around us.

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Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Living with Purpose

Ginny Whitelaw introduced her Lead with Purpose online training program In an interview with David Riordan of Integral Life.  Basically, the program is about living with purpose because it is not only about leading in an organisational setting but extends to every area of our life, including family and community.  During the interview, Ginny explains in detail what the course covers, the practices employed, and the perspective offered.  She particularly emphasises the non-religious orientation of the course even though it draws on Zen philosophy and is part of the many leadership development programs available through the Institute for Zen Leadership.  Ginny maintains that unlike many leadership programs that are highly conceptual in nature, the Lead with Purpose program is very much about mind-body connection – it highlights the need to achieve this integration of mind and body if a leader is to achieve realisation of their ideas and purpose.  Integral Life offers other enlightening interviews in their series of podcasts, as well as courses.

The influences behind the Lead with Purpose Course

Ginny brings to the course her doctoral studies in biophysics, a sound understanding of recent neuroscience research, training in and practice of Zen philosophy, training in martial arts (Aikido black belt, level 5 achieved as well as training others) and her experience as a senior manger in NASA (coordinating groups that support the International Space Station).  So, her training covers mind and body and their intimate connection – and she incorporates this uniquely shaped perspective in the training course.

To Ginny, the Zen approach is about direct experience of the mind-body connection and aims to deepen and enrich this sense of connection.  This is achieved in part through physical practices focused on the breath and moving focus away from analysis and obsession with using the brain to work things out.   The practices are designed to centre and stabilise the energy of the body and make it available as a rich resource to pursue our life purpose.

These practices heighten our intuition and sensitivity to the body’s signals and develop our insight into our fundamental purpose in life and the pathway to pursue it.  Ginny points out that our individual purpose is what differentiates each of us and our connection within and with others enables us to manifest that unique purpose in our lives, whatever arena we are operating in.   She maintains that this centredness enables us to influence others effectively whether in a meeting, a public presentation, in our family relationships or when engaging with the wider community.

Some of the modern-day issues addressed in Lead with Purpose

In today’s fast paced world with ever increasing demands and rapid change on every front, we often express frustration in three main areas – (1) lack of time, (2) lack of energy and (3) inability to translate ideas into action.

  1. Ginny explains in the interview that the course changes our relationship to time so that we are not racing against time but are focused on the now and being fully engaged with our situation.  She points out that participants in the course develop a different perspective on time and no longer see time as something separate but experience time through their continuous, personal evolution.
  2. Ginny addresses the lack of energy by maintaining that often we are unproductive because we get distracted from our purpose and energy gets “siphoned off’ into other pursuits.  The Lead with Purpose course through its centredness in the body builds energy and enables real resonance to be achieved by a person who is leading.  She explains that “as the body relaxes, energy flows”.  Ginny describes four basic “energy patterns” that exist in our nervous system and that are foundational to her approach in the course.  She maintains that we each prefer a particular pattern which reflects our personality (and influencing style) but we need to develop the capacity to use the “right energy at the right time” – a specific focus of the course.  As we increase our internal connectedness between body and mind, we can use our heightened energy to influence externally – to manifest our dreams and purpose.
  3. Often our attempts to translate our ideas into action are thwarted by our internal barriers (such as negative self-talk) as well as external barriers related to organisational, personal or community readiness to change.  The Lead with Purpose course creates a heightened sensitivity to what is possible, to the opportunities that open up and to a way forward in pursuit of our purpose.

Ginny explains that through the program, participants create an “intuitive connection’ with the situation in which they lead and an “empathetic connection” with their followers, collaborators or co-creators.

Clare Bowditch – a journey into leading with purpose

Clare Bowditch – singer, songwriter, and actor – is a person of exceptional talent in many arenas. She is the winner of an Aria Award as the best female vocalist and was nominated for a Logie for her acting role in the TV series, Offspring. She has won many awards, toured with famous singers like Leonard Cohen, and developed as a radio presenter and entrepreneur.  She recently released her memoir, Your Own Kind of Girl: The stories we tell ourselves and what happens when we believe them. The memoir recounts an extended personal journey to find her purpose and pursue it with her total focus and centred energy.

Clare suffered numerous dark days through depression, catalysed by childhood trauma through the death of her young sister and adverse childhood experiences through her abusive treatment at school and elsewhere because she was considered “fat”.  She was filled with self-doubts about her talent, fears about future events and a sense of guilt over the death of her sister and her failure to do more to save her (a totally irrational belief given that her older sister died at the age of seven from a rare and incurable disease).

Clare describes in graphic detail the self-talk that debilitated her for much of her early life and clouded her view of her life purpose.  The memoir is also a story of courage, resilience and persistence in the pursuit of her life purpose. Clare adopted multiple approaches to acknowledge her true purpose, accept it and pursue it with a singular, focused energy.  Her strategies included:

  • Drawing on the support of her family and friends (including a “healing friend”)
  • Engaging in meditation (however imperfect)
  • Listening to her body and the signals it was conveying about her fears, her energy, her passion and her happiness
  • Naming negative self-talk as “Frank” and developing a way to shut Frank up and ignore “his” messages (she called it FOF)
  • Developing a personalised approach to relaxing herself (FAFL – Face, Accept, Float and Let time pass).

Clare had to offload the “shoulds” that beset her throughout her life to enable her to identify her differentiation as a singer/songwriter in terms of speaking with her real voice – becoming her “resonant self”, reflecting her true feelings and beliefs.

Reflection

Ginny’s discussion of her course, Lead with Purpose, helps us to realise the blockages that prevent us from identifying, accepting and pursuing our life purpose.  She provides a pathway forward built on an intensive mind-body connection that removes these blocks to insight and energy.  Clare Bowditch provides a model of the courage, resilience and persistence required to truly align our energies with our purpose.  As we grow in mindfulness through physical practices, meditation and reconnection, we can develop a clarity and resonance that enables us to create a real difference in our world.

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

How to Overcome Negative Self-Talk through Kindness to Yourself

Leo Babauta, creator of Zen Habits, recently wrote a comprehensive blog post on the importance of self-kindness to achieve your potential.  In his post, How to Be Kind to Yourself & Still Get Stuff Done, emphasised the disabling effects of negative self-talk, the potentiality in releasing yourself from a focus on your deficiencies, defects and mistakes and the power of self-kindness to achieve this release.  Leo is a leading expert on the formation and maintenance of healthy and productive habits, the author of Zen Habits: Handbook for Life and the developer of the Fearless Training Program.

How negative self-talk disables you

Your brain has an inherent negative bias, so it is so easy to constantly focus on what you have not done well, your defects and deficiencies and your mistakes.  This negative self-talk can lead to depression (regret over the past) and anxiety (about possible future mistakes).  It also engenders fear of failure and prevents you from achieving what you can achieve.  It serves as an anchor holding you in place and preventing you from moving forward.  Negative self-stories, if entertained, can lead to a disabling spiral.

You might find yourself saying things like:

  • Why did I do that?
  • What a stupid thing to do!
  • When will I ever learn?
  • Why can’t I be like other people, efficient and competent?
  • If only I could think before I leap!
  • Why do I make so many mistakes? – no one else does!
  • If only I was more careful, more useful, more thoughtful or more attentive!

…and so, your self-talk can go on and on, disabling yourself in the process.

Overcoming negative self-talk through self-kindness

Leo suggests that being kind to yourself is a way to negate the disabling effects of negative self-talk that focuses on your blemishes, mistakes or incompetence.  He proposes several ways to practise self-kindness: 

  • Give yourself compassion – instead of beating up on yourself when you get things wrong, have some compassion, positive feelings toward yourself whereby you wish yourself success, peace and contentment.
  • Focus on your good intentions – you may have stuffed up by being impatient in the moment, by a rash or harmful statement or by making a poor decision, but you can still recognise in yourself your good intentions, the effort you put in and the learning that resulted. 
  • Be grateful for what you have – rather than focus on your defects or deficiencies. Gratitude is the door to equanimity and peace.  You can focus on the very things you take for granted – being able to walk or run, gather information and make decisions, listen and understand, breathe and experience the world through your senses, be alive and capable, form friendships and positive relationships.  You can heighten your experience of the world by paying attention to each of your senses such as smelling the flowers, noticing the birds, hearing sounds, touching the texture of leaves, tasting something pleasant in a mindful way.

I found that when I was playing competitive tennis, that what worked for me was to ignore my mistakes and visually capture shots that I played particularly well – ones that achieved what I set out to achieve.  I now have a videotape stored in my mind that I can play back to myself highlighting my best forehands, backhands, smashes and volleys.  You can do this for any small achievement or accomplishment.  The secret here is that this self-affirmation builds self-efficacy – your belief in your capacity to do a specific task to a high level. 

These strategies and ways to be kind to yourself are enabling, rather than disabling.  They provide you with the confidence to move forward and realise your potential.  They stop you from holding yourself back and procrastinating out of fear that you will make a mistake, make a mess of things or stuff up completely.

Ways to achieve what you set out to accomplish

Leo maintains that being kind to yourself enables you to achieve creative things for yourself and the good of others.  He proposes several ways to build on the potentiality of kindness to yourself:

  • Do positive things:  these are what is good for yourself and enable you to be good towards others.  They can include things like yoga, meditation, mindful walking, taking time to reflect, Tai Chi, spending time in nature, savouring the development of your children, eating well and mindfully.
  • Avoid negative things – stop doing things that harm yourself or others.  Acknowledge the things that you do that are harming yourself or others. Recognise the negative effects of these harmful words and actions – be conscious of their effects on your body, your mind, your relationships and your contentment.  Resolve to avoid these words and actions out of self-love and love for others.
  • Go beyond yourself – extend your loving kindness to others through meditation and compassionate action designed to address their needs whether that is a need for support, comfort or to redress a wrong they have suffered.  Here Leo asks the penetrating question, “Can you see their concerns, feel their pain and struggle, and become bigger than your self-concern and serve them as well?”  He argues that going beyond yourself is incredibly powerful because it creates meaning for yourself, stimulates your drive to turn intention into action and brings its own rewards in the form of happiness and contentment – extending kindness to others is being kind to yourself.

Reflection

There are so many ways that we can be kind to our self and build our capacity and confidence to do things for our self as well as others.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can become more aware of the negative self-stories that hold us back, be more open and able to be kind to our self, be grateful for all that we have and find creative ways to help others in need.  We can overcome fear and procrastination by actively building on the potential of self-kindness.  As Leo suggests, self-kindness enables us to get stuff done that we ought to do for our self and others.

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Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

How to Develop Natural Awareness

Diana Winston, in her book The Little Book of Being, suggests that as we grow in mindfulness, we can more readily develop natural awareness (awareness that is not goal-oriented, but involves being conscious of experiencing awareness itself).  She maintains that natural awareness can give rise to deep internal changes that can be sustained over a period or experienced intermittently.  These changes involve a clarification of our life purpose and the desire to achieve alignment in our daily lives.

Diana argues that natural awareness is difficult to maintain but whenever realised it takes us into a state of profound peace and equanimity.  This state enables us to better manage the vicissitudes of life – the waves of challenge and disturbance that are an integral part of being human. 

Developing Natural Awareness

Diana suggests several ways that you can develop natural awareness as a part of your everyday life:

  • While undertaking a simple daily task like washing the dishes, focus your attention on the sensations associated with this action, e.g. the visual realisation of the suds that arise when dish washing liquid is added to the water, the sensation of the hot water on your hands, the sense of accomplishment or associated relief from completing an often unwelcome task.
  • Consciously monitoring how you spend your time during the day and deciding to let go of activities that take you away from alignment with your life purpose, e.g. watching “soap operas” or “reality television”, spending time criticising others/the government/service providers, reading magazines that are based on rumour and gossip or holding onto anger or resentment.
  • Ask yourself, “Who would you be if you were fully you?” and engage in deep listening as you attend to what emerges from this brief reflection.
  • Imagine something that is deep and boundless such as the ocean depths; something that is expansive and ever-changing such as the clouds in the sky; or something that is brilliant and visually contrasting such as a sunrise or sunset.
  • Notice what has changed inside you when you effortlessly handle a disruption to your meditation practice, an annoying comment from an spiteful person, an unwarranted criticism or time spent waiting for public transport.
  • Find a “new address” by moving out of Envy Boulevard or “Anxiety Street” or any other self-absorbed position or location – moving progressively instead to a new place to reside such as “Joy Avenue”.
  • Consciously avoid foods that cause inflammation in your body and negatively impact your health and well-being, and practise mindful eating with health-promoting foods.

Reflection

Natural awareness is a desirable outcome flowing from meditation and the associated growth in mindfulness.  With natural awareness we can experience deep personal insight and change, clarify our life purpose and progressively move to achieve alignment with that purpose in our daily activities – our words, our actions and how we spend our time.  This integration leads to sustainable happiness.

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Image by Eric Michelat from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Turning From Envy to Valuing the Success of Others

Johann Hari, in his  book Lost Connections, discusses various ways to achieve reconnection to other people, to meaningful work and to meaningful values.  In looking at ways to reconnect with others he maintains that the challenge is to overcome self-addiction (what Jon Kabat-Zinn describes as “myself as the center of the universe”), and transition to valuing the success of others (what Johann calls “sympathetic joy”).  To illustrate this transition, he tells the story of his friend Rachel who was consumed by envy – a divisive emotion that is socially constructed.

Envy – a socially constructed emotion

Rachel was able to describe how she experienced disappointment, sadness and depression when others succeeded at the expense of her own self-evaluation.  She explained that she had become driven by society’s values that encouraged comparison, competition and materialistic values – a society that was based on the assumption that if others achieved power or success there was less to go around for herself (a “zero-sum” perspective).

She lacked happiness and joy in her life because she always came up lacking when comparing herself with others – whether the basis of comparison was financial or professional success, the quality of her home or car or her level of visibility/perceived credentials.  This led increasingly to disconnection from others, in part because she could not express appreciation for their achievements and distanced herself to reduce her envy.

In Johann’s book, Rachel describes how she was able to turn from envy to valuing the success of others – how she was able to progressively experience and express “sympathetic joy”.

Developing sympathetic joy through loving-kindness meditation

Rachel explains how she turned to loving-kindness meditation as a pathway to overcome the pressure of society’s expectations and her socially constructed envy.  Overcoming addiction to self was a slow journey, but as she began to express positive emotions towards others when they “succeeded”, she was able to release the stranglehold of society’s expectations embed in her sense of self.

There are various forms of loving-kindness meditation and the form Rachel described entailed the following steps:

  • You picture yourself being successful in some arena of activity and allow the resultant joy to flow through you – experiencing it holistically in mind, body and emotion
  • You then visualise someone you love succeeding in some endeavour, and again open yourself fully to the resultant joy
  • You progressively focus on success and joy in relation to someone you don’t know well or are not close to, then someone you dislike and lastly someone for whom you have a strong dislike.

This loving-kindness meditation – expressing happiness for the success of others – eventually erodes envy and replaces it with appreciation, valuing others and experiencing real joy (that is no longer solely dependent on your own success but also embraces the success of others).

Reflection

We can move from envy to sympathetic joy as we grow in mindfulness through loving-kindness meditation and reflection.  As the neuroscientists continually reminds us, “we become what we focus on” – if we focus on valuing the success of others (in whatever arena) we will experience joy, if we continue to envy the success of others, we will become consumed by envy and resentment and become disconnected from others.  Sympathetic joy is a pathway to personal happiness, whereas envy leads to sadness, depression and despair because our self-evaluation is based on distorted comparison with others.

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Image by Eric Michelat from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Reasons Why Meaningless Values Lead to Depression

In the previous post I explored Johann Hari’s discussion of the research demonstrating that disconnection from meaningful values – expressed as obsession with materialism – leads to depression and anxiety. In this post I will explore the reasons why this occurs. 

Four reasons why meaningless values lead to depression

In identifying why materialism leads to depression, Johann draws on the research of Emeritus Professor Tim Kasser and his colleague, Professor Richard Ryan, one of the acknowledged world leaders in understanding human motivation.  Based on their work and his own research, Johann identifies four main reasons for the consuming sadness experienced by people who relentlessly pursue materialistic values that focus on extrinsic rewards (Lost Connections, pp. 97-99).

1. Damages relations with other people

The research shows that people who primarily pursue materialistic values experience “shorter relationships” that are of lesser quality than their peers who focus more on intrinsic values.  Materialistic-oriented people are more concerned about superficial things such as another person’s looks, their ability to impress others and their material possessions, than they are about the innate qualities of the person.  Their focus on external qualities makes it more likely to end a relationship because they invariably find someone who possesses these external qualities to a greater degree.  Their self-absorption also means that their partner in a relationship is also more likely to separate from them.  People who are out to impress others as their major motivator are very poor at reflective listening as they are more likely to interrupt and divert a conversation so that the focus is on them and their accomplishments.  Listening is the lifeblood of a sustainable relationship and has profound effects on the its quality.

2. Deprives them of the joy of being in the present moment

Because a materialistic person is always seeking more or pursuing an elusive goal over which they have no control, they are more likely to be frequently frustrated and disappointed.  They tend to be driven and impatient in the pursuit of their external goals and they experience time-pressures continuously. It is difficult for them to be fully engaged in the present moment and to experience the joy that derives from present awareness.  The researchers point out, too, that the pursuit of materialistic values results in the inability to experience “flow states” – being in the zone where you are hyper-focused and highly creative and productive. 

3. Become dependent on how other people think of them

Other’s opinions become the driver for the materialistic person’s words and actions.  They seek to gain positive assessment by others of their looks, their possessions (e.g. clothes and cars) and their income and social standing.  They tend to pursue relationships for what they can get out of them in terms of extrinsic rewards.  They can never be satisfied and often engage in attempts to outdo others.  The researchers point out that materialistic-oriented people are also more sensitive to feeling slighted, even when no slight is intended – because of their sensitivity to others’ opinions, they can more easily feel criticised and be hurt by seemingly harmless comments.  This can result in their being “on edge” all the time when with other people.  Their sense of self-worth becomes “contingent on the opinion of others” which, in turn, can lead to negative self-evaluation and self-deprecation.

4. Frustrates innate human needs

Tim Kasser observed that a core reason why materialism leads to depression is that it ultimately frustrates a person’s innate needs – needs such as the desire for meaningful connection with others; realising a sense of competence in their endeavours; a sense of autonomy and being in-control; and wanting to do, and achieve, something meaningful in their lives.  Depression and anxiety will grow over time when these real, innate human needs are not met.

We can choose how we spend our time and energy

Johann observes that time is limited and that our day is like a pie with defined parameters.  The way we carve up our day – how we allocate our time to aspects of our life – will significantly affect whether we realise joy and happiness or depression and anxiety.  If we can align the way we spend our time to the pursuit of meaningful values, we can experience mentally healthy states of positivity, joy, happiness and gratitude. The more time we spend on materialistic goals, the lower will be our “personal well-being”.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection, we are better able to notice the impact that the pursuit of materialistic values has on our quality of life – our relationships, our joy, our sense of self-worth.  We will have a clearer idea of how well we meet our innate needs and how we can improve on their fulfillment.  Importantly, we will better understand the sources of our frustration and anger and be able to improve our self-regulation.  By developing mindfulness, we will more often experience the joy of being in the zone – of experiencing “flow states”.

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Image by KarinKarin from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Being Disconnected from Meaningful Values Leads to Depression

In previous posts I highlighted the relationship between depression and being disconnected from what is meaningful in terms of work and in terms of relationships with other people.  In this post, I want to draw further on the work of Johann Hari’s book, Lost Connections, by focusing on the loss of connection to meaningful values.

Being disconnected from meaningful values

In Chapter 8 of his book (pp. 91-105), Johann identifies a third social factor contributing to the rise of depression and anxiety – disconnection from meaningful values.  In this section, he draws heavily on the ground-breaking research of Emeritus Professor Tim Kasser who explored in depth how our cultural values contribute to the rise of depression and anxiety in today’s Western society. 

Tim was motivated in his search for meaningful values through the music of Bob Dylan and John Lennon and his own independent inquiry into the nature of authenticity while studying at Vanderbilt University, a learning institution committed to curiosity.  Tim was curious about the reason why there was such an increase in the incidence of depression and anxiety in today’s world.  He spent more than 25 years researching and working with colleagues to find the answers.

Tim drew on the work of philosophers and research by others that established that the stronger a person focuses on materialistic values (such as wanting more money and possessions and wanting to be viewed highly by others), the more likely they are to experience depression.  He conducted his own experiments as well and learned that those who gave priority to materialistic values experienced less joy and lived a poorer quality of life than those who primarily pursued meaningful values.  Johann describes Tim’s research projects in detail in his book, Lost Connections.

Materialistic values pursue extrinsic rewards

Philosophers have identified two different types of human motivation – extrinsic and intrinsic.  Extrinsic motivation seeks an external reward in the form of money, status, recognition or being liked and admired. Intrinsic motivation, in contrast, is associated with internal personal rewards that flow from undertaking something for its own sake such as working to make a difference in the world, developing meaningful and supportive relationships, showing compassion towards someone in need or playing an instrument for the sheer joy it brings.  Materialistic values focus on extrinsic rewards and do not add meaning to a person’s life.

Tim engaged 200 people in completing a “mood diary” over a period so that he could establish the outcomes for people who primarily pursued extrinsic goals versus those who pursued intrinsic goals.  He was startled by the results – people who focused on, and achieved, extrinsic goals did not experience any appreciable increase in happiness in their daily life, despite the extraordinary amount of time and energy that they put into pursuing those extrinsic goals (e.g. gaining a promotion, purchasing a new car, buying the latest smart phone).   In contrast, people who pursued, and achieved, their intrinsic goals were “significantly happier” and experienced a decline in depression and anxiety.  These people set goals such as improving the way they related to others and supported those in need.

Johann points out that we all pursue both extrinsic and intrinsic goals and the associated rewards.  However, the challenge is to achieve the right balance – ensuring that materialistic values do not dominate our lives and lead to depression and anxiety.  We are constantly confronted with the choice of whether we pursue an extrinsic goal or an intrinsic one – such as whether we stay longer at work and earn more overtime money or go home to our young family and enhance our relationships with our partner and/or children.

I was recently confronted with such a choice – the choice between an extrinsic goal and an intrinsic one.  I was asked to write a book on action learning and the extrinsic rewards offered were to earn money for the work, receive royalties on an ongoing basis and, in the process, make a name for myself by way of my “legacy”.  The cost for me was to give up writing this blog on mindfulness, as the book would be all-consuming – I would have to give up what I consider to be making a real difference in some people’s lives (including my own) in favour of realising some extrinsic rewards.  I chose to turn down the offer to write the book and to continue to research and write about ways to grow in mindfulness via this blog.  The challenge for me was to put an important intrinsic goal ahead of offered extrinsic rewards.

We can become consumed by materialistic values and the associated extrinsic rewards by spending more and more time and energy in their pursuit, despite their achievement providing less and less satisfaction.  People, for example, chase the next promotion and movement up the ranks and are often prepared to sacrifice their personal values and joy to “get there”.

Western society encourages and reinforces materialistic values

Our consumer society cultivates extrinsic values and advertisers persistently encourage us to have the better car, to look better, to buy eye-catching jewellery, to upgrade our home (in terms of size and/or location) and to attract admiration.  Porsche, for example, in promoting its latest SUV, the E-PACE, describes the new “luxury” vehicle as having “head-turning good looks” – reinforcing the “look-at-me” values of Western society. 

The selfie revolution is another example of our pursuit of “looking good” on social media.  Technologists have pandered to this trend by developing the “selfie drone” which has now morphed into the “dronie” that enables you to focus on your group and yourself and also to back away to highlight your location, thus providing that extra “WOW factor”.  Some selfie drones even let you upload your shots directly to social media – meeting our need for immediacy and convenience. Taking selfies, by itself, does not mean you are pursuing materialistic values – some people use selfies solely for their family album or to share with family connections. The problem comes when taking selfies consumes us and their sole purpose is to establish our (superior) “value” in the eyes of other people.

Each year at Christmas time, there is a rush to have the latest and best toys/games/technologies that are available – what was the benchmark last year is now superseded by something more costly and peer pressure reinforces the “need” for this purchase.  Our children thus become indoctrinated very early into the “must have’ social norms and lose sight of what really makes them happy such as the sheer joy of playing a game with friends in the yard or park.

Our culture drives the desire for extrinsic rewards to the point where our elected officials feel it necessary to misuse their positions of trust to increase their own wealth through corruption.  More than fifty wealthy American parents were recently charged with admissions fraud through a scam designed to get their children admitted to “elite” universities.

Johann points out that multiple studies show that depression and anxiety will be experienced by people who pursue materialistic goals relentlessly – irrespective of their age, social standing or economic means.  He argues that just as junk food creates toxins in our bodies, “junk values” produce “psychological toxins” that invariably lead to depression and anxiety (p.97).

Becoming mindful about our lives and our values

Tim Kasser, in an interview in 2016, encouraged us to reflect on how we spend our time and energy.  He suggested that we look at what we really value and how that is reflected in our life.  He asks us to seriously look at how we act out what we claim to be important in our lives and how well we make time for the things that are important to us.

As we grow in mindfulness through reflection, meditation and mindfulness practices, we can identify the ways in which our words and actions do not align with the values that provide meaning and happiness in our lives.  We can explore ways to make better use of our time, not to pursue materialistic values, but to pursue intrinsic values that provide lasting satisfaction such as making a difference in the world, being fully in the present moment and connecting meaningfully with others. 

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Image by KarinKarin from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Meditation: A Refuge in Difficult Times

Following the mass shootings in the US, Diana Winston provided a meditation podcast on the topic, Finding Refuge in Difficult Times.   Diana suggests that we could turn to meditation in these difficult times when we are confronted with senseless violence, international conflict over trade and territories and increased levels of uncertainty and vulnerability.  Mindfulness meditation can help us to develop many positive aspects in our lives including gratitude, compassion, calmness and clarity.  Diana maintains that in difficult times meditation practice can serve as a refuge for us – a place of quiet, equanimity and loving kindness.  Meditation in this context is not escapism but genuine facing of reality to restore our equilibrium and develop resourcefulness to meet the challenges that confront us daily.

Meditation as a refuge

Diana provides a meditation that is designed to achieve a sense of equanimity in difficult times. It addresses today’s challenges and their impact on our thoughts and emotions and, at the same time, provides a means to become grounded, resourceful and open-hearted.  There are four main elements to the meditation provided by Diana through MARC (Mindful Awareness Research Center) at UCLA:

  • Becoming Grounded – this is particularly important given that we can become unhinged, buffeted and disturbed by difficult times experienced in the world at large.  Tlhe concept of grounding evokes the image of solid earth underfoot and certainty and support when moving forward.  The meditation thus begins with ensuring we have our feet firmly planted on the floor so that we can feel the support of the earth by picturing the solid earth below us.  Out attention then moves to the firmness and uprightness of our back against the chair.  This feeling of solidity reinforces our sense of groundedness.  This, in turn, can be strengthened by focusing attention on the solid contact of our body with the seat of the chair. 
  • Breathing – breath is our life force and we take around 20,000 breaths a day.  It is a good thing that we do this unconsciously, without having to think or be focused.  However, focusing on our breath, paying attention to the act of breathing, is an important way of becoming grounded in life.  This stage of the meditation involves focusing on our in-breath and out-breath and the space in between.  It does not involve controlling our breath but just paying attention to what is happening naturally for us, despite the absence of conscious effort.   You can feel energy tingling in your fingers if you join them together while paying attention to your breath and this can serve as an anchor throughout the day whenever you feel the need to re-establish a sense of equilibrium and equanimity.  Accessing your boundless, inner energy resources in this way can build your ongoing resourcefulness and resilience.
  • Acceptanceaccepting what is and what we are experiencing.  This means owning our thoughts and feelings and acknowledging that reactions such as anxiety, concern, fear, uncertainty or doubt are normal, given the difficult world we live in.  It does not involve passivity, however, but noticing our reactions, not denying them nor indulging them.  It means handling our natural responses non-judgmentally and seeking to accept what is happening for us.  Diana suggests that we can even express this as a conscious desire such as, “May I accept what is”.
  • Offering compassion – this involves being empathetic towards people who are suffering – for example, as a result of a major adverse event.  Compassionate action in this situation can involve loving kindness meditation embracing all who are affected by a significant adverse event – extending to family, friends, colleagues, emergency responders and the community at large.  We can express the desire that all who are directly affected are protected from inner and outer harm; develop good health; find contentment and happiness; and experience the ease of wellness.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and grounding ourselves, we can learn to accept what is, access our inner resources and build our resourcefulness and resilience to face the difficult challenges of daily living in a complex and conflicted world.

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Image by O12 from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

A Guided Meditation on Self-Compassion

Diana Winston provides a guided meditation on self-compassion as part of the weekly offerings of meditation podcasts from the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), UCLA.   These weekly podcasts are also available via the UCLA Mindful App.  

Diana explains that the tendency to be self-critical – to disown parts of ourselves that we don’t like – is universal, not the province of a single age group, gender or ethnic group.  We can hear our own voice telling us that we are “stupid” “undeserving”, “inconsiderate” or some other self-demeaning term.  These inner voices focus on our flaws and not our essential goodness or kindness.

In line with the research and philosophy of Kristin Neff, Diana encourages us through self-compassion meditation to accept ourselves as we are with all our warts and flaws and to recognise that in common with the rest of humanity we make mistakes, make poor decisions and say or do things that we later regret.

A guided self-compassion meditation

In her introduction to a guided meditation on self-compassion, Diana leads us through a basic process for becoming grounded – adopting a comfortable position, taking a couple of deep breaths and engaging in a body scan to release points of tension to enable us to become focused on the task at hand. Diana then takes us through three basic steps of a self-compassion meditation:

  • 1. Mindful awareness of our negative “voices” – getting in touch with the self-criticism in our heads and being able to accept ourselves as we are, with all our faults, failings and mistakes.  This does not mean engaging with the voices but noticing what they are saying and accepting that we are not perfect.
  • 2. Recognising that flaws are an integral part of our shared humanity – acknowledging that this is part of the human condition.  No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes – we have this in common with the rest of humanity.  We can then offer self-forgiveness and kindness to ourselves.
  • 3. Extending kindness to others – when we recognise that we share a flawed existence with the rest of humanity, we are better able to offer kindness towards others.  We can start by expressing gratitude to the people we admire and acknowledging how they enrich our lives. We can then extend this kindness to wishing them and others safety, health, happiness and the ease of wellness.

As we grow in mindfulness through awareness of our negative voices and our inherent flaws, we can learn to accept ourselves as we are, acknowledge our shared humanity and extend self-compassion to ourselves and kindness to others.

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Image by Ioannis Ioannidis from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.