Letting Go: Breaking Free of the Ties That Bind Us

In his earlier book, The Resilience Project, Hugh Van Cuylenburg discussed his search for the way to develop resilience to meet the demands of these challenging times.  In a previous post, I explained  Hugh’s  GEM pathway to resilience – gratitude, empathy and mindfulness.  This book proved to be a bestseller and Hugh has gone on to present talks to 1,500 schools, elite Australian sports teams and clubs (covering cricket, soccer, AFL and Rugby League) as well as presentations to numerous businesses and organisations.  

When reading The Resilience Project and/or hearing Hugh speak, you could be forgiven for thinking that he was one person who “had it all together”, that he was “on top of things” in his life.  However, in his follow-up book, Let Go, he exposes his own vulnerabilities and weaknesses and argues that “it’s time to let go of shame, expectations and our addiction to social media”.   Let Go could be subtitled, “The 101 Ways I have Stuffed Up in My life” or alternatively, “How My Human Foibles Have Undermined My Resilience”.   This is a disarmingly honest account of his personal vulnerabilities and how they have played out in his life.

Hugh covers a range of topics that highlight his vulnerabilities and offers suggestions on how we can address our own vulnerabilities and learn to “let go”.   Throughout the book, he generously shares what he has learnt from his therapy with Anita and discussions with Ben Crowe (famous mindset coach of people like Ash Barty).  Hugh covers  topics that are natural human reactions to the fragility and uncertainty of the human condition.   His key topics include the following that most people can relate to:

  • Shame: feelings of shame can arise from things we have done or failed to do, from negative self-talk (generated in childhood or later in adulthood) or from perceptions of what other people think or feel about us.  Hugh illustrates this by his own inaction in relation to his sister, Georgia, who suffered from mental health issues and the “shame stories” he told himself.  He reminds us that shame and associated guilt have been clinically linked to all kinds of psychological problems.  Hugh argues that we need to understand the nature of the shame that we feel and learn new, healthy ways to respond to it.  He offers a three-step process to address our shame, including sharing our shame with someone (as the hiding of shame, rather than the shame itself, causes us psychological problems).
  • Expectations:  Hugh shares stories of how his own “unreasonable expectations” caused him stress and worry in his life.  The expectations that we place on ourselves can cover any or all aspects of our life – our physical fitness, weight, academic achievements, professional life, home roles, house care or contributions to society.  We can create a living hell through these expectations that are self-fabricated and their effects can impact on others.  Hugh speaks with honesty and openness about instances in his professional speaking life where his unreasonable expectations almost derailed him.  One of the ways he was able to manage the situations was to share his vulnerability at the time and encouraged others to do likewise.  He drew strength from Frou Frou’s rendition of the song, “Let Go” and particularly the lyric, “There’s beauty in the breakdown”.  Hugh also discusses how we can become captive to the expectations of others and the freedom we can enjoy when we break free of what others have called “the tyranny of expectations”.  He offers a series of questions to address the expectations of others and the suggestion to write down the answers and then challenge the truth or otherwise of these recorded expectations. 
  • Perfectionism:  while Hugh provides a serious discussion of perfectionism and the “inner dialogue” that can plague us in every area of our life, he illustrates the hold of perfectionism by sharing a hilarious anecdote about “one (not so) perfect day”.   The story relates to  an invitation to Missy Higgins and family to join his family for a meal.  He had established a friendship with Missy Higgins who wrote the forward to his earlier book, The Resilience Project.  He was so anxious to make everything right for the day that he ended up creating a “disaster” where everything went wrong, Including his artificial grass catching fire.  He encourages us to overcome perfectionism through self-compassion and the honest exploration of all the areas of our life where our “perfectionism rules” and to challenge ourselves about “what would happen if these things weren’t perfect”.
  • Fear of Failure – Hugh illustrates this “phobia” with a humorous description of an embarrassing encounter with Hamish Blake at a café.  Hugh admired Hamish immensely and had been a long-term fan and so wanted the encounter to go well.  However, his “fear of failure” left him tongue-tied resulting in an embarrassing interaction (for both Hugh and Hamish).  Hugh goes on to discuss “atychiphobia” which he describes as “the abnormal, unwarranted and persistent fear of failure” which can result in all kinds of emotional and physical symptoms, including panic attacks.  He makes the point that some level of fear of failure can be healthy because it inspires sound preparation and conscious performance. However, an unhealthy level of fear of failure can lead us to procrastinate, avoid making an effort or miss the opportunity to pursue our life goals and make a contribution to the wellness of others.  Hugh offers an exercise on “how to let go of fear of failure”.

Reflection

One of the most profound things that Hugh asserts is that our vulnerabilities can build authentic connections.  We begin to realise that we all share the same fragility even though it may have different manifestations in each of us.  Throughout his Let Go book, Hugh explains his developing relationship with Hamish and Ryan Shelton.  It was the realisation that each of them experienced the struggle with “shame, expectation and the fear of failure” that led to the development of the podcast, The Imperfects in 2019.  Hugh and his colleagues (brother Josh and Ryan Shelton) also developed a sub-group of The Imperfect podcasts that they titled The Vulnerabilitea House which was designed to enable people to share, over a cup of tea, “something honest and a little vulnerable”.   Vulnerabilitea House interviewees included Peter Helliar, Martin Heppell and Missy Higgins, as well as Hugh, Josh and Ryan.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can become aware of what is holding us back in terms of shame, expectations, perfectionism and fear of failure. This self-awareness, along with self-compassion, provides the motivation to face our frailties and the courage and persistence “to do the inside work” necessary to “let go” and break free from the ties that bind us.

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Image by Сергей Корчанов 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.

Healing Trauma – Dealing with the Visceral Imprint

In a previous post I discussed the complexity of trauma and the need to adopt treatment practices that recognise and respect this complexity.  Bessel van der Kolk in his book, The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma, expresses serious concern with the overreliance on medication to treat trauma, especially for returning veterans suffering from PTSD.  He contends that “drugs cannot cure trauma” but only serve to “dampen down” manifestations of a “disturbed physiology” such as violence, overwhelm and uncontrolled anger.  He argues that the side effects of reliance on drug therapy include addiction, lessening the capacity for self-regulation and blocking the senses that otherwise would be the source of pleasure and motivation, emotion and pain. In his view, the treatment aim is not to “blunt emotional sensitivity” but to achieve integration of the traumatic experience into a person’s “arc of life”.

Bessel argues that a traumatised person’s basic challenge in recovery is to re-establish ownership of themselves – the whole person, mind, body and soul.  He contends that this plays out as a fourfold challenge – (1) developing ways to become focused and calm, (2) sustaining calmness when confronted with stimuli such as noise, images and smells that otherwise would trigger a traumatised response,  (3) becoming fully engaged with life and relationships and (4) being open to one’s real self without hiding behind “secrets” that are designed as self-protection (e.g. against shame and self-loathing).  Bessel suggests that the effectiveness of each of the four approaches can vary with the individual and the stage of the healing process.  He illustrates through case studies that the healing journey can be a life-long process with occasional or frequent relapses.

Bessel maintains that, in the long run, confronting the traumatic event(s) in all their horror  is necessary for healing.  However, he cautions about rushing this process without first building a person’s capacity to cope with the fullness of the “visceral imprint” and its related sensitivities (e.g. to specific sounds, smells, thoughts).  Confronting the harsh reality of the precipitating event(s) too soon, when the person is ill-equipped, can lead to an individual being re-traumatised.

Bessel contends that the focus of recovery has to switch from the “rational brain” to the “emotional brain” which manifests trauma in the form of physical sensations impacting the heart, breathing, voice, gut and movement of the body (e.g. resulting in bodily movements “that signify collapse, rigidity, rage or defensiveness”.)  The overall aim is to restore the “the balance between the rational brain and the emotional brain”, because in a traumatised person the rational brain is often overwhelmed by the emotional brain that can “see” danger where it does not exist and inappropriately activates a fight, flight or freeze response

Healing modalities for trauma that recognise the mind-body-emotion connection

Throughout his book, Bessel discusses a range of trauma healing modalities that he has researched and practiced with his clients. His approach is quite eclectic, drawing on both Western and Eastern healing traditions.  He demonstrates through case histories that one modality more than another, or a particular mix of modalities, may prove effective in individual cases.   He appears to adopt a trail-and-error approach to achieve the best fit for a traumatised individual, informed in part by their life skills and the precipitating trauma event.  Some of the healing modalities he adopts are identified below:

  • Controlled breathing – here he encourages slow, deep breathing that that tap into the parasympathetic nervous system and its capacity to reduce arousal and induce calm.  Breathing also serves to enhance oxygen flow to energise the body.
  • Movement modalities – these can include Tai Chi, yoga, martial arts and the rhythmic movement associated with African drumming.  Bessel notes that each of these modalities simultaneously involve not only movement but also breathing and meditation.
  • Mindfulness practices – Bessel points out that traumatised people often avoid their challenging feelings and related bodily sensations.  Mindfulness which generates self-awareness enables the traumatised person to notice their feelings and sensations and the precipitating triggers.  This can lead to emotional regulation, rather than emotional overwhelm which can occur when people try to ignore or hide their real feelings and sensations.  Peter Levine’s “somatic experiencing” approach is an example of a related mindfulness practice that can contribute to healing trauma.
  • Singing – can engage the whole person (body, mind, soul and emotions).  Effective singing requires appropriate posture and breath control, opening up the airways and, at the same time, releasing emotions.  In group sessions with singing teacher, Chris James, I have often observed the spontaneous flow of emotions as people, both men and women, become more engaged and absorbed in the process, learn to let themselves go and find their “natural voice”.  Chris maintains that singing enhances “vibrational awareness”, engenders “self-discovery” and builds “conscious presence”.
  • Chanting and mantra meditationschanting can reduce depression, increase positivity and heighten relaxation.  It has been proven to be effective in helping veterans suffering from PTSD.  Tina Turner found Buddhist chanting to be very effective in overcoming her trauma and re-building her singing career.  Likewise, mantra meditations (that typically incorporate chants) can lead to calm, peace and energy and enable reintegration of body, mind, emotion and spirit.

Reflection

Bessel encourages the use of multiple healing modalities when working with traumatised individuals.  He suggests too that the modalities described above can help anyone deal with life’s challenges, restore balance and build energy.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and related mindfulness practices, we can gain self-awareness, develop self-management and heal from trauma and the scars of adverse experiences, whether in childhood or adulthood.

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Image by Đạt Lê 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.

Anxiety Management with Mindfulness

Diana Winston offers a mindfulness meditation podcast, Working with Anxiety, as one of the weekly meditations conducted by the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), UCLA.  As Director of Mindfulness Education for MARC, Diana frequently leads these weekly meditations.  She stresses that mindfulness enables us to be more fully in the present moment and to accept what is in our life (including anxiety) with curiosity and openness.

Diana maintains that mindfulness helps us to work effectively with anxiety because it, (1) enables us to be present in the moment, rather than absorbed in the past or the future; (2) facilitates reframing of our experience, and (3) provides a place of rest and ease from the turbulence and waves of daily life.  As Diana asserts, anxiety is part and parcel of daily life, given the human condition and the uncertainty of the world around us today.  The world situation with the global pandemic and devastating conflict between Russia and Ukraine add to anxiety-producing situations we experience on the home and local front.  In consequence, there is an increase in mental health issues along with restricted resources to deal with explosive demand.

Guided meditation for working with anxiety

Diana’s approach is consistent with trauma-sensitive mindfulness in that she allows a choice of posture, meditation anchor and overall focus.  She encourages us to find a posture that is comfortable with eyes closed or open (ideally, looking down).  At the beginning of the meditation, she has us focus on something that gives us a sense of being grounded and supported by something of strength, e.g. our feet on the ground/floor or back against the chair.  It is important to tap into something that enables us to slow our minds and calm our feelings

Diana then suggests that we focus on our breath as a neutral experience of the present moment.  For some people, breath may not be a neutral aspect and could in fact trigger a trauma response. So, she offers an alternative focus such as sounds in the environment, the room tone or rhythm in some music.  Whatever we choose as an anchor, we can return to it whenever we notice our thoughts distracting us and leading to anxiety-producing images, recollections or anticipations.

The next stage of the guided meditation involves focus on some source of anxiety and exploring the bodily sensations associated with it.  Diana suggests that if we are new to meditation we should focus on a minor source of anxiety rather than a major issue.  Whatever our focal anxiety source, the idea is to notice what is happening in our body, e.g. tightness around our neck and shoulders, quickening or unevenness of our breath or pain in our back.  By bringing our consciousness to these bodily sensations, we can work to release the tension involved and restore some level of equanimity.

Diana suggests that at any stage we could use imagery as a way to achieve an anchor that gives us strength and/or a sense of peace.  The image could be of a tall mountain withstanding the buffeting of strong winds and rain or a still lake reflecting surrounding trees and supporting the smooth gliding of swans or ducks.  Imagery can take us out of our anxiety-producing imagination and transport us to a place of strength and/or peace.

In the final stage of the meditation, Diana encourages us to offer ourselves loving-kindness, acknowledging that we are only human after all and that the world is anxiety-producing.  She urges us to extend positive thoughts towards ourselves, rather then beat ourselves up for our fragility.  We could focus on times when we have demonstrated resilience to overcome difficulties, extended compassionate action to those in need or expressed gratitude for all that we have. 

Reflection

There are many tools to help us work with, and manage, anxiety.  These include chanting and/or mantra meditations such as the calming mantra produced by Lulu & Mischka, Stillness in Motion – Sailing and Singing with whales.   As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, chanting, mantras or other mindfulness practices, we can learn to be more fully present in the moment, to manage our anxiety-producing thoughts, regulate our emotions and find the peace and ease that lie within.

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Image by Patrik Houštecký 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.

Trauma Treatment: Understanding the Complexity of Trauma

The complexity of trauma is explained both scientifically and by case histories by Bessel Van Der Kolk in his book, The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, psychologists agree that trauma is not the “life-threatening”, precipitating event but the ongoing impact on a person’s mind, brain and body.  In his book, Bessel discusses the evolution of trauma treatment methodologies (and his roles in this evolution), the complex impact of trauma on individuals, the differential behavioural responses to trauma by individuals and the common responses that lead to addiction.

Evolution of trauma treatments

Bessel explains that in his early training and working days, he experienced different treatment modes for trauma such as “talk therapy” and the pharmacological approach.  He explained that talk therapy involved having an individual recount the trauma event in detail so that they had to confront the reality of the event.  Unfortunately, this often lead to the person experiencing a traumatic episode as a result of the stimulus of recall.  In the pharmacological approach, reliance was placed on drugs to treat the trauma patient.  Unfortunately, these were often administered in isolation without the support of therapy and contributed to ongoing psychological problems such as prescription drug addiction and depression.

The most heartless approach that Bessel describes is electrical shock treatment designed to desensitise individuals to precipitating stimuli.  Sometimes the treatment itself created a trauma response because of the effect of the stimulus (e.g. touch) and the inhuman nature of the treatment, e.g. for someone who had been sexually abused.  Bessel highlighted the lack of understanding of trauma and the absence of an adequate framework for treatment modalities illustrated in these early methodologies. The pursuit of a more holistic and scientific approach to trauma treatment underpinned his life’s work in helping trauma sufferers, especially those suffering from P.T.S.D. (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Result of visceral overload of precipitating event

Bessel was at pains to explain the complexity of trauma and its impact on individuals.  In his book, he explains the different regions of the brain, how they interact normally and the dysfunctionality caused by trauma.  He stated, for example, that a traumatic event can leave a “visceral imprint” on the lower region of the brain, the amygdala (the source of our fight/flight/freeze response). Thus a particular sensation (a smell, sound, sight, touch or taste) can create a “flashback” and trigger a trauma response in an individual.  This traumatic experience of discrete sensations illustrates the ever-present challenge for a traumatised person of “misreading signals” and seeing danger where it does not exist.  This inability to control the stress response is in part due to what Bessel describes as the ”visceral overload” at the time of the trauma-precipitating event.  He also makes the point that therapists are often misguided by their own belief systems, including the belief that the interaction of the mind and body is top-down only.  However, his own experience of trauma patients and recent neuroscience research shows clearly that the body/brain influence is bidirectional.

Same event – different behavioural responses

Different people respond differently to the sensory overload precipitated by a traumatic event.  Bessel tells the story of Stan and Ute who were involved in a major pile-up on a Canadian motorway in 1999 involving 87 cars.  They were travelling in the same car and met a wall of fog and were part of the continuous crashing of cars and trucks.  They feared for their lives and witnessed people being killed by the intensity of the crash and associated fires.  Stan’s reaction to subsequent stimuli was one of aggression and anger (fight response) whereas Ute was numb, a condition involving “massive dissociation” (the freeze response).  Bessel suggested that Ute’s freeze response was a learned behaviour precipitated by her upbringing by a mother who continuously “yelled” at her.  Through Bessel’s caring therapy, they were able to progressively restore their lives, regaining emotional control.  Ute benefited from the bottom-up approach of the Trauma Center where the focus was on physiological monitoring to enable the patient on change their “relationship to bodily sensations”.  Bessel subsequently established the Trauma Research Foundation after he had been unfairly dismissed from the Center, experiencing trauma in his own professional life.

Common responses to trauma

Trauma and its incessant re-activation through discrete sensory stimulation along with flashbacks and nightmares, create a life situation of continuous pain.  Many people attempt to numb the pain by resorting to drugs or excessive alcohol to block out the painful memories. This can eventually lead to addiction, associated mental illnesses and censorious misunderstanding by family and friends.

Reflection

Trauma is a very complex phenomenon precipitated by a great variety of events, experienced in differential ways by individuals and leading to individualised responses.  Added to these diverse events, impacts and responses are the variety of initiating stimuli that can trigger a seemingly unrelated trauma response in everyday life.

Bessel argues that one of the problems for traumatised individuals is that they spend so much time and energy in the past.  They become unaware of, and insensitive to, the present.  He maintains that mindfulness practices can help to restore top-down, emotional regulation and that bottom-up approaches such as “breath, movement, touch” can help to restore physical equilibrium and calmness.  The widespread use of somatic meditation for trauma management  is consistent with his view.

As we grow in mindfulness, we gain increased insight into our “inner landscape”, our behavioural responses and the options we have to behave differently.  We come to understand better the impact of past events on our present-day triggers and responses.  This can help us to achieve clarity, calmness and compassion towards others experiencing their own physical and emotional challenges.

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Image by Gerd Altmann 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.

Aging: Being Open to Opportunities

Day four of the Radically Reframing Aging Summit challenged us to be open to the opportunities that aging presents.  Each of the four presenters in their own lives and their own words demonstrated that they had reframed aging and viewed it positively as a period of possibility and creativity.  They reinforced the view that aging requires personal adaption and a resetting of expectations as there are some things that they can no longer do.  However, this does not preclude the potentiality of exploring new opportunities in work, play and life generally.

The interviewees – Lottie Tartell, Joseph C. Maroon, David Sinclair and William Shatner – stated that what is required to be open to opportunities as we age is not only examining our blind spots but also building mental and physical fitness to undertake new endeavours. William Shatner reinforced the mental openness required by reiterating the exhortation of Viktor Frankl to “Say Yes to Life” in spite of what happens when we are aging.  Each of the interviewees have demonstrated in their own lives and their exploratory pursuits that physical age does not define us and our capacity to be open to opportunities.  However, our mind plays a key role in what we enable ourselves to do and pursue.

  • Lottie Tartell taught at Hofstra University for four decades and became an Adjunct Associate Professor in Economics and Geography.  She indicated that even at age 96 she still undertook exercise classes, had an active social life and was engaged in community service as well as playing the violin.  She had to deal with grief with the loss of her husband, Dr. Robert Tartell, in 2013 (after 65 years of marriage), as well as the loss of friends and other family members.  She indicated that she did not dwell on getting old but did what she had to do each day.  Lottie has been active in the Women’s Movement through Planned Parenthood and with Robert had set up the Tartell Family Foundation providing funds to many charities.
  • Dr. Maroon is a neurosurgeon and author and completed a triathlon at the age of 81. He is noted for his research work and innovations in the area of concussion and neurotrauma.  His recent book (2020), Square One: A Simple Guide to a Balanced Life – 2nd Edition, provides insights into his own early setbacks and resultant depression and encourages people to experience a joyful and creative life by achieving balance and avoiding burnout by prioritizing health, meaningful work, relationships that are strong and spirituality.  In his interview, he urged people who are aging to “be mindful and aware of where they are“ in everyday life, especially in relation to sleeping patterns, exercise and diet.  In his earlier publication, The Longevity Factor, he highlighted the beneficial effects of Resveratrol and other related natural substances found in red wine, green tea, berries and dark chocolate.   Dr. Maroon is a strong advocate of mindfulness as a means of achieving awareness and life balance and living a long and healthy life.  In his Summit interview, he maintained that the harmful effects of stress, such as elevated cortisol in our bodies, could be controlled by mindfulness practices such as Tai Chi, yoga, meditation and prayer.
  • Dr. David Sinclair, genetics professor at Harvard Medical School, is the author of Lifespan: Why We Age – and Why We Don’t Have To.  He maintains that the goal of research into genetics is not to prolong a life of suffering and disease but to achieve “prolonged vitality” – more active, happy and healthy years of life.  In other words to “live younger longer”.  Like Dr. Maroon, David takes a Resveratrol supplement daily and in his book on lifespan he explained in detail how the beneficial effects of this natural molecule were discovered, including in his own laboratory and in experiments on his kitchen table.  He suggests that the beneficial effects of Resveratrol in extending lifespan can be enhanced when combined with intermittent fasting.   In the interview, it was clear that “he practices what he preaches” in terms of exercise, diet, and lifestyle.  He also spoke passionately about new discoveries in the area of “reverse aging” which he discussed at length in his lifespan book as well as the benefits of “delayed aging”, including the economic benefits for society.
  • William Shatner epitomised the philosophy of “seize the day” (carpe diem) and spoke enthusiastically about the  need to be open to the opportunities that aging presents.  At age 90, he was the oldest person to travel into space and this was for him a life-changing event.  He spoke passionately about his deep insight into the beauty and fragility of earth, a theme he had recounted in many other interviews.  Bill, as he is known, is a prime example of living younger, longer – he is a multiple best-selling author, highly-awarded actor, film director, song-writer, charity worker, and rides horses competitively.  He is a living inspiration of what is possible as we age.  His positive philosophy on life is reflected in his latest album, Bill, and his latest book (2022), Boldy Go: Reflections on a Life of Awe and Wonder.  In his Summit interview, he spoke extensively and enthusiastically about the wonder of earth and every living thing and demonstrated a “don’t know mind” as he marvelled at the unending mystery of life and earth’s ineffable beauty.

Reflection

To some extent the revelations on Day 4 of the Radically Reframing Aging Summit were overwhelming but also immensely inspiring.  There was so much to think about and take on board. The presentations were energising and empowering in terms of living a fuller life, longer.  There was  very strong encouragement to be open to the opportunities afforded in aging which enable us to explore personal freedom and pursue unfettered creativity. 

There was also very strong reinforcement of the message that as we grow in mindfulness, we enrich not only our mind and body but also increase the quality of our life and extend our lifespan.  We can stay younger longer as a result of mindfulness practices that help us to manage stress effectively in our life, build a positive attitude, enhance our emotional regulation, develop wonder and awe, actively engage in social networks and undertake compassionate action.

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Image by Patrik Houštecký 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.

The Inner Challenge in Aging

The interviewees involved in the Radically Reframing Aging Summit highlighted the inner challenge involved in aging and the need to mind your brain.  Emily Arnhalt, clinical psychologist, focused on mental health and emotional fitness and encouraged the use of “emotional pushups”.  Uma Naidoo, Psychiatrist and specialist in nutrition, highlighted how food affects our mental health and cognition.  Uma is the author of This is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensible Guide to the Surprising Foods That Fight Depression, Anxiety, Ptsd, Ocd, Adhd, and More.

In her Summit interview, Goldie Hawn demonstrated the passion for creativity and the enthusiasm for life that has permeated the comments of all contributors during the Summit.  Like Tina Turner, Goldie has found mindfulness practices to be a way to overcome her difficulties and mental challenges as she negotiated her life transitions (including aging) and sought purpose in her life. Goldie has moved beyond her acting career and become an author, director, producer and a dedicated advocate for mindfulness for children.  I have previously written about Goldie’s work in creating MindUP – a developmental program for children built on a solid research foundation incorporating neuroscience, mindfulness, positive psychology and social emotional learning.

In his Summit interview, Deepak Chopra, author of more than 90 books including Grow Younger, Live Longer, reiterated the importance of looking after your brain as you age.  He suggested that one of the major challenges in aging is to overcome “the hypnosis of social conditioning” which prevents us from realising our potential and living the life we truly desire.  Deepak has established The Longevity Experiment through his Chopra Foundation.

Two very stimulating interviewees were Dr. Martha Beck and Jim Kwik who highlighted the role of play and creativity in developing, sustaining and enriching the mind (at any age).  Martha was described by the host, Maria Shriver, as the most creative person she knows.  She is the author of The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self and provides practical steps and exercises to achieve this goal.  In the Summit interview, Martha provided ideas and processes for “reverse aging” and demonstrated the energy and positive mindset that comes from viewing aging with anticipation and readiness to explore new boundaries.  She offers a free, pre-recorded Masterclass on The Five Paths to Your Purpose.

During his Summit interview, Jim Kwik was incredibly enlightening and engaging as his #1 training podcast, Kwik Brain, with 728,000 subscribers, attests.  His articulate and incisive comments displayed his passion for brain development and ongoing brain health throughout life.  Jim is the founder of Kwik Learning which specialises in accelerated reading and learning and enhancing memory and brain performance.  He is the author of Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster and Unlock Your Exceptional Life.

Reflection

There is a lot written about diet and exercise for a healthy body as we age.  Little attention is given to our mind and what we need to do to sustain and develop our mental capacities. The interviewees in this segment of the Summit really brought the mind into focus as a primary area impacting our quality of life as we age.  There is a strong emphasis on the mind-body connection and a constant encouragement to engage in some form of creativity and/or play every day. 

Engaging in mindfulness practices is one way to care for our mind as we age.  As we grow in mindfulness through processes such as Tai Chi, mantra meditations, chanting, reflecting or meditating, we can enhance our attention, develop our brain physically, heighten our capacity for introspection and abstract thought, and gain greater access to our creativity.

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Image by Fathromi Ramdlon 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.

New Perspectives on Aging

Day 1 of the Radically Reframing Aging Summit brought to light many new perspectives on aging, and work, home and city environments that are conducive to a meaningful and enriching life for people as they age.  The four presenters represented people drawn from the fields of academic research and the performing arts.   They were Professor Laura Carstensen, Dan Buettner, Jamie Lee Curtis and Vanessa Williams.   Drawing on their research and personal anecdotes, they strongly reinforced the view expressed by the Convenor, Maria Shriver, that we need to urgently reframe aging because the mainstream view of aging is disabling, denigrating and debilitating.

Laura is professor of Psychology and Public Policy at Stanford University.  She is the author of A Long Bright Future in which she challenges current perceptions of aging and promotes practices and approaches conducive to a long and fulfilling life.  She argues that ageism is everywhere and particularly in the workplace.  She proposes that organisations should readily embrace “age diversity” for the rich mix of talents and experience that it can afford and the demonstrated productivity benefits that ensue.  Laura is the founding Director of the Stanford Center for Longevity which has established The New Map of Life initiative which aims to enable people to live century-long lives that are characterised by cognitive, physical and financial wellbeing and enriched by a strong sense of self-worth, purpose and connectedness while contributing to the greater good of society through their wisdom and experience.

Dan Buettner is a multi-faceted individual, who epitomises the capacity and contribution of people as they age.  He is a producer, author, explorer, award-winning endurance cyclist, journalist, National Geographic Fellow and sought-after public speaker.  He is especially known for his research into super-aging published in his book, The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest (2nd edition).  Dan is the Founder of Blue Zones, LLC where he shares his knowledge, research, and lessons learned with individuals, organisations and communities.  His community transformation projects have led to the development of communities across America that enjoy higher productivity, lower healthcare costs and recognition as a great location for living, working and playing. 

In his summit presentation, Dan stressed the importance of a social network as a key element in achieving a long and fulfilling life.  This theme is further developed in a chapter dedicated to this topic in his recent book, The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons from the World’s Happiest People.  In that chapter, he identifies the desired characteristics of a social network (three or more people)and suggests that a key task in aging is to “curate a social network of healthy, happy friends who care about you.”  He draws on the seminal work of Nicholas A. Christakis to demonstrate the positive contagion that can occur within a social network if the chosen participants support your desired lifestyle as you age.

In the Summit, Jamie Lee Curtis and Vanessa Williams were introduced as “groundbreaking public figures”.  Their achievements as performing artists and authors alone are mind-boggling.  Both have expanded into new arenas in pursuit of creativity and collaboration.  They highlighted the fact that ageing brings with it the potential for freedom and the opportunity to do what you want, unconstrained by other people’s perception of who you are or what you are capable of. They were able to bounce off each other’s ideas as they shared the energy and joy that comes with age, experience, personal strength and a positive vision of what is possible.

Reflection

The Summit provided the opportunity to reflect on what is possible to achieve once you move beyond the debilitating mainstream perception of what aging entails.  The emphasis on freedom and creativity was exhilarating and energising.  Each of the presenters reflected in their own lives and their choices the unlimited potential of aging.

As we grow in mindfulness and develop increasing self-awareness and insight, we can begin to realise the potential of aging and to have the courage to move beyond our own limiting expectations and assumptions and those of others.  

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Image by 愚木混株 Cdd20 from Pixabay

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

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