Time, Values, and Living

How many instances have you started doing something benign, uninteresting, or unimportant (ie. searching the internet, scrolling through social media, watching an uninteresting show or movie, or reading an article in a trashy magazine about the Royal Families new addition) only to find an hour, an afternoon, or a whole day has slipped you by? Time which is permanently lost due to an unchecked habit or a desire to leave the present moment. This is where suffering begins. Suffering because you didn’t get the relaxation you needed, or your work done, or spend time doing the things you love with the people you love. This suffering more clearly defined as any action taken which is contrary to one’s own belief or value system.
A slue of questions then arise. Do we know our own belief and value system? How do we know they are not from others or society as a whole? How often are we prompted to adopt the value systems of others, values the social construct hands down to us all, such as the pursuit of power, money, and objects over mental, physical, and spiritual wellness?
It takes the dedicated and ongoing practice of defining what we believe and what we value, then taking action to move in that direction. We have to counteract the perpetual pull away from ourselves (the external) and move toward developing the self (internal). This can feel difficult in the beginning, moving upstream in a river. But eventually it gets easier, the water becoming increasingly placid and easy to maneuver as one moves toward the head water.
But how to start or correct ourselves when we find ourselves spending our time acting or participating in activities contrary to our values and beliefs? Below are some questions to ask yourself. If you are serious in wanting to live in accordance to your own beliefs and values, take a few minutes everyday to reflect on these questions and take action (great or small). You’ll be better because of it.

-Deep down, what is important to you?
-What do you want your life to be about?
-What sort of person do you want to be?
-What sort of relationships do you want to build?
-If you weren’t struggling with your feelings or avoiding your fears, what would you channel your time and energy into doing?


If you have questions or comments, writer me or leave a comment below.

Questions were taken from Chapter 24 of The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. 

Dealing with Distress

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: Distress Tolerance

Humans are emotional beings, experiencing an array of emotions throughout the span of a lifetime. Because of this a person will inevitably feel emotional distress and overwhelmed. These emotions present themselves in the form of stress, angst, fear, loneliness, anger, rejection, and/or failure. The practice of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, an evidence-based therapy created by Marsha M. Linehan who is a psychology researcher at the University of Washington, states that one must first accept their emotions, saving themselves from what Buddhist Psychology states is the second dart of blame or shame, then work to temporarily distract and soothe the mind, and finally create a new behavior/ habit of mind to better work through emotional upheavals. Doing this builds one’s distress tolerance allowing them to better handle difficulties that may come their way.

The first step to developing distress tolerance is acceptance. Remember, acceptance does not mean giving up or surrendering. The DI in DIALECTICAL Behavior Therapy means holding two opposing viewpoints together. The first being acceptance. The second, taking deliberate action to change, which is addressed in the final step of this process, creating new coping skills. Rather than give up, one must work on truly allowing what is happening. One strategy for this is to use different phrases, known as self-talk, such as “This is what happened” and “This is where I am now”. This allows a person to state the facts of the situation without blame or shame. This is similar to the naming used in mindfulness meditation which involves labeling thoughts as they arise, for example, “thought” “past” “worry” “projection” “anger” “anxiety” etc. The practice of labeling takes one out of the emotional mind, which during high emotional states can be irrational, and brings one back to the factual/rational mind.

Remember, acceptance takes time. Often, one must pause for a moment (or five) to calm the nervous system before true acceptance can occur. This can be accomplished buy seeking out a tactical and temporary distraction, followed by returning to the practice of acceptance. Often the second time acceptance is addressed a person has enough time and space away from the event to be able to fully embrace the event, situation, or emotion.

Distraction, step two of developing distress tolerance, doesn’t mean avoidance. Distraction refers to taking some time to move the mind away from the emotion, event, or situation to calm the nervous system with the plan of coming back. The time frame can be minutes, hours, or days depending on the situation. With the situations and events which are familiar triggers of emotional upheaval, 30 minutes may be all that’s necessary in terms of distraction. Other strong emotions or unplanned life events may take days, weeks, or months to work through enough to gain the capacity to come back with a rational mind to work through an issue.

Occasionally, if one is not purposeful about using this temporarily, a person can become stuck in the cycle of experiencing uncomfortable emotions and distracting themselves, never coming back to the issue until something else comes along which disturbs their equanimity only to repeat the cycle. This means never growing emotionally and leads to a forever state of poor self-regulation and upheaval. To avoid this cycle, always make a plan to revisit the emotional event. One can do this by writing the event in a journal and coming back to it when there is time to fully contemplate the event and move through the subsequent steps. If the emotion or event feels too big to revisit by oneself, see a professional counselor or therapist to help move through the situation with support.

The first form of distraction covered is for individuals who use self-harm or Self Injurious Behavior (SIB) to move their mind from the distressing thought, event, or emotion by means of cutting, having unsafe sexual encounters, abusing drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or food among many other options. If you are one who tends to self-harm when distressed, utilize a different means to move the mind using harm-reduction. Harm reduction involves using a substitute means of SIB to distract the mind which is less harmful than the familiar self-injurious behavior. Examples of harm-reducing replacement behaviors include squeezing an ice cube, taking a cold shower, writing on body with marker, snapping a rubber band, popping balloons, tearing paper, throwing socks, writing letters to people you hate, holding your breath. The eventual goal is to discontinue self-injurious behavior and instead use positive behavioral replacements, which I go into later in this post.

It is worth noting that stopping or reducing the use of self-injurious behavior can take time and requires conscious effort. I suggest getting in touch with a professional counselor, therapist or coach, a community of supporters such as book clubs, churches, or 12-step programs.  You could even recruit friends and family to support you. You deserve to live a happy life free from harm. That means freedom from harming yourself. If you tend to think self-injuring/bullying thoughts use the same method: distract the mind, then follow by soothing yourself. Think of what a loved one would say about you and come up with a new thought and seek out the support of a professional and/or community of supporters.

The second form of distraction I will go over involves positive or pleasurable experiences which naturally elevate serotonin, a mood-boosting hormone released in the brain. Examples include moderate exercise, spending time outdoors, calling or meeting with a friend, listening to music or going to a concert, taking a drive, having safe-sex (with a committed partner preferably), writing letters to people you admire, journaling, meditating, gardening, watching a movie, laughing, cooking, rearranging a room, etc. This distraction should serve two purposes, to soothe the nervous system and expose oneself to supportive and healthy experiences. At this point, it can be helpful to circle back to step one, acceptance, which can lead to a deeper sense of acceptance, clarity and forgiveness.

Now that we have accepted the emotion, thought, event or situation, then successfully distracted the mind temporarily, followed by soothing the nervous system while exposing oneself to new experiences, one is now ready to create a new way of perceiving and reacting to the event. By perceiving and reacting to an event differently one creates a new way of coping with the difficulty.

Creating a new habit is different than simple distraction and diversion. Distraction is temporary and focuses of the short term. Creating a new habit involves setting the intention for permanent life change and is the second aspect of dialectical behavioral therapy, taking deliberate action to change. The motivation behind this deliberate action is important to ponder. One might ask themselves, “Am I creating this habit to get out of a certain uncomfortable thought or feeling? Or am I creating this new habit to support my health and well being over the course of my life?” and, “Do I truly value and enjoy this new habit? Or am I doing it for someone else?”. If the new habit is not in line with one’s values, it will not stand the test of time and will only serve as a detriment to oneself, creating uncomfortable feelings and emotions, starting the vicious cycle over again.

If the deliberate actions taken are directly in line with one’s values, while also seeking to becomes aware of upheavals as a learning opportunity, a persons’ capacity to overcome the negative effects of distress will be limitless. This is not to say emotional distress will not be experienced, but rather that when distress presents itself, a person will not be completely knocked off their equilibrium. An event which once sent a person into an emotional down-spiral lasting three weeks will now only last three days. One which upset a person for an hour or two might come and go in the flash of a thought.

In your pursuit to become better is where life is lived. Enjoy this. Not every living creature has the opportunity to feel or have emotions. They definitely do not always have the ability to look at such emotions and take action to handle themselves in a way which would support their own health and well being long term. Enjoy the experience of being human.

Tell me how this works for you by writing me an email or writing a comment below.

Resources:

McKay, M., Wood, J. C., & Brantley, J. (2007). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation & distress tolerance.

Photo: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/mb/wapusk

Using Substances to Support Creativity? I’ve Got Something Better… A Clear Mind.

How many times have you heard people discuss their use of substances as opening the door to feeling or experiencing a different state of consciousness? A more innovative, unfiltered mind? Maybe you yourself have tried to alter your state with drugs, alcohol, or food to tap into the free flow of imaginative thought, experiencing something you thought was otherworldly or a new layer of consciousness. You are not alone. Been there, done that! …too many times to count.

The memories which most stick out in my mind: smoking marijuana before seeing The Killers perform during their 2005 Hot Fuss Tour in Oklahoma City and later describing how I really “felt the music” to friends, a lame-as-hell comment (judgment…sorry!) I cringe admitting now. Four years later I was filling my wine glass while working on my Bachelor’s Degree to assist in writing papers, claiming the alcohol “let it flow out of my fingertips and onto the page”. The outcome? Mediocre ideas, illogical ordering and sentence structure, and horrendous punctuation. Needless to say my professors were less than impressed and definitely weren’t praising me for my creativity.

In a more broad context, at the societal level we see the justification of mind-altering experiences as a way to heal and touch into (or escape from) our consciousness with the legalization of marijuana, utilizing LSD to cure the maladjusted mind, and Ayahuaska to “open the consciousness to experience the universe”, not to mention the abundant access to alcohol, tobacco, and refined foods which line every super-market, gas station, and eatery across the nation. It seems obvious there are false notions surrounding the use of substances as keys to accessing the inaccessible. I’m reminded of an instance in which Albert Einstein was offered a drink by a colleague, to which he famously declined by stating, “My mind is my laboratory”.

Another great mind who addressed this issue was Rudolf Steiner in this discourse entitled The Origin and Meaning of Wine. In this he states,

“Wine was that which separated man from everything spiritual. He who takes wine cannot arrive at the spiritual. He can know nothing of Manas, Buddhi, Atma. The whole course of humanity is one of descent and ascent…the direction alcohol guided us – downwards”.

If these two great minds don’t make it clear enough, that consciousness is a gift to be cherished and refined, then take it from modern day creatives who are clean and clear minded such as Steve Jobs, Russell Brand, Daniel Radcliff, Lady Gaga, Eric Clapton, Elton John (I could continue but won’t).

Poignant and hilariously the creators of South Park address this issue in the episode entitled Quest for Ratings. In it the main characters “get high” on cough medicine in order to come up with ideas. Upon waking they revisit their ideas which they had written while intoxicated and Cartman describes what is scratched on the page, “squiggly line, circle”. The extent of the “good ideas” I read in my own pre-sobriety writings.1522609937986

The notion that substances allow one access to more creative states of consciousness is false. In reality, what we are experiencing while altered are glimpses into our subconscious and unconscious mind, not something external and otherworldly at all. Quite the opposite. The experience comes from the mind, and one should develop the mind to the extent where access is unlimited. But doing this takes time and effort which isn’t for those wanting a quick-”fix”, pun intended.

Most clients I see who are recovering from addiction are the most intelligent, hard working individuals I’ve ever met. And I mean that completely and seriously. They know sobriety and habit change take an incredible about of mental energy and effort. There are no days off. Vigilance and longevity are the keys to success. The same effort it takes to change a habit ingrained in our society is the same effort necessary to develop the truly creative consciousness. It isn’t though bypassing the consciousness by use of substances which taps you into a reservoir of creativity. One must utilize the enormity and complexity of the mind to harness ideas. Doing this will lead to clearer, more focused, sustained creative thought, leading to astounding innovations and works of art.

So drop the joint, put down the booze, and start developing your connection to the conscious mind. It will lead you to the depths of the unconscious, a reservoir of creative thought, tapping you into a truly amazing gift; originality.

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Creamy Herbed Kale Salad; A New Recipe from the Livity Raw Food Cookbook by Mariah Grooms

My friend, spiritual guide, and favorite raw vegan chef (which I have stolen numerous recipes from and posted them on this website!) has written a new cookbook, Livity; Recipes of a Modern Living Foods Lifestyle.

A recipe from Mariah’s latest cookbook is below: Creamy Herbed Kale Salad.

Feel good and enjoy!

Her cookbook provides over 50 straightforward recipes for revitalizing juices, smoothies, nut milks, vegan cheeses and nut meats, nourishing entrees and decadent desserts that will tantalize your taste buds and sustain your body. Take charge of your health journey today by tuning into Mariah’s profound nutritional insights and harness the powerful energy of the Sun, captured in whole, living foods, to elevate your body, mind, and spirit towards brighter life energy.

Buy her cookbook by clicking here

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Great Expectations: Overcoming Unnecessary Suffering

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I woke up on a Friday morning with great expectations. The list included wanting to spend quality time with my partner; making breakfast and drinking coffee in a relaxed manner. This followed by working out, cleaning and organizing my entire house then meeting briefly with a client at noon (already you might be thinking, “All of that by noon?!” Yes, I’m ridiculously driven as well as naive:). This was to be followed by several hours of dedicated writing and packing the car for a weekend in the wilderness. “All of this is to be done by 3:00 pm” I told myself.P_20180928_104356_vHDR_Auto

 

Morning unfolded in the most pleasant of ways; breakfast and coffee led to running on a path lined with changing deciduous trees near the river with an unexpected sheep which lingered behind us the last 1/2 mile, to whom which we gave the name “Steve”. Finally, looking at my watch, I realized noon was fast approaching. I hadn’t accomplished what I had set out to do for the day. I felt my anxiety rise. I projected into the future, sensing the expectations I had set for the day not being met. Suffering ensued.

Sitting in front of a coffee shop doing my best to remain equanimous, I felt huge waves of anxiety rise and fall. I knew I had to let go of something or this pain would continue and negatively affect my inner tranquility and my relationships with the people around me. I had to look directly at what I choose to value in life.

As a practice for focusing my life, each month I reevaluate my values, goal and action steps (see attached photo). Having this list of values that I’ve created each month is a reference point for having a life well-lived as defined by me.

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Values:

  1. Myself: Cultivate and care for my physical, mental, and emotional self
  2. People: Family, Partner, Friends, Community
  3. Career; Recovery Coaching, Workshops, Yoga and Meditation, Writing

Looking at this list and cross-referencing it against my current obstacle, I reflected on specific questions. Did I offer myself self-care? Yes. Next on the list are the people in my life. Am I giving 100% of my attention to the person in front of me, whom I choose to spend the majority of my time, to create with, have a career and a life?

It is amazing to me that someone has chosen to spend their life in conjunction with my own. Is this not the most amazing aspect of any relationship? As I realized the answer to my question (if you haven’t gotten it yet, the answer was “no”…) I made the conscious choice to realigning my thoughts, words, and actions with the values I set. Letting go of the expectations I held for myself, I gained back my mental fortitude, equanimity and energy. After jumping over this mental hurdle, I was able to flow through my day with ease and joy. I got what I could done and was able to go camping; truly enjoying myself in the process.

The take-away:

Don’t let your own or others’ expectations lead you away from the values you set. Allow life to unfold in its own time without fighting against reality. This is where happiness can be found.

Photo Credits: http://www.davidbain.org/value-of-suffering-project 


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