Donald Altman is the author of the new book, Simply Mindful: A 7-week course and personal handbook for mindful living. Donald Altman is a psychotherapist, an award-winning author, and a former Buddhist monk. Featured in The Mindfulness Movie and profiled in The Living Spiritual Teachers Project, he has written over 15 books that teach how to incorporate mindfulness into daily life. Award-winning books include: The Mindfulness Toolbox, winner of two Gold IBPA BenjaminFranklin Awards as the best book in the “Psychology” and “Body-Mind-Spirit” categories, Clearing Emotional Clutter, named “One of the Best Spiritual Books of 2016,” and The Mindfulness Code, named “One of theBest Spiritual Books of 2010.”
Those of us who pay attention to the spiritual dimensions of life know about compassion, one of the most important forms of loving-kindness. Validating modern psychotherapy’s latest findings, the Dalai Lama reminds us that compassion can positively re-wire the mind.
Simply put, compassion is feeling and expressing loving-kindness for people going through troubles or suffering. Obviously, there’s certainly no shortage of suffering in the world to feel compassion for. In fact, all types of suffering—physical and psychological—seem to be multiplying right before our eyes, not only in impoverished societies, but including a growing dispossessed homeless population everywhere you look.
Indeed, according to Buddhist logic, we will all suffer—even the rich and comfortable—because suffering is built in to the ego’s strategy of ever pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain. The very fear of suffering begets extra anxiety—even more suffering, as we criticize ourselves for being anxious to begin with! We often shame ourselves as if there’s something wrong with us when we don’t understand or can’t cope with feelings.
We don’t have to suffer the crippling effects of anxiety, however. There are healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety, instead of engaging in self-criticism and negative judgments or the abuse of addictive substances and behaviors, which only leaves us feeling empty and worse off. Self-compassion is the royal path of the heart. It is the art of directing a loving, forgiving energy towards yourself, with new perspectives on your old dissatisfactions, perceived failures, and frustrations.
It is soothing and helpful during times of stress to focus your conscious mind on personal images of kindness, understanding, and love, in order to cultivate those feelings within yourself. Find some sacred images that appeal to you and move your soul. Print them out and post them around your space. You will train your mind to combat anxiety-causing thoughts and emotions with the powerful presence of love and acceptance. You will become happier.
Self-compassion is coming to the forefront of psychotherapy, as per an excellent book by Dr. Dennis Tirch called The Compassionate-Mind Guide to Overcoming Anxiety: Using Compassion-Focused Therapy to Calm Worry, Panic, and Fear. Dr. Tirch writes about how treating ourselves with compassion has a huge impact on the quality of our lives and our ability to deal with inner difficulties, such as anxiety, fear, shame and depression.
In his book, Dr. Tirch writes, “Compassion begins with a deep understanding of just how tricky our brains are and a recognition that they are not that well put together! Once we recognize how difficult our emotions can be, we can stand back from them and feel compassion for the difficulties we experience.”
As we learn how to not take life’s challenges so personally, and to forgive ourselves for our imperfections by cultivating self-compassion, the uncomfortable effects of anxiety will diminish in our lives.
According to Dr. Tirch, “If you’re able to tolerate your anxiety-related distress and accept that anxiety is a part of life, then you’ll also be able to work with it and around it—in short, you’ll be better able to function in your life.” Just reading Dr. Tirch’s book and interviewing him for my Pathways podcast helped me enormously. (Now please excuse me while I take a deep breath and give myself a hug! 🙂
Have you ever wondered why you’ve been feeling more anxious or depressed in the past couple years? Having more trouble sleeping? Feeling confused or overwhelmed by behavior that you can’t make sense of? If so, you may be a victim of “narcissistic abuse.” Author and counselor Meredith Miller, an expert on the subject (and recent guest on my Pathways Radio podcast), believes Narcissistic Abuse (NA) is a leading cause of loneliness, anxiety and depression in the world today, silently happening across interpersonal, familial and societal levels.
A silent pandemic of narcissistic abuse appears to be growing at exponential rates, as it’s being normalized by media and entertainment industries rewarded by corporations and institutions, and so shamelessly modeled by our bullying leader. One of the key markers is lack of empathy.
Miller writes, “We are living in a world run by the narcissistic and sociopathic values of many corporations, governments, schools, religious and spiritual organizations.” On the island of Maui, Monsanto is a perfect exemplar of unbridled narcissism in the corporate sector … putting profits above the health—and the democratically expressed will—of the people.
NA is one of the most insidious injustices because it leaves its victims less able to trust others, or their own judgment. Narcissists emotionally manipulate others through language designed to assert greater control. They make people feel helpless and isolated in order to foster a sense of dependency. Hallmark behaviors include verbal abuse, manipulation, emotional blackmail, lying, gaslighting, bullying and withholding. Statistics indicate 15% of population has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), but it is under-reported as these are not people who seek therapy.
We all have experienced narcissism, which is a natural stage of life…. for a two-year-old. Clearly, it’s a stage we are meant to outgrow with the help of decent parenting. But what if one or both of our parents is narcissistic or otherwise dysfunctional? Such families operate according to an unspoken set of rules. Children conform to these rules, but never cease being tormented by them because the rules block emotional access to their parents … and themselves. They become invisible—neither heard, seen, nor nurtured. Boundaries dissolve and they are used (or abused) to suit their parents’ whims.
Even if we’ve been free of NA in our families of origin or intimate partnerships, we are all experiencing narcissistic abuse these days, because our president has NPD. Gaslighting describes how narcissists try to make people think they are the crazy ones if they believe their eyes and ears. An narcissistic abuser like Trump is a master at gaslighting, constantly lying to deceive and scam or just to throw us off balance. It’s not hard to feel the depressing impact his deranged leadership is having on mental health in the USA and worldwide.
How can we heal from narcissistic abuse? What are antidotes to such self-centered madness? First, we need to have compassion for all of us having to deal with NA. Develop self-acceptance and commit to letting go of our own self-destructive habits and complicity. Deliberately practice empathy and compassion. Avoid giving special attention to the abuser or taking him seriously (perhaps this means taking a “news fast” for a while) in order to rebuild an internal sense of safety. It’s never too late to redefine your sense of self and commit to creating new and better boundaries. And vote for responsible government in 2018.
Corinne Zupko, EdS, LPC, is the author of From Anxiety to Love: a radical new approach for letting go of fear and finding lasting peace. As a licensed counselor and keynote speaker, she has helped thousands of individuals through her one-on-one counseling, weekly meditation classes for corporations, and the largest virtual conference of ACIM in the world, through the organization Miracle Share International, which she cofounded. She lives in New Jersey.
Robert Wright is the author of the new book, Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. Robert is the New York Times bestselling author of The Evolution of God (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), Nonzero, and The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life, Three Scientists and their Gods (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award). He is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the widely respected Bloggingheads.tv and has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Time, Slate, and The New Republic. He has taught at the University of Pennsylvania and at Princeton University, where he also created the popular online course Buddhism and Modern Psychology.
Stress is a silent killer. However, certain easy-to-practice meditations can proactively relieve the effects of stress.
Lisa Wimberger is the author of New Beliefs, New Brain: Free Yourself from Stress and Fear. She is the founder of the Neurosculpting® Institute. Her work draws upon a background in medical neuroscience. As the Founder of the Neurosculpting® modality, Lisa runs a private meditation practice in Colorado teaching clients who suffer from stress disorders.
Mary Heath is the author of the new book Get Your Life Back: A Twelve Week Journey to Overcome Stress, Anxiety, and Depression. As a Stress Management Consultant, Stress Counselor, Life Coach and Therapist, Mary worked in Mental Health for almost 30 years helping patients and clients to overcome their stress, anxiety and depression.
Ethan Nichtern is a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition and the author of the new book, The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path. Do you feel at home right now? Or do you sense a hovering anxiety or uncertainty, an underlying unease that makes you feel just a bit uncomfortable, a bit distracted and disconnected from those around you?
This Pathways show investigates the journey each of us takes to find where we belong.