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The Mindful Path to Extinguishing Life’s Little Fires

mindfulness meditation

The Practice Mindfulness Meditation During Challenges Can Be Difficult, But Also Extremely Beneficial. Here’s how I do it.

Somedays I feel like a fireman, running around putting out Life’s Little Fires, or as I like to call them L.L.F.s.  These aren’t catastrophes, but rather the annoyances that pop up and burn you on the backside like a like a hot coal from a campfire. L.L.F.s make life difficult.  As a client of mine recently said, “I’d like to make it through just one day with things going right!” I could relate. In fact, just today I saw my morning about to go up in smoke.

I had an early Skype session scheduled with my writing coach, but the gods-of-the-internet just weren’t going to have it. He could hear me, but I couldn’t hear him. I could see him, but he couldn’t see me. We were disconnected, then reconnected and disconnected again. We spent a good portion of our session just trying to get started. After several attempts to reboot my system, then switching to a different computer, resetting my internet protocol and sacrificing a computer mouse as a burnt offering, we appeased the gods and eventually connected.

When I find myself in these frustrating situations, my first response is to throw my hands up in exasperation and yell expletives to the sky. However, of late, I’ve been practicing “Mindfulness,” and found it useful for squelching the little fires of life. Mindfulness is a popular word in the mental health field that originally comes from the practice of Buddhist meditation. It’s the psychological process of becoming acutely aware in a nonjudgmental way of the present moment while entering into the harmony of the body, the mind, and the spirit. Or in less “woo-woo terms,” mindfulness is simply noticing what’s going on rather than reacting to it.

I’m the first to admit that practicing mindfulness is way easier when things are going well. After all, when things are going my way being in the moment is a piece of cake. But, I’m also learning that being mindful in the moments of complications and difficulties to be truly beneficial. To quote Thich Nhat Hanh, “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”  Somewhere in the midst of the annoyances of L.L.F.s resides joy and happiness.  I just have to find it within my body, mind, and spirit. Here’s how I break that down:

Body: The brain is the physical organ that orchestrates our bodily functions. When I’m frustrated my brain perceives danger and engages the fight or flight response. When this happens adrenaline is released, my heart pumps faster, my breathing gets shallow, and my body becomes prepared to run or fight. An unfortunate byproduct of this defense system is to decrease the blood flow to the part of the brain responsible for problem-solving and rational thought. When I’m frustrated I’m not thinking clearly. By noticing what’s going on in my brain I can change what’s going on in the rest of my body.  Mindfulness reminds me to focus on my breath, slowing down the flood of adrenalin and re-engaging my brain’s ability to attend to the goodness all around me. As I was trying to get Skype working this morning I noticed my breathing, slowed it down and became aware of the sensations in my body. It wasn’t easy, but it did help me to let go of my anxiety and move forward with the call, which ended up being an excellent session

Mind: The mind is the transparent internal system of our emotions, thoughts, and beliefs. To be mindful of my mind is to notice and become aware of that system in the present moment. Mindfulness shifts my thinking towards observing what’s going on in this internal system. My thoughts move away from the problem and I just experience the moment.  An odd thing happened when I did this today; I was able to release the distress and recognize that it was simply an opportunity to expand my spiritual practice.

Spirit: The spirit is the part of the self that connects to that which is larger than me, the source of all things. In the midst of the L.L.F.s, I thought of a quote by Tony Robins who said, “The universe isn’t doing this to you, it’s doing this for you!” As I contemplated this for a moment, I reminded myself that virtues are the spiritual tools that allow me to find the connection. The opportunity to expand my patience was the gift of the day. As the wise King Solomon said, “The end of the matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.” As I practiced patience and listened to my spirit, and I noticed a sense of peace and purpose that lead to writing this post… And that’s kind of cool.

Later in the day, I drove past a sign on the outside of an athletic club.  It read, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” Since to be alive is to be in a constant state of learning, growing and changing, is it any wonder why we’re so often challenged?  I love how Pema Chodron puts it: “If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teachers,” or in this case, the L.L.F.s. Even though today was challenging, by being mindful to the present moments, these complications ended up being gifts from the gods of fire. By the way; does anyone know a good place to scatter the ashes of a burnt computer mouse?

Confidence: Chasing the Tail of Self-Esteem


Confidence: Self-Esteem Self-Sabotage Self-Compassion – How to Overcome Negative Behaviors.

Some time ago I was behind a car with a bumper sticker that read, “God, help me to be the kind of person that my dog thinks that I am.” I laughed to myself and thought, “Good thing I have a cat because she has low standards.”

As funny as the bumper sticker was, I couldn’t get its meaning out of my head. As I continued on my drive, my thoughts jumped around like a Chihuahua let off its leash at a dog park. I began to wonder, “What is self-esteem, where does it come from and why do I have so little of it?” Now, I haven’t always been the masterpiece of self-assuredness and mental health that you see before you today.  In fact, low self-esteem and self-sabotaging behaviors are two things I’ve struggled with the majority of my life.

In the past, it seemed logical that the solution was to increase my self-esteem.  After all, if I felt better about myself, I would treat myself better. But the more I tried to improve my self-esteem the lower it became. The result was a vicious cycle of falling short of my high expectations leading into more self-sabotaging behaviors.  It was like what Albert Einstein said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I realize now that how I tried to build up my self-esteem was flawed:

  • My self-esteem has come from comparisons: A bad habit I have is using, “What do they have that I don’t” as a measuring stick for my success. This compulsion only serves to create feelings of envy and discouragement within myself. Keeping up with the Joneses is futile because someone will always be more successful, more in shape, better looking, with more money, who lives in a nicer house and drives a nicer car than I, and I end up on the short end of the stick.
  • My self-esteem is contingent on my bank account: I’ve noticed a trend that my self-esteem fluctuates based on the number of zeros in my accounts.  When the balance is high, I feel excited and happy.  Perhaps it has to do with feeling secure, but it’s likely linked to the ability to shop. It’s funny how a little purchase on Amazon can boost my self-esteem in the short term. However, It’s also lead me down the path of selfish indulgences that morph into to debt, overdrafts and poor credit scores.  My most self-destructive behaviors tend to follow saying, “Screw it! I deserve this.”
  • I have viewed life as a zero-sum game: I’m either a winner or a loser. When I win, I feel fantastic. I want more of the elation that goes along with winning. Losing sucks. If I feel I’m losing at life, I go dark. These highs and lows placed me on a rollercoaster ride that climbed and dipped based on my internal scorecard of wins vs. losses.
  • My self-esteem is dependent on external validations: It might be easier for me to get a tee shirt that reads, “Am I OK? Please tell me you like me, ” but I don’t know what I would do on laundry day.  Needing validation from others leaves me feeling good for a moment but then empty because I feel needy.  The problem is that when I give others the power to validate me, I inadvertently provide them with the power to invalidate me.

That silly bumper sticker helped me have a paradigm shift. I thought,  “Maybe it’s not that I need to increase my self-esteem. Maybe it’s that I need to improve my self-compassion.” This lead to a reversal in my thinking: as I broke it down I discovered that the focus of building self-esteem seems to say “How I feel about myself affects how I treat myself,” whereas self-compassion promotes, “How I treat myself affects how I feel about myself.”

As I changed courses towards self-compassion, I could clearly see that I often treat other people better than I treat myself.  For example, I quickly offer kindness, respect, encouragement, compassion and grace to everyone else but withhold these gifts from myself. Instead, I beat myself up for mistakes, say things to myself that I would never say to another human, disrespect my body by putting junk into it, and discourage myself with negative thinking. By practicing self-compassion I noticed some significant changes in my thinking that began to affect my behaviors and feelings towards myself:

  • It’s ok to put my needs first: My fear is that if I put my needs first, I will become a selfish jerk that no one wants to be around. The irony is that the most selfish thing I can do is to put my needs last because like my friend from Texas used to say, “You can’t give what you ain’t got.”  When I put my needs last, I don’t have the resources to be kind, loving and generous. Ultimately, I cannot extend compassion unless I first have it in abundance for myself.
  • My focus has changed from “what” to “who”: When I focus on the “what I want to be” my status is based on external validations that can disappear in an instant. Companies go out of business, people get fired, relationships break up, and life happens. However, nothing can ever take away “who” I am; I’m compassionate, loving, generous, kind, courageous and virtuous. These are internal motivators that endure when the chips are down.  As my favorite psychologist Viktor Frankl said: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
  • I care less about what people think: I genuinely care for people. However, I’m far less concerned with their opinions of me. For one thing, I discovered that the greatest threat to my destiny is the fear of what others may think. Self-compassion doesn’t fluctuate with opinions because it is a commitment to the action of caring for one’s self regardless of outside judgments.
  • I’ve noticed I’m taking good care of myself: Being a therapist is an emotionally draining profession.  At the same time, like many of us in the helping professions, I tend to be horrible at self-care. Perhaps this comes from feeling undeserving of good things in my life.  I’ve certainly self-sabotaged everything from relationships to my health. But this new perspective has changed the way I eat, the way I sleep, and the way I communicate my needs with others.

These small shifts in thinking have paid off in unexpected dividends. I still struggle from time to time and fall back into old thinking patterns. But now I have a tool to help me get out the hole of self-pity.  If I am feeling depressed, I give myself permission to be kind to myself. By giving myself the gift of self-compassion, I spend less time in the dark places that lead to self-destructive behaviors.

Ultimately, it comes down to what the Buddha taught when He said, “You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” When I practice loving myself through acts of compassion something wonderful happens; I end up being the kind of man my dog thinks that I am. Now, if I only my wife would let me get a dog.


Also published on Elephant Journal

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How To Be A Generous Lover

generous lover

“That is such a turn on!” my wife exclaimed as I walked in the door. Her face had an expression of “Come and get me you stud!” I was already dripping with sweat, aching from head-to-toe and hot! Extremely HOT! Not with sexual anticipation, but because I had just come in from mowing the lawn; something I had done a thousand times before. However this time… this time, I did it without being asked. It turns out this is foreplay for my wife.

To be a generous lover, you must focus on foreplay.

Foreplay means, “the activities that precede.” It is preparation. It is the activities that we do to prepare for the play. In the arena of sex, foreplay is often focused on the physical touch before the actual act of intercourse. And while this is important, I’ve been learning that foreplay starts way before you ever get to the bedroom.

Foreplay begins with generosity.

Good foreplay is acts of generosity. My definition of generosity is “doing what you know the other person likes, without being asked, with no expectation of a return…. And gratitude if there is a return.” If you want to be a generous lover, you have to start with the day-to-day. What are the little things that your partner likes that communicate love? In other words, everything is foreplay. Trust me, better foreplay leads to better sex and ultimately to a better relationship. Learn to be generous in all that you do and you set yourself up for better sex.

One of the most important aspects of a healthy relationship is being generous. As a husband, I tend to forget that my number one job is to be generous to my spouse with my time, resources and affection. In fact, if every person adopted the attitude of kindness without a “what about me” attitude there would be no need for marriage counselors.

This opinion isn’t just the ramblings of a crazy man who blogs about relationships. A study of nearly three-thousand married couples conducted at the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project also found this to be true. In their report, they found that spouses who scored high on the generosity scale had a high correlation with reporting being “very happy.” The reverse was also true; the individuals reporting being unhappy had a greater report of lack of generosity in the relationship.

According to the study, not only did these couples who reported higher levels of generosity experience happier marriages,  they also reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction. Imagine, creating a satisfying sex life by just doing more household chores.

Researcher Bradford Wilcox, who was involved with the study and is associate professor of sociology stated: “What happens outside of the bedroom seems to matter a great deal in predicting how happy husbands and wives are with what happens in the bedroom.”

Generosity doesn’t have to be expensive.

You can be generous with your time and resources you already have available. Here are several practical ideas for adopting an attitude of generosity in your relationship:

Please them orally:

And by that, I mean give compliments by be gracious and speak words of kindness to your partner. Studies show that couples who practice a five to one ratio (five positive comments to every one negative remark) have a higher relationship satisfaction. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Never love anybody who treats you like you are ordinary.”

Make the coffee:

My wife wakes up earlier than I do because of her job. Every night, before I go to bed, I make the coffee. I set the program to start brewing10 minutes before her alarm goes off. I also place a cup next to the pot and get her creamer ready. When she wakes up, all she has to do is stumble into the next room, and it’s all ready to go. It’s a small thing. A generous act can be something simple that your partner could do for themselves. You do it just to make their life a little bit more pleasant and to let them know they are important.

Get rid of the scorecard:

Nothing kills generosity quicker than an attitude of Quid-pro-quo. If you give to get, you will alway feel cheated. Instead, just be generous without the expectation of return. Think about it; what if your partner did something for you with no expectation of return. How would that feel? Most likely you would feel loved. If your partner doesn’t feel loved by you, then you’re doing it wrong.

Make the plan:

You know what your partner likes, so make a plan to go to their favorite place, or do their favorite thing. Plan it, choose the time, make the arrangements and let them know in advance of your intentions. If they don’t want to do it, then change the plan to do the thing they want to do instead. Not because you want to, but because it’s an act of generosity and an expression of love.

Do something shocking:

There is probably something that if you did it, your partner would likely fall over with disbelief. Ask yourself this question: “My partner would be shocked (in a good way) if I did this: __________________________.” Now, do whatever that is. For me, it was mowing the lawn.

In Conclusion

A satisfying relationship all boils down to two people seeking to be generous to each other. Striving to meet your partner’s needs in the bedroom as well as in the day-to-day activities is critical to becoming a generous lover. Seriously give it a try. I think you’ll be surprised at what happens. If nothing else, you’ll have a well-groomed yard.

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