Monday, December 16, 2013

Creating a Happy Life with a Compassionate, Wise Inner Being

"Entrusted" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
I've been paying quite a lot of attention to Paul Gilbert's Compassion Focused Therapy work in the UK this past week.  One thing that really stood out was a reference to some developmental work on altruism that Warneken and Tomasello have done.  The amazing thing is their videos on YouTube clearly show infant pleasure when being able to offer up acts of generosity and kindness to others.  Paul Gilbert suggests that we do actually get great delight when we can access that compassionate, wise part of ourselves that seems to be there from a very early age.

Actually Gilbert and others say that the affiliative activities involved in altruism and kindness are hard wired, that they are part of our primate brain.  When under stress though, we totally lose sight of this part of ourselves, and fall back on to the more primitive parts of the brain.  Modern life being what it is, culture making its increasingly strident demands on us, we tend to stay in the stressed out, more primitive mode a lot more than our ancestors ever did.  But when we are give a chance, we thrive on acts of kindness.

Here's an interesting video from Christine Carter and Kelly Corrigan where they discuss the growing materialism with kids and holidays.  It's worth a watch!

So if we take Gilbert's ideas along with Warneken and Tomasello's research, then we need to find ways to help ourselves and our children access the compassionate, wise, generous, affiliative part of our brains in order to have a happy life.  For example, Carter and Corrigan talk about taking toys to a homeless shelter, and distributing them.  But what if, instead, they were to take simple art making activities to a shelter and create a little art making workshop for the folks in the shelter.  I guarantee all would have a great time.  Especially if you are making some simple like sock puppets.  Then all participants have the pleasure of playing and working together, but they also have a toy they have made themselves.  How great would that be?

So that would be my #21 way to have a happy life, find a way to create some fun with others, and make sure to engage the affiliative part of the brain.

#22 is related.  One of Paul Gilbert's ideas is about creating compassionate image for you to work with and develop.  The more I read about this the more excited I got.  This is exactly what the folks I worked with in NYC did, in creating a Wise Old Woman character and puppet.  She embodied the groups' inner compassionate and wise beings.  (You can read more about the experience here.)  Everyone in the group, including therapists, projected all kinds of wonderful wisdom and good things like feeling cared for and cared about on to the Wise Old Woman.  She was loaded with the qualities that Gilbert says is so important: Wisdom, Strength, Warmth and Nonjudgement.

My #22 of 1000 ways to have a happy life would be to work on the Wise Old Woman and Gilbert's compassionate character some more, in my art and art journaling.  (Can't wait!)

Want more on holiday gifts?  Try the Minimalists.  Excellent ideas! (And thank you Huyen for pointing that one out!) 

Have a happy holiday and a happy life!  You all deserve that!

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Eleven More Ways to Have a Happy Life

"Beautiful Frolicsome Things" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
(Well, I must say, this is a fun task I seem to have taken on!)

So one of today's ways to have a happy life (#10 of a thousand) has to do with hugs and Dr. Paul Zak's "love molecule."  He believes we need 8 hugs a day to release the daily requirement of Oxytocin.  You can see a great interview with Rick Hanson here.  Nice, right?

I watched another one of these Rick Hanson videos (see below), with James R. Doty (neurosurgeon among other things) and WOW!  But in case you don't have time to watch the video, he describes his rather dire childhood and youth with an alcoholic father and suicidal, invalid mother.  He and his siblings were on life paths that could be called unhappy to the extreme.  His siblings didn't survive their life paths, in fact.  But James had an amazing experience when he was thirteen.  He walked into a magic shop when the owner was away.  The owner's mother was there, visiting for 6 weeks.  They got to chatting and she told James if he came back every day for the next six weeks she would teach him some things that could change his life.  He could sense her genuine concern and compassion for him, so he came back.  What she taught him was based on Eastern religion; meditation,  mindfulness training, visualization, a kind of positive psychology and some self-hypnosis techniques.  What he was able to to with these tools was amazing.

At the end of these interviews Rick Hanson always asks what one thing could viewers put into practice that would change everything for them and maybe for the world if enough people practiced it.  James said he has a little list of words he goes through every day, an alphabetical mnemonic, based on the letters C - L.  So these words will be #11- 20 of a thousand ways to have a happy life.

11. C- Compassion (show yourself and others compassion today)
12. D- Dignity (treat everyone you meet with dignity)
13. E- Equanimity (remember to use equanimity in your relationships)
14. F- Forgiveness (try forgiving someone today)
15. G- Gratitude (remember at least one thing you can be grateful for today)
16. H- Humility (try humility in your interactions today and see what happens)
17. I- Integrity (act with integrity)
18. J- Justice (encourage justice where ever you can)
19. K- Kindness (practice some kindness today)
20. L- Love (and of course if you practice all of the above you will be more loving and more likely to have a happy life)

And here's the video in case you have time for it:

Monday, December 02, 2013

Relax, Socialize and Be Happy (#'s 8 & 9 of a thousand ways to have a happy life)

"Tea Party" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
What I like most about searching out 1,000 ways to have a happy life is that I'm starting to realize what a complicated concept happiness really is... and how interesting... and it feels good to know that our happiness is really within our reach, that we really can have a happy life.

One of the big sources of unhappiness and discomfort in our lives is stress.  Our sympathetic nervous system gets all in an uproar and our cortisol production goes up.  We tend to feel like stuff is out of control.  And of course then as we try harder to assert control on things, we get even more stressed.  But there are things we can do.   #'s 8 and 9 of a thousand ways to have a happy life follow.

#8.  Over on they have some interesting research by "sound therapists," rating songs in terms of how relaxing they are and they've posted ten of the most relaxing songs, with Marconi Union's "Weightless", coming out on top.  They have the whole song for you to listen to,   with its continuous rhythm of 60 BPM, which they say is an ideal tempo for synchronization with the heart and brainwaves.  I gave it a listen, and I'm thinking I need to look into the album for my further study in having a happy life.

#9. Then there's neuro-scientist Matthew Lieberman, who has this great TedTalk about our social brain and it's superpowers.  If you watch it, I guarantee you will feel happy and hopeful!  He talks about the importance of building on our social intuition, how we can actually make ourselves smarter, happier, and more productive.  He describes groundbreaking research in social neuroscience that reveals that our need to connect with others is even more fundamental than our need for food or shelter.  Pretty basic, and it has to do with our long period of dependency on caretakers.

He also also talked about the fact that the social pain and pleasure we experience has just as much impact as physical pain and pleasure.  (In fact he can't tell the difference between MRI's of social pain or physical pain, suggesting we could take a Tylenol if we are suffering from social pain.) 

He points out that we learn better if we are learning in order to share with others, as apposed to learning in order to pass a test.  The social part of the brain is actually better at retaining information than the analytical part of the brain. 

He ends his talk with the importance of social connections as a predictor of future happiness that our happiness and well being is actually based on our social connections.  Although our culture values material goods and money over social connections, research and personal experience teaches us the truth, that our happiness is connected to our ability to connect. 

Here's a nice little happy social brain stimulating video.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Feed Your Inspiration

"Feed Your Inspiration"collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
Here we have 4-7 of 1,0000 ways to have a happy life.  Serious fun for those whose top strengths are in the realm or curiosity and love of learning.  These are all snagged from LifeHack where you will find lots more fun stuff!

4. This link is for Open Course Ware from MIT.  How awesome is this, take a class because you are interested!  Massachusetts Institute of Technology is giving out information for tons of courses online through Open Course Ware. Join hundreds of millions of people who have taken advantage of these courses.

5.  Information is Beautiful is a website full of ideas.  It presents them in a fascinating and visibly beautiful way.  For example check out the visuals for "what is consciousness" which presents a variety of ways of thinking about consciousness that are understandable and very interesting.

6.  Have you ever wanted to read the classics and books that are out of print?  Download them onto your reader or computer!  So easy at Project  (For example, Guntenberg has Edith Kramer's favorite children's book, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf.  This is the book that she used in her work with the boys of Wiltwyck School, telling the adventures while the children painted.) 

7.  And finally here's a who would have thought it link to the CIA.  They provides information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities.  I cannot attest to the biases you may find within this hallowed site, though.

Fun right?  Stay tuned for more ways to have a happy life.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Creating Inner Satisfaction

"Explore Life" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
'Tis the season now of unbridled, crazy materialism.  I think I'll be devoting the next few blog posts to 1,0000 ways to have a happy life with out spending a whole packet of money and without listening to the advertisers who are appealing to the primitive mammalian part of my brain (see previous post). 

So here we go, an adventure in Inner Satisfaction!
Three of Christine Carter's favorite Gratitude Practices:
1.  During a holiday family dinner, create place cards to which everyone can contribute some love,  appreciation, and or art.
2.  Several times a week take your camera or smart phone for a walk and find and document things of beauty and inspiration, things that make you happy to look at!
3.  If you have kids, at the end of the day go over 3 good things that have happened or that they are just happy about.  Good brain chemistry here, and sharing is definitely value added!  If you live alone, this would be a good evening journaling exercise.

I think this is going to be the beginning of an awesome adventure.  3 down and 997 to go! 

Feel free to leave more ideas in the comments!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Why Inner Satisfaction is so Awesome.

"You are Flow" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

I was listening to Rick Hanson interview Paul Gilbert in the En*theos's Loving Brain series.  What a delight.  And I feel like I'm starting to grasp a little bit of this neuropsychology material at least enough to help me understand the whole shift of mind/elephant training towards inner satisfaction and intrinsic rewards.  (What follows will be a VERY rough artist-understanding-science kind of description, so bear with me!)

Here's what I "got" from this interview.  If we look at our brains evolutionarily, we see that our brains have evolved from the simple brain-stem type brain of the reptile, to the complex 3lbs., 1.1 trillion brain cells, 100 billion "gray matter" neurons, of the human brain.

As Hanson describes it, we have the primitive lizard part of the brain which is in charge of avoiding "sticks" and danger, the mouse part of the brain (primitive mammalian brain) which approaches "carrots" and opportunities (it's this part of the brain that is sent into overdrive this time of year by advertising, but more on that in a minute), and the "monkey" part of the brain (complex primate brain) which is in charge of attaching and bonding.

What I was "getting" from the interview with Paul Gilbert, is that we are trained by our culture to be driven, to use the "approaching" system of the primitive mammalian part of our brain, to achieve the things that the most complex part of our brain is hoping for, a feeling of attachment and bonding with our tribe, family, and or partner.  The culture teaches us (very persuasively and compellingly) that we can be loved and appreciated if only we had just a little more of this or that, usually material stuff but it can also apply to non-material achievements.  So we are trying endlessly to meet those complex needs with more primitive part of the brain, and not surprisingly, we never quite get those needs met.

And here's the cool thing about inner satisfaction or intrinsic rewards, these are the feelings and rewards that actually help the complex part of the brain feel the attachment and bonding that is already here, all around us.  It's all well within our reach and doesn't require a second mortgage or anything illegal.  Gilbert and Hanson suggest the best way to awaken ourselves to this happy state of inner satisfaction is by: developing our self-compassion, "getting on our own side", "mindful self-awareness", mindfulness of the world or "seeing the world clearly", "taking life less personally", and of course taking in the good. 

So how does this work in a daily art practice?  For one thing we can use art to express and explore any or all of these ideas, most importantly when we are working on a piece that is actually making us feel good, that is firing up good brain chemistry, then we are actually "taking in the good" for a bit longer than Hanson suggests is optimal (10-20-30 seconds) for absorbing the good feelings.  Of course we may get so involved in flow that we forget to actually feel the process.  No worries with that.  In my experience, it's relatively easy to sit with a piece for the requisite few seconds and enjoy it before moving into the rest of the day.  It's those few seconds of sitting with the good feelings that provide us with inner satisfaction.  It really can change our neural circuitry, our enjoyment of life, our feelings of connections with others, and of course it can change our lives.

Monday, November 18, 2013

On Creating a Bully-free Environment

"Create Story" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
I've been wondering about the roots of bullying and how to create workshops to support a Bully-Free Environment.  I looked at the old and some not-so-old Jane Elliott "Blue-Eyed Brown-Eyed" videos on YouTube to refresh my memory of being bullied, and what bullying is actually doing, sociologically speaking.

As a missionary kid in Taiwan, I attended a school for US Military dependents where there was no bullying.  Jonathan M. Wainwright DOD School seemed to have no issues about race, income, gender or even artists and class clowns. There was no jockeying for power there, either.  The lines were very clear.  You were either an officer's kid at the top of the heap, an enlisted man's kid at the middle or bottom, or a civilian kid who was more or less exempt from the heap experience altogether.  And my observation was there was no real discomfort for children in the heap or out of the heap.

So I had no idea what was waiting for me in the States when my parents left Taiwan for their furlough.  I found myself in a junior high school in a fairly upper middle class suburb of Chicago, and suddenly WOW!  There were so many amazing, somewhat silly cultural rules and regulations that I had no clue about.  There was no handbook for newcomers, so it was a matter of being corrected by the school's dominant-culture-police, i.e. the bullies.  Not a pleasant experience, I can tell you.

Reviewing the "Blue-Eyed Brown-Eyed" videos put it all in perspective.  What we had was a dominant culture concerned about maintaining its power.  To maintain this power the school population was divided between 'us' and 'them' or 'cool' and 'uncool'.  In some sense the boundaries were thought to be a little flexible, in that if you could learn to dress, speak, and act like 'us' the implication was you might be allowed to join the 'cool' group.  This dangling of a hope to join the 'cool' group was a truly powerful tyranny of peer pressure.  So of course obedience was absolute, unless you were unable to follow the rules, for whatever reason.  In that case you were pretty well doomed, treated like a Jane Elliott 'Blue-Eyed' workshop participant, and not just for the day.

Needless to say, after retuning to my beloved DOD school in Taiwan and my beloved roll as happy class nonconformist and artist, I became very interested in cultural rules and regulations, but found their arbitrary and capricious nature a bit too confining to take seriously ever again.  I found joy in creative expression and in making people laugh.  I felt better, happier, stronger when I was using my gifts or talents, so being a curious human the natural path for me was one that combine psychology and the creative processes. 

After pursuing this path for many years it seems to me that if we want our culture to be strong and able to solve its woes (and there are plenty of woes) then we need everybody within the culture to feel strong and able to participate fully.  In fact we might do a little better with more freedoms of expression and more inner satisfaction, rather that the dominant cultural group dictating to the rest of the culture how to live, be, dress, talk, and find satisfaction and joy.  That feels like bullying.

That's why I think workshops that help bring people together to celebrate their resilience, strengths, and awesomeness might be useful in schools. If you gave teachers some fun narrative building skills they could recreate their own awesomeness workshops in the classroom and have as many varied and amazing narratives as there are children in the classroom!  What could a teacher do with a room full of resilience narratives?  What could a school do if it were full of students who had learned about their own awesomeness?

There are some interesting clips on Jane Elliott's work in the below YouTube video on Tyranny and in the comments section I will add links for more videos from the UK, US, Australia, and Canada.  It's worth the effort to understand how bullying works and why we use it, if we want to think about creating bully-free environments.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Expressive Therapies Summit 2013 End Notes

"Paper Puppets" collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper

Just back from another fantastic experience at the Expressive Therapies Summit! This year I collaborated with Gioia Chilton, Rebecca Wilkinson and Dan  Tomasulo on a two day Positive Psychology, Art, and Drama workshop.  During the first day Dan raised some interesting ideas, about projection of both the shadow and the light, attributing his thoughts to Jung.  You can read about the exercise he had us think about here and you can read some further discussion between Gioia, Rebecca, and myself over on the 14 Secrets Blog.

The next day I had the great pleasure of presenting a full day Puppet-making, Narrative-building, World-of-Possibility workshop with Gioia, Rebecca, and we were joined by actress/drama therapist Le Clanché du Rand.  Ché led us in some wonderful drama warm ups, I did a slide presentation, and then we got down to Puppet-making business.

Once again I was amazed by the lift in energy, the delightful differences in the puppets, and the clear examples of inner satisfaction which were apparent all over the room.  I don't know why I continue to be amazed, but perhaps it's because the process continues to be fresh and even fun, and just as the puppets are always so delightfully different from each other, so too the workshops are always a unique experience.

So my end notes need to include some thought about why the energy and delight are so apparent. Since this level of energy and delight occurred in depressing mental health centers, in working with cancer patients, in depressed post-hurricane, post-oil-spill communities, I have to think it's not particular to this wonderful group of participants, although they were truly wonderful, but I have to think there is something energizing in allowing and even encouraging ourselves to express our differences within the workshop setting.  In fact it seems that within this puppet-making experience, the more differences the better.  (Sort of the opposite of life as usual, perhaps?)  And of course the fact that all puppets have a special gift or ability which we need to discover, is a very encouraging idea.  And then the group resilience narrative being built with all of these strengths was a totally playful, inclusive, delight to watch!

Mulling over the application of this World of Possibility workshop (because I've tried it in a variety of settings with great success, I am always looking for new applications), I would think it is an excellent format for schools concerned with bullying.  My memory of junior high school bullying was that children that didn't quite fit the mold, or children unwilling to pretend to fit the mold (since who of us was created from a mold?) were bullied.  The children who did the bullying were the ones who were a bit insecure in their own self worth, and needed to be feared to feel powerful.  Now wouldn't it be a terrific experience to get children working on resilience narratives from both ends of the bullying experience and actually celebrating their differences, their creativity, and their awesomeness?

From this ExTxSummit experience, I also came to the conclusion that this is my new/current job description: to help people learn about their own awesomeness, and to encourage it to grow and flourish!   I got a big taste for it, that's for sure!

Friday, November 01, 2013

Illinois Art Therapy Conference End Notes

"Re-kindling" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
Back from a stimulating, inspiring and re-kindling conference in Chicago.  Some interesting questions, points, ideas emerged which could use some further exploration.  If you missed the Keynote for the Illinois Art Therapy Conference, it is viewable and downloadable here.  And there are two articles from the American Art Therapy Journal here as well.  (They are about  subversive art therapists and culture, making changes from the inside out, nearly required reading for understanding what follows.)

The first question that emerged was during the pre-conference workshop.  We were looking at environmental/sociological reasons for "anomic" depression and "compassion" or empathy fatigue. 

Anomic Depression occurs when 1) our traditional cultural structure disappears, or 2) our group experiences deprivation while seeing others’ abundance; and 3) when there is confusion of socio-cultural identity.                                                 -Wolfgang G. Jilek, MD 

“Compassion Fatigue” or “Empathy Fatigue” occurs when 1)we are in a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, or 2)we have a lessening of our ability to cope with our environment, or 3) we have high levels of stress in our daily lives.
Maslach, C.(1982) Burnout: The cost of caring. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall

The good news is we can counter these factors ourselves.  We have the tools within us.  Here is a list of strategies that can help us become more resilient.

Resilience and Well-being Strategies
1) We can connect, we can take care of our relationships
2) We can take charge of something in our lives, even if it's the smallest thing, it will help
3) We can pay attention to our goals and wishes, we can honor them
4) We can look for good things (this can help counter the negative neurological effects of our hard wiring that looks for what is wrong)
5) We can believe in ourselves
6) We can take time for insight
7)  We can be generous
8)  We can make time for creativity
9) We can practice our sense of humor
10) We can develop our moral compass
11) We can take care of ourselves
12) We can keep a journal (art journal)
13) We can take time for meditation or a spiritual practice
14) We can study resilience and well-being

This short list is from:
Figley, C.R. (2005). Combat stress injury: Theory, research, and management.  Brunner/Routledge
Five Ways to Well-Being.  The New Economics Foundation
Lyubomirsky, S. (2010). The how of happiness: A practical approach to getting the life you want.  London: Piatkus
Road to Resilience, American Psychological Association. 

Much of my work with puppets has been to counter either anomic depression, empathy fatigue, or loss of resilience, and well-being.  I first started thinking about the idea of what a puppet-making art therapist could do to be "on the side of angels" as Edith Kramer called anyone who fought for social justice, while working in a large mental health facility in NYC.  It was an extremely stressful, draining job for staff, administrators, and of course for the patients themselves.  Everyone was suffering from some sort of burnout or depression.  At one point the patients started to speak up for themselves, to fight for what they wanted or needed.  They were becoming quite healthy in many ways.   I noticed the administration was not so happy.  They wanted compliant patients, but the sort of compliance they wanted was not really compatible with learning to be an independent functioning member of society. 

Now I do workshops that focus on strengths and resilience on a personal as well as community level. This is compatible with my views of mental health.  I try to emphasize the intrinsic rewards built into utilizing our inner strengths, because I believe there is nothing that promotes freedom, independence,  and a sense of self worth better than the realization that we have the power to create our own inner satisfaction and intrinsic rewards.

One of the questions that emerged at the end of my keynote was about the style of art therapy that doesn't necessarily see the necessity of making the unconscious conscious.  I had never given it too much thought since I was a student of Edith Kramer and for many of us art making was pretty much the goal in itself.  It was what built resilience, flow, positive feedback loops.  It was a way to communicate more directly, metaphorically, and gently.  But giving it some thought, I might suggest folks look at the work of Milton Erickson and those that followed him, like Joyce Mills and Richard J. Crowley.  They have so much to offer with regard to metaphor. The whole idea that so much of what we offer might be therapeutic without actually making the unconscious conscious is a huge topic for further discussion.

Which brings me to the final panel discussion on social justice.  This was a fabulously thought provoking session!   And of course if we think about it, we can all promote social justice in so many ways, where ever we are and in what ever life situation we find ourselves. Social injustice is so varied, so pervasive, surely there isn't just one answer to the issues.  I believe we all have many answers and we all need to find ways to put these answers into play in the world.

One of the most powerful ideas for me was Savneet Talwar's group of immigrant women using their textile abilities to form a positive, egalitarian, empowering group experience which you can read about here

Once again I am wondering about the nature of self-empowerment.  Could it be that the current power structure  of most institutions is basically a top down kind of thing, a 1% dictating to the 99%? And it seems so easy to fall into that pattern, just push to get the right people into the 1% spot.  But wouldn't that be the same structure just different faces wearing the pearls?

But what if we used a whole different model, something more egalitarian like Savneet's "Creatively Empowering Women" group, in our institutions, wouldn't that actually change the power structure, and allow for greater creativity and growth, more solutions and inspiration?

In my observation part of the trick of colonialism is that we get all entranced with the 1% and all we think they have, so much so that we may actually overlook our own strengths.  But I'm really thinking we need more groups like Savneet's "Creativity Empowering Women" circle and we surely need to be free from our own inner colonizers.

One last item from this panel that I found most helpful was Lynn Kapitan's reading of Nusbaum's list of human rights (thank you Lynn):

1. Life - Being able to live to the end of a human life of normal length...
2. Bodily health - Being able to have good health, including reproductive health...
3. Bodily integrity - Being able to move freely from place to place... secure against violent assault...
4. Senses, imagination, thought - Being able to use our senses; being able to imagine, to think, and to reason...
5. Emotions - Being able to have attachments to things and persons outside ourselves; being able to love those who love and care for us; being able to grieve at their absence, to experience longing, gratitude, and justified anger; not having one's emotional developing blighted by fear or anxiety...
6. Practical reason - Being able to form a conception of the good and to engage in critical reflection about the planning of one's own life...
7. Affiliation - Being able to live for and in relation to others...
8. Other species - Being able to live with concern for and in relation to animals, plants, and the world of nature...
9. Play - Being able to laugh, to play, to enjoy recreational activities.
10. Control over one's environment - (A) Political: being able to participate effectively in political choices that govern one's life...  (B) Material: being able to hold property (both land and movable goods); having the right to seek employment on an equal basis with others...

From Nussbaum, M. (1999). Capabilities, human right, and the universal declaration. In B. H. Weston & S. P. Marks (Eds.), The future of international human rights (pp. 44-46). New York, NY: Transnational.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Self-Compassion and Life Satisfaction!

"Sanctuary" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
I was reading "Self-Compassion in Clinical Practice" (an article in the JOURNAL OF CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY: IN SESSION) by Christopher K. Germer and Kristin D. Neff.  They describe self-compassion as having 3 core components: self-kindness (rather than self-judgment), a sense of commonality with humanity (rather than the isolation of an overly well defended ego), and mindfulness (rather than over identification, when relating to painful experiences). Their research evidence demonstrated a high correlation between self-compassion and psychological flourishing.  They also noted a reduction of depression and anxiety. After an 8-week training program in mindful self-compassion Germer and Neff found participants demonstrated a significant increase in self-compassion, mindfulness, compassion for others, and life satisfaction and a decrease in depression, anxiety, stress, and emotional avoidance. All gains in outcomes were maintained at 6 months and 1-year follow-up.  In fact, life satisfaction actually increased significantly at the 1-year follow-up, demonstrating a willingness to continue the self-compassion practices which in turn enhanced the participants' quality of life over time.  For the exercises used in mindful self-compassion see the resources and handouts on Christopher Germer's website.  Really nice!  I'm thinking the Fun Monday 14 Secrets Challenges will have to include some of these ideas!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Stress and our highest intentions

"A Cheerful Message"  Collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper
Author Andy Douglass was listening to the Indigo Girls speak on "On Being".  There was some questioning of where the great protest songs of this era are? It's not like we don't have things to protest, that's for sure.  "We Shall Overcome", "This Land is My Land," and so many classics are sung at rallies, and Andy wondered about contemporary songs that touch the collective spirit. He asked his FaceBook friends why we don't seem to have strong protest music like earlier generations had.  Why aren't we writing the songs that tell the stories that are happening to us now?

I gave the question some thought, and started wondering about  our high speed, noisy, cluttered, over-crowded lives.  Could it be that we are so stressed, we've lost our collective spirit?  Stress is so chronic, so pervasive we may be increasingly self involved and less capable of the kind of empathy required to participate in affiliative experiences. It's those affiliative, collective experiences which give rise to that feeling of a common spirit, a wish for justice for all, and of course classic protest music.

We have all experienced the physical response to stress, how our heart beats faster, how our breath gets shallow, and how our blood pressure rises and that's all pretty easy to talk about.  But stress also means self absorption, a heightened sensitivity about internal and external stimulus, and a need to keep the "self" safe.  This may be a little trickier to observe if we are under stress. 

But just think back to a stressful day (you may not have to look far).  Don't you find people drive like lunatics, seem to be the most rude and unkind when you are under stress?  In situations like that, or even in the normal day to day bombardment of life, how can we best notice that we are a part of a whole?  How can we remove a little less stress from our lives?  How can we all learn to be more sympathetic,  more kind to our "selves" (all of our selves, not just "me")?  Perhaps with some reduction of stress around us, we can become more affiliative, which further reduces stress.  We can be more open, we can hear the stories around us, and we can start to align our thoughts, our words, and our actions with our highest intentions, and we can write the songs that so badly need to be sung.

Here's a little example of collective spirit, affiliation and light in a dark place.  "Here comes the sun."

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Rick Hanson's "Taking in the Good"

"Best Things" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
In Buddha's Brain, Rick Hanson talks a lot about taking in the good.  He explains that our brains have a negativity bias which has helped us evolutionarily speaking, to get to the top of the food chain, and great in emergency situations, but that is perhaps now a bit detrimental in day to day life.   (He describes this as being Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good.)  He sees it as detrimental because our resilience and strength is based on positive experiences, but if positive experiences are slipping away and out of our inner experience because of the negativity bias, then we, over time, become quite brittle and anxious, always on guard and vulnerable.  If we are interested in developing our inner strength and our resilience, we need to practice "taking in the good" for long enough to lay down some neural pathways.  This can be 5, 10, even 30 seconds (or longer of course).  Not so very long.

I was always curious why of all of Seligman's Positive Psychology tasks the "3 Good Things" task was the most successful for the longest period of time, and now I think I know why now.  When we get into the awareness mode for "the good" our brain starts to do good things.  When we actually sit with that mode for as long as it takes to come up with three good things we are building new positive neural pathways, inner resilience and strength.  If we repeat this practice daily, wow.  Good things happen and we start to notice more and more "good things" both externally and internally.

OK, so here's how Rick Hanson suggests we "take in the good". 
1. Let good facts become good experiences.  Notice positive events (like someone being nice, smiling at you, you finish the dishes, small but positive stuff), positive conditions (like flowers are blooming or chocolate tastes great), and positive qualities in yourself (like your ability to enjoy working with art materials or your basic fairness or your curiosity and love of learning) - and then let them affect you and become positive feelings, bodily sensations, and thoughts.  You can even place your hand over your heart or touch your cheek to further embody these good sensations.
2. Stay with the good experience 5, 10, 30 seconds in a row, maybe even a full minute (use your timer).  Let the experience fill your body and mind and be as intense as possible.
3. Sense and intend that this good experience is sinking into you, like water into a sponge, becoming and inner resource.  So you are focusing on and absorbing the experience and feelings rather than "just" remembering a specific situation.

Just reading this fills me with delight, and if you want to further develop those neural pathways, create an art piece based on Rick Hanson's idea of "Taking in the Good" and then spend some time enjoying the piece.  Perhaps you can keep it where you might see it from time to time, so that each time you see it the neural structure gets a little stronger and a little happier.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Rick Hanson's "Hardwiring for Happiness" interviews

"Bloom" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
I listened to the first interview in Rick Hanson's (freely offered) series of interviews "Hardwiring for Happiness".  Joseph Goldstein was the interviewee.  So here are two lovely quotes.

Goldstein quoted the Buddha as having said:
"Practice that speech which brings people together.  Abandon that speech which pushes people apart."
So simple, so direct.  What a lovely practice!

And Rick Hanson reminded us of William James's interest in mindfulness and attention. 
 “The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui [master of himself] if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.”
William James, Psychology: Briefer Course, p. 424 (Harper Torchbooks, 1961)

Indeed, that would be a most excellent education!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A timer is essential for one minute meditation

"Meditation" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
If you are trying the minute meditation (see previous post) a good timer is essential.  I'm enjoying my i-Qi timer which you can download for free for the iPhone and iPad.  Technology.  Some times it's ok.   They also have a facebook page.  Having a timer eliminates the concern about whether or not time is up.  Our heads are full of who knows what but at least we can eliminate that little concern.

"It's not a time for making decisions or worrying about life.  It's not a time for being complicated.  For one structured minute, instead of all that doing - the normal frenzy of activity - you are quite deliberately just being.  It is like a state of suspension: for one whole minute everything is on hold.  You step out of time and come back to your life refreshed."  - Martin Boroson One-Moment Meditation

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Five ways to move through metaphoric quagmire

"My Dream" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

Artist/Art therapist Lisa Mitchell from the InnerCanvas  has five creative ways to move through those sluggish times, those times when we might feel a little stuck (it does happen from time to time, in our lives, in our work, or in our art).  She reminds us that it's easy (and maybe even a little fun and surely quite artistic) to take an artist's approach to our quagmire.  I've paraphrased Lisa's suggestions here, but you can read the original blog post here.

1. Add Depth
Artists add depth by darkening or deepening the colors, overlapping shapes, and changing proportions. We can do the same in our lives and work by diving deeper into the emotion, looking for commonalities and following associations.  Don't discount the things that might at first seem irrelevant.

 2. Add Color
 Artists add color to warm or cool the picture, evoke or intensify emotion, and clarify the focal point. We can do the same in our lives by warming or cooling the tone of our communications, expressing more intense feelings, highlighting new areas to focus on.

3. Change the Focus
Artists maintain a broad view of their work by checking if the values are in right relationship to one another, by zooming out to understand how the details read from far away, and by zooming in to see that the texture and detail is accurate. We can do the same in our lives and work by maintaining a holistic view.  We can stay flexible, balancing content and process. We can attend to the cognitive and emotional aspects of experience.  We might "hang out" in the details in order to understand the emotional texture of the lives around us (and our own), rather than focusing only on the story.

 4. Gauge the Struggle
Artists knows when to persist and when to shift direction. They sense when they are forcing a piece and learn to back off or change direction. They learn when they aren't working hard enough and how to go into work even when all they can see is struggle.  We can do this too in our lives and work by sensing when we are forcing or working against others.  We can learn to sense when we has backed off too much, and we can certainly show up despite not knowing what an outcome will be.

5. Fall in Love (with the process)
 Artists dedicate themselves to the art process. They show up no matter what (even if it's just for cleaning brushes).  They stay curious and ever hopeful. In fact they love the uncertainty of their work.  We can do this too by showing up no matter what (even on days that feel somewhat trivial). We can stay curious and hopeful and learn to love the uncertainty of our lives and work.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What to do with the monkey mind...

"I do like to play" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
Continuing with Martin Boroson's ideas on the one minute meditation (see previous blog post), the only instruction for our minds was to focus on our breathing.  We may be surprised at how little time our monkey minds need to really start jumping around. And then the harder we try to focus on our  breathing, the more it feels like work, and the more stressed we become. All in the flash of a minute.  Amazing.  So Boronson suggests it might be better to say, "Drop your mind into your breathing," "Relax your mind into your breathing" or "Allow your mind to settle into your breathing." If any one of these instructions works for us we should definitely use them.

And then there's the typical monkey mind activity during the minute meditation:
We are sitting still, focusing on our breath, maybe feeling a bit more peaceful than usual, when a thought pops into our awareness—"What's for dinner!" At first, we don't really realize that this thought has popped into our minds because we are actually thinking the thought. In fact, we can very quickly move on to wondering what needs to go on our shopping list and maybe some thoughts about processed food, and from there to Monsanto and GMO's. Then, suddenly we realize that we have been lost in thought about dinner and Monsanto and had forgotten completely about our breath. We wake up to our selves and our process. So we bring our mind back to the breathing and stay focused there—until some other thought or feeling takes us far away again. And then we wake up again. No worries, it's all good practice for waking up to our selves, waking up in our lives.

Just keep gently returning our minds to our breathing, where we can find the relaxation we crave.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

On the One Minute Meditation

"Transformation" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

"What you're aiming for [with meditation] is the feeling you get when you climb to the top of a mountain, sit down, and take in the view. A feeling of relief." - Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

That's  a lovely quote and it may just be what my personal elephant training practice is all about.  How to be more mindful in a busy, very distracted world.  How to come home to myself and feel that sense of relief, and know I can do that at any time.

To that end I'll be posting some of Martin Boroson's ideas from his month long course on Oprah's website and his book, One-Moment Meditation: Stillness for People on the Go.  He'd like us to get to that feeling of relief in a moment so he's starting us off with a minute practice.  Wow, a minute.  Even the busiest of people can take a minute to try this.  So here are his quite simple instructions.

1. Find a place of solitude.

2. Sit down.

3. Place your legs in a relaxed but fixed position.

4. Sit up.

5. Set your alarm for exactly one minute.

6. Place your hands in a relaxed but fixed position.

7. Close your eyes.

8. Focus all your attention on your breathing.

9. When the alarm sounds, stop.

Note:  I tried this and was shocked how exactly one minute felt like 45 minutes or even an hour.  Amazing how many little thoughts can pop up in a minute. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

One Moment Meditation

"Beautiful Hearts" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
I saw this intriguing little video of Martin Boronson's on YouTube in which he walks us through a one minute meditation and rather than suggesting we learn to sit for longer and longer periods of time, he suggests that we learn to meditate in a moment, that our lives are full of moments which could be well spent in practice.  This would also fit the current neuroimaging research of contemplative neuroscientists who say that the important thing is to keep returning to your mindful awareness rather than worry about achieving perfect meditation sessions.  Apparently just the continual returning to mindfulness is very good for the brain (Here's one abstract, but there's tons of research available, just head over to PubMed and type in mindfulness in the search bar.)

I decided after watching the video, that I wanted to know more about Martin Boronson's work, so I looked up his website, his book, his blog, an online workshop and nice articles on Oprah's website (This one is particularly nice because it has 30 days worth of mindful wisdom.)  Oh, and he's got a facebook page with freebies and wonderful quotes!  Lots of material to play with.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Oxytocin boosts (hooray!)

"Everything is Connected" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper,

There's a hormone called oxytocin, which Dr. Paul Zak calls The Moral Molecule.  (His Ted Talk is here.)  He's a professor of economic psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University and one of the world's foremost experts on oxytocin.  His research includes positive social relationships, health, and the production of oxytocin and he's got some pretty easy prescriptions to help us train our brains to release more oxytocin. (My elephant likes this idea a LOT)

Sex and cuddling, of course, are top oxytocin producers but if you want some additional boosters, here are that Dr. Zak highly recommends. (Gleaned from Prevention and Midlifexpress)

* Hug 8 times a day

* Call your mom 

* Get a dog (or two, twice the oxytocin, twice the party)

* Modify your handshake:  One hand over the other. Making eye contact also makes the connection more powerful.

* Get a massage

* Watch a tearjerker (this one seems to have the biggest boost in clinical settings)

* Sing

* Go dancing

* Go to weddings

* Have a big, thrilling adventure (bungee jumping, roller coaster riding, or out to see a scary flick) 

* Go for long walks

* Treat people decently

* Treat your friend to a meal or a coffee break

* Be trustworthy

* Increase eye contact

* Use the word LOVE (as in I love you, and I do!)

* Check friends and family's Facebook pages

* Watch or listen to a stand-up comic





Monday, August 19, 2013

Motivate the Elephant

"Be Kind" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper,
I'm reading Switch by Chip and Dan Heath (the book is great and here's a nice article that summarizes it) and they talk a lot about "the elephant" in a very helpful way.  They combined some interesting research in their chapter on motivating the elephant and created some usable ideas.

The first study they talk about is Crum and Langer's research on exercise and hotel maids.  A group of maids were told that their work was extremely beneficial exercise. They received a document describing the benefits of exercise, and they were also told what specific tasks used which muscle groups and burned what amount of calories.  The control group got only the document about the benefits of exercise.  The women in the first group started to loose some weight.  They became quite enthusiastic about their work.

Chip and Dan paired this research with research done on promotional loyalty cards which documented a phenomenon called "endowed progress effect", which provided people with artificial advancement toward a goal. These people exhibit greater persistence toward reaching the goal, than ones without the artificial advancement. Nice, eh?  (You can read about it here.)

So how it applies to elephant training is this:  Say you want your elephant to start a particular new activity.  Give it an "endowed progress" experience, like the maids who succeeded in losing weight when they discovered they were already exercising.  This motivated their elephants to exercise just that little bit more. They found themselves, in four short weeks, having lost a substantial and sustainable amount of weight which further motivated their elephants.  Elephants need reassurance, motivation and lots of endowed progress!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Breathing, glucose, and the brain

Collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper
David DiSalvo has a great "how to" article on breathing and the parasympathetic nervous system in Forbes. Lots of research and links there for you but the best is the simple directions about how to use your breathing to help your brain relax.  Find it here.

Another article of his, worth taking a look at, is on how the brain uses glucose to strengthen will-power.  Research shows a little gargling with lemonade will do the trick if you feel yourself flagging.  Seriously.  (Of course your dentist will tell you to brush your teeth right away.)  You can find that one here.

Why meditation and mindfulness help us feel happy

Morning Pages Collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper
"Many philosophical and contemplative traditions teach that “living in the moment” increases happiness. However, the default mode of humans appears to be that of mind-wandering, which correlates with unhappiness, and with activation in a network of brain areas associated with self-referential processing."

From: Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity  by Judson A. Brewera, Patrick D. Worhunskya, Jeremy R. Grayb, Yi-Yuan Tangc, Jochen Weberd, and Hedy Kobera
More here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How to "get out of our own way" - Dr. Brewer on Flow

Morning Pages Collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper

OH boy, oh boy, oh  boy!!!  Check out this Ted Talk:

This is a fantastic talk. Dr. Judson Brewer also has an iphone app to help smokers become non-smokers.

Additionally here are some articles by Brewer:

Self-Control Is a Non-Renewable Resource 

How to Change a Habit for Good: Pay Attention

How to Get Out of Your Own Way (and the Brain Science Behind It)

True Confessions

Collage by Lani
True confessions time.  I've been ignoring my elephant training a little bit.  I get the elephant into my morning pages and get that up on my FaceBook page and then it's almost forgotten for the rest of the day.  Not a good idea.  (If you want to train the elephant, you need to pay it some attention.)  To fix the issue, to start paying more attention to the elephant, I'll be posting elephant training related blog posts here. 

The thing is I've been ignoring my regular blog as well as well as the elephant.  So to revitalize my personal elephant training, to revitalize my personal blog, and to have just a bit more fun, I'll be posting my morning pages on my blog, with the incorporated elephant, and I'll be posting interesting articles and teachers of mindfulness and elephant training.  Hope that sounds good to everyone!

Curious about Elephant Training?  The answer is here at my Lulu store front:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Elephant Training and the Tibetan Thangka

Collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper
While away on vacation, we were staying with a friend who happened to have a Tibetan thangka with elephants all over it.  It looked like the traditional ox herding images from Chinese and Korean Buddhism where the ox turns white by the end of the series.  So what was going on with the elephants?  My friend didn't know what the story was behind the thangka to when I got home I checked with Google and found a whole wonderful web page of material!  I do love this metaphor! Check out the story behind the Tibetan Elephant Taming Picture here.

The short version of what is happening is this: At the bottom of the thangka you see a new meditator whose mind wanders so much in its own directions that it resembles a muddy elephant led by a distracting monkey. The meditator has to chase after the elephant and monkey. Half-way up the thangka, the elephant is starting to turn white and it is the meditator who is now leading it – although the monkey is still interfering by pulling the elephant’s tail from behind.  At some point a rabbit also appears representing lethargy.  Further up, the elephant is now white, the monkey goes off to eat fruit in a tree by itself and the meditator alone is in charge.  Finally the meditator is meditating and the elephant is able to lie down. The meditator can now easily ride elephant. At the top of the thangka the meditator is fully in charge of the elephant (his mind) and is now riding down to put its powers to good use.

Want to train your elephant?  Take a look at Elephant Training on Lulu!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Flypaper has done it again, Christmas in July!

Collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper,
girl from PaperWhimsy  
So it's Christmas for my computer, here in Prospect, because  FlyPaper has been hard at work. (Thank you Paul and Jill!) Do take a look if you have a moment.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Things are beautiful...

"Things are beautiful if you love then" -Jean Anouilh (collage by Lani textures by FlyPaper
susanna suchak said this collage reminded her of the Sweet Honey in the Rock song, "No Mirrors in My Nana's House," which comes as no surprise to me, since Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell, author of the song, is one of my greatest inspirations!  Her ideas are very helpful in working in a multicultural art room and in a multicultural world, in countering racism and internalized racism, and in helping us move in the general direction of "learning to love us more every day".

Ysaye Barnwell tells two related stories about her song, “No mirrors in my Nana’s house.” She had a friend who lived with her grandmother. There were no mirrors in her grandmother’s house. "How did you know how you looked in the morning," Ysaye asked. Her friend told her, "I looked into my Nana's eyes and I knew I look just fine, the beauty that I saw in everything was in her eyes. I never knew from her that my skin was too black, or my nose was too flat, or that my clothes didn't fit." The second story was about a distraught child who went to her grandmother after being teased in the school yard. “Someone called me such and such” the little girl said. The grandmother responded, “If you want to know who you are you look into my eyes.” Ysaye suggests we should get our perceptions of ourselves from people who love us, by looking into their eyes, by listening to them describe us.

I would take that a step further and suggest that we get our perceptions from our internalized Nana's, from that kindly part of the self that can comfort and reflect back to us that we are really alright just the way we are.

If there's a part of you that can smile at this song, there's a part of you that can be your internalized Nana.  

For more on racism, internalized racism, and colonialism, please see this video on "Lateral Violence"!!!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Heading off to the Art Therapy conference in Seattle...

"We are made whole" collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper
I'm heading off to the AATA annual conference, this year in Seattle.  Should be super fun.  Susan Anand and I are collaborating again, on pre-conference course and a presentation.  There will also be a panel on a collaborative effort between the American Art Therapy Association and the military, of which I was a part, so I'll be on the panel.  Also there's the Art Market which is always a lot of fun.  Come stop by my table and say hi, if you have a minute.

Monday, May 20, 2013

New challenge up at 14 Secrets

"Create what you need" collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper

There's a new Fun Monday Challenge up on the 14 Secrets Blog!  Go get your art supplies and have some fun.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

New Challenge up on 14 Secrets

Collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper
There's a new Fun Monday Challenge up on the 14 Secrets Blog and it is a really amazing one.  I'm not taking the credit for the "technology" (just the enjoyment and play).  But don't listen to me, go try this one!

Monday, May 06, 2013

Monday Challenge

Collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper
Over at 14 Secrets there's a new Monday activity, something to bring a little fun into Mondays.  Have a look and maybe try it out!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Links at Lulu are live!

Lulu has a digital version and a paperback version of "Elephant Training and the Happy Artist."  Do have a look!  Here's my store front:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

New Elephant Training Zine and Yahoo group are almost ready!

We are almost ready to go live.  This eZine will be in both PDF and iBooks formats.  Both should be viewable on pads and readers.  Lots of illustrations in 24 chapters.  My intention is to list in on Lulu, in iBooks, and here on my blog.  Here I'll be using a paypal link and then I'll manually send the file to you via YouSendIt where as Lulu and iBooks will be automated.  

We will also have a Elephant Training Yahoo Group for those who would like to share stories and "training" techniques (yes, and some of my collage techniques as well).  Should be an awesome, elephantine amount of fun!

Friday, April 12, 2013

We always have a choice...

First published over on 14 Secrets blog, but I love it, so I'll repeat it here!!!
"Honour that innocent monkey" Collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper

I read this Love Letter to the World on Kate Swoboda’s site Your Courageous Life and thought sharing it might be just the thing!  I know life or people can be overwhelming, but we always have a choice...  And I really like Kate's list of options!  I think they might just be secrets to a happy artist's life!

“Whatever we see in the world, that is us, too. Cultivate a willingness to compassionately drop down into the zero center of someone else’s imperfection, and you’ll see their pain, and piece of your own. We are not so very different. We are far more alike than we often believe. With courageous hearts, we can change the world. So here goes:

In the face of complaints, look that person in the eye and imagine what it might have been like to be raised to see only what is wrong.
In the face of selfishness, wonder what it might be like to walk the world with a feeling of lack, of depletion.
In the face of insults, consider where this person first learned that it’s okay to abuse others.
In the face of disconnection, think about what causes it, and ask if your response will widen the river between the two of you.
In the face of laziness, recognise the fear of living big dreams.
In the face of extremism or fundamentalism, see the clinging, as well as the terror-filled silence that would arise for that person if they risked letting go.
In the face of controlling behavior, understand the chaos that must have bred it.
In the face of “always needing to be right,” see how often this person was once made wrong.
In the face of arrogance or bravado, hold gently that still, small piece that says “I’m not enough.”
In the face of drama or attention-seeking, see the person who wishes so much to be seen.
In the face of accusation, imagine what it might be like to live life with suspicion.
In the face of judgement or comparisons, step into the opportunity the world has just provided you for practicing love and acceptance.
In the face of passive-aggressiveness, recognise the child that wasn’t taught a safe way to express their truth.
In the face of anger, see the pain of isolation from others.
Most importantly: In the face of ferocious hatred, believe in the possibility that there exists the potential for equally as big, intense, lovely and fiery ferocious love.”