Can Mindfulness Help Overcome OCD and Anxiety?

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

ocdcycle2OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety can be addressed in multiple ways and mindfulness meditation is a very effective way that can enhance any other approach of your choosing. Both of these conditions respond well to positive lifestyle changes and certainly mindfulness meditation is a positive lifestyle change.

The research connecting mindfulness meditation and anxiety and OCD is plentiful. I wouldn’t know where to begin to reference different studies because there are so many that show positive outcomes with anxiety and OCD using mindfulness meditation. A lot of the research comes from Jon Kabat Zinn’s 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program(MBSR)developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. It is being taught all over the world and is present in practically all healthcare settings. To date there are over 2500 studies published worldwide. For those of you interested in the research I would suggest doing a specific internet search.

For those of you not inclined towards research and for the sake of brevity I will summarize the factors connecting OCD/anxiety, stress and mindfulness. I will do that by connecting them to mindfulness meditation and it’s use as a stress reduction program.

To begin with, we have discovered in the world of stress that we are not processing stress like we should. The big news in research is that the stress reaction(fight,flight or freeze) doesn’t resolve itself in many situations. The result is acute stress hanging around sometimes for years and becoming chronic stress. During fight,flight or freeze there are many physical, mental and emotional changes that take place. Imagine if those changes hung around for years and were pushed below the surface to keep them out of the way. It would create a host of issues.

One of the characteristics of fight or fight is fear. Fear in the short run is a very positive response. Fight or flight is our survival mechanism and without fear we wouldn’t be as effective at surviving. The problem comes when the fight or flight doesn’t resolve itself and the fear becomes chronic producing many iterations/expressions of itself over time. Anxiety and OCD are simply iterations/expressions of fear that hasn’t been resolved. Anxiety is generalized fear and OCD is a behavior that is designed to create the feeling of control. The need for control is driven by fear.

So how does mindfulness reverse chronic stress and fear thereby addressing the root driver to OCD and anxiety? When we go into fight or flight our main coping mechanism is our ability to disconnect from the present moment. It is very common to feel disconnected from our bodies, thoughts and emotions in this situation. In a short term situation it works well. In a long term situation it perpetuates the phenomena of being stuck in the fear/fight or flight mode. It’ s as if the body senses that because we are disconnected there is still danger and so it keeps us in fight or flight.

Mindfulness meditation is the process of paying attention to our bodies, thoughts and emotions in the present moment. We actually reconnect to those same things that we disconnected from in fight or flight. At this point it is as if the body senses that because we are re connecting, the danger must no longer be present. The result is that the body shifts the nervous system to come out of fear/fight or flight. The system gradually normalizes and fear goes away. Fear, the potent driver of anxiety and OCD resolves itself and is no longer energizing the anxiety and OCD. It is at this point that many mindfulness meditation practitioners discover the connection between fear, anxiety and OCD. As the fear from being stuck in fight or flight subsides so does anxiety and OCD.

Mindfulness and the Future of Relaxation

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

archery_storyRelaxation is a highly sought after experience in our world today. Many have turned to mindfulness as a way to provide relaxation in addition to the many other benefits mindfulness can provide. What I have discovered is that relaxation is a highly nuanced experience and just the starting point for new ways of experiencing our lives.

When seen as the opposite of chronic fight or flight, relaxation is certainly a welcome relief and helps to restore order to a system buckling under the weight of extended stress. Once the system has re booted and is functioning smoothly, the craving for relaxation subsides and the curiosity of adventure returns. There is a transitional period where relaxation takes on a new meaning…it expands. Relaxation can be a great way to disconnect and go to our happy places. That certainly can be fun and interesting. What happens though when relaxation is experienced as part of a process to connect to the present moment? These are two completely different approaches to relaxation and ultimately redefines what relaxation is and how it relates to the future of human potential.

People have been experiencing these differences for thousands of years but science hasn’t caught up to explaining them fully yet. In today’s terms it is the difference between relaxing and being in the “peak performance” mode. In the peak performance mode we take relaxation and combine it with acute alertness and dynamic flow of energy to create an experience which is very different than the traditional definition of relaxation. You could say that traditional relaxation is a temporary transition from chronic stress to peak performance mode. In the field of human potential this peak mode is the starting point into a whole new way of being.

In my experience I have found mindfulness to be essential in the creation of this peak experience. There are unlimited ways of using mindfulness to broaden the peak mode by combining it with other methods or just using it as a stand alone approach. So relaxation as it is commonly known may be a by product of mindfulness practice but it is important to understand that it is a temporary by product, gradually being replaced by this new way of being which renders today’s definition of relaxation as quaint.

Mindfulness: Thinking…..Another Common Misconception

Friday, August 26th, 2016

stressAs the misconceptions about mindfulness continue to mount another instance comes to my attention. The need to stop thinking in order to successfully practice mindfulness is an age old misunderstanding.

Perhaps this has become a misunderstanding because so many of us experience constant sometimes compulsive thinking and it wears us down. Many of the people I teach have as their main goal of mindfulness the ability to stop thinking. To compound the issue it turns out that those of us who experience “excessive” thinking also complain that a lot of it is negative.

First let me say that mindfulness has nothing to do with stopping thinking. It merely involves being present and attentive to thoughts that are there. Excessive thinking usually involves a degree of being on automatic pilot/unconscious thereby losing our ability to choose our thoughts and how they influence us. The mere act of being present with our thoughts completely changes not only how they affect us but the very nature of those thoughts. Paradoxically, being present with our thoughts also tends to slow them down in addition to modifying the quality of them. The practice of mindfulness reduces fear and with reduced fear the nature of our thoughts take a turn for the better.

As we progress with our mindfulness practice we also begin to notice space between our thoughts. That space becomes a fruitful opportunity for experience and examination. It gives us entree into the world of silence and stillness, a world that so many of us have not had the opportunity to experience in a long time. With the fast paced lives that so many of us lead it is imperative to balance it off with silence and stillness…. the ultimate goal of mindfulness being the blending of doing and being. This allows us to bring the experience of peace into all actions.

With practice we can choose when and what to think about. In the meantime embrace all of your thoughts as an opportunity to be present.

Mindfulness: Two Common Misconceptions

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

indexThe good news: Mindfulness has become very popular.

The bad news: Mindfulness has become very popular.

Due to mindfulness’ explosive popularity there exists in the field of study and practice what I call “drift”. Did you ever play that game where you whisper something in someone’s ear and then down the line it goes from person to person. By the time it reaches the 4th or 5th person the message has completely changed. This is what is happening to mindfulness and because of the “drift” there has emerged a lot of misunderstanding. I will deal with two of the most common misunderstandings now.

Being non judgmental is necessary for mindfulness. This is actually very far from the truth and in fact an impediment to practice. The truth is that as you practice mindfulness you become less judgmental. Fear is what drives being judgmental and there is no fear in the present moment. Getting rid of fear is a process… not an event so be patient with that. As your fear subsides you will notice you are less judgmental. It is important to realize that we get to that point not by denying fear and judgment but by embracing it and fully experiencing it.

We need to cultivate the observer in order to be mindful. For most of us, developing the observer is a new concept. We have spent most of our lives immersed in our experiences without awareness. We are on auto pilot going from one experience to the next without the benefit of awareness. A common misunderstanding involves over developing the observer at the expense of the experiencer. When that happens we become disconnected, end up observing our lives and not participating in them. That results in a great deal of stress. So at first glance we see a conundrum. How do we observe and experience at the same time?? It doesn’t seem to make sense and at first glance even seems counter intuitive. However, as Alice said about Wonderland “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” The good news is you can simply be in the present moment and things that didn’t make sense at first can make sense. One of those things is the blending of the observer and the experiencer. Not only is it possible but it is the result of mindfulness practice. In the world of sports it is called being in the zone or the flow/peak performance. In the world of mindfulness it is called being in the present moment.

Going Into And Coming Out of Meditation…..Mindfully:

Friday, July 8th, 2016

fp-banner1There are many meditation traditions that involve establishing almost ritualistic approaches to starting and stopping the experience. There are a number of reasons this is done but the primary is probably to prepare oneself to shift into whatever state of consciousness is being aimed for. These small rituals are designed to set the tone for the shift and can be as simple as wearing symbolic clothing, entering a prepared place, ringing a bell or adhering to a specific time.

This is an excellent way to condition oneself into shifting gears and going into the meditative experience. Dare I say it is much like Pavlov’s dog when at the hint of food it begins to salivate. These kinds of meditations are generally used to explore “altered states” and can be a rich and educating experience.

Mindfulness meditation on the other hand is used to create “unaltered states”. Before exploring “altered states” it is my strong recommendation to be grounded in the body in the present moment. Since altered states generally involve “going elsewhere” it is important to have a road map back to the here and now. It is possible to combine the two but that will be the subject of a future blog. With mindfulness meditation we actually want to blur the lines between meditation and not meditation.

I’ve known many people who are excellent meditators but lose the benefit of meditation when not meditating. With mindfulness meditation it is important to immediately build the bridge between meditation and every day activity. One of the ways of doing this is to break habits associated with going into and coming out of meditation. No bells, no traditional garb etc. just complete fluidity of the meditation practice into daily activity. Perhaps start and end with eyes open and a little movement helping to bridge the experience. Be mindful in daily activity and combined with meditation you will have a 24×7 experience of mindfulness.

Mindfulness: Secular vs. Non-Secular

Friday, June 17th, 2016

Can mindfulness exist in non secular environments as well as secular?

Mindfulness: Happiness Versus Peacefulness

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

peaceAt first glance it’s easy to assume that happiness and peacefulness go together….if you have one you have the other. I’ve discovered through my mindfulness practice that they don’t necessarily co exist. I have yet to meet anyone who is happy all the time including myself. Yet, I have met people who have a constant sense of peace all the time including myself.

Prevalent in our culture now are many ways to achieve happiness. I see it being advertised everywhere with approaches to happiness running the full gamut. It’s as if without happiness we are failing as human beings. In fact, the intense striving for happiness is putting enormous pressure on us and ironically making us unhappy. With mindfulness practice we learn how to be present with unhappiness as well as happiness.It is a given that there will be times that we are unhappy and the willingness to be present for that is what brings peace. It doesn’t necessarily bring happiness but the peace certainly makes the unhappiness more tolerable and lays the foundation for the possibility of happiness.

Peace comes with practice. Practicing active acceptance of what is present allows peace to be experienced. We are no longer fighting ourselves and the world to be something other than what we are. Also our ability to let go of each moment clears the way for the acceptance of the next moment. This sequence of acceptance and letting go is what takes away the friction/stress of life. Without that friction we discover that peace was always there just on the other side of the friction. So staying in the present moment gives peace the opportunity to arise in our experience and allows that peace to become the underpinning for all experiences whether they be happy or unhappy.

Mindfulness & Multi-tasking

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Our fast paced culture requires multi tasking. It’s known to create stress so here’s how to multi task without creating stress.

Mindfulness:The First Responder To Fear

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

First-ResponderMindfulness is a successful approach to addressing Fear and Stress that has a proven track record of over 2500 studies worldwide over the past 35 years. It is effectively being used in healthcare, the workplace, schools, the military and many other areas of society. In addition to being used as a fear/stress reducer, it is an excellent approach to personal growth and the peak performance experience. Many professional and amateur athletes as well as other performers utilize these skills to enhance their their areas of expertise.

Although Mindfulness has been practiced for thousands of years it is only the past 35 years where it has been put under the scrutiny of science. These studies and the stories of the thousands of people who are benefiting from the practice has elevated Mindfulness into the awareness of the world.

Mindfulness is the ability to keep one’s attention in the present moment. During times of fear and stress this present moment attention goes away as our biology of fear takes over. We go into fight or flight, the fear of survival intensifies and we disconnect as a way of coping with the fear. When we disconnect from our bodies, thoughts and emotions we lose the ability to act and take care of ourselves effectively. This disconnection can last for years. Mindfulness is the practice of reconnecting to these things in the present moment thereby giving a signal to the body that the danger has passed and we can come out of the fear generated by fight or flight. Once that happens we are able to normalize and then move into peak mode.

Mindfulness and the Ocean, Boat and Rudder

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

mindfulnessAnswer….The Ocean, the Boat and the Rudder. Question…What is the relationship of mindfulness to life?

An image popped into my mind the other day as I was contemplating how best to explain where mindfulness fits into our lives. The first thing I noticed in the image was the ocean. The ocean is constantly changing. Sometimes the waves are rough and sometimes the water is relatively still with plenty of possibilities in between. As we go deeper into the ocean there is less rocky movement and the deeper currents are much smoother and generally easier to navigate. It’s easy to see the correlation to life here with so much potential for change, activity and movement. The deeper we go into the ocean the more we have access to the smoother currents. They both co exist and are part of the full experience.

Next I noticed the boat which represented to me our awareness/consciousness and sense of being. I noticed that the boat was being tossed about by the waves, completely influenced by the weather and the activity of the ocean. Most of us are in this situation where we are moved from one direction to the next simply because that’s where the ocean and the weather are taking us. Most of us don’t even have an anchor to help still the activity let alone one that is deep enough to connect with the bottom. As I imagined the constant arbitrary moving about I started to actually get dizzy and feel a bit seasick. As I tried to steady myself I noticed that my boat had grown a rudder.

Once I saw the rudder I realized that I could now steer the boat in any direction I wanted and could plot a course that would allow me to navigate the ocean safely. I immediately equated the rudder with my ability to focus my attention to all the motion and make choices as to how and where to navigate the boat so as to maximize my ability to navigate smoothly. The rudder put me in a position to direct my movements rather than have the movements direct me. No longer was I at the mercy of the elements but could now uses the elements to my benefit. The more skilled I got with the rudder the smoother my journey on the ocean became. And so it is with mindfulness where as we become more and more skillful at attending to the present moment we are able to plan and choose our own course on the ocean.