Mindfulness Made Simple

As part of my practice as an action-based psychologist, I teach skills for emotional health and well-being. All of these skills start with the foundation of MINDFULNESS – purposeful awareness in the present moment.

My full definition of mindfulness is: The PRACTICE of adopting a curious, nonjudgmental, and gentle stance while cultivating awareness in the present moment by bringing one’s attention to an intended focus in an effective way.

That’s a dense definition. Let’s just concentrate on the PRACTICE part of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a practice. No one, no matter how much they have meditated or read or talked about mindfulness, can ever make the declarative statement, “I am now mindful.” Mindfulness is a practice, and we slip in and out of this state. When practiced on a regular basis, we build the skill of mindfulness, a first and crucial step to peace, happiness and emotional freedom. When we strengthen our mindfulness skills, we can be more aware and awake in our lives and make conscious choices more often.

Intentionally bringing awareness to yourself and your environment is the first step to building your mindfulness muscle. One way to practice is through a simple daily meditation. Meditation does not have to be complicated. Placing your attention on three breaths as you inhale and exhale can reap benefits.

Even when your mind is very busy this practice is effective. You can attempt, as best you can, to notice yourself breathing for three inhalations and exhalations. When your mind wanders, as minds do, gently bring your attention back to your breath. Do this as many times as is needed during those three inhalations and exhalations. When you bring your mind back after it wanders, it is like doing a rep with your mindfulness muscle. Think of your mind wandering as something that is supposed to happen, and the act of bringing your mind back to your breath, even if only for a second, is like lifting a heavy weight with perfect form and building this focused muscle.

The more you practice (even if it is three breaths once a day), you will start to notice more about your experiences sooner and sooner. For example, you may observe that you are somewhat stressed earlier in the day before it turns into being overwhelmed. Knowing and recognizing what is going on is a powerful tool to allow you to begin making changes.  See video below to practice.

As with anything, reading this article will not change your life. What will? TAKING ACTION! Here are two options for something you can do today:

  1.  Pause, right now, in this moment and notice where you feel your breath in your body. You do not have to change or alter your breath, simply become aware of what your breath is doing right now. Attempt to place your attention on feeling your breath in your body for the next 3 breaths, and when your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath. Notice the effect this has on you in the moment and the rest of your day.
  2. PRACTICE with my short, guided introduction to mindfulness.

 

LIFE IS TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!

Thank you,

Amanda Gale-Bando, Ph.D.

Questions or comments? Email them to contact@drbando.com. While Dr. Bando will not answer personally, she may address your question(s) or comment(s) in a future newsletter.


The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

By Rumi


The Guest House may be my favorite poem ever written. I have been known to call it the holy grail for emotional well-being and general happiness in life.

More often than not, our suffering is caused by trying not to feel uncomfortable. It makes sense, right? We are human beings. We are built to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Hurt, sadness, fear, and shame receive a big, “NO,THANK YOU!” Happiness, elation, love, and passion are welcomed with, “YES, PLEASE! In fact, give me seconds!”

Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is human nature. We gravitate toward what feels pleasant, and even call these things “good” and reject or run away from the unpleasant, that which we call “bad”.

Let’s take a moment to remember what Rumi is telling us.

“Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.”

Nowhere does this imply we should hunker down, shut our eyes, brace ourselves and hope that anything uncomfortable ends quickly. Instead, let’s WELCOME and ENTERTAIN every emotion that comes. Oh, Rumi, you crazy 13th-century poet, why on earth would we want to do that?!

This poet is on to something here. Something I call the secret sauce of emotion regulation. Something huge, important and completely life changing. In fact, if I could teach anyone I reach to do one thing, it would be this: Welcome your emotions regardless of whether or not you like them.

“The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.”

What a HUGE change in perspective this requires.

We must shift from an – “Oh no! Make this feeling go away!”  – perspective, to a – “Welcome! Come on in! I’ve set a place at the table for you,” – perspective.

To change our stance in this way is no easy feat. It is a daily practice, something we must do as often as showering or brushing our teeth. Remember, we are hard-wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain, so we are going against our nature here. Good thing the rewards are great: EMOTIONAL FREEDOM!

If we learned to practice welcoming our emotions on a daily basis in this way, my prediction is that we would eradicate depression, anxiety, and many, if not most, disorders. That is a bold statement, and I stand by it! I have not yet, in over a decade of seeing many clients come through my office, witnessed anyone suffering from depression or anxiety while simultaneously welcoming their emotions. This is not a failure on anyone’s part. This is a skill we’ve got to learn, and unfortunately, usually aren’t taught as part of the growing up process. Be encouraged though, because no matter your age, this skill can be learned.

As always, your life will not change by reading this article or thinking about it. Rather, PRACTICE, PRACTICE and then more PRACTICE will help you build emotional resilience. If you would like some guidance practicing welcoming in your emotions, listen to this 8-minute audio, CLICK HERE. This is perfect to listen to when feeling a painful emotion, or as a daily exercise.

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!

Thank you,

Amanda Gale-Bando, Ph.D.

Questions or comments? Email them to contact@drbando.com. While Dr. Bando will not answer personally, she may address your question(s) or comment(s) in a future newsletter.

 

 


How to Love Your Emotions (and why you want to)

I was browsing my YouTube feed recently and noticed a number of videos about “getting rid” of your emotions. There seems to be a lot of talk and instructions on how to control, master, and avoid having to feel those pesky and painful emotions. Tap this point on your body here, say this “positive” statement there, and make that pain and unpleasantness go right away.

I started to get worried.

You’d think I would be delighted, and that I might think, “I don’t have to feel painful or unpleasant emotions?! Great! Let’s get rid of them!” The thing is, I know better.

What I know, in my years of experience of helping people regulate their emotions, is that trying to get rid of or push emotions away increases pain, suffering, and misery in the long run. Avoiding emotions or trying to make them vanish makes things much, much worse. In fact, viewing any emotional experience as “negative” sets the stage for emotional buildup and suffering.

Well then, what do we do?

LOVE our emotions!

Now, I’m not just talking about those mushy, gushy, gotta love ‘em emotions like joy, amazement, thrill, infatuation, delight, and all of their friends. I’m suggesting even loving emotions such as fear, sadness, hurt, despair, embarrassment, guilt, jealousy.

Here’s the deal: our emotions exist and they aren’t going anywhere. Emotions are a human experience, and all of us experience the entire range of those emotions. Whether we want to or not, we all experience emotional pain. That is just part of life. If we didn’t have unpleasant emotions, we wouldn’t have empathy, gratitude, connection with others, deep appreciation for art and drama, understanding, and the list goes on.

In other words, all emotions, even painful emotions, have great value. They give us information about what is happening in our environment and ourselves, help us understand what we need and attend to it, and connect us to others. Pain is not something to be pushed away. In fact, when we push away painful emotions or try to mask them or just be “positive,” we actually suppress the painful emotion, which leads to emotional buildup.

The way to truly and freely experience life is to welcome in and feel whatever emotion comes. In other words, love your emotions.

Want practice? Check out this short audio meditation that you can listen to anytime, anywhere and start practicing loving all of your emotions today.

 

 

A practice in loving your emotions.

Take a moment to settle in wherever you are. It doesn’t matter if you are standing, sitting, lying down, or any other configuration, bring your attention to this very moment.

Begin to notice that you are breathing. Notice your breath coming in and out. Where in your body do you notice your breath? When you bring your awareness to your breath, where in your physical body is your attention drawn? It doesn’t matter if you notice your nose, throat, belly, or tips of your toes. There is no judgment about this, just simply noticing where your attention is drawn in your physical body as you notice your breathing.

Now, let’s take a few moments and notice physical sensations. What physical sensations are present in your body in this moment?

When you notice thoughts coming in, either distracting you or analyzing why you are feeling what you’re feeling, very gently, bring your attention back to your physical body and notice what sensations are present in this moment?

See you if you can lay out the welcome mat for whatever physical sensations are there – pleasant, unpleasant, static and rigid or shifting and changing, it doesn’t matter. Welcome in whatever comes.

You might turn the palms of your hands toward the sky, opening your posture to help you welcome in and allow whatever sensations are present in this moment.

See if you can put words to the sensations you are noticing: like, a presence in the center of my chest, a tightness in my neck, a warmth in my belly. Take the next few moments, notice physical sensations in your body and try, as best you can, to briefly describe them to yourself.

Now, I am going to ask you a couple of questions while you continue to breathe and notice physical sensations in your body. I don’t want you to search for an answer or try to come up with a way to answer these questions. Instead, simply notice, what, if anything you notice, when I ask you a question:

  • What emotion is present in your body in this moment?
  • Where is emotion present in your body in this moment?
  • Where, in your physical body, do you feel an emotional sensation in this moment?
  • Take some breaths as you notice emotional sensations or lack of sensations. Remembering to welcome in whatever is there.
  • Breathing in and out and welcoming whatever emotional sensations are present or absent. Welcoming your experience in this moment.

Now, bring both hands to rest over your heart center, or the center of your chest, one hand over the other. Breathing in and out, notice the sensation of your hands resting gently and lovingly on the center of your chest. Know that by tuning into your breath and your physical body, you have just participated in a practice to nourish, cleanse, and love your emotions. Your emotions, even when painful, are friendly and here to inform you. The more you practice loving your emotions in this way, the more peace and ease you are inviting into your life.

Acknowledge yourself for putting the time and attention into this loving practice.


Let’s get Physical

How are you feeling? Really, how are you feeling? In this very moment, what are you feeling? Take a moment to answer this question before reading on.

anxiety, depression, overcoming depression, life coach, fixing relationships, relationship management, couples counseling, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, thriving, breaking through obstacles, therapist, counselor, how to be happy, becoming happy, enjoying life, Orinda, Berkeley, Oakland, Lafayette, Moraga, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, Alamo, Concord, Danville

What did you describe? A situation you are involved in or thinking about? Who said what to whom? What happened or is about to happen that resulted in feeling like you are now? If you are like most of us, you probably described thoughts about how you are feeling, and not the actual feeling itself. Well, guess what?

Emotions are a physiological experience.

This means that emotions happen in the body, not in the mind. We don’t think emotions, we feel emotions. That’s where the question, “How are you feeling?” comes from.

When an emotion fires, our physiology changes: our heart rate, temperature, breathing, and blood pressure (and possibly other functions like digestion) changes! We also experience physical sensations in our body resulting from this biological, emotional experience.

Have you ever become fearful and held your breath? Maybe you could feel your heart pounding fast in your chest. Think of a time you became angry and noticed short, rapid breathing and a strong energy surging through your body? Perhaps you felt heat in your face or the tips of your ears. What about a time you felt dread and couldn’t shake that feeling of a pit in your stomach or a nauseous sensation? These are examples of feeling an emotion physically in your body.

 

anxiety, depression, overcoming depression, life coach, fixing relationships, relationship management, couples counseling, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, thriving, breaking through obstacles, therapist, counselor, how to be happy, becoming happy, enjoying life, Orinda, Berkeley, Oakland, Lafayette, Moraga, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, Alamo, Concord, Danville

 

Emotions happen in the body.

Although this statement is true, most of the time, when I ask someone how they are feeling, they tell me what they are thinking. It goes something like this:

 

Me: How are you feeling?

Holly: Eh, I’m a little stressed. I was stuck in traffic longer than I expected and I have a lot to do.

Me: That does sound stressful.

Holly: Yes, and you know it doesn’t help that my boss just upped my deadline. Well, at least I have a job to complain about, right? How are you?

 

Do you notice what is missing? I know very little about what Holly is feeling emotionally, and more importantly, she probably doesn’t know either. You might be saying to yourself, “Wait a minute. She told you she was stressed. What more do you want?”

THOUGHTS:

Being “stressed” is a thought. To have the thought, “I am stressed,” something had to happen to give me that information. Think about the last time you were “stressed.” How did you know? Your first inclination may be that you know you were stressed because there was a lot on your mind and you have a long to-do list. Those are thoughts. There may have been other times where the same factors were present (a lot on your mind and a long to-do list), and you didn’t feel stressed.

EMOTIONS:

What really happened is that you sensed some sensation in your body (an emotion) and your brain interpreted this as “stressed.” You may have noticed tension in your shoulders, the feeling of your heart pounding in your chest, your stomach doing flips or tightening, or many other possible sensations. In my work, I have never met two people who experience emotional sensations in exactly the same way.

Emotions are like snowflakes. When you get specific and describe how you are experiencing a particular emotion in your body, you will discover that this is uniquely your experience.

I will expand on these concepts in a future newsletter, but for now, how about having some fun with a practice? After all, we don’t learn or change from thinking and reading about concepts, we learn, change, and grow by taking action!

 

PRACTICE:

Over the next week or two, practice this for about a minute or so. If you make the practice session short, you will be more likely to do it more often, and the more you will learn. (Consistency counts! The length of time doesn’t matter as much.)

  1. Briefly scan your body. See if you can put words on sensations you notice in your body. (E.g., I can feel sweaty palms; I’m noticing some energy or movement in my upper chest; My jaw is slightly clenched; I notice my feet moving and fidgeting around.)

What do you notice? If it helps you put words to your experience, jot it down.

NOTE: This step is hard and may require repeated practice over and over and over again. When most people try to start describing the sensations they notice in their body, they struggle. It can be like learning a foreign language. Keep practicing and trying your best. Even if you notice something like, “a sensation in my chest but I can’t really describe it any further,” that’s great! Keep noticing and practicing and you may be surprised at how this skill develops.

  1. Now, without searching, without looking for or actively trying to come up with an answer, notice what happens when you ask yourself the question: What emotion is present in this moment? See what comes up and if you sense a particular emotion. (E.g., dread, excitement, nervousness, sadness, joy)

In my last newsletter, I discussed affect labeling or putting a name to an emotion you’re experiencing (e.g., anger, love, happiness, fear, sadness) as a way of regulating them. In essence, if you name your emotion you will change your brain chemistry.

  1. Now, again without searching or forcing an answer, ask yourself: Where do I feel ________ (insert emotion from #2 here) in my body?

Keep practicing and see what you notice. If you have questions or want to share your experience, please email them to contact@drbando.com. While I will not answer personally, I plan to expand on these concepts and practices in future posts and I may address your question(s) or comment(s). I would love to know what is clicking and what questions you have.

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!

 

 

 


Nonjudgment for Emotion Regulation

Earlier this month, I sent out a call for nonjudgment. In this time of chaos, violence, fear, and confusion, nonjudgment can be a place of refuge. Practicing nonjudgment gives us three profound gifts:

  • complete understanding
  • the power to move into compassionate, effective action
  • the ability to defuse our emotions

Let’s focus on that last gift, the ability to defuse emotions. In over a decade of working with clients, I have never once seen anyone be able to let go of and regulate an emotional response while clinging to judgments. Only when practicing nonjudgment, can regulation and emotional freedom begin.

Example:

Imagine you are quite unhappy with a manager at work. She is incompetent and makes ridiculous requests of you and the rest of her staff. You don’t know how she was ever hired for this job, let alone maintains it because most of the time, she is just plain wrong and inappropriate. It is unfair that you have to work with her.

Imagine the emotions you might feel if you were in this situation. Anger and a sense of injustice and self-righteousness, maybe? Every time you interact with this manager, you might feel like rolling your eyes, sighing and throwing up your hands in this hopeless situation.

Now try to feel better about it. Look at the situation detailed above and attempt to calm your emotions and let it go.

Not working? Impossible? Let’s try an easier way.

Look at the same example, with a line drawn through each judgment:

Imagine you are quite unhappy with a manager at work. She is incompetent and makes ridiculous requests of you and the rest of her staff. You don’t know how she was ever hired for this job, let alone maintains it because most of the time, she is just plain wrong and inappropriate. It is unfair that you have to work with her.

Without using judgment words, how would you describe this situation? Before you attempt, remember that nonjudgment is describing things as they are, without adding opinions or evaluations. It does NOT mean pretending you like or want something that you don’t. In other words,

nonjudgment = truth.

Let’s look at a nonjudgmental way of describing the same situation:

You are quite unhappy with a manager at work. You do not understand why she makes the requests she does and how they improve the function of the department or the company. After you engage with this manager, you often feel frustrated. Your peers have commented about feeling a diminished sense of morale at work due to interactions with this manager. You are disappointed by your daily interactions with her.

Notice that I don’t have to ask how you feel (as in the first example) because you’ve already described it – frustrated and disappointed. Now we’ve got something to work with!

 You might ask, “How does this help me regulate my emotions? The manager is still difficult for me to work with and I still don’t like the situation.”

This is true, AND you have gone from overwhelmed and hopeless to frustrated and disappointed. When your emotions are not bogged down by judgments and the helplessness or unrelenting anger that judgment creates, you have POWER. When we become aware that we are making judgments, we give ourselves choice – choice about whether or not it is helpful for us to proceed with our judgmental thinking, feeling, and behaving, or whether we would like to choose another path.

I teach my clients many emotion regulation strategies. Tools include step-by-step skills to come up with creative solutions to solve the problem, strategies to release the grip of the emotion and feel differently, and at times, complete and total acceptance (which often leads to emotional and environmental changes we previously didn’t know were possible). Practicing nonjudgment is a required prerequisite to these changes.

Nonjudgment does not eliminate the pain. It takes it down a notch so that you can breathe, get a bit of distance from the intensity of emotion, and regulate the emotions and/or solve the problem. If you are interested in further developing the skill of nonjudgment, try the practice suggestions below:

  • Practice noticing judgments throughout your day. When you are aware of yourself (or someone else) making a judgmental statement, or you have a judgmental thought, say to yourself “judgment.” (Over time, noticing and labeling judgments helps us become more aware of them and gives us a choice about the most effective way to proceed.)
  • Plan to sit and focus on your thoughts for 30 seconds to a minute. Imagine two different boxes, labeled “judgment thoughts” and “other thoughts.” For the next 30 seconds to a minute, notice any thoughts that come into your mind and imagine placing them in the appropriate box.
  • The next time you notice yourself being judgmental, see if you can describe (verbally or in writing) the same situation nonjudgmentally. That is, truthfully and descriptively, without judgment.

Notice the effect(s) each of these practices have on your mood, emotions, thinking. Feel free to share them on my Facebook page or in a private email. (While I may not be able to respond to all emails, I will read them and appreciate the feedback and being able to share in your experience.)

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


A Call for Nonjudgment

Given our country’s and the world’s current political and social climate, at times, it can feel like pain is all that exists. Daily reports of heinous acts causing harm and terror bombard our senses whether in the media, our real life, or both. Devastation and anger in response to feeling helpless to stop the madness are completely valid, and it can feel nearly impossible to practice being nonjudgmental.

 

This begs the question: Why practice nonjudgment?

 

Since nonjudgment is an essential component to mindfulness and everything I teach is rooted in the practice of mindfulness, this query has come up many times for me personally as well as with my clients.

 

What is the point of being (or practicing moving toward being) nonjudgmental?

 

Nonjudgment means describing things as they are, without adding opinions or evaluations. In other words, nonjudgment = truth.

 

Example:

Judgment: That man is a horribly rude, insensitive person.

Nonjudgment: That man pushed me aside, went in front of me in line, did not apologize or acknowledge his actions to me, and then left.

 

Do you see the difference? In the judgmental example, we have little information about the man or what happened. Being nonjudgmental gave us much more depth of information and understanding.

 

Let’s take this a step further. In addition to being able to comprehend what exactly happened, being nonjudgmental gives us two other gifts:

  1. The gift of being able to diffuse our emotion (in this case, probably anger).
  2. The gift of moving into compassionate, effective action.

 

If we believe that someone is a rude, insensitive person, we will treat him as such. Our minds are made up. He is rude, and there is no reason to treat him with any kindness, understanding or even courtesy.

 

If, however, we believe that someone engaged in behavior that caused us or others harm, this speaks to the specific behavior, rather than the person, and gives us room to react with compassionate, effective action. If I can practice adopting this nonjudgmental stance, I can respond in a way that is effective for my goals. I may be able to stand up for myself, tell the man I was in front of him in line and assert myself to be served next. I may be able to look him in the eye, tell him that he pushed me, that it took me off guard, and have a conversation about what happened and how we can resolve this. I may be better able to treat him as another valid human being who did something I don’t like and then go about solving the problem. There is no room for this if I maintain a judgmental stance. In my judgmental attitude, the man deserves to be dismissed, written off, and devalued. When this is my intent, there is no room for change. Judgment leaves no space for the possibility of a different interaction between the two of us.

 

Nonjudgment expresses the truth and allows for the possibility of another experience.

 

Now imagine applying the practice of nonjudgment to bigger issues that cause pain in your life or our world. How might things go differently if we practiced approaching them with nonjudgment, and therefore, compassionate and effective action? How can you practice this today?

 

Before attempting to apply the skill of nonjudgment to large issues in your life, start practicing with more every day, mundane, non-emotionally evocative situations. This approach will help you build the muscle of nonjudgment and then gradually apply this stance to larger, more important events in your life and the world around you.

 

If you are interested in developing the skill of nonjudgment, here are some steps to get you started.

 

  1. Write out a few sentences describing how your day has gone so far. Don’t censor yourself. Write how you think and feel, what you like and don’t like.

 

  1. Take a look at what you’ve written and draw a line through any judgments (e.g., good/bad, right/wrong, should/should not), opinions, or evaluations you notice.

 

  1. Practice re-writing the statement using descriptive, nonjudgmental language (as in the example given earlier in this article). Try to describe with as much factual detail as possible, leaving out opinions, evaluations, and assessment. Just the facts.

 

  1. Notice the difference between your original, more judgmental sentences, and your revised nonjudgmental statement. How is it different? Is the nonjudgmental statement more factual, or does it give more information? Do you feel differently when reading the judgmental vs. the nonjudgmental statement? How might you respond differently to the events of your day with these two different perspectives?

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


© 2017 Amanda Gale Bando Phd · Designed and Developed by D-Kode Technology

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando