Search Results for "compassion"

Seven ways to practice mindfulness in less-than-relaxing circumstances

If you live almost anywhere in the United States, you will have some experience with the blizzard and arctic freeze that has been sweeping every direction of the nation.  Some of us have been stuck in airports due to cancelled flights, some of us have slid across icy intersections in a panic, some of us have had to wait in the sub-zero digits as we wait for a bus to take us to school or work, and some of us have to be separated from loved ones as we wait for the country to revive and breathe again.

This is as good a time as any to practice ways to be mindful and present in the face of a situation over which we might have no control.  I know it sounds near impossible to be mindful as your fingers turn to ice (and you might want to punch me with those icy fingers for suggesting it), but please bear with me as we explore a few ways to appreciate the moment in a non-judgmental capacity.   First off, what is mindfulness?  Build from a tradition of Buddhist meditation, mindfulness can be described as adopting a calm awareness of one’s body functions, feelings, consciousness and environment, and its practice is said to be key in the development of wisdom.  Rilke, a teacher of ancient mindfulness, states:

“(Have)….. patience with everything unresolved in your heart—-and try to love the questions themselves. Don’t search for answers which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.

And the point is to live everything.

Live the questions now!

Perhaps, gradually without noticing it you will live the way to your answer.”

So, in truly living in your present moment, how can we achieve a state of acceptance and awareness?

1.) Close your eyes and try to notice what each of your senses are experiencing at that moment.  What do you hear?  What do you feel? Is the temperature warm or cold?  Smell? If you open your eyes, where do you find yourself?  Notice the brick ledge lining the yard of the neighboring house.  How did that get there?  Truly being aware of our surroundings helps us to find meaning in our existence and let go of anxieties about the past or future.

2.) Notice your breathing.  Take deep breaths in and out and really feel it go through your body.  This is a way to naturally calm down your body.

3.) Check in with your body.  Where are you feeling pain?  Stress? Tension? Sadness?  Are you holding anxiety in your neck and shoulders?  Do you feel the loss of a loved one in your chest?  Try to explore your connection to your body and where it might be disconnected from your emotions.

4.) Quiet your mind.  Once you have checked in with yourself and find yourself present in the moment, try to truly sit with it.  Try not to let intrusive thoughts and worries about the past and future ruin your moment.  There is nothing to do about those right now.  This moment is yours, and you have complete control over it.

4.) Don’t give yourself a hard time if this is difficult.  Especially in challenging circumstances where our plans may fall through or we are presented with unexpected news, we must be compassionate with ourselves.  If it is hard to calm your mind, that is okay.  Take those thoughts, acknowledge them, and let them pass through your mind.  Mindfulness meditation is not about eliminating thoughts, it is about noticing them, not judging them, and letting them go.

5.) Follow the words of Deepok Chopra: “Close your eyes and watch yourself breathe for about five minutes.  Put your attention on your heart and ask: Who am I? What do I want? What is my purpose? You don’t need to know the answers.  Live the questions and life will move you to the answers.”

6.) Try yoga.  Yoga is a natural way to spiritually align your mind and body and to heal the spirit through movement.  This not only is healthy for you physically, but it helps to center the mind and work through the breath.

7.)  Get a massage.  Massages naturally encourage us to turn off our mind and notice sensations in our body.  Working through tension held in muscles can release toxins and soothe your mind to help you tackle any challenges that might come your way.

And one last thought — give yourself a break!  If it’s freezing and snowy outside, there’s no better reason for snuggling up at home with a pet and a good book.

For more mindfulness practice and body-centered psychotherapy, feel free to join Kate Daigle Counseling’s Body-Centered Emotional Recovery Group, held each Wednesday at 5:30pm and facilitated by Kate Daigle and Sarah McKelvey.

Don’t miss this video, featuring one of the most peaceful and therapeutic leaders in mindfulness meditation, Jon Kabat-Zinn.  He is one of my personal heroes!:


Sex addiction: scapegoat or diagnosable mental health condition?

What is sex addiction? Is it a real mental health condition? Or is it a term used to make excuses or avoid accountability for indecent and rash behavior?  This issue is one that is often debated in the media as celebrities, sports players, and politicians have publicly ‘struggled’ with this condition (hello, Tiger Woods and David Duchovny), but there appears to be a lack of clinical research into the true symptoms of this potential disorder.  Sex addiction is not included in the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), and has been rejected from inclusion in the DSM-V, coming out in 2012.  The closest indicator in current mental disorder classification would be “Sexual Disorders Not Otherwise Specified”, putting it closely with diagnosable conditions such as hypersexuality.

Sexual addition is a term used to describe the behavior of an individual who has an increasingly and unusually intense sex drive and an obsession with anything to do with sex.  Sex, suggestions, or thoughts about sex seem to dominate the thinking of a person who has this condition, and this makes it challenging for him or her to have meaningful and trustful relationships.  A sex addict may have disorted thoughts or take risks that can seem dangerous and out of character.  Clinicians see similarities between behaviors associated with sex addiction and behaviors linked with Obsessive Complusive Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and manic-depression.  People who are linked to sex addiction can find it displays in various avenues: an addiction to pornography, masturbation, frequenting strip clubs and becoming linked to male and female dancers, and even more abstract displays such as exhibitionism.

Sex addiction is also described as “a progressive intimacy disorder characterized by compulsive acts and thoughts”, that over time can have detrimental affects on the person’s relationships and family.  Evidence towards classifying this as an addiction points to factors that sex addiction might have in common with other addictions: feeling out of control, feeling like you need a “fix” so that you can avoid feeling emotions and consequences that might surface if the addiction is not fed.  Some argue that, like alcohol and drugs, sex can become a source of numbing and relief for those that struggle with this disorder and can ease anxiety and stress.  As an eating disorder therapist, this brings up the question of: are we addicted to food in the same way?  Is an eating disorder an addiction?  Where does addiction draw the line, and what exactly defines an addiction?  This can be debated for hours in all avenues.

I think that sex addiction is so controversial and so difficult to discuss because it jumps directly to one of the most sensitive and special parts of a human relationship: intimacy.  Physical intimacy is linked to emotional intimacy, and both can be shattered in the event of a sex addiction.  Another controversial aspect of sex addiction surrounds the question of infidelity.  If a partner in a committed relationship is unfaithful, is sex addiction a forgivable offense?  Does the straying partner have control over his or her impulses, and might find that using sex addiction as a reason for the actions will bring less judgment and more hope for reconiliation?  Or, does a sex addict really feel out of control towards his or her behaviors in terms of addiction, and deserve to be treated as a person affected by a justifiable mental condition? 

The mental anguish experienced by a partner of someone with sexual addiction is intense and can feel almost unbearable.  It can bring up feelings of anger, denial, depression, and confusion about what is really going on.  Parnters may be able to recognize when their partner is in the “mind of his/her addiction”, sensing that their actions towards sexually related things shift them into a different state of mind and they “don’t recognize them”.  This may throw the whole relationship into a tailspin and cut off intimacy completely.  Being able to notice when the addiction is active could also help a couple heal as they work together to uncover the reasons and feelings behind the addiction.

I encourage anyone who might feel that he or she has a sex addiction or anyone who is a partner of someone with a sex addiction to seek help.  Individual therapy is a good place to start for each partner, as they can each explore their emotions and questions around the situation in a non-judgmental space;  couples therapy is imperative for the couple to come together in honesty and, hopefully, understanding.  As research into this condition continues, we hope to have more solid guidelines for sex addiction, leading possibly to more compassion towards this sensitive topic and treatment models that are effective.  Currently, there is Sex Addicts Anonymous, which is a group that sends the message: “a fellowship of recovering addicts, we offer the message of hope to anyone who suffers from a sexual addition”.


Helping aging family members: the best care for them while caring for yourself

Often there is talk of life cycle phases and the emotional, physical and mental challenges that can come when coping with change.  I read articles and blogs about managing parental stress and learning communication skills in a new romantic partnership — but there is significantly less talk about helping an aging parent or loved one accept the physical and emotional changes of growing older while maintaining their integrity.  Often there are shifts in cognitive ability and functioning as the years go by and this can elicit feelings of fear, despair and misunderstanding — experienced by both the caretaker and the aging parent.  I am also interested in looking deeper at ways that children and younger caretakers can tend to their own emotional needs and hopes as they support the folks who have been their caretakers all their lives.

There are many factors that  should be considered as parents age: financial situations, physical capacity to take care of oneself, the responsibilities and expectations of each child in the caretaking roles, and emotional reactions as both parent and child realize that there is no way to stop the effects of aging.

A blog that I came across lays out in simple terms the things to look for when tending to the needs of aging parents: go visit them and see for yourself how effectively they are functioning, ask your parents’ permission to go through their checkbooks and statements to see if there are any finaicial red flags, remember that they can sell their house and move into a more cost-effective one (and one that may require less household maintenance), and help them get all of their important legal documents in order such as their wills and power of attorney.  These steps are very rarely as simple as they might appear — often times the house holds memories and feelings that parents do not want to give up (rightly so).  Sometimes the fact of a son or daughter trying to make decisions for the parent can bring up some insecurities about the parent’s mental functioning and ability to make sound decisions and can create discord in a family.  I can certainly understand the difficulty when considering that a parent might be better off moving out of the large family home that he or she has tended to and nourished for decades…and for many aging parents, this is not necessary.  But when it is, how do you have that conversation with your parent in a way that shows compassion and understanding, but also a bit of no-nonsense decision making?

Members of the “sandwich generation” might be raising children of their own — making decisions about curfew and piercings while also needing to make decisions about the best care for an aging parent or loved one.  This might mean needing to take a more active role in your parents’ lives …and nothing can prepare you for that sudden illness or accident that may put finances, caretaking, and functioning ability in a tailspin.  Going back to what I brought up before about self-care while managing this situation, it is important to note that there is no harm in letting parents go about their business and remove yourself from meddling if there appears to be no just cause to sound the alarm.  Why stress yourself out more when you don’t need to? Just keep a vigilant eye and note if there are more forgetful episodes or disorientation as time goes by.

What if one of your parents was verbally, sexually, or physically abusive? How will that type of past influence you today as you hold more power in the family?  Blogs differ on this topic, but I agree with several writers I have come across who argue that you do not need to get involved in something that you do not feel comfortable doing.  This is not to say that you should neglect your parent in ways that they might have neglected your needs…but you might hire an unbiased nurse or find a good assisted-living home for your parent(s) to move to so that you are not retraumatized by needing to get too emotionally close to the abusive parent again.

I ran across a very interesting concept in the New York Times – a blog talks about the “Caregiver Relief Fund”, which is a charity founded about a year ago that awards family caregivers one-time vouchers for professional at-home care, allowing them to re-energize and tend to their own physical and emotional needs.  This goes back to that self-care thing I keep bringing up.  This fund partners with organizations across the country to offer services to families in need.  It is headquartered in Chicago and over the next few months will spread to five more states – including Colorado!  The fund’s founder aims to give vouchers to over one million caregivers in the next decade.

While there are positive opportunities such as the caregiver fund, there are also millions of families who do not have such fortune to receive monetary assistance when caring for an aging parent.  Tending to the household needs, a potential move to an assisted-living facility, paying for medications and doctors visits, and other expenses pile up enormously and it is all too often that families have not been prepared for such demands.  Caring for an aging parent can also cause strong emotional swings and reactions as family members might feel that the parent they knew is changing and drifting, and the parent might feel that they do not know what to do with their lives anymore.

Trying to make decisions about longterm care for a parent can bring about conflict between children in a family and can trigger anxieties and wounds borne decades earlier.  How should the money and possessions be divided when the parent cannot manage their household by themselves anymore? Who will be the best person to talk to mom or dad about difficult topics? If your family is going through this phase or if it has already, did you notice certain members taking on certain roles? Is one person more of a caretaker? One more of an avoider? One more of a planner and navigator?

All families go through transitions – and there is never a cookie-cutter way of planning out how to navigate these changes.  Shifts in roles and responsibilities can bring up insecurities but can also bring families closer together.  In every new chapter, there is the possibility of hope and healing!