Psychology

Week 20/Interconnectedness: My Soul Recognizes Your Soul

Jack Kornfield, a teacher and author in the Vipassana movement, acknowledges in the above-mentioned quote a phenomenon called “limbic resonance”, a state in which two mammals become attuned to each other’s emotional states.  Modern neuroscience and the neurobiology of attachment are beginning to uncover the importance of interconnectedness. Combined with psychology, we now know the ancient practice of mindfulness combined with loving awareness has the ability to enhance not only our wellbeing, but also that of our fellow human.

We all have a need to be seen and cared about without threat or judgment. In fact, this need is critical to developing a sense of safety in relationships, as well as a sense of belonging and being loved. We are seeing record numbers of individuals suffering from depression and anxiety. As a therapist and mindfulness practitioner, I feel both deeply concerned and committed to understanding the causes of this profound sadness. A sense of separateness or alienation from other living beings is often at the root of this deepest form of human suffering. Despite the wisdom of unity, that all beings are connected, (even modern quantum physics is confirming this as truth), many people carry a felt sense of disconnection and loneliness.

For those that do not struggle with this particular issue, I invite you to acknowledge that others do feel this way.  Using our compassion and understanding, we can validate the experience of another that is suffering.  We can actually see their suffering, acknowledge that we see it and sense how it is the same suffering that all humans feel if they are abandoned, chronically lonely, or feel unloved and unseen.  When we take time to see others completely, just as they are, we are offering our love and compassion. This offering vibrates in the hearts of others (similar to the violin in the quote) and creates a sense connection. This offers a glimpse of hope.

For those who do feel profoundly disconnected, lonely, or unloved, there is a path of freedom from this suffering. Although it may not be visible from your current vantage point, if you begin to take small mindful steps in your daily life, you will begin to feel some hope. This felt sense of hope is not freedom, but encouragement to take up the path of daily practice.

A teacher once taught that our paths are all littered with the debris of being human. Some piles are enormous and obscure the truth, also known as the path. These piles take great effort and help to clear.  This initial clearing can come in many forms, including psychotherapy, spiritual devotion, and meditation training. Sadly, one can live a lifetime under piles of rubbish, blinded from seeing the signs all around them pointing to this perennial truth:

We are all connected. If the pile feels too big, too much, or impossible, just take the first step and get help and support.

Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation.  She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.

Week 19/SAVOR: Discovering the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

After maintaining a consistent mindfulness practice,  you may begin to notice what feels like a slowing-down of time. Yes! Like time is actually moving slower! This, in fact, was the first and maybe even the most precious gift I received in my early days of practicing meditation regularly.  What a joy to have more time for things … imagine how much more I could accomplish!
 
What accompanied this sense of slowing-down, though, were an insatiable curiosity, a desire for stillness, and an overall sense of peace.  I found that while I felt time moving more slowly, I didn’t want to fold more laundry or organize more of my garage … rather, I wanted to see, hear, smell and feel the world around me in 3-D technicolor … I wanted to immerse myself in the beauty of others, nature and of all of life itself. I began to allow myself to drink in the freckled cheeks of my children and to linger in the scent of my lover’s freshly shaven face. Rather than devouring my meals in front of the TV, I began to deconstruct the complex flavors I’d spun together and reveled in the multi-sensory experience of my food. This desire to savor my daily experiences has led me to discovering so much extraordinary in the ordinary. And even more, I have begun to see opportunity where there seemed only roadblocks, connection where conflict might have been, and calm where there may once have been storm.
 
Savoring allows us to not just be fully present in the moment-to-moment experiences of life, but encourages us to lean into these experiences in order to encode memories for later retrieval. Additionally, research shows that humans tend to adapt to positive experiences really quickly, leading to the well-known “honeymoon” effect of intense joy about a joyful or positive event that quickly wears off.  When we attend intently and mindfully to these moments, science says we can extend these honeymoon phases of life, leading to more joy. It is the attention-grabbing nature of savoring what is pleasant that increases contentment and gratitude. And with our powerful tendency towards remembering and creating stories around negative experiences (aka the negativity bias) it is all the more valuable for us to take that extra few moments to wrap ourselves up in the beauty that is right now.
 
I encourage you to take the time to savor in your day-to-day life too, whether you practice mindfulness regularly or not.  Use this mnemonic to help you:
 

SAVOR 

Slow Down — intentionally move more slowly through your day when you can, allowing for the opportunity to notice more of what you encounter.
 
Attend — bring your awareness and attention to whatever you are doing or observing.  Use your senses to explore the experience fully.
 
Value — acknowledge the extraordinary in the experience and how your being present for it brings value to your life.
 
Open — allow for a sense of openness and willingness to see things from a new perspective or vantage point.
 
Reflect — once the experience has passed or ended, take an opportunity to call to mind what you experienced and see if you notice similar emotions arise.

Nicole Davis is a licensed clinical psychologist at Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches  Dr. Davis has received extensive training in mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, and maintains her own personal practice in these as well.  At Sacred Treehouse, she facilitates group mindfulness courses, including Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention, and other mindfulness-based seminars and workshops. She also offers meditation & yoga classes at Sacred Treehouse.