I decided to start this blog as a way to share some of what I've learned about the nature of human suffering and its alleviation. I'm doing this mostly with an eye on anxious suffering, and my experience with a new approach to psychological health and wellness called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (or ACT, said as one word). I won't claim to have all the answers. My intent is to share.

Acceptance and mindfulness-based approaches are changing the landscape of psychology, mental health care, medicine, and society. They are based on a very old and radical idea, namely, that a good deal of human suffering is fed by efforts to struggle with and avoid our own psychological and emotional pain. New research from many sources now shows that this war tends to amplify our pain, takes enormous effort, doesn't work very well, and can keep us stuck and suffering.

So, what's the alternative? The alternative is this: paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment, with a quality of kindness and compassion (self and other), and with both eyes on living out your values, right here, right now. These are skills that we all can learn and many studies show that people who learn them report more vitality, less illness, better quality of life, and greater freedom too.

Instead of more struggle, we learn to open up to our experience just as it is (not as our minds say it is), to hold our thoughts more lightly, to connect with our values (what we care about in this life), and to carry our minds, bodies, and personal history forward into a more vital and valued life. This set of very simple ideas goes against just about everything we've learned, at least in the West, since kindergarten. That's why they can be so powerful!

We are all in the same soup. Pain, in all its forms, is part of the human condition. Yet, that pain -- whether physical, emotional, psychological -- need not be fed and allowed to mushroom into the suffering that takes over and shrinks lives. There are ways to douse the flames that feed needless suffering -- the spin off that our mind and old history creates -- and to live well with the pains, joys, and sorrows that are part of life. This is where I think ACT can help.

Peace -john

Friday, April 25, 2008

Peace of Mind

We all want it. Few of us get it, and when we do it tends to be fleeting. I think the reason has something to do with how we think of "peace of mind." It is not something we can have and hold, but it is certainly something that we can learn to cultivate and allow to grow.

How do we do that? Here are a few steps.

1. Allow yourself time to just sit, without distractions, without something to do, or a place to go. No multitasking.

2. Use that time for you and get curious about your mind and experience just as it is. Look into your experience and just watch the goings on between your ears and in your heart. There is nothing to do, no state to achieve. Just practice being exactly where you are just as you are.

3. Notice the urge to change the experience or to pull out. These are the red flags that your old history is showing up, with all the old habits that compelling you to change your mind and body. These habits are the fuel for struggle, and if you practice just noticing them as thoughts and urges, reminders of the past --"ah, there's my old history, or there's a thought that..." -- you interrupt the old programming and disarm it.

4. If it helps, you can breathe into each moment of leaning in with curiosity with a kind intention to just watch and be at peace. As you do that, you can watch and let go with each in breath and out breath.

Continue this practice for as long as you wish and end with the intention to be present with your mind and body just as it is just where you are, without fighting it, struggling with it, and on and on. When you do that, you are practicing peace and kindness for yourself. This is a skill that will become more automatic over time and something you can do where ever you find yourself.

Remember peace of mind is not something we have, it is a choice to lay down our arms and stopping fighting our own experiences. This will help give you the presence and clarity to consider what you would like to do, what you would like to become, what you would like to be about in this life.

Practice peace of mind and see what happens over time. Make it a choice.

With a Kind Heart
John P. Forsyth
Author of The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety, ACT on Life, Not on Anger, and a professional book called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Anxiety Disorders: A Practitioner's Guide.


Anonymous said...

Hi John,

It has been a while since I my last comment. I am here to say your blog is readed and your reply to my comment is very gratefully received. It realy helped me out, not in terms of eliminating my anxiety but in terms of how I react to it.
Since my last comment I ordered your workbook wich has just arrived. I am realy excited to start with it, but at the same time I feel a lot resistance. Well anyway, I feel good, I feel bad, I have good days and I have 'setbacks'. I can see how it is al part of being me, and that same 'me' is someone I want to love and be kind to.
Thanks again for your help and I for one will continue to read your blog!

N, Holland

John P. Forsyth said...

Hi N Holland -- Great to hear that you are sensing resistance. And, it seems that you are watching it, noticing it as part of you, but not you. See if you can just hold that resistance lightly as you read and work with the workbook. See what happens over time. Peace -john

Anonymous said...

Hi John, I finally have let the resistance for what it is and started with ACT, I have started doing this 'peace of mind' exercise together with the mind watching exercise in the workbook. (that's where I am now after reading about some very recognizable myths :)) In doing the exercise I noticed that most of the time there are no thougths to label, even when I am feeling down, lonely, anxious or whatever. Clear thoughts tend to stay away. That's when I deliberatly start to make up thoughts to label. I do reconize that this is a form of evaluation the exercise wich I can notice and observe in the first place. But could it be that there is a way I am doing this exercise wrong? what to do with the tendency to disrupt the flow of thought? Well I am of doing some mindfull eating and walking :). If you don't mind I will keep you informed about my progress now and then!
With kind greetings from holland,

John P. Forsyth said...

N, Holland -- Thanks for the comment. Apologies for taking a bit to get back to this blog -- I have been on the road more days than not this past few weeks giving talks and trainings to professionals on ACT.

About your post ... Sounds like you are starting to see the process of thinking vs. the habit of seeing the world through the blinders of thoughts.

You said "In doing the exercise I noticed that most of the time there are no thoughts to label, even when I am feeling down, lonely, anxious or whatever."

This will sound nuts, but here you have the thought "no thoughts to label," "I am experiencing the feeling of being down, or experiencing lonely, or experiencing anxious." Again, you have material ripe for noticing here.

Remember the exercise is not about peace = relaxation. The exercise is about the kind of peace that comes about by revealing the language-mind game for what it is and letting yourself off the hook, particularly when thoughts show up that tend to keep you stuck.

All these thoughts and more are not you, they are a part of you. The skill you are developing is space to see when your mind serves you well and went it feeds you thoughts that ought to be let go.

Practice mindfulness and defusion with the sticky negative thoughts, but also the happy, peaceful, relaxing thoughts. This will help you lose attachment to any one experience, and instead appreciate it more when it shows up.

This is probably one of the more kind things we can do for ourselves, next to living out our values and dreams. Fighting with our mind and body is hurtful and in a way the most unkind thing we can do.

If it helps, think of your thoughts and body as a young infant that you have been asked to hold in your arms. How would you treat that infant? Harshly, or with the greatest of care, kindness, love.

Let's practice doing that inside and enacting that on the outside in a way that we and the world can see.

Keep commenting, keep moving forward. We are all in the same soup -- even me.

Peace -j

Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Books