Tag Archives: Memoir

Self-Help Success Story: “Buddhism Goes to the Root of the Problem”

Contributor: Art and meditation teacher Carrie Coe Phillips

Mollie: How did you come to meditation?

Carrie: When I was a teen I was in a very troubled environment. I wanted to run away but I was smart enough to know I didn’t want to end up in a ditch. I had a friend whose mom had a safe-feeling home. In that family the aunt was a TM (Transcendental Meditation) trainer, and I watched as they all started getting into meditation and becoming even closer as a family. I took the training and found it was very simple. From then on, I never went back.

I did TM twice a day for twenty minutes for four years solid. It launched me into the next phase of my life in a way I could never have predicted. It helped me get to college and start earning my own money. It also helped strengthen my self-concept as an artist, and to deal with my mother.

For example, one day my mother (who didn’t like me meditating) burst into my room and got right into my face screaming. But because of my practice I was able to just open my eyes and watch the experience. Eventually she stopped, and ever since then things were different between us.

Other curious ways that TM helped me as a trouble teen: I left harmful friends; gained kinder, more positive ones; my grades drastically improved; I developed as a painter to the degree that knew I was an artist and would pursue it as a vocation; without guidance from others, or financial help, I managed to earn save and direct myself into a good college.

Most importantly, the meditation taught me to stay in my family home environment until it was the right time to leave. I turned my bedroom into my art studio, developed my interests and relationships and gained some self-control. To stay at home was to change my experience from the inside.

Mollie: Why do you like Buddhism? What makes it better for you than a more open-ended approach to spirituality?

Carrie: I like it because it goes right to the root of the problem. Some spiritual systems try to prescribe cures for every different thing that ails you. But there are only so many fixes. At some point you just have to get down to the root. Buddhism does this. It addresses anyone, no matter where they’re at or how unique their circumstances are.

Buddhism is a very simple but very profound thing. You can describe it in just a few words, and then you can spend a very long time trying to figure out what those few words mean.

Mollie: In Buddhism, are there rules for inner peace?

Carrie: Somewhat. In Buddhism there is a progression of truth, each stage of which is revealed to you when you’re ready. This is still relative truth, and it is the path to enlightenment. If we were already enlightened, there would be no need for this path; however, from where we are it is quite valuable.

As far as following rules in Buddhism, it’s not a contract or deal. There are rules to follow like guidelines. Relative truth is the path and we recall the ultimate until the relative is no longer fully operational. Grasping and fixation just drop off by themselves if you don’t give up.

There is a quote from Padmasambhava, who Tibetans refer to as a second Buddha: “Keep your actions as fine as dust and your view as vast as the sky.” This means that we carefully follow the guidelines while also holding onto the vast view, which is ultimate truth.

Mollie: What is the ultimate truth?

Carrie: Good question. The ultimate truth is emptiness with awareness, a nondual non-conceptual wisdom. Another way of describing the inexpressible is a Timeless Awareness. There are elements of love and compassion to it, too, and wisdom, which is the ultimate compassion.

Mollie: And what are the rules for inner peace?

Carrie: “Do no harm, do good, train your mind thoroughly.” This is one of my favorite quotes of Buddha because it outlines the path. Of course we practice all three from the very beginning. But hidden here, also, is the path’s three vehicles. “Do no harm” refers to the set of beginning or foundational teachings and guidelines from the Buddha that refer to daily habits of life and mind. “Do good” is a different group of teachings that focuses on others. It is a more expansive view of your practice and of the world. “Train your mind” refers to a third group of more esoteric teachings that focus on yet other methods for reaching enlightenment.

Mollie: If someone is interested in learning more about Buddhism, where should they start?

Carrie: It doesn’t hurt to start with meditation. Meditation is the heart of Buddhism. One thing I would point out, though, is that if you’re using meditation just to feel better, it’s not Buddhism. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, but for Buddhists, meditation isn’t meant to be a way to feel better, or calmer, or to relax. The intent is to wake up, to increase your awareness, to let the mind unfold and show you its natural stability, its natural clarity and insight. With that, with time, there is an opening of the compassion, of the heart, and struggling does eventually abate.

Mollie: What, exactly, does meditation involve?

Carrie: There are four parts of meditation practice according to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. I’m paraphrasing from his book Journey Without Goal:

1. Recalling the instructions and applying it (i.e. holding the posture, returning to the breath or other object of the meditation, not fixating on thoughts, getting to the cushion with consistency, or not giving up);

2. Relaxing (it’s built in);

3. Not judging, being gentle with yourself; and

4. Having a positive attitude that something good will come from this activity.

Mollie: So why meditate, then, if not to feel better?

Carrie: Many many people these days come to meditation to feel calmer or better. More come to it or to Buddhism out of loss or grief. Generally speaking, seeing your own dissatisfaction is enough to begin meditating.

I can say that with meditation you will feel calmer, better and more aware of everything, including your environment. Some find their clairvoyance, but these are fringe benefits.

Why not set out with a greater motivation than feeling better, with the motivation to wake up to your world? Meditation is a path of realization.

We meditate to know the truth. We do it because we suspect there might be more to life then then what we presume.

What books or other sources do you recommend?

The Lion’s Roar, an online magazine, is my my pick for you and your readers–handy, frequent, free, and packed with inspiration and wisdom. Also see:

  • Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: This book might be advanced but I’ve returned to it many times. Different chapters at different points on your spiritual path give up its mysteries.
  • Pema Chodron, an important early student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and an American nun: Anything she has written or recorded will be helpful, especially one of her earliest books for people struggling, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times.
  • Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s books, including Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom, in particular for working with anxiety, which he describes having had a serious case of. He is also part of the interface of neuroscience and Buddhism. Look for him on YouTube.
  • Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche’s two titles, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind, and Emotional Rescue: How to work With Your Emotions to Transform Hurt and Confusion Into Energy That Empowers You.
  • For basic meditation instruction with a modern take on a spiritual path for beginners and intermediate study, read Turning Your Mind Into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham. Also, his book Running With The Mind of Meditation for those on the run.

Carrie

Self-Help Success Story: “Meditation Gives Me Clarity”

Contributor: Art and meditation teacher Carrie Coe Phillips

Mollie: Some forms of spirituality are more rule-based than others. In my limited experience with Buddhism, it seems that it is somewhere in-between the extremes: not particularly dogmatic, but at the same time, often prescriptive. What do you think?

Carrie: It can be dogmatic. It doesn’t have to be.

Mollie: Has there ever been a time in your life when you truly questioned everything that you believe? How did you circle back to where you are now? Tell me the story.

Carrie: Every so often I wonder why there has to be so many images in Buddhism. Coming from a background in which there’s a restriction against statues and images, it bothers me a bit.

I get different explanations for why they’re there. One is that historically the statues weren’t a part of it, and they were only added later after the Silk Road opened up (due to the influence of Greek imagery), and therefore they aren’t a needed part of the practice. Another is that the images are representations of enlightened energy, an enlightened mind. There is a myriad of methods for people at different stages of practice; some work for some people but not others.

Mollie: What if you’re wrong? What if after death you find out that Buddhism is just partly true, or not true?

Carrie: The Tibetan Buddhist teachings on both the death process and the afterdeath process are unlike any other teachings. There are very careful instructions on what to do. I have complete faith in these Tibetan teachings.

You know, when you meditate with some consistency, your mind will want to wake you up to the truth. Then, when you look around, when you listen to or read what’s been written by other meditators, and your truth matches the other person’s truth … now you are on to something. You have insight.

Mollie: What do you mean by insight? What kind of insight?

Carrie: By insight I mean a momentary flash of wisdom. You might not even recall it but it changes you on a deep level. Buddhists also call it clarity.

Mollie: Do you have clarity? How much do you have, would you say?

Carrie: Sure, I have some. There’s no way of telling how much. I can say that the more I meditate the more the chances are that I will.

Do you mean do I have flashes of insight? Sometimes. It’s not something you go looking for; you can’t direct it. And as I said before, the difference between ordinary insight (which will also increase with meditation) and true spiritual insight is that you will probably not remember true spiritual insight after it happens.

Carrie

Ten Things I Love About Men

Best Nonfiction Book - Rich Dad Poor Dad

1. Men don’t freak out over criticism. The other week, my babysitter quit. She said our parenting style was too “laid back.” (She was being nice, of course. She could’ve said my kids are brats.) After I read the email, I consulted with two friends at length, seeking ways to validate my choices and to work through my embarrassment. My husband, on the other hand? He read the email, made a single statement (which I won’t repeat here), then placed it all in a file and red-stamped it. Case closed.

2. Men are willing to take a backseat. My husband’s greatest joy in life is his mostly happy, mostly loving family. The role he chooses to play in keeping it that way is to support my parenting decisions as well as my self-care. He helps in any way he can, and doesn’t micromanage. Most of all, he realizes that the one who makes the plans is the one who gets to decide how to carry them out. (For more on gender differences in family decision making, see Tara Parker Pope’s discussion of household management in For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed.)

3. Men deeply appreciate real women’s bodies. Men love fat women, thin women, tall women, short women, beautiful women, plain women, dressed-up women, casual women, Barbie women, Martha Stewart women, soft women, angular women, curvy women and everything in between. Their tastes are much more wide-ranging and forgiving than the women they love often realize. (For evidence, see A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships by Ogi Ogas.)

4. Men are Zen. I once saw a video recording of a spiritual conference in which the audience was mostly made up of women. During the question and answer session, one of them asked the speaker if women are more spiritually evolved than men are; after all, they’re the ones who come to these events the most. The teacher responded that there may have been good reason that more men weren’t there. “Maybe they don’t need to read as many books and go to as many conferences, since they’re already practicing these principles without realizing it.”

I, for one, think she was right. If Zen is define as living in the moment, appreciating the little things and not obsessing over the bad, men as a whole are way more Zen than women are.

5. Men are great conversationalists. I love girl talk. Mom talk, especially. But I also can’t live without a weekly debate regarding philosophy, news and/or politics. And for that, my dad, husband and other male friends are my go-tos. With them, it’s not personal. I can be as opinionated as I want to be. Friendly debates really feel … friendly. (I have had a few girlfriends who don’t mind the inevitable disagreements that come up, but not many.)

6. Men are honest. I like the emotional support I get from my girlfriends, but every once in a while, if I’m full of shit, it’s better just to be told straight up. One of the greatest compliments I’ve even received–maybe the very greatest–came from my husband, who said, “You have the best personality of anyone I know.” If this had come from a girlfriend, I would’ve deeply appreciated their kindness. But since it came from a person who as far as I know has never, ever lied to me–even a so-called ‘white lie’–I will treasure it forever. (I’d give you a few great examples of his brutal honesty, but that probably isn’t necessary. Just trust me.)

7. Men communicate clearly. Here’s a typical scenario: my husband and I in our living room, cleaning up after our dinner guests. “Did you catch that comment?” I say. “The one about the laundry?”

Blank stare.

“Maris was hinting that Niles didn’t appreciate her. You didn’t see it? Oh, I love you, Hon. You’re so great.”

When I tell my husband, “I’m stressed out. I need a break,” he gets it. When I say, “Will you do the laundry?”, he says yes or no. However, when I say, “I hate everything right now,” he has no idea what that means, or what to do. This is a major advantage in our relationship. David teaches me how to be direct. (I’m not all the way there yet, though. Only been with him for eight years. These things take time.)

8. Men appreciate the beauty of silence. When I was in high school, my dad opened a window into male psychology for me–a small one, but it let in a surprising amount of light. He said, “The person you can sit with, and say nothing, but still understand each other–that’s the person you want to marry.”

But I love talking, I thought. I want to marry a great conversationalist. Later, though, I understood what he meant. Men love talking sometimes, too. But what they truly need is respectful, peaceful, loving, companionable … quiet.

Like I said: a window.

9. Men are sexy. Enough said.

10. Men are smart. Obviously, women are every bit as talented and intelligent as men are. But it’s been a while since I’ve heard someone say, “Men have done so much good in the world, haven’t they?” A similar comment about women comes my way every three hours or so. So let’s all take a moment to acknowledge the many achievements of male-kind, even if you don’t appreciate every single one of them. (Personally, I’m not a huge fan of cars. But the birth control pill and sidewalks? Two thumbs up.)

BONUS #1: Men are funny first, serious as needed. My husband plays with my children differently. And his discipline style is often more lighthearted than mine. A common caution of his is, “It seems like you need tickles. Do you need tickles?” It’s beautiful. Humor is one of the most helpful conflict management strategies I know.

BONUS #2: Finally, when people use the term “white men” or just “men” in a negative context, men don’t usually complain. Often, they even welcome it. Some even consider themselves feminists. They like us women that much.

Much, much love to the men in my life who have debated with me for hours, told me the unvarnished truth, and shown me how neurotic I (occasionally) am.

P.S. Happy birthday to my amazing older son, who turns five very soon. Could not be prouder.

P.P.S. Kudos to Philadelphia for celebrating International Men’s Day today.

http://www.internationalmensday.com/

What Would a Buddhist Monk Do?

buddhist monk

This guy definitely knows what to do.

So, it occurred to me today that I have no idea what Jesus would do. Ever. This may be due to a lack of information or just my inability to synthesize the available information. However, after reading just a couple of books on monks of various times, places and faith persuasions (The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton and Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda both leap to mind), I have a decent feel for what they would do in most sticky situations. (Hint: It usually involves a wan smile and a non-committal retort such as “Is that so?”)

And so, I’m going to have my own bumper sticker made. It’s going to say “What Would a Buddhist Monk Do?”

WWBMD, y’all.

Self-Help Success Story: “I Learned to Allow My Feelings”

Contributor: Frederick Zappone, author of seven books and blogger at Inspired Living. This story is excerpted from his blog.

In a desperate attempt to cure myself of my depression, I read everything I could on the subject. I took the psychological approach as well as the religious approach. The stronger the depression, the more aggressive my search. Self-help courses and recovery groups brought minimal relief but never a cure. Each improvement was eventually followed by a setback.

I began to believe that I was inherently flawed. It was even suggested that I was possessed by an evil entity, a thought I rejected. And yet, when the feelings were at their strongest, I doubted myself and believed I might be. I became even more frightened.

One day, I realized just how terrified I was. Desperate feelings require desperate measures: voluntarily I went in for psychiatric evaluation. I began weekly therapy and was prescribed a drug which altered my mood almost immediately.

I gained many insights during therapy, but eventually the prescription drugs caused me to experience the side effects of hyperactivity, chills and headaches. I felt as if the cure was worse than the disease itself and so I took myself off the drugs without consulting my doctor (something I don’t recommend). I did, however, continue therapy.

I thought therapy had solved my problem with depression until I had an extremely devastating setback and experienced the worst depression of my life. Suicidal thoughts began to intrude into my mind, and yet no matter what, I would not surrender. I lived with my depression for years, just tolerating it. If depression was going to slowly squeeze the life out of me, I decided, it would do so without my help.

I struggled through, day after day, hiding my depression from everyone, but when I got home and I was alone I would realize I was exhausted. I just wanted to lie on the couch and do nothing. I felt hopeless. After many years of living this way and contrary to professional advice, I isolated myself, knowing when I was alone with my depression, I felt it the strongest.

One day I realized that I was at a standoff with my depression. It wasn’t getting any worse and it wasn’t getting any better. So, I decided to start analyzing what was going on with me. I knew I couldn’t feel any worse, so I might as well treat my condition as a mystery that needed solving rather than a problem to fear.

First, I went back to the basics. I looked up the word “depression” in Webster’s dictionary and found the definition: a disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentrating, excessive sleep, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies. Yes, I agreed, the dictionary was intellectually correct. I experienced all of those things, but when I explored my feelings, I made some amazing discoveries.

One of my discoveries was that my depression was actually made up of a variety of strong unexpressed feelings interwoven together. These feeling included unexpressed anger. This entanglement of unexpressed emotions left me feeling like a net had been dropped over my spirit and pulled tight. The more I struggled, the more entangled in them I became.

Instead of judging my feelings of depression, I decided to observe them. I noticed that I was afraid of my feelings. I also observed that throughout my life whatever I feared eventually became my enemy. How did I make my depressed feelings my enemy? I did it by accepting someone else’s belief that my depressed feelings were dangerous. By accepting this belief unedited, I erroneously concluded that my feelings could lead me to killing myself. In making my feelings the enemy I gave them power over me; the moment I did that, they dominated and controlled my life for over thirty years.

After this realization, I decided to start allowing the feelings to come without being afraid of them. If depression was going to defeat me, I decided, I wanted to feel it absolutely. I was tired of running from the monster within.

This one change made all the difference.

Today, I view depression in a totally different way. I believe that my inner guide uses depressed feelings to let me know when I’m off track in my thinking, trying too hard, headed in the wrong direction, or not taking proper care of myself. I no longer struggle with “depressed feelings.” When they come upon me, I embrace them, and in embracing them, I can hear the message of guidance and advice that is being directed to me. When I hear the message accurately, the depressed feelings leave me, and I am filled with an exuberance and a renewed passion for life.

My advice to others experiencing depression: Allow your depressed feelings to harmlessly pass you by like clouds in the sky. You do this by choosing to intensely feel what you are feeling without judging what you feel in any way. If you are willing to let your feelings of depression become your friends–if you are willing to learn from them, embrace them–you too will once again be excited about living life generously and passionately.

In life we are either expressing ourselves or depressing ourselves. These days, when an occasional feeling of depression washes over me, I ask myself which thoughts and/or feelings am I depressing. Once I discover what they are, I express them, release them, let them go. I set them free so I can return to my natural state of mind which is happiness, harmony and peace of mind.

Frederick Zappone

Self-Help Success Story: “Enlightenment Is a Quantum Leap”

Contributor: Subhan Schenker, who runs the Osho World of Meditation in Seattle.

Mollie: Tell me about your meditation practice.

Subhan: I teach and practice active meditation techniques that incorporate body movement. The reason I chose these techniques is that when I first attempted meditation many years ago, I couldn’t do it; it was torture. I hated sitting still. One day in the midst of this learning process I went to a bookstore and asked the clerk what I should read about meditation. He directed me toward Osho, and as soon as I started reading it I knew his was the technique for me.

Our lifestyles aren’t what the monks of the past knew. They carried water, chopped wood and worked hard all day, which helped them release their emotions, allowing their minds to become less active. Then, when it was time to be still, their bodies were ready for it. We need the same kind of emotional release in order to ready us for stillness, for what I call “the Grand Canyon of silence.”

I invite you to go to our center’s website, worldofmeditation.com, or to osho.com to learn more about active meditation techniques like dynamic meditation and no-mind meditation.

Mollie: What about people who do have active lifestyles? Would you still recommend these practices?

Subhan: I would recommend that they try them. And that they try other techniques, too, until they find what works best for them.

Truth is what works.

Mollie: What is meditation?

Subhan: It depends on what you mean by the word. The meditative state is the state of relaxation, awareness and no judgment. It is the state of not thinking. Watching the thoughts, watching the mind, is the technique you use to get to that state. You know your meditation technique is working when, for a flash here and a flash there, you arrive into the state of meditation.

There are many, many people who are trying meditation techniques that don’t get them to the state of meditation. They may help them feel a bit better, but they don’t separate them from mind and therefore aren’t going to get them to the awareness, silence and stillness that they’re looking for.

Mollie: What do you tell beginning meditators about meditation?

Subhan: First, I tell them that meditation is not separate from life. The technique of meditation is something you have to create time to do, but the meditative state has to be part of all the rest of your life or there isn’t any substance to it.

Mollie: Any other basic advice regarding meditation?

Subhan: I often tell new meditators that in order to finally get what you want, you have to get enough of what you don’t want. Here’s what I mean: For each of us spiritual seekers there came a point at which we realized that everything we were told about the way happiness works, the way the world works, isn’t true. We did everything our parents and our society told us to do, but we were still miserable and unfulfilled. When we had enough of the anxiety, the fears, the worries, the difficult dances in relating with other people—the stuff we didn’t want—then our quest for true happiness began.

I often see new meditators give up very quickly. Partly this is because they don’t want to experience the emotions that meditating brings up in them, and partly it’s because they haven’t had enough of what they don’t want yet. They’re not ready.

Mollie: Okay. Now, let’s address the proverbial elephant. Are you a guru?

Subhan: No. I’m not a guru. I’m not a teacher. I’m a sharer. And who knows? Maybe even that’s saying too much. The truth is I have not a clue who “I” am

Any time there’s a notion of who “I” am, it usually gets shattered.

Zen masters say, “Not knowing is the most intimate.” It sounds odd, but the moment you finally stop projecting your ideas of who someone is upon them, when you finally decide to not “know” them (according to the mind), is when you experience the greatest possible understanding of who they are. This is also true of oneself.

Mollie: Are you special?

Subhan: No.

Mollie: There is nothing about your past lives, maybe, that makes you further along the path than others?

Subhan: I don’t play that game. Some people get involved in past lives, but I am more interested in this life!

I appreciate my own uniqueness and the uniqueness in every person. And I have no interest in trying to change them. I do have a mind that wants to try to change others and change the world. I was a lawyer in the past and I still have the mind to go along with that. But that mind is not me. I allow Existence to be.

Mollie: Existence being your word for God?

Subhan: There are many words. I like Existence. I like many others. What I know is that I’ve experienced moments of connectedness with something that feels so big, so vast, so beyond anything the mind can comprehend, that I just know it is real, whatever it is called. And then there are times when those moments are gone and the mind takes over again.

Mollie: Do you have challenges?

Subhan: Oh, yes. I love challenges. When I remember that I have support, they are wonderful.

Mollie: What do you mean by support?

Subhan: I mean things like meditation, relationships with people who are also on the path of discovery, and the words of spiritual teachers and mystics, and their books and recordings on spirituality. There are many more.

One of the great supports is to stop doing what you don’t love to do. Not filling up your life with have-tos.

Mollie: Are you enlightened?

Subhan: No. Yes and no. We are all enlightened, but most of us are also still identified with the mind, which conceals the enlightenment. I am often identified with the mind, too.

Mollie: How does one become enlightened?

Subhan: There is no way to teach that or describe that. It is a quantum leap. After having tried everything possible for six incredibly difficult years to disassociate from his mind, Buddha came to the point where he recognized the impossibility of getting somewhere that is not the mind. He sat under the Bodhi tree and surrendered—and then it came. He entered the no-mind space. Osho describes a similar giving-up experience leading to his enlightenment.

Until that moment of true letting go, we only get very brief glimpses of enlightenment. When this happens it looks so close, but it’s still very far away as long as the mind is there.

It’s a quantum leap. It’s illogical. You can’t get there by trying, and you can’t get there by not trying! What a paradox!

Subhan

Self-Help Success Story: “Sometimes, I Just Let Myself Hate Everything”

Every once in a while, I want to set fire to my brain. I want to light a match, and get a bucket of kerosene, and just go to town on it. The desire usually comes when my brain is on fire already, and it’s getting out of control. I figure that if I hasten the job, the whole thing will be over more quickly, and afterwards I can cool it off and start rebuilding.

Yeah, that’s the answer. More fire.

Allow me to explain.

A few months back, I was going through a rough time. So, I decided to try something a little different. I was sick of practicing acceptance, saying “love, love, love” and meditating all the time. I needed, instead, to vent.

The situation: bad behavior boot camp.

Have you ever tried this? Well, don’t. Or do. I don’t know yet. Results unclear. Regardless, it’s when you take your two whiny children and make them stay at home all day and fight with each other. Then you take every single one of those fights as a “learning opportunity,” complete with one-on-one conflict resolution coaching, the patience of a goddess and, of course, appropriate consequences.

You can guess how well this went. The good news? It inspired a new spiritual practice. I call it my “I hate this” meditation and that pretty much sums it up.

So maybe I’m the only person in the world to find this as helpful as I do. But on the off-chance that my experience can be replicated, here is a brief description of what I’ve been up to.

One of my favorite spiritual books is Loving What Arises, about, well, loving everything as a spiritual practice. Matt Kahn is the author. He’s a channel, though he doesn’t use that term, preferring the word “empath.” Basically, he holds lectures on the topics of love and spirituality, mostly love, and how to bring everything in our experience back to that.

So one day in the midst of this bad-behavior stuff, while attempting to do what Kahn suggests, I realized something: I didn’t want to love this. It felt fake. So, I tried something else instead. And it worked. So I tried it every day that week.

It still worked.

Here is the technique: You get alone, in a quiet spot, and start by saying the phrase “I hate.” Then you just let it rip.

I hate my outfit. I hate my hair. I hate the gym. I hate that person. I hate the morning.

You go on and on like this, getting it out, letting it go. Then you take a deep breath, and meditate a while.

This sucks so much, I think. But damn, am I growing. You know, as a person.

And then I call it a day.

Then what?

Then, about half the time, I get this feeling of gratitude. Something like, Wow. I’m okay. I’m doing it. I’m getting through it. How much awesomer am I going to be at life (in this case, parenting) after I get through this?

I feel truly grateful for my crap.

And then there’s something else that happens, also about half the time: A bit of positive thinking accidentally creeps in. It’s weird, really: there I am, trying my damndest to be negative, and my ego part—the part of all of us that makes reverse psychology so effective—starts arguing with my silly list. “I hate the gym,” I’ll say in all sincerity. And everything I appreciate about the gym—the childcare, the alone time, the dress code—will come to mind. Then I list the next thing—say, giving up dessert—and Reverse Me will do it again. “You don’t care about that. You love the food you eat. And you look really good, too.”

Then I argue that point a bit.

Ah, that ego. Always arguing. Mostly, it’s best to just ignore it. But every once in a while, we can outwit it instead.

Reverse psychology. It works.

So, in sum: I’m saying “I hate” over and over—and calling it a wellness practice. Take that, lame, phony life rules.

Admittedly, my results with this technique are pretty mixed so far. Sometimes it helps a lot, but about half of the time it offers little to no real relief. It’s one of those things: you have to sort of search your soul a bit, ask yourself if you just need a few moments to vent. If the answer is yes, the practice could help. It gets everything out there—a brain dump. Then you can pick through the garbage for what you want to keep. The rest goes and doesn’t seem to come back. At least not right away.

Admitting, truly admitting, what I hate—no rose colors involved—is something I’ve deprived myself of in the past. Allowing myself to admit I hate what is, that I don’t effing want to be spiritual right now—it feels like eating ice cream for the first time after years without sugar.

I love that honesty can work for depression, at least sometimes. I don’t want to have to be positive all the time. What a drag.

Best Reincarnation Books

Ah, reincarnation. It’s the concept most associated with New Age spirituality, and one that when I was religious, I most loved to hate.

Now, I just love to love it.

This affection doesn’t make me an expert on the subject, of course; I’m a cafeteria-style, spiritual-but-not-religious type, not a Buddhist. I just know that reincarnation means I have other chances at this Earthly life thing. That’s enough information for now.

Sign me up. Details can wait.

The books on this list are those I’ve personally come across on this subject. I look forward to learning and reading more.

My favorites so far: Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives by Brian Weiss and The Search For Grace: A Documented Case of Murder and Reincarnation by Bruce Goldberg.

Best Reincarnation Books is part of a larger project, a curriculum I’m writing called Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday. Like this list, it’s an ongoing, possibly unending, project. Check back here or subscribe on the right for updates.

P.S. Here are a few related links for you, too:

Best Reincarnation Books:

Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives, Brian Weiss
Spiritual Progress Through Regression, Brian Weiss
Regression to Times and Places, Brian Weiss
The Search For Grace: A Documented Case of Murder and Reincarnation, Bruce Goldberg

Other Recommended Reincarnation Books:

Messages from the Masters: Tapping into the Power of Love, Brian Weiss
Through Time into Healing: Discovering the Power of Regression Therapy to Erase Trauma and Transform Mind, Body and Relationships, Brian Weiss
Only Love Is Real: A Story of Soulmates Reunited, Brian Weiss
Messages From the Masters: Tapping into the Power of Love, Brian Weiss
Mirrors of Time: Using Regression for Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Healing, Brian Weiss
Same Soul, Many Bodies: Discover the Healing Power of Future Lives through Progression Therapy, Brian Weiss
Miracles Happen: The Transformational Healing Power of Past Life Memories, Brian Weiss
Only Love is Real: A Story of Soul Mates Reunited, Brian Weiss
Love Never Dies: How to Reconnect and Make Peace with the Deceased, Jamie Turndorf
Your Life After Their Death: A Medium’s Guide to Healing After a Loss, Karen Noé
The Indigo Children: The New Kids Have Arrived, Lee Carroll
Indigo Adults: Understanding Who You Are and What You Can Become, Kabir Jaffe and Ritama Davidson
The Disappearance of the Universe: Straight Talk about Illusions, Past Lives, Religion, Sex, Politics, and the Miracles of Forgiveness, Gary R. Renard

On being a mom

Best Nonfiction Book: Child

Something different for you today: a poem I wrote during my first year of being a mom.

We Expect

We expect our children to share everything they own. But do we share everything we own?

We expect our children to enjoy sleeping alone. But do we enjoy sleeping alone?

We expect our children to realize they’ll be okay immediately after falling down. But do we realize we’ll be okay immediately after we fall down?

We expect our children to let other people decide what they will wear, what they will eat and where they will go. We expect them to always eat their vegetables and to go to school for eight hours a day. We expect them to sit still, play quietly, contain their excitement and never, ever show they’re mad. But are these things always such a good idea?

We parents don’t always go to bed on time. We don’t always manage our money wisely. We often argue, or even refuse to work out our disagreements at all.

We don’t always keep our rooms clean, stick with our first decision or get ready on time. We don’t always do the math right.

We don’t always follow the rules.

We expect our children to behave like adults while so often, we behave like them. Maybe, then, we should expect a little less of our children—and a great deal more of ourselves.

Self-Help Success Story: “Desire Is Missing”

Contributor: Author Leta Hamilton, whose books include The Way of the Toddler and a four-book series called 100 Daily Messages

Mollie: When you meditate, do you have thoughts?

Leta: When I am in a meditative state, which is to say, breathing with depth instead of shallow breaths, feeling connected to All That Is, feeling in a state of bliss, feeling “in the flow” and all the other ways we express the experience of being ease-filled … I discover that my thoughts and myself are two distinct things. I can be meditating and suddenly realize that I’ve been thinking thoughts the whole time, but that they feel as if they have arrived from an infinite field and are not a part of me (the essence of me) at all. It feels as if the “me” is infinite space and the thoughts are energy signatures that come from the outside in, but are not mine. They may, of course, have everything to do with this lifetime as I am experiencing it, yet there is a depersonalization to it. They are not the essence of me.

Therefore, the relationship I have with thoughts is that I have them, but they are not from me. They just are. They bounce in from the infinite field of consciousness and become personal to my life experience, but are not personal, nor are they “me,” nor are they “mine.” They just are. I have a distance from them. They occur, but they are not personal. They come and go, but it is like the bouncing ball, not an internal foundation of my being. I am the observer behind the thoughts rather than the thoughts themselves. I am distinct from the thoughts. No matter how personalized they feel (and of course they are very personal to what is going on in my life experience), they are profoundly not personal, not me at all. They have no relation to who I AM. They are. That is the best way I can describe it.

Mollie: In other words, while meditating, you are almost entirely separate from your ego? Can you describe that feeling a little more?

Leta: It is a very strange phenomenon. When I am feeling vast, I fall into that vastness and lose all dreams, ideas or hopes of being anything other than completely anonymous as a human. I go into this vast space inside myself and everything I need is there. I have everything. I have the impulse to disappear completely.

How this plays out in my life is that I have no desire to be present on social media. I cannot nor do I want to explain myself to anyone. There is no desire to even talk to anyone. I am here for those who want to talk to me, but I am not in defense mode. I only care to listen and speaking feels like a kindness I do for the benefit of all humankind as we do this thing together–as a species–of evolving. The thing that is missing from my life is the desire to be anything other than what I am right now or anywhere other than where I am right now. That is not to say I don’t have stress or feelings of overwhelm. However, I am grateful for them as I am experiencing them.

I don’t know how else to describe it. No explanation is ever going to be enough. It is felt, not explained. I cannot talk about it. I can only feel it. When I try to talk about it, like right now, it feels so inadequate and off-base. It is only an approximation of an approximation.

Mollie: I don’t think I’ve ever lived a single moment without desire. That must be amazing.

What is your greatest, most helpful spiritual practice in life?

Leta: NOTHING is what I insist is my greatest experience! Nothing is NO-THING. It is surrender and surrender and surrender until your heart is so full you encompass everything. You become no-thing and have room for everything. It is the galaxy I am talking about, the vastness, the opening up to galaxies and the whole universe. It is everything because it is nothing.

This admission feels vulnerable because I don’t want anyone to be denied the experience they are having right now, to ever think they are experiencing anything other than perfection every moment, no matter how unpleasant.

I want everyone to have their own experience, because it is theirs to have and it is perfect just as it is.

Love.

Leta

Self-Help Success Story: “I Tried Matt Kahn’s ‘Loving What Arises’ Technique for Depression”

Last fall, I was going through a rough time. Like, really rough. I wasn’t taking walks. I wasn’t eating healthy. I wasn’t hanging out with friends–even writing. The problem? I was pregnant.

And every day, all day long, I was nauseated.

It’s the worst thing, that nausea. I’ve had it four times for over three months straight, and it never gets any more enjoyable. It’s unfortunate, too, for my kids and husband, who want another little one someday. (I think they forgot how bad the bathroom smelled, and how infrequently I cleaned it.)

All right, enough pity. (Thanks, though. It was nice.) The point is, when you’re sick everything sucks. So you can imagine how badly I’d have to want to do something while in this condition in order to actually get dressed, get in the car, go somewhere and do it.

Yeah. Pretty bad indeed.

Well, I did that. I did that for Matt Kahn. And it involved a 40-minute car ride. There was an IV in my arm, and I puked on the street by my friend’s car, and I hated every second, but I went.

To say I’m a fan of Kahn is an understatement. I once offered to ghost write a book of his. (His office person rejected the idea. No hard feelings! Emoticons!) He’s a Seattle local, which gets him a few points, but mostly he just has a great take on spirituality. It’s jovial. It’s fun. It’s super insightful. And it’s just non-friggin-uptight. He’s not a comedy genius or anything–he’s just relatable. Honestly, a pretty normal dude–yet awesome.

And then there’s his message. His message is the thing. It’s unique. It’s a blend. There’s nothing copycat about it. He talks about karma, about the law of attraction, but in a totally different way. A real treatment of his message is far beyond the scope of this piece, but do check out at least one of his super popular YouTube videos. It’s required.

With that, we come to Kahn’s spiritual practice, and my assessment of how well it works for depression–and for just getting more inner peace and stuff in general.

So let’s get to it.

Matt Kahn is a spiritual teacher with second-sight abilities. In his book, Whatever Arises, Love That, which he seems to claim was channeled (though possibly not word-for-word?), he shares how one day a spirit entity or entities revealed to him his greatest teaching (so far) in the form of the four words that are the title of his book:

“Whatever arises, love that.”

Taking the directive literally, he began repeating, “I love you” to whatever got his attention—a flock of birds, a construction worker using a jackhammer. What followed was an awakening, as he calls it, that caused sounds of gunshots in his head and a sense of his Self “oozing out of my ears like warm liquid light.” Sounds like something I want to experience. Maybe.

And that’s it. That’s the practice. So simple. So of course, I had to try it. Here’s what I found.

Does this spiritual practice work against depression?

Yes, but only to a point unless used with great commitment. Just saying a few “I love yous” every day won’t get you out of a bad slump. Though it wouldn’t hurt, either.

Have you tried it? For how long?

I tried the technique for about one month during that pregnancy I was describing. Not the first trimester, of course–spiritual practice? what’s that?–but later when things weren’t so … entirely crappy. I was convinced I’d stick with it for at least a year straight as one of my main practices. However, it was not to be. Soon afterwards, I discovered Byron Katie’s The Work, and loving what arises has been relegated to the Definitely Will Do That Again, Hopefully Soon list in my OneNotes.

What were your results?

My results were great. Thing is, as hirpy-chirpy ridiculous as the technique sounds, in practice it’s very profound. When things are swimming along, feeling good to you, it’s just an extra “thank you” to the Universe, but when things get un-fun, the technique really gets interesting. It’s not about pretending to have feelings of appreciation and love for what you actually hate. For me, anyway, it’s about reminding myself that this–even this–is fine. Not great. Not cool. Not awesome. Not de-lish.

But fine. Really, really fine.

My kids both pooped on the floor? On the same day? It’s fine. It’s really fine. I love you.

I’m feeling depressed but too lazy to go take a walk? It’s fine. It’s really fine. I love you.

My body is forty pounds heavier, and my ears hurt from the sound of whining? It’s fine. It’s really fine. I love you.

Because, here’s the deal, you: You’re what I get when I ask to become a better person. You, Poop. You, Depression. You, Fat. You’re my gifts, my teachers, my best friends.

Even you, Whining. All of you.

So, I love you. For teaching me how to train my kids to clean up after themselves. For bringing me back to spiritual practice after a few days’ absence. For reminding me how lucky I am to have a healthy body. For teaching me patience. For making me stronger.

I love you.

Here are a couple of amazing quotes from the book.

Note that it was really, really hard to choose; there were tons of great ones.

  • “No matter what seems to trigger you, each reaction represents the releasing of cellular debris collected from lifetimes of experiences.”
  • “Throughout this process, it is important to remember that a sensation only feels like a barrier for as long as you refuse to feel it. As it is invited to be felt, a willingness to experience each moment as an opportunity to heal clears out layers of cellular memory to make room for the emergence of heart-centered consciousness.”
  • “Instead of using this practice as a cosmic fire extinguisher to merely resolve the flames of personal despair, I invite you to treasure your heart on a regular basis, until the world you are viewing reflects back the light that your love reveals.”
  • “While moments of transcendence are incredible to behold, the true benchmark of spiritual maturity is how often your words and actions are aligned with love.”

Self-Help Success Story: “After Doing the Byron Katie Method, My Boss Started Listening to Me”

Contributor: Travis Thomas. Travis is a corporate trainer and performance specialist who created Live Yes, And. In 1999, he found improvisational comedy and it changed his life. Since then he has used the principles of improvisation as a tool to help individuals, companies and teams with personal development, culture, mindset and collaboration. He is the author of the book, Three Words for Getting Unstuck: Live Yes, And!

I learned about Byron Katie for the first time from a friend. I tried reading a book of hers but the concepts didn’t click until I listened to an audiobook and could really hear the coaching. I have been doing her method, The Work, on and off for about eight years. My other spiritual practices include meditation, prayer, and listening.

I wanted to share an example of how The Work helped me in an important way about seven years ago.

I just finished the first year in a new job and I spent most of the year feeling under-appreciated and under-valued. I saw my immediate boss as inflexible, obnoxious, and wrong most of the time. I disagreed with how he went about things and it seemed he never really cared about my opinion.

As the year came to a close and we were preparing for summer break, I realized that if I wanted to last another year at the job I needed to do The Work. I filled out a “Judge Your Neighbor” worksheet (I know, it sounds strange; see TheWork.com for more information) and landed on the statement “My boss (I’ll call him Carl) should listen to me more.” It was clear to me that this was true because I knew I had a lot to offer and a lot of expertise, but it was also clear to me that Carl didn’t really want to listen to me.

I took the statement to the Byron Katie questions. I answered Question One pretty quickly. “Is it true?” Yes. Moving on to Question Two: “Can I absolutely know that it’s true?” Well, I thought I could, but for the sake of this exercise I chose to be open to the possibility that maybe it wasn’t absolutely true. So okay, no, I couldn’t be absolutely sure it was true. Question Three is “How do I react when I think that thought?” That one was interesting: When I thought that Carl should listen to me more, I wouldn’t listen to him, either. I would disagree with everything he said and did, never giving him the benefit of the doubt or credit for the three decades of work he had done in this field.

I wanted him to value me more, but I didn’t value him. I wanted him to respect me more, but I didn’t respect him.

Ouch.

This was a huge eye opener for me. It was so clear that I had shut off my willingness to see any value in him, so of course I wasn’t going to feel any in return.

Then I came to Question Four, “Who would I be without that thought?” I knew the answer: I’d be an awesome team player. In fact, I would be his biggest cheerleader. I would be patient, enthusiastic, positive, selfless, and compassionate–the person I really wanted to be.

The turnarounds were also interesting: “I should listen to Carl more.” Yes, I clearly wasn’t doing that; what would it look like if I really listened to his ideas? The next one was a biggie, too: “I should listen to myself more.” That is the one that stung most. What all of this angst really boiled down to, I realized, was me not valuing my own ideas and having enough confidence in myself to present them without fear, oversensitivity and intimidation.

But it was easier to blame Carl instead.

The following year, I decided to change my attitude towards Carl, to be his biggest cheerleader and genuinely love him for all of the love he brought to the job, even if I disagreed with some of his choices. I worked on being open-minded and patient, as well as just liking him as a person. It should come as no big shock that our relationship changed quickly. Almost overnight, Carl started asking for my ideas all of the time. Soon I became his go-to guy, and we developed a wonderful friendship.

I ended up staying at that job for two more years, and enjoyed a wonderful and harmonious experience there. I remain friends with Carl to this day.

Travis

Self-Help Success Story: “Forgiveness First. Then Positivity”

Contributor: Katie Harp of the blog Resilient. At Resilient, Katie writes excellent articles about depression, including this one, in which she shares the full story of how she overcame her depression

Mollie: Can you tell me when your depression began, as far as you know? Was there an event that brought it on?

Katie: My depression started as a teenager because I was bullied for being weird and different. But many years later, these were traits I slowly learned to love for how they caused me to break the mold and not always follow the status quo.

Mollie: What were the turning points for you?

Katie: Discovering the world of personal development was a big turning point for me. I discovered personal development when I started looking for the answer to the question, “How can a person be happy?” and realized that you have to create the changes in your own life that lead to happiness. I started reading books from people like Jack Canfield (The Success Principles) and also developing more of a spiritual practice and incorporating new things into my life like meditation, mindfulness, and teachings from the Dalai Lama and Pema Chodron.

Mollie: What was your most effective strategy when starting out? Did the results last? What did you try after that?

Katie: Forgiveness work was very helpful for me. I have a post about that here.

I still do forgiveness work regularly. It’s like having a regular practice of gratitude or any other positive habit. Sometimes forgiving can be difficult, but you can remember the quote, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

Healing your past is a good place to start, and from there you can add more positivity into your life.

Mollie: Do you believe that you were or are wired differently from other people? Meaning, do you have depression due to a chemical imbalance that is part of your DNA? Also, do you believe your depression can be healed completely?

Katie: I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that, but I do feel that depression has both biological reasons and reasons caused by situations and circumstances in your life. I also think your beliefs, attitude, and thought patterns can have a big impact on how happy you are.

Mollie: Final question: On a scale of 1-10, how effective is forgiveness for healing depression?

Katie: I’ll give it a 7. It depends on what factors are contributing to the person’s depression, though.

Would I Rather?

Today I’m asking myself the following questions:

1. Would I rather have clean carpets but constant carpet maintenance and a strict no-shoes, no dirty feet policy … or would I rather have stains on my carpet and a lot less hassle? (Or is there another solution, like dark brown carpet?)

2. Would I rather have a clean house with constant maintenance … or would I rather have a messy house but be able to let my kids do arts and crafts inside; let kids get head-to-toe dirty outside then track it in; not have to nag about chores all day; get less annoyed by kids being kids; let kids learn how to prepare their own food; let kids learn how to feed themselves; and not to mention spend a lot less time cleaning. (Or is there another solution, like teaching kids to do chores and exchanging chores for privileges?)

3. Would I rather have a nicely manicured lawn that I have to maintain weekly … or would I rather garden and rake when it brings me pleasure and exercise, and have lots of pine cones, leaves and dead grass in my yard, all of which are pretty in their own way? (Or is there another solution, like moss and clover instead of grass?)

4. Would I rather keep all bugs out of my house at all times but have to constantly nag the kids to shut the door … or would I rather leave the door open all day in the summer without a screen so that the kids are encouraged to go outside more often throughout the day? (Or is there another solution, like a screen with a magnetic closure that automatically closes behind you?)

5. Would I rather save time on cooking by going to a restaurant, then spend time driving, parking, ordering, waiting, paying, and driving … or would I rather spend the effort to throw together something at home, then linger after dinner at the table with the family?

6. Would I rather spend $30 extra for a restaurant meal … or spend $20 for an extra hour of housekeeping or nanny time?

7. Would I rather spend $1,000 on French doors for my patio … or use that money to buy 50 hours of household or nanny help?

8. Would I rather spend $3-5,000 on a family vacation to Mexico for a week … or $1,000 on a nice staycation for a week that includes long evenings with kids at the babysitter’s?

9. Would I rather buy and store a gas-powered lawnmower … or would I rather use a small push mower that I rarely need to sharpen and never have to buy gas for, and is much quieter and more pleasant to use and gives me some exercise?

10. Would I rather have a large variety of appliances that make various tasks easier and faster … or would I rather have a smaller kitchen with less cluttered cabinets and save time and hassle finding what I need?

11. Would I rather have a large, expensive house with high heating, cleaning and repair costs … or a house in a prime location with just enough room for the family to live closely and with less stuff?

12. Would I rather have three kids and spend more quality time with each … or would I rather have four kids and bring another life into our family and the world?

13. Would I rather make sure my kids go to several sports, clubs, or classes each week … or would I rather let my kids figure out how to overcome boredom on their own at home?

14. Would I rather clean up the food my kids spill under the table and move on to the next thing more quickly … or would I rather teach them how to clean up after themselves by taking away their food and waiting for them to clean it up before their next meal?

15. Would I rather drive my kids to the library … or would I rather walk them there?

16. Would I rather let my kids have three hours of screen time per day … or would I rather sit with them in the living room while they play and I read a book, not allowing them to interrupt me unnecessarily?

17. Would I rather buy a new fire truck for my child … or give him a box of recycled materials and help him make one?

18. Would I rather pick up all of the toys one by one when I need to clean the floor … or sweep them all into the corner with a push broom?

19. Would I rather spend an hour a week driving to and from a playdate that I don’t particularly enjoy … or would I rather find an activity for my kids that is within walking distance?

20. Would I rather pack the kids up in the car and take them to the park every day … or would I rather sit in the backyard for an hour to encourage them to join me?

21. Would I rather commit to doing a favor that doesn’t feel good to me … or would I rather take the opportunity to practice saying no?

22. Would I rather buy the new furniture that we supposedly need … or would I rather let the kids continue to destroy the old stuff and wait to get new stuff when they’re older?

23. Would I rather leave my cell phone in the bedroom till evening and miss a few messages … or would I rather be tempted to check my messages or to-do list several times per hour during family no-screen time?

24. Would I rather prepare all my kids’ food every day and prevent messes and wasted food … or would I rather teach them how to open the fridge, get a cup, pour the milk and put it away, then help them clean up the mess later?

25. Would I rather continue to change poopy diapers every day … or deal with potty misses a few times a week?

26. Would I rather help my kids resolve their every argument … or would I rather help them only when they ask me to and they are choosing to use their words?

27. Would I rather keep the family on a strict bedtime schedule and hectic morning routine in order to get them to school … or would I rather homeschool them and keep the schedule we choose?

28. Would I rather make my young kids do homework every night at the expense of family and free time … or would I rather let their grades slip a bit and let them play more?

29. Would I rather keep everything in my garage that I may need someday … or would I rather risk having to rebuy an item–either a new one or a just as good or better used one off Craigslist–in a few years?

30. Would I rather stand underneath my children on the monkey bars every time … or would I rather relax on the bench and let them fall once in a while?

These are just some of the ways I have rethought my cultural upbringing in the years since having children. Just an off-the-top list; I’m probably missing some big ones. The important thing isn’t how I answer these questions, of course. The  important thing is that I ask them.

Self-Help Success Story: “Ten Seconds? I Can Do That”

Recently I read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. In it he talked about one of his early memories of another yogi who couldn’t stand working anymore, so he quit and just meditated all day long from then on.

Damn, I thought when I read that. I still love working.

I have a long way to go.

Turns out I’m not a yogi yet. And let’s face it: I probably never will be. In spite of many past efforts–most of them enjoyable, even–sitting meditation just isn’t my thing. Working is. Doing is. Moving my body, getting stuff done. I know it’s not what spiritual people are supposed to say, but … I think I was meant to be a doer.

I think it’s my calling to be non-Zen.

And when I look hard enough, I find a little bit of encouragement for this seeming flaw. In Anita Moorjani’s Dying To Be Me, she makes an impassioned plea for people to find God in doing things they love–mundane things, sensual things, unusual things. Whatever makes you happy. And in several of Eckhart Tolle’s audio recordings he discusses this idea, too, saying that it’s actually better to live life and bring stillness to the living of it rather than becoming a monk somewhere. Life gives us plenty of opportunities to grow, he says. No need to seek a special kind of pain by sitting uncomfortably on an ashram floor. Unless you really want to, that is.

Finally, in In The Presence of A Great Mystery, another audio recording of Tolle’s, he makes another interesting statement. During the question and answer session a man asked him how to not fall asleep during meditation. First, Tolle answered that this is normal, that he’s seen many a monk sleeping during their 4 a.m. meditation session. But then he adds that what’s important in forming a meditation practice isn’t how long you stay in the state of no-mind, but how often you return. In other words, it’s better to hold short meditation “sessions” all throughout your day. “Even ten seconds is enough,” Tolle says.

Ten seconds, I thought. I can do that.

And so, that is what I am doing these days, and it seems to be working really well. My technique is this: I focus on the “inner energy” of my body, as Eckhart Tolle says to do. Then I repeat a positive mantra that feels good to me. As someone who has struggled with negative thinking patterns for a long time, I believe that this act is rewiring my brain to be more positive. In any case, as I meditate I feel calmer and happier by far, and I truly look forward to doing it whenever possible.

Sitting meditation is awesome, but it’s not for everyone–not for all times and seasons of life, at least. Working meditation, moving meditation–these are what I’m enjoying most these days, and what’s helping me the most, too.

Self-Help Success Story: “I Altered My Subconscious Beliefs Using CBT”

The story of my depression starts way back in time, back to some of my first childhood memories. Since then I’ve made a great deal of progress–more than I once thought possible. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have it.

Daily, there’s a routine: Get some exercise, some alone time. Take time to read and write and be with friends. Meditate as much as possible all throughout the day, and never, ever forget to be grateful.

Sleep well, and a lot. Eat healthy. Take medication. Stay busy. Get outside if you can. Take vitamin D, a multivitamin, a cold shower. Then get some more exercise, and meditate again.

Most of the time, this works. It’s work, but it works. So I continue on, and make slow progress. But recently I discovered a technique that is speeding up my results: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Here’s the Wikipedia definition of CBT:

• “Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychosocial intervention that is the most widely used evidence-based practice for treating mental disorders.”

And here are quotes from several articles about CBT:

• Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for depression … Cognitive restructuring refers to the process in CBT of identifying and changing inaccurate negative thoughts that contribute to the development of depression. This is done collaboratively between the patient and therapist, often in the form of a dialogue. For instance, a college student may have failed a math quiz and responded by saying, “That just proves I’m stupid.” … The “I’m stupid” response is an example of an automatic thought … The idea in CBT is to learn to recognize those negative thoughts and find a healthier way to view the situation. http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/cognitive-behavioral-therapy-for-depression#1

• Dozens of randomized con­trolled trials (RCT) and other studies support CBT’s efficacy in treating major depressive disorder (MDD). http://www.mdedge.com/currentpsychiatry/article/82695/anxiety-disorders/using-cbt-effectively-treating-depression-and

• A success­ful response to CBT in the acute phase may have a protective effect against depression recurrences. A 2013 meta-analysis that totaled 506 individuals with depressive disorders found a trend toward signifi­cantly lower relapse rates when CBT was discontinued after acute therapy, com­pared with antidepressant therapy that continued beyond the acute phase. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2933381/

• The researchers found that patients with higher levels of connectivity between four brain regions involved in mood regulation were likely to achieve remission with CBT but have a poor response to medication, whereas those with weaker connectivity were more likely to remit using medication and not respond to CBT. http://www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/news-and-analysis/research-briefing/brain-scans-could-match-patients-to-best-depression-treatment/20202624.article

Here a few particularly difficult thoughts CBT has helped me overcome. Keep in mind that these are just some of the beliefs, not all, that have altered over the past few months using these processes.

  1. My kids require too much attention. After doing CBT, this thought became: My kids require just the right amount of attention for them. And I require a lot of attention, too! Also, much of the day I’m doing other things–cooking, cleaning, hanging out with friends–things I’d do whether or not the kid were present.
  2. I am sick of breastfeeding. This changed to: I am not sick of breastfeeding. It’s good for the kids. It’s nice downtime for me–I often get to read at the same time. Plus, it helped me lose my extra baby weight.
  3. I am exhausted. This thought became: I’m not exhausted. I am not depleted of energy. There is a great deal of energy in my body for everything my body needs to do. I am thankful that my body notices when it’s time to sleep, and lets me know.

It’s an interesting process, this thought-altering work. Sometimes I can feel the change in my perspective right away. Other times, though, I only notice the change later, when the situation comes up again.

Every time I do it, part of me doubts it will work. Most of the time I’m surprised.

Self-Help Success Story: “Therapy Helped Me Go Deeper”

Early last year,  I took a break from self-improvement for a while. I stopped trying to meditate. I stopped exercising.

I was just sick of it all.

Wellness practices are wonderful, when they’re wonderful. Other times they just feel like one more obligation. And then I got pregnant, and was sick for three months, and my only unnecessary activity was watching TV reruns. I took care of my family. I ate and slept. But I didn’t do a whole lot else.

Needless to say, this convergence of events brought on a depression relapse. Then November came. My first trimester sickness was over, and I was ready to take up my self-improvement efforts again. So I did something I’d never done before.

I started seeing a therapist.

When I called to make the appointment, the woman asked if I was suicidal. At first I didn’t answer; I just started crying. “No,” I told her. “I don’t want to kill myself. I just don’t really want to live.”

Apparently, that’s what three months without exercise or prayer will do to me.

My first appointment was in December, and I left it feeling quite hopeful. Julie told me that depression may be a temperament, a chemical imbalance, something that’s considered permanent. But many therapists believe that it’s not that simple, that there are other factors, too.

“So long-term relief is possible?” I asked. “Is that what you’re telling me?”

“It is possible,” she said. “A better question, though, is: Is it possible for you?”

She couldn’t tell me for sure if she’d be able to help me feel significantly better for a significant amount of time. “What I can say is that the things we’ll talk about have helped a huge number of other people in your place.”

“So what’s the plan?” I asked. “In a nutshell, what’s the strategy? Do you have some techniques in mind?” Partly, I was curious. Partly, I needed hope. And partly, I was doing a mental calculation, a cost-benefit analysis. With two kids at home, even insurance-covered therapy is a luxury.

Julie laid it out: We’d delve deep into my emotions. We’d analyze incidents that brought up feelings I’d rather not have. In doing so, I’d learn how to face them rather than stuffing them down. I’d also learn to be vulnerable.

“Studies consistently show that the happiest people are those that don’t push down their emotions,” she told me. “Letting yourself feel is the first step.”

And immediately upon hearing this, I knew she was right.

Here’s the thing: Her plan wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before. Nothing new or revolutionary. But for some reason, until that day, I’d never followed the advice. It wasn’t so much that I was afraid to feel bad. I just didn’t think it’d work. In the past, every time I’d decided to look at my pain, it just seemed to grow bigger.

So, I ignored them—at least as much as I possibly could. And then I tried to fix them, find a solution. But feelings, said Julie, don’t need to be fixed. They just needed to be felt.

A bell rang. A Buddhist bell. An Eckhart Tolle/New Age spirituality bell. All that “just notice the thoughts–don’t judge them” stuff kicked in, and I thought, Maybe the Universe is telling me something. So, soon after reading the books by Brene Brown that Julie recommended, I decided to delve into spiritual books again. I bought Matt Kahn’s Whatever Arises, Love That. And I read Pema Chodron for the first time. These books were all about accepting where you’re at–even when you’re in a bad-feeling place.

I was ready to be well again.

Over the next few months, I resumed my meditation practice, along with my exercise routine. I went to therapy a few more times, too, and that helped more than I thought it would. I can’t say for sure which of these activities was the most significant part of my recovery, though I suspect it was the walking. But the spiritual practice I started with during that sensitive time helped a lot, too, and I still do it now sometimes.

I called it my “I hate this” meditation, and I came up with it one day at the gym.

I’d come there to exercise, of course, as well as do some writing, but I was feeling exhausted and just … bad. So instead of doing either, I sat on a comfortable chair and decided to rest for a moment.

I know what I’ll do, I thought after criss-crossing my legs and taking a few deep breaths. I’ll practice this vulnerability thing. I will think about my emotions. Feel them fully. Stop fighting my negative inner dialogue, and judging it.

I will let my bad feelings run free.

And so, that’s what I did. And not half-heartedly. If I was gonna do this, I was gonna do it right. I started a mental checklist of everything—every little thing—that I was hating in that moment. Anything that came up, I put it on the list.

The list got very long, very quickly.

I hated the gym. I hated cleaning the bathroom. I hated getting my kids ready in the morning. I hated the weather, and the way my pregnant belly felt.

I even hated my own pants.

Then something happened. Something I didn’t expect. The depression began to lift. The thoughts lost a bit of their power, their ability to produce fear. You might even say that by letting them run free, they ran away.

After all, I was facing them, and they weren’t that bad. They were just thoughts, you know? Most of them were unreasonable, many untrue. Some of them were even sort of silly. Suddenly I understood what some people call “the space between”–there was space between myself and my thoughts, like a cushion.

Half an hour into this negativity meditation, I moved past the initial lift and into an actual high. Or, not a high exactly—the depression was still there. But alongside it, coexisting with it, was some peace.

Breakthrough.

For the next two months, I continued my “I hate this” meditation until I didn’t seem to need it anymore. Soon after that, I discovered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and that took me another step forward–but that’s another story.

Self-Help Success Story: "I Can Be Happy About My Sadness"

Contributor: Anonymous

“You couldn’t relive your life, skipping the awful parts, without losing what made it worthwhile. You had to accept it as a whole–like the world, or the person you loved.” ― Stewart O’Nan, The Odds: A Love Story

In the journey with and through depression, there are many, many turning points. It’s a spiral: You circle, and circle, and circle, but each turn is actually a move upward as well as back.

One of the turning points that I experienced recently regarding my depression was when I decided to appreciate the experience. Here’s how that happened.

One of the most difficult life situations I’ve found myself was my third pregnancy trimester with my third child. I was exhausted and very moody, and then I decided to take on an extra challenge: potty training.

Both kids needed help with this. Okay, not just help–total teaching. And even before beginning I knew how hard it would be. I knew that this was the time that I’d need to dig deep, really deep, so I could grow from the experience rather than just getting through it. My plan: I would appreciate my hardships.

I had just read Matt Kahn’s Whatever Arises, Love That and I was determined to put his advice to the test. In the book he says that the most profound spiritual practice for him is to meet every situation that comes with one thought: I love this.

So I did. I remember one night in particular after an especially rough day that all I could do was sit out on the front porch, knees to chin, and cry. Well–that wasn’t quite all I did. I also reflected deeply on how much change I could feel happening inside. It felt like a wrenching, but also real change. Real growth. Growth that would not have come without a challenge like this.

At the end of that first week of potty training, I wrote the following journal entry:

Saturday: I am learning so, so much. Not knowledge-learning—really learning. Practicing. Changing my mind. Changing my habitual knee-jerk reactions. More specifically what I’m learning is:

  1. How not to try to fix things all the time.
  2. How to achieve inner peace in spite of turmoil and stress, and in the midst of it.
  3. How not to try to fix things as my first impulse, but to first sit with the feeling, then fix it.
  4. To truly love what is—meaning, to truly accept that my life will never be perfect and is not meant to be perfect, in spite of what some overzealous proponents of the law of attraction would have me believe. It’s not all about changing, fixing, getting, improving. It’s really all about acceptance.

Here is a summary of the past week and a half: poop on kitchen floor, playroom floor, office floor, friend’s floor, and in the bathtub; pee reminders/power struggles every 45 minutes for two kids; pee on every floor; pee in the bed; pee refusal temper tantrums two or three times per day; carpet cleaning; toilet misses; and a stinky bathroom for a week … learning how to say no more often; learning to be stricter and allow and ignore temper tantrums; and learning how to be more consistent with consequences.

What’s strange is that in spite of this, and in contrast to the depression I’ve been feeling so strongly lately, right now I’m happy. All week as the challenges came I took them one by one, and while doing so repeated a mantra in my head: This is the good stuff.

For the first time in my life, maybe, I’m really knowing the value of pain. Really loving the process even though it feels so unlovely at times. I’m realizing that I can be happy, even about my sadness. I am finally achieving inner peace.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” ― Lao Tzu

“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.” ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times

“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. …Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.” ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Best Alternative Spirituality Books

Let’s face it. Alternative spirituality books are written for one reason and one reason only: to make us feel good. It’s not about self-improvement. It’s not about making the world a better place. We just want to crack the code for inner peace.

Fortunately for us, lots of them deliver. Not always as completely as promised, but let’s not be too picky. Most of us have a healthy number of issues to figure out. It’s a bit much for any one teacher to deal with.

Which is why many of us spiritual types read every good book on the subject we can find. Some give us practical techniques. Some shake up our entire perspective. Others simply offer a bit of hope.

And still others do none of the above.

In the following pieces, I offer my Inner Peace Greatest Hits–the spiritual-but-not-religious books that over the years have helped me become a happier, more fulfilled person. Each top-level entry links to a full article on the book that includes a personal anecdote and notes on the book.

Best Alternative Spirituality Books is an ongoing project. Subscribe on the right for updates.

Best Alternative Spirituality Books:

Best Meditation Books

Best Spiritual Memoirs

Best Law of Attraction Books

Best Channeled Books

Best Scientific Spiritual Books

Best Near Death Experience Books

Best Reincarnation Books

Other Best Alternative Spirituality Books

Best Free Alternative Spiritual Ebooks

Best of the Best: My Favorite Alternative Spirituality Books

More Words I Love:

Best Alternative Spirituality Children’s Books

Best Alternative Spirituality Blogs

100 Websites for Free Alternative Spirituality Ebooks

And a few more related links for you:

78 Alternative Spirituality Life Hacks

Self-improvement tips for the self-help obsessed: that’s pretty much what you’ll find here. Some are spiritual, some are secular, some are well-known and some are a bit kooky … but, in my experience, all of them work. At least, they work to some degree. (Even the kooky ones.)

78 Alternative Spirituality Life Hacks

The Spiritual Stuff:

  • Meditate
  • Get a mantra–or two or three
  • Know the power of your mind
  • Know that you are strong, beautiful and holy
  • Don’t define your morality too strictly
  • Don’t put God in a box
  • Pray
  • Believe that you can
  • Read spiritual books

The Shallow Stuff:

  • Smile
  • Go outside
  • Have nice friends
  • Buy new clothes
  • Get a (healthy) addiction
  • Play video games
  • Drink caffeine
  • Cut Your hair
  • Sing
  • Figure out what you want
  • Get what you want
  • Get a job
  • Get educated
  • Smell good
  • Get some money
  • Live somewhere you love to be
  • Travel, even if you don’t want to
  • Shop for friends
  • Get a hobby–or two or three
  • Sometimes, just take a long bath or shower

The Serious Stuff:

  • Pretend you’re already the best version of you
  • Don’t try to be funnier, cuter, happier or smarter than you are
  • Don’t believe all your thoughts
  • Understand human nature
  • Read books on psychology
  • Let yourself feel your feelings deeply
  • Cultivate a romance with yourself
  • Reconsider what you really need
  • Always get some perspective
  • Always tell yourself the truth
  • Find out who you are and do it on purpose
  • Be a real grownup
  • Get things done
  • Stop the little sadness before it gets too big
  • Sometimes, just give yourself a break
  • Read amazing, paradigm-shifting nonfiction
  • Throw out the blueprint
  • Don’t be too busy, but don’t get bored
  • Screw variety; do what works
  • Know when to try and when to just let things happen
  • Know that life is a game and play it on purpose
  • Strategize
  • Be relentless
  • Be as intellectually flexible as you can be
  • Try, and try, and then try some more
  • Don’t expect too much of other people
  • Be passionate about a few wonderful things, and don’t hide your passion
  • Don’t assume anything about anyone, ever
  • Don’t hate optimists
  • Take medication
  • Let people go that are gone
  • Beware of middle age and complacency
  • Make lofty goals
  • Keep a monthly checklist and put everything you need to do there, all in one spot
  • Find the beauty in your seeming flaws
  • Find the better-feeling interpretation in every situation
  • Find “flow”–at work and everywhere else you can
  • Notice your negativity
  • Don’t play the guilt trip game, especially on yourself
  • Do something nice for others at least once a week
  • Always do what you’re afraid to do
  • Don’t try to stand out for its own sake
  • Learn to love your own mistakes and to admit when you’re wrong

The Love Stuff:

  • Learn to love being alone
  • Whenever possible, don’t fight; just talk instead
  • Don’t make babies until you just have to
  • Don’t lie, even about the bad things
  • Learn how to break the truth gently
  • Search for love without shame
  • Learn how to listen