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If you are tired of the suffering from anxiety, depression or relationship pain. Vancouver Psychologist, Douglas Ozier can help you get your life on track.



Mindfulness and Well Being

douglas ozier

Mindfulness is a really hot topic right now. You can’t go anywhere in the real world or online without someone using this buzz word.

But what is mindfulness, in its essence, and why is it so important for well-being, mental health, and effective therapy?

At its core, mindfulness is a simply paying attention in a curious, non-judgmental way to the way that things are, both within us around us. A mindful form of attention does not come from a place of judgement about the way things should be, but instead stays firmly rooted in noticing how things actually are in this moment.

So that is what mindfulness is.

But why is developing the ability to pay attention in this particular way so helpful? There is a huge list of reasons that this is the case, but I will list what I believe to be three of the most important reasons, as they relate to therapy.

1)   Mindful awareness, because it is anchored in the present moment, offers a very effective antidote to anxiety and depression. Anxiety is all about moving into the future, into terrible things that almost never happen. Depression is a lot about ruminating on the past, fixating on our past failures and rejections, playing these images over and over again in our minds. Mindfulness, because it returns our awareness to the present moment, wakes us up from our mental time travel to the past or future, and it therefore offers a natural relief from the suffering of anxiety and depression.

2)  We always experience the world of our senses in the present moment. Therefore, cultivating a mindful form of attention tends to make our sensual experiences richer, more engrossing, and more interesting. This helps to add richness and texture to our lives.

3)  Lastly, and most perhaps importantly for experiential therapy, we always experience our bodies and therefore our emotions in the present. This means that developing mindful awareness greatly deepens our abilities to fully experience, understand, express, and regulate our emotions. These are invaluable skills in general, but especially helpful for the progress of therapy. 

In other posts I will talk in more detail about mindfulness, how it is useful in therapy, and some ways you can help yourself to develop it.

Why Knowing What You are Feeling is So Good for You

douglas ozier

In this blog post I want to talk about a concept called “emotion differentiation” (ED). I have recently begun reading about this area of research and I find the ideas both exciting and very relevant to the kind of psychotherapy I practice.

ED is the degree to which people experience and/or label their emotions in a subtle and nuanced way. So when people with high ED have a intense or notable emotional experiences they will, depending on the particular experience, describe their experience from within a broad palette of both “positive” emotions words (such as happy, joyful, enthusiastic, and amused) and “negative” emotion words (such as nervous, angry, sad, ashamed and guilty). People with low ED, on the other hand, use a restricted range of emotion words (such as only angry, sad, and happy) and also so often rely on generic terms like “bad” or “good”.

Research into ED is only about 10 years old, but the early studies strongly suggest that having high ED ability is good for your psychological health, physical health, and relationships. For example, various studies have shown that, relative to people with low ED, people with higher ED: use a wider variety of emotion regulation strategies when under stress; abuse alcohol less; and have fewer problems with aggression.

How could having stronger ED ability, simply knowing and describing what you are feeling in a more detailed way, provide these kinds of diverse benefits?

I would suggest that there are likely two basic paths through which ED provides benefit.

The first is that people with higher ED can create a clearer and more nuanced understanding of what is going on inside of them. This allows them to “make sense to themselves more” and therefore to be less prone to feeling confused, weird,  or even “defective”.

To illustrate this idea, let me give the example of a woman named Jill. Imagine that one workday morning Jill looks on Facebook and finds out that her best friend has decided to spend the next weekend on a camping trip with a new friend. Later that morning Jill begins to feel down and this continues throughout the afternoon.

If Jill has low ED she will likely experience this drop in mood as an undifferentiated ball of just feeling “bad”. In this case, it is possible that Jill will go through her day without ever connecting her drop in mood to seeing the news about her friend. Now she will not only feel down but she will likely also feel confused and frustrated with herself about feeling down (e.g., “I felt fine this morning, what is wrong with me?”). This response will likely create self judgement that will deepen her negative mood.

On the other hand, imagine that Jill had high ED. Soon after getting the news she will likely notice the drop in her mood. She will then be able to tune into these feelings. Rather then just knowing she feels “bad”, she will be able to recognize distinct feelings emerging from within herself. She could, for example, discover that she feeling: jealous about her best friend starting to become so close with another friend; and anxious that her friend will lose interest in her and pull away from the friendship. Once she understands this, she may recognize that the reason she is prone to feeling jealous and anxious in this situation is because she moved a lot as a kid and always ended up losing her friends, which was very painful for her. With that awareness she might understand that, even if they aren't “helpful”, her jealousy and anxiety make perfect sense given her life experience. This kind of “making sense to ourself” often brings self compassion in situations where we logically know our reaction is out of whack. Now that “high ED Jill” understands what is actually going on inside of her, and she has arrived at some self compassion about it, she will be much less likely to spiral into additional confusion and self criticism.

The second main pathway through which ED can provide benefit is this: when we know what specific emotions we are feeling we are in a much better position to respond skillfully.

“Low ED Jill” would simply not have the information she needs to address her situation in the way that is likely to make her feel better.

Alternately, “high ED Jill” would now be able to act in responsive, self supporting way. For example, in the case of jealousy/anxiety, she might: work to self soothe this vulnerable, jealous part of herself by remembering how strong her friendship with her best friend actually is, or by calling someone else she is close to.

As a further illustration of this pathway, imagine instead that Jill came to the understanding that what she was feeling was not jealousy/anxiety but disappointment and anger. Disappointment and anger, not because her best friend was going to go camping with a new friend, but because her friend had promised to help Jill move this coming weekend. Understanding what she was feeling, Jill might use these feelings to guide her to speak to her friend and to express that she will need to her friend to honor her promises more faithfully in the future if Jill is to continue feeling valued by her.

Ok, so how do you develop this kind of ED? One of the most powerful means of doing this is to spend time tuning into the body during the experience of emotion. This approach is so useful because all emotions arise as sensations in the body, and each physically feels slightly different. The heaviness of sadness, for example, is subtly different the more intense intense and painful quality of grief. Once you can reliably “taste” the quality of these different emotions, it becomes much easier to identify what feeling (or feelings) we are experiencing.

It is possible to develop this kind of “emotional mindfulness” on your own. But it is often much easier to do this with an experienced guide to help. This is where experiential psychotherapy of the kind I practice comes in. Therapy becomes a place where you get to spend time practicing this skill, so that you can take it back into your life and harness the power of ED.

In fact, if you ended up coming to see me for therapy, spending time developing this kind of ED ability or “emotional mindfulness” could well become one of the most important things that we would work on together.  

Attachment Styles

douglas ozier

In this blog post I want to introduce you to something called attachment theory. It has a central role in how I often practice psychotherapy.

The most basic idea of attachment theory is that human beings are deeply and inherently social. This means that our need to belong is only slightly less important than eating and drinking, and in some cases more so. This theory also says that our need to feel deeply connected to at least one other human being is not something that we grow out of in adulthood, but rather something that remains a basic existential need through out our lives. According to attachment theory, when we know that there is at least one person who has our back, this provides us with what attachment theory guru John Bowlby called “a secure base”. From this secure base we are more able to venture out into the world and explore, to grow, because we know that we will always have that person to return to when we need them.

Attachment theory also suggests that the attachment related experiences we have when we are children have very strong impacts in how we relate to emotional closeness and for how we go about trying to meet our attachment needs. In line with this idea, people tend to have one of four primary attachment “styles”.

Many people have a primarily “secure” attachment style. These are people who are able to tolerate both a healthy degree of closeness and a healthy degree of distance in their primary relationships. This allows them to bond successfully with their significant other, while at the same time not becoming overwhelmed by anxiety when distance or conflict temporarily appear in that relationship, as they occasionally do in any healthy relationship.

A significant minority of people tend to primarily demonstrate what is called a “preoccupied” attachment style. For these people closeness and proximity feel good and reassuring, but any distance or tension in their primary attachment relationship is very anxiety provoking. As a result, it is common for people with this attachment style to aggressively pursue their significant other for reassurance whenever some normal tension or distance appears in the relationship. Unfortunately, it is also very common that the intensity of this pressure for reassurance can inadvertently cause the partner to feel overwhelmed and to back further away, which causes the preoccupied partner to become even more anxious and therefore to pursue more, etc etc. In this way, a destructive pursue-withdraw pattern can come to dominate the relationship.

Another significant minority of people tend to primarily demonstrate what is called an “avoidant” attachment style. For these people distance and less emotional intensity feel comfortable, while closeness and intimacy can feel overwhelming. For someone with a primarily avoidant attachment style the anxiety that they feel in response to emotional intimacy can make it very difficult for them to allow themselves to be vulnerable enough with their partners to allow a secure base to truly form between them. People whose attachment style is strongly avoidant often end up feeling deeply alone, because the very thing that they need in order to feel safe in the world (close connection with another person) is also something that they find strongly threatening.

And finally, some people primarily demonstrate what is called a “disorganized” attachment style. For these people both closeness and distance from their significant other can cause strong anxiety at different times. Therefore, depending on the particular situation, people with this attachment style end up alternating between avoiding closeness when it is being offered, and over striving for closeness when it isn't available. As a result, relationships can become a source of confusion and overwhelm for people with this primary attachment style.

Now that I have laid them all out, there are a couple of things that I want to say about these four attachment styles.

The first is that each one makes perfect sense as a way of coping with a particular kind of environment growing up. Coming to understand your own primary attachment style and the ways in which it made sense as a response to your world growing up can offer strong feelings of relief and self compassion, and a stronger feeling of “making sense” to yourself. If we worked together, developing a compassionate understanding of the development of your primary attachment style is something we would likely do together.

The second, and the more important thing, is that attachment styles can be changed, or at least be made to become more flexible and functional. In fact for many of my clients this is one of the central goals that we work on together.

In my work it is a common and wonderfully satisfying outcome to watch one my clients become more flexible in their primary attachment style. For example, when a client with a predominantly preoccupied attachment style learns to regulate the anxiety of separation well enough that they no longer cause conflict in their relationships through excessive reassurance seeking. Or when a client with with a predominantly avoidant attachment style learns how to be more emotionally vulnerable with their loved one, even though this is still scary thing for them. Or when a client with a predominantly disorganized style learns how to do both of these things, so that their relationships can become less confusing, less conflict ridden, and more satisfying.

So, if you do end up working with me it is likely that we will talk together about what we believe your predominant attachment style is, about the ways in which it developed, about how it currently serves you, and about how you can learn to change it in those areas where it no longer does serve you.

Inside Out

douglas ozier

If you haven't seen the movie Inside Out yet I would recommend you give it watch. It is not only a typically engaging, fun movie from Pixar. It is also a really accessible introduction to emotions and how they function.

If you don't already know, the movie is about adolescent girl who moves from a small town to a new city with her family. In the process of moving she loses connection with their social support network and falls into a depression. The movie operates in two different worlds. One of these worlds is common to most movies, one in which we see the story from the perspective of the girl and her family as they go through this challenge together. However, in the film's other world, we see inside the girl's brain/ mind. The world of her mind primarily involves the interplay between four sub-selves, each representing a different core emotion: joy, sadness, anger, and disgust.

I think Inside Out does a really good job of demonstrating a couple of things.

The first thing is how it so vividly illustrates demonstrates that what appears to be a person's singular “self” , is actually emerging through the continual interaction of multiple sub selves. (if you haven't done so already I invite you to read my blog post on this topic). This idea, not just as a useful metaphor but as a neurologically grounded reality, is very central to how I do therapy. So I love the way that Inside Out was able to present this idea and such accessible fun way.

The second thing that I really like about Inside Out is how effectively it illustrates that each of the core emotions, even the painful ones, provide vitally important, adaptive information when they are listened to appropriately. The key illustration of this idea in Inside Out comes in a scene (Spoiler alert!) where the girl is mourning the loss of her childhood. The three main characters in this scene are Joy, Sadness, and a character representing the girl's fading childhood self. Through much of the film, Joy is the primary emotional sub self. She is the one who is working hard to keep sadness, anger and disgust regulated so she can help move the girl forward and out of her depression. This is adaptive for most of the film. However, in this key scene Joy and Sadness meet the  character symbolizing childhood, who is grieving for being “grown out of”  by the girl. Joy thinks the right thing to do is to “cheer up” the grieving character. This of course does not work. Only when Sadness connects with the grieving character and empathizes with him, is the grieving character able to move through his grief and return to forward action. Joy has great trouble understanding how Sadness was able to help in a way that she herself, despite all of her wonderful positive energy, was not. Gradually Joy, and the audience, come to vividly see that Sadness is not just a “problem to be managed”, but is a vital resource that allows us to take the time we need to recognize and process  losses when this proves necessary. On another level this scene also clearly differentiates sadness from depression, with the forward moving quality of adaptive sadness compared to the flat and despairing quality of the girl's depression ( I invite you to check of my earlier blog post on the differences between sadness and depression).

So I really do encourage you to rent Inside Out if you haven't seen it. Not only will it be a fun movie, you may end up learning a few valuable things about yourself, and about ideas that are central to effective psychotherapy.

Mindful walks in nature

douglas ozier

As I have let you know in several previous blog posts, I have been a meditator for years. But I recently discovered a new way of bringing mindfulness into my life that has been a wonderful discovery for me. I'd like to share it with you in this blog post, in the hopes that it might also prove to be a valuable practice for you.

Historically my meditation practice has involved various kinds of traditional sitting meditation, things like following the breath or metta, a form of compassion enhancing meditation.

About a year ago I the decided to try something new. A friend of mine who is also meditator and I went for walk in the UBC endowment lands. It was lovely to be with my friend and to chat about what had been going on in our lives since we last met. However, at a certain point in the walk I realized that, as much as I was enjoying being with my friend, a part of me was also wanting to more fully appreciate the feeling of being immersed in nature. Because I knew that my friend was also a dedicated meditator I spontaneously decided to ask her if she wanted to spend a half an hour of our precious time together doing “mindful nature walking”. To my delight she said that had actually been thinking the same thing!

So for the next half an hour we stayed together but stopped chatting and instead focused our full awareness on the sensual experience of being in the forest. I occasionally shifted my awareness from: the physical feeling of walking on the springy path; to my visual awareness of all the lovely colours of green around me; to the equally lovely sounds of nature that were surrounding us. As with any form of meditation, whenever I noticed that my attention had shifted from what I was focusing on I would note that, and then gently return my awareness to the object of attention.

Both my friend and I remarked afterwards had deeply revitalizing and refreshing this experience had been. I have always found the experience of walking in nature to be deeply refreshing, especially in the forests of the Lower Mainland. But somehow doing so mindfully, even just for 30 minutes, strongly enhanced the feelings of restoration that I received from this.

So in the last year I have made a commitment to trying to do mindful nature walks, sometimes with friends and sometimes on my own, at least a couple of times a month. I have found this to be a really wonderful way of lowering my stress levels and of feeling more connected to something greater then myself.

So the next time you find yourself out in the lovely nature that surrounds us I invite you to give mindful walking a try, even for 10 minutes. I hope that it will offer you the same benefits that I have received from this practice.

Worry vs. Problem Solving

douglas ozier

Worry is one of the most common problems that brings clients in to work with me.

So what is worry?

Worry is triggered when our minds jump into the future and imagine bad outcomes, even if these outcomes are very unlikely. For example, imagine that you have to prepare and give a big talk for work. If you are a worrier, you will probably start noticing that scary mental images start “popping” into your mind, such as images of everyone in the room looking really bored, walking out, or being disrespectful.

The next step in worry occurs when we respond to the original mental image by trying to figure out ways that we can stop these feared outcomes from happening. I will prepare a lot. I will make sure to have well organized notes.

On the surface this kind of mental preparation seems quite helpful. The problem is that the anxious mind will immediately start thinking of reasons that these coping plans won't work. But what if I prepare hard and I still find that I haven't prepared enough? ...But what if I forget to take my notes with me?

So now we have a whole bunch of new problems to mentally solve. Okay I 'll leave my notes on the kitchen counter to remind me to take them. Again, this seems reasonable, except now your anxious mind will immediately produce an image of you being so stressed out that you walk right past your counter and forgetting your notes. And on and on it goes. Possible solution; possible problem with that solution. Until all of these different scenarios begin to spiral and multiply. Its exhausting.

On the other hand there's problem-solving. It starts in a similar way. We have a problem: we have a big presentation to give and we aren't fully prepared yet. But unlike with worry (which we tend to do while we are doing other things like shopping for groceries, watching TV, having a conversation with our partner etc etc) we decide that we are going to engage in problem solving as an activity unto itself. Another difference is that, unlike worry, we do problem solving on paper. This may sound a little unnecessary at first. But I am amazed at how important this is, because getting the problem out on paper makes it more concrete and tangible. And this helps us to stay on track and not to spin off into outer space the way that we do when we are worrying.

Once we define a problem on paper the next step is to brainstorm alternative actions that we might be able to take to solve it. For example we could set ourselves a plan of certain number of hours of preparation for the talk, we could lay our notes on the counter the night before, we could make a plan to go over the presentation in a mock rehearsal with some colleagues in advance etc etc. Once we have generated a reasonable number of alternatives, we go through the pros and cons of each one. And then we select one or a handful of these to try. And in another key difference from worry; we then actually put these strategies into place instead of staying stuck in mentally “planning”. And finally, we evaluate how well the chosen strategies worked so we can decide what to do next.

By learning to problem solve instead of worry, we end up solving the solvable problems in our lives sooner, more effectively, and with much less suffering along the way. Even more importantly, over time this strategy can help us begin to trust more deeply that even when bad things do happen, or even when the coping strategies that we try out at first don't work, we are much stronger and more able to cope then anxiety wants us to believe.

If worry is something that you struggle with in your life and you do end up working with me there's a good chance that I will end up presenting these ideas again and inviting you to experiment, with my guidance and support, in using the power of problem-solving to overcome the very real suffering that worry can help to create.

Why we avoid fully feeling positive emotions

douglas ozier

It will probably not surprise you when I say that avoidance is often at the very center of psychological suffering. It will also probably not surprise you when I say that this avoidance is often an avoidance of experiencing what are generally thought of as “negative” emotions, such as fear or shame.

For example, it is well understood that social withdrawal is one of the most common pathways into a depressive episode. As our mood starts to go down, and we start to feel less positive about ourselves, it is very common to have the impulse to begin socially avoiding. What are we really avoiding here? In my mind, we are ultimately avoiding the feelings of social discomfort and awkwardness that come from being around others when we're not feeling very confident, interesting, or attractive. But this very avoidance of spending social time with other people, especially people who care about us, further lessens our sense of self worth,which further deepens our depression, which further increases our impulse to avoid socially. And so on and so on. In this way the original impulse to avoid socially when our mood first starts to drop can be clearly seen as playing a key role in how depression deepens over time.

On the other hand, it might be surprise you to learn that psychological researchers have recently begun learning that the avoidance of positive emotions may also be an important pathway into psychological suffering.

Why would this be? Why would anyone avoid “positive” feelings such as joy or excitement in the same way that they might avoid “negative” feelings of fear or pain?

Research into this area is fairly new so the answers are still emerging. But I'd like to talk about what I believe to be among the most important reasons for this kind of avoidance, a reason that I see again and again in my practice.

This reason is based on having had a history of your mood dropping into a pit. If we are at a neutral middle-of-the-road emotional place when we fall, once again, into one of these pits then we have less far to fall, compared to if we were letting ourselves feel really good when the rug gets pulled out from under us. Not only have we now had a further, more painful drop, but we are now also left with the terrible experience of feeling stupid; stupid that we got our hopes up when we were happy, allowing ourselves to believe that this time it would be different, that this time the rug would not get pulled out from under us.

In other words, it often seems that we avoid allowing ourselves to feel really good as a kind of “insurance policy”, a bracing against the inevitable drop in mood that we always quietly fear is coming. Not only can this help to lessen the “inevitable” drop, it also gives us a feeling of at least some control over our experience.

Seen from this perspective, avoiding the full experience of strong positive emotions doesn't seem quite so crazy. It is actually a coping strategy that, like all coping strategies, makes a kind of sense in its own way.

However, the costs strategy are profound. By not allowing ourselves to tolerate the full experience of positive emotions, like joy and excitement, we are robbing ourselves of the full richness of living.

An equally important cost occurs at the neural level. When positive experiences are fully felt and embraced, this allows them to be much more deeply encoded as episodic memories at a neural level. Therefore, when we avoid fully sensing into our positive emotions we greatly lessen our ability establish rich neural networks that are based on memories of ourselves as being happy, competent, and lovable. And, ultimately, these are the very neural networks that we need to in order to remain resilient in the face of hardship and stress, and thereby to avoid falling into the pit of depression when life inevitably does get hard.

One of the reasons why I wanted to write this blog post is to send a message to those readers who relate to this idea of avoiding positive emotions: this strategy is not crazy or even unusual. And in doing this, my hope is that these readers will begin offering themselves patient compassion as they set out to build their tolerance for fully feeling positive emotions.

So the next time someone tells you that they love you, or that you notice how good it feels to see a beautiful sunset, instead of shutting those positive experiences down internally, and then feeling crazy for having done so, I invite you to try doing something different altogether. Instead, I invite you to allow yourself to actually experience the physical sensations of joy or happiness for just a second longer than you normally would. And then the next week, to increase your window of tolerance just a second more. And so on and so on, until eventually you are able to fully relish in these experiences for their entire wave of naturally arising and falling away, without any longer needing to interfere with this process.

And if we we do end up working together then this skill, this ability to tolerate the actual embodied experience of positive emotions, is something that we may well end up working on together.

Feeling Shame About Having Anxiety

douglas ozier

Many of the people that I work with experience distressing levels of worry and anxiety. In this blog post I want to write less about the anxiety and worry itself, and instead about what can be even more debilitating: feelings of shame about having these problems with anxiety.


It is very common that my clients tell me that the hardest part about their anxiety or worry is the feeling that, because they're smart and they logically know that the things that they worry about are unlikely to ever actually happen, the fact that they continue worrying anyway must mean that there is something essentially crazy or broken about them.

In my experience this sense of feeling “crazy” for getting so worried and anxious is as much a barrier to positive change as the anxiety itself. Why is this the case? I think that there are two key reasons.

The first is that this kind of shame can stop us from reaching out for help. If we live with a fear that tackling our anxiety head on could lead to the terrifying and hopeless confirmation that we are indeed essentially broken after all, then it makes sense that we would want to avoid this possibility by tackling our “irrational” anxiety with a therapist.

A second reason is that these kinds of feelings of shame for having an anxiety problem can lessen our ability to recover in a patient, self compassionate way. If we feel that we are weak,defective, or self indulgent for “allowing” anxiety get the best or us (rather than simply living with form of suffering that tens of millions of other people around the world also live with, a problem that has nothing to do with how smart or strong we are) then this can really lessen our sense that we actually deserve to work on these problems. Most people in this situation would never have these kinds of doubts or internal barriers if they we were working to overcome some some kind of medical condition, a condition that they didn't blame themselves for having.

So I hope that this blog post will help you to understand why I believe that developing self compassion (the ultimate antidote to shame) for having an anxiety challenge is often one of the most important steps in the road to recovery for my clients who struggle with anxiety and worry.

Mindfulness and Messy Socks

douglas ozier

I will always remember the first time that I heard about meditation. I was about 7. My older sister had just signed up for a meditation class at the local community centre. Every night she would disappear into her closet for about twenty minutes after supper. After a few night of watching her disappear in there I became deeply curious. What could she possibly be doing in her closet all of that time? When I asked, she said that she was “meditating”.  I, of course, has no idea what that was ( I was 7). So I asked “what’s mediating?”. She explained that she went into her closet, sat on a pillow, and allowed her thoughts to go down a stream. And she pretty much left it at that (as any 12 year old sister might).

I was left completely confused. How did you “get your thoughts to go into a stream?” How did the stream get into the closet in the first place? Yet, somehow, despite my confusion, I was instantly fascinated by the idea of mediation. Intuitively, it somehow seemed that by sitting in a closet alone and meditating, one might be able to unlock profound mysteries of the human mind.

I will also never forget the first time I was taught to mediate. It was in Toronto, where I lived during my early twenties. There was a Korean Zen Buddhist temple around the corner from me . I would finally have a chance to explore my life long desire to mediate, and to thereby to begin unlocking the profound mysteries of the human mind!

On the day of the first class, I was so lost in thought about the profound experiences that I was surely about to have that I forgot the time. So, despite living around the corner, I needed to rush to the temple in order to make it to the class on time. I came rushing into the building, took off my shoes, and threw my socks into the corner. At that moment, a young monk approached me, picked up my mangled socks, handed them to me, and said, “As you enter the temple please do so mindfully. Please fold your socks neatly and place them next to your shoes.” I attempted this process three of four times before I finally slowed down enough to do it in a way that met his approval. Only then did he show me to the room where the class was taking place. I had no idea why he had made such a big fuss about something as silly as my socks. I was interested in unlocking profound mysteries of my mind, not learning how to fold my socks. I felt a wave of resentment toward him, decided that he must be some kind of junior monk who didn’t know what he was doing yet, and  rushed into the class.

I have now been mediating for over 20 years. I have read widely on the topic. I have completed a PhD dissertation that has helped me to understand how mindfulness operates at the level of the brain. ( In future blog posts I will write about some of the fascinating things I learned on this topic). But when I really ask myself what mindfulness actually is,  I very often come back to those two early experiences. I have found that mindfulness truly does have the capacity to illuminate the deepest mysteries of my mind, just as I intuited it might when I was a young child. But I have also found that it doesn’t do this by helping me to understand some abstract set of ideas. Instead, it does this by helping me to achieve the profound benefits of waking up to my own life. If I had been able to truly accept the monk’s invitation, I may have had a key insight much earlier then I eventually did. Namely, that so much of the suffering in my life stemmed from the fact that I was always late and that I was always lost in thoughts about some big idea that made me miss whatever (and whoever) I was actually experiencing in the present moment. However, the monk was also offering me something even more important then the opportunity to develop these powerful insights. By inviting me to slow down, to fully notice what I was doing in the present moment, and then to do only that one thing, he was also offering me a practical way out of much of the suffering that the mind creates.

Inspired by these experiences in my own life, mindfulness has  become a key part of how I work with clients. With some clients this involves offering formal meditation instruction. With other clients the role of mindfulness is more implicit, simply involving my encouraging of a joint appreciation of the present moment as it unfolds during our time together.