health · healthcare · integrative psychotherapy · mental health · psychological inquiry · wellness

New Year’s Reflections

Slowing down took a few days. My psychobiological system had been going non-stop with no time off for almost three years; ever since COVID shut down Silicon Valley on March 15, 2020. I and my organism forgot what time off—genuine reflective time—feels like physically, autonomically, emotionally and conceptually. I am slowly returning to an old friend—myself.

I’ve had many patients (mostly engineering types) tell me with great pride “I haven’t taken a single vacation day in years”. And proceed to recite how many vacation days they have accrued. Sometimes it was in the triple digits. That used to be the zeitgeist in this non-stop work locale. And so, I too succumbed to that outlook all in the name of service to those who suffered so much during the pandemic.

I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. No one keeps them past Jan 31. And unlike intention setting, goal-setting is often quite limiting. As my system has slowed and weighted itself in time and in body, my view of what constitutes a good life is shifting. This shift is not an outer endeavor nor is it about where to focus my efforts as I move forward into 2023. It is an inner inquiry into what is genuinely helpful and meaningful to put out in the world. That inquiry is in process and it will lead to significant creative shift for the Groundless Ground Podcast and Integrative Psychotherapy Blog. And that feels super exciting for the artist in me.

My entire professional life could be viewed as continuous waves of content creation, flowing from medium to medium consistently reflecting the ocean of clear awareness that pervades all thought, all speech, all action. Being a light in a world of darkness is for me the highest aim of everything I have ever and will ever produce.  Returning to this, this most precious attribute of my life has been a great gift of this time off. I have a few more days of basking in the slow beauty of passing time. May your New Year be filled with incandescent beauty.

Buddhist philosophy · Buddhist practice · Buddhist psychology · Buddhist Teachings · compassion · health · integrative psychotherapy · meditation · meditative experiences · meditators · mental health · mindfulness meditation · mindfulness psychotherapy · neuroscience of meditation · podcast · psychology · psychotherapy · wellness · wisdom · yoga · yoga therapy

Meditation is not a performative act

Listen to Groundless Ground Podcast Episode 60

This is a very special and quite different kind of episode to finish out Groundless Ground Podcast Season 5. I have a frank discussion about the pitfalls of packaging and delivering meditation as a performative act in health contexts with Donna Sherman—clinical social worker and teacher of practical wisdom from yoga sciences, mindfulness meditation and behavioral sciences. Since Donna has studied extensively in the Tantric yoga tradition and I have expertise in Buddhist psychology, we interview each other about the ancient science behind Yogic and Buddhist meditative practices. Donna’s Therapeutic Yoga Nidra is the NSDR (non-sleep deep rest) practice I refer to my patients. And Donna is also a longtime dear friend and colleague from whom I have learned so much. It is hard to imagine a good life without her along for the ride! And wow, 5 years and 60 episodes. What an adventure Groundless Ground has been and much gratitude to every listener! GG listeners continue to be my greatest inspiration.

awakened mind · change · clinical mindfulness · health · integrative psychotherapy · mental health · mindfulness · mindfulness psychotherapy · psychology · psychotherapy · somatic psychotherapy · Uncategorized · wellness

Graduating Psychotherapy

“I’ve graduated!” Most mental health professionals would not expect a patient to utter this proclamation at the end of therapy. Yet I have heard it more than once. The first time I was a bit taken aback as even I was lacking appropriate context for this framing. At the time I remember inquiring, “What about your accomplishment feels like graduating?” Their answer was so simple. “I have learned so much and radically changed because I have embraced this knowledge and use the skills in my daily life. I am still me, and yet, I am a me I could not have imagined being before I started this work. Therapy was not school but it feels like I have earned a degree!”

Though I don’t agree, psychoeducation is often considered separate from the therapy itself. I have always been a big fan of educating patients as part of the therapeutic process. Getting them excited about knowledge I have worked so hard to gain. Wisdom from biology, neuroscience, social science, psychology, and contemplative science is often as much of an ‘ah-ha!’ moment producer as directly perceiving mind, or landing firmly in embodied presence, or experiencing how goodness, kindness, openheartedness melt away anxiety, depression, loneliness and meaninglessness. It is all part of delivering an integrated package of resources for symptom alleviation and awakening.

Completing therapy fully equipped to meet life’s challenges with intelligence, humility, flexibility and inner strength is the aim. If accomplishment of that goal that feels like graduation I am all for it!

integrative psychotherapy · mental health · social media · Uncategorized

The Creatrix and Post.news

My first 24 hours on Post.news and wow… the artist in me has reignited. The angst and grief of the last few weeks of Twitter dissolution has given way to the fascination of interacting in a cauldron of intelligence, realness (weirdly enough), and a chance to diversify to other communities and voices I rarely had access to because of the ever-present social-media-generated algorithms dictating who I am and forcing me to stay in that box. So far relatively bot-free! And no ads! And a virtuous intent I can get behind.

The two decades I spent in the visual art world were years of me as rebel, technical fiend, technology envelope pusher (when online visual creation tools sucked!) and advocator for every human awakening—not in today’s woke way—in the ancient wisdom tradition way. Yes art, particularly interactional installation art can do that. And the raw nature of Post.net and its UX has a similar feeling of engaging with a newborn that is learning about itself and the world simultaneously.

Slowly I am finding other mental health professionals as more people get invited and sign up. Building community will take time but Twitter feels so horrible when I visit the site that I am convinced this is the way to go. Post.news uses a points system instead of ads, which feels a little like what Clubhouse tried to do a year ago and it pretty much failed over there. We’ll see if it works here. I get that this is way to keep ads away and reward “creatives”. That label was attached to a lot of crappy content at Clubhouse which is why I didn’t stay on it.

In other news, Youtube has granted my channel a new name. You can now find it at https://www.youtube.com/@integrativepsychotherapy

change · health · healthcare · integrative psychotherapy · mental health · poetry · psychology · psychotherapy · somatic psychotherapy · trauma healing

Last week

Last week…
Over and over session after session;
Patients truth-telling.
Aliveness transforms.

Habit narratives are so damn limited.
Drop them.

I watch the beauty of learning to turn toward experience
And dive in fearlessly.

Inspired, I encourage.
“Fear not. You will not be swallowed up and chewed into bits.”
Experience opens its arms; welcomes them in.
Scoops them up and lifts them high.

Dance  sway  rest  feel
Open in wonderment!

This is real.
The alive one you have always been.

Buddhism and science · Buddhist psychology · Buddhist Teachings · concentration meditation · integrative psychotherapy · meditation · meditative experiences · mental health · mindfulness meditation · mindfulness of breath · mindfulness psychotherapy · psychology · psychotherapy · somatic psychotherapy · wisdom

Tranquility and Breath

Tranquility is a necessary component for contentment. Tranquility is also the proximate cause of insight. This is generally why teaching concentration practices precede insight or vipassana practice. Only a calm mind can realize its true nature: radiant and pure.

Humans are blessed with breath; an ever-present biological function that acts as a conditioner for the body-mind system. Quality of breath directly influences quality of mind and body. When we are stressed or fearful, breath is fast, short, and shallow. Conversely, slow, long, gentle, deep breathing leads to cognitive-affective-somatic contentment and restfulness. You may have noticed when you feel agitated, if you put your attention on how breath is and gently slow in-breath and out-breath, anxiety and agitation subside.

Adding awareness or what is called “relaxed attention” on breath in a focused way calms the body-mind system. When we stay with breath long enough, calm leads to interest in the mind, and joyfulness in the heart and body. Eventually, the excitement gives way to a contentment, which arises from the direct experience of the mind knowing its own radiance and clarity. This is what the Buddha famously taught in the Ānāpānasati Sutta (find more information in my textbook on Buddhist psychology for clinicians.)

If radiance and clarity is the true nature of mind, why do we not experience these qualities of mind all the time? Primarily this is due to the presence of habitual thought-generated mental hindrances, such as craving, aversion, laziness/inertia, restlessness, and doubt, which grip conceptual mind and prevent it from realizing its own empty, luminous essence.

In concentration meditation we learn to stop feeding the hindrances by starving them. We train the mind to stay present with an object like breath, which naturally leads to calm, clear, and contented states of mind. Continually choosing over and over again, to turn away from distressful states of mind and turn toward the experience of breath eventually gives us the confidence, to turn the mind toward the hindrances, and stay present with these distressful states of mind to engage in the inquiry of vipassana meditation practice. You can learn more about this on the Groundless Ground Podcast Episode with Buddhist teacher Shaila Catherine.

awakening · Buddhist philosophy · Buddhist practice · Buddhist psychology · Buddhist Teachings · cessation of suffering · clinical mindfulness · emotional suffering · integrative psychotherapy · interdependence · meditation · meditators · mental suffering · mindfulness · mindfulness interventions · mindfulness meditation · mindfulness psychotherapy · not-self · psychology · psychotherapy · secular mindfulness · Tibetan Buddhism · Uncategorized

Meditation is not an antidote.

If you think meditation alone will ‘cure’ the deleterious characteristics of humanness, like anger, violence, greed, hatred, fear and bias… think again. These qualities arise from an experientially shared, all-pervasive perceptual feeling of separateness—I am inside, everyone else is outside.

Cutting through that misapprehension requires both conceptual training and contemplative practices for cultivating cognitive-affective quiescence and profound insights into what is known in Buddhist philosophy as the Three Marks of Existence—impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and not-self.  Most clinical and non-clinical applications of mindfulness teach meditation devoid of information about the way in which humans misapprehend the Three Marks of Existence, and how this mistaken perception becomes the proximate cause of all forms of human suffering.

Let me be absolutely clear. Noticing 1) how thoughts come and go; 2) how much time we mentally spend in the past and future; 3) cultivating compassion; 4) and that basic physical pain is worsened by mental anguish about painful stimuli—all these insights will decrease cognitive-affective symptoms, which makes them appropriate Western psychological interventions. However, when ‘Buddhist-derived’ mindfulness meditation practices are offered as a means to attain happiness and/or reduce distress, those meditators remain largely unaware of the root causes of their suffering.

The main reason Buddhist psychology does not view symptom relief as an end goal is because non-suffering is ultimately an outcome of the fearless pursuit of non-delusion. That pursuit includes the recognition of and liberation from two basic causes of human suffering—our deluded belief in a substantive, separate self; and our deluded belief that happiness is conditioned upon comfort, certainty and security.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition that perceptual distortion is called, innate reification, which is viewed as largely unconscious; functioning at a very basic level of cognitive processing. The pervasive and assumptive nature of innate reification is a primary obstacle to direct realization of how all perceptual phenomena (including the self) interdependently co-arise moment-to-moment. Separate self-existence is illusory. But that illusion makes harming doable—particularly the false perception that harming another does not simultaneously also harm the harmer. Imagine how different the world would be if all human beings recognized how intimately connected they are to all other beings through their thoughts, words and deeds.

Because this profound insight into reality is not a predetermined outcome of meditative practice, it must be pointed out directly. Clear conceptual understanding proceeds and fortifies accurate perception of reality. Experiencing the Three Marks of Existence and cutting through the perceptual distortion of innate reification requires both concentration meditation and analytical meditation practices. Just practicing mindfulness and compassion is not enough. Concentration meditation alone is not enough. Conceptual understanding is not enough. Going beyond antidotes requires all of these together.

integrative psychotherapy · mental health · polyvagal theory · psychological inquiry · psychology · psychotherapy · Somatic Experiencing · somatic psychotherapy · Trauma · trauma healing · trauma therapy

Uncoupling excitement from danger

Though this Somatic Experiencing® intervention is not discussed widely in SE™ circles, I consider it one of the most critical steps for resolving long-standing systemic trauma response. A history of early (0-6 years of age), repeated, traumatic experiences are easily identifiable in adult autonomic nervous system (ANS) dysregulation. The primary sign is minimal capacity for sympathetic nervous system (SNS) arousal.

SNS arousal is not bad nor it is an indication of something wrong. For instance, awe-inspiring, meaningful, interesting, or joyful experiences are arousing. The body needs SNS arousal to accomplish any activity that does not fall under the category of ‘rest and digest’ homeostatic function. Many forms of overcoupling are common in early developmental trauma (EDT) response—including overcoupling of SNS arousing states of excitement and danger.

To a very young brain, most experiences are novel. Inherent in novel experience is a quality of excitement. That means interest, exploration and play are often encoded in memories of EDT events that most adults would only consider frightening, egregious, and morally corrupt. Very young children don’t feel danger until they are directly threatened, disturbed, terrified, abandoned, or physically harmed.

This intermingling of novelty, excitement and danger can be difficult for adult survivors of EDT to accept–especially when memories are laden with disgust, shame, terror and anger. A good example of excitement/danger overcoupling is in sibling sexual abuse where a tween sibling frames perpetration on a much younger sibling as ‘play’. Initially the novelty and attention can register in the young victim’s brain as an exciting experience with no negative valence. Yet, that can shift to fear, confusion and resistance at any point during a particular perpetration event or with successive events. Overcoupling of excitement and danger increases with each successive perpetration. Eventually novelty and excitement fall away and what remains is high-dorsal vagal freeze—(a parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) safety response)—because small children can rarely run from or fight off an older perpetrator. Proliferation of successive events increases excitement/danger overcoupling in SNS dysfunction.

Obviously the first intervention is helping a patient conceptually understand excitement and danger overcoupling, and then facilitating increased capacity for presencing the body-mind system’s low threshold for excitatory body sensations, thoughts and feelings. That is the ideal time to introduce SE™ pendulation skills for initiating parasympathetic deactivation, which eventually actuates healthy SNS/PNS cycling.

I feel such joy when this work results in a patient report that includes something like, “This week I actually felt excited and just let it happen without worrying something bad would occur or I’d become so overwhelmed by good feelings. It is so freeing to not be scared of my emotions… even the good ones!”

In summary, early repeated traumatic experiences impede our natural capacity to tolerate systemic aliveness. Uncoupling excitement from danger allows the ANS to move more readily, willingly and easefully between SNS activation and PNS deactivation.

Buddhist psychology · health · integrative medicine · integrative psychotherapy · mental health · psychology · Uncategorized

Contemplating the Work

I’ve had three blogs over the last twenty years, which no longer exist on the web. Mindful Psyche charted my first decade of psychotherapeutic practice. Dharma Moment offered a daily randomly selected teaching from the Pāli Suttas, accompanied by something I can only describe as minimal musings. The old Effortless Mindfulness blog was a complementary, commentary vehicle for my textbook on Buddhist psychology.

Integrative Psychotherapy blog will chronicle revelatory experiences and surprising outcomes which regularly occur in the sacred space my patients call “Lisa’s office”. Identifying personal information or topical content will not be shared. I will externalize my internal processes and flesh-out the rich intersubjectivity that makes the integrative psychotherapeutic container such a powerful force for change.

Each new post will be featured on my clinical website and on this WordPress blog so you can easily subscribe and comment. Here’s to another new blogging endeavor!