Monday, December 23, 2013

Worth Reading

As a gift for the Holidays, I'd like to introduce you to a couple of blogs with which I've been spending a lot of time.  The first, Mantra Wizard, is full of information and research about meditation and its effects.  The writer linked to my blog, which was a tremendous compliment and enabled me to discover this wonderful source of information and reasons to keep practicing.

The second is from Mia Hansson, Spiritual life in the real world.  She writes from a Zen Buddhist perspective and breathes mindfulness into many of the struggles, conflicts, and opportunities that each of us face.  Caught up in the maelstrom of the holidays I typed Zen Christmas into Google and fortunately found Mia's blog.

I haven't been posting a lot lately.  I've been spending much time alone on the cushion, leading meditation groups, and helping to raise my wife's and my three year old daughter.  The bipolar disorder has been a bit active lately, also.  But I still have a few things to say, and I hope to always be learning.  So I'll have more to post soon.

Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

State Your Intention

(repost from May 2013)

Mindfulness Meditation, or working with the breath and releasing thoughts as they arise, has been very helpful to me for many years.  The health, cognitive, and emotional benefits of this practice are well documented.  But sometimes, to the horror of my teachers, I pull out a notepad and start paying closer attention to the thoughts skipping through my mind during meditation periods, turning each meditation into a period of contemplation on goals and intentions.  Meditation has demonstrated that it makes us more open to more ideas, and more noticing of novel thoughts.  So why not put this to use every once in a while?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Anger and the Limits of Acceptance

One of the doctrines of meditation, especially Buddhist inspired meditation, is radical acceptance.  Often misunderstood, at its root lies the need to experience things as they are, not bound by judgment, opinion, or our desire to change things to better suit our expectations.  Also informing many people’s meditation practice is the Buddhist idea that an attachment to anger is one of the causes of suffering, again colored by judgment, opinion, and a desire to change.  Desire itself, or an attachment to desire, is cited as another cause of suffering.   Not accepting things as they are, wanting them to be different, can cause us great emotional distress.

But what if our experience itself is unacceptable?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Resting in Stillness

I just had another article published on PsychCentral.  It addresses how long periods of meditation are just too much for some people, and how, or if, one can benefit from shorter, less frequent practice periods.

Please read it here.

For a short meditation that can still yield positive results, read my post A Simple Practice.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Taking the Opportunity to Come Apart

I’ve cited James Austin in a post about counting breaths, and often come back to the things he taught in a retreat I attended with him.  It was at Zen Mountain Monastery in the Catskills.  Austin spent most of the day Saturday presenting information from his book Meditating Selflessly, and from other research he and others have conducted on Zen and the Brain.  His exhortation to get out of the meditation hall and spend some time in nature looking at birds, or, if early morning, the planets and stars, led me to leave the retreat on Sunday and disappear for a few hours into the woods (Austin’s presentation was over).

During the retreat I asked Dr. Austin what he thought about people with a serious mental illness practicing meditation.  I have bipolar disorder 1 and had scheduled a very intensive, silent retreat.  Austin said that people with a “mental defect” should not undertake intensive meditation.  I was surprised at both the language and the sentiment, especially as I have gained so much from my meditation practice.  But I have respect for Dr. Austin’s work, and was so influenced by his retreat, that I decided to take his caution under consideration. 

I went on the silent retreat anyway.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Community Wellness Project Meditation Workshops

I'll be conducting free, drop-in meditation workshops for the Community Wellness Project.  The project is a venture of The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services.

We'll be meditating on Thursday afternoons at 1:30 at Broad Street Ministries in Philadelphia.  Details are on The Community Wellness project site, under upcoming events, here.

I hope you can drop-in one Thursday, and please pass this along to anyone you know who may benefit from learning about meditation and practicing with a group.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Simple Practice

Repost from December 2012

I wanted to return to an earlier post and present again a simple meditation technique that anyone can practice.  It’s called the Twenty Breaths Practice.  It only takes a few minutes, can be performed almost anywhere, and can yield great stress relief.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Bored to Tears

On September 25, 2013 at 7:10am, I realized I was bored with the internet and my mobile devices.  Together they have contributed to my font of trivial knowledge.  But it has been a very long time since I delved deeply enough into a topic to fully understand it, or to contribute to it with original ideas.  And perhaps most important, I have been losing my sense of nuance.  All discourse seems to fall on one side or the other.  Intellectually I have been anything but mindful.  In fact, the constant barrage of information, updates, and check-ins, and the 24-hour availability of me and everyone I know, has turned me into a cognitive fight or flight machine.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Drop-in Meditation Meet-Up

We've started a new, open, drop-in meditation on Wednesday nights at 7:00p in Philadelphia.  It's held at Old First Reformed Church at 4th and Race.  All are welcome, donations are accepted.  Hope to see you there.

Details are on our MeetUp page here.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Working With Sound

This post builds on my post, Our Fear of Silence, that was published on PsychCentral.  It originally appeared in January.

With all of the focus on keeping one’s attention on the breath, mindfulness meditation begins to sound like an internal experience.  But if the goal is full awareness of the present moment, we must not shut out the external world while placing our attention on the breath.  For this reason, I often find it effective to remain present by focusing on the sounds around me.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

To Let Go Of Or To Set Down Thoughts?

In a post of mine published on PsychCentral, “Handling Intrusive Thoughts While Meditating,” I wrote about how to label and let thoughts go during meditation.  But currently, I’m in the midst of a crisis in my family and some pretty significant thoughts about it come up during meditation.  I don’t want to let these thoughts go.  They may help me figure things out, resolve things, and make things better.  If I let them go I may just lose them without any benefit of having had them.  This also happens when very creative ideas pop-up while meditating.  Why just let a good idea go and return to the breath?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Keep Quiet - State Your Intention, part two

I wrote in May in a post called “State Your Intention” of a meditation that helps to establish an intention and put it to use in working toward your goals.  Framing a positive and present intention can help us stay to directed and achieve what we want.  Intention can be a guide as we work to become the person we want to become.  Make sense?  Well, not so fast.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Working With Limitations

Limitations.  We all have them, but sometimes illness adds new ones that we never before had to deal with.  Accepting this fact was a challenge.

When I was hit by one episode that left me psychotic, suicidal, and hospitalized I was 31 and had just been promoted to VP of Sales at the company for which I worked.  An incorrect diagnosis and my poor response to the medications prescribed, as well as my refusal to accept mental illness and my subsequent noncompliance with my doctors’ orders, left me reeling for years.  I fell into a string of small jobs, just to keep health insurance, and checked into and out of psychiatric hospitals several times.  The hole in my resume became so large, and my ability to deal with stress so frail, that it became clear that I was not going back to the executive suite.  The effect that stress had on my moods, and the moods themselves, severely limited the amount of responsibility I could handle on the job.  I continued to work, but limitations were holding me back.

Monday, July 8, 2013


Even a casual survey of popular media will insist on countless benefits of mindfulness meditation.  Practice will make you better able to deal with stress, reverse the cognitive effects of aging, spur creativity, improve test scores, promote deeper sleep, and who knows what else.  If all of the claims are to be believed, mindfulness meditation may just one day save the world.  It all may be a bit overblown.  However, for more than 2,000 years mindfulness meditation has been practiced to alleviate suffering, both in the meditator and in others.  Its track record in promoting compassion is strong and accepted.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Is This Mindfulness Thing Working?

(repost from August 2012)

I haven’t been mindful at all lately.  I chewed up my daughter’s Elmo fork in the garbage disposal, I keep making trips to the basement for things I forgot to get the last time I was down there, and I drove off with my lunch bag containing my phone, wallet, and lunch sitting on the roof of the car.  It seems I spend a half hour each day meditating and the rest of the day overlooking things.  Meditating is difficult and often boring work.  At times it can be very unsettling.  So why do I bother?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Open Meditation

Tonight I began leading an open meditation group at Mama's Wellness Joint in Philadelphia.  We'll hold it every Wednesday night from 7:30p to 8:30p.  If you're in or around Philly, drop-in.  It will be great to see you.

Information on Mama's website here.

Monday, May 6, 2013

State Your Intention

Mindfulness Meditation, or working with the breath and releasing thoughts as they arise, has been very helpful to me for many years.  The health, cognitive, and emotional benefits of this practice are well documented.  But sometimes, to the horror of my teachers, I pull out a notepad and start paying closer attention to the thoughts skipping through my mind during meditation periods, turning each meditation into a period of contemplation on goals and intentions.  Meditation has demonstrated that it makes us more open to more ideas, and more noticing of novel thoughts.  So why not put this to use every once in a while?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why Don't We Take Our Meds?

I had an article published on PsychCentral about medication non-compliance and how it effects the costs of healthcare and health insurance.  See it here.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dealing With Thoughts During Meditation

(repost from August 2012)

It’s easy to say that when meditating one should focus on the breath and release thoughts as they arise, but it’s incredibly difficult to do.  I’ve been a bit hypomanic lately, and ideas are flying through my head.  Concentration and attention are very difficult.  Acknowledging thoughts and letting them go is hard enough on a good day.  What do I do now?

During mindfulness meditation you keep your attention on your breath, but you want to be fully aware in this moment.  So you still take note of sounds and smells, aches and pains, all that makes up the present moment.  When thoughts arise the instructions are to notice them, let them go, and return to the breath.  But to just blot out thoughts without paying attention to them would not be very mindful at all.  Don’t ignore your thoughts, work with them.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why Work?

I’m grateful we have a social safety net.  It’s important to help people pull themselves up, and to provide care for those who cannot support themselves because of serious disability.  The net may not be cast broad enough, as too many people who need help are denied services.  That said, the most important thing that led to my recovery from serious mental illness was being denied Social Security Disability Income. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

How Guided Meditation Can Become A Distraction

I come from a long line of seekers, my mother’s side of the family known for trying on various spiritual traditions in a search for truth.  My mother herself has been experimenting with meditation recently, and has tried several forms of guided meditation.  The one that has worked best for her is Oprah Winfrey's and Deepak Chopra’s 21-day meditation challenge on the computer.

Last week she wanted to share with me a meditation she finds beneficial.  It was a busy day at her house, with much of the family in and out, so we escaped to her office to follow the guided instructions.  While I am glad so many people are following this program and finding relaxation in meditation, I found it too distracting to be truly mindful.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Introduction to Meditation Series

On Tuesday, April 16th, I'll begin teaching a four-week beginner's meditation class at Mama's Wellness Joint in Center City Philadelphia.  If you're in the area and want to start meditating, or if you have tried it before and couldn't stick with the practice, please join me.  You can find the details on the Mama's Wellness Joint website here.

And I should mention again the workshop I'm giving for NAMI PA, Main Line.  It's on mindfulness meditation for people with mental illness and those who support them, and will be held on April 14th in Ardmore, PA.  A previous post about this workshop is here.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Focused Attention

I write about, and teach, mindfulness meditation as an adjunct therapy for mental illness.  Many in the mindfulness community extol the practice’s benefits of increasing non-judgment, compassion, and acceptance.  These, of course, are wonderful things.  But I most want to help people manage their lives in a way that makes them self-reliant, productive, and true to their ideas of how they can be most successful.  So of all of the components of mindfulness, the one that helps achieve these goals most immediately is focused attention.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Moving Toward Greater Creativity

Much of the recent focus on mindfulness and meditation has been on stress management.  Few things help one deal better with the stressors of everyday life.  Just several minutes of meditation each day can reduce blood pressure, improve sleep, and mitigate the severity of episodes and symptoms of mental illnesses.  But there is more.  Meditation quiets the mind, and a quieter mind is more likely to have room for new and better ideas about the challenges one faces in life, business, and art.

Researchers at the Institute for Psychological Research and Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition of Leiden University in the Netherlands found a tremendous impact of focused-attention (mindfulness) and open-monitoring meditation (observing without judging) on creativity.  “First, open-monitoring meditation induces a control state that promotes divergent thinking, a style of thinking that allows many new ideas of being generated (sic).  Second, Focused Attention meditation does not sustain convergent thinking, the process of generating one possible solution to a particular problem.”  Meditation equals more ideas.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

How to Begin Meditating

(Repost from July 2012)

Meditation is quite different from sitting there doing nothing, thinking nothing.  It is instead a focused attention on one’s present experience.  A chance to minimize the distractions that pull one away from the present. Pleasant events are often spoiled by comparison to other good experiences or worry that this wonder may soon end.  Difficult experiences are often tempered by a desire for escape and the fantasy of being somewhere else doing something else.  The mind will wander all over the place and our present experience, good or bad, may be missed.

So meditation becomes a practice.  A practice to remain here, in the present moment, fully aware.  It is something that must be practiced to achieve benefit, and the practice, though simple, can be extremely challenging.  But the benefits, as described in other posts and in countless others’ experience, are worth it.

So how does one begin?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

When Mindfulness Becomes Mindlessness

For an updated version see PsychCentral here.

Mindfulness meditation has been unequaled in helping me navigate the stressors that can rob me of the beauty of each moment.  It has helped me manage a serious mental illness, and it has helped me confront major and minor roadblocks that threaten to derail all of my plans.  I believe that anyone can benefit from this practice.  And therein lies the problem.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Mindfulness and Hypomania

I wrote in a post titled Discipline and Diagnostics that one of the benefits of meditation to a person with a mental illness is the ability to detect episodes early.  Well, I’m in one.

It’s been hard to sit at all, let alone for the thirty minutes I do each day.  I find myself agitated and fidgety.  My thoughts are all over the place.  This is not unusual during meditation, but in taking note of the subjects of my thoughts, I can see hypomania creeping in.  I’m thinking of buying stuff.  I’m thinking of trading stocks.  I’m thinking of another career change, discarding good ideas for more exciting, if undoable, ones.  All of my thoughts are about getting and doing.  Anything.  Right now I feel smarter, more creative, and more energetic than I usually do.  That might be dangerous, but that’s what I’m feeling, and that’s what I encounter during meditation.

Monday, February 25, 2013


If you're in the Philadelphia area, you're invited to attend a workshop on Mindfulness Meditation that I'm presenting on April 14th.  It's sponsored by NAMI PA/Main Line and will be held in Ardmore, PA at the Ardmore Presbyterian Church from 2 to 4pm.  Details are on the NAMI PA/Main Line website.

Also for anyone in Philadelphia, its suburbs, or South Jersey, I can help you establish a meditation practice.  I'll come to support groups, day programs, shelters, or any psychiatric care facility to give one-time instruction or to facilitate ongoing meditation groups.  My contact information is:  For more information see the website here.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Simply in Control

I often think there are three types of people in the world:  Those who think they have control, and if they plan well and work hard things will always go their way; Those who think they have no control, and leave everything to chance; And those who think they can influence outcomes, plan well, work hard, but realize that sometimes unexpected things happen that throw them off course.  The first can suffer breakdowns when things don’t go their way, the second are often trapped by inertia and prone to do very little, and the third are adaptable, see various opportunities, and can often reach goals that they set.  I like to think of myself as one of the third group, and that mindset has helped me recover from the setbacks of serious episodes of bipolar disorder.  But I used to be in the first group, and things went bad.  During my worst episodes I found myself in the second group, and it was hard to do anything that could help me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Media and Stigma

Anthony Jorm writes of The Media Versus the Mentally Ill on the website Project Syndicate.  He addresses the way coverage of both violent events and mental illness reinforces the stigma that people with mental illness are predisposed to violence.  In his article he states that, in the American media, 39% of all reports on mental illness focused on either violence or danger.  He maintains that while 68% of adults know at least one person who has been hospitalized for a mental illness, only 9% have ever been threatened or physically harmed by such a person.  And yet, largely because of the stigma set forth by the media, 70% of Americans believe that a person hospitalized for a mental illness may be dangerous.

The mentally ill face this stigma everyday, and it keeps some of us from getting the help we need.  Jorm's article is worth a careful read, as it tears into the false picture of the mentally ill portrayed all too often.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Can't I Just Swim Laps?

When I went to school it was accepted that after an early period of development the brain was fixed and unchanging.  Brain cells, and brain function, that were lost were gone.  Cognition was static.  Outcomes in the treatment of serious mental illness, Parkinsons, and dementia were poor.  Today, science has shown us that none of those assumptions are true.  Neuroplasticity, or changes in the brain's cortical matter, is accepted and proven.  This can occur at any point in one's life.  Changes in the brain that can lead to improved behavior, mood regulation, and cognition happen often.  Even the atrophy in an aging brain can be reversed, and damaged brains can re-learn and heal.  Focused attention exercises such as meditation are very successful routes to neurogenesis.  Learning new skills is effective as well.  Another proven method is aerobic exercise.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Langer on Addiction

Although the mindfulness methods I practice are firmly set in the meditative tradition, it’s refreshing to encounter an approach to mindfulness not grounded in what is all to often assumed to be the only route to the benefits of mindfulness.  I found this in Ellen Langer’s book, Mindfulness.  Langer’s comments about ageing, education, creativity, and work are original and thought provoking, with little mention of meditation.  I’d like to point out some ideas she brings to the treatment of substance abuse.  To Langer, mindfulness has more to do with perspective, and her reference to it relies upon the context in which a drug is taken.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Working With Sound

With all of the focus on keeping one’s attention on the breath, mindfulness meditation begins to sound like an internal experience.  But if the goal is full awareness of the present moment, we must not shut out the external world while placing our attention on the breath.  For this reason, I often find it effective to remain present by focusing on the sounds around me.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Fear of Silence

The cultivation of mindfulness requires periods of focused attention.  Many proponents of mindfulness maintain that this is best developed through seated, silent meditation.  So, while I’d like to investigate how to focus the attention, we must first consider our relationship with silence.

Whether in the center of a city or deep in a forest, the cacophony of sounds around us makes it apparent that true silence is impossible.  Composer John Cage wrote music that included long periods of silence.  When the musicians stopped playing, concertgoers were quickly confronted with the shuffling, shifting, and coughing sounds in the concert hall.  So what is silence?  I like to think of it as the absence of intentional sound.  Intentional sounds are the things we turn on such as TVs and iPods, the words spoken or heard in a conversation we are engaged in, music we make such as humming or tapping, and the noise of tools, keyboards, or other objects we are interacting with.  Sounds that remain are unavoidable.  So silence is when we are purposefully quiet.  For many of us, this can be unsettling.