How Do I Stop Blaming Others and Experience Real Freedom?

A blooming tree

Making somebody else responsible for how I feel is sooooooo tempting. How do I stop blaming others for what’s happening in my life?

When I make someone else responsible for my state of mind, I feel justified in feeling irritation and resentment – and reciting this constant “woe is me…” monologue in my mind.

“I am sad because they are treating me like dirt…”

“If only I had this… I would feel differently.”

“Who wouldn’t feel the way I feel given the circumstances?”

“If they really cared, they would have…”

It’s so hard not to blame. Blaming is addictive.

When I engage in this train of thought, the blaming narrative runs in my mind over and over, making me sick.

The more I blame others the more justified I feel in my victimhood.

But there’s a high psychological and physiological price we pay for choosing to marinade ourselves in blame and resentment.

Every negative thought entails a negative emotion.

Every negative emotion triggers the release of stress chemicals – adrenaline and cortisol.

The longer we choose to feel those negative emotions, the longer those stress chemicals circulate in our bloodstream causing our brains to create dense neural pathways around them.

This means that over time, our brains become hardwired to repeat the same behavior automatically – because it feels familiar.

The brain always chooses what is familiar over what is unknown.

We can’t stop blaming because we have practiced it for so long.

Our body has become our own inner pharmacy with an unlimited supply of our drug of choice.

The stress chemicals we choose to flood our body with wreak havoc on our nervous system over time.

“Persistent bitterness may result in global feelings of anger and hostility that, when strong enough, could affect a person’s physical health,” says psychologist Dr. Carsten Wrosch from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada

How can you stop this vicious cycle?

Continue reading “How Do I Stop Blaming Others and Experience Real Freedom?”

Say “No” To Take Your Power Back and Find True Belonging

waterfall in the mountains

How do you find true belonging? According to Brene Brown, true belonging is the flip side of saying “No.”

What happens when we say NO?

We draw a line in the sand.

We are no longer playing “nice.”

We are no longer trying to fit in so people will accept us.

And we risk being rejected.

It’s scary.

In the age of increased polarization, a desire to belong is almost irresistible.

We all want to find true belonging.

But, according to BreneBrown, true belonging,

starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.

So, we have drawn the line. We have chosen to belong to no one.

No one except me.

We said “NO” loud and clear.

And now we are alone.

Alone in the wilderness.

Can we brave it?

Is it worth it?

Do I have what it takes to stand alone?

Continue reading “Say “No” To Take Your Power Back and Find True Belonging”

Reverse Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by Increasing “Happy” Hormones

Can you reverse post-traumatic stress disorder?

My grandfather fought in World War II. As a child, I would often ask him: “What is war like?” He never answered.

The memories were too painful. He never talked about them. He just drank.

Every memory or thought about the war brought the same emotions in him AS IF HE HAD BEEN IN THE MIDDLE OF IT.

He wasn’t. There was no war around. But he still felt it as if it was his PRESENT reality.

One consequence of PTSD is that once your brain has been hardwired to expect danger, it cannot distinguish between thoughts and reality.

A thought of war feels like an actual war.

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) has been known for a long time – during World War I, it was called “shell shock.” But it wasn’t until the 1980s that a corresponding diagnosis was proposed.

What is the mechanism of PTSD?

John Bradshaw, the author of the bestseller Healing the Shame That Binds You, says that when a person goes through a traumatic experience, it gets imprinted in their brain within the next 72 hours unless they are able to talk it through with someone they trust.

Why?

Because trauma does not get registered in the brain when met with relentless empathy.

Trauma gets recorded in the brain and causes PTSD symptoms under one condition – the person has FELT an overwhelming emotion but never got any empathy.

In other words, when a person talks through their experience with someone they trust within the first 3 days, the brain does not create neuron pathways (electrical connections) that produce PTSD-related symptoms. 

If, however, they suppress or deny their feelings, the traumatic event eventually gets hardwired in the brain.

When trauma gets hardwired in the brain, the brain gets chemically conditioned to expect the same traumatic experience again and again (and releases the same chemicals before the event happens).

What does that mean?

Every time you experience trauma – say, verbal or physical abuse, – you feel certain emotions.

Usually fear or anger or both.

Every emotion produces chemicals in the body.

Fear and anger pump adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream – the hormones of fight-or-flight.

Love and acceptance trigger the release of oxytocin (“love hormone”), dopamine (hormone of happiness), and serotonin (hormone of satisfaction).

If your body produces stress chemicals again and again, your brain gets used to them. The stronger the emotion the more it gets hardwired in the brain.

Through repetition, these emotional states (and corresponding chemicals) cause the brain to form dense neuron connections around them (electrical networks).

In other words, the brain becomes hardwired to expect the same experience again and again.

In the case of my grandfather, any reminder of the war would bring about unbearable feelings of pain (and chemicals of stress), and he needed a drink to calm down.

How do I reverse PTSD?

Tony Robbins said:

Whatever you keep in your mind on a continual basis is exactly what you will experience in your life.

Whatever we continually focus on will sooner or later manifest in our external experience.

If I keep focusing on something negative, the content of my mind will manifest in a negative outward experience.

If I keep focusing on the positive, the content of my mind will transform my outer reality into a positive experience (and heal PTSD as a side effect).

According to Brene Brown, no negative emotion can survive three things:

  1. Naming what you feel.
  2. Sharing it with a SAFE person.
  3. Getting relentless empathy from them.

So, how do you reverse post-traumatic stress disorder?

PTSD is created in the brain through some overwhelming emotion that triggered the release of stress chemicals.

PTSD is effectively reversed when we intentionally and continually refocus our mind on positive thoughts and interactions – and keep getting those hormones of love (oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin)!  

How can I generate positive emotions that will make me fly?

waterfall rapids

Is it possible to generate positive emotions or do we have no control over how we feel?

Have you ever noticed what your mind is doing when you are not watching?

When I suddenly become aware of my thoughts, I am always surprised to find out that they are happening without my involvement. They are automatic. I am on autopilot.

Thoughts just pop out of the blue, and my mind catches on to them and keeps chewing on them.

One automatic thought leads to another, then another, then another until I am drawn into an incessant inner narrative that usually comes with bright pictures and images.

Before I know it, those “voices” from the past get mixed with something I heard on the news recently or some of my old fears and resentments.

This deadly mixture circles in my mind, eventually creating a dark cloud of negativity that grows ever bigger until I become aware of myself and say: “Why am I thinking all this!”

It’s so hard to stop. If you are like me, you know that negativity can be delectable. There’s a certain pleasure in savoring how you’ve been mistreated in the past or how things can go sour in the future.

But such thoughts and emotions are poisonous and will very soon generate fear, anger, resentment, and selfishness.

How do you get rid of “stinking thinking” and generate positive emotions?

“Stinking thinking” is a negative train of thought that generates selfishness, fear, resentment, and dishonesty, and eventually leads to compulsive behaviors.

So, how do you get rid of it?

The paradox is this – the more you try to stop negative thinking the more you focus on that which you want to eliminate. And what you focus on grows bigger.

Resisting certain thoughts brings on more thoughts of a similar nature. This process repeats itself indefinitely until we… switch our focus to something else.

And this first step is usually the hardest one. By the time I realize I need to switch my focus, the momentum of the negative thoughts and images in my mind is so strong that it’s almost impossible to stop.

King Solomon once said,

For as [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7

We are what we think. Or rather, we are what we focus on. Our focus determines our life. To generate positive emotions we need to shift our focus.

However, we can’t stop negative thinking by thinking. Because the more we think about how to stop thinking the more we energize it through focus.

There’s a simple technique that allows you to switch your focus without thinking. The key is to find things, activities, or images that are EASY to focus on in the moment.

In other words, we can’t reverse the negative stream of thinking all at once, but as soon as we put our focus on just one “better-feeling” thing, activity, or image, it becomes easier.

As soon as we do this first step, the magic of Solomon’s wisdom unfolds – just like one negative thought attracts more negative thoughts so also one positive thought attracts more positive thoughts.

The first positive thought is usually the hardest one. The next one is easier, the third one is much easier, and so on.

What are some things that are EASY to focus on?

The list will be different for different people because what’s easy for me to focus on may not be easy for someone else.

Here are some things I find relatively easy to focus on:

  1. Laughing – watch a comedy.
  2. Writing – creativity pulls me out of negativity.
  3. Connecting with people – talking to friends.
  4. Walking in nature and naming things I am grateful for.
  5. Cooking.
  6. Playing with my kids.

With each laughter, each smile, each sunset, and each creative idea, the positive momentum grows stronger until cheerful thoughts start coming in easily.

Ordinary things stop being ordinary. As you walk in the park, you find yourself saying the words of Elizabeth Browning’s poem:

Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God.

Embrace All Your Feelings To Be Transformed – A Lesson From The Gospel of Thomas

Two girls hugging

Since ancient times, people intuitively knew that if you reject your feelings, you will be consumed by them, and if you embrace all your feelings, you will be transformed.

Blessed is the lion which becomes a man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, for the lion becomes a man.

The Gospel of Thomas

One thing my alcoholic father passed on to me is a feeling of emptiness and a desire to fill myself from outside in.

He chose to medicate the feeling with alcohol. I have tried to do the same with food, people, and workaholism.

If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it. Richard Rohr

The more I numb out my feelings on food, people, or work, the emptier I feel. The feeling is strong, and often comes without warning – regardless of what I do on the outside to alleviate it.

In fact, using external means to get rid of it doesn’t work.

Continue reading “Embrace All Your Feelings To Be Transformed – A Lesson From The Gospel of Thomas”

The Powerful Parasympathetic Effect of Meditation – Science Behind Ancient Contemplative Traditions

Lake with a pine tree

Is there science behind ancient contemplative practices and, if so, how does it explain the powerful parasympathetic effect of meditation?

The element of “letting go” is at the heart of all ancient spirituality.

Letting go is this inner gesture of release – of whatever you are holding on to in the moment. Or rather – of what is holding you.

Until recently, this knowledge was intuitive and experiential. There was no science to confirm the powerful stress-reducing effects of meditation.

But in recent decades, an eye-opening correlation has been found between those ancient forms of spirituality and the activation of the so-called parasympathetic nervous system.

The California-based HeartMath Institute collected data from the functional MRI hooked to the brain of a person actively engaged in meditation.  

The results were astounding! And they show why meditation has such a powerful parasympathetic effect.

What is the parasympathetic effect of meditation?

It turns out that the way we respond to a stimulus in the outer world determines what neural pathways will be activated in the brain.

If we respond to the stimulus with any sort of negativity – which on the physical level feels like tensing up, constricting, freezing, tightening, pushing away, shortening of breath, clinging, clutching, seizing, etc.) – we activate the so-called sympathetic nervous system.

In this case, our lizard brain (the oldest part of the brain that controls the fight and flight mechanism) gets a signal to start pumping stress hormones into our bloodstream and we feel this high-adrenaline fight-and-flight response. 

However, if we respond with the inner gesture of release, letting go, and relaxing this inner resistance, we activate our prefrontal cortex – the rational part of the brain, which brings on a powerful parasympathetic response.

The parasympathetic effect of meditation is the result of the mental gesture of letting go.

It feels like opening up, inner softening, gentle yielding, accepting, consenting, allowing, embracing.

In other words, as soon as we stop resisting whatever we don’t like about the present moment and start welcoming it, our sympathetic nervous system shuts off and the parasympathetic turns on.

As a result, we switch from “fight and flight” to “rest and digest.”

Here’s how it happens in the so-called Centering Prayer – my favorite form of meditation.

Continue reading “The Powerful Parasympathetic Effect of Meditation – Science Behind Ancient Contemplative Traditions”

How Nature Helps Us to Dissolve Ego Without Fighting It

A lake encircled by mountains

How do you dissolve Ego without fighting it?

What you resist persists.

All attempts to fight ego will ultimately strengthen it.

What you focus on gets energized. Ego cannot be suppressed; it can only be transcended.

How do you dissolve Ego without fighting it?

It dissolves by itself when we no longer need it for our sense of self. It gets bigger every time we feel we need it for the survival of our Self.

It melts away when we encounter a loving Presence and lose ourselves in Wonder.

This year, I felt it most acutely at Lake Tahoe – the place we go to for a short break from the stifling heat of summer in Houston.

June and July were oppressively hot and humid this year. As the muck intensified, I was yearning for vacation. When I am tired or feel stuck in the rat race of life, Ego shows its ugly head.

It’s hard not to think about yourself when you feel you lack something.

I tend to get irritated, impatient, frustrated, demanding, anxious, and perfectionistic. I may look calm, but I churn inside.

What are the signs of true humility?

C.S. Lewis said:

True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.

But how do you think of yourself less without thinking less of yourself?

How do you diminish yourself without demeaning yourself?

How do you hush your Ego down without putting a gag in its mouth?

How do you harness your Ego without resisting it?

Can you just talk it into quieting down without making it into your enemy?

It turns out, the art of humility – thinking of yourself less – cannot be achieved through willpower. But it comes naturally when we are smitten by Wonder.

The Greek word for “beauty” — kalos — has the same root as the verb “to call” — kaleo. Beauty calls. Kalos kaleo. The true function of Beauty is to call – to call us out of ourselves by the magnetic pull of Wonder.

As I stood by the quaint jewel of the Sierra Nevada, Echo Lake, I was smitten by its turquoise-to-azure waters set against the backdrop of gorgeous snow-topped mountains with their granite arms outstretched far and wide around the Desolation Wilderness in the most exquisite embrace.

I felt dwarfed, quieted, struck dumb, and ecstatic all at the same time.

I couldn’t think about myself at that moment – and I didn’t need to.  

I forgot myself entirely – I was one with the Whole.

I was diminished but not belittled. And I felt great.

All the irritation, impatience, frustration, anxiety, and perfectionism were gone. I was pulled out of myself, soaking in the ecstasy of the moment.

The Greek word for “ecstasy” (ekstasis) literally means “to stand outside of or transcend oneself.”

Continue reading “How Nature Helps Us to Dissolve Ego Without Fighting It”

How to Break Free from Addiction for Good — a Surprising Discovery by Bill Wilson

How to break free from addiction for good?

Whether it’s alcohol or social media, if you have battled with addiction for any number of years, you know that it’s not enough to just stop. Stopping is relatively easy. The hard part is not to start again.

Bill Wilson, a co-founder of AA, saw thousands of people quit drinking after “working the 12-step program.” But he noticed over time that many of them eventually replaced their old addiction with a new one.


Why do we keep relapsing?

“How often have some of us begun to drink in this nonchalant way, and after the third or fourth, pounded on the bar and said to ourselves, “For God’s sake, how did I ever get started again?’”

AA’s Big Book, page 24.

Why do we keep relapsing? According to Bill Wilson, an addict will remain an addict as long as they believe in their power.

We go back to our self-destructive behavior because we believe that through it we can control things.

For example, I fall into passive aggression and start pouting every time I feel offended because I believe that this will induce the other person to meet my needs.

The reason I fall into workaholism again and again is that I believe that through overperforming I can control how much I get in life. I reach out for this next piece of chocolate against my better judgment because I believe I can control my mood from outside in.

I believe in my own power. I am God.

Continue reading “How to Break Free from Addiction for Good — a Surprising Discovery by Bill Wilson”

A Simple 10-minute Practice That Undercuts the Root of Anxiety

Green forest and a trail

About two years ago I learned a simple 10-minute practice that undercuts the root of anxiety.

Brene Brown, the world-famous shame and vulnerability guru, described it so well in Oprah Winfrey’s show when speaking of the inner workings of shame:

“To grow exponentially, shame absolutely needs three things: secrecy, silence, and judgment. Shame cannot survive two things: being spoken and being met with empathy.”

All destructive emotions feed on secrecy, silence, and judgment. Reversing this pattern involves:

  1. Breaking the secrecy.
  2. Speaking up.
  3. Getting empathy from someone who will not judge you.

A simple 10-minute practice that undercuts the root of anxiety is surprisingly counterintuitive

After struggling with anxiety for about 30 years, I finally found something that works. As of today, I have not been anxious for over two years, which is surprising, given the circumstances I have been through.

My first anxiety attack came at 21 when I was a senior in college. It came totally out of the blue — it must have been triggered by a train of thought that I totally didn’t notice. And it felt so bad, I had to excuse myself and go out to breathe it away.

Since then I would get it every once in a while — always hitting out of the blue. Trying to “figure it out” never helped. In fact, it made it worse. I couldn’t trace it down to any external cause.

Of course, I did a bunch of things to get rid of it — talked to therapists, worked out, memorized Bible verses, and read tons of books on self-help, philosophy, and religion. It helped… sort of…until the next time.

Little did I know that the solution was totally non-rational.

Continue reading “A Simple 10-minute Practice That Undercuts the Root of Anxiety”

Loneliness – Social Media Exploits Your Need of Validation

According to G.K. Chesterton, truth is often paradoxical. It’s hard to believe that the problem of loneliness is actually rooted in too much interaction.

But this is what Sean Parker’s uncanny insight seems to suggest. Sean Parker is the founding president of Facebook. He explained in an interview why it’s so hard to resist the impulse to constantly check your social media – even while you are driving.

He shared how social media gradually hook you up.

“When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, ‘I’m not on social media.’ And I would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be.’” Now that this prediction is more than fulfilled, the question is even more intriguing.

Social Media AddictionSocial Media Addiction Engineering

How did they do it?

Sean explains that the founders used basic human psychology – our need for approval. Social media are nothing but a social-validation feedback loop.

It works like this – the moment you contribute some content and people like it, share it or comment on it, you get a little dopamine hit. This makes you want to contribute more content, which, in turn, gives you another hit.

You want more likes and comments. We all like to be liked (who knew?) – and social media provides that.

This fact is not easy to swallow – social media work because we are seeking validation. When we feel lonely, cut off, isolated, we want to get rid of this feeling at all costs. But does “interaction” on social media actually help us solve the problem of loneliness?

Far from it. Of course, we will temporarily feel “high.” Like a shot of whisky, it will medicate the distressing feeling of loneliness for a while. But when its tranquilizing effects wear off, we will feel even emptier than before, craving for more validation.

More likes, more comments, more shares. Our inner void will be growing and gradually become a gaping hole, an insatiable inner monster that gets hungrier with every attempt to feed it. Continue reading “Loneliness – Social Media Exploits Your Need of Validation”