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Tom stood on the corner transfixed by the tiger that stood looking at him.  He hardly dared to breathe.  As he stared into the golden eyes he could feel his heart pounding in terror.  His buddy Joe suddenly yelled "Hey, watch this!" and proceeded to climb on the tiger's back!  "NO! Joe, what are you doing?" Tom called out, horrified of what was surely about to happen to Joe.

Joe laughed "Get a pic!"  What? The bewildered look on Tom's face spoke for him.  Joe repeated, "Come on Tom, I can't stand here all day like this, get a pic!"

Tom moved over to the side as he reluctantly reached for his phone and in that small movement he realized that the "tiger" was only a drawing on the sidewalk.  From the angle he had first seen it, it looked SO real.  Now it became a bit distorted as he looked at it from another point.  As he continued closer to Joe, it became even more distorted and he started laughing.  He was laughing at what had racked his body with terror only moments before!

Isn't it funny how a small change in perception can create such a difference? 

What chalk drawings are holding you back by looking real to you today?  How many other ways are there to look at them to check they aren't just distorted images that only seem real?

Tom's tiger SEEMED so REAL but it was only a drawing on a sidewalk, and nobody is scared of a sidewalk!  

I had a stressful week at work, with work piling on and deadlines looming. Perhaps someone out there might be able to relate to that? As I thought about the things that were stressing me out, I noticed that they all felt very close, like they were crowding my physical space or breathing down my neck. As a result, whenever someone new came into the picture, or said something that added to the stress, I snapped at them when sometimes they were just offering a simple question. This could not continue.

Someone asked me last minute if I would change the time on a scheduled group meeting because it was inconvenient to his schedule. I had talked about the time several days prior, and this person was either not paying attention at the time or was not attending the other group meetings. My initial response was “How DARE they be so pompous as to imply that the rest of our schedules should work around theirs when they're barely a contributing member of this team! They need a serious lesson in consideration of other people!” The irony of that last thought interrupted the pattern of my ranting, as I recognized myself being similarly inconsiderate. So I paused, took a breath, and stepped back, metaphorically speaking. Rather than respond to how I interpreted the words, I considered what else I might be missing with such a myopic focus. This meeting was an extra session outside of normal business hours, which no one was required to attend. The fact this person was willing to give up their weekend mattered more than the 50 or so others who weren’t even open to the idea. And with that distance, I was able to see a greater scope: was this one sentence text message really worth elevated blood pressure and anger ruining a perfectly pleasant Saturday?

Try This

Consider a situation that would get you very emotional in a negative way, whether that’s sad or angry. Get a really good sense of that situation, enough to feel those emotions getting stirred up; perhaps you might see it in front of you, or just know that it’s there without seeing it consciously. Notice where you are in relation to what is happening: are you in the scene, only able to see/be aware of the others? Or are you seeing it as if it were on a screen (television, movie, cell phone, computer) in front of you? Wherever you perceive that scene to be, move it closer to you and feel that emotion intensity. Then move it back to its original position. Now, imagine doubling that distance and notice what happens to the emotion. What happens if you double that again? What else can you be aware of in that scene now that it’s further away. Notice the change in emotion as that scene moves so far off in the distance that it vanishes. When you move something further away from you, you have less connection to it. By dissociating from it, you gain more power to affect and influence, or even outright change it.

This technique of dissociation is helpful not only in managing emotional impact, but can help with physical discomfort as well. If you have an unpleasant sensation in your body--whether that is tightness, pressure, or pain--really get a sense of it by focusing in to start. Then, in whatever way resonates with you, imagine that sensation being just outside of your body, followed by a few feet away, then the other side of the room. Notice how the sensation changes in relation to the distance. I wonder if it would become more comfortable if you move it away to the left, or away to the right.

Where is one area or situation in your life where a change in perspective will open new possibilities?

A young lady who came to see me recently was in a bit of a bind that is typical of many high school students. It was time to choose a career: her family had always expected her to enter the medical field, and she was feeling drawn to a different profession, in entertainment and media. In the past she had always done what her family wanted, even at the cost of sacrificing her personal desires, but this was different. She told her family she was applying to the other program, which surprised her parents so much that all conversation ceased for several days.

After she explained the situation, she asked me the title question: is it selfish of me to care so much about being happy in my career, rather than doing what my family wants?

We are all motivated by a number of different drivers in our lives. The values we have and the states we want are what cause us to choose our careers, purchases, homes, communities. Psychology professor Steven Reiss conducted a large-scale study in the late twentieth-century into what motivates us, and identified sixteen basic drivers, including values like romance, honor, order, and tranquility. None of the sixteen are better or worse than the others, they can each be healthy in their own way. Understanding your own personal drivers can help you transform blocks where you may be perhaps trying to motivate yourself with something that doesn't work.

I have friends who work in jobs that they actively dislike and, if they were not getting paid, would not be doing. However, that is fine with them and they are OK with that fact, because it allows them to take care of their families and pay for vacations and expensive luxury items. That's not a choice I could have made, because I would not be able to get up and go to work in the morning if I did not enjoy what I was doing or find it fulfilling. I also cannot afford the same vacations and purchases they can, yet I would say we are both happy in our own way.

I answered the young lady as best as I could: it's not for me or anyone else to judge what another person should be doing for their own happiness. There's no apology necessary for wanting to be happy in a healthy and rewarding job, and that I hoped her family would come to understand that and the relationship would repair naturally, as opposed to her forcing herself into a smaller box.

What is it that gets you out of bed and is behind everything you do, propelling you forward like a rocket?

Are you one of those who

  • Wakes up, starts thinking about today’s to-do list, and feels intense heaviness and tightness on the body?
  • Opens the eyes, begins to worry about what might happen, and feels heartbeat racing and breathing fast?
  • Thinks, oh crap pills don’t work on me and I can’t see my doctor/therapist today, what can I do?
  • Feel, I’m too tired to even move, or I’m just feeling paralyzed not knowing what to do...

Panic attack as a result of overthinking and over worrying, shows signs of insecurity behind which is the fear of “something bad might happen”. 

But the truth is, by labelling yourself as “I have panic attack” “I need meds” is like putting youridentify on a victim status and accepting that “I’m ill”. With that identity you’re allowing “I get stuck” to plant the seeds.

That is not what you really want, isn’t it? You want to be free of it, be the victor, and cultivate the ability to handle any challenging situations without panic attack, don’t you?

A simple and yet effective tip to flip from victim to victor is a quick linguistic tweak. When you begin to worry about “What if xyz” in an internal sentence, add a word “So” and a “,” in that sentence:

SO WHAT, IF xyz”. 

Read that new sentence again, “SO WHAT, IF xyz”, again” SO WHAT, IF xyz”.

Feeling the difference now? This shift in wording is not to meant to avoid the issue, simplify the problem, or ignore what must be done for healing. It’s to bring you a perspective to recheck the reality, stop blowing things out of proportion, and reverse all those patterns of

  • All or nothing thinking
  • Over generalizing
  • Mentally filtering out the positive aspects
  • Disqualifying the positive
  • Jumping into conclusions quickly
  • Magnifying the negatives and minimizing the positives
  • Emotional reasoning for the worse scenario
  • Critical wording to yourself such as “should” “must” “ought”
  • Labelling yourself with victim or loser identity
  • Personalizing responsibility as something must be wrong with you and that’s all your fault 

Another fundamental element that you know but often forget or overlook when you get panic attack, is the importance to relax. Relaxation slows down heartbeat and breathing rate, lowers blood pressure, improves digestion, maintains normal blood sugar levels, reduces activity of stress hormones, increases blood flow to major muscles, and reduces tension and chronic pain, stiffness, migraine, etc.

Here is a quick exercise you can do relax almost instantly when you wake up with panic attack.

  • Notice that panic attack and give it a color/shape, let’s say for example red circle.
  • Name a feeling that you’d rather have such as peace or calmness and give it another color/shape, let’s say green triangle.
  • Inhale and imagine breathing in that calm and peaceful green triangle.
  • Exhale twice longer and imagine releasing that red circle of panic.
  • Repeat the process, each time inhale a little longer and hold the breath, and exhale slowly, twice longer.
  • Continue this awareness breathing a few more times until the panic is not attacking you anymore.

You might wonder will this work because it seems so simple? It’s simple but not simplistic. You breathe 24/7 so this is the handiest tool available to you that you can easily do without even moving in bed.

And this is a BABY STEP that works. Here’s why.

When you feel “I can’t do anything” then don’t force yourself as that will just create a mental block to resist any change actions. Just take a BABY STEP to inhale and exhale slowly while thinking about the in/out of the colors, notice any changes in feelings/sensations, and just that. 

Because every little step, is more forward than staying and getting stuck. That’s right. The last thing you want to do is to stay at Step Zero, so any small steps is good enough, much better than no steps. 

There’s no perfect way of doing these two exercises, as there’s no right or wrong answer. There’s only you, allowing the time and space to address panic attack, in simple but consistent steps moving forward.

Our entire lives are controlled by our mind. All that we are, all that we think, all that we feel, all that we perceive and all that we do, starts and finishes in our mind. This of course offers us a great opportunity when we recognize this basic fact of the human experience. This is because in recognizing it, we come to a place where we can control it, thereby making it possible to control everything in our life. In fact, we can control everything to the finest detail, once we learn how it is done. Once we realize that we not only have all the tools necessary to do that, but that we have had them all along.

The brain is two major parts, the left brain and the right brain, separated by a barrier known as the Corpus Collosum. This barrier when examined in fMRI imaging, has a bit of activity passing back and forth between the two halves of the brain. However, when we go into hypnotic trance and take another image, we find that the activity passing through the barrier is markedly increased. There is scientific proof that hypnosis changes the function of the brain. But how is that useful?

It is in fact very useful! I speak of the brain and I speak of the mind. These are two different things in my vocabulary, because we know quite a bit about the brain, but the mind is vast and complex beyond our current ability to fully understand. It is likely that a good hypnotist understands the mind the best out of any profession. Can a brain surgeon change your mind? Your habits? Reactions? Beliefs? No, of course not. An experienced hypnotist however, can do all of that and more, simply with words.

The mind is composed of two parts, the conscious mind or “CM” and the subconscious mind or “SCM.” They protect us and they protect each other. The CM is the part that contains our awareness. Everything you perceive during your waking hours is filtered through the CM. The CM examines it, compares it to what is stored in the SCM and looks for things that match up before allowing anything to be transferred to the SCM. This is why changing a habit with willpower alone is so difficult. The SCM is where all our basic programs are running and therefore, it is in charge of all change.

You see, when the CM compares something to what is stored in the SCM and finds that it does not substantially match up with that, it rejects the incoming information and thus, it never reaches the SCM, where all changes are made. So, when we tell ourselves, for instance, “I am quitting smoking Right now, today. I am no longer going to smoke!” The CM looks at the SCM and finds the SCM has you as a smoker, thus the CM, having found a discrepancy, rejects the change you desire. And in very short order, you are smoking again.

And know this, smoking is not an addiction. It is a habit which is worse for us. First, there is not enough nicotine in cigarettes to addict you. Now, perhaps in the thousand chemicals the tobacco companies put in them there is an addictive substance. I have no clue. However, look at the heroin junkie, they have to keep increasing the dosage to get the same effect. Why? Because they are addicted and their body adjusts to the heroin. Same with pills. But, as I said, quitting is very difficult on your own. You have to break the habit. The CM protects that habit.

If when you were a child, your parents taught you that a football or soccer field is square, when you got into school and the teacher puts up a rectangle, you would identify it as a square, right? Because that is what you have been taught it is and that is the information in your SCM. So, when the teacher corrects you, you would reject the correction and insist it is a square. You would be very resistant to changing the identification of that shape to a rectangle. This may well wind up with a trip to the principals office.

In hypnosis, we move the CM to the side and deal directly with the SCM. Therefore, a hypnotist can change that perception very rapidly, because the CM is not able to interfere in the change process. Now, that is a very simple example and a simple yet direct fix to the situation. Hopefully you can extrapolate that out to see the great potential of hypnosis. But can someone deal with their SCM directly? Yes, absolutely they can. But, it is not as easy as it may seem. Let us look at a simple case of someone dealing with their SCM directly without understanding the basic principals involved. Actually, doing it unwittingly and without awareness of what is happening.

You are getting ready to leave the house. You realize you are not sure where your keys are and you start searching for them. Eventually, when you do find them, they are right where you left them and right where you looked a dozen times. What were you repeatedly saying to yourself as you looked for your keys? Likely something like “I can't find my keys, I am going to be late!” The SCM picked up on that and thought that you did not want to find your keys and so made them invisible to you. That is negative hypnosis and I use it all the time in street and stage hypnosis to appear to the subject I turn invisible.

Understand, the SCM in an adult though it has great wisdom, has the maturity of a 6 year old. So you have to know how to handle that mix for good results. Whats the old saying? “Be careful what you ask for, you might get it!” Yes, that's the one and it is very good advice when communicating with the SCM. Because the SCM does not care what you want, it will give it to you if you can frame the request so it understands. When looking for your keys, say to yourself “I am going to find my keys quickly” so that if the SCM picks it up, it helps you.

So how does a hypnotist make changes in our mind? First, they move the CM out of the way. Then, they will deepen the trance sufficiently that they can work directly with your SCM and change the programs that make you who you are. You want to get rid of anxiety? Great, a hypnotist can do that. You want to get rid of a phobia? No problems for the seasoned hypnotist.

Anyone with an IQ above about 85 can be hypnotized. When people tell me they cannot be hypnotized, I immediately ask to see their death certificate and autopsy report. Without that function of the mind, your heart, lungs, liver, immune system.... well, everything stops working. The death certificate would be enough, but I am curious how the coroner would explain that death. Selfish me.

And when they tell me they are too intelligent to be hypnotized I laugh! Because the more intelligent you are, the easier it is for you to enter trance. That intelligence is communicating with the SCM all on its own already, so the connections are already half made.

And children from about 6 to 18 are very susceptible to hypnosis. More susceptible than someone with the same IQ who is 35. Why? Because they do not have the preconceptions and their mind is not closed. They are using their SCM, that is where the imagination is. That is where the artistic and musical abilities are. And children, as most know, have very vivid imaginations!

Thanks for reading, I hope this helps someone.

In last week's entry, I referenced the advice given by mindfulness teacher Pema Chodron, to notice what you are feeling in your body without judgment, the chemicals in the bloodstream from the emotional trigger will fade within 90 seconds. What does it mean, to notice without judgement?

Recently, a few disappointing and upsetting things happened to me over a 4-day period. A project I had worked on for weeks I discovered could not be rolled out the night before it was scheduled to because of a technical setting in my work account I had no control over. On the same night I discovered that one of my pets, whom I'd had for 5 years, had passed away unexpectedly and for unknown reasons. A group I had been contracted to work with for an event went over the time they were supposed to leave by, leading to my getting home late and losing sleep. Another project I had been planning for months ran into a hiccup just as I publicly announced its rollout, generating interest from several people that I might not be able to fulfill any more.

Benign attention

One of the key practices in mindfulness is to observe things happening for what they are in the present, without judgment. When learning meditation, many people get frustrated and quit over the thoughts that inevitably arise while one is trying to keep a clear mind. As we are criticizing those thoughts, we are becoming attached, holding on with hooks sunk in deeper the more energy we give. The quality of benign attention is to watch something with no attachment to an outcome, no judgment. When we apply judgment, we are adding to the experience, changing it, and no longer simply acknowledging or being aware of it in its natural form. If it's a sensation, that sensation could get stronger, or weaker, or stay the same; either makes no difference, you merely sit and watch with an unhurried curiosity. If you become aware of yourself becoming attached or judging, just notice that for what it is as well, benignly. Reduce the energy you are giving to that thought in half, then cut it in half again, and again. Until you are not sure if you are giving it any energy any more. Do I still have thoughts about the troubling occurrences that happened, even though it's been a couple days? Yes, they do rise to the surface every so often. Am I thinking about them? No.

How am I directing my attention to the things that really matter, and cultivating the best soil for healthy plants to grow and bear fruit?

Negative emotions like fear and anger can seem to last forever, but do they have to?

When something occurs and we have the thought that it might be threatening to us, one of our protective emotions is triggered (fear, anger), and our bodies instinctively respond. Chemicals are released that physiologically send us into a state of readiness to deal with the aforementioned threat. Those chemicals have a natural lifespan, leaving the bloodstream to return the body to a more neutral state, and that lifespan is 90 seconds. If an emotion seems to last for longer than 90 seconds, we have done something to restart or prolong that chemical response. Dr Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist with a special appreciation for the brain functions we might take for granted. She experienced a rare form of stroke in 1996 that necessitated her rebuilding her brain from the inside out over eight years.

"If, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run."

Jill Bolte Taylor

The phrase "I have chosen to let" is powerful. How many times do we feel at the mercy of an emotion, like it has taken the reins of the team of horses and is driving down a path where we don't wish to go? We may struggle and fight with that emotion, adding more negative feelings on top of it, so that the wagon's speed increases ever faster and the grip of the emotion sinks in deeper. Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun and author on mindfulness, teaches that if you allow the feeling to exist and notice what you are feeling in your body without judgment, justification, or constructing a story about it, it will dissipate in 90 seconds.

"Feel the feeling -- drop the story."

Pema Chodron

Instead of the question I usually close my entries with, I would like to leave you a quote from the novel Dune by Frank Herbert. This process has been useful to me in times of fear and anxiety, as a reminder that the feelings and distortions are temporary and if I would watch them pass without attaching, they would leave all the more quickly and easily.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, Dune