Overcoming Guru-phobia

By Matthew B. James, Ph.D.

I received a comment on a blog post I recently wrote and it got me thinking about the need to forgive spiritual teachers when we feel they have let us down.

There are teachers in spiritual traditions around the globe working to make our planet a better place. They are working to increase tolerance and understanding and promote peace, prosperity and personal growth.

Yet, spiritual teachers are human and bound to make mistakes. Some people carry wounds from past experiences with spiritual teachers. Unfortunately, the human tendency when this happens is like “gotcha” journalism – it can cause people to be so distrustful that they see negativity everywhere. People may feel that because one teacher let them down, all of them are bad. Or they find a new spiritual tradition and feel that their former one is wrong.

In the Huna tradition of ancient Hawaii there is a saying I learned from one of my kumu (teachers) Uncle George Naope. He had it posted at his hula school: A ohe pau ko ike i kou halau. The rough English translation is, “Think not that all wisdom is in your school.” By grasping this idea we are able to share ideas and concepts from many traditions with mutual respect. For me, it is a reminder that Huna is one of many paths to understanding.

There are many examples of teachers from all different spiritual traditions who have made mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes have directly hurt their followers. When people hold onto hurt feelings from these experiences, they may attack other teachers and traditions without taking the time to learn about them.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to begin learning Huna at the age of 13 directly from Hawaiian elders such as Uncle George. They passed down this knowledge, a gift based on thousands of years of experience, to our family. As someone who has studied and been authorized to teach from an ancient sacred tradition, I wrote these guidelines to help people find a reputable and authentic teacher:

1. Do your research. Check out the teacher’s background. A spiritual teacher should have extensive personal experience and either cultural or academic credentials. Does this person come from an established lineage? Does he or she have academic degrees from an accredited and respected university? What is the extent of the teacher’s practical, real-life experience with participants? Has he or she completed original research, participated in studies, written articles or books?

2. Beware of self-hype. Does the teacher call himself a guru? If so, he’s probably not. True spiritual teachers are humble and don’t need to puff themselves up. One of my kumu (teachers) Uncle George Naope would say, “if you have to call yourself a Kahuna, you’re probably not one.” In ancient times, these titles were given, not taken, and even when given, there was humbleness.

3. Check out followers. Are these the kind of people you want to associate with? Are they like-minded individuals with goals similar to your own? Are their testimonials believable? What kind of progress have they made during their course of study in the tradition you’re considering?

4. Does the safety and wellbeing of students come first? What safety precautions and procedures are in place? Are these explained thoroughly before any kind of adventure, challenge, or unusual act is undertaken? Is there an alternative for people who don’t feel up to the challenge so they can still enjoy and benefit from the experience? For 21 years now, we have been running our Huna workshop every March and September in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. During the workshop, we take our haumana (students) on a field trip and hike across the volcano. Not everyone can make the hike, so there is an alternative field trip at the volcano that is just as powerful and profound. Spiritual studies are not about pushing the limits, but finding your foundation and exploring the mana (energy) in the simplest moments.

5. Beware of autocracy. Does the teacher demand that you follow him to the exclusion of all other teachers or paths? If so, that is a red flag that should alert you to stay away. Teachers who are secure with themselves and their teachings encourage their students to discover knowledge on their own and not to take their word as “the truth.” A trustworthy leader asks that students check in with themselves to find their own inner knowledge.

6. Look for openness. Does the teacher encourage you to find your own voice and path? Does he or she create a safe space for participants to voice their fears, concerns or questions?

7. Does the teacher “walk the talk?” This goes back to doing your homework. Research the teacher’s background and talk to people who have been through the training to determine if the leader practices what he teaches. Does he lead an exemplary life? Is he honest about his mistakes?

8. Beware of false promises. The old adage applies here: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t be afraid to question the claims being made. An authentic spiritual teacher will not be threatened and will take the time to answer your questions.

9. Understand your expectations. What do you hope to get out of the training? It is a good idea to write this down beforehand and to discuss it with the teacher to assure your expectations are realistic and aligned with the benefits of the teaching.

10. Respect your limits. Be aware of any physical or other constraints that might affect your participation and discuss them beforehand with the teacher. If you have specific needs, make them known so the teacher can accommodate them if possible. Above all take care of yourself and pay attention to signs of fatigue, illness or concern. You are the ultimate guardian of your health and happiness.

Finally, when considering something as important as spiritual training, you should trust your gut, even in cases where you research the leader and the program you plan to attend, and pay attention to your feelings about whether this leader and event are right for you. If you are feeling ill at ease or experiencing spiritual discord, listen to those cues.

All teachers should not be mistrusted because of the mistakes of a few. Whatever has happened in the past, people need to forgive. Holding on to hurt feelings only leads to bitterness and distrust that can cause people to miss out on future opportunities to grow and learn.

On the other hand, if people are able to acknowledge and then release past hurts, they will remain open to learning from the many diverse and wonderful spiritual traditions of humanity. The more we are able to forgive, the more freedom we will experience – freedom to embrace the present and the future without the past weighing us down. That’s what forgiveness is all about.

Source Psychology Today

Naysayers and Procrastination

By Dr. Bill Knaus EdD

How many times have you heard people negate your ideas or down what you wanted to do?  You have a new idea about how to streamline an operation. A co-worker says your idea is too impractical. You want to write a children’s book. A cousin tells you the publishing market is too tough. Throughout your life you’ll meet many of these wet blanket specialists with a knack for downing ideas and spoiling good times.The naysayer effect is when you take the unstudied words of negators too seriously and procrastinate on actualizing your wishes and plans. This self-limiting is a major stress.

So, who are the naysayers? When you hear a naysaying, and accept it, does this give you an excuse for procrastinating?  When you naysay against yourself, will you procrastinate? Let’s see.

Naysayer Qualifications

Naysayings are contrary opinions.  They also are risky predictions.  Before Wilbur and Orville Wright made their first heavier than air flight, The New York Times predicted that the plane wouldn’t get off the ground.  Before the Beatles became famous, Decca Recordings rejected the group. An executive said the public had no interest in guitar groups. Some predicted that Apple’s iPad would flop.

Naysaying may be stirred by personal reasons. Here is a sample: (1) Self-doubters project insecurities.  (2) Jealousy can stir negations. (3) Perfection can be expressed through pessimism. (4)  A well-meaning friend may want to spare you from disappointment.  (5) Experts can gain status with quip, contrary, statements.  (6) A need for control.

If I accepted naysayer opinions early in my  life, I’d be sweeping floors for a living. Here is a later-in-life example. When I proposed writing a procrastination book, an editor told me that she doubted there was enough for a brief article.  There were no psychology books out on procrastination at that time. This was a pioneering effort. The editor had no understanding of the scope of procrastination. I did. Since then, I  wrote five procrastination books. The combined sales were around 1 million copies. The original two books triggered a revolution in self-help and research in this area.

Judging Others’ Judgments

Understanding naysayer motivations creates a useful context for what is going on. However, the test lies in what you do to pit your idea against reality.  Here are two thoughts for identifying and meeting this challenge:

1. Agree with the naysayer and you cope out on yourself. You might tell yourself you could succeed if you tried and mute your self-downing voice with this excuse. Now you have two forms of procrastination: (a) skirting evaluating the evaluation; (b) derailing yourself from pursuing what you want. Here are four change opportunities: (a) Dismantle dismissive arguments by matching them against your interests, incentives, and abilities. (b) Identify and examine the naysayer statement to see where the gaps lie. (c) Get second and third opinions from objective people.  (d) Form your own opinions to include probable pros and cons of your proposed actions.

2. In the Kung Fu Panda movie the hero’s father reminded Po the Panda that his role in life was to sell noodle soup.  This insecure Panda dreamed of learning Kung Fu. By accident, he gained the opportunity. He overcome discouragement, persisted, mastered Kung Fu, and saved his community from ruin at the hands of a vengeful Kung Fu master. He succeeded by learning, inventing, and melding this natural attributes in a way where he enabled himself to meet the challenge. This optimistic message appears in other stories where the main character keeps going when the going gets tough.  (Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces gives many examples of this process.)

Naysayers inspire procrastination. They also serve a useful purpose. You may feel challenged and work extra hard to achieve. If you don’t buckle, this is a measure of your conviction.

Take a studied approach to your major life changes and challenges. This preparation insulates against naysayer statements. You’ll boost your confidence in your judgments. You are more likely to make better predictions and decisions. However, preparation is not a finger snapping event.  

Defeating Procrastination Caused by Self-Negation

The more you tilt toward self-negation, the more you’ll shy from creating opportunities for yourself. This procrastination is rooted in self-doubts.

Awareness is a start in the direction of growing your potential. Reasonably objective self-awareness influences deciding the types of challenges you’ll meet and for connecting your abilities to the task. If an objective self-awareness is desirable, then what else do you need to be aware of?

1. The ancient Greek aphorism, Know Thyself, has many prescriptions.  Experimentation is one.   If a naysayer discourages you from going to college, rather than foreclose on the idea, test the waters. Take an interesting course. See what results. Let the outcome be your guide.

2. Do you too often struggle with yourself and delay because of uncertainty and doubts? Do you then numb your interests through painful doubts and inaction? Absorb yourself in this form of naysaying thinking and you may find yourself going round the same circle.  To break from this rut, identify and debunk your own false judgments. A defeatist “I can’t win. Why bother trying.” form of self-statement is especially pernicious, but also debatable.  Measure your own naysayer judgments against these criteria: (a) Where does the judgment lead me? (2) Would a reasonable person concur that this is my only direction? (3) What disconfirming evidence brings the judgment into question?  Honest answers can help balance perspective.

3. A self-absorbed perspective is where you draw into yourself and lose sight of the big picture because you magnify a grain of sand. Look inward in this way and you’ll know much about very little. For example, you see dangers everywhere, stay stuck worrying, and miss out on much in life.  Because you declare yourself a “worrier,” you automatically negate your ability to change.  A reasonably objective perspective is radically different. You operate self-observantly. For example, you fix your attention on what you want to accomplish. You concentrate your efforts on advancing an idea or method. This radical shift can start with a flicker of a vision of what you want to accomplish. Clarity comes from action.  Confidence is a byproduct of taking purposeful action. With confidence comes a lessening of worrying.

You have no guarantees for success in life. Failure is part of learning.  Uncertainties are inevitable.  However, listening to naysaying from others and yourself is self-limiting. There is more to the picture. Getting a broader but reasoned perspective, then acting on this perspective, puts awet blanket on the naysayer effect.  You are likely to get more out of life.

Source Psychology Today

Recommitting is the Key to Long-Term Recovery from Alcoholism

By Sarah Allen Benton, M.S., L.M.H.C.

Recovery is an ongoing process and those fortunate to have long-term recovery have one thing in common- an ability to recommit themselves. It has been observed that people often get sober and as a result expect that life should go their way-a reward, in a sense, for their “good” behavior. However, that is not generally what happens. In fact, many sober high-functioning alcoholics, in particular, report that their lives often get worse before better. While this may seem unfair, it is actually a blessing in disguise- for it can ensure that the motivation to remain sober becomes internal and not based solely on external rewards. For example, a person gets sober and then receives a new job, a romantic relationship and everything external in their life takes a positive turn. Inevitably a negative situation will arise and the individual may struggle to cope and feel that there is no point to being sober because life is not going their way. In contrast, when a person is staying sober despite difficult circumstances initially, they are able to increase their distress tolerance and to realize that recovery is about slow internal growth and not dramatic external rewards. It does not matter what the conditions are in early sobriety for an individual-positive or negative, for over time difficulties will arise. It is imperative to learn how to deal with the good, bad and indifferent waves that life will inevitably bring forth.

Initially, getting sober may feel exciting, new and fresh-the world suddenly appears different and a person may feel better mentally and physically. However, this “pink cloud”, as many have labeled it, will wear off and “reality” of this lifelong venture will set in. At this time it is crucial to have a social support system in place as well as outside help for co-occurring mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, etc. (i.e., individual therapy and medication management-as needed). Getting through a difficult time while staying sober builds their “muscle” and makes the next challenge feel possible to work through. Recovery itself may start to feel mundane and tedious and it is up to the individual to take a look at all facets of their lives to see what actions they need to take in order to get back on track. This is the process of “re-committing” and it involves acknowledgement of weakness in an area(s) of recovery and then self-correcting.

There are many aspects involved in having stable recovery. Some common areas in which sober alcoholics may lose their commitment over time are:
• Attending individual therapy as recommended
• Exercising
• Obtaining proper sleep
• Maintaining balanced nutrition
• Attending regular mutual-help meeting (A.A., SMART Recovery, Women for Sobriety)
• Attending group therapy
• Staying in contact with sober peers
• Not engaging in other addictive behaviors (i.e., shopping, sex, gambling)
• Taking prescribed medication that has been assessed as necessary
• Being honest
• Pursuing spiritual practice
• Following through with daily responsibilities (i.e., work, paying bills, chores)
• Giving back to others
• Involvement in healthy relationships (friendships, family and romantic)

One pattern that can lead to relapse is, for example, not attending mutual-help meetings for a period of time and then feeling discouraged about this pattern, giving up all effort in other areas of recovery and possibly relapsing. Instead of viewing this break from an aspect of recovery as a temporary lull and then recommitting, many individuals use “black and white” thinking to judges themselves in a negative way and as a result may “give up” on sobriety. However, no one is perfect, and everyone with long-term recovery has had a time when they were lacking motivation in one area or another. The key is to observe what aspect of life is out of balance and to work on making adjustments without giving up completely. Sometimes creating small and obtainable daily goals can help a person to get back into their routine. It is important to reach out for help and to talk with others in their support network about these challenges-for no one has to be alone on this path.

Source Psychology Today

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Brain Pacemaker Holds Promise for Untreatable Depression


According to experts, nearly 10 percent of all cases of depression are so severe that patients do not respond to any established treatment method. But stimulating targeted brain areas with a type of “brain pacemaker” has shown promising results.

According to initial studies, half of patients with the most severe depression treated with deep brain stimulation see a significant improvement in mood.

Now, physicians from the University of Bonn in Germany, together with colleagues from the U.S., have suggested a new target structure for this intevention which they hope will achieve an even better success rate with fewer side effects.

In deep brain stimulation, physicians implant electrodes in the brain. Then, using an electrical pacemaker implanted under the patient’s clavicle, physicians can influence the function of certain areas of the brain.

The method was originally developed for treating patients with Parkinson’s disease to treat its typical movement problems.

For several years, the method has also been investigated in the treatment of the most severe cases of depression, with striking and completely unexpected success. In patients who had undergone many years of unsuccessful treatment, the symptoms sometimes significantly resolved.

The most striking aspect: “Depression does not return in patients who responded to the stimulation,” said Professor Dr. Thomas Schläpfer from the Bonn Hospital for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy.

“The method appears to have lasting effects – and this is in the case of the most treatment-resistant patient group described in the literature. This has never before happened.”

Deep brain stimulation has been tested to date in three different areas of the brain: the nucleus accumbens, the internal capsule, and a structure known as cg25.

Surprisingly, the effects are nearly identical – regardless of which of these centers the physicians stimulate. Together with colleagues from Baltimore and Washington, the Bonn researchers have since been able to explain why this is the case. Using a novel tomography method, they were able to make what they call the “cable system” of the three brain centers visible.

“In doing this, we determined that at least two of these three areas – probably even all three – are attached to one and the same cable harness,” said Bonn brain surgeon Professor Dr. Volker Coenen.

This is the so-called medial forebrain bundle, which forms a kind of feedback loop that allows us to anticipate positive experiences. “This circuit motivates us to take action,” said Coenen.

“In patients with depression, it is apparently disrupted. This results in, among other things, an extreme lack of drive – a characteristic symptom of the disease.”

The nucleus accumbens, internal capsule, und cg25 all appear to be connected to the medial forebrain bundle – rather like leaves are connected to the branch from which they arise.

Whoever stimulates one of these regions of the brain simultaneously influences the other components of the motivation circuit to a certain extent.

Coenen, who was the first to anatomically describe the forebrain bundle in humans, now proposes implanting the electrode for deep brain stimulation directly into this structure.

“We would use the electrode to send the current pulses to the base of the network and not to the periphery, as before,” said Schläpfer. “We could thus potentially work with lower currents and yet achieve greater success.”

Observations of patients with Parkinson’s disease appear to support this idea: In this case, a network of brain structures responsible for movements is stimulated.

The more basally (figuratively speaking: near the branch) the electrical stimulation is applied, the greater its effect. At the same time, the risk of adverse side effects is reduced.

By now, more than 80,000 patients with Parkinson’s disease worldwide have a brain pacemaker in their body.

“Experiences to date demonstrate that the brain intervention necessary for this is relatively low-risk,” said Coenen.

“Thus from a medical point of view, there is nothing that argues against also using this method to help people with very severe depression.”

The work is published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews.

Source Psych Central

What is Mental Health?

By Dr. Larry Culliford

This big question has been on my mind for over thirty years, since I first realized my teachers had no satisfactory answer. What is mental health? Intuition always told me that it is more than the absence of psychiatric symptoms… Much more!

It is good that medical students learn about healthy anatomy and physiology first, then about pathology, about what goes wrong with the body. However, like other already qualified doctors training to be psychiatrists in the 1970’s, I was plunged directly into dealing with psychotic patients,psychotherapy cases, and heavily dysfunctional families. It was mainly ‘learn-as-you-go’. There was little about normal psychology, although classes on developmental psychology helped orientate us a little.

I eventually came to understand the need to think about mental health according to five inter-related dimensions. Some of what follows may seem obvious, but it is worth spelling out in order to reflect on it again later.

The first of these dimensions is ‘physical’: concerning matter and energy, atoms and molecules. Lithium carbonate, a naturally occurring salt, for example, has a mood stabilizing effect, useful in some people with bipolar disorder. Neuro-transmitters, hormones, toxins and medications affecting mental health are among some of the more complex chemicals we need to know about. Proteins and genes are made of chemicals too, of course: peptides and DNA.

The next dimension is ‘biological’. Based on the chemistry of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, chlorine, potassium, calcium, sulphur, iron and other elements, it is essentially animate. Biological systems, organs and organisms are alive. Health at this level will obviously impact on mental health at the next.

The third, ‘psychological’ dimension depends on the whole body, and particularly on one organ, the brain, the seat of individual consciousness and four basic, seamlessly interconnected sets of function: sense perception, thought (cognition), emotion (affect) and impulse (to speech and action). In the healthy mind, these four functions are in balance, mediating and interacting with more complex functions like memory and imagination; thoughts and emotions, in other words, about the past, the future and of what may be happening elsewhere.

Next, human beings’ interacting with each other brings the fourth ‘social’ dimension into operation. We communicate with each other through our bodies and minds, mainly through touch, vision and hearing, through behaviour and language (spoken and written). Pre-verbal contact and communication are vital in infancy, preparing us for non-verbal forms of interaction later. Retaining a strong capacity for empathic awareness, for example, the ability to detect directly the emotional condition and experiences of another person in real time as they are happening, is usually a sign of robust mental health.

Another important aspect of the social dimension concerns the formation and dissolution of social groups. The effects of both belonging and being rejected have consequences for the mental health of individual members. This is one of several areas where there is scope for improving our understanding of the relationship between personal and social psychology.

Those who adhere to the secular/scientific model may think that this goes far enough, that the basic disciplines studied by psychiatrists – physics, chemistry, biology, psychology and sociology – are sufficient to explain everything important to us in the universe. I disagree. The fifth ‘spiritual’ dimension is essential, definitive, crucial and central to completion of the picture.

The spiritual dimension has no boundaries. It is ultimately unquantifiable and indefinable. However, it forms part of each person’s unique and deeply personal experience. At the same time, it has universal qualities. Necessarily, therefore, it engages us firmly with mystery.

Paradoxically, that is why it makes vital sense. After all, there is scientific uncertainty – and therefore an element of mystery – in regard to all four preceding dimensions. The origins of the universe, of existence, however much we think we know of them, have not been revealed unequivocally in a way that defeats uncertainty. There is mystery yet too about the beginnings of life, and about the basis and nature of human consciousness. It is true that we humans – through the rapid and successful development of science – seem to be relatively knowledgeable. Think deeply, though, and it eventually becomes clear that we cannot claim total and absolute knowledge… about anything!

As scientific knowledge expands, questions continue to proliferate. Only the spiritual dimension, dealing with the absolute and embracing mystery, brings to completion a holistic vision of existence, so that what appears initially as a hierarchy of increasingly complex dimensions – from physical to social – is revealed as circular, with the spiritual dimension as the origin, central guiding element and ultimate goal of creation.

At the end of his researches, published in ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’ in 1902, pioneer psychologist William James offered five conclusions, which may be summarized as follows:

1. The visible world is part of a more spiritual universe from which it draws its chief significance.
2. Union or harmony with that higher universe is our true end.
3. Prayer or inner communion with the spirit thereof (today, we would add meditation) is a process wherein work is really done, and spiritual energy flows in and produces effects, psychological and material, within the phenomenal world.
4. Religion (today, we would prefer, “Engaging with spiritual beliefs and practices”) brings a new zest, which adds itself like a gift to life, taking the form either of lyrical enchantment or of appeal to earnestness and heroism.
5. It brings an assurance of safety and a temper of peace, and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affections.

The spiritual dimension of individual souls and a universal spirit can be thought of in the context of mental health as being a vital source of meaning and purpose, of energy and motivation. It is associated with a comfortable sense of belonging and worth, of affinity with others and with nature. It can be understood, therefore, as a crucial element in establishing and maintaining health and harmony at all human levels: biological, psychological and social.

Just as time and space are inextricably linked, it is important to remember that any apparent separateness between the five dimensions of human experience is also illusory. To try and answer any question concerning human existence and welfare without considering all five will lead to false conclusions, and therefore to unnecessary suffering. When more people understand the poetic logic, the wisdom, of the spiritual dimension, they (we) will make fewer mistakes.

Source Psychology Today