Ruth Landstrom,Ph.D.                                                                                                                         

January 2008                                             Volume 2, Number 1
So many negative feelings arise because of the habit of viewing what happens with reference to how it affects me.  I get angry when I'm threatened, sad when I'm separated from others, embarrassed or ashamed when my faults are exposed, resentful when I'm treated unfairly, jealous when I want for myself what somebody else has.  You too, right?  What if we could upend this narrow preoccupation with ourselves?  Wouldn't we be happier?

Don't Worry,
It's Not Permanent
When I'm locked into this cramped self-absorption, I find it helpful to remember that things will change -- especially that  I  will change.
Nobody is fixed and unchanging.  This is so obvious, really: we were all babies once, after all.  We all move and learn.  We all take in ever-changing sights, sounds, smells, and sensations.  Our thoughts flit about, one after the other. 
Neuroscientists are discovering that even our brains are constantly changing, with each experience and even each thought influencing how our very neurons connect.
The implication of this idea, though, is so easy to ignore!  The implication is that the "self" is just a concept, a shorthand way of thinking about this stream of experiences.  Our sense of self is no more true to reality than a photograph that freezes a moment in time.
Sure, we all have certain habits and personality traits.  When we repeat certain reactions over and over again, we tend to -- yes -- repeat them yet again.  "Neurons that fire together, wire together," as the scientists put it.
But no matter how strong a habit may be, we are not locked into it forever.  We are malleable.  There is hope of change. 
And no matter how unbearable a feeling may feel, it will pass.  Everything -- everything --  that upsets us  is going to change.   
On the one hand, this seems pretty scary.  What is there to hang onto? 
On the other hand, what a relief!  We can always remind ourselves that a painful feeling will vanish, no matter how intractable it seems now.  We can relax a little, lighten up a little.  We can let go of the urgent desire to get rid of the feeling.   It's going to go away anyway! 
Don't Worry,
It's Not You
One of our strongest habits is thinking of ourselves as solid and unchanging!   But if "I" am just a concept, then, at any point, I can just put down this pesky "me" concept and consider whatever experience is occurring as just that -- an experience arising and passing away.   
Isn't there a world of difference between saying "I'm angry" and  " Oh look, here's anger"?   Doesn't removing the "I" make the anger seem more approachable, more manageable?
When I'm coaching, I also watch out for global statements that my clients make about themselves: "I'm shy" or "I'm  intimidated by people" or "I'm indecisive."  Of course, such statements summarize and help make sense of repeated experiences.  But such statements can also limit our future experiences, foreclosing the possibility of change and growth. 
Isn't there a world of difference between saying, "I'm a shy person" and "Right now, shyness is coming up"?   Isn't that bit of shyness less of an obstacle when it's not bound up with a sense of self?
 "Once, in Sri Lanka, I visited a very old and much-venerated meditation master, Hina Tyana Dhammaloka.  There was a wonderful feeling of joy and freedom about him, and people said they could not recall ever seeing him any other way.  I bowed and paid my respects, and after we had spoken for awhile, he asked, 'So, you teach meditation, yes?'
    'I try,' I said.
    'Tell me, what is the heart of Buddhist meditation?'
    'There is no self,' I answered, 'just the play of phenomena.  It is truly an empty process.'
    He looked at me, then broke into a great laugh.  'No self, no problem,' he said, and he laughed and laughed."
Goldstein, Joseph & Kornfield, Jack, Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation (Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1987), p.71.



Day to Day

What does it look like when you stress out?  When I do, my brain buzzes through my list, issuing little reminders left and right, pausing only long enough to tell me I'm "overwhelmed."  I start doing something, but my mind is so busy scrolling through all the other stuff I have to do that I get very little done!

I have started questioning this "overwhelmed" feeling, as you could probably tell from those quotation marks around it.  The hallmark of this feeling is a panicky tension accompanied by the conviction that I have no time.  In these moments, I think that doing things will alleviate the stress.  I think that taking the time to relax is not possible until everything is done.  I become a compulsive doer.
But there's a flaw in my reasoning.  I'm a working Mom, after all.  Getting things done does not create oases of time to relax.  The to-do lists keep coming, and I keep thinking about them.  I keep feeling stressed.
It often happens that negative feelings push us to do some action that just keeps us stuck in the feeling.  When that overwhelming feeling pushes me to think about my to-do lists, thinking about all I have to do just keeps me overwhelmed.  When I lash out in anger, others get angry back, and then I can find fresh cause to be angry.  It's the same with fear: if I avoid what I fear, as the fear urges me to do, I just keep feeling fearful.
But when I can remember that my feeling is just a passing phenomenon, and I don't have to do anything to make it go away, then I can allow myself to pause before acting.  In that pause, I can get out from under the dictatorship of the feeling and choose a different course of action.
If I'm angry, I can choose to express that anger thoughtfully, without attacking.  If I'm afraid, I can choose to do what frightens me despite the fear.
If I'm overwhelmed, I can allow myself to take a break.  I can choose to put aside the list and rest my mind.  I can choose to be mindful of the task at hand.
I may actually get something done!

Events & Services

 Habits and Happiness workshops

"No Self, No Problem" 
Friday, February 8, 2008, 7 - 8:30 p.m.
Yoga for Well-Being
The "Habits and Happiness" workshops take place on the second Friday of each month at Yoga for Well-Being, in Florida, NY, for those who want to bring the ideas of this newsletter to life.  Each workshop includes a talk, meditation, and discussion.
Weekly meditation class
Ruth's weekly meditation class at Yoga for Well-Being, Florida, NY, takes place every Thursday from 12:15 to 1:00 p.m. 
Coaching and psychotherapy
Ruth is available for  both coaching and psychotherapy in Warwick, NY and New York City.   Coaching is also possible by phone.  Call 1-866-788-4526 or email to set up a free consultation.

I'd love to hear from you!  Please e-mail me your comments, questions and requests.  If you or someone you know would like to explore coaching or meditation, you can contact me for a free phone consultation at 1-866-788-4526 (1-866-RUTHLAN) or