The Untrained Elephant

Our mind often wanders as we attempt to create a narrative of our lives, make meaning of our experiences, or find solutions to various challenges we face. In fact, intentional mind wandering or allowing ourselves to think openly and freely can be useful for problem solving and creativity. However, mind wandering can become problematic when we shift towards negative thoughts or circular, negative rumination.  

Mind wandering is very common. In fact, neuroscientists have referred to mind wandering as our ‘default setting’. A classic 2010 study on the experience of mind wandering found that our mind wanders for up to fifty percent of the day and that mind wandering is associated with greater unhappiness, regardless of what a person is doing.  

Mindfulness practice can help us learn how to intentionally bring our wandering mind back to the present moment. It is also helpful for developing the awareness necessary for noticing when our mind wanders and responding in a more flexible or adaptive manner. The more we practice noticing our mind or our thoughts, the better we can become at bringing our attention back to the present moment or deploying our attention in a more productive direction. With practice, we can develop greater agency around mind wandering and decide when it is or is not helpful.

Practice Taking a Pause

Meditation is a great way to practice mindfulness. Practice taking a moment to pause for one minute. Let yourself sit quietly and focus on your breathing. Focus on what it feels like to breath in and breath out. Notice what your body feels like as your chest or abdomen rises and falls. Practice this observation of your breath for just one minute. During this time notice the flow of your mind as it inevitably wanders off. Once you notice your mind wandering, gently bring your attention back to your breathing. 

What was your state of mind?

What was your emotional state?

Did you experience any negative thoughts or judgements?

How difficult was it to concentrate on your breathing?

Did you mind wander and where did it go?

What did it feel like to redirect your attention back to you breathing?

How do you feel now?

This basic meditation practice is what we could refer to as a mindfulness push-up. Each time you notice you mind wandering and bring it back to the present, you are building upon your present moment awareness and strengthening your ability to intentionally deploy your attention.  

You can also use everyday mindfulness strategies as mindfulness push-ups throughout your day.  

A wandering mind is part of our everyday experience. Mindfulness practice and brief mindfulness pushups can help us to better recognize mind wandering and train our attention by coming back to our breathing or grounding ourselves in our surrounding environment.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Gratitude

What are you grateful for this holiday season? Research in the area of gratitude has found a number of benefits. Foremost, gratitude is associated with high positive affect, low negative affect, and a high satisfaction with life. In terms of relationships, gratitude is associated with perceived quality of relationships and relates to one’s willingness to forgive others. Furthermore, it seems to strengthen relationships and contributes to relationship connection and satisfaction (Wood et al., 2010).

A number of studies have also found that gratitude is associated with subjective well-being. Likewise, gratitude is linked to a greater overall sense that one’s life has meaning, and that a person is living their life to the fullest. Finally, gratitude is strongly and positively correlated with authentic living and negatively correlated with self-alienation (Wood et al., 2010).

Connecting with a sense of gratitude on a daily basis can be simple. Researchers have concluded that an effective way to produce reliably higher levels of positive emotion and improve well-being is to write daily about the aspects of life that one is grateful for (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Try the following practices to increase gratitude in your daily life.  

Gratitude Practices

Contemplate your objects of gratitude and reflect on why you are grateful 

Keep a gratitude journal (write three things you are grateful for each day)

Express gratitude directly to others and express your appreciation of them

Be mindful of small moments of beauty throughout your day 

Practice seeing the opportunity for growth in your mistakes

Practice generosity

Be thankful when you learn something new

Eat mindfully and connect with a sense of gratitude for the food you have 

Include an act of kindness in your life each day

Write a card or call someone you haven’t seen in a while and tell them something nice.

Thank the people who serve you in the community 

Say thank you for the little things 

Ultimately, connecting with a sense of gratitude and taking time to be mindful or express gratitude is a helpful practice all year around. Perhaps now is a good time to start connecting with gratitude more often in small ways and build a habit of gratitude to carry forward into the new year. 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(2), 377.

Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), 890-905.

Friend Me

A 2019 study conducted by OnePoll in conjunction with Evite surveyed 2,000 Americans and their social relationship dynamics over a five-year period and revealed that the average American struggled to make new friends. Notably, this was pre-pandemic times when we generally had much more regular social contact. Despite the challenges, most people know that social connection and supportive relationships are a key component of well-being and resilience.

What makes it so challenges to make new friends?

One answer might relate to our beliefs about forming relationships. Research suggests that the belief that friendship happens based on luck was related to more loneliness five years later, whereas the belief that making friends depends on effort related to greater social participation and less loneliness (Newall et al., 2009). Such research illustrates how our beliefs play an important role in making new friends. What beliefs do you have about forming new relationships?

Expectations are also an important factor. Many people have the expectation that we should know how to make friends by the time we finish high school or graduate from college. However, this expectation is both untrue and unrealistic. Although we can certainly learn and grow in our confidence with successful early relationship experiences, forming new relationships and overcoming the obstacles that present themselves in different ways throughout the lifespan requires effort, risk taking, and openness; none of which are usually easy. What expectations do you have about making new friends?

Helpful Ideas for Making Friends

Assume that other people already like you.

Be intentional about making new friends by setting up planned interactions and putting yourself out there by attending social events.

Remember that other people often feel relieved when someone else takes the initiative in a social interaction.

Becomes aware of your self-imposed rules or beliefs about making friends. Challenge these ideas with more realistic, helpful thoughts.

Recall and practice a few basic small talk skills such asking follow-up questions. Ask specific details when someone is telling a story and use open ended questions such as “What did you think about that movie” versus “Did you like that movie?”

Keep your focus on making a short-term connection and follow-up later to build on these efforts.

Notice what thoughts you have about yourself when it comes to friendships. How do you view yourself as a friend? How do you think others view you? Are these thoughts and beliefs realistic?

Make a list of 3-5 ice breakers to use in social interactions.

Recognize that you are not the only one who struggles to make new friends. Many people find this challenging.

After you have established a few social connections, take small actions to stay in touch. Reach out with a phone call or text message to say hello.

Be aware of social pressures to make new friends. Even this blog is biased towards the idea that we need to make new friends. Perhaps you are content with your current relationships?

No matter what you believe or feel about making new friends. We all need each other and maintaining social connections is important to our health and well-being.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Newall, N., Chipperfield, J., Clifton, R., Perry, R., Swift, A., & Ruthig, J. (2009). Causal beliefs, social participation, and loneliness among older adults: A longitudinal study. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 26(2-3), 273-290. Doi:10.1177/0265407509106718

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness: Contemplation of Mental Objects

The Discourses on the Establishing of Mindfulness include four elements of practice focused on the body, feeling states, consciousness, and mental objects.

Four Foundations of Mindfulness

  1. Contemplation of the Body – Being mindful of the breath in the body

2. Contemplation of Feeling – Being mindful of feelings arising

3. Contemplation of Consciousness – Being mindful of thoughts arising

4. Contemplation of Mental Objects – Being mindful of the present quality of mind

The final foundation of mindfulness is mindfulness of Mental Objects. The foremost task with the Contemplation of Mental Objects is to ask, “Where is my mind?” or perhaps, “What is most alive in my mind?”    

Contemplation of Mental Objects

Closing out the four foundations of mindfulness is Contemplation of Mental Objects. Here the aim involves monitoring mental qualities and content that leads us forward to greater well-being and resilience versus those qualities and content that contribute to further suffering. Several examples of helpful mental qualities include the awareness of impermanence, dispassion or detachment, loving kindness, and acceptance or letting go. Several examples that may contribute to suffering include the hindrances of desire, anger, sloth, restlessness-worry, and doubt.  

From a western perspective, helpful qualities or content might also include awareness of our personal values, personal strengths, gratitude, generosity, self-compassion and empathy. In contrast, mental qualities such as resentments, self-criticism, greed, hatred, and patterns of biased or negative thinking are less helpful and may lead to difficulties.  

Understanding Your Mental Qualities

What mental qualities or content are you aware of in your mind? 

When do you become most connected and aware of your mental qualities?

What qualities do you view as useful?

What qualities would you like to expand upon in your awareness?

How does awareness of your personal values influence your outlook or inform your decision?

How can you practice mindfulness of qualities such as gratitude and self-compassion?

What is the content of your mind?

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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The Four Foundations of Mindfulness: Contemplation of Consciousness

The Discourse on the Establishing of Mindfulness includes four elements of practice focused on the body, feeling states, consciousness, and mental objects.

Four Foundations of Mindfulness

  1. Contemplation of the Body – Being mindful of the breath in the body

2. Contemplation of Feeling – Being mindful of feelings arising

3. Contemplation of Consciousness – Being mindful of thoughts arising

4. Contemplation of Mental Objects – Being mindful of the present quality of mind

This week we will focus on Contemplation of Consciousness. The foremost task with the Contemplation of Consciousness is to ask, “Where is my mind?”  

Central to mindfulness of conscious is how the mind reacts to whatever is occurring. The first three states of mind reviewed in the discourses on consciousness include mindfulness of lust, anger, and delusion. To practice observing these states, notice when a distraction occurs and practice investigating if this distraction involves some form of desire or some degree of aversion or anger.  

We can also notice when our mind is neutral and practice being curious about what arises within a neutral mind state. This neutral state of mind is often described as a manifestation of delusion or a space within which our thoughts or inner narrative can take control and move us away from a clear understanding of the reality before us. In this case, consider the ways we talk to ourselves, our automatic thinking patterns, cognitive biases, and assumptions. From a Buddhist perspective, these are manifestations of delusion because they move us away from an unbiased or clear mind.  

Our goal in practicing mindfulness of consciousness is to discern the underling current of our mind and see through any particular pattern of thought or worry. Practice recognizing your mind state without getting wrapped up in the details of thoughts or associations.  

It is often useful to recognize the feeling tone of our experience when considering our mind states. As we practice recognizing our metal states, we are less likely to be caught up in the details of our thoughts or the biases and assumptions that sometimes dominate our mind. With practice, we can slowly broaden our mental vision of experience and see past the narrow focus that is common to most of us.

Lastly, the addition of this third component of mindfulness offers a point of integration between our feelings or affective experiences, body or somatic experiences, and our overall mental state. First, we can ground ourselves by checking in with the body. Next, we can gather a sense for the feeling tone of the moment by checking in with our feeling states. Finally, we can notice the underlying current of our mental life by checking in with our mind. In this way we can become further grounded in the present as intuition and reasoning come to a point of balance in our daily experience.   

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Living with Ease

Ease is defined as the absence of difficulty or effort. To ease is also defined as to make something less serious or severe, soften, and to move carefully and gradually.  

Living with ease is different from being relaxed. Specifically, relaxation has more to do with lessening our feelings of tension and reducing stress. Ease has more to do with an inner sense of peace and harmony. 

Living with ease starts by loosening our grip on the roots of our suffering. It involves letting go of rigid views and opinions of how life should or should not be unfolding. Likewise, it can also involve letting go of impulsive behaviors that continue to repeat and unhelpful patterns of thought and behavior that arise as we struggle to maintain or impose our expectations on the world around us.  

In Buddhism, living with ease is seen in the concept of viraga, which has been translated as “detachment.” In this sense, detachment refers to a distancing from cravings and desires, which is understood as a path to greater freedom and ease. It is also a detachment from thoughts as the driving force behind our experience and interpretation of the world around us.  

We can see similar concepts in modern western psychology. For example, approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) refer to a similar process using terms such as participant observationde-centering, and cognitive diffusion, all of which involve efforts to change awareness and reactions to thoughts and interpretations with the goal of more adaptive reactions.    

Stepping outside of our experiences to observe or detaching from the impact of thoughts, opinions, expectations, and cravings can lead to reduced distress or greater ease.  

What does “living with ease” mean to you?  

Notice the small moments of ease that appear throughout your day. What do you notice from focusing on ease in your life? What steps can you take to get there more often? If you have an idea of how ease develops in your life, practice bringing more ease into your life in the coming days and weeks.  

Practices for living with ease

Meet all of your feelings with balance and curiosity.

Let go of winning and losing.

Connect with the feeling of joy in your heart, even amongst the chaos.

Practice mindfulness throughout your day.

Monitor the nature of your thoughts. 

Reflect upon impermanence. 

Make time for leisure and enjoyment. 

Practice self-compassion rather than self-criticism.

Practice gratitude.

Let go of judgements and practice compassion towards others. 

Be flexible with your expectations. 

Appropriately assert boundaries and politely say no when it is appropriate. 

Pay attention to your body.

Be aware of early warning signs of stress and act in advance to take care of yourself.

Over the next few days and weeks, when worry or stress begins to arise in your life, just notice. Noticing is powerful and can start to shift the pattern of stress and welcome more ease into your life. Notice times when you feel strongly attached to an idea or outcome as well as times when you feel driven or compelled toward certain goals or behaviors. Pause and practice being curious about the ways your attachments to outcomes and ideas impact your stress and consider loosening the grip to make more room for ease in your life.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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The Four Foundations of Mindfulness: Contemplation of Feeling

The Discourse on the Establishing of Mindfulness includes four elements of practice focused on the body, feeling states, consciousness, and mental objects.

Four Foundations of Mindfulness

  1. Contemplation of the Body – Being mindful of the breath in the body
  2. Contemplation of Feeling – Being mindful of feelings arising
  3.  Contemplation of Consciousness – Being mindful of thoughts arising
  4. Contemplation of Mental Objects – Being mindful of the present quality of mind

Contemplation of Feeling

This week we will focus on Contemplation of Feeling. The foremost task with Contemplation of Feeling is to ask, “How do I feel?”  

Practice becoming mindful of the nature of your feelings. You may ask if the feeling you are experiencing is pleasant, painful, or neutral as you notice where you fall on a spectrum of feeling. When our feeling state is pleasant, there is often a desire to grasp or hold onto this state. Likewise, when our feeling state is painful, it is common for us to push it away or react with irritation. As you practice mindfulness of feeling, notice your reactions, and cultivate a stance of acceptance and investigation. Become aware of the impermanence of your feeling states and observe as they rise and fall.

In contrast to pleasant or painful feelings, neutral feeling states often go unrecognized, leaving us in a place of not knowing or recognizing much feeling at all. Skipping over a neutral feeling state can leave an open space for thoughts or ideas about how we should or should not be feeling, what we should or should not be doing, or other worries. When faced with a neutral feeling or somewhat unexciting experience, there is often a tendency to shift toward something else in search of distraction. Struggling to simply be present with neutral feelings may also lead to a dramatization of whatever is happening as we become judgmental or critical. The tendency to escape or possibly seek more excitement to reduce boredom can result in a vast array of biased perceptions and unbalanced reactions.  

Practice remaining mindful and being present with neutral feeling states. Taking note of a neutral feeling helps us to connect with our true feeling state in the present moment and can be helpful in reducing a dualistic or a black-and-white approach to our feelings.  

Mindfulness of feeling may also allow us to catch what is happening in our mind before it spirals out of control or leads to other unhelpful reactions. In a similar way, we can recognize cravings and gain distance from impulsive reactions by learning to pause and be mindful of the potential impact of our actions.  

Notice your feeling states as they rise and fall or come and go, shifting along the spectrum of feeling. Likewise, notice any type of feeling that arises as you navigate various sights and sounds throughout the day. One useful practice is to notice and label the feeling tone in various situations or environments. What is the feeling tone on a sunny or rainy day, during a presentation or meeting, when handling a conflict, when waiting in a line, or when sitting in your living room?  

In all these ways, we can bring mindfulness to feeling and practice recognizing the affective tone of our present-moment experience. Tuning into our feeling states in this way can provide an effective means for staying grounded in whatever circumstance are before us. As we practice mindfulness of feeling we can begin to replace automatic reactions with the knowledge of clear recognition.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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The Four Foundations of Mindfulness: Contemplation of the Body

Most current definitions of mindfulness refer to, “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, without judgement,” or “the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”  However, when we take a closer look at the cultural and historical roots of mindfulness, we find a rich and nuanced teaching outlined in The Discourse on the Establishing of Mindfulness or The Satipatthana Sutta.

Siddhartha Gautama or the Buddha was both an investigator of the mind and a teacher. In many ways, he was the first psychologist. The majority of his teachings are instructions based on his own experiences as he left his life as a sheltered prince in search for an end to suffering. Today, the teachings are all around us as modern psychology meets with ancient wisdom. This is most apparent in the extensive interest and research supporting mindfulness-based psychological interventions. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and several core components of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are just two examples. Likewise, the Discourse on the Establishing of Mindfulness has been incorporated into several research based-interventions and training programs, such as Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction created by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Mindfulness is an essential practice in the Buddhist tradition. In fact, it is viewed a necessary condition on the path to awakening, without which awakening or enlightenment is not possible. The discourse includes four elements of practice focused on the body, feeling states, consciousness, and mental objects, including the most basic teachings of the Buddha. 

Four Foundations of Mindfulness

  1. Contemplation of the Body – Being mindful of the body
  2. Contemplation of Feeling – Being mindful of feeling states
  3. Contemplation of Consciousness – Being mindful of thoughts
  4. Contemplation of Mental Objects – Being mindful of the present quality of mind

The first foundation is an excellent place to start expanding your understanding and practice of mindfulness.

Foundation One: Contemplation of the Body

  • Become aware of your body and each posture as you rise from bed. 
  • Be mindful of walking and standing.
  • Be mindful of sitting and laying down.
  • When bending or reaching, be fully mindful.
  • When eating, drinking, or savoring food, be fully mindful.
  • When talking or silent, be fully mindful.
  • Pause and take a mindful breath to reconnect with your body before you begin to write or speak.
  • In any function, be mindful and practice repeating the phrase “there is a body.”

Mindfulness of the body offers a key benefit by providing a type of anchoring that supports the continuity of mindfulness without requiring a narrow focus. Because it does not require a narrow focus, such as the breath, whole-body awareness allows for us to avoid being caught up in a single object of attention and provides the opportunity to maintain awareness of our overall experience. This aspect of mindfulness of the body serves an essential role in broadening our practice into our daily lived experience.

Mindfulness of our body is available at any moment and helps us to bridge the gap from our meditation or yoga practice into our everyday experience. As we establish a foundation of mindfulness, it can become easier to return to mindfulness throughout the day.

The mind can become so active and involved in our activities, as a mind does. Yet, it requires only a moment of turning inward and becoming aware of our body to ground ourselves once again. Carrying this fullness of being and sense of embodiment into our daily life has considerable potential to help us become more alive as we learn to cultivate the joy of being in the present moment.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Working Through Our Hindrances

We all manage challenges as we navigate daily life. Most of these challenges are part of life and involve problem-solving and resilience as we move forward toward our personal goals at home or at work. However, there are additional challenges or obstacles that are somewhat more internal in nature. The Buddha highlighted a list of five hindrances or adverse mental states that interfere with our cultivation of inner peace or an awakened mind. These five hindrances are generally interpreted as sense desire, ill will or anger, sloth and torpor, restlessness, and doubt. Perhaps you can identify some of these hindrances in your own life?  

Such hindrances are fairly common and universal to our human experience. In psychology, we often see the hindrance of sense desire manifested in addictions or poor coping strategies. We also see the hindrances of restless and doubt manifested in chronic states of anxiety and fear as we struggle with uncertainty and self-doubt. Likewise, ill will often takes a toll on relationships as well as self-esteem as we turn on ourselves with anger and judgement or act out in anger and resentment toward others. Sloth often relates to energy or effort, which is evident in self-defeating behaviors, negative views of self and others, and a lack of personal agency.  

In addition to inner peace and awakening, the hindrances can be understood as obstacles to our mental wellness and resilience. Just as the Buddha taught, becoming aware of our hindrances or aversive mind states is the first step to loosening the grip they have on our experience. 

We can approach the hindrances as well as any obstacle with mindfulness and work through our aversive states to arrive at a place of greater acceptance and peace.  

Steps to engaging and working through the hindrances:

  1. What is this hindrance?  How did this state arise?  What am I feeling?

2. Notice rather than push away or judge. This is where I am right now.

3. Reflect upon and investigate. This is anger. This is sadness. This is fear.

4. Befriend rather than fight or suppress. Recognize the changing nature of emotions. What information does this state provide? Work towards acceptance and letting go.

5. What conditions support the passing of this state? What happened before this? What am I doing now?  What helps me feel better?

6. What conditions prevent it from arising again?  What helps me cope? Where is my mind when I am feeling calm? What helps me feel grounded and confident?

The Buddha, in one of his many metaphors, uses a bowl of water to describe the impact of the hindrances on our mind. For example, he describes sense desire as a dye that discolors a clear bowl of water. Likewise, ill will is characterized by water that bubbling or boiling, sloth as a bowl of water overgrown with moss and algae, restlessness as a bowl of water stirred by the wind into ripples and waves, and doubt as a bowl of water that is murky and cloudy. In all of these cases, the hindrances prevent us from seeing things are they are or cultivating a clear mind. We can practice these steps and bring to mind the bowl of water as we check in with our internal states and work toward experiencing a clear bowl of water that truly reflects a clear mind with a clear view of our experiences. Here we may find greater self-confidence, acceptance, spaciousness, and equanimity.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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The Freedom of Equanimity

“Enlightenment is absolute cooperation with the inevitable.”

-Anthony de Mello, S.J.

We dwell in a human body that is susceptible to illness, old age, and eventual death. I was recently reminded of this basic truth as I faced a brief period of illness with acute pain in my hands and feet lasting for several days. As I recover now, I find myself looking toward this period as a gift. It called upon a deeper sensibility and provided a more complete understanding of acceptance, which further clarified my understanding for the gift of equanimity.  

Equanimity can be defined as mental and emotional calmness, non-reactivity, or an even-tempered state of mind in the face challenges. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.” Translated from Pali, “equanimity” means “to look over” and refers to the ability to see without being caught up in what we are observing. Another translation becomes, “to stand in the middle of all this.” It is a cessation of fighting that which cannot be fought.  

The powerful peace and steadiness of equanimity arises from our effort to see life as it is or accept life on life’s terms as containing both joy and sorry, pleasure and pain, or success and failure, while not becoming overidentified with any single experience. In contrast to passivity, the awareness and letting go process inherent in cultivating equanimity involves an active stance as we gently work to rise above the suffering fueled from our own struggle to control life or cling to expectations. 

Trying to change what we cannot change often only makes things worse. As we loosen our grip, slow down our reactivity, and relinquish the struggle, we may discover greater freedom and possibilities. No fighting with the past, no resistance to the future, it is just like this right now. 

The moment I accepted my illness and pain it was transformed. I was no longer suffering in the same way as the pain became a source of inquiry and understanding for this moment on my human journey. I felt steady and calm as I shifted to observing my mind and my emotional states. I looked fondly upon my family and connected with the joy of watching my children play. I felt the cool autumn breeze on my face and listened to the birds on the hillside behind our house.  

I am thankful to be healthier as I write today. However, I also remain grateful for the truth and understanding that this experience provided, leaving a greater spaciousness in my heart and a deeper understanding for the importance of cultivating an awakened mind. As a wise teacher recently reminded us, “things are as they should be and are only as they are. It cannot be any other way because it is not.”

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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