Becoming Love

“There is only one question: How to love this world.”

-Mary Oliver

What is love? What comes to mind when you say I love you? How do we learn and practice becoming love? 

Although there can be great joy in life, we live in a world filled heartache and suffering. There are wars, violence, unspeakable tragedy, poverty, hunger, disease, sadness, pain, and suffering. 

How do we love this world? 

To love only in optimal conditions is not real love. It can be easy to love all beings in the abstract, but it can be a great challenge to do so as our lives unfold with a multitude of demands or in the face of personal suffering. It is one thing to stay you love others and another to express that love in daily life.

The Buddhist tradition has developed a range of practices and reflections designed to develop our capacity to love. Like a muscle, love can be strengthened through practice. Lovingkindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and a particular form of equanimity are the four kinds of love taught and encouraged in classic Buddhist teachings. The four types of love can each become a core practice as we connect with the ways we can love this world. 

Tips for becoming love

Practice compassion and non-judgement of yourself and others. 

Do you focus on your shortcomings and deny or take for granted your positive attributes? Practice appreciating yourself and focus on the positive, rather than the negative.

Replace harmful habits with life-affirming habits and practices. 

Practice appreciative joy and celebrate the qualities, gifts, and achievements of others.

Practice self-acceptance: honoring and accepting all of yourself, including your shortcomings, mistakes, and feelings.

Practice forgiving yourself: as we develop self-compassion, we’re more accepting and compassionate toward others. 

Work through and accept your barriers of fear and shame that can hinder your path to cultivating love.

Practice loving-kindness through yours actions, everyday awareness, and meditation.  

Who do you love? What qualities do you bring into these relationships? Connect with these feelings of giving and receiving love and bring these qualities into all of your interactions. 

One of the most rewarding practices is to cultivate the ability to bring love into all aspects of our life and to all people we encounter. We can practice being a loving presence while we speak to others, even when we might be in conflict. This can be a greater challenge at times. It begins with having the intention and is supported by our own appreciation of love that we encounter. 

Open your heart as wide as possible. What would it be like if you brought love into all of your interactions, into all of your relationships, and into the lives of all living beings? 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Our Inner Landscape

The mind is complex. It has far reaching abilities to think, plan, organize, create, discern, metalize, understand, analyze and hold great complexity. Our mind generates stories that can protect us by registering threats and danger by categorizing and developing schemas or scripts to simplify the complex world around us. Our minds also give us richness and meaning through narrative. All of this occurs in the form of verbal mental talk and imagery.  

We tend to generate stories centered around ourselves as our mind awakens and we move throughout our day. We sometimes become the heroes or villains of our own movies. Our stories can be vivid and seem very real. Yet, they can also set up problematic should’s and must’s or become limiting to our creativity. 

Our stories can even become re-runs of past stories of hurt or discouragement, impacting our current outlook and mood. They can take us into emotional reactivity and cause us to unintentionally impact those around us. Knowing this, we can take a step back and observe our mind and the stories we tell ourselves. 

Drop in for a visit to your inner landscape:

Observe your mind.

Recognize your thoughts.

What are your stories? 

How aware are you of the stories you are telling yourself?

What is the attitude of your mind right now?

Learn your patterns and styles of thought.

Learn to recognize the common themes based on your unique personal history.  

Pause your stories and observe yourself as you move through the world.  

Our minds do what they do. All of this is completely normal. However, attachment and overinvolvement in our stories can be problematic. Remind yourself that you are not your stories. Your thoughts are not your world. Remind yourself that your thoughts are not permanent and that we have the power to recognize and change our stories. 

When we become more mindful of our stories we can let go and rest in greater awareness, appreciating our stories as stories and connecting more deeply with the moments of joy that surround us when we live in the present.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Humility & Flexibility

Humility is defined as a modest view of one’s own importance. In practice it involves the acceptance that we are not always right and don’t always know, without either concern impacting our sense of self-worth. 

Flexibility is defined as the quality of bending easily without breaking. In practice it is the ability to accept new points of view or adjust to new facts with a sense of interest or curiosity, rather than viewing new facts as threats.    

Attempting to cope by predicting the next obstacle or challenge is a tenuous way of adapting to the infinite number possibilities the future may hold. Humility and flexibility work together to allow for us to return to our center when we experience the unexpected gusts of life. They allow for us to maintain stability or the ability to return to equilibrium after we are disrupted.  

Tips for Practicing Humility 

Spend more time listening than you do talking.

Accept that you are not the best at everything.

Ask for help and advice. 

Learn to give credit where it is due and give praise for a job well done.

Welcome different opinions. 

Recognize your flaws and be aware that you are not perfect. 

Avoid bragging or showing off.

Tips for Practicing Flexibility

Look for opportunities to give up control.

Challenge yourself to try new behaviors and break out of habitual patterns.

Aim for flexibility, not perfection.

Look for opportunities to compromise.  

Remain teachable and learn from your mistakes.

Practice slowing down and being intentional about your decisions.  

Practice mindfulness meditation and everyday mindfulness.  

At any given point we all face challenges to our sense of stability and equilibrium. On very hard days we may be thrown off balance repeatedly and experience a complete loss of stability. Such days are a fact of life. Humility and flexibility fuel our resilience and allow for us to return more readily to a state of equilibrium.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Self-esteem

Experiences of low self-esteem and low self-worth are not uncommon. We all struggle with how we feel about ourselves from time-to-time. Some of us may even struggle with our self-worth on a regular basis.

Issues of self-esteem are central to overall mental health. When we experience a stable sense of self-esteem we are less likely to struggle with problems related to personality, addiction, or other unhealthy behaviors. A realistic and reliable sense of self-esteem is also an overarching treatment goal for most psychotherapy approaches, even if it is not explicitly identified as such.

Developing realistic self-esteem or self-esteem that is neither perfectionistic nor falsely inflated is important when considering personal growth and efforts to support the development of greater self-confidence. 

How do you experience your self-esteem? Are you overly concerned or need to achieve perfection to experience a sense of worth? How realistic are your goals and self-evaluations?

Developing reliable self-esteem is likewise an important part of psychological wellness. Self-esteem is reliable when it protects us from feeling devastated by criticism or manipulated by excessive praise. It provides us with a basis for evaluating negative feedback without feeling a sense of shame or excessive self-doubt.   

How do you feel when faced with criticism? How do you react or behave? How do you feel when faced with praise? How do you react or behave? How stable or consistent is your sense of self-worth and what causes you to doubt yourself?

Tips for Building Self-esteem

Identify your strengths.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

Follow through on commitments you make to yourself.

Remain open to change and remind yourself that meaningful change can take time. 

Look for opportunities to practice taking initiative and experience a sense of agency.

Connect with positive and supportive people. 

Learn to accept compliments.

Allow yourself to feel proud.

Take small steps to face your fears.

Observe your self-talk; if you are overly critical, shift to more positive self-talk.

Practice self-compassion and affirm your inherent worth.

Overall, individuals with healthy self-esteem are able to remain levelheaded about personal limitations, while also acknowledging and trusting in their strengths. As we grow our self-esteem we will be more able to embrace our inevitable faults and needs, while also apologizing for any hurt we cause and expressing gratitude when others reach out to help us. Realistic and reliable self-esteem allows us to make our needs known, accept responsibility for our actions, and ultimately experience more genuine emotional intimacy in our relationships.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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A Life of Miracles

Thich Knat Hanh, a much beloved Buddhism monk, teacher, author, and social justice advocate recently died at age 95. Ordained as a monk aged 16 in Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh is widely credited with promoting a kind of engaged Buddhism that could respond directly to the needs of society. He was a prominent teacher and social activist in his home country before finding himself exiled for calling for peace. In the West he played a key role in introducing mindfulness and created mindful communities (sanghas) around the world. He is also notable in his role promoting interfaith dialogue and understanding. His teachings have impacted politicians, business leaders, activists, teachers, and countless others.

In recent years, Thich Nhat Hanh led events for members of US Congress and for parliamentarians in the UK, Ireland, India, and Thailand. He also addressed the World Parliament of Religions in Melbourne, calling for specific steps to reverse the cycle of violence, war and global warming. In 2018, Thich Nhat Hanh moved back to Từ Hiếu Temple in Vietnam where he was first ordained when he was sixteen years old. 

I was captivated by Thich Nhat Hanh at a talk he gave at Loyola University Chicago, where my mother and I were attending my freshman orientation. I vividly recall his presence walking around campus with in large crowd of fellow monks. I have since read many of his books and interview transcripts. This week I have selected a short section from, “A Life of Miracles,” which I believe illustrates both the simplicity and nuance of his teaching:

As we sit down next to a steam, we can listen to its laughter and watch its sparking waters, noticing the pebbles glistening and the fresh plants nearby, and we may be overcome with happiness. We are with the steam’s freshness, purity, and clarity. But in just an instant we may find we’ve had enough. Our heart is troubles, and we think of other things. We are no longer at one with the steam.

It is of no use to sit in a peaceful forest if our mind is lost in the city. When we live with a child or a friend, their freshness and warmth can relax us. But if our heart is not with them, their precious presence is neglected, and they no longer exist. We must be aware of them to appreciate their value, to allow them to be our happiness. If through carelessness and forgetfulness we become dissatisfied with them, we begin asking too much of them or reprimanding them, we will lose them. Only after they are gone, all our regrets are in vain.  

Around us, life bursts fourth with miracles, a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops. If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere. Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles, eyes that see thoughts of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. When we are tired and feel discouraged by life’s daily struggles, we may not notice these miracles, but they are always there.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Revisiting Simplicity in 2022

What comes to mind when you think of simplicity? Do you have a positive or negative reaction? Do you wish you had more simplicity in your life? What would that look like? In what ways can you experience more simplicity in your life today? 

It is easy to get distracted by the many things in our lives. Foremost, our society tells us that we must be active and striving to make progress at all times. Even our vacations can become a list of achievements. Beyond these pressures, we are increasingly surrounded by distractions such as cell phones, email, and social media accounts.  

Simplicity is a great way to unburden ourselves and allow for more open space in our lives. As a result, we might experience a greater sense of purpose and intention as well as a stronger connection to what we most want or desire.  

Here are a few practical ways of inviting more simplicity into your life:  

Shift your diet to include more foods that are simple and natural. 

Eat mindfully and in moderation.  

Consider what you already have in your life. Develop an awareness and compassionate concern for the many people around the world struggling with little or no resources.

Lower your overall level of personal consumption and buy fewer items to make yourself feel good. Focus on buying only what you truly need.  

Develop a meditation practice by devoting as little as five minutes a day to meditation. 

Spend time in nature (without headphones).  

Invest in yourself by further developing your professional skills or engage in more creative projects.

Engage in gratitude practices such as a daily gratitude journal.  

Declutter your environment and consider donating items you no longer use.

Unplug from your phone, social media, and perhaps even television.

Notice and embrace moments of silence.  

Simplicity can help you feel more connected and intentional in your life while also decreasing the burden of having too much on your plate. Choose one or more of these strategies to invite more simplicity into your life today.    

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Emotional Granularity

We often ask others how they are doing. Most often, people remark that they are “fine” or “doing well.” Occasionally, if we know the person a bit better or ask how they are feeling, they may admit to feeling stressed or anxious and share a few details about their challenges.   

How do you typically respond when others ask about you? Even if you answer with the habitual “I’m fine,” are you aware of feeling anything else? What comes up for you when you stop to ask yourself how you are feeling?  

Researchers have been exploring the ability to translate feelings into specific words and increasingly precise descriptions or what is referred to as emotional granularity (Kashdan, Feldman Barrett, & McKnight, 2015). Essentially, emotional granularity is the ability to break down our emotions into smaller distinguishable parts.    

There is compelling evidence that the ability to apply emotional granularity to negative emotions can be adaptive. Specifically, the ability to put negative feelings into words with greater precision is associated with more positive daily actives and better coping skills. In contrast, low negative emotional granularity, or difficulty labeling negative emotions with a high degree of specificity, has been associated with stronger reactivity to negative affect and lower psychological wellness (Starr R., Hershenberg R., Li. I, & Shaw, A., 2017). In summary, the better we are able to articulate our emotions, the better we are able to understand ourselves and take positive steps to cope.     

Practice

The goal of emotional granularity is to be able to accurately articulate what you are feeling using a detailed description.

Instead of thinking, “I’m stressed and tired,” whenever you feel down, take a moment to pause and understand what might be going on beyond feeling stressed and tired. For example, “I don’t feel supported,” or “I’m sad about my friend moving away,” or “I’m unhappy with my job and feel underappreciated.”  

Being more specific about how we feel helps us to get in touch with the underlying causes of our emotions and puts us in a better position to act or work on acceptance and other coping skills. It also allows us to shape experiences of emotions that are richer and more diverse. 

Ultimately, we are less likely to be controlled by our emotions as we increase our ability to notice and label how we feel with greater specificity. Let yourself feel your emotions with compassion and curiosity, even when those emotions are uncomfortable, and take an important step toward greater resilience and satisfaction as you come to understand yourself more fully.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Kashdan, T. B., Barrett, L.F., & McKnight, P. E. (2015). Unpacking emotion differentiation: Transforming unpleasant experience by perceiving distinctions in negativity. Current Directions in Psychological Science 24(1): 10-16.

Starr, L. R., Hershenberg, R., Y. Irina, L., & Shaw, Z. A. (2017). When feelings lack precision: Low positive and negative emotion differentiation and depressive symptoms in daily life. Clinical Psychological Science 5(4): 613-631.

“How Does This Work?” Post-Pandemic Social Readjustment

As the total number of Americans with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine closes in on 50% and the CDC loosens restrictions, we are faced with unique challenges around social reengagement.

In many ways, vaccinations and reopening is a cause for excitement and new hope for life returning to normal. However, you are not alone if you are feeling anxious about returning to a world with normal levels of in-person social interactions. According to a recent poll conducted in March by the American Psychological Association, at least half of all respondents indicated they feel uneasy about readjusting to in-person interaction.    

Returning to life as we knew it before the pandemic presents many challenges. For over a year we have worked to adjust to an entirely new lifestyle. Readjusting back from such a dramatic change is no easy task. 

We have also moved into a digital world and away from the long-standing social and cultural norms that have guided our interactions for decades. When we have been around other people, we have faced the challenge of engaging with covered faces and social distance. Indeed, wearing a mask and social distancing emerged as a necessary means of remaining safe from a potentially deadly threat. The threat was a virus, but the virus was spread through contact with other people. Others became an existential threat to our existence. 

Tips for social readjustment

There are several helpful things to keep in mind as we move forward. Foremost, increased anxiety about in-person social interaction is a normal and reasonable response to a remarkably scary and uncertain circumstance. This kind of reminder can be helpful as it allows us to normalize our reactions and respond with compassion towards ourselves and others, rather than judging ourselves or denying our feelings.  

Give voice to your experiences and speak openly when you are uncertain. We have never been here before. Therefore, it can be helpful to normalize uncertainty or awkwardness when interacting with others. Ask, “How are we going to approach this?” or “I’m not sure what we do here, what would make sense to you?” Not only does this help normalize the experience, but it also allows for collaboration and creates a shared experience by sending the message – we are in this together.  

Face your fears around social interaction when you feel reasonably safe. Given the role of avoidance in perpetuating anxiety, be mindful of unnecessary avoidance. Ask yourself if your discomfort is grounded in a real concern for your safety or if it is related more to the discomfort of adjusting back to social interactions.  

If you are concerned about being awkward, remember that social confidence is something you can develop and improve as you get more practice. Your first few social interactions are likely to be more awkward than your later interactions. Make a list of social interactions you anticipate over the next few months and start by practicing the easier or least intimidating scenarios. 

Over the past year we have been forced to attend to our social interactions in new ways, often with an overarching hypervigilance grounded in genuine fear. Despite the challenges ahead, there is good reason to believe that things will get easier with patience and compassion for yourself and your neighbors.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Self-forgiveness

We all make mistakes. Yet, it is important to learn ways of accepting and moving on from our mistakes so that we don’t become overwhelmed by feelings of frustration, anger, and guilt, or stuck in a repetitive loop of rumination and self-hatred.  

Although we typically think of forgiveness as something we grant to others, it is important to consider the positive impact of forgiving ourselves. Self-forgiveness is a helpful process that involves recognizing and acknowledging mistakes, validating our feelings, taking responsibility or corrective action when possible and reasonable, and finally shifting our focus to learning, growth, and acceptance. Self-forgiveness is not intended to be an excuse and should not lead away from taking responsibility or empathizing with anyone harmed as the result of a mistake.  

Research suggests that the practice of self-forgiveness is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety as well as improved physical health, such as lower blood pressure. Practicing self-forgiveness can also allow for us to cultivate an attitude of forgiveness in our relationships with others and motivation to acknowledge, repair, and rebuild relationships when mistakes happen.

Self-forgiveness is often a significant challenge. For many reasons, a lot of people find it difficult to forgive themselves and may hold beliefs about needing to punish themselves or suffer consequences. Self-criticism and perfectionism can also make it difficult to practice self-forgiveness and we tend to have a lot of practice reinforcing these beliefs and behaviors.  

Indeed, taking responsibility and corrective action is an important part of moving on from a mistake. However, perpetuating our distress in the form of guilt, self-criticism, and self-hate is rarely productive as it most often harms our ability to learn and grow, while also serving to reinforce a negative self-image. 

Connecting with our inherent worth and value is a helpful place to focus when we are shifting to growth and self-acceptance. It is helpful to recognize and separate your mistake from yourself – you are not your mistake. It is important to remind yourself that you are far more than one mistake or even one decision. In this manner we can begin to see how it is possible to separate out a mistake and move away from identifying with the mistake as part of our identity or self-worth. To be sure, people of great integrity and intelligence make mistakes just like everyone else.  

Before moving to self-forgiveness, it can be important to reassess your assignment of blame. If you tend to unfairly blame yourself or take on responsibility for things that are completely out of your control, it might be important to work on understanding why this is the case. Nevertheless, in most cases, self-forgiveness can be a meaningful way to improve your relationship with yourself and others.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Embracing the Complexities of Life

The other afternoon I had the thought that I didn’t want to get back on my computer to finish work just in time to rush off and pick up my small children for a long evening of hide-and-seek, amongst other things. All of this takes a lot of energy and I was feeling a bit drained. I also simultaneously felt excited to finish my project for work and I love playing hide-and-seek with my children. I take a deep breath and remind myself that two opposites can exist at the same time. I can feel both tired and excited. I can wish for more time to myself and also love playing with my children. 

This powerful reminder can go a long way – that two opposite truths can exist at the same time or what is referred to as dialectics. This is a key concept for a therapy approach called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and can be usefully integrated into daily life to foster greater flexibility and openness, while also reducing the pressure to feel only one way or think only one thing. When we embrace the dialectical nature of life we can experience greater freedom through flexibility and acceptance.  

How often do you tell yourself, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” or “I shouldn’t be thinking that,” or question, “That’s not what a good friend/parent/spouse would want to do.” In these moments we are selling ourselves short on the complexity of our human experience. This makes sense given the pressures we all might feel to know or have the right answer, do the right thing, or even feel the right way. Ultimately, this leads us into a rigid seesaw game of all-or-nothing or black-and-white thinking. We can become rigid and close-minded about the way we think or feel forced to choose and maintain one truth, ultimately leading to increased stress and anxiety when faced with a reality that does not meet our expectations.  

Embracing the dialectical nature of life by reminding ourselves that more than one truth can exist at the same time allows for greater freedom and flexibility in our lives. Take a moment to reflect on the last time you felt pulled between two feelings or found yourself stuck in a pattern of black-and-white thinking. Some examples might include thoughts such as “Either I make a perfect dinner or I can’t cook,” “If I make a mistake at work others will think I’m careless,” “Either I’m always on time or I’m unreliable,” or “If I feel frustrated by having no time to myself I’m being selfish,” and “If I let my friend down tonight I’m a bad friend.”  

All of these examples are limiting and oversimplified. Nevertheless, if you find yourself in this pattern you are not alone. Most people find themselves engaged in this pattern of thinking at various times, particularly when overly stressed or pressured by high expectations. It also makes sense that we attempt to zero in on a specific meaning or answer. Might it be possible to be a good cook and still make a fairly bland dinner? It is possible to be an excellent spouse and also want to be alone at times? Can you make a mistake or let a friend down, yet still be a good friend?

Take some time to pause and observe your thoughts and feelings. Notice if you are struggling to allow only one truth into your experience. Notice if you are engaged in binary thinking, such as all-or-nothing or black-and-white patterns. Take a moment to step back and give yourself space for more than one truth to exist. Embracing the dialectical nature of human experience may provide an opportunity for greater freedom and flexibility in your day-to-day life as you allow room for the full range of complex and seemingly contradictory experiences. Human beings are not either-or’s, we are both-and’s.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Visit us at www.lindquistpsych.com