For this Thanksgiving Create a Gratitude Journal

Creating a Gratitude Journal based on Book I of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Instructions: Use the method based on The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius to create your own Gratitude Journal.

The Beginning of your Journal:

1) Begin your first entry by writing about the individuals and life experiences (joyful ones as well as those that caused suffering) that influenced you and how they may have contributed to the development of characteristics that you like about yourself (you can even incorporate feedback that others have given you). When indicating a characteristic, make the connection between the person(s) and/or experience that taught you and the characteristic itself. For example, Marcus wrote, “I learned gentleness and perseverance from my adoptive father.” For this entry, you would want to list at least 4 characteristics and connected influences (you can indicate more if you want).

2) After you create your list, take about 5 minutes (or more if you need) to feel your influences. Close your eyes and call to mind the person and/or experience that served as your “teacher”. Visualize that person and/or experience, feel whatever feelings or emotions that arise in your awareness, and then silently to yourself, express gratitude by saying either “Thank you”, “I accept you,” or “I welcome you” to that person and/or experience that taught you. If you would like, you can repeat this practice every day, especially as new experiences arise.

3) At some point over the next week, take one of your characteristics that was influenced by a person in your life and then thank him/her.

  • If the person is far away, call him/her on the phone and express your gratitude, being sure to mention why you are expressing such gratitude. (Pay attention to how you feel throughout the process and allow yourself to feel whatever feelings come).
  • If the person is close by, arrange an in-person meeting so that you can tell him/her face-to-face. (Again, pay attention to your feelings).
  • If the person is no longer living, write him/her a letter. After you finish, read the letter either to yourself or someone that you very much trust (and pay attention to your feelings throughout).

The Rest of your Journal:

1) For the beginning of each day, soon after you wake up, write down something or someone for which/whom you are grateful. (Give yourself at least 5 minutes to feel gratitude in relation to that something or someone).

2) At the end of each day, when you can get some quiet time, reflect on what you learned from the day, paying attention to individuals or experiences that may have taught you certain virtues or contributed to the development of positive character traits. After you have reflected, write about your encounters with those individuals and/or experiences and the development of any virtue(s) or characteristic(s) that may have developed. After you have completed your writing, silently express gratitude, allowing yourself to feel whatever arises.

(Ian Edwards–Director of Duquesne University Counseling and Wellbeing Center)

AM I GOING CRAZY IN MY HEAD??

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The Imprisonment
Have you ever had bad or negative thoughts? Would you be embarrassed or delighted if others could listen to the thoughts? How would this situation make you feel?
As mental health clinicians we often work with individuals who self-report as feeling like a bad person…because the thoughts in [their] head are bad. As we probe for more information about their personal quarrel, many times individuals are confused because they do not know where the thoughts are coming from. Some clients may say, “I have a good life. Nothing terrible has ever happened to me but I just can’t stop having these negative thoughts.” Another client may have a situation in which they have an extensive history of trauma (i.e. some forms of abuse). When I work with these types of clients, they usually indicate that their negative thinking began as a result of their trauma. Though the situation for each individual client is different, there is a common connection or theme in how most of them label themselves. “I aint sh*t”, “I’m pathetic”, “I’m not worthy of love”, “My moms’ is right – I’m just a stupid dude,” “I’m better off dead because I’m a burden to other people,” etc. The problem here is not the thought itself but the fact that the client is identifying with the thought and claiming it as being their own. As soon as a person claims allegiance with a thought, the thought begins to achieve its mission of subverting the person’s well-being. The thought no longer has to convince the person that they are pathetic, bad, or a piece of sh*t, because the person has already decided (consciously or unconsciously) that the thought has more validity, credibility, and power than the person experiencing the thought. The person then begins to feel stress, anger, anxiety, etc. When a person falls victim to this maladaptive thought process, they do not become a prisoner of their own thinking, they become a prisoner of thoughts.
Regaining Freedom
In order to regain a sense or state of healthiness one must understand that thoughts are simply thoughts. They are not necessarily anyone’s property. Some thoughts are welcomed and some are not. Some have a brief stay in the mind and some stay longer but they are not necessarily our thoughts. They enter and exit our minds. For example, “When looking up at the sky, many phenomena such as clouds, birds, planes, etc. are perceived to be passing by. You can see the clouds float by because you are not the clouds; rather you are the witness of those clouds,” (Edwards, 2004). In the same way that Dr. Ian C. Edwards vividly explains that we are witnesses of the clouds, we are also witnesses of our thoughts; but we are not our thoughts. Occasionally, I experience negative thoughts and some of them are extremely unhealthy. I am not fully aware of what causes them or where they come from, but because I do not identify with them, they do not bother me. Many times I laugh at them which makes my experience humorous and not horrifying.

I recently listened to some audio archives of Alan Watts discussing the Buddha Mind and he said:
“If you bothered about one such reflection [i.e. thoughts], you are certain to go astray. Your thoughts       don’t lay deep enough. They rise from the shallows of your mind…Thoughts aren’t entities. So, if you permit them to rise, reflect themselves, or cease all together as they are prone to do, and if you don’t worry about them, then you’ll never go astray. In this way, let 100 [or] 1,000 thoughts arise and it’s as if not one has arisen.” (Watts, 2004).

My recommendations to anyone who is being imprisoned by thoughts are the following:
1) Do not claim total allegiance with thoughts (especially negative or unhealthy ones). Remember that “…the mind becomes empty when we disidentify with the experienced phenomenon,” (Edwards, 2004).
2) Recognize that you are powerless when it comes to trying to control your thoughts, but understand that you can find power within this powerless experience if you become a spectator or a witness of thoughts without becoming them.

© 05/13/2015 Shawn S. Coleman, MS PC (Shawn is a case manager at Duquesne University Counseling and Wellbeing Center)
For more self-help information, products, and services, please visit www.PerspectVe.com.
References
Edwards, D. I. (2004). The Dawning of Awareness on a Juvenile Sex Offender Unit. The World Of OSHO – VIHA CONNECTION, 19.
Watts, A. (2004). Out of Your Mind.

 

What is Contemplation?

Following in the tradition of the author of the Cloud of Unknowing, St. John of the Cross, and Thomas Merton, contemplation is a practice of letting be so that the contemplative becomes increasingly more mindful of the stirrings of God within the soul and in the world. Another way to put it would be to suggest that contemplation connects you to your authentic self, the self that is intertwined with God. Both as a practice and as a way of being in the world, when we are contemplating, we practice deep listening that emerges from stillness (or quieting the mind). As a form of prayer, it is predicated upon silence (allowing God to speak to us in the silence of our hearts) as opposed to us telling God what we want or desire. This communication begins by becoming attuned to our breath, the very life force that God breathes into all sentient beings. (When we are attuned to our breath, we are mindful of God’s breathing into and through us, so that when we breathe, God breathes). Reading contemplatively involves reading and listening slowly, meditatively, and with reverence, being mindful of the presence of the Word (Logos) in all words. Through this way of reading, we allow the Logos to speak to us, to come to our assistance, to help us articulate the questions that we need to ask so that the answers are those that we need to hear. Ultimately, in contemplation, we can practice the presence of God, allowing God to heal those aspects of our life that might need care.

Ian Edwards

Director, Duquesne University Counseling and Wellbeing Center

Time Management an Inherent Impossibility

To reflect on and write about time management, we are struck by an inherent impossibility: we cannot manage time. I am not referring to the fact that time is very difficult to manage given all of the numerous responsibilities we attempt to juggle. I am actually referring to the fact that we cannot control the passage of time, thereby making time management an impossibility. Thus, our efforts to manage time are doomed to fail at the outset because we cannot control that which is out of our control.
This does not mean however that we should give up attempting to be timely and to live our lives to the fullest. It just means we need a new way to think about structuring our time. In this blog, I will write about time structuring, rather than time managing. I will focus this particular blog on writing about different ways to think about time, as well as ways to be more mindful of our time in order to make wiser choices. In subsequent blogs, I will talk further about ways to develop an individualized and integrated approach to time structuring, as well as to talk about some concrete strategies to effectively structure your time and to overcome any challenges to such effectiveness.
To begin to think more deeply about time, we need to make a fundamental distinction between time as we usually think about it, clock time, and time as we experience it, lived time. We have to thank existential-phenomenological philosophy and psychology for helping us with these considerations, and such a philosophy and psychology actually took root at our very own Duquesne University. Clock time is our attempt to measure time and put a number on it with hours and minutes, just like we can measure the desk at which we sit. Clock time is quantitative, a lifeless way to experience time, but a helpful way to schedule time. Lived time is our qualitative experience of time as it unfolds and we live it. Lived time can be fast or slow, depending upon what we are doing with our time and so lived time is full of life: our life as we live it. When thinking about life in terms of clock time, 8:00-10:00 at night on a Monday evening is the same as 8:00-10:00 on a Saturday evening in that both are two hours increments; however, our different experiences of Monday evening compared to Saturday evening provide evidence to the inherent difference in quality between these two increments.
The important point to remember is that when structuring your time, you have to rely on clock time to schedule, but you also have to make sure to be mindful of the lived time and the quality of your life. In so many instances people may be very effective at time management according to clock time, but will schedule themselves so rigidly and lose connection with what they are doing that they feel absolutely miserable. They may be running around to attend this class and to attend that meeting, hurrying to fit in a work out and fit in that friend, but they miss out on their connection with themselves, their field of study, and their relationships that they feel lost. This person remembered to schedule their life with clock time, but forgot to take into account lived time. Lived time reminds us to be mindful of quality of our experiences and mindful of life itself.
Life is so fast with so many different responsibilities that we tend to make mindless choices and to act mindlessly. We do not acknowledge the choice we are making and so may make an unwise choice that does not reflect the way we want our lives to unfold. Such a choice may be sending a text or surfing the internet rather than being present to a project we need to complete or paying attention to a friend in need. Thus, mindfulness is important when structuring time. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. Mindfulness allows us the opportunity to make wiser choice in the moment because we are connected with our lived experience of time and connected to what we need to do and what matters to us. Mindfulness starts with just a pause and the intention to focus. The Counseling and Wellbeing Center website has a link to Self-Help Resources and I suggest the ‘Just This Breath’ mindfulness exercise from the Relaxation Exercises On-Line Link as a great place to start practicing. The Center also has a wonderful meditation room to practice mindfulness, which I encourage you to visit. I look forward to writing again about time structuring in future blogs, and of course I appreciate your time!

Thomas Smith

WellBeing Wednesday: Prayer for times of Despair and Anxiety

A Prayer for Times of Despair and Anxiety

Heavenly Father, Creator and Sustainer of the Cosmos; Beloved Son whose Indwelling is the Source of Perpetual Peace; Breath of Life that effortlessly flows through the natural world, I come to you fractured in the deepest region of my soul, plagued by intense despair that renders the world hollow and simultaneously full of ethereal shadows that summon me to annihilation, taking the visage of those that purport to love me, calling to me as “mother,” “father,” and “beloved,” whispering memories of a history that I hoped was forever concealed within the labyrinth of my mind.

I am overrun by tidal waves of anxiety that flood my world, reducing it from a plenteous manifold of dynamic diversity where Your Presence is encountered with each and every breath to a panorama of persecuting voices, forecasting a future of never ending woe.

Holy Trinity, during such moments when my world is immersed and swallowed up by despair, when my very manner of imagining and projecting my possibilities for being is narrowed to the point of seeing in the other only those that have hurt me, may you come to my assistance as a thundering whisper, whose sound is not to be heard with the naked ears but felt as a vibration of the Trinitarian nature that underlies the manifest world and has existed from beginningless time.

May I recall the path of healing that was lived by the Second Person of the Godhead, who didn’t reject the darkness, but who, through the Father, accepted and transformed it, turning the cessation of life into life eternal, showing that death and life are inseparable.

With his path and my path constituting a unity, with suffering and joy constituting a circular, holistic process that will lead to increased wisdom and greater serenity, may I not shy away from emotional suffering, but look deeply so that I see in it the very means to live a resurrected life, to give birth to the Eternal Logos in my soul.

Through Your Love, I welcome the demons that were previously my despair and anxiety. I show them hospitality, not by identifying with them, but by seeing them as angels, as messengers whose communications are designed to direct me to those aspects of self that need care.

I realize that they have become monstrous in appearance only because they were starved. Once fed with Divine Understanding, they begin to take proper form by shedding their previously demonic countenance, revealing themselves as lonely and frightened children. And, when nurtured with patience, compassion, and insight, become openings for an illuminated now and harbingers of a blessed future whose proclamations of transmutation demonstrate a path to wisdom that knows no equal.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
Amen.

By Dr. Ian  Edwards

Director of the University Counseling and Wellbeing Center

Psychosomatic Vomit: Running From Grief

Running-track2

I was doing my routine interval running workout a few days ago. And except for the fact that I was doing it after, rather than before work, everything was going routinely. A mile warm up at an easy jogging pace felt good and got me activated, even though I noticed I was a little more tired than normal. Two half mile intervals at a moderately challenging running pace left me feeling strong, even with my tiredness. Then I ran my first quarter mile at a fast running pace. Halfway through I felt the base of my throat start to convulse, and I really thought that I was going to throw up. I had never experienced this sensation while running before, and hadn’t eaten anything unusual or right before my run. I told myself that my feeling of having to throw up wasn’t real, and took extra deep breaths as I quickened my pace to complete my first quarter mile sprint around the track. As I started my recovery walk I noticed it took another 20 seconds for the convulsing to stop, and I made a mental note of the nearest trash can, in case I needed it, even while continuing to walk in the opposite direction.
I finished my recovery walk and started my second quarter mile interval. This time the convulsions started almost immediately, and lasted for a minute after I stopped running. I completed the quarter mile run by focusing on my breathing, cadence, posture, and belief that the physical sensation I was experiencing didn’t have to dictate what actually happened. I was also very aware of the nearest trash can, and bathroom, and relieved when I finished. I moved to my recovery walk, then half mile cool down jog without regurgitating my lunch.
Driving home after my workout I reflected on why this had happened. I realized that my anxiety had been very high this week, especially within my new relationship. I knew this anxiety was about my fear of being abandoned, and that this was connected to my late partner’s unexpected death. Since then I hadn’t stopped running, which has been a constant routine in my life for 10 years. I ran my first marathon a few months after his death because I had already committed to do it and knew he’d be “mad” if I didn’t. I came to realize that I was running from my pain and grief, and running was the distraction and means of exhausting myself that I needed for many months. When my energy started to return, I started running toward, or chasing, distractions as well, especially ones that made me feel as happy in the moment as possible. It took a while before I realized that chasing “highs” was unsustainable, and threatening to destroy the sense of stability I had previously created and need to attend to my wellbeing and derive meaning from my work.
A sports injury from skiing recklessly finally helped me decide to seek balance and stability again. I knew that I needed to do this, and doing this finally made my grief and pain unavoidable. I was now spending time “in the darkness,” but running was becoming an anchor and reminder that there was a way to “move forward” after visiting the “darkness” without getting lost there. I had also recently started a new relationship, which initially offered the promise of an exciting and fun distraction, but realized that now I wanted a relationship that could support my effort to build a stable foundation in my life. However, negotiating this with my partner (a life loving night owl artist whose creative energy never stops) has stirred new anxiety within me, and I realize that this anxiety is my fear of being abandoned, again. Writing the word “again” is a brand new acknowledgement that my late partner abandoned me, and that I am mad at him. Writing these words is so uncomfortable, and in fact, makes me want to throw up right now. They don’t mean I don’t love him or am not grateful for his love. Rather I am now acknowledging that my love, and anger coexist.
I believe it’s no coincidence that I had such a powerful sensation of needing to throw up after several days of high anxiety around the possibility of being abandoned in a new relationship, anxiety I took it upon myself to avoid by altering my routine to over accommodate my partner’s later schedule, resulting in not getting enough sleep to engage in my regular Wednesday morning workout. Seeing that I am being overly accommodating to someone else, realizing that this is due to my own fear of abandonment, acknowledging that I feel abandoned by my late partner, and that my undying love for him includes anger is hard to swallow. My best guess is this is why I felt like throwing up during my workout. Looking back, I’m grateful for the experience to swallow, that is ingest, what I previously could not, by pushing through those quarter mile intervals, and later by shedding tears while I finally took the rose I had pressed that was laying on my late partner’s chest at his wake, and placing it in the beautiful box that my partner presented me with for that purpose. And I now feel less queasy about future prospects of leaving psychosomatic vomit on the track floor.

“Julie Smith” (pseudonym)

Hello Duquesne Community

The DuqWellbeing blog was created to promote and inspire a holistic approach to wellbeing and human formation. This blog is hosted by Duquesne University’s Counseling and Wellbeing Center. The University Counseling and Wellbeing Center (UCWC) establishes itself on a philosophy of life that is congruent with the University Mission. We view the student in terms of his/her striving for contentment, happiness, and flourishing. Our goal for this blog is to provide information and resources that will enable not only the Duquesne community, but the greater community to live a meaningful life based on a mind/body/spirit approach to wellbeing, an approach that honors the fundamental dignity of the human person by valuing him/her in his/her totality.

The Blog will feature a variety of authors, topics, and information related to the fullness of the human experience. The following paragraphs introduce the reader to our approach to wellbeing. We hope the Blog will be a source contemplation, food for the mind/body/Spirit, which may lead to healing, companionship, and ultimately wellbeing as a philosophy of life.

Integration of  Mind/Body/Spirit

Wellbeing is a term that has been utilized by countless health experts, whether in the behavioral or medical sciences, to signify that being healthy is not of a one-dimensional or singular nature. Rather, to be healthy from a wellbeing perspective is to suggest that there are multiple aspects of the self that need to be nurtured. It is to indicate that the person is more than just her body, mind, or spirit, but is mind, body and spirit.  Thus, when taken together and considered integrally, the person cannot be reduced to any one particular part or aspect of self, but must be considered and encountered holistically.

A Holistic Approach to the Human Person

A holistic approach to the human person is synonymous with wholeness, which in turn is synonymous with wellbeing.  To be well is ultimately to be whole. Wellbeing-based practices and techniques, such as meditation, prayer, or spiritual reading for the Spirit, aerobic exercise and proper nutrition for the Body, and intellectual study for the Mind, when taken together and practiced as part of a comprehensive training program are fundamentally about cultivating a way of being predicated upon wholeness.

Wellbeing as Wholeness

Wellbeing as Wholeness is ultimately who you are. When you reduce yourself to a particular function you transform yourself into an object. When you reduce others to their functions, you turn them into objects as well. Thus, self and others become inanimate and therefore can be used and discarded with a callousness that can be most destructive at times. A philosophy of wellbeing, as a way of life, brings a sense of aliveness to your life. When you honor yourself and others as mind, body, and spirit the world begins to look differently. You notice a profundity, or depth, to all forms of life that you didn’t necessarily experience before. Your love deepens, your care and compassion widens to include the welfare of all beings, and not only those that are similar to you in terms of socioeconomic class, ethnicity, and/or sexual orientation. You begin to see that your happiness is connected to the happiness of others in the sense that you no longer pursue happiness at the expense of others. In essence, the other is no longer a means to an end but an end unto herself.

Wellbeing as a Philosophy of Life

Wellbeing is the path of lived wisdom where the great ideas of the past and present become part of an overall ethic of love. It is the power of community, social justice, and the art and science of caring for yourself and others in a world of engagement. Being well (wellness as wholeness) is what it means for you to be human. And importantly, your own wellbeing is not separate from the wellbeing of others. The path of wellbeing is a powerful way for you to not only honor the depth of your being but that of others and nature as well and it all begins by simply acknowledging yourself and others as mind, body, and spirit. (And yes, nature too is soulful). If you reflect upon this long enough, you will find that miracles abound in everyday life and that everyday life is itself miraculous. Thus, practice being well and encourage others to do the same and you may find yourself to be happier, healthier, and wiser.