Follow your values

It’s difficult to live the life you want to live when your thoughts tell you to go in another direction. Be brave and let your values guide you. You don’t have to follow your mind.

It’s easy to risk her life, and even easier to get herself killed. What takes real courage is choosing to live, choosing to save herself at all costs. Which means looking into her darkness and pain, and figuring out how she got there, and how she can get out.

Kira Salak. The White Mary: a novel.

© Jim Dempsey 2015
© Jim Dempsey 2015

If we remember that the point of the therapy is to help clients get unstuck (in other words, to have psychological flexibility), then it follows that a client who learns she can make value-based behavioral choices despite the presence or potential appearance of aversive private events—who, in short, can choose to live life in the way she wants to be living—has received what ACT has to offer. Such a person may not fully grasp why she is not her thoughts so much as that her thoughts (and feelings and bodily sensations) are not in charge. She may have come to learn that she can hold uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without needing to avoid or control them. These discoveries in turn free her up to make choices based on something besides the thoughts or feelings of the moment (or the past or perceived future). All good.

Darrah Westrup. Advanced Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Experienced Practitioner’s Guide to Optimizing Delivery.

We’re all searching for something

Each of us is searching for something different, something to make our lives better, more complete. What we forget is that we’re all the same, we’re all searching.

‘In his life-form the individual is necessarily only a fraction and distortion of the total image of man. He is limited either as male or as female; at any given period of his life he is again limited as child, youth, mature adult, or ancient; furthermore, in his liferole he is necessarily specialized as craftsman, tradesman, servant, or thief, priest, leader, wife, nun, or harlot; he cannot be all. Hence, the totality—the fullness of man—is not in the separate member, but in the body of the society as a whole; the individual can be only an organ. From his group he has derived his techniques of life, the language in which he thinks, the ideas on which he thrives; through the past of that society descended the genes that built his body. If he presumes to cut himself off, either in deed or in thought and feeling, he only breaks connection with the sources of his existence.’
Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces
We are all searching for something
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The individual is always a seeker. A separate person is always looking for something. We might seek wealth, success, power, fame, or we might seek for ‘spiritual’ things instead – but really it’s all the same seeking.

It seems as though everyone is looking for different things, but actually what we are looking for, deep down, is the same. Basically, everyone is in pursuit of the same wholeness (or oneness, or completeness, or whatever you want to call it) – a wholeness that is already here, but is ignored in our pursuit of a future completion.’

Jeff Foster. What Is Non-Duality? An interview with Jeff Foster by Nic Higham of Nonduality Network


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Robert Burns and the ability to observe yourself

In the late 1700s, Scottish poet, Robert Burns, believed an ability to see ourselves as others see us would free us from ‘blunders’ and ‘foolish notions’. Observing your ‘self’ can certainly offer some freedom from the harmful stories you can tell yourself.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An’ foolish notions;
What airs in dress an’ gait and wad lea’e us,
And ev’n devotion.

Robert Burns. To a Louse, on seeing one in a lady’s bonnet, at church.

Robert Burns and the ability to observe yourself
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‘Self-as- context refers to a sense of self that transcends the content of one’s experiences. In other words, there is a “you” that is observing and experiencing your inner and outer world and is also distinct from your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and roles. From this perspective, you are not your thoughts and feelings; rather, you are the context or arena in which they unfold. When we’re stuck viewing ourselves from a self-as-content perspective, on the other hand, we tend to be driven by the scripts we have about ourselves, our lives, and our histories.’

Jill A. Stoddard and Niloofar Afari. The Big Book of ACT Metaphors. A Practitioner’s Guide to Experiential Exercises & Metaphors in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy

Cultivate your curiosity

Writers use curiosity to hook you into their story, to make you ask questions and wonder. You can use that same curiosity in life, to learn and to become more aware of the world around you.

‘Curiosity is the intellectual need to answer questions and close open patterns. Story plays to this universal desire by doing the opposite, posing questions and opening situations. Each Turning Point hooks curiosity. As the protagonist is put at increasingly greater risk, the audience wonders, “What’s going to happen next? And after that?” And above all, “How will it turn out?” The answer to this will not arrive until the last act Climax, and so the audience, held by curiosity, stays put. Think of all the bad films you’ve sat through for no other reason than to get the answer to that nagging question.’

Robert McKee. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting

Writers use curiosity to hook you into their story, to make you ask questions and wonder. You can use that same curiosity in life, to learn and to become more aware of the world around you.
photo credit: Georgie Pauwels via photopin cc

Curiosity is at the heart of any learning process. If you’re curious about something, you want to find out more about it. When you feel curious, you ask lots of questions, listen intently and get excited by new information and new concepts.

You can bring an attitude of this curiosity to your mindfulness practice. Ask yourself questions like ‘Where do thoughts come from?’ and ‘What happens if I move towards my frustration and try to breathe into it?’

If you bring curiosity to your daily life, you find that mindfulness spontaneously arises. You’re paying attention, noticing what’s happening and find it easier to be in the present moment.’

Shamash Alidina and Joelle Jane Marshall. Mindfulness Workbook for Dummies.

How to tolerate extremes

Whether you’re experiencing a winter freeze or a summer burn, there’s little point in complaining. Try to experience any extreme with open curiosity, and you might find you can tolerate a lot more than you thought.

‘Suddenly it’s cauld; very fuckin cauld. The candle’s nearly melted doon. The only real heat’s comin fae the telly. Something black and white’s on but the telly’s a black and white set so it was bound tae be something black and white . . . wi a calour telly, it wid be different . . perhaps. It’s freezing, but movement only makes ye caulder; by making ye more aware that there’s fuck all you can do, fuck all you can really do, tae get warm. At least if ah stey still ah can pretend to masel ah have the power tae make masel warm, by just moving aroond or switching the fire oan. The trick is tae be as still as possible. It’s easier than dragging yourself across the flair tae switch that fuckin fire oan.’

Irvine Welsh. Trainspotting.

How to tolerate extremes
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A woman came to me during a retreat saying that despite extra layers of clothing and a hot-water bottle, she felt cold all the time. She also realized that she was frightened about feeling cold. She knew the fear was irrational, and she had been looking for its source. Then she remembered an incident twenty years earlier when she’d had some heart trouble and was very cold.

I asked her to scan her body carefully and tell me what percentage of the body did not feel cold. After a few minutes she reported with surprise that over 90 percent of her body felt warm, or even hot. She realized that the 10 percent of her body that was cool was producing 100 percent of the fear. Later she said that a weight had been lifted from her mind, a fear that had lasted decades, and she was now able easily to tolerate different temperatures.

I once watched a passenger get into my car and reach over to turn on the air conditioner, before the car had even started. It’s like salting our food before we taste it. We live on automatic, trying to insulate ourselves against any discomfort before it even arrives. Then we lose the joy of potential discovery and the freedom of finding that we can investigate, and even be happy, within a greater range of experiences than we thought.

Jan Chozen Bays. How to Train a Wild Elephant and Other Adventures in Mindfulness.

Trust your own strength

Mythological heroes often possess extraordinary powers. That ability and strength to overcome apparently insurmountable problems is within us all.

‘The mighty hero of extraordinary powers —able to lift Mount Govardhan on a finger, and to fill himself with the terrible glory of the universe—is each of us: not the physical self visible in the mirror, but the king within. Krishna declares: “I am the Self, seated in the hearts of all creatures. I am the beginning, the middle, and the end of all beings.””
Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Trust your own strength
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Part of mindfulness practice is to cultivate a trusting heart. Let’s begin by looking deeply into what we can trust in ourselves. If we don’t immediately know what there is to trust in ourselves, maybe we need to look a little deeper, to dwell a little longer with ourselves in stillness and in simply being. If we are unaware of what we are doing a good deal of the time, and we don’t particularly like the way things turn out in our lives, perhaps it’s time to pay closer attention, to be more in touch, to observe the choices we make and their consequences down the road.

Perhaps we could experiment with trusting the present moment, accepting whatever we feel or think or see in this moment because this is what is present now. If we can take a stand here, and let go into the full texture of now, we may find that this very moment is worthy of our trust. From such experiments, conducted over and over again, may come a new sense that somewhere deep within us resides a profoundly healthy and trustworthy core, and that our intuitions, as deep resonances of the actuality of the present moment, are worthy of our trust.

Be strong then, and enter into your own body; there you have a solid place for your feet.

Think about it carefully! Don’t go off somewhere else!

Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things, and stand firm in that which you are.

Jon Kabat-Zinn. Wherever you go, there you are.


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

When the mind is stuck on replay

The mind often replays old arguments, bringing the same feelings of anger and resentment back. Instead, we should try to recall the feelings from before these disagreements.

There was, I believed, no original thought left to have about my various confrontations, but still they turned over and over in my mind, certain phrases bubbling back up, certain moments replaying in a loop. I formulated snappy and witty rebuttals, unanswerable comebacks; I scripted and rehearsed future encounters. And this ceaseless, futile mental activity disgusted me even as I felt myself unable to stop indulging in it.

Will Wiles. The Way Inn. 2014. Fourth estate. London.

When the mind is stuck on replay
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Naturally when something reminds you of pain from your past, painful thoughts and feelings are likely to show up. You can’t stop that from happening. That’s the way your brain is hardwired. But if you clutch those thoughts and feelings and refuse to let go, you turn them into a mass of seething resentment. This does not allow healing; instead it opens your wounds and pours in salt. The word “resentment” comes from the French resentir, which means “to feel again.”

When you hold on to resentment, you will relive the pain, again and again and again. In Buddhism, there’s a saying: resentment is like holding a red hot coal in order to throw it at someone else. When you hold on to hurts from the past, you cultivate feelings of anger, resentment, and revenge. These feelings hurt you, not the person who wronged you. It’s like cutting yourself with a knife and hoping that the other person bleeds.

Russ Harris. Act With Love.

Let go of the past

Many of our emotional responses are a result of events in the past. Letting go of the past provides an opportunity to react differently and overcome recurring difficulties.

Let go of the past
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‘The mythological hero is the champion not of things become but of things becoming; the dragon to be slain by him is precisely the monster of the status quo: Holdfast, the keeper of the past. From obscurity the hero emerges, but the enemy is great and conspicuous in the seat of power; he is enemy, dragon, tyrant, because he turns to his own advantage the authority of his position. He is Holdfast not because he keeps the past but because he keeps.’

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Human emotional responses are just our own history being brought into the present by the current context. If our reactions are our history, and our reactions are our enemies, then our own history has become our enemy.

Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strosahl and Kelly G. Wilson. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change.


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Living with loneliness

Loneliness can be a crippling feeling. Richard Ford described it as waiting in a line where the front gets farther and farther away. Try, for just one second, to willingly stand in that line.

Living with loneliness
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Loneliness, I’ve read, is like being in a long line, waiting to reach the front where it’s promised something good will happen. Only the line never moves, and other people are always coming in ahead of you, and the front, the place where you want to be, is always farther and farther away until you no longer believe it has anything to offer you.

Richard Ford. Canada.

‘I once worked briefly with a patient of a close colleague of mine. I was consulted on the case. The patient felt such terrible loneliness that she believed that if she willingly allowed herself to feel its far-reaching effects, she would be destroyed by its intensity. Her marriage had broken up, she had no job, she lacked adequate education to find anything but the most menial employment, her friends had abandoned her, she was barely surviving on disability insurance, and she’d tried to commit suicide and failed. Her life seemed absolutely empty and meaningless. In a therapy session, my colleague and I asked if she would allow herself to feel her loneliness, and she kept saying no until we got her down to agree to be fully willing for one second. She agreed to feel lonely openly and without defense for one second. That was a start.

‘After months of working with ACT she terminated therapy. Years passed. We’d completely lost track of her but she called a few weeks ago. Now, more than a decade later, she has a degree, a job, a partner, friends, and a purpose. She has a life. She walked through hell to get there, one moment at a time. And that journey started somewhere. It started with her willingness to feel lonely, to feel it deliberately without any defenses, as you might reach out to feel a fine fabric, for one single solitary second.’

Steven C. Hayes & Spencer Smith. Get Out Of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.