<![CDATA[Austin Mindfulness Center - Blog]]>Fri, 18 Aug 2017 09:10:32 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[On Being Mindfully Mediocre]]>Fri, 11 Aug 2017 18:34:51 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/on-being-mindfully-mediocre
Jiovann Carrasco, LPC
Owner and Psychotherapist at Austin Mindfulness Center
The irony is not lost on me that, as a therapist, what I'm about to tell you seems to run counter to my profession's aim of helping people to improve their lives. What if I told you that self-improvement was a waste of time? 

Wait, wait, wait . . . Hear me out. 

It's no secret that the self-improvement industry, a $9.6 billion a year industry, is having it's day in the sun, and we're all supporting it in one way or another. Do you not have a gym membership, see a therapist, drink kale smoothies, and read, I mean, listen to Brené Brown on Audible? I do. I want to get better, too!

Nothing wrong with any of that by the way. I love smoothies. What concerns me is not the activity itself, but the premise that seems to be driving us in flocks toward a kind of salvation, which incidentally, never arrives. That premise is simple:

You aren't good enough as you currently are.
It sounds like a harsh thing to say to yourself, right? If somebody said that to you, you'd be rightly offended. But when you say it to yourself, it just kinda feels . . . accurate. It seems right, that there are so, so many things wrong with yourself and if only you could lose another 15 pounds, keep up with the latest fashion trends, subscribe to the right podcasts, and have a witty thing to say every single time you speak, maybe then you'd be OK. 

But guess what? That will never happen. That's right. We can never get "there." Even if you did lose the weight and buy that Tesla, somehow the goal post always moves. And that's why we will forever line the pockets of self help gurus and fall victim to the latest health craze. ​We are hopelessly inadequate. Woefully mediocre.

And that's, well . . . OK.

It's OK. Not great, not terrible. It's fine. 
I know. You want to be better than that. I'm sorry, you're not. You're just . . . you. No better and no worse. If you took away the judgement, what is that like? If it wasn't good or bad, what does it feel like to be you? 

To be mindful is to let go of the judgement.

Don't worry, it's not going anywhere. But for a minute, see if you can release the evaluative commentary and feel into what it's like to be you, right now. If you cannot accept this, you will never be happy or satisfied. No amount of organic goji berries or hot yoga will fill that void. 

You may think, "OK, but if I accept myself like I am, I'll never do anything." Not true. As humans we not only do things because we have to, we can also do things because we want to. If you were perfectly happy with the body you have, it is also possible that you enjoy staying healthy and strong and being outside and drinking mango infused mineral water and wearing these amazing yoga pants. (Who wouldn't, am I right?)

My point is, check your motivation. Start with loving yourself, just the way you are. Then let your actions be in the service of that self love. Self-care, not self-improvement. Mediocrity never felt so good!
<![CDATA[3 Ways to Change Your Partner]]>Mon, 10 Jul 2017 19:42:39 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/3-ways-to-change-your-partner
So you found the ONE!
The person you love to spend your life with. The one that you can grow old with and lean on throughout life's challenges. Congratulations! Now if only you can change them into someone different. Someone who fulfills your needs better, or makes you feel more understood, or remembers to take the trash out.
As a relationship therapist, I often hear clients describe frustrations with partners such as, "I keep telling them what to do differently and they just don't do it" or "if they looked at things from my perspective, they would realize that they were wrong and my way of doing things is the right way." Essentially, people are drawn to someone who is different than them, love these differences, and then once the excitement wears off, we wonder how we can make them more like us.

Often, when these differences create conflict people wonder if they found the right partner. This causes a lot of anxiety. In a reaction to that anxiety a partner might try to change the other partner by nagging, telling them what they can do differently, giving the silent treatment, or use a variety of other behaviors that are targeted towards changing the partner. This is often an unconscious effort to decrease their own anxiety about being vulnerable to someone who is different and to regain a sense of safety and security that most people crave in relationships. 
"So now I have a better idea of why I want to change my partner, but I still want to change their behaviors." That's very normal reaction and I did promise solutions, so here are some suggestions:
1. Get curious
Once the inevitable conflict phase of a relationship takes hold, it's very common to disconnect from our partner on some level. Disconnection can look like taking space and avoiding your partner. Disconnection can also involve pushing away behaviors such as becoming clingier, irritable, demanding, testing your partner, and blaming them for issues in the relationship.
When you are so focused on looking at issues through your own perspective, you lose sight of the full picture. Get curious about what your partner's experiences of the relationship are like. Ask questions about how they are feeling, what they are longing for, and what makes them feel most loved. Rather than making a judgment, get curious about what their experience is like. Some of what they say may trigger more fears and anxiety within you. That is okay and is to be expected. Notice your own reactions and get curious about what those reactions mean for you.
Often a therapist, coach, and sometimes a close friend can help us explore the meaning underneath our own reactions. How does this change my partner you ask? When someone feels that they are being tuned into and heard, it is very common for them to drop their defenses, soften, and connect more. Everyone wants to feel understood and appreciated and by getting curious and listening to your partner, you are creating a climate in which they can receive that from you. Often this changes the tone of the dynamic within the relationship, which makes room for growth. 
2. Conquer Criticism And Master The Compliment Sandwich
It is very easy to identify what other people could be doing differently. In fact the part of our brain that deals with Safety and Security is constantly scanning its environment for threats. Often, we react to perceived threats that are not actually dangerous and one of these reactions to the threat is criticism. Many times, someone hopes that by criticizing or pointing out with their partner is doing wrong, their partner will see the error of their ways and change. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
Criticism is a connection killer. The person being criticized often feels hurt and misunderstood and may even rebel and continue the frustrating behaviors at an increased level. They may become afraid of losing their sense of self within the relationship and reject what is being said. If you think about a time in your life when you have been criticized, try to remember the emotions that came up. Most likely, they were not pleasant. 
Instead of criticizing, what you want to do is use a strategy called the compliment sandwich. The structure of the compliment sandwich is you:
1. Share an appreciation
2. Then share what you would like to change (focusing on your own reactions)
3. Follow it up with something else positive such as an appreciation, validation, or what that change would do for you. 
An example of a compliment sandwich looks like this. 
1. I know you've been working a lot of hours lately and I really appreciate how hard you work to support our family. One of the things I love about you is what a hard worker you are. 
2. I do find that I get very lonely when you're working so many late nights and I find myself missing you. I would love it if one night a week you were able to come home a little earlier so we could spend some quality time together. 
3. I understand that you have a lot of work demands and this might be very hard to do, but if you could, it would really mean a lot to me. Something I really value about a relationship is how we can have fun together and I think that time would really give us the chance to enjoy each other a little bit more. 
Using the compliment sandwich increases your likelihood that your partner will be able to hear you and perhaps even implement something that you're suggesting. It does not work every time and your partner may not actually be able to do what you're asking, however if they are, this helps to create a safe space where your partner will not be put on the defense and may be able to take in what you're saying. 
3. Self Sooth
So here's the tough part. Your partner may not be receptive to making any changes. Or they might change certain behaviors on their own timetable. As long as their behavior is not abusive or dangerous to you, you may be able to work on some patience with the process. People have to take ownership of their own changes so it needs to be on their own terms.
The challenging part is to decrease your own anxiety and soothe yourself to increase patience while waiting for your partner to make changes. Also, soothing yourself can help you gain acceptance if your partner does not plan to make any of your recommended changes. Great ways of soothing yourself involve meditation, reading in fulfilling book, utilizing your support systems, getting a massage, going for a walk, taking in some nature, doing enjoyable activities that feed your soul, finding mind-body activities such as yoga or other forms of exercise to release some of our energy and increase our ability to be calm, etc.

The point is to do things that help you feel centered, so that you do not project your fears onto your partner. The more calm and centered you're able to approach your partner the less fear you will invoke in them. Relationships have chain reactions, and by managing your own reactions, you are in fact impacting your partner's reactions. 
It is important to remember that you cannot change someone by criticizing or blaming them but by changing your approach and focusing on your own internal process you can change the tone of your relationship. Every action has a reaction, so the change can always start with you. By waiting for a partner to change it brings up feelings of being out of control, however when the change is within you, you have more control.
Often getting some support for this process can be very beneficial and can help us increase our insight. Support can be couples or individual therapy or can involve utilizing support from friends or family who are a friend of the relationship and support each partner equally. We may not be able to control how our partner reacts, but we can create the conditions for growth. 

<![CDATA[How We All Got Here]]>Fri, 24 Feb 2017 20:41:10 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/how-we-all-got-here
​As human beings we all lose our way from time to time along the journey of life. We find ourselves feeling isolated and in pain and nothing that has worked in the past seems to help. I get it. I’ve been in the wilderness too. I am grateful to have found people along the way who have guided me back home to myself. If you found your way to this site you may have summoned up the courage and willingness to seek out a guide of your own.

It is a tremendous honor to serve as a supportive witness to the transformation of another human being. Through my own struggles and as a witness to the journeys of others I have come to understand that our stories are more similar than different.

Here is what I have learned:
​When we were tiny little humans we were aware that we were spectacular. We had no qualms about receiving the love we richly deserved. We lived utterly in the moment. We were free.

As we grew older we learned that some behavior was acceptable and some wasn’t. The job of our parents and teachers was to help us respect ourselves and others by abiding by certain rules and norms. If we were fortunate, these adults taught us by modeling respect for themselves and respect for us as human children.

Many of us, however, were taught by other methods. We were scolded and teased and bullied into submission. We were told outright that we were not spectacular at all and we should be ashamed for thinking that we were. Some of us were exploited and abused by the very people we depended on to meet our basic needs of love and nourishment.
We learned it was not safe for us to show anger or sadness. We turned our anger on ourselves. We repeated hateful messages again and again to ourselves in the secret space of our own minds.

We became DEPRESSED.

We learned that love and nourishment from others was conditional on how we behaved. We channeled our longing to be cherished into a need to be perfect.  We pushed ourselves to achieve and always fell short of our own expectations.

We became ANXIOUS.

We learned that we needed to dress and act a certain way to be appreciated by others. We became chameleons and pushed ourselves mercilessly to be everything for everyone.

We found that suppressing our emotions and trying to be perfect left us with a vast empty space inside and a feeling of restless discontent. Some of us turned to sugar, some to alcohol, some to drugs to fill the void. We discovered that sex, pornography, unhealthy relationships and even excessive work gave us a temporary relief from the emptiness. Once we found what worked for us we “acted out” more and more frequently only to discover that the more we used it, watched it or engaged in it we were left more empty than before.
We became ADDICTED.
We had lost hope. We didn’t know where to turn. We had forgotten what we instinctively knew as tiny humans: Our own WORTHINESS.

Recovery is the process of forging a path back to a place of awareness that we are still spectacular at our core. Nothing we have ever thought or done has changed our essence. We simply forgot our Self.

When we are ready to take the path back to ourselves we may seek out a guide to help us clear out the briars and brush that have kept our path hidden. A useful guide has tools handy that help us stay safe and pace ourselves as we clear our way.

We learn to let go of the past and welcome the challenges of the future. We live in the moment through the practice of MINDFULNESS.

We learn to nurture our own hearts and heal our own wounds through the art of SELF-COMPASSION.

We are no longer driven by fear. We no longer need to please or manipulate others to get our needs met. We view our own imperfections, circumstances and the people around us with ACCEPTANCE.

We discover that we can trust ourselves to make healthy choices. We realize our own WISDOM.
If you recognize yourself in this story you are already on the path to rediscovering your Self. You are already searching for a guide to help you along the way. You already have HOPE.

<![CDATA[The Practicality of Peace]]>Mon, 13 Feb 2017 22:51:31 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/the-practicality-of-peace
"We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves." - Dalai Lama
The state of peace is truly profound - peace is a way of being and a lens for seeing the world. For some, peace may seem like a fantasy, an idealistic dream, and yet, developing inner peace is truly the key to knowing fulfillment.  So how do we do that?
Let’s start by looking at how many of us currently relate to peace:

​Oftentimes, we have a tendency to make our external world responsible for our peace and happiness.  For example: If this job happens, then I will be peaceful. Once I reach retirement, then I can be fulfilled. Once my significant other does exactly what I want them to do, then I will be peaceful. If my child gets into college, then I will be happy. Sound familiar? How successful have you found this strategy to create lasting peace?
​As long as you make your external world responsible for your peace, you will never know true happiness or fulfillment. You might know momentary satisfaction, but then life will happen...the car will break down, our child will get sick. Our state of peace is shaken until the situation is resolved in the way we would like it to be. And, when this expectation goes unmet, there is immense suffering. 
Although you cannot snap your fingers and create a stress-free world, you can practice training a basic life skill that will allow you to know peace, even when those around you are feeling stressed. By developing a daily meditation practice, you can shift your experience of the world and move from stress to peace thereby making your everyday world much more enjoyable and surprisingly peace-filled. Meanwhile, you can provide support for those that you love from a centered and powerful space.
Meditation has been shown to create the ability to step out of stress and into peace, even in the face of uncertain times. When you spend time every day in a meditative practice focusing on breathing a slow rhythmic breath of peace, you are taking your emotional system to the gym for a workout and actually increasing your neurological capacity for peace.  The outcome of such a consistent practice reduces stress and allows you to stay centered even when the world is spinning around you.
Peace is something to be trained. It is a consistent practice for knowing a different reality. There is an inspirational billboard featuring His Holiness The Dalai Lama that captures this principle perfectly. It reads, “The Dalai Lama does not just Pray for Peace, He works for Peace Every Single Day.”
In actuality, practicing peace is one of the most practical things you can do. The only way to spread peace is for each one of us to commit to an inner practice of peace again and again. It is what the world needs now, more than ever. 

Learn more about Conscious Transformation: a six week spiritual mastery course starting February 22 - April 5, 2017 at the Austin Mindfulness Center. 

​Jodi Filleman, ​LPC
​Conscious Transformation Apprentice & Certified Energy Practitioner
<![CDATA[5 Keys to Mindful Love]]>Thu, 09 Feb 2017 04:40:48 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/5-keys-to-mindful-love
Photo by Hernan Sanchez www.stillsbyhernan.com
“We are born with the capacity to dance together but not with the necessary training . . . It is exactly the same in relationships.” -David Richo

In David Richo’s How To Be An Adult in Relationships, he outlines five keys to mindful loving. These five keys are not just “nice to haves,” but are essential components of a healthy, individuated ego. When we do not receive these gifts, it feels as though something is missing, that we are incomplete, unlovable. But practicing these five keys, is what it takes to love and is what makes us lovable.

“My father turned to me as if he’d been waiting all his life to hear my question.”
–J.D. Salinger

What a beautiful expression of what it feels like to be truly heard and valued. There is no judgment in your listening because feelings are neither good or bad, right or wrong. The projections of ego can blur our focus on the other. Openly attending to what is being shared requires neutrality toward our own fearful or reactive states. 

​When we attend in this way, we elicit a sense of safety and trust in the other. This kind of attention cannot be falsified and must come from a genuine interest and curiosity. As Richo beautifully states, “The real you is an abundant potential, not a list of traits, and intimacy can only happen when you are always expanding in others’ hearts, not pigeonholed in their minds.”
Acceptance is being received respectfully with all our flaws and idiosyncrasies and supported through them, which makes us feel safe. Acceptance is unconditional and extends to choices or lifestyles we do not personally approve of. It is not moralizing. If attending is noticing and listening, acceptance is embracing, trusting, and encouraging the other to be exactly as they are without reservation or critique.

Appreciation builds upon acceptance and engenders encouragement in the other. We need to feel appreciated for what we do and for who we are in relationships. Appreciation also implies gratitude. Expressing this regularly is an essential component in healthy adult relationships. According to John Gottman, Ph.D., the ratio of appreciation to complaint in couples that stay together is five to one.

Affection can take many forms, but they all produce the feeling of being loved.  This can be achieved physically through cuddling, hand holding, or sex as well as emotionally through playfulness, kindness, or thoughtfulness. Affection includes proximity, presence, and reliable availability. Compassion is a form of affection and is a salve for emotional and physical pain. Affection is healing as much as it is reassuring.

Allowing is the opposite of control. A healthy adult relationship provides an environment of freedom and trust, not rules and obligations. In an allowing relationship you feel free to be who you are and are inclined to express yourself openly and without fear of punishment or retribution.

We must allow our partners to develop as a unique individual, separate from ourselves, without reacting to fears of losing them. The need to control for many people is not a conscious decision, but has become an automatic strategy for maintaining fears and insecurities. Ultimately, allowing is letting go, even if that means honoring their choice to leave us. The aim of love has nothing to do with “keeping” the other person, as if we have some possession over them. To love is simply to let be.
Jiovann Carrasco, LPC-S
Owner and Psychotherapist
<![CDATA[5 Ways to Give Yourself More Compassion]]>Mon, 09 Jan 2017 18:40:34 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/5-ways-to-give-yourself-more-compassion
“I am so terrible.”

“I can't believe I screwed that up again.”

“I am so ugly.”

“I am the cause of my own mistakes and unhappiness.”

Are you constantly hard on yourself? Do you find yourself saying negative things to yourself? Does it seem normal? You're not alone.

Underneath so much of our suffering lies our own self criticism and lack of self compassion and self care. So what can you do? Here are 5 simple things that will help you create more self-compassion in your life.
  1. Treat yourself the way you would a friend. I bet you wouldn't say the same harsh things you say to yourself to a dear friend. So the next time you catch yourself  making a mistake, think about what you would say to a dear friend and try saying it to yourself.
  2. Create a self care menu. We all need to take care of ourselves. After all you can't give from an empty cup. So you need to do things to take care of yourself. The problem is that we often can't think of things in the moment and feel stuck. Instead you can sit down over the course a few days and create a self care menu. Here you can put simple items like having a glass of wine, calling a dear friend, making a cup of tea, getting a massage, etc. This way you can choose from these items on a daily basis and learn to take better care of yourself.
  3. Be Present. It is often uncomfortable to make mistakes but instead of thinking through it we can be mindful and just be present with our feelings. Once we are present with our feelings, we can choose to comfort ourselves and choose to move forward by making changes.
  4. Recognize that you are not alone in your imperfections. We all make mistakes. It is part of being human. Sometimes we forget that and hold ourselves up to unachievable standards. We often compare our worst selves to everyone else's best selves. But if we look closely we see that we all make big terrible mistakes and falter because we are human. Being mindful of this can lessen our pain.
  5. Stay away from blame. The human mind loves to problem solve and discharge uncomfortable feelings. That's where blame comes in. Often times when we are being critical of ourselves we are locked in a cycle of whose fault it is. Blame disconnects us from others and creates more pain. Instead we can choose to sit with the uncomfortable feeling of making a mistake, offer ourselves compassion, and move toward honest accountability-which will allow us to change our behavior with kindness.

As I have said to many of my clients before, the world is hard enough on us already, we don't have to be hard on ourselves too. Pick up a daily mindfulness practice filled with self compassion. Better yet, come join my 10 Week Self Compassion Group, which starts January 23, or see me individually for counseling.

​Monti Pal, LPC
Senior Therapist
​Austin Mindfulness Center
<![CDATA[Be Who You Are in 2017]]>Thu, 29 Dec 2016 18:35:02 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/be-who-you-are-in-2017
Jiovann Carrasco, LPC-S
Owner and Psychotherapist at Austin MIndfulness Center
​Let's face it. It's been a rough year for a lot of us. But for all the losses we've experienced, let's not forget what we've gained. Our minds tend to gravitate toward the most negative experiences. Our survival brains are always scanning for danger so that’s pretty normal. It takes an intentional effort to look at what’s going right. And the more we are looking for the good, the better we are able to see it. So take some time to catalogue the good in your life. It’s there if you look for it.

We can't know what 2017 will bring, but do you know who you will be? Will you be grateful? Will you be present? Will you be engaged in what matters most to you, and quick to drop what doesn't? Will you honor yourself and tend to your needs as though you would someone you loved dearly?

These aren’t resolutions. They’re simply you when you are living your values. We don't need to commit to a year of better habits or self-improvement because we can make a choice to live our values in this moment. In fact, that's the only time we can choose anything! And that’s good news because we can’t see the future. But we can see what is right in front of us, right now.
​Your values aren’t way out in the future somewhere. They’re right here, right now. You can always access them in any given circumstance. So acting on your values is not something you need to work up to. You don’t need to improve or get better at anything before you can access them. They are “you” in your purest form.
So this year, maybe don’t try so hard to be something other than who you already are. And if you don’t know who you are, which is more common than you might think, don’t waste any time looking outside of yourself for that knowledge. Get off of Facebook for two minutes and look no further than your own reflection. What matters to you? If no one was around to judge you, how would you like to be? What would you stand for? How do you want to spend your short time here?
That’s you! Go be it. And if you need a friend to guide you back to yourself, we’re here for you. The wisest people in the world are the ones who seek counsel. None of us can see the whole picture. It really helps to get another pair of eyes on it. If you need to talk, don’t waste any more time struggling with the same old problems using the same old strategies. We can help.
Make an Appointment
<![CDATA[How We Lost To Fear]]>Wed, 09 Nov 2016 23:48:06 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/how-we-lost-to-fearWritten by Jiovann Carrasco, LPC-S
​As the electoral votes came rolling in for Donald Trump in the late hours of the night, and panic began to proliferate my Twitter feed, I realized I have no idea who America is right now. My Facebook friend list is a happy collection of liberal-minded, college educated, city dwelling do-gooders and Austin is this cozy little blue oasis in a sea of Texas red. Looking at the red and blue patches on newsroom monitors in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, or Michigan, I realized that I’m a complete stranger to the people who reside in the rural regions of these states. Who are these people?

It’s easy to imagine the average Trump supporter as blatantly racist, uneducated, loud-mouthed, sexist and basically idiotic. That’s what seems to make the most sense to someone who regards himself as among the refined, civilized, and progressive members of our society. Us. Them. We. Other. Well, what good did that do? Maybe that dichotomy doesn’t exist after all.

How America shot itself in the foot.

Every time we reacted to his bigotry or idiocy, we added fuel to the fire. We gave him more and more press. Every time we shamed him or mocked him, he arose even stronger. The media that he claims is rigged against him basically gave him all the attention he didn’t deserve and made him a star. You don’t fight fire with fire.
​It is in our nature to react to pain; to push back against it. When you do that, you actually increase the resistance and energize your opponent. This is a basic principle in Aikido, a Japanese form of martial arts, which means “the way of unifying with life energy.” In Aikido, the martial artist redirects the momentum of his opponent’s attack rather than fighting against it. Our resistance gave him power, literally.

This is a core tenant of mindfulness. What you resist persists. In life, we can either move away from what we fear or don’t like, or we can move toward what we value. Please understand the difference here. Moving toward values has nothing to do with what anyone else thinks or says. It has nothing to do with what your opponent is doing. If you are attacked, try to use the Aikido strategy of redirecting its momentum instead of wasting your energy trying to fight it.

Compassion always wins.

If you value compassion, direct that compassion first toward yourself, then out toward those you love, those less fortunate, the voiceless and the marginalized. But you don’t stop there. If you really value compassion, you need to also direct it toward your enemies, those who defame or insult you. If you aren’t willing to have compassion for Trump and half the voting populace, then maybe you don’t value compassion as much as you thought you did.

Not that it’s easy. Compassion is not just a warm, fuzzy feeling. I will never feel warm feelings toward Donald Trump. But I can let go of my hatred of him. Oh it’s there, I can’t help it. But if I can recognize it, if I can observe it, I can let it go. That’s the only way to access the well of compassion that lies underneath. Why would I want to? It’s not like he deserves it, right? Compassion is something you do for you. Other people may be affected by it, but you are transformed.

Acceptance is not giving in.

We need to get to a place of acceptance at some point following this shocking turnout. Maybe not today or even next week, but let’s face it, Trump is going to be the president of the United States of America. The sooner we accept it, the sooner we can move forward. And moving forward is exactly what we are going to do.

Mother Teresa said, “I will never attend an anti-war rally; if you have a peace rally, invite me.” We need to find ways to organize around our values and pursue peace, love, and compassion rather than fight against hate, bigotry, misogyny, etc. Move toward what we value rather than away from what we fear. The less we struggle with our fears, the more available energy we have to pursue our values.

America isn’t over.

Donald Trump is not America. YOU are America. Let this be a time to reflect on what really matters to you as a citizen of this great country. Not what you hate. Not what you fear. If you weren’t battling fear, what would you stand for? How do you want to show up? What kind of an American do you want to be? Donald Trump can’t decide that for you. It isn’t over.

If you value love and compassion for your neighbor, reach out and offer a handshake or a hug. Step outside of your safe blue bubble and make contact with that red cap wearing human being across the aisle. They also have kids, bills, medical conditions, casserole recipes, get self-conscious about their hair, cry at a good movie, cuddle their pets, love their mothers, and worry they’re not saving enough for retirement. We are going to have different ideas about what our country needs or how to fix the problems. But we’ll never get anywhere as a divided nation.

It’s going to be O.K. Don’t move to Canada! It’s time to come together now. Be honest about your fears, but don’t let them get in the way of living your values. We are going to be O.K. 
<![CDATA[Responding Mindfully to Trump]]>Fri, 14 Oct 2016 18:23:20 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/responding-mindfully-to-trumpBy Jiovann Carrasco, LPC-S
I’m not even going to pretend to be bi-partisan in this post. I think a Trump presidency would be a terrible, terrible thing for our country and for the world. Not only do I have strong objections to the man’s character, I just do not agree with a single policy issue he stands for. Based on a number of factors, I simply do not believe he could lead our country with any measure of competence. And I honestly, don’t mean that as an insult. It’s just my honest and dispassionate conclusion.

That being said, I find it deeply troubling that our country is so vehemently divided politically. The fact that Donald Trump is the GOP frontrunner in this election didn’t come out of nowhere. His nomination is a painful and sobering indication that we are really falling apart as a nation. We’re hurting and we’re fearful. And we’ll do anything—ANYTHING—to resolve it.

Desperate times.

​When people are under tremendous economic pressures and feel their voices are consistently not heard, they will get behind someone who speaks their language and threatens to demolish their oppressors. And that is how they see Hillary and the establishment. It’s not necessarily that they don’t believe she will be a good president, but that she’ll be a president that will continue to ignore their concerns. And Trump, likewise, isn’t necessarily their dream of presidential decorum, but he’s a guy that once he’s in the White House, is really going to fuck things up. And that is their best hope. It’s desperate, and it’s terrifying.
How is he still in this?

​The fact that Donald Trump repeatedly behaves in ways that would be character suicide for anybody else (let alone a presidential candidate), and now dealing with a flood of sexual assault allegations, does not seem to deter his supporters. Now you can look at this at least two ways. You could assume that Trump supporters either condone his loutish behavior, which I doubt, or they simply care less in comparison to their primary fears.

The Republican Party used to be the party of conservative religious morals. That party is long gone. I imagine a white Catholic woman in her late sixties hearing her party’s nominee bragging about grabbing women by their vaginas as she clutches her rosary to ask God to forgive her in advance for what she is going to do on November 8th. How is this not what is happening all over God’s country? I feel for this woman and the psychological turmoil this election must be putting her through. It’s not an easy choice for her, but somehow it’s worth it.

The political game lacks compassion.
Consider the origin of traits such as racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and narcissism. Hate stems from fear. It comes from shame. It comes from insecurity. It’s much easier to judge and shame others for being on the “wrong” side of the political spectrum than it is to really listen and empathize with their pain points. Why is that hard? Because empathy means feeling what others feel, and if they’re feeling pain, that means you have to feel it, too.

We cloister ourselves into self-righteous tribes where we can sanctimoniously vilify the other less educated, less informed, less whatever. Politics is played at this level exclusively. It’s a barrage of sound bites, stump speeches, and Internet memes all designed to malign the evil “other.” There is no pro-Trump campaign, just an anti-Hillary campaign. There is no pro-Hillary campaign, only anti-Trump.

There must be another way.

What if it were illegal to even mention the other candidate in any campaign ads or speeches? What if candidates actually had to answer the questions posed by voters about their policy proposals and weren’t allowed to defame their opponent in any way? Of course, the media wouldn’t profit from such regulations. But just imagine what that might be like. Imagine how much more informed we would be about each candidate’s positions and not having to arrive at our conclusions solely on the basis of who was badmouthed the least.

Now, of course that will never happen in our blood-thirsty political theater. But let’s imagine how you might engage in social media if you stated your opinions without denigrating whole groups of people or using straw man arguments. Imagine what it would be like to state your opinions without having to be right. It takes a lot of energy to defend and maintain your right-ness. It is possible to have opinions based on their own merits and to allow others to have their own opinions without feeling threatened. Other people’s opinions have nothing to do with you.

You don’t have to be right.

If your uncle thinks Trump would make an outstanding president, you don’t have to be offended. Not because you know you’re right, but because you know you only think you’re right. When you realize that your thoughts are only thoughts, you can hold them more lightly. Only then can you listen to others without defense. That doesn’t mean you give in or abandon your beliefs. You can still think your right. But the minute you know you’re right, you lose the ability to connect.

So how do you deal with people who are certain about their rightness? Let them have their opinions and empathize with their concerns. You just say, “I see what you’re saying. You really feel threatened that Mexicans are going to come here and take our jobs. I can’t say I have the same concern, but I can imagine that must be scary for you. So you think building a giant wall would be the best solution to alleviating that fear, do you?”

Don’t hate. Participate.

The Buddha said, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison, and expecting the other person to die.” You don’t have to hate Trump to not vote for him. You can be mindfully engaged in this election without succumbing to and fueling the playground antics wielded by both candidates. You can have political discussions without insulting or denigrating anyone. There are actually other reasons to vote for either candidate that have nothing to do with the opposition.

You also don’t have to pretend this isn’t happening in order to stay mindful. Some feel the need to remain deliberately uninformed and blissfully ignorant. But burying your head in the sand wouldn’t be mindful at all. You can take media breaks—just step away for a day or two and find beauty in just about anything else. This shit storm will still be here when you log back in. And when you do, just remember to close your mouth.

Finally, and most importantly, VOTE! Don’t be one of these people that have decided to not vote because they don’t like either option. This isn’t just about you and your personal distaste for both candidates. I’m not a huge fan of Hillary Clinton either, but we do have to choose. One of them is going to be in the White House this January. You don’t have to hate one and love the other in order to make that choice. You don’t have to be “with her,” in order to cast your ballot in her favor. You're not choosing a best friend, you’re choosing a president. Try to put your personal tastes aside and ask yourself which candidate you think can actually do the job of president . . .

Then go vote for her ;)
<![CDATA[The Magic of Mandalas]]>Fri, 16 Sep 2016 19:04:40 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/the-magic-of-mandalasWritten by Fernanda Barcelo, LPC-Intern
​Mandalas are everywhere these days — you might have seen one in your local yoga studio, in an adult coloring book, or maybe even tattooed on a friend’s body. But what do these intricate & beautiful designs actually represent?
Buddhist monks take days, sometimes weeks, to create delicate and astonishingly detailed mandalas out of sand. Careful to not breathe too hard or cough, they arrange the colorful sand grain by grain into a vibrant masterpiece. But what they do next is the most important step: after they are done, they wipe all the sand away and dispose of it. All of the diligent work removed without a trace.
​This meditative process is done to help the monks practice the tenant of non-attachment. In Buddhism, it is believed that attachment causes suffering, especially when we attach our happiness to goals, people, roles, success, or money. We believe we cannot be happy until we have certain things “in place.” But what happens when we get them? We feel great — until things change. Jobs are lost, relationships dissolve, and people we love pass on. If our happiness rests in things that are non-permanent, we will always be suffering from either wanting or loss.
The beauty of the mandala teaches us to appreciate the process of creation, to be present in the moment, and to appreciate the beauty of something while it is around. Most importantly, it teaches us that all beautiful things are finite, and the more we accept that life comes in waves of good, bad, beautiful, ugly, painful, and joyful, the more we can sail ahead in a peaceful way.

How can you bring the practice of the mandala creation (and its benefits) into your own life? Try creating your own mandala, or buying a coloring book with patterns for you to color in. You can also purchase a print or wall hanging and try meditating while focusing on the mandala, allowing your whole attention to be on the colors and design. If you have a Buddhist center in your town, try checking the calendar for events that may include sand mandala-making, so you can watch this intricate process in-person.
They say that without a viewer, the mandala cannot be created. Where there is no you, there is no mandala. This reminds us that we are at the center of our own universe, creating our own realities, and have the choice to steer ourselves towards happiness and acceptance. Let go of what no longer serves you, appreciate the beauty in front of, and know that everything will pass. Whether that is good or bad isn’t the point; it is just what is.