<![CDATA[Austin Mindfulness Center - Blog]]>Wed, 13 Dec 2017 12:28:09 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Holiday Family Survival Guide]]>Wed, 13 Dec 2017 19:09:53 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/holiday-family-survival-guide
With the holidays quickly approaching, many people will find themselves with a seasonal case of irritation and discomfort just thinking about spending time with family. Like Cinderella as the clock hits midnight, your comfortable polished sense of self quickly fringes and unravels when returning to the context of family. Perhaps you find yourself snapping at others, stuck in disagreement, or off hiding somewhere until it all passes. This is a quick survival guide for those who have chosen to return home this year.

Spending time with family, why do we do it? 

Some of us might say, “because I have to. I don’t really have a choice. If I don’t what will they say”. When something becomes the habitual “thing to do” we often have the sense that we aren’t making a choice. Step number one in surviving this holiday season is to give yourself some credit. You are making a choice, and there is likely a very honorable reason to do so.
When you choose to get together, you are valuing family. 

So, what’s the big deal with that? Perhaps something tells you this is important to do, despite that fact that it isn’t always easy going? If you search your past memories, you might find examples of times when family really has mattered. Many of those memories are precious, they might bring a smile to your face, and if you have lost someone, it probably still hurts. Those feelings are real and important. It’s why we keep reaching out and trying.

How might you feel about yourself, if you consider yourself a person who is actively choosing family? Somebody who is able to take on challenge because it feels important to do. Is that a trait that you would feel good about? If so, give yourself credit for making that choice.

When we go see family they are sure to be different, and different can feel difficult. 

Our disagreements can range from politics to religion, how to handle things in the kitchen, or what the definition of “on time” is. We’re also face-to-face, so the safety of Facebook for slinging mud is removed. So here is the second area to give yourself credit for. Our differences make up our diversity, and by making room for your family to be different, you are valuing diversity. 

How do we benefit if we are all the same? How does that work out in the real world? What do we stand to gain when we lean on each other’s strengths and challenge each other in seeking balance? In order to do that we must embrace differences. It’s tempting to say, “well sure I value diversity, but not THAT kind”! 

Just how much control do we have over our difference from others? The answer here should be easy, it’s zero control. You can grab the tug-of-war rope on this issue, hold on tight and pull, but in your experience how does this usually work out? When has persistently resisting someone worked to change them?

Drop the rope this holiday season. 

No matter how hard you pull, you cannot force that change. Holding on to the rope takes your energy and squanders your attention. Your attention can serve you much better if you direct it towards the things you feel gratitude for this year. This is a great time to stop and take a few deep breaths. How does holding tightly onto being right make you the kind of family member you would like to be? How would dropping the rope and re-centering on why you love that person help you in being the family you value?

Next on the list of anxieties, what if you already know something is going to be unpleasant? You are already thinking about a known factor, something that is definitely going to happen, and definitely going to suck. To start with we can look inward and say, “I’m sorry you are having to go through this”. This isn’t a wallowing in pity statement, but a chance to step back and recognize that you are going to endure something unpleasant, and that does suck.

Acknowledging this feeling of remorse can help free up some space to hold your pain more gently. From this place, you understand that you may need a second at times to take a break. It is with an understanding of the effort it is taking for you to show up that you may find it easier to excuse yourself for not being perfectly charming or on point. If you found a bird with an injured wing, would it not make sense to hold it gently, do what you can to help, and understand if it doesn’t sing you a song? Remembering to drop the rope with things outside your control, redirect then to use your hands to hold your pain softly and with some understanding.

In summary, during the tough moments, this year take a second to breathe and give yourself credit for your choices. Drop the rope when it isn’t getting you anywhere, and celebrate yourself as the person who is showing up. It may not all be pretty, but you can feel good about yourself and your choices. Wellbeing comes from doing what’s important, especially when it is most challenging.

Micah Jaksik, LPC
Micah specializes in working with adults and older teens dealing with anxiety, depression, anger, grief and loss.
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<![CDATA[Getting Unstuck: 5 Steps to Freedom and Flow]]>Tue, 05 Dec 2017 17:17:51 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/getting-unstuck-5-steps-to-freedom-and-flow
Freedom and Flow
Ever notice the everyday tyranny of Not Enoughness? It goes something like this: “I’m not enough. You’re not enough. Life is not enough.” Such a mindset can inevitably lead us to feel hopelessly STUCK coupled with feelings of frustration, impatience, disappointment, sadness, and at times, even resignation.

In stuckness, we may be asking ourselves, “How in the hell did I get here?”, but more importantly, “What’s the way out and how much longer will it take?” Eager to find comfort again, we may be desperately searching for workable solutions or urgently seeking ways to change ourselves, change others, or change our situation. Perhaps, we fall back on old, unhealthy habits to cope or often catch ourselves venting to others over and over again, yet notice it does little to provide the lasting relief we need. Perhaps even, we’re ready to walk away because nothing seems to work. We’re still stuck and we’re still suffering. 

From one humbled by the vexing habit of longing for “something more” and frequently feeling stuck, I can assure you there is another way. Below are five empowering steps to experiencing more freedom and flow in your life.
Accept “What Is”

One of my favorite authors, Byron Katie, wisely posited, “Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don't have to like it... it's just easier if you do.” Contrary to popular belief, avoidance or resistance is not the answer. Instead, it’s acceptance in the present moment that actually carries you through when there is a gap between where you are and where you want to be. 

Acceptance is an active state of awareness that moves you towards wise action, yet the true meaning of it is often misunderstood. In her article, “Keep on Moving”, Holly Rogers, MD states, “Acceptance is not the same as liking, agreeing with, or passively resigning yourself to anything, or making a decision about what you choose” (Mindful Magazine, December 2017). Alternately, acceptance takes work and is a practice that challenges us to stop complaining; acknowledge reality; and let go of how we think things “should” be or wish them to be. It invites us to act consciously to promote change where we can; relinquish control over what we get; and make peace with the process as well as the product of our efforts. 

So how might we cultivate acceptance of What Is? Just having a willingness and holding a conscious intention to accept things as they are is a great place to start. Alongside an intention, methods such as mindfulness, meditation, embodiment through movement practices, psychotherapy, and spiritual study as well as questioning our thoughts, rewriting our story, and tools for self-discovery are often very useful. 

Connect with Values

Values are like a compass. Values are ways we want to behave on an on-going basis, qualities of being, or directions we want to move towards throughout life. They help keep us “on track” in our day-to-day experience. They are not feelings, what we hope to receive from others, virtues, morals, ethics, or codes of conduct. Nor are they desires, wants, needs, or goals. Goals are something to be completed or achieved. Values, on the other hand, are expressions of what truly matters. 

Values are on-going and available to us in every moment of each day. According to Russ Harris in his book, ACT Made Simple, there are five key attributes of values. Values, he explains, are here-and-now; never need to be justified; often need to be prioritized; best held lightly; and are freely chosen. Essentially, values of this nature can not only help us get unstuck, but also infuse our lives with greater purpose, passion, and meaning. Learning, healing, growth, freedom, and peacefulness are a few of my values.  What are some of your own deeply-felt core values?
Commit to Values-based Action

When talking about values-based action, the Serenity Prayer comes to mind. This prayer reminds me to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can, and develop the maturity and wisdom to know the difference. In moving towards greater freedom and flow in life, committed action speaks to our efforts to change the things we can. It exacts a fiery will to readily adapt to current challenges, change or persist in behaviors that work, and do whatever it takes to live in alignment with what is most important to us. 

In moving towards what we want, however, it is helpful to be patient and appreciate the process. Attempts at flexible and effective values-based action may not immediately deliver us to the desired changes we have in mind. Until then, we can at least begin to acknowledge our efforts and the positive emotions that are likely to emerge when living in alignment with our values. In doing so, the change process offers its own kind of reward. In truth, our acceptance and appreciation of the process despite outcomes can be a real life-saver, especially when significant or difficult changes need to be made or the time is takes to effect these changes will likely demand much time, effort, and resources or involve others.

Ask yourself while keeping your values in mind, “What is the most sensible move I can make to get closer to where I want to be?” Break it down. Think “baby steps”. Make it something you can do in the short-term – today, tomorrow, or next week.

Be Grateful

While there are many ways to get unstuck, one of the most essential and powerful means is gratitude. Perhaps, you’ve heard this many times before. In my own life, I intentionally recall what I’m thankful for not only when I’m feeling stuck, but when things are not going my way in my day-to-day experience. When doing this coupled with the breath, my frustration slowly, but surely, falls away. And when I’m in a particularly dark or demanding cycle, I return to my Gratitude Journal to write down three things I’m grateful for each night. 

Take a moment now to count your blessings. If gratitude seems too far of a stretch for you, I invite you to pick just one thing to appreciate and focus on that. Like acceptance, gratitude can not only help carry you through hard times, but also invite a state of greater peacefulness, ease, and comfort.

Trust Life

Life is benevolent and all my experiences lead to my greatest good. I choose to believe this and the idea that I’m loved and cared for by Everything—the raw aliveness of existence. This understanding is central to my perspective on life, yet I recognize it may not resonate with everyone. We are each on our own unique journey and while we share the human condition, our lessons and experiences as well as our paths to healing and growth may not be similar. 

Yet if such a notion rings true for you, I believe it can help a great deal not only in navigating the vicissitudes of daily life, but also in moving through extreme losses, life-altering challenges, or existential crises that can leave us feeling woefully stuck. In my own experience, it also inspires the humility, courage, and fierce strength to meet life on its terms. When in trust, I remember my life is an adventure and I am not lost. I realize I’m exactly where I need to be. I believe that everything is going to be ok….eventually.  

You are the hero in your story

Oftentimes, the painful experience of stuckness is rooted in the belief that we are not enough, others are not enough, and life is not enough. It may be frustrating, disappointing, and downright disheartening at times, yet it doesn’t have to be that way.  These five steps or practices can offer a release. Try one or all of them. Stay open. Give it time. Be kind to yourself and others; you are still learning. And, trust what comes. In her book, A Heroic LifeGina Lake reminds us, “Not only do things naturally move on to something new, but you are likely to have become a better human being for having gone through the fire of your trials. You are bound to have become stronger, more positive, and better able to cope with any future difficulties. Challenges transform you into the hero that each of you is meant to be.”
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Teresa Gross, LPC-Intern
​Supervised by John Jones, PhD, LPC-S

Teresa specializes in working with people going through life transitions, career changes, relationship problems, spirituality, grief and loss. She is available for Saturday appointments and offers a discounted rate for counseling.
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<![CDATA[Therapist Spotlight: Micah Jaksik, LPC]]>Wed, 22 Nov 2017 19:05:22 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/therapist-spotlight-micah-jaksik-lpc
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Micah with best friend Monty.
What made you decide to become a counselor?
I first came to appreciate counseling as a teen struggling with the loss of a friend to suicide. This was a very trying time for me, and being a teen is already challenging enough without major traumas. In counseling, I appreciated the space to get in touch with what I was going through, and to find growth out of struggle. The whole experience was really meaningful for me, and it began to give me an idea of what I would want to do with my life. 

In my personality, I also naturally gravitate toward the role of listener. I have learned that to get out of the way and let someone talk lends itself to meaningful conversation and establishing a connection. I believe good counseling requires those elements.

If you could teach the world one skill or technique to improve their lives, what would it be?
Mindful breathing. It can be broadly used to help with many problems like anger, anxiety, and depression, however, it can also promote positive health targets like healthy blood pressure, lowered stress, and hormone balance. 
What is the most common problem your clients bring to you?
The most frequent issue is when a person is beginning to feel depressed and has experienced it before, so they hope this time to do something about it earlier. I think many people have a previous experience with depression and know how bad things can get if they don’t reach out, and they also probably know how much it can help once you do start talking about it. 

Have you personally been in counseling and if so, what did you learn about yourself?
I have been in counseling at various points in my life. Counseling is something I think all people would benefit from at some time or another during their lifespan. One thing I learned was to be mindful of the things I carry. That could be self-imposed responsibility for taking care of others, criticism for myself or others, expectations, regrets, unhelpful thoughts, they all have a weight that adds up emotionally. All of those things make up your context, and it helps to manage stress when you are aware of those things. So I learned acceptance in holding lightly and gently the tough experiences I had but maybe did not want.

If you could recommend one book to all your clients, what would it be?
Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong: A Guide to Life Liberated from Anxiety by Kelly G. Wilson and Troy DuFrene. I think this book has a lot to offer in terms of learning helpful ways to face worry, challenge, and adversity.

What inspires you to help others?
I find inspiration in kindness. Kindness is not always easy but is often powerful, and I believe it brings us closer to our better human nature. I found that witnessing the kindness of the gulf communities as they responded to hurricane Harvey was deeply inspiring. I know what it is like to be in need, and I know the feeling of thanks when someone is there for me. Counseling is one way I get to practice kindness and help others learn kindness toward themselves.
 
Who is your ideal client?
My ideal client has a long history of living with anxiety, and likely feels they have ‘left a lot on the table’ in life, so to speak. They have a sense that life is passing by, and they just won’t get what they want. They find themselves stuck in decision paralysis. They have high expectations for themselves, tend to be hard on themselves, and struggle with self-esteem. This person spends far more time daydreaming about the past, wishing they could get a redo, than they would like to admit. If you’re reading this and those things ring true for you, consider reaching out, these are issues I love to work with.

How do you personally practice self-care?
I believe self-care is about being true to yourself, meaning we honor that fact that we are made of a mosaic of pieces. Favoring any one piece at the cost of others is not sustainable. I think it is really common nowadays that many of us find most our time dedicated to work, and then the other areas of our lives are a dumpster-fire. Self-care for me starts with attention to both the mind and body.

With regard to my body, I have found that routine exercise, attention to nutrition, and making time for rest are pillars of self-care. In valuing my physical health, my energy and mood have a more pronounced feeling of vitality, which helps me get out there and do some living. That’s where my mind gets the care it needs.

Self-care activities for me include having fun barbecuing, experimenting making pepper sauces, taking my dogs out hiking and watching them play, and game nights with friends. I would also add that as an introvert, another huge part of finding life balance for me is making time for solitude. In this space I enjoy silence, I can meditate, read a book, and just make room to ‘be me’.

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<![CDATA[How To Be An Introvert]]>Thu, 26 Oct 2017 03:19:32 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/how-to-be-an-introvert
Introvert
Photo by Jacalyn Beales.
​Some people naturally prefer quiet settings and spending time alone or in the company of only one or two other people. Thirty to fifty percent of the population is like this. This is introversion, a common and naturally occurring personality trait. However, sometimes introverted folks can start to feel like there is something wrong with them.

​Our society promotes the idea that everyone should be outgoing and gregarious, with a large group of friends and a busy social schedule. Because of this, introverts may start to feel like they need to change who they are in order to be accepted and successful. This can lead to self-doubt, anxiety, and a neglect of the gifts that come along with introversion. Here are some tips to help introverts accept and care for themselves.     
 
Understand introversion. There is nothing wrong with you!
 
A common explanation of the difference between introverts and extroverts revolves around where people get their energy from. Introverts tend to lose energy when they are around other people and gain energy when they are alone. Extroverts are the opposite – they gain energy when they are around other people and lose energy when they are by themselves. There is nothing right or wrong with either of these ways of being in the world. What is important is that you know how to best replenish yourself. It is also important that the people in your life understand and accept how you function best, allowing you to recharge in quiet when needed.  
​One of the reasons for this difference is that introverts' nervous systems are very reactive. Research shows that introverts respond more quickly and intensely to stimulation, both outside of themselves and internally. One of the parts of the brain that is highly-reactive in introverts is the amygdala. Susan Cain explores introversion in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. She writes, “The amygdala serves as the brain's emotional switchboard, receiving information from the senses and and then signaling the rest of the brain and the nervous system how to respond. One of its functions is to instantly detect new or threatening things in the environment – from an airborne Frisbee to a hissing serpent – and send rapid-fire signals through the body that trigger the fight-or-flight response.”
 
Because of the high-reactivity of introverts' amygdala, introverts are much more sensitive to sound, movement, texture, smell, and changes in the environment than extroverts. If an introvert and extrovert are sitting together in a room and there is a slight noise outside, the introvert will notice it right away while the extrovert might not even register it. Furthermore, because the amygdala is in the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain, the introvert may not only register the sound, but also have an emotional response to the sound. Cain writes introverts “tend to think and feel deeply about what they've noticed, and to bring an extra degree of nuance to everyday experiences.”   
 
All of this is to say that an introvert's brain at rest is simply more active than an extrovert's brain. This is neither good or bad, just the way things are. Because of this difference in brain activity, introverts and extroverts vary considerably in how much outside stimulation they need to function best. 
 
Schedule downtime. Find quiet and spacious places.
 
Introverts need quiet more than extroverts. One of the most important self-care practices for introverts is regular time in quiet environments or time alone. Make sure that you are regularly taking time for yourself, particularly if you have to spend a lot of time in stimulating environments for work. Find quiet places where you can take a break. If you have to go to a crowded event or party, take some time to go outside every once in a while.
 
These breaks are also good times to practice mindfulness. Notice your breathing and the temperature of the air on your skin. If you are outside, notice what the sky looks like, how the clouds are moving or how the stars are shining. Listen to the wind in the trees. Take in the present moment. Connect with yourself. And then go back in when you are refreshed.
 
Cain writes, “Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you can begin consciously trying to situate yourself in environments favorable to your own personality – neither overstimulating nor understimulating, neither boring nor anxiety-making. You can organize your life in terms of what personality psychologists call 'optimal levels of arousal' and what I call 'sweet spots,' and by doing so feel more energetic and alive than before.”
 
It is important to plan ahead and find those “sweet spots” so that you don't fall into the trap of avoiding. If you are not getting enough quiet time for yourself, then that work party you have to go to might seem like an intolerable nightmare that you want to bail on. When we start avoiding things, we open the door to guilt and lethargy. But if you plan quiet time ahead of, during, and after the party, you are taking care of yourself in a healthy way that leads to more energy, instead of guilt and self-doubt. 
 
Remember that you don't need anyone's permission to take a break or leave a party early. Sometimes introverts force themselves to stay in overstimulating environments because they don't want to seem rude or weird. But it is okay to step outside or leave after an hour if it is too much for you right then. You don't have to explain to anyone else why you spent all weekend at home. If you do want to explain, it can be as simple as “I need some quiet time,” leaving it at that.   
 
Embrace the gifts of introversion.
 
Introversion comes with a lot of very important gifts. As mentioned above, introverts tend to be more sensitive, both physically and emotionally. Introverts are usually very discerning and thoughtful. Introverts tend to be good listeners and understand things quickly. Introverts are drawn to the arts and sciences more than extroverts. 
 
Cain notes, “The highly sensitive tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic.... They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive.... The love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions – sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments – both physical and emotional – unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss – another person's shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly,”
 
These are all wonderful qualities that an introvert may overlook in themselves. If you are an introvert, you have wonderful gifts that the world needs. You can offer deep support to others, and help them think through things in a nuanced, empathetic way. You probably know how to create comfortable environments for yourself and others. You may understand artistic, scientific, and/or theoretical fields easier than others, and can contribute to these fields for the betterment of all. Take some time to notice and appreciate these strengths that you have. Make a commitment to using these gifts for yourself and others.
 
Cultivate quality friendships.
 
There is often a misperception that all introverts or shy, or that they don't like being around others. This is not true. Shyness and introversion are actually two separate qualities. Cain writes “Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.” Because of this, there can be shy introverts and calm introverts, just as there can be shy extroverts and calm extroverts. 
 
Introverts typically do enjoy the company of others, although they prefer to only interact with one or two people at a time. If they are around a large group of people, they may be fine for an hour or so, but find themselves tiring much more quickly than others. Introverts also tend to prefer deeper, more meaningful connections and conversations rather than small talk, which many introverts dislike.
 
Introverts prefer to have a few close friends rather than a large group of acquaintances. So find and cultivate quality friendships. Spend time in one-on-one conversations with people you feel comfortable with. Find people who share similar interests in arts or sciences and plan time around those interests. Maybe this means taking a friend or two to the museum or to watch that new documentary about the solar system. Ensure that you have people in your life who understand and support your need for quieter environments and enjoy the same things you do.
 
Practice mindfulness. Find quiet and spacious places inside yourself.
 
Practicing meditation and mindfulness can be helpful for everyone, but may offer special benefits to introverts. As we have discussed, an introvert's brain at rest is still a very busy place. Introverts may be more likely to get lost in their thoughts than extroverts, sometimes losing touch with the present moment and their bodies. Meditation and mindfulness can help introverts get some distance from their thoughts, creating a more spacious awareness internally. Finding the moments of stillness between your thoughts and between your breaths will help your mind quiet and relax.
 
One of the major research findings on meditation and mindfulness practices is increased connectivity between the amygdala and other regions of the brain. This means that even if an introvert's amygdala is highly-reactive at baseline, meditation will increase connections to other parts of the brain that will help moderate the high activity of the amygdala. If we think of a highly-reactive amygdala as being quick to signal the fight-or-flight response, an introvert may be more likely to interpret unexpected sounds or changes in the environment as a threat. With regular meditation, the amygdala will connect to other parts of the brain that will help the amygdala more quickly and accurately determine that stimuli in the environment are not threatening, leading to a decrease in stress.
 
Practicing meditation and mindfulness can help you find and keep that quiet place inside yourself, so it will be easier to venture out into the noisy world without getting overwhelmed and losing touch with the unique gifts you have to offer the world. 

Wendy Smith, LCSW
Therapist specializing in anxiety, depression, grief and loss with teens and young adults. Read her full bio here.
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<![CDATA[Self Criticism and The Big Bang Theory]]>Thu, 19 Oct 2017 19:12:31 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/self-criticism-and-the-big-bang-theory
How many of us live every single day with nagging self-criticism? For those of us that can say yes to that question, it’s a nasty secret to carry around, smiling on the outside but beneath the surface, there is a near constant sense of dissatisfaction. “If only” this had happened, “I should have” known better, “what’s wrong with me”, “of course” that happened.

I know from where I sit, self-criticism works at deflating my motivation, I get discouraged. On the other hand, If I try and use that criticism as motivation, as in “get it together”, any progress comes with a sense of irritation rather than reward. It’s kind of a lose-lose situation, but what can be done about it? It’s so automatic, and the thoughts are in my voice, coming from me, right?
 
Are you familiar with the T.V. show “The Big Bang Theory”? The show is in its 10th season and nationally syndicated, so it seemed like a reasonably good reference point. If you are familiar with the show, you are likely well acquainted with the character Sheldon Cooper. Sheldon routinely offers his thoughts and evaluations, mostly unsolicited, as if they are fact. As viewers, we are “in” on this gag that Sheldon has a blind-spot when it comes to empathizing, and that his comments aren’t necessarily true or helpful. The fact that Sheldon is “off” is much of what makes the show work. 
It’s funny how close Sheldon’s tendencies compare to our own self-critical minds. Our minds at best want to help, at worst don’t know when to shut up, and there is something that is “just off” when it comes to how helpful criticism really is. Those thoughts are rarely caring toward feelings, they are not wise to the complete truth, and are not helpful in actually making things better. If you took the harsh things you say to yourself, and instead had Sheldon sling them at you, imagine how you would feel? Take a moment and imagine it. For me, it kind of resembles that shift like when I allow myself to gripe about friends or family when I get annoyed, but if a stranger says something critical about them, they better watch out. That context changes everything.

The next time your mind hands your self-criticism, try repeating it in Sheldon’s voice and see if it still lands the same way. I know this feels kind of silly, but when I try it the words seem to sound more foreign, they don’t feel automatically true, and I kind of make that face that Leonard makes like, “really”? It creates some distance from those words, and in that space, I have more room for clarity. I don’t have to get stuck evaluating whether the thoughts are true or false, they can just be thoughts, thoughts that I know are not helping. When we can let go of unhelpful thoughts, it opens up room to focus on what is important. Opening up and focusing on what is important is much more likely to work in your service and be helpful, than getting stuck in an old reflex designed to tear you down.

One final note, if you aren’t familiar with Sheldon or he just doesn’t work for you, try out someone else. It truly doesn’t matter who, but the better you can imagine and hear this 3rd party in your mind’s eye the better. As long as those critical thoughts sound like you, they are able to sneak below the radar as “true” and “from you”. The more important question is “who do you want to be, and how do you want to get started today”?

Micah Jaksik, LPC
Psychotherapist specializing in anxiety, depression, and older teens.
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<![CDATA[Therapist Spotlight: Kathleen Womansong, LPC, LCDC]]>Fri, 13 Oct 2017 18:28:57 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/therapist-spotlight-kathleen-womansong-lpc-lcdc
Kathleen Womansong
Kathleen and her granddaughter Hailey (so cute!)
What made you decide to become a counselor?
Seeing a counselor helped me get through a rough time in my life. She showed me the power of being present with another person and help them embrace themselves in the here and now. Counseling is my life’s passion and I love my work.

If you could teach the world one skill or technique to improve their lives, what would it be?
I would teach self-compassion and self-acceptance. Many of us constantly compare ourselves to others and inwardly demean ourselves and our bodies for falling short. We struggle to please others so that we can feel good about ourselves but later we find that we have lost ourselves in the process. Only by learning to embrace ourselves - flaws and all – we can fill our own well with compassion and give to others freely from the overflow.

What is the most common problem your clients bring to you?
Anxiety. Living in this Information Age is more stressful than we realize. We have forgotten the art of contemplation and self-reflection. Think of the farmer who plowed the fields a hundred years ago. He spent hours walking with his only view the back of the mule. He would spend that time allowing his mind to reflect on all that was important to him with little or no distractions. Today we are constantly bombarded with messages that we need this or that to be enough. Our minds are overwhelmed with processing information and our emotions follow each thought. We are consumed with doing several things at a time and have forgotten the art of being. I love watching children play because they know how to just be. They have not forgotten that now is all there is.

Have you personally been in counseling and if so, what did you learn about yourself?
I find personal counseling extremely helpful. Therapy helps me stay on track and prioritize my own self- care. I have learned that judging myself harshly in the past simply amplified my problems and drained me of the energy I needed to be there for the people I loved. I learned that it is not only okay but necessary to put the oxygen mask on myself first so I could help others.

If you could recommend one book to all your clients, what would it be?
The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner.

What inspires you to help others?
I believe we all deserve to have a sense of well-being and inner contentment. I have the honor and privilege of helping my clients find that for themselves.

Who is your ideal client?
My ideal client is willing to enter the process of healing. Sometimes a client has lost all sense of hope so I can offer that they borrow my hope for them until they can experience it for themselves. Sometimes we begin by dipping a toe in the water and asking for willingness to go farther. There are no rules for how and when readiness comes.

How do you personally practice self-care?
Meditation and morning journaling help set me in an attitude of gratitude to begin my day.  Walking a nature trail or just putting on music and dancing at home is the perfect ending to my day. I see my therapist as needed and do something creative every week. I often write poetry and paint on canvas and get on the floor with my grandchildren and play. 

Kathleen Womansong, LPC, LCDC
Kathleen specializes in working with anxiety and trauma, substance abuse, senior life transition, parenting and blended families.
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<![CDATA[Why Can't I Stop These Negative Thoughts?]]>Wed, 04 Oct 2017 17:25:22 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/why-cant-i-stop-these-negative-thoughts
​Are you plagued with negative thoughts that keep coming back no matter what you do to try to stop having them? Do you avoid things, places, or situations that tend to trigger those thoughts? Do you try distracting yourself from them by watching TV, staying busy, drinking? Do you try to tell yourself the opposite to counteract or cancel out the negative thought? Have you noticed that whatever strategy you’ve been using hasn’t really worked in the long run?
 
A few months ago, I had a heart attack. I’m 42 and in relatively good health. And I meditate! This isn’t supposed to happen to people like me. Well, it did and I’m learning how to be with that fact day by day. Statistically speaking, I will have another heart attack sometime in the next 5 years. Now I have that thought in my head . . . Every. Day. 
​One thing that happens after you have a heart attack is that you’re suddenly very aware of your heartbeat. Every little pain, flutter, or irregularity in your chest feels like a potential threat. It’s scary and the thoughts that accompany that fear create more stress, which is not optimal for a heart patient. In this case, negative thoughts could literally kill me.
 
Death is one thing I’d like to avoid. But I know from past experience that whatever I do to avoid or struggle with negative thinking seems to have the opposite effect. It’s like falling into quicksand. The more you struggle with it, the more you get sucked in (or so I’ve heard). So how can I remain at ease when the ultimate threat is presenting itself?
 
Let it go.
 
If that seems pithy or trite, I don’t blame you. I knew that little nugget of wisdom already. I'd been practicing mindfulness for nine years prior to having this heart attack. But when your life is threatened every day, it’s easy to scoff at. It’s like, “Live in the moment.” OK, yeah. Right. Got it. But this moment sucks.

Just “let it go.” Right.
 
Usually, when you hear “let it go,” you think that it’s supposed to go away. Like a balloon. So, when it doesn’t go away, you feel dumb. It’s still there. That didn’t work. Remember that anything you do in the service of avoiding or struggling with an unwanted experience only serves to keep it there. So, if your expectation is to rid yourself of that fearful thought, it isn’t going to work. It’s going to backfire.
 
It’s more like, let go of your grip of it. The problem with thoughts is not their content. It’s how we’re holding them. Imagine if you had to hold a cactus (an unlikely scenario, but just go with it). You wouldn’t grip it tightly, would you? No, it you’d probably hold it as lightly as possible. But that’s what we tend to do when we have scary thoughts. We grip them so tightly that we injure ourselves.

“I’m dying!”
 
What happens when you grip that thought with all your might? More fear, more stress, maybe an eventual self-fulfilling prophecy. We usually don’t notice that we’re gripping a thought that strongly until we feel the pain of it. That’s a reasonable place to start.
 
Slowly and deliberately, begin to loosen your grip. Relax your hand and just let that thought sit there in the palm of your open hand. Observe it.
 
I imagine it’s a different experience watching sharks in a documentary than it is to experience one from an inflatable life raft in the open sea. We have a different relationship with sharks on TV than the ones up close and personal. In the same way a shark is not life threatening when it’s on TV, a thought is not life threatening when you can “see it” rather than gripping it. Even if that thought represents death itself.
 
The thought “I’m dying” is exactly as life threatening as the thought “The sky is really blue today.” It doesn’t matter what it says. A thought is a thought. It’s information. Data. Sometimes it’s “true.” Death is a fact, in fact. But as a thought, it’s just a thought. “Death” cannot kill me.
 
The goal isn’t to stop thinking negative thoughts. Ironically, the only way to avoid thoughts of death . . . is to die. If that’s the choice, I’ll take negative thoughts, please. Every time. We don’t know how much time we have left. So it’s better to focus on how we intend to live with negative thoughts, because they’re here now, along with your breath, your heartbeat, your love, your life.
Jiovann Carrasco, LPC
Owner/Therapist
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<![CDATA[The Woman Who Was a Child]]>Fri, 08 Sep 2017 18:40:56 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/the-woman-who-was-a-child
​Once upon a time there was a magnificent child who sang and danced wildly under the stars.  She was whole and free.  She never questioned whether she was worthy or beautiful. She did not worry about yesterday or tomorrow because she was rapt with the exquisite now.
 
She was SPIRIT - An eternal fire of life force.
She was BODY – In tune with the rhythms of the earth.
She was MIND – Attuned to the yearnings of SPIRIT and finding expression through the BODY.
 
When she was joyous she lit up the heavens and when she felt sorrow her tears filled the rivers.
 
The child’s BODY grew bigger and MIND developed skills necessary to communicate and share her things and show respect for the other Souls in her world. She learned how to be pleasing to others and discovered the sting of rejection.
 
Over time BODY began to change and the MIND began to compare it with the bodies of others. The MIND was not pleased. MIND instructed the BODY to avoid smiling widely so others would not notice her crooked front tooth. MIND demanded her BODY muscles to tighten up to hide the roundness of her belly. 
But the MIND was still not satisfied. It no longer noticed the quiet voice of the SPIRIT. The MIND was consumed with thoughts of fear and how to avoid the rejection of others. Eventually the MIND decided to move outside of the BODY altogether. From outside the BODY she could be constantly vigilant to control how BODY looked to others and keep the mouth from saying things that would not be pleasing to others.
 
SPIRIT felt abandoned. She longed to share her wisdom with the MIND. She had much to tell her about what was really important. The MIND had left a large empty cavern in the BODY and the unfamiliar presence of Shame had creeped into the space and made itself a home. Shame’s home was damp and cold and it blocked the warm breeze from entering the chambers of the Heart. SPIRIT struggled with all its might to keep its flame alive.
 
By this time, MIND had lost all awareness and had no memory of SPIRIT. Without the anchor of SPIRIT and BODY, MIND had gone into overdrive. Sensing the Shame that now lived inside, MIND was now frantic to maintain control. Thoughts no longer came through one at a time. There were streams of thought and layers of thought – thoughts of what it should have thought and thoughts about what it should have done and myriads of thoughts about horrible things that could happen. The loudest and most menacing thoughts came in the form of her own voice: The voice of self-condemnation.
 
As MIND became more frantic, BODY worked harder and harder to fight off sickness until it could no longer combat the onslaught of stress created by MIND.
 
BODY is sick.
MIND is the enemy.
SPIRIT is but one single ember. .
 
BODY falls in a heap on the hard ground.
MIND has given up. It is finally quiet. There is nothing left to do.
 
In the distance is the faint sound of a child dancing and singing under the stars.
 
MIND has a vague feeling that he has heard that voice before.
 
BODY has a tug at her heart. Then another tug… then another.
 
In the darkness of night a voice whispers “I have all the courage in the world.”
 
Emboldened, BODY pulls itself up and takes a wobbly step toward the sound. Then another… Then another.
 
From the corner of her eye the flame of a Soul is seen approaching her. She nods to the Soul to come near and light her way. And the Soul walks with her.
 
Soon other flaming Souls circled around the woman and the singular flames merged into a huge ball of fire and one by one the woman released the burdens of her Heart for purification by the fire. 
 
One by one she released the burdens of yesterday and the worries of tomorrow.
 
The release of the pain of separation and isolation dissipated into a brown haze.
 
The release of the burden of a sense of unworthiness shot a deep indigo flame into the night.

And the woman who was still a child became aware that she was wrapped in a cloak of shame. She became aware that she had woven it herself from the remnants of unexpressed joy, anger and sorrow. She had swaddled herself tightly in shame rather than risk exposing her own magnificence to the judgement of others. The cloak had been warm and it had felt familiar and even safe. It had sheltered her in her misery and despair.
 
The woman mustered up all her courage and peeled off her cocoon layer by layer until the warm breeze again filled the chambers of her heart and fanned the tiny remaining ember of SPIRIT.  The shreds of the cloak of shame served as kindling and light poured out of her in every direction. The light changed from red to orange to yellow to green to blue to indigo. From the top of her head purple light broke through to reach the heavens and gave luster to the stars.
 
From deep within the magnificent woman came a joyful song that poured out like a river and could be heard by the moon. 

And the glow of her life force – BODY, MIND and SPIRIT as ONE – filled the horizon but for a single dark form in the shape of a woman’s body laying in a heap on the hard ground. And the magnificent woman of light was filled with compassion and began to walk to her….
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<![CDATA[Therapist Spotlight: Wendy Smith, LCSW]]>Wed, 23 Aug 2017 16:09:45 GMThttp://austinmindfulness.org/blog/therapist-spotlight-wendy-smith-lcsw
What made you decide to become a counselor?
There were actually a lot of little things over time that made me want to be a counselor, not just one thing. I've always been a good listener and good at understanding people's thoughts and feelings.  I've always been fundamentally curious about other people's experience of the world and the nature of human consciousness. For a long time this was a very intellectual pursuit for me, studying psychology, biology, dance, and comparative religion. I tried my best to stay in school forever! When I realized that I actually wasn't well-suited to be an academic, I was a little bit lost (ok, a LOT lost). I started volunteering and working for different social services agencies, and realized how much I enjoyed working directly with people. And I started noticing that I was good at it! It was and is so rewarding to sit with people in the midst of intense emotions, offering gentle guidance and support, and see change and renewed hope right in front of my eyes. 
 
Looking back now, I can see that my intellectual pursuits were a little bit of a defense mechanism against looking at my own emotions and processing difficult things I had experienced. Through meditation, dance, and counseling I was able to add in emotional wisdom and somatic understanding to my intellectual pursuits. First by my own experience and then through the experiences of my clients, I have been amazed by the transformations that are possible in the presence of non-judgmental awareness.  It's kind-of magic. So, it's been a long and winding road to become a mindful counselor, but now that I'm here, I can't imagine doing anything else! 
If you could teach the world one skill or technique to improve their lives, what would it be?
The main thing I wish I could teach everyone is “Don't believe every thing that you think!” There are a lot of different techniques that help with this, but my favorite one is probably visualizing thoughts as leaves falling from a tree onto a river and then drifting downstream, out of your awareness.  Watching thoughts come into your consciousness and flow out of your consciousness, without holding onto anything. Not resisting anything or reacting to any thought. I like this meditation because it not only brings a mindful awareness to what you are thinking about, but it also gives you a sense of your observing self, sitting on the bank, watching the flow. I also find it to be very peaceful most of the time.  
 
What is the most common problem your clients bring to you?
Most of my clients have some symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. One of the commonalities among them is having a very strong inner voice that is judgmental and critical of themselves. I think most of us are way more critical of ourselves than of others, and we don't offer ourselves the same empathy and compassion that we offer others. I believe this critical voice is actually trying to protect a part of us that is more sensitive and vulnerable, but the way it is trying to do so is actually mean, sometimes verging on abusive, which ends up making things worse. What is needed is a more self-compassionate voice that acknowledges how we are actually feeling and offers nurturing and gentle support. Can we treat ourselves with the same tenderness we would treat a child who is scared and sad?       
 
Have you personally been in counseling and if so, what did you learn about yourself?
I was in counseling in my mid-twenties and am in counseling now and I love it! It has meant different things to me at different times and I have learned a lot of things about myself. I think what has been most useful for me lately is having a place where I can be honest about what I am thinking and feeling, mostly just being honest with myself. It helps to have an outside perspective when I am caught up in my own thoughts, feelings, and interpretation of events. My therapist is great at helping me recognize when I am stuck in patterns that I learned in childhood that no longer serve me.   

If you could recommend one book to all your clients, what would it be?
Harry Potter! Just kidding (or am I?)
 
Depending on their worldview I would recommend either Living Like You Mean It by Ronald Frederik or A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. Living Like You Mean It has more of a psychological perspective while A New Earth has more of a spiritual perspective. The focus of Living Like You Mean It is what happens when we are afraid of our feelings and try to avoid feeling them. The author walks you through how to feel your emotions, tame your fear, and share your emotions with others when you need. A New Earth is about the freedom and joy we can experience when we live in the present moment. It discusses the many ways we intentionally and unintentionally cut ourselves off from our deepest Being by getting lost in our thoughts, believing in a limited and disconnected ego, and reacting automatically from unprocessed emotional pain.                
 
What inspires you to help others?
I strongly believe that change is always possible, no matter what the circumstance. I also believe that everyone has within them a still, small voice that seeks healing, safety, and growth. More than anything, my job as a therapist is to connect you to that voice. We have all the wisdom we need within ourselves, it's sometimes we need help finding it. 
 
Who is your ideal client?
My ideal clients are young adults who are creative, cerebral, or introverted and struggling with their emotions and finding their place in the world.
 
How do you personally practice self-care?
Probably my biggest form of self-care is watching reality shows about art and the creative process: Project Runway, So You Think You Can Dance, RuPaul's Drag Race, Skin Wars, etc. Watching these shows helps me relax and turn off my brain, but they are also very inspiring to me. I'm not the best sleeper, so making sure I get enough regular, quality sleep is very important. I enjoy listening to music, meditating, dancing and painting. Also, I could watch animal videos on the internet for hours, and have done so.
To schedule an appointment with Wendy online click the Schedule Now button below or call 512-578-8070 and ask for Wendy. Or you can email her at wendy@austinmindfulness.org.
Schedule Now
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<![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!
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