What is it like to realize that you are wrong? Can you imagine a time when you knew you were wrong (and someone else was right) and what emotions you may have been feeling at the time? Probably not good ones, right? Why does being wrong create so much discomfort?
A recent neurological study (Hsu, 2005) found that even a small amount of ambiguity resulted in increased activity in the amygdala. This is the part of the brain that acts as an alarm system to your nervous system when there is a threat, mobilizing you for fight or flight. The reward center of the brain called the ventral striatum, which usually shows increased activity when you are anticipating something good is about to happen; this brain structure showed a decrease in activity as ambiguity increased.
When you are right about something, you are certain you are right. Or rather, when you feelright, you experience this rightness as certainty. And it is the certainty that our brains crave. Even if you are wrong, you may still feel right, like the cartoon coyote suspended in mid air before realizing he has run off the end of a cliff! In this case even a false sense of certainty still feels right. Up until you realize you are wrong, of course.
We’ve learned that being wrong, or making mistakes inevitably leads to failure. And being right is the way to success. And for many, success is just a means to feel loved and to belong. So if these basic human needs are what are at stake, it makes sense that being wrong is such a threat to our nervous systems.
Unfortunately, humans hate being wrong so much that when our rightness is questioned or doubted, we can go to great lengths to cling to our version of the truth. The lens that we look through does not appear to be a lens at all, but reality itself. So when other people have a different perspective, those people are either:
1) Ignorant- they don’t have the right information;
2) Stupid- they have the right information, but aren’t smart enough to make proper sense of it; or
3) Evil- they have the right information and understand it, but have chosen to intentionally and nefariously abandon the truth.
These judgments add to our already entrenched positions so we are quick to draw swords on any given issue. You can see evidence of this in the comment threads following almost any article or blog post online. There always seems to be at least two polarities of opinion on almost any issue. I am constantly perplexed at the lack of middle ground represented and further, when a middle ground is presented, how easily it gets misinterpreted by one or both polarities.
Certainty deadens the vitality of life. It puts it into a convenient yes or no box. Truth vs. fiction. Right vs. wrong. What if these boxes were imaginary? Really. Imagine that those boxes dissolved and our perceptions had to just be there suspended in nothingness without the support of those imaginary boxes. Now what? It’s uncomfortable isn’t it? We rely so heavily on those illusions that being without them seems almost completely unfamiliar. Have you ever struggled with a piece of information and you say, “I just don’t know what to think about all this.” In other words, “What box does this go in?” And until you find a place for it, you just feel unsettled; not right.
This is unfortunate. It’s unfortunate, not because we prefer certainty, but because we need it in order to feel secure. It’s one thing to want to be right. It’s another thing to have to be. Mindfulness teaches us to let go of “have to” and to accept the world as it is, not as we want it to be. Even if that means you’re the world’s biggest fuck-up, (because somebody has to be) your value as a person and your capacity for living meaningfully has nothing at all to do with being right or wrong. It is possible to just be.
Written by Jiovann Carrasco, LPC-S
As you may have noticed in dealing with children – be it your own kids, students, or clients – the age-old adage that actions speak louder than words still holds true. Looking at this upcoming generation of youth, many of us have voiced a concern and a desire to see “these kids today” act more mindfully. That is to say, we wish they would possess a longer attention span, see the virtue in delayed gratification, display self-control, be less reactive, and be more thoughtful in their responses and behaviors. We may be saying and thinking these things from the lofty position of adulthood without necessarily recognizing our role in helping children develop the mindful mindset we desire for them.
We must become mindful models and mentors for children. If we are screaming at our kids to “BREATHE!!! AND BE STILL!!” from a place of frustration, or exasperation, it is less effective than actually taking a breath ourselves and becoming still, present, and aware in our interactions. I understand how difficult a task this may prove to be – especially in the midst of whining or tantruming children! This is why mindfulness is a practice and not a destination. Beginning a simple daily mindfulness practice on your own during calm times (perhaps in the shower or before the kids wake up) will make it easier and more natural for you to respond from a place of peaceful presence when presented with less peaceful circumstances.
When children experience adults in this new way and witness us taking time-outs to breathe and responding rather than reacting, my hope is that they will learn to do the same. The change starts with you and me because we’re the ones children look to for guidance on how to be in this world. Let’s be mindful models and create a more present, peaceful, mindful generation.
Written by Stephanie Trueblood, LPC-Intern
Recently, a friend posted a photo she had taken of a thunderstorm over the city where she lives. She had taken this photo from a boat, and while the thunderstorm was in plain view, she was not actually in it. I thought the photo was interesting, and it also got me thinking… (real) thunderstorms look (and feel) differently depending on if we are in them or if we are observing them from a distance. When we are in them, we can feel the rain and see/hear the lightning and thunder. When we are at a distance, we are aware of the storm but don’t experience it in the same way.
The same thing is true when we think about mental thunderstorms. Often we have our own thunderstorms going on in our mind. When we're in the middle of it all, we get drenched by the downpour of emotions and have to deal with the sparks, flashes, and booms of our thoughts and judgments. It’s like being in an actual thunderstorm, but our emotions, thoughts, and judgments are the rain, lightening, and thunder. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
What if, like my friend, we got into a boat and decided to observe the thunderstorm from a distance? This is the process of what happens when we take a moment to breathe mindfully, unhook from our thoughts and emotions, and simply observe what’s happening for us. It’s like we have boarded a metaphorical mindfulness boat and have made the decision to simply observe the thunderstorm from afar rather than be in it. We are aware of our thoughts, judgments, and emotions, but we are not affected by them in the same way. We can think more clearly and calmly even though all of those thoughts, judgments, and emotions are still there. So, my challenge to you is to throw down your umbrellas, unhook from that thunderstorm of thoughts and emotions, and instead board your own mindfulness boat.
Written by Jondell Lafont, LPC-Intern
When I met Capri eleven years ago, she was a skinny, flea-ridden puppy without a home. She was just a puppy, maybe four months old. We didn’t know where she came from, but it was obvious that she had been neglected and probably hadn’t eaten in several days. Whatever sad condition this little puppy had been living in was not reflected in her expression or her wagging tail as she bounced around in excitement. What was she so happy about?
You see, Capri wasn't thinking about her life's hardships or ruminating on how difficult her life has been. She was in the moment meeting me for the first time and taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells around her.
Needless to say I kept that boney, flea-ridden pup. Today she is a beautiful, loving companion and she is very spoiled. Just by watching her and being with her, I have learned a few things about mindfulness in my daily life.
1. Be Present
Capri lives her life moment to moment. When she is hungry she eats but she isn't worried about how much she is eating or how she looks or when her next meal will be. When she needs something in the moment she requests it (like bathroom breaks).
2. Come To Your Senses
My favorite lesson from my dog is when she sits outside basking in the sun. It always reminds me to take a moment and breathe. I watch her as she sits quietly looking around, wiggling her nose and smelling all the scents around her, and just taking in her environment. She is content just to be in the moment.
3. Acceptance Without Judgment
Just like us humans, my dog experiences physical pain, fear, and other painful feelings and sensations. I have seen her experience strong pain. She tore the MCL in her knee, which is the equivalent of an ACL in a human, and had to have knee surgery about 2 years ago. She was in pain and would whine to my husband and me. But after some pain medications and subsequent surgery she was fine. She didn't fear walking, she didn't think about it. She didn't hold on to her pain and create more suffering for herself.
Our pets experience things in the moment whether they are good or bad. They can teach us how to live life fully present. So take a moment today and look at your dog, cat, parakeet, or prairie dog and be present with them. You may learn some beautiful and valuable lessons from these incredibly wise souls.
Written by Monti Pal, LPC-Intern
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Here you will find articles contributed by members of our team. We hope to provide helpful information here to inspire mindful living and general wellness. The information provided here is not a substitue for professional mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need to speak to a professional regarding your mental health, please make an appointment.