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The Best Gift Is Presence

Posted By Sabrina Walasek, Friday, December 21, 2018

The unfolding of a conversation is like unwrapping a present.

As someone who works remotely, I have come to value face-to-face conversation. 
The unfolding of a conversation is like unwrapping a present. It sets a vibe and pace to the ritual. While some people have a knack for being really present when conversing, many of us have to work at it. So let’s uncover what it takes to create a real gift of gab.

First, it’s best to share a real space together so you pick up on the full energy of the other person. The nonverbal connection between people has real power. It can cause people to subconsciously adjust their positions, movements, and breathing. When face-to-face, the brain's ‘mirror neurons’ mimic subtleties of the other person. 

While physically showing up is important, the real gift lies in our intention. It not only impacts what is communicated; it also establishes the balance of power. Let’s illustrate with a gift analogy. 

Scenario #1: Envision someone attacking a carefully wrapped giftbox with reckless abandon, snapping off ribbons and shredding paper in pursuit of its contents. No eye contact, no pause to relish the moment. In this scenario, the intent is to self-serve and own the experience.

Scenario #2: Now imagine someone admiring a giftbox, gingerly slipping off the ribbon, massaging the tape loose to preserve the paper. A pause allows for eye contact and a deep breath. Tissue paper is peeled back for the reveal. In this case, the intent is to build rapport and share the experience.

Intent exists in every conversation and it’s often buried deep in our subconscious. It lives in our words, pace, volume, tone, and body language. When we are present, we start to recognize and adjust intent before talking. 

A small-talker is congenial. A great storyteller is compelling. A conversation horder is neither and is likely too wrapped up in his- or herself to notice. We all need to share at length from time to time. However, when taking center stage is habitual, listeners are likely tortured or tuned out. 

Entering conversation to connect is not only about how much talking time you own, but the nature of your speech as well. In the dharma world, there are four common questions suggested to test potential words:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it kind?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it the right time?

Passing thoughts through these gates before the words leap off your tongue requires slowing down. This gives time to course-correct. 

Of course, the gift of conversation isn’t just about what you say—it’s also about truly being present for the words, emotions, and subtle communications of your conversational partner.

We all want to be heard, really heard. “Listeners” who are distracted (listening but not engaged) or who reroute the conversation back to themselves are not listening. Active listeners approach a conversation (and a person) with curiosity and the goal of deeper understanding.

According to the Korn Ferry Institute’s The Science of Listening:

“Our listening brain is wired to do exactly what active listening discourages: evaluate input, predict outcomes, make judgments and perform triage, all on a moment-to-moment basis. That mode of functioning, according to recent thinking in cognitive neuroscience, evolved as the brain’s strategy to use its finite neural capacity efficiently. As we take in the stimuli of the speaker’s words, the prefrontal cortex, which enables organizing and prioritizing, lights up with activity as we continually vet the incoming information against what we know, our past experiences and our theoretical construct of the future.”

According to our brain, being fully present all the time would waste enormous time and energy. That’s what makes active listening such a gift! It takes dedication and signals to the other person, “You’re worth it!” 


How to Test Your Active Listening Skills

  • Notice your urge to speak and see if you can “bite your tongue” until a natural pause is created by the other person.
  • Fully engage with your eyes and body.
  • Put down your phone or items that may lure you away.
  • Try not to connect what the person is saying with your own experiences.
  • Try not to anticipate what you are going to say next. 
  • Incorporate parts of what the person said in a response back.
  • Ask questions to go deeper without the intent to judge or compete.
  • Approach with curiosity; find out something new.

As you gather for the holidays, it’s likely you will be catching up with folks you don’t see on a regular basis. Now is the perfect time to practice spreading words of kindness and making connections that go a little deeper. Set an intention as a speaker and a listener, to share the space and enhance the quality of your conversations, a gift to yourself and the world.

Sabrina WalesekSabrina Walasek is a long-time educator and lover of exploration and learning. She has traveled to more than 50 countries, embracing humanity and nurturing her sense of curiosity. She facilitates a monthly mindful women's circle and is a contributor to Whole Life Challenge's blog. Her website is www.mindfulspaces.org

Tags:  Active Listening  Conversation  Mindfulness  Presence 

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How Meditation Increases Emotional Intelligence

Posted By Trevor McDonald, Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Emotional intelligence can be a sign of emotional strength, and it’s a trait that many people strive to achieve. But while most of us strive to become emotionally intelligent, some are confused about what that really means.

emotional intelligence illustration

What is emotional intelligence?

It’s common to confuse emotional intelligence with empathy, but the two are mutually exclusive. You can have empathy and not emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence comes into play when you have enough self-awareness to be able to manage your empathy.

Emotional intelligence is comprised of the following:

  1. Self-awareness — a conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, and desires.
  2. Social awareness — an understanding of other people’s feelings and motivations (this includes empathy).
  3. Self-management — the ability to maintain self-control, remain adaptable and have a positive outlook.
  4. Relationship management — the ability to work within a team, resolve conflicts and inspire leadership.

How to Achieve Emotional Intelligence

Think about emotional intelligence in terms of a workout. If you wanted to run a marathon or enter a bodybuilding competition, you’d have to train. You can set goals, but if you’re like most people, you’re always going to strive to be better.

In that way, emotional intelligence is like fitness. But instead of working out your body, you’re working out your mind.

Meditation is one of the best ways to exercise your mind, but you can also start with self-awareness. Step back and take a mental note of how you handle your own emotions. Are you quick to react without thinking things through? If so, you have some room for improvement.

Meditation is such a good mental practice that it’s commonly incorporated into addiction recovery treatment and other counseling methods. But you don’t need to be in recovery to strengthen your mind.

How Meditation Increases Emotional Intelligence

rocks stacked in a zen sand garden

Did you know that meditation can actually change the physical structure of your brain? A Harvard research team came to this conclusion after studying the effects of meditation. When you start to meditate, the changes you’re likely to see can help support your emotional IQ.

  • Self-awareness — Improved self-awareness is a major goal of meditation. When you meditate, you’re training your mind to focus in the present moment. Through meditation and mindfulness, you become more aware of your thoughts and physical presence.
  • Social awarenessMeditation strengthens connections between two areas of the brain that can help improve a person’s sense of empathy: The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the insula. The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex manages your personal perspective while the insula is involved with inferring someone else’s state of mind. As you become more aware of other people’s feelings and motives, you will become more socially aware.
  • Self-management — Meditation can help weaken neural connections in the amygdala and strengthen connections in the prefrontal cortex. Fear and anger are triggered in the amygdala while the prefrontal cortex is responsible for rational thought and logic. The combination of reducing fear and boosting logic can help you improve levels of self-control and self-management.
  • Relationship management — Meditation can help you become more aware and in-control over your own emotions. It can also help you become more aware of other people's emotions. Through increased empathy and understanding, you can improve things like teamwork, conflict management, and empathy. As you let go of personal bias, you'll find that you're able to have more effective discussions and better relationships.

How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation

If you’ve been avoiding meditation because you think it’s difficult or the thought seems overwhelming, you may be in for a treat. While meditation may be difficult to master, it is simple to practice. You don't need any special tools or expensive equipment. All you need is the willingness and a quiet space to practice.

Sit in a quiet room, preferably facing a blank wall. This will help eliminate any distractions. Next, set a timer for 5 minutes. Your goal within these 5 minutes is to focus on the present moment. Start by noticing your breath. Feel the air as it flows through your nostrils. Don’t try to control your breaths, but just notice them. If you start thinking about anything, it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Simply try not to follow the thought. For example, if you remember you have to get milk, try to let it end there. Don’t follow the thought down the path of what else you might need or what you’re going to use the milk for. When the timer buzzes, you have completed your session. As you feel more confident in your practice, you may increase time by 5-minute increments until you reach 30 minutes.

Note: The mindfulness meditation described here is a different practice than transcendental meditation. Both practices are very beneficial. For an article about the difference between these two practices, click here. To download our tool for Transcendental Meditation, click here.

Emotional intelligence is a trait that some of the world’s greatest leaders have in spades, and you can have it too. Strengthen your mind through meditation, and you should notice a difference in your emotional IQ.

Trevor McDonaldTrevor McDonald is a freelance writer and recovering addict and alcoholic who's been clean and sober for over 5 years. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources, addiction awareness, and general health knowledge. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.

Tags:  addiction recovery  emotional intelligence  meditation  mindfulness  wellness 

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Mindful Eating For Middle Age and Beyond

Posted By Nicole Christina, Friday, October 26, 2018
Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2018

Use snack or mealtime as an opportunity for a little break.

Mindfulness has become such a buzzword that hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear it applied to something new; mindful gardening, mindful flossing... Yet its increasing popularity gives us some insight into the impressive benefits it offers. The way we approach food and eating can have a profound effect on our overall health and happiness. After all, the way we eat is one of the most basic ways we care for ourselves, and we’re confronted with food choices several times a day. Mindful eating — being fully present and non-judgemental around our eating — is a total game changer. It allows us to pause, focus on our body’s unique hunger signals, and ask ourselves what would make our body feel satisfied and energized. It is the ultimate in self-care. And self-care is vitally important for keeping our minds and bodies working well in the second half of life.

Yet we often miss this wonderful opportunity to reboot, rest and recharge. Instead of taking a well-deserved break as we eat, we’re trying to catch up on the latest celebrity gossip, and order shoes online. Even though we know by now that multi-tasking means we do several things poorly because our brain doesn’t like to split attention, this is the way most of us live. But I’m going to make a prediction; if you insert just a few rest stops into your day — and eating is the natural time to do it — you will feel more balanced and well overall. And you will feel healthier, both in body and spirit.

Of course, food and eating are tricky subjects, particularly for women. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that most women reading this are focused more on losing weight, not using eating as a way to bring some calm and revitalization to their day. Indeed, in my experience as a therapist specializing in food and body issues, it is clear that many of us could benefit from a new relationship with food. Over focus on weight loss is a terrible waste of our limited time and resources. It takes precious energy away from our creative pursuits. Over focus on weight loss also makes us boring and self-focused. And then there’s the little problem that diets have a 95% failure rate. Better to focus on overall health and how we want to spend our time here on earth. Mindful eating does just that.

Imagine how your life would change if you used eating as an opportunity to care for yourself, nourish your body, and take a well-deserved rest? What if it was an opportunity to bring some pleasure into your day? Ask your body what whole foods would make it feel more energized and satisfied? And you don’t need to look at your friend’s plate. Everyone has different bodies and different nutritional needs, as well as different preferences.


Here are 3 simple ways to practice mindful eating on the go:

  1. Use snack or mealtime as an opportunity for a little break, sneak in time for satisfaction, and even delight. Look at your food and appreciate the colors, textures and flavors. Get curious about where all of these foods come from.
  2. Even sipping your coffee or tea with your full attention makes it more satisfying and more relaxing. It’s a whole different experience preparing your tea with intention and care. Compare this to drinking your drive-through beverage in the car with the radio on.
  3. Make sure you are breathing into your abdomen and taking a moment to just be present. Imagine that your only job in that moment is to rest and enjoy your food. Your body loves getting a good dose of oxygen. You will digest your food better, and feel calmer overall.

Even if you can only take one mindful sip of coffee in the morning, and the rest of the day is a blur, give that time to yourself as a gift. 

Nicole ChristinaNicole Christina, LCSW is a psychotherapist, professional blogger, and host of the acclaimed Podcast Zestful Aging. Nicole interviews inspiring woman about their projects, as well as their own metamorphosis as they age. She also presents on topics related to aging well, and has recently taught at Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Syracuse University and OASIS. Her online course, Zestful Aging; Simple and Sustainable Habits for Health and Longevity, can be found at NicoleChristina.com.

Tags:  Diet  Middle Age  Mindful Eating  Mindfulness  Nutrition 

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Mindfulness: As a Way to Optimize The Functioning of the Human Brain

Posted By Elisa Laconich, Friday, July 27, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Currently, advances in medicine, using technologies and scientific progresses in the treatment of diseases, have achieved an increase in the world population life expectancy. Nonetheless, mental health is still a pending task, screaming for our attention, especially considering that an altered mind is the main cause of death and incapacity; murders, suicide, car accidents, and psychiatric illness are daily news. In this scenario, practicing a lifestyle that promotes a healthy mind and that increases one's quality of life is more than justified.

In this matter, the mindfulness is the pathway of mental training, tranquility, compassion, connection with oneself and one’s surroundings. However, as everything we want to achieve, learning awareness also implies a degree of effort.  At the beginning of this training, it is not unusual to be distracted by such frustrating thoughts as  “I can't focus”, “I need to have a perfect outcomes”, “I can't stay still”, “I don't have enough time”, “I'm not doing it right”, etc... We should understand that there is no wrong way to focus; the correct way is the one that suits you. There is no correct way of living other than that which adapts the best to us, similar to “My Way” from Frank Sinatra, about a man who looks back on his life with full awareness and without judgment, and is especially proud of having lived his life enjoying every step of the way.

Therefore, despite that the awake meditation may sound difficult; for certain we have all already done it at some point. For example, if you have hung out just thinking about something, if you have prayed, if you have observed nature or someone for a few minutes, then you have awareness moments linked to the present.

In the last decades, neuroscientists have been keen to verify the effectiveness and brain changes that mindfulness can cause. This has lent greater robustness and reliability to this practice, which in turn has contributed to greater diffusion of this practice among society.

The truth is that science increasingly gathers more evidence that small changes in the mind lead to big changes in the brain and therefore into life experience. What flows through the mind sculpts the brain, especially if it is constant, lending credibility to the phrase: “The main activity of the brain is changing themselves,” Marvin L. Minsky.

The main changes in the brain result in neurophysiological modifications translated by the presence of certain brain waves and frequencies denoting synchronicity in the functioning, which means more coherence between connections and areas. According to brain scans, meditation can strengthen synaptic connections, as well as producing more cortical sulcus and gyrus, processes associated with increasing the speed of information processing, decision-making, better memory, and attention.

In addition, the effects of meditation practice are associated with morphologic changes, such as more density in the gray matter, which have a positive effect by improving cognitive, emotional, and immune responses, as well as better self-control, breathing, and heart rate. Moreover, other studies suggest that meditation increases the size of the hippocampus and frontal lobe, resulting in more positive emotions, more emotional stability, and more conscious behavior in day-to-day life. When we talk about more conscious behavior, we come to taste and therefore value manifestations from ourselves and from others, helping to free ourselves from the slavery of automatism—“stolen lives”—in which we live immersed every day.

In consequence, a quiet mind will always be more productive cognitively, and this will facilitate adaptation to change, reducing everyday stress and the impulsive reactions that tarnish our welfare.


“I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me”

- Albert Einstein


Elisa Laconich is a Ph.D. in Psychology with orientation in Cognitive Neuroscience. Partner of the ONG the world peace foundation. She works in the development of the neurosciences and the application of the neuropsychology in Paraguay. She has experience in the application of the neuropsychology to improve the quality of life in people who had brain damage through neurocognitive techniques and mindfulness. She was President of the First Congress of Research in Neurosciences Paraguay in 2015 and President of the Neurosciences Association of Paraguay. Member of the American Clinical Neurophysiology Society.

Tags:  Meditation  Mental Health  Mindfulness  Neuroscience 

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A Holistic Approach to Addiction Recovery

Posted By Trevor McDonald, Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Numerous factors kickstart an addiction; not all is to be blamed on the illicit substance itself. Since this is the case, many former addicts follow the holistic approach to overcome their addiction. The objective of holistic healing is to create a balance between the emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects of an individual. In other words, an ailment can only be properly alleviated if the entirety of a person is sound as opposed to solving one area of the whole problem. In addition to pre-existing addiction treatments such as psychotherapy or prescribed medication, holistic healing can also be equally effective.

This is how to have a holistic approach to addiction recovery:

Practice meditationRestore emotional balance

Guilt and shame are common emotions to experience after you decide to live in sobriety. However, these demanding emotions can cause episodes of anxiety and depression. The holistic approach encourages you to confront pain through either holistic therapy or meditation. By intentionally reflecting and assessing past life experiences and choices, you eventually see the big picture of what caused an addiction. Furthermore, reflection and honesty with oneself develop emotional resilience when in the face of challenging emotions and help you become more understanding and compassionate for yourself.

Alleviate physical symptoms

The state of one’s body is directly connected to how well their mind will function. Addiction recovery is not limited to one suffering emotional obstacles. It has a fair share of physical symptoms from withdrawal, mainly: fatigue, low energy, and muscle tension. You can alleviate the symptoms mentioned above with the use of acupuncture to restore proper blood circulation, massage therapy to stimulate relaxation, release muscle tension, and treat insomnia. 

Establish spiritual ground

There are multiple facets to spirituality besides connecting with a divine or religious deity. Spirituality also refers to your sense of self and the feeling of harmony with the surrounding world. After a life of abusing drugs, one may feel they have lost a significant part of their identity, which can ignite confusion on how to live in sobriety and even induce depression.

Find some spiritual ground by turning to yoga and meditation. Both practices deepen self-awareness and introspection, both of which are necessary to create perspective on the root causes of certain choices, overcome trauma from past experiences, and develop a plan of action to avoid relapse. Additionally, yoga and meditation are stress-reducers, which will permanently replace the previous coping mechanism of abusing substances.

Practice mindful nutrition

Eat only wholesome and clean food that optimizes organ function and exercise daily to sustain physical strength and energy. The act of eating is also important as well. Look to implement mindful eating which creates a connection to the act of eating food and encourages you to dedicate your attention to enjoying a meal. The philosophy behind this action is to ultimately help you develop a sense of awareness and understanding for how consuming certain foods and outside substances affect your body, whether that be positive or negative.

AromatherapyCreate a safe external environment

Avoid traveling to places that have triggers and break off relationships with people who will drag you back into substance abuse. There is no reason to include either in your life again. Regarding your living space, be intentional with the type of atmosphere you create. The home should be clean and organized, free of clutter that can otherwise frazzle thoughts and emotions; it needs to diminish your stress and promote relaxation! You should feel at ease devoting time to hobbies, unwinding from the world, and spending time in quiet solitude in your home. To amplify this positive and safe environment, implement the use of aromatherapy with essential oils and keep photos and sentimental items close. You can also breathe new life into the space by allowing in as much natural light as possible and decorating corners with plants— some of which remove toxins in the air.

In conclusion, holistic healing can provide tremendous benefit to a recovering addict and will be the perfect complement to any additional medical treatment. If you’re looking to begin a life of permanent sobriety and devoting equal attention to the emotional, physical, and spiritual elements of your mind and body, then starting out with a holistic approach is a strong first step.

Trevor McDonaldTrevor McDonald is a freelance writer and recovering addict and alcoholic who's been clean and sober for over 5 years. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources, addiction awareness, and general health knowledge. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.

Tags:  addiction  holistic  mindfulness  recovery 

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