by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMay 28, 2019 enhancing joy, how to be happy, peak experiences, what is a peak experience0 comments
When was the last time that you peaked? Felt the exaltation of true bliss, the innocent delirium of fulfilling pleasure uplifting your consciousness to a reality shift? A peak experience is the kind of long lasting joy which is available to all of us, when we have our minds right, our goals aligned, and our peace on high priority. It goes something like this, set off for a late spring trek in the forest, you spent weeks researching the best trails in your area, and when the day happens that you experience it the whole day is soberingly magical. From the sunlit sky which illuminates all of the most ethereal mountains you contemplate the echo of time which has carved out these vistas, each vivid magenta blossom unfolding in the balmy breeze surrounding you is subject to your endless curiosity. A part of you falls in love with the panorama around you, you feel your heart rate increase and the energy coursing through your blood in a way that inspires excitement, enthusiasm, and wonder. You have arrived my friend, you are peaking, and even sustaining your life, rewinding your biological clock, and serving yourself for years to come with the newly created memory of this amazing experience. Answer this question, what was your last peak experience?
How peak experiences serve us
Having peak experiences are important for longevity, vitality, and bliss. Science backs this up, the field of positive psychology looks at how peak experiences serve us. Originally discussed by Abraham Maslow, he defined peak experiences to be the off shoot of a self-actualized persons capacity for enrichment and joy. Now, science take this a step further to study how they high-jack the layers of our cortex’s capacity for embedding memories and serving as the anchors upon which the healthiest of us define our lifelines. According to research featured in Time Magazine by Beirut neuroscientist Arne Dietrich when experiencing a peak moment, there is a change in the way our brains operate, we gain greater attention and even wonder in exchange for the usually flow of optimal energy.
The very pathway to desiring to go on the exotic trip to Tokyo, getting the MBA, reconnect with the long lost friend begins to create greater joy at the onset of imagining the experience. Unless of course you suffer from myopic thinking as associated with depression, or the motivation dampening effects of anxiety which are illustrated when imagining what it feels like when your imagination wanders to some new experience and you can see only the possible perils or failures, in which case your first step toward bliss might be reaching out to a therapist near you.
When we are peaking, we are as the great spiritual leaders like Buddha encourage us to be, we are not thinking of yesterday or fearing tomorrow, we are in the now, fully within the moment, completely submerged in our attention to what is around us. It is not just an individual journey either, within healthy relationships we notice the tendency for couples to recount the narratives of the last best novel joy that they have experienced together, instead of the counter tendency to rehash the last unprocessed argument.
What are peak experiences but those moments that earmark the years, they define the decades of our one earthly life. It’s the wind whipping in your hair while sailing the boat on the Chesapeake, it’s boldly dashing through the finish line of the Pittsburgh Marathon, its deepening your meditation practice and the upturned moment of full arm suspension in a yoga headstand. While nature is a great ‘one upper’ when it comes to peaking, let’s face it the grandeur of the great outdoors is seldom matched by man made creations, including the benefits of forest bathing, but there are still other ways to get to the top of our emotional climate.
Falling in love is often cited as a powerful interpersonal peak experience. The experiences that will lead to a peak are different for everyone. You can find it by asking yourself this, ‘what really makes you feel tuned in?’ Whatever path you take to get to your peak, research recommends that creating more opportunities for peak experiences in our lives leads to enhanced happiness, enthusiasm, and even motivation. Thinking that you do not have time for peak, you have deadlines and day care to get to, well then you my friend, need a peak experience the most. The fact is that by prioritizing meaningful joy, we enhance our energy and motivation to achieve other tasks, remember in the words of Stephen King, ‘All work and no play makes jack a dull, dull, boy.’ The act of striving toward bliss accumulates and accelerates our good vibes as we gear up to approach our experience, then the great act of doing what makes us happy will later become memories which can be relived at leisure. We, as living breathing animals aware of our well-being, require the opportunity to define ourselves by wonder, to celebrate our capacity for joy by honoring our awe over the humdrum monotony of routine, fear, and disappointment.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghApril 29, 2019 emotional intelligence, emotional iq, feelings chart0 comments
Emotional IQ is a hot topic and big buzzword, for good reason. Feelings matter! Lets get really honest, how well do you identify feelings? Can you notice them well in your partner or friends and colleagues? Do you have the ability to perceive feelings in yourself? How do you respond to others feelings and to your own? Meaning do you push them down or maybe you are on the opposite side if this spectrum and instead of holding them in, perhaps you overshare and let them out everywhere? Therapists and Counselors are usually rather masterful at honing in on others feelings, we often assess a persons primary emotions, which are fear, anger, sadness, and happiness. Then examine the deeper layer of secondary emotions, which means, what emotions are exhibited for having the primary emotions? For instance if you notice you are angry, do you then lapse into guilt for that? That would then form a feeling constellation which can be a web to disentangle and sometimes a source of anxiety and depression. It is said that for some women especially, depression is anger turned inward, it is especially taboo for women to express anger, culturally we make some space for men to express this emotion.
Furthermore, when learning about feelings counselors can also analyze meta- emotion, which means how does a given person feel about feelings in general. Tongue twister right? For instance, how much does a person exhibit comfort in having an emotionally fueled dialogue? Do you generally believe emotions have little significance and should be pushed away or do you appreciate your emotional state and tend to make decisions based on them? We also know that the more we seek to repress emotions, the more we end up injuring ourselves, according to good old, Sigmund Freud, the more we repress a thought or feeling, the more it will come out in even bigger ways. Which emotions when exhibited are triggering to you? All of these answers are vital to forming an understanding of yourself and the world of others around, they will be important to recognize if you’re going to have success in any relationship.
Some recommended exercises to enhance emotional awareness or emotional IQ are to check in with yourself a few times a day, possibly by setting an alarm on your phone. At 5 different intervals through the day, note which emotions are coming up for you, for some it will be best to focus first on identifying the primary emotions? Also, where do you notice those sensations in your body, for example, anger is sometimes felt in the head, sadness in the chest, and grief in the stomach. These can be very variable depending on the person. Start to notice what you feel, being mindful and suspending judgement of your emotional state. The first step is always to recognize. Identification is enough but later, you may also start to pay attention to any emotions that come up as a result of the initial feeling, the emotional constellation, for instance when feeling anger, do you then observe guilt for feeling angry, and then even deeper shame. Usually, in our happiness obsessed culture, we don’t attach as much guilt or fear with joy, but some people do feel guilt for experiencing happiness. Think about it, think about you, in all of your feeling states.
Take Away Learning Points
- To further enhance your emotional IQ, it is also good practice to start to think about what each of the above emotions feels like, where do you notices its sensation in your physical body and what feelings accompany it.
- The primary emotions are anger, sadness, happiness, and fear.
- Primary emotions can trigger secondary emotions and create feeling constellations.
- Emotions are important and the more we repress them the more they emerge in less healthy ways.
If you want to work on emotional IQ, Counseling can help!
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by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMay 9, 2016 counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, popular culture, psychology, wellness, wisdom0 comments
“Peace Out Happiness; Why letting go of Happy may make us more Healthy ”
In psychology, in pop culture, in our songs and movies, our social media, we hear words and anthems which suggest that all the world is happy or in search of happy. “Happy” is the new salvation, happiness is quantified, we travel the globe, move our homes and families, friends coach each other through break ups by saying things like “it’s for the best, you weren’t happy.” We take pills, we change directions, we do it all on the quest for the place where we can experience this Holy Grail. Happy is one of those feeling states kind of like love, it means something a slightly different to everyone. What most people mean when they say that they are feeling happy is really more of an ecstatic sensation brought on from external stimulation. We eat, we shop, we serial date, and we orgasm our way into euphoric happy but it’s likely that it’s never enough because this happy is always fleeting leaving us with the notion that something is missing, so begin cycle again, more eating, more shopping, more dating and on and on. Perhaps even most of all, notice the way we judge ourselves or lapse into despair when we inevitably come crashing into the notion that perhaps we are not “happy,” we feel like a failure at life, imagining that everyone else has some secret to being that we have not. Yet maybe, just maybe we are ok just as we are without all of the trappings of that five letter word.
Our proverbial quest changes the moment that we notice that these fleeting sensations are the cheap imitation version of long standing peace. We have been tricked, happiness is a fallacy, balloons bursting, drum roll stopping, external states of joy or daft manic amusements are no place by which to chart the life map. In the misguided journey, happiness will always be a place ahead, sometime in the future looming on a distant horizon. “After the promotion, after the next high dollar sports car, when I graduate school, after we are married, when our first child is born.” Happiness, peace, a space where we can stop and take a breath, the life marker where the “aha’ moment presents itself and the final sense of accomplishment graces our countenance. Be cautious traveler, searching for the treasure trove called happiness will throw off the compass, encouraging the bypassing of eternal states such as peace and serenity which are by far more sustainable emotional destinations.
We can nurture peace when we are living our life in balance, hard things will present themselves but we will assimilate and understands those things and we will allow them to pass by in their right time. Happiness can’t be sustained through the weathers of lost jobs, parking tickets, gossip mongers, accidents and hurtles but serenity, the far more virtuoso milestone can. Yet we know there will be days when happiness will stop by, she will sit down for an afternoon visit, we will always enjoy entertaining her but we know that she must ever move along on her Sunday drive, and we respect this, never demanding that she remain seated for yet another serving of our crumpets, frantic in our fears that the lovely face of happiness may never come again. That which we allow to come and go freely shall remain yet that to which we cling will forever suffocate and seek to escape us.
Our sense of serenity, the little kernel of you which is based upon confidence in personal integrity, the security which knows that whatever may come will be handled with wisdom, we are seasoned captains of our own vessel, when we notice that we have veered into some familiar or odd storm ridden sea which challenges our equilibrium and decimates our sense of peace, fear seizes the cloaked night as we are cradled in the turbulent arms of high winds and sea sprays, white knuckled grasping the helm. The captain allows the winds to die down and high seas ebb away without disturbing his peace.
Storms happen, life happens but peace can remain even in the midst of change, chaos, destruction. Peace is more profound than euphoria, more enduring than pleasure and more tangible than happy. Perhaps the flower children of the 60’s had something right with their peace mantra, maybe we can find a way to come back to that, when we make our life goals, our relationship goals, when we weigh and assess how we are living our life, maybe rather than ask, “am I happy?” or “were we happy together?” “will this new job make me happy?” maybe a better question to ask, “is this allowing me to hold on to my sense of peace?”
Peace and Love…
The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Contributed by Stephanie McCracken MSPC
830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233
by Stephanie McCrackenMay 4, 2015 counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, psychology, psychotherapy, wisdom0 comments
Is our fantasy of tomorrow preventing life today? There is a Zen saying which states that we should all aspire to be like a baby, experiencing each thing anew, recovering its wonder, in this we find peace, we find joy, we find the departure of negative feeling states attached to memory’s. There are many times when the perception of life’s lengthy expanse may prevent us from engaging fully in today, we imagine that we always have another tomorrow to complete our goals, to say hello, to say good bye, or to utter I’m sorry. As an exercise in consciousness and imagination, consider for a moment that you have learned it will be your last day on earth. I imagine that most of us would want to know this information as it would likely shape how we interact on our final day. If we could harness our strength and be compelled to ride the waves of anxiety something unique happens when we let go of the illusion of tomorrow, we submerge ourselves with attention in the things that matter most, we begin to embody our true or essential selves.
What is meant by the term true self? Most people when asked what they would do on their final day, make some mention of spending time with the people who they love. We want to tell them that we love them, perhaps to lay behind us disagreements and grievances. Yet too we often want to contribute something to humanity or to our family. Our essential self, offers peace and love as its greatest legacy yet often in life we are caught up in our feelings of injustice, notion of what is right or wrong, rigid boundaries with others so then it becomes easy to hold grudges, not make time for those we care about as we check our email, lift our weights, as we save and toil for our eternally uncertain futures.
There is another Zen saying which states that if we are feeling anxiety it is because we are in the future, if we are feeling depression it is because we are in the past, if we are feeling calm it is because we are in the present. Our human minds easily drift among these layers of consciousness, with the gift of memory and planning we have evolved so well to map out our future, considering things like consequences and possibilities. It is the same too with consideration of the past, it is an evolutionary advantage to remember people and situations which cause us fear and pain. It is healthy and expected to refrain from dangers and risks and move towards help and comfort. Without concerns for the future, as we continue our exercise in imagining that it is our last day on earth, we are poised on the precipice of the great unknown, we may be better able to remain grounded “in the now”. Author Randy Pausch, esteemed writer of “The Last Lecture”, Randy wrote a memoir on living while dying, in one of his chapters he references how brilliant each moment became when we know that our time is very limited. We open ourselves to the grandeur and wonder when we imagine that the things we encounter will never be encountered again, yet the truth is for each of us, full of health and contentment, time is limited, it is ticking with finality, how vivid is today, how connected to the things and people do you feel that you are right now? How do you feel about the life that you will be living today? Have you made amends with your regrets? Are you connected to passion, serenity, to wonder? We cannot be sure about tomorrow but how alive can we become today?
In peace and joy,
Stephanie McCracken MSCP
Nicole Monteleone MA, LPC, NCC
Reviving Minds Therapy
Counseling and Psychotherapy ‘Couples Therapy
1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233 Suite 100
by Stephanie McCrackenNovember 14, 2013 mindfulness, personal growth, psychology, psychotherapy, Uncategorized0 comments
What if your eyes, your skin and your brain are very much like tiny solar panels connected to your brain? In some capacities they are! Our skin is the largest human organ and it is responsive on many levels to it’s surroundings and stimuli such as the sun. Most any person who lives in the Northern Hemisphere can acknowledge the effect that the seasons have on human cognition, human emotions, and over all sense of well-being. The seasons change and often along with the departure of summer, fall and winter have a marked increase in Seasonal-Affective Disorder (SAD), seasonal depression, general malaise, and even relationship problems. As a large counseling center, we notice a marked increase in incoming client requests in the colder months. If you want to enhance your happiness, enjoy calm and comfort floating through life like a midsummer’s day? Well then it may be a good idea for you to spend some time with your head in the clouds or at the very least with your gaze directed towards the sky. As the cold air descends upon us most of us retreat into our warm and homes and convalesce with our den instinct, along with more time indoors we experience more darkness and harsh overhead fluorescent light. With this in mind, let us examine the specific benefits of sun gazing, it’s origins, and how to do a solar/sun gazing meditation.
In former times, Native American tribes held a yearly sun dance to the approach of the revered summer solstice. The native peoples worship the sun and as a part of the ritual, the sun gazers would dance, fast, and stare directly at the glowing orb in the day sky, this was intended to be an act of communion and rebirth with the earth’s rhythms. As a newly re-popularized trend, Sun gazing is enjoying its resurgence; many of us note that we must reconnect with the earth and her rhythms if we are going to enjoy the full capacity of our health and wellness. Some people report that by staring directly into the sun for 30-60 seconds each morning they enjoy greater vigor, energy, alertness, and focus. You might be wondering “but don’t your eyes get damaged from that?” Many of us recall our mother’s telling us as mall children, “Don’t stare into the sun, you will lose your vision!” After a bit of research, we haven’t been able to find any evidence that supports that claim. In fact, sun gazers note more acute vision and even ocular regeneration as some benefits.
Having trouble staying energized during the day or falling asleep at night? Solar powered meditation may be something you could try! The retina contains several kinds of photoreceptor cells; one of them is specifically responsible for regulating the circadian rhythms which is the bio-chemical/ hormonal process of sleeping and waking. When allowing the sun to contact the open eye, melatonin, one of the primary sleep chemicals is then commanded by your brain to decrease its production. Sleep comes in sync by increasing nighttime melanin production which causes deeper, longer nighttime rest. Contact with the sun will simultaneously increase production of serotonin which is a “feel good” chemical, this neurochemical is targeted in many of the popular anti-depressants on the market today. Just a minute of the suns luminosity can help you sleep better which gives you heightened energy and you can even feel happier in your new found heightened mental and physical acuity! Let us not forget that vitamin d is also synthesized via sunshine and that supports bone health as well as mood!
There is still one more noted and interesting benefit to sun gazing, that it the purported enhanced function of the “Third Eye.” The pineal gland, commonly referred to as the “Third Eye” is a curious part of the brain, it is largely associated with mystical, spiritual, and even psychic purposes. In MRI images, many ordinary subjects show a Third Eye that is atrophied or calcified. On the other hand, many of those who are deemed very spiritual, for example the “Dalai Lama” types show something completely different in this sacred mental cavern. In MRI scans performed on monks while in deep meditation, the pineal gland pulsates an ethereal blue light. Simultaneously, shaman and others who participate in Ajauhausca ceremonies also are said to be decalcifying and developing their pineal gland. Sun gazing is yet another way that we can enhance the powers of your Third Eye thereby heightening spiritual energy.
STEPS FOR SUNGAZING SOLAR MEDITATION
It is a good idea to sun gaze during the first hour or two after the sun has risen or right before it is setting, there are lower concentrations harmful ray spectrum’s during those times. As you begin this practice, aim for the goal of ten seconds during your first day and add an additional ten seconds each day until you work up to one minute which is the maximum suggested time to sun gaze.
1) Raise your hands and aligning your posture towards the sun, tilt your head back to expose your throat chakra and allow your feet to be anchored firmly on the earth. Focus on opening yourself to the energy of the sun and allow your eyes to fall upon the space directly above or below the sun.
2) Breathe deeply through your nose allowing the breath to expand inside of you as you hold your breath for a moment and allow your chest to fall slowly, evenly and gently from out of your nose for 10 seconds-60 seconds.
3) Notice how you feel before and after your mini meditation.
4) A Pro Tip: Turn your inner gaze softly towards your nose where the third eye can be found. This specifically targets the pineal gland and helps in rejuvenating it, you may notice that after your eyes have been warmed you can see many colors and flashes of light while maintaining soft, steady, and abundant inhalation and exhalation. One of the keys is to maintain awareness, mindfulness, and gratitude for the abundant warmth and light. With practice you will be transported to a hypnotic space. People who regularly practice this note that while the sun formerly appeared to be motionless it now pulsates and radiates many colors while they are gazing at it.
Take notice of your energy levels after spending this 2 minutes connecting with the sun and the earth. Do your best to find the time to incorporate this small but powerful exercise into your life for the next 30 days just to see how much of an effect that it has upon your mood and energy. Remember that the body takes time to adjust so one month is plenty of time to really obtain the myriad of benefits. If you miss a day here or there that is ok, doing your best is more than enough. Some people find it easiest to incorporate sun gazing as a part of my morning walk. If you are plentiful on time and are able to do the evening meditation as well then even better for you, otherwise many people find that once a day is more than enough. Remember if the sun is powerful enough to cause the trees and flowers to bloom, to cause the seasons to change, imagine what it can do for you! NAMASTE!
Wishes for brightness, wholeness, and health,
Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NCC
Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Therapy, Marriage and Family Counseling
830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233
by Stephanie McCrackenJuly 2, 2013 counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, psychotherapy0 comments
Bliss, contentment, joy, with all of this jolly there is much debate. Are we birthed from our mothers’ wombs and onto the terrestrial sphere with an innate capacity to experience greater abundance of positive vibes or is a happy disposition something that can be nurtured? There are endless varieties of self-help books, and spiritual manuals indicating the gamut of tactics which when put into practice, may help us live a life with greater serenity. As a therapist and a woman who revels in her own personal transformation, I have some simple but powerful tools to share with you which will direct your feelings towards the more ecstatic emotions. Here are some tips for the reader:
1) Letting go of resentment. Whether it is a feud that started 10 years ago or just yesterday, when you hold on to feelings of anger and harbor grudges it is very unhealthy for you. Just like the saying goes, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick!” Letting go of grudges doesn’t mean that you are saying a wrong doing done to you is ok, it means that you recognize that these emotions do not serve you which is why you are letting them go! It may be helpful to release them ceremoniously, writing a small list and burning it and then burying it somewhere deep within the earths soil, truly putting your woes to rest.
2) Make a regular practice to reflect on gratitude. The feeling of gratitude is one of the most powerful positive emotions; it expands thinking and is composed of light and love. No matter where you are in your life, you surely have some things to be grateful for and the best things are typically the simplest- always keep in mind that the tiny moments are the building blocks of the fabric of your life!
3) Take care of your body! There is much to be said for taking the time to invigorate your limbs with oxygenated blood, allowing them the experience of vigorous contortion. We are animals and our forms are intended for motion. Furthermore, we must be mindful to consume nutritious food. Be sure to eat at least one or two foods a day that are plant based, preferably something out of the skin or rind and not out of the jar. Ancient Chinese medicine indicates that all food has energy, be sure to eat things that are live, healthy and teeming with life force!
4) Focus on the breath. When you take the time to understand your body and realize its
rhythms you are well on your way to living a healthy and happy life! The breath is the elixir which feeds our very living, it has the power to calm, or excite and when you hone in on this process you can begin to exert great power over your own mood. Slowing and deepening for deep relaxation or notice how fast and shallow breathing becomes when we are upset or after a run.
5) Value non-material things. Working is an important part of adult life, making money can feel great because money has the ability to provide for basic material necessities and those little bells and whistles which sure can be fun. Yet, the most important things that we know are our relationships to friends and families, they are the true givers of joy. Remember that when your last hour is nearing, you won’t be thinking about your bank account balance, you will crave nearness with the people who dwell in your heart and mind so make time for them now while your time is long.
6) Discover the joy of doing nothing. Most of us stay so busy maintaining the demands of our work and home duties that the idea of doing nothing comfortably gives us the shivers. Yet because of this it is even more vital that we explore the sensory bliss of truly relaxing into our own minds and bodies, far away from the phone and computer or chatter of mates and children. We will all become a bit happier when we carve out some time to enjoy doing nothing, for you maybe that is simply closing your eyes and breathing in a hot bath, or under the shade of the tree or even turning your back on your computer at work, closing your eyes and guiltlessly dwelling in your own mind for a few blissful minutes.
7) Reacquaint yourself with nature. The most content people have a relationship with and an understanding of nature. All of those forces outside of the self, the inspiration of countless poems and paintings, when we place our attention upon the attunement of our earth, she usually has some messages for us. While she speaks, she calms and there are even new studies which indicate that people who sit, plant, and place themselves near soil are happier and boast heartier immune systems. Despite what your mother may have told you about tracking it in the house, dirt isn’t so bad after all, those live microbes carry some secrets such as disease fighting and there are others who say that direct contact with the ground can have astounding effects on your electromagnetic composition, literally realigning your force field.
Besides any of things what are your suggestions for living a happier life? Please share your own personal tips!
In health and wellness,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Reviving Minds Therapy