"My life is not this steeply sloping hour in which you see me hurrying."
- Rainer Maria Rilke
News and Political Anxiety: Taking a Stand" article by Diane Handlin
An Invitation to Learn
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
Black Bear in Spring
Learn to live with greater vitality, health and well-being through Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program. Presented by the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Center of New Jersey, the program offers powerful methods for reducing stress in your everyday life.
Diane Handlin, Ph.D. is one of the few instructors in New Jersey and in the world (not just trained) but actually Certified by Jon Kabat-Zinn's and Saki Santorelli's Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School. She, and her husband, Jim Handlin, Ed.D., who is now also Certified by the CFM, often teach together.
a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring
down the mountain.
in the brisk and shallow
of early spring
I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:
how to love this world.
I think of her
like a black and leafy ledge
to sharpen her claws against
of the trees.
my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its cities,
it is also this dazzling darkness
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;
all day I think of her -
her white teeth,
her perfect love.
~ Mary Oliver ~
(House of Light)
Free Spring 2017 talk in Edison
Wednesday, May 10, 7:30-9:00 pm
JFK Conference Center
70 James Street
~ Summer 2017 course ~
in Edison NJ
begins Tuesday, June 27th
All are Welcome
Reservations are required.
~ Winter 2018 Course ~
For more information or to reserve a place for the course, please contact Dr. Diane Handlin at
(Please note that MBSR is an educational course and not psychotherapy. If you suspect that you have medical or psychological issues, please pursue appropriate treatment.)
News and Political Anxiety: Taking a Stand
As those of you who have been reading my newsletters know, I have been writing about well-being of late. In December, I edited a Mindfulness e-newsletter for the New Jersey Psychological Association and along with nine other articles by NJ psychologists, I included an article on happiness. Also included was my interview with Patricia Bloom, M.D. on mindfulness' usefulness in treating those who have turned to opioids seeking relief from pain.
To read the full Bloom interview, please click here
. By now, it is no secret that many people in this country are not exempt from suffering. But, something particularly peculiar to the United States for the last few years has been the increase in anxiety-driven stress related to politics. While in NYC shortly before the election, my husband, Jim, and I were having coffee at the Zabar's coffee shop on the upper West side when we struck up a conversation with an endearing young woman from Turkey who is here studying psychology. She shared her concern that her landlady, who was a sensitive older woman who had become almost like her American parent, was unable to sleep at night because of her anxiety about the election. Since then, I have heard many similar stories, and mental health workers have been reporting a much heightened level of anxiety in their patients nationwide.
In a recent article in the New York Times entitled, "Depressed by Politics? Just Let Go," Arthur C. Brooks, wrote meaningfully on this topic.
To read the full Brooks article, please click here.
Brooks points out that for the last few years he has noticed an un-happiness pattern that he believes is related to politics. As a matter of fact, he even believes that many of the people who are most in the know tend to be unhappier than those who are paying less attention to the political state of the country. Accordingly, he hypothesizes that unhappiness is related to what has been known in psychology as having an external locus of control and cites a famous 2004 study of college students that having an external locus of control is correlated with greater unhappiness. Brooks' particular interest is on the deleterious effects of feeling victimized by an experience when it is based on what may be illusory or possibly self-inflicted.
Brooks also cites an example of the consequences of over attachment that is similar to a story from India which describes a technique for how to catch a monkey. This technique involves tying a hollowed out coconut to a tree, cutting a hole in the shell just the size of the monkey's hand, and placing a banana as bait inside the coconut. When a monkey comes along and and reaches inside to grab the banana, suddenly the monkey is stuck. No matter how it struggles it finds itself caught, when all it would have to do is to let go of the banana to free itself. As the title of his article suggests, one step toward
greater well-being is to learn how to "just let go."
Brooks suggests that much of our attachment to what he calls our political consumption is like this. He adds that too often we tend to consume political news and commentary in "a compulsive, concupiscent sort of way, voluntarily subjecting ourselves to gratuitous information and stimuli, particularly on social media." Since it follows that intermittent reinforcement is the most difficult to extinguish, he suggests that intentionally reading the news once a day rather than impulsively and repeatedly clicking on social media posts can offer an antidote.
Another antidote, of course, is to become more active in terms of seeking political solutions, in other words, taking action so politics is no longer causing you to live in the throws of an external locus of control. In terms of not taking action, Martin Seligman actually defined one of the root causes of depression as related to feelings of "learned helplessness." Fortunately, there are vibrant movements afoot in our country which educate and encourage individuals who are eager to undertake constructive means for taking political action and taking a stand.
Brooks' article led me to think about the relationship between taking a stand in one's life and letting go. The challenge of "just letting go" as expressed in the title of Brooks' article led me to think about another, albeit complementary, and potentially energy-enhancing pathway related to "taking action" and "letting go." It is a pathway that a mindful approach to living has the potential to offer. What drew me to this article was Brooks' suggestion that "letting go" might be an antidote to anxiety. Having practiced and taught this skill through MBSR for many years, I knew there was no contradiction between cultivating a mindfulness practice and taking action. Cultivating inner strength, resiliency and creativity are common by-products of practicing mindfulness. One of the ancillary practices that Jon Kabat-Zinn encourages is even something called, "Mountain Meditation." Additionally, as part of the course, I often read aloud a passage about a mountain-climbing adventure Jon took with his son, Will, who was then ten years old (JKZ, Full Catastrophe Living, pp. 422-424). Jon and Will, finding themselves challenged by adverse conditions during a steep mountain climb, and feeling discouraged, sat down where they were to better collect themselves, reflect on the apparent obstacles, and look for a creative solution. It is a lovely tale of father and son honoring their fear, collecting themselves, and discovering a creative solution, one to which their fear had initially blinded them. They were then able to creatively discover a pathway where there seemed to have been none before. For them, taking a stand was actualized through finding a new possibility for how to climb the mountain which rested on the seemingly counter-cultural practice of "letting be" or "letting go." As a matter of fact, on a larger scale, the profound stands taken by Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King revealed that at their best, "letting go" and "taking action" need not be contradictory.
The path toward "letting go" begins with the reminder to "start small." What is simple in conception is actually a skill that needs to be learned like any other skill. As Kabat-Zinn reminds us, "When we were born, no one gave us a user's manual." In relation to this, I like to remind myself that, "the good news is that we can always begin again" and "the bad news is that
we must always begin again." Many students find that committing to a small intentional change in their lifestyle like going to a meditation cushion first thing in the morning or eating one meal a day mindfully, is a way of committing to a practice of "letting go" which offers an opportunity for creative renewal.
Although the steps are small and entirely manageable, the results are often profound. One of my favorite stories is of a student who went on a trip to St. Maarten half way through the class. When she came back, she said the experience had been transformative. She shared that she had been making the trip with her family for years, but this time she experienced St. Maarten as if she was truly there for the first time and that all of her senses seemed to have become awakened. In our most recent class, after I told her story, a couple made a trip to Cuba and generously sent me a post-card that read, "Having a wonderful time. Wish we were here." It brought a big grin to my face.
In terms of getting grounded in, and opening to one's life, an art historian and music teacher, after practicing mindfulness for a few weeks, commented in our most recent class that a mindful approach to living had some very unexpected and tangible benefits. She said that practicing mindfulness had helped her realize that she had become entrained to the automatic rhythms of her life. Now while walking through her neighborhood, she suddenly found herself noticing details of homes that she had just been passing by for many years. She also described an exquisite experience of holding a bar of Dove soap in her hand (something that she had been doing for 20 years) and suddenly receiving a new impression of it's shape, softness, whiteness and foaming bubbles in her hand, as if for the first time.
During that same recent class, the challenge to being grounded while living in the electronic age arose. Several students shared that they tended to become glued to their cell phones from the moment they got out of bed each morning. During that discussion, I noticed a psychiatrist, a very caring and responsive physician, who has a busy clinical practice, deeply attending to everything that had been said. After class, he came up to tell me that the next morning he was not going to allow himself to turn on his cell phone until after he had completed his meditative practice. That reminded me of my own similar struggle. For most of my life, I have sat on my meditation cushions first thing in the morning. Since teaching mindfulness and having so many people reaching out to us online, I have noticed a pull to stop at the computer on the way to my cushions. For me that is a slippery slope.
Related to the deleterious effects of surrendering to an external locus of control, a number of people spoke about how the news cycle had begun to become so compelling that several members of our class found themselves repeatedly checking the news. It had become a slippery slope for them and it took an effort of disciplined, renewed intention for them to return to becoming more focused on making their sitting meditation the first
business of the day and allotting a specific time to turning toward the news later in the day.
As the conversation in that class deepened regarding reclaiming the students' centrality in their own lives, one class member offered the following: "Mindfulness is about opening to the landscape of my inner life and the world before me." By cultivating a connection with oneself, we can increase our potential for living more in accord with an internal locus of control as well as in greater harmony with others. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes the Tibetan pathway to mindfulness as "developing intimacy with one's own mind" and he is careful to point out that the Chinese word for mind is the same as their word for heart, and that the foundation for both lies in the body. He also points out that although the Tibetans write about effortless mindfulness, those of us who practice it know it takes resolve. By being able to attend to the gift and power of being alive in each moment our presence has the potential to become a beneficent influence for others as well as ourselves. This is the kind of action that even has the potential to repair the world. As the native Americans believe, perhaps we were indeed put here to be maintainers of the planet. Perhaps the urgency created by the times in which we are living are even a gift in disguise.
Diane Handlin, Ph.D.
NJ Lic. #3306
|Diane Handlin, Ph.D.
|Jim Handlin, Ed.D.
The best time is late afternoon when the sun strobes
columns of trees
as you are hiking up,
and when you find an agreeable rock to sit on,
you will be able to see the light pouring down into the woods and breaking into the shapes and tones of things and you will hear nothing
but a sprig of birdsong
or the leafy falling of a cone
or nut through the trees,
and if this is your day
you might even spot a hare
or feel the wing-beats of geese driving overhead
toward some destination.
But it is hard to speak of these things how the voices of light enter the body
and begin to recite their stories....
~ Billy Collins ~
(The Art of Drowning)
A sugar bear
on the refrigerator
used to keep track
of the late night piracies
and the early morning snacks
until piece by piece
~ Jim Handlin ~
...May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of
light be yours,
may the fluency of the
ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
~ John O'Donohue ~
(Echoes of Memory)
The Living Moment
There is a stillness at dawn
asking for me
I hear the note not played
I see the line not written
I understand the word not spoken
I am in stillness
I am the Living Moment
~ Cliff Woodward ~
Worthy of Note
Mindfulness and Education
at Newark Academy in the Fall of 2015 (for further information on Jim Handlin's college guidance work, visit www.strategiccollegeplacement.com)
Nobel prize-winner Elizabeth Blackburn and researcher Elissa Epel
who have demonstrated how the telomeres at the end of chromosomes have the capacity to lengthen as a result of lifestyle changes and the development of stress reduction skills, resulting in enhanced health and increased longevity.
Additional valuable interviews
from 60 Minutes Overtime
"A Necessary and Vital Moment,"
Jon Kabat-Zinn's Science of Mindfulness,
Opening to Our Lives:
Healing from Within
from the series
Healing and the Mind
Selected past issues of The Living Moment
"A human being is part of the whole, called by us "Universe," a part limited
in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest -- a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison, by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation, and a foundation for inner security."
- Albert Einstein, responding to a Rabbi who had written him seeking advice for how to explain the death of his daughter, a sinless, beautiful sixteen-year-old girl, to her older sister, as quoted in Jon Kabat-Zinn's "Coming to Our Senses"
As always, so much gratitude goes to Dave Kapferer, our steadfast Technical Artistic Director who jumped on board after appearing in our life when we needed him most, and graces this newsletter with his best attention and to Triston Handlin, our Technical Project Manager, without whose deep caring it would not be possible for us to share this newsletter and so much else with you.
"As to the value of the course, I would note that the group workshop designed to work through Jon Kabat-Zinn's curriculum is very effective. The workshop / course added a great deal of depth and opened my mind to a different way of looking at things and fostered exploration. When mindfullly present, time seems to expand for me. I relax, freed from thinking about the next place I have to be or the next thing I have to do ... I have discovered that if I hold off, I usually do not act along the lines of my first reaction. I've realized that I almost always have time not to act immediately. I've also rediscovered my happy me, what I remember from soooo long ago ..., and that is really wonderful." - Jane Dobson, Corporate attorney
We lost a very special poet this year, Derek Walcott, a Nobel Prize winner from the Caribbean, whose poem, "Love after Love" has always been a signature poem in our course, and so we close by honoring his memory with one of his poems:
Let the day grow on you upward
through your feet,
the vegetal knuckles,
to your knees of stone,
until by evening you are a black tree;
feel, with evening,
the swifts thicken your hair,
the new moon rising out of your forehead,
and the moonlit veins of silver
running from your armpits
like rivulets under white leaves.
Sleep, as ants
cross over your eyelids.
You have never possessed anything
as deeply as this.
This is all you have owned
from the first outcry
you can never be dispossessed.
~ Derek Walcott ~
IMPORTANT NOTICE: Although Dr. Handlin is a licensed psychologist and has a separate psychology practice, please note that this is an educational course and not psychotherapy. In addition, information contained in this document is informational and not to be construed as medical advice. If you suspect you have medical issues, please pursue appropriate treatment. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is a separate educational course for those interested in developing mind-body connections. MBSR is a non-psychological service offered apart from Dr. Handlin's psychology practice and is not meant to substitute for personal or professional psychological advice which must be received from a licensed mental health professional.
NJ Lic. #3306
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Center of New Jersey™
328 Amboy Ave, Metuchen NJ 08840
Tel: 732-549-9100, www.mindfulnessnj.com