It can probably be said that we are all guilty of taking life for granted, yet in his new book, Emotional Well-Being: Embracing The Gift of Life, Dr. Neil Kobrin makes the convincing case that when we embrace the present moment, not just will we appreciate our lives more, we can truly transform them.
Kobrin, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of the Academy of Mindful Psychology, weaves Buddhist teachings, Zen philosophy, case studies and compelling research to explore our many emotional roadblocks to happiness, and gives practical advice and exercises to cultivate a more fulfilled, mindful, and meaningful life.
Kobrin begins by first underscoring the impermanence of life, explaining that many psychological theories assert that the fear of death is the cornerstone of all anxiety. And yet it is only when we accept this impermanence that we can free ourselves to create the life we desire.
Accepting impermanence, Kobrin explains, begins with changing our perspective, and most important, becoming more mindful. “Mindfulness allows us to appropriately disengage from our thoughts and feelings by allowing us to recognize that ‘thoughts are just thoughts’ and ‘feelings are just feelings’,” Kobrin writes. Through nonattachment we can also separate our thoughts from the reactivity that they generate and become more aware of constructs that influence our lives. One such construct is that of marriage, a social institution which Kobrin encourages us to explore more deeply: “I find it humorous that just before this definition [of social institution] appears, we find this description: ‘Institution, a public or private place for the care or confinement of inmates, esp. mental patients.’”
However, it is through the context in which we view constructs that they affect us. To become more aware of our worldview, Kobrin offers the following mindfulness exercise: close your eyes, shift your awareness to your worldview, just sit with it, and then imagine how your worldview affects the way your perceive things and how a small shift might change the way you experience the world. How we perceive the world, and particularly others in the world, Kobrin suggests, is also influenced by our experience of emotions, and whether we operate from a place of scarcity or abundance. “Emotional abundance is what enables us to be giving. It is an emotionally expansive experience and allows us to feel good about ourselves and the world around us,” Kobrin writes.
Exploring our intentions and life expectations more deeply also uncovers our unmet expectations, which Kobrin contends may hold an important key for those struggling with depression: “One factor that I have consistently observed in my depressed clients is a sense of significant disappointment in life as a result of unfulfilled life expectations.” Important in happiness, however, is not just readjusting life expectations, but learning to delay gratification, as it is particularly linked to both long term success and happiness.
How we build a solid emotional foundation, Kobrin stresses, is through developing an empathic connection with another person in which we learn to love ourselves and carry forward a feeling of self-confidence. Without recognizing and overcoming the ways in which we maintain a limiting view of ourselves, we are at risk of developing a sense of dependency that causes us to rely on someone or something else to have our needs met. Emotional dependency particularly impacts the ways we enter relationships. “The less emotionally dependent we are, the more of ourselves we can actually bring into the relationship,” Kobrin writes.
Using the example of breaking a horse, Kobrin describes our task of learning to cultivate internal validation, self-regulate our emotions, and use them effectively, much like we would gain control over a young horse without extinguishing its spirit. By becoming more mindful of our emotions — especially anger — we can also learn to develop an attitude of nonattachment that will help us be less reactive in our responses.
The more we can learn to let go and embrace the impermanence of life, the more open we are to recognize our true nature. An exercise Kobrin suggests is to take a deep breath and ask ourselves who we really are, repeating this process for ten minutes while noticing how our responses may change. When we can move through the egoist self that often obscures our true nature, Kobrin tells us, we can recognize a nature that is expansive and boundless, but also bestowed with loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity — all the virtues that counteract our negative emotions.
Emotional Well-Being: Embracing The Gift of Life
Morgan James Publishing, May 2012
Paperback, 246 pages