JENNY R. SUSSER, PH.D.

POWER & PERFORMANCE SPORT PSYCHOLOGY SERVICES

How to start a meditation practice

Posted by on May 31, 2019

If only it really looked like this! There are a thousand roads to Rome and perhaps as many ways to think about meditation. After last week’s writing, people have reached out about how to meditate and so here are my thoughts about it. My advice would be to read this and then to figure out how to apply this to your life in a way that works for you. Meditation is personal so design your practice for you, personally. Make it fit you, your schedule, your life, and your goals. The bottom line is there is no right or wrong way to meditate. Okay, sitting at a bar, drinking and laughing with friends doesn’t really qualify as meditative time, but you know what I mean. Practice. Why do they call it a meditation practice? I’m not really sure the origins of the term so here is how I think about it. You want to improve and to do that, you have to practice. I remember when I was swimming in college and somehow, we all started calling our swimming sessions “workouts.” It made sense, we were working out after all, but the coach did not like what it communicated to our minds. She insisted we call it “practice” because that is what we were doing, we were practicing being great. I remember thinking it was a silly distinction but ultimately, it was not. Words are powerful and changing those words made me feel differently about swim practice. So, it is your meditation practice and it always will be. Practice saying it is your meditation practice and before you know it, that will feel comfortable and powerful. Comfort. One of my favorite meditation teachers, Davidji, always starts each meditation asking you to find a comfortable place to be and then says, “Comfort is Queen.” I love that. There is no reason to suffer so be comfortable. Sit, lay down, stand, it doesn’t matter, as long as your spine is straight. I have a bad knee that has so much scar tissue, it doesn’t bend all the way, preventing me from sitting cross-legged. Even in my younger years I couldn’t sit lotus because I just don’t have the flexibility in my joints. Go figure. So, I will sit in a chair sometimes, but mostly, I meditate laying down. It can take a minute or so to get comfortable so allow for...

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Surviving grief…with meditation

Posted by on May 24, 2019

Mindfulness Meditation When I sat down to write this, my idea was more educational than anything. My experience in twenty-five years of meditation off and on combined with the scientific data and research should be enough to convince you to give it a try. But something happened as I typed and came from a place of teaching (boring), the story just started to seep out. See, last summer was a doozy for me. I had three major events happen in a month and I truly believe that my meditation practice kept me from losing my shit. This is not so easy to talk or write about, and I suspect it is not so easy to read either. It is important though and gives permission to transcend the surface yuck making way for the real stuff beneath. Grab a cup of something and settle in… Let’s just be honest, meditation is a weird word. Just about everyone you talk to will have a different definition, description, and way of thinking about meditation. For most, the image of a Yogi clothed in robes and a shaved head sitting on a serene mountain top is not far from their perception. Some see a cross-legged person, sitting in front of an alter with incense burning. Some collapse it with yoga, some with religion, some with mysticism. What is your view, definition, or thinking about it? Is it positive, negative, full of myth and mystery? Do you figure it is not for you? The most common reaction to the question of whether or not you meditate is, “I tried and I’m just not good at it.” I have been meditating off and on for about twenty-five years. I started because I had to, well, sort of. As part of a body work and massage course, learning how to increase your “hara” or center of gravity, was taught through mandatory Zazen meditation. Not yet thirty years old, sitting for forty-five minutes each day was a task frequently full of dread instead of a training ground for the mind, body, and spirit. I do remember the impact sitting had on my personal energy or how powerful I felt in certain moments, but it was tough and when I stopped doing massage, I stopped sitting. Cut to a profound course in graduate school and a book called “Full Catastrophe Living,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn, where meditation and mindfulness...

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I’m at the end of my rope…

Posted by on May 17, 2019

Taped to the front of the gray metal desk of my seventh-grade teacher, there was a poster of a kitten (why is it always a kitten?) swinging on a rope with the words, “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” At the time and at that age, it was just an awkward picture of a cute kitten hanging on a rope. Chances are, you saw a similar poster somewhere in your past, maybe even on your wall. That was our version of viral back then, but the difference was we looked at the same thing every day. I remember staring at that poster endlessly as my mind wandered off somewhere far from whatever my teacher was talking about. The end of the rope is not a place or feeling a seventh grader should encounter, ever, and it certainly wasn’t for me then. Vague recollections of my mother with one hand on her forehead and the other on her hip mumbling in distress about the end of her rope would trigger an instant recall of the helpless kitten. It would be more like the memory match game where you try to pair the same hidden icons than a real emotion until much later in life… One of my best friends is at the end of her rope. “Ann” (not her real name, of course) is awesome, just plain awesome. She is kind, generous, smart, and funny, so funny that we often find ourselves wiping tears and clutching our aching stomachs from laughter. She has had one of the more difficult years anyone could imagine. At the beginning of last year, before the winter had surrendered to a New England spring, she was walking her horse and preparing to get on him to ride. A nasty gust of wind spooked him and the simultaneously powerful reaction of flight for him paired with her innate reaction to hold on, broke her arm and dislocated her shoulder. The break was a significant displacement, one requiring a reconstructive kind of surgery with plates and screws, and months and months of recovery and rehabilitation. Painful barely begins to describe it. She survived the long weeks before surgery and the even longer months following, filled with rehab and ice, lots of ice. Just as she began to see the light at the end of the tunnel, another speeding...

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You should see a doctor for that…

Posted by on May 10, 2019

Have you ever heard or even said that sentence? Regardless of which side of that suggestion you were on, I bet it wasn’t for a mental or emotional problem. Can you imagine? Perhaps someday…a psychologist can dream, can’t she? Either way, seeking help for mental, emotional, and psychological problems is gaining acceptance and the stigma is slowly decreasing. Over the past few years, several prominent or famous people have “come out” about their mental health, paving the way for others: Michael Phelps, Kevin Love, Demi Lovato, Chrissy Teigen, Prince Harry, Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, Cara Delevingne, and Kendrick Lamar, to name a few. Major corporations are helping to remove the mental health stigma of seeking help by not only making it a priority, but “normalizing” mental health conversations. In 2009, Fast Company published an article about companies hiring a Chief Wellbeing Officer, which is really starting to get some traction now, a decade later. Besides the barrier of social stigma, how to find the right mental health professional stands in the way for many people who are ready to get help. As a Psychologist, here is my advice for how to find the right fit for you and your needs. Types of Mental Health Professionals: Psychiatrist: Technically a Medical Doctor with an M.D. or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathy) behind their name. Psychiatrists can do therapy but are more likely to manage medicines for a patient (some do therapy but not all). If you are taking or it is suggested that you take a psychotherapeutic drug, for example SSRI’s such as Prozac, Zoloft, or Lexapro, having a Psychiatrist manage this medicine is better than your “regular” doctor because they are specifically trained for this, have much more experience with interactions and side effects, and typically have a wider range of medicines because of their training. Psychologist: They are licensed by state and have a doctoral degree, such as Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D. Clinical Psychologists provide short-and long-term care, some do psychological testing and interpretation, and can bill insurance (some even take Medicare or Medicaid). Most will have a specialty, or area where they have the most training and experience. Research Psychologists primarily do research (duh) or collect data to further our ability to treat in new ways. Therapist: A counselor or therapist that is licensed and they hold a Master’s Degree (M.A.). Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Mental Health Counselor,...

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The Least Common Denominator

Posted by on May 4, 2019

Can we close the gap? I’m going to tell you a story and I promise you will not like it. You won’t like one or more of the characters and you for sure won’t like what I have to say about it. I guess I can’t be sure (funny sentence no matter how accurate) but I thought you would want to be prepared. And, as always, I ask you to put on your thinking, contemplating, and wait-before-reacting cap because using your usual template for how you think about these kinds of situations will result in your usual “solution” or reaction. I am interested in shifting the paradigm here because I know there is a better way to do this problem. I have had the privilege of treating one particular patient for over a decade. She is a marvel in progress and one of the kindest, purest souls you will ever meet. Her integrity and moral compass surpass those of any other person I have ever known. She is loyal like her dogs whom she loves with all of her heart and soul. If I needed a kidney, she would be first in line to see if she were a match. Actually, she would be first in line for anyone who needed something because it is woven into her DNA to care for others. Her blessing and curse, of course. All these years of working together allow for some latitude in our relationship—from both sides. This is a story about something happening in her family that has the potential to ruin lives. So, as you read, know that the facts are fourth generation by the time they get to you, and you know how the game telephone works. As hard as it is to believe that a simple sentence can’t make it around a dinner table intact, it can’t. “Derek asked Ashley to the prom” will end up “Ashley is having Derek’s brother’s baby” in ten short steps. With that in mind, let’s dive in.  The cast of characters: Let’s call my patient Lydia. She is in her mid-sixties, retired, married for over thirty years, and no children. Smart, educated, East Coast dweller, civic-minded, and a weekend warrior athlete all of her life because she was pre-Title IX. She has a sister who lives in the middle of the country, making visits periodic at best. Her sister has children and her...

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