Be Like Fred

by Donna Torney on December 2, 2016 · 0 comments

imagesIn Dickens’ timeless Christmas Carol we meet Ebenezer Scrooge, a joyless bachelor who just can’t seem to muster one drop of generosity for any being on earth, not even his amiable nephew, Fred.  In spite of Ebenezer’s outright hostile response to his nephew’s invitation to Christmas dinner, Fred remains steadfast in his kindness toward his uncle.

Let’s all try to be more like Fred.

May we all embody the spirit of Fred this Christmas and find the open-heartedness to respond (not react) to ill will,  prejudice, and self-centeredness with empathy, equanimity, and joy.  May we remember the sufferings, even those of the insufferable and grumpy, the narcissistic and greedy, and model compassion, believing in the miraculous fact of our mirror neurons, and their ability to change the mood of those with whom we interact.  In other words, please remember that meanness and kindness are both contagious.

Scrooge’s nephew obviously knew a thing or two about the power of even-mindedness.  By practicing empathy, or at least keeping our own Scrooginess in check, we are more apt to experience positive emotions.  Over time the increase in positive mood-states can soften any tendencies we have to be harsh.  These tendencies are detrimental to our own well-being and to the well-being of others who witness our Scrooginess.

So for your own sake as well as for the Scrooges in your life, I wish you the ability to be like Fred!

Not a scrooge fan?  Check out another Fred we love:

Happy holidays!  We wish you twenty minutes of mindfulness every day this year!

Still struggling with Scrooginess?  Contact us.



Coping with the Holidays in Recovery

by Donna Torney on November 23, 2016 · 0 comments

Thanks to Constance Ray from Recovery Well for this informative guest post!

4 Tips for Keeping the Holidays Civil to Beat Stress

The holiday season is a time for celebration, fun, and food. Unfortunately, it is also a time for family members to come together and discuss sensitive issues such as politics, beliefs, religion, and other dangerous conversational territory. It can be hard to enjoy the holidays when you’re stepping on eggshells around argumentative, misinformed, or downright rude family members.


But, they are your family, and sometimes it’s better to take preventative measures than try to force your opinionated uncle to see your point of view. Here are a few tips to help you survive (and hopefully enjoy) the holiday season.

Remember That You Love Your Family

When one of your relatives is being argumentative or condescending, it can be tough to remember that you love them. However, you do need to make an effort to look past your anger or frustration and remember some of the good conversations or activities you have done with them. Bring up one of these memories and derail the negative conversation, transforming it into something positive.

Avoid Criticism

Even if you don’t feel that you’re the problem, you may be guilty of criticizing, being condescending, or broaching a sensitive topic. Criticism is one of the easiest ways to start a family fight. If you have children going on a path you don’t like, hold it in. If you have an uncle voting for an unsavory political candidate, keep your mouth shut.

If your aunt has decided to quit her job and sell jewelry on Etsy, now is not the time to bring it up. Your criticism will have no effect on what your relatives have chosen to do or think. It will only serve to aggravate them and make them defensive, ruining the holiday season for everyone.

Stop Seeking Approval

If you and your family don’t always see eye to eye, they are unlikely to provide you with acceptance and approval for certain things. Abstaining from alcohol, for example, can be very difficult for your family to swallow during the festivities.

Though familial support is preferable, you shouldn’t go out looking for support from a disagreeable relative. It will, in most cases, result in frustration for you, which in turn can cause you to lash out. Seeking approval from disapproving family members is a recipe for stress and frustration.

Keep in Mind That Conflict Resolution Isn’t Your Job

If a disagreement breaks out in spite of your best efforts, it can feel as though you have made a mistake or let your family down. This guilt might not impact your family but it will cause your holidays to be less enjoyable.

Though you should do your part to keep the peace, there are some situations and some family members that cannot be stopped. If you’re doing your best and the family is arguing anyway, you should be satisfied that you did all that you could and that this disagreement is not your fault.

The holidays are supposed to be fun and exciting. You’re supposed to catch up with friends and family and enjoy too much dessert. However, family conflict can turn this wonderful season into a war zone. There are many ways to reduce the likelihood of conflict, and each family is different. However you decide to do it, limiting your part in family disagreements will make you and your family’s holiday season better.

Constance Ray believes together with Recovery Well that battling addiction is a community project. The team would like to inspire people by sharing stories about overcoming addiction.

We wish you twenty minutes of mindfulness every day!


My daughter and I often joke about people (usually men) telling women to “smile more.” We make sarcastic jabs about this slimy suggestion camouflaged as sage advice. It’s our way of trying to laugh off the subtle sexism – of trying to feel tough. I’m not feeling so tough today.

What do we tell our young adult daughters?

Here’s something that my mindfulness practice has taught me: When you most feel like curling up in the fetal position, don’t. The bully wants you isolated, the bully wants you feeling helpless. You are not.  Do the opposite of curling of up, and defending.  Reach out with compassion.  It cuts the fear in half.

This morning I reached out to my dear sister-in-law, someone whose spiritual practice and way of being in the world I deeply admire.

“Anne,” I said, “My poor children…. A pussy-grabber for president.”

You see, there I go again, trying to look smart and unafraid by being sarcastic. Not what you’re average Buddha would do. But I’m just a householder, trying to stay calm, doing the exact wrong thing, and forgetting about mindfulness.

Anne’s response, “Not for long if we can do anything about it. Elizabeth Warren, Michelle Obama.”

“I’ve been thinking about Warren a lot this morning,” I replied.  Anne cut my fear in half.

Inhale, take a longer exhale, repeat a few times.

There’s a subtle, positive internal shift that I must pay attention to “Go to Elizabeth Warren’s website,” I tell myself, “and focus on the grace and compassion of the Obamas, particularly Michelle, on this day.”

Now I know what I can say to my daughter, and it’s something constructive, compassionate if maybe a little vulnerable.  I can tell her to look to the compassionate people with pull (that would make a great website dear twenty-somethings!)  They’re still out there.

The snarky teenager inside me may still show up over the next few weeks.  There will be some eye rolling and some fake smiles – I guess it’s the girl version of locker room talk. But the snarky one needs some guidance from the older, wiser one.

Inhale, longer exhale, repeat a few times.  Take compassionate action.  

Don’t model locker room talk, model compassionate action. Now….what is Elizabeth Warren up to today? What are Michelle’s plans for 2017?

Donna Torney is a mind-body psychotherapist based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the founder of, and author of the upcoming book, Center Points for Emerging Adults:  Finding balance, belonging, focus, and meaning in the digital age.  Contact Donna

We wish you twenty minutes of mindfulness, even today.



Asian Lady Writing Notebook Diary Concept

Plan.  Come back to now.  Plan.  Come back to now.

focus on something pleasant.  One small, likable thing,

Before you once again plan, and again come back to now.

Why bother coming back to now?  Now, full of imperfection, distraction, uncertainty, worry?

Because now is the only place to heal.  The only place.

Plan, remember, come back to now.


We wish you twenty minutes of mindfulness every day!

Having trouble with the here and now?  Try Mindfulness Daily with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield.


Unknown-1Let things be unfinished.  Stop folding the laundry and go to bed.  Leave the dishes and take a walk with a friend.

One of the central tenets of the Japanese art of Wabi Sabi is that nothing is ever finished.    Think about this idea for a second or two….Isn’t that freeing?  It is a great act of kindness toward yourself, and to those you care about, to take a break to be mindful.  Leave it unfinished – walk away and return refreshed.

Try this:  This week leave something half-done.  Take school work, for instance.   Yes, you read that right.  It’s only school work.   Trust me – I work as a psychotherapist in Harvard Square where stress and burn-out are an epidemic.   It’s just homework.  Take a break.  Leave the homework undone for now.  Rest.  Move your body.  Laugh.  The irony is that you will get more done if you take a self-care break and let things be unfinished.  This post is now finished….. or is it?

Yoga flow of the day:  Moon salutation.  Salute the harvest moon and stretch your body in several directions with this version of Chandra Namasakar:


We wish you twenty minutes of mindfulness every day!


Gentle Fall Transition: Day Eight – Change your mind

by Donna Torney on September 14, 2016 · 0 comments

imagesYou have the right to change your mind.

Summer is about to end.  Schedules are filling up.  Did you over-commit yourself?  Did you sign up for a class you don’t like?  Join a committee that is cutting into family time?  Say yes to a second date you aren’t sure about?  You have the right to change your mind.  You don’t even have to explain yourself.  But if you feel like you do, here are some tips:

Try this:

1.  Resist the urge to belittle yourself by saying something like, “I’m sorry but I’m just not good at _____ (fill in the blank).”

2.  Instead, with respect and firm resolve say something like, “I’ve realized I won’t have the time to continue with_____ (fill in the blank).”

3.  If you are getting a negative response, a guilt trip, or peer pressure, take a mindful breath or two, and repeat your response with kind resolve.

If backing out completely is not an option, is there a way you can cut back on your commitment and still feel good about staying involved?

Make sure you are not backing out of something you really want to do because you are afraid you might fail.  If this is the case, talk to someone who has experience in your new endeavor to get some ideas of how to calm your nerves.  It’s normal and human to be nervous when you try something new.

Changing your mind takes a certain amount of assertiveness.  True assertiveness is a stress management skill that shows respect for you as well as others involved in the situation.

Do you have a good story about how your mindfulness practice helped you make a difficult decision?  Please share.

Still having trouble changing your mind?  Contact us.

We wish you twenty minutes of mindfulness every day!


imagesA friend of mine says she makes a habit of surrounding herself with good people.  By “good” she means people who support her,  bring out the best in her, and wish her well, people who in turn appreciate and respect her opinions and friendship.    It seems like a simple idea but when she told me this I was struck by how many times in life I didn’t adopt the same habit.

We could learn a lot from the seasons if we just take the time to be observant.  Each autumn, the trees and other flora and fauna shed what is no longer needed in service of rest, renewal, and to make room for what is to come.

Try this:  Surround yourself with good people

  1. As part of your gentle fall transition, take stalk of the people with whom you spend your time and energy.
  2. Remember  that just like seasons, relationships go through phases.
  3. Is there a relationship you are in that could benefit from a rest?  Perhaps one that requires pruning all together?
  4. Keep compassion in mind as you take stock.  In most cases, there is no need for big pronouncements or hard and fast separation.  (If so, see mindfulness for a broken heart).
  5. Create clarity around what it is you need from your friends and your community.  A daily mindfulness practice can help build this clarity.

Take a look at Mindfulness Daily for more practices that help with clarity and self-compassion.

We wish you twenty minutes of mindfulness every day!


Young woman tourist sit pier looking sunset on the islandNew seasons, new schedules, and too many details can very easily take us out of the here and now and into the unknown “there and someday.”  You know you are there if you are overusing these sentence stems:   “What if I can’t… What if we don’t…. and then what… how will we afford, what if she…????”…   and on and on the monkey mind goes.

Dwelling too much on the future, trying to nail down every detail, is a surefire recipe for stress.  We need to plan, we need to forecast, we need to choose from a number of options, but we don’t have to have it all nailed down today.

Try this – Focus on the middle distance.  We know that mindfulness, present moment awareness combined with self-compassion, is the best option for or nervous system.  If you have been in planning mode too much lately, gently pull yourself back for few moments.  You’ll come back refreshed and better able to make the next big decision.  This exercise works best if you are outside or near a window where you can see at least 50 to 100 yards in front of you, even better if you can see the horizon.

  1.  Close your eyes – 3 cleansing breaths.
  2.  Drop all planning or remembering, knowing that the choices will still be there when you are through with this practice.
  3.  Open your eyes.
  4. Gaze gently in front of you and slowly lift your eyes to the middle distance or the horizon.
  5. Take in what is right in front of you.  It sometimes  helps to label what you see, noticing details.
  6. Keep lengthening  your gaze, keep thoughts on what you can see, gently naming, and reminding yourself that you can take a break from decision-making.

Just as we can adjust the length of our gaze, so too can we adjust the scope of our planning.  We can plan to be friendly just for today, loving just for today, compassionate just for today, joyful just for today.   When the future feels overwhelming, give yourself a break and enjoy the middle distance.

Yoga pose of the day – Eye Palming:  Check out this great set of yoga poses for tired eyes.


We wish you twenty minutes of mindfulness every day!


Active-Brain-Activity2 There’s no way around it.  It’s difficult to be in the present moment if you don’t pay attention to your physical needs – including movement.  You and your child need not be a part of an organized team to enjoy moving your body.

Studies show that physical exercise increases cognitive functioning, including improving memory and attention – and not necessarily the kind of exercise we get by playing a team sport, which may only be available to a certain kind of child.  Worried about your child’s P.E. program?  Take a look at the BOKS program sponsored by Reebok, and the Spark Research-Based PE Program to learn more about getting more physical education in your child’s school.

Try this mindful movement routine with your family:

  • Take advantage of school year weekends to get outside and move.
  • Create family rules around screen time during daylight hours.
  • Model physical exercise without any serious goals – in other words, have fun.  Show your child that you don’t have to be on a varsity sports team to move your body.  Climb a hill, sit on a swing, crawl through a tunnel.
  • Remember that if you take your kids to a park for an hour,  your brain activity will improve too!  Take a look at this image of the brain before and after a twenty-minute walk:

Follow this link for tips to get your middle-schooler moving, stretching and making mindfulness part of everyday life:  Middle school mindfulness

You don’t have to be a teenager to get fidgety.  Shaking out your nervous energy is one of the best ways to calm an anxious mind – and it’s fun.  We may have forgotten that simple fact.  It may take some practice for you to remember fun movement.  But it’s well worth it, for your mental well-being as well as your muscle well-being.

Looking for more instruction to increase the occurrence of pleasant moments in your day? Join Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield in Mindfulness Daily.


We wish you twenty minutes of mindfulness every day!