Learn how to train your mind to be in the present through meditation and mindfulness. In this episode, Certified Divorce Specialist (CDS)™ Jennifer Hurvitz chats with Anne Sussman, a meditation and mindfulness instructor, and the founder of Mindfulness Meeting Place, about what meditation is. Anne reveals how it can help you keep your mindset in the present, improve communication skills, and promote overall health and well-being. She differentiates meditation from your thoughts or daydreaming and teaches you to determine when meditation actually happens. Lastly, Anne shares the secret to having more joy in your life.
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Training Your Mind To Be In The Present With Anne Sussman
Anne Sussman is here with me. She is the Founder of Mindfulness Meeting Place and the author of The Bliss Buddy Project: How Sharing Gratitude Increases Joy. She received her certification through the McLean Meditation Institute as a meditation and mindfulness instructor and mindfulness at work trainer. She teaches individuals, small groups and reaches employees or teachers. She reaches employees and the workforce through her corporate coaching. Anne teaches the life-changing skills of meditation and mindfulness that have been scientifically proven to reduce stress, increase focus, attention and creativity. Improve communication skills and promote overall health and well-being. The simple four steps of the shared gratitude practice that Anne created in The Bliss Buddy Project are a powerful way to shift you into living joyfully, even in the midst of challenging times of life. Passionate about feeding hungry people, Anne donates 10% of her earnings to the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges. Anne, welcome.
I’m honored to be here. It’s exciting.
We both go to Campowerment, which is my happy place.
It’s my happy place too.
How long have you been going to Campowerment?
I’ve been at every single Campowerment retreat that they’ve had.
You’re an expert at camp. If we can explain to everybody, Campowerment, which the CEO and everybody, they’ve been on my podcast. If you’ve ever checked out Tammi Leader and her daughter Chelsea, they’ve been here. Campowerment is an amazing sleepaway camp for adults, for women.
They do custom coed corporate clients as well. They have separate women’s retreats and then they work with businesses to create this custom retreat that can be coed or single-sex. It can be a day or it could be the way the women’s retreats are over multiple days, like sleepaway camp-inspired experience.
That’s where we met. At first, the whole meditation thing freaked me out. It scared me. I was like, “No, I can’t do it.” I’m too hyper. I can never do it. I can’t chill out. I don’t know how to breathe and so I stayed away from you a little bit. I was nervous and I wasn’t sure, and you were like, “Jennifer, come to one of my things.” I’m like, “No, I’m going to hit the other one this time.” I didn’t come and you were cool about that, you never pushed me. The second time I came into one of your classes and I got it. You’re awesome. Tell everybody what your goal is or how you go about this.
My mission in life is to make the world more peaceful one person at a time. My goal is to reach as many people as I can and teach them the skills in a way that they can ingest them, it’s not woo-woo, it’s not freaky, you don’t have to have Buddhas in your house or feathers in your hair. It’s like learning a new language, meditation and mindfulness. The example I like to give is if you want to learn French, you go to a French class and the teacher says, “Go home, listen to your tapes for fifteen minutes every day and come back to class.” You do that, you’re listening to your homework, you’re listening to the tapes and you’re sitting listening to French. You go back to class, the teacher asks you a question in French, you translate it in your mind into English, translate it back into French and speak. Lo and behold, within a few weeks or a month or two, when the teacher asks you a question in French, you answer in French.
How did you do that? You created new neural pathways in your brain, to create fluency in French. That’s what you’re doing in meditation. You’re sitting in meditation, let’s say 15, 20 minutes a day, like those tapes and you’re doing it every day. Over time, you lay down new neural pathways in your brain to create fluency in mindfulness so that you start to walk through the world in a way that’s different in a way that’s calmer, more present and more peaceful. There’s nothing esoteric about it, its brain training. You don’t have to live in an ashram.
People often think that they don’t want to learn to meditate because they’re going to lose their edge. I don’t want to lose my edge. I want to be chill, but the way it works in your brain, it increases focus and attention. That’s the parts of the brain that it works on. It’s great for creativity, it’s great to be on top of whatever you’re doing and you don’t lose your edge, you become the best version of yourself. You get to quiet some of that repetitive mind chatter and show up for your life in a way that’s present and attentive. It gives you the ability to be who you want to be at your core, who you’re meant to be at your core, and not who you think everybody else thinks you should be.
I always thought I could never clear my head enough to breathe, but then you taught us that you don’t have to and that’s okay. You don’t have to clear your head and that’s just coming back to your breath which I always love.The biggest misconception of meditation is that you have to clear your mind. You're actually never going to clear your mind. Click To Tweet
It’s the biggest misconception of meditation that you have to clear your mind but you’re actually never going to clear your mind. Monks in a monastery who meditate twelve hours a day with no distractions, who live on top of mountain talk about having a monkey mind and that’s the image that they have of the monkey jumping from vine to vine. That’s the way our thoughts are, our mind is going from thought to thought, like the monkeys on the vine. If the monks coined the term monkey mind then us mere mortals, we’re definitely going to have that. We’re never going to clear our minds. It’s not what you’re supposed to do in meditation. If you want to notice what has captured your attention and then shift your attention back to your focus, whether your focus is breath where we started it. Some people use a mantra, which is a word or a few syllables that they repeat or some sound.
There are lots of different focuses for your attention, but what you don’t want to do is stay in your thoughts. You can’t stay in your thoughts. If you stay in your thoughts, you’re daydreaming. There’s nothing wrong with daydreaming, that’s not meditation. Meditation happens in the choice point. In the moment you notice that your attention has wandered to thought and you make a choice to shift your attention back and find the breath, that’s when the magic happens. The reason that you’re doing that, the reason that you’re noticing you’re lost in thought, shifting back to breathe, noticing you’re lost in thought, shifting back to breathe. You’re doing that for the time that you are seated, in your formal seated practice of your meditation. When you’re walking around in the world and you notice quickly when you’re spinning in all of that mind chatter. When you’re worried about something that may never ever happen in the future or you’re dwelling on something in the past, you can catch yourself quite quickly and say, “I’m spinning in my thoughts. I’m not present here in this conversation I’m having with Jen,” or with someone that you care about or paying attention when you’re driving. It’s like when you’re driving somewhere and you’re like, “How did I get here?”
I’m like, “I went the wrong way.” You’re thinking about something else.
What it does is, it allows you to continually notice when you’re spinning in thought and bringing your attention back again and again to the present moment, because you’re training your attention to.
Many of us and I know that I do this, spin out a lot. My anxiety is why I’m always spinning out. This breathing is coming back to my breath, I noticed myself spinning out and I said, “Come back to my breath,” and I’ve been doing that. I can notice I’m having a thought that I know is a junk thought. It’s not supposed to be. I come back to my breath and I center myself and I’m like, “There you go. This is working.” I taught my kids since I’ve been home from campus last time. I’ve sat down with my boys and they’re teenagers and I never thought that I could ever get them to, I’m like, “It’s about if you have that junk thought. You’re thinking about college or you’re thinking about an exam that’s coming up and it’s stressing you, bring it back to here and let’s breathe for a couple of minutes.” They’re like, “No.” I’m like, “Trust me.” It works for them.
The truth is, if you think about the thoughts in your head, most of them are either about the past. “What I didn’t do, what I could have done, why did I do that differently? Why did that happen to me? Why did I say this when she said that?” That’s the past, if we dwell there, that can lead to depression. You have to change the past. It doesn’t exist anymore. We can make amends. We can learn from it. We can try and do better the next time, but the past is gone. Where I was most of the time because I suffered from terrible, pervasive anxiety, I was always in the future. What if that happens? I would have conversations in my head with someone and I don’t know if they’re going to stay. If you stay in the future, then that leads to anxiety. If you live in the past, it causes depression. If you live in the future, it causes anxiety.
The truth is, and this is the hokey part of meditation, you can’t have a thought about the present moment, you can only have an experience of it through your senses. What’s happening at this moment? What am I seeing, feeling, tasting, touching and hearing? Once you’re thinking about it, it’s already passed. If you’re spending time in the past or the future, you’re missing your life, because right now, here and now in the present moment, that’s all we have. That’s the hokey part, people are like, “Be here now.” The truth is, you’ve never done anything that hasn’t been in the now, because yesterday, it was now then, and tomorrow, it will be now then. It’s everything you’ve ever done or ever will do, we’ll only ever be in the now.
The more that you can be present in your life, at that moment that you’re living, the richer and fuller experience you have. When you’re in your breath, when you’re in your senses, you can’t be in those thoughts. That’s why taking that breath brings you back to the present moment to feeling your feet on the ground. I often say to myself and I have a friend, Pam Robertson, who taught me this one and I love to give her credit for it. She always says, “Where are my feet?” I love that because I teach that all the time. It’s the same way I always say, “Connect to your senses, connect to your breath, connect to your body,” but asking yourself that question, “Where are my feet?” Feel your feet on the ground, know where you are and not waste that moment.
Why do you think it’s so hard for us? Is it a female thing, is it our gender? Why is it difficult for us to live in the moment? Even when I’m in seminars or workshops with other women and we go around and we say, “What do we want to work on?” Many of us say, “Be in the moment, to live in the present.” Why do you feel like that? Is that a crazy question?
I don’t think it’s a crazy question. It comes from a lot of different reasons. One is, I don’t think we’re taught it from the time that we’re young or if we were, we forget it. I don’t think it’s cultural. We are distracted that it’s hard to be present. We have so much on our plates. We have now, the constant bombardment of the phone, the internet, the emails, the television and the news. We’re distracted and we allow ourselves to be distracted. I often tell my students, “Take all the alerts off your phone.” You should not be getting banners of news every time a Facebook message comes, you’ll get an alert.
Make a choice about when you want to check back and look at your Facebook. All the alerts, all those bells, there’s a lot of science and research that’s coming out now about how addictive we’re getting those dopamine hits every time. That’s why these kids, every time they get a Snapchat, every time they get a ding and a ping, we’re responding to that and it’s almost like rats in the cage with the sensory stimulation. It’s not good for our brains and it’s particularly not good for young developing brains. It’s hard because we’re distracted, our lives are incredibly false.
We need to look at how we’re living and decide, “Is this serving me well?” We don’t know what we don’t know. When you’re introduced to the idea of, “Maybe I could turn this off or turn off the news.” I talk a lot about what are you ingesting? Not just are you eating healthy? Are you doing good things? What are you putting in? How much news and how much information are you ingesting? Is it good for you? Probably, it’s not. The thing is, I’m turning 60. I remember growing up in the time of the Vietnam War. There were only seven channels on the TV and there was nightly news with Huntley-Brinkley or Walter Cronkite at 7:00 PM. We saw the news and we heard about the horrific things that were happening during the war and whatever else was happening. It was 1968 and there were assassinations, there were riots, there were civil rights. It was a tumultuous time to be growing up.
We would see the news at 7:00 and then that was it, until the next morning if the newspaper came and you had 24 hours to recover. Now, what happens with all this information? There are all these stations. There’s 24-hour news crawls on every station and all we’re hearing is the opinion of that person. The news happens once in a split second. They report it and then what we’re hearing all day long is the same thing. There was a study done a few years back that said, “Crime in New York City is down, but reporting of crime is up.” Even though we’re safer, we’re feeling less safe, because we’re listening to the reporting. It’s important to turn off a lot of this stuff. Silence is powerful for our dreams.
Being In The Present: Over time, in meditation, you lay down new neural pathways in your brain to create fluency in mindfulness. You start to walk through the world in a way that’s different, in a way that’s calmer, more present, and more peaceful.
You do silent retreats, don’t you?
I do. The longest I did was a seven-day silent retreat.
I don’t know if I could go for five minutes, I’m impressed.
I also offer silent days, from 10:30 to 5:30 for my students, so they could start to taste and experience the richness and the nourishing experience of being in silence. It’s incredible. When you do that, it’s then easier to start to notice in your life when you’re being bombarded, how much of that crap you’re ingesting and making choices about it thoughtfully and mindfully to say, “I don’t need all these alert, ding, rings or whatever. I don’t need to watch 24-hour news. I can get my news once.”
I don’t have alerts on my phone. I shut them off, I don’t even get them. I make a choice when I want to look at Facebook or when I want to go to Instagram. I can’t stand the alerts. They make me nervous and I find that I get my shoulders go up and I get stressed out. My kids too, they don’t get alerts. I can’t take it, it’s so much for me anyway, the stimulus. Tell me about The Bliss Buddy Project. I want to talk about that.
I believe that gratitude is the foundation for joy. If you want to have more joy in your life, it has to begin with being grateful for what you already have so I created this camp. I did a circle a number of years ago and I asked people to pair up after the circle and share with someone what are the things that you’re grateful for each day. It could be something small. I’m grateful for my family. I’m grateful for my health. All these big things and then people have to journal about them and it’s hard to think of what am I grateful for? They get all stressed out about it. This is not that. This is about noticing tiny small moments.
The example I gave in the book is, Starbucks got my name right. I’m talking little things that make you smile. It’s like a burst of joy. Happiness is measured over time, joy is measured in a moment and it’s spontaneous. That’s what you’re looking for, you’re on the lookout for something small that makes you smile and shifts your energy even in the midst of a crappy day. If all you can be grateful for is that you put your head on a soft pillow at the end of the night and you made it through, that can be your bliss moment. I have an acronym in the book to follow and you find a buddy and you share with them and they share with you a small moment from your day, it could be an email or a text. When you know you have to share something that you’re grateful for and they’re going to share for you, now you’re on the lookout.
I have two bliss buddies and I still talk to them.
Here’s something that my teacher Sarah McLean taught me. She is brilliant and I love her. She talks about the power of attention and she says, “Attention is like love.” Where you put your attention, it grows. If you water a plant and you give it some miracle grow and you talk nicely to it, that plant is going to grow and you’re loving on it, and giving it your attention. We have a finite attention bank. Attention is a currency, we say often, “I want to pay attention. I want to spend my time wisely.” It’s a currency, and it’s not an unlimited currency, we have a limited attention bank, where you pay attention matters. What meditation does is it trains your attention to be focused on one thing at a time, in the present moment, and then to have the ability to focus inward. To connect to that deeper part of you, the part of you that is your soul, that inner GPS that knows everything you need to know first. That attention you’re giving either to another person, to your activities and to yourself, that’s valuable. Where we pay attention matters.
Every time I think about this stuff, I think about my kids. I feel like maybe I’m not doing enough for them, I’m not giving enough attention to them. This is such good information. You’re so full of knowledge, I’m thinking about these little thought nuggets that I want to share with my followers.
If they want to know what’s in the book, it’s on Amazon. It’s called The Bliss Buddy Project. If they can’t seem to find a bliss buddy in their life, it’s great. You can find a friend, a coworker, it could be a sibling. I know someone who does it with their mom and it’s reconnected them. You do it for a minimum of 30 days. I’ve had my bliss buddy for years already and we’re still in touch. We can start out, but you want to make a commitment for at least 30 days so that it becomes a habit and then you decide afterward, do you want to keep going?
Janet and I probably did it for 60 days, we did two rounds and we wanted to still be in touch, but we didn’t want to be beholden to every day. We communicate probably, once, twice, three times a week. We go maybe two weeks without it and then we’re back to it again. We’ve only met in person three times at camp. She lives in Houston and I live in New Jersey, but she’s on my mind all the time. I sent her my bliss moment because I was at the funeral of a friend’s parent. We’re at that age where our friends are losing their parents, it was sad, and I walked around the city a little bit afterward.
I was walking in Central Park and the cherry blossoms were in bloom, I stumbled into a local community tulip garden. I sent her pictures and I said, “It’s a crappy day because I went to the funeral, but here are these flowers and life is rich and beautiful.” That’s the key, that’s the practice because the dark times are coming. They’re here, that’s part of this experience. That’s part of what we’re doing here on this planet. We’re living this life so we can evolve, grow and learn something, and our spirit wants to grow. In order to do that, we need to have pain. Pain is inevitable, everyone suffers from pain. Everyone has pain, suffering is a choice. Suffering comes from the stories we tell ourselves about the pain. If you can, even on the days that it’s hard, notice something small that you’re grateful for. We walk into our houses, we can flip a switch and get light. If you can think of anything, scale it down. I’m grateful for my electricity. Once you do that, what’s amazing is you start to notice that your life becomes more joyful.Gratitude is the foundation for joy, and if you want to have more joy in your life, it has to begin with being grateful for what you already have. Click To Tweet
Even when I’m having the worst day, at the end of the day, I have to find something. I reached out to Katie and she’s like, “My boys played baseball and I loved watching.” I’m like, “I had the worst day ever. Find something Jen.” Then I’m like, “Wait a minute.” I find it and I’m like, “It wasn’t so bad after all.” I get to talk to Katie and I get to tell her what I did and it’s not so bad, even though I have a crappy day.
If you can write it down at the moment that it’s happening, that’s the key. When you notice something, rather than having to go back and think of that. Even if you wrote it down in a text to yourself, wrote it down in a post-it note and then share it at the end of the day. If you do it at the moment when you write something down, and that’s one of the four steps, to write it down. When you write it down, either in a text or a post-it, in an email, right when it’s happening, we have a visual memory and we save it in our brain in a different place than we do in auditory memory.
If someone says to you, “Here’s my phone number, call me 672-534,” you’re like, “I’ve got to write this down.” You have to write it down because we remember things we write down. While that special moment is happening, while that quick moment of joy is happening, if you stop and take a breath and get present. You write it down at that moment, it’s easier for it to become integrated and then you won’t have to think hard at the end of the day like, “What was it that happened? I can’t remember.” You will have noticed and remembered it more because you’re writing it down as it’s happening.
This is my bliss moment, so I’m writing it down right now. This has been the best bliss moment ever. Thank you.
I’m also proud of you that you joined my 21-day challenge meditating.
I have this little area with my seed. I have gratitude rocks and ones for this and that and the other. I sit at them and my kids are like, “What are you doing, mom?” I’m like, “This is good.” I didn’t do it 21 days in a row. I’ve been doing it and I feel good and it’s all about the fact that I’ve been doing it, I feel good.
Research shows it takes about twenty minutes, twice a day for eight weeks until you begin to make changes in your brain. When you do that, what happens is you start to shrink the part of your brain that’s your fear center. It’s called the amygdala, that’s where fight or flight live. Over time, they’ve done research where they’ve scanned the brains of non-meditators, they’ve taught them how to meditate. They required that they meditate twenty minutes twice a day, every day and they came back in for brain scans once a week, every week.
At about the eighth-week mark, they saw that the average brain was shrinking their amygdala. It wasn’t just that they felt less anxious or less angry, they made changes in the part of their brain where that anger, resentment and fear lives. They grew more gray matter in the parts of their brain where understanding, compassion and empathy live, where memory and learning happen and where attention, focus, higher-order thinking skills and emotional regulation happen. All of the places in the brain that you need to be the best version of yourself were strengthened.
Especially now my kids are teenagers. We’re going through this like, two boys in high school doing the whole college thing. Even if I can be a better person for them right now, for me too, but for them. I’m divorced and it’s tough and I think that everyone can use a support and me too, to be a better mom, it’s hard.
There are lots of mindfulness techniques that you can use to bring you back to the present, to take you out of that panic-stricken moment, to calm down when you’re ready to blow off.
My boys say the word pineapple. It’s our safe word because they can see my face change like pineapple, I go 0 to 60 and Zach is like, “Your tone.” They’ll say it right to me and I’m like, “Okay, pineapple.” It’s being a single mom. Everybody needs to get this book. Tell us where we can find you, your book and your 21-day program, everything. Do you have a website?
My website is MindfulnessMeetingPlace.com, it’s my business Mindfulness Meeting Place. My book is The Bliss Buddy Project: How Sharing Gratitude Increases Joy, that’s on Amazon. I teach privately, virtually, I have clients in California, Florida and Pennsylvania all over. I live in New Jersey but I can teach through Zoom platform on the computer. As you can tell, it’s absolutely like being with me and being with you, right here. I teach virtually, I teach small group classes and individuals. I do corporate so I can go into organizations. I got a second certification through the McLean Institute to do mindfulness at work training so that I have a curriculum I can bring in to businesses, either launch and learn a one day series of sessions.
I do donate 10% of everything I earn to the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges. It’s a local food pantry, I’ve been volunteering out for ten years and I’m passionate about feeding hungry people and helping people who suffer from food insecurity every day. It’s ten minutes from my house, it’s down the road. You don’t realize how many people in communities around the country are suffering and it’s important to me to help people who are hungry. If you hire me, then you’re feeding hungry people too.
Being In The Present: If you think about the thoughts in your head, most of them are about the past and dwelling there can lead to depression. You can’t change the past. It doesn’t exist anymore.
They can find you at Campowerment.
This will be everywhere. I’m going to post it up and we’re going to do the video, we’ll put it on Facebook, we’ll put you on YouTube, we’ll put it everywhere. This is exciting for me. I loved having you. I loved seeing you.
I’m so proud of you, Jen. I know how you struggled and you resisted learning how to meditate or even thinking that this was something you could do or even wanting to do. The fact that you have started on this meditation journey and it’s only going to grow and I’m always here for you.
I’m proud of me too, which is a big thing.
You’ll see the subtle changes over time, it’s powerful.
My ex-husband does it. I told Mark, my ex-husband, I’m like, “Mark, I don’t want you to make fun of me. I’m going to start to meditate.” He was like, “I meditate.” I’m like, “What?” He’s like, “I’ve been doing it for a year and it’s been great for me and I don’t know why you don’t do it.” I was crazy. I thought that was great. Thank you, Anne. Everybody, thank you once again for joining me. You can find me at www.JenniferHurvitz.com. I am everywhere, Instagram and Facebook. You can get my book on Amazon, Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.: A Divorce Coach’s Guide to Staying Married. I’ll see you next episode. Peace, love and truth.
Tammi Leader and her daughter Chelsea – previous episode
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About Anne Sussman
The simple 4 steps of the shared gratitude practice Anne created in the Bliss Buddy Project, are a powerful way to shif