Monday, March 24, 2014

Why Must I Worry: Five Zen Remedies

Zen Psychology does not begin with a concept of your self or your problems, but with an open mind. The intervention emerges within the sacred space of kind attention, deep listening, and questioning. When I meet a person who wishes to widen his or her inner space to let go of worry, we look at the experience and examine various paths together.

First of all we have to understand that worry is connected to fear which has its place in reality. I don’t think anybody in his or her right mind wishes to be completely fearless. At least after the fact of a close encounter we can appreciate when our internal warning signal is aligned with a red traffic light, preventing us to cross the street and become road kill. However, I don’t know anybody who appreciates being afraid for no good reason, or even just anxious about future events which is the definition of worry. Once we start worrying above and beyond what is needed for our survival, worry builds on worry and can spin out of control. The question is what to do about worrying when it makes no sense. In my opinion, the answers I have found are all good, but it is up to the individual to find which one or ones work the best.

1. Don’t Believe Everything You Think

Thinking is a wonderful tool, but when it is unclear or overused, it can also wreak havoc. The most intelligent person in the world can fall victim to muddled thinking. There are so many errors we can make, listed by Cognitive psychologists. The most fundamental remedy here is to ask simply, “Is it true what I think?” You can write down the dialectic arguments to gain clarity, but the mere question will already put some distance between you and your worry. If you overuse your thinking, you may have to learn to put down your tool that’s gone over to the dark side. Questioning the very act of thinking may be a good beginning, followed by relaxation techniques. If this does not change you profoundly, you might have to:

2. Desensitize Yourself

The story goes: an angry man went to a Zen master and complained about his wife’s horrible wrong-doing with righteous indignation. The master advised him to let himself become completely filled with hate - of course with his wife not in proximity. Then the angry man was supposed to ask himself if he feels better. He didn’t and gave up his anger altogether. Viktor Frankl would’ve called this intervention “paradox”. If you have the right constitution, you might want to worsen your worry and learn to tolerate the worst case scenario. It is possible that you notice right then, it isn’t the end of the world after all. On the other hand, you may have to become more curious and:

3. Learn From Your Anxiety

Your anxiety might just be your best teacher ever. In Zen Buddhism, which is integrated in Zen Psychology, there is no running away from your subjective experiences, but a turning towards and becoming present with them. While experiencing the worry, you might want to ask yourself what it wants to tell you and what its origin is. Learning about the experience while paying attention to it in a meditative way is putting further distance between you and the experience (see also Chapter 9 of my book It also informs you of the deeper obstacles that you need to face. Those who can use this remedy successfully come out stronger and wiser than ever. There is an upside to being forced to wrestle with your inner demons. However, most everybody must also train the brain to create new pathways and:

  4. Become Mindful

The worried mind is accustomed to seeing only the negative, ignoring the rest of life which is actually an awe-inspiring spectacle of beauty, abundance, and boundless opportunity. Surely, all humans are bestowed with a negative bias by Mother Nature which is a propensity to react to and memorize a negative before a positive event.* In order to fully understand worry, we need to know that this bias is there because we encountered multiple physical threats in our evolutionary history but also potential competitors. We worry that others surpass us. Noticing the positive, love, and collaboration is way harder than noticing the negative, hatred, and envy. Becoming mindful means that we train our brain to notice our whole ordinary existence. Instead of homing in on threats, we need to home in on what is right in our life, which is the “little” things, such as that we are breathing, the beautiful sky, the flower in the crevice. What’s in your perception? New, more positive focal points are to cure you from worrying. If they don’t, you might have to:

5. Question Your Entire Value System

The worrier worries because she or he operates in the physical world in which everything is relative and hierarchical. It seems dismal. You can never be sure of things. It is easy for humans to suffer as we are so aware of the uncertainty in life. The most powerful remedy here is to question whether this relative existence matters as much as we are tempted to believe. What if Mother Nature bestowed us with the gift of a negative bias while there is no hierarchy in reality? What if we are all special and interconnected within one amazing whole called life? The most powerful remedy to worrying may just be the access of the absolute dimension in which we relate and realize, there’s nothing further to accomplish. Life’s a gift. When we realize how great a gift, we may just relax into this reality and celebrate whenever possible.

Originally posted in Psychology Today:

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Friday, March 1, 2013

The Ultimate Gift of Love

All experiences are mysterious; love is no exception. We cannot accurately reconstruct any experience because too many vivacious variables are involved, however attentive or scientific we go about the reconstruction. Bits and pieces and the whole of life are twirling around, inside out and outside in, firing and dying fast, often beyond rhyme or reason. Everthing reflects everything in the diamond of life. Because everything is relational in nature, pinning experiences down is impossible. Even though it is invaluable to our all happiness to approximate the truth with the practice of mindfulness, we can never really know ourselves completely. It really feels as if we do know ourselves though, doesn’t it? Most of us have a sense of certainty about who we are, who others are, and how the world is really like. When I was young, I thought I had figured out the entire world, especially my boyfriends. I knew what was right with them and I certainly knew what was wrong with them.…. In Eastern philosophies, this sense of certainty is called an illusion (see my book, Chapter 11 (AUnifiedTheoryofHappiness). And Western scientists have caught up with this insight, noting that we often don’t hear and see what is said or what is really happening *, **. Instead we perceive that which we are prepared to perceive. Give me a bit of information, give me a man in a hoody in twilight, and I make a whole scary story out of that. We have categories for everything. It’s difficult to realize that a good man can lie, that a beautiful woman can have ugly thoughts, that a Zen master can be egotistical, and that a criminal can be gentle and kind. Of course, our sense of certainty about the world fosters the tendency to jump to conclusions which makes the “truth” an even greater, often terrible mystery. Love is so important an experience, almost all of us have looked into that one, deeming it, rightfully, mysterious. Here we can see it. Rarely do we understand why we fall in love with a particular person. What is attractive and intriguing to us is the result of either trillions of beautiful, ugly moments before ever having laid eyes on the chosen one or a few, quantum-leaping, powerful moments that make us do the unthinkable: kiss that frog. Still, I think most people agree on this: Love is a form of saying “Yes” to one another, the ability to open up, become compassionate, and available to somebody the way we think she or he is, flaws included. This “Yes” needs to be said again and again to pass as real love in the long run. Most know that this becomes harder as we get a better taste of the other’s flaws while simultaneously habituating to the attractive, intriguing parts. There are relatively simple Zen things we can do to keep love going, as I have blogged about previously (ten-zen-things-save-your-marriage). But there is one not so simple Zen thing we must do, or better: be, to invite long-term love . To read the rest of this blog, please visit and type in Andrea Polard or go to the following link:

Monday, January 21, 2013

Author and Zen Psychologist Dr. Andrea F. Polard invites to: FREE interactive talk about happiness at the Pacific Palisades Library. When: Saturday, Februrary 2, 2 pm I hope you can make it. Please share this announcement with people from the general area.

Causing A Great Ripple Effect

When I was young, I wanted to change in major ways. I wanted to be as thin as my sister, as beautiful as Marilyn Monroe, as creative as Einstein and Picasso combined, as trail-blazing as Madame Curie, as loving as Jesus, as natural as Lao Tzu, and as still as a Buddha statue. These wants were sins of my youth. Why? Ambition is good as long as it helps us experience our participation in the stream of life as opposed to survive in it only. This important distinction is laid out in Chapter Four of my book. I am with Mark Twain who wrote, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” And, believe it or not, I was not ambitious in this grand way because I felt the need to be somebody. I knew deep down I was somebody already. No outside goal, however noble, can ever make us feel complete. I knew this to be true from my early experiences of stillness. In stillness we realize that we are complete and that on the deepest level, there is no reason to strive for anything at all. The reason why my ambition was destructive is that I aimed at a result instead of a path. I pictured the perfect me and was pretty disgusted with myself for being so terribly far away from that ideal. Many current self-help gurus tell us that picturing exactly what we want, gives us what we want. Our intention would make our wish a done-deal. Not in my experience! And not according to scientific studies either, as noted by psychologist Richard Wiseman. Pursuing a high goal can leave us stifled and thoroughly unprepared for inevitable fallbacks. Therefore the first order of business is to direct our ambition away from an ideal goal and towards a doable path, especially a first step, and possibly a second and third. In other words, what we need is a strategy. To become as thin as my sister or as beautiful as Marilyn Monroe, I needed to forget about their bodies and think of a first step, such as “Stop eating refined sugar” or “Learn to apply make-up.” Just this one thing in each category caused me to lose pounds and look a lot more like Marilyn than previously thought possible. In the long run, I even gave up the silly notion of wanting to look like somebody else. It is so much fun to change for the better, why ruin it with a culturally imposed fantasy? When we focus on our path and actually walk it, we start to love the path. When I started to read books on science, draw charcoal portraits, go for nature walks, and learn about stillness more formally with Zen, I lost the desire to be anybody else but me. It has become a pleasure to see myself grow. And it is quite possible to realize, I assure you, that mistakes are wonderful growth experiences, instead of obstacles to the goal. Indeed, by walking the path instead of chasing our goals we learn that pretty much everything is a glorious mistake. As Dogen Zenji put it, “A Zen master’s life is one continuous mistake.” After identifying the first step of our path, the second order of business is to be....Please continue on reading this blog in @

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ten Zen things to save your marriage (or any other form of long-term relationship)

Zen is not magic,so I am not about to tell you that you have all the power when it comes to your relationship. Even when you are in total peace with yourself or have accepted full responsibility for your baggage, your partner may remain at total war with himself or continue to blame and batter you for his baggage. Some marriages can only be saved with 100 Zen things; some with 1,000; and some cannot be saved at all. However, a lot of marriages can be saved with initiating ridiculously few and easy changes. Zen is noticing the flow of life, which can be quite magical. As a Zen psychologist, I look at any particular aspect of us – any experience, action, characteristic, or event- –as connected to all other aspects inside and outside of ourselves. Everything belongs to an interconnected whole that many refer to as the constantly changing stream of life. When we start ripples on our side of the embankment, they may just reach the other side, softly and without too much effort. Psychologically speaking this means that changing but a few areas of our inner lives and our behaviors can trigger a great chain reaction that may touch our life partner deeply. So we don’t have to change every neurotic or unhealthy little aspect of ourselves to make a profound difference in our marriage. First, let’s focus on undoing some damaging behavior and reduce the discomfort we or our partner experiences as of now. For more suggestions and the science behind it, please refer to my book Five Zen things to not do.... To read the whole BLOG that I origically wrote for Psychology Today, Please go to