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A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, Chapter 1

As you might remember from past issues of Happiness Is A Skill, Eckhart Tolle’s book,The Power of Now, was the final piece in my puzzle of healing from depression. 

The moment the puzzle locked in place is still clear in my mind. I was January of 2017, and I was in my apartment in snowy Prague. In an attempt to turn a one-bedroom apartment with a living room into a two-bedroom apartment without a living room, the main living area had a random double bed pushed against a sunny window. I dubbed it the Reading and Napping bed, and spent many hours curled up there when it was below freezing outside. 

I arrived in Prague feeling all a funk. I was nearing the year anniversary of getting off antidepressants, and though I was experiencing longer stretches of lightness here and there, I’d been stuck in a period of depression for weeks. The bitter cold and isolation both amplified the melancholy and also brought me comfort, the ache of loneliness foiled by untethered freedom that only solitude can bring. 

One afternoon, I got into my Reading Bed and picked up The Power of Now. Two pages into the introduction, I read the following passage: 

“I cannot live with myself any longer.” This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. “Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with. “Maybe,” I thought, “only one of them is real.” 

In one all-encompassing moment, I realized: the mental chatter in my head wasn’t me. It was a separate entity entirely, the ego as Tolle comes to call it.

The puzzle piece clicked into place. I put the book down, all of two pages in, and fell asleep for hours. When I woke up, I got out of bed, looked around the room, and watched it brighten. As the sun filled the space, I felt the depression lift out of me. I finally got itWhatever it was. I’ve been free from depression ever since. 

Eckhart’s work always seems to find me right when I need it. With all that’s going on in the world, I was drawn to another one of his books, A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose. Originally published in 2005, it’s now more relevant than ever. I’ve been reading a section or two before bed, and I find it always has a way of centering me, especially when the people are being particularly awful to one another. 

For the next handful of issues, I’ll be going through each chapter. I’d recommend picking up your own copy and slowly reading along with me, but if that’s not your style, you’ll still be able to understand what’s going on in each issue. (Hence my story about The Power of Now and the ego. The ego is the main character in A New Earth, so now you know its origins.)

So let’s dive into it, beginning with Chapter 1.

The Flowering of Human Consciousness. 

The thesis of A New Earth is, more or less: Identification is the cause of all suffering. 

Said another way, when you base your identity around any number of situations or things—relationship status, body image, illnesses, power, a big house, a fancy car—all of which are driven by the ego’s desire for more or better, you are inevitably doomed to suffering because the ego is never satisfied. Furthermore, the ego is not you. It is a distraction from who you really are, which is the “divine life essence, the one indwelling consciousness or spirit in every creature, every life-form.” Once this essence is noticed, it is possible to see it in all living and non-living objects, which allows you to “recognize it as one with their own essence and so love it as themselves.” 

I know, I know. That sounds like a lot of woo-woo mumbo jumbo. Stay with me, and I assure you it will start to make more sense. 

As Eckhart says on page 11, “If the history of humanity were the clinical case of a single human being, the diagnosis would have to be: chronic paranoid delusions, a pathological propensity to commit murder and acts of extreme violence and cruelty against his perceived ‘enemies’—his own consciousness projected outward. Criminally insane, with a few brief lucid intervals.”

Keeping this in mind, the only conclusion we can come to is that what we’re doing isn’t working. It’s the reason why I don’t look at Eckhart’s words as hippy nonsense. Each individual has to get a whole hell of a lot better at existing in this world, otherwise we’re doomed. 

“Fear, greed, and the desire for power are the psychological motivating forces not only behind warfare and violence between nations, tribes, religions, and ideologies, but also the cause of incessant conflict in personal relationships. They bring about a distortion in your perception of other people and yourself. Through them, you misinterpret every situation, leading to misguided action designed to rid you of fear and satisfy your need for more, a bottomless hole that can never be filled.” 

It is not enough, however, to try to be good. Attempting to let go of fear and desire doesn’t work because fear and desire are a side effect of dysfunction, not the dysfunction itself. For the dysfunction to actually dissipate, a shift in consciousness is required. 

“You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you, and allowing that goodness to emerge.” 

One of the easiest ways to understand this shift in consciousness is to tap into big-P Presence, by looking at a flower. Though flowers have utility in the plant world (pollination), for humans, they are largely decorative and ceremonial. There is a shift in the present moment when you receive flowers or happen upon one in the wild. Some part of you recognizes the beauty, and this recognition is an essential part of your “own innermost being,” your “true nature.” The ability to feel joy and love are intrinsically connected with this recognition, which is why the simple act of observing a flower can be so powerful. It connects to a greater realm.

To sense this recognition, this Presence, when observing the beauty of a flower is one thing. To do it in all scenarios, especially the difficult ones, is to have true mastery of the practice. Puppies, kittens, crystals, flowers, lambs, babies—all of these things act as a clear window to Presence and often, momentarily, cut off access to the ever-present ego. 

Aside from the benefit of relieving individual suffering through Presence, humanity is at a collective tipping poing. For the first time in history, the human egoic mind is threatening the survival of the planet. Therefore, a shift in consciousness is required. “If the structures of the human mind remain unchanged, we will always end up re-creating fundamentally the same world, the same evils, the same destruction.” Until, one day, there is nothing else. As Eckhart says plainly: Evolve or die.

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I can’t say I’ve been happy as of late. Any indication otherwise is an illusion, a flick of the wrist and a wave of the hand designed to distract from reality. 

I’m sure I’m not alone. The Russian/Ukrainian war and the unavoidable media salivation over the whole thing is enough to make anyone wish they could press pause on the human experience. Combine that with the drama of day to day life and speed at which we jumped from one worldwide crisis to another has, quite simply, brought me down. So much so that I’m back to tracking my Daily Happiness Average as part of my brief, nighttime journaling routine. (For more on that practice, go back to the HIAS archives and give issue 26 a read.) 

All week, I’ve been hovering in the high 30s and low 40s (on a scale of 0-100, with 100 being the best day of my life.) After so many years of happiness practice, I usually hang around a content 70-80 that tends to stick even during times of stress or frustration. Thus, these low numbers—and especially their consecutive nature—stand out to me. 

As Steve Jobs said in his 2005 Stanford commencement address, “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Jobs’ never mentioned his criteria for “too many days.” I have come to learn, though, that three weeks is an optimal length of time for observation. Excluding emergency circumstances, it’s long enough to be truly uncomfortable but short enough to muster through. It also allows enough time for meaningful change, creating a sort of personal clinical trial that allows you to recognize patterns within a situation without having to commit long term.

A three week trial period also prevents rash decision making. I know that when I’m suffering, my instinct is to pull the emergency cord and parachute out of the discomfort. In my younger years, this resulted in a variety of amusing and problematic situations ranging from quitting jobs without a plan to cutting people out of my life to the sudden acquisition of a four-legged creature known as the Demon Dog. While I’m lucky that no true tragedy came from these quick decisions, the fallout from all of them could have been mitigated had I simply waited a little while before acting.

Jeff Haden, contributing editor to Inc. put it succinctly in his recent article about two-week goals: “There’s no way to know what it takes to achieve a certain goal until you embark on the path toward that goal; that’s when you find out what you really want. Or in some cases, don’t want.”

My three week countdown started once I noticed the third consecutive day of low Daily Happiness ratings. One low number is part of life. Two is coincidental. Three indicates a pattern is forming. I have a hunch about what’s going on and if I wanted to, could make an appointment and end it tomorrow. And believe me, that is what I want to do.

Instead, I am going to wait. Over the next two weeks, I’ll see how things unfold, track how I’m feeling, and notice what new information comes in. It’s highly unpleasant and I am not happy about it. But two weeks of discomfort in the grand scheme of my life is irrelevant if the patience helps to guarantee clarity and avoid regret. 

(Grumble.)

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September 23, 2022

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Want is a word I don’t seem to understand in the way other people do. I want my dog to live forever. I want to teleport to Paris and eat all the croissants without gaining an ounce. I want time to stop each morning, so I can bask in the luxury of dozing in bed for hours—and still start my day at 7am.

I want the impossible. The fantastical.

Over the years, in an effort to help me snap out of depression or guide me to a solid path, people have asked, “What do you want?” And when that question didn’t go anywhere, “What kind of life do you want?” The hope, of course, was for me to answer with something concrete. A doctor. A mother. A business owner. A wife. 

I never had an answer. I still don’t. It is easy enough for me to know what I don’t want, but I’ve never known what I want. Because from my perspective, all earthy options come with strings. The gooey brownie comes with a blood sugar spike and post-indulgence lethargy. The $100,000/year career comes with the corporate bullshit required cash that check. There are no free lunches, and I can’t seem to wantsomething with conditions. 

There’s a saying that goes, “If you want better answers, ask better questions.” Asking myself what I want results in paralysis. I just can’t get there, likely because all my answers are rooted in solving an existing grievance, instantaneously. (If I want my dog to live forever, then I never have experience her loss. Problem solved!)

Instead, I’m learning to shift the focus from what I want to asking myself how I like to feel. This has been particularly useful lately, as I’ve been considering a run for local government. Do I want a third job? Not particularly. But I really like the feeling of making sense of a mess, and the satisfaction of knowing a job is done well because I was there to take part. I like feeling purposeful, and after five years of writing and selling a book entirely about me (as is the nature of memoir), I’m craving projects about someone or something else. 

Still, there is trepidation about entering into an endeavor I haven’t spent my life dreaming about. I know just enough to know there’s so much I don’t know. The fog of it all butts right up against wanting. I want safety and predictability. I want comfort and ease. I want to go to bed each night with a quiet mind devoid of responsibility. 

I want the impossible. The fantastical. 

No life is without strings. Not running for office—or whatever Big Thing you’re considering in your life—doesn’t guarantee that life will be free of worry. So if you’re at a crossroad unable to decide what you want, try asking better questions. 

How do you like to feel? Does the Big Thing bring up feelings you like—determination, purpose, focus? What makes you feel satisfied? At what point do you just take a big swing? What might you be capable of if you take the chance? What if you do what reflects who you are?

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As one of the few people to have successfully published an article about the realities of antidepressant withdrawal in a major newspaper, my inbox is filled with inquiries from people whose experience is similar to mine. One of the most common comments is from people who say their doctors pulled them off psychiatric drugs over the course of days or weeks, leading to unbearable withdrawal symptoms. 

This type of message makes me irate because as far as I’m concerned, this is patient abuse. Dangerous psychiatric drug withdrawal is avoidable, and when it does occur under a doctor’s care, it is a direct result of physicians not doing their due diligence on research that has existed for over twenty years. 

A little background: 

Despite years of patient suffering, research into antidepressant withdrawal has been a low priority for doctors and psychiatrists. The first systematic review of antidepressant withdrawal did not even exist until 2015, a full twenty-eight years after Prozac was first released to the public in 1987. 

Finally, in 2019, the first comprehensive systematic analysis of antidepressant withdrawal found that more than half of people coming off antidepressants experience withdrawal symptoms, and half of those—like me—experience severe withdrawal (Davies & Read, 2019), also known as protracted acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). A separate, 2020 study of those suffering from antidepressant-associated PAWS found that participants experienced withdrawal symptoms for an average of thirty-seven months, with eighty-one percent of participants reporting suicidality as a direct effect of their withdrawal symptoms. (Hengartner, Schulthess, Sorensen, et al., 2020). 

The research on withdrawing from benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, etc.) is much more robust. Benzodiazepines and antidepressants both emerged in the 1950s, but it was benzodiazepines that became known as “mother’s little helper” and were prescribed to keep housewives from becoming “hysterical women.” Their immediate, tranquilizing benefit thrust them into the spotlight, and as the decades went on, their reach became more ubiquitous, eventually leading to the benzodiazepine addiction crisis.

Enter Dr. Heather Ashton, a British psychopharmacologist and physician with a focus on benzodiazepines dependence and withdrawal. It was Ashton who first realized that long-term use of benzodiazepines led to physical dependence, but that short-term use sometimes had its benefits. (Remember the Thai soccer team stuck in a cave back in 2018? They were rescued in part thanks to Xanax, which was part of a cocktail used to lower their anxiety before they were sedated and guided out of the cave. A perfect, one-time use of the powerful drug.) 

Ashton dedicated her life to working with people addicted to the benzodiazepines. In 1999, at 70 years old, she published “Benzodiazepines: How They Work And How To Withdraw,” now known as The Ashton Manual.

The Ashton Manual advocates for extremely slow tapers, much slower than the average recommendation by physicians (and most governments.) Faster tapers can lead to restlessness, irritability, insomnia, muscle tension, racing heartbeats and other debilitating symptoms, much of which can be confused with anxiety which leads the patient to pop another pill to alleviate the symptoms. 

If you’re a long time reader of Happiness Is A Skill and/or have read some of my other work, you might think benzo withdrawal sounds similar to antidepressant withdrawal, and you would be correct. Although The Ashton Manual initially focused only on benzodiazepines, the sharp rise in antidepressant use in the 2000s led Ashton to update her guide to include antidepressant withdrawal. Today, the distinction between withdrawing from antidepressant or benzodiazepines is minimal. Both should be done extremely slowly and done under the care of an informed physician.

The Ashton Manual is available for free on Benzo.org.uk or via Kindle. It is an invaluable resource for anyone struggling to get off psychiatric drugs or for physicians looking to understand how to manage a patient’s taper. 

Lastly, if you feel your health is being mismanaged or you are getting resistance from your doctor about taking a slow and controlled taper, do not be afraid to seek out a different qualified professional. I cannot over stress how not all MDs are created equal, and that there is someone in your area who understands the delicate nature of psychiatric drug withdrawal who will help you create a plan.

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The gaming industry is now so diverse and widespread that themes such as ‘brain training’ are increasing in popularity. Indeed, Science Daily hypothesizes that playing games at a young age can help grow the size of the brain and improve memory later in life. This comes in addition to other expected benefits, such as improving spatial reasoning and pattern recognition and helping to boost hand-eye coordination.

Some of the games that help to do this are the usual titles played by many worldwide. Blockbusters such as Call of Duty encourage teamwork, quick reactions and build on hand-eye coordination, whilst other titles develop different areas. Think about the last video game you played; was there a puzzle element, as you’d find in Tomb Raider? Maybe you play a word game, such as Words with Friends online, which helps boost your vocabulary. It could be argued most games have some cognitive benefits, but some are more helpful than others.

We’ve pulled together a selection of online games which have different positive impacts on the brain for you below.

Card Games


One game type which has seen an increase in popularity in recent years is online poker. Across the US, states are beginning to adopt legalized online poker, and the recent World Series of Poker has helped keep it in the limelight. Poker can take many forms, from the popular Texas Hold’em to other, more obscure variants, and all can be found online. This is where the skill comes in; poker is an easy game to learn but hard to master, and serious players put a lot of time into studying. They learn the poker odds, hand ranking and different variants, plus whilst playing, they try to read their opponent. Even online, there’s an element of judgment being implemented all of the time. The same can be said for Blackjack and other games, but poker is a game of skill that will develop your math capabilities, people skills and overall judgement.

Rhythm Games


Rhythm games are straightforward to learn; they usually involve matching a rhythm you hear and repeating it. They require complete concentration to be successful and test your powers of recall and repetition. Even if you have no natural rhythm, the act of focusing so intently on the beats that you can see or hear is a great way to develop your concentration skills while also improving your hand-eye coordination and keeping your mind focused on the task at hand. It is also felt rhythm games can help build functionality within a damaged brain; the NCBI report that simply listening to an auditory rhythm activates movement-related areas of the brain. Therefore, training with rhythmic stimuli may help activate or reactivate the motor system in a damaged brain.

Sandbox Games


The description of a sandbox game is one with an emphasis on free-form gameplay, relaxed rules, and minimal goals. That doesn’t sound like one that stimulates the brain, but consider it this way; you’re alone in a new city and have to learn where to go, what to do and how to do it. A one-player sandbox game is very much about recollection, learning a map and exploring. The brain is fed constant new information, and to be a success within the game, one must learn quickly. The emphasis is on the player to learn how to do things and the consequence of their actions. There is no guidance, rather a playground in which to explore and develop. The same technique is used by therapists, who, rather than encourage their clients down a specific route, will allow them to explore and reach their own conclusion. A sandbox game is a great tool for allowing the brain to explore and conclude within its own time rather than being fed a narrative. The fact so many different backdrops and game types exist makes them even more important for learning. Indeed some, such as the Assassin’s Creed games, literally teach you about history as you play. Learning through doing is an important tool implemented globally, and a sandbox game is a modern example of that.

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The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

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In a day and age when information travels at warp speed and lives can be irrevocably changed by one photo or a single tweet, there was something poetic about the speed of the 2020 federal election. All the bandwidth and technology in the world couldn’t move it along any faster than it was going to go. The outcome was too precarious and the stakes were too high for anyone to make an honest call. And so we waited, and waited, for more information to come in.

It is moments like this that pierced through my own fourth wall and grabbed me tight around the chin, forcing me to face the greater collective storyline and apply it to my own. While the United States idled at a crossroads that led us toward two very different futures, I also stood at a major junction. There were two choices, and I needed to choose one. Each somehow felt both beautiful and awful, and yet the rest of my life hinged on this choice.

It was too close to call.

But life imitates life. For all the faults of that election and the missteps of all the people involved, there was one thing huge lesson to learn from it: when a decision remains unclear, it is because all the information has not yet arrived.

We have conditioned ourselves to think that when we are presented with a choice, our only options are to pick one or the other and to do it fast. But there is an ever-present third choice that often holds the most power — the choice to wait.

Waiting is itchy. It prickles at you like a stiff wool sweater on a frozen winter night. But to rip it off too soon is to expose yourself to the elements without having first found shelter. If only you could wait until dawn when the sun rises to light the way. Life might look a little different then, the two paths now illuminated, obstacles in clearer view.

So we waited. And I waited, itchy and squeamish, for the information to come in. Because the outcome was too precarious. The stakes were too high.

It was too close to call.

Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

More articles from the blog

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September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

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September 16, 2022

Three Weeks

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September 9, 2022

Wanting

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September 2, 2022

The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

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I went for a walk this morning like I almost always do when I’m home in Nevada. My house is tucked up against the rolling desert, with trails zig zagging through the sagebrush. A small creek flows through the valley, prompting cattail to grow in the damp soil and mountain bluebirds to sing in the early morning sun. Cottontail rabbits and the occasional coyote bound through the hills, and there is no better chance of a good day than to begin it with a walk through the landscape I was born into.

I put on my coat and slipped my socked feet into a pair of stiff new boots, bought just a few days ago to get me through the winter. The half hour walk would double as an opportunity to break in the shoes in incremental bits. It will take dozens of these walks, I know, for the leather to soften and relax against my toes.

I locked my door and began to walk through the rows of neighboring townhouses and onto the trailhead. Not three minutes into the trail, I felt the unmistakable sting of a blister at the back of my left heel. Strange, I thought to myself, sure that there was no sign of the blister on yesterday’s walk.

I plopped down on a rock and pried my foot out of the stiff shoe. Sure enough, the blister was right there, pink and exposed. I considered turning around, but the birds were calling with gusto. In just over a week I go back to Vancouver, where I will be forced to quarantine in a one bedroom apartment for 14 days. But today I have the birds and the desert and the open sky, I thought to myself. I need to take it all in now, while I can.

Besides, the shoes needed a break in too.

So I kept walking, heel stinging. A few minutes passed when I saw a clump of teal colored plastic on the trail up ahead, a bag of dog shit that wasn’t there yesterday. I told myself that someone must be out on a run with their dog and that they left the bag of poop on the side of the trail for pickup on the way back…right? Because what kind of person kindly bags up their dog’s crap and then dumps plastic into the wilderness?

Giving the phantom dog owner benefit of the doubt, I left the teal bag and walked another thirty feet, heel screaming. Immediately, my eye caught a second bag of dog shit, black this time, and clearly from a different dog. Without thinking about what I was doing, I knelt down and picked it up. Then I turned around and went to the teal bag and picked that up too. I held up both bags and looked at them, suddenly aware that I was now saddled with a raw heel and two bags of shit excreted from dogs I don’t own. There was no point in walking on, so I limped back toward home.

For a moment, I considered getting angry. I could feel the choice to be angry. The jerks who left the bags of shit certainly deserved it, as did the boots that were growing sticky from the pool of my own blood. Both of these things took away my ritual, my solitude, the purpose of my morning.

But what good would come of the anger? Who would I have yelled at? Other than the tawny bunny hopping across the trail, not a heartbeat other than mine as far as the eye could see. Anger, in this situation, served no purpose. There was nothing left to but accept that today, the purpose of my walk was not to spend a little time in nature and break in my boots. It was to pick up other people’s shit.

It’s an apt and obvious metaphor—not every task is pleasant, things don’t always go your way, and there’s a lot of cleaning up the mistakes that other people make.

But hey, at least it’s garbage day. The bags of shit will only be in my world for a few more hours. And tomorrow, I’ll try again.

Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

More articles from the blog

see all articles

September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

read the article

September 16, 2022

Three Weeks

read the article

September 9, 2022

Wanting

read the article

September 2, 2022

The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

read the article

Back during my days of deep depression, one of my unconscious coping techniques was to put down the little things that brought other people joy. The phrase “that’s stupid” fell out of my mouth like a tick. Nothing and no one was safe. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Stupid. Just donate money without the attention. Disneyland? Stupid. The most miserable place on earth. Hobbyist birding? Stupid. Who cares about random birds?

This reaction, of course, came from a most selfish place. I couldn’t find joy in anything, and it pissed me off that delight seemed so easy for others. I never stopped to think that maybe they took responsibility for their own happiness and worked for their joy. It never occurred to me that maybe they had pain too, but that they didn’t let suffering define them as a person.

The ability to experience a glimmer of joy is a litmus test for your psychological state. When I work with clients in antidepressant withdrawal, one of the first things I ask them to do is to start noticing little flickers of creativity, joy, or clarity that tend to come up as the drugs leave their system. These nanoglimmers of light may be barely perceptible at first, as simple as a deep inhale of freshly ground coffee or noticing how your eyes linger on the details of a flower. For people working through depression and getting off antidepressants, these nanoglimmers signal the mind’s innate ability to stop the mental loops and detach from the physical weight of depression—even just for a moment.

In my experience, as the nanoglimmers grew from fleeting seconds into longer chunks of time, the use of the phrase “that’s stupid” faded from my vocabulary and gave rise to curiosity and spontaneity. Birding might never be my lifelong passion, but what did it matter if other people enjoyed it? Who was I to put it down when it had no impact on my life?

To let others do their thing without making it about you is a hallmark of healing. They are on their path. You are on yours. It may take weeks or months or years of hard work to grow one nanoglimmer into a life filled with joy, but noting the existence of a single nanoglimmer proves that it is possible. What you can do one, you can do again. With time, one can always become two.

Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

More articles from the blog

see all articles

September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

read the article

September 16, 2022

Three Weeks

read the article

September 9, 2022

Wanting

read the article

September 2, 2022

The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

read the article

No fate is worse for those with anxiety than the act of doing nothing. But there is one tool you were born with that can help calm your mind and body when the weight of a situation becomes too much: your breath.

I am an XPT certified breathwork coach. Often, with my clients going through antidepressant withdrawal, I use my training to teach them how to breathe through the unpleasant side effects. But the techniques are relevant to anyone who suffers from anxiety, and yet little attention is paid to our breath.

Though breath is the single most important life-force on the planet, studies suggest that breathing dysfunction occurs in up to 83% of anxiety sufferers. Breathing dysfunction can negatively impact the body in a number of ways, including reduced blood flow to the brain, and sleep apnea, and higher instances of stress and anxiety.

Anxiety is the body’s way of alerting you to potential danger. It’s that “fight or flight” response that historically, motivated our ancestors to get scared and run away from a hungry tiger. But these days, most people aren’t being chased by a tiger (or its metaphorical equivalent.) Instead, anxiety is created in our minds.

Just because anxiety is created in the mind doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Physiologically, the body doesn’t know the difference between anxiety created because of a physical source and one created in our head. Think of a nightmare, for example. Even though we are safe in our beds without any physical threats, the situation created in our mind can shoot us up out of bed, drenched in sweat, and panting as if the dream was as real as the mattress underneath us.

The breath is like a remote control for the mind, and learning how to harness its power can mitigate the body’s stress response. Several studies have shown that deep breathing, specifically belly breathing that activates the vagus nerve, significantly reduces the stress response in the body. The vagus nerve runs from your brain all the way down to the belly, with branches that extend into your throat, heart, and lungs. When properly stimulated through deep breathing, the nerve regulates the nervous system’s response by turning down the intensity of stress and anxiety.

By breathing with intention, each of us has the power to operate our internal remote control, thereby gaining some authority over the anxiety. With an undetermined future ahead, there’s no better time to gather tools to manage our new uncertain world. You’re going to need every edge we can get, so let’s start with the one you were born with: your breath.

Morning breathwork, to set a calm foundation for the day:

Cadence Breath

Designed to keep you mindful of your breath while also helping your body to kick into a parasympathetic (calm) state, cadence breathing is an ideal breath pattern to ground yourself first thing in the morning.

To begin, sit in a comfortable upright position, either crossed-legged or in a chair. Take a moment to become aware of your breath. Actually look at it. Can you see your belly going out and in? Or maybe your chest moves up and down? Are your lips parted, allowing you to take in air through your mouth? Or is your jaw clamped down tight?

No matter how you typically breathe, commit to spending the next 10–15 minutes breathing only in and out through your nose and into your belly. Keep one hand on your stomach for a tactile reminder, and feel that hand rising and falling with each breath.

Begin with a cadence tempo of 2:2:4:2. That means you’ll inhale through your nose for an honest count of two (one one thousand, two one thousand…), hold your breath for a count of two, exhale through your nose for a count of four, and hold your breath at the bottom of the exhale for two. The crux of cadence breathing is to keep your exhale twice as long as your inhale, so if you’re comfortable at 2:2:4:2, increase the tempo to 3:3:6:3 or even 4:4:8:4. The slower and deeper your breath, the more the vagus nerve is stimulated to lower overall stress.

Breathing for when the anxiety is too much and you need to calm down, now.

4:7:8

If you find yourself on the verge of panic and you don’t have 15 minutes to step away and collect yourself, the 4:7:8 breathing pattern can knock anxiety down in just a handful of breaths.

Simply breathe in the nose for four seconds, hold your breath at the top of the inhale for seven seconds, and exhale audibly out your mouth for eight seconds. This is one breath cycle.

Repeat the breath cycle three more times.

If you find the 4:7:8 too challenging, simply speed up your counting while keeping the inhale:hold: exhale ratio the same.

Breathing for bedtime, because insomnia and anxiety are inextricably linked.

Long exhale + humming

Though humming has long been a staple of yogic breathing and meditation, science has only recently revealed the potential reasons why. Our paranasal sinuses are the main producers of nitric oxide, a gas that plays an important role in vasoregulation (opening and closing our blood vessels) as well as neurotransmission, immune defense, and respiration. When we hum, our nasal passages produce nitric oxide up to fifteen-fold in comparison with quiet exhalation, which leads to lowered blood pressure, heart rate, reduced anxiety, and a grounding feeling of calm that can lull us off to sleep.

Know that there’s a high chance of falling asleep during this exercise, so make sure you’re ready for bed before you begin.

Lying on your back with your head in a comfortable position, simply close your eyes and inhale through your nose, taking in a big breath into your belly. When you’ve taken in a full breath, begin humming and slowly exhale out all your air. Keep the hum deep and low and long, with the vibration coming from the back of your throat rather than your head. Repeat the humming breath for 10 minutes, or until you fall asleep.

Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

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“The calmer and quieter you breathe, the larger your blood vessels open, enabling better circulation and distribution of oxygen throughout the body, including the brain. Oxygenate the brain—breathe less.”

– Patrick McKeown, author of The Oxygen Advantage

In 2018, two years after I’d taken my last antidepressant, I found myself still struggling to remain steady in an unmedicated world. After fifteen years of relying on antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs to do all the coping work for me, I didn’t have any sense of how to self-regulate my emotions or nervous system.

Around this same time, an acquaintance of mine, Taylor Somerville, became certified as an XPT Coach. Built on the researched-backed principles of managing stress response and wellbeing through breathwork, movement, and recovery, I went down the XPT rabbit hole and decided to get certified myself. Using Symmetry as a blueprint, my intention was to eventually use the XPT principles in my work with clients in antidepressant withdrawal.

Like most things in life, my plan strayed from reality. The majority of XPT’s methodology wasn’t a great fit for people in active withdrawal, but it was a perfect fit for where I was in my recovery. While Taylor went on to build Symmetry, a business dedicated to helping people regulate stress through breathwork and exposure therapy, I decided not to follow in his footsteps and instead, learn from him.

Two to three times per week, I pop into Taylor’s 45-minute, virtual breathwork sessions. Designed to combat dysfunctional breathing patterns and lower stress response, these sessions act as internal barometers, providing me with immediate feedback on my mental and emotional state.

You might be asking yourself, “How are breathing and stress connected? Doesn’t my body naturally know how to breathe?”

Take a look at this chart:

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the metabolic stress messenger in the body. Suffocation, for example, occurs when oxygen levels go down and carbon dioxide levels rise to lethal levels. Although the body can survive without air for 4-6 minutes, most people will panic within the first 30 seconds due to increasing CO2 levels that create uncomfortable sensations throughout the body. These sensations release stress hormones into the body which increase heart rate, constrict blood vessels, and create a flustered state. Assuming we are not actually suffocating, all of this makes for a continual, negative feedback loop. Sustained over time, our CO2 tolerance goes down and our body remains in a constant stressed and anxious state.

The good news is that breathing is the only system in our body that acts on both a conscious and unconscious level. Because we have control over it, we have the power to change the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood. That’s where intentional breathwork comes in. By learning to manipulate our breathing, we can reverse dysfunctional breathing patterns and increase our tolerance to CO2, which leads to a lowered stress response.

I’m sharing all this with you today because Taylor is opening his virtual breathwork sessions up to a larger audience, and I figured someone out there in Happiness Is A Skill land needs to hear about it.

Come join me! Hit this link to sign up!

Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

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A parable, borrowed from the religious but relevant for the atheists: A man is alone in his home when the storm comes. The local news channel tells him to evacuate, to move to higher ground, but instead, he shakes his head and says, “I will pray to my God and he is going to save me. I have faith” The rain beats down and the wind picks up. The streets start to flood and just as the water begins to rise over the man’s driveway, a knock comes at the door. A local policeman, with a rowboat, says it’s time to go, but the man shakes his head and says, “My God will save me. I have faith.” The wind wails and the water rushes in. It rises to the man’s ankles, knees, then hips. He climbs the stairs to his second floor, where it is dry. He waits there, for hours, and when a break in the storm comes he spots someone in a motorboat. “Come with me!” the floating figure yells, “The storm is only half over!” But the man shakes his head and says, “My God will save me. I have faith.” The eye of the storm gives way to more rain, more thunder. Water tickles the man’s toes, and he climbs the ladder to his attic. The wind rips the roof off his house, but when the man looks up, a rope is falling from a helicopter. “Grab on!” the pilot shouts, but the man shakes his head and says, “My God will save me, I have faith.” Reluctantly, the pilot recoils the rope and flies away. The man waits for his God to save him. But the house begins to crumble and soon the water is rising rising rising. It splashes over his legs and his torso and soon it is at his shoulders, his neck, his chin. The last thing the man notices is how the water shimmers on the tip of his nose. When the man reaches the heavens, he finds his God. “I had faith in you,” the man says, “I prayed to you. I believed in you. And you didn’t save me. You let me drown!” To this, the man’s God replies, “I sent you a warning, a rowboat, a motorboat, and a helicopter. What more could you ask for?”

Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

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September 23, 2022

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September 16, 2022

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September 9, 2022

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September 2, 2022

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To my favorite group of humans on the planet, this blog post is a little different because it exists just to tell you about my new favorite thing I’ve made: The Fuckit Bucket™.

Tee hee hee.

The Fuckit Bucket™ was born out of sheer delight. A friend of mine, embroiled in the world of C list celebrity and a nasty split from her baby daddy, was talking about how her life was so screwy that she was running out of fucks to give. I suggested that she put all the fucks in a bucket for rationing. A “Bucket ‘o Fucks” we called it. I even made a prototype:

I thought, everyone should have their own bucket. For two years, the Bucket ‘o Fucks noodled in my mind. I giggled every time I thought about it, and wanted to make a talisman of sorts to keep me giggling day to day. And then, sometime between 2016 and 2018, I heard the phrase, “Chuck it in the fuck it bucket and move on.” Fuck it bucket had a better ring to it, so I stored the phrase away. I would know when it was time.

In 2019, I caught a headline about how the Supreme Court deemed that swear words were, in fact, a form of free speech. The US Trademark and Patent Office would no longer be allowed to reject applications with swearing or immoral words or symbols. I searched “Fuck it bucket” on the USPTO website, and found that the phrase had not been trademarked. It was time to create.

As a former small business owner and small business lover, I did not want to produce the bucket overseas, even in exchange for a lower bottom line. After designing my little bucket, I found a smelter in upstate New York to cast the product. While he was pouring molten metal into my design, I went to work on trademarking. I figured that best case scenario, people would get a giggle out of the Fuckit Bucket™ like I do and snag them up on Etsy. Worst case, I wouldn’t sell a single bucket but I’d never have to buy anyone a Christmas or birthday present again.

Turns out, people love it. I launched the Fuckit Bucket™ just last week, as a response to the train wreck presidential debate. This year continues to pound down, and I decided it was time to bring a little levity back to the dog & pony show that is 2020. And given that we still have two more debates, an election, and the holidays coming up…well, everyone is going to need their own Fuckit Bucket™.

Buckets are available on a necklace, keychain, or as a stand-alone charm.

We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming soon, folks. After so many years of depression, I am basking in the fact that I can find so much joy in creating a silly little bucket. This is why we do the work. Because when we clear out all the emotional crap, we make room for creation and laughter to come in, which results in both art and delight!

More articles from the blog

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September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

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September 16, 2022

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read the article

September 9, 2022

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read the article

September 2, 2022

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