Stress in Childhood as a Cause for ADHD

Dr. Gabor Maté discusses the importance of environment and stress of the parent for mind and brain development in children. The topics he covers include ADD/ADHD, implicit memory and counter-will. He delivered his presentation at the KMT Child Development and Community Conference in Toronto.

What he prescribes is that one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is your own happiness, mental, and emotional well being.


What is most important to take away is that due to neural plasticity through mindfulness and awareness training you can change your mind, emotions, and behaviors.

Intent For Change

Finding the Force of Intent for Change

What changes do you want to make? We can use anything as an example, get into better physical shape, eat healthier food, happier relationships, more free time, or financial goals.   What is important to apply (not just understand intellectually) is that these changes in actions, behaviors, and outcome begin with desire and commitment. Desire and commitment aren’t intellectual ideas or concepts.  Desire and commitment are feelings and emotions which are much more powerful than ideas. These feelings are the raw material need to make change happen.  We’ll use my friend Dave’s experience changing his attitude about the holidays as an example.

“I’ve got to do something about this.  These attitudes aren’t helping me.” This is what Dave said to himself last year as he looked at his attitudes and opinions about the holiday season.  It was the feeling and attitude that went with his words that was important.  It was a commitment to change. It was also a recognition that he is the owner of his attitude and expressions about the holidays and that he has the power to change these attitudes.  This is a recognition of our own power.  “I’ve got to do something about this,” is said with the emphasis on “I am doing something about this.”   Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, a year later, he wasn’t depressed about the holidays the way he had been in previous years. If these same words are said with feelings of despair, overwhelm, or powerlessness,  that come from a victim voice in our head they don’t accomplish the same thing.

I know this message is after the holidays, but perhaps that is best. You have a window here to reflect on what just happened and time to intend a new experience if you wish. If you don’t need a head start on next year’s holidays, then use these ingredients in other areas you want to change for the coming year such as your diet, exercise, or relationships.

Some Practical Actions

What makes people sad and depressed during the holidays? Whatever it is for each person, it isn’t the same.  And it isn’t that it is Christmas, or a specific thing about the holiday. If it were, we would all respond the same way.  So some of this holiday gloom, has to fall on the shoulders of the individual.  The good news here is that we can each change our own part. Without ownership of some of our emotional dynamics control of our happiness will default to forces outside our self.  This defaulted approach results in a feeling of powerlessness. So the first step is to own some responsibility for your opinions, thoughts, activity, experience, attitude, and creations. This is empowering and necessary for change.

Splitting Lies from Truth

Recognize that there are some glib lies and falsehoods about the holiday season.  It is NOT “the most beautiful time of the year.” It’s a great line from a beautiful song, but it isn’t the truth.  I thinks something in our conscious awareness senses a lie in there and we revolt or rebel against it.  However, perhaps we go too far in our rebellion and exaggerate our expression of disgust and extend it to anything or everything about Christmas. Perhaps there is some middle ground we can find between believing every line of a sappy song and exaggerated disgust at it.  In truth, some people love the time of the year and it is the most beautiful to them.  Let them have their experience and enjoyment.  It is okay not to feel that way.  And we can drop expressions of resentment about their joy also.  The time of the year is really equally beautiful (or ugly) as any other time.  You don’t need to try and believe the line from the song.  If it goes against your integrity and it isn’t the most beautiful time for you then that is fine.  I prefer the longer days of light during the summer or the colors of the leaves in the fall.  But, hey, if someone finds the bright snow and freshness of the cold air in winter beautiful then I won’t begrudge them that.  I’ll respect their preferences, freedom of expression, and choices and I’ll be the happier for it when I do. When I drop my story about it NOT being the most beautiful time of the year, and change it to, “It might be for some people,” I also drop the judgment, disdain, and resentments that I have been carrying around.  That takes one me one step out of the emotions of misery and in the direction of happier. Every step is one.

Honesty About Your Emotions Helps

The Christmas Holiday season is often about getting together with family.  It is a time that we relish our close relationships and take time to enjoy them.  That makes it a special time, and, if we have lost close family members, it can make it an especially hard time emotionally.  We are likely to miss those family members even more.  This brings up feelings of sadness, grief, and gloom.  In this case it isn’t the holiday decorations to blame, or an ornament that reminds us of a loved one or lost dreams.  These holiday symbols are triggers for a kind of unfinished mourning.   Somewhere down in our soul we haven’t released all the emotions and longings for that family member and loved one.  We haven’t made peace with the cycles of life that includes death of a physical body.

Pointing our finger at Christmas and engaging in criticisms distracts us from this emotional journey of cleaning and releasing.  Our attention is especially tempted to trades for less painful emotions.  In this case our mind’s protection system is content with the minor sorrows and dissatisfaction’s of the holidays in lieu of the deeper emotional loss. While our denial system unconsciously trades for a lesser pain this isn’t the only option.  It doesn’t solve next years pattern of sorrowful associations or the unreleased grief during the rest of the year. This requires that third option of the emotional journey of release as well as making peace with the cycles of life, death, and a what we do with the temporal in between.

If we don’t deal with our unreleased emotions and agreements with things like loss directly, it can cause us to build up other patterns that become traditions of sorrow during the holidays.  If we go through a holiday season with deep grief and sorrow our mind can build associations between those emotions and the holiday season.  We can then be induced by these associations to adopt the same mental and emotional pattern during the next year.  After a couple years it becomes a pattern of holiday blues. And then we not only know that we will spend the holidays in sorrow and sadness, but we come to expect it.  At that point we might build a layer of dread in response to this expectations at the coming holiday emotions. Dread at the coming season, or at anything, is a sign that we have abdicated our power over to patterned thoughts of a fictional future.  This is also a state of self-hypnotized powerlessness that left unattended will dream us next year.

Practical Actions for Change

At this point it is not just about releasing the emotions of grief, but also about changing the patterns of our mind.  For this, awareness, desire, and commitment to change our attitude can be helped with bold action.  Changing the external pattern of triggers and the associations to emotional patterns may be called for.  New traditions might include different decorations for the tree and house, a different menu for the meal, or inviting different family, neighbors, and friends to join.  Or you can be more bold by going off to a warm beach for a few days or volunteer at a homeless shelter or food bank serving meals.  New people, new interactions, and new environment forces your mind to build new neural patterns and will help keep you in the present moment.  It is in the present moment you will feel more alive and vibrant, making it harder for those tempting stories of dread and sorrow to dream into your expressions.

The point here is that you can do something.  You have to do something if you want to change how you feel during this time of the year, or any time of the year. The same applies to patterns of healthy eating and exercise.  It is not enough to do the same thing, believe the same thing, have the same thoughts, and expect that your emotions or activities will change.  Thoughts, beliefs, attitude, activity, and emotions come as a package.  Once you start taking new actions and activities, your mind will be driven to different thoughts, and you will be on your way to creating new emotional patterns.  Sometimes you start with changing the thoughts and beliefs on the inside and the inspiration for change externally happens.  At other times you must consciously change external patterns that force your neural and emotional patterns to be disrupted.

The Raw Ingredients for Change

The process starts with taking responsibility and ownership of some part of your thoughts, attitudes, emotions, or actions. This sense of responsibility provides the faith for a sense of power necessary for change.  These steps are followed by desire and commitment.  Focusing on the desire to change helps grow that desire.  When that desire is strong enough a commitment to a new direction or action arises. This is where Dave was when he said to himself, “I’ve got to change this.  These attitudes aren’t helping me.” Notice here that all these important ingredients aren’t ideas in the head.  They have the quality of feeling and are therefore much more powerful than ideas. Only when the feelings are felt do the words come.

You Don’t Need To Know How Yet

Do you need to know how you will change those thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and emotions at this point?  No, you don’t.  Trying to know how things will change before you have the desire and commitment usually leaves one in a state of paralysis.  A person feeling powerless waits for the “right” answer of what they know will work before doing something.  However, without being committed, without that desire for change, one will feel doubtful of any approach.  When you have the desire and commitment you don’t really care if the thing you try will work because you know that you can and will try something else until you find a way.  You don’t feel as powerless because you aren’t dependent on just one “right” answer.  Once you have the desire and commitment, the mind will work towards figuring out the path with multiple approaches if necessary.

If you find that you are trying to figure out the “how,” then take time to notice that you are in the world of concepts in your head and ignoring the necessary ingredients of feelings.  Then put aside those concepts and get connected back with your feelings of wanting and desire.

The specific actions other people use or that you read in an article may or may not work for you right away. Each person will have to find their own way through to a different attitude about the holidays or whatever changes they want to make. It may take one or more attempts to implement a strategy that works completely the way you want. For instance, you won’t know which nutritional food plan or workout regimen will work best for you until you try several.  But in my experience, the process of Responsibility à Empowerment à Desire à Commitment are universal.

What is important to notice about these elements of change that precede actions or behaviors is that they all have to do with feelings. We feel responsible and powerful or we don’t feel it.  We feel desire and committed or we don’t.  What made Dave’s commitment with words work was that they were full of feelings of desire and resolve.  There was a feeling of responsibility and power over his attitude and opinions.  His words had a desire and a commitment so strong that he could feel a “need” to change. Change happens when you get in touch with your feelings.   When you make your commitments to change, make sure your words aren’t empty of feeling. The more desire, and feeling they have, the more powerful your commitments and the faster your change will be.

I don’t just write about Dave because it is a good story. I know from personal experience the impact desire and commitment had to the changes I made. I vividly remember the desire that drove commitment that then led to changes.  What I write about here isn’t just theory or story about Dave.  Having and embracing these raw ingredients of feelings and emotions that produced change is also my experience.


Original by Gary van Warmerdam

Posted at

Love Is A Mystery

I was at a friends wedding recently and asked to share some words at their ceremony.  I was inspired by the love and beauty of the preparations, and their devotion to each other and put together the following.  


Love is a mystery to me.

And yet, Love may very well be the best thing we do.

Love doesn’t make any sense.  It doesn’t cause us to think logically. It actually causes the logical part of our mind to be confused and calls that force of love crazy. It’s okay to be a crazy and illogical when it comes to love.  The world isn’t a logical rational place anyways.  Be a little crazy for love. It may very well be the best thing we do.

Love is a mystery, a paradox, a puzzling experience.

At times love is inspirational. It inspires us to declare, commit, and serve.

At times Love is an accident.  Sometimes you don’t see it coming and you fall right in, happily.

Love is a dream. There is nothing tangible to prove it exists.

Love is a force.  It moves us to take bold actions and do great things.

Love can be like driving a car. Sometimes it is easy and you know where you are going. Sometimes you get lost, stuck in traffic, and have to detour while you learn your way.

Love is a garden.   You have to keep taking out the weeds that try to grow there.

Love is art

Love is art in the medium of emotion.

Love is an expression of beautiful emotions.

Love inspires us to pleasure and enjoyment.

Love makes for great works of art.

Love can also be conscious.

The love here today is not an accident.  Love like this is intent-full, purposeful, and because of that palpable.  It is not created by accident but by each of us.  Love is not only one of God’s creations, it is one of our human creations.  And love may very well be the best thing we do.

You find love infused in the creation of food, music, paintings, gardening, work, and relationships of respect and appreciation. You can see the traces of love here in the garden, the table linens, the clothes, the lighting, the food, wine, and all the preparations.

Love is a practice. Like any art, love takes practice.  To get better at it you will do your best by working at it every day. The practice of love takes time and attention.   Make time for love.  Make time to give it attention and practice. If you don’t practice, you get rusty.

Love leaves a trail, a residue. It leaves a mark on our heart and soul, and on the heart and souls of those we touch.

Practice leaving traces. Put some love in your beloved’s coffee or tea when you make it for them in the morning. Add it along with the milk. Practice putting some love in your words to them.  When you ask a question like  – will you take out the trash —  put some love in those words.  When you say – thank you – put some love in those words too.   Love is a practice.

When you cook food for them, you can put love in what you cook.  Add a little here and there. It goes with anything.

Practice the art of love.  Don’t just let it be an accident. If you aren’t  practicing love, then you are practicing something else.

Practice keeping the garden clean.

Practice creating dreams of love.

Practice expressing love and your life will be happy.

The art of expressing love is vast, and the depth is unfathomable.  Explore.

The expression of love is an art. The best art isn’t an accident. The best art comes with years of practice. Make your expressions with each other a work of art.  Make the effort to practice every day.  It may very well be the best thing we do.



The Problem With Perfection

My life didn’t change in one moment. I wish it had been that simple. For me, big changes happen over time in many steps. One particular issue that I needed to change showed up fairly early in my teaching career. I fondly refer to it as the “perfectionist” monster.

During a typical class or coaching session, questions would fall into the usual realm of work and relationships. These were complicated enough, however, in the back of my mind, I imagined the really tough emotional issues showing up one day.  Perhaps a woman had been raped and was working through the trauma of it.  Or, a grieving parent who had lost a child and was looking for peace.  I always thought it best to teach what I had experience in, yet I didn’t have those experiences. Nor was I likely to.

How would I do?  I wanted to have the answers that would help them. I would ponder the right things to say but nothing would suffice.  I would seek inspiration on how to help facilitate such healing, but was met with only silence.

Imagined scenarios would grow tentacle tangents of internal dialogue and grip my mind. “If I couldn’t help this person, then I was failing. That would make me a failure.  Maybe I should get more life experience and practice before I do any more teaching?” These thoughts had my attention distracted in a side story of self doubt and low level fear. It seemed that I could solve the problem if I just stopped teaching. But that wouldn’t really make the thoughts and feelings go away.  Rather, the negative stories would lie dormant waiting to be triggered some other day. I opted to continue teaching while observing this uncomfortable side story about my ability to guide people.

After some weeks of tracking these tentacles, I began a detailed inventory of the beliefs behind the images and thoughts flashing through my mind.  The turning point happened when I detailed the expectations I held for myself as a coach. I expected success and I was surprised to find that “success” had some very specific meanings. I could categorize myself as a success if, after a session, a client was completely healed of their emotional suffering over the issue. If they weren’t transformed, a particular voice in my head judged me as a failure.  It was a nonsensical belief system, and yet it was there poking at my emotions with its scenarios and stories.

I had unconsciously created an Image of Perfection. I don’t know when or how, but I was walking around with it. Perhaps I had acquired it from reading books on personal transformation, or stories of saints performing miracles when I was a kid at church. Who knows?

Like most issues in the subconscious, I didn’t find this fictional expectation immediately.  The voice in my head didn’t say, “Gary this is the fictional image of success we are going to judge you against. If you don’t meet it you will be deemed such a failure that you should give up even trying.” The ego kept expectations of perfection hidden behind doubts and impossible scenarios. Only upon careful scrutiny did I see the comparison and the unrealistic standard my ego was using. In the beginning, I was too busy trying to live up to it by finding brilliant life changing words that might help someone else. In reality, my motivation was more selfish. Apparently I was trying to escape the belief and feeling of failure that my subconscious had constructed.

What is peculiar about an Image of Perfection is that it is nothing but a concept. From one point of view, it can be a source of inspiration, a goal that we become passionate about, and a vision that can inspire us to excel and accomplish great things. From a darker point of view, that same concept can be used as a club by the ego to emotionally beat us down into fear, doubt, and self-sabotaging behavior.  How ironic that my ideal of a teacher was a monster as well.

What I realized was that I was never going to be “good enough” to meet that Image of Perfection. It was an unfair comparison to a fantasy scenario. It would have been unfair to hold other people to that expectation and so it was unfair to hold myself to it also. With awareness of it as fantasy, the stories of judgment, fear, and doubt lost credibility and began falling apart. I no longer felt the pressure to be the perfect coach or teacher.  I stopped imagining and fearing challenging scenarios or needing to come up with perfect words.

The common sense truth is that emotional hurt and grief don’t get transformed in an hour just because of well-spoken words. I didn’t know of any words that would magically alleviate emotional pain and suffering, because there aren’t any. I did know that I could be supportive and compassionate, while helping people work through their false beliefs and unrealistic expectations the same way I did.  I decided that was my best, and my best was enough. It wasn’t the lofty self-image the ego was trying to mold.  But it was one that was realistic, and allowed my mind to be at peace, and me to be happy.

Gary van Warmerdam

The Dhamma Brothers

documentary about a prison meditation program at Donaldson Correctional Facility near Bessemer, Alabama, features four inmates, all convicted of murder, and includes interviews with guards, prison officials, local residents and other inmates.



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