Author Archives: MBSR Mentorship

Navigating Aortic Valve Replacement (AVR) Surgery with mPEAK and Mindfulness

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Read this very personal story from a recent mPEAK participant and Join Pete Kirchmer for the next mPEAK 3-Day Intensive March 11-13, 2017, UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, San Diego, CA.

By William R. Matthews, MA, LPC

Medical literature contains numerous references proclaiming the benefits of meditation and mindfulness on cardiovascular health and pain management. But to me, these were merely academic case studies, as I had not personally known anyone who had successfully used mindfulness to manage through a major medical procedure. That is, until August 17, 2016, when I had aortic valve replacement surgery.

I need to back up a moment. In March of 2016 I participated in the three-day mPEAK intensive that included six weekly one-hour conference call follow-ups. For me the follow-up sessions were critical for integrating the didactic and practice sessions taught in the three-day into a consistent meditative practice. mPEAK was my first hands-on experience with mindfulness. At that point in time, I had been aware for several years that I had a bicuspid aortic valve that would “eventually” need replacement (in fact it kept me from fully participating in the five-mile mindful walk that is part of the program), but there had been no discussion of surgery with my primary physician or cardiologist. Two months after returning from mPEAK, my new primary care physician sent me for an ultrasound of my heart. The results indicated significant blockage of the aortic valve, and that started the ball rolling for surgery “as soon as possible.”

When a date for surgery was set, I emailed mPEAK ccf9e-headshot2program director, Peter Kirchmer, asking if he could provide me with additional mindfulness resources on pain management, since that seemed to be a big concern connected to surgeries. In response, Pete wrote “Forget about additional resources. You have everything you need already. Just continue developing the skills you already have.” Wise counsel indeed. So I loaded up my iPod with all the meditation files mPEAK had made available to us on its website, added John Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief, and a few other meditations. I played these every evening before bed, in the waiting lounges of airports, and in my office sharing them with my clients. Ultimately, my iPod was headed with me to the hospital.

The night before surgery I slept soundly without the benefit of any sleep aid other than my meditation-filled iPod. I arrived at the hospital at 5:40 AM surgery day and was taken back to pre-op shortly thereafter. The nurse remarked that my blood pressure showed no signs of anticipatory anxiety.  I too was surprised at how calm I was considering someone was about to cut my chest open and mess with my heart. I told the nurse about my mindful preparation and she asked a lot of questions of interest to learn more. A brief chat with a family member, a friend and a short prayer from the rector of my church was all I remember before waking up almost six hours later.

I awoke in recovery to see the same three faces that I had left there that morning. After a few minutes I was taken to cardiac ICU. A nurse and a member of the physical therapy team armed with a pillow were waiting for me. The PT announced that she was there to help me get into bed by “leaning into my pain and clutching the pillow” as my incisions were on the right side along with two chest tubes. Even in my post-anesthesia fog, my mind went immediately to a body scan, noting that my left side was incision- and tube-free. I also made a mental note that at home my bedroom is set up so that I can only get into bed from my left side. I got up off the gurney without assistance walked around the end of the hospital bed, sat down and got into bed on the left side of the bed without assistance (with minimal pain) and said, “I think I’ll do it this way instead.” The PT could only respond, “I guess that way’s OK too.”

The nurse waiting her turn with me announced that she was there to help me with pain management. She advised, “The key to pain management is staying ahead of the pain.” I interpreted that to mean don’t wait until the pain gets bad, keep taking your medication. At that point my mind recalled an activity from mPEAK where we were asked to insert a hand up to mid-forearm into a bucket of ice water and keep it there until the pain started to hurt. Most people removed their hands from the buckets in under a minute. The teachers explained that a large part of managing pain is changing our relationship to the pain. After sharing techniques and mindsets for doing so, we were given the opportunity to try immersing our hands into the ice water again. Most everyone were able to keep their hands in the ice water for considerably longer the second time around. With this recollection I informed the nurse of my plan – to measure my pain on a scale from 0-5 every hour or so, and if the pain number was not any higher than the last “reading” I wouldn’t be asking for pain medication. I received medication for pain only twice: 1) shortly after arriving in the ICU and 2) later that day when they removed the chest tubes. By the next morning, the day after surgery, I had discontinued all pain medication for the remainder of my hospital stay.

Prior to my surgery, my cardiologist and cardiac surgeon both agreed that I would need to go to a rehab facility “for at least a week” after being discharged from the hospital because I live alone. However, I created a dilemma for them because my recovery was so quick and complete. The discharge social worker advised me that I didn’t meet any medical criteria for rehab placement. She even had PT and OT evaluate me one more time in hopes of coming up with some reason to get me admitted, but neither could come up with a medical need. So I was discharged after 4-1/2 days, with my doctors agreeing that I could stay with a friend who lived within a mile of the hospital. I had a return visit to the cardiac surgeon four days afterward. At that appointment my cardiac surgeon said I was free to go back home and decide for myself when I would go back to work. I was back to work half-time three weeks after surgery and returned to full-time work the following week.

While I wouldn’t necessarily put AVR surgery in the category of a high performance activity, I am convinced that the skills and tools I learned from mPEAK, played a central role in my recovery.

William R. Matthews, MA, LPC is in private practice with the Great Lakes Psychology Group. Bill works out of GLPG’s office in Clinton Township, Michigan, where he counsels with children, adolescents and adults using family systems, EMDR, Mindfulness and sports psychology approaches. Bill is also a volunteer trainer and curriculum consultant for the University of Notre Dame’s Play Like a Champion Today educational program. Bill can be reached at bill.matt.GLPG@gmail.com.

Join Pete Kirchmer for the next mPEAK 3-Day Intensive March 11-13, 2017, UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, San Diego, CA.

ccf9e-headshot2Pete Kirchmer is  the Program Director for the UCSD Center For Mindfulness mPEAK (Mindful, Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge) Program. Pete specializes in coaching his clients in applying the practice of mindfulness to making healthy lifestyle changes as well as improving performance in life, work and sport. For more information about Pete Kirchmer please visit his Mindfulness Based Health Coaching website.

Mindfulness Shines A Light on Anger

by Margaret Cullen and Gonzalo Brito Pons

margaretMargaret Cullen and Gonzalo Brito retrato-gonzalo-argentinaPons, co-authored “The Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance Workbook. Join them for the Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance (MBEB) Teacher Training Intensive, April 9-15, 2017 at EarthRise Retreat Center, Petaluma, CA. Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance is an empirically-supported 9-week psycho-educational group intervention that teaches mindfulness meditation and emotion training.

It’s such a shame to think of how often we deride ourselves, and each other, for being “emotional.” It’s like jumping on someone for breathing. Emotion is a process that is a vital part of being alive. As the pioneering psychologist of emotions Paul Ekman has said, emotion is a kind of rapid, automatic appraisal of what’s going on. It’s influenced by our evolutionary past as well as our personal past, such that when “we sense that something important to our welfare is occurring…a set of physiological changes and emotional behaviors begins to deal with the situation.”

You’ve been endowed with a nervous system that has evolved over thousands of generations in a way that you didn’t choose. By the time you actually realize that you have a mind and a brain, the basic rules of how they work are already in place. The events that trigger our emotional responses are sometimes universal and sometimes personal. Almost anyone would feel fear at the sight of an oncoming car, but only some of us are afraid of hiking down steep trails while others happily scramble down them like a mountain goat. The triggers that each of us carries with us often come from early childhood and can continue quite unconsciously into adulthood.

And opportunities for emotion abound. Remembering, talking about, or imagining a past emotional scene or thinking of future scenarios can trigger emotions. Observing another person’s emotions (even on a TV screen) can elicit an emotional response. Role playing or theater can elicit emotion; and so can seeing an event that offends our sensibilities, like someone talking on a cell phone at the symphony or throwing trash into the street.

One of our most potent emotions—whose inward and outward effects can have disastrous consequences—is anger. In evolutionary terms, its main adaptive function is to remove obstacles that thwart us. When we feel anger, it’s because the primitive brain is trying to tell us something needs to change. We share this emotion with other mammals and even with reptiles. Baby humans come already well equipped with the capacity to get angry. If you hold a baby by her arms from behind, preventing her from grabbing a toy, she will get pretty angry, furrowing her brow, tightening her muscles, trying to move forcefully to get the toy, and perhaps shouting with a squeaky voice. When the baby grows up, she can have an analogous reaction when someone cuts her off on the road, especially if she’s already late for an important meeting! Anger also shows up when you—or others you feel connected to—are treated unjustly, or when someone or something prevents you from meeting your goals and needs.

Regardless of what triggers them, emotional responses can be either functional or dysfunctional. If we automatically swerve from an oncoming car, the fear response is extremely functional. If we’re afraid to leave the house for fear something terrible will happen, we are now in a disorder that is on the very dysfunctional side of fear, a disorder that no doubt is being triggered by an imported script from past trauma.

Until around the 1970s, it was commonly believed that the nervous system was essentially fixed throughout adulthood; that brain functions remained constant and that it was impossible for new neurons to develop after birth. If you were born with a “glass half-empty” attitude, it would be a life-sentence of unhappiness. Neuroscience has changed all that with the concept of neuroplasticity, which suggests that, in reality, human brains are flexible and change through experience. Although there are some fixed rules about what minds and brains can do, it’s also true that there is a space of freedom to respond rather than react that can be cultivated through mindful observation and practice. And in that space, we have an opportunity to work creatively with the dysfunctional aspects and enhance the more functional aspects of our emotional life.

Consciously or not, we’re constantly training our minds and brains to respond to circumstances. By virtue of repetition, our reactions crystallize into emotional patterns and neural pathways, which, in turn, influence the way we perceive reality. This is particularly true when we’re in the grips of a strong emotion, which is sometimes called the refractory period, a period of time when we’re only able to take in information and evoke memories that confirm, maintain, or justify the emotion we are feeling. This same mechanism that guides and focuses our attention can also distort our ability to deal with both new information and knowledge already stored that does not match the current emotion. We can all think of countless examples when we have missed obvious cues or forgotten historical data when we were “blinded” by a strong emotion. It’s not called “blind rage” for nothing.

Blind and Blaming

MindfulnessBasedEmoBalanceWB-CF.inddAlthough it’s quite possible to get mad at ourselves, the energy of anger is generally directed outward and it’s often linked with blame. This tendency to blame, strike out, punish, and retaliate makes anger especially challenging to sit with, and a big source of interpersonal suffering. When we feel anger toward someone, our sense of “self” and “other” gets very solid. In this state, we exaggerate all the negative qualities of the other person and become blind to positive attributes, which in turn feeds the aversion. The complexity and nuance of the other is reduced to a monolithic negative cartoon called “the enemy.”

We often wonder why we’re angriest at those we’re closest to. For one thing, people who know us intimately also know what can hurt us the most. Someone said, “Your family knows how to push your buttons because they actually installed them.” But a less glib reason is that it tends to be safer to show anger to an intimate than to a stranger. You can express aggression to your partner when you’re actually mad at your boss, probably because it’s less likely your partner will fire you. We can be frustrated about ourselves but direct our anger outside. It’s uncanny that we can even get quite angry at inanimate objects—a door, a table, a wall, or a shoe.

And that very fact reveals something that illuminates what’s really happening: although it feels as if the source of anger is out there, the anger comes from within. Other people are just pretending to be the real enemies. In fact, it’s possible to see them as our “patience coaches,” offering us opportunities to explore and tame the anger habit. If everyone was nice and considerate, how could we train in patience, how could we learn to tame our anger?

There’s an old story about a man who was sailing his boat on clear and sunny day, when a dense fog rolled in. Just as he had decided to return to shore, he noticed the profile of another boat coming in his direction. “Keep your distance!” the boatman shouted, concerned about a possible collision. But the other boat just kept approaching. The boatman used all his skills to swiftly shift direction, so there was more room for the other boat. He got really upset when he saw that the other boat changed its own course, now coming directly to him. “Stay out of my way!” he shouted again, but the other boat just kept coming closer, until it finally crashed into his boat.

The man was enraged: “You idiot! What the hell are you doing?!” He got totally worked up and continued his rampage until the fog lifted enough so that he was able to see that the other boat was empty—it was just an old abandoned boat floating downstream. Now he was perplexed and frustrated: To whom could he express his anger? Could he project his anger onto an empty boat? Without a person to blame, it was impossible to keep the story of anger going.

Ask yourself: Do I ever get mad at “empty boats”? If so, where does this anger come from? Where does it go?

Becoming aware of the inner terrain of anger can be helpful in catching it sooner and sparing ourselves and others the hurt and regret that often ensue from acting out anger. To work with anger, we need to see the space between trigger and reaction in order to mindfully look within.

Door Number Four

Anger is tricky because there’s a cost both to showing anger and to suppressing it. Suppressing doesn’t actually solve anything. It only postpones having to deal with anger while it keeps quietly simmering under the surface, wreaking havoc with our bodies. But if we show it, almost invariably we either hurt others or provoke retaliation. Another common habit is unconsciously “feeding” the mind states of anger with our stories of blame and victimization, thereby reinforcing the anger habit.

It’s rare that therapists nowadays advise their clients to act out their anger with real or symbolic others (punching pillows, shouting loudly in an empty room, and so on), partially because brain science has demonstrated that each time anger is expressed it gets rehearsed and strengthened. The idea that if you let your anger out you will reach peace and calm is simply not true—the satisfaction of the discharge will invariably be transient relief. And the anger will be saying, “I’ll be back.”

Most of us know we can get a certain satisfaction or relief when we express aggression. There can be a seductive quality to the anger, and an adrenaline rush, and that’s why it can become a habit, even an addiction. Anger is like a fuel. When we get angry we can feel energized, stronger, bigger—picture an angry cat with a curved spine and raised hair, pretending to be bigger than it is to scare away what it’s actually scared of. However, anger isn’t a very efficient fuel, because it burns hot and costly. It can be quite polluting on the inside and outside, and it’s heavy and corrosive in the system.

Fortunately, there are other options besides the “three doors” of suppression, expression, and unconscious fueling. When insults or obstacles are perceived, it’s normal for an anger response to arise. It’s just our nature and evolutionary history at work. Though we may succeed in becoming angry less often, it will always be a part of our emotional lives and it is therefore critical to learn how to relate skillfully with this challenging energy. As soon as you remember that you’re not just a victim of your anger, that you can actually use it as a path of self-discovery, you can practice being present with the feeling of anger, connecting with it, and allowing its energy to arise and pass away without acting on it or suppressing it.

This is “door number four.”

Don’t underestimate the power of this simple method. As with mindfulness generally, it’s simple, but it’s not easy.

The capacity to work with anger mindfully is not a binary, either-you-have-it-or-you-don’t proposition. It’s a practice that builds gradually, strengthening the muscle of mindfulness in the face of pleasant and unpleasant experiences. Instead of identifying with, rejecting, or being unaware of anger, we can learn to approach it with openness and curiosity, trusting that anger has something to teach us, and that this can be a very productive part of practice.

Anger is not a special problem getting in the way of mindfulness practice. It actually provides you with an exceptional opportunity to practice mindfulness, to open up when habit tells you to shut down, to connect with experience when habit makes you disconnect, and to question if the image you’ve constructed of yourself and others is as solid as it appears.

There’s a Cherokee story that captures the nature of anger beautifully. A boy tells his grandfather about his anger at a friend who had done him an injustice. His grandfather replies: “Let me tell you a story. I too, at times, have felt great hate for those who have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It’s like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times. My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One wolf brings happiness. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. But the other wolf…ah! The littlest thing will send him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all of the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”

The boy looked intently into his grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”

The grandfather smiled and quietly said, “The one I feed.”

Training in mindfulness is remembering that every moment is an opportunity to practice peace, no matter the circumstances. Our thoughts, words, and actions are food for the wolves we all have inside. There’s no need for guilt when you notice you’re feeding the angry wolf (we all do this, and guilt won’t help). Instead, know that you have the freedom to learn from your experience and keep practicing with patience. Trust that it’s the small—often invisible—steps that take you forward.

MindfulnessBasedEmoBalanceWB-CF.inddMargaret Cullen and Gonzalo Brito Pons, co-authored “The Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance Workbook. Join them for the Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance (MBEB) Teacher Training Intensive, April 9-15, 2017 at EarthRise Retreat Center, Petaluma, CA. Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance is an empirically-supported 9-week psycho-educational group intervention that teaches mindfulness meditation and emotion training.

 

 

Being Mindful of Your Character Strengths: The mPEAK Program

by Pete Kirchmer

ccf9e-headshot2Pete Kirchmer is  the Program Director for the UCSD Center For Mindfulness mPEAK (Mindful, Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge) Program. Pete specializes in coaching his clients in applying the practice of mindfulness to making healthy lifestyle changes as well as improving performance in life, work and sport. For more information about Pete Kirchmer please visit his Mindfulness Based Health Coaching website.

Using our personal strengths can enhance our mindfulness but mindfulness logo-mpeakcan also help us better use our strengths in life, work or sport. In the mPEAK program, participants become aware of how and when they are using their strengths and the results that they’re getting so that they can understand how to use them to the best effect.

The informal practice the mPEAK participants use is called “Strengths Spotting”which is the practice of purposefully bringing mindful attention to what strengths are working well in either their own performance or in the performance of others around them. When directed towards others, Strengths Spotting is a powerful practice for counteracting our evolutionarily inherited negativity bias and cultivating the ability to look for the positive rather than for what is annoying or broken.

According to Strength Researcher Alex Lindley, when we are practicing strength spotting with our co-workers, teammates or family, we attempt to name or label what it is about a person that shines. This can be done in conversation with someone you know but it can also be done while observing the way people interact from a distance. It requires us to take a deep and non-judgmental look at the people around us and ask the question of ourselves, “what does that person do well?”. Test it out for yourself and see what happens when you hold people in what humanist psychologist Carl Rogers called “unconditional positive regard” and choose to see them for their strengths rather than judge them for their weakness. Participants regularly report a greater sense of connection, empathy, compassion and report.

Bringing mindful awareness to our own strengths means paying closer attention to what we refer to in mPEAK as “PEAK Performance Events” and flow experiences. By waking up to the experiences of being “on” and then curiously mining those experiences for strengths, participants start learning how to further develop and refine their strengths as well as create more opportunities to use them.

According to the Center for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP), Realize 2 Assessment, my own highest realized strengths are Mission, Growth, Self Awareness, Empathic Connection, Spotlight, Enabler and Listener. Each of these strengths has a direct positive impact on my commitment to mindfulness practice as well as how I show up in relationships, how I perform at the gym and in my work as a Life Coach. Again, strengths represent who we are when we’re at our best and there’s value in learning to leverage them to increase performance.

However for many who are already “high achievers”, the real growth opportunity lies not in continuing to embellish strengths but rather mindfully marshalling their use.

Strengths out of Balance

We’ve all heard the phrase, “your greatest strengths can be your greatest weaknesses.” Has that ever been true for you? Let’s take a look at how strengths can be both an asset and a liability to your performance, depending on how you use them. Here’s the description of someone, like me, who wields the CAPP strength of Spotlight. “You enjoy being the centre of attention. Whether in a meeting or in a social gathering, you naturally speak up and hold the floor. You like holding people’s interest and focus, and usually find this easy to do. You find that you can get people to listen to you and keep their attention – whatever else might be going on.”

With this strength I’ve been able to get up in front of teams and large organizations, facilitate workshops and give presentations to hundreds of skeptical strangers. Given that public speaking is generally a fear greater than death, I’d say this strength is generally serving me well. But it doesn’t always. There is a shadow side of being in the spotlight, as we know from the lives of movie stars and sports celebrities. Even at it’s worst, my Spotlight is hardly paparazzi worthy, but it has gotten me in enough trouble to warrant continual mindful management.

In my 20’s when my need for the spotlight was the strongest, I was attracted to dating girls whose strengths naturally included being a good audience to the “Pete Show”.  With all the charisma of a frat guy with a new philosophy fetish, I would dominate conversation on double dates and woo the crowds at dinner parties. While telling tales of wild adventure, sharing esoteric theories and violently flaunting my charm, my date and all other poor bystanders were inevitably left in the dust. When my strength of Spotlight was out of balance, there was no room for anyone else to show up and be heard. In the end, I learned the hard way that this is NOT the best strategy for making real connections.

Even a seemingly noble, ethically grounded strengths can be dangerous when out of balance. My strength of Mission has been a North Star guiding my personal practice and professional path as a coach over the years. A “man on a mission” is usually a desirable trait and exactly what’s needed to make real change in the world. But when the strength of Mission is overplayed in my life, everything else that doesn’t perfectly align or directly contribute to furthering my vision is neglected. This includes family, friends, significant others, finances, fun and upkeep of the home. I’ve found that a myopic pursuit of meaning and purpose can lead to isolation and frustration, not the higher performance we’re looking for.

In my many years as a coach I’ve worked with big hearted, compassionate animal lovers who’s strength out of balance lead her to adopt so many stray creatures she could no longer house them, afford to feed them or ever even consider leaving the house for a vacation. I’ve coached a fitness enthusiasts who’s self regulation out of balance constantly bordered on control freak, a single woman who’s fierce independence closed her down to receiving any kind of support from men and an interior decorator who’s attention to detail started showing up as OCD. With mindfulness, each of these people were able to become aware of what it felt like to use their strengths in and out of balance and gained the power to intentionally dial them up or dial them back to fit the circumstances…and this my friends is power.

Beginning to Work With Your Strengths

By now it’s pretty clear that mindfulness and strengths work together to enhance performance and create more opportunities for flow. If you’d like to explore how using strengths could support you along your path, follow these 4 steps:

1.     Discover Your Strengths. There are several strength assessments including the CAPP Realize 2, VIA Character, and the Clifton Strength Finder 2.0. You can also choose to do a self-evaluation by brainstorming what you see as your strengths or by doing a strengths interview and asking others who know you well.

2.     Practice Mindfulness of Strengths. Start intentionally becoming more aware of when and where you’re naturally using your strengths. Take note of the impact they have on your attitude and energy. You may also become aware of how they impact others around you.

3.     Apply Your Strengths. Start intentionally using your top strengths at work, in your relationships, and toward your personal goals.

4.     Manage Your Strengths. Mindfully monitor their use, making sure you don’t under or over play them.

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3-Day Intensives mPEAK course Programs activities include: meditation; talks on the relationship between neuroscientific findings, peak performance and mindfulness; experiential exercises; group discussion; and home practices.
CE credits are available.

May 14-16, 2016 UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, San Diego, CA

June 17-19, 2016 Brescia University College, London Ontario, Canada

 

 

 

June 26-28, 2015 The Catamaran Hotel, San Diego, CA

The Mindfulness Solution to Pain: Read The Story of Adam & MBCPM

 

Mindfulness-BJG_1-full-resolution-copy-150x150ased Chronic Pain Management (MBCPMTM) founder Jackie Gardner-Nix is a Physician and Chronic Pain Consultant, St Michael’s Hospital, Toronto and Associate Professor, University of Toronto. Join Jackie May 10-15, 2016 at EarthRise Retreat Center, Petaluma, CA, for a 5-Day Professional Training.

The Mindfulness-Based Chronic Pain Management (MBCPMTM) course is a modification of the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction courses established by Jon Kabat-Zinn which are now world-wide. There are cognitive aspects to the MBCPMTM course, as well as carefully crafted meditations to speak more to the chronic pain sufferer than the general participant who signs up for mindfulness training.

In most Mindfulness program there MBCPM-Bookis a curious ratio of 70 to 80% women to 20 to 30% men, yet men benefit very much from this work, and many of the leading teachers in Mindfulness are men. The following is a moving story emailed to me one year after taking our course by a young man, his site connecting with mine where I was co-facilitating the course via telemedicine in Ontario, Canada. At his site sat a young, softly spoken neurologist, doing her first co-facilitation via telemedicine with me after training in our curriculum, before launching her own courses. He repeated the course to gain more training in mindfulness, joining her for her first solo course.

Adam’s Story

by Adam Michael Segal

Pain overview:

My chronic pain odyssey began in early 2012. It was based in my bladder and was from an inflammatory condition called Interstitial Cystitis (IC). I also later developed chronic neuropathic pain. The pain was debilitating, relentless and as it persisted and intensified, it completely broke me down. It ruled my life. As a result, my marriage ended. I was unable to work. I fell into a major depression. I was 37 and doubted I would make it to 40.

MBCPMTM: After seeing nearly 20 specialists, I was referred to Dr. Jackie Gardner-Nix’s Mindfulness Based Chronic Pain Management (MBCPMTM) class in the summer of 2014. While initially shy and quiet, as I started to speak with classmates, I felt understood for the first time in years, even validated. Finally, there were people who could relate to me and my suffering. And a doctor who actually ‘got it!’ As I read sections of Dr. Jackie’s book, The Mindfulness Solution to Pain, it was like reading my biography. Some case studies in the book were people just like me – similar personality traits, pain triggers and emotional responses to pain.

Over time, the book, classes, activities, guided imagery and meditation collectively led to something transformative happening; my attitudes and views started to change. I began to realize that my emotions, especially bitterness and hopelessness, impacted my pain in a negative way. I began to gradually accept the pain and let it be. I started to focus my thoughts on the positive things in my life. For example, I had written a manuscript for a children’s book and I started to explore publishing it. And I went to my GP to get referred to a urologist in Kingston, Ont., who was Canada’s leading authority on IC.

Fall of 2014: I met with the urologist. I went into that consult with a positive, hopeful attitude. I can say emphatically that MBCPMTM contributed significantly to me being positive during the doctor visit. Everything I learned from MBCPMTM helped arm me with the courage to follow the urologist’s treatment regimen, which included invasive and painful bladder instillations – a treatment I had feared tremendously. Within a few months, my symptoms started to improve considerably.

Winter 2014/2015: I participated in a second round of MBCPMTM led by another doctor who was trained by Dr. Jackie. By March, I returned part-time to my job and dedicated the rest of my time and strength to the arduous process of self-publishing a book. In September, the book was printed and I started to do readings and author visits at schools. Children literally mob me like a rock star when I read. They laugh and learn and I glow in knowing my creation brings them such joy. In October, I hosted a book launch party with over 100 people. An article about the book and the pain I managed well enough to produce it, was published in a local paper.

Fall 2015: I continue to take most of the medications prescribed by the urologist, but I no longer require the invasive treatment. I still experience neuropathy, but it has no impact on my mood. My thoughts, views and attitudes are bursting with hope and optimism. MBCPMTM enabled me to really understand the mind-body connection. It helped me cultivate a frame of mind in which I control my life, not pain. I am mindful every day of how far along I have come and how happy I am to live in the here and now. And that gives me strength to live a fulfilling life.

About the Author

Adam Michael Segal is an expert in healthcare communications and author of the recently published children’s book, Fartzee Shmartzee’s Fabulous Food Fest, available on Amazon. Mr. Segal intends to develop the main character into a health & wellness super hero for children. Earlier in his career, Mr. Segal was a journalist and wrote articles for such media as The Toronto Star, National Post and CBC. Mr. Segal hopes his story inspires others with chronic pain to make mindfulness a central part of their healing solution. He holds degrees in Arts, Education and Journalism.

Answering the Fundamental Question of Mindful Self-Compassion

by By Steven Hickman, Psy.D.
Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher and Teacher Trainer
Executive Director, UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness

steve-hickmanTo locate an 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion course near you, or to locate a 5-day intensive MSC program, see the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion website. Dr. Hickman will be co-leading upcoming MSC intensives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in late August and near Rome, Italy in early October. For mindfulness and self-compassion courses in San Diego, see the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness website.

It’s a simple question, really. But one that often brings on a state of perplexed astonishment when someone asks us.

“What do you need?”

Unless we are a sobbing child who has come rushing to his mother after some sort of sibling transgression, or we are urgently and frantically searching for the restroom in an unfamiliar restaurant, we have an unusually hard time answering that question.

In a moment of suffering, sorrow, despair or betrayal, can we actually answer the very deep and important question of “What do I need? Right now, in this moment.”

What we often needed as children when we were distressed, was to be comforted, reassured that we are still loved and cared for, and soothed by the gentle unconditional touch of a loving parent. We needed someone to kiss our “booboo” when we stumbled and fell. Or to be consoled by a loving embrace when we were excluded from a game of hide-and-seek.

But for many of us, our distress was met by something else, or as we grew older we had difficult or traumatic experiences that disconnected us from our deep need to be loved, accepted and appreciated. For whatever the reason, we have found ourselves removed from a sense of what we really need when we suffer, and often are not even aware much of the time when we DO suffer. We overlook our fears of being disconnected, unloved or, ironically, overlooked, often by tending to the needs of others instead.

We throw ourselves into caring for the needs of those around us and many of us are quite adept at such acts of service. We channel our inner desires to be cared for by caring for others, and when done with a true connection to one’s own heart, this can be a beautiful thing. And we often instinctively know just exactly what others need. Our mirror neurons fire wildly when we contact another person’s pain and difficulty and through that resonance with another, we are miraculously able to muster up just the right expression of comfort, the perfect words and the much-appreciated offer of kindness or consolation.

But what of the darker moments of our own despair, fear or desperation? What do we need in those moments for ourselves, because this one matters too? We often struggle to answer that question and as a result, further suffering arises as we resort to other less helpful and more destructive ways of meeting that deep inner need to be loved and connected. We criticize ourselves for having this need, we tell ourselves that if we just tried harder, got things right more often (or better yet, if we were perfect), or removed ourselves from contact with others, THEN we would feel OK.

And so it is that a growing number of people find themselves in the Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) course developed by leading self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff, Ph.D. and noted author and expert on compassion and mindfulness in psychotherapy Christopher Germer, Ph.D.

MSC could be considered an “antidote” to the shame and self-criticism that many of us bear, and which cripples many of us with self-doubt, fear and self-loathing. By systematically cultivating the ability to be kind and loving to ourselves, especially in those moments of suffering that arise when we feel disconnected, lost, alienated or dismissed, MSC slowly helps restore in each of us our natural capacity to be kind, loving and compassionate to ourselves in the way that we do so effortlessly for others.

One of the first questions that MSC participants ponder in the course is the curious one of “How would you treat a friend when they are struggling, when they fail or feel inadequate?” Typically, the responses flow quickly and fluidly when we contemplate that question. And then, when the question turns to how we typically treat ourselves in those very same situations, the responses are often starkly in contrast. Especially when considering something as seemingly innocuous as the tone of voice of our inner dialogue. Many find that their inner critic is harsh, demanding, dismissive and belittling (and often echoes with the pain of the voice of people from the past who have treated them in this way). They notice how it feels to be spoken to in this way and it can often be a revelation for people who have never actually considered how it feels to be talked to in this way.

This revelation is often reflected in comments by participants like “I would NEVER talk to someone else like this!” In fact, this phenomenon is more widespread than one might think. In fact, Dove recently dramatized this fact in a YouTube video where they asked women to write down the things they say to themselves about their appearance. They then set up public conversations between two women in cafes and restaurants where one woman said those same things out loud to her companion. Strangers nearby were horrified and, in some cases, actually interrupted the two actors to comment on how terrible it was that one person would speak to another in such a way!

The MSC program sets about to help participants begin to “warm up the inner conversation” and begin to cultivate a loving, tender, accepting attitude toward oneself, that motivates us out of a desire to be happy and free from suffering, rather than one of perfectionism, fruitless striving, fear and shame. Early research on the program is promising and the huge existing body of research done by Kristin Neff and others already demonstrates a strong association between self-compassion and a huge variety of measures of well-being and good mental health, as well as the ability to make changes in unhealthy behavior, persist in the face of adversity, and to be perceived more positively in intimate relationships, just to name a few.

If you find it difficult to answer the fundamental question of Mindful Self-Compassion of “What do you need?” when you are feeling overwhelmed, afraid, sad or fearful, you might benefit from a greater ability to bring kindness to yourself and soothe yourself in these moments, as well as in your daily stressful life. Consider taking the Mindful Self-Compassion course to discover your compassionate inner voice and to find a way to meet yourself in the way in which you tend to meet others, reversing the Golden Rule and doing unto yourself what you would do (and say) to others!

Register for Mindful Self-Compassion locally in San Diego! Registration is now open to attend the next Mindful Self-Compassion program at the UCSD CFM beginning Thursday Afternoon, September 24th, 2015, 1:00pm-3:45pm.

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“Our brains are evolving to multitask,” not! The ill-usion of multitasking

By Allan Goldstein
Originally published July 2011 revised April 2015

I recently overheard a proclamation, which has become somewhat of a mantra, recited by today’s college students. A student proudly making the following declaration regarding her ability to pay attention to multiple digital screens at once said, “Our brains are evolving to multitask!” That simple yet profound statement left me wondering if this could really be true? How in one or two computerized generations of human beings could our brains evolve so dramatically? Is there such a thing as multitasking, and how is our performance affected when we are concurrently attending to computers, smart phones, iPads, and our daily chores? Recent research in neuroscience has shown that our brains are capable of forming new neural connections, known as neuroplasticity, but this student’s assertion seems to be pointing towards a rapid leap in evolution that goes well beyond that. Through my work in the field of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), I have come to believe that what we commonly refer to as multitasking does not exist and that the level of our ability to perform tasks suffers as we shift our attention from one task to another. In fact, the empirical data from studies in the field of neuroscience is proving that there is no such thing as multitasking!

The online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines multitasking as “the concurrent performance of several jobs by a computer” and “the performance of multiple tasks at the same time.” These two definitions divide multitasking into two distinct categories. The first definition refers to performing multiple tasks simultaneously, such as driving while talking on the phone or listening to the radio while at the same time trying to remember directions. The second definition is pointing towards moving from one task to another, such as text messaging, followed by shifting to doing homework on a computer, and shifting again to grab a hurried bite from a late ­dinner—over and over, again and again. Now consider that all of us, especially college students given their current digital, computer, screen-oriented lifestyles, are doing more and more of this all the time. If this is true, and I believe it is, we can see why it is good for our psyches to think we are evolving to do it.

So what exactly is the data derived from recent research in the field of multitasking showing? In the PBS Frontline presentation Digital_Nation, by Douglas Rushkoff and Rachel Dretzin, Dr. Clifford Nass is interviewed about his studies at Stanford University on the performance levels of extreme multitaskers: “These are kids who are doing 5, 6, or more things at once all the time.” Contrary to the fact that most multitaskers think they are extremely good at it, the results of Nass’s first-of-its-kind studies are troubling: “It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking! They get distracted constantly. Their memory is very disorganized. Recent work we’ve done suggests that they’re worse at analytic reasoning. We worry that it may be we’re creating people who may not be able to think well and clearly.”

Taking a step back from the profound statement “our brains are evolving to multitask,” let’s look at the question, Are students developing new skills and competence that facilitates multitasking? In “What Else Do College Students ‘Do’ While Studying? An Investigation of Multitasking” by Charles Calderwood, Philip L. Ackerman, and Erin Marie Conklin, findings show a correlation among college students between mutitasking and study skills: “Higher homework task motivation and self-efficacy for concentrating on homework were associated with less frequent and shorter duration multitasking behaviors, while higher negative affect was linked to greater multitasking duration during the study session”. In my experience, there is a fundamental common sense to all this. If you focus all your attention on one task at a time, it seems logical that the results would be better than if your attention is divided or distracted by other tasks. Our children may argue they are evolving to move beyond this, yet the data support what our mothers and generations before us always knew as they gave advice such as, “Finish what you are doing!”

In our culture, there is certainly a perception that people can successfully multitask and a belief that the more we do it the more efficient at it we become. After all, most of us would say we are multitasking many times during the day. So what are the motivations behind all our multitasking? In her blog article “Beyond Simple Multi-Tasking: Continuous Partial Attention,” Linda Stone makes a distinction between simple multitasking and what cognitive scientists refer to as “complex multitasking” to explain her theory of Continuous Partial Attention (CPA). In simple multitasking, each task is given the same priority. One task may even be routine, like stirring pasta while talking to our spouse. Stone claims the driving force in simple multitasking is to be more productive. In complex multitasking, the motivation is not to miss anything by maintaining a field of CPA. As Stone explains, “In the case of continuous partial attention, we’re motivated by a desire not to miss anything. We’re engaged in two activities that both demand cognition.” One of these cognitive tasks may also seem more important than another, requiring our brains to be focused on it while remaining alert to the several other less important cognitive tasks requiring our attention. Stone continues, “When we do this, we may have the feeling that our brains process multiple activities in parallel. Researchers say that while we can rapidly shift between activities, our brains process serially.”

Stone’s theory of CPA is supported in the article “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers” by Eyal Ophir, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner. The abstract of their study states the following surprising findings: “that heavy media multitaskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set.” It is important to note Stone’s CPA is not multitasking; rather she is referring to the kind of attention we hold while we are complex multitasking. Maintaining our attention in this state of hyper-vigilance keeps our fight or flight response activated. According to Stone, some people will feel alive, on top of things, and connected. She concedes this can serve us well at times. However, Stone claims the shadow side of being on continuous, continuous partial attention (CCPA) is a constant activation of the fight or flight response. The complex multitasker is in a continuous state of overstimulation with a perpetual feeling of lack of fulfillment that can lead to stress-related diseases. This holds true with my own experiences hearing about and seeing the conditions that create stress in the lives of participants in MBSR programs.

Indeed, neuroscientists are discovering that different parts of the brain are switching on and off, resulting in the serial processing that Stone references. This switching happens so fast that it appears we are performing multiple tasks simultaneously. We can conclude that, contrary to the first definition of multitasking, “the concurrent performance of several jobs by a computer” (Merriam-Webster ), that our brains do not process tasks concurrently. Regarding the second definition of multitasking, “the performance of multiple tasks at the same time” (Merriam-Webster ), we see we are not really performing tasks at the same time, but instead switching back and forth between them with some of us in an unfulfilled state of continuous partial attention.

In an interview for The Atlantic titled “Corporations’ Newest Productivity Hack: Meditation,” Joe Pinsker quotes David Gelles, the author of Mindful Work: “Multitasking is a myth. I think we rarely, if ever, can actually do two things at the same time. I think what we’re doing is very rapid task-switching, which leads to inherent inefficiencies.” Many naysayers may try to claim this is simply a semantic argument, and to some degree, I would agree. Words are divisive by nature and often fall short in truly representing what they are meant to describe. Perhaps it is time to throw out the word “multitasking,” as the definitions no longer fit, and invent words that better represent our current scientific understanding of the way our brains function. How about “serialtasking” or “taskswitching”?

If we identify that our lives have sped up to a point that may be causing us physical harm and if we have a desire to do something about it, there are several antidotes to our cultural addiction of the illusion of multitasking. This will require a change that most people may be resistant to make. In the article “Mastering Multitasking,” Urs Gasser and John Palfrey suggest, “We have to embrace and master it, while providing limits from time to time to create contemplative space for young people.”  We can focus more on individual tasks by bringing a strong mindful awareness to our actions while performing them. By taking breaks and time outs, we can shift our attention back to our senses. In one sense, I’m hopeful as I see a cultural shift, perhaps as a backlash to all the stimulation, to embrace mindfulness. Alternatively letting go of even one aspect of multitasking, like text messaging, can be painful for some people, let alone shutting down and going offline.

The empirical evidence supports the hypothesis that there is no such thing as multitasking. Multitasking is a misnomer. The word points to something that at best can be looked at as individual tasks being performed through a very rapid switching back and forth in the way our brains function or through performing tasks with continuous partial attention. Research, particularly in the field of neuroscience, is compiling data that show multitasking can negatively affect performance and lead to increased levels of stress. We are all part of one big current cultural experiment where we are the scientists, the laboratory, and the results, and it is not a trivial matter. The quality of our lives and our health may depend on our ability to truly understand and wisely manage the effects of our perceptions, beliefs, and actions surrounding our illusion of multitasking.

Works Cited

Calderwood, Charles, Philip L. Ackerman, and Erin Marie Conklin. “What Else Do College Students ‘Do’ While Studying? An Investigation of Multitasking” Computers and Education 75 (2014): 19-29. psycINFO. Web. 17 March 2015.

Dretzin, Rachel and Douglas Rushkoff. “Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier.” PBS. Frontline, 15 Feb. 2010. Web. 14 Apr. 2011.

Gasser, Urs and John Palfre. “Mastering Multitasking.” Educational Leadership 66.6 (2009): 14-19. Education Full Text. Web. 17 March 2015.

“Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.” Merriam-Webster. Encyclopedia Britannica, Apr. 2011. Web. 13 Apr. 2011.

Ophir, Eyal, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner. “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (2009). Web. 15 Apr. 2011.

Pinsker, Joe. “Corporations’ Newest Productivity Hack: Meditation,” theatlantic.com. 10 March 2015. Web. 17 March 2015.

Stone, Linda. “Beyond Simple Multi-Tasking: Continuous Partial Attention.” Lindastone.net. N.p., Nov. 2009. Web. . 17 March 2015.

About The Author

Allan GoldsteinAllan Goldstein is the Managing Director of the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. Allan’s growth within the field of Mindfulness-Based Interventions has led him to teach extensively to groups and individuals in various health care, university, military, business, and community settings. Allan has had a passion for learning and teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Programs since participating in his first program in 1993. He currently provides mentorship for current and future teachers through the MBSR Qualification and Certification program of the UC San Diego Mindfulness-Based Professional training Institute and  mbsrmentorship.com.

 

Discover Koru Mindfulness: Mindfulness Sparking Joy, Mindfully

Weeks ago I read an article by Penelope Green about a woman named Marie Kondo who gives advice on de-cluttering our lives. I was quite taken by her advice, and I have continued to ponder her suggestion that if we pay attention when sorting through our stuff, we will see that some of our possessions “spark joy” while others don’t. According to Green, Kondo says we should keep only those items that spark joy. I decided to turn the search for sparks of joy into a daily mindfulness activity; to my delight, I found joy sparking in all sorts of unexpected places.Sparks of Joy MindfullyThe first thing that is remarkable about this is the fact that I remembered anything for several weeks. The half-life of my memory seems to be about 24 hours, so I’m usually completely blank about anything that occurred more than five days ago. That just tells you how compelling Kondo’s idea is.The second thing that is remarkable, is that I read this article the day after I had completed a clean out of my closet, doing the semi-annual migration of seasonal clothes between the storage boxes under the bed and the closet. During the migration, I tossed out or kept items based on some idea of what I “should” keep. If something was expensive, then I “should” keep it, even if I was not fond of it. If something was old and showing a bit of wear, I “should” toss it, even if I loved it.The sorting was mostly a cognitive exercise, without much attention paid to feelings. After all, what feelings does one expect to have for a tattered hat or an old pair of socks?

Then I read about Kondo’s advice to pay careful attention to our emotional responses to our possessions when we are clearing out our clutter. Items that “spark joy” should be kept. Items that do not “spark joy” should be honored and thanked for their service, and then tossed.

“Often, it’s the unnoticed moments that are the islands of comfort and calm in our day.”

I must admit it had never occurred to me to systematically assess my possessions for their ability to spark joy. I tend to think of friends and family, occasions and events, sparking joy, but not possessions so much. It seemed like a great mindfulness exercise though, so I returned to my closet and my cast offs to apply the joy-sparking test.

I was surprised to find that many of my possessions did spark joy, and it wasn’t always the ones I expected. The disparity was enough to require a re-sort of the keepers and the cast offs. For example, the pale pink sweater that is incredibly soft had been placed in the cast off pile because really, I’ve just been wearing it too long. It looks tattered. When I picked it up, though, I felt definite sparks of joy, identifying the tired sweater as a keeper. But the expensive tweed jacket that had survived the cut the day before? It was a joy kill, so into the cast-off pile it went.

Other surprises. The socks that I’d kept when helping my sister clean out our mother’s belongings after her death three years ago sparked smiles and warm memories. Strangely, her sweater just made me feel sad. So I kept the socks and gave the sweater an honored farewell. Sadness is a useful emotion, but it didn’t feel like a prompt for saving old things.

I was so delighted by this new mindfulness game, that I carried on into the kitchen. Sorting through drawers, eliminating those things that did not spark joy and noting with delight how many items surprisingly created sparks. The bright yellow lemon squeezer and the tattered old wooden spoon were definite keepers.

In our Koru Mindfulness classes, we ask our students to choose an activity that they do daily and do it will full attention and mindfulness. We call this our “mindful daily activity”. The idea is to bring the practice of mindfulness more fully into our lives by paying closer attention to moments that typically go unnoticed.

Often, it’s the unnoticed moments that are the islands of comfort and calm in our day; it is helpful to take notice of them. For several weeks now my mindful daily activity has been to apply the joy-sparking test wherever I go. All manner of things are joy-sparkers: evening light, brisk wind, distant laughter, salty chips, soft mittens, warm water, and on and on.

I have been delighted to find this to be a useful and transformative exercise. It has helped me see that I am surrounded by little puddles of joy that I usually fail to recognize. Yes, I have problems. Yes, life is busy and things don’t always go as I would wish. But if I pay attention, there are little sparks of joy all around me. I just have to remember to notice.

Koru-Logo1-300x182Register for the upcoming Koru Mindfulness Teacher Certification Training presented through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness (UCSD CFM) Professional Training Institute, August 2-6, 2015, held at EarthRise Retreat Center, Petaluma, CA.

This workshop/retreat is the first phase of the Koru Mindfulness three-phase teacher certification program. Participants in the workshop must be accepted into the Koru Mindfulness teacher certification program. A complete description of the Koru Mindfulness certification program and an application can be found here.

Are you OK with a 2-and-a-half-year-old child undergoing bariatric surgery?

by Char Wilkins and Jan Chozen Bays

mindful-eating-360x200A two-and-a-half-year-old boy weighed 79 pounds, three times normal weight for his age, and he suffered from sleep apnea. After his parents’ two attempts to control the boy’s weight through dieting failed, surgery was approved.1 A laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy was performed on the boy which involved removing the outer margin of the stomach to restrict food intake, leaving a sleeve of stomach, roughly the size and shape of a banana. Unlike a lap band, the surgery is not reversible.

You might take a breath right now and become mindful of your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. Anger? Fear? Denial? Sadness? Any judgments?

Welcome to the world of excess that affects all of us . . . at any age.

Over a period of 14 years (199-2012), the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey collected information about the prevalence of obesity and severe obesity in the US, examining differences in the trends by age, race/ethnicity, and sex. During that time, 17.3% of children in the United States aged 2 to 19 years were found to be obese. Additionally, 5.9% of children met criteria for class 2 obesity and 2.1% met criteria for class 3 obesity. Although these rates were not significantly different from 2009 to 2010, all classes of obesity have increased over the last 14 years.3

We in this mindfulness community need to not only contemplate our responsibility to the obesity crisis which is fed by greed in its many forms, but we need to act, not react.

Dr. Rohit Kohli, MBBS Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, while acknowledging bariatric surgery can be a life-saving procedure, said:

There are case reports now in the literature and in the public domain in which 4- or 5-year-old children have undergone bariatric procedures. We should definitely think about this, as a community, with open eyes. There are consequences for bone development and metabolic concerns such as mineral and vitamin B12 deficiency or beriberi developing in these children. When we put all of this together as a consequence of a bariatric procedure and weigh it against the benefits that we have just outlined, it is a fine line that we need to walk.

As a pediatrician, first and foremost, I have learned to say, “Do no harm.” We need to take a step back, acknowledge that these procedures work, but in the same breath try to understand the consequences, both moral and physiological.2

But we who practice and teach mindfulness can do more than “do no harm.”

We can help people learn to eat mindfully. We can help them understand how conditioned patterns around eating can impact the way they eat for their entire life. We can help people make connections between thoughts and emotions and disordered eating. We can help them rediscover how to listen to the body so as to know what hunger, fullness and satiety are. We can help people of all ages slow down and re-discover the pleasure of eating through engaging their senses.

And we can help them find alternatives to work with a truth they already suspect: You can never fill the hole in your heart by filling up the stomach.

Our kids are eating their anger, sadness, disappointment and fears.

We tend to point fingers and talk about the issues that swarm around food, eating and body image: the media, fast food chains, genetically engineered food and stressed life styles. Most of us feel pretty helpless in the face of corporate and global forces that shape our lives. We have to acknowledge that we cannot change all these external factors. However we can change our relationship to our bodies and our food. We can choose to focus our time, energy and love on helping one person, one child.

Bridging BadgeJan Chozen Bays and I (Char Wilkins) have been teaching people for many years, individually or in small groups, how to rediscover a kinder and more joyful relationship with themselves, food and eating. A few years ago we formed a teaching partnership in order to spread the benefits of mindful eating by training other professionals in these skills. In our full-day workshop at the Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference in February, we’ll be exploring fun ways to help children use their innate wisdom to eat for nourishment and enjoy the process.

  • What do you think about mindful eating for kids?
  • How do you feel about bariatric surgery for children? Laparoscopic adjustable gastric band, the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, or a nitrogen inflated balloon placed in the antrum of the stomach?
  • Do you have experience with mindful eating?

Linking Mindfulness and Peak Performance

by Pete Kirchmer

mPEAK Flow

“Performance Enhancement” is a popular goal in my line of work that is typically associated with the supplement industry or return on investment (ROI) business strategies. Images are conjured up of competitive athletes in bright lycra crossing finish lines, a lone climber sumiting a mountain with ice picks or people in suits shaking hands on big business deals. This is in stark contrast to images that come to mind when thinking about “mindfulness”. This ancient wisdom tradition inspires peaceful images of stacked stones, Zen gardens and people sitting with serene posture on beaches at sunset. So how exactly does Mindfulness fit with Performance Enhancement? Although seemingly opposites, research with the US Olympic BMX Cycling Team suggests that mindfulness practice actually has a lot to contribute to those aspiring to enhance their performance; and it’s not all beaches and sunsets.

logo-mpeakCorporate leaders, extreme sports enthusiasts and everyday people who are looking for a competitive edge have been flocking to mindfulness training programs such as mPEAK, to help them cultivate presence, resilience and emotional regulation for greater success in work, sport and life. As a Mindfulness Based Health Coach I’ve been exploring this link between mindfulness and performance with my clients for the last decade. The path to improving performance is not always a straight one but there are several consistent themes that have emerged in my work.

Presence & Flow

When all of life’s circumstances align and conditions are just right; meaning you’re engaged in an inspiring and novel activity, you’re being challenged but feel competent and there is a degree of risk involved, you’re granted access to a deep state of presence called “flow”. According to positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow, also known as “The Zone”, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. But how often does life offer us this perfect set of circumstances? When was the last time you found yourself in a state of flow? Occasionally you might find yourself naturally engaged in conversation, attentive to a project, deeply immersed in a book, hobby or sport. But what I’ve found in my practice is that people more often default into a state of distraction; they’re lost in thought, zoned out, ruminating, and mindless. In this state, peak performance and enjoyment are unavailable.

Luckily, it’s not necessary to passively wait for the perfect storm of conditions before you find yourself in flow. The specific mindfulness practices I teach my clients offers access to the present moment no matter what the external circumstances. With a blend of focused concentration, physical embodiment and a sense of allowing things to be as they are, mindfulness is a necessary and powerful precursor to experiencing flow. My clients and the participants of the mPEAK program are challenged to bring a sense of curiosity and a “beginners mind” to every moment, expanding the possibilities of experiencing flow in the high performance activities they’re involved in as well as in every day situations.

Emotional Regulation & Resilience

mPEAK Tour BikersMost of the people who seek my coaching are already pretty good at what they do and have had their fair share of successes. Their strengths and skills have gotten them far, but still they have a sense that something is holding them back from performing at their peak potential. Does this sound like you? There are times when it’s all coming together; you’re making consistent progress and seeing gains but then all of a sudden…SMACK! Life happens, right? You fumble the ball, pull a hamstring, miss a deadline, blow a deal, or worse. To add insult to injury, perhaps your temper flares and you say the wrong thing to the wrong person. Or maybe your pattern is to shut down and spiral into self-defeating thoughts. If so, you’re hardly alone; this happens to everyone at some point whether you’re a pro athlete or even a mindfulness professional! The reason we react to challenges this way is that our brain interprets these setbacks as a threat to our survival, which triggers the sympathetic nervous system’s fight/ flight reaction. With adrenaline and cortisol running through the veins; anger, blame, self-criticism and escapism are automatic, habitual reactions. These unconscious stress-driven reactions make the initial problem exponentially worse and lead to lower self confidence and higher stress levels.

What I’ve found is that life, work and sport will all offer consistent challenges but what separates the high performers from the rest, is how we respond to these challenges. For instance the best thing that ever happened for my sport and life was to rupture a disc in my lower back. You see, before facing the possibility of never running again, I took this body for granted. It wasn’t until I was faced with the pain of losing my identity as an athlete that I really began to understand what a gift it is to freely move and lift and play. Rather than let it stop me, this challenge eventually inspired me to levels of performance that far exceeded my original state. I’ve had clients with similar experiences of transformation after big events such as facing the loss of a business or a marriage. With a perspective based in mindfulness and self-compassion, these challenges can serve as the bell to finally awaken to our lives and our purpose.

In my practice, I’ve seen time and time again how mindfulness practice can lead to greater awareness of potential obstacles as well as more skillful decision-making; so the frequency of life smacking you down becomes less. And when life does inevitably deal you a rough hand, these practices can help you respond more skillfully, get up faster, turn challenges into practice opportunities and ultimately do less harm to yourself and others.

As the lead trainer of the upcoming 3-Day mPEAK Intensive this March, I’ll be teaching high performers from around the country how to pause and maintain a centered, balanced perspective and find resilience even in the face of challenges. With these new capacities for resilience and access to flow states, participants can begin to perform more consistently at their peak potential.

If you’re ready to sign up for the 3-Day mPEAK Intensive this March please click here. If you have any questions regarding the mPEAK program, please contact me at mpeak@ucsd.edu.

Perhaps someday in the future, when we think of mindfulness we’ll imagine athletes in uniform sitting with serene posture on playing fields and people in suits pausing silently before meetings. The more research that emerges, the more obvious it becomes that Mindfulness and Performance are truly on the same team.

peter_kirchmerPete Kirchmer is a lead trainer in the the mPEAK program designed and developed at the UCSD Center for Mindfulness. He is founder of Mindfulness Based Health and specializes in coaching his clients in applying the practice of mindfulness to making healthy lifestyle changes as well as improving performance in life, work and sport. Pete has completed training as a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Teacher through the UMass Oasis Inst., holds a BS in Exercise Physiology, and is a Certified Professional Life Coach through the Coaches Training institute, Center for Applied Positive Psychology and Wellcoaches. Currently Pete has a private coaching practice with clients around the country.  He is a regular presenter at Rancho La Puerta, a world-class wellness resort in Tecate, Mexico, is an active member of the Harvard Institute for Coaching and is on the Board of Directors for the Encinitas Mindfulness Community. For more information about Pete Kirchmer please visit his Mindfulness Based Health Coaching website.

 

THANKFUL: Appreciating Beautiful Gifts from Children and Youth

By LeesaMaree Bleicher

LiseeMaree-Bleicher-300x168-2Visit LeesaMaree Bleicher, along with M. Mick Gardener, at the 2015 Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth Conference in their 90-minute breakout session called enlighten: a Trauma Informed Mindfulness Based Therapeutic approach combining Restorative Justice as an answer to youth involved in the criminal justice system. Promoting the concept of: Survivor Empowerment not Victimization of Recovery not Incarceration.

LiseeMaree BleicherAlbert Schweitzer said, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Nowhere is this spark as bright than in the heart of a youth. Nowhere does there lay a stronger elixir to waken your purpose than in the sparkling enthusiasm of a child’s spirit. And nowhere is there a grander purpose than the need to ease the suffering of a child.

The beautiful thing about helping children is that buried beneath the armor and attitude is this snow-white innocence, this flawless foundation, this feral potential still connected to God, or source, or that which is greater than us individually. This goodness remains steadfast despite the harm adults have done.

Our mission is to guide them back to this place of bliss, if only momentarily. In the shift to recovery, not treatment, we have come to understand “recovery” as recovering that which was lost from us: innocence, joy, light, that feral potential. Discovering the road back to that place of purity and reclaiming our power is the key to freedom from suffering.

Our mission, should we choose to realize it, is to be the guides whose purpose is to steer youth back to reclaim their potential. We do this each time we teach that even in the unbearable moments in life and in the dark of a night of unimaginable pain, there shines a dim but powerful light that will one day illuminate the darkness. And within this light, there shines their power and their way out of suffering.

Ideally we strive to plant the seeds of patience, tolerance and acceptance in our youth.

We affirm: “Life is not fair 8359890249_ed085986b0_b-360x200-1and no you did nothing wrong. No it is not your fault. No you do not deserve what happened to you. No one can make it better, but one day if you just hang on — have faith — one day, I promise you will be OK. One day you will emerge from this stronger and more powerful than you can ever imagine.”

When the testimony of sharing lived experience trumps our cool “professional boundaries,” we make a true and lasting difference. Speaking from the heart and sharing our human experience plants seeds of hope, inspiration, and resilience in youth. Nowhere can we feel the way of freedom from suffering than knowing someone who has walked down a similar path of torment, come out standing steady despite someone else’s best effort to make them fall, and still has enough fierce courage left to tell their story.

Speaking candidly, most youth who like myself come to be in jail, in foster care, or other programs do so by force of their external circumstances. Many come from fragmented, broken homes where they witness and endure unspeakable acts of cruelty from the adults who should be protecting them. Rarely do youth land in these places by their own choice.

Emotional, physical, spiritual, and sexual abuse manifest in the blueprint of our souls and spirits. Such abuse might express itself as a 4th grader bullying his classmate, a youth stealing, a youth who yells obscenities at authority figures, who refuses to eat, who is promiscuous, who skips school, who takes drugs, who cuts their flesh in an effort to feel or not feel pain. It’s the days of silence before an attempted (or successful) suicide where we often mistake the symptom for the cause and fail in our attempts to “treat” them. It’s that approach which undermines the very core of their suffering. And it’s where we as adults fail them yet again.

It was in the vacant blue eyes of an 8-year-old boy named Travis who came to live in my home when I first realized how futile, how misguided, and how inhumane this system to care for children was. It is still raw, and I am not sure yet if I can fully capture how profoundly my time with him altered my heart. This experience both expanded my heart beyond what I thought was possible and then reduced it to nothing when he was gone.

One day while we were together, Travis “disconnected.” Fell silent, withdrawn. And I asked him, “What are thinking about? What makes you so sad? You can tell me anything, and I will believe you. And there’s nothing you tell me I won’t think is important.” After awhile, he came to me and said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know why sometimes I can be happy, and all of the sudden I feel sad. It comes out of nowhere.” I looked at him, cupped his tiny perfect chin in my hand, peered into his blue eyes and wrapped my arms around him. I hugged him tightly and said “I know. And it’s OK. I feel like that sometimes too. And you know what? One day you won’t feel like that all the time. One day you’ll take that sadness and turn it into happy.”

All he was unable to say was conveyed in the way he hugged me back. And in that precious moment when he mumbled “Thank you.” I thought my heart would break.

There was nothing I learned from a text book, nothing from evidence-based practice, and nothing in the foster parent orientation that prepared me for that moment. I reacted from my heart.

My only desire was to ease his suffering and instill within him the tiniest notion that no matter what he felt, it was OK and that it was only temporary.

The reality is that when we come into a child’s life to aid them, they are held in a punitive, restrictive, inflexible system. We don’t always look past that to what brought them into that system to begin with. If we increased our awareness, we would see that few children are delinquent, homeless, end up in jail, or in foster care by their own volition. They come to these places battered, bruised, and sad, having been victimized by adults.

In the months that passed with Travis, after my heart ran ahead of any reason, I watched a sad little boy turn into a bright, happy, fun-loving child who didn’t need medication or to be bounced around from foster home to foster home. What he needed was to be loved.

Now, there was nothing I could have offered Travis that ever could have replaced what his parents failed to give him. My love was a Band-Aid to soothe him until he could grow enough to care for himself. But far more miraculous than anything that I gave him was what he gave to me.

One of my tendencies was to over-explain myself; to offer excuses and/or apologies for nearly everything to everyone. One day, I was going on and on to a friend about why I didn’t do something when from the top of the stairs I heard this little voice say, “LeesaMaree, stop that. You don’t have to explain yourself. It’s OK whatever you do.” I froze at his wisdom and the fact that he cared to try to ease my suffering. Wow.

Then, I came to deeply understand the bigger context of this whole boundary thing. And I came to know that anytime we seek to engage in the helping of another being, it is not so simply a gift we give. It is not one sided.

The moment we think this, we have already failed. We as the perceived “givers” are really part of a mutually beneficial healing exchange connected to a greater energy. Once we come to understand and seek to increase our sensitivity and re-establish the heart in recovery and treatment, once we incorporate living testimony in our practice, only then will we make a true and lasting impact.

This time of year we celebrate thanks for Bridging Badgemany blessings. But as a “profession,” we overlook the rich and beautiful gifts that the children we encounter give us: the opportunity to care, to express our warmest compassion, and to ease suffering. All these things alter us. They allow us to ascend toward the deeper meaning of our shared human experience. The next time a child or a parent or someone else says thank you for the work you do, with humility and honor defer him or her and say, “No, thank you.”

Thankful

(a poem inspired the youth who have walked into my life and left imprints upon my heart)

The leaves fall…fluttering to the ground…landing like a thrush
Awaiting winter’s rush from summer’s dream
I remember summer… bright green and sparkling
and I remember you…your hand extended towards mine…offering me your heart
Giving me that moment…your time…yourself
You said, “Come this way. Here, let me show you… See the sun how it shines?”
Your smile confused the sun and stole starlight’s sparkle
“Listen. You can hear the grass tell its secrets …follow the burrowing bunny, he knows the way…see the Stellar Jay…as he chats up dawn…urging the flowers to wake up…he knows what I am talking about. His blue wings touch heaven”
I ran away from you…but never far… You were everywhere…in everyone
You tied me with a fragile cord of compassion…bound me to the fertile ground…tied me to heaven…left seeds in my hand
You allowed me to fall but not be crushed
Like the leaves, I too have been pink, russet, pumpkin and golden
It was the seeds you left… clutched tight in my hand
One day I remembered…it all came back in one fell whoosh
You cared …You took the time…You forgave me
You gave me another chance and a million more
You listened to me…You reignited the spark
Oh I am so thankful for You
Oh those seeds you left… I planted them under the moonlight…and when they blossomed…I crushed them and stuffed them in my heart
I knew what to do ’cause you said “the best way to show someone how much you appreciate them is to pass on what they gave to you.”
So…I watered the seeds with tears…transformed my fears…infused them with love
Oh I didn’t have it for myself…that care and concern
But I do for them…the ones that come behind me
So I scattered the seeds in the wind of each encounter
Oh, and I did exactly as you taught me …I gave my heart generously and… I fertilized the seeds with glitter…so that those who come behind me will sparkle brighter…than I ever did