Author Archives: stevepsyd

Taking down the walls: Challenges and opportunities of forgiveness

By Margaret Cullen and Gonzalo Brito

wall-copy“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility”
— (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

These are challenging times.  There is more divisiveness than many of us can remember in our lifetimes.  This climate of fear and destabilization promotes distrust, antagonism and even hatred.  These emotions, moods and mental states not only undermine society, they rob us of our peace of mind, and send even the most “enlightened” among us into reactivity and contraction making us incapable of seeing clearly and acting from our highest intentions.
In the midst of this unprecedented sense of foreboding and dystopia, we need more than ever to work against the tendency to close the heart and solidify the sense of enemies “out there”.  We read in the papers every day what it looks like when anger and fear are driving behavior:  walls, travel bans, partisanship, polarization, racism and irrationality.  Forgiveness is the antidote.  It is the anti-wall, the anti-ban, the refusal to foreclose on our own humanity, no matter what is happening “out there”.

With our current president, this can seem impossible.  There is so much at stake, so much to fight for.  And yet, if we look to history at those who succeeded in transforming society, in creating greater social justice, we see paragons of forgiveness.  Desmond Tutu, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and His Holiness the Dalai Lama effected societal transformation through the power of their love and forgiveness.   It was this force that mobilized millions and catalyzed change.  It was the refusal to hate, the refusal to respond “in kind” by making their opponents the enemy, which gave them the strength and the power to prevail.   Forgiveness and love did not weaken them, nor diminish their capacity to act.  Not only did it make their actions more powerful, it allowed them to maintain their dignity and self-respect even as they were being vilified by the forces of fear and anger.

“Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral”  said Martin Luther King. “It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.”

Can you imagine how would it be to live in a planet in which each one of the 7.5 billion human beings carried every single hurt, every resentment, accompanied by every anger and desire for revenge? Even from a biological perspective, forgiveness can be seen as a survival strategy for humankind, since without forgiveness our species would have annihilated itself in endless rounds of retribution. So, forgiveness makes sense not only morally, but also practically. From time immemorial, wisdom traditions have insisted that forgiveness is the path to attaining enduring peace. In the Dhammapada, a collection of sayings of the Buddha, it is said: “In this world hate never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate. This is the law.”

But I’m not Ghandi, why should I forgive?

In more personal terms, forgiveness gives us our life back right at that moment when the soul starts drying up from unforgiveness.   To forgive ourselves, or to allow ourselves to accept forgiveness from others, takes down the walls of the heart.  These walls don’t succeed in protecting us any more than they protect our borders.  In fact, they keep out the joy and creativity that comes from connection and expansion, just as our travel bans and walls keep out the vibrancy of multi-culturalism.  From a purely pragmatic perspective, it is clear that exactly because we are deeply relational beings, our lives will be full of small and large hurts.  We bump up against each other all the time and, much as we’d rather not think so, we will be the perpetrators of hurt as often as we will be the victims. Forgiveness has the potential to restore a sense of belonging to our family or community and, in a more basic sense, to return our basic humanity and capacity for love and joy.

Forgiveness is the way the heart knows how to heal from the inevitable hurts and disappointments of life. It involves a softening of the heart and a letting go of resentment and anger toward those who have harmed us, betrayed us, or abandoned us (including ourselves!). Contrary to popular caricatures of strength and power, forgiveness isn’t for sissies! As Gandhi said “the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.” And like any other complex process, it can’t be forced or imposed.  It is a process and needs to honor the heart’s organic rhythm of opening and closing. Nevertheless, forgiveness can be consciously practiced, and the mind and heart can cultivate the habit of letting go of resentment and finding peace.

For those who think that the benefits of forgiveness are just anecdotal or something that happens to “spiritual people”, it might be interesting to know that there is a growing body of scientific research on the psychological and physical benefits of forgiveness. For example, forgiveness has been associated with reduced stress and reduced anger (Harris et al. 2006), reduced depression, anxiety, and cholesterol levels (Friedberg, Suchday, and Srinivas 2009), better sleep (Stoia-Caraballo et al. 2008), and reduced back pain (Carson et al. 2005), to name just a few findings. These findings are also interesting metaphors for what we already know intuitively. How much weight are we carrying on our backs through the resentments and grudges we’re holding on to? How easy is it to fall asleep if we’re caught in rumination about past hurts?

Holding on to resentment has been described like swallowing poison and hoping the enemy will die. Although this analogy might seem exaggerated, it points to something important: resentment mainly affects those who feel it, not the object of their resentment. In fact, the other person may not even be aware of or care about our resentment. This is why the promise to never forgive someone is condemning oneself to suffer. Because the long term effects of resentment can be quite toxic to the body and mind, forgiveness makes sense even from a purely selfish perspective—it frees us and lightens us.

Finally, forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning, forgetting, sweeping under the carpet, or putting a smiley face sticker over injustice. Forgiving does not make an immoral or hurtful act become okay. To the contrary, it says: what happened hurt, but I choose to move on with my life. Forgiveness is a declaration of independence that can be done no matter what the other person does or doesn’t do. In this sense it is an unalienable right.

Meditation for cultivating forgiveness

The capacity to forgive is basic to the human (and perhaps mammalian) heart, and it’s also a skill that we can develop through practice. The following is a guided meditation from our book The Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance Workbook, which has a chapter on forgiveness. We encourage you to listen to this guided meditation in which forgiveness is directed three ways: asking for forgiveness from others, self-forgiveness and forgiving others. This practice can help you to find peace with what is unresolved in your own heart, and generate space for more love and connection. Even at those times when the heart is hard and dry, setting the intention and orienting the mind in the direction of forgiveness on a regular basis can help improve your quality of life.

Link to audio file.

Margaret and Gonzalo 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.

References

Carson, J. W., F. J. Keefe, V. Goli, A. M. Fras, T. R. Lynch, S. R. Thorp, and J. L. Buechler. 2005. “Forgiveness and Chronic Low Back Pain: A Preliminary Study Examining the Relationship of Forgiveness to Pain, Anger, and Psychological Distress.” Journal of Pain 6: 84–91.
Friedberg, J. P., S. Suchday, and V. S. Srinivas. 2009. “Relationship Between Forgiveness and Psychological and Physiological Indices in Cardiac Patients.” International Journal of Behavioral Medicine 16: 205–211.
Harris, A. H. S., F. Luskin, S. B. Norman, S. Standard, J. Bruning, S. Evans, and C. E. Thoresen. 2006. “Effects of a Group Forgiveness Intervention on Forgiveness, Perceived Stress, and Trait-Anger.” Journal of Clinical Psychology 62: 715–733.
Stoia-Caraballo, R., M. S. Rye, W. Pan, K. J. B. Kirschman, C. Lutz-Zois, and A. M. Lyons. 2008. “Negative Affect and Anger Rumination as Mediators Between Forgiveness and Sleep Quality.” Journal of Behavioral Medicine 31: 478–88.

Mindfulness Building Resilience and Improving Care in Modern Medicine

We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.  – Confucius

By Michael Krasner, MD, FACP

mindfulpracticeAfter 6 years of sharing Mindful Practice in intensive retreat trainings with over 400 physicians, medical educators and other health professionals from all over the globe, Ron Epstein and I began to ask ourselves- why wait for our colleagues to come to us? If the need for building resilience among our colleagues is pressing, and the tools for helping improve quality of care, quality of caring, and our own well-being are effective, relevant and accessible, why delay offering this training to more professionals? So we have decided to take Mindful Practice trainings into regional settings, offering it in a new, multi-modal, and engaging way. We already have two trainings scheduled for San Diego and Boston this winter. We will soon announce a workshop next fall in the Pacific Northwest, and, in 2018 in the Midwest and Europe. Our goal is to reach 10,000 health professionals, and we believe that we can.   We realize that in order to achieve this goal, the 4-5 day intensives near Rochester are simply not possible for many of our colleagues.  Therefore, we have designed our new offering to include a single weekend course followed by 4 online sessions in the two months following that are designed for participants to still experience the depth of the work, create community, and incorporate what is learned into daily practice.

Through our Mindful Practice programs, we’ve created a worldwide community of physicians, nurses, psychologists and other health professionals. They are energized to take direct action to explore their own experiences, share with others, and engage in self-care for the purpose of improving the care they provide to patients and their families while enhancing the meaning they derive from their work. Together, they are exploring with rigor, joy and challenge their very real personal experiences of patient care and teaching, exploring themes of burnout, uncertainty, errors, grief, attraction, and other dynamics of the clinical life, all held within a container of mindfulness. They are stretching their capacities to listen deeply, not only to each other, but to their own hearts and minds.

When will it be the right time for you to begin the professional life you have worked so assiduously for? To deliver the care you so strongly believe your patients deserve? To derive the deep meaning and satisfaction that you so much need to not only sustain yourself, but to energize you and activate you toward compassionate action, and motivate you to continue to learn and grow? Will it be now, when you realize that now is the only time you really have to step into your new life, the one you have been living all along, but now find yourself awakening to?

Please have a look at our regional courses, our Mindful Practice Website and Facebook page, our intensive retreats, and much more about Mindful Practice. Consider joining us, as we come to your backyard.

San Diego, February 4-5, 2017

Boston, March 18-19, 2017

Mindful Practice Website

Mindful Practice Facebook Page

 

New Retreat Offered to Meet the Needs of Teachers of Mindfulness-Based Programs

By Susan Woods, LICSW

WoodsSusan

Susan Woods

In time everything changes and the field of mindfulness is no exception. Over the years one of the recommendations for becoming an instructor interested in teaching a mindfulness-based program (MBP), has been the requirement to attend silent teacher-led mindfulness retreats. This is because teaching mindfulness-based programs profoundly relies on the teacher having a personal working experiential knowledge of what happens to the mind/body when engaging in mindfulness meditation practice.

The field of MBPs is becoming professionalized and that includes continued discussions about developing consensus and standardization for the training of MBP instructors. This means that specific training pathways are being identified for the development of best practice skills. Many professional people are attracted to offering MBPs and unlike in the early days of MBPs, most do not have established meditation practices.

One of the questions the field is now facing is how to best support trainee MBP teachers in developing and sustaining a personal meditation practice and importantly how this influences the development of mindfulness-based teaching skills. There will always be the option to attend silent teacher-led meditation retreats. Indeed, over the long term, there is no better way to nourish mindfulness meditation practice for MBP teachers.

But many experienced MBP teachers believe the time has come for the field to consider the development of specific mindfulness retreat trainings that take into account sustained periods of silence and teacher-led meditation practices alongside explicitly designed teaching modules that address and support the teaching of MBPs. This would help to bring a clearer identity to the field of MBPs as a profession and in turn place less reliance on the traditional form of Buddhist practice centers.

Faculty: Susan Woods, LICSW
& Helen Vantine, PhD
Chapin Mill Retreat Center, Batavia, NY

In March 2017, the Mindfulness-Based Professional Training Institute (MBPTI)  at UC San Diego, is sponsoring just such a Mindfulness Meditation Retreat. This five-day training, offered at the lovely Chapin Mill Retreat Center in Batavia, New York, designed by myself and Helen Vantine will offer the opportunity to experience sustained periods of silence with teacher-led mindfulness meditation practices combined with teaching modules that relate to answering the question, how does sustaining a personal mindfulness meditation practice influence the ability to become a skilled MBI teacher.

The retreat meets the requirements for a teacher-led silent retreat training as a part of MBSR/MBCT/MSC Certification through the MBPTI at UC San Diego and at the Center for Mindfulness Studies, Toronto, Canada. We look forward to having you join us.

How About Making an “Old Year’s Resolution” to Be More Compassionate to Yourself in the New Year?

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

Perhaps you have seen the clever t-shirt depicting a pirate on his ship exclaiming “The beatings will continue until morale improves!” We tend to laugh at that sentiment because at some point in our lives we have probably found ourselves on the receiving end of that sort of “logic”. And we also laugh because we know it is a ridiculous notion that pummeling someone with negativity will bring about more positivity. It’s like continuing to put your car in reverse in order to move forward.

But consider for a moment where your New Year’s Resolutions come from and see if there are some seeds of this approach in how you treat yourself. Do you look into the mirror and think, “Listen Big Guy, I know you want to lose a few pounds because it’s important to you to stay healthy for your wife and kids. Can you commit to working on this in the New Year”? Or is the tone a bit more like “What’s wrong with you? How could you let yourself go like this? This is so typical of you. You’re such a lazy bum. You need to get off your butt and exercise. This year’s New Year’s resolution will be lose that ugly gut!”

For many of us these days, the latter judgmental tone is much more familiar than the former, more kind and encouraging tone. And we actually know from the research on self-compassion, done by Dr. Kristin Neff and others, that we are significantly more effective at motivating ourselves to change if that motivation involves a self-compassionate, rather than punitive and critical, approach.

In the Mindful Self-Compassion program created by Christopher Germer, Ph.D. and Kristin Neff, Ph.D., there is a key exercise called Finding Your Core Values (drawn from Steven Hayes’ Acceptance and Commitment) where we guide people to consider what is most deeply important in their lives, and where they are not living in accord with those values. Perhaps you value ease and equanimity in your personal life, and you find that meditation supports you in that, but lately you haven’t been meditating as much as you would like. This is a place where you are out of alignment with your core values. How helpful have you found it to berate yourself for not meditating enough? That’s what I thought!

What if you could connect more deeply with what really moves you and be guided by that in difficult or stressful times so that you make better choices that are more in alignment with what is profoundly important to you? Research suggests that one way to do this would be to let go of the self-critical voice that is desperately trying to take care of you and keep you from harm, but doing it in dysfunctional and counter-productive ways like that pirate above!

When you ponder something you would like to change about yourself or your behavior (things that you can actually change) as part of a New Year’s resolution, consider how you normally talk to yourself about that behavior and how successful that approach has been so far (given that it is still on your list of things you want to change!). And then consider the possibility of speaking to yourself in a more loving and supportive way, the way you would want to be motivated by a mentor or coach or supportive friend. Could the more self-compassionate approach actually touch the part of you that wants very much for this change to happen? What would it be like to motivate yourself out of love and positive regard for yourself rather than criticism, judgment and shaming?

All evidence points to this self-compassion approach being far more effective and sustainable than the self-critical approach and it actually feels better too!

If you find yourself struggling with being kind to yourself, or want to be able to meet your own struggle and suffering with tolerance, warmth and acceptance, you might want consider taking the Mindful Self-Compassion program, either in an 8-week version if one is near you, or in a 5-day intensive format. Check the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion website for more information on programs near you.

Steven D. Hickman, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist and Executive Director of the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. He is a Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) teacher as well as being co-developer of the MSC Teacher Training. Dr. Hickman and Kristy Arbon will be offering a 5-day intensive version of MSC in Barre, Massachusetts on January 18-23, 2015. Check Kristy Arbon’s Mindful Self-Compassion Training website for more information and to register. If you are in San Diego, consider taking the 8-week MSC course in January.

 

Mindful Presence: Embodying kindness and the listening heart

The UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness has partnered with Susan Woods and Char Wilkins to offer a 5-day program entitled: Advanced Training for MBCT and MBSR Teachers: Embodying Mindful Presence and Investigating Mindful InquiryJune 9-14, 2013 at the EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA. The following is the second in a series of periodic posts by Susan and Char, sharing their vision and wisdom in formulating and offering this training, and exploring the territory of teaching mindfulness in general. We invite you to get to know them through this series and perhaps to reflect on your own relationship to mindfulness teaching.

WoodsSusanBy Susan Woods, MSW, LICSW

Suffering is not personal, but in so many ways we are inclined to feel it in that way.  Of course the feeling of pain and heartache is universal; it’s what connects us and also what can separate us.  Mindfulness meditation practice encourages and supports us in developing a profound understanding about how we relate to pain and gives us choices on how we can respond.  It took me some time and lots of practice to relax into appreciating this.  What I became aware of was the more I could allow myself to show up and pay a kind and steady attention, without denying or pushing anything away or alternatively chasing after something, the steady momentum of mindfully noticing became compelling as an act of generosity.

reflectionsWe don’t often talk too much about acts of generosity when facing suffering; a sense that it is permissible and might even be imperative to be kind when facing the overwhelming; that by cultivating a tender abiding, embodying an intentional and attentive mindful consciousness which supports a friendly and intimate awareness we come to experience our pain, our difficulties in a different way.  We also come to notice that being mindful is dynamic and creates just enough intuitive and emotional space to acknowledge pain and the story around it without needing to react to it so much.  Learning by this measure we come to see directly the simple and powerful presence of kindness and patience, acknowledging that nothing needs fixing, residing in the meaning of being present and in the power of deep noticing and listening.  And so paradoxically we are able to let go more and more sensing what lies behind the narratives of our ego driven world.

It is this awareness, this presence, that nurtures caring which is deeply compassionate; an attentive listening heart which is quiet, calm, loving and knows from experience the storms of suffering, the rages, the hatreds, criticisms, judgments, frustrations, sadness’s and anxieties.  And when these arise, the listening heart opens, quivers, creates space, embraces, bearing witness to all while residing with the movement of breathing.  Breathing in, inhabiting this moment, breathing out, softening and letting go.  This heart has learned the worth of gentleness, has learned the value of an attending presence – a presence that asks for nothing in return, only this moment now.

In our lives and in our teaching of mindfulness, embodying a mindful presence conveys the hope that we may all slowly walk this journey of kindness with a listening heart.

When listening is everything you ever wanted

The UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness has partnered with Susan Woods and Char Wilkins to offer a 5-day program entitled: Advanced Training for MBCT and MBSR Teachers: Embodying Mindful Presence and Investigating Mindful InquiryJune 9-14, 2013 at the EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA. The following is the second in a series of periodic posts by Susan and Char, sharing their vision and wisdom in formulating and offering this training, and exploring the territory of teaching mindfulness in general. We invite you to get to know them through this series and perhaps to reflect on your own relationship to mindfulness teaching.

CharWilkinsBy Char Wilkins, LCSW

On the opening page of Mark Nepos’s book Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, he quotes an epigraph by Abraham Heschel:

 [We] will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation . . . What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder . . . Reverence is one of [our] answers to the presence of mystery . . .

There is a longing for connection that we all experience and repeatedly hear as participants in our MBCT and MBSR programs speak of disappointment, fear and hope.  And we notice that as we cultivate the ability to listen to each one of them, we begin to hear the themes of need and desire that weave us together in our collective humanness. We begin to hear that indeed, no one is alone in the tangle we call life.

reflectionsNepo believes that if we limit our existence to only what we know, we blind ourselves to the “mystery.” Mystery is about open-eyed wonder, appreciation and gratitude. So when we engage in mindful listening, in which our conditioned mind and heart open in sincere and kindly curiosity, we create a pathway not only to the mystery of what is present in each moment, but to the possibility of a peaceful connection to self and others.

We ask our clients and participants to listen not because it’s a Mindful Rule, but because listening is a threshold between our inner and outer worlds. It’s an entryway to pause in, a vantage point from where we can see our own limiting beliefs and also the possibility of choice. From this doorway we can begin to hear harmonies that strike a chord within, where perhaps before we only heard the dissonance that isolated and left us feel disconnected from ourselves and others.

In our teaching, we become aware that it isn’t the dissemination of information that connects people intra and interpersonally, but rather being listened to- their story heard and appreciated. We may call it group dynamics or breaking the isolation or normalizing, but in the end I believe it is simply the reverence of listening. This is what MBCT and MBSR offer teacher and participants: the possibility of discovery through wonder and freedom through listening.

Cultivating Ease and Freedom When Consuming: The Case for Mindful Eating and Conscious Living

Jan Chozen Bays, M.D.

Jan Chozen Bays, M.D.

By Jan Chozen Bays, MD

You’ve been working hard on a project on the computer, and it’s time for a treat. You’ve been holding off, waiting for the delicious taste of __________ (please fill in the blank). Coffee ice cream? a piece of dark chocolate? a donut? an onion bagel? some fresh strawberries?  For me, it would be a creamy, sweet‑sour lemon tart.

You take the first bite. Very yummy! You take the second bite. Still yummy, maybe a little less yummy than the first bite, but never mind. You glance at the computer and something catches your eye. A Hollywood scandal, a political gaff, a weird and wacky video. You click on it, watch, and continue eating.

Disappearing food!

strawberrySuddenly you look down. Where did that treat go? Your fingers are sticky and there’s still a trace of flavor on your tongue, so it must have disappeared down the hatch while you weren’t looking . . . or smelling, or tasting, or enjoying. Disappointment and dissatisfaction set in. “That one just vanished! I’d better have another one.” Next the internal critic voice pipes up “What are you thinking? One treat is enough. You know you’re trying to lose weight/eat better/stop grazing/etc.”

Thus begins the struggle over the simple, biologically natural, pleasurable act of eating. When I tell people that I’ve written a book on Mindful Eating*, and describe what it is, almost everyone will relate some difficulty they have with food, from an embarrassed confession of an addiction to chocolate to the palpable misery of binging and purging.

How is it that food and eating have become such a common source of unhappiness? And why has it occurred in a country with an abundance of food? The fundamental reason for our imbalance with food and eating is that we=ve forgotten how to be present as we eat. We eat mindlessly.

Food, fat cells and the stomach are not the problem

We decided that the problem was in the food, so we’ve used chemical technology to take the calories out, the fat out, and to substitute chemical sweeteners and artificial fats. Food is food. It is neither good nor bad. Then we decided the problem was our fat cells, so we liposuctioned them out. Fat cells are just trying to do their job, which is to store energy for lean times ahead or for famine. For most of our evolutionary history, starvation was one snowstorm or drought away. Our fat cells are there to help us survive! When I lived in Africa I discovered that skinny women there have trouble finding a spouse. They aren’t considered good marriage material —- they’ll get sick and die on you!

Then we decided that the digestive system was the problem, so we staple the stomach or surgically bypass the small intestine. The digestive system is just trying to do its job,  breaking down food, absorbing nutrients and excreting what’s not needed. (There’s no question that bariatric surgery can be an emergency life-saving measure for some people. It works by forcing people to eat mindfully, causing pain and vomiting if they don’t. It is very expensive, has lots of side effects,  and is not a long-term solution for the majority of people or for children with out-of-balance eating.)

The problem is not in the food, the fat cells or the stomach and intestines. The problem lies in the mind.  It lies in our lack of awareness of the messages coming in from our body, from our very cells and from our heart. Mindful eating helps us learn to hear what our body is telling us about hunger and satisfaction. It helps us become aware of who in the body/heart/mind complex is hungry, and how and what is best to nourish it. Mindful eating is natural, interesting, fun, and cheap.

What is Mindfulness?

Let’s start with what Mindfulness is. It is deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside and outside yourself — in your body, heart and mind — and outside yourself, in your environment. Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgement.

The last sentence is very important. In mindful eating we are not comparing ourselves to anyone else. We are not judging ourselves or others. We are simply witnessing the many sensations and thoughts that come up as we eat. The recipe for mindful eating calls for the warming effect of kindness and the spice of curiosity.

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. We pay attention to the colors, smells, textures, flavors, temperatures, and even the sounds (crunch!) of our food. We pay attention to the experience of the body. Where in the body do we feel hunger? Where do we feel satisfaction? What does half-full feel like, or three quarters full?

We also pay attention to the mind. While avoiding judgment or criticism, we watch when the mind gets distracted, pulling away from full attention to what we are eating or drinking. We watch the impulses that arise after we=ve taken a few sips or bites: to grab a book, to turn on the TV, to call someone on our cell phone, or to do web search on some interesting subject. We notice the impulse and return to just eating.

We notice how eating affects our mood and how our emotions like anxiety influence our eating.  Gradually we regain the sense of ease and freedom with eating that we had in childhood. It is  our natural birthright.

The old habits of eating and not paying attention are not easy to change. Don=t try to make drastic changes. Lasting change takes time, and is built on many small changes. We start simply.

NOTE: Jan and her colleague Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW continue to offer a 5-day Professional Training through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness entitled  “Mindful Eating, Conscious Living” based upon their work in this field and Jan’s book. Upcoming training dates and locations include March 10-15, 2013 in Joshua Tree, California and September 15-20, 2013 in Batavia, New York.

Further Reading and Listening:

* Mindful Eating: a Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, by Jan Chozen Bays, with an introduction by Jon Kabat-Zinn, released February 3, 2009 by Shambhala Publishing. (Includes a CD of 14 mindful eating exercises and meditations.)

** Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, by Brian Wansink, published 2006 by Bantam Books. (A very funny look at very interesting research about how we all eat mindlessly.)

From: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mindful-eating/200902/mindful-eating

Mending and Deepening the Encounter Between Doctor and Patient Through Mindfulness

We are updating this blogpost to call attention to an amazing event that has come together primarily as a result of the original posting back in September. After sharing this article with our colleagues around the world, and across the Southern California region, we received an outpouring of interest. We have since invited Dr. Krasner to come to San Diego on May 11, 2013 to present a daylong workshop on mindful practice entitled “Mindfulness in Clinical Practice: Our Patients, Ourselves.” This event will include an hour-long presentation on the Neuroscience of Mindfulness by Tom Chippendale, MD, Director of Neuroscience at Scripps Health and longtime MBSR teacher.

stressed-docs-1.25.12As the skirmishes and battles on healthcare rage loudly on in the political and financial arenas of our society, there is a darker, more troubling process unfolding “on the ground” in the day-to-day practice of medicine and healing in general. Within the crucible of the doctor-patient encounter, where human suffering is intended to meet compassionate and effective healing, something isn’t working. Patients aren’t satisfied with the quality of care they receive and doctors are experiencing declining job satisfaction, burnout, “compassion fatigue” and are feeling increasingly alienated from the profession that once inspired passion and dedication. Physician and physician-in-training suicide is a rising and troubling outgrowth of this underlying malaise in the system.

Dr. Mick Krasner, Associate Professor Clinical Medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry, and his colleagues, have done groundbreaking research on the potential to address this growing phenomenon. In the Journal of the American Medical Association, they shared the results of a 2012 study of the impact of an extensive course in mindfulness, communication and self-awareness on 70 community physicians. The results are striking in demonstrating the positive effect of this program on physician well-being and satisfaction, including improvements in scores on measures of burnout, mood disturbance, emotional stability and depersonalization.

Mick Krasner, MD

Krasner and his colleagues have now taken their results to the examining room, so to speak, and drawn on them to develop a powerful training program in what they call Mindful Practice. More than just a gathering of health professionals interested in exploring what it would mean to bring mindfulness into their lives both personally and professionally, Krasner notes that “What has become clear is the imperative for what Saki Santorelli calls a ‘Collegial Sangha’ and that is what has been the outcome of our trainings. …this need for community and its absence in many of our health professionals’ work lives is a real force in the loss of meaning in our profession, reduced adaptive capacity and resilience to withstand the changing nature of our work, and the growing trend toward burnout.”

“…isn’t a boundary also a place of meeting and coming together?”

This effort to powerfully change the nature of the healing encounter through the mindful practice of the clinician arises out of exploring what has traditionally been referred to as the “boundary” between patient and doctor. Saki Santorelli, the Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, writes eloquently in his book Heal Thy Self of the pitfalls and opportunities of boundary-making. He says, “The usual meaning of boundary is “dividing line” – a separation between two things. But isn’t a boundary also a place of meeting and coming together?” He goes on to write “These intertwining movements are similar for us as patients and practitioners. Yet all too often the hard, impenetrable borders of this relationship are carved out of a process of identification that divides self and not-self into mutually exclusive entities. Unconsciously, this process winds up shaping the entire interaction. I am not suggesting that these roles are the same. They are not. But they are just that – roles. And behind these roles lies a much larger field, our shared humanness.”

Ron Epstein, MD

Ron Epstein, MD

Two 4-day retreat-style courses have been developed by Krasner and Ron Epstein, Professor of Family Medicine, Psychiatry, Oncology and Nursing at the University of Rochester, and are offered through University of Rochester Medical Center’s Center for Experiential Learning. The first was entitled Promoting Mindful Practice in Medical Education and Practice and was offered on October 31-November 3, 2012. The second course is Mindful Practice: Focus on Serious and Life-Limiting Illness on May 1-4, 2013. Both programs are offered at the beautiful Chapin Mill Retreat Center in Batavia, New York.

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Krasner M. S., Epstein R. M., Beckman H., Suchman A. L., Chapman B., Mooney C. J., Quill T. E. (2009). Association of an educational program in mindful communication with burnout, empathy, and attitudes among primary care physicians. JAMA 302, 1284–1293. doi: 10.1001/jama.2009.1384.

Beckman HB, Wendland M, Mooney C, Krasner MS, Quill TE, Suchman AL, Epstein RM.. The impact of a program on mindful communication on primary care physicians Academic Medicine 2012; 87(6): 815-819

Seizing the Moment and Supporting the Work: Giving Mindfulness to the Next Generation

Ellyn Wolfe (2)By Ellyn Wolfe, MEd
Co-Director Workplace Initiatives & Giving
UCSD Center for Mindfulness

Within the virtually exploding field of mindfulness, perhaps no facet is growing faster and spreading wider than that of teaching mindfulness to the youth of our society. Imagine the vast potential of transforming this generation of children into a future generation grounded in a practice that promotes stability and composure, wellness and healthy relationships, and enhanced cognitive function.  This movement is on an unprecedented ascendant path within education, clinical practice and research.

bridging2013badgeThe UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth Second Annual conference February 1-3, 2013 in San Diego is uniquely positioned to further contribute to the growth and vibrancy of the field by assembling the thought leaders, program developers, researchers and educators in an environment of collaboration, connection and dialogue. From presentations by leaders like Jon & Myla Kabat-Zinn, to the diversity found in innovative school-based programs such as Katherine Weare of the .b The Mindfulness in Schools Project  and the amazing work of bringing mindfulness and yoga to the inner city by Ali & Atman Smith’s Holistic Life Foundation,  it is all represented at the conference. This year the conference opens with first-ever research symposia covering a variety of topics, including interesting work by Lisa Flook of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds  on “Mindfulness in Early Education to Promote Self-Regulation”and a full symposia session exploring research around clinical interventions using mindfulness to address issues of kids and teens with chronic pain, HIV, and ADHD. This movement is on an unprecedented ascendant path within education, clinical practice and research.

The conference presents an opportunity for those who actively participate and contribute, to make a real and lasting difference in the course of society, and in particular, to the field of bringing mindfulness to the next generation. The Center for Mindfulness is actively seeking the financial support of individuals and corporations who are interested in making an impact on the emergent field of mindfulness as an agent for change.  These contributions are essential to our success in connecting and supporting the hundreds of educators, researchers and experts who will attend the Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth conference and then carry the practice and research learned to every corner of the globe.  Every donation as a general conference supporter or as sponsor for the Friday night Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn public lecture (which benefits the Youth and Family Programs at UCSD CFM) is important.  Every donation makes a difference.

We welcome the support of anyone in a position to give and make a significant difference in the lives of our children through supporting the important work of this conference and its attendees. If you or someone you know is interested in supporting this work, please feel free to contact us at mindfulness@ucsd.edu or by calling 858-334-4636.

One can also donate directly via the Center for Mindfulness Online Giving site.

Author’s Note: Education that motivates the individual to higher levels of being has always been a part of my life.  With a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a master’s certificate from the Fielding Institute in Evidence Based Coaching, and Clinical Training in Mind/Body Medicine with Dr. Herbert Benson at the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Boston, I train corporate leaders in the art of coaching and coach clients to be the best they can be.  For the past twenty years I have worked in the corporate world teaching mindfulness-based programs for a variety of companies, including Dr. Herbert Benson’s Mind Body Medical Institute, FleetBoston Financial and the San Diego Convention Center.  What a different place the corporate world would be if employees and leaders had grown up understanding and practicing mindfulness.

To that end, I have recently been named as Co-Director of Workplace Initiatives and Giving, a newly launched arm of the UCSD Center for Mindfulness.  I will be working with my co-director, Christy Cassisa, to develop programs that address corporate need and also to elicit support for the UCSD CFM. I look forward to hearing from you through the Center for Mindfulness at mindfulness@ucsd.edu.

Hurrying up so we can slow down!

CharWilkinsBy Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW
Mindfulness Teacher and Trainer

Well of course that makes sense! We leave work and drive too fast to get home so we can finally relax.  Between patients we scribble notes in the file, run to the bathroom, and make a phone call while slurping caffeine so that after the next patient we can catch our breath. We inhale lunch without looking at it while we order holiday gifts on online because we don’t want to waste time just eating.

“Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
tis the season of endless folly.”

It’s high season for too much and not enough, and Heart Hunger moves to the number one spot on Jan Chozen Bays’ list of Seven Hungers. As the holiday hype heightens and family drama, anxiety, depression and distress eating increase, we may feel anxious about our ability to respond to our patients’ escalating worries and fears about out of control holiday eating.  As clinicians, may find ourselves thinking that the problems that come with the season are just too much and that we don’t have what it takes to help those in our care with their overwhelming concerns.

holiday-foodDuring this holiday season of “food fests” at the office, with family and friends, in the media, schools and stores, we often suggest to our patients that they slow down when eating and savor the smells, tastes, textures and visual aspects of their food. But sniffing platters of food at the holiday office party isn’t going to happen. And slowing down with the very object that is their biggest “problem” can be daunting especially at this time of year.

We’re now in the throes of holiday madness sales, unrealistic expectations and personal history- a perfect recipe for reverting to the entrenched coping habit of eating foods that comfort or numb.  So even though it’s a season of huge over-indulgence, it can be a time during which small steps count.

Pausing can be one of those small steps. Rather than suggesting pausing before taking the first bite, suggest they pause before entering the room or building where the office party spread is on display.  Offer the idea of taking one minute to stay seated at their desk and feel the sensations in their feet in contact with the floor, or as they walk down the hall. Suggest sitting quietly for 60 seconds before getting out of the car to enter the house of a friend’s holiday brunch, aware of the feel of the steering wheel, or sounds inside or outside of the car, or the coming and going of the breath at the belly.  I call this “backing the movie up” far enough so that we can find a reasonable spot in which they might pause instead of hoping we can do it amidst the noise and pressure of the festive event. This way they begin building a slowing-down habit where and when it’s possible, rather than in the fray of things.

I try to take my own suggestion and see where in my day and my thinking I can slow down and pause. I try to “walk my talk” so that my practice becomes a skillful way of being with myself and others. I’d be interested to hear how you navigate the holiday food landscape mindfully (or not so mindfully!). Please share below your own observations and experiences, or perhaps the kinds of exercises of mindfulness practices you suggest to others.

(Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW and her colleague Jan Chozen Bays, MD, author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food  are co-leading an intensive 5-day Professional Training in a program called Mindful Eating, Conscious Living at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center in the high desert of Southern California March 10-15. See the website for more information.)