Category Archives: Compassion

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.

 

 

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What Time is It? Inspiring a shift from tic-toc to lub-dub.

by Royan Kamyar

royanRoyan Kamyar, M.D., MBA is Founder and CEO of Owaves, a lifestyle medicine technology company based in Encinitas, CA producing software tools for wearable devices that inspire and motivate the next generation to engage in healthy lifestyle activities.  Royan has presented at TEDxUCSD and been quoted by Forbes, Reuters, FOX News, Xconomy, U-T San Diego and the San Diego Business Journal.  Royan earned his M.D. at Baylor College of Medicine, MBA at the Rady School of Management, UC San Diego, and BA and BS in Biochemistry and Business Administration at UC Berkeley and the Haas School of Business.  He serves on the Formative Board of Directors for UC San Diego Center for MindfulnessMindfulness-Based Professional Training Institute and is an active member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.

Image Credit: Dadara

[Image Credit: Dadara]

Imagine a flowering plant. A baking cake. A rising stock price. A healing wound. Time passing can be a beautiful thing.

Why then does the cartoon above resonate so deeply with us? Is it our fear of mortality? Our never-ending list of to-do’s and things left undone that haunt us moment-to-moment? Are we as a culture, as a species, doomed to brood on the past, fear the future, and run away from the present?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies our sense of “time scarcity” as a leading source of stress in the United States — a primary cause of heart disease, our number one killer. Meanwhile, growing positive psychology research demonstrates the healing power of “being in the present.”

What if our relationship with time shifted? What if we began to view time as a source of inspiration instead of dread? What if each glance at the watch put us more “in the moment,” made us feel more focused, centered and alive? Few realize that our modern timekeeping system is fundamentally arbitrary. Hours, minutes and seconds have no home in cosmology, but rather the digits of our hands…

Technology is evolving as we speak to put smartphones on our wrists. The era of smartwatches with heart rate sensors and real-time monitoring systems is dawning upon us. With processing powers greater than the earliest mainframes and NASA spaceships embedded into our timepieces, we are no longer compelled to settle for a construct of time rooted in hand gestures, ropes and rocks. What if we, as a community of innovators and healers, took the first step in evolving our modern-day answer to the age-old question, “What time is it?”

Mindfulness & Innovations in Timekeeping

The mindfulness community actually has a long and storied track record of innovation in timekeeping, centered around spiritual observations, holidays, rites, rituals, meditation and prayer:

32,000 BCE – Cave art found in France and Germany depicts lunar and seasonal cycles of the “heavens”, representing the first known calendaring system. Its creators are believed to be astronomer-priests of the late Upper Paleolithic Cultures.

4,200 BCE — Ancient Egyptians calculate 365 days between alignments of the sun and Sopdet, goddess of Sirius the Dog Star, marking the Nile’s concurrent flooding and enrichment of the soil.

3,000 BCE — Stonehenge in modern-day England demarcates the annual winter and summer solstices, serving as burial grounds and a venue of ancestor worship and rituals.

2,400 BCE – The first known clocks are the shadow clocks or “obelisks” of ancient Egypt, erected by clerics in pairs at temple entrances for ritual observances.

2,100 BCE — Assyrians, Sumerians and Babylonians of the Middle East establish twelve phases of the moon, or “moonths”, per lunar calendar year. Holy days are declared on the first, seventh and fifteenth of each month.

1,000 BCE – Egyptian clerics develop water clocks or “clepsydras” to continue tracking proper timing of rituals throughout the night, i.e. in the absence of sun and shadows.

100 BCE – Chinese, Korean and Japanese Buddhist monks advance incense timers to replace the more flammable and inaccurate candle clocks of the day. Utilizing various scents, one smells the time change.

1200-1300 AD — Benedictine Monks of Western Europe become the first clockmakers of the region and create the mechanical clock. Adding weights and escapements to water clocks automates ringing of the communal prayer bell.

1582 AD — To more accurately celebrate Easter in its relation to the March equinox, Pope Gregory XIII spearheads the Gregorian Calendar widely used today. The Gregorian Calendar arrives closer to the tropical or “solar” year than the preceding Julian Calendar.

The Origins of Tic-Toc

The divisions of years, months and days are rooted in cosmological events and account for consistent measurements across disconnected cultures. Subdivisions of weeks, hours, minutes and seconds, however, are largely arbitrary and varied more greatly throughout history.

Weeks, for example have seen lengths of 3 to 13 days depending on prevailing leadership. Decisions usually hinged on what was deemed a reasonable workweek as per autocrat or religious text, i.e. “… on the seventh day he rested.” Papal States used six hour days as recently as the 1800’s with 6 o’clock pointing fixedly to sunset, and the Japanese had a twelve hour system with intervals that varied in length according to the season. Decimal time was used by China throughout most of its history dating back to 1000 BCE, was espoused by the French Revolutionary thinkers of the late 1700’s and resurfaced in 1998 when the Switzerland-based Swatch company proposed “Internet Time” of 1000 beats per day.

The sexagesimal system which lies at the heart of our modern-day “tic-toc” was similarly devised for convenience, not derived from scientific fact or basic principles. The ancient Sumerians and Babylonians used sixty as a mathematical base due to its ease of counting with two hands. Each finger segment on one hand represented a number one through twelve demarcated by the thumb, and each digit of the other hand represented a multiplier. Multiplying twelve finger segments by five digits provided a max count of sixty. The number sixty is also considered a “superior highly composite number” in mathematics, meaning it is easily divisible and lends itself well to fractions.

hands

[Image Credit: Ministry of Education, Brazil]

The Problems with Tic-Toc

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn presents a valuable anecdote from the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program he developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, in his manuscript Full Catastrophe Living:

Linda described feeling as if a large truck were always right on her heels, driving just faster than she can walk. It was an image people could relate to; the vividness of it sent a wave of acknowledging nods and smiles through the room…

Her mind was the truck. It was always right behind her, pushing her, driving her, allowing her no rest, no peace.

In the modern age, feeling overwhelmed and out-of-sync is an increasingly common experience. Heart disease is real, heart attacks are real, and the CDC sobers us with the knowledge that this “time scarcity” mentality is a chronic stressor.

Perhaps it is not surprising then that one of the central tenets of mindfulness-based stress reduction is to encourage patients to adopt the present moment. As Dr. Kabat-Zinn explains:

Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.

The ancient Greeks embraced two definitions of time to help carry this distinction. “Chronos” was used to discuss chronological or sequential concepts of time, with which we are most familiar and tic-toc describes quite well. “Kairos”, on the other hand, translates to the “eternal moment” in which everything actually happens. This latter concept is missing from our current communication of time and resonates with Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s teaching.

Among pools of evidence collecting around the importance of present moment awareness, Science published a Harvard study in 2010 demonstrating a link between “mind-wandering” and mental health. Over 250,000 data points from 2,250 subjects between the ages of 18 and 88 shows our minds are focused on the past or future 46.9% of the day, leading directly to poor mood. As summarized by study co-author psychologist Matthew A. Killingsworth:

Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness. In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.

The tic-toc almost by definition puts us in a sequential frame of mind rather than in the moment. This shift first took hold in the Western world during the Middle Ages with the spread of the mechanical clock. Benedictine Monks lived ascetic lives centered on punctual communal prayer six to seven times per day. Bells (Celtic = clocca or “clock”) were rung manually to inform the community of established timetables. By adding weights and escapements to water clocks, a bell could be rung automatically without requiring a brother present, and more dependably as well.

As the National Watch and Clock Collectors Association notes:

Time no longer flowed like water through a clepsydra — it ticked. It was no longer a seamless continuum, but a succession of short periods.

The streaming of water, passing of a shadow or burning of a flame became replaced by the now familiar “tic-toc”. With the dawning of the Industrial Revolution and mass scaling of clock and watch production, “dollar watches” put everyone in a mechanical state-of-mind and helped synchronize the workforce. Time became money as factories calculated hours worked as key labor costs and employees as wages. As per American historian Lewis Mumford, “… the archetypal model for the industrial era was the clock.”

The tic-toc represented a major departure from cosmological cues for the average person organizing her or his day, as the sundial became officially obsolete in the 1800’s. Perhaps the greatest divorce came more recently with the International Committee for Weights and Measures decision to re-define the second in 1967. A “second” no longer represents an arbitrary fraction of Earth’s rotation around the Sun, but rather:

9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133-atom.

While this advances our computer networking capabilities and satellite communications, the tightening of our “tic-toc” does not necessarily serve to heal our emotional relationship with time. In fact, the focus by such governing bodies on the physics and engineering components of time misses the human implications that actually define it.

Within some of our lifetimes, Albert Einstein brought forward the general theory of relativity, which proved without a doubt that a second for you is not the same as a second for me:

Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.

Our speed, our culture, our circumstances, our environment, our climate, our neighbor, our mindspace all dramatically impact our individual perceptions of time. Further, Einstein’s contributions to quantum mechanics helped show the existence of time actually depends on our perceptions of it. No consciousness, no time. So these changes in perception that we feel and experience on a regular basis are not simply novelties or asides in the calculations of time, but real occurrences that get neglected in our current approach.

In the 1950’s, University of Minnesota biologist Franz Halberg coined the term “circadian” (Latin = around a day). Known as the “godfather of chronobiology,” he helped establish a fundamental, evolutionary relationship between our biology and time. We now know that every cell in our body, down to the DNA level, has some “awareness” of (or dependency on) the time of day. This is true for virtually every known organism, even those that are single-celled.

The implications of these “circadian rhythms”, or physiological patterns dictated by the rise and fall of the sun, are both broad and deep. Recent research encouraged the World Health Organization to label night-shift work as a “probable carcinogen”, in the same class as UV radiation, due to its devastating impact on circadian rhythms. Poor circadian rhythms are also linked to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and mental health disorders. Our 24/7, hyper-connected, always-on smartphone culture makes the bulk of us “social-shift workers,” exposed to blue light late into the night… and shifting our hormones into dangerous patterns.

circadian

Why then has nothing changed? Does our new subjective, dynamic definition of time, no longer static and mechanical, not change the underlying formula? Does the realization that our biology has a fundamental, natural and overarching relationship with time not beg us to re-evaluate why this is not factored into the perennial question, “What time is it?”

Introducing Lub-Dub

The arbitrariness of our current timekeeping method, combined with the facts that it is out-of-date and fosters a stressful mindset, presents us with a wide-open opportunity to improve. Coupling our evolved understanding of time with modern needs and the latest technologies, perhaps we can imagine a way to re-define the concept so that it better serves our bodies, hearts and minds.

Consider your daily routine. It might look a lot like this: wake up, meditate, eat breakfast, drive to work, work, eat lunch, go for a walk, work some more, drive home, cook dinner, spend time with family, relax and read a book, go to sleep. What is the optimal way to get you from one “daily milestone” to the next? When you realize the bulk of these milestones don’t generally change from one 24-hour block to the next, you begin to sense there might be a better way to organize and track your day.

Peter Galison, physics professor, historian and philosopher at Harvard University defines clocks accordingly:

We’re always looking for things that repeat, over and over again… and that repetition, that cycle of things, forms a clock. That’s all time becomes, is some repetitive process.

So since my daily activity patterns generally repeat from one day to the next, what if they became my “tic” and my “toc”? So my cadence became linked to “breakfast time” and “exercise time” rather than some mechanical, arbitrary construct that lies beneath it? In essence, I become my clock. Lub-dub.

What we can imagine is a shift from a quantitative, mathematical and mechanical view of time towards a more heartful, experiential and soulful view of time — one that makes sense on an emotional and psychological level.

Amazingly, this approach has a biological basis as well. In his study of circadian rhythms, Dr. Aschoff also coined the term “zeitgeber”, German for “time giver” or “synchronizer. ” The zeitgeber is any external or environmental cue that “entrains” or synchronizes an organism’s biological rhythms to Earth’s 24 hour light/dark cycle and twelve month orbit.

Decades of chronobiology research tells us that these same types of intuitive markers for progression of the day, or daily milestones outlined above, are in fact biological zeitgebers. Meals, exercise, and socializing each play a role in establishing our cyclical physiological relationship with the solar environment. This has implications for: our sleep/wake cycle, body temperature, patterns of hormone secretion, blood pressure, digestive secretions, levels of alertness, mood and reaction times just to name a few.

brain

[Image Credit: Nature Reviews Neurology]

Timothy Monk, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Sleep Medicine Institute summarizes the value of this framework well:

Circadian rhythms are driven by endogenous processes, are self-sustaining, and rely upon circadian time cues (zeitgebers) to remain appropriately oriented to the individual’s environment and desired routine. The gold-standard measures of human circadian rhythms have been core body temperature and salivary or plasma melatonin levels. However, one can also make the case that the behavioral circadian rhythms related to the timing of sleep, meals, work and social interactions are just as valid circadian rhythms as the physiological ones. Moreover, these are the rhythms most salient to the individual himself or herself.

An additional “bonus” of shifting to this type of intuitive, biologically-based system is that these same behaviors — nutrition, sleep, exercise and socializing — are deemed by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine to be the fundamental building blocks of a long, healthy life. Also called “lifestyle vital signs,” measuring and monitoring these parameters might be more meaningful in predicting long-term morbidity and mortality than the traditional set of vital signs for current and future generations (due to an overall shift from acute to chronic and preventable disease). Following the age-old adage that you cannot manage what you do not measure, taking these health fundamentals into account would help prevent and treat diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and more.

For example, we know that heart attacks are most likely to occur shortly after dawn due to concurrent rises in blood pressure and cortisol levels. We also know they are more likely to occur at the beginning of the workweek, when stress from anticipating future events reaches its peak. What if your timekeeping tools took this knowledge into account, and helped you time activities accordingly? Perhaps optimizing algorithms to discourage Monday AM work meetings when possible? Or suggesting stress-reducing sounds or images during these times? Something as simple as a picture of a loved one, left in ambient view on your wristwatch at the right time, might go a long way in dipping your odds for a cardiac event.

CFM OWAVES

[Image Credit: Owaves]

Now time becomes something we can control, name, juggle, design, manipulate and relate to according to our personal biology, desires and needs. Granted, a universal timekeeping system would always need to lie at its base. Meeting times must be coordinated and train crashes prevented. And yet, analogous to “personalized medicine”, we can evolve or grow from this generalized base to create a truly individualized and relevant concept of time that inspires and heals rather than stresses and reduces.

Commonly in mindfulness courses today, we are taught that certain external stressors cannot be changed, and are best addressed by mobilizing our internal resources to better respond and adapt to our environment. Yet our maligned relationship with time seems to be universal and we know now, increasingly, that our historical perspective of time is incomplete, arbitrary and malleable. Perhaps we should learn from the mindfulness leaders of millennia ago, and play an active, creative role with regard to understanding, communicating and measuring time.

As we speak, physicists and engineers continue to develop incredible methods for fine-tuning existing calculations of timekeeping tools to better run the machines of the world. I propose it is our duty, as a community of healers and innovators, to ensure that human health and well-being is plugged more squarely into the equation.

Continue to explore the Mindfulness courses presented at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. Registration is open for our local 8-Week Mindfulness programs along with our Mindfulness-Based Professional Training Programs that are held in various locations in North America.

 

Meet Your Inner Critical Coach

By Pete Kirchmer

About The Author

ccf9e-headshot2Pete Kirchmer is  the Assistant 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.

When asked what gets in the way of consistently performing at their best, most people can easily identify obstacles such as time, energy, scheduling conflicts, and distractions. These can indeed be areas that need focus but what I’ve found in my coaching practice is that most of our real obstacles are internal. Another way to say this is, our greatest obstacle to peak performance is often ourselves.

Inner CriticThese internal obstacles are experienced as negative thoughts and stories in our mind accompanied by tension in our body. These thoughts can take on a personality and an inner voice that seems to have but one job, to sabotage you from doing whatever you set out to do. This inner voice would like to talk you out of your big vision by convincing you that your plans are unworkable and your aspirations are unattainable. Listening to and believing this voice leads to ambivalence, low self-esteem, catastrophizing, shame, anxiety, worry, exhaustion and ultimately failure. Often they are the internalized voices of influential people and caregivers from our past, and when they treat us badly there may be good reason to consider finding ways of letting them go.

In the mPEAK program we refer to these thought patterns as the “Inner Critical Coach”.

The Inner Critical Coach looks for perfection everywhere. It loves to compare and hold unachievable high standards. It strives to attain, and will drive you to success at all cost-including health, happiness and sanity. You know you’re listening to the voice of the Inner Critical Coach when you start feeling like you SHOULD be better than you are. You SHOULD be “there” by now. And SHOULD be like someone else who clearly has it more together than you. There is an overall sense of not measuring up and just not being good enough. When the Inner Critical Coach is in charge, you may end up making long lists of things to do and staying up late, feeling pushed to do more and more but never feeling quite satisfied.

Everyone has these voices to varying degrees. For some, it only comes out when under the extreme pressures of deadlines or competition and for others; it’s a pattern that regularly dominates their thinking. Perhaps you already know a little bit about your own Inner Critical Coach? Just think of an area of your performance that you feel like needs to be changed. Then imagine how you talk to yourself when you don’t perform the way you’d expected in that area. Chances are, the things your Inner Critic says would be grounds for a breakup or a fistfight if someone else said them to you! “Yep, you blew it again. That was bound to happen.” “Its your fault, if you would have worked harder you wouldn’t have let the team down.” “You’re never going to get it right”.

“Your Inner Critic is actually trying to protect you from others’ disapproval, hurt or abandonment.”

It’s easy to start thinking of your Inner Critical Coach as the enemy but let’s explore it a bit more before making that judgment. According to The Founders of Voice Dialoguing Therapy, Hal & Sidra Stone, its intentions aren’t all bad. Your Inner Critic is actually trying to protect you from others’ disapproval, hurt or abandonment. The philosophy of the Inner Critic is “better me than them”—in other words, it is better for your own inner critic to whip you into conformity before you have to experience the hurt of someone else criticizing you. It has a remarkable underlying anxiety about life and what other people think, because again, its job is to protect you from others’ judgments. Can you see how this might be true for your Inner Critical Coach?

Mindfulness of the Inner Critical Coach

mPEAKThe first step to managing your Inner Critical Coach is to start consciously noticing and identifying it from the other thoughts you have. Once identified as “not you” it helps to slap a label on it. Some participants of the mPEAK course stick with the standard title, “Inner Critical Coach” and others give it a more personalized title- maybe even named after a pushy past boss or grouchy childhood soccer coach! The act of noticing and labeling brings the thought from unconscious to conscious or from subjective experience to something that’s now objective and manageable. The clearer we can be in observing these thoughts, the easier it becomes to manage them.

“The clearer we can be in observing these thoughts, the easier it becomes to manage them.”

After labeling, it’s important to realize that your thoughts don’t have to control you and that you have a choice about how to work with these critical thoughts. Perhaps you dispute the thought by finding evidence against it- a time where you did succeed and you were indeed good enough. Or maybe you get curious, “what am I protecting myself from?” Or, “What’s the silver lining in this?” Sometimes just by seeing The Inner Critical Coach for what it is allows us to simply let the whole thing go and move on. We can even potentially thank the Inner Critical Coach for how hard it has worked up until now to try and keep us safe or protect us from harm in some way.

Meet Your Compassionate Inner Coach

But even as resilient as you may be, we’ve all had occasions where the challenges we’re up against just don’t seem to respond to our usual strategies for moving forward. Maybe you dropped the game-winning pass, lost a key client, sustained an injury, got fired or gained twenty pounds. Try as you might, the emotions that come with failure such as inadequacy and unworthiness can seem to stick like pine tar. Even though you’re aware that your Inner Critical Coach has taken over the ship, you may still feel helpless to turn things around.

SparklerDuring these inevitable difficulties we have participants in the mPEAK course experiment with turning towards another aspect of themselves, their Compassionate Inner Coach. This is the inner voice that is kind and understanding toward oneself in instances of pain and failure. Your Compassionate Inner Coach has your back and wants whatever is best for you. It wants nothing more than for you to be happy, perform at your best and be free from stress.

“How would you feel if you lost a competition and your coach said to you: “What a looser. You’ll never amount to anything. I’m ashamed of you!” Inspired, confident, ready to take on the next challenge? Of course not – and yet isn’t that exactly the type of language we use with ourselves when we fail? What could your coach say that was more productive? “Hey, it’s okay. Everyone fails sometime and it’s an important part of the learning curve. But I’m here for you. I believe in you. What can I do to help?” This type of kind, supportive talk is going to be a much more effective motivator. Luckily we can start to use this approach with ourselves by learning the skill of self-compassion.”

–Kristin Neff

Compassion is not a term typically spoken in boardrooms or locker rooms and it’s relevance to performance enhancement may not be immediately obvious. Sure we all agree it’s valuable for caregivers like nurses, mothers, aide workers and those religiously inclined to service but how might compassion help an athlete or an executive?

KNeff_160_jpg_336x360_q85

Dr. Kristin Neff

Though research into the physiology of self-compassion versus self-criticism is still in its early stages, Kristin Neff, the lead researcher in self-compassion hypothesizes a simple model. Harsh self-criticism activates the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”) and elevates stress hormones such as cortisol in our bloodstream. When our Inner Critical Coach has a hold on us, we cannot learn from or engage with the deeper lesson or truth that may be there to serve us. Connecting with your own Self-Compassionate Inner Coach on the other hand may trigger the mammalian care-giving system, releasing hormones of affiliation and love, such as oxytocin, which is associated with feelings of connection and well-being.

Offering self-compassion by treating yourself the way a good friend would, presents a healthy way of relating to the self that is not dependent upon performance, success or positive self-evaluations. Treating oneself with compassion involves accepting all aspects of one’s experiences, regardless of how painful or difficult they may be.

“Treating oneself with compassion involves accepting all aspects of one’s experiences…”

Research by Mosewich et al. found that self-compassion was linked with lower body shame, body surveillance, fear of failure, fear of negative evaluation, objectified body self-consciousness, and social physique anxiety. Treating oneself with compassion allows for clarity of one’s limitations and recognition of unhealthy behaviors, which enables action for growth and encourages change to improve well-being (Berry, Kowalski, Ferguson, & McHugh); hence, self-compassion may be a viable resource for achieving human potential. In other studies done by Ferguson and Kowalski et al., Self-compassion was described as advantageous in difficult sport specific situations by increasing positivity, perseverance, and responsibility, as well as decreasing rumination.

Self-Compassion Skepticism

Despite the promising research, some of the participants in mPEAK meet this particular practice with resistance and a healthy skepticism. It’s a commonly held belief in high achievers that “if I didn’t beat myself up, I’d never get anywhere. My Inner Critical Coach is who motivates me to win!” Self-compassion can be perceived as too gentle for corporate culture or too passive for the grittiness of competitive sports. There is a fear that listening to the voice of the Inner Compassionate Coach will make them complacent, or overly tolerant of low standards. “If I’m too kind to myself, I’ll loose my edge.” “If I believe I’m good enough, I’ll never get better.”

But The Self-Compassionate Coach is hardly one to let you off the hook. Neff explains that self-compassion is not a way of avoiding goals or becoming self-indulgent. Instead, self- compassion is a great motivator because it involves the desire to alleviate suffering, to heal, to thrive, and to be happy. A parent who cares about her child will insist on the child’s eating vegetables and doing her homework, no matter how unpleasant these experiences are for the child. Similarly, taking it easy on yourself may be appropriate in some situations, “but in times of over-indulgence and laziness, self-compassion involves toughening up and taking responsibility.”

In experiments by Juliana G. Breines and Serena Chen, it was found that self-compassion actually motivated people to improve personal weaknesses, moral transgressions, and test performance. So rather than giving up, those who are self-compassionate actually try as hard to succeed as those who are less self-compassionate, but are more likely to persist after failing or falling or losing.

Loss, failure and injury are painful enough on their own without us adding an extra layer of self-judgment and insult. If your Inner Critical Coach is holding you back from peak performance and you’re ready to make a shift toward greater Self Compassion, you may consider signing up for our upcoming mPEAK 3-Day Intensive.

logo-mpeakMindful Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge
3-Day Intensive mPEAK course Program 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. June 26-28, 2015 The Catamaran Hotel, San Diego, CA

For our local San Diego residence you are also invited to register for the full 8-Week mPEAK program held at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness.

 

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

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.

 

Finding the Magic in Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT): A Participant’s Perspective

by a CCT Participant

self-compassion-smCompassion Cultivation Training is an eight-week educational program designed to help you improve your resilience and feel more connected to others—ultimately providing an overall sense of well-being. CCT combines traditional contemplative practices with contemporary psychology and scientific research to help you lead a more compassionate life. Through instruction, daily meditation, mindfulness, and in-class interaction, you can strengthen the qualities of compassion, empathy, and kindness.”

I would like to share my experience with the Compassion Cultivation Training course (CCT) taught by Sara Schraier in January 2014.

I had a couple of questions up front, but they were only going to be answered after I finished the course. I already practice and teach a meditation technique I love. But I wanted more compassion in my life. Would there be a conflict trying to do both practices daily? My other question was about the guided meditations that the CCT course provides. If I listened to these guided meditations over and over again, would I lose interest in them?

The 8 classes were fun and intriguing. This class was a 130 mile drive round trip for me (because I live in Orange County), but I looked forward to the trip each week. Within fifteen minutes of the first class, Sara created a welcome and safe atmosphere. Made me feel like I was in the right place. Sara’s honesty and authenticity was refreshing as she shared how compassion helped her deal with difficult life circumstances.

In spite of our prior experiences with meditation, compassion cultivation was a new experience for all of us. There was a nice balance to class with a short talk, active group discussions & a guided compassion practice at the end. Each class had a new theme supported by the lecture and guided meditation. Sara did a wonderful job explaining the themes and helping us look at how they apply in our own lives. The CCT guided meditations by Thupten Jinpa are a treasure. He has a mesmerizing voice and cadence and he guides the listener with a humble simplicity and an open heart.

I am writing this review 10 weeks after the last CCT class. Jinpa’s guided meditations don’t get old. As part of the instructions, Jinpa asks you to bring into the meditation people you feel close to and those who you are having difficulties with. What keeps the guided meditations fresh is the substitution of different people in my life as the subjects for Jinpa’s compassion cultivation. There is no conflict adding compassion cultivation to another meditation practice, if you can do them in separate sittings. The CCT guided meditations work great on a CD in my car’s stereo. Waiting in a school parking lot to pick up our son is a great time to listen to Jinpa’s wisdom.

What intrigued me about this CCT course? I learned that compassion is a skill that can be strengthened. It’s not a passive trait that some of us have & some of us don’t. The common humanity theme is a magical component because it helps me pay attention to what I have in common with others. But it will only work its magic if I stick with a compassion practice on a regular basis. This was explained in a discussion about neuroplasticity and how daily meditation creates new brain pathways. In short, the CCT course inspired me to make room for compassion cultivation in my life. I intend to study it further, so I can share it with others.

About CCT teacher Sara Schairer

SaraSara Schairer is the founder and CEO of COMPASSION IT, a start-up nonprofit organization and global social movement whose mission is to inspire daily compassionate actions. She invented the one-of-a-kind reversible COMPASSION IT bracelet that is now creating compassionate actions on six continents, 40+ countries and nearly all 50 states. As a public speaker, Sara encourages her audiences to “compassion it” in their daily lives and pursue their passions. Sara teaches Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) at the UCSD Center for Mindfulness

Sara’s next CCT program begins July 16, 2014, Wednesday evenings from 6:00 – 8:00pm. Please visit our Schedule and Registration page (scroll down to CCT) for future program information and registration.

 

 

 

Compassion Cultivation Training: Read How One Teacher Is Creating A More Compassionate World

by Sara Schairer

SaraCompassion Cultivation Training (CCT) helped me create more ‘space’ with myself and when dealing with others. Space = patience, acceptance, better listening and more awareness.” -Recent CCT student

What is CCT? According to the course creators at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education:

Compassion Cultivation Training is an eight-week educational program designed to help you improve your resilience and feel more connected to others—ultimately providing an overall sense of well-being. CCT combines traditional contemplative practices with contemporary psychology and scientific research to help you lead a more compassionate life. Through instruction, daily meditation, mindfulness, and in-class interaction, you can strengthen the qualities of compassion, empathy, and kindness.”

Becoming a certified teacher of CCT was not a walk in the park. It took well over a year for me to complete the teacher-training program. My classmates and I attended retreats each quarter, and on top of that we learned about compassion through quarter-long classes at Stanford (Science of Compassion, Philosophical Perspectives of Compassion and Perspectives on the Practice of Teaching).  I taught the full eight-week CCT course under supervision as my final task this past fall.

My heart swells with joy as I reflect back on leading my first group of students through the CCT journey. Individuals from all walks of life came together, because they were curious about cultivating compassion for themselves and for others. We explored how to view the world through a compassionate lens that doesn’t discriminate or judge, and we talked about why sometimes that seems like an impossible feat.

At the end of the eight weeks, I truly felt like my students learned valuable tools that helped them to be present with suffering. Because we’re human, we often run away when see someone suffering, or we put up imaginary walls and pretend it doesn’t exist. This is especially the case when we, personally, experience suffering. Thanks to CCT, my students and I are better-equipped to stay put with suffering and offer compassion to ourselves and others.

Below are two of the many positive comments I received from my Compassion Cultivation Training students.

“The common humanity experience helped me so much. I’m changing the way I see my life, the world and all people – they are ‘just like me.’”

“The bottom line is that when I feel irritated or judgmental of myself or another, I invite myself to practice lovingkindness toward myself and then the other. Powerful!”

self-compassion-smNeedless to say, I’m chomping at the bit to teach my next class in January at the UCSD Center for Mindfulness.

Because compassion is my passion, I try my best to lead my classes with energy, warmth and compassion (with some humor thrown in there, too). I truly hope to teach CCT to as many people as possible, because I believe my students are able to lead by example and share their own compassionate wisdom with others. This ripple effect could be tremendous for our world.

Sara Schairer is the founder and CEO of COMPASSION IT, a start-up nonprofit organization and global social movement whose mission is to inspire daily compassionate actions. She invented the one-of-a-kind reversible COMPASSION IT bracelet that is now creating compassionate actions on six continents, 40+ countries and nearly all 50 states. As a public speaker, Sara encourages her audiences to “compassion it” in their daily lives and pursue their passions. Sara teaches Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) at the UCSD Center for Mindfulness

Putting good out, Getting good in?

By Blair Buckman

michelleBecker

Michelle Becker, MA, LMFT, Director of Compassion Programs, Senior Teacher

Join Michelle Becker, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for one of our Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) programs this fall. Michelle believes, “when we meet suffering with awareness and kindness it is often life-changing.”

We’ve all heard the expression that if “you put good in, you get good out,” but what about the opposite? What about putting “good” out by spreading kindness to oneself and others and seeing the benefits on your health and well-being? More and more research is pointing to the health benefits of exhibitingself-compassion-sm compassion towards oneself and others. Compassion, as defined as an affective state and subjective feeling, distinct from empathy or sympathy, it can be said to encompass three main components, which are self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness (Neff, 2003; Schzntz, 2007; Goetz, Keltner, & Simon-Thomas, 2010). Moreover pioneering compassion researcher, Kristin Neff (2003) supplements that compassion involves being understanding of oneself and one’s struggles, viewing one’s suffering in the context of the shared human condition, and being aware and nonjudgmental without over-identification, with a desire to alleviate suffering. Recent compassion research is demonstrating the positive benefits of compassion on one’s health and well-being, including less self-judgment, less isolation, lower levels of pain, anger and psychological distress (Pinto-Gouveia & Costa, 2011; Carson et al., 2005). Other studies refer to the implications of compassion on the neuroendocrine, innate immune, and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress (Pace et al, 2009).

With more research continually demonstrating compassion’s potential, perhaps it is time for you to consider taking one of our upcoming Self-Compassion Programs.

At the UCSD Center for Mindfulness we offer
two great ways to explore Mindful-Self Compassion

The first is by participating in our 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Program. The next 8-week MSC program begins in September 11, 2013. The second is by participating in our Two Weekend Intensive November 1-3, 2013 & November 9-10,2013.

We are proud to be the  first center teaching the 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion program as originated by Drs. Neff and Germer.

 

Mindful Matters: Nourishing Our Wellbeing in Clinical Practice

by Chris Gauthier

There are lots of people, many of them healthcare professionals, who are serving this world by caring for others. Something within some of them is so completely synchronous with the desire to heal others that there is nothing in this life they would rather do. The fact that there are people so committed to helping others become whole is awe-inspiring. However, too many times the basic premise of healing is forgotten: we must heal ourselves if we have intentions of healing others, so we can better serve all.

stethoscopeWith the world of medicine constantly changing, areas of improvement in patient care are abound while its practitioners continue to meekly manage mindful self-care rather haphazardly. In America, this recent structural revolution in the medical industry, regardless of personal opinions and politics on the subject, is significant. The demand for physicians, psychologists, and other medical practitioners is exponentially growing. Medical professionals that do well in their care – because let’s face it, we have or know someone who has had a needlessly negative experience seeking quality care, can be likened to an oasis in this increasingly desert-esque landscape. How do we as practitioners, continue to offer the top care that we do, while combating increasing instances of burn-out, fatigue, and a general lack luster experience where on occasion we may dip our toes into the depths of existential darkness? With greater work loads and less time that we do not have, it is imperative for us to find ways to care for ourselves. These sharp changes in the field require equally acute transformations of focus.

There is another movement germinating in this field z krasner9258-1within the western context that proffers a way for us to take care of ourselves so that we can do what we love: take care of others. This movement is towards mindfulness. Mindfulness in clinical practice is essential to thriving long-term in the duty of serving our patients to the best of our abilities. Mick Krasner, MD FACP practices primary care internal medicine in Rochester NY and teaches that the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Going strong after 12 years of integrating Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction into the lives of his patients, medical students and various health professionals, Mick might be on to something. A plethora of research on this topic shows an improvement in quality of care of patients, and an increase in well being for the health professionals who practice it. An example of one of the aspects whereby we can incorporate mindfulness is within the context of communication education with our colleagues.

Howard B. Beckman et. al. published a fascinating study exploring mindfulness-based interventions with practitioners, finding that these kinds of mindful communications skills when learned and practiced, promote a sense of community and an increase in time devoted to personal growth. In the paper, “The Impact of a Program in Mindful Communication on Primary Care Physicians,” they conduct in-depth interviews with physicians who had completed a specific 52-hour mindful communication course, which had known effects of reducing distress and burnout as well as increasing empathetic capacities. Generally there were three main themes that surfaced through the randomized qualitative data: 1) sharing personally the experiences from medical practice with other colleagues in the class setting reduced professional isolation, 2) increased skill sets to listen attentively to patients, 3) developing a greater sense of self-awareness is a positive experience. It is clear here as is true in other studies, that learning how to engage in mindfulness practice (and practicing!) does tremendous good for the individual and by proxy, for the community as a whole.

This education in mindfulness has ineffable multi-facetted value, but we already don’t have enough time as it is! So what do we do? Well, one way is by looking for those CE’s that will offer us this kind of education that will teach us to nourish ourselves so we can continue to do the important work that we do. Being aware of the consequences, good and bad, of our decisions we make for ourselves and about ourselves is one of the pillars of this mindfulness journey to creating the life we want to live. We can seek out continuing education courses that we have to do anyway, that will also aid us in this journey towards taking care of ourselves therefore enabling us to sustainably care for others.

We are delighted Dr. Krasner is coming 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. The day-long training has been approved by the AMA PRA for Category 1 Credit.

Work Cited:

Beckman, Howard B., MD, Melissa Wendland, Christopher Mooney, MA, Michael S. Krasner, MD, Timothy E. Quill, MD, Anthony L. Suchman, and Ronald M. Epstein, MD. “The Impact of a Program in Mindful Communication on Primary Care Physicians.” Academic Medicine 87.6 (2012): 1-5. Print.

Krasner, M. S., R. M. Epstein, H. Beckman, A. L. Suchman, B. Chapman, C. J. Mooney, and T. E. Quill. “Association of an Educational Program in Mindful Communication With Burnout, Empathy, and Attitudes Among Primary Care Physicians.” JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 302.12 (2009): 1284-293. Print.

About the Author:

Chris Gauthier is an alumnus of the University of California, San Diego with a degree in Cognitive Science and a focus in Neuroscience. He has many passions, most revolving around skills of wholeness, health, and self-discovery. Chris is affiliated with the UCSD Center for Mindfulness. He also travels and presents a variety of topics in a workshop style, mostly to college-level minds. Mr. Chris Gauthier can be reached at: chris.a.gauthier@gmail.com.

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