Category Archives: Conversations on Mindfulness & Therapy

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

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

By William R. Matthews, MA, LPC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Mindful Presence: Embodying sensitivity with a heartfelt presence

Professional Training Institute BannerThe UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness has partnered with Susan Woods and Char Wilkins to offer a 5-day program entitled: MBSR:Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction 5-day Teacher Training, November 11-16, 2013, at the Chapin Mill Retreat Center, Batavia, NY. 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.

By Susan Woods

WoodsSusanIn the second of these of these reflections on the nature of teaching mindfulness I thought it would be interesting to continue with the theme of mindful presence.  As teachers of mindfulness in secular settings, we bring an emotional and cognitive sensibility to our teaching that is based on our personal experience and understanding of mindfulness.  When we respond to questions from our participants via the process of mindful reflective inquiry, we are embodying an awareness that embraces and acknowledges a way of being that is able to stay quietly present even in the midst of ambiguity.  Being able to allow for those places of uncertainty, anxiety, and doubt and then know when and how to respond are important components for our teaching.  It is likely there will be times when one of our participants will ask a question or make a comment that elicits a moment(s) when we have no idea of what’s next or how to respond.  In addition these moments may touch a strong emotional reaction inside of us of doubt, worry, distress, anxiety, irritation, despondence, even anger.  I suspect we have all had some or perhaps all of these instances.

No experience is wasted; even those that have challenged me in sometimes very uncomfortable ways.  When I have found myself in those places, part of my own journey of mindfulness, has been in allowing an emotional and cognitive unfolding that can be relaxed. Remembering to take a breath can help to soften into these moments; relaxing into the body another.  This becomes a way of sensing into the current experience where understanding grows from letting all of the uncomfortableness be present, cognitive, emotional and somatic.

reflectionsBeing emotionally sensitive to these moments requires an active intention and receptivity. Being a mindfulness teacher asks that we are willing to take our seats in the uncertainty and teach to and through that experience.  This means that we include an experiential sense of our own complexity in those moments and in that awareness do our best to step out of our own way.  As we meet these moments we also notice that being gentle and patient rather than a problem solver, allows us to start from where we truly are rather than from where we think we should be.

It is this emotional awareness and sensitivity that we bring to our teaching of mindfulness.  It allows for the landscape of the moment to reveal itself, an inner and outer attunement and brings us into the present, one where we are receptive to our own experience and at the same time responsive to that of the other.  It is a moment of being attuned to an inner and outer noticing, where compassion is embodied through mindful presence, heartfelt sensitivity and through mindful reflective speech.   In this way the teacher and participant(s) are involved in co-creating a journey of relationship which entails a kindhearted understanding of self, of other and the unfolding nature of the present. These moments of connection are sacred moments of wisdom and humility.

Surfing A Global Wave

By Chris Gauthier

Global Wave            You know something’s working when it makes it to the big time “for Dummies” book publishing. Today a person can Google “Mindfulness” and will find almost 12 million global links for the word/practice/healing revolution in less than a second. What we find on the internet today and in the contemporary programs of our time is historically linked to practices in other parts of the world about 1500 years before our common era (Alidina, 2011). The folks at UCSD’s Center for Mindfulness work to train professionals, empower those who come to learn the skills, and research this nebulous field to better understand why what they do is successful.

            Variations of this practice of mindfulness, some with traditions hundreds of generations long, are compacted, packaged and exported around the globe. The methodology and application remains in essence, however newly formulated semantics, developed contemporarily by Jon Kabat-Zinn and others describe these activities and practices for this generation. With the success that he has had (Zinn, 2003) along with others, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs are popping up like Starbucks all over the place. Recently interviewed, Steven Hickman, Psy.D, the founder and current Director of the growing UCSD Center for Mindfulness discusses the continual development of their program.

            Generally, these programs educate people with scientific explanations and evidence for many data-driven and evidence-based consumers today. Hickman knows that mindfulness is somatically located, based on this research and his own practice, so the Center’s programs provide “a way in for people to then let that go and to experience what that is for real” paired with discussions of research, art, and sharing experiences. Researched, tried, and tested, this methodology seems to ‘click’ with human minds and brains to institute real, long-lasting change on a neuronal level (Baer, 2003). UCSD CFM has come a long way from its conception, more than a decade ago.

           steve-hickman Hickman’s vision was and is still: not a business plan, not any sort of “strategic plan” at all. Confident in this work, the practice itself akin to the roots of kelp that meld with the ocean floor, swaying with the change of tide, but never adrift and disconnected. This is what makes UCSD’s program unique: “All of these interventions, even though each one’s different, they all share a core of mindfulness practice, and needing to be grounded in a practice if you are going to teach.” Still, designing an authentic and effective mindfulness program for a large range of participants from chronic pain patients to lawyers is challenging. UCSD’s success is a teaching framework whereby these skills are taught, experienced and made into habits is reflected in the center’s growth. Steve explains that, “people are coming in because they are suffering over something…We help people identify that they have stressors, then set that aside and give people the experience of watching their mind.” This is not where influence of the center stops for long, however.

               The Neuroscience behind Professional Training Institute BannerMindfulness is of increasing interest to healthcare professionals and they are pursuing mindfulness training through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness’s Professional Training Institute. When the center was founded, it quickly became a hub. Hickman describes the experience, “I was just standing on the beach when the global wave of interest hit.” Currently, the CFM is creating programs, training and research opportunities that will help to spread the practice far beyond the center’s current reach. With the instructors here also continually practicing and growing, it is only natural that what the center teaches “can take care of itself.”

              

     Keeping with the pace of the global wave of interest mindfulness brings, Steve is heartened by knowing, “the nice thing is that you can do life and mindfulness at the same time.”


Work Cited

 Baer, Ruth. “Mindfulness Training as a Clinical Intervention: A Conceptual and Empirical Review.” Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 10 (2003): 125-43. Print.

Bishop, S. R. “What Do We Really Know about Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction?” Psychosomatic Medicine 64 (n.d.): 71-84. Print.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. “Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future.” Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 10.2 (2006): 144-56. Print.

“A Tidal Wave of Mindfulness: An Interview with Dr. Hickman.” Interview by Sara Kimmich. May 2013.

Alidina, Shamash, MA. “History of Mindfulness.” Learn Mindfulness. Learn Mindfulness, 2011. Web. 1 June 2013.

 

Image credit: http://apogeepoet.blogspot.com/2012_07_01_archive.html

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 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

“Transforming Basic Quality of Life in Youth and Adults” More Than Sound

by Max Breiteneicher

logo_MTS-logo-1More Than Sound produces and publishes media in the fields of mindfulness and conscious leadership-two areas they consider crucial to society’s continued development.

HanumanGolemanMore Than Sound’s founder, Hanuman Goleman, was introduced to formal mindfulness meditation by Sayadaw U Pandita, Michele McDonald, and Steve Smith in 1989 at the first young adult retreat offered at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, MA. Now known as the Teen Retreat, it has been an introduction to mindfulness for hundreds of teenagers over the years. In 2007, Hanuman began volunteering as a discussion group facilitator at the Teen Retreat, and in the years since, he has been a part of introducing the transformative experience of mindfulness practice to young people. This work led Hanuman to take part in establishing a monthly young adult sitting group at Insight Pioneer Valley in Easthampton, MA.

“Because the brain, body and heart all share a state of rapid development in our teen years, the insights and kindness developed in these retreats becomes integrated into the foundation of their life experience,” Hanuman says. “From these retreats the teens have more tools to work with difficult negative emotions and relationships, to develop positive mind-states and a stronger sense of self-love.”

Seeing the benefits that the changes brought about by mindfulness have in transforming basic quality of life in youth and adults alike has been a main drive behind the development of More Than Sound. They record and publish CDs, videos, and books from thought-leaders in the emerging field of affective neuroscience, from renowned mindfulness teachers, and experts in emotionally intelligent leadership. More Than Sound is dedicated to aiding in the continued integration of mindfulness practice in the secular world, as they believe that this union has potentially enormous benefit for both the prosperity and humanity of our shared future.

The opportunity to partner with The Center for Mindfulness at UCSD in bridging2013badgeoffering the videos of their Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth conference was a natural next step for More Than Sound. This conference brings together a special community of professionals united around a common goal of helping our young people reach their potential and be happy, healthy, well-adjusted human beings who practice compassion, patience, equanimity and presence. Our recordings of the conference are a perfect way to broaden our community and educate others interested in introducing mindfulness techniques to our future generation.

To this same end, More Than Sound also offers practical mindfulness instruction from distinguished teachers. Their most recent release in this area is the CD, Working with Mindfulness, with mindfulness teacher and organizational management expert Mirabai Bush. Bush is the founder of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, which has led mindfulness trainings for thousands of employees and executives of major corporations and non-profits, including Google, Monsanto, Hearst Publications, and the Fetzer Institute.

Bush was also a key contributor to Google’s now-famed Search Inside Yourself curriculum. Working with Mindfulness is a series of practices based on traditional mindfulness practice but crafted around a work environment. There is mindful e-mailing, for example, coping with change, and managing negative emotions. Participants in Bush’s programs through the years have consistently reported reduced stress, increased productivity, more creative problem solving, and improved relationships – all essential for a top-performing workplace, and for happier lives.

More Than Sound is proud to have a working partnership with the UCSD Center for Mindfulness and to be involved with the important work of Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth. Sharing the work of these educators, researchers and therapists is way to be of further benefit to the continued understanding and practice of mindfulness techniques in our lives.

Save the Date February 7-9, 2014  Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth: Mindfulness in Clinical Practice, Education and Research in a new location at the Paradise Point Hotel, San Diego, CA. To be recorded by More Than Sound

Follow More than Sound’s social media sites;

Website, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest


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.

Can self-compassion improve through mindfulness?

This post originally appeared on the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM) blog, and is written by Ruth Buczynski, PhD

You shouldn’t kick yourself when you’re down . . .

. . . but sometimes it’s hard not to. Even if we’re compassionate toward others, we can still be our own worst critics. Mindfulness meditation really works. And self-compassion is one of its key benefits.

Kristen Neff, PhD, from the University of Texas-Austin, and Christopher Germer, PhD, from Harvard Medical School, wanted to find out whether self-compassion could be developed through training.

Mindfulness meditation and self-compassionDrs. Neff and Germer randomly assigned 54 people to either an 8-week Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) program or a waitlist control. The MSC program combined weekly 2-hour meetings with homework and a half-day meditation retreat. The program began with an explanation of what self-compassion is, and incorporated both formal and informal mindfulness practices.

Before the program, participants completed surveys to measure self-compassion, mindfulness, and other internal states. They took the same surveys immediately after the program’s completion, and then 6 months later as a follow-up. And, as it turns out, Dr. Neff and Dr. Germer have good news for people who’d like to develop self-compassion.

After taking the program, participants reported significantly greater gains in self-compassion, along with mindfulness, compassion for others, and life satisfaction when compared with the control group. What’s more, researchers found a large statistical effect size in self-compassion. This is relevant because many previous studies of mindfulness programs have found substantially smaller effect sizes – suggesting that this program might be particularly effective.

Of course, since the research involves only self-report data, we should be cautious about drawing conclusions. When people reply that they’re more compassionate or mindful on a survey, what does that really mean about their mental states? What’s more, this research involves only a waitlist control. That means we can’t be sure what made the difference. People might develop self-compassion just from getting together twice a week. Or maybe doing “mental homework” of any kind helps all sorts of internal states.

So, while I think this is a good foundation, I’d like to see more research that uses objective measures of self-compassion and an active control.

If you’d like to read the whole study, it’s currently in press in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Of course, to see the benefits of self-compassion with your clients, you need to be able to introduce mindfulness effectively. That can be complex, depending on your client, so that’s why we’ve put together our Making Mindfulness Work webinar series. Just click here to sign up for free.

Has mindfulness training ever transformed one of your clients’ capacity for self-compassion? What about your own? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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

The first is through participating in our 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Program right here at our UCSD CFM Meditation Room. We are the only center currently teaching the 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion program as originated by Drs. Neff and Germer.  The next 8-week MSC program begins in January 2013

The second way to explore self-compassion is by attending our upcoming Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) Training Retreat, May 12-17, 2013, at EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA with Dr. Chris Germer and Dr. Kristin Neff.

This program is designed for members of the general public, as well as for professionals who wish to integrate self-compassion into their work. Participating in a MSC program satisfies a prerequisite for becoming a MSC program teacher, and teacher training will begin at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness in 2014. A modest, regular meditation practice is required to become a MSC teacher but meditation experience is not necessary to participate in this professional training. All are welcome!