Category Archives: Lovingkindness Meditation

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.

 

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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.

 

MBCT Ushers in the Next Era with Second Edition and Two Innovative Training Opportunities

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for DepressionFew psychological interventions have engendered so much promise and delivered on that promise with such impressive clinical outcomes and research findings as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). The skillful “marriage” of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness practice, MBCT has emerged as an effective treatment to prevent relapse in depression and is yielding good initial results in other settings and with other populations as well. With the imminent publication of the Second Edition of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy  (Guilford Publications), MBCT has entered it’s next generation, incorporating the ongoing work of co-founders Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale, with the input and efforts of numerous clinicians and researchers worldwide.

Zindel Segal, Ph.D.

Zindel Segal, Ph.D.

“Ten years have passed since the publication of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy,” noted Zindel Segal recently, “and in that time there has been a productive engagement and interchange with clinicians and researchers who have offered and studied the program with their own patients.  Mark, John and I have been fortunate to be involved in some of these discussions and have learned from many ‘early adopters’ as well as from the increasing volume of empirical work that has evaluated and stretched MBCT to novel populations.  The second edition of MBCT gives us an opportunity to embed this ‘crowd sourced’ wisdom and feedback into an updated and expanded version of the book that offers a few refinements to the 8-week program and grapples, more generally, with the question of how the delivery of mindfulness based interventions can be optimized.”

“Kindness and compassion are the ground from which we practice, the ground from which we teach, and the ground that participants may then use in cultivating their own practice.”                 (From the Second Edition)

Perhaps most notable in the new edition is a chapter solely dedicated to the topic of compassion in MBCT. Segal reports that “an oft-repeated question I hear is ‘what is the role of compassion training in MBCT?’  This reflects perhaps the pervasive interest in bringing compassion to patients who are suffering, as well as an enthusiasm for newer protocols that feature compassion training as a central intervention.  The answer with respect to MBCT is not as straightforward as checking whether formal compassion or loving kindness is or is not taught within the 8 weeks.  It revolves around the deeper question of what exactly compassion means in a clinical context and how it can help address the vulnerability or illness perpetuating factors that keep people locked into symptoms and distress.”

FREE CHAPTER PREVIEW!
In advance of the release of the Second Edition of MBCT, Chapter 8, entitled “Pausing for Reflection: Kindness and Self-Compassion in MBCT” is available for free by emailing the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness at mindfulness@ucsd.edu and requesting a copy.

Book purchasers get access to a companion Web page featuring downloadable audio recordings of the guided mindfulness practices (meditations and mindful movement), plus all of the reproducibles, ready to download and print in a convenient 8 1/2″ x 11″ size. A separate web page for use by clients features the audio recordings only.

As innovative as the MBCT program itself, the 5-day MBCT teacher training offered through the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness is a “wonderful opportunity to experience the intricate interweaving of mindfulness practice and cognitive therapy skills in the delivery of the 8 week program,” said Segal. “Our days are long and incorporate elements of personal practice and clinical training all held within a retreat framework that clarifies intention, observation and self-compassion in the learning process.  If you are interested in learning the MBCT program ‘from the inside’ this is the best vehicle for doing so.”

For those who already have experience teaching MBCT or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) UCSD is now offering an Advanced Training for MBCT and MBSR Teachers taught by experienced teachers and trainers Susan Woods and Char Wilkins. Intended to focus upon universal principles for teaching mindfulness-based interventions. As such, the focus for this training is less about teaching to the structure of MBCT and/or MBSR and more about intentionally embodying mindful presence and strengthening the facilitation of mindful inquiry.

What Are Your Thoughts? We would love to hear your thoughts on the approach of explicitly teaching compassion and lovingkindness practice within mindfulness-based interventions like MBCT, versus the more implicit approach described by Segal et al in the new 2nd edition of the MBCT book (free pdf copy of the chapter available upon request at  mindfulness@ucsd.edu ). Please share your thoughts and opinions below.

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!

How Do You Meet Your Suffering? Opportunities Abound to Learn Self-Compassion in San Diego

Dr. Kristin Neff and Dr. Christopher Germer have dedicated years to studying, researching, and teaching self-compassion. All of this dedicated effort and passion have resulted in the Mindful Self Compassion (MSC) program, a research- and skill-based eight week training similar in format to Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) but focused on this key component of how we meet our own suffering. Outside of Dr. Neff and Dr. Germer’s own courses, the The UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness is currently the only place offering MSC courses. (Note: Dr. Neff will present a one-day workshop on the topic in San Diego on September 22, 2013. See below for more details.)

Drs. Neff and Germer trained Michelle Becker, a San Diego Marriage and Family Therapist and MBSR teacher, as the first teacher of the program. She, along with Dr. Steve Hickman, the second teacher trained by Neff and Germer, will lead their second MSC program at the UCSD Center For Mindfulness this September.

In describing how thoughts arise from actions, Michelle noted that “when something bad happens, it is like being hit by an arrow, difficult and painful. Unfortunately, a second arrow, our thoughts and reactions, follows the first. Many times, it is these thoughts and reactions (i.e. “this shouldn’t be happening,” “you failed,” “you’re so lazy,” “maybe you’re stupid”) that cause the bulk of the suffering. The event, the first arrow, is painful, but how different would it be if instead of that second arrow, we just attend to the fact that the first arrow hurt?

Compassion is a response to witnessing suffering. Becker notes that “showing kindness and compassion to ourselves makes such a difference in our lives. Even simply responding by acknowledging ‘Oh wow, that hurt,’ radically changes our experience”.

Through mindfulness and self-compassion training, a space is formed between event and reaction, and within that space, Becker explains, we are able to choose how to react. “When we create the space, it’s the difference between reacting and responding. So when we choose to respond, can we be kind to our own selves?”

Kristin Neff

Kindness and compassion are skills that can be developed. Rather than continually judging and evaluating ourselves, self-compassion involves generating kindness toward ourselves as imperfect humans, and learning to be present with the inevitable struggles of life with greater ease. It motivates us to make needed changes in our lives not from a place of motivating ourselves with punishment, but because we care about ourselves and want to lessen our suffering.  But becoming more compassionate requires breaking down old habits and building new mindful skills and habits.

Step one in developing self-compassion is mindfulness. In order to change a habit, we must become aware of its existence. We need to become aware of whatever sensation, thought, or emotion is causing suffering. Once we identify our suffering, the second step is to remember that we are not alone in our suffering.  Pain and suffering are part of any life, and therefore our suffering is a simply a normal part of belonging to the human race.

The third step is to choose to respond with kindness toward our own selves.  Much like we would respond with kindness for a friend who is suffering in the same way. In Michelle’s words, “It’s really that simple. Not easy. But really that simple.” Awareness and compassion are learnable through education and practice.

MSC is based on research. Early clinical studies indicate that MSC practice will increase happiness and lessen anxiety and depression, as well as supporting and improving mindfulness overall.

Even people who have taken MBSR will benefit from MSC.  Michelle commented, “Both programs have the core elements of mindfulness and compassion. Compassion is not trained explicitly in MBSR, but it is important. We do these practices that help us become aware of where we are, and to the extent that where we are is painful. It would be a little bit cruel to become aware of pain and just meet it with harshness instead of offering ourselves the compassion each of us deserves.”

In addressing which program to take, she remarked, “People will benefit from both. There’s a lot of overlap between MBSR and MSC and it’s about which door you choose to take first. For some people, starting with MBSR would be preferable, and for others, starting with MSC would be preferable. If there is a lot of harshness, a lot of self-judgment and self-criticism, probably your experience with MBSR will be deeper and you’ll get more out of it, and it won’t be quite as painful, if you start with MSC.”

For more information on MSC and to register for the 8-week course starting September 20, please visit the Center for Mindfulness website.

To learn more about Dr. Neff’s pioneering research into self-compassion, check out her homepage, her book “Self-Compassion.”

One-DAY WORKSHOP in SAN DIEGO, September 22

You are invited to attend Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion & Emotional Resilience one-day workshop on September 22, 2012 from 9 am to 4 pm, on the campus of UC San Diego. The workshop will provide simple tools for responding in a kind, compassionate way whenever we are experiencing painful emotions.

Short-Term Training in Loving-Kindness Meditation Produces a State, But Not a Trait, Alteration of Attention

An article by Christopher J. May, Ph.D.
Dr. May is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Carroll University.

Among the many types of contemplative practices, some are cognition-focused, while others are emotion-focused (for a visual representation of the many types of contemplative practice, see the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society). For example, concentrative (or breath-focused) meditation is designed to strengthen attention, enabling the practitioner to remain focused on a particular object of attention. Loving-kindness meditation, on the other hand, is designed to strengthen feelings of love and kindness and enable the practitioner to intentionally direct these feelings toward other people. In a study recently published in Mindfulness, we demonstrated that loving-kindness meditation also affects cognition. Specifically, practicing this emotion-focused meditation for 15 minutes, 4 days per week, for 8 weeks, improved attention.
We measured improvements in attention with the attentional blink task. In this task, participants were shown a stream of letters, which rapidly flashed at the center of a computer screen. Each letter appeared for just 50 ms, and only 50 ms separated the presentation of letters. Within this stream, participants were asked to identify two targets: a number and the letter X. On each trial, a different number would appear as the first target, and the second target (the X) would appear half of the time. This second target could either appear fairly quickly after the first target, or after a longer delay. The attentional blink refers to a decreased ability to correctly identify whether or not the X appeared when it is presented shortly after the first target. It is as though one’s attention, caught up in processing the first target, blinks, thereby missing the second target.
In our experiment, we tested participants before and after they began loving-kindness meditation training and compared them to a non-meditating control group. After 8 weeks of training, meditators practiced loving-kindness meditation one final time before doing the attentional blink task. What we found is that these meditators had a reduced attentional blink- meaning that they were better able to identify the second target compared to their pre-training performance, and compared to the non-meditating controls. In short, loving-kindness meditation enabled the practitioners to see more! This effect validates one goal of meditation in Buddhism, which is to more accurately see reality. These results are significant in demonstrating that an emotion-focused meditation can bring about attentional changes. These changes were produced with relatively little training- meditators trained for an average of 8 hours spread out of 2 months. In addition, there is evidence that loving-kindness meditation may be more effective than concentrative meditation for some people (Barnhofer et al., 2010), thereby making these attentional improvements potentially more widely accessible. We are currently working on comparative research looking at the relative efficacy and time-courses of concentrative and loving-kindness meditation.

References
Barnhofer, T., Chittka, T., Nightingale, H., Cisser, C., & Crane, C. (2010). State effects
of two forms of meditation on prefrontal EEG asymmetry in previously depressed individuals. Mindful- ness, 1, 21–27. doi:10.1007/s12671-010-0004-7.
May, C.J., Burgard, M., Mena, M., Abbasi, I., Bernhardt, N., Clemens, S., Curtis, E.,
Daggett, E., Hauch, J., Housh, K., Janz, A., Lindstrum, A., Luttropp, K., & Williamson, R. (2011). Short-term practice of loving-kindness meditation produces a state, but not a trait, alteration of attention. Mindfulness, 2, 3, 143-153. doi: 10.1007/s12671-011-0053-6.