Category Archives: MBCP

THANKFUL: Appreciating Beautiful Gifts from Children and Youth

By LeesaMaree Bleicher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankful

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

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

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Introducing Mindful Eating Within a Family

By Jan Chozen Bays, MD

baysjanJan Chozen Bays, MD, is a pediatrician and Zen teacher from Oregon. She is the author of Mindful Eating: Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food and How to Train a Wild Elephant, a collection of 53 mindfulness exercises. Jan and her colleague Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW continue to offer a 5-day Professional Training through the UCSD Center for Mindfulness entitled  ”Mindful Eating, Conscious Living” based upon their work in this field and Jan’s book.

One of the most common questions we get in our mindful eating events is how to teach mindful eating to children and practice it during family meals. The answer is for everyone to practice mindfulness while cooking and eating together as a family.

Young children have a natural internal nutritionist that tells them what and how much to eat. Little kids who are provided with a variety of foods on the tray of their high chair will eat the appropriate types and amounts of each food. The catch is that they will not eat in a balanced way in one day, but over the course of a week. We can imagine how quickly this intuitive way of eating is disrupted. Parents see that their toddler has eaten only mashed potatoes one day and applesauce the next. Worried that their child is not getting the proper amount of protein, they begin to interfere, cajoling, bribing and trying to force food into the child’s closed mouth. Research shows that by age 5, children will valiantly try to eat all of an inappropriately large helping of macaroni and cheese.

Thus begins our uniquely American habit of trying to clean our plates at “family style” restaurants where huge portions of cheap food are considered “a good deal.” We are even taught to feel guilty if we don’t eat it all and somehow worsen the situation of starving children in Africa.UCSD CFM Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is a way to become reacquainted with the guidance of our internal nutritionist. How can parents introduce mindful eating to their children? Here are some suggestions.

(1)   Have at least one congenial family meal a day. If the atmosphere is relaxed and each person shares the events of the day, children learn to eat slowly and to pair eating with enjoyment and connection. Eating and anxiety are not a healthy pair. Eating and a sense of ease are.

(2)   Let children help you prepare the meal. Talk about where each item of food comes from and how the Earth, sun, rain and many people helped bring it to your table.

(3)   Begin family meals with a simple grace. It could be just holding hands briefly and bowing heads around the table in order to stop, remember and thank the many people and creatures who brought the food to the table. Pausing helps teach children not to bolt their food and run.

(4)   Experiment with new foods and drinks. Try fresh apricots, pineapple or dates. Buy something from an ethnic grocery store: persimmon, papaya, mango, kiwi, star fruit or red bananas; tamarind, guava or coconut juice. Encourage curiosity: “This is a fruit that children in (Mexico, Japan, Thailand, etc.) like to eat. Smell it. What does it smell like? Take a little bite or sip and tell me what it tastes like.” Experimentation helps children explore the vast world of different tastes and not collapse into a steady diet of boxed macaroni and canned ravioli.

(5)   Be creative with food. When one boy’s mother told him that broccoli is trees for dinosaurs to eat, he spread the story to his entire elementary school class and every kid began to enjoy eating broccoli.

(6)    Talk about the benefits each food confers. For example, milk, cheese and spinach have calcium that builds strong teeth and bones.

(7)   Play the “how full is my stomach” game. Ask children to check in with their stomachs before, halfway and at the end of a meal. Is it empty, half full, or all the way full? This helps them (and you) stay in touch with body signals of fullness and not overeat.

(8)   Avoid  talking  to kids about calorie counts or diets in restrictive ways. Research shows that girls who begin dieting as preteens have a much higher risk of eating disorders. Don’t be too rigid about junk food. If your kids have been raised on home-cooked organic food and they have a McDonald’s hamburger and cola at a birthday party, it’s not a tragedy. It’s a cross-cultural experience.

(9)    Help children discern the difference between actual physical hunger and emotions such as  boredom, fatigue and anxiety. Help them learn to work with real solutions to these emotions, using activities such as exercising, playing a game, reading a book, doing crafts, and connecting with friends.

(10) Celebrate holidays and special occasions. Let kids help with creating a party. Set the table with a tablecloth, a candle and flowers. They can make simple decorations such as hearts, stars or Easter eggs cut out of paper. When we treat ourselves as guests, we infuse the food with an important ingredient, an extra scoop of love.

(11) Everyone’s deepest hunger is for love and connection. Loving words are vital to our health. Loving words are a way to feed the heart that does not involve food. If you want your family and friends to feel well nourished, give them generous helpings of genuine expressions of gratitude and affectionate words. “I really appreciate your …”  “When I am with you I feel …”

Mindful eating in a family means making a good mixture of these basic ingredients: eating as a family, pausing, slowing down, having fun, experimenting, being curious, exploring new tastes, and bringing the flavors of kindness and love to your meals.

Join Jan Chozen Bays, MD and Char Wilkens for a A 5-day Mindful Eating, Conscious Living (MECL) Professional Training Retreat April 29-May 4, 2014, at Great Vow Monastery, Clatskanie, OR.

Locally in San Diego, we invite you to join Allan Goldstein and Megan Leuchars for our 8-Week Mindful Eating Program beginning Monday, March 17, 2014, 6:30-8:30 p.m, at our University City location.

Experiencing a Mindful Childbirth: An MBCP Graduate’s Observations on “Being With What Is”

Nancy Bardacke Head Shot_MindfulNancy Bardacke, is a nurse-midwife, mindfulness teacher, and founding director of the Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) program which she leads at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine.

Since the founding of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center over 30 years ago, mindfulness courses and programs intended to teach people practical skills for working with all kinds of physical and mental health challenges have increased exponentially.  Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) is one of these programs. 

“As would be expected, many expectant parents enter the MBCP program with a myriad of hopes and fears about childbirth and parenting. They may worry about the pain of childbirth, the health of their baby or themselves, where to deliver, what provider to choose, whether that particular provider will be on-call when they are in labor, and what life will be like as a new parent. Sometimes very tangible, real life concerns, such as their financial situation or relationship tensions can overshadow the joy and excitement of this momentous change. Key to the MBCP program is to offer expectant parents the opportunity to train in mindfulness so that they may have some skills to navigate this new terrain of birthing and parenting—working with kindness and compassion for whatever arises in this profound journey into the unknown.”

Nancy Bardacke, RN, CNM, MA

Being With What Is  by Jenna Leta

New mom and MBCP graduate, Jenna Leta, recently shared with us how she used her mindfulness practice during her pregnancy, childbirth and life after birth.

“I took two classes to prepare for childbirth: yoga and the Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting course. In our yoga class, the teacher would encourage us to do just a few arm and shoulder workouts for “all those women having 9lb babies” and I would think, ‘Those poor women.  I’m so glad I’m average-sized with an average baby.’  And then, in our MBCP class, Nancy mentioned a few times how birthing a baby who is in a posterior position could result in back labor and make the strategies that we were learning to cope with pain more challenging. Mentally, I responded, “Thank god MY baby is in the correct position so I will have those perfect little pain waves.” (The ones with the big contraction wave with the smaller wavy breath wave on top of it. The one with total euphoria and the 1960s drugged-out ecstasy in between the gut-wrenching pain.)

Well, my little man arrived in our lives promptly on his due date, November 21.  He was posterior and 9lbs 4 oz.  Even though I can’t imagine worse pain, I have a few good things to say about the experience.  It was liberating.  There is something primal about lying in the dark completely naked and screaming louder than you knew you could. I felt fierce.

My biggest fears were giving birth in a hospital and being forced to lie on my back. In the end, after 3 hours of pushing, and with a frenzied plea of encouragement from my husband, I found my last ounce of resolution and energy and pushed our big baby into the world while in trendelenberg (on my back with the bed tilted so my head was lower than my pelvis).  It just goes to show, just like we learned in class, you never know what will happen and anything is possible.  I am convinced that without my brilliant midwife, I would have had a C-section.

Maceo is now 6 months old and AWESOME!!!  Everything is the exact opposite of how I planned and imagined it.

He sleeps in our bed.

I am still on maternity leave.

He had a mango, right off the pit, as his first food and now slurps away black beans.

But, I am happy to report that even though I wasn’t the Zen person I imagined I would be during labor, I have managed to develop a regular mediation routine postpartum.  The biggest challenge was finding time.  What I have found works for me is to immediately stop whatever I am doing when he falls asleep for his first nap (usually leaving dishes or laundry undone) and do a sitting mediation.  I use Nancy’s APP on my iPhone; it is only 20 minutes, but it is working miracles on my life.

I am learning how to accept things as they are and spend less time worrying about the past or the future.  I am less reactive and in general, happier.  I feel I am more in control of my mood/emotions and at the same time, I am very at peace with how much I cannot control. My relationships, both at home and with my close friends and family, are stronger.  My hair has been falling out, I haven’t slept for 3 consecutive hours in half of a year, my jeans will probably never fit me again, and I’m ok with it.  Meditation is becoming my religion, of sorts. I can see now how accurate and important Nancy’s instruction about practice was (which we were told over and over again): “Just do it.”

The research on the underlying physiological and psychological mechanisms of mindfulness practice continues to demonstrate the effectiveness of mindfulness-based programs.  Because of this a growing number of health professionals from a variety of fields are interested in using mindfulness-based interventions to decrease stress and enhance the wellbeing of the populations they serve.  This includes professionals who provide care for expectant parents and young families, some of whom are finding their way to the MBCP program. 

Nancy will be co-leading the  Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) Professional Retreat, held at EarthRise Retreat Center, Petaluma, CA, January 19-25, 2014.

Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn to Present at 2013 Mindfulness & Youth Conference in San Diego

Jon & Myla Kabat-Zinn

Jon & Myla Kabat-Zinn

Conference organizers announced today that scientist, author and noted mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn will be offering a public lecture in San Diego on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013 as part of the 2nd Annual Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth: Mindfulness in Clinical Practice, Education and Research conference. Jon and his wife Myla, co-authors of Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting will also present a 3-hour workshop on Mindful Parenting on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 2 as part of the conference.

“We are so excited to have Jon and Myla with us for the conference to maintain the tremendous momentum we built with last year’s inaugural event,” said Steven Hickman, Director of the UCSD Center for Mindfulness and conference organizer. “And the best news is that this is only the first of several exciting developments in the works for 2013.”

Hickman went on to note that the conference will start a half-day earlier than in 2012, largely to accommodate two research symposia, a poster session and optional pre-conference workshop. The focus will remain on the “three pillars” of clinical practice, education and research, and keynote speakers and sessions will be devoted to each of these areas of interest. “In order to assure a varied and interesting agenda for 2013, the Program Committee has opted to issue a call for submissions to fill much of the conference schedule,” Hickman reported. “We invited the people we knew doing the work we were most familiar with last year, and the result was wonderful. But this year we are casting the net much wider in hopes of involving people and programs from a much broader background and expertise.” Deadline for conference submissions is August 1, 2012, and the final conference agenda will be announced by September 1.

A number of other enhancements to the program are already underway, including a number of mechanisms by which people can be kept abreast of additions to the agenda, the latest work by conference presenters, and other activities planned to coincide with the conference. A separate “Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth” blog has been launched, as has a conference Facebook page as well. Those interested in following the unfolding of this groundbreaking conference are urged to subscribe to the blog and/or “Like” the Facebook page to keep in touch and be notified when registration opens.