Tag Archives: Mindfulness

Taking down the walls: Challenges and opportunities of forgiveness

By Margaret Cullen and Gonzalo Brito

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meditation for cultivating forgiveness

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

Link to audio file.

Margaret and Gonzalo co-authored “The Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance Workbook. Join them for the Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance (MBEB) Teacher Training Intensive, April 9-15, 2017 at EarthRise Retreat Center, Petaluma, CA. Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance is an empirically-supported 9-week psycho-educational group intervention that teaches mindfulness meditation and emotion training.

References

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

by Royan Kamyar

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

Image Credit: Dadara

[Image Credit: Dadara]

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

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

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

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

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

Mindfulness & Innovations in Timekeeping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Origins of Tic-Toc

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

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

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

hands

[Image Credit: Ministry of Education, Brazil]

The Problems with Tic-Toc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the National Watch and Clock Collectors Association notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

circadian

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

Introducing Lub-Dub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

brain

[Image Credit: Nature Reviews Neurology]

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

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

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

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

CFM OWAVES

[Image Credit: Owaves]

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

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

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

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

 

The Soul of Mindfulness

Written February 19, 2015 by Pete Kirchmer.

Pete Kirchmer CPCC

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

The Meditative Experience

I can still recall one of my first experiences at a meditation course. The instructor sat nobly on stage dressed in flowing white clothing that I imagined he’d bought near the Ganges during pilgrimage in India. He recounted vivid experiences he’d had while in deep meditation, dancing with Krishna on the tongue of the Buddha. Energy flowing and vibrating down his spine. Chakra’s whirling and glowing; he was one with the Divine Mother, in a state of pure bliss. I recall being inspired and even a bit jealous at this man’s deep inner journey. A fire had been lit inside me and I knew that it was my turn to visit these magical, meditative realms. Sitting upright with dignity on my meditation cushion, I was fully committed to repeating my special mantra, over and over again, confident in it’s powers to elevate my soul.  But after twenty minutes of diligence, there were no dancing deities, vibrating energy or elevated soul. My back hurt, my knees ached and the only state of consciousness I managed to reach was one of agitation and exhaustion.

After nearly a decade of meditation practice, I’m comfortable admitting that I’ve still never danced on the tongue of the Buddha, nor do I imagine I ever will. My back and knees still sometimes hurt but I’m no longer all that agitated by it. I’m actually agitated by far less these days, which is one of the many benefits of mindfulness meditation.

There are many traditions and styles of meditation, each with their own practices, intentions and aspirations. There are forms that use Mantras, Mudras, Yantras, and Mandhalas. You can meditate with gongs and crystal bowls, chanting, singing and in silence. Some forms of meditation are to express devotion or prayer, others are seeking transcendence and expansion. All are beautiful and all are beneficial. From the buffet of traditions now available to us in the west, mindfulness meditation is the practice that has called to me. It’s simple yet deep and seeks nothing but a clear experience of what’s already happening in the present moment. It’s nothing special and at the same time, infinitely magical.

Evidence Based Practice

Part of the reasons mindfulness has so successfully integrated into medicine, academics, corporations and government is because it’s incredibly inclusive, accessible and easily integrated into everyday life.  Although Mindfulness practice has its roots in Buddhism, the modern day Mindfulness Based Interventions (MBI’s) have intentionally dropped the cultural and historical baggage of religious mythology and tradition. Some say it’s “Buddhism without the Buddha”. Mindfulness is now often described as an integration of Eastern Philosophy and Western Psychology, supported by Neuroscience (referred to as, “Neuro Dharma”). Given the absence of any language or teaching that would offend or exclude anyone’s beliefs, it’s becoming an appealing practice for people of all religions and atheists alike.  There have now been thousands of research articles published on the various benefits of mindfulness from improving health & wellbeing, decreasing pain, depression and anxiety, improving attention and memory, decreasing stress and burnout, enhancing relationships, and improved performance in life, work and sport.

Has Modern Mindfulness Sold it’s Soul?

“As the history of Buddhism shows, it is a process of continual reformation in accordance with the present needs of those in front of us.”

-Edel Maex, Zen Psychiatrist

Like an Indie Rock band that’s gone mainstream, many question and even criticize the “Mindfulness Revolution” for it’s new trendiness and quickly increasing popularity. The concern is that without the context of Buddhism, modern mindfulness will lose it’s ethical framework and it’s true ability to heal and liberate. Traditionally the intention for practicing mindfulness was to end suffering and awaken to the true nature of reality. There are precepts around not harming or stealing and there is a path laid out for right living. Some fear that excluding these domains of practice will reduce mindfulness to a technique that could be used for say, training Military marksmen to focus on their targets. Or for pacifying the corporate masses so they continue to be overworked with less absenteeism or the health insurance burdens of chronic stress.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Although Buddhism doesn’t directly teach the existence of an eternal soul the way other religions might, it’s far from “soul-less”. It’s true that on occasion modern forms of mindfulness have strayed from the path, becoming myopic, watered down and over hyped, leading to the new and catch label, “McMindfulness”.  But from my perspective, much of modern mindfulness has actually successfully maintained the richness of the tradition while being “re-contextualized” from it’s Buddhist origin to better meet the needs of our culture. While on retreat at Mt. Madonna Center I had the opportunity to have lunch with Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of modern mindfulness. Cramming as many questions as possible into our short time together, I hastily made a comment about his course, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as being “Secular Mindfulness”.  He quickly corrected me by making the distinction, “MBSR is not secular, it’s non-dual.” I then understood that the MBSR approach to mindfulness is not overtly “spiritual”, but it’s also not, “non-spiritual.”

Later in the retreat, Jon Kabat-Zinn warned all of us Mindfulness Teachers in training against a limited view of mindfulness. “Mindfulness is not a technique”, he said with firmness, “Mindfulness is a way of being”. It is in this particular “way of being” that we find the soul of mindfulness. As Kabat-Zinn explains, the Asian word for mind and the word for heart are the same. “Hearing Mindfulness without the Heartfulness is a misunderstanding and will lead us to mistaking it for a purely cognitive exercise.” Ethics, although not directly taught, are imbedded into and cannot be separated from a true understanding of mindfulness.

The Soul of Mindfulness

Students of mindfulness meditation are taught to rest in a non-conceptual knowing that comes before thinking, which we may refer to as “awareness”. This awareness is not purely objective but rather has the inherent quality of loving-kindness. Sounds, sensations, sights, and smells as well as mental objects such as thoughts, feelings and sensations all arise and are held gently in this “kind awareness”. This awareness is open and spacious, accepting and inviting. It is our innate goodness; it’s infinite and boundless, indefinable and knowable only through direct experience. Trying to use thought to understand awareness is said to be like trying to use a flashlight to find the source of the flashlights light. As you wave the light around the dark room it could only fall on objects but never illuminate the source.

Although profound and maybe even abstract sounding for those who’ve never practiced, this “kind awareness” that is the heart of mindfulness is actually quite utilitarian in it’s application to everyday life. It’s not reserved for advanced mediators with completely silent minds or limited to formal periods of meditation, in the morning on your special cushion. You can directly experience this “heartfulness” the next time you face something challenging in your life- however big or small.

We are conditioned to react to stressful events by automatically fighting or fleeing. Blaming, criticizing, “shoulding”, or numbing out, denying and repressing are some of our most common reactions. In these moments you can wake up to feeling the grip and contraction of stress in your body. Rather than going into your reflexive habit, you can pause, take a few breaths and allow whatever is happening to happen, without judging it. You can choose to stay with your fears rather than abandoning yourself, noticing how the thoughts come and go and how the body eventually begins to soften. Allowing life to unfold the way it is rather than resisting it, is actually a radical act of mindful self-compassion. Holding our small, conditioned selves in the light of this infinite, kind awareness is the catalyst for healing and transformation.

Although we may or may not find ourselves during mindfulness meditation, dancing with Shiva and radiating pure white light, we may eventually come to see that the whole of our lives is made up of an ever-changing present moment experience of our senses and self concepts, all arising in this vast, spacious, kind awareness. And if this realization allows us to become more grateful for this precious life, more gentle with ourselves and more compassionate to others, what could possibly be more soul-full than that?

logo-mpeakYou are invited to join and learn with Pete at our next mPEAK trainings. mPEAK is a cutting-edge training program for those seeking new levels of performance and success in their work, sport, or other challenging endeavors. mPEAK is built around the latest brain research related to peak performance, resilience, focus, and“flow”. The mPEAK program enhances mindfulness through established and empirically supported practices and exercises, tailored to fit the needs and desires of the team or individual.

Mindful Performance Enhancement, Awareness & Knowledge
3-Day Intensive mPEAK course Program activities include: meditation; talks on the relationship between neuroscientific findings, peak performance and mindfulness; experiential exercises; group discussion; and home practices.
CE credts are available. June 26-28, 2015 The Catamaran Hotel, San Diego, CA

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

 

THANKFUL: Appreciating Beautiful Gifts from Children and Youth

By LeesaMaree Bleicher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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.

Mindfulness Invites Engagement & Connection

charwilkins-2By Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW

What fascinates me about this mindfulness work is the way in which the different qualities and characteristics of being mindful engage and connect us. Recently, I wrote about the rich possibilities inherent in cultivating the skill of listening mindfully and the presence of respect, wonder, gratitude, reverence and connection that naturally seem to co-arise.  It makes me think of the lyrics from an old song that goes “. . . you can’t have one without the other.”  I haven’t done any scientific research on this, but it seems that when making the intention to cultivate even one of these, the others appear.

reflectionsTeaching MBCT or MBSR in a group setting or adapting the program for individual work provides multiple opportunities to nurture connections.  In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown has a lovely, yet practical, definition of what she feels it means to be connected. She writes “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

As we teach we become aware of many different connections and relationships that arise as the weeks pass.  Daniel Goleman, in his book Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships writes about how recent findings in neuroscience and biology confirm that we are hard-wired for connection and that our relationships shape our biology as well as our experiences.

There is the relationship a participant creates with the material being presented which may fluctuate from boredom to confusion to excitement.  There is the evolving relationship he or she establishes with the teacher.  In a group setting, each participant determines whether or not they will connect with others and to what extent they will interact with fellow participants.  And then there is the intra-personal work of connecting to oneself that each participant is invited to embark on.  For the teacher, there is the opportunity to model healthy boundaries while nurturing curiosity, potential, and the possibility of connection to self and others.  And there is the ongoing development of the teacher’s own relationship with the program material, the practice and the embodiment of the attitudinal foundations of mindfulness that Jon Kabat-Zinn articulated: patience, trust, beginner’s mind, non-judging, acceptance, non-striving and letting go. Maybe it is true that we teach what we most need to learn.

I’ve barely touched upon the value of and ways this work invites us to connect. Perhaps you have an example or are aware of other connections taking place as you teach a mindfulness-based intervention that you’d be willing to contribute to expanding this exploration.

_______

The UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness Professional Training Institute has partnered with experienced clinicians and mindfulness teachers Susan Woods, MSW, LICSW and Char Wilkins, LCSW, to offer two 5-day MBSR teacher training retreat programs.

MBSR: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction 5-day Teacher Training, June 2-7, 2013 at Joshua Tree Retreat Center, in Joshua Tree, CA

Advanced Training for MBCT and MBSR Teachers: Embodying Mindful Presence and Investigating Mindful Inquiry, June 9-14, 2013 at the EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA. and November 11-16, 2013 at the Chapin Mill Retreat Center, Rochester, NY

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.

Mindful Matters: Nourishing Our Wellbeing in Clinical Practice

by Chris Gauthier

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

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

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

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

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

We are delighted Dr. Krasner is coming to San Diego on May 11, 2013 to present a daylong workshop on mindful practice entitled “Mindfulness in Clinical Practice: Our Patients, Ourselves.” This event will include an hour-long presentation on the Neuroscience of Mindfulness by Tom Chippendale, MD, Director of Neuroscience at Scripps Health and longtime MBSR teacher. The day-long training has been approved by the AMA PRA for Category 1 Credit.

Work Cited:

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

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

About the Author:

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