Monday, 30 April 2012

#121 Letting Go (Quality 7)

     "Letting Go = Non-attachment, not holding onto thoughts, feelings, experiences; however, letting go does not mean suppressing."
       Cardaciotto L. Assessing Mindfulness: The Development of a Bi-Dimensional Measure of Awareness and Acceptance. PhD Thesis, Drexel University, 2005.

     Letting go is also challenging because we have a strong tendency to cling to (or be averse to) a set of thoughts, feelings, experiences - these are "sticky" - hard to let go of. Letting go is the more active side of acceptance. When we clearly see how every time we indulge a miserable memory from the past (wallowing) feels awful, we realize that we can choose to let go of the replay button after the first couple of seconds, before the story picks up emotional momentum and carries us away. The same holds for other compulsive, destructive habits - we can learn to let them go.
     Non-attachment, which refers to freedom from addictions / compulsions, is markedly different from detachment, which implies lack of caring.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

#120 Openness (Quality 6)

     "Openness = Seeing things as if for the first time, creating possibility by paying attention to all feedback in the present moment."
       Cardaciotto L. Assessing Mindfulness: The Development of a Bi-Dimensional Measure of Awareness and Acceptance. PhD Thesis, Drexel University, 2005.

     "Beginner's mind", "porousness" and "psychological flexibility" are other terms for openness. Mindfulness training involves gradually letting go of armor - physical, intellectual etc. This requires trust of course. And our bodies have memories too, so there's quite a lag period between when the mind and body are ready to let go of some old wound.

     "Carl Rogers defined fully functioning people as 'allowing awareness to flow freely in & through their experiences.'”

       Walsh R, Shapiro SL. The Meeting of Meditative Disciplines and Western Psychology - A Mutually Enriching Dialogue. American Psychologist 2006; 61(3): 227-39.

Jon Kabat-Zinn "The Healing Power of Mindfulness - Part 3" at Dartmouth College (27min)

Saturday, 28 April 2012

#119 Trust (Quality 5)

     "Trust = Trusting both oneself, one’s body, intuition, emotions, as well as trusting that life is unfolding as it is supposed to."
       Cardaciotto L. Assessing Mindfulness: The Development of a Bi-Dimensional Measure of Awareness and Acceptance. PhD Thesis, Drexel University, 2005.

     We put a huge amount of unwarranted trust, time and energy into, and stake our happiness on, spinning stories about our past and future. Mindfulness practice suggests we reallocate these precious resources - this trust - to engaging directly with reality - right here, right now.

Friday, 27 April 2012

#118 Patience (Quality 4)

     "Patience = Allowing things to unfold in their time, bringing patience to ourselves, to others, and to the present moment."
       Cardaciotto L. Assessing Mindfulness: The Development of a Bi-Dimensional Measure of Awareness and Acceptance. PhD Thesis, Drexel University, 2005.

     This too is counter-cultural isn't it? We want things now - "instant gratification". The word "cultivating" is frequently used in mindfulness. Most often we hear it in the context of gardeners who nurture plants with the loving patience of a grandmother.
     Does a wise grandmother archetype perhaps embody all the mindfulness qualities?

Jon Kabat-Zinn "The Healing Power of Mindfulness - Part 2" at Dartmouth College (27min)

Thursday, 26 April 2012

#117 Acceptance (Quality 3)

     "Acceptance = Open to seeing and acknowledging things as they are in the present moment; acceptance does not mean passivity or resignation, rather a clearer understanding of the present so one can more effectively respond."
       Cardaciotto L. Assessing Mindfulness: The Development of a Bi-Dimensional Measure of Awareness and Acceptance. PhD Thesis, Drexel University, 2005.

     This is it. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, "wherever you go, there you are"! Acceptance works; all the variants of avoidance simply do not work in the long run. The scientific literature solidly supports this.
     Life is workable - we are up to the task - and we can learn to do it wisely.

Excellent guided mindfulness meditation - focusing on Acceptance - Part 1 (~8min)

Part 2 (~9min)

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

#116 Nonstriving (Quality 2)

       "Nonstriving = Non-goal oriented, remaining unattached to outcome or achievement, not forcing things."
       Cardaciotto L. Assessing Mindfulness: The Development of a Bi-Dimensional Measure of Awareness and Acceptance. PhD Thesis, Drexel University, 2005.

     This is probably THE most challenging, counter-intuitive, counter-cultural quality. Yet, the idea of "gaining" is considered by meditation teachers as perhaps the single greatest impediment to our happiness. "Only have no preferences" they advise ie let go of the simplistic idea "if only I can have / get / become X, then I'll be happy".
     A good example is people who take mindfulness (MBSR) courses because they suffer from chronic pain. If they remain focused on getting rid of their pain, they obtain little benefit. If instead they adopt mindfulness as a way of being, forgetting about trying to gain anything, their suffering diminishes.

Jon Kabat-Zinn "The Healing Power of Mindfulness - Part 1" at Dartmouth College (27min)

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

#115 Nonjudging (Quality 1)

     "Nonjudging = Impartial witnessing, observing the present moment-by-moment without evaluation and categorization"
       Cardaciotto L. Assessing Mindfulness: The Development of a Bi-Dimensional Measure of Awareness and Acceptance. PhD Thesis, Drexel University, 2005.
     "Mindfulness is mirror-thought. It reflects only what is presently happening and in exactly the way it is happening. There are no biases. Mindfulness is non-judgmental observation. It is the ability of the mind to observe without criticism." 
        Gunaratana VH. Mindfulness in plain English. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991. quoted by L Cardaciotto (above)

     Sounds idealistic, yet if one is serious about mindfulness as a way of being and embarks on a lifelong journey of training, one cannot help but to become progressively more mindful. Our brains are "plastic" ie will learn the skills we repeatedly - and dare I say mindfully - practice!

Monday, 23 April 2012

#114 Qualities or Attitudes of Mindfulness

     Jon Kabat-Zinn highlighted 7 mindfulness qualities - how one attends to information during mindfulness. 
     Shauna Shapiro et al added 5 affective qualities, yielding a total of 12:

       Cardaciotto L. Assessing Mindfulness: The Development of a Bi-Dimensional Measure of Awareness and Acceptance. PhD Thesis, Drexel University, 2005.
     These overlapping, interdependent, characteristic qualities or attitudes are cultivated by, & naturally arise from, mindfulness practice - much like physical strength, aerobic fitness, perseverance, etc arise for athletes from their training regimen.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

#113 Excellent Introduction to Mindfulness

     Thank you Aditya Prasad for creating these 3 excellent YouTube videos!  
     Thank you Ashwin for letting me know about them. 
     Each lasts ~5 minutes.

Part 1
Part 2
 Part 3

Saturday, 21 April 2012

#112 "Premature closure"

     A basic error occurs when a diagnosis is based on insufficient data ie the doc jumps to conclusions. Sounds silly, but "premature closure" is a common source of diagnostic mistakes.
     Health-care professionals are members of society and reflect our common culture. Students browsing the web to research university assignments read an average of one and a half lines of text per website. Is this in-depth engagement with the material or premature closure?
     When a student comes up and asks me a question, I often get the impression that they've lost interest before I even start to answer.
     We're drowning in a tsunami of "stuff": a glut of information on the web, social-media "friends", merchandise in our stores, homes, and heads - way too much - most of it irrelevant and nasty quality!
     We need to simplify our lives, prioritize, slow down, and have deep, meaningful relationships with ourselves, a select few loved ones, our environment.
     We can learn to live consciously - mindfully - if we wish to do so.

Photo: Colin Bates

Friday, 20 April 2012

#111 Ethics and Personal & Collective Evolution

     "Deep listening" is skillfully paying attention to what a person really means. It requires that we be as unbiased, curious, open-minded, non-judgmental as possible. Good qualitative research also demands that we embody these qualities. As does conflict resolution - not to mention sustaining meaningful relationships!!
     Training in counseling, deep listening, conflict resolution, qualitative research, and mindfulness itself really helps us appreciate and accept other human beings' unique perspectives.
     However, when someone behaves unethically, many of us become outraged and disgusted. We feel betrayed, cheated - and in fact we have been! Unethical behavior IS a betrayal of social bonds of trust - interdependence. One either promotes society's and the environment's welfare (healthy cell in synch with & supporting a healthy body) OR hurts the human family for personal gain (a rogue cancer cell, compromising the health & viability of the whole body, including itself).
     Sociopaths tend to rationalize their crime(s). The behavior made perfect sense to them, at the time. "If you had been in my place, you would have done exactly the same thing!" Some unbiased people actually agree. Does it condone their actions? No - increasing our collective suffering is just plain wrong - regressive. EVERYONE must eventually come to appreciate this.
     Can we judge them as different than or inferior to us? That's tricky. Why did they do what they did? The precise answer is literally because of everything that has ever happened in the universe, up till that point in time - each one of the gazillion events having different levels of influence on the pivotal event. We, however, have had different influences - so we really have no idea what it was like being them. The bottom line may well boil down to them having a less evolved (more primitive) worldview about how best survive & achieve happiness.
     Regardless, nobody is disposable. Dangerous criminals should definitely be kept away from the public - some for the rest of their lives. Even people who commit horrific crimes are human beings. If we execute them, we sink to a level of brutality that we're trying to end. It's amazing how sane - even well-balanced - a lot of hardened criminals seem to become after serving decades in penitentiary. Even they can grow, mature as human beings - so I don't think it's wasting time or taxpayers' money.
     Curiosity opens us up to the complexity of this wondrous universe. Quick, hardline "solutions" come very easy to many of us, unfortunately these are usually "half-baked", immature, with negative long-term repercussions, increasing suffering for everyone. We're in desperate need for more understanding and a gentler, more mature, nuanced approach to our many complex global issues.

Photo: Colin Bates

Thursday, 19 April 2012

#110 Armoring

     An “oasis (is) a gathering place where travelers rest, learn, and tell their stories. … where people can put down the burden of pretense and share what it really means to be human.”
     Lesser E. “Broken open. How difficult times can help us grow.” Villard, NY, 2005.

     Oases are too rare in our culture. We need quality time - alone with our loved ones; silent meditation retreats; clinical hypnosis courses; internal family systems (IFS) workshops; some weddings; some funerals. Otherwise, many of us are heavily armored.

     "Armoring ... is basically the physical component of repression as understood by Freud.
Armoring occurs when an impulse is halted at the muscular level. For example, it is natural for a child to cry when they are sad. However, a child who is punished for crying will find a way to inhibit this behavior. At first, this inhibition is conscious, and may include tensing the muscles of the eyes and face, holding the breath, or whatever else works that the child is capable of doing. Reich said that normally a child will cease the inhibition once the threat passes, but when a child is repeatedly subjected to the same kind of treatment, the inhibiting behavior becomes learned and integrated into the child's way of being, along with the accompanying muscular armoring. It becomes habitual and unconscious, and the person no longer notices they are 'doing' anything at all.
Reich viewed the purpose of this armoring as protecting the child from perceived threats, but the cost is the diminished freedom that comes fighting against constant muscular contraction as well the energy that is required to maintain this state of contraction.
You may be able to fight and win battles in a suit of armor, but when you're wearing one all of the time without knowing it, it becomes impossible to dance.”

Photo: Lou D'Entremont

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

#109 Learning opportunities

      “How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.

      I have watched people choose growth over fear as they navigated some of life’s most difficult transitions. I have seen how it is possible to approach the challenges of real life with openness and optimism – even with wisdom and joy.” 

     Lesser E. “Broken open. How difficult times can help us grow.” Villard, NY, 2005.
Photo: Colin Bates

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

#108 The REAL stressor

     “Stress is the struggle with what is.” Stress is not in the stressor itself, be it cancer, Parkinson’s etc. Stress is in our relationship with the stressor.              Steven D. Hickman PhD

     Many people have rigid conscious or subconscious ideas of "must haves" or "must not haves." Another way of saying this is clinging and aversion. They cling to some idea of happiness - "if only I were rich, then I'd be happy." Or are averse to certain scenarios: "as long as my daughter lives with that man, I can never be happy." Unfortunately, these dysfunctional vows do work - against us. If we're determined to stake our happiness on external conditions, we're guaranteed misery.
     If, on the other hand, we concentrate on cultivating a flexible, caring mindful attitude, external conditions become less of an obstacle, and more "grist for the mill" - helping us adapt to reality as it is. Our attitude adjustment has infinite growth potential over an entire lifetime.

 Steven D. Hickman PhD - Mindfulness Intervention in Chronic Illness - 2007

Monday, 16 April 2012

#107 Self-respect

     The "momentum of our lives", based on habit, inertia, fear of change, tribalism and just plain laziness, has us repeatedly messing up the same old ways. We keep making excuses until finally, even we are sick of hearing them.
     Our observer-self monitors our thoughts, words and actions - and equally important - how we physically feel about these and their consequences. Simple sanity gradually impels us to do less of what feels discordant, and more of what feels right. We are not the same person we were before - we mercifully change continuously, grow, evolve, mature. If we didn't, life would be nightmare - a dark version of the movie: Groundhog Day.
     We can't do a thing about how the person in the mirror keeps getting strangely older looking. Wow - aging doesn't only affect others!
     But there's a huge upside to growing older. We have total control of how much honest respect that old codger is earning in our eyes. Profound peace and joy, like we've never experienced in youth, comes from truly growing up.


Sunday, 15 April 2012

#106 Quality of attention in meditation

     What we actually use to focus our attention (eg feel of the breath in our belly) is not critical. What's really important is the attitude we cultivate. We train to rest in awareness - the quality of awareness being similar to that of a loving grandmother looking after her two-year old grandchild. Our open heart-mind holds in love all that we behold. We are at home, and we welcome all that we perceive, into our home.
     This natural, progressive, attitudinal shift should be occuring with meditation practice. If this isn't happening, despite steady practice, you may be stuck or otherwise off track - seek the advice of an experienced meditation instructor.
     If a meditator also has mental health issues, it really helps if their mental health-care professional and meditation instructor have adequate knowledge about meditation and mental health issues respectively.

Photo: vin ramundo

Saturday, 14 April 2012

#105 Normal maturation

     Not everyone matures to the level possible for a member of the human race - Homo sapiens sapiens. That's unfortunate, not just for the individual, but also for the rest of us. A single primitive human, as we've seen too many times throughout history, can cause great suffering. Fortunately, we also have many examples of single evolved human beings elevating the quality of life for many. Ultimately, we are INDIVIDUALLY RESPONSIBLE to intentionally evolve to our personal highest level of being and share the many blessings that flow from this state.
     We owe it to ourselves - and everyone else - to intentionally progressively grow towards the mature human beings we are meant to be. Suffering is thus lessened, and joy increased, for many - normal personal and overall evolution.

James Hollis PhD excellent interview (27min)

Friday, 13 April 2012

#104 MBSR Course - Highly recommended

     Having taken this course myself, from these two gifted teachers, at this same fine venue, I wholeheartedly recommend it to those who wish to deeply experience the richness mindfulness has to offer.
     This course fills up very quickly, so if interested, don't delay registering.

Mindfulness Tools for Living the Full Catastrophe -  
A 5-Day Intensive in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

Teachers: Melissa Blacker and Florence Meleo-Meyer

July 1 - 6, 2012 in Rhinebeck, New York state

Tuition: $445. plus accommodation

Thursday, 12 April 2012

#103 Boundarylessness

"Well maybe it is just the time of year,
Or maybe it's the time of man.
I don't know who I am,
But you know life is for learning."               Joni Mitchell "Woodstock"

     "Understanding curriculum as meditative inquiry is a way to provide self-transformative educational experiences to students and their teachers."                          Ashwani Kumar PhD

     Life is our curriculum. We are, as Joni says, made of stardust - billion-year-old carbon. Our limiting thoughts, like "I'm not good at ..." are only transient neural patterns. Like everything else, our minds, self-concepts and worldviews are fluid, with infinite possibilities. Instead of limiting judgments, can we instead ask big questions that open us to the wonder of reality?

Joni Mitchell performing Woodstock 1970

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

#102 Mindfulness - for everyone?

     While books and scientific papers about mindfulness and mindfulness-based therapies such as MBSR, MBCT, ACT, etc are increasing exponentially, many do not formally practice mindfulness at all, or in depth, or for any length of time. 
     Mindfulness is a method for directly, fully engaging with the reality of life. At least subconsciously, most of us know what we're ready for and when. When we're not ready to face some aspect of reality, we can't see it, we become confused, irritated, sleepy, bored - we use a full range of avoidance maneuvers. 
     Even those of us who intentionally start & maintain a dedicated meditation practice, will encounter this same range of avoidance maneuvers, because we naturally tend to resist change. Even star athletes sometimes lack enthusiasm for daily practice. Nevertheless, star athletes continue to practice daily, fully realizing that growing beyond one's comfort zone involves discomfort. Avoiding discomfort is appropriate when it warns us of impending injury. But in learning situations such as mindfulness, we intentionally approach discomfort because it brings about normal growth.
     Reaching our full human potential requires dedicated lifelong transformational learning. As human beings, we have the knowledge, interest, opportunity and persistence to follow through. 
     Now is the only time available to grow up normally.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

#101 Mindfulness home page

     The headquarters for mindfulness, as taught by Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD, and as I understand it and have tried to present it on this blog, is and has been since 1979, at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. The roots of mindfulness is in meditation practices that go back at least 2,500 years, in India. The UMASS website is very complete with MBSR courses, teacher-training courses, and research conference offerings:

Jon Kabat-Zinn "Homo sapiens sapiens"

Monday, 9 April 2012

#100 Review: Congruence

     Mindfulness Session #8: Congruence is wise behavior, consistently expressing mature core values. Core values are universal and inclusive, for the long-term benefit (increased happiness & decreased suffering) of all living creatures (allocentric), including one’s self (appropriate self-care), and the environment (ecocentric).
     “Foolish” behavior involves dysfunctional / shallow / primitive attempts to seek short-term happiness, based on immature egocentric values, which in the long-run causes suffering to others, the environment, and even oneself eg Bernie Madoff, etc.
     As we become more mindful, dissonance between our values and behavior is felt more acutely – our internal compass. Naturally we’ll do less of what feels wrong, and more of what feels right.

     Congruence is an ideal that we're working towards, with patience and persistence.

Photo: Jan2009

Sunday, 8 April 2012

#99 Review: Emotions

     Mindfulness Session #7: Emotions – can gather momentum and easily cause problems. Every challenge in life, including dealing with emotions (our & others’), is “grist for the mill” ie the actual raw material we need for Mindfulness practice. If one is trained to handle a certain challenge, one even looks forward to encountering it – an opportunity to practice what one has been training for. With training, we become less and less identified with the passing waves and storms on the surface of the ocean of life, and more and more with the still depths. Appropriate action arises from that stillness. The observer-self has the broad, balanced, long-range overview to initiate appropriate action. As we become progressively more mindful, challenges disturb us less and less, despite the fact that our ability to feel the hurt - and joy - of others increases.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

#98 Review: Mind-heart

Mindfulness Session #6: Mind-heart

      If one is fixated on achieving a goal (even a noble one), it’s very easy to get completely lost in one’s own head, pushing forward (momentum) with the project, and trampling on other people’s contributions / feelings. The mind (“left brain”) needs to be balanced by the “right brain,” heart, and body. Despite a high IQ one can do a lot of harm getting caught-up in momentum, lacking the wisdom to observe the effect of one’s actions on other people, animals, the environment ie being egocentric rather than allocentric / ecocentric.

     If one learns to stay in touch with one’s body, even before the mind catches on, one can feel physically - in one’s body - that something is wrong. Paying close attention to the messages from our own body is wise. Our left brain is a great tool, but a terrible master – it needs to be used wisely.

Friday, 6 April 2012

#97 Review: Open awareness & Presence

Mindfulness Session #5: Open awareness & Presence

Also called “choiceless awareness” – it is being receptive to whatever unfolds in each moment. “This requires very strong calmness and attentiveness, qualities that are best cultivated, as we have seen, by choosing one object, most commonly the breath, and working with it over a period of months and even years.” Gradually we’ve been widening the focus of our attention to more and more “objects”: feel of the breath, posture, muscle tension, stillness, tickles, sounds, breezes … Gradually, our “observer-self” becomes able to hold everything inside and outside of ourselves in awareness, yet remain calm, clear and appropriate.

Theory is like browsing through cookbooks; practice is like preparing a meal – only one of these is useful when hungry.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

#96 Review: Non-doing

Mindfulness Session #4: Non-doing

There’s a sense of effortlessness when we act in full accordance with our core values. However, to “do the right thing,” we need to literally get out of our own way – let go of the “noisy ego.” Much of our self-talk is this noisy ego, and like mud in a shaken glass jar of water, it too settles as we sit quietly. As the mud / noise settles, our natural clarity spontaneously manifests. Acting from clarity feels appropriate and effortless. Reacting from ego noise feels like friction – internal and external. We know this from experience.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

#95 Review: Observer-self

Mindfulness Session #3: Observer-self

Metacognitive knowledge (“knowing that thoughts are not necessarily always accurate”) is commonplace factual knowledge. Metacognitive insight (“experiencing thoughts as events in the field of awareness, rather than as direct readouts on reality”) is uncommon, direct experiential awareness, cultivated in Mindfulness practice, that profoundly changes our relationship to experience.

Teasdale JD. Metacognition, Mindfulness and the Modification of Mood Disorders. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy 1999; 6: 146-155.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

#94 Review: Awareness + Acceptance

Mindfulness Session #2: Awareness + Acceptance

Though challenging, acceptance of even difficult situations has been shown to work out for the best in the long run. Only by accepting things as they are, can we actually see them clearly, and then, if necessary, respond appropriately (rather than react).

Monday, 2 April 2012

#93 Review: Awareness

Mindfulness Session #1: Awareness

Practicing sustained attentional contact with our body involves:

• assuming a healthy, stable sitting posture,

• letting go of muscle tension,

• observing the feel of the breath,

• resting in stillness.

Noticing each time the focus of attention drifts from physical contact with present experience, we let go of words & images, and return to reality - to the tangible experience of the present moment. Awareness increasingly stabilizes as we keep noticing when we've drifted, and keep returning to awareness.

If you search (top left) for "awareness" within this blog, you will find at least 19 that deal with this fundamentally important topic.

Summer sea fog, Nova Scotia

Sunday, 1 April 2012

#92 Psychological flexibility

     Psychological flexibility is defined as “contacting the present moment as a conscious human being, and, based on what that situation affords, acting in accordance with one’s chosen values. … (It) guides people in persisting with or changing their actions, in accordance with the values-based contingencies that they contact, when they are willing to experience the present moment.”
     Bond FW, Hayes SC, Barnes-Holmes D. Psychological Flexibility, ACT, and Organizational Behavior. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management 2006; 26(1-2): 25-54.

     “Psychological flexibility spans a wide range of human abilities to: recognize & adapt to various situational demands; shift mindsets or behavioral repertoires when these strategies compromise personal or social functioning; maintain balance among important life domains; and be aware, open, and committed to behaviors that are congruent with deeply held values.”

     Kashdan TB, Rottenberg J. Psychological Flexibility as a Fundamental Aspect of Health. Clin Psychol Rev 2010; 30(7): 865-878.

     “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”                      William Sloane Coffin

Photo: Steve Macek