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  • 15 Mar 2019 4:33 PM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Catherine Duffy

    Stress. We all deal with it on many levels and in many forms every day.  Whether in our homes, at work, with family members or partners, sometimes it feels as though stress follows us around like an ironclad shadow. 

    I had always heard that stress is bad for the human body, increases both our blood pressure and stress hormone secretion, and brings with it more fat distribution and loss of memory for those suffering from its effects.

    Words like heaviness, churning, hardness, and pulling come to mind when I think of my own physical stress response in a given situation during the day.  No matter what, the idea of stress never conjures for me any sense of healthiness, happiness, or well-being.

    Until about a year ago…

    That’s when my Mindfulness Teacher Training Program required us to read the book, The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You and How to Get Good at It, by Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD. With a title like that, I was more than a little skeptical: what is this author talking about with an up-side to stress?  Isn’t stress something I’m supposed to protect myself from or try to quell when it rears its ugly head?

    Maybe McGonigal was using a different definition of stress than my preconceived notion of the word, I reasoned, as I opened to the book’s introduction for the beginning of an answer.

    In my mind, stress encapsulated pain, suffering, and overwhelm from big issues like divorce and loss, as well as the irritation and frustration of smaller issues like rush hour traffic and forgotten doctor appointments. So what definition was this author referring to that included an up-side to stress?

    The answer both surprised and intrigued me.  McGonigal suggests that, “Stress is what arises when something you care about is at stake.” Hmm…so part of the reason I experience stress is because of the things in my life that I care about? 

    She goes on to point out that this definition also highlights another important factor: “Stress and meaning are inextricably linked.” Or in other words: “You can’t create a meaningful life without experiencing some stress.”

    Anything I do that’s meaningful will include tendrils of stress wrapped up with it, McGonigal was saying.  I hadn’t thought of this relationship between stress and a meaningful life before.  So could stress actually be a good thing, in part, because of its link to areas of my life that I especially care about?

    The author further spotlighted this stress-meaning relationship for her readers through one of the book’s writing exercises where she invites her readers to rethink stress by considering one’s “most meaningful roles, relationships, activities, or goals.” She goes on to ask her audience to consider what parts of life tend to elicit joy, love, and a sense of purpose, then asks the question: “Would you also describe any of [your answers to what’s meaningful in your life] as sometimes or frequently stressful?”

    So McGonigal wasn’t necessarily saying that stress is a happy, warm and fuzzy thing; she was validating that stress can be part of the challenge and pain that we experience with some of life’s most meaningful relationships and situations.  And she was saying that since we likely want to live a meaningful life, it is worth considering how we cultivate new mindsets around stress so that it works with us rather than against us, and vice versa, creating this meaningful up-side.

    The author’s myriad illustrations of the upside of stress fill the remaining chapters of her thought-provoking book, beginning with the mindfulness practices of common humanity and acceptance. Amazing studies are cited like the one in which college freshmen are given opportunities to hear from upper-classmen about the latter’s stressful feelings of not belonging when they, too, were freshmen…and the astounding mindset changes that this mindfulness exercise in common humanity had on the incoming freshmen class.

    Journal-type writing is also employed around accepting and finding meaning in everyday stress.  The author introduces a list of common values and asks the reader to select their top three values from the list. Next, the reader is asked to select the top one value from their initial list of three. Then finally, after selecting their top value, the reader is asked to write about this value for ten minutes.  Stanford psychologists Geoffrey Cohen and David Sherman call this process part of a “narrative of personal adequacy,” as writing about one’s values “is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied. [It] makes people feel more powerful, in control, proud, and strong. It also makes them feel more loving, connected, and empathetic towards others…they are more likely to view the adversity they are going through as temporary, and less likely to think that the problem reveals something unalterably screwed up about themselves or their lives.”

    McGonigal also gives her readers a window into mindfulness exercises conducted with physicians around the topic of burnout and suggests provocative questions to help the reader stay open to whatever they may be feeling or sensing in their body or mind rather than shutting down and tuning out in the presence of stress.

    Bottom line, the author teaches her readers that regardless of how hard we  might try to make it otherwise, stress is going to be a part of our life experience as long as meaningful relationships, work, and roles are also part of the equation.

    Sure, some days will still feel like we’re pulling an ironclad shadow around behind us. But when we remember that the heaviness of stress also signals how meaningful the current situation is to us, maybe it’s time to adjust our focus.  ‘Mindfulness is always mindful of something,’ as Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Han says. And according to Kelly McGonigal, when I focus more mindfully on my stress, it actually helps me stay open to the presence of pain while ushering me to a place of growth and deeper meaning in my life.  In other words, although it means enduring stress, life’s pain is actually a gateway to a more meaningful life.  And in spite of the stress and uncomfort of it, a meaningful life sounds like a worthwhile up-side to me.  

    OK, I’m in.


  • 15 Mar 2019 4:31 PM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention is a novel treatment approach developed at the University of Washington. Mindfulness practices increase awareness of triggers, habitual patterns, and automatic reactions. These practices cultivate the ability to pause, observe present experience, and bring awareness to the range of choices before us in each moment.

    “Mindfulness can be a powerful help for people who are committed to changing their behavior around an urge or trigger,” say Mark Lazich, MS, LMHC. This includes people in recovery from substance abuse certainly, but “also people whose triggers are food, media…anything that they don’t feel healthy with but can’t seem to stay away from.”

    Mark, who along with Colleen Semple, LMHC is leading our Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention class this spring, says that mindfulness works by helping people slow down, to tolerate the strong emotions that arise when triggered so that they don’t simply react habitually. In that slowing down, they “expand their internal and external options.”

    With mindfulness, healthier and more helpful choices become possible.

    The Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention class in particular has been shown by research to significantly improve participant’s likelihood of avoiding a relapse into old behaviors. Mark says the class is very practical and hands-on.  And “Simple. But not easy.”

    Upcoming MBRP Classes

    Bellingham April 8 - June 3, 5-7pm


    Seattle
    : The Seattle Mindfulness Center offers this class - check their schedule here


  • 5 Mar 2019 8:49 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Keri Galbraith, MBSR student

    A foot of snow has fallen, all the trees laced in finery. You walk through virgin snow, feeling the crepitus in your feet, drumming up your leg bones, softening as it migrates into muscles.

    Entering the wooded trail, you stop to take a full breath of fresh winter air—feel the cool enter your nose, slide down your throat and swirl into your lungs.

    You’re surrounded in isolated hush. The only sounds are your footsteps crunching snow. You are alone in the woods, most remain huddled warm in their homes. But there are others here, snow reveals tracks of deer, coyote and squirrel traversing the trail. You wonder how they survive the bitter northeast winds. How they find food.

    Turning onto a less traveled trail, you follow along a pebbled stream. You hearperhaps for the first timethe symphony of water: its agitated tremolo-notes as water rushes downhill over stones and logs, and later the sound mellows into a low humming as the land levels.

    You smile, feeling the lift in your eye muscles. As the smile reaches your core, a wash of gratitude bathes your being. You walk into it.

    Strolling across the hill, you notice how scalloped patterns of snow contrast the raw umber of fir bark, and the long striations of cedar¾how easily it offers itself.  You are struck by the artistry. Silently saying ‘thank you’.

    Crossing over streams, each are filled their own song. You stop and listen, now a conversation with an old friend.

    The afternoon snow carries more weight of water, silence is now touched with syncopated plops and thuds as clods of snow release from laden limbs. You turn and begin to walk uphill, again feeling a crunchy crispness underfoot. You hear a loud crack close by. Your eyes dilate, quickly scanning for falling trees. You hear your heartbeat quicken in your ears and feel the pulse of energy. Should I run? Hold still? Will I be struck by a tree? What feels like minutes is in fact a nanosecond. A maple branch plummets to the ground some feet in front of where you stand. You inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale then slowly straddle over the branch and walk on…

    Thinking that even here, in the midst of exquisite beauty, there is danger and death¾it is all one.  An easy smile comes. You walk toward home. 


  • 5 Mar 2019 8:49 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Tim Burnett

    Last Saturday we had the quarterly Day of Mindfulness for the Bellingham area classes at Semiahmoo County Park. I've had the privilege to lead quite a few of these retreats so it felt, at first, like just another work day. Get what I need together, get to the right location, offer what I can.

    However, within about 15 minutes of arriving, I started to notice a different feeling in me, a feeling that was a mix of anticipation and delight.  People were arriving and taking their places in the room with their mats, blankets, and chairs. There was excited and nervous energy in the room. Wow, I thought to myself, here are a bunch of people setting aside their busy lives for a full day to practice. I marveled at what had needed to happen for this this to work out. We are all here together. I wondered what will happen for each of these people today. 

    In the initial check in before we dropped into silent practice, there was a mix of feelings: gratitude, nervousness, feeling pulled to be somewhere else (we all have so much to do!), curiosity. One person reported with a little chuckle that she was in a really grouchy mood and it was a good thing we wouldn’t be talking as she might say something she'd later regret.

    And then we began. I led the practices with what I hoped was just enough instruction with plenty of space for each person to find their own way in each practice. We did some gentle standing stretches, we sat and watched our breath, we walked outside (bracingly cold but beautiful!), we came back in. We offered loving-kindness to a loved one and to ourselves. We listened to the environment around us. We walked again and sat again. We dropped more and more fully into our bodies, sharing this day of mindful awareness.

    I had no way of really knowing what was happening for everyone, but I was moved by a sense of deep peace in the room. Everyone was settled. There wasn't any whispering or chatting - we moved together silently like a kind of mindful amoeba flowing around the room, outside, to the kitchen, to the restroom, or sitting still for practice, rest or to eat lunch.

    Walking outside I saw many of our mindful folks sitting and watching the view of the water or walking slowly. A few other park visitors came and went. The sun rose across its late winter arc and started to lower again.

    We checked in again at the end of the day. We were all brought to tears by the many realizations and shifts that each person reported. Not that it was easy. There were challenges with mind states and physical pain. But the dominant recurring themes were gratitude and peace. What a remarkable thing, what a gift to be completely out of our usual busy patterns for a day.

    The Silicon Valley Capitalist-engineers like to talk about "disruptive technology" - and it's been so interesting to hear (and see) that some kinds of disruption actually are beneficial. An old tired way of doing something is disrupted by a newer more innovative way.

    Perhaps the practice of retreat is a kind of "disruptive technology" for us. We disrupt our usual routine full of lists and routines and speed blocks of doing, doing, doing. My meditation teacher used to say that the great thing about meditation is that it's completely useless -- which always got a laugh. But I think we do need bursts of support to set aside our drive for "utility" - the deep pattern that we have to be always busy and productive. That we actually do need some "uselessness" too. This kind of disruption can lead over time to a kind of re-balancing of our lives. Disruption is too harsh of a word maybe because this version, a day of mindful awareness, is gentle, supported and carefully crafted to be as beneficial as it can be. But disruption is also true. It can be a little wrenching and surprising. Maybe people have told us at the start of a day of retreat, "I don't know if I can do this - be silent and just do this stuff for six hours?!" And many of those same people have later told us, "Wow, that was one of the best things I've done in a long time." Or maybe it would be more accurate to say it was the best thing they've "non-done" in a long time.

    I'm so happy that Mindfulness Northwest has been able to steadily increase our retreat offerings. Our one-day Days of Mindfulness are both built into every 8-week class we offer and also available to people to sign up for just the day. A next step might be our weekend retreat - coming up March 29-30th. Consider also our 5-day and 7-day silent retreats in August and October. Yes, longer retreats can be a challenge but the benefits can be very rich and important.  

    I hope you'll have the opportunity for retreat soon.

    Tim


  • 14 Feb 2019 7:55 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Teresa Johnson

    As Valentine’s Day (a holiday projected to generate $19.6 billion in related spending) arrives, I’m reminded that the practices of mindfulness and compassion can make all the difference in how we approach this holiday or any other.

    Noticing the hidden A’s in Holiday - Assumption, Automatic Action, and Aversion

    Because we grow up in families and social/cultural circles, humans are deeply conditioned from birth regarding the celebration (or not) of holidays and special events. The associations patterned in our neurology through childhood can set us up to expect ourselves or others to behave, feel, and think about a holiday in ways that may be unnecessary, incongruent with the rest of our values, or even hurtful to others.

    Assumption

    The assumption that others celebrate the holidays we do, stems from the blind spot of our conditioned world view.  When we assume that everyone is celebrating a holiday, we can lack sensitivity to the suffering that may also be present on that day. True we celebrate friendship, love, and romance on Valentine’s Day,  but for someone who has just experienced a break up or loss of a loved one, this day is a stark reminder of their loneliness or heartache.

    Mindfulness reminds us to take off the blinders of insensitivity, helps us to tune in, paying attention to clues of body language, facial expression, and voice tone. It cues us to listen as well, to our own gut, with its 40,000 neurons of intelligence offering a hunch…sometimes to keep silence and others to ask with compassion, the question that  frees  someone to share and release their suffering. 

    All of these ways of turning toward others suggest the open, kind, and discerning qualities of mindfulness as defined by researchers Linda Carlson and Shauna Shapiro, and serve as a counterweight to assuming we know anything about another person’s internal experience.

    Automatic Action

    The 2nd A of Automatic Action is often fueled by two other A’s, anticipation and anxiety. As a holiday approaches, deeply rooted habits compel us to do and buy without a conscious thought of whether  the stockpile of decorations, gifts, and cards are within our budget or even essential to the receivers.  We act automatically because a life of mental, emotional, and physical conditioning is a force propelling us onward until, as Newton taught, an equal and opposite force intervenes.

    Mindfulness is that force—causing us to stop, to check in and ask, “What’s happening with me right now?” We may notice tightness in the abdomen or chest, tension in the jaw, anxiety coiling up the emotions, critical commentary about not doing enough. Sometimes just a moment of noticing begins to open the door to see a bigger picture, to view ourselves with some understanding and compassion and say, “Well of course. This is all you ever knew.”

    After which we may decide that the best way to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year will be to sit down for a long conversation with someone we love and listen to them deeply.

    Aversion

    Not everyone is compelled to rush headlong into holidays though. Some of us have the exact opposite way of reacting. It might begin with a feeling of general irritation, undergirded with judgement about all the “fuss”, “silly sentimentality” or “waste”attributed to holidays of which we want no part. We may think we’re just being practical and unfettered by sentimentalism. However, like Automatic Action, Aversion also keeps us from making a well considered, unbiased choice to participate or 

    not.

    Mindfulness invites us to notice first the reactivity, to see where it takes root in the body, what emotions arise from the center of it, and what thoughts may be swirling in the midst of it. We can turn toward the habit of averse reactiveness with compassion to say, “This part of me that judges and pushes away…we all have it.” We might then ask ourselves “What suffering might be hidden underneath the reactiveness?” When we can offer ourselves compassion, we’re more likely to offer it to others.

    As we open the heart, we can see our common humanity, that we too, have causes or events to which we devote time, energy, and money. And while they may be different from those around you, the value and joy we derive from them is similar. From this vantage point, we may still choose not to participate in a holiday, but can maintain a respect for and connection with others who choose to celebrate, leaving the door open and remaining curious.

    So this Valentine’s Day, whether we celebrate the holiday is not most important thing. As the beloved Buddhist Teacher, Suzuki Roshi, has said: "The most important thing is to remember the most important thing.” Perhaps we can all move more mindfully through this day, more aware of ourselves in relationship to this cultural phenomenon we call a holiday,  acknowledging assumptions and letting them go, acting with purpose, being less hurried and driven, opening our hearts to others, practicing tolerance and openness toward each other, and to ourselves. And maybe then, we’ll be celebrating, really, what it means to love.


  • 14 Feb 2019 7:00 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    In a new 40-minute video (link below), Mindfulness Northwest director Tim Burnett continues his exploration of the Buddhist roots of our mindfulness practices. The Sanskrit word "shamatha" referred to in the essay and guided meditation he offers here means "to pacify," "to cool down," or "to slow down." This is an important aspect of our mindfulness practices. Mindfulness also includes active engagement with the patterns in our minds and hearts, but slowing down enough to stabilize and clarify is an essential ingredient in that process.

    Click HERE to watch the video

    Click HERE for the article

    To learn more about the Buddhist roots of mindfulness we recommend our longer residential retreats:

    Roots of Compassion  August 25-30, 2019

    Roots of Mindfulness  October 6-13, 2019


  • 8 Feb 2019 6:38 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Tim Burnett

    Dear Friends,

    Mindfulness researchers agree that mindfulness training has three key major components: attention, intention, and attitude.

    The attitude mindfulness practice invites us to bring forward, and helps us to strengthen over time, is described in various ways by mindfulness researchers and also by Buddhist teachers.

    Jon Kabat-Zinn in this common definition of mindfulness talks about an attitude of attending "non-judgmentally" to experience.

    Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally. (Kabat-Zinn 1994).

    And Shauna Shapiro and Linda Carlson go with "open, accepting, and discerning."

    [Mindfulness is] the awareness that arises through intentionally attending in an open, accepting, and discerning way to whatever is arising in the present moment (Shapiro & Carlson, 2009).

    It's easy for us to scoff a little I think. "So I'm just supposedto accept everything?" Aren't there plenty of things are not acceptable happening in our world?

    Indeed there are. But remember that mindfulness is a process of zooming in more closely and carefully examining how our minds and hearts meet each moment of experience. And at that point of contact, mindfulness movement suggests that negative reactivity just doesn't serve us.

    In a really fascinating (and pretty readable for our us lay people) 2011 paper (see link at end), emotions researchers Eric Garland, Susan Gaylord and Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina suggest that the way mindfulness training can help is that it can set us up for a helpful "upward spiral" of positive reappraisal of what's challenging or stressing us out.

    They suggest that there is a different way of looking at the aspects of our life and world that seem unacceptable to us. It's a 6-step model that I think is worth examining.


    Steps 1 & 2  - Stress Appraisal & Decentering. 

    In this model, when we encounter a stress, rather than freezing up or being inflamed with our resistance and unhappiness with the situation, we mindfully take an inner step back. We find a little space just like in the famous quotation that's attributed to Victor Frankl:

    Between stimulus and response there's a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

    Doing otherwise risks destructive anxiety, rumination and/or depression.

    Garland and his colleagues use the psychological term "decentering" for this. Getting the anxious "me" out of the center of the situation. Being able to label the emotion is helpful here. Decentering is a process of perspective-taking that allows states of mindfulness to arise. We are more able to feel non-judgmental, open and accepting if we don't feel overwhelmed and internally "too close" to the problem. We need a little space. Decentering is the mental ninja move that helps make that possible.

    Steps 3 & 4 - Mindfulness & Attentional Broadening. It's well known - by all of us as well as the field of psychology - that when we're stressed, our perception narrows. We get a kind of tunnel vision. It's hard to think straight. Fewer options occur to us. That's a visceral feeling of being trapped in our head and our fears. Paralyzed. Do you know this feeling?

    The neat thing is the opposite is also true. With the support of decentering and mindfulness we can broaden our attention even under stress and that's the next step in this model. Attentional Broadening opens us up to more options and possibilities in how we relate to the situation and gives us access to our inner resources and opens us up. 

    Steps 5 & 6 - Positive Reappraisal, Positive Emotions & Decreased Stress. With this broader, more open perspective we can see, not just good options for coping, but that there may actually be something essentially good here, something of value. We may realize there's an opportunity here for growth and learning. We may be thankful - gratitude can arise - that an issue we'd been previously blind to has come to our attention so we can do something about it.

    The paper makes a compelling case both theoretically and from the research data that mindfulness helps us not just get better at coping with difficulty but that mindfulness supports the mind to find ways to turn difficulty into benefit. That mindfulness training strengthens this dynamic attitude that can turn disasters into opportunities, at least some of the time -- an amazing kind of inner alchemy that the judgmental side of us may well scoff at, at first.

    A Life of Appreciation. My own experience over years of practice is that over time these kinds of processes don't just lead to wiser coping skills under stress. It isn't just a kind of mechanical process. Gradually we cultivate an attitude of appreciation that pervades everything.

    Of course, we’ll still have problems and concerns and bad days, but our foundational orientation really can shift from suspicion and concern to appreciation. And it's not a dumb appreciation, at least I hope not! Our faculties are keen and alert. And in fact, we have more resources available, as a raft of research and personal experience attests, when we aren't worried about things all the time. We can meet even difficult situations more intelligently from a standpoint of appreciation.

    I think the Buddhist teacher Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche expresses this beautifully. Here he uses the Buddhist term "buddhanature" to describe the same skillful approach to challenge.

    It might seem that appreciation has no place in a world with so many challenges. These days we are constantly reminded of our problems. Depression and anxiety are on the rise, climate change is creating disasters all over the world, and big changes in society are bringing to light so many things that have been in the shadows for many generations.

    How could we possibly talk about appreciation when we are confronted with such massive challenges?

    Appreciation isn’t positive thinking. It’s not wishing things to be better than they really are. Appreciation is taking the time to notice what’s already here, what we have right now in this very moment. This capacity gives us the inner strength to work with our suffering in a skillful way, and to stay connected to each other as we do.

    There are so many qualities that we don’t give ourselves credit for. As the Buddha discovered, our minds are naturally clear and aware. Our hearts are naturally open and compassionate. Each of us has tremendous wisdom. Although we don’t always recognize it, this buddhanature is always with us.

    Every single day we do countless things that express this buddhanature—small acts of compassion, moments of insight and understanding. These things are so common that we don’t even notice them.

    Recognizing these qualities is like discovering a treasure that’s been buried right beneath our feet. What we discover might feel new and fresh, but it’s our discovery that is new, not the qualities themselves.

    This discovery of our own buddhanature is the solution to the problems we face. It gives us the confidence, the compassion, and the wisdom to deal with our own challenges and the suffering of the world with an open heart and a clear mind. 

    When we make appreciation the foundation of our practice, every moment is filled with possibility.

    Excerpted from "You Already Have What You’re Looking For" by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Lion's Roar Magazine, January 30, 2019. 

    I urge you to consider this: on a moment by moment basis is it possible, when difficulty arises, to take a little step back, breathe a moment, invite your awareness to broaden in some way, and see what possibilities are available? There might be some real value in even the most difficult situation.

    And then zoom out and look at the patterns in your life. Is it possible to cultivate an attitude of appreciation and gratitude that pervades everything? So much has been given to us. Doesn't the world need us to appreciate those gifts and reflect that appreciation right back to a world that, as Martha Postlewaite says, "is so worth of rescue?"*

    Tim

    *Read the full poem Clearing by Martha Postlewaite

    Download the Garland et. al. article HERE.


  • 8 Feb 2019 6:37 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    The wonderful poet of mindfulness, Mary Oliver passed away a few weeks ago. The moving tribute in the New York Times includes video of her conversing with Rumi translator Coleman Barks (whom we have to thank for "The Guest House" and many others). Two big influences on MBSR having a conversation: well worth 7 minutes. Thank you Mary Oliver.

    Here's a link to the video on our website: Mary Oliver Interview

    And here's a poem from her that captures mindfulness beautifully:

    The Summer Day

    Who made the world?

    Who made the swan, and the black bear?

    Who made the grasshopper?

    This grasshopper, I mean-- the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

    the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

    who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-‐

    who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

    Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

    Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.


    I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

    I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

    into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

    how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

    which is what I have been doing all day.

    Tell me, what else should l have done?

    Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

    Tell me, what is it you plan to do

    with your one wild and precious life?



  • 15 Jan 2019 9:34 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    Joining a regular meditation group can do wonders for your mindfulness practice. Camaraderie. Exposure to new ideas. Peer support. Accountability.

    One option is our weekly online practice group. They are led by Mindfulness Northwest teachers and are a great way to tune up, re-connect with, and enhance your regular practice. 

    Typical format is:

    1. Opening meditation
    2. Short teaching with discussion
    3. Longer closing meditation

    There's no fee to register and try it out (You do need to register to get the instructions for logging onto the online event - easy to use vidoe conferencing software). If you find it valuable and plan to attend regularly, we ask that you join the group for a modest monthly fee. 

    Monday nights, 7-8:30pm. 

    Upcoming topics:

    • January 21st; Freedom from self-created suffering
    • January 28th: Embracing change
    • February 4th: Kindliness

    Hope to see you soon!

  • 15 Jan 2019 9:32 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Oori Silberstein

    Many of us are drawn to mindfulness practice initially out of a desire to overcome some challenge or difficulty in our lives. While some of us are drawn to mindfulness when we’re feeling OK, and we want to sustain or increase our sense of well-being, I have observed that the majority of us turn to mindfulness from a place of struggle. For me it was anxiety, but there are lots of other examples: Stress, depression, grief, anger, physical pain, impatience or a general sense of discontent with our lives to name just a few. (These are all common and good reasons to learn and practice mindfulness, and mindfulness can be helpful for all of these.) In all these cases we want to move from the place where the challenge is overwhelming, burdensome or bothersome, to a place where the challenge does not exist, or at least where it does not bother or debilitate us. In other words, we want to get somewhere other than where we are.

    We may think that getting to this desired place requires getting rid of the challenges we are facing. And we may think that getting to this place requires physically going somewhere else – a new city, or simply a retreat or training. Certainly, if the challenge is a physical danger or emotional abuse, then this instinct to get away may be essential and wise. But in many cases, working with and getting through the difficulties that lead us to mindfulness practice do not require that we go anywhere or get rid of anything. It requires that we learn to settle in more deeply exactly where we are, with curiosity that invites a fresh perspective. We learn that what is most helpful is to practice being exactly where we are, however we are, in a new way. 
     
    One of my teachers likes to say that the best way to get from point A to point B is to be at point A as fully as possible, and let point B take care of itself. This may sound ridiculous at first. We may think, “If I am looking to get rid of this challenge, why would I want to do something that requires that I see, feel and be with it more? This mindfulness thing is really missing the point”. This idea of being where we are more fully is not always easy, and it probably turns away a fair number of beginners. So why do we emphasize it?
     
    Before I offer some answer to this question, I want to clearly say that with certain types of traumatic and challenging experiences it is actually not helpful to turn fully towards the difficulty. So if trauma or very challenging experiences is what brought you to mindfulness and it does not seem to be helpful, which is fairly common, it is best to seek out the support of a professional therapist specializing in trauma resiliency or a trained mindfulness teacher with extensive trauma resiliency training. 
     
    There are lots of reasons why being more present for our actual experience helps free us from the suffering that often accompanies life’s inevitable difficulties and challenges.  I offer just a few of them here:

    Our hearts and minds want to be happy and unburdened. Think of a young child in a playground. They want to play and laugh and run around freely, and so do we. Luckily, our system is wired to allow and encourage this. But this wiring is often corroded through conditioning, in which case it sends signals too weak for us to perceive. We are also self-regulating beings when the proper conditions are present. So one way to look at our role in working with difficulty is that we are setting the conditions that will encourage our minds and hearts to self-regulate into a place of OK-ness, or even of happiness. And the only place we can do this is in the present moment, right where we are, using tools that allow us to meet our experience in a new way. 
     
    All of our emotions and most of our physical sensations are extremely fluid and ever changing. We think they are fixed because we look at them for just a second and the mind tells us it's always like that. The reason we only look or feel for a second is because the experience is unpleasant and we turn away quickly to avoid or reduce the unpleasantness in the moment. But when we learn to be still, and to look more closely for more than a second, we see that there is movement within each experience, and experiences shift, and they arise and pass and then arise anew. We learn to see that things are not always how we think they are. We learn that what is unpleasant for a second sometimes becomes more workable if we meet it with open-ness and curiosity. And this increased attention to the actual experience of what is difficult leads to a weakening or even a complete falling away of the difficulty itself. Perhaps like the way attending to a crying baby with kind attention is sometimes all they need to settle down and feel OK. And paying attention can only happen in the moment, where we are right now. 
     
    We generally do not control our inner experience, but we can learn to control how we relate to our experience. As we practice being present, we see that thoughts and feelings and sensations come on their own, without us doing anything. This may be discouraging at first, but with continued practice we also learn that we can change how we relate to our experience, and that this in turn actually diminishes the suffering and difficulty that arises when things we don't like happen, including thoughts and feelings we don't like. So by learning to see and relate to our experiences in new ways, we alter the impact of our experiences on our sense of well-being, and we may experience more joy, happiness or OK-ness. And the only way to see all this, and to practice relating to ourselves and our experience in a new and liberating way, is in the present moment, here, where we are right now. Even if we don't like it. 
     
    Practicing being in the present is definitely not easy at times, it takes time and patience, and sometimes it is wisest to proceed very slowly. So practice being where you are, even in your practice itself. An extremely beneficial condition for mindfulness practice to take root and grow is cultivating and feeling a base level of safety and ease. Many of the tools of practice help us establish this sense of safety. For example, breath meditation, practicing guided body scans and doing self-kindness and self-compassion practices are all ways we might encourage some safety and kindness in our practice. We are all unique, and so we can each try and play with these practices and find the ones that resonate best for us, that feel safest and most kind. And with some safety or kindness as a base, we can then slowly begin to lean a little more into the present moment, and to be more fully at point A and allow and trust what unfolds from there.


    Here is a link to lots of mindfulness practices you can explore.

    Link to Practices.

    Feel free to reach out with any questions about practice.

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