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The latest news on Mindfulness Northwest developments. You can keep in touch with us further by signing up for our email newsletters on the Contact page.

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  • 16 May 2019 4:13 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    Adolescence is an amazing time of growth and self-discovery that may also be fraught with confusion and stress which can lead to anxiety and depression. 

    Teens are confronted with academic, social, and family pressures every day but may not have the needed skills to respond to these pressures rather than react out of a sense of overwhelm.

    Mindfulness practices can help young people to pause, take a step back from their life circumstances, identify where stress is being experienced physically, sort out their feelings and thoughts, and consider how to proceed more wisely. 

    Self-Compassion practices help teens to learn how to turn toward their struggles with greater awareness of what they're experiencing, an increased sense that they are not alone, and kindness toward themselves.

    Join us for our new Teens Pause workshops.  This mindfulness stuff…works.

    Teen Mindfulness Workshop
    A 3-hour workshop for teens
    Thursday afternoon, July 11

    Teen Mindfulness Workshop
    A 3-hour workshop for teens
    Thursday evening, July 25

    Mindful Self-Compassion for Teens Info Night
    For teens and their Parent/Guardian
    Thursday evening, August 22

    More about Teens Pause


  • 16 May 2019 4:11 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    by Michael Kelberer

    I was deeply struck by the Pema Chodron quote in the last issue that said: “How we regard what arises in meditation is training for how we regard whatever arises in the rest of our lives.”

    What Pema goes on to say is that when we catch our minds wandering during meditation and bring them back to the breath with an attitude of non-judgment and kindness, we train ourselves to react with kindness to ourselves when we stray from our intended path in our daily life. I have found this to be true for me. Kindness and self-compassion have been slowly replacing self-judgment and self-recrimination as my default reactions to my forgetfulness, carelessness, or laziness.  

    This realization about kindness and self-compassion got me wondering:  what other ways is mindfulness affecting my dealings with life? Here are a few of my thoughts:

    Feel the sensations, not the story

    One of the lessons I’ve learned about mindfulness involves applying it to “unpleasant” physical sensations. It started with my feet cramping whenever I’d sit on a cushion for longer that 15 minutes or so. I’d start to feel pain in my calf or feet muscles, a “certain” precursor to a painful cramp, and I’d immediately shift positions to alleviate those sensations. Then I heard our Executive Director, Tim Burnett, suggest that we not be so fast to react, to instead focus on the sensations themselves without paying attention to the story we tell ourselves about them. As mindfulness helped me slow the cramping process down, I was able to finally see that there was a difference between the actual sensations and the story (“Uh-oh, major cramp about to arrive”) that immediately arose. I could just let the sensations be. And guess what, 95 percent of the time, the sensations just subside on their own – no cramping.

    Seeing a bigger picture

    Instead of focusing in on something during meditative practice like the breath, or sounds, or the body, the practice of Open Awareness meditation allows my awareness to expand and include everything that’s happening, inside and out. In this type of practice, I am able to sense everything while not being carried away by anything.

    Seeing this bigger picture really helps me as I have walked the emotionally difficult path of recovering from childhood trauma over these last eight years. My introduction to mindfulness came by way of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class recommended along the way. And, as with many complicated recoveries, things often got worse before they got better. It’s been pretty easy for me to get fixated on the pain, the length of time I’ve been working to get better, and to lose hope. In these moments (well, days really) life seems to collapse into a single dark confined space.

    When I get that way, I now remember to relax my awareness (breathing into the fixation) and relax my body, taking in everything, getting carried away by nothing. In those moments I realize there are a whole lot of other things happening in my life beside trauma recovery, that I’ve gone through these “getting worse” phases before, and how I always find progress and even happiness on the other side.  I realize that there is much more “right” than “wrong” with my life.  Over time, slipping into that larger space has become natural, and I hardly ever get caught up in the dismal story line I used to create automatically.

    And even the “little” things

    I recently moved into downtown Bellingham to a place conveniently located within walking distance of many things. Unfortunately, one of those nearby things is the train track, and I developed a lot of fear that I’d never get any sleep.

    One day prior to moving, I realized I was getting caught up in another story line, and that mindfulness could help. Starting a couple of weeks before the move, every time I was downtown and heard the trains, I’d pay attention to my reaction (here’s the PG version):

    There’s that darn train…holy mackerel that horn is loud…do they really have to blow it five blessed times for every crossing?....And all the live-long night???...I’m an idiot for moving here…I’ll never get any sleep….

    And so on, ad nauseum.

    So I started intervening. When I’d hear the first horn blast, I’d focus just on the sound, and keep my focus there not allowing the story line to get a foothold in my awareness (although I could hear it knocking at the door). I’d remind myself that people had told me “I don’t even hear the trains any more” and figured that that process would go faster if I didn’t have to also learn to not hear the story line.

    Sure enough, less than a week after I moved, the trains rarely awakened me.

    I’ve loved everything about mindfulness since the first day of MBSR class. Mostly, at first, I was in love with the ideas and world view. Now that I’ve seen what I do “on the cushion” translate into my everyday life, I’m in love with the fact that mindfulness works.



  • 19 Apr 2019 9:38 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    This simple practice of turning a searchlight on our own experience can reveal how we’re meeting life in real time and can be done at any time of the day.  In 5-10 minutes, we can gain awareness of thoughts and feelings as well as how we’re feeling physically.

    1.     Begin standing or sitting with both feet on the floor, noticing the surface under the feet, the sensation of the whole foot meeting the floor. Then scan through the rest of the body noticing what sensations might be there - tingling, softness, tension, itching, temperatures, whatever is present. Notice, too, the breath as it flows in and out of the body. Is it shallow rapid, deep, halted, smooth?  Taking mental notes without judgement.

    2.     Then directing attention to the emotions- what are the feelings I’m experiencing right now. These can be varied — expectation, excitement, dread, love, anger, warmth, sentiment, affection, sadness, loss, pressure, fear, or a feeling of nothing, a kind of emptiness. The key is to allow what emerges to be there. In this exercise, you’re like a meteorologist checking the weather and reporting it to yourself. 

    3.     Then inviting your awareness to turn toward thoughts.  Notice the climate in your mind: calm, busy, stormy, bright, dark? What is the nature of your thoughts: words, images, patterns? What is the attitude of the mind? Again, simply noticing with open curiosity, suspending judgement.

    4.     Once you’ve checked in, reflecting on the experience and jotting down some notes or verbalizing to another person can anchor the awareness even more.


  • 18 Apr 2019 9:37 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Beth Glosten

    This past week marked the beginning of another 8-week series of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) classes from Mindfulness Northwest. Each time I dive into teaching this deep curriculum with a new group of people, I am reminded of the genius of Jon Kabat Zinn in creating a rich organization of material that assists bringing mindfulness to people from different backgrounds. And each time I meet the class of participants, I am amazed at the varied and deep events of people’s lives.

    But…..I am always a little taken aback by the title of the class: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. How can a class reduce stress? I always feel compelled to explain in the first class, that taking this class won’t make your stress go away.

    Do we want stress to go away? There are benefits to stress: it challenges us, helps us recognize what we value, and, at times, stress keeps us safe.

    What causes unwanted stress?

    It is first worth considering the First of the Four noble truths taught in Buddhist philosophy. That is, there is suffering in life. We get sick, we lose loved ones, we die. There is no escaping the truth that life involves suffering, unpleasant events, distasteful interactions, and tragic community and world events.

    MBSR approaches stress by suggesting that we have more say over how we respond to these events in life than we often give ourselves credit. Enter the Second of the Four noble truths of Buddhist philosophy: We increase our suffering by clinging to those things that we want, and shying away from those things that are difficult. In other words, we are often unwilling to accept the reality of the ups and downs of life.

    How can mindfulness help?

    This is where MBSR assists us in reducing stress. MBSR, through practices and exercises, helps us understand how we enhance and exaggerate the normal stresses of life.

    Our brilliant human brain, with its ability to recall the past and plan into the future, can, at times, add to our suffering with these traits. Have you ever found yourself going over and over and over something you did in the recent past that you wish you hadn’t? Sure, we can learn from these past events, but we can also ruminate over them to a degree that goes beyond helpful and can contribute to our angst. Planning into the future is a fantastic feature of our minds and helps us be prepared. In my life as an Anesthesiologist, being prepared for the next case was crucial: considering the characteristics of each patient and each surgery helped me plan for (and, of course, hopefully prevent) untoward events during the surgery. But, there were times when anxiety led to a sleepless night prior to a case: a situation that took future considering too far, and to a detrimental place. The practices and tools from MBSR can help us recognize when our minds are generating imagined stories – stories that are not helpful.

    Mindfulness helps us accept what is. You may not like it, but what is, is. Does this mean we are complacent about the events we see around us that cause stress? Absolutely not! But wishing a situation to be different than it is does not help. Let’s say you are unhappy with the outcome of an election. Being angry about it does little except underscore your disappointment and stress. However, your dissatisfaction may be a wonderful impetus for getting involved with your community so officials of your choice are more likely to be placed in positions of influence.

    Traffic is another source of stress where mindfulness can be of great help. When in traffic, I remember that I’m part of it. I am part of a community all struggling with the stress of “getting somewhere by __ o’clock.” You can’t change traffic once you are in it. After making calls (hands free, of course!) to explain you’ll be late, there is really nothing to do but breathe into the situation of traffic. Try offering Loving Kindness to the driver next to you! And while you’re at it, offer Loving Kindness to yourself.

    It's up to you

    In our Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction classes, the “reduction” part is up to you. The “reduction” part is becoming aware of how our reactions to the events of daily life can create a positive feedback loop to our stress. The “reduction” part is pausing, taking a breath, taking a moment to consider the best response.

    In words attributed to Victor Frankl: “In between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”


  • 11 Apr 2019 5:06 PM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    You can watch and listen to Tim's two talks given at the retreat here.

    The poetry read, songs sung and Qi Gong led can be found here.

    Enjoy!


  • 4 Apr 2019 1:26 PM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Mary Oliver

    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?


  • 4 Apr 2019 1:25 PM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Tim Burnett

    Dear friends,

    This past weekend was our Spring Weekend Mindfulness retreat. For these retreats, I like to have a theme; a topic or idea around which I can frame my remarks, practices and teachings. Driving to Samish Island, I was still trying to think of a theme for the retreat.

    And I wasn't coming up with anything clear. 

    The usefulness of retreat practice in general? The way we can learn so much about our preferences and judgments during retreat? The wonderful opportunity retreat is to open to senses - especially at the lovely Samish Island Retreat Centre we use for these silent mindfulness retreats? Working with physical and psychological pain? The great insights that come for simply being silent and "off the grid"? How mindfulness and compassion support each other? 

    These are all good ideas and themes but none of them were really coming alive in my heart

    And then I started thinking about my dear friend Nancy who died a few weeks ago (complications from ovarian cancer) and I had a brainstorm. I found myself wanting to dedicate my weekend of practice to her: to her memory, to her can-do spirit, to her ability to keep going under adversity (Nancy had a lot of pain from a number of conditions most of her life and yet lived a full and pretty happy life).  

    Having that thought was really uplifting and opening for me. The idea that the purpose of the practice I was about to undertake was not just for me but also for something bigger: the spirit and inspiration of a good friend. 


    So I suggested to the group that we each consider dedicating our weekend of practice to someone or something that is dear to us.  

    Some, like me, thoughts of friends and relatives (living or recently passed away) others thought of ideals like more peace and healing in the world. There was a real feeling that psychologists sometimes call "larger than self" meaning - a sense of a bigger purpose. It was very inspiring to watch and listen as each person formulated their dedication into words.

    Others, I think a little sheepishly, thought to dedicate the practice to their own well being. 

    Thinking about this I realized that dedicating your practice to your own well being is also uplifting - also a kind of larger than self vision, because it's embracing a bigger idea of yourself. To pause and open to the idea of a self that's calmer, wiser, more reflective, and more resilient. It is a wonderful way to dedicate your life. One person connected the dots for us saying, "I dedicate this retreat to my wellness so that I may in turn help others be well."

    The process of thinking about what we were dedicating ourselves to also suggested to us some deep feelings around our core values as humans. We don't often think about what our values are - so lost as we can get just getting through the day and following through on our many commitments. The "what" of our lives, in other words, can really dominate the scene.

    Thinking about what we're truly dedicated to; thinking about what our values and mission as a person are: this shifts us a bit from the "what" to the "why" and into the "how." 

    Why are we doing what we're doing? How do we truly want to live?

    And I think ultimately these kinds of explorations also shift us into the "who" in a deep way. Who do you really want to be? It made me think of a reflection that's in the Compassion Cultivation Training curriculum: "In your heart of hearts, what do you truly want to offer to the world?" 

    So I offer this question on a beautiful Spring morning in the Northwest.  

    What are you dedicated to? How do you truly want to live? What are your values? And in the end who, in your heart of hearts, would you like to become? And what, in the words of Mary Oliver, will you do with "your one wild and precious life."

    Wishing you well,

    Tim

    PS: See the Mary Oliver poem in the next post.


  • 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. 


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