Mindfulness Northwest Newsletter Articles

Here are the article from our monthly Mindfulness Northwest Practice Letter plus some additional notes from Executive Director Tim Burnett.
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  • 6 May 2020 8:38 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    The Thread You Follow

    by Tim Burnett

    Dear Friends,
     

    There's a poem by William Stafford called "The Way It Is" that we share in class sometimes:
     
    There's a thread you follow. It goes among
    things that change. But it doesn't change.
    People wonder about what you are pursuing.
    You have to explain about the thread.
    But it is hard for others to see.
    While you hold it you can't get lost.
    Tragedies happen; people get hurt
    or die; and you suffer and get old.
    Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
    You don't ever let go of the thread.
     
    I think that part of our essential work during this time of the pandemic may be to take a fresh look at what that thread is for each of us. How does it feel? How did you find it? What's it like when you do let go of the thread? How does it feel when you find it, and take hold once again?

    This morning I'm thinking about what the thread is. For me, I would describe one important thread as the imaginative dimension of human life we call religious or spiritual.  Others might see it as X or Y or Z. And that’s the beauty of poetry: an invitation into a world and perspective that each of us interprets and can make our own.

    I stumbled into Buddhism – one of my threads – as a young man, not knowing why I was drawn to the austere quiet spaces where Zen meditation is practiced; not knowing why something seemed important in the writings of Zen teachers which I couldn't really understand. I carried the book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind around in my backpack as I practiced my other important spiritual practice at the time: hiking in the mountains. Every time I read one of the short chapters in that book while sitting on a rock under the trees, I was both baffled and inspired. I couldn't really follow what the author, Shunryu Suzuki, was saying and yet I ended each reading feeling inspired and expansive.
     
    Now I realize that Zen Buddhism and exploring in the wilderness were my way of finding the thread.

    What is the thread for you? Can you put your finger on it? How does it feel? How did you find it? What's it like when you do let go of the thread? How does it feel when you find it, and take hold once again?

    There are so many possibilities. We humans with our hearts and minds are so rich, so complex. What is the thread? Time with good friends? Great literature or shows? Cooking? Playing or listening to music?  Time in nature? Refocusing your love for your family?
    One of the things I appreciate about Stafford's poem is he reminds us that it's not enough that these things exist - as possibilities - it's on us to find that thread and hold on through thick and thin. "Nothing you can do can stop time's unfolding / You don't ever let go of the thread."

    If it's helpful to you to explore this idea more fully, I’m hosting a new by-donation hour of mindfulness every Wednesday at 12 noon, Pacific Time, through June called Midday Mindfulness. I'll enjoy seeing you there if you can come. I've also been offering retreats in format of our universal, non-religious mindfulness offerings, that include teachings on what I consider the Buddhist roots of our mindfulness and compassion trainings. More threads! You can see and listen to the growing catalog of lectures here

     
    Here's another short poem from William Stafford which I hope you'll appreciate.
     
    William Stafford - Yes
     
    It could happen any time, tornado,
    earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
    Or sunshine, love, salvation.
     
    It could you know. That's why we wake
    and look out--no guarantees
    in this life.
     
    But some bonuses, like morning,
    like right now, like noon,
    like evening.
     
    Wishing you well,
    Tim


  • 3 May 2020 7:57 AM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    We're delighted to announce talks on the Buddhist Roots of compassion and mindfulness given at our 2019 Roots Retreats by Executive Director Tim Burnett and visiting teacher Robin Boudette are now online! Enjoy video, audio, and notes from these in-depth explorations of the the Buddhist roots of our modern mindfulness and compassion training practices.

    2019 - Roots of Compassion: Mind Training with Slogans 

    2019 - Roots of Mindfulness: The Seven Factors of Awakening

    The full catalog of talks going back to 2015 is available here: Roots of Mindfulness

  • 2 Apr 2020 8:47 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    Let's Practice

    by Tim Burnett

    Dearest Friends,

    This is a frightening and overwhelming time. Some of us are working overtime on the front lines, some of us are sidelined. Most of us are just trying to get through the changes that each day brings.

    There are moments when everything is fine. Good, even. Spring is arriving. The streets are so quiet, it's amazing! There's a peacefulness. And it's very odd and creepy at the same time.

    How do we hold it all? How do we approach it?

    Let's practice.

    There is plenty of evidence that a regular mindfulness practice helps us be more resilient during difficult times. That includes meeting fear with more stability and patience, and being more available and open to joy and connection when they arrive.

    We're offering a wealth of free resources on our Practices Home page. You might try one of these each day. I'm especially finding breath counting helpful lately in my own practice.

    Depending on your situation, committing to a regular time to do a practice might be helpful. Maybe it's more a matter of fitting it in wherever it works. But let's all try to nourish ourselves in this way every day (and be forgiving when we miss a day or two).

    And as you know, signing up for a class provides a lot of support, too. We are offering a bunch of them as are other groups. A strange benefit from this catastrophe is you can do everything from the privacy of your own home. And please don't worry if that means a little chaos is in the background when you're online. We don't mind that. Its reality. We're all just doing our best.

    With love,

    Tim and the rest of the team at Mindfulness Northwest


  • 5 Mar 2020 11:28 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)


    Three Keys to Mindfulness

    by Tim Burnett

    We all go through seasons of suffering.  We change, others change. There are periods of relative stability and there are the crises - small and large - that come. 

    As I reflect on my own life's ups and downs, I'm inspired anew to take a fresh look at the practice of mindfulness. I'm thinking about the way mindfulness helps - but also about ways I can end up using mindfulness to try to avoid difficult moods and problems that may simply have to be weathered and seen through.

    The mindfulness approach encourages us to explore a really nuanced view around acceptance and improvement. Around fixing things. On the one hand improvement is great. We can make all kinds of changes to improve our situation. For example: I've been trying to focus on exercising more regularly and sleeping better. They help.

    On the other hand, trying to fix and improve things can become an endless treadmill that orients us away from accepting how things are. And in my experience from my own practice and the people I've had the privilege to work with over the years: it all starts with acceptance.

    We all have difficult periods. Transitions are hard. Illness is hard. When relationships get tangled, it's hard. And it's natural to want to solve the problem. It's natural to want to fix things. To improve the situation. Right now.

    And yet we will often approach making improvements so much more wisely when we can start the process with more acceptance.

    As I've taught mindfulness over the years and explored the practice myself I've come up with a few lists of pointers and reminders for myself. A current favorite is what I consider the three key attitudes in mindfulness (and thus: in life!): curiosity, willingness, and kindness. These three attitudes feels especially important when times are tough.

    Curiosity   A colleague recently introduced me to a helpful distinction in thinking about curiosity. She suggested we notice whether we're in "deficit curiosity" or "interest curiosity."

    Deficit curiosity is the curiosity of lack and impatience. It's the curiosity that sends us so quickly to our phones to Google up a fact. Deficit curiosity can contribute to impatience and has a sense of lack to it. Deficit curiosity isn't the quality of mind I'm thinking of here as helping us accept our challenges and get interested in them. Deficit curiosity is more likely to have us grasping for a quick fix.

    Interest curiosity is more what I'm pointing to. Interest curiosity is open minded. It has that quality of "hmm…I wonder…." Where deficit curiosity can be a bit desperate and impatient to be "in the know", interest curiosity supports humility and even values "not knowing" and that quality of "beginner's mind."

    Being human is so complicated. No matter how much we learn, how many courses we take or articles we read, or teachers we work with, we'll never really understand it. Interest curiosity keeps us going and supports us in appreciating each insight along the way while accepting that we'll never know it all.

    Willingness  If we're not willing to try something new, nothing will ever change. And that begins with a willingness to accept things as they are. It includes a willingness to feel. A willingness to accept that "this is how it is right now."

    And a willingness to change is essential too! Willingness is also open minded (like interest curiosity). I think of willingness as being a realistic quality also: we can't do and try everything given the limits to our time and resources, but maybe we can expand the confines of our lives in more ways than we think we can with this willing orientation.

    One close friend has an often used phrase, "I'm always willing to feel better." When I think about willingness in light of mindfulness practice I remember some of the best parenting advice my wife and I received as new parents: if the baby is fussy and you can't figure it out, just "change the vibe." If you're inside, go outside. If you're outside go inside. Change something. Try something. Not expecting instant results, not expecting anything to work every time (or even most of the time!) but being willing to try. Be willing.

    Kindness   When I first took up meditation I didn't understand the essential contribution of kindness. I thought meditation was to chill myself out, to stay calm at all costs, to develop an unshakable kind of equanimity. And while calm and equanimity are valuable for sure, without the emotional dimension of kindness these qualities can also become ways to avoid our feelings at our peril. I eventually learned that I'd walled myself off from my own emotions in a way that was blinding and unhelpful, and ultimately made it difficult to really take care of myself.

    The practice of kindness in the context of mindfulness calls on us to ask ourselves what we need right now. It encourages us to see if we can offer ourselves some warmth, some kindness. Not because that will make challenging emotions go away or solve our problems, but simply because we're suffering. Kindness is an essential component as we meet our challenges.

    Kindness can be practiced. We can weave a sense of self-care and kindness into our formal mindfulness practice and we can see the informal practices of taking purposeful pauses during the day not just as a stress reduction technique but as real gifts to ourselves. As self-kindness.

    And kindness for ourselves can help us rebalance the common tendency to take care of everyone around us while ignoring our own needs. We can be so strongly conditioned to focus on others first can't we? Whether that's purposeful and well-meaning, or out of habit, or even out of some deep fear that we might be unlovable. We can notice our many choices throughout the day in service of others and start to remember to include ourselves in the equation in an explicit way. "After I help so and so with this, I'll take a break and give myself what I need too."

    Loving Kindness  Finally, the signature practice in mindfulness training - Loving Kindness Meditation - is also a great option. I was resistant to this practice at first - no surprise given my initial orientation to prize a kind of "Zen calm" over all else. But now I've come to appreciate it deeply. I'm especially moved by the innovation in the Mindful Self-Compassion curriculum to find ways to really personalize Loving Kindness Meditation by finding your own language to coach yourself in it.

    See our Loving Kindness Meditation page (https://mindfulnessnorthwest.com/loving-kindness) for the basics on this practice and the Finding Our Phrases page (https://mindfulnessnorthwest.com/LKM-phrases) for more on making this practice your own.

    Tough times  happen for all of us. I hope the practices and the orientation toward starting with acceptance of mindfulness is helpful to you. I invite you to see if the three attitudes of curiosity, willingness, and kindness prove helpful in your own journey. Especially when times are tough.

    TimQuestions? Call us: 360.830.6439 x 0, or email:  office@mindfulnessnorthwest.com


  • 31 Jan 2020 12:13 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    Finding Mindfulness in the Stress of Heavy Traffic

    by Beth Glosten

    It is 5:30pm. You have a 6:30pm meeting in Seattle. You are driving westbound on the SR520 bridge -- slowly. There has been an accident on the bridge. You are going no faster than a crawl. Or, you have tickets to the Opera. You are traveling down Mercer Street slower than if you were walking. You wonder if you’ll get there in time. Any of these scenarios sound familiar?

    Heavy and slow-moving traffic in the Puget Sound region is a common cause for stress. The population of the city is growing: in 2017, Seattle had grown 18.7% since 2010. These 114,000 people brought cars with them. The obvious result: more traffic congestion and longer drive-times. The city’s geography contributes to our heavy traffic – it is hemmed between Puget Sound and Lake Washington. On some highways, if there is a blocking accident, there are few alternative routes. While there are efforts to make the city friendly for pedestrians and bicyclists, suffice to say we are in a transition – cars continue to clog the streets and freeways. Even if highways could be expanded to accommodate the growing population, data from other cities show that adding more lanes and more space for cars just leads to more cars on the road, not decreased travel times.

    So, face it. Clogged traffic is here to stay in Seattle. The good news? Mindfulness can help us deal with it. For me, mindfulness has made a huge difference in my traffic experience. I used to live in Redmond, WA. I would dread making the trek into Seattle at rush hour. It was a horrible experience! I recall sitting in my car, barely crawling along, thinking “I can’t stand this! I’m going to jump out of my skin!” I’d feel anger and frustration at the other cars/drivers on the road that were “getting in my way.”

    Suffice to say, this mindset increased my stress. It was not helpful.

    Here are some thoughts on reframing your mindset while in bad traffic.

    First, if you are stuck in heavy traffic, remember, you are part of it. Own it! Reframe your experience as being part of the problem, not a victim of the problem. In all likelihood, your reason for being on the road is no more or less valid than anyone else’s.

    Second, utilize STOP practice – the acronym for: Stop, Take a breath, Observe, then Proceed. Stop, look around you. See the community of drivers around you. You are not alone in your situation and frustration! Take a breath – let the soothing effect of a deep breath relax your body. Observe your body. Can your shoulders soften? Can you let go of your clenched jaw? Feel what other sensations you notice in your body that might be caused by the tension of being stuck in traffic. As you proceed, acknowledge the challenge that everyone around you is experiencing.

    Third, label your experience. Acknowledge that your traffic experience is unpleasant, saying to yourself “this is hard, this is not fun.” Offering yourself these words helps you frame the situation as what it is: traffic - only traffic - it is not a personal affront.

    Fourth, see yourself as part of a traffic community. Can you acknowledge the others around you who are similarly suffering in traffic? Along with yourself, offer compassion to your whole community of traffic sufferers. Send phrases of loving kindness to yourself and others in traffic such as: “may I/you stay calm,” “may I/you find patience,” “may I/you accept this situation of slow-moving traffic.”

    Fifth, be a helpful part of this traffic community! Let the next car merge into your lane (really, cutting them off will NOT get you to your destination any sooner). Plan your journey to allow plenty of time to change lanes and make turns. Avoid tailgating - hanging on the bumper of the car in front of you will also not get you to where you’re going any faster, and it risks an accident. Wave to those who let you in when changing lanes to say “thank you.” It makes both you and the other driver feel better! On city streets, be respectful of bicyclists and pedestrians.

    Let mindfulness help you contribute to a civil and safe traveling (albeit slowly) community.

    Questions? Call us: 360.830.6439 x 0, or email:  office@mindfulnessnorthwest.com.


  • 2 Jan 2020 8:23 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    Mindfulness Northwest Brings Mindfulness Skills to Healthcare Professionals

    by Beth Glosten & Carolyn McCarthy

    Mindfulness is a buzz word these days. If you believe all you read, you’d be convinced it is the answer to all life’s woes! Realistically, mindfulness brings awareness to our present moment experience, and helps us recognize when our habitual responses to life’s challenges contribute to our stress. Many medical professionals have found that the tools and practices of mindfulness improve the workday by increasing their ability to make good choices about one’s internal resources. This, in turn, reduces stress and improves outcomes.

    Mindfulness Northwest (MNW), which offers classes in the Puget Sound region from Bellingham to Olympia, is an organization committed to bringing the ideas and skills of mindfulness to everyone. It offers courses throughout the Pacific Northwest – its primary offering being the well-studied Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): an 8-week course designed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1980’s. This course offers guided meditation practices and exercises to develop the skill of mindfulness: paying attention in a particular way -- on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgement. Benefits of the course include: reduced depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and stress reactivity. The results: improved emotional resilience and well-being.

    Healthcare providers today are experiencing stress and burnout with concerning frequency. It is estimated that over 50 percent of physicians are struggling with burnout (the triad of emotional exhaustion, a tendency to “depersonalize” patients, and a sense of lack of efficacy) with the accompanying personal and institutional hazards of depression, substance abuse, suicide, absenteeism, medical errors, and reduced quality of patient care. Mindfulness has been shown to be significantly beneficial in: reducing stress and symptoms of burnout, increasing compassion, and improving patient satisfaction ratings, all at a lower cost than individual therapy.

    MNW works with many area medical groups (UW Medical School, Evergreen Medical Center, The Everett Clinic, Kaiser Permanente/Washington Permanente Medical Group, Providence, and others) to bring the skills of mindfulness to healthcare providers. MNW offers to healthcare providers both the standard 8-week MBSR course, as well as 4- and 5-week courses of a similar nature, called Mindfulness for Healthcare Professionals (MHP). The courses are offered through sponsoring medical clinics or through MNW (often online). Preliminary data collected by MNW suggest our MHP course results in decreased symptoms of burnout, increased mindfulness, and decreased perceived stress.

    Interested in trying mindfulness? For the full listing of our classes offered, visit our website at: www.mindfulnessnorthwest.com/schedule.

    Questions? Call us: 360.830.6439 x 0, or email:  office@mindfulnessnorthwest.com


  • 10 Dec 2019 9:20 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    Just Float

    by Carolyn McCarthy

    In my favorite holiday movie, Home for the Holidays, single mother Claudia Larson (the fabulous Holly Hunter) is living the full catastrophe. In the span of 24 hours, she gets fired, kisses her (now former) boss, and comes down with a cold. She’s headed to visit her family for Thanksgiving, and her teenage daughter has ditched her in favor of her boyfriend. And, on top of it all, it’s freezing, and she has lost her coat. Directed by Jodie Foster and featuring a star-studded cast, it’s a hilarious portrayal of how difficult – and rewarding – the holidays can be.

    During the holidays, everything can become more stressful: shopping, cooking, traveling; what to wear, say, bring. Being with our family can put it over the top. As spiritual teacher Ram Dass once said, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”

    Through all the challenges that Claudia faces, her daughter keeps her steady: “Just float, Mom.” She’s referring to a recent vacation, where the two of them found peace by snorkeling. By tapping into the connection with the water, her daughter, and the fish, Claudia remembers to breathe.

    What does “just float” look like for you? How can we keep ourselves grounded, present, and breathing in times of holiday stress? Whether you’re off to an office party or a family gathering, in addition to food and gifts, why not pack a practice?

    Choose Your Favorite

    I invite you to give yourself a gift: choose your favorite practice and bring it everywhere. Maybe it’s Two Feet and a Breath. Maybe it’s R.A.I.N. or STOP. Check out our Practice page for a list of simple, accessible options. You don’t need them all. Just choose one -- and use it.

    When Aunt Mary drops the turkey (oops), or you mom comments on your outfit (again), or the conversation turns to politics (eek!) – use your practice. Then notice how you feel.

    Stressful times are a fantastic opportunity to see the benefits of regular practice. The more agitated we are, the more difficult it becomes to turn to these practices. But if we’ve been doing them all along, during calm and stress alike, we’re better able to draw on them when we need them most.

    Take a Time Out

    After subjecting your body to the indignities of holiday travel and countless mountainous meals, give it some nourishing attention with a guided Body Scan Meditation. MNW’s website offers guided Body Scans of varying lengths, from 10 – 40 minutes. You can access more MNW recordings, as well as myriad other guided meditations from practitioners all over the world, through the free Insight Timer app.

    Of course, a sweet time out is easily had no matter where you are: Go outside! If you’ve attended one of MNW’s Days of Mindfulness or residential retreats, perhaps you’ve experienced a Sense & Savor walk. Allow yourself – wherever you are – to let your senses lead. Take in the sky. Visit a tree. Feel the air on your skin. Notice temperature, light, sensation. Walk slowly, listening to sounds, noticing the play of light on the sidewalk or the sound of the cars in the street. If you’re visiting your childhood home, this is a great time to see the place through those childhood eyes. Can you recapture some of that openness, and curiosity? What wonders can you find?

    Keep It Simple

    All these tools and techniques are great, but you don’t need them to be mindful. Simply tune in to whatever’s happening, right now, and offer it your kind attention. Choose your favorite anchor:

    • ·       Soles of the feet
    • ·       Palms of the hands
    • ·       Feeling of breath in the body
    • ·       Sounds and listening
    • ·       A beautiful object in the room

    Simply experience your anchor. You can touch in to it any time. It’s always there with you, whether you’re washing dishes, watching the game, or eating (another!) piece of pie.

    The Point

    Mindfulness is not just about relaxation or helping us feel calm. It’s also about being more authentic, connected, and alive. By using these practices over the holidays, you might find that you’re better able to engage in a challenging conversation, stand up for what you believe, really listen to your friends and family, or reveal more of who you are.

    Watching Claudia Larson travel on crowded airplanes, sleep in her childhood bedroom, and navigate siblings, in-laws, old boyfriends, unusual aunts, dietary restrictions, and aging parents makes me marvel: How do we do it? Year after year? Are we crazy?!? Maybe a little. (Okay, maybe a lot.) But, like all the holiday classics, Home for the Holidays shows us that amidst the holiday slog, there are moments of light and wonder, those deep, sweet connections that keep us coming back.

    All of us at Mindfulness Northwest wish you peace, ease, and joy!

     


    Carolyn McCarthy is our Client Program Coordinator and a Mindful Self-Compassion instructor for Mindfulness Northwest. Carolyn finds that mindfulness practices help her to be a calmer, happier person and a better mother, partner, daughter, and friend.


  • 7 Nov 2019 2:10 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    Meeting our Worries with RAIN

    By Tim Burnett

    Mindfulness training with its present-centered non-judgmental focus is so very helpful in turning down the volume on worry and rumination. Have you noticed this yet? The power of meeting our complex problems with simplicity is literally revolutionary (in that it can turns us around in a very healthy way). 

    We notice that the mind is getting lost in planning, fretting, rehashing, rehearsing, and ruminating and we learn that it's possible, with practice, to a take a little inner step back. We don't have to get lost in the thinking and worrying and the associated heavy emotions that come up.

    We can use the labeling practice [for more info, see link at bottom] to notice the mental phenomena that are arising without getting quite as caught in them. They are powerful thoughts but it's possible to see them as thoughts. "Oooh, I sure am worrying about this non-stop, wow." And then we can move our attention to the body or the breathing or anchor ourselves in our present-moment sensory experience. Have you looked at the sky lately? We live under a beautiful and always changing sky!

    This way, mindfulness can give us at least a moment of peace. And those moments are powerful. Those moments add up. Our ruminating worried mind, little by little, has less of a grip on us. It's less controlling. We can do something else internally and open to so much else externally.

    And yet. And yet: we do have problems that need attending to. Every one of us carries burdens and challenges. It's a great exercise in common humanity to look around at people - on the street, in the store, at work - and remind yourself of this. Every single person you see is carrying a serious challenge of some kind. We don’t know what it is, but we know this is true. People have sick and dying parents and children and friends. People are stuck in unhealthy patterns and addictions of all kinds. People are worried about their future and often have very good reason to be worried. It's not easy being a person regardless of our circumstances and many face very difficult circumstances. And we all share this challenge - it's just the details that differ.

    More than moments of peace and changes in perception

    We also do need to turn towards and work with our problems. The question is how can we do this wisely? How do we meet our difficult problems with a little more spaciousness and compassion? How do we approach inner turmoil with mindfulness? 

    There are so many answers to this question aren't there? It's good to have a trusted friend or therapist to talk things though with. For many, journal writing is helpful. All kinds of body-based practices can help us gain insight and perspective as well, lest we try to tackle everything with our thinking minds alone.

    One meditation-based practice we find very helpful for turning towards our problems is the practice of RAIN. Popularized by the American meditation teacher Tara Brach, RAIN is an acronym.

    R.  Recognize what is happening – can we release from denial and avoidance, and turn towards it?

    A.   Allow and Accept that what is, is – can we see and feel and understand this more fully?

    I.   Investigate the inner experience – what else is here? What are your deeper feelings?

    N.   Non-identification – see that this problem does not define who you are. 

    RAIN directly de-conditions the habitual ways in which you resist your moment-to-moment experience. It doesn’t matter whether you resist “what is” by lashing out in anger, by having a drink or other unhealthy coping, or by getting immersed in obsessive thinking. Your attempt to control the life within and around you actually cuts you off from your own heart and from this living world. RAIN begins to undo these unconscious patterns as soon as we take the first step.

    Learn more about RAIN and try practicing along with two of our senior teacher's as they guide the practice on our website [see link below].

    May the gentle rain of mindful awareness and compassion help you face your deep inner challenges in wise and helpful ways when it's time to do that. And maybe the practice of mindfulness can help house the wide world of your life, and see that your life is much much more than just your problems.

    Tim

    Resource links:

    Noting/Labeling Practice

    RAIN Practice



  • 3 Oct 2019 1:01 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    Mindfulness of Life Wandering

    By Michael Kelberer

    I’ve learned that meditation is a way to practice the skills of noticing when our minds are wandering and returning our awareness to the object of our practice. I’ve often heard this practice as noticing when our mental train has left the station and choosing to disembark back into the present.

    The Big Narrative

    I have known for some time that there are quite a few deeply ingrained habits of thought, emotion and actions that together form the train ride I’ve been on for most of my life. At my age, that train has been away from the Present Station for a long time!


    It occurred to me lately that I could apply the same principles of mindfulness that I use in my meditations to my life as a whole. To the Big Train. The Big Narrative. That’s because it would be very fair to say that my life has wandered far from my true path over the decades.

    Mindfulness

    This process started for me on a retreat when I decided to use the Labeling practice all day. Whenever I noticed the thought train leave the station, I’d apply a label to it. It didn’t take long before I realized the same labels appeared over and over again. In particular, I noticed that, although the details varied, most of my past and future journeys weren’t thinking as much as they were daydreaming, and the daydreams were remarkably adolescent – meaning they’d been part of the Big Narrative for a long while. The most common, for example, was re-writing the past or scripting the future so that I, a Lone Ranger-type, swept in and saved the day: A problem would ensue and there I was to fix it right up. Pretty embarrassing daydream for a man of six-plus decades to see, admit to myself, and accept as a part of who I am. But there it was.

    Turning Toward

    In mindful self-compassion I learned the value of turning toward unpleasant emotions like embarrassment, and how to recognize that while emotions I feel are valid, they are not who I am. I also began to realize that by staying with my unpleasant feelings of embarrassment - rather than turning away from them - I could use the feeling of embarrassment to cultivate new levels of awareness and choice. For instance, I would rather not spend my valuable time on these daydreams. Instead, when I noticed my mind wandering down these familiar train tracks, I could call the past “the past” while planning for the future in more realistic ways.

    Practicing mindfulness as a means of staying with those embarrassment feelings also led me to realize one reason my daydreaming had stuck around so long. For me, it is because the daydreams themselves are very pleasant (as long as I stayed safely in my save-the-day narrative). I began to realize that if I wanted to change my daydreaming habit, to get off that particular narrative train, I’d have to be willing to give up the save-the-day parts of the daydreams as well.

    It’s kind of like the effects of eating ice cream: The cold, creamy goodness tastes awesome going down. But once I step off the Ice Cream Express, I begin to notice the unpleasant bloated feeling afterwards...not to mention the expanding waistline.  So maybe it’s better to limit my intake of ice cream?

    Wisdom Mind

    For me, in-the-present mindfulness has served up a generous platter of tidbits about my life, but by itself it wasn’t effecting any change. For me, the wisdom mind, the part of the mind that steps back and can see what I’m doing – kind of like a silent witness – was the key to getting off the Big Narrative train. This is the part of our minds that, between stimulus and response, helps us choose to move toward freedom and happiness. This is also the part of me that saw patterns in my daydreams, looked beyond their fabricated pleasantness, and was able to admit that their stories were untrue. My wisdom mind is also what imagines me giving up the momentary pleasure of lifeless daydreams in return for more lasting happiness and well-being.  And that’s the route I’ve chosen to take.

    These three aspects of meditative practice: mindfulness, turning toward, and wisdom mind, work together to enabled me - for the first time in my life - to step off of my Big Narrative Train. And as I become more and more used to greater awareness of what is really here right now, I am finding that the only place where happiness is truly possible is in the present moment.


    Author's note: I created the basic thread for this article after reading
    The Power of Mindfulness” by Diana Winston. 


  • 6 Sep 2019 9:39 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    Wise Neutrality

    I recently ran across this quotation from James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing is changed until it is faced.”

    Mindfulness and compassion training help us with this practice of "facing" in so many ways. The practices help us be aware there's something there to be faced in the first place. The practices then help us see and start to understand the thoughts and emotions that often stand in the way of this standing upright in the face of our suffering. And the practices offer us tools for understanding and processing as the depth of what we hope to change becomes clear.


    But it's so easy to narrow the project down too much. We narrow it down to something each of us alone must do.  We are so individualistic. A separateness is deeply wired into us. "I should be able to figure this out," we think – a reflex we assume to be truth.

    The more I go along the more I think this just isn't true. We can't figure it out, really. We are too easily misled by our own too-small point of view. We need others to help us face what needs to be changed.

    Given that we truly need each other to face what must be faced, the question that's on my mind lately is how do we need each other? 

    Do we need warmth and friendship from each other? Do we need insight and fresh perspectives from each other? Do we need trusted friends who will question our assumptions about what's going on? Do we need supporters who will simply offer us unconditional encouragement, having total trust that we can do what we set out to do - that we are strong and intelligent and resourceful?

    Probably we need all of the above but perhaps we also need another quality in the supportive others who help us to see who and what we are: The quality of neutrality.

    At a recent retreat a participant who'd experienced significant trauma said something like the following to me: "I really love how neutral you and the other Mindfulness Northwest teachers are when I talk about my problems. You don’t get too excited or disturbed. You don't give advice. You just listen and you're neutral." He went on to talk about how that gave him the space he needed to trust his own resources, to keep working on his life. To face what needs to be faced.

    Isn't that interesting? I think we very much need people we trust, whom we can talk to deeply and intimately, who can be neutral with us. Who can just listen. Who help us face what needs to be faced by simply bearing witness to our process. 

    And this is a gift we can give others when we're the trusted friend or family member. We talk all the time about being present for people in the mindfulness world, and that's more or less the same thing, but there's something that's striking me deeply about remembering to value neutrality. 

    So here's to wise neutrality.

    I hope when you read this you are having a good-enough day!

    Tim


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