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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  • 1 Aug 2019 9:28 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    Best Practices with Email   by Teresa Johnson

    Let’s say we’ve taken a break and are now back at our computer. What are best practices when responding to someone else’s email or creating your own? Here are  Five principles of wise communication shared by Rick Hanson, Ph.D, New York Times best-selling author, and based on Buddhist teachings.

    Ask yourself if this communication is:

                Well-intended – Is my intention based on good will?

                True – Is what I’m saying the truth, unexaggerated, and accurate?

                Beneficial – Will this communication help things get better?

                Timely – Am I sending this when I feel balanced, rested, uncompelled, and at a time when it’s likely to be received well? (Consider keeping a draft overnight or scheduling the email for the next day.)

                Not harsh – When direction or boundaries are needed, is this a firm and clear communication without being harsh?

    If the answer to these questions is YES, then I’m ready to hit SEND.

    For more thoughts on this topic, see this Mindful Magazine article  about the six rules of conscious emailing.


  • 1 Jul 2019 9:29 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    Being a Good Friend to Yourself
    with Mindfulness and Self Compassion

    I recently drove with my nephew and his good friend across Washington state. As I quietly navigated a curvy and beautiful mountain pass, I listened to them talk.  Their conversation made it clear that they are good friends, and I noticed how happy I felt just witnessing their interactions.  As they spoke about relationships, work, school, sports, and their trip out west together, they were kind, playful, and non-judgmental.  They disagreed with each other at times, but they also took those opportunities to really understand and support each other despite their differences.   Their friendship was clearly beneficial and meaningful to both of them. It was beneficial to me as well: simply being around these two young men made me feel relaxed and happy. 

    As I reflected on why their interactions moved me so deeply, I realized that this friendship conveyed four things very strongly.  Without ever saying it, these two comrades were communicating to each other:  I see you, I accept you, I care about you, and I support you.    


     Perhaps you’ve experienced someone like this in your life:  A good friend, a teacher or mentor, a grandparent or other family member who saw you for who you are with acceptance, communicating in some way that they cared for and supported you.  Or perhaps you simply understand in your heart how great it would feel to be seen clearly, without judgment, and to be cared for and supported with kindness.  Regardless of who we are or what our life experience has been, each of us can learn to offer these gifts of genuine friendship to ourselves through Mindfulness and Self-Compassion practice. 

    Mindfulness practice cultivates greater awareness that helps us see ourselves more clearly.  We learn to observe our bodies, our physical sensations, our feelings, and our thoughts in a new way.  We develop a greater intimacy with ourselves, and we may begin to notice thought patterns and feelings we did not see before.  We learn to stay more present for ourselves and learn to offer ourselves the gift of “I See You.”


    As we cultivate this greater awareness, we can also practice the intention of being non-judgmental toward what we see.  Even though judgments arise in our minds over and over again, the practice of intentionally looking for and seeing our judgments helps to weaken our judgmental habit little by little, over time. 

    We may also begin to observe how our thoughts, feelings, and sensations arise on their own.  Seeing this, we blame ourselves less and are more accepting of our experience and of ourselves.  We learn to let ourselves be as we are, and we offer ourselves the gift of “I accept you”.  For me that is sometimes more of an “I accept a little bit more about myself than I did before” or “I accept this aspect of myself a little bit more in this moment” but it is the gift of acceptance, nonetheless.


    Sometimes when we bring mindfulness to our experience we notice we are in the midst of difficulty.  When we notice that we are suffering in some way, sometimes just being with the experience allows it to soften.  At times the experience or emotion we see is stronger than our ability to just be with it. Times like these are when Self-Compassion practice can be helpful.

    The seeds of self compassion are within each of us.  We regularly do kind things for ourselves and often don’t realize it.  Eating food and sleeping keep us alive.  Brushing our teeth is an act of self-care.  And reading this article or taking a Mindfulness class is motivated by the wish to be happy.  Self-Compassion practice helps us get in touch with the often unseen part of ourselves that genuinely cares about our own well-being, the part of ourselves that wants us to be happy and free from suffering.  It helps us to see and feel our natural capacity for self-care, to hear the part of ourselves that says, “I care about you deeply.”



    Self-Compassion practice also gives us tools with which to meet and support ourselves when we are facing difficult situations or emotions.  Rather than trying to fix ourselves, we learn to be kind and supportive.  And we learn to do this not to get rid of our difficulty, but simply because we are having difficulty.  It’s like how we would tend to a young child with the flu; we are not kind and supportive because we are trying to drive out the flu, we are that way simply because the child doesn’t feel well. 

    By making the space to let ourselves be exactly as we are, and by offering kindness to ourselves when things are difficult, Self-Compassion practice teaches us how to be our own best support, and ultimately our own best friend.  And just like my nephew and his friend in the car that day, our friendship with ourselves helps us to see, accept, and care about ourselves just as we would a dear friend which benefits not only ourselves but those around us as well. 





  • Awe

    1 Jun 2019 9:27 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    Dear Friends,

    I'm at the closing retreat of our nine-month Mindfulness Teacher Training Program (MTTP).  This cohort-based intensive program is such a joy for me to facilitate. The students have worked hard and are very close to each other. We've all learned so much about mindfulness. More importantly: they've all gone through various levels of personal transformation as we've investigated deeply what mindfulness is and how one might share it with others with integrity.

    One of the assignments for this final retreat was to design and deliver a one-hour presentation on some aspect of mindfulness that includes presenting some information, an experiential practice, and an interactive unpacking of that experience using the rich style of dialog we call inquiry.

    One of the students picked the fascinating topic of "awe." Awe is something we don't think about or talk about much. She suggested to us that awe is, well, awesome. She also proposed that having experiences in which we feel inspired (awed) is wonderful, and that dropping into one of those timeless moments of deep connection with a beautiful world much bigger than our busy selves is really important, too.  She also suggested that we can even encourage those moments to arise!

    The student cited some interesting research in which one group of participants gazed up at the canopy of a grove of trees and another gazed up at tall buildings. Guess which group was then measured to be kinder and more generous? You guessed it: the tree gazers. Presumably because an encounter with awe tends to lead to a more positive way of looking at the world. (See our Practice Lab below for a summary of The Science of Awe.)

    Then our teacher training student took us out on a walk. It helped that we were in a beautiful spot: a retreat center on Vashon Island right on the water. But she suggested, and I believe it, that an encounter with awe is also possible anywhere.

    We walked slowly down to the beach. Pausing often. Opening the senses. Feeling our feet on the ground. It helped that we were silent with each other and had done some meditation earlier.

    I was impressed by the softness of the new growth on the Douglas Fir trees. Another participant pointed out a deer walking by. The brighter greens of the new growth on the salal impressed me on the way down the path. Spring is amazing and I was grateful for the support to tune into its brighter greens and softer shapes.

    Then we got to the beach. The tide was halfway in on the rocky shore. It was a warm and sunny day. I sat down right on the edge of the water. And I reached my hands out and draped them into the shallow water and closed my eyes to tune in to the sense of touch. It's hard to describe the feeling but it met the definition of awe:

    An experience that feels vast and transcends our usual understanding of the world.

    The water and I just felt connected. Fluid. Vast for sure. Time felt very slow and rich. I felt so present just sitting there. I reveled in that for several minutes. Breathing. Feeling the sun on my face. The warmish sea water flowing over my hands. The lumpiness of the sun-warmed rocks under me.

    And then - surprise! - something nibbled my fingers. I jumped up a bit in astonishment to find that a hermit crab had just scrambled over my hand and given me a little experimental nibble!

    And then I tuned back in to look: not just one hermit crab, but two, then a group of four, then further to my right six more. This wasn't just a beautiful scene of rocks and shells and sea water and algae, but a home. A community of crabs live here. I was the visitor. Part of their world for the moment, but it was their world not mine. I stared, fascinated, as I saw more and more hermit crabs and watched them go about their morning.

    Would I have even noticed the presence of these little life forms in the water if I'd been with a friend talking? Would I have noticed even if I'd been alone but lost in thought? I think in either case I would have appreciated the beauty and serenity of the beach but I don't think I would have had the taste of awe I had when I first merged with the sea water, and then, to my surprise, discovered my accidental visit to the community of crabs.

    It's surprisingly difficult to downshift enough to truly tune into the awe-inspiring sight and sounds and smells and touches and tastes that are all around us, isn't it? And yet how rewarding that is! And according to the emerging field of study on the experience of awe: how important and healthy it is for us.

    May you go out and feel awe today.

    Tim


  • 1 Jun 2019 9:00 AM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    THE SCIENCE OF AWE
    by Summer Allen, Ph.D.

    If you’ve hiked among giant sequoias, stood in front of the Taj Mahal, or observed a particularly virtuosic musical performance, you may have experienced the mysterious and complex emotion known as “awe.”

    Awe experiences are self-transcendent. They shift our attention away from ourselves, make us feel like we are part of something greater than ourselves, and make us more generous toward others.

    But what is awe? What types of experiences are most likely to elicit feelings of awe? Are some people more prone to experiencing awe? And what are the effects of awe?

    While philosophers and religious scholars have explored awe for centuries, it was largely ignored by psychologists until the early 2000s. Since then, there has been growing interest in exploring awe empirically. This has led to a number of fascinating discoveries about the nature of awe, while also raising many questions still to be explored.


    In September 2018, the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, published a white paper written by Summer Allen, Ph.D., about the science of awe as it's so far been explored. To read more from this white paper, click here: 

    https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/GGSC-JTF_White_Paper-Awe_FINAL.pdf


  • 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?


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