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

    by Oori Silberstein

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

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

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

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

    Link to Practices.

    Feel free to reach out with any questions about practice.

  • 4 Jan 2019 9:31 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Naomi Shihab Nye

    Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
    my flight had been delayed for four hours, I heard an announcement:
    “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
    come to the gate immediately.”

    Well--one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there. An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. “Help," said the flight service person. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

    I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke to her haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.”

    We called her son and I spoke with him in English. I told him I would
    stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to
    her--Southwest. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up about two hours.

    She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies--little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts--out of her bag--and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo--we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

    And then the airline broke out free beverages from huge coolers and two little girls from our flight ran around serving us all apple juice and they were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend-- by now we were holding hands--had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

    And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate--once the crying of confusion stopped--seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.

    This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

  • 4 Jan 2019 9:30 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    By Tim Burnett

    Dear Friends,

    I'm happy to write this New Year's morning to wish you well and thank you for your interest in mindfulness. I deeply believe that this oddly simple and deeply profound practice and sensibility around how we meet our moments is critical. I deeply believe that taking up this practice of mindfulness to whatever level we each can is helping our society and our world. And I have a lot of faith that with our shared efforts this benefit will continue. It matters.

    Why our mindfulness matters

    Gandhi famously wrote:

    Your beliefs become your thoughts,
    Your thoughts become your words.
    Your words become your actions,
    Your actions become your habits,
    Your habits become your values,
    Your values become your destiny.

    What a wonderful reminder that unlike the assumption that thoughts are just a private thing and that form and matter are completely separate, the way we think and what we believe critically matter. The mind creates the world in deep and important ways. The world isn't all "out there" and beyond our influence: we are co-creating it with everyone else all the time starting with the way we think about it, the way we look at it, the way we talk about it.

    And it all starts with a meeting between mind and moment. Mind and moment. That meeting is profoundly important. Our practice helps us to show up for that meeting with awareness, with curiosity, with perhaps a little more kindness.

    It's easy to look at that "out there" world and be very discouraged. There were many problems in 2018 and the daily news is as much of a horror show as it's been in a very long time. This is true. And it's challenging.

    See the good, too

    And yet there are also billions of kind, caring people doing their best - doing our best - to make this world a better place. I strongly encourage you to review this article on overall trends in the environment, education, health care, and economic justice. You might be surprised that there's a lot of good news out there: Ways the World Improved in 2018

    I had the honor of presiding over a turning-of-the-year ceremony last night at our Zen Center here in Bellingham and as we practiced meditation before we began the ceremony I was thinking about time and our place in it. So many have come before us and so many are yet to come. We hold the space for a brief moment. May we all be even better stewards of these years we're here as we honor those who came before and prepare for those yet to come.

    And see below for a wonderful example from the poet Naomi Shihab Nye of how it can be. All is not lost.

    Happy New Year,

  • 18 Dec 2018 9:28 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    This being human is like a guest house,
    Every morning a new arrival.   

    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    some momentary awareness comes
    as an unexpected visitor.

    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
    who violently sweep your house
    empty of its furniture,
    still, treat each guest honorably.
    He may be clearing you out  for some new delight.

    The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
    meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

    Be grateful for whatever comes.
    because each has been sent
    as a guide from beyond

  • 18 Dec 2018 9:28 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Michael Kelberer

    For many, the experience of the holiday season can be an intense mixture of the pleasant and unpleasant. Competing for our attention are the near constant jingle jangle of consumerism and the joy of gift-giving, the warmth and the complexity of family connection, the demands and the blessings of spiritual practices – it can be easy to feel disconnected and adrift. The practices of mindfulness and gratitude can reconnect us to what’s firm and real and enduring. They can bring us home.

    With Mindfulness

    With mindfulness, we can ground ourselves in our home in the moment. This moment. The only place where things are in fact real. And our present home is available anytime: two feet on the ground and a slow breath will bring us there. This is not to “escape from” the swirl of activity and emotions, but rather to not get carried too far away by them.

    With mindfulness, we can avoid making the unpleasant things worse. We remember that while the noise and the demands are real, we can choose to not add additional suffering with stories about them. In the wisdom of our own home, we can choose not to throw the second (and third) dart.

    With mindfulness, we can choose where to place our attention, we can return home to what nourishes us. Our breath. The friends and family members who support and love us. The things we are grateful for.

    With gratitude

    Gratitude helps us remember what's truly important to us and it turns out one of the most important things to humans is to connect. To connect with our best selves and to connect with others. Research has shown it helps with our mental health in ways similar to mindfulness but also helps us to relate to others with empathy, overcome our own past challenges and traumas, engage in self care more consistently, and even sleep better. An apt set of benefits for the holiday season!

    Here are two ways to practice gratitude. One is creating a gratitude list and then referring to it whenever you need a nourishment break from the overwhelm. A second involves cultivating an attitude of gratitude. A willingness to meet and greet whatever shows up in our lives knowing, as Rumi puts it, that “each has been sent as a gift from beyond.” (See Mindful Poetry, below)

    Gratitude advocate Br. David Steindl-Rast suggests that we can cultivate a deep attitude of gratefulness for everything in our lives. We've posted our favorite teaching of Br. David's put to music and images by the film maker Louie Schwartzberg HERE and Br. David's Gratefulness.org website is a cornucopia of resources. 

    The Greater Good Science Foundation has a wonderful section on gratitude science and practice, which they call a "key to well-being" and don't miss their wonderful lab of practices "Greater Good in Action"

    Have a mindful, grateful holiday season everyone!  

  • 17 Dec 2018 12:15 PM | Catherine Duffy (Administrator)

    KUOW invited our Executive Director, Tim Burnett, to the studio to talk about the benefits of mindfulness.  Bill Gates' recent book picks endorsed meditation and Bill Radke, host of The Record, wanted to know why people want to practice mindfulness.  Hear what Tim had to say here.

  • 3 Dec 2018 11:14 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Catherine Duffy

    I’m paying more attention to my upper eyelid these days. 

    Last month I’d noticed what looked like a small blemish beginning to form between a couple of eyelashes on my left upper lid. Preparing to leave for a week-long Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) teacher training, I made a mental note of how I would care for my lid while away and figured the little nodule would work its way out by the time I returned home.

    Two weeks later and two doctor visits behind me, my left upper lid looked more like a mini-version of an overstuffed rice and bean burrito than its typical smoother version. 

    "my left upper lid looked ... like a mini-version of an overstuffed rice and bean burrito"

    A ‘chalazion’ or stye was the diagnosis: a clogged follicle or two that I likely got as a result of “bad luck,” my eye doctor said.  And to top it off, what I thought might end with a prescription for eyedrops to make this all better in a couple of days turned out to be a directive for warm compresses four-times a day, for a month.

    “A month?” I questioned.  “I have to go a whole month with this thing on my face?”

    Oh no, I thought, not this type of public scrutiny of my eyes again.

    Ten years ago, I experienced mega-doses of painful self-consciousness when my eyes were ravaged by the effect of the auto-immune deficiency called Graves disease.  This condition can cause a person’s eyes to protrude unnaturally. Once diagnosed, any corrective surgeries can’t be scheduled until the disease ‘burns out,’ so to speak, and stops pushing the eyeballs forward.

    For me, the burn-out took five years of waiting through plenty of challenging social moments.  You know the feeling: that sense of ‘otherness’ when you walk into a room and your difference feels so obvious. 

    I often wasn’t sure if I should say something about my eyes, explain my predicament, or just try to ignore the obvious confusion on the faces of people with whom I interacted and who didn’t know my story.  I remember one instance when I was looking for an item at a store and saw an old friend from a distance who I hadn’t talked to for years.  Feeling deeply self-conscious about my eyes, I turned and left the aisle rather than put myself into another painful social encounter. 

    Thanks to my MSC training, I have new tools and capacity to help me navigate these types of situations. Not that I am perfect at employing the three self-compassion components of mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness. But I am learning that embracing my human life as imperfect, and accepting my small and large challenges as a normal part of the human experience, is much healthier than resisting the fear, shame, or other painful emotions and memories they bring to my awareness.

    Choosing to practice openness to and allowing of my eyelid’s tenderness is a very compassionate gesture to offer myself.  Being open to whatever is here in this present moment without judgment is practicing mindfulness. Then, if I start to feel that ‘otherness’ notion creeping in during social situations, I remind myself of our common humanity:  That all of us struggle with life on many levels, every day.  And when someone asks about or winces at my puffy red eyelid, I practice being my own best friend and offer myself words of kindness that I would especially like to hear in that moment. 

    Is it easy for me to allow and be with whatever arises each day? Not always, but I’m getting better at it as I continue to practice MSC.  As much as I would like life to go well rather than have pieces feel like they’re falling apart, I find that my life’s struggles – big and small – actually create connection to others. We’re really all in this together.

    I’m still paying attention to my eyelid these days.

    The chalazion was removed last week and is healing nicely: my burrito has softened into a gently-rounded quesadilla for now and should be back to normal in a couple of months. Sure, I feel self-conscious some of the time but so does everybody, if we’re being honest.  And if I can allow myself to experience life’s sensitivities with openness and kindness rather than judgment and resistance, I’m practicing and getting better at embracing my humanness and the beauty of mindful self-compassion.

  • 2 Dec 2018 11:13 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    By Michael Kelberer

    The self-compassion break was created by Kristen Neff, author of Self-Compassion, as a way of bringing self-compassion into our lives just when we need it. It’s a short practice, and can be done almost anywhere, anytime you’re in physical, emotional or mental pain.

    Neff believes there are three essential components of self-compassion: mindfulness, common humanity, and kindness. The self-compassion break allows us to focus these three elements on the source of our immediate suffering or pain.

    Here’s the practice:

    1.  Mindfulness: “This is a moment of suffering.”

    First, we face into our suffering, this specific instance of suffering, and acknowledge it and name it. We might use phrases like “This is really hard right now.” “I’m really struggling.”

    2.  Common Humanity: “Suffering is a part of life.”

    In this step, we broaden our awareness to appreciate that we are not alone in our suffering, that the suffering we are experiencing is a part of being human. We might say to ourselves phrases like: “It’s not abnormal to feel this way.” “Many other people are going through a similar situation.” As Neff says, “The degree of suffering may be different, the flavor of suffering may be different,” but suffering is a fact of life for all humans.

    3.  Kindness: “May I be kind to myself in this moment.”

    For this part, it can help to put a hand on your heart or abdomen as a tangible reminder that you are bringing the same kindness toward yourself that you would offer a good friend who was suffering. You might speak to yourself with phrases like: “I’m here for you.” “It’s going to be okay.” “I care about you.” Choose any phrase that expresses your wish for your own wellbeing and happiness.

    You can find a recording of Kristen Neff leading an exercise in the self-compassion break on our website (Practice/MSC – Self-Compassion scroll down).

  • 15 Nov 2018 8:40 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    One Morning

    by Rosemerry Trommer

    One morning
    we will wake up
    and forget to build
    that wall we’ve been building,

    the one between us
    the one we’ve been building
    for years, perhaps
    out of some sense
    of right and boundary,
    perhaps out of habit.

    One morning
    we will wake up
    and let our empty hands
    hang empty at our sides.

    Perhaps they will rise,
    as empty things
    sometimes do
    when blown
    by the wind.

    Perhaps they simply
    will not remember
    how to grasp, how to rage.

    We will wake up
    that morning
    and we will have
    misplaced all our theories
    about why and how
    and who did what
    to whom, we will have mislaid
    all our timelines
    of when and plans of what
    and we will not scramble
    to write the plans and theories anew.

    On that morning,
    not much else
    will have changed.

    Whatever is blooming
    will still be in bloom.

    Whatever is wilting
    will wilt. There will be fields
    to plow and trains
    to load and children
    to feed and work to do.

    And in every moment,
    in every action, we will
    feel the urge to say thank you,
    we will follow the urge to bow.

    More Mindful Poetry: https://mindfulnessnorthwest.com/poetry/

  • 15 Nov 2018 8:38 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Beth Glosten

    Two mindfulness tools helped me navigate a recent loss. First, the Buddhist teaching story of the “two darts.” That is, life contains unavoidable pain, difficulties and challenges. These are the “first darts” of life.

    However, we can add to our pain by allowing the mind to magnify, expand on, and add to our suffering by firing “second darts” of regret, doubt, and second-guessing.

    Another tool is assigning a “feeling tone” to a situation: labeling a situation “pleasant,” “unpleasant,” or “neutral,” can give space between the event and how we respond. I frequently use this technique in traffic. I note that the traffic is “unpleasant,” and suddenly it is less personal. It is just the way it is.

    I am an avid horseback rider -- no less than a certified dressage geek. I take my sport seriously, and have worked and trained at it for a large portion of my life. However, a few months ago, I found myself without an equine partner for the first time in over 30 years. My emotional response to this life change took me by surprise.

    I found myself really sad every now and then during the weeks after my horse moved away. I wondered what was going on, and initially didn’t consider my horse loss as the reason. Then I realized I was grieving the loss of this source of passion and joy. The first dart.

    Oh my, was I good at bringing on additional darts: “You shouldn’t be feeling low for no longer having a horse, you should be grateful that you were able to have a horse in the first place.” I quietly removed that second dart, bandaging the site with “I am grateful for the years I’ve had the opportunity to ride and train, and I am sad to no longer have the equine connection I so love.”

    The darts kept coming: “How can you complain about your life, look at all the riches you enjoy.” This dart was also removed, and my compassionate voice countered with: “I do have a wonderful life with many privileges. I am a very fortunate person. Nonetheless, I am sad to not enjoy the physical, emotional, mental challenges of dressage training.”

    “Riding is self-indulgent – think of the other things you could do with your time to help others.” “Yes, any sport is almost by definition, self-indulgent – there is nothing wrong with doing what I enjoy.”

    “You are tough – you made the right decision to not keep your horse – get over it.” Answer: “Yes, I am tough. But I am also human, emotional, and deeply connected to the horses and animals I have loved in my life. I am grieving my loss.”

    One weekend found me pretty low. Feeling tones were helpful. “I feel yucky. This is unpleasant.” Labeling my experience made it real and therefore manageable. But, another dart then flew: “You should go to dance class, you know you’ll feel better after getting vigorous exercise.” Reply: “That is probably true. But I just don’t think I can rally the energy to get in the car. Please, just let me be, let me experience this low. I know it won’t last forever.”

    I know that in other times in my life, I might try to sooth my pain with potato chips and red wine (and such soothing would be, at best, short lived!). Not this time. I took care of myself. I lowered expectations for productivity, ate good food, and rested. This self-care came naturally – it just seemed the right thing to do. I didn’t have to plan it, it just happened. My innate mindful care-giver took over. 

    My funk didn’t last forever, of course. Ten days later I was back to my energetic and enthusiastic self, looking forward to upcoming projects. But I learned from the experience. My strong reaction to losing my equine partner told me how passionate I am about the sport. As such, I’m considering ways to bring it back into my life. Awareness and extrication of my additional “darts” gave me space to experience the loss without making it worse. Feeling tones housed my reactions in understanding. Acknowledging my sadness made it just that. Another experience, however unpleasant.

    "Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.”

    – Deepok Chopra

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