I’m participating in Mindful in May, a transformative one month online mindfulness program which brings together the world’s best meditation teachers, wellbeing experts and neuroscientists to teach you the tools to transform your mind towards greater well
My initial post provided a brief background as to where my interest in ‘Mindfulness’ came from and also advised that I was planning to publish a wrap up post after each week of the program to share my learnings/little gold nugget takeaways. So far I’ve posted my wrap ups for Mindful in May – Week 1, Mindful in May – Week 2, and Mindful in May – Week 3.
This is the last of the long MiM posts. There is Week 5 to come but it will cover only 3 days. Week 4 has been a really informative and interesting week. Though I did struggle with concentrating and absorbing information with a couple of the interviews, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the others and loved all the meditations. This is a long post so buckle in and off we go now to take a look at Week 4!
ONE: An interview with Dan Siegel – ‘Mindfulness to support greater resilience’
Dan Siegel is a New York Times bestselling author, award winning educator and associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. He is also the Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, an educational organisation that focuses on how the development of insight, compassion and empathy in individuals, families and communities can be enhanced by examining the interface of human relationships and basic biological processes. His latest book is The Yes Brain.
My wrap up of the interview:
- Dan’s latest book is called ‘The Yes Brain’ – how to cultivate courage, curiosity and resilience in your child. The contents of this book can also be applicable to all of us as humans.
- Else asked Dan to explain what the YES brain means and what the contrasting NO brain might mean. They did an exercise whereby Dan said NO repeatedly to Elise. After a short break, he then said YES repeatedly to Elise. When asked how each of those words affected her, Elise that the word No said to her almost felt like a punch in the chest, whereby the word Yes made her feel cared for. Dan explained that the word NO creates a reactive/threat state, whereas the word YES creates a receptive/opening state (where optimal learning and connectivity takes place).
- Dan gave an example of a child asking for a cookie before dinner and how to respond to that in a YES brain state, even if the child is throwing a tantrum. The example is too long to type here but in a nutshell – rather than just saying NO – we need to see the mind of the child beneath the emotions and behaviour and connect with that.
- “I’m not afraid of storms for I’m learning to sail my ship” by Louise May Alcott
- PART: P – present A – attuned to child/other & self R – Resinance (resonating with child/others feelings but not becoming the emotion yourself) T – Trust (develop trust between the two)
- The Wheel of Awareness – the wheel is a simple metaphor for there being a hub and a rim. The HUB is the experience of being aware. The RIM is that which you are aware of.
- Zones – RED, GREEN, & BLUE and how they relate to resilience. Think of a river. The central state of the river flow is the green state.
- GREEN STATE (green for go) – the YES Brain State. Where you’re integrating (differentiating & linking) – how you optimise self organisation of a complex system. This integrated flow is Flexible, Adaptive, has resilience called Coherence, it’s Energised and it’s Stable, and that spells the word FACES. So it flows in a harmonious way.
- RED ZONE – Chaos
- BLUE ZONE – Rigidity
- A repeated STATE becomes a TRAIT
- Where attention goes, neuro firing flows and neuro connection grows
- Reactivity blocks resilience and receptivity promotes it. Reactivity will shut down your experience to be open and engaged and you’ll become reactive. Neither will show signs of resilience (coming back to balance – green zone). So, receptivity in contrast, allows us to be curious about what’s happening for the other person (social engagement).
- Attention | Intention | Awareness = The Mind: the mental experience of a person.
- The three Pillars of Mindfulness training are: 1) Focussed Attention 2) Open Awareness, and 3) Loving Kindness. Those three pillars are exactly what we need to be doing to get our YES state brains into the world. That’s how receptivity cultivates resilience.
TWO: The Happiness Meditation with our host Elise – [13 mins, 31 secs]
This meditation practice is said to provide us with an opportunity to reflect on our life and create a vision for our deepest happiness. Elise said she likes to do this meditation regularly throughout the year, as a way of staying anchored to the things that are most important to her. She says that even if you already have a vision for your own flourishing, this practice offers you a way of reflecting on and re-imagining what will truly make you happy. If, while practising this meditation, your vision seems unclear or nothing comes to mind, just allow that to be as it is. Sometimes the mind needs more time and space to ponder these important questions. Be patient and try the practice for a few days in a row.
I did this meditation when I went to bed so have to admit I was too sleepy and aside from remembering it to feel good, I can’t remember the details. I will have to do this one again! I’ve learnt that I really need to fit meditations in earlier in the day but some days get the better of me!
Elise shared this quote by Nelson Mandela:
Action without vision is only passing time, vision without action is merely day dreaming, but vision with action can change the world.
Mindfulness in Motion
We were asked to try bringing mindfulness to walking today. It’s a simple practice of bringing your attention to the body as you walk, noticing the sensations of your feet touching the ground from one step to the next and unhooking from thoughts as they pull you into the future or the past. It’s a practice that takes time to get used to, but it’s a great way to bring mindfulness to motion as you move through the day.
I actually did this today as my sister and I (and my dog Ava) went for a lovely long walk in the afternoon.
Today I listened to yesterday’s interview, as I didn’t have time to yesterday. Therefore I didn’t have time for the activity today which was ‘letter writing’. I will record the instructions here though, and do it on a day when I do have time.
ONE: A guest meditation with Timothea Goddard – ‘Opening your heart meditation’ – [20 mins, 28 secs]
More information on Timothea Goddard can be found at Day 12 in my Mindful in May – Week 2 post.
For this meditation Timothea said the opening the heart is a practice akin to gardening. Consciously and deliberately exploring the possibility of cultivating positive qualities towards ourselves and others. We imagine that we’re in a field planting seeds of intention, to cultivate patience, kindness and friendliness to self and others.
ONE: An interview with Shauna Shapiro – ‘Mindfulness for greater courage, creativity and improved communication’
More information on Shauna Shapiro can be found at Day 2 in my Mindful in May – Week 1 post.
I watched/listened to this interview on Day 25, as I didn’t have time on Day 24.
My wrap up of the interview:
- The idea that MINDFULNESS is just about attention or being in the present moment is limited. She defines Mindfulness as having three elements:
- Attention – learning how to anchor our awareness
- Intention – why we pay attention
- Attitude – how we pay attention
- Mindfulness is intentionally paying attention with a kind, open, curious, friendly attitude.
- We’ve got to pay attention with kindness and compassion. If we don’t, then sometimes the things we don’t want to see are just too painful, but when we bring this compassionate attitude, it gives us the courage to look at everything.
- COMPASSION is such an important piece of mindfulness. Mindfulness and Compassion are two sides of the same coin. Mindfulness without Compassion isn’t Mindfulness – it’s just cold, hard attention. Compassion needs the clarity and precision of Mindfulness to really see clearly, otherwise Compassion can get too mushy and blurry.
- We cultivate our attention but we also need to be mindful of cultivating our attitude.
- What we practice grows stronger. Our repeated experiences shape our brain (Neuroplasticity).
- One of the biggest myths or misconceptions about Mindfulness/Meditation practice is “I don’t have time”. You don’t have to do it for that long. Even 5 minutes a day significantly impacts people’s health. Everyone has 5 minutes in their day.
- CREATIVITY. Recent studies have found that meditation significantly increases our ability to problem solve, to think outside the box, to be creative and this is very important for the world.
- TECHNOLOGY. We need to consciously create space for the practice because social media & our switched on society of today take up so much space. Shauna says that “she feels that our cell phones are going to be the nicotine of our time”. There will be a physiological impact but also socially and culturally there is also an unknown impact. People don’t daydream and be creative. They don’t feel anymore because the moment they have space, they pick up their phone. We need to protect ourselves from technology. It’s not that technology is bad. She’s is pro technology, however “technology makes a really useful servant but a really terrible master”.
- ACCEPTANCE is not passive resignation. It means we accept things as they are because they already are this way. It doesn’t mean we won’t try and change them in the next moment, but first we have to accept and acknowledge what is. Acceptance is not resisting what is, not because you like it, but because it’s already here.
- Shinzen Young says “Suffering = Pain x Resistance”. Pain is part of life. Suffering is optional. We suffer in direct relationship to how much we resist what is happening.
- NON JUDGEMENTAL. It’s not that we don’t see clearly and have discernment, but we don’t judge things as bad or good.
- MINDFUL DISCIPLINE. Relative to a recent book written by Shauna and Dr Chris White – ‘Mindful Discipline: a loving approach to setting limits and raising an emotionally intelligent child’. Discipline (despite some negative connotations towards the word – eg spanking etc) actually means to educate. Our role as parents is to educate and support. Dr White, the Pediatrician that she wrote the book with, really helped her to understand the idea of ‘loving hierarchies’ – loving discipline where there is a hierarchy – eg I am the parent and I am in the wisdom position, but I respect you and I love you. As children get older there are different ways to meet them. Shauna advised that with her son, aged 12, she currently works on ways to give him autonomy, so that she’s not always the one dictating. She will create the boundaries but for example, once a week he cooks the dinner (he loves cooking) and he dictates all that she does (as sous chef). There’s a balance where we need to find baselines – where we need rules and boundaries and then look for where we can flex and allow our children to have autonomy.
- MINDFULNESS HELPS US TO NOT SUPERIMPOSE A STORY. Mindfulness helps us unwind from that automatic habit of creating stories. An example might be a child having a tantrum in the store. Rather than create a story in our head, something like this: I’m a bad mum. Everyone is look at me, etc etc. Come back into the body. Feel your feet on the floor. Feel the heat in your face. Feel the pain in your heart. Discipline yourself by not telling a story.
- Practically managing a recurring story or thoughts when trying to meditate by:
- Going back to the body and breath
- If it keeps on happening – Notice it’s creating pain. Put your hand on your heart and have compassion for yourself. Move into compassion practice.
- Transformation is always possible. We can always change. We can always begin again. It’s never too late.
TWO: A Loving Kindness Meditation with Shauna Shapiro – [13 mins, 8 secs]
I really enjoy Shauna’s meditations. Her voice is very comforting and calming. It’s very hard to explain this meditation except to say that it’s one of those ones done with a hand over your heart and it’s a lovely calming, kind and feel good meditation that was very enjoyable.
ONE: A guest mediation with Lauren Tober – ‘Amplifying your Gratitude’ – [14 mins, 6 secs]
More information on Lauren Tober can be found in Day 2 of my Mindful in May – Week 2 post.
This meditation lives up to the description of ‘Amplifying your Gratitude’. Lauren has a lovely calm and relaxing voice when she asks you to ask yourself “in this moment, what am I grateful for?”. You think of what you’re grateful for on the in breath and on the out breath you imagine pushing the gratitude from your head right throughout your whole body. This is repeated several times with each new ‘moment’ providing an opportunity for something different to be grateful for and if nothing comes to mind, that is ok too. When you breath the gratitude down into your body, you’re asked to feel it in every cell of your being. Inhaling, exhaling, and embodying gratitude.
ONE: An interview with Joan Halifax – ‘Mindfulness for greater compassion and social action’
Roshi Joan Halifax, Ph.D., is a Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist, and pioneer in the field of end-of-life care. She is Founder, Abbot, and Head Teacher of Upaya Institute and Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She received her Ph.D. in medical anthropology in 1973 and has lectured on the subject of death and dying at many academic institutions and medical centers around the world. She received a National Science Foundation Fellowship in Visual Anthropology, was an Honorary Research Fellow in Medical Ethnobotany at Harvard University, and was a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Library of Congress. Her forthcoming book, Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet, was released on May 1, 2018.
I’m not sure why but of all the interviews so far, I found this one the least engaging for me and the hardest to take notes from and summarise, but here’s my attempt at a wrap up:
- MEDITATION – it’s a word she doesn’t often use, because it includes many different kinds of practices. Some are towards cultivating love or wisdom or clarity or compassion, or transforming pain, healing from trauma, etc. So when we say ‘meditation’ we have to narrow things down a bit. Joan is mostly interested in how these practices familiarise us with the content and dynamic of our own mental experience, and how that transformation of that mental experience can enhance our relationship with the world.
- MEDITATION and MINDFULNESS are both words she doesn’t use very often, preferring to talk about ‘mental training’ – how we train the mind, just as we do the body.
- COMPASSION – is the capacity to perceive suffering, to feel concern about suffering, and the aspiration to transform suffering, and hopefully the action to do that. The G.R.A.C.E. model can help you cultivate more compassion:
- Gathering attention: focus, grounding, balance
- Recalling intention: the resource of motivation
- Attuning to self/others: affective resonance
- Considering: what will serve
- Engaging: ethical enactment, then ending.
- The ABIDE model (explained in her new book) is the basis for the GRACE process (above). It’s a map of capacities that we can intentionally develop in the process of meditation that primes compassion and grace. It’s a process that allows us to be interactive with someone and to actually cultivate compassion in the process of interacting.
- Attention – attentional balance / affective balance
- Discernment process
- Her book ‘Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom where Fear and Courage Meet’ allows us understand that standing on the edge allows us to see the landscape of peril but also to be supported by the landscape of virtue. She explains that most of us feel like we should be super good virtuous people and when we fail, or fall over the edge (so to speak), we feel that somehow we’ve lost our mojo and our virtue, that we’ve failed, that we’ve contributed to catastrophe, that our sense of self-respect becomes endangered, etc. But as Joan says – there’s almost nobody she knows who hasn’t fallen over the edge. She’s learnt that our failures are the very stuff that character is made out of and how we pull ourselves out of the swamp. How we move back to the high edge of our humanity is what is about moral character and developing strength.
- EDGE STATES (from her latest books)
- Altruism, and the shadow of altruism is pathological altruism. Pathological altruism is that experience of harming ourselves mentally or physically or harming others or harming the institutions that we’re serving in or serving by actions that we have intended to be of service.
- Empathy – is that capacity to include the experience of others into our subjectivity. This can happen 1) Symatically (physical level) 2) Affective or Emotional Empathy, or 3) Cognitive Empathy.
- Integrity – the shadow of integrity being moral suffering, which includes:
- Moral Distress, where our integrity has been violated & we see there is a path to correct what’s going on but we don’t have a way to actually take care of transform the experience of distress that another is going through.
- Moral Injury, when we witness grievous harm & we feel that our moral principles have been transgressed. We can also experience …
- Moral Outrage, a mixture of anger and disgust. We see there is a violation of integrity, of moral & ethical principles, of justice. We express shame and blame towards others.
- Moral Apathy, refers to the kind of bubble we might find ourselves in, eg racism, that is implicit in the social conditions, or that moral apathy is that we actually choose to step away from moral suffering & grevious harm and either abandon or deny the presence of it.
- Respect – for others, ourselves, principles. The shadow being disrespect.
- Burnout / Engagement
- RESILIENCE, and its relationship with Compassion. One of the most extraordinary things about Compassion is that it has no downside. If we have intentional balance, we’re resilient. If we have affective balance, we’re naturally resilient. If our intention is congruent with integrity, we’re resilient. If we have insight, we’re resilient, and if we’re embodied and present for others and wanting to transform suffering, we’re fundamentally resilient. So compassion is really at the heart of resilience.
- COMPASSION. When asked “Why does compassion for others matter when people are so busy and struggling to cope and manage compassion within their own lives”, Joan responded as follows:
- In Darwin’s Origin of Species – towards the end of his life, he spoke about the experience of sympathy, which in these times was really meant as ‘compassion’. Instead of the survival of the fittest (with the fittest being the richest, or the physically strongest, or the best looking, or the one with the biggest house or the most cars), what actually points to survival is survival of the kindest. Darwin wrote about this towards the end of his life. He saw that the survival of the species was really predicated on kindness, not just on fitness.
- There’s some fascinating research been done in the world of neuroscience and social psychology around immune enhancement and longevity that shows indications that people who are compassionate live longer!
TWO: A meditation to prepare for sleep by Richard Chambers – [9 mins, 59 secs)
More information on Richard Chambers can be found at Day 5 in my Mindful in May – Week 1 post.
This meditation is about relaxing the body, noticing what’s going on in the mind, and releasing stress and tension before going to bed. It’s about focussing on the breath, noticing where tension is in the body and breathing out the tension on the out breath.
ADDITIONAL TIP FOR THE DAY
A few tips for getting a better night’s sleep
Try to reduce your exposure to blue light at least an hour before bed (mobile phone, computer and tablet screens). If your work requires you to be near screens at night, you can try out blue-light blocker glasses.
If you are prone to thinking and planning while trying to go to sleep, take five minutes to ‘brain-dump’ in the evening. Write down all of the things that are on your mind and the things you need to do the next day. This won’t get rid of all your to-dos, as the mind is a brilliant thought generator, but at least it will give you a finite time and space to create some lists for yourself and get your thoughts out of your head and down on paper.
ONE: An interview with Stephen Porges – ‘The science of the stress and toolkit to harness more calm and emotional balance‘
Stephen W. Porges is a leading neuroscientist, “Distinguished University Scientist” at the Kinsey Institute and professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina. Prior to moving to North Carolina, Professor Porges directed the Brain-Body Center in the department of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a recipient of a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Development award and was awarded a patent on a methodology to describe neural regulation of the heart.
This was a difficult interview for me to listen to. It was quite scientific and not a conversation I found easy to take in. My concentration waned and drifted and it was a long 49 minutes and 43 seconds. Of course, all research into our mental and physical wellbeing is fascinating and interesting, but some conversations are more in ‘layman’s’ terms and easy to absorb and understand, and others are conversations between those ‘in the science/medical realm’ and are more difficult for us who are not to comprehend quite so easily. So, I tuned out for a large portion of this interview because it was just too much for my brain but I still took a heap of notes which are quite detailed and convoluted so I won’t share it all, but rather only pick the best, most interesting, and easy to read and understand bits to share below.
My wrap up of the interview:
- When it comes to physiology and emotional state, training in medicine has always been that the two are separate. There’s now a shift to an understanding that we’re a holistic organism and the two work in together.
- People suffering from gut problems, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel, etc – all these things occurring through a part of the autonomic nervous system which becomes manifested when people go into life/threat reactions. A lot of the disorders people go to see physicians for, they’re plausible mechanisms about how the brain has processed information and changed the body’s state in order to survive that moment.
- Medicine – we think that doctors heal, surgeons heal, drugs heal – it’s an input/output relationship. The real issue is – the body heals and we have to have that sense of empowerment because the body is a dynamically adjusting system and we can’t duplicate that by giving it parts.
- POLYVAGEL THEORY – (his most recent book is on this topic) is about the fact that our nervous system evolved over various stages. We’re vertebrates, we’re mammals, and the evolutionary history as its manifested in organisms is called phylogeny so basically, as vertebrates evolve, they evolve different types of autonomic nervous systems. The interesting part is, as we matured (as we became mammals, then primates, then humans), we retain components of all the older ones. So Polyvagel Theory really is all embedded in understanding this hierarchy and the hierarchy goes in reverse evolution.
- The name Polyvagel Theory comes from Poly – meaning more than one, and Vagus – being the primary parasympathetic nerve in the autonomic nervous system which has two perches. So the name comes from more than one Vagus and the theory was to emphasize evolution.
- Our nervous system is attuned to melodic voices and melodic voices can change our physiological state.
- Trauma is not the event. It is the response. We as a culture and society tend to be so focussed on intrusive events which we call traumatic events and we start talking about them from both a legal and retribution model and that’s irrelevant to the survivor. The survivor’s had an experience and we’re not evaluating the intention of the perpetrator, we’re talking about the individual’s response. The survivor is entitled to be witnessed (to be heard) and that’s part of the problem in trauma world – survivors are not appropriately witnessed. They get information on legal aspects and whether or not they’re injured but they’re not being witnessed from their own physiological, feeling state. So, trauma is everything about feelings and response.
- As we learn more about how our nervous system responds to challenges in general, we can develop a toolkit to protect us, to become more resilient and under certain situations maybe even to implement some self behaviours during unintended or inappropriate situations. In other words, modulate the nervous system in the face of a challenge.
TWO: A meditation with our host Elise Bialylew – ‘Miracle of breath and body meditation’ – [18 mins, 42 secs]
This meditation was about letting go of concerns about your past or future and resting your mind. It included thinking of what matters most to you for happiness and flourishment in the way of thoughts, images or words. It also included bringing awareness to your body and its sensations and bringing gratitude to the body for all that it does for us.
A DAY FOR REFLECTION AND INTEGRATION
- Today I watched/listened to the interview with Stephen Porges (from yesterday – Day 27) as I had other things to do on my Sunday (Day 27).
- I chose to revisit ‘The Happiness Meditation with our host Elise – [13 mins, 31 secs]’ from Day 22 today.
- This 2 minute video by the inspiring Alan Watts – a sermon on living fully now – was shared with us today. It’s so very true. We race through life always reaching for the next thing and the sad thing is, we’re never actually living in the now! This is a really worthwhile watch, and only 2 minutes and 22 seconds.
I might be a little slower than usual at reading posts linked up today and replying to comments because today is my birthday! Apart from a family dinner tonight there’s nothing much happening today but I’m thinking I may exercise a little self care and take myself out for coffee or lunch or a little shopping or something. Why not take it a bit easy and indulge myself a little on my birthday?!
If you’ve read through all this post to here you are amazing. I really hope you have gained something from reading it. Next weeks post for Week 5 (the final Mindful in May post) will be a lot shorter as it will be covering only three days rather than seven.
Ciao for now,
Link up here at WOTM or with another of us in the Lovin’ Life Linky team:
Leanne of Deep Fried Fruit | Kathy of 50 Shades of Age |
Deborah of Debbish | Jo of The Hungry Writer – Joanne Tracey.
It doesn’t matter where you link up as it will magically appear on all five blogs.