Saturday, October 30, 2010

MBSR #6- feel anger, speak lies, scream real loud

This week I found myself telling people things that they didn't expect to hear from their meditation teacher.  In fact, since I hadn't actually intended to say any of these things in quite this blunt a way, I hadn't expected to hear it from myself.  People who are not meditation teachers like to think that meditation teachers have some kind of Zen superpowers to avoid being the fallible human beings that all people are.  But actually meditation teachers are intentionally facing down their own fallible humanness more than most.  Feeling fear, speaking lies, and screaming loud are some of the tools I use to navigate the storms of my real, fallible human life.  As a mindfulness practitioner, I can only teach what I have direct experience in living.

I said, "Feel anger."
When I tell people to feel what's real in the moment right now, they seem to register the words.  But they don't seem to register that I actually mean it.  Feel your anger. Yes. Feel. Your. Anger.  Instead of repressing, instead of distracting yourself, instead of grinning-and-bearing-it, FEEL it. As it is.  Accept the responsibility for feeling your own feelings.  You don't have to do any action or reaction, unless you choose to.  But just feel it.  Having the knowledge gives you the option to choose an action if that's what's best.  You can always choose not to act.  But if you don't know what it is you are really feeling, you have no choices. 

I said, "Speak Lies."
This one is a little unusual, and not in keeping with many meditation traditions, I do admit. 
In MBSR practice, self care is primary.  This week's focus was on interpersonal relationships.  In interpersonal relationships, creating proper boundaries is key for stress reduction.  And there are some relationships where creating healthy boundaries can seem to be nearly impossible. 

If you find yourself in a situation where a person is demanding something that you cannot give them, and they will not accept a truthful/sane response from you, your options are limited.  My advice is to create an answer that 1) they will accept, and 2) is as close to the truth as possible. 

If you find yourself in a situation where folks ask you what you do for a living you also have options.  Saying one form of truth like "I am a therapist" might open up a situation where others expect you to give them free therapeutic counseling while you are on vacation.   Another form of truth might be to say "I work at a homeless shelter."  While that answer is also the truth, it creates different follow-up questions and other people are more likely to let you have the relaxed vacation that you need. 
I said, "Scream Real Loud."
I don't usually scream.  It's not a part of my daily life.  But it did happen this week.  I became really angry about a situation in my life that I wanted to change. And I felt it.  I felt that anger.  Directly and strongly.  Anger.  Once I felt the anger, and I knew what was going on for myself I then had a couple of options. One option that is available is to feel anger and find a creative outlet, like exercise or hitting a pillow.  Another option is to choose to repress/ignore/distract for a while.  That one might not be the healthiest at all times, but it is sometimes the best option available.  There are countless other options once one is self aware.  But the one I chose to take this week was to express my anger verbally.  I was pretty sure that expressing this anger could create a new situation in my life that I want to create, a situation that will bring about more happiness in the long term, even if the short term results could be uncomfortable.  
 I didn't know of another way to communicate to the person I was angry with.  I wanted to express to him the depth of anger that I was feeling.  And the way that I did express this anger that needed to be expressed was to scream at the top of my lungs.
I hadn't intended to tell my meditation students about this event that happened in my personal life.  But in class, one of my students asked me if I ever felt anger.  My impression about the nature of her asking this question is that she had some ideal in her head about that Zen superpower thing that I mentioned already.  I thought to myself,  "She asked 'do I ever feel anger.' Of course I feel anger! Hmmmm. Maybe she's been listening to the words I say about feelings, but I have not yet made it clear that I am actually living this and experiencing what it is that I preach."  So I told some of the details about the event, and before I knew it I was reenacting my screaming obscenities and pounding my fists on the table to the point where my students' books bounced around on the table.  I have a feeling that the classrooms at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology haven't seen quite such a display before...   But it was a beautiful teaching moment.  I was able to communicate to my students that I am actually living this.  And it is working for me.  The mindfulness does give me the "superpower" of making choices that bring about meaningful changes towards a happier life with less stress. 
So, what I can now say about this week is this: 
I did my best to keep it real. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

MBSR #5 - What about when it's actually bad?

Some times bad things do happen to good people.

If there's any way out of a particular bad situation- you take it.  Self care is primary.  Your responsibility to take good care of yourself means that when faced with a terrible situation, you get out of it when ever it is possible to do so.  In MBSR, we do spend time looking at specific instances that the students mention from their past.  There are always some questions and some gray areas.   So we work with the tools of re-framing, broadening perspective, and Non Violent Communication to address the gray areas that come up.

But- what happens when there is no way out?  There are some situations that are not gray-areas.  They can be no-win situations, or no-way-out situations. They can be situations of injustice.

In no-way-out types of situations, a person's actions are limited.  Most of the available choices are internal choices rather than external choices about actions.  In MBSR class this week we addressed the question of situations of injustice.  Do you allow this situation to make you bitter?  Do you decide to shut down your ability to feel anything at all so that you do not have the feel the negative feelings associated with this event?  Do you believe that a terrible event can define you as a "victim" or some other term?

These are hard questions.  And there are no objective "right" answers.  But there are traditional means of releasing resentments and opening to a larger sense of self.  These traditional tools include practices that build compassion. 

In the Thursday class, we experimented with Tonglen Meditation.
In the Friday class we experimented with Metta Meditation.

The Dalai Lama said, "whether this meditation really helps others or not, it gives me peace of mind. Then I can be more effective, and the benefit is immense."

Compassion building practices have been effective for many people in releasing immense suffering.  Not all tools work for all people.  So we experiment.  In MBSR class we experiment with many tools in order to assist each individual in finding the tools that are personally effective.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

MBSR #4 - Stayin' Alive In The Wall

Four weeks ago, I used this quote during MBSR class #1 to describe a theme I saw emerging for all of us:
"And then the day came, when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”  - Ana├»s Nin

The class we just had last Friday had a theme to it that was hard for me to put into words.  In MBSR, we usually try to find poetry- but this week I was introduced to a youtube video that really described what I felt was our theme for class #4.  Someone called WaxAudio mixed together Pink Floyd and the Bee Gees.  (!)
Here's the link:

This very strange, somewhat ridiculous, combination of music speaks to me about the questions we were facing in class:
How does one live for oneself within a system that expects super-human (or robotic) levels of performance?
When living in financial poverty (or emotional poverty) can there be happiness within the overwhelming levels of stress?

Again, in MBSR there are no easy answers.  With our practice we are amassing information from which to eventually make better choices, even when our choices are limited, even when no answers come.
Rainer Maria Rilke wrote this about the paradox of living without answers-
"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer. "
-Rainer Maria Rilke

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

MBSR #3 - being good enough

Sometimes our carefully constructed plans get side-railed.  It could be a family member in the hospital.  It could be a migraine headache. It could be that in some way your adult life did not turn out the way your child-self envisioned.

Real life, the way it is now, is what we have.  This is the only reality we have to work with.  It is the only starting place we've got.  It's not all that useful to to think about "if only things had gone according to plan," or "if only I were in that other place."
That other place does not exist.
That other plan never came into being.
Right here, right now, is good enough.
Who you are, as you are, is good enough.
Start here.  Start now.  This is the only place from which to move forward.

It is valid to have this experience, even if it happens to be an unpleasant experience.  Validating only pleasant experiences creates a fractured sense of self.  In other words, repressing the truth of one's experience creates stress.

As we strengthen our abilities to validate both pleasant and unpleasant aspects of our lives, we create a more wholistic experience.  And I do mean both pleasant and unpleasant.  If a person were to focus exclusively on unpleasantness, that would lead to overwhelming stress levels as well.

The intention in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is to hold a wholistic view of life that is greater than either the unpleasantness or the pleasantness.  We are beings who experience things.  No one experience, or group of experiences, can define the entirety of ourselves.

When the concept of "not good enough" comes up, it might be helpful to ask "good enough- for what?" or even "good enough- compared to what?" Our lives are easier when we take these thoughts less seriously.  They are just thoughts, after all.

Monday, October 4, 2010

MBSR #2 - Efforting

This is from Osho's book "Buddha Zen Tao Tantra"
...Nobody can just float, first you have to learn to swim. Don't go to the river or you will be drowned. A person has to learn to swim and when the swimming becomes perfect, he need not swim, he can just be in the river, floating; he can lie in the river as if he is lying in his bed. Now he has learned how to be in accordance with the river; now the river cannot drown him; now he has no more enmity with the river. A perfect swimmer becomes part of the river; he is a wave in the river. How can the river destroy the wave? When he floats in accordance with the river, he is no longer fighting, resisting, doing something. He is in tune with the river and he can simply float. But don't try this unless you know how to swim; otherwise, you may be drowned.
The same thing happens with Tao. You make a great effort to live in accordance with the truth, and by and by you understand that your great effort helps a little, but hinders a lot.

 This week in MBSR, I noticed the human tendency to strive.  Without the effort to learn, learning would not be possible.  But past that initial impulse, the great striving helps a little, but hinders a lot.  (For learning mindfulness specifically.)
A number of students expressed feeling guilty about the days when they did not do their meditation homework practice during the past week.  An initial jolt of guilt might have some use to get a person back on track the next day.  But past that one small jolt, the feelings of guilt might help a little, but they hinder a lot.