Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Economic Stress

At this time of budget cuts, layoffs and other manifestations of economic crisis, it is not uncommon to react with feelings of fear, horror, etc.

As a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction teacher, I am not able to change these outside stressors for you.  I can't do anything about your bills.  I can't find you a new job. If you have health concerns, I can't cure your body.  I am deeply sorry.

What I can do is help you with an "inside job."  I can assist you in addressing your own feelings of fear and horror.  I can show you strategies for transforming knee-jerk emotional reactions into measured responses. In mindfulness, we work towards creating sane responses that give us more control over our inner experience of happiness regardless of the outside circumstances, even when circumstances are dire. 

In MBSR class, we work on our inner perceptions of reality. We work on seeing a feeling of horror as a feeling instead of perceiving the feeling as a reality. Reality itself is much bigger than a single feeling.  A feeling is a feeling. And, sure, it does have it's own validity, it is valid to feel it.  I actually encourage you to feel it.  But here's the trick: feel it for what it is without adding additional projections on to it.  Without our awareness, a single feeling can easily snowball into a projection into the future, or an overwhelming belief that will cause us additional stress.  Addressing that snowball effect itself is one powerful way to  put things into a proper perspective.

When a person feels a feeling of horror, the body stiffens, the breath stops, and a belief can arise.  Sometimes the belief is a belief in immanent death.  Sometimes the belief is a belief in personal homelessness.  In MBSR class, we work towards seeing a belief in a future of homelessness as a belief that is projected into the future instead of a reality about right now.

The present moment is workable.  A projection into the future is not workable. Wherever you are right now, you can make choices and move forward. In a hazy fear-projection into the future, there isn't a way to move forward because you are not actually there. For you, as you are right now, the projection itself is an additional stressor that you don't need.

The experience of homelessness has many different levels. Very few of them are pleasant. It is valid to be unhappy about most aspects of homelessness. But for an individual who is now living a homeless life, there are basic choices and empowering decisions to be made in the present moment.  MBSR classes are currently being taught to homeless populations in order to offer strategies to homeless individuals for making empowering choices for themselves. 

For those of you who are not living a homeless life right now, the projection of a future of homelessness gives you no choices, and dis-empowers you.  Addressing the projections and the fears themselves is what will allow you to make empowering choices.

One reason to join the MBSR classes that I offer (see is to learn strategies for seeing projections about an uncertain future as simply projections.  When you can create a little breathing room between any negative projections and the truth of the moment, you can better navigate around any paralysis of fear. You have the space to use whatever resources are actually available to you to their greatest benefit.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The All Day Retreat on Saturday

During our MBSR class #6 last week, I handed out a sheet on logistics for the All Day Retreat.  At the end of the page I wrote a section on possible intentions for the All Day which included some blanks to fill in.  It looked like this:

Possible intentions:
  • A full and deep experience of the MBSR practices.
  • Immersion into your own direct experiences without outside distractions.
  • Respite.
  •  _______________________ 
  •  _______________________ 
  •  _______________________ 

In reply, one student said, "I plan to have a Saturday."  We all laughed.
This was a funny joke because class discussion has included the concepts of non-judgment, content-neutral acceptance, and unconditional kind regard (aka unconditional love).  For a couple of weeks now, as part of saying goodbye at the end of class, we have been telling each other "have a week" instead of "have a good week."

"I plan to have a Saturday" is not only a funny joke, it is actually an excellent intention for a mindfulness retreat.  (Not that I'm judging anything as excellent...  haha.)  For some MBSR students there can be expectations or fears about participating in a full day of mindfulness. Part of the "curriculum of the moment " is to be aware of the expectations/fears as thoughts about the future.

We have all had our Saturdays week after week, year after year, for as long as we've been alive. In truth, the basic difference between the retreat this Saturday and any other Saturday is that we will be paying attention to it moment by moment.  The difference will be the quality of our attention, but the day will be similar to any day. It will be just one more Saturday within a lifetime of Saturdays. 

From a time-based perspective, the seven hours will unfold in sixty second minutes, just as any seven hours do.  From a body-based perspective, there will be stillness and then movement overlapping with movement and then stillness, as there always is for the body. The formal practices will unfold according to the schedule I have written out, or not according to any prepared plan in the way that they do. 
We will arrive in the room.
I will speak words descrbing the practice.
We will engage in practice. The mind will wander.  We will escort the focus back to the practice.  Or not. As is possible. 
Saturday will happen, as it happens. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mindfulness is not enough.

Think about a toolbox. In any toolbox, a screwdriver is great. A screwdriver is even essential.  A tool box could be considered incomplete if it doesn't include a screwdriver.  But a screwdriver is not enough in order to consider your tool box complete.  A screwdriver alone couldn't handle all of your handyperson needs. 

Here we are in week number 5 of the fall MBSR series.  And the theme that I'm seeing arise for the students is that mindfulness by itself is not fulfilling all their needs.  Mindfulness is an essential part of the "toolbox" of life, but it cannot address everything.  During this week's classes, we discussed some of the other tools that are essential: compassion, humor, kindness, self-care, established coping mechanisms, therapy, therapeutic drugs,  friendships, social networks, family and chosen family, and more...

I asked the class, "How many people here signed up for this program because they wanted to fix a specific thing in their life?"  All but one person raised their hands.
And then, when I asked the class, "How many people here are not getting exactly what they signed up for?"  Again, all but one raised their hands. (And it was a different one person.)
This realization created some laughter. Everyone in class is getting a lot out of class. They show up every week because of the rich rewards they are receiving from this work of mindfulness training. But most of them are being surprised that they are getting something very different than what they expected.  Some of them are being happily surprised that there is a form of what they would have once called "failure" that can be accepted as part of the larger picture of having a full life.