Relax Your Body!

Being mindful means being fully present in the moment, not dwelling in memory of the past or anticipation of the future, without judgment.  Being mindful leads to a pleasantly relaxed body state, which is the heart of the stress reduction aspect of being mindful.  But, as they say, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there’s more than one way to become mindful.

Working with our mind to slow down the pace of mental objects by focusing on breath is a great way to relax the body, but there are more direct ways to relax our bodies.  I have found that when I do a “body relaxation practice,” my mind slows down subsequent to the bodily relaxation.  If you think about it, this accomplishes the same stress reduction goal as mindfulness meditation.  In mindfulness meditation, I slow the pace of activity in my mind and experience bodily relaxation as a result.  In bodily relaxation practice, my body relaxes and, secondary to the relaxation response, my mind slows down.  At the end of either exercise, the mindfulness meditation session or the bodily relaxation practice, I find myself experiencing the sanity of a still mind and a relaxed body.  I’m completely in favor of either approach.

Last Wednesday night I had the pleasure of working with seven Practicum students who are in the midst of the highly-stressful first semester of working as an intern and conducting counseling sessions at a variety of community mental health agencies.  On Wednesday night we focused on three practices: a brief awareness of breath meditation, an extended Progressive Muscular Relaxation session, and a short Diaphragmatic Breathing exercise.  I’m posting the recording of each here for anyone’s benefit:

Awareness of Breath Meditation: Mindfulness Meditation

Progressive Muscular Relaxation: Progressive Muscular Relaxation Practicum

Diaphragmatic Breathing: Diaphragmatic Breathing 2

One other note.  Meditation has a historical connection to religious practices across all religious denominations.  For those of us who follow the via negativa, becoming still, in both mind and body, is an invitation to experience ultimate reality.  As un-spiritual as it may seem at first glance, I believe deeply that body relaxation practices are an essential part of spirituality.  Try working strictly on relaxing your body (I recommend the Progressive Muscular Relaxation practice as a great starting point).  Be still, and know….

Peace,

Jim

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Mindfulness: State and Trait

Being mindful.  That’s the challenge, isn’t it?  How can I BE mindful?  When I sit to meditate I notice how active and wandering my mind is at that moment.  I do the work, redirect the wandering attention, and, in time, it slows down.  My mind becomes quite still.  My body relaxes.  I feel peace inside.  Problems that seemed to be Gordian knots dissolve, becoming recognizable and non-threatening.

“Being” mindful is the work of meditation, but if that was the entire story then I would be focused on meditating all day.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a lot on my plate!  As much as I love a good sitting session, I don’t have the time or the inclination to make that my primary activity for the day.  Mind you, I do love going on a meditation retreat, and it is a great pleasure to have the space to spend 10 or 12 hours a day in some form of formal practice, but unless I plan on joining a monastery, an idea Mrs. Walsh objects to, I won’t be spending that kind of time in my daily practice.  Twenty minutes this morning will have to do!

But, for me, spending my day in sitting meditation is not the point of “being” mindful.  Rather, the point of the sitting meditation is to deepen my capacity to “be” mindful throughout the day.  Mindfulness is a “state” of mind that I can practice when I sit, but it is also a “trait” of mind, an “enduring characteristic,” that can become a part of my basic temperament.  In a way, “mindfulness” is an aspect of personality, much like extraversion or agreeableness.  And it is an aspect of personality that I can develop in two ways.  First, I can “deepen” my mindfulness, reshaping my personality so that I am more awake in the moment and non-judgmental.  Second, I can “broaden” my mindfulness, remaining focused on “being” mindful throughout the day, and not only when I remember to be mindful.  By intentionally committing myself to BE mindful throughout my day, I strengthen my “trait” mindfulness.

I think it is important to be able to recognize whether your “state” mindfulness, your periods devoted to formal practice, are facilitating development of your “trait” mindfulness.  But how do you know if your mindfulness has become a trait of your personality?  I recently watched a music video of a VERY mindful man.  In the song he was singing he made three statements that, to me, embody trait mindfulness.  He talked about growing thoughts in the “garden of your mind.”  He reminded us that “every person you meet is different.”  Finally, he told us that it is “good to be curious.”  Your mind is a garden where thoughts grow (and YOU are the gardener!), every person is different (stop living your conditioned responses and experience the grand diversity of life!), and it is good to be curious (every moment brings something new and fresh to behold).  This very mindful person is one of my heroes, Fred (Mr. Rogers) Rogers, and here is the link to a marvelous musical video: 

I hope that you enjoyed watching and hearing Mr. Rogers once again.  He was a gentle soul who touched millions of lives, young and old.  And I hope that you’re able to recognize how being mindful moment to moment, throughout the day, is an invitation to live in the garden of your mind, recognizing the diversity of spirits, kindred and otherwise, that you meet during an ordinary day.  Yes, it’s very good to be curious, and our mindful awareness makes that quality second nature to us.

Peace,

Jim

PS In case you have trouble opening the YouTube video I inserted, here’s the URL for it:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFzXaFbxDcM&sns=em

Judicious or Judgmental?

Probably safe to say that every mindfulness teacher emphasizes the non-judgmental quality of mindfulness practice.  “Be awake in the present  moment; notice; do not judge; if you find yourself judging, do not judge the judging, just notice it.”  I’ve probably said that or something similar thousands of times, to my students and to myself.  It’s the heart and soul of mindfulness work.

But being non-judgmental does not mean that we suspend our capacity to make a judgment.  What we are sacrificing is the personalization of the judgment that we felt inclined to make.  There must be hundreds of moments every day in which I have to exercise judgment concerning the events unfolding before me.  In those moments in which I must make a decision, I am called to be judicious, that is, to exercise wisdom concerning the best path to follow.  If I personalize that event by making it about myself, then I cloud my judgment with my point of view about the other person.  Let me give an example from my clinical practice.  This example IS NOT about any particular client, but is a typical scenario that I encounter as a counselor.

A man comes to see me needing help in his marriage.  His wife berates him about his habits, which he finds difficult to change.  His habits are not life threatening, but they are not healthy either.  When he thinks about his habits without taking his wife’s criticism into consideration, he realizes that he’d be better off exercising self-discipline around his lifestyle.  But when he thinks about his habits AND his wife’s criticism, he becomes angry at his wife (judgmental, that is; she is WRONG! to be so critical of him, he thinks) and his personalization of the bad habit issue clouds his judgment.  In therapy, my role is to gain his trust through empathy, authenticity, and my own non-judgmental attitude, and then begin the process of seeing  his lifestyle habits AND his wife’s criticism with clarity.  If I was seeing his wife concurrently we would work on her anger about her husband’s unhealthy habits, wondering if there was some fear about his health behind all that anger.  If I am somewhat successful as a therapist my client (the husband) would be able to exercise judgment concerning his bad habits once he has stopped being judgmental about his wife.  I would also hope to be able to help his wife stop being judgmental about her husband, and instead see his bad habits as evidence of who HE is, not evidence of anything concerning her character.

When I am mindful I am less inclined to judge the people I’m with and more inclined to exercise judgment.  Being judicious allows me to make wise decisions, to be sagacious (a cool word if there every was one!).  When I am not personalizing what is happening in this moment I see the events with clarity and the next right action becomes apparent.  Though I can’t be in sitting meditation all day, what emerges from that sitting meditation is the mindset that accepts what is happening, makes no judgment about the person or persons involved, and then is free to exercise the best judgment about what comes next.  One thing I can say about this mindset is that it makes life a lot simpler to navigate.  God only knows how much stress life can bring to you on its own without me adding any drama by being critical and judgmental about the people in my life and the ones I meet along the way.  I like the simple life!

So, let your mantra be “Judicious (Sagacious!) today, not judgmental.”  And have a simple day!

Peace,

Jim

Counselor Identity Lecture

Once again I’m using this website to post information for my students in my Internship Group Supervision.  Again, it’s not related to Mindfulness.

For my students who were unable to attend class on Wednesday, June 20, here’s the lecture you missed: Counselor Identity

And here are the PowerPoint slides that accompany the lecture: Counselor Identity

Please note that I did not lecture on the last few slides that concern the process to obtain LPCMH status in Delaware.  We will review this information in a subsequent class.

Thanks,

Jim