Meditation Recordings for Workshop: Mindfulness and Trauma Focused Treatment

With the conclusion of the “Mindfulness and Trauma Focused Treatment: Working with the Body” workshop today at the Summer Institute, I’ve uploaded several items for you:

First, a basic Mindfulness of Breath Meditation; all recordings are in mp3 format:

Second, the Body Scan:

Third, an Open Awareness Meditation:

Fourth, a meditation led by Dr. Jenna Tedesco titled “Joints and Glands Meditation”:

Fifth, a Breath Meditation led by Dr. Jenna Tedesco:

Sixth, a Lovingkindness Meditation:

And last but not least, the Mountain Meditation.  I mistakenly deleted the one I led in the class, but have re-recorded it:

For those interested in leading the Mountain Meditation, here is the script I used; you’ll note that I ad libbed a certain portion of it: mountain meditation

Many wanted contact information for our instructors.  Dr. Jenna Tedesco has a wonderful website, rich with information.  Here is the link:  http://www.presentcenter.net/   You’ll find Jenna’s contact information on that website.  Stay tuned to it for information for MBSR and other programs that Jenna plans on offering, as well as links to other websites and MBSR programs offered by other providers.

Dr. Steve DiJulio can be reached via email at sdijuliophd@aol.com.  I can be reached via email at walshjm54@yahoo.com

For extended mindfulness training you can contact either myself or Dr. Tedesco for guidance.  In the meantime, we would both strongly recommend getting additional training either through the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness (http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/index.aspx) or Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia (http://www.jeffersonhospital.org/departments-and-services/mindfulness).

Dr. DiJulio gave out a sheet with Gestalt References.  In case you would like the original file, here it is: Gestalt Therapy References  If you’re interested in getting more Gestalt training, Steve recommends the Gestalt Therapy Institute of Philadelphia (http://www.gestaltphila.org).  If you would like to talk to someone at the Institute Steve recommends you call either Mary Lou Shack (610-207-9930) or David S. Henrich (215-233-3994 x21).

Also, one of my colleagues, Cara Palmer, LCSW, will be offering an MBSR program beginning in September.  If you are interested you can download her brochure by clicking on this link: MBSR Tri-fold Brochure Fall 2013 Blue

If you’re interested in taking the Five Facet Mindfulness Inventory online it can be accessed at this website address:  http://www.awakemind.org/quiz.php

Ken Williams, one of the attendees of the workshop, found this NIH website with great research articles about Mindfulness:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/?term=mindfulness+based+stress+reduction  Enjoy!

There’s still more information to add, which will get done over the next few days.  To those who attended this workshop, thanks for being such great and eager learners.  And to anyone else reading this post, I hope you find the information in this post and others useful.

Peace,

Jim

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Perspective Taking

Nearly a year ago I posted an essay on emotional reasoning (see “Emotional Reasoning” in the archive for August 2012).   I hope it all made sense, but I’m afraid I fell down on the job a bit because I promised, at the end of that post, that my next post would be on “perspective taking.”  I never posted that essay, an error I am correcting today.

In that essay a year ago on emotional reasoning I discussed the normal human process of witnessing events (a continuous and seemingly infinite process even during an ordinary day), having emotions/feelings emerge nearly spontaneously, and then having behaviors at least initiate, if not actually occur.  The example I used back then was our response to perceiving a yellow traffic light far enough ahead so that we slow down and stop.  You perceive the event (the yellow light), a feeling emerges (caution), and a behavior ensues (you stop, or at least we’re hoping you will!).

It’s not until all of these phenomena have occurred that thinking gets into the action.  The first thoughts we have, which we can call automatic thoughts, generally emerge from the feeling of the event and usually support the behavior that emerged.  In the case above the automatic thought would be simple: good thing I stopped, wouldn’t want to have an accident.

In this rather simple example we see how all of our mental processes work, to a point.  The way of thinking that is automatic can be referred to as “emotional reasoning;” that is, the way our mind makes sense of the feeling we have and the way we behaved.  Here’s another example, less mundane than the previous one.  I receive an email from my boss that says “I noticed you didn’t get that report I wanted done on time.  Please come to my office at your earliest convenience.”  Oy Vey!  This could be serious.  A feeling arises, probably anxiety (dread of future danger) or even fear (dread of present danger).  Now behaviors emerge; perhaps you pace a bit, or fidget, or bite your nails, or begin calling around to see if anyone knows if s/he is in a good mood today.  But, like our “yellow light” example above, the behaviors that arise are typically congruent with the feeling that emerges.  And now, here comes emotional reasoning in the form of automatic thoughts!  “I know I’ll get fired!”  “He didn’t give me enough time to do the report the RIGHT way!”  “I’m always putting myself in these jams; what’s wrong with me!”  It can go on and on.

I think you can see the problem that emotional reasoning, when perpetuated, can cause.  Each one of those thoughts would only serve to make the feelings of anxiety and/or fear stronger, last longer, and dominate our conscious awareness.  We become the fear; in a way we become fused with the fear as if we actually ARE the fear rather than a person having an experience of fear.  It’s important, when we fall into a pattern of emotional reasoning that perpetuates a painful emotion, that we are able to use a different skill, perspective taking.

Perspective taking, as the term implies, is simply another way of thinking about a situation.  Seems simple, and it is, but we have to work at it.  In the example of the boss missing the report, my perspective taking might sound like this: “He’s right, I’m two days late with this.  Just got so busy I couldn’t commit as well as I would have liked.  He’s usually pretty understanding and probably will ask me to prioritize this report over my other projects.  Oh well, I’ve faced bigger challenges that this and come through OK.

You should notice a few things about this perspective taking.  First, it is not automatic; it requires effort and reasoning.  Second, it doesn’t white-wash the problem; it merely considers other possibilities about the issue at hand.  Third, if affirms my ability to be resilient.  Finally, it doesn’t take a “best case scenario” perspective but it does assume that the problem can be handled.  I hope you can see how thinking this way would slow down the fear, restore some measure of calmness, and make it easier to stop by and see my boss.

Perspective taking is a very important skill.  It is what parents teach their children when they get upset.  It is what we do to make sense out of a world that can be very difficult at times.  And the miracle of perspective taking is that it actually slows down the neurobiology of the “fear center” of the brain so that the relief you have after doing it is a genuine felt experience.  Emotional reasoning is a key feature of the problem focused personality style.  Perspective taking is a key feature of the solution focused personality style.  Guess which type of personality is generally happier?

One other thought on perspective taking.  When we are in the midst of emotional reasoning we experience “cognitive narrowing.”  This is the phenomenon of not being able to think of anything else besides the emotion-driven events before us. Cognitive narrowing limits our capacity to find solutions to problems.  Perspective taking, on the other hand, leads to “cognitive widening.”  Because we are calmer we can see with greater clarity, and are much more disposed to find solutions.

Perspective taking is an important part of mindfulness meditation practice.  In our formal practice we repeatedly dwell in a non-judgmental, present moment perspective that notices our internal experiences.  Cultivating this perspective habituates our minds to this skill, so that in the moment our emotional reasoning arises we are much better equipped to use perspective taking as needed.  People who practice mindfulness are better able to take new and sometimes novel perspectives about the occurrences of life, and less prone to get stuck in the revolving door of emotional reasoning.  So the next time you wonder “why bother sitting today” notice the resistance (the feeling), the urge to do something else, and the emotional reasoning (“oh, I’ve got so much to do today; I’m afraid I’ll never get done”).  Then do some perspective taking: “If I sit today I’ll be better at perspective taking!”  The more you meditate, the more you will meditate again!

Peace,

Jim

Trait Mindfulness II

So, did you take the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ)?  If not and you would like to, just scroll down to the previous post and you’ll find the link to the online version of this self-assessment.  Whether you choose to take it or not, you might find its “five facets” interesting and helpful.

Overall the FFMQ seeks to assess the extent of a person’s Dispositional Mindfulness, which is understood as the experience of mindfulness as a trait of personality, and not as a state one practices through meditation.  To reiterate a point in my previous post, the regular practice of “state mindfulness” (i.e. formal meditation) strengthens trait (or dispositional) mindfulness.  Presumably the FFMQ will give you an idea as to how “trait mindful” you are, much like a personality assessment might give you an idea as to how extraverted or introverted you are.

The FFMQ goes further than simply an overall assessment of Dispositional Mindfulness, however.  It breaks mindfulness into these five facets, or parts:

Observing: This is the tendency to notice or attend to internal and external experiences, such as sensations, emotions, cognitions, sounds, sights, and smells.  When we do sitting meditation, it’s not unusual to anchor your attention in your breath, while noticing the various awarenesses that come to your attention, like those named above.  This facet assesses whether you believe you maintain this level of awareness on a general basis

Describing: This is the tendency to describe and label those experiences with words.  Are you skilled at naming how you’re feeling?  At finding words to describe your internal, mental experiences?  That is what this facet intends to capture.

Acting with Awareness:  This is the tendency to bring undivided attention to current activities and experiences.  As life unfolds, are you aware and noticing?  Able to say in your mind’s voice “I’m reading this blog in this moment and learning something new”?

Non-Judging: This is the tendency to accept and not evaluate your internal experiences.  You simply notice them, perhaps you name them, perhaps not, but you do not fuse with those experiences.  “These feelings or perceptions or thoughts are mental events I’m having, but they’re not WHO I am.”

Non-Reacting: This is the tendency to allow thoughts and feelings to come and go, without getting caught up or carried away with them.  It is the natural consequence, in a way, of having a non-judging attitude toward your internal experiences.  “I feel THIS way; what is my most skillful response?” may be what you hear yourself think.

In a nutshell, according to this body of research being “mindful” means to observe your internal experiences in a way that allows you to describe them, neither judge nor react strongly to them, and act skillfully in full awareness.  I think it’s an interesting way to look at mindfulness, one that can help us to deepen our practice.

In the course of a typical day we all find ourselves living quite mindlessly; it’s pretty inevitable.  In the moment I realize “hey, I’m being pretty mindless,” having knowledge of these five facets of mindfulness may help me to realize where I went off course and help to guide my formal meditation practice.  For instance, if I find myself getting carried away with my feelings, then working on remaining non-judgmental in my formal practice may be very helpful.  Often in our formal practices an urge to do something (like change our posture or turn off the fan that’s making that clicking sound) arises; sitting and abiding with that urge might help each of us to be more non-reactive in our day-to-day living.

So, maybe this way of thinking about mindfulness helps you to understand your practice, maybe not, but it’s good to know that there are a lot of scholars out there taking this ancient practice very seriously and learning more about how it helps people to have less suffering and greater serenity.  You’ll find a lot of information in news sources about this kind of research, and I would encourage you to let it stoke your curiosity as you deepen your personal practice.

Peace,

Jim

Trait Mindfulness I

About a year ago I wrote an essay titled “Mindfulness: State and Trait” (June 26, 2012).  In that essay I described two ways to understand the personal experience of being mindful.  One way, state, is when we actively practice any form of meditation (e.g. sitting, walking, body scan, mindful stretching, etc.).  State mindfulness is the “work” of our practice, and how we cultivate deeper and deeper levels of mindful living.

On the other hand, trait refers to our temperament, or, if you prefer, our personality, which is relatively stable in terms of its day to day manifestation. You might think of “state” as analogous to the weather and “trait” as analogous to the climate.  Weather may vary, but climate is steady (well, we hope so anyway).  Your meditation practice is a chance to explore your internal weather, with your personality as a stable backdrop.

One interesting aspect of the practice of mindfulness is that the regular inducement of state mindfulness leads to strengthening trait mindfulness.  That shouldn’t be that surprising, of course, as anyone who’s ever practiced a skill knows.  The more you work on playing the piano, the more you become a “piano player.”  It’s like the great scene in “The Karate Kid:” “wax on, wax off” leads to the ability to block a punch reflexively.  Meditate regularly enough and you find yourself taking a mindful breath in the midst of the chaos without effort; suddenly you have clarity where once there was confusion.

A question we always ask at our monthly meditation meetings is “How’s your practice going?”  Here’s another question you might want to ask: “Is my practice leading to a strengthening of mindfulness as a trait?”  If you’re curious about that one, there’s a trait mindfulness inventory that’s being used in research that seems to have good validity.  It’s called the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire.  It’s self administered, and can be found online at http://www.awakemind.org/quiz.php

If you take this inventory you’ll notice that it gives you an overall mindfulness score but it also breaks mindfulness into five facets: Observe, Describe, Act with Awareness, Non-Judging, and Non-Reacting.  In my next essay we’ll take a look at these five facets and their correlations with other psychological factors (e.g. depression-proneness, relationship skills etc.).

Peace,

Jim

Pixilated!

“People here are funny. They work so hard at living they forget how to live.”  Longfellow Deeds.

“At two o’clock this morning, Mr. Deeds held up traffic while he fed a bagful of doughnuts to a horse. When asked why he was doing it, he replied, ‘I just wanted to see how many doughnuts this horse would eat before he asked for a cup of coffee.'”  Newspaper article describing Mr. Deeds’s “pixilated” behaviors.

I love old movies; new ones too!  Last week “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” was on, and I got to watch the last half of it again.  For those unfamiliar, it’s a 1936 movie directed by Frank Capra, whose movies always seem to capture a slice of down home life, regular folks just living the American life.  If you want to experience Capra at his best just look out for “It Happened One Night,” “Mr. Deeds…,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  Capra is most interested in the average person facing life’s difficulties, often caused by conflict between the greedy and judgmental rich and frugal and accepting small town people.  He paints in broad strokes, usually not completely realistically (small town folks can be quite greedy and judgmental too!), but he always makes an important point: life is simpler than we make it out to be, if only we can stop trying to be things we’re not, and just be who we really are.  If nothing else, Capra argues for a radical authenticity in how we choose to live our lives.  At least that’s my take on Capra.

There’s a great scene in “Mr. Deeds…” that makes the case for authenticity.  Longfellow Deeds, the title character, has been brought into court for a sanity hearing.  You see, he inherited $20 million and decided it was too much trouble to be wealthy and live in the big city.  He began giving away the fortune so he could return to his small town life (the fictional Mandrake Falls) where he had been quite happy.  Various schemers do what schemers do best: they plot to upend Mr. Deeds and get the fortune for themselves.  They argue that anyone who would want to give away $20 million MUST be insane.  And to prove their point they bring in, as their star witnesses, the Faulkner sisters, elderly spinsters who have known Longfellow since his birth in Mandrake Falls.  They testify that he is “pixilated” and always has been. Here’s the movie’s definition of pixilated, spoken by one of the psychiatrists who will determine his sanity:

Perhaps I can explain, Your Honor. The word pixilated is an early American expression, derived from the word ‘pixies,’ meaning elves. They would say, ‘The pixies had got him,’ as we nowadays would say a man is ‘balmy.’

Later on the same sisters testify that everyone in Mandrake Falls is pixilated, except them, of course.  Eventually Longfellow is exonerated, gets to punch the head schemer in the nose, and returns home with his sweetheart in his arms.  Don’t you love happy Hollywood endings!

Why must we be so darned sober and serious all the time!  Can’t we be a bit pixilated too?  To be pixyish is to be playfully mischievous.  To have some fun with life, mostly with our self, not taking ourselves and life so seriously.  Sometimes we get so serious, so hung up on “how things ought to be,” that we miss how things actually are.  Look around you; no matter how difficult this moment may be for you, and, yes, life can be very difficult, look and see the beauty inherent in this moment, this person, this world.  This is the moment we are invited to embrace, to join in a dance with God or transcendence or eternity, however you choose to understand the mystery of this life.  Thomas Merton, Catholic mystic, embracer of the dance of life, closed his spiritual classic “New Seeds of Contemplation,” with this lovely sentence:

We are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnities to the winds and join in the general dance.

So my message in this little, silly essay is don’t be afraid to find out how many doughnuts a horse will eat before it asks for a cup of coffee.  Don’t work so hard at living that you forget how to live.  I think Merton would have agreed wholeheartedly with Deeds: everyone is a little pixilated, if only we have the courage and wisdom to be so.

So I’m off to pixilate a bit now.  Watch out, you may find me dancing!

Peace,

Jim

More On Resilience

Sometime last year (or the year before?) I wrote some posts on Resilience.  As time passes there’s so much good research that comes out, especially about this particular construct.  As this month’s Scientific American Mind has a feature article on Resilience (“Ready for Anything;” July/August 2o13 SI Mind), I thought I would recapitulate some earlier thoughts and add some from more recent research.

Resilience is usually thought of as the capacity to bounce back from difficult times, but there’s another dimension altogether that can’t be overlooked.  Besides the capacity to bounce back, resilience includes the capacity to ward off diminishment due to stressors in your life.  So one way to think of resilience would be one’s recovery from a depressive episode.  Another way would be one’s ability to prevent falling into the depressive episode in the first place.  Both qualities of resilience are a combination of personality traits and learned skills.  One can become a more resilient person through practice and commitment, but one is born with some level of innate resilience.

The most recent edition of SI Mind makes several good points about resilience that bear repeating.  Here is a synopsis of those points.

1. “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress.”  If we focus on the word “adapting” in particular, I think we can see that resilience can be found in deciding to work with a new but adverse condition, seeing how this setback creates opportunity for deeper and more meaningful living.  I can think of many of the people I’ve worked with or taught over the years who suffered a tragedy but then converted those painful emotions into the energy they needed to create positive change in their own life, often times on societal levels.  For instance I can think of one person who lost a dear friend to suicide, then decided to dedicate her life to helping people who’ve reached that dark place find a way out of their suffering.  Her pain over this loss caused adaptation, and this adaptation in and of itself is emblematic of her resilience.  Can we do something similar when life brings us tragedy, seeking to find ways to relieve our own suffering, to some extent, by relieving the suffering of others?  And, if we can, does this not become our own healing, our own journey to renewed life?

2. “A resilient person is…not someone who avoids stress, but someone who learns how to tame and master it.”  Oh, to have a stress free life.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  It may sound great, but it’s an illusion.  Life brings stress; pain happens.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a pessimist by nature, but you have to admit that things seem to go wrong pretty regularly without any help from you or me!  So the question we must ask ourselves is not only “how do I eliminate stress?” but also, “how do I thrive despite stress?”  I think that this statement, quoted above, is important to incorporate into our foundational mindset.  We must reframe stress as it arises in our life.  If we begin to see stressful events as inevitable and understandable, then we can begin to see that the problem isn’t that stress happens, the  problem is how well I actually handle stress.  It’s an important reframe because it leaves one able to say, with sureness, that my life, and life in general, is good, even when things go wrong.  Accepting this statement as true frees us to be solution oriented people rather than problem oriented.

3. “Two approaches that have received increasing scientific support (in resilience research) are cognitive reappraisals and mindfulness meditation.”  In the first two sections of this post we’ve looked at how choosing an adaptive response can help us to be resilient and how changing our attitude about stress can make stress more survivable.  Now, let’s take a look at how a person can use the mind itself to manage stress.

Cognitive reappraisal is a learned mental behavior, it’s that simple.  Another phrase for this behavior is perspective taking.  Bad things happen.  Sometimes our point of view is accepting, seeing things clearly, and then responding with skill.  But sometimes our point of view is aversive, seeing things in a distorted way, and then responding in concert with the aversion and distortion, often with little skill.  It’s difficult to recognize and accept our aversions and distortions, because often we’ve learned them through our family of origin or overall life experiences.  And those aversions and distortions may actually have been quite functional at one time and in one place, but may be quite out of touch right here, right now.  It’s good to be humble.  Did you ever meet someone and think “wow, this guy really sees things the wrong way?”  Well, guess what, sometimes each of us is “this guy.”  When things are getting worse rather than better consider the possibility that you might be seeing things completely wrong, and you need to reappraise, take a different perspective.  Someone else’s insult may be evidence of their aversions and distortions, not yours.  Your loathing for a person may be evidence of your pain, rather than something that’s wrong with the other person.  Life may not be fair, but it can be lived as fully as possible.

But taking a new perspective isn’t always easy, especially when what we’re feeling and thinking seems SO RIGHT.  That’s where mindfulness practice can be helpful.  When we meditate by centering our minds on a single object, such as breath, non-judgmentally, our bodies and minds slow down with time and practice.  But more importantly our capacity for broad mindedness, to see new perspectives, for cognitive reappraisals, gets so much stronger.  We notice the ebb and flow of our minds, and realize that thoughts are just thoughts, feelings just feelings.  They may or may not be true representations of our life; we get to decide.  This openness allows us to see our internal experiences with equanimity, which can then become our calmness toward the world.  The meditation work itself may not actually relieve our stress level, but it may just open our minds enough so that we can see things differently, and respond with much greater skill.  Mindfulness might not be the answer to our problems, but it may make it possible to find the answer.  I can think of no greater skill that’s made my life easier than my capacity to be mindful.

Well, that’s the scoop from this wonderful article in SI Mind.  I highly recommend this publication, as it is constantly filled with thought provoking articles about the mind. Hope this was helpful!

Peace,

Jim