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Mindfulness Meditation

Mindful Freezing

No, I’m not talking about meditating outdoors on cold days!

Several years ago there was a sign posted on one of the trail entrances in White Clay Creek State Park giving this information: “Warning: Cougar Sighted in Area.”  You have to admit that particular message is enough to give one pause before hitting the trail.  When asked by my wife what we should do as we stared at that sign before taking a trail run together, I said the obvious: “Nothing to worry about.  As long as I can outrun you, I’m perfectly safe.”  This is not a good thing to say if you want to stay married for very long, but she forgave me and we decided to take the run anyway.  The sign is still up, nobody has seen a cougar since, and I suspect someone had seen a big yellow labrador retriever in the distance and panicked.

But there are a lot of deer in the state park and I’m sure that they take the sign quite literally, at least the literate ones do 🙂  So, what’s a deer to do when it comes upon a hungry cougar?  This is a question that deer have been asking for millennia no doubt, and we know the choices they have.  Our biology guides our potential responses to danger; we have no other options.  It’s either fight, flight, or freeze.  When facing an existential threat the body is hardwired for safety; you cannot overcome these instincts.  I’m sure that occasionally a deer, especially if it is a buck with a large rack of antlers, has stood his ground to fight a cougar, but in general I suspect that most of the time the deer either takes off at its highest speed or stands as still as possible, hoping the predator doesn’t see it.

I recently had a chance to talk to someone who faced down a bully.  No, not a schoolyard bully, but the more common type we meet in our office or at the market or on the highway.  You know the type of person I’m talking about: he talks over your voice at a meeting, she gossips about a friend of yours within your hearing, he stares you down as he cuts in front of you in line or while making an abrupt lane change at 65 miles per hour.  When something like this happens it is difficult to not have a visceral response.  Our bodies recognize the threat, our metabolism elevates a little or a lot, our muscles may tense, our teeth may clench, and it always seems that we think of a strong, assertive response a minute or an hour or a day later, but not in the moment.

When I talk to people about these kinds of situations the “fight” response is always seen as strong, the “flight” response as inevitable, but the “freeze” response is not understood.  Why would you stay within plain view, still a target, when the bully uses his words or glance or body language to intimidate you.  But I think a case can be made for freezing, and that a case can be made that this is a very mindful response in some circumstances.

Predators prey on others whether they are hungry or not.  If you’ve ever had a pet cat who was a good hunter, you know this is true.  When I was an adolescent we had a cat who was a great hunter, but very well fed by my mom.  Yet he brought home birds and mice and all sorts of critters on a regular basis.  He hunted for the fun of it, I’m convinced.  He hunted to stave off boredom.  He hunted because it was what he was wired to do.  And he kept on hunting despite the chunk of ear an angry blue jay took out of him one day as he climbed the tree and approached her nest.  I don’t think he caught any birds that day!

Most of the hunting, or bullying, that we face as adults is of the sort I described earlier.  It is not life threatening, but rather it is a show of dominance.  This is common in the animal kingdom.  Each species has its own way to establish dominance, whether it is a grand display of plumage, locking horns in non-mortal combat until the rival is driven away from the herd, or rearing back on hind legs to threaten the rival into laying on its back, demonstrating its submission.  Humans, at our antisocial worst, strive for dominance in all kinds of ways, sometimes aggressive, often passive aggressive.

Our mindfulness practice can make us very skilled to be aware in the moment when this is happening.  Recognizing the signs of fear arousal as they occur, we can often see the show of dominance, the attempt to force submission, especially when it is in a social context, but also when it is an exchange between strangers, such as the driving or marketplace examples I cited earlier.  And being aware that this is happening opens options for us, especially the “freeze” option.  As we mindfully notice the elevation, the bodily arousal of fear, our minds accept this fear and assert that this attack is “not about me.”  (Caveat: if the attack is an existential threat, an attempt at bodily assault, fight or flight is called for).  In that moment one is able to mindfully return to a calm state.  One is able to bring compassionate regard to the bully, and not be reactive.  I’ve seen this happen, and I’ve seen the result: the predator eventually loses interest.  This freeze response, standing in plain sight, refusing to react by running or fighting back, simply regarding the assault with non-judgmental awareness, is not what the predator expects.  In a way it takes the fun out of the bullying, heightens a sense of boredom in the bully, and renders the “attack” into a useless waste of energy.  She doesn’t get the rise out of you she wanted, so she goes away.  He doesn’t get the submission from you he needs because of his own ego deficits, so he turns his gaze elsewhere.  His angry stare recedes; she looks for someone else to badger.  And you never lost your  equanimity, and your sense of internal stillness remains intact.

Mindfully freezing is one response to the shows of dominance we come across.  If you have someone in your life who can get under your skin, consider a mindful response.  Aware in the moment, accepting the wisdom of our bodies, allowing compassion to arise, finding a skillful response that sets the boundaries where they need to be set, but does not seek to assault, damage, embarrass, or otherwise hurt the offender.  This refusal to return anger for anger, hatred for hatred, seeking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, can bring an end to the little battles and wars we wage daily.  Our mindful presence can be the center of gravity in the room, one that can ground ourselves in peaceful solutions, engage our friends to be curious about our calmness, and even occasionally prompt a predator to wonder about our strength and resilience.  As Paul Newman’s classic character Luke Jackson says in the film Cool Hand Luke, “sometimes nothing is a real cool hand.”  That “nothing” is not a bluff, but rather a demonstration that the show of dominance is an empty gesture, and we refuse to become engaged in playing a hand in another person’s card game of suffering.  Then “nothing” becomes our strength, and we realize there was no battle to fight, there was no war to win, just a frightened ego caught in its own illusion that it has to show dominance in order to be real.  There is no dominance, there was no ego, and in their place compassion can arise when we attend to the wisdom of our bodies and minds.

Peace,

Jim

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Mindfulness Meditation

If You Lose Your Queen, You’ll Probably Lose the Game

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to sit at this computer and compose a few words that touch on being mindful, living mindfully, trusting the wisdom of our bodies and minds.  This will be brief, but it will be a chance to start over again.

I do not play chess.  I learned how to play years ago, but it never sank in and I did not pursue the game.  It’s a great game, and I wish I had some skill in this area.

But I do know one thing about chess: in order to defend your king, you need to use your queen to full advantage.  And if you lose her, you’re very likely to lose all.  You must attack with her, but at the same time defend her to the end.  She has the most power, and if you do not pay attention to her and protect her zealously, you will likely lose all.

In Christianity the Holy Spirit is understood as the gift of God that brings full life to each of us.  From the Holy Spirit flows grace, the gratuitous largesse of a compassionate and ever-creating God.  The Holy Spirit, in Christianity, is a feminine principle.  She brings you to a new life, creates a new heart in  you, nurtures you and helps you grow.

For a Christian, the Holy Spirit is your Queen.  And the life she has brought to you, and continues to bring to you, must be protected zealously.  If you ignore her, if you do not defend her with great attention, then you risk losing all.  It’s too high a price to pay.

In Christianity, Jesus tells a parable of the ten virgins (Matthew Chapter 25).  It goes like this:

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

Being mindful is “keeping watch.”  It is being ready, for you do not know the day nor the hour when the bridegroom, the object of your life, the Kingdom or Heaven itself, will arrive.  When the Holy Spirit arrives, when she brings you the new life you seek, the new life you know you must embrace, be ready, be awake!

The last act of a Zen monk before going to sleep is to chant thusly: “Life and death are of supreme importance.  Time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost.  Let us awaken, awaken!  Do not squander your life.”

Be awake.  Be ready.  You do not know the day nor the hour when your life will appear before you.  That one chance you may have, to lose it is like losing your Queen.  Keep watch.  Do not squander your life.

Peace,

Jim

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Mindfulness Meditation

Emotional Reasoning

In my previous post I spent some time discussing the relationship between Events, Affects, Behaviors, and  Cognitions.  Or, put more simply, that something happens, initiating (quite spontaneously) a bodily sensation (an emotion, drive, reaction), leading to the emergence of a behavior, followed by an explanatory thought.  If that were the entire picture of our minute to minute activities during the course of a normal day, then we would seem to be some sort of automata, driven as if programmed like a computer or a robot.

There’s more to the story, beginning with the nature of the explanatory thought.  Under many circumstances the process of event-driven behavior stops at the explanatory thought.  For instance, the traffic light ahead turns yellow, the urge to stop the car arises, my foot lifts to touch and press the brake pedal, and I think “better stop; hey I can check my text messages!”  Well, maybe better to ignore the text messages; the State Police might be watching!  But you get the point; there’s no need to think about much beyond the “better stop” thought.

But not all event-driven behavior is so simple.  And this is where our mindfulness practice can help us.  When mindful, one is able to notice the process as it unfolds.  Maybe at the point of the bodily and/or emotional arousal, maybe not until the behavior has commenced or even subsided; perhaps not until the explanatory thought has arisen.  But, when mindful, one does eventually notice what is going on.

I would like to focus on event-driven behaviors that lead to unpleasant emotional (affective) states.  It may seem a bit morbid to put my attention there, but it is the long-term effects of unpleasant emotional states that we’re more concerned about.  After all, when the event is pleasant, such as learning that your friend got the promotion she had been working so hard to earn, it is joy that arises.  Your behaviors emerging from the joy are probably congratulations and well wishes, leading to thoughts that reflect on how wonderful it is for your friend to have this achievement and how lucky you are to have such a wonderful friend.  You hardly want to alter THAT experience.  But when the event is some kind of loss, or threat, or violation, the feeling that arises is unpleasant, along the lines of sadness, or fear, or anger.  Each of these unpleasant emotions lead to certain kinds of behaviors, such as crying and withdrawal when sad, fight/flight/freeze when afraid, or aggressive when angry.  These feelings and behaviors are quite ordinary, a normal part of our lived experience.  And they’re not inherently unhealthy, as there is a time and place for feeling sad, afraid and angry.

But sadness, fear, and anger, when perpetuated, can be a health risk.  We know that persistent stress leads to a host of medical and psychological maladies, including ulcers, colitis, headache, reduced immune function, depression, anxiety, and addiction.  How is it that these normal and healthy emotions can perpetuate to the point where they threaten our health?  This is where we must turn our attention to the explanatory thought, and specifically to one kind of explanatory thought, emotional reasoning.

When we feel an emotion it stands to reason that the first set of thoughts that arise would be consistent with the emotion.  We hear bad news, feel sad, and think along those lines.  For instance, when I learned that my dad was diagnosed with cancer I felt sad, and immediately began to think about what life would be like for him as he went through chemotherapy, the strain it would put on my mother, the anguish that would be felt by me, my sister, my mother and extended family and friends as we watched this man that we love endure this trial.  This way of thinking, that is congruent with the feeling that I was having, can be named as “emotional reasoning.”  And there’s nothing wrong with emotional reasoning; like the emotions it emerges from, it is quite normal and rather ordinary.  But there is a problem with emotional reasoning if it is the end of the story: since emotional reasoning emerges from the felt emotion, it tends to support and sustain the feeling of that emotion.  And that’s what can lead to diminished health responses associated with sustained stress.

The practice of mindfulness allows us to become aware of our emotional reasoning very easily and rapidly.  As with all mindful activity, the key to mindful awareness is to be non-judgmental about the object of awareness, in this case the emotions arising and the emotional reasoning that goes with it.  Note that we’re focused here on embodied mental activity, not on the event itself.  By focusing on embodied mental activity, we create the space for the next chapter in mindful living, perspective taking, which will be the topic of my next post.

Peace,

Jim

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Mindfulness Meditation

Emotions, Thoughts, and Behaviors: More Reasons to Practice Mindfulness

To paraphrase Descartes:  “I FEEL therefore I am.”

OK, that was a pretty cheesy opening, but the way we feel matters a lot.  Ask someone “how are you doing?” and if that person answers sincerely (usually most of us just say “fine” whether we’re actually fine or not) you’ll probably find out how s/he is feeling.  And feelings come in a lot of varieties.  There are feelings that we think of as emotions:  sad, angry, afraid, ashamed, joyous, excited, loving, interested, blissful.  There are feelings we think of as medical: sick, feverish, congested, achy, sore.  There are feelings that we think of as physical: tired, relaxed, energetic, aroused, alert.  There are feelings we think of as drives: defecation, urination, thirst, hunger, desire.  And, of course, there are feelings we think of as the senses: seeing, tasting, hearing, feeling (tactile, that is), and smelling.  There are all sorts of feelings.

Feelings matter.  Did you ever notice that most, if not all, advertising, appeals to feelings?  Mazda doesn’t sell us a car by telling us about the engineering of their new SKYACTIV technology, they have someone whisper “zoom zoom” as you watch a shiny new Mazda zipping along a curvy seaside highway.  They want you to FEEL what it’s like to be so lucky as to have a brand new Mazda, not think about it.  And it’s a smart approach to selling cars.  Medicine marketers sell the same way.  When Advil is advertised you don’t get an explanation about chemical and neurological mechanisms, you see people in pain who end up with big smiles and happier times after taking an Advil or two.  Same with antidepressant ads.  And please don’t ask me to comment on ads for Cialis!  Advertisers know better than anyone: the way we feel drives our behaviors.

Now, you may not like that idea about feelings driving behaviors.  But there’s a lot of very good research out there that demonstrates this to be true, not to mention that every advertiser known to humankind bases its advertising on this principle, and quite successfully!  When some event occurs in our immediate environment, our bodies respond immediately with some felt sensation, some feeling.  There’s no way to stop that.  A loud noise happens followed immediately by the startle reflex, followed by a felt sensation of fear (maybe a little fear, which we would call “nervous,” or maybe a big fear, which we would call “panic;” it all depends on how loud the noise is, what it sounds like, our past experiences with loud noises, and a host of other variables).  Now our bodies do something wonderful, something that is intended to keep us alive: our bodies move.  Move to the nearest escape, move to stop the noise, move to get safe in some way.  That behavior follows feeling is incontrovertible; just ask anyone who is skilled at motivating people.  The greatest of the early American psychologists, William James, made this fact the bedrock of his thoughts about human psychology.

Once those behaviors begin our minds begin to think.  We appraise the situation, form opinions, wonder about the meaning, consider the next steps, or simply justify (or rationalize) our actions.  And here’s what can be very interesting: sometimes we mentally reconstruct the event in such a way as to remember it in this order: event happened, I thought of what I should do, I did it, and then I felt a certain way afterward.  And that’s why memory is so tricky: it is so often a reconstruction.

This happens with emotions too.  It’s difficult to accept sometimes that we are driven by feelings that arise before we’ve mentally considered all of the facts concerning some event.  But our bodies have evolved in such a way as to maximize survival (of ourselves and of our species).  Feelings are triggered only by the important phenomena that arise in our immediate environment.  Someone is crying, and you feel sad.  You complete a task and you feel joy.  Someone speaks meanly to you and you feel anger.  You see a red sky as the sun sets over the trees and you feel awe.  Life happens, and  you feel it.

This is all the more reason to practice mindfulness.  The awareness that we cultivate in our sitting or walking or yoga or body scanning practices strengthens our mind’s capacity to realize in the moment what feeling is arising and what it’s about.  That we cultivate this awareness with a non-judgmental attitude makes us all the more able to manage our reactivity with greater skill and ease.  So instead of getting swept up in the feeling of the moment and the behavioral reaction that emerges from that feeling, we’re able to slow down our body’s protective and/or adaptive reactions to ensure that we respond with the utmost skill to the needs presented in that moment.  Whether you’re practicing mindfulness for stress reduction, relaxation, insight, prayerfulness, or Buddhist enlightenment, it’s a great skill to have in the moment when the proverbial “you know what” hits the fan!  And it’s also a great skill to have when any sort of feeling emerges.

In my next post I want to consider two forms of mental activity: emotional reasoning and perspective taking.  These two ways that the mind works can determine whether we are happy or sad, satisfied with our lives or in despair.  I’ve presented the relationship between emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in order to set the stage for understanding emotional reasoning and perspective taking.  I’ll be sure to post those mental meanderings of mine in a day or so.

Peace,

Jim

 

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Just Because You Think It…

…doesn’t mean it is true.

OK, be honest about this question:  How often do you think to yourself “this person doesn’t know what he/she is talking about.”?  How often do you KNOW that the other person is wrong?  Yes, you know the truth here, you think it a lot!  So do I, frankly.  We’re always assuming we’re right and the other guy is wrong.

Now, think about it this way: How often does somebody hear what you have to say and think “this person doesn’t know what he/she is talking about”?  Ha!  Got you there.  Just as often probably.

I think it is natural that we assume that if we think it then it must be true.  In a way we’re programmed to believe ourselves.  But how often do you hear someone else and realize they’re wrong, and try to correct them?

Just because we think something doesn’t mean it is true.  Letting go of that assumption is liberating; I am no longer trapped by my automatic thoughts and prejudices.  I am free to regard my thoughts as mental events occurring in my brain that can be witnessed, understood, and accepted for what they are, and nothing more (and nothing less).  When I am free to believe or disbelieve my own thoughts, I am free to exercise that greatest of human capacities, the ability to reason.  If I can exercise the ability to reason, then I can make my next choice based on the wisest action, which may or may not conform to how I was thinking automatically about things.  Combining mindful observance of thoughts with mindful observance of events, my reactions become responses as I exercise reason.

Let go of your need to be correct.  Use your reactions wisely as an indication of what MAY be going on, but see each situation with clarity, as it presents itself to you, and consider all of the possibilities for a wise response.

Mindful living invites us to observe the flow of our thoughts, without drowning in them.  This act of humility weakens the grip of ego on our actions.

One last thought.  If you habitually doubt your ability to reason, consider the possibility that your doubtful thoughts are wrong, too!

Peace,

Jim

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Mindfulness Meditation

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

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

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

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Mindfulness Meditation

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

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Mindfulness Meditation

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

Categories
Mindfulness Meditation

Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation is a formal practice.  When I meditate I choose to take time in a reserved place to engage my mind in mental exercise.  The exercise requires much exertion; I direct and redirect the wandering mind to my breath, to the sounds and other perceptions around me, to the stream of thoughts passing through my brain like boxcars in a train, or perhaps allow my direction to be choiceless, just noticing, not judging.  The formal practice of meditation is necessary if one is to become mindful.

Mindfulness is an experience of being awake moment-to-moment non-judgmentally.  When I meditate I cultivate deeper mindfulness.  When I have been meditating regularly then my capacity to be mindful in my day-to-day routine is enhanced.  Mindful in my waking moments, I remain calm and focused, centered and relaxed.  No matter what happens, I yield to the experience of the moment, able to work with arising reality with greater skill and compassion.

Bhante Gunaratana is a Buddhist monk and renowned teacher from Sri Lanka.  My good friend Scott Caplan recently forwarded this video of Bhante G. discussing the nature of meditation.  It is a good reminder of how meditation can change your life, and a good reminder that meditation is a daily task to be taken seriously.  The fruit of meditation, mindfulness, is precious.  Enjoy Bhante G.’s wisdom in this five minute video:

Here’s the link to the video in case you’re having trouble opening it directly from my page: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWsHoanB7pw

Peace,

Jim