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  • 12 Jun 2018 10:06 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)
    by Tim Burnett


    I opened my first formal talk at our 7-day retreat in Costa Rica with this wonderful short poem by William Carlos Williams: 
    so much depends
    upon
    a red wheel
    barrow
    glazed with rain
    water
    beside the white
    chickens

    As I've been realizing lately how important the first line of this poem is. So much depends.

    So much depends on everything and everyone. We live in a web of depending on each other. We aren't so separate as we think we are. And it was wonderful and challenging to spend that week with 17 others from all over the hemisphere remembering deeply how interconnected it all is.

    When we first start thinking about mindfulness we see it as a way to help ourselves: to reduce our stress, to feel a little happier, to add a tool to our toolbox. We usually have an altruistic slant to this too which is wonderful: we realize that if we're more grounded, happy and resilient we're a lot more helpful to everyone else in our lives.

    This is fine. But as we studied ecology and immersed ourselves in the incredible bio-diversity of the Costa Rican rain forest it helped me to remember how limited that idea is: that idea of me as a separate person with my own problems and worries.

    Of course it seems that way to my worried mind, but my heart knows better. And expanding my mind helps me open my heart to the deeper truths of our situation.

    We love our breath awareness practices but these depend on having clean air to breathe! We take this for granted. And the clean air doesn't just depend on not having a factory next door polluting it, it depends on plants, it depends on a healthy functioning ecosystem.

    And this is difficult to turn our attention to because it's also an imperiled ecosystem.

    There are several areas of hope in the overall human situation despite the upsetting headlines  (see for example: Nicholas Kristoff's great column "Why 2017 Was the Best Year in Human History" (see link at bottom)).

    But in the ecological world, while there are rays of hope the overall situation is dire. Species extinctions are happening on the order of 100 times faster than even in previous periods where geological changes (or giant meteors) led to broad "extinction events." And no who's studied the evidence doubts climate change any more - massive changes are disrupting ecological systems in ways beyond our knowing.

    And so it was powerful to spend a week practicing mindfulness surrounded by amazing birds and frogs and by the Costa Rican people. A people, by the way, who as a nation have made education, natural protection, and appreciation of nature a national priority (after they disbanded their military in 1947! Think of all the resources that frees up. So much depends).

    As we did this I also recommitted myself to not hiding from my fears around the challenges faced by our planet.

    It makes no sense to try to be mindful and a little happier as if I was separate from this planet on which my every breathing moment, my every bite of food, my every drink of water depends.

    I'm not sure what action this will result in.

    Certainly I can help a little by including ecology in the teachings I do (I initially trained at university in biology!). I can also help by supporting the wise and effective environmental organizations all around us in the Pacific Northwest. But I think most importantly I can help by not turning away from this crisis. I can remember the planet we live on and the living systems we depend on.

    So much depends on all of us. So much depends on you. So much depends on me. And we depend on each other. I'll do my best to be dependable for you and I'm sure you will for me, for all of us. We're in this together. That's how it works. 

    So much depends.

    Kristoff's column click here


    Except as noted, photos from the Costa Rica retreat courtesy of Tim Burnett.


  • 12 Jun 2018 9:00 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Michael Kelberer

    A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) proposed a Charter on Physician Well-Being. It cites widespread challenges to the well-being of physicians including dissatisfaction, burnout, high rates of depression, and increased suicide risk. These in turn are associated with reduced patient care and satisfaction, decreased access to care, and increased healthcare costs.

    One purpose of the charter, say the authors, is to provide a set of guiding principles to healthcare organizations to help counter these worrisome downward trends in physician well-being, and therefore in patient care.  Here are the principles they propose:

    • Effective patient care promotes and requires physician well-being.
    • Physician well-being is related with the well-being of all members of the health care team.
    • Physician well-being is a quality marker.
    • Physician well-being is a shared responsibility.

    At Mindfulness Northwest, we are proud of our history of providing high-quality mindfulness training to healthcare providers in the Pacific Northwest. There is a significant and growing body of peer-reviewed literature that shows that healthcare providers receiving formal mindfulness training show significant improvements in each of the "challenges" to physician well-being mentioned above. And organizations offering this training do enjoy reduced burnout and provider turnover, as well as improved patient outcomes and satisfaction

    For more information on our healthcare offerings, please visit https://mindfulnessnorthwest.com/healthcare.

    To see the JAMA article, click here: JAMA Abstract


  • 21 May 2018 3:35 PM | Tim Burnett (Administrator)

    We're honored to have our online Mindfulness for Healthcare Professionals featured in the May-June issue of the Washington State Medical Associations's newsletter WSMA Reports.  

    Here's a downloadable copy of the article: WSMA-Reports-May-June-2018-Wellness-Article.pdf

    The Summer class starts on June 5th: Online: Mindfulness for Healthcare Professionals of Washington State - Co-sponsored by WPHP & WSMA - Tuesday Evenings

    And the Fall class starts on September 25th: Online: Mindfulness for Healthcare Professionals of Washington State - Co-sponsored by WPHP & WSMA - Tuesday Evenings

    Open to all open to all Washington State healthcare professionals and therapists (MD/DO/PA/NP/RN/LMHC/MHC/MSW, etc.).

  • 05 May 2018 10:03 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Richard Johnson

    Types of Practice

    As you contemplate putting together your own ongoing mindfulness practice, you might consider these three building blocks: (1) formal practice on your own, (2) group formal practice, and (3) informal practice.

    Group Practice: You can experience group meditation in our mindfulness classes and there are meditation groups meeting regularly in the Northwest - see our Community page for some suggestions. You may find that your formal and informal practice are aided by joining one of these groups. You might also be able to join together with friends and form a simple practice group of your own also.

    Levels of Practice

    Check out this list of levels of practice to see what’s best for you:

    Platinum: daily formal practice 20 or more minutes, and informal practice, and weekly group practice.

    Gold: daily formal practice of 5-15 minutes, and informal practice.

    Silver: daily formal practice daily a few minutes, and some informal practice.

    A real step forward: informal practice as often as possible.

    Putting together your own practice

    We who teach mindfulness value formal and informal practice. We see how the one supports the other. But we know that many of us don’t feel we have the time for formal practice. It is true that the combination of a demanding work schedule and family life can leave very little time to devote to yourself. But you may have a habitual way of thinking is preventing you from practicing, a mindset that “there’s no time for me.” We invite you to explore this mindfully. Even a few minutes of formal practice daily can be very helpful. You might especially look at transitions between major activities (work and home, say) and whether your downtime activities are truly nourishing.

    The beauty of informal practice is that it takes no extra time. Only remembering to pay attention to whatever’s happening in and around you. Many former participants in our courses report that informal practice, even without formal practice, gives them a helpful opportunity to pause and come back to the present moment again and again. Informal practice alone is A Real Step Forward. 

    For some suggestions on keeping up the formal practice at home see the essay “Maintaining a Daily Practice” on the website.

    Wishing you well as you come up with what works for you, and reminding you that we change over time. Just be open, and who knows what the future will offer you?


  • 05 May 2018 10:03 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Karen Schwisow

    Mindfulness says that pain in life is inevitable, but the degree to which we suffer from it is optional. It isn't so much what happens to us, but our thoughts and reactions around what happens to us that leads to suffering.

    This truth smacked me upside the head last fall on the morning we were to take my daughter back to college. I came downstairs to a mess and a packing job that wasn't close to being complete. We were on a strict schedule and within minutes I was saying things to her that made her angry and then had her crying. I was frustrated and self-righteous and unrepentant.

    I sat down for my habitual meditation practice with absolutely no enthusiasm. I groaned inwardly when my reading for the day included words on forgiveness and taking responsibility for one’s own feelings. "Pshaw, I am so right and she is so wrong and she needs to hear it and....blah, blah, blah" went my mind.

    And my sitting practice went like this: I’d hear my inner narrative, I’d let it go and return to the breath; I’d get lost in my own justifications, I’d return to the breath – and rinse and repeat maybe, oh,150 times. I wish I could report that was unusual.

    I did begin to notice the physical sensations that accompanied these thoughts and allowed myself to simply feel them. And eventually, in all that thinking and feeling and breathing work, came the realization that the constriction in my chest was not due to anger about the schedule, it was due to sorrow about my daughter’s leaving, a sorrow that was an overwhelming feeling of loss and emptiness. And then I had the unpleasant feeling of THAT icky emotion washing over me again and again. As it did, though, the anger drained away, and while I was left with sadness, I was also left with love and tenderness for my dear daughter who occupies such a huge place in my heart.

    When my meditation time ended, I went to her and confessed that anger was easier for me to feel than sorrow and I apologized for my harsh words. She is a person who holds no grudges and forgives instantly. Soon we were hugging and crying and laughing together.

    The giant pain hole being created by her departure for college was still there, but I had been the source of my own suffering, her suffering (and probably my husband’s and even the dog's suffering) by my resistance to feeling it.  

    Mindfulness asks us to turn towards and attend to our own hard pain and miraculously, when we do that, we make room for softness and healing.


  • 03 Apr 2018 8:52 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Tim Burnett

    A new book by a Zen teacher friend of mine arrived a few days ago which has me thinking about time. The book is a study of a famous essay on the topic of time by Eihei Dogen, the 12th Century Zen master who is famous for his voluminous and challenging writings. I'll add a link and a few notes about this below if you're curious.

    I'm intrigued by this new book. After reading the first few pages this time I find myself thinking about time, our relationship to time, and how stressed we seem to be by time. And I include myself fully in this! Perhaps it’s time to think more about our relationship to time itself.

    In our class for healthcare professionals we do an exercise called Areas of Stress designed to support a "turning-towards" orientation around our stress. The idea is that trying to avoid and ignore stress or to "manage" stress in that stuff-it-in-a-box fashion seems to ultimately backfire. When we have the resources, the path to healing seems to require facing the stressful areas of life head-on and working with how we're relating to that stress. 

    We go through about 20 areas of stress like intimate relationships, work, sleep, food, our changing bodies, the world, our stuff, and so on.

    And I always include time. "Time," I'll write and say something like: "having enough time, managing time, using time wisely, not wasting time, having time to get stuff done, having time for self-care. Is time an area of stress for you?"

    Can you guess which area of stress is always in the top 3 for most people in our groups?

    Yes: time. We are stressed by time. Worried about time. Time is a problem for us.

    And I think we take it for granted that it should be this way. "There are only 24 hours in a day," we say. And we know that we need enough sleep and exercise and now, on top of all that, a daily mindfulness practice which takes up more of that precious time daily! Time is rushing at us. Do you feel like you’re pushing through time like walking into a strong headwind? Time is exhausting.

    Of course I think mindfulness can help with this troubling dynamic but as I re-examine Dogen's thoughts about time from 1200 years ago I wonder if our approach is thorough enough.

    The simple and profound practice of mindful awareness of present-moment experience does help in a deep and radical way. That’s for sure.

    Photo by John Novotny

    Turning in to our breath, or what we're seeing right in front of us now, or what we're feeling in our body, heart and mind, these are moments of stepping out of the buffeting of the winds of time. These can be deeply healing moments where we can remember ease and a kind of timeless presence. Somehow it's also possible to rest in time. 

    We explore this more fully in retreats. In our Days of Mindfulness, we encourage people to turn off their phones, put away their watches and let the time be "now" for at least a day. This can be challenging at times (pun intended) but it can also be so freeing. To just relax into the flow of moment by moment awareness and bring the mind back to that feeling when it veers off into future and past.

    So this is helpful. Powerfully so. But I wonder if it's enough.

    Are we avoiding the real issue at hand? Is the present-centered focus of mindfulness training offering us the real possibility of change or merely a way of taking a break for a moment before we're swept back into the whirlwind of life as a person who's running in place while time sweeps by from future to past?

    I don't have any real answers to that but I think it's worth turning our attention to this. How do you think about time? How do you feel about time? Does it make sense to perceive time as something separate from ourselves that we try to manage and organize and spend wisely?

    Or is there another way that's more wholesome and integrated? I'd be curious to hear your thoughts. 

    Best wishes on this early Spring day. Have you paused to take in a blooming cherry tree yet? A seasonal treat that I hope I'll "make time" to enjoy today. Or maybe tomorrow. Or...

    Notes

    The book mentioned in the essay is Being-Time: A Practitioner’s Guide to Dogen’s Shobogenzo Uji by Shinshu Roberts. Shobogenzo is a famous collection of essays by Dogen. This particular essay called "Uji" in Sino-Japanese. Is usually translated as "Being-Time" - it's a meditation on the idea that there is no time separate from being and no being separate from time. The same essay was also one of my friend Ruth Ozeki's inspirations for her wonderful novel A Tale for the Time Being which I recommend highly.

  • 02 Apr 2018 8:51 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Oori Silberstein

    The fundamental question of Mindfulness is what is happening in this moment?  Asking this question sincerely in any moment has the potential to create space and choice in moments of difficulty and stress. Mindfulness practice can turn stressful moments into moments of relaxation and relief. And over time, with regular practice and patience, mindfulness can be fundamentally transformative and healing.  But sometimes challenging and difficult emotions are larger than our mindfulness in the moment and we need something more.  

    Finding our balance amidst strong emotions like sadness, self-judgment, grief, anger, shame, embarrassment, negative mood, depression or anxiety (to name a few) often takes more than simple mindfulness in the moment. This is true for everybody, from relative beginners to seasoned meditation teachers.  At such times, therapeutic intervention with a professional can be an excellent and beneficial thing to do. I myself have benefitted greatly from therapy at various times throughout my 18 years as a meditator.  

    Bringing in kindness

    In our personal practice, when encountering and trying to navigate our way through difficult experiences and feelings, it is extremely helpful to learn how to bring kindness and care to ourselves in a genuine and effective way.  And this is what the practice of Mindful Self-Compassion, or MSC, offers.  In the same way that Mindfulness helps us access and strengthen the mind’s natural capacity to be present and wise, MSC helps us access and strengthen the heart’s natural capacity to be kind and caring.

    Meeting difficulty or stress with kindness is what we mean by compassion.   Can you think of a time when someone was there for you in a moment of difficulty without trying to change you or fix you?  Perhaps a teacher, a good friend or a grandparent-type figure who just let you be how you were in the moment of difficulty?  When someone is genuinely kind and accepting towards us in the midst of our difficulty it can be very supportive and healing. 

    In addition to feeling compassion from others we can also feel it towards others. For example, when we see a small child fall and get hurt our heart may naturally respond with care and kindness.  Compassion is a natural movement of our heart when we are relaxed and seeing clearly.

    Giving and receiving

    Mindful Self-Compassion teaches us how to combine these two natural instincts, of giving and receiving compassion, in a way that strengthens our ability to navigate difficult emotions.  It uses mindfulness to notice when we are experiencing difficulty, and gives us tools to access our own capacity to be kind and compassionate towards ourselves in such moments. 

    If all of this sounds a bit awkward, or even a bit unbelievable, you are not alone.  Most of us have been taught negative myths about self-kindness.  I was personally quite skeptical of this practice initially.  I did not believe I could really befriend myself in a satisfying and genuine way.  “That only happens when the friend is another person” I thought.  And I went to MSC class with lots of doubts and reasons why it was wrong or impossible to do this.   But what I learned, with the support of a good teacher, was that I am capable of offering myself exactly the kind of support and compassion I need.  And MSC has become a central part of my practice and daily life.  When mindfulness asks What is happening in this moment and the answer is that we are experiencing difficulty, we can then ask the fundamental question of MSC: What do I need in this moment?  And with the skills and practices of MSC, we learn to give ourselves exactly what we need in moments of difficulty, in a way that is genuinely satisfying and healing.  

  • 16 Mar 2018 7:45 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    By Michael Kelberer

    Many mindfulness teachers (including ours) consider compassion the "other wing of mindfulness." Mindfulness helps create the space in which compassion can arise; and an emphasis on compassion can help "warm up" mindfulness into something we might call "heartfulness."

    The body of evidence is larger for “regular” mindfulness (that taught in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction classes), but the scientific support for the benefits of practicing compassion is compelling.

    For starters, the benefits of Loving-Kindness practices appear pretty quickly, and have staying power: greater empathy towards others, greater generosity, greater resilience in emotionally fraught situation. For another, Loving-Kindness practices show real promise in the treatment of PTSD and other traumas.

    The basic practice

    Loving-Kindness practice falls under the category of “cultivation practices,” where imagery and poetry are used to cultivate a desirable trait. In this case, you bring to mind the image of another being, which might be yourself, and wish them well by repeating phrases of goodwill silently to yourself. Example phrases are:

    May you (I, we) be happy and joyful

    May you (I, we) feel safe and secure

    May you (I, we) be strong and healthy

    May you (I, we) live with ease

    Variations

    The classic sequence is to start with someone (or thing) very dear to you, spend a couple of minutes wishing them well using the above or your own phrases, then picture someone less close but friendly and do the same, then repeat with a neutral party, then (if you’re up for it) picking someone you have a difficult relationship and repeating the process for them.

    Another (the you-we-I sequence) starts with a dear one, then you add yourself to the image and do a “We” sequence a few times, then bid your dear one goodbye and wish yourself well with a few “I” sequences.

    Guided meditations

    There is a large variety of compassion practices (including the above) on our website, and on Insight Timer.


  • 16 Mar 2018 7:43 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    By Michael Kelberer

    I’ve been reading Kelly McGonigal’s paradigm-shifting book “The Upside of Stress” with a great deal of personal interest. For the last two years, I’ve been dealing with one very stressful situation after another. The move from Minnesota to Bellingham, relationship changes, and therapy. And on top of all that, I’ve read all the dire warnings about the effects of long-term, chronic stress on health and longevity.

    The classic double whammy. Stress, and stressing about stress. Very depressing.

    Tonic

    Not so fast, says McGonigal. Too much of the research on stress has been based on a huge false assumption – that there’s only one stress response, the infamous “fight or flight.”  Turns out the human physio-neuro-hormonal complex is, well, more complex than that. In fact, there are a variety of stress responses, and often they can be more helpful than not.

    For example: There was a period in my life when I believed I thrived on stress: minor crises at work, tight deadlines, major exams – I always felt I was at my best in the clutch. With good reason, says McGonigal. One of the beneficial stress responses is the “Challenge Response.” It fires up the brain and body, provides a motivation boost from a nice cocktail of endorphins, adrenaline and dopamine, and gets you in the flow.

    Unbeknownst to me, the key was that I believed that I thrived on stress, and this mindset allowed me to take advantage of the benefits of the stress response. So, within limits, the key to stress management isn’t always about reducing stress. Quite the opposite – embracing stress with a positive mindset can let it work for you.

    Be mindful

    Do notice the “within limits” caveat though. When stress feels overwhelming and beyond your current capacity to meet it – seek relief.

    In both cases, the best tool for navigating stress is mindfulness. Feel your way into the moment.

    If you're not facing the psychological equivalent of a saber-toothed tiger, chances are that this stress energy can be harnessed to help you deal with the situation. Being mindful gives you the space to make that conscious choice.

    McGonigal cites several studies where people who were coached in this technique performed much better in stressful situations (big tests, public speaking) than those who weren’t.

    And happiness!

    Furthermore, McGonical sites research studies showing a strong connection between generally higher stress levels in peoples’ lives and their happiness and sense of purpose. The connection seems to grow out of their ability to see the many day-to-day stressors in their lives (juggling schedules, social media, cooking, household chores) less as obstacles outside of their control and more as necessary ingredients for the lives they are building for themselves. On a deeper level, performing those tasks, while stressful on the micro level, on a higher level were expressions of their own values. Says McGonigal: “The takeaway should be to change your relationship to the everyday experiences you perceive as hassles.”  Mindfulness anyone?

    Before I started reading The Upside of Stress, I had been struck by the fact that, despite my long list of stressors,

    the last two years have also been among the happiest of my life. Now I know why.

    Michael

    Michael Kelberer
    Assistant to the Director


  • 12 Mar 2018 1:40 PM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    By Richard Johnson

    The recent passing of Valentine's Day had me meditating on the mystery of love. We can only meet this mystery by making it real in our own lives, not by our concepts about love but by taking the wholehearted leap into love as an experience. By showing up, we enter the dance of life.

    Love radiates naturally from our hearts. A mother loving her little ones is proof of this natural bond. We can look at love as a bridge. In couples, we meet and something tells us that we want to build our lives together, to bridge the separations we so often experience from others. Over time we can strengthen this bridge by establishing a firm foundation on each shore, from each partner in this ongoing endeavor. We need to love our partner deeply, and we need to love ourselves deeply.

    All of us who have chosen to love a partner for life know that we encounter many obstacles to loving fully: fear, jealousy, anger, frustration and many other reactive patterns in our lives. Returning to the image of the bridge, the obstacles are impurities in the bridge which weaken it, leading at times to a complete collapse of a couple’s relationship. But as both partners deepen their commitment to this bond, their love tempers the steel of the bridge and makes it stronger and stronger. 

    Understanding <-> Love

    We need to understand our partner to strengthen this bond.  We all need someone in our lives who understands us.  Yet as we mature, we also learn to seek to understand others before we expect them to understand us. Understanding another person, or “standing under” them, means to play a supporting role on the stage of their lives. What does this role ask of us? It invites us to hold another’s heart with the same tenderness and open-hearted care with which we would hold a baby bird.  In that holding, we open a space to facilitate understanding between and within both people.

    Understanding is a deeper way to know someone than having knowledge about them. Understanding means to bring them into our hearts and minds, holding them in awareness. Having knowledge about someone is more a surface experience, possessing information or developing perceptions about them. Knowledge by itself can get in the way of true understanding. When we’re mindful, “open, kind, and discerning,” understanding can well up inside us. Suddenly, we understand something or someone in a new and often arresting way.

    As Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Understanding is love's other name. If you don't understand, you can't love.” We can understand our partner in many ways, but as he emphasizes, “Understanding someone's suffering is the best gift you can give another person.”  Loving someone and understanding their suffering, and wanting to relieve their suffering, that is compassion . We enter into compassion naturally, simply by being aware that it dwells within us. 

    A belated happy Valentine's Day,
    Richard
    Richard Johnson, Senior Teacher


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