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  • 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


  • 01 Mar 2018 1:36 PM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    By Tim Burnett

    Sometimes when we hear about mindfulness and meditation is sounds passive. It sounds like we'll be better off just accepting everything. Just sit with it. Relax. What is, is. And so on.

    And that's not wrong. It does help us immensely to get it through our heads that we can't be active all the time. It does us and the world no good if our speed control is set to "always on." It exhausts us and everyone around us if life is nothing but doing, improving, fixing, and figuring things out. Goodness knows, almost all of us could use some remedial lessons in relaxation.

    But it's not quite right to think about mindfulness training as just being about relaxation and acceptance. That's missing its transformational potential – by a mile. Mindfulness helps us pay more attention and that can reveal a lot that we're missing and be the seed of curiosity about what it is we don't know or understand yet.

    There are some apparent opposites here. On the one hand it's absolutely essential to accept things that are, here it is; but on the other hand there may be something we don't know, yet, that can change our lives and the lives of others for the better if only we noticed and chose to do something about it.

    A tale of two cats

    Recently we got a new cat. Our beloved cat Lucca had died a few years ago and after a couple years of an emptier house without animals my wife found a sprightly young cat to bring home.

    In the interim though she learned more about cats. She learned about their psychology and she learned about cat training. And she committed herself to working with our new cat Gizmo to increase some behaviors and decrease others. And happily our interests and our cat's interests seem to be largely in alignment!

    Lucca and her cat sister Capraia used to drive us nuts in the early morning. At about 4:30am or so one or the other would hop up on the bed and start wining to be fed. After a while of course we locked them downstairs which allowed us to sleep a little longer but probably didn't help them feel any less anxious about food.

    And we accepted this: a little annoying but just how it is with cats. Looking back now I wonder: did we accept it wisely or just learn to put with it? Did we just not know any better?

    With our new cat Gizmo, Janet realized that if he never associated us with receiving food he wouldn't have any reason to bug us early in the morning to feed him. And so she found a simple mechanical feeder that you can set to rotate a its lid revealing the food as any given time. She set this up to feed Gizmo at 5am - in the downstairs bathroom away from our room. 

    Result? Gizmo  doesn't wake us up early in the morning, we dont need to lock him downstairs, and he can even sleep with us.  It's delight to feel his warm body in between us (on top of the covers happily). It makes us both happy and seems to make him happy. If he gets hungry he can hop up any time to see if the feeder (the "magic box") has revealed another batch of food for him.

    A common sense anchor

    I don't know if i'm writing about mindfulness or common sense here. But maybe that's an accurate way of thinking about the benefits of mindfulness. It helps us access our common sense. And that kind of common sense maybe increasingly uncommon!

    And of course all of this might not have worked with Gizmo. His personality and history are a part of this too. His previous owners must have been kind and supportive as he quickly seemed to feel relaxed and happy as a new member of the household. There are no guarantees.

    Some of the studies of mindfulness suggest that the practice supports our ability to make a creative effort with less attachment to the outcome. It seems contradictory to increase both our curiosity about why things are, and how they might be, and our acceptance of things as they are. And yet somehow these two qualities are nurtured through the practice. In a mindful state there's more room to wonder what we're not seeing. And in a mindless state we're heads-down. Tolerating things begrudgingly and running on habit: no room in the mind for new ideas.

    And a path to skillfulness

    A term to describe this that I hear in Buddhist circles a lot is skillfulness.

    Mindfulness practice seems to give us more room to be skillful. Sometimes there is something we simply don't know (the basics of cat training for instance) that could really change lives for the better. It's skillful to learn more. To change something. To see what happens.

    Other times despite our best efforts, based on what we know at this point, things just aren't going the way we want. And then it's skillful to turn towards our resistance and annoyance and pain and practice mindful acceptance and a little kindness. We'll never get all of what we want and we'll always live in a world with pain and suffering in it. We can't fix it but maybe we can become more skillful in the middle of it. And the great thing is that tends to lead to a lot more ease and joy overall.

    Life is tricky. It can be painful. And it can be a delight. It's up to us, and it's beyond us. Both sides are always here. And we really can become more skillful in how we navigate.

    Wishing us all an increase in skillfulness as we touch into our deep native intelligence and common sense,

    Tim

    Tim Burnett, Executive Director


  • 16 Jan 2018 1:37 PM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Richard Johnson

    Did you ever hear a teacher sternly admonish you or another student to “PAY ATTENTION!”? Once, when I was gazing out the window on a sunny spring day and not paying attention to my teacher, I heard those words. I didn’t say, though I thought it, I am paying attention to the gorgeous spring day out there, not you.

    Back then, very few teachers knew how to teach us to pay attention. Now, fortunately, more and more teachers, in and outside the schools, know how to teach us to pay attention: most prominently, mindfulness meditation.

    As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, mindfulness is “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” 

    Above all, mindfulness teaches us to pay attention, in two essential ways: formal practice - sitting meditation, the body scan, mindful movement (gentle yoga), and walking meditation; and informal practice, paying attention to what’s going on in and around us, moment by moment. 

    Formal practice helps

    As you probably know, learning to pay attention “in this particular way” is simple, but not easy. To improve our ability to pay attention most effectively, we need to engage in formal practice on a regular basis, and that requires a commitment of a certain amount of time. Although informal practice does not require extra time - it’s being aware of what’s happening as life unfolds - still it requires remembering to pay attention. So why do we even bother to engage in these practices?

    Here's why I have made the choice to meditate and why I continue:

    1. I am happier. From my first meditation, I discovered an inner space that comforts me, that makes me smile almost every time.
    2. Meditation helps me solve my problems. At home or at work, if I feel troubled, I meditate as soon as I can. Sometimes it takes just one meditation, sometimes many, but it always helps at a certain point.
    3. Writing and teaching flow more easily. Before I began meditating, I suffered from writer’s block at times. I never had that experience after I began meditating. In writing and teaching, I am often buoyed up with joy, as if a warm, tropical wind is lifting my sails and propelling me onward. 
    4. My mind wanders less. And when it does wander, it’s less intrusive. The practice of noting or labeling thoughts as they arise, in meditation or not, helps me recognize them and let them float on out of my mind.
    5. Even the most difficult relationships for me can become less challenging. I have relied for years on the Loving-Kindness Meditations. Sooner or later, my angers, frustrations, and anxieties dissolve in these meditations as my heart opens and I begin to see things through the eyes of someone else. And then I see, almost invariably, improvements in how that person and I get along.
    6. Informal practice keeps giving me a new lease on life. When I feel grumpy, blue, or out-of-sorts in any way, returning to the breath or taking a refreshing walk in my neighborhood or a park renews my spirits. 

    Deep and lovely

    We will all find different advantages to practicing mindfulness, and that is as it should be. But whatever the benefits we may enjoy, I believe it’s important to reflect that we may well stand at the beginning of a major cultural revolution in mindfulness. When I was young, in the 40s and 50s, I knew no one who meditated. In the 70s when I began meditating, we meditators were outliers. When Jon Kabat-Zinn founded Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in 1979, very few people knew what he was doing. He wrote a few pioneering articles in the early 80s, and now researchers are publishing hundreds every year on mindfulness. 

    To be sure, some of the interest in mindfulness is superficial. But true mindfulness, as Thich Nhat Hanh has written, is “deep and lovely.” 

    In my seven years of teaching MBSR, I have been blessed to witness hundreds of participants find practical ways to improve, and often enough, transform their lives. There are now hundreds of clinics, hospitals and other venues worldwide where MBSR and other mindfulness interventions are being taught.

    Learning and practicing mindfulness provide fresh perspectives and opportunities that can help all of us pay greater attention to how we think, act and feel. This self-reflection can help us co-create a world that is based more solidly on mutual understanding and compassion. We don’t know what’s to come, but I for one look forward to seeing where mindfulness practices take us in the years to come. 

    Be well,

    Richard

    Richard Johnson
    Senior Teacher


  • 01 Jan 2018 1:34 PM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    by Tim Burnett

    As the tumultuous year of 2017 draws to a close I'm thinking about what I can do in 2018 to be a better person. A better friend. A better father. A better husband. A better teacher. A better citizen.

    It's so easy to look out there and expect other people to be better. Our attention is so strongly drawn to examples of what we consider bad behavior in others. And 2017 was a doozy of a year for most of us with that compelling observation. Our stress responses have been triggered often I bet, regardless of your politics, by the words and images of the various kinds of "news" this year just for starters!

    And then there are the people we know personally! Why doesn't she return my messages more promptly? Why is he still drinking/overeating/wasting so much time online? On and on it goes in our mind.

    It's so easy to want others to be better, but when we turn our attention to our own growth and development we can go so quickly into overwhelm. Our habits and patterns are so strong. We can make the same New Year's resolutions year after year and never quite get there. We get distracted. We spend our time and other resources on things that don't truly make us happy, much less support our growth and change.

    I love to share this poem in workshops and classes about the process of habit change.

    Autobiography in Five Chapters

    Chapter I

    I walk down the street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I fall in.
    I am lost... I am hopeless.
    It isn't my fault.
    It takes forever to find a way out.

    Chapter II

    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I pretend I don't see it.
    I fall in again.
    I can't believe I am in this same place.
    But it isn't my fault.
    It still takes a long time to get out.

    Chapter III

    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I see it there.
    I still fall in... it's a habit... but,
    my eyes are open.
    I know where I am.
    It is my fault.
    I get out immediately.

    Chapter IV

    I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I walk around it.

    Chapter V

    I walk down another street.

    -Portia Nelson from There's a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

    We don't like those middle chapters too much. We try to jump ourselves immediately from Chapter I to Chapter V. But it seems it doesn't work that way. There's a process here. Sometimes a very slow process. And it involves seeing more clearly: what are the holes in your sidewalk? And it involves taking more responsibility for our lives. I think of the quotation: "It's not your fault, but it is your responsibility."

    In her book on habit change The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal makes a few interesting points about this process. Mostly she says that willpower is like a muscle, we need to exercise it and strengthen it and it gets tired. We need to practice.

    And she says part of why this isn't easy is that the brain's reward center is wired towards distraction. It fires off pleasurable neurotransmitters that makes us fleetingly happy in the anticipation of reward. Picture the endless scroll of a Facebook feed or the endless possibilities of a bag of cookies. The interesting thing is the brain isn't responding to the actual taste of the cookie or the experience of reading some new tidbit from someone's life, it's responding to the exciting hope that the next one will be even better. We all know where that leads.

    This all makes me think of Shauna Shapiro's inspiring TED talk "What You Practice Grows Stronger". She repeats this phrase what you practice grows stronger several times and gives a story from her life to explain it and backing it up with a bit of science.

    What do you want to strengthen in 2018? Do you want to strengthen outrage and disgust? Or do you want to strengthen patience, kindness, and resilience?Sometime one worries about losing one's "edge" here. If things in the world aren't okay with us don't we need to stay angry to be motivated to respond? 

    I don't know if there's science yet to back this up but I don't think we need anger to respond. I think anger leads to unhelpful responses more often than not. We need to be motivated for sure, but I wonder if that motivation can come from a more balanced and positive place. A place of inclusion, compassion and understanding; a place that's less likely to lead to yet more division and confusion.

    And if we look at where we have the biggest influence, it's right in front of us. With our family. With our co-workers and classmates. With our neighbors and friends. And what kind of person do you want to be in those interactions? Distracted or present? Righteous or kind?

    So that's my goal for 2018. From moment to moment practice more of what I want to be: practice patience; practice resilience; practice kindness; practice honesty; practice being more direct and not procrastinating or avoiding for fear of conflict or failure; practice showing up even in the face of those underlying fears that I'm not good enough or people won't like it (or me!).

    And I've reluctantly learned that I need help in this enterprise. I can't just go it alone. Not much really changes if my goals are private (or even secret).  I've been amazed by how much it helps to have a bit of an exercise buddy. And I would never have kept up meditation all these years without a group to practice with.

    None of this is easy. But the good news is positive intentions, especially with more present-centered attention, and a little follow through leads to some positive "upward spirals" - sometimes quite quickly.  It's satisfying and joyful when we notice we're navigating the tricky waters of life with a little more ease. It's wonderful when we find ourselves rebalancing our perception and savoring the good things, not just reacting to the bad. And inspired by this we take the next step in a very long journey.

    What would you like to strengthen in 2018? What will you practice?

    Happy New Year,

    Tim

    Tim Burnett,  Executive Director
    Mindfulness Northwest

    Willpower by Kelly McGonigal

    The Power of Mindfulness: What You Practice Grows Stronger, TED talk by Shauna Shapiro


  • 15 Dec 2017 8:44 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)


    At Mindfulness Northwest, we offer sliding-scale fees for all of our classes, workshops and retreats to keep them as financially accessible as possible.

    But the reality is that we receive requests for every event from people where the very source of their suffering is also the cause of their inability to cover even the low end of our sliding scale: traumatic stress, abusive relationships, debilitating medical conditions.

    People paying a the high end of our sliding scale cover the people who need to register at the low end. But for the people in real need, we dip into our Scholarship Fund. Thanks to your generosity in the past we very rarely have had to say no to someone in need. 

    Please help us continue to help those who are still suffering by making a donation to our Scholarship Fund. Thank you!


  • 15 Dec 2017 8:42 AM | Michael Kelberer (Administrator)

    From the Mid-Month Update

    Noting

    I've been focused on a meditation tool called Noting (aka Labeling) for the last couple of weeks, and have come to like it a lot.

    Here's a definition of Noting from Stephen Levine: "Noting is a silent acknowledgment in the heart of what is occurring in the mind…without the least intention to interfere." So noting is a tool that supports the very basic mindfulness goal of learning how our minds work. And it is often used in conjunction with concentration practices like Awareness of Breath.

    It works like this: when your mind wanders from the object of meditation, note, not just the fact of wandering, but where the wandering has taken you.  Then give that place a label.

    This label can be simple: "thinking" or "strong sensation" or "strong emotion." As you develop this practice, your labeling can become more refined: "reliving the past" or "planning the future" or "escaping" or "obsessing about X".

    After a while of doing this on the cushion, I found it showing up in real life as well. One day I noticed that I had wandered off in my thoughts several times creating future scenarios where I was interacting with a friend, co-worker, etc. and psychoanalyzing them, with the charitable purpose of being able to "help" them live better lives.

    Hmm, I thought, how much of my mental energy is tied up in these fantasies anyway? So I resolved that every time I caught myself in one, I'd give it the label "Opinion-ing" and  return to the present. I would be too embarrassed to tell you the number of times that label got used. In the next hour.

    After watching the cumulative notings-per-minute count climb through the roof, I experienced a clear perception that almost all of those dialogues never left my head, and when they did come out of my mouth, it rarely ended well. I realized that having all those opinions of people did no one any good, certainly not me. It was a seismic mind-shift,  like a great cloud had left my brain leaving me feel much freer and less weighted down with my own thinking. Not that I'm free of gratuitous judgments. But less after that. And even lesser now :-)

    Michael

    PS: See the Practice Lab below for a link to the great (and short!) article by Stephen Levine, and a couple of Noting/Labeling meditations you can try.

    Michael


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