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July 2017 Practice Letter - "Practice in Real Life"

3 Jul 2017 1:07 PM | Ed Wayt (Administrator)

Practice in Real Life

Dear Friends,

Research on how mindfulness helps us cope keeps appearing. There are now entire scientific journals on mindfulness!

A recent study I found particularly clear and interesting is a study out of Australia (summary article here).

In that study they looked at how people cope with stressful situations. People who've developed a more present-centered attitude of "present-centered awareness" - that just being present with what is now and not dwelling so much in the future or the past - did better under pressure in three ways, which they termed: (1) coping self-efficacy, (2) values-based coping, and (3) less avoidance coping.

Coping self-efficacy: First, the more mindful folks in the study had more confidence in themselves under stress.  They were likely to feel like they have the resources and ability to deal with the difficult situation.  

How does mindfulness help with coping self-efficacy? With mindfulness, and this does imply being willing to really feel our feelings of discomfort and anxiety during stressful times, we are better able to weather the storm, to rise to the challenge, and to release from regrets and the extra fears and catastrophizing the mind can so easily add. And the humility and self-awareness mindfulness facilitates also means we're more likely to seek support and ask for help under stress. Both of these factors (seeing stress as a challenge not a disaster, and seeking help) also protect us against the unhelpful aspects of the classic fight, flight, or freeze stress response.

Values-based coping: Second, in this study they saw that people with a more mindful, present-centered orientation stay closer to their core values when under stress. They don't take short cuts like playing fast and loose with the truth to avoid consequences. They are less likely to tell themselves stories that justify bad behavior for instance. We've all experienced how much worse we end up feeling when we "cheat" in some way or convince ourselves of something we know not to be really true to try to avoid trouble.

Less avoidance coping. Third, they found that more mindful people did far less of what they called "avoidance coping". They were less likely to distract themselves with the various indulgences we use to try to avoid our feelings. While it can be quite healthy to get back under the covers sometimes and take a real break, we all know the effects of the many compulsive behaviors we use to try to avoid feeling uncomfortable.  It works out far better, this work suggests, to stay with it and feel what we feel. Even when that's the more difficult option in the short term.

I was thinking about all of this this morning after I made a mistake. I sent a sloppy reply-all email which one of the accidental recipients might have found condescending. Nothing too bad - my poor conduct pales in comparison to recent examples on the national stage - but a mistake. And a mistake that might make it harder to move forward on a project that matters to me.

Once my colleague pointed out the mistake I certainly had that familiar "oh s**t!" feeling. And I noticed my sense of self-esteem taking an immediate nose-dive. "What an idiot I am," the inner critic was ready to tell me. And I noticed the mind spinning to regret about past: what I should and shouldn't have done. And my mind went to fears about the future: what if this results in the whole project being cancelled? And I noticed the tension in me from having acted out of accord with my values of being respectful and caring to everyone. I wouldn't have written something that reads as condescending if I were fully in touch with my values.

After the initial shock I felt some gratitude. And realized that my process of recovering from a set back like this is similar to what this study describes.  

Coping self-efficacy. Even though it's painful feeling shame and embarrassment when I make a mistake I've come, over time, to have confidence that I'll weather even the worst disasters. And that part of that weathering means I can't avoid the feelings. It's painful to make a mistake and I know I can bear that pain. And I've learned to seek support. I had a helpful exchange with my colleague and then reached out to another colleague who was affected with a brief apology. (I found out later that she jumped in to reduce any potential damage from my email!).

Values-based coping. I appreciated that it was harder for my mind to try to justify or avoid the mistake because I touched in to my values. It wasn't just a bit of sloppy emailing. I shouldn't have been writing anything that is less than fully respectful. That's a core value I have and when I am sloppy with my values, trouble results sooner or later. Rather than just being more careful when playing with fire, better to not light that fire int he first place.

Less avoidance coping. And I'm grateful that I have the training and support to simply feel the "ouch" of this, feel the healthy regret. Not to wallow in shame, of course (go back to values-based coping! Self-respect is a another great value to nurture!). Reflecting on our common humanity helps here too: it's human to make mistakes! It's normal to lose track of our values from time to time.  

At the moment this is still quite painful and it can stay painful as long as it needs to.  Feelings what we're feeling is a key part of coping self-efficacy. Otherwise it's avoidance. Sometimes we misunderstand mindfulness as a way to instantly "move on" or "let go" of something difficult - but actually that's a kind of subtle avoidance coping mechanism that is sometimes called "Spiritual Bypass".  

Wishing you strength and resilience when your mistakes happen. For they surely will!


Tim Burnett,  Executive Director 

Need a practice tune up?

Starting soon in Seattle and Kirkland

Our Fundamentals of Mindfulness class is an excellent way to discover mindfulness practices AND tune up your existing practice by re-grounding in the basics.

Seattle: starts July 6th

Kirkland: starts July 12th

In Bellingham? Try our new drop-in class Thursday evenings.

Starts July 6th

A great 90 minutes of guided practice, poetry, and check-ins. Drop in. Practice together. Refresh.

Thursday evenings this summer

Retreat options

We're delighted to be offering so many more retreats: one day retreats in Seattle, Woodinville, Bellingham, and online. Plus Mindful Self-Compassion at Tassajara, and Roots of Compassion at Samish.

Retreat practice is so important and so powerful. Immersing ourselves in the practice and taking a true break for our busy routines is transformational.

Retreats coming up

A Day of Mindfulness for Health Care Professionals (Bellingham) - July 16th

A Day of Mindfulness at Brightwater Center (Woodinville) - July 29

Mindful Self Compassion at Tassajara - July 20-24

Roots of Compassion 5-day Retreat 2017 - August 27 - September 1
Flying in? Airporter shuttle available.

Plan Ahead

Teacher Training Discernment Retreat (Samish Island) - September 1-4
Thinking of taking the Mindfulness Teacher Training Program next year? Join this year's cohort in their first weekend together to see what the program is like! 

Roots of Mindfulness 7-day Retreat 2017 October 15-22
Flying in? Airporter shuttle available.

Day of Mindfulness(Bellevue) - October 28

Day of Mindfulness  (Seattle) - November 4

Day of Mindfulness  (Bellingham) - November 5

"Compassion for others begins with kindness for ourselves."

- Pema Chodron

Coming Soon with Spaces Left

Upcoming Classes

Information on these and the classes and retreat can be found on our site:
Mindfulness Northwest Events

 Seattle Area Classes

 Bellingham Area Classes

Fundamentals of Mindfulness. Seattle. Thursday evenings, July 6 - August 3.

Fundamentals of Mindfulness. Kirkland Wednesday evenings July 12 - August 2.

A Day of Mindfulness at Brightwater Center Woodinville - July 29

NEW! Workshop: Meeting Mindfulness. Seattle. September 7, 6:30-9pm

Mindful Self-Compassion for Healthcare Professionals (UW staff/family). Sunday evenings September 10 - November 12.

Mindfulness for Healthcare Professionals(Open to all, sponsored by SCCA). Tuesday evenings, September 12 - October 3.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Seattle. Mondays mid-day, September 18 - November 13.

NEW IN EVERETT! Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Everett. Tuesday evenings. September 19 - November 14

NEW IN SEATTLE! Mindful Self-Compassion. Seattle. Thursday evenings, September 21 - November 16.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction(Kirkland). Wednesday mid-day, September 20 - November 15.

Mindfulness for Healthcare Professionals. The Everett Clinic (open to all). Wednesday evenings, October 11 - November 15
NEW! Drop-In Classes. Come when you can! Thursday evenings, July 6 - August 24, 7-8:30pm

NEW! Workshop: Meeting Mindfulness. Saturday, September 9th, 6:30-9pm

Re-scheduled: Workshop: Tending Relationships with a Mindful Heart.September 16th, 1-4pm

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Thursday mornings, September 21 - November 16.

NEW! Mindful Self-Compassion for Healing Professionals. Friday mornings, September 22 - November 17.

Taking the PATH of Mindfulness. Thursday Eveings, October 12 - November 16
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