Developing Compassionate Action through Mindfulness and Listening to Personal Stories

Tara Brach recently spoke to Jon Kabat-Zinn on the theme of How Mindfulness Can Heal the World.  This discussion took place as part of the online Radical Compassion Challenge held over ten days in January 2020.  Jon’s central theme was that that it is not enough “to sit on the cushion” and meditate at a time when the world is experiencing such suffering, injustice, racial divisions and hatred; the challenge is to take compassionate action, activated by our growing awareness of our own reality and that of the world around us developed through mindfulness.

Many doors to one room

Jon argued that there are “many doors to the one room” – not only in terms of how we deal with the “agitation” we experience in today’s world but also in terms of how we individually respond by taking action.  Mindfulness can help us deal with our fear and anxiety either through experiencing that fear at a fully emotional and bodily level or by examining the fear conceptually to see its origins and its manifestation in our behaviour e.g. by blaming or judging.  The compassionate action we take will depend on our circumstances, our abilities and our self-awareness.  Jon, for example, stated that the Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program he developed was a political and compassionate action designed to relieve suffering at a time when professors at his institution, MIT, were developing weapons of mass destruction for the Vietnam War.  Tara, too, has taken compassionate action in many ways, including the establishment of Sounds True, a multimedia publishing company with a mission “To Wake Up the World”.

The role of personal stories and mindful listening

Both Jon and Tara highlighted the need to hear the stories of people who are less privileged than ourselves (e.g. in terms of their race, education, background, mental health, intellectual and physical abilities, careers, opportunities and overall wellness).  While they acknowledge that mindfulness is necessary to develop awareness of ourselves and the world around us, it is insufficient by itself to stimulate compassionate action.  Personal stories of suffering in its many forms can help us identify how we can take action and provide the emotional stimulus to act.  Stories in the mental health arena, such as What It’s Like to Survive Depression … Again and Again, can stimulate compassionate action.

Mindfulness can help us to develop our life purpose, build resilience and develop creativity but the real challenge is to channel these into compassionate action.  We are sure to encounter blockages such as our unrealistic expectations, biased assumptions, fear of failure and mistakes, but our growing awareness can help to overcome these.  The challenge is to find the momentum to begin and to revisit our motivation to sustain our effort and have a real impact on some aspect of the suffering of others.

Reflection

As we grow in mindfulness, we become more aware of the suffering and pain of people in the world around us.  This awareness can translate into compassionate action if we listen mindfully to the stories of people who are less privileged than ourselves.  Self-awareness can heighten our acknowledgement of how much we are privileged in so many ways and help us to identify both an arena for personal action and a point of intervention.  This will demand overcoming procrastination and the fears that hold our inaction in place.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

How to Develop Patience through Meditation

Diana Winston, in her meditation podcast, Practicing Patience, suggests that patience is an expression of mindfulness.   Patience involves being present in a purposeful, non-judgmental way.  It requires self-awareness, self-regulation and, in the final analysis, a willingness to be with “what is”.   Her guided meditation that follows this explanation is one of the many and varied, weekly meditation podcasts offered by MARC (UCLA).  Diana is the principal meditation teacher but is very ably assisted by guest meditation teachers such as Matthew Brensilver, Mitra Manesh and Brian Shiers. 

What makes us impatient?

The Cambridge Dictionary explains that we become impatient in two primary situations that frustrate our goal orientation, (1) where we are held up and have to wait when we are trying to go somewhere and (2) where we perceive that we are not achieving something fast enough that we are excited by.   So, impatience involves a lack of tolerance of the present situation where we must wait or of our rate of progression to a desired future state.  Richard Wolf explains that learning a new piece of music requires practice, patience and persistence, but we can be impatient with our rate of progress towards mastery.  The tendency, then, is to become judgmental and self-critical.  

The sources of our impatience can be numerous, e.g. stopped by a traffic light, held up by a slow driver or a cyclist in our car lane, experiencing writer’s block, an inability to master some aspect of a desired sporting skill, a mental blockage when presenting an idea, cooking a meal that overheats or becomes burnt, delays that make us late for a meeting or when preparing a meal for guests or any other sources of frustration of the achievement of our goals.

When we are impatient, we can experience a wide range of negative emotions such as annoyance, agitation, anxiety, anger or resentment.  We can become overwhelmed, make poor decisions and behave rashly. In contrast, patience can lead to many positive outcomes – it is a common belief that “patience is a virtue” because it leads to many benefits such as maintaining peace and equanimity, keeping things in perspective, opening up opportunities and enriching relationships.

A meditation for developing patience

Diana in her meditation podcast provides a meditation designed to develop patience and cultivate the associated benefits.  The patience meditation has several steps:

  1. Become grounded and focused – using your personal choice of an anchor such as your breath, sound or bodily sensation.
  2. Envisage a time when you were impatient – identify your thoughts, capture and name your feelings and revisit your bodily sensations
  3. Envisage a time when you were patient – again experience what it was like in respect of your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations
  4. Re-envisage the situation where you were impatient – this time picture yourself being patient and in control.  Try to capture the positive thoughts, feelings and sensations that accompany being patient in that situation.

This meditation, if repeated with some regularity, can help you to develop patience and experience the many positive benefits that accrue.

Reflection

As we grow in mindfulness through patience meditation, we can learn to transform situations where we have been impatient into ones where we are patient.  In this way, we can develop our patience and realise the many benefits that accrue with the practice of patience.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

When You are Waiting, Have Awareness as Your Default and not Your Phone

When we are kept waiting, we typically grab our phone to “fill in the time”.  We might check emails or social media or the latest news; our default is our phone, not taking the opportunity to develop awareness.  One of Diana Winston’s students told her that when he was waiting or had time on his hands, he no longer defaulted to his phone, but “defaulted to awareness”.  Diana Winston addresses this process in her book,  The Little Book of Being (p.184).

Default to awareness

When we are kept waiting for a bus to arrive or to see the doctor/dentist, or are stalled in traffic, we feel bored or ill at ease.  We can become agitated, annoyed or even angry – all of which can negatively impact our subsequent interactions with others. To alleviate this discomfort, we often resort to the phone as our default response.  However, the “waiting time” provides the perfect opportunity to further develop awareness.  The opportunities for this positive response are seemingly endless. During the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Program that I attended in Sydney, one of the participants reported that they practised mindful awareness whenever they waited for the jug to boil when making a cup of tea or coffee.  The participant reported that by building this habit into something he does on a regular basis, he was able to develop awareness as a part of his everyday activities.

Diana suggests that the way to drop into awareness instead of reaching for your phone is to begin by focusing on your feet.  You can feel the pressure of your feet on the floor or the ground and be conscious of this “grounding”.  You can then progress to getting in touch with your breathing and rest in the space between breaths.  This can be followed by a brief or elongated body scan (the duration of the scan depending on how long you have to wait).  You can then explore points of tension in your body and release the tension or soften the muscles involved.  If you are experiencing negative thoughts and/or feelings, you will inevitably feel tense in some part of your body – noticing and releasing tension develops your awareness.  If you begin to adopt these mindfulness practices on different occasions when you are waiting, you will find that you will “default to awareness” naturally – your phone will not be your “first port of call”.

If we use our waiting time as a conscious effort to grow in mindfulness, we can develop the habit of dropping into awareness, instead of reaching for our phone. We can explore either inner or outer awareness and develop our capacity for self-regulation and gratitude, as well as build calmness and equanimity in our lives.  Defaulting to our phone, on the other hand, increases the pace of our life and can intensify our agitation.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Overcoming Agitation – A Calming Meditation

It’s so easy to become agitated in this fast-paced and demanding world. The environment we live in with its constant changes – economic, social, financial, climate, legal, electronic and political – demand incessant adaption. We can become so easily agitated by our daily experiences – our expectations not being met, having an unproductive day, managing ever-increasing costs and bureaucracy, being caught in endless traffic, managing a teenager who is pushing the boundaries in the search for self-identity and independence. Any one of these, a combination of them or other sources of agitation, can lead us to feel overwhelmed and “stressed out of our minds”.

Mindfulness meditation can help bring calm and clarity to our daily existence and reduce the level of stress we experience when things do not seem to go our way or frustrate our best intentions. There are an endless range of meditations that can help here – ranging from gratitude meditations to open awareness. The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) provides one such meditation designed to restore calm at a time when we are really agitated.

Overcoming agitation through a calming meditation

Rich Fernandez, CEO of SIYLI, provides a meditation podcast designed to focus attention and restore equilibrium and equanimity. The meditation employs what Rich calls “focused attention” – where the focus is on your breathing.

The 9-minute, focused attention meditation employs several steps:

  1. Making yourself comfortable in your chair, being conscious of your posture (releasing any tightness reflected in slouching)
  2. Notice your body’s sensations precipitated by your interaction with your external environment – the pressure of your body against the chair and your feet touching the ground.
  3. Bring your attention to your breathing, what Rich describes as the “circle of breathing” – the in-breath, pause and out-breath.
  4. Notice if your mind wanders from the focus on your breath and bring your attention back to your breath (the meditation develops the art of focused attention by training yourself to return to your focus).
  5. Treat yourself with loving kindness if you become distracted frequently – (scientific research informs us that we are normally distracted 50% of the time).
  6. Close the meditation with three deep breaths – this time controlling your breath (whereas in the earlier steps, you are just noticing your breathing, not attempting to control the process).

The focused attention meditation can be done anywhere, at any time. If you are really agitated before you start, you can extend the meditation, repeat it (at the time or sometime later) or supplement it with another form of meditation such as a body scan. Once again it is regular practice that develops the art of focused attention – maintaining your meditation practice is critical to restoring your equilibrium and equanimity. Without the calming effects of such a meditation, you can end up aggravating your situation by doing or saying something inappropriate.

As we grow in mindfulness through focused attention meditation, we can develop the capacity to calm ourselves when we become agitated. Regular practice of this meditation will enable us to restore our equilibrium and equanimity.

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Image source: courtesy of Skitterphoto on Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Driving with Mindfulness

Often when you are driving you can become agitated, annoyed or frustrated by the traffic holdups caused by others.  Sharon Salzberg provides a timely reminder that “you are traffic too“.   We focus so much on our own needs in the heavy traffic situation that we lose sight of the needs of others.  Sharon puts this down to the “centrality of ourselves” – where the world revolves around our self-centredness, rather than other-centredness.

Diana Watson too in one of her MARC weekly meditation podcasts, provides us with a meditation that enables us to bring mindfulness on the road.  She describes one of her own experiences when she was running late to conduct a meditation and found her irritation and agitation rising.

Diana found that she was swamped with thoughts and emotions.  The thoughts reflected the negative bias of the brain – “I’m not going to make it on time”, “What will happen if I am late?”, “People may never come again if they are new to the meditation practice!   So, our minds can catastrophize any situation and unsettle us as we are driving.

Another source of emotional disturbance occurs if we then engage in self-recrimination or negative self-evaluation – “If only I had planned for traffic delays!”, “Why was I rushing out the door when I know that I need to have a strong presence of mind to conduct this mindfulness session?’

Bringing mindfulness to driving – noticing thoughts and emotions

What Diana found that she ended up doing was to start noticing, not entertaining, thoughts and emotions as they arose, e.g. “I am feeling anxious (or irritated)”, “I keep thinking that I will be late, and this causes me to become agitated”.   If we start naming our emotions, we can begin to control them.

She also suggests that we can focus on what is going on in our body as these emotions and precipitating thoughts arise.  We can notice the tightness in our chest, the pain in our neck or the onset of a worry headache.  If we can notice the thoughts and name the emotions, we can wind back our habituated response and calm ourselves.

Without this calming mindfulness on the road, we can end up taking more risks while driving, act out our anger and frustration through “road rage” or find ourselves making poor decisions about what choices to make to get to our destination.  Our growing agitation and impatience can frustrate our attempts to arrive on time.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation practice that grounds us in the present moment, we can more readily deal with situations such as driving in heavy traffic when our needs for timeliness are being frustrated.  We can also bring to the situation self-awareness and self-regulation so that we are not captive to  our negative thoughts and emotions – we can begin to drive mindfully.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Meditation and Mental Health

Jonathan Kryiger and Andrew H. Kemp, researchers at the University oF Sydney, discussed meditation and mental health in a blog post titled, Beyond Spirituality: the role of meditation in mental health.

in their article, they identify a number of benefits for mental health reported in research on meditation.  They indicate how meditation, both by expert practitioners and people who meditate for short periods of time, can result in positive changes in their body, brain, emotional regulation ability and rate of ageing.

Of particular note, is the ability of meditation to assist in the treatment and management of acute and chronic pain.  Particular forms of mindfulness meditation such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) demonstrate positive results in the treatment of mood disorders and anxiety.

Meditation and regulating emotions to achieve mental health

While the generic benefits noted above can be realised through different forms of meditation, the focus of mindfulness meditations can vary considerably.  Throughout this blog, we have mentioned some meditations that target specific negative emotional responses that are injurious to mental health:

  • Forgiveness meditation, in which we focus on forgiving another person who has caused us harm or hurt, aims to reduce resentment which can undermine our self-esteem, self-confidence and effectiveness
  • Self-forgiveness meditation targets the never-ending cycle of self-criticism and negative self-evaluation which brings with it debilitating shame and guilt
  • Gratitude meditation can help to reduce depression which can disable us from taking constructive action in the various arenas of our daily life
  • Equanimity meditation helps us to replace mental agitation and disappointment with calmness and self-assurance
  • R.A.I.N. meditation helps us to face the “fear within” and frees us from the disabling effects of fear and anxiety that hinder our capacity to live fully and creatively
  • Somatic meditation enables us to get in touch with our bodies and progressively remove the emotional imprint of adverse events or trauma manifested in muscle tightness or pain
  • Loving kindness meditation focused on others can take us beyond damaging self-absorption and self-preoccupation and free us to access peace and happiness through the appreciation of others and their contributions to the quality of our lives
  • Expose negative self-stories through awareness raising.

The weekly meditation podcasts provided by the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) at UCLA can extend the range of meditations we employ to target unhelpful and unhealthy emotions that impact the quality of our mental health.

As we grow in mindfulness through focusing our meditations on replacing negative emotions with positive ones, we can experience real growth in our mental health and our capacity to live life fully and creatively, develop loving and fulfilling relationships and avoid the downward spiral of mental illness.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of Wokandapix on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.