Conversation with Ourselves

Jon Kabat-Zinn maintains that we spend so much time removed from ourselves through thinking, that we need to “dial up ourselves” occasionally.   Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche suggests that the art of conversation begins with having an honest conversation with ourselves on a regular basis.  Sakyong is the author of a number of books, including, The Lost Art of Conversation: A Mindful Way to Connect with Others and Enrich Everyday Life.

Sakyong argues that very few people have really mastered the art of conversation.  Conversations in social situations or work situations can be very challenging – they can be painful or even boring.   Relating to people who are difficult behaviourally or who hold strong views that are very different to our own, can also present a real challenge to our equanimity.

So, it is important to be equipped with the art of identifying and dealing with our own emotions, otherwise we will respond inappropriately in these challenging conversations.  What we tend to do, however, is to hide from our emotions, deny them or avoid situations where our emotions will “run high”.  The problem is that despite our denials we tend to play out our emotions in the way we respond to others in conversation.

Our resentment can be reflected in our inattention, our anger expressed through trying to prove we are right, our disgust can be seen in our non-verbal behaviour or our disrespect through avoidance.  There is no real hiding from our emotions.  We may try to stay unaware of them or fail to pay attention to them, but they will assert themselves somehow.

It is common behaviour to avoid openly expressing our feelings, particularly in a work situation.   In such situations, too, we tend to discourage the expression of emotions because they make us feel uncomfortable.

However, in coming to grips with our own emotions, we build up strength, inner peace and even courage.  Sakyong points to the example of Nelson Mandela, who despite his many years in prison, decided while in his cell not to harbour bitterness towards those who had imprisoned him.  Mandela published his own conversations, reflections, correspondence and journal entries in his revealing book, Conversations With Myself, where he discloses his “troubled dreams”, struggles, uncertainties, hardships and victories.

Sakyong urges us to also have conversations with ourselves – meditating on our feelings and thoughts.  We need to get in touch with how we are really feeling – do we feel good?; are we anxious?;  are we preoccupied with a concern that is distracting us?; or are we fearful and defensive?   He warns about doing this half-heartedly and encourages us to bring to light our real feelings and “intelligences”.   We can have these personal conversations either through meditation or journaling (although there is a synergy to be gained by adopting both these practices).

As we grow in mindfulness through these conversations with ourselves, we can develop a heightened self-awareness and bring true character and respect for others to our conversations – and, in the process, realise true freedom.

As Nelson Mandela maintained:

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

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

Image source: courtesy of bebeairi on Pixabay

Mindfulness: Commitment to Awareness

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his presentation provided as part of the  Mindfulness & Meditation Summit, focused on the theme, Fully Embodied as You Are.  Jon is the author of a number of books, including Coming to Our Senses and Full Catastrophe Living.

A quote from his book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, throws some light on his chosen theme for this presentation:

Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.

So fundamentally, mindfulness is a commitment to cultivate awareness so that in any given moment we can embody calmness and the clarity that comes with progressively waking up to full awareness.

We grow in mindfulness through meditation practice which can take many different forms or as Jon describes it, “many different doors to the one room”.  Just as there are different regimes to build fitness and stamina, there are multiple doorways to mindfulness – mindful breathing, mindful eating, mindful walking, kindness/compassion meditation, mindfulness yoga and body scan being just a few of the many options.  Jon encourages us to be creative in our exploration of meditation practice.

Awareness through meditation awakens us to our own likes and dislikes, our biases and prejudices and how we harm others, often unconsciously, through insecurity, uncertainty, doubts, mental/physical pain and resentments.

As we become increasingly aware of our internal landscape, we learn to recognise how we place ourselves at the centre of things – it is all about us and our world, our future, our well-being and our security.  In this sense, we each have some of the characteristics of a narcissistic person.  Mindfulness, however, helps us to become more unselfish, interconnected and compassionate.

He suggests two simple practices to increase our wakefulness:

(1) each time you take a seat, see it as a new beginning, grounding yourself in the present;

(2) when you wake of a morning, lie in bed for five to 10 minutes, and practice the body scan so that you can be fully awake and, in Jon’s words, “fully embodied”.

The more we grow in mindfulness, through daily meditation over increasingly longer periods, we leave behind our self-interested focus and become more other-focused and interconnected and more aware of our impact on others.

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

Image source: courtesy of  johnhain on Pixabay

Mental Illness in the Workplace

There are two compounding trends that, in concert, are beginning to increase the issues associated with mental illness in the workplace.  They are the incidence of narcissistic managers and the growth in the number of people in the workforce who have a mental illness.  I will deal with each of these trends in turn and link the issues to the offsetting influence of mindfulness.

The Incidence of Narcissistic Managers

Many significant publications such as Psychology Today, Harvard Business Review, Inc.com, Health.com and Time.com, have recently discussed the incidence of narcissistic bosses and ways to self-manage in the workplace to protect yourself from psychological damage caused by these bosses.  It is suggested that most people will encounter at least one narcissistic manager in their working life – I have experienced three that I can recall.

What are the characteristics of narcissistic managers that contribute to mental illness in the workplace?  Well the characteristics of these managers have been summarised by the underlying philosophy of “me, myself, I” – that is  I “first and foremost”.

Characteristics of Narcissistic Managers

There are many characteristics of narcissistic managers described in the articles and in research. Some of the more common traits described (and confirmed by my own experience) are:

  • Self-aggrandisement – believe they are more capable, competent or efficient than they actually are (believe they create high performance teams when the reverse is true)
  • Obsession with self advancement – their careers come before anything or anybody else
  • Over-concern with visibility and being seen in a good light
  • Blame others when mistakes occur (to deflect blame from themselves) – always looking for a “scapegoat”
  • Will lie to save their projected image
  • Take credit for other’s work if it advances their own positive visibility
  • Insensitive to the needs of others, especially their own staff
  • Will constantly change priorities depending on what advantages them, without regard for the impact of such constant change on others
  • Will have an in-group, but any member can become part of the out-group at anytime if they cause embarrassment
  • Create unrealistic time pressures for staff to try to show that their area is highly productive
  • Will publically criticise their own managers in front of the manager’s own staff
  •  Will micromanage to try to ensure that mistakes do not occur and that what they want to occur will actually happen.

The Impact of Narcissistic Managers on Mental Health

The reality is that these managers do not achieve control. In fact, their situation becomes progressively out of control  and they experience high levels of stress as a result, on top of their self-induced stress caused by self-obsession.  They may gain compliance through fear, but lose commitment because people physically or psychologically withdraw to protect themselves – no longer caring about the work, unwilling to offer suggestions for improvement, avoiding contact with the manager or engaging in covert sabotage (to get back at the narcissistic manager). They also lose confidence and begin to question their own competence.

The narcissistic manager, then, not only creates an environment conducive to the development of mental illness in staff, they also potentially aggravate  the condition of staff who already have a mental illness before joining the narcissistic manager’s workgroup.  The compounding issue is that the narcissistic manager lacks the insight to see how they contribute to the conditions creating, or aggravating, mental illness; nor are they overly concerned about the individuals negatively impacted by the highly stressful workplaces they create.

People in the Workplace with a Mental Illness

Beyond Blue, an organisation dedicated to improving the mental health of all Australians, estimates that there are 3 million people in Australia suffering from anxiety or depression and eight people die each day from suicide.  This suggests that anxiety and depression are an issue in the workplace.  Beyond Blue funds an extensive research program covering anxiety and suicide for all categories, including young people, women, men, aged people and the LGBT community.

The Black  Dog Institute also supports the development of mental health in the community.   They draw extensively on research to support their role.  From this research, they are able to maintain that:

Mental illness is very common. One in five (20%) Australians age 16-65 experience a mental illness in any year.  The most common mental illnesses are depressive, anxiety and substance  use disorders.

What is particularly concerning is that they report that suicide “is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 25-44 and second leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24”.

This means that suicide is potentially prevalent among people who are in early-career or mid-career as well as those entering or about to enter the workforce.

The role of Mindfulness 

The narcissistic manager exhibits the characteristics that are the opposite of the mindful manager.  They particularly lack self-awareness and hence self-management. They are by nature lacking in empathy and compassion and are unable to communicate with insight as they are blinded by their own emotions and selfish-obsession.  Their only motivation is to advance themselves – they have no source of motivation beyond themselves and  are thus unable to engage committed individuals.

As we mentioned in recent posts, emotional intelligence skills can be learned through mindfulness.  The challenge is finding ways to engage narcissistic managers in mindfulness training when they have a “keep busy” mindset.  Offering mindfulness training as a means of stress reduction may provide the motivation for them to be involved – because it focuses on “where they are hurting”.

Hence, mindfulness has the potential to help narcissistic managers to manage their stress levels, change their management style and assist other individuals experiencing mental illness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn has demonstrated over more than 30 years that his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training has very substantial benefits for people suffering different levels of stress and forms of mental illness.  His findings through his practice have been confirmed by neuroscience research.

As individuals in either group grow in mindfulness, they will experience the benefits, and contribute to the development of a more humane workplace.

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

Image source: courtesy of Maialisa on Pixabay

Mindful Meditation to Reduce the Symptoms of Psoriasis

In an earlier post, I discussed how mindfulness meditation can help the management of chronic pain.  In this post, I will focus on the beneficial effects of mindful meditation for the management of psoriasis.

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that can last for weeks, months and even years and can recur at anytime.  This skin condition is thought to be an autoimmune disease that typically manifests as a rash or skin lesion that can be exceptionally itchy and results in dry, cracking skin that can be painful.  The skin problem is exacerbated because people with psoriasis, consciously or unconsciously, scratch the itching skin which intensifies the itch and increases inflammation of the skin.

This vicious cycle can contribute to emotional and psychological problems.  People who suffer from this skin condition may feel embarrassed to be seen out in public and may withdraw emotionally leading to depression. The negative emotional effects are aggravated by the difficulty experienced in attempting to heal this persistent skin condition – a debilitating disease experienced by 450,000 Australians and over 125 million people world-wide according to the Skin & Cancer Foundation.

There are numerous triggers to cause psoriasis in an individual – stress and infection being two of the major triggers.  The inability to isolate the primary trigger for an individual adds to the anxiety experienced by the psoriasis sufferer.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a renowned mindfulness expert, undertook research in support of an approach to curing psoriasis using meditation as a means to heighten the effect of the treatment.  His research involved two groups of people receiving treatment for psoriasis, one group practising meditation during the treatment and the other group, the non-meditators, taking the treatment as normal.  He found that “the meditators skin cleared at four times the rate of the non-meditators”.

In discussing these results (which have been confirmed by other researchers), Kabat-Zinn suggested that the positive effect of meditation on the rate of healing of psoriasis is related to the connection between the body and the mind:

And it is a beautiful example of the mind/body connection because you’re doing something with your mind and something is happening in the skin.  So it just doesn’t get any better than that.

The Psoriasis & Skin Clinic offers a number of meditation methods to reduce the stress associated with psoriasis and to build emotional resilience while suffering from this skin condition.  They suggest a form of body scan meditation which involves concentrating on a specific part of the body where itching or pain is experienced., breathing deeply and focusing your mind on that itching or pain to reduce or alleviate the discomfort.

They also suggest another meditation/relaxation technique which involves experiencing, or thinking about, a peaceful or inspiring location and using this focus to release any troubles or worries that may be causing you stress.  Their instruction for this exercise is reminiscent of Kabat-Zinn’s book, Coming to Our Senses:

If you are sitting on the sand on the beach, feel the setting sun warm your face, feel the breeze on your skin, smell the ocean air, taste the salty tang on the breeze, hear the waves washing right up to you and as you hear each and every wave, release all of your stress and throw it onto the waves to wash out into the ocean.

As you grow in mindfulness through mindful practices such as these meditations, you will be better able to manage the discomfort of psoriasis and assist your healing process, whatever treatment method you adopt.  The experience of itching or pain can even become a catalyst to mindful meditation to relieve the discomfort.

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

 

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Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief

As we grow in mindfulness we start to learn the many ways that mindfulness can improve the quality of our lives.

The quality of life of many chronic pain sufferers has been improved through mindfulness meditation for pain relief, pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

This resource which is available in CD format or audio download, provides an insight into how mindfulness can help you manage chronic pain as well as mindfulness meditations that can be used for pain relief.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), maintains that current neuroscience research supports the idea that the more we become aware of the pain in our body and mind, the better we are able to manage pain and improve the quality of our life.  The research shows that awareness of the body-in-pain compared to distraction from pain, has a greater benefit and provides a more sustainable release from the physical and emotional impact of chronic pain.

We all experience the unwanted parts of life, pain and suffering, at some time in our lives – some people for longer than others through the experience of chronic pain.  Mindfulness meditation can help us relieve not only the physical aspects of pain but also the emotional impacts which can take the form of frustration, depression, annoyance, anger and the inability to concentrate.  We can expend so much of our energy and focus just managing the pain that we are quickly exhausted and unable to concentrate.

Jon Kabat-Zinn provides an introduction to his mindfulness meditation for pain relief and this free resource, which includes meditation practice, can help you realise the potential benefits of this approach for improving the quality of your life:

Jon Kabat-Zinn assures us that through mindfulness meditation we can come to realise:

  1. we are not alone in experiencing pain; and
  2. learning to live with pain is possible.

He makes the salient point that managing pain is part of the work of mindfulness itself and that by participating in mindfulness meditation for pain relief, we are immersing ourselves in the global mindfulness movement that is raising global consciousness – people all around the world are becoming more mindful and we are contributing to this movement that promotes peace, harmony, loving kindness and awareness of others and nature.   Our self-compassion through pain management is contributing to compassion for others.

We can grow in mindfulness in many ways.  The drivers for our motivation to practice mindfulness can also be many and varied.  If you are a chronic pain sufferer, this experience could provide the motivation to develop mindfulness for pain relief.

 

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

Image source: Courtesy of Sae Kawaii on Pixabay

 

Defuse Negative Thoughts and Stories

Negative thoughts are a part of living – we all tend to have them. However, if we entertain them, they undermine our self-belief and self-confidence.  They can be persistent and destructive.

Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us, “We are not our thoughts”.  Our minds make up negative stories all the time and we come to believe that these stories identify who we are – they are just fabrications, not reality.

One of the key contributions of The Happiness Trap Pocketbook by Russ Harris and Bev Aisbett is the range of defusion strategies they offer to disarm negative thinking and reduce its hold and power over us.

They suggest one simple defusion strategy that we can apply to any negative thought:

Pick an upsetting thought, and silently repeat it, putting these words in front of it: ‘I’m having the thought that…’

Now try it again with this phrase: ‘I notice I’m having the thought that …’

Can you feel the thought lose some of its impact? (p.54)

This defusion strategy can be used for any unhelpful thought at any time, no matter where you are.  You can progressively learn to dissociate yourself from negative thoughts and recognise that they do not represent who you are.  You are better than your negative thoughts which tend to put you in the worst possible light.  Such thoughts result from the brain’s bias towards the negative as a self-preservation mechanism.

As you grow in mindfulness through regular mindful practice you will become more aware of these negative thoughts and have the presence of mind to use the suggested defusion strategy.  You will become increasingly conscious of the hold these thoughts have on you and how they impact negatively on your self-confidence and willingness to extend yourself and take on new challenges.

Negative thoughts hold us back, diminish our sense of accomplishment and reduce our effectiveness and capacity to make a difference in our own lives and that of others.  The suggested defusion strategy is your weapon against this erosion of who you are.

 

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

Image source: Courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

Grow Mindfulness Through The Present Moment

Andy Puddicombe argues that the present moment is so underrated and yet it shapes our life.

Jon Kabat-Zinn exhorts us to live as if our moments really mattered. He suggests that instead of worrying about the future which we can rarely influence, we should shape our future through the healing and creative power of the present moment.

Our lives are made up of moments.  It is difficult to comprehend that our future is shaped by what we do in the present moment – our choices today shape our future tomorrow.

Jon Kabat-Zinn maintains that we grow mindfulness through paying attention in the present moment:

Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, but non-judgmentally.

In the following video, he talks extensively about the power of the present moment:

There are so many ways to BE in the present moment – somatic meditation is one of the more readily accessible mindfulness practices.

Image Source: Courtesy of tiburi on Pixabay

Coming to Our Senses

Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book, Coming to Our Senses, observes about our sense of sight:

We see habitually, which means we see in very limited ways, or we don’t see at all, even sometimes what is right under our noses and in front of our very eyes.  We see on automatic pilot, taking the miracle of seeing for granted, until it is merely part of the unacknowledged background within which we go about our business. (p. 43)

He suggests that we are badly “out of shape” when it comes to understanding and using our senses, not only our sight. He argues that we need to practice to develop our awareness through our senses.

As we work to develop mindfulness, we become more aware of each of our senses.  We hear more consciously and see more purposefully, we become more aware of our sense of smell and more refined in our sense of taste, and overall more attuned to our sense of touch.

Isabel Allende illustrates this heightened awareness of senses exquisitely when she describes how a view of a particular landscape reminded her of her childhood experience of Chile:

The landscape, green, and rather somber, reminds me of the south of Chile: the same centuries-old trees, the sharp scent of eucalyptus and wild mint, the stream that turned to cascades in winter, the cries of birds and shrill of crickets. (Paula, p.238)

We can develop mindfulness through being consciously aware of our individual senses whether through mindful eating, active listening, mindful walking or some other conscious mindful practice.

One way to start simply is to observe something within our own backyard. For instance, the image for this post is a bird I noticed in a tree in my backyard when I was consciously listening to and observing birds from my back deck.  Initially, I could not see the bird as it was camouflaged in a leafless tree.  It was only when I moved my position that I saw my backyard bird against the background of the green leaves of another tree.

As Kabat-Zinn observed we so often do not see or hear what is in front of us unless we make a conscious effort to be mindful and focus our attention.

Image source: Copyright R. Passfield

Mindful Breathing – Being, not Thinking

Western society is strong on thinking and we have developed so many words to describe the act of thinking.  Here’s just a few:

  • analyze
  • summarize
  • categorize
  • synthesize
  • realize

Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests that we have become so engrossed in thinking all the time that we have lost the art of just being.  We have lost touch with the present moment with all its potential for creativity, calm and clarity. He strongly recommends developing the art of mindful breathing and offers a 3 minute meditation exercise based on conscious breathing:

One of the challenges of mindful breathing is to stop the distraction of thinking and to remain focused in a non-judgmental way – clearing our thoughts as they occur without judging ourselves for their occurrence.

Isabel Allende in her book, Maya’s Notebook, describes Maya talking to her host Manuel and, in the process, identifies the difficulty of staying focused on breathing – on being, not thinking:

I found him watching the sunset from the big front window, and I asked him what he was doing.

“Breathing.”

“I’m breathing too.  That is not what I was referring to.”

“Until you interrupted me, Maya, I was breathing, nothing more.  You should see how difficult it is to breathe without thinking.”   [Maya’s Notebook, p.69]

And therein lies the challenge of mindful breathing – not only do you have to fend off distractions caused by your own thoughts, but also the interruptions unwittingly caused by others who need to share their thoughts or want you to do so.  Thinking has become our substitute mode of being – we live in our minds not in the reality of everyday life and the present moment.

Psychologists point out that this disconnection from the present has resulted in much of the mental illness that is prevalent today – we suffer depression because we are living in the past or suffer anxiety because we are living in the future. Mental health and well-being reside in mindfulness and mindful breathing that are accessible to us at any moment.

Image Source: Courtesy of Pixabay.com

 

Being Still

I suppose like everyone else you find it hard in your busy life to be still and yet being still is a gateway to happiness, creativity and calm.

Isabel Allende once wrote that “life is nothing but noise between two unfathomable silences”. In explaining these words, she went on to say:

We have very busy lives – or we make them very busy.  There is noise and activity everywhere.  Few people know how to be still and find a quiet place inside themselves.  From that place of silence and stillness the creative forces emerge; there we find faith, hope, strength, and wisdom.  However, since childhood we are taught to do things.  Our heads are full of noise.  Silence and solitude scare us most. (About the author, “The Sum of Our Days”, p. 4.)

As Allende explains, being still is about “being” rather than compulsive “doing”.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in discussing his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, describes how participants stand and do nothing, sit and do nothing, lie and do nothing – they clear their thoughts and just focus on being.  The MBSR Program has proven over more than 30 years to be very successful in helping people deal with chronic stress, panic and many forms of mental illness that are often precipitated by busyness. Kabat-Zinn discusses the program and its origins in his book, Full Catastrophe Living.

Andy Puddicombe suggests that “all it takes is 10 mindful minutes” per day to achieve an increased sense of calm, clarity ad focus.  He reminds us that we spend more time looking after our clothes, our hair and how we look, than in caring for our brain – the centre of creativity, energy and happiness.  Puddicombe demonstrates how our lives have become an endless juggling act, not only juggling things-to-do but also our self-defeating thoughts:

There are many resources available to motivate you to be still or to show you how to achieve this.  RMIT, for example, provides an audio resource on “sitting still” to help students cope with study and life stress. This is part of an online resource that covers “mindfulness and being present“.

Being still and doing nothing is a real challenge, but if you take the time out from your busy life to actually do nothing, for however long each day, you will experience real benefits for your health, well-being and happiness.

Image Source: Courtesy of Pixabay.com