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

Developing Habits through Mindfulness

In his presentation for the Mindfulness & Meditation Summit, Leo Babauta discussed the topic, Mindfulness: The Key to Habit Change.  He is the author of the e-book, The Habit Guidebook: My Most Effective Habit Methods & Solutions and the creator of the Zen Habits blog.

Leo spoke about how to develop habits through mindfulness and ways to deal with the obstacles that you will invariably encounter.  He had to overcome multiple bad habits – addiction to smoking, eating unhealthy foods and leading a sedentary life.  The costs for him were not only bad health but also lack of time for his wife and children and serious debt – all affecting his quality of life.

However, Leo overcame all these bad habits through mindfulness and now has a blog about developing habits, which he updates regularly for his two million readers.  Suffice it to say, he no longer has a debt problem, is healthy, has lost a lot of weight and has been able to run a marathon and spend quality time with his family.

Developing a single habit

When we are confronted with a whole host of things that we need to change in our lives, as Leo was, we tend to think that one small change is insufficient to make a difference.  However, Leo’s advice echoes that of Seth Godin and others who have achieved great things in their lives – start small, start now, be consistent and be accountable to yourself and others.

When we first start on a new habit, we are enthusiastic about the possibilities for how it could turn our life around. It is important not to get carried away by this early enthusiasm and try to do too much too soon.  Otherwise, you will not be able to sustain the effort with the result that the habit will not last and you will not experience the desired benefits.

Again, the advice is to start small, but with one habit.  Leo argues that focusing on a single habit that will potentially lead to your end goal, e.g. giving up smoking, is more sustainable than focusing on a goal that is too far into the future and more uncertain of attainment – which can result in deferral of happiness until the end goal is achieved.  When you focus on a small, achievable habit, you can experience happiness each time with the achievement of that one small step.  This, in turn, provides positive reinforcement for the new habit.

He suggests linking the new habit to something you already do daily, e.g. making a cup of tea/coffee.  This then becomes a trigger or reminder to undertake the new habit.  You can also strengthen your resolve through building in accountability – telling someone else what you intend to do, having an accountability buddy or someone who undertakes the habit/practice with you , e.g. a running partner.

Developing a habit through mindfulness

Leo suggests supporting this one, new habit with mindfulness practice.  The new habit may be to start walking, running or writing or doing yoga.    The mindfulness practice can itself be small, e.g. a short mindful breathing meditation.  The meditation, itself, may be the initial habit you are trying to develop, or it can be used to support the development of another habit.

Leo’s own experience demonstrates the power of mindfulness to overcome obstacles to forming a new habit.  You can stop yourself, tune into your breath and observe what is happening for you.  You can deal with obstacles as they arise.

For example, if you tend to put things off, rationalise why you are re-engaging in the bad habit or expressing negative thoughts about your ability to perform, then these thoughts can be observed through your mindful breathing practice.  You can see these things happening while meditating and treat them as obstacles that are trying to get in the road of your achieving your goal.  You can stand back from them and reduce their power by treating them as passing thoughts.  You can then resume your practice of your new habit.

If you feel the pull of an urge – to sleep in, to smoke or to eat unhealthy food – you can work with that urge through mindful breathing.  You can observe the urge, its strengthening power, it’s rationalisation – and gradually reduce the pull of this urge by viewing it while meditating.  As you breathe mindfully, focus on the urge until it subsides.

Mindfulness not only helps you overcome obstacles to forming a new habit, it increases your self-awareness and builds your capacity for self-management.

As we grow in mindfulness, through meditation practice, we can progressively develop new positive habits and regain control over our lives.  The secret is to start small with one habit, be consistent in practising the habit and support the development of the habit with mindfulness that can address the obstacles as they arise – and they do arise for everyone.

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

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence

In a recent discussion, Daniel Goleman spoke of the influence of mindfulness on emotional intelligence.  In this discussion, he relied heavily on rigorous research that he and his co-author, Richard Davidson, drew on to write their book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.

In an earlier book, Daniel had explained how emotional intelligence influenced decision-making, thinking processes and success in leadership and other roles.

In discussing the research behind his new book, Daniel focused on “altered traits” only – those characteristics that tended to be sustained over time, outside the meditative state.

His conclusions from the rigorous scientific studies focused on a number of aspects of emotional intelligence:

1. Self-awareness

The foundational element of emotional intelligence is self-awareness.  This is developed through mindfulness.  People who grow in mindfulness, through meditation practice, are better able to identify their own emotions and the impact that they themselves have on others – through their words and actions.

2. Self-management

The research strongly supports the contention that people who develop mindfulness can understand the triggers that set them off, can more readily gain control over impulse responses and are better able to stay calm even when under stress.  This self-management capacity is very important for people in leadership roles as others take their emotional cues from them.

Self-management, in turn, helps people to stay focused and positive in pursuit of goals, despite setbacks.  It helps us to ride out the waves that disturb the calmness in the ocean of life.

3. Social awareness

Mindfulness helps people recognise social cues and the feelings of others.  It contributes to empathy, particularly where people engage in kindness and compassion meditation.

4.Relationship management

The rigorous research is not strong in supporting the contention that mindfulness enables people to inspire others, coach/mentor people effectively and handle conflict.  However, anecdotal evidence and intuitive thinking suggests that self-awareness, awareness of others’ feelings and the capacity to self-manage, would all contribute to effective people management, but may not be the sole influence in the development of the requisite skill-set.

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

Image source: courtesy of Quangpraha on Pixabay

Mindfulness for Leadership

In his presentation for the Mindfulness & Meditation Summit, Daniel Goleman discussed Altered Traits: The Benefits of Mindfulness for Leadership and Emotional Intelligence.  In this discussion, he drew on research that he described with his co-author Richard Davidson in their new book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.

Daniel is the author of a number of other books including, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence and Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

In talking about the impact of mindfulness on leadership capability, Daniel drew on a select number of research articles used within his last co-authored book.  These were articles that met the tests of rigorous research that he and Richard Davidson employed in their book.

He distinguished the results achieved for different levels of meditators – the beginners, the long-term meditators and the “Olympian” meditators (e.g. Buddhist monks and members of contemplative orders such as the Carmelite nuns and priests).

He contends from the associated research that the benefits of meditation deepen and broaden the longer and more frequently you engage in meditation practice.

However, beginner meditators can gain some benefits that positively impact leadership capability, whether directly or indirectly.

Some of these findings for beginner meditators are:

1. Ability to focus better

This outcome is the primary subject of his book, Focus.  Because meditation involves focusing your mind on a particular object, person or activity, it naturally builds the capacity to maintain attention and restore attention when a distracting thought occurs.  The resultant mental fitness is akin to physical fitness attained through exercise or gym work – instead of physical power or stamina, the meditator gains the power of concentration.

2. Better utilisation of working memory

Paying attention through meditation practice enhances short-term memory which enables better retention and utilisation of information, gained through perception, for the purpose of decision-making and guiding behaviour.

3. Handle stress better

Neuroscience shows that meditators are better able to handle stress because our automatic response via the amygdala is not triggered so readily and recovery is quicker – two elements that together determine resilience.

4.Growth in kindness and compassion

A well-established finding is that those who practice loving kindness/compassion meditation actually tune into others’ needs better and are more likely to help.  These benefits are relatively immediate and kindness and compassion are seen increasingly as traits that define successful leaders.

Long-term meditators achieve greater and more sustainable benefits such as increased concentration ability, enhanced capacity to pick up on emotional cues because they are more able to be present to the other person, greater calming effects (felt emotionally and experienced biologically) and a higher-level capacity that is described as meta-awareness (the ability to observe our own thoughts and feelings).

As we grow in mindfulness through regular and sustained practice of different forms of meditation, we are able to build our leadership skills and capability which we can employ in any arena of our lives – be it work, home or community.

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

Image source: courtesy of MemoryCatcher on Pixabay

Sustaining Meditation Practice

In his presentation for the Mindfulness & Meditation Summit, Elisha Goldstein discussed the theme, Towards Sustainable Happiness.  He covered the barriers to sustaining meditation practice and offered ways to overcome them. Elisha is the author of a number of books, including Uncovering Happiness and The Now Effect.

Elisha acknowledged that integrating a new habit, such as meditation, into our daily lives is a challenging task. Starting the habit is relatively easy but sustaining it over time can be extremely difficult.

He identified a number of barriers that make it difficult for us to achieve the desired integration:

1. Our negative bias

As we mentioned previously, our brain is wired to perceive danger and threat and persists in a negative orientation as an evolutionary safety mechanism. This manifests as doubts, anxiety or uncertainty when we are trying to sustain the habit of meditation. We tend to question not only the way we are meditating but also the utility (usefulness/ benefit) of meditation. We can focus on the effort involved without seeing the benefits.

2. Fractured attention

In this day and age, we are constantly interrupted by technology, advertising and noise pollution. Our attention is continuously fractured by interruption – we now talk about disruptive marketing as a means to capture the attention of our desired audience. This continuous disruption to our attention makes it increasingly difficult to meditate and feeds our doubts and uncertainties.

3. Our cultural environment

The acceptance of busyness as laudable and inactivity as blameworthy, translates into little tolerance for being still, taking time out or meditating. This means that there are very few positive models within our immediate environment to inspire us to sustain our meditation practice. There are few rewarding or supporting social cues that motivate us to maintain the effort.

4. Our loss of connectedness

The development of our social norms means that increasingly we are superficially connected to lots of people (via social media) and see ourselves as separate and independent. Images of meditation practitioners reinforce this separateness. However, neuroscience confirms the view that we are social beings that are interconnected and interdependent. We have a reliance on each other whether we are conscious of this or not. Research also highlights the fact that social isolation can lead to physical and mental illness including depression.

Elisha’s very strong recommendation, based on his own research and experience, is to work towards enriching our environment as a way of building sustainability in our meditation practice and enhancing our experience of happiness.

He suggests that this can be done in two ways, (1) enrich our physical environment, and (2) build social connections that provide positive social cues and inspiration.

On a physical level, we can surround ourselves with inspiring books and sayings, clear clutter than distracts us and detracts from the inner journey, value the beauty and calmness of our natural surroundings and develop a space that engenders calm and ease of meditation.

On a social level, we can get connected to like-minded people by participating in retreats, workshops, online conferences and courses. What is more likely to be sustaining for our meditation practice, however, is regular participation with a group of people who engage in meditation.

If we enrich our physical and social environments, we are better able to grow in mindfulness by sustaining our meditation practice, so that the benefits are longer lasting and flow into our everyday lives outside the meditative environment.

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

Image source: courtesy of RitaE on Pixabay

What’s Stopping You from Meditating?

In his presentation for the Mindfulness & Meditation Summit, Dan Harris discussed Tackling the Myths, Misconceptions, and Self-Deceptions That Stop You from Meditating.  Dan is the author of 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Really Works – A True Story.   He wrote this book after exploring meditation following a panic attack on live TV.   Dan also produced a series of free podcasts with leaders in mindfulness and an App, 10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.

This presentation was based on research that Dan undertook on a road trip with meditation teacher, Jeff Warren, for their new book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.

Dan identified a number of barriers that people put up that stop them from meditating.  We will explore some of them here (the names of the barriers have been changed for this post – the essence is the same):

1. My mind is too full

This is a myth based on an unfounded belief that you will never be able to clear your mind sufficiently for meditation.  It assumes that you are different to everyone else who is attempting to meditate, but recognises the challenge of endless thoughts impacting your meditation (a situation experienced by everyone who meditates, even the most experienced meditators).

2.Time poor

This is the belief that there is no spare time in your life for meditation.  It assumes that your time allocation is immutable and that you have your priorities right.  There are clearly special challenges for some individuals such as parents with young children who persist in destroying any routine that you attempt to develop.  However, even in this situation, it is possible to grab some time here or there to do mindful walking, mindful eating and/or mindful breathing.  It may mean that your meditation practice is initially broken into small chunks throughout the day.  As Chade-Meng Tan suggests, one mindful breath a day will “start the ball rolling”.

3.Lacking self-compassion

Some people, especially those lacking in self-compassion, see time spent in meditation as being selfish and experience guilt if they allocate time for this activity.  This is particularly true for people who suffer “empathetic distress”.  Self-care really enables the carer to better provide for others and to sustain their effort on others’ behalf.

4.Don’t want to stand out

Some people create a barrier to meditation because they think that they will be seen as soft or weird – they are frightened to stand out as different.  People in occupations such as the Police Service/Force, may fear that they will be called a “softie”.  There is a lack of recognition that the capacity to be present in the moment, to deal with stressful situations with calm and clarity and to develop creativity are outcomes from meditation that enhance a police officer’s capabilty.

5.Fear of losing your “edge”

This baseless fear comes from observing the “laid-back” nature, persistent calmness, of some experienced meditators.  As Dan Harris argues in his book, meditation helps to reduce stress while maintaining, and in fact, strengthening your “edge” – whatever that may be.  This is why famous actresses such as Goldie Hawn, as well as leading CEOs and professional people, meditate on a daily basis.

6.Fear of what you might find “within”

This is a serious concern about exploring your inner landscape for fear of what might turn up in terms of anxieties, distrust, hatred, negative self-perception or any other negative emotion.  Mindfulness experts would argue that i is better to surface these issues so that you can deal with them, rather than having them undermine you on a daily basis because they are hidden and potentially out-of-control.

7.I can’t maintain the habit of meditation

You need to build in some form of support system to enable you to sustain the practice of meditation.  This could be a routine (starting small), joining a group who meditate regularly, working with a buddy, stimulating your interest and motivation through reading, practising with audio tapes/CDs or developing a meditation habit attached to some other thing that you do regularly such as boiling the jug for a cup of tea or coffee.

Meditation enables us to grow in mindfulness and to realise the attendant benefits.  Persistence brings its own rewards as we deepen our meditation practice.

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

Levels of Meditation

Noah Levine, discussed different levels of meditation during his presentation for the Mindfulness & Meditation Summit.  His topic was, Breaking the Addiction to Our Minds.

Noah identified three levels of meditation – (1) foundational – focus on breathing and grounding in the body, (2) second level – awareness of pain/suffering/attachment, (3) third level – overcoming the addiction to our minds.

He led listeners through a 10-minute meditation practice that was focused on the foundational level – mindful breathing.   This was an excellent meditation with skilful guidance.

Noah made the point that while there is no ideal amount of time for a meditation practice, starting somewhere in terms of time allocation is really important. He suggested that twenty minutes could be a starting point to realise some of the reinforcing benefits of meditation.  However, his strong recommendation is to aim for 45 minutes as a goal to attain because, in his experience, significant shifts/movements can occur in the last 10 minutes of this extended meditation period.

He cautions against expecting quick results and major shifts in the early stages:

Mindfulness is a gradual, systematic training that through our own efforts lead to these insights [about the impermanence of everything] and transformative wisdom [that recognises our addiction to our minds].

Noah points out too that addiction to our minds is different from other addictions such as addiction to smoking, drugs or food.  As he explained from his own experience, many addictions can be overcome through abstinence – but this is not true of addiction to the mind and thinking.  Like breathing, thinking occurs independent of us and is an essential part of our human existence.  The problem arises when we allow our mind, our thoughts, to control our lives without the highly developed skill of discernment.

A particular insight that Noah offered is that reflection – reviewing, evaluating, planning – is not mindfulness.  For me, as an action learning practitioner and teacher, reflection is integral to my daily way of life, whether it is concerning how I play tennis, conduct a workshop or engage another person in conversation.  Reflection is still an act of (critical) thinking, which – though necessary to life and professional practice – is not mindfulness.

I think a key learning from Noah’s presentation is that we grow in mindfulness gradually as we develop our meditation practice to the point where we are able to overcome addiction to our minds and the process of thinking.

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

Realising the Benefits of Meditation

In an interview with Tami Simon as part of The Mindfulness and Meditation Summit, Dr. Richie Davidson spoke of the positive impacts of meditation both on our behaviour and our brain.  His presentation was based on the book, Altered Traits, that he co-authored with Daniel Goleman.

Among the many points that Dr. Davidson makes is the statement that there is a distinct increase in benefits gained for people who undertake retreats in addition to engaging in daily meditation practice. He surmises that the benefits are broader and more sustainable for retreat practitioners because we are invariably away from our normal daily environment and the associated reminders and triggers and are assisted by a leader who can guide us and provide feedback.

However, you do not have to go on retreat or undertake 10,000 hours of practice like full-time, contemplative monks, to realise the benefits of meditation.

What is important is sustaining practice – daily practice to build new habits and enhance our brain functioning.  The benefits grow with regularity of practice and the longer we sustain meditation practice in our lives.  So, the more experienced meditators are likely to gain greater benefits than those who persist only over a short period of time.

Scientific research has reinforced the positive impact of meditation on our behaviour .  We are better able to maintain focus and handle stress, are less reactive to triggers and more resilient in the face of difficult situations.  While we retain the capacity to experience the whole breadth of emotions [and may increase our capacity for expression of emotions], we are more in control of our response to these emotions.

A key behavioural change that has been evidenced in research is the reduction in “unconscious bias” and the negative impact of associated assumptions.  Dr. Davidson stated that the research highlights the fact that these particular changes “endure beyond the meditative state” and pervade a person’s life and way of being-in-the-world.

As a person practices meditation more and more, the positive after-effects become more enduring and habituated.  Dr. Davidson instanced the personal benefit of meditation for himself as a “reduction in volatility at work” in response to workplace triggers – a behavioural change readily acknowledged by his colleagues over time.

As we grow in mindfulness through sustained meditation practice, we are able to realise not only increasing benefits but also benefits that are more enduring and integrated into our daily behaviour and daily lives.

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

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