Developing Wisdom Through Meditation

In a recent interview for Mindful.org, Sharon Salzberg discussed The Power of Loving Kindness.  In the course of the interview, Sharon identified different ways that meditation can develop wisdom – the ability to make insightful judgments and sensible decisions based on our knowledge and experience.  Her wide-ranging conversation focused on a number of key insights that can help us to inform our judgements and guide our decision making.

Elements of wisdom developed through meditation

In her interview, Sharon shared several key insights into the way meditation can contribute to the development of wisdom:

  • Learning to accept what you can’t control – the starting point to develop wisdom is to acknowledge that many things are outside our control and to accept this fact despite our innate need for control.  Wasting energy and negative emotion on things outside our control only debilitates us and leaves us open to frustration and depression.
  • Realising that no matter the situation, you have agency – you can exercise agency (your capacity to act to have control over your inner landscape and over some elements of your external environment).   Viktor Frankl, author of Yes to Life in Spite of Everything, demonstrated control over his inner landscape during his internment in a concentration camp.  There is always something that you can do externally as well – you just need the space and time to be open to this possibility.  Even in this time of the global pandemic, people and organisations are finding creative ways to take action to exercise control over some elements of their life and work.  Wisdom recognises that you don’t need to feel entirely powerless.  As Sharon points out, “It’s an illusion to think that we are without any agency in our lives, any ability to act”.
  • Learning to use the gap that is available between stimulus and response – you can become convinced that your conditioned way of responding is the only way for you to react to a negative stimulus.  As Viktor Frankl maintains there is a gap between stimulus and response and therein lies your freedom to choose your action (“considered action” rather than reaction).  Meditation develops self-awareness, especially in relation to the negative stimuli that activate your fight/flight/freeze responses.  Meditation also builds self-regulation so that you can choose your response rather than be conditioned by your past experiences and habituated way of reacting.
  • There is a unique way for you to help others – you have a combination of life experiences, skills, personal attributes and knowledge/understanding that is different to anyone else.  Instead of trying to live up to others’ expectations, you can find a personal way to help through meditation and reflection – you can exercise sound judgment and creative decision making in relation to your potential contribution.  Sharon reinforces this when she suggests that you can “pay attention and look and listen for opportunities to help” that are in line with your capabilities and the challenges of the situation you are faced with.
  • Dealing effectively with difficult emotions – being with these emotions in all their pain and intensity instead of avoiding them and acting in a dysfunctional and hurtful way.  Feeling difficult emotions in your body and naming them in a granular way (e.g. anxiety, fear, shame) enables you to tame them and to convert negative energy into constructive action.
  • Appreciating moments of wellness and joy – it takes awareness in the moment to appreciate your experiences of beauty, joy and love.  Gratitude for these experiences enhances their impact on your overall wellbeing. Also, as Sharon maintains in her recent book, loving-kindness meditation is a revolutionary way to happiness.
  • Developing your sense of connectedness – when you experience wellness or complex emotions or become immersed in nature through meditation and reflection, you heighten your sense of connectedness to everyone else who is experiencing this range of human emotions and to every living thing.  Sharon notes that connectedness is the very fabric of life and if you treat yourself as separate, you are “fighting that reality”.  Loving-kindness meditation is a very effective way to reinforce and manifest our connectedness to others.

Reflection

It pays to think about, and experience, how meditation develops sound judgement and enables sensible decisions.  We so often relate meditation to rest and relaxation and overlook its power to facilitate effective action in a wide range of situations.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection, our awareness of what is and what’s possible develops, our ability to manage ourselves (thoughts, emotions and actions) increases and our enhanced sense of connectedness becomes an inner source of energy and empowerment.

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Image by Nadege Burness from 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.

Trauma-Informed Mindfulness: Principles for Effective Helping

Sam Himelstein has specialised for more than 12 years in using mindfulness to help teenagers impacted by trauma.   In a podcast interview with David Treleaven, Sam explained in depth his approach to teaching mindfulness to teens affected by trauma, as well as the evolving principles that shape his practice. While his focus is primarily on teens and educating others to work with teens, his approach and principles have relevance to anyone who is using mindfulness to assist people impacted by trauma (or anyone who is teaching mindfulness where a participant is a trauma sufferer).  He has developed his principles through ongoing reflection on practice.

Sam is a psychologist and youth worker and the author of A Mindfulness-Based Approach to Working with High-Risk Adolescents and the forthcoming book, Trauma-Informed Mindfulness for Teens: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals.  He is also the founder of the Center for Adolescent Studies.

Principles for trauma-informed mindfulness practice

In discussing his approach to working with teens impacted by trauma, including incarcerated youth, Sam identified several principles that guide his practice:

  • Avoid “adultism” – the assumption that as an adult you are superior to teens and have a lot to teach youth and they have very little in the way of wisdom to offer.  Associated with this false belief, is the assumption that you know best what is good for them – implying that they should learn from your teachings (that you try to impose on them).  This also involves recognising the wisdom they gained in their transition to a teenager. [You can also test your assumptions when working with adults – do you assume that they have no insights into the nature and practice of mindfulness?]
  • Work from where they are at – do not begin with formal meditation as they are unlikely to be ready for this.
  • Focus on relationship-building – consciously build trust in every aspect of your interaction, as their level of trusting others will have been severely damaged by their trauma experience(s). 
  • Assist teens to become comfortable with “sitting with themselves” and exploring “inner awareness”.
  • Be genuinely curious about what is happening for them and what they are doing to cope – bring an open mind to the interaction.  It can be helpful to identify and test your own assumptions before interacting.
  • Develop your own mindfulness continuously – your inner and outer awareness – and learn to let go of “ego” and the need to control the process.

Reflection

When teaching mindfulness to adults and youth, we need to be aware of the possibility that they may have been impacted by trauma(s) in their life.  Being conscious of the principles employed by Sam will help us to demonstrate sensitivity, build trust and relationships, and work at their pace – rather than to a pre-ordained progress schedule.  It will be imperative for us to grow in mindfulness – becoming fully aware of the assumptions we bring to the teaching/interaction, letting go of ego and the need for control, and genuinely engaging with curiosity, humility and openness.

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Image by Lubos Houska from 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.

Loosening the Hold of False Beliefs

In a previous post, I explored the nature of harmful beliefs, how they arise and the negative impact they have in our lives. In this post, I want to focus on ways to challenge and manage these harmful beliefs and how to progressively break free of their hold over us – releasing the tight fist that constrains our interactions with others and blocks our creativity.

Again, I will be drawing on the wisdom and insight offered by Tara Brach in her new course, Releasing Negative Beliefs & Thought Patterns: Using Mindfulness to Break Out of the Trance.   Tara argues that the way to break free of the hold of our false beliefs is to recognise them for what they are, investigate them and their impact in our lives and practice mindful awareness to ground ourselves in reality, rather than live out a figment of our imagination.

False beliefs – their true nature

Tara explains that many of the beliefs we hold about ourselves and others are not only harmful but are untrue – they are false beliefs. She maintains that they are “true but not real”. The beliefs are true in the sense that we create them in our minds and experience them in our bodies – whether the tightness of fear, the restlessness of anxiety or the unsettled stomach flowing from worry. Tara cites Hildegard de Bingen who speaks of the impact of our beliefs in terms of creating an interpretation of reality – developing a mental map that is not the territory or as Hildegard describes the unreality of our self-beliefs, “An interpreted world is not a home”.

So, the starting point for loosening the hold of these false beliefs is to recognise them for what they are – an interpretation we impose on the world and people around us. We substitute our beliefs about ourselves and others for the real world – “we are unworthy and unlovable”; “they are more intelligent and resourceful”; “we do not deserve people’s appreciation or kindness”; “they are so much more accepted and accomplished than us”.

False beliefs can lead to “the disease to please”

False beliefs can lead to what Hariet Braiker describes as The Disease to Please. This “disease” manifests in a number of ways and can lead to “people-pleasing habits” designed to gain another person’s approval. The people-pleasing person puts the needs of everyone else before their own which leads to personal overload and ill-health. They may denigrate their own contribution and over-inflate the contribution of others. These behaviours are self-defeating because the perceived ingratiating behaviour is viewed by others as insincere and “over-the-top” – thus negatively impacting significant relationships.

False beliefs about oneself lie at the heart of these habits and are reflected in a mindset that “being nice” will ward off rejection or harm by others – a potential rejection or harming perceived as warranted by us because we believe that we are “unworthy” or “unlovable”. These deep-seated, self-beliefs can arise from past adverse or traumatic experiences, including abuse by our parents or others.

Investigating false beliefs

Tara suggests that false beliefs about ourselves and others can be sustained by us because they are never subject to investigation or personal inquiry. She provides a series of questions that can help with this inquiry and lead to enhanced self-awareness. I have reframed the questions below which can be explored in a meditation session on a conflictual encounter or a blocked endeavour:

  1. What is my belief that is getting in the way? – naming the belief to tame its impacts
  2. How true is this belief or is it simply untrue?
  3. What happens for me when I entertain this belief – in what ways do I suffer, and my relationships/endeavours suffer, because of this belief?
  4. What would my experience of relationships (or of the achievement of creative endeavours) be like if I no longer entertained this belief?

Tara suggests that the release from false beliefs is a progressive “letting go” that can be blocked sometimes by our need for control. In letting go of false beliefs, we can experience uncertainty and insecurity because we have created a vacuum – we have not replaced these beliefs with ones that are grounded in reality. Through meditation, we can learn to substitute beliefs that affirm our worth, our lovability and our good intentions.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation on conflicted situations or blocked endeavours, we can name our false beliefs, challenge their distortion of reality and loosen their hold on us. This will free us to engage more fully and positively in relationships and release our energy for creative endeavours.

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Image source: courtesy of johnhain 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.