One of the persistent misrepresentations of mindfulness is that it is predominantly a solitary struggle. One thinks of the sage on the mountain, the hermit sequestered in a cave, you sitting home alone in your room, privately gazing at your navel (which is a pretty strange image if you think about it). It’s true that mindfulness meditation does involve spending time alone with your own thinking mind. In fact, a great benefit of cultivating more mindfulness, many people report, is that it helps them get along better with themselves. Meditation helps you be a better companion for your own throbbing mind, to be more comfortable with the fact that you have to travel the world alone with your thoughts much of the time.
But being comfortable being alone does not equate with acting in isolation. An important feature of programs like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is that you practice meditation along with others, and you share your insights, misgivings, struggles, questions, and joys with others in group discussion and inquiry. Donald McCown, a longtime MBSR teacher and coauthor of Teaching Mindfulness: A Practical Guide for Clinicians and Educators, has made the point to me on several occasions that participants regard the eight-week mindfulness programs they take part in as “a group activity” and that’s one of the reasons they want to come back.
You have a group to bring your experience back to, which takes you out of the echo chamber of your own mind.
Mindfulness meditation often takes place in a small community you share with others, which supports the meditation you do on your own. You have a group to bring your experience back to (sometimes using video-conferencing), which takes you out of the echo chamber of your own mind, clouded as it can be with self- doubt and recrimination (“I’m no good at meditation. I can’t possibly be doing this right. As usual, I suck”).
People come to feel that their desire to make peace with their own mind is not a weird aspiration. They also find that others confirm for them that while meditation isn’t complicated, it does take effort, since it puts you in touch with challenging emotions that may lie just beneath the surface of everyday awareness.
The questions that hang awkwardly in the air can be as powerful as the questions that have pat answers.
McCown points out that mindfulness teachers need to be able to facilitate discussion and discovery, not simply serve as the person who answers all the questions. The questions that hang awkwardly in the air can be as powerful as the questions that have pat answers.
You can also find resolve when you meditate with other people. You get a little boost, when your energy flags, from seeing others out of the corner of your eye. The simple thought we’re in this together makes it a human, communal thing, rather than an abstract internal pursuit.
As the mindfulness world grows, let’s hope we find more and more ways we can meditate together—including online—and create affordable spaces where people of all stripes will feel free to enter, stop, and have a few minutes of time alone together with others.
This article appeared in the April 2017 issue of Mindful magazine.
from RSSMix.com Mix ID 8196908 http://www.mindful.org/benefit-meditating-alone-together/
Do you believe that each of us has one true great love?
How do you make up after a fight?
- “Physical contact: One of us breaks and hugs the other, and the tension washes away.”
- “Eating something.”
- “Lotsa good lovin’.”
- “By breaking the silence.”
- “There is no making up. Life just goes on.”
- “We relax on the couch together.”
- “I used to apologize.”
- “We say sorry, then remain cold for a while.”
- “I make a cup of tea.”
- “We talk it out.”
- “Hugs and sex please!”
- “Cooking really tasty dishes.”
- “Time heals. Give space.”
- “Sex, obviously.”
How does arguing relate to relationships?
63% say it’s a necessary part of any healthy relationship. On the other hand, 10% say it’s a clear sign of an unhealthy relationship. Still, 39% of people agree it should be avoided when possible, and only 1% say it’s fun.
When you’re arguing, where do you feel it most in your body?
What’s the best thing about being in a relationship?
- “Having a person who knows you like no other.”
- “Having both a Saturday night date and being able to stay home.”
- “The warmth, companionship, and ego-limiting opportunities.”
Do you tend to hold grudges?
What’s your main objective when arguing with a significant other?
76% say they aim to work through difficult emotions and miscommunications, while 14% want to ease tension, 3% want to make the other person feel better, and 7% just wanna win!
When you disagree with someone, are you more likely to:
What’s the worst thing about being in a relationship?
- “Having to share food.”
- “Knowing that I have to look hard at myself.”
- “Having to trust another person with my vulnerabilities.”
- “Putting up with other person thinking they’re right all the time.”
- “Worrying that your happiness will negatively impact the other person.”
- “Having to worry about someone else’s feelings all the time.”
- “Going to bed mad.”
- “Dealing with in-laws.”
- “Answering to someone else.”
- “Sometimes my sadness makes him sad too.”
What’s the silliest thing you’ve argued about with a romantic partner?
- “Dog pee.”
- “We constantly argue about things we agree on.”
- “Misplaced underwear.”
- “Stacking the dishwasher.”
- “Whether fat-free milk is the same as skim.”
- “Driving directions.”
- “Debit or cash payment method.”
- “An Arby’s roast beef sandwich!”
- “Reusing tea bags.”
- “How to squeeze the toothpaste.”
- “Being messy (me).”
- “Cat hair.”
- “Representational art.”
This article appeared in the April 2017 issue of Mindful magazine
from RSSMix.com Mix ID 8196908 http://www.mindful.org/mindful-survey-good-fight/
Bianca feels compelled to keep her three-story house so organized, tidy, and clean that certain chairs must stand in only certain precise places; bathroom towels must be arranged and folded just so; the dishwasher must be loaded according to a strict, undeviating system; and tall glasses must be stored on the right of a kitchen cabinet, medium glasses on the left.
Suzanne’s house, by contrast, has been so consumed by her decades of hoarding that city authorities threatened to condemn it.
Superficially, the two women seem to be polar opposites. Look below the surface, however, and they are not so different. And their stories highlight a mystery that has long stymied students of the mind and which recent science is shedding light on: What are the roots of compulsions, and how do they differ from behavioral addictions, which we typically associate with activities like excessive drinking, gambling, or drug abuse?
As a child, Bianca had little say over her own life. Her mother chose her clothes, her furniture, even her friends and activities, and her mother’s moods swung unpredictably from white-hot anger to warm caring to cool aloofness. Having her fate in the hands of another was disquieting enough, but it was made even more stressful by never knowing, she said, “which mother I would have each morning.”
Bianca coped by developing a strategy that crystallized one year when her family arrived at their summer home. The dusting, de-cob-webbing, and other work overwhelmed her mother, leading Bianca to tell her, “We don’t have to do all of it right now. Let’s just clean up a little bit of lawn, and put out some chairs and a table so we can have a nice haven,” she recalled. “That was when I realized, even if I can’t fix everything, as long as one little place is in order, as long as there’s one little island where I can think clearly, it’s OK.”
That drive to create an island of order and calm in a sea of chaos and tumult grew stronger when Bianca—now a divorced, single mother—struggled to make her way after she emigrated from Switzerland to the United States. She needed “to have things where they belong and to do things in a certain way, even little things like arranging chairs or hanging coffee cups in the right place,” she said. Her compulsions “give me a sense of peace, a feeling that there are some things I have control of.”
As for Suzanne, by the time her five children were in school, she felt trapped in a marriage that brought her little joy and many bruises. “I remember thinking, I don’t want to live anymore,” she told me. She threw herself into her children’s activities, putting aside her own: “I thought, ‘Some day I’ll read that book. And some day I’ll get back to knitting.’” Her husband regularly brought home empty boxes from work (the only “gifts” he ever gave her), and gradually Suzanne filled them with her deferred dreams: books she hoped to read one day, magazine articles about a home improvement project she aspired to do, newspaper clippings about wonderful places to visit, materials to make Boy Scout projects and reupholster furniture—all “one day.”
Hoarding keeps her dreams in the eternal realm of possibility, sparing her the anxiety of confronting the reality of her life. Waving at towering boxes of newspaper and magazine clippings and more stuff than she can identify, Suzanne told me, “I had a dream that our life would be nice, that we’d go on vacation, or I’d have a beautiful garden, or a pretty room, like in magazines. But it didn’t work out. Instead of having the things I dreamed about, I have pieces of paper. It’s all I have.”
Addiction vs. Compulsion
One might say both women are addicted to what they’re doing: Bianca to tidiness and order, Suzanne to hoarding. The two terms are often used interchangeably not only in casual conversation (compulsive shopping seems synonymous with shopping addiction) but by experts. “It’s a real scientific controversy, how and in what ways addictions are or are not like compulsive behaviors,” James Hansell, a clinical psychologist at George Washington University, told me.
But recent research in psychology and neuroscience is starting to resolve that controversy.
Addictions bring pleasure, though they also build up a tolerance over time, as the addict requires more and more of the behavior (or substance) to get the same hedonic hit.
An addiction, goes the emerging understanding, begins with a flash of pleasure overlaid with an itch for danger: It’s fun to gamble or to drink, and it also puts you at risk (for losing your rent money, for acting like an idiot). Addictions bring pleasure, though they also build up a tolerance over time, as the addict requires more and more of the behavior (or substance) to get the same hedonic hit.
Compulsions, by contrast, are about avoiding unpleasant outcomes. They are born out of anxiety and remain strangers to joy. They are repetitive behaviors we engage in over and over to alleviate the angst brought on by the possibility of negative consequences. If I don’t check my phone constantly, I’ll miss an urgent demand from my boss or will feel like I don’t know what is going on. If I do not religiously organize my closets, my home will be engulfed in chaos. If I don’t shop, it will be proof that I can’t afford nice things and am headed for homelessness. “A compulsive behavior is one that’s done with the intent of decreasing an overwhelming sense of anxiety,” said Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation. The roots of compulsion lie in the brain circuit that detects threats, which is abnormally active in people with OCD and other compulsions.
A compulsion, in short, differs from an addiction because the initial impetus is alleviating anxiety, not finding pleasure. A compulsive behavior is a form of self-reassurance—Everything’s OK now that I’ve checked my phone 15 seconds after I checked the email on my desktop. Wait, maybe a new one has arrived…. From this point of view, Bianca and Suzanne are both ruled by compulsions.
An Age of Anxiety
Understanding that addictions are born out of joy and pleasure, and compulsions are born out of anxiety, is crucial to treating them. It also explains why compulsions like Bianca’s and Suzanne’s are so common. Ever since the 1947 publication of W. H. Auden’s The Age of Anxiety, ours has been an era defined by dreads both societal and personal. In any 12-month period, 18.1% of US adults suffer from anxiety intense enough to be a disorder, compared to 6.9% who suffer from major depression.
In any year, 18.1% of US adults suffer from anxiety intense enough to be a disorder, compared to 6.9% who suffer from major depression.
It’s hardly surprising that our age of anxiety has given rise to so many people who are in the grip of a compulsion. We can’t force our ideal online date to find us in the digital sea of possibilities or stop bomb-toting fanatics from driving to Times Square. So we control what we can, compulsively cleaning or checking, hoarding or shopping or surfing the net in order to drain enough of our anxiety to function. Against tectonic social and economic forces that feel as uncontrollable and overwhelming as the waves on a rocky seashore, we seize on anything that restores a sense of agency. Compulsions are the psychological equivalent of steering into a skid. It’s the counterintuitive thing to do, but ultimately, for many, at least on their own terms, it’s effective.
What is OCD?
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a chronic, long-lasting disorder involving uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions).
Common obsessions: fear of germs; unwanted or forbidden thoughts about sex, religion, and harm; aggressive thoughts toward self/others; creating symmetry. Compulsions: excessive cleaning, ordering things in a particular way, repeatedly checking if you locked the door, compulsive counting. In OCD, the urges are strong, joyless, and uncontrollable without intervention.
See the National Institute of Mental Health’s website for more information on OCD.
This article appeared in the April 2017 issue of Mindful magazine.
from RSSMix.com Mix ID 8196908 http://www.mindful.org/avoidance-rules-life/
When you’ve been hurt by someone, it’s not always easy to let it go. But holding on to a grudge will only make you feel worse—and not just emotionally. Resentment can cause your blood pressure to spike and trigger the release of stress chemicals that can make you physically sick. And the truth is: It doesn’t really do any good anyway. As the saying goes: “Not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
The paradox is, when you’ve been wronged, forgiveness is the only thing that provides relief from the pain. Sound like a bitter pill to swallow? Read on to learn how forgiving others (and yourself) can help you release the heavy burden of resentment and experience more freedom.
1. Understand forgiveness
Before you attempt to force forgiveness on your most tender hurts, consider what it is you’re asking of yourself: Forgiving doesn’t mean that you condone what happened or that the perpetrator is blameless. It is making the conscious choice to release yourself from the burden, pain, and stress of holding on to resentment.
Forgiving doesn’t mean that you condone what happened or that the perpetrator is blameless. It is making the conscious choice to release yourself from the burden, pain, and stress of holding on to resentment.
2. Feel your pain
Hurts can run deep, even if at first glance they don’t seem to make a big impact. It’s important to give yourself permission to acknowledge and honor the pain that’s very real for you. Notice where you feel it in your body and ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” Maybe you need to feel supported, take more time, or do something kind for yourself. Allowing space for the pain in this way can help you know whether you’re ready to release it from your heart and mind.
3. Name it
Whether you’ve hurt yourself or have been hurt by another, allow yourself to be honest and simply name the feelings that are there. They might include guilt, grief, shame, sorrow, confusion, or anger. As you consider the act of forgiveness, any of these feelings can arise. A study at UCLA found that when you name your emotional experience it turns the volume down on your amygdala, the emotion center of the brain, and brings resources back to your pre-frontal cortex, the rational part of your brain. So, by naming the feeling you can create space and not get overwhelmed.
4. Let it out
Keeping hurt feelings bottled up only causes additional stress to your mind and body. Even if the memory is difficult to confront, see if you can share how you’re feeling. You can write about it in a journal or talk about it with a friend or a professional counselor. Sharing helps you expand your perspective, and perhaps even see what happened through a different lens.
5. Flip your focus
If possible, see if you can flip your focus from being the victim to putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. For example, consider the life the person lived that led them to this hurtful action. This is difficult to do, but remember, you’re not condoning any action. This exercise is just about trying to see that, as humans, we are deeply impacted by our own traumas and life experiences, which greatly inform how we show up and act in the world. If you are able to do this, compassion naturally tends to flow from this more understanding perspective.
6. Take action (start small)
Whether you are forgiving yourself or another person, taking action can help to facilitate healing and make you feel more empowered. It’s best to start with smaller misdeeds to get into practice and feel what’s possible. Writing a letter or having an uncomfortable conversation can be difficult and even scary, but often a sense of empowerment emerges from the self-compassionate action of listening to yourself and doing something that supports you.
7. Remember, you’re not the first or last
When you’ve been hurt, it’s common to feel like you’re the only one who has ever been wronged in this way. In fact, it’s likely that this transgression (or something similar to it) has been made many, maybe even millions of times before throughout human history. Making mistakes is part of our shared human experience. Remembering you are not alone in experiencing this kind of pain can help to loosen your grip on your resentment.
8. Have patience; forgiveness is a practice
Forgiveness isn’t a quick-fix solution. It’s a process, so be patient with yourself. With smaller transgressions, forgiveness can happen pretty quickly, but with the larger ones, it can take years. As you begin with the smaller misdeeds and then move onto the harder ones, be kind to yourself, take deep breaths, and continue on.
9. Stop blaming
We all know it can feel good now and again to complain to a friend—misery loves company, right? Well, not exactly. Researcher Brené Brown, author of Rising Strong, says, “Blaming is a way to discharge pain and discomfort.” It gives us a false sense of control but inevitably keeps the negativity kicking around in our minds, increasing our stress and eroding our relationships.
10. Practice more mindfulness
A recent study surveyed 94 adults who had been cheated on by their partners, and found a correlation between traits of mindfulness and forgiveness. In other words, it can be said that the more you practice mindfulness, the more you strengthen your capacity for forgiveness.
11. Find meaning and strength through your pain
As you practice working with the pain that’s there, you grow key strengths of self-compassion, courage, and empathy that inevitably make you stronger in every way. As psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, even in the most horrific and painful circumstances, we have the freedom to create meaning in life, which is a powerful healing agent.
A MINI FORGIVENESS PRACTICE:
Try this short practice once a day and feel your forgiveness muscles growing.
Think of someone who has caused you pain (to start, maybe not the person who has hurt you most) and you’re holding a grudge against. Visualize the time you were hurt by this person and feel the pain you still carry. Hold tightly to your unwillingness to forgive. Now, observe what emotion is present. Is it anger, resentment, sadness? Use your body as a barometer and notice physically what you feel. Are you tense anywhere, or do you feel heavy? Next, bring awareness to your thoughts; are they hateful, spiteful, or something else?
Really feel this burden associated with the hurt that lives inside you, and ask yourself:
“Who is suffering?
Have I carried this burden long enough?
Am I willing to forgive?”
If the answer is no, that’s OK. Some wounds need more time than others to heal.
If you are ready to let it go now, silently repeat: “Breathing in, I acknowledge the pain. Breathing out, I am forgiving and releasing this burden from my heart and mind.”
Continue this process for as long as it feels supportive to you.
This article appeared in the April 2017 issue of Mindful magazine.
from RSSMix.com Mix ID 8196908 http://www.mindful.org/let-go-11-ways-forgive/
Q: I just came back from a retreat. I feel like I need to have my entire body massaged. Am I doing something wrong? How good could this be if it’s making me hurt?
Meditation is not a “no pain, no gain” proposition. Being in a lot of pain is not a mark of doing it right. It can take some work, though, to find a position (or a few positions) that don’t lead to intense pain. Some folks sit cross-legged on a single cushion; others sit astride a tower of cushions; others perch on benches; still others prefer chairs. Each person finds the posture and support that best suits their bodily condition. So try out different postures and supports, and by all means don’t assume you’re cursed to experience meditating as akin to being stuck in the middle seat on a budget airline. On the other hand, a hugely important lesson of meditation is that even comfort is, well, bound to eventually become uncomfortable. For this reason, once you find a suitable posture and support, it’s a good idea to avoid making too many adjustments. Constantly tinkering can make you feel as though you’re trying to outrun the reality that the body is naturally going to drift in and out of states: some comfortable, some uncomfortable, and some neither/nor.
Try out different postures and supports, and by all means don’t assume you’re cursed to experience meditating as akin to being stuck in the middle seat on a budget airline.
In one sense, a retreat is a laboratory for creating the conditions most conducive to meditation. It’s also a microcosm of life itself, a chance to observe deeply how things drift in and out of discord, regardless of how much effort we’ve put into creating an ideal environment. In the quietest place on Earth, a feather dropping can ring out like a gunshot. A minor ache, likewise, can scream like a broken limb. Take advantage of the supportive environment of the retreat to begin inoculating yourself against the tendency to react too strongly to these pangs, so you’re prepared to face discomforts of every shape and size back in “the real world.” You’re practicing for life, and all its wanted and unwanted elements. You can become comfortable with discomfort and aware that even when discomfort arises, it doesn’t have to totally define your experience.
People have found that as they relax that inner tension, it often results in less bodily tension.
One way to look at the lingering soreness is that it indicates a retreat well spent—a signal of the valuable work you’ve done in teaching yourself to unpack every sensation, in order to face them without drama or disconsolation.
Even so, maintaining any position for hours and hours a day for several days or more is bound to give any body a run for its money. One way to look at the lingering soreness is that it indicates a retreat well spent—a signal of the valuable work you’ve done in teaching yourself to unpack every sensation, in order to face them without drama or disconsolation. Finally, don’t forget to seek the counsel of wise, experienced teachers and meditators. They’ve been there. They are there.
This article appeared in the April 2017 issue of Mindful magazine.
from RSSMix.com Mix ID 8196908 http://www.mindful.org/when-meditation-feels-too-painful/
Where Does It Hurt? Healing the Wounds of Severed Belonging
I recently heard about a man who attempted to sneak his pet turtle onto a flight by placing it between two buns and wrapping it in a KFC wrapper. When he was discovered, he told the officials that he just couldn’t leave his beloved pet at home.
I could relate! There have been times that I’ve nearly canceled a teaching trip because I just didn’t want to leave my dog. There’s so much research now that having a pet — experiencing that sense of warmth and connection — increases longevity and happiness. The other side of the equation is that when there is a deficit of connection, there is loneliness and depression.
The wounds in our lives are so often related to severed belonging and the ways that we, in some way, get split off from the feeling that who we are is okay. Through our families and our culture, we get the message that something is wrong with us. We split off because we get hurt or because another has not been able to stay with us.
In the earliest phases of our lives, what we most need from a parent is the sense that we are known and loved. In Buddhism, these expressions of awake awareness—understanding and caring—are often described as the two wings of a bird: they are interdependent, and intrinsic to our well-being. On this path of healing and awakening, bringing these two wings to our own inner life and to our relationships with others is what I sometimes think of as spiritual re-parenting.
In a recent interview, civil rights activist and theologian, Ruby Sales describes a moment from her life when these two wings of understanding and care came alive:
The defining moment . . . I was getting my locks washed and my locker’s daughter came in one morning and she had been hustling all night and she had sores on her body, she was just in a state — drugs. So something said to me, ‘Ask her, where does it hurt?’ And I said, ‘Shelly, where does it hurt?’ And just that simple question unleashed territory in her that she had never shared with her mother. And she talked about having been incested, and she talked about all these things that had happened to her as a child, and she literally shared the source of her pain. And I realized, in that moment, listening to her and talking to her, that I needed a larger way to do this work.
Where does it hurt? When I heard Ruby’s story, it really landed in quite a beautiful way. I could remember, in my own life, times that people asked me a question — really asked from a place of caring presence — and, in those moments, how that opened up something in me.
The beginning of healing is recognizing suffering and asking the question: Where does it hurt? Seeking to understand, offering our interested presence, is the first wing of spiritual re-parenting. Just as the concerned parent, seeing their child upset, angry, withdrawn, would want to know what’s going on, we can learn to bring interest to our inner life and gently ask ourselves: What is going on inside? Where does it hurt?
A challenge is that, while we might get in touch with feelings of loneliness, shame, or being unloved by others, when we don’t know how to be with those raw emotions, we are quick to leave. Judgment is one of the main ways that we leave when things feel difficult. We blame ourselves, get angry, judge others. Or we numb out. Or we distract ourselves.
There’s a story of a wise old sage who lived deep in the wilderness. The people seeking wisdom from him had to travel through dangerous jungles and forests for days to get to him. Once they arrived, he would swear them to silence and then he would say, Okay, I have one question for you. What are you unwilling to feel?
The second part of spiritual re-parenting –expressing our care—arises as we learn to stay. When a child is angry or upset, what do we do? We stay with them until they can get in touch with what it is they are really needing. In the same way, we can commit to staying with our own inner experience, no matter what it is. And as we get in touch with what those hurting places really want or need, our caring can naturally flower into an engaged, nurturing presence.
Bringing this practice to our own wounding is key, and as we enlarge to include others, we open up potential for boundless healing in the world around us. If we really want to have a world where we can connect and respond to each other, we must widen the field and attend with the same understanding and care to all humans, all species, all the parts of this living world that are having trouble. We begin with the same question: Where does it hurt?
From the Poet, Hafiz:
Everyone you see, you say to them,
Of course you do not do this out loud;
Someone would call the cops.
Still though, think about this,
This great pull in us
Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying,
With that sweet moon
What every other eye in this world
Is dying to
From: Spiritual Re-Parenting – a talk given by Tara Brach on December 7, 2016
 Tippett, K. (Producer). (2016, September 15). Where Does it Hurt [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.onbeing.org/program/ruby-sales-where-does-it-hurt/8931
 Hafiz. (1999). With That Moon Language (D. Ladinsky, Trans.). In The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, the Great Sufi Master (p. 322). New York, NY: Penguin Putnam Inc.
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