Want to Pursue Happiness? Embrace All of Your Emotions

Our culture places a high value on happiness—having the best job, house, the most friends, things in general. We’re constantly in a state of grasping for something—filling ourselves up from the outside.

And it’s totally bumming us out.

Susan David is a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and author of Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life. She says our obsession with happiness hinders our ability to do the hard work of living: being able to recover from setbacks when we inevitably make mistakes, or lose a job—you know, when that picture-perfect veneer we were working away at starts to erode.

It is really important that as human beings we develop our capacity to deal with our thoughts and emotions in a way that isn’t a struggle, in a way that embraces them and is with them and is able to learn from them.
—Susan David
Harvard Medical School

“It is really important that as human beings we develop our capacity to deal with our thoughts and emotions in a way that isn’t a struggle, in a way that embraces them and is with them and is able to learn from them,” says David in a recent video for Big Think. She continues:

What I worry about when there is this message of be happy is that people then automatically assume that when they have a difficult thought or feeling that they should push it aside, that it’s somehow a sign of weakness. And what that does is it actually stops people from being authentic with themselves. It hinders our ability to learn from our experience. And I believe that it is stopping us as a society, including our children, from developing higher levels of well-being and resilience.

David suggests we instead focus on what’s important for us, and happiness will become “a byproduct of that focus”:

Go Deeper: Listen to a Guided Mindfulness Practice for Turning Toward Difficulty

If you want to work on turning toward any difficulty you might be dealing with right now, explore this practice from meditation teacher and author Ed Halliwell, author of Into The Heart of Mindfulness

Sometimes our experience is painful and difficult. And there may be little or nothing we can do about the arising of the pain or difficulty. In these cases. We may be able to work with what’s happening skillfully by exploring our relationship to it. Most of us have a habitual pattern of turning away from problems or trying to get rid of unpleasant events. Unfortunately this often seems to increase our sense of stress because if pain is already present, you can’t get rid of it by trying to run away from it. So in mindfulness practice we gently experiment with reversing this habit by turning gently towards difficult experiences that come up in our meditation.

This practice is usually best done in small doses at first. Preferably working with difficulties that aren’t likely to be overwhelming. It’s important to remember that you’re in charge of how you undertake this experiment. You can return to mindfulness of breathing as an anchor at any time or let go of this practice for a while if you need to, being kind to yourself.

Research suggests that we turn towards pain and discomfort, we can experience less of it. Read more on the science and practice of staying present through difficult times.

What Is Happiness Anyway?

5 Science-Backed Strategies to Build Resilience

The post Want to Pursue Happiness? Embrace All of Your Emotions appeared first on Mindful.

from RSSMix.com Mix ID 8196908 http://www.mindful.org/want-pursue-happiness-embrace-emotions/

Reflection: Heart Wisdom of Your Future Self (9:20 min) – Tara Brach

Reflection: Heart Wisdom of your Future Self –

By connecting with your future self, this reflection guides you in accessing the deep wisdom and unconditional love of your own awakening heart.

“I returned to the river. I returned to the mountains. I begged – I begged to wed every object and creature. And when they accepted, God was ever present in my arms. And He did not say, ‘Where have you been?’ For then I knew my soul – every soul – has always held him.”

Excerpt from: When I Was the Forest – Meister Eckhart

NOTE: this reflection from the closing of Tara’s talk: Trusting Our Awakening Heart

The post Reflection: Heart Wisdom of Your Future Self (9:20 min) appeared first on Tara Brach.

from RSSMix.com Mix ID 8196908 https://www.tarabrach.com/reflection-heart-wisdom-future-self/

from Blogger http://mindfulcreation.blogspot.com/2017/02/reflection-heart-wisdom-of-your-future.html

Reflection: Heart Wisdom of Your Future Self (9:20 min) – Tara Brach

Reflection: Heart Wisdom of your Future Self –

By connecting with your future self, this reflection guides you in accessing the deep wisdom and unconditional love of your own awakening heart.

“I returned to the river. I returned to the mountains. I begged – I begged to wed every object and creature. And when they accepted, God was ever present in my arms. And He did not say, ‘Where have you been?’ For then I knew my soul – every soul – has always held him.”

Excerpt from: When I Was the Forest – Meister Eckhart

NOTE: this reflection from the closing of Tara’s talk: Trusting Our Awakening Heart

The post Reflection: Heart Wisdom of Your Future Self (9:20 min) appeared first on Tara Brach.

from RSSMix.com Mix ID 8196908 https://www.tarabrach.com/reflection-heart-wisdom-future-self/

When We Resist, We Empower the Thing We’re Fighting Against

Mindfulness is often described as an internal resource—for healing, for navigating change, and as a compass that helps us get curious about our passions and drives.

But when we’re clear on our core values, and they appear to be under attack, what role can our mindfulness practice play?

Judson Brewer is Director of Research at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. His forthcoming book, The Craving Mind (Yale University Press, March 2017) explores how our impulse control often takes us off course when we participate in addictive behaviors—everything from smoking to binge-watching Netflix.

Resistance is also like a craving: We get pulled in to our reaction—perhaps excitement over disagreeing, feeling the need to claim our territory in particular divides. Anger, resentment, or fear can be intoxicating feelings. At the same time, when our country’s leadership attempts to put forward policies entrenched in these sentiments, it’s essential to communicate where we stand.

Brewer suggests that if we put too much stock in resistance as a response to injustice, we risk syphoning energy away from a just response. “Every moment we’re resisting, we’re creating a sense of self around that,” he says. Instead, letting go of resistance helps us choose the most efficient way to communicate our needs and act (daily Facebook rants about Trump exhausting all of your friends versus the Women’s March). This kind of letting go is the opposite of complacency.

Brewer has seen evidence that approaching events through the lens of equanimity eases resistance, and helps put us on a path to constructive action. When we stop holding tight to thoughts of “things need to be this way” or “this is my view, and yours is wrong,” there’s an opportunity for something different to happen—beyond fuelling a flame war. Both sides can start to do what they desperately need to do: communicate across the divide.


Stephany Tlalka: What is equanimity?

Judson Brewer: We take mindfulness, awareness, where there’s no push or pull. That no push or pull—that’s the definition of equanimity. Where we’re not being pushed, we’re not being pulled. There’s an “even keel”-ness.

This is like in the Tao Te Ching quote where he talks about the mark of a moderate man is freedom from his own ideas, supple like a tree in the wind, steady like a mountain. Anything is possible from him because he has let go. That’s equanimity—the tree that bends in the wind, it’s not rigid. And then it pops back up, unharmed.

ST: I’m thinking of tough conversations people are having right now with friends, family members, and on social media—people want to communicate what’s important to them, and get the message across about things they think are wrong and need to change. There’s this need to solidify one’s position—and make it known. But I also imagine the tree is you with your values. You’re able to be flexible in the face of opposing value systems, uncertainty, or chaos—you’re able to be resilient.

Resistance = Reactivity

JB: If we get too attached to our views, then we’re going to lose sight of how to live them out. Because when we resist—when we’re not the supple tree that bends in the wind—we’re not able to deal with what’s actually happening right now. We say, “I don’t want this to be this way.” It’s like one of those blow-up clown punching bags that’s supposed to pop back up after you punch it. Each time we reject what’s happening, we add sand to the doll, making it heavier. Then, we’re no longer able to pop back up. Then what happens? I knocked myself out because it’s so heavy. I’ve exhausted myself.

If we get too attached to our views, then we’re going to lose sight of how to live them out. Every moment we’re resisting, we’re creating a sense of self around that.

Every moment we’re resisting, we’re creating a sense of self around that. Reactivity is resistance is attachment to views.

ST: So you can’t actually live out your values when you are resisting. You’re actually working against yourself.

JB: Right. And you’re putting a ton of energy into building that up when in reality it’s like building a wall in the middle of a river. The water is going to find a way to flow around it. And we just waste our time building that wall.

ST: What about individuals who are firmly entrenched in a value system that excludes others? How can we approach hate with equanimity?

JB: Curiosity can help support equanimity. When we’re resisting something, we’re contracting. And that contraction creates a sense of self. “This is my view,” creates a sense of self. Curiosity has the opposite quality—an opening up, expansiveness.

When we’re approaching someone who holds an entrenched view, we put up a curiosity which naturally leads us away from initiating one of those “I hate you, you’re stupid” wars (those “you’re stupid” “no, you’re stupid” debates people can get into when tempers flare). So we dive in and we’re suddenly curious: What is it about you’re conditioning? We don’t want to say it that way, but really that’s what it is. What is it about your conditioning that leads you to have that view? Isn’t that interesting? Why are you so…and then suddenly we totally want to understand where they’re coming from. And usually this is some sense of inadequacy, trauma, feeling insufficient.

There are now neuro-correlates of contraction versus expansion. When we’ve done these real time neurofeedback studies on meditators, it’s that contracted quality of experience that activates the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC)—a core region of the default mode network in the brain involved in memory and emotion. And it’s the “letting go”/expansion aspect de-activates the PCC.

ST: So curiosity allows you to explore how peoples’ vulnerabilities can motivate them to resist, which can lead to toxic viewpoints—which we may hold in our own selves, too.

JB: Right, so we can let go of our own toxic viewpoints and then suddenly try to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. And if we can do that then we can start speaking their language and if we can start speaking their language then they’re going to feel heard. And suddenly we’re having a conversation as compared to a yelling match. How can we start to approach any major issue without understanding where the other is coming from? If they need something and we don’t know what that need is we’re not going to get anywhere.

Can (and Should) We Be Even-Tempered When Our Anger is Justified?

ST: Where does an even-tempered, equanimous response fit into a scenario where you see people in positions of power shirking their responsibilities? Is there room for just anger in an equanimous response?

JB: I think the first step here is being able to see clearly the results of our actions. We’re not skillful if we’re not efficient with our energy.

An angry response may seem justified—somebody acts in a misogynistic way, for example. So what arises from that? That’s causing suffering—and then there’s an added piece to that, which is: I’m super attached to that view. I’m going to get really angry and then my ego can kind of slip in, thinking, I deserve to be angry. I deserve to be angry because this is a correct view. So at that moment we can step in and ask ourselves, How does foaming at the mouth actually help us change anything? Your foaming at the mouth will cause the other side to put up their defenses.

It comes back to skillful action. The real question is what does resistance get us. If we puff up our chest, and affirm ours is the right view and yours is the wrong view, we’re creating boundaries and separation. We’re not understanding the other side. We’re engendering resistance on their side because we’re modeling it—that doesn’t help anything, it doesn’t change the fact that the injustice caused suffering—we’re just causing more suffering on top of this.

There are many examples of injustice. But the critical piece is how we relate to those. If we puff up our chest, this is a contraction around pride. This is the right view and yours is the wrong view. Suddenly we’re creating boundaries and separation. We’re not understanding the other side. We’re engendering resistance on their side because we’re modeling it—that doesn’t help anything, it doesn’t change the fact that the injustice caused suffering—we’re just causing more suffering on top of this.

So it comes back to skillful action. The real question is what does resistance get us. It’s not to say that we can’t stand up and say this is not right. But the resistance is that suffering—we’re adding suffering on top of pain. I’m not sure that that’s the most skillful way to proceed.

That’s not to say “don’t resist” because that might suggest we should be complacent. It’s really about seeing where we’re taking something personally and thinking that because it feels exciting to resist and engendering a personal view of “I am”—whereas to flow in the world, to be most connected, we have to break down those barriers of “I am” as in “I am better than you.”

ST: Do you think the Women’s March on Washington added to suffering?

JB: The march was an important way for one side to send a message to the other side: we’re not happy with what’s happening, we’re not okay with this. That’s an important first step. If there was violence or anything like that, it would have sent the same defensive message back. And the go-forward from the march is to engender a skillful grassroots movement for people to come together to work at local levels to influence what’s going on at the federal levels. This is a great example of efficient, skillful communication.

ST: Do you think hosting protests the day of and after the inauguration could be seen resistance of the sort you’ve been describing—reactive, attempting to rile up the other side?

JB: I don’t know how else one can convey the message that this is an important issue to so many people than having many, many people gather and speak their voice so they can be heard. And so we can understand clearly what the issues are. It might rile up an empowered group. But if I were the empowered group I’d want to know: 1) How big of a deal this is and 2) If it’s a big deal what they’re talking about [what their needs are]because if I can’t speak to those then I’m going to get voted out if it’s a big enough movement.

The Mindful Guide to Straight Talk

A Loving-Kindness Meditation to Cultivate Resilience

The post When We Resist, We Empower the Thing We’re Fighting Against appeared first on Mindful.

from RSSMix.com Mix ID 8196908 http://www.mindful.org/resist-empower-thing-fighting/

from Blogger http://mindfulcreation.blogspot.com/2017/02/when-we-resist-we-empower-thing-were.html

When We Resist, We Empower the Thing We’re Fighting Against

Mindfulness is often described as an internal resource—for healing, for navigating change, and as a compass that helps us get curious about our passions and drives.

But when we’re clear on our core values, and they appear to be under attack, what role can our mindfulness practice play?

Judson Brewer is Director of Research at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. His forthcoming book, The Craving Mind (Yale University Press, March 2017) explores how our impulse control often takes us off course when we participate in addictive behaviors—everything from smoking to binge-watching Netflix.

Resistance is also like a craving: We get pulled in to our reaction—perhaps excitement over disagreeing, feeling the need to claim our territory in particular divides. Anger, resentment, or fear can be intoxicating feelings. At the same time, when our country’s leadership attempts to put forward policies entrenched in these sentiments, it’s essential to communicate where we stand.

Brewer suggests that if we put too much stock in resistance as a response to injustice, we risk syphoning energy away from a just response. “Every moment we’re resisting, we’re creating a sense of self around that,” he says. Instead, letting go of resistance helps us choose the most efficient way to communicate our needs and act (daily Facebook rants about Trump exhausting all of your friends versus the Women’s March). This kind of letting go is the opposite of complacency.

Brewer has seen evidence that approaching events through the lens of equanimity eases resistance, and helps put us on a path to constructive action. When we stop holding tight to thoughts of “things need to be this way” or “this is my view, and yours is wrong,” there’s an opportunity for something different to happen—beyond fuelling a flame war. Both sides can start to do what they desperately need to do: communicate across the divide.


Stephany Tlalka: What is equanimity?

Judson Brewer: We take mindfulness, awareness, where there’s no push or pull. That no push or pull—that’s the definition of equanimity. Where we’re not being pushed, we’re not being pulled. There’s an “even keel”-ness.

This is like in the Tao Te Ching quote where he talks about the mark of a moderate man is freedom from his own ideas, supple like a tree in the wind, steady like a mountain. Anything is possible from him because he has let go. That’s equanimity—the tree that bends in the wind, it’s not rigid. And then it pops back up, unharmed.

ST: I’m thinking of tough conversations people are having right now with friends, family members, and on social media—people want to communicate what’s important to them, and get the message across about things they think are wrong and need to change. There’s this need to solidify one’s position—and make it known. But I also imagine the tree is you with your values. You’re able to be flexible in the face of opposing value systems, uncertainty, or chaos—you’re able to be resilient.

Resistance = Reactivity

JB: If we get too attached to our views, then we’re going to lose sight of how to live them out. Because when we resist—when we’re not the supple tree that bends in the wind—we’re not able to deal with what’s actually happening right now. We say, “I don’t want this to be this way.” It’s like one of those blow-up clown punching bags that’s supposed to pop back up after you punch it. Each time we reject what’s happening, we add sand to the doll, making it heavier. Then, we’re no longer able to pop back up. Then what happens? I knocked myself out because it’s so heavy. I’ve exhausted myself.

If we get too attached to our views, then we’re going to lose sight of how to live them out. Every moment we’re resisting, we’re creating a sense of self around that.

Every moment we’re resisting, we’re creating a sense of self around that. Reactivity is resistance is attachment to views.

ST: So you can’t actually live out your values when you are resisting. You’re actually working against yourself.

JB: Right. And you’re putting a ton of energy into building that up when in reality it’s like building a wall in the middle of a river. The water is going to find a way to flow around it. And we just waste our time building that wall.

ST: What about individuals who are firmly entrenched in a value system that excludes others? How can we approach hate with equanimity?

JB: Curiosity can help support equanimity. When we’re resisting something, we’re contracting. And that contraction creates a sense of self. “This is my view,” creates a sense of self. Curiosity has the opposite quality—an opening up, expansiveness.

When we’re approaching someone who holds an entrenched view, we put up a curiosity which naturally leads us away from initiating one of those “I hate you, you’re stupid” wars (those “you’re stupid” “no, you’re stupid” debates people can get into when tempers flare). So we dive in and we’re suddenly curious: What is it about you’re conditioning? We don’t want to say it that way, but really that’s what it is. What is it about your conditioning that leads you to have that view? Isn’t that interesting? Why are you so…and then suddenly we totally want to understand where they’re coming from. And usually this is some sense of inadequacy, trauma, feeling insufficient.

There are now neuro-correlates of contraction versus expansion. When we’ve done these real time neurofeedback studies on meditators, it’s that contracted quality of experience that activates the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC)—a core region of the default mode network in the brain involved in memory and emotion. And it’s the “letting go”/expansion aspect de-activates the PCC.

ST: So curiosity allows you to explore how peoples’ vulnerabilities can motivate them to resist, which can lead to toxic viewpoints—which we may hold in our own selves, too.

JB: Right, so we can let go of our own toxic viewpoints and then suddenly try to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. And if we can do that then we can start speaking their language and if we can start speaking their language then they’re going to feel heard. And suddenly we’re having a conversation as compared to a yelling match. How can we start to approach any major issue without understanding where the other is coming from? If they need something and we don’t know what that need is we’re not going to get anywhere.

Can (and Should) We Be Even-Tempered When Our Anger is Justified?

ST: Where does an even-tempered, equanimous response fit into a scenario where you see people in positions of power shirking their responsibilities? Is there room for just anger in an equanimous response?

JB: I think the first step here is being able to see clearly the results of our actions. We’re not skillful if we’re not efficient with our energy.

An angry response may seem justified—somebody acts in a misogynistic way, for example. So what arises from that? That’s causing suffering—and then there’s an added piece to that, which is: I’m super attached to that view. I’m going to get really angry and then my ego can kind of slip in, thinking, I deserve to be angry. I deserve to be angry because this is a correct view. So at that moment we can step in and ask ourselves, How does foaming at the mouth actually help us change anything? Your foaming at the mouth will cause the other side to put up their defenses.

It comes back to skillful action. The real question is what does resistance get us. If we puff up our chest, and affirm ours is the right view and yours is the wrong view, we’re creating boundaries and separation. We’re not understanding the other side. We’re engendering resistance on their side because we’re modeling it—that doesn’t help anything, it doesn’t change the fact that the injustice caused suffering—we’re just causing more suffering on top of this.

There are many examples of injustice. But the critical piece is how we relate to those. If we puff up our chest, this is a contraction around pride. This is the right view and yours is the wrong view. Suddenly we’re creating boundaries and separation. We’re not understanding the other side. We’re engendering resistance on their side because we’re modeling it—that doesn’t help anything, it doesn’t change the fact that the injustice caused suffering—we’re just causing more suffering on top of this.

So it comes back to skillful action. The real question is what does resistance get us. It’s not to say that we can’t stand up and say this is not right. But the resistance is that suffering—we’re adding suffering on top of pain. I’m not sure that that’s the most skillful way to proceed.

That’s not to say “don’t resist” because that might suggest we should be complacent. It’s really about seeing where we’re taking something personally and thinking that because it feels exciting to resist and engendering a personal view of “I am”—whereas to flow in the world, to be most connected, we have to break down those barriers of “I am” as in “I am better than you.”

ST: Do you think the Women’s March on Washington added to suffering?

JB: The march was an important way for one side to send a message to the other side: we’re not happy with what’s happening, we’re not okay with this. That’s an important first step. If there was violence or anything like that, it would have sent the same defensive message back. And the go-forward from the march is to engender a skillful grassroots movement for people to come together to work at local levels to influence what’s going on at the federal levels. This is a great example of efficient, skillful communication.

ST: Do you think hosting protests the day of and after the inauguration could be seen resistance of the sort you’ve been describing—reactive, attempting to rile up the other side?

JB: I don’t know how else one can convey the message that this is an important issue to so many people than having many, many people gather and speak their voice so they can be heard. And so we can understand clearly what the issues are. It might rile up an empowered group. But if I were the empowered group I’d want to know: 1) How big of a deal this is and 2) If it’s a big deal what they’re talking about [what their needs are]because if I can’t speak to those then I’m going to get voted out if it’s a big enough movement.

The Mindful Guide to Straight Talk

A Loving-Kindness Meditation to Cultivate Resilience

The post When We Resist, We Empower the Thing We’re Fighting Against appeared first on Mindful.

from RSSMix.com Mix ID 8196908 http://www.mindful.org/resist-empower-thing-fighting/

Can Mindfulness Help Us Navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Last week saw a gathering of over 4000 politicians, private sector leaders, policymakers, and experts for the fifth annual World Government Summit in Dubai. The speakers, who included Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, the new Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres, and visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk, covered 114 different topics that will shape future governments. Amongst the core themes were familiar anxieties about inequality, extremism and climate change, but also a new recognition that globalization isn’t working for everyone and that we’re about to plunge into a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ that will potentially bring even greater disruption and dislocation.

The exponential rate of development in new technologies will revolutionize almost every industry worldwide within the coming decades. Rapid breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, the internet of things, nanotechnology and, biotechnology promise to dissolve the distinction between our physical and digital worlds forever.

A 2015 study predicted that one in four US jobs will be automated within 10 years, and that the jobs of many administrative and clerical workers are no safer than those of manual workers.

At the Summit, Uber founder Travis Kalanik predicted that within 5-10 years most taxis will be automated and, rather than calling a driver, we’ll communicate with cars through sophisticated AI. These changes will likely lead to such an abundance of cheap and easy transport that most of us are unlikely to own our own cars. But what becomes of the people who currently drive cabs, trucks, buses and trains? A 2015 study predicted that one in four US jobs will be automated within 10 years, and that the jobs of many administrative and clerical workers are no safer than those of manual workers. In the UK, the Bank of England estimates that roughly 15 million jobs could be at risk. Meanwhile, the political order across the western world is already convulsing as those who feel left behind by the unassailable logic of global markets seek ways to comprehend their predicament and make their voices heard.

Many speakers at the summit articulated variations on the following three proposals to address these emerging tensions:

1.) We urgently need “new, human-centered thinking—considering happiness, wellbeing, purpose and meaning” in policy-making, according to Professor Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum. Professor Jeffrey Sachs suggested that economics should become a moral science, whilst speakers including Elon Musk discussed the inevitability of needing a new economic model or social contract, including perhaps a ‘universal basic income.’ As new ways of organizing society are assessed, we must do so through a ‘human-centered’ lens rather than blindly serving existing systems.

2.) We need to develop 21st century job skills that cannot be replaced by robots and AI, which means exploring and cultivating what makes us uniquely human. President of the World Bank, Dr. Jim Kim, proposed that we must cultivate STEMpathy (science, technology, engineering, maths + empathy), because increasingly, what we know matters less than how we apply it. Joseph Aoun, President of Northeastern University, predicted that we are entering the ‘age of humanics,’ rather than an age of robotics, which he defined as “an age that integrates our human and technological capacities to meet the global challenge of our time.”

3.) The ultimate aim of governments should be cultivating the optimum conditions for human happiness, according to world leaders like the Prime Ministers of Bhutan and the United Arab Emirates. The new science of positive psychology and wellbeing presented at the summit by Professor Martin Seligman and others shows that there are ways in which we can all learn to be happier, and the degree to which we are happy has a major impact on our productivity and employability—learning how to live isn’t necessarily different from learning how to earn a living.

Dr Kim argued that investing in the psychological health of future generations is not just the right thing to do, but is also important for social stability. If the Fourth Industrial Revolution leads to inescapable mass-unemployment the focus of schools on preparing young people for the job market may be thrown into question, but in any case, children should be taught how to live well.

…investing in the psychological health of future generations is not just the right thing to do, but is also important for social stability.

Three Ways Mindfulness Training Can Prepare Us to Meet the Challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

1) Develop our capacity for compassionate thinking

Firstly, ‘new, human-centered’ thinking requires our current leaders and decision makers in society to have a more intimate understanding of their own humanity. Mindfulness practice is about more than just attention training. It’s also largely about developing kind curiosity towards inner experience, and provides a framework for deep inquiry into the psychological mechanisms of distress and wellbeing. So through mindful awareness, leaders have the opportunity to learn about the human condition by exploring their own hearts and minds.

Furthermore leaders need empathy to resonate with the people they serve – to avoid preoccupation with an abstract concept of the nation state, “Progress” or “The Market.” Mindfulness training has consistently been shown to develop empathy – for example, heightened neural responses to seeing others in distress. This heightened empathy arises in part through the development of body awareness—as it turns out, the more we are grounded in the body and know stillness, the more we can feel moved.

2) Provide a competitive edge for the core 21st century skill sets

Although robots will eventually take on most manual tasks and AI will progressively out-compete our limited intelligence, our technology can’t yet claim consciousness, empathy, or compassion. There is great value to us in being seen, being heard, and relating to other conscious creatures. Feeling listened to by a doctor, for example, is just as important as technical competence in our assessment. And research increasingly associates levels of social connection with better mental health, physical healing rates, and life expectancy.

It goes without saying that anything that we can do on autopilot, robots and AI will soon do better.

Mindfulness is a natural capacity, present in all of us to some extent. But we are all too familiar with its opposite: a default, heedless, distracted state often described as ‘autopilot’. It goes without saying that anything that we can do on autopilot, robots and AI will soon do better. Mindfulness may come to be seen as the core 21st century capacity, because it concerns our only competitive advantage over the machines: awareness itself.

3) Expand our ability to live a life of meaning

Even though practices like mindfulness will help us to create unique value by exploring and developing our ‘humanness’, we may still be progressively less able to do tasks of significant economic worth. If we’re successful in creating a human-centered economy that plays to our best qualities, then this may mean that we work fewer hours, or fewer days. But it may also mean that many of us will be unemployed. If this is the case, how will we use our time? What will education teach us? How will we deal with the tensions that these changes unleash in society? What will give our lives meaning?

These and many more questions will assail us as a species in years not too far from now. To navigate them well together, we will require a deep understanding of ourselves and each other— and knowledge of behaviors that underpin healthy emotional functioning. Volunteering, self-development, and caring for others are likely to be some part of the picture. Perhaps we’ll even begin to see ourselves as our own life’s work. We might even direct our energies into the hard toil of self-discovery and the training of heart and mind, reducing stress, and cultivating happiness in ways that only our own efforts can achieve. Far from just another fad, perhaps the mindfulness craze is the start of a macro trend towards putting self-awareness and contemplative practice at the centre of human endeavor. Let’s hope so.

 

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Mindfulness for Cancer Recovery: Living—and Healing—in the Moment

Twenty-five years ago, Linda Carlson was a graduate student in a clinical psychology class at McGill University when she met a classmate who would become her meditation teacher. He had just returned from seven years at a Thai monastery and offered to lead a small group of students in a weekly sitting meditation. Carlson immediately joined him, along with Kirk Brown, author of the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale, the first measure developed to self-report mindfulness. Brown knew Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, and eventually invited him to speak at the university. As Carlson sat riveted in the audience, she had no idea that she would later adapt his MBSR program to help women in cancer recovery.

As a PhD student, she studied hormones and behavior in Alzheimer’s patients and healthy older people. By her internship year, she had found her calling in psychosocial oncology and mindfulness. Today, she is a full professor in the departments of oncology and psychology at the University of Calgary and a clinical psychologist and director of research at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. Over 2,000 people have been through the yoga and meditation program at the centre, in groups of 15 to 20 at a time.

I caught up with Dr. Carlson by phone and we talked about her pioneering research and clinical work on mindfulness practice in cancer recovery.


Lu Hanessian: Two decades ago, during your internship year as a grad student, some of your colleagues were just starting a mindfulness group for cancer patients and survivors. At that time, you had already been practicing mindfulness and yoga for several years. Did this feel like a perfect fit for you?

Linda Carlson: I remember when I came in as a student, it felt like a huge “a-ha!” for me. A lot of people who work in oncology have some experience with losing a loved one, a parent, but that wasn’t the case for me. It was a really interesting way to study the mind-body connection. I introduced my colleagues to MBSR, and we started adapting the program for our patients. It had yogic elements, pranayama, mindfulness meditation. My colleague Michael Speca and I went down and trained with Jon Kabat-Zinn. As we published more, we realized it needed its own identity because it wasn’t standard MBSR, but an adaptation.

LH: An adaptation which you called Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery or MBCR. You and Michael Speca wrote a patient manual in 2011 called Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery: A Step-by-Step MBSR Approach to Help You Cope with Treatment and Reclaim Your Life. What were you looking for in your first studies with cancer patients?

LC: At first, we looked at psychological outcomes. We focused on stress symptoms, mood disturbance, anxiety, depression, anger, physiological as well as psychological stress through self-report. The first study we did, published in 2000, was seminal because it was the first study anyone had ever done with mindfulness as a scientific framework with cancer patients.

LH: What outcome did you observe in cancer patients who had followed your MBCR program?

LC: We were just shocked by the magnitude of the improvements. It was a randomized controlled trial, and we had a comparison group who weren’t doing the program. We found a 65% reduction in mood disturbance on the total score. We thought, “Wow! We’re on to something here.”

LH: You went on to study immune function, hormones, and then, a few years ago, telomere length in breast cancer patients. Specifically, whether the MBCR program or a support group intervention might have any effect on telomere length, the protein complexes at the ends of chromosomes which are associated with aging.

LC: As people get older, their telomeres get shorter as their cells divide successively. But we also see shorter telomere length in certain diseases, like cancer, and in people under certain chronic stress like caregivers. In our study, we found that the group who had the MBCR intervention or support group had no change in telomere length. In the group that did not have the intervention, their telomeres had become shorter after that three-month period. It was the first time anyone had shown an impact of a short-term intervention on telomere length.

LH: An impact on a cellular level. So these mindfulness interventions seemed to help maintain or slow down the shortening of telomere length and slow down cell aging?

LC: Yes, even though the effect wasn’t huge and we don’t actually know what the magnitude means in terms of disease progression and life expectancy, it definitely was a fascinating and compelling outcome.

LH: Is there is a biology of mindfulness?

LC: Actually yes, we do know that mindfulness practice down-regulates sympathetic nervous system activity and up-regulates the vagal nerve and parasympathetic nervous system which stimulates the relaxation response. And we know that this is tied into the immune system, so it also results in less inflammation and less of the psychological symptoms associated with inflammation. We also know that inflammation is tied into what’s happening with gene expression.

LH: All of which is important to improving health and promoting recovery. In what ways is a mindfulness approach relevant to the cancer experience? Are there parallels?

For many people, it’s a catalyst or transition period. They look at their life and wonder what’s important. What are my values? What does an authentic life look like? What brings me meaning and purpose?

LC: It turns out that some of the most difficult elements of the cancer experience are very well-suited to a mindfulness practice. When a person gets diagnosed, there’s fear and uncertainty about the future. There’s the loss of routine and predictability. There’s the physical aspect, the treatment or surgery, pain, insomnia, which almost everybody gets, and the post-treatment fatigue. A lot of people find the hardest time is from active treatment to survivorship or post-treatment period where all of a sudden, it’s time to get back to one’s life, but what’s the new normal? For many people, it’s a catalyst or transition period. They look at their life and wonder what’s important. What are my values? What does an authentic life look like? What brings me meaning and purpose?

LH: One can see how all those questions dovetail with a choice to practice living more mindfully, meaningfully—and fully.

LC: It’s beautiful, actually, and people are so open at this point in their life because they’re scared and live with that anxiety. Being in this present moment, letting go, practicing non-attachment and acceptance are so helpful in dealing with uncertainty and fear. Mindfulness is something that they use for the rest of their lives for really great benefit. We’ve done interview studies with people, and we hear amazing stories about how their lives have been transformed.

LH: Through this work, have you found that mindfulness practice is a gateway to self-compassion for you patients, feeling tenderly connected to one’s body, even as it changes?

In many ways, MBCR becomes a complete do-over for people.

LC: Absolutely. People may have feelings of betrayal that their body has let them down. Many people feel that they had taken good care of themselves and still got sick, so it’s a re-acquainting, a re-friending of the body. That’s why the body scan exercise is so helpful. The yoga and the mindful movement part of the program is important too, because it’s embodied. In many ways, MBCR becomes a complete do-over for people.

LH: Are patients in the your MBCR program a different kind of student when it comes to learning and practicing mindfulness?

It’s that recognition that life is temporary that allows us to live more fully in the moment.

LC: People with cancer are the best students! They’re the most dedicated practitioners, because, in a way, they have the most to lose. It’s that recognition that life is temporary that allows us to live more fully in the moment. People don’t ask to be diagnosed with cancer, but they’re given an opportunity to, in a real sense, experience the vividness and the exquisiteness of the moment.

LH: Teaching these MBCR groups is the only clinical work you do now. Why?

LC: Because it reminds me every time why I do the research and what’s important in life. It’s easy to to get swept away in the day to day fatigue, deadlines, and pressure. Doing this work is what keeps me grounded.

LH: Full circle.

LC: Totally. Every week, when I teach a class, I leave saying to myself, “That was the right thing to do.”


Mindfulness Meditation Practice for Cancer Patients — 2:1 Breathing to Alleviate Insomnia

According to the National Cancer Institute, up to half of cancer patients have trouble sleeping. Insomnia is the most common sleep disturbance, affecting up to eighty percent of patients. Emotional distress, side effects from medications, and pain all contribute to difficulty falling asleep. But insomnia is not mere inconvenience. Getting adequate deep sleep lowers stress hormones like cortisol, boosts immune function, reduces inflammation, and promotes the body’s healing mechanisms.

Dr. Linda Carlson teaches her patients a breathing exercise that has been successful in helping them relax and fall asleep. Based on what she calls “2 to 1 breathing,” this exercise is best done while in bed, in a dark room, in preparation for sleep.

How it Works

  1. Begin by lying on your back. Breathe in for a count of 4, exhale for 8. Do this 8 times.
  2. Turn to your left side. Breathe in for 4, out for 8. Do this 16 times.
  3. Turn to your right side. Breathe in for 4, out for 8. Do this 32 times.

The Benefits

  • Reduced insomnia
  • Increased relaxation
  • Less anxiety
  • Decreased feeling of overwhelm

Why it Works

This 2:1 breathing exercise combines gentle, diaphragmatic breathing with an extended exhalation, which shifts the autonomic nervous system from sympathetic “fight-flight” response to the body’s “rest-and-digest” parasympathetic response.

Why the longer exhale?

“By lengthening the exhale, you’re stimulating the parasympathetic system’s relaxation response which reduces stress and calms the mind,” Carlson explains.

What’s the purpose for switching side from left to right and specifically ending on the right side?

“Switching sides mimics alternate nostril breathing in yoga. You always end on your right side because that compresses the right nostril which forces you to breathe more through the left nostril which stimulates the right brain for more relaxation and prepares people for sleep. The other reason it works is it keeps your mind really busy with all the counting, and people usually fall asleep before they’re done!”

For an online version of MBCR, visit emindful.com.

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