Many students have arrived this week with a heavy heart, tears and difficulty over the political events of the past week. A few may have found something hopeful in the results of this political season. My hope is that whatever emerged for you as events unfolded can be an opportunity to meet what has emerged with a fullness, an openness. To meet this with less reactivity running the show; anger acted out, overwhelming sadness, thoughtless glee, or damaging comments. With more openness, willingness to grieve and learn, or acceptance of others viewpoints. Of course not so easy, yet over time this can be so much more loving and healing.
Can how you hold yourself, how you dress, how you meet others, how you nourish yourself, how you live now be an embodiment of the deepest intentions you have for caring and working toward a better life for yourself and those around you? Perhaps such an inclination lives deep in us and motivates us regardless of our political persuasion. I think that if we imagine that such a deep seated and universal human inclination can be accomplished by reacting out of fear, lashing out with anger, punishing others with resentment we will create much more difficulty regardless of our persuasion. Perhaps being vulnerable and accepting of the reality of the difficulties can guide us through this and toward actions that embody this inclination in a powerful and hopeful way.
Social worker Brene Brown describes the incredible positive power of being open and vulnerable to the difficulties of life, to what we want to avoid, to flee from in her TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability.
The singer Carrie Newcomer offers an encouraging song if you are struggling with disappointment and not knowing how to move forward: This Too Will Pass. To quote her lyrics “. . . it gets so dam hard . . . these times shine like jewels and will be all the brighter for what you’ve been through . . .”
I will never forget the simple quote I found on a wall many years ago. It has been such an encouragement over the years to offer personal vulnerability in the face of difficulty. To help meet this deep inclination for caring and working toward a better life together.
“We can do no great things. Only small things with great love. Don’t wait for others. Act now person to person.” – Mother Teresa
It was my privilege to spend this last Saturday evening here with over a dozen healthcare providers at the Mindfulness Evening for Physicians and Therapists. Medical doctors, psychologists, clinical social workers, family therapists and counselors all met in my classroom to share their experience of the value of mindfulness practice and mindful yoga for themselves as well as to acknowledge how well their patients have responded to participations in these programs. Beyond that, together we practiced some of the ways we do in an MBSR course; sitting practice, body scan meditation, mindful yoga.
It was poignant for me to support these healers in sharing time with one another and themselves this way. One of the doctors commented that after taking the MBSR course a few years ago she is now able to offer her patients more ‘presence’ and finds this to be so very helpful for them and for herself. She is not alone as many healthcare providers have echoed this in our conversations over many years. It seems that these practices help folks become more of a ‘healing presence’ for themselves and those they serve. They end up less distracted, less stressed and able to serve with more vitality in such challenging careers. And their patients are better served.
It struck me that at the heart of this ‘healing presence’ is that they let their patients and clients (and themselves) be ‘seen,’ to be ‘known.’ My experience over the years in classes and various trainings is that we, all of us, hunger to be ‘seen’ in all our frailty, strength, vitality, and difficulty. This may come in the form of a conversation or a treatment and what was acknowledged on Saturday by these wise and skillful folks is that this quality of attentive presence is somewhere near the heart of healing.
Perhaps beyond all the brilliant training programs, miraculous medications, rich psychotherapeutic methods, incredible imaging machines, surgeries, diagnostic codes and insurance payments that are the framework for our healthcare system there is the healing presence offered and received person to person that may be one of the most powerful healing forces in nature. Less overlooked in recent years with good research, resources, and commentary now showing this to be the case in many ways: Mindfulness Evening Resource List. I am so very thankful and honored that these physicians and doctors showed up and shared this last Saturday evening. Kind Regards — Brant
I am so very honored and pleased that this immensely talented composer and musician will be in town soon. Few musicians have moved me more than her.
Carrie Newcomer opens the door wide to the meaning and value of meditative/contemplative practice in daily life through rich and beautiful music. Her lyrics speak of what is difficult to describe; attentive, heart-felt presence as a foundation for a full life. Like many singers the word ‘love’ weaves its way into her lyrics though the ‘love’ that flows through her song is that of compassion, openness to life, and offering oneself in kindness. Perhaps it’s ‘Love’ with a capital L. The one that keeps the world together in the face of the distractions that pull us into difficulties. Her concert here is part of her new album tour: Beautiful Not Yet.
She is coming to downtown Hillsboro on Friday evening, October 21st at the Glenn and Viola Walters Center just a few blocks from my classrooms. Here are details: Carrie Newcomer Concert. She is a true gift to the world, a heart-felt talent, and I am sure she will inspire you to compassion, joy, and thankfulness during a sweet evening among friends.
Loss is part of life. I am sure we all know this. Grieving comes with that loss and over time the recognition that we wouldn’t grieve if there wasn’t something beautiful, comforting, or valuable missing; our loved one, our health, the job we loved, or otherwise.
Mindful Grieving: Meditations on the Blessing of Loss in Relationship is a collection of meditations that emerged for me during a period of profound loss. As they arrived and I wrote them down there was a certainty that they were meant to be passed along as support for those who travel the terrain of such loss.
This collection includes Traci Manley’s lovely watercolor and tattoo images of the flora that weave their way through the meaning of these meditations. An invitation to scribe your pondering and reflections is offered on each page.
Those of us that study or teach meditation or yoga may have a bias toward some eastern religion or methodology that flows from another culture. I don’t fit that mold at all and have no doubt that the attentive presence sought in the arts of meditation, yoga, and other practice are is a basic element of being human. Those modes of learning can be very helpful though we all learn in our unique way. We are blessed by artists, musicians, ministers, teachers, friends, and others who share the realm of attentive presence (I refer to this a mindfulness, as you know).
A beautiful portrayal of a man who found his way to presence via horsemanship and shares it as a powerful and compassionate teacher is Buck Brannaman. I can’t tell you how powerfully his documentary Buck portrays the heart of mindfulness. You’ll have to see the award winning documentary. I believe it is still on Netflix. Here is a link to the trailer on YouTube:
I have the honor of working with hundreds of students each term in Mindful Yoga classes, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and my tailored Mindfulness-Based Resilience Training (MBRT) programs for various organizations. Some of most the wonderful events in all of these classes and trainings is what students share about what they have learned about themselves and those in their life.
In the MBSR classes I have made it a habit to invite folks to write something down if they would be willing to share their experience with others. The most wonderful part of their comments seems to be to be their uniform experience of really owning, getting back home to themselves. In a sense they describe a process of remembering a powerful innate capacity to be attentive and present, to find their own unique way to be able to care for themselves and those around them more fully. To remember the experience of joy even in the midst of difficulty.
Here are a couple of quotes folks shared from this summer’s MBSR class:
“My own true voice and kind heartedness is now out and speaking like we did as children. I can see sweetness, music, and play in everyday things that had become colorless in a stressful, traumatic world. “ – Virginia, 911 Dispatcher.
“I was surprised at how something so simple, yet difficult, would make such an improvement to my daily life and habits . . . Though I did not attend MBSR for happiness, I feel happier.” – Dan, Engineer.
Every time I turn around there is another article, or treatment regimen, or product encouraging the practice of mindfulness. Heavens knows I think it is helpful in a number of ways but of course my bias is that ‘practical is best.’. I love these small studies that seem to caste mindfulness practice in a very practical light. A researcher, J. David Cresswell, found in a very well designed study that folks who were out of work and learned a mindfulness practice benefitted in a neurophysiological way significantly more than another group of unemployed who received relaxation training. Both the relaxation group and the mindfulness reported feeling better. Something about mindfulness training though was more substantial and enduring in regions of the brain that light up with stress-related reactivity. Read More
Over decades now I have fussed a bit with the notion of ‘stretching.’ Indeed, many folks consider yoga practice to be stretching. Practice of course involves stretching but equally there will be moments of adding strength, offering endurance, letting go of effort, and much more. Oh, let’s not forget stretching the mind and the heart of our life’s intentions. More later on that.
But ‘stretching’ per se still puzzles folks, including me! Lots of advise on this singular activity. Until I recently found a very balances article in the New Yoga Times magazine: Stretching Back into the Past. A group of knowledgeable exercise scientists reviewed over 200 studies and found that moderate stretch before rigorous activity is generally helpful. Read that wonderful article to learn more! — Brant
There seems to be no end to prescriptions for what to ‘do’ to fix the challenge of stress and reactivity in a busy, full life. Stress is of course a part of life, of benefit, and often calls us to be bigger than the challenge in front of us. Though it can be overwhelming at times and causes us to react in ways we know create difficulty for ourselves and/or those around us; angry words, isolation, revenge, numbing of drugs/alcohol/unhealthy foods, etc. We are urged to stop doing these things by loved ones and healthcare providers. In their concern they offer or prescribe things to ‘do’ like diets, drink less, do more exercise and so forth.
A recent article in the New York Times outlines some helpful ways of dealing with stress and reactivity. The general messages offered in the article tip a bit toward solving the problem to ‘do’ this or that but what I found between the lines of this good general outline is the invitation to practice being attentive to the direct physical experience of our breath, our movement, and our posture. It seems that the bottom line, the heart of working with reactivity and stress in life is to find your route to the direct experience of life in this moment; sensations, breath, emotions, sounds and all the rest. The MBSR program, mindful yoga classes, Nia and other classes offered here and in other venues are invitations to do jus that, to practice how to ‘be’ present to life’s direct experience as a mode of living day to day and I am certain that this helps you and me work with the difficulties, stresses, and reactivity that are part of a full life.