Friday, July 29, 2016

How Mindfulness Can Help Us Forgive Betrayal

Is it possible to forgive infidelity and to overcome the emotional pain of betrayal?
It is, suggests anew studypublished in the journal Mindfulness—if you can feel somecompassion for yourself.
The study—the first to examine the relationship between mindfulness and forgiveness of infidelity—surveyed 94 adults who had been cheated on by a partner. They reported on their levels of forgiveness, which involves feeling in control of their emotions, having a balanced view of the relationship (rather than vilifying their partner as wholly evil), and being ready to let go of anger and put the affair behind them. They also reported on their levels of unforgiveness—a separate measure that involves withdrawing from their partner, experiencing emotional upheaval, and desiring revenge.
By this definition, forgiveness is something we do for ourselves, to reduce our suffering; it doesn’t mean we condone the affair or even reconcile with the offender. In fact, over half of the participants in the study were no longer in a relationship with the cheating partner.
Ultimately, the study’s findings suggest that people who are more mindful tend to be more forgiving and less unforgiving—for certain aspects of mindfulness. In this study, mindfulness was broken down into five separate abilities:
  • Observing your experience: your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions.
  • Being able to describe that experience.
  • Acting with awareness—deliberately and thoughtfully, rather than on autopilot.
  • Being nonjudgmental of your experience.
  • Being nonreactive to your experience, able to withhold immediate reactions (like lashing out).
Partners who had a greater ability to act with awareness—to be deliberate and thoughtful—were less likely to be stuck in a state of resentment. It was also important to withhold immediate reactions and to be nonjudgmental of yourself. In these ways, mindful victims of infidelity seemed to avoid getting consumed by negative emotions.
These results held even when controlling for factors that are known to influence forgiveness, including how severe the betrayal was, whether the partner was remorseful, and whether the victim was prone to empathy or anger.

So if mindfulness goes along with forgiveness, what might be the mechanism behind this link?

According to the researchers, self-compassion may play a significant role. Mindfulness is one of thethree aspects of self-compassion, which involves being kind to ourselves and feeling connected to others in the face of painful experiences. Those who practice self-compassion may ruminate less, experience less resentment, and exhibit higher emotional resilience. Although this study didn’t measure self-compassion, it’s possible that self-compassion was the path away from unforgiveness for these participants.
“Individuals higher in [self-compassion skills] may be willing to accept the turmoil and discomfort they are feeling without overidentification with these states and feel compassion for themselves going through this experience,” the researchers explain.
So how might we cultivate mindfulness when faced with infidelity? Here are several tips to keep in mind when attempting to forgive:
  • Allow yourself to feel any negative emotions that come up. Instead of fighting them, simply observe and sit with them. Understand that your negative emotions are not primarily coming from the event itself, but from the hurt feelings, thoughts, and physical upset that you are experiencing now.
  • Alleviate your physical symptoms by practicing stress management to soothe your body’s fight-or-flight response. Consider taking a deep breath, or taking a walk.
  • Make the decision to forgive, not only toward your partner, but importantly for yourself (if you feel this is relevant).
  • View the situation from a different perspective and, slowly and in time, practice compassion towards your partner. Keep in mind that they could have been acting out from a similar place of pain and suffering. See him or her as vulnerable and human.
(These tips are adapted from two longer forgiveness practice, Nine Steps to Forgiveness and Eight Essentials When Forgiving.)
Ultimately, this study unearths some of the complexities surrounding how we view and manage our negative emotions. If mindfulness truly can help us cope with the great emotional pain of infidelity, it must be a powerful skill, indeed.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Meditation, Masturbation & Self-Love.

Recently, I discovered that May is International Masturbation Month.

It made sense to me right away, because… Well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.
I shared this discovery with all my friends, hitting on the idea that if we all masturbated on a daily basis, the world would be a more peaceful place. And quite quickly, a good friend of mine quipped back, “Yup, masturbation and meditation is all we need for world peace!”
I couldn’t agree more.
Mainly because these two acts are a couple of the most potent forms of self-love. And self-love is, in my humble opinion, a delightful way to a more peaceful planet.
I got some of the best advice on self love from a creative friend of mine whose spirit overflows into everything she does. She’s a soul painter, painting a new, beautiful way of life with each dab and stroke of her brush. We sat in meditation together one day, her leading a group of us ladies through a mind journey into our sensual loving selves.
She told us that during self-pleasuring, the key is to stay connected to ourselves. And just to be clear, this meditation was not solely about masturbation—it was about connecting to our inner selves, our souls, and the fragmented parts in ourselves. It was about bringing ourselves back to a state  of healthy living in all dimensions, physically, emotionally and spiritually, and sexually.
And when she touched on the concept of self-pleasure, what really stuck out to me was her suggestion, that when we next explored our own sexuality, whenever that may be (every day if it’s the month of May!) we try our hardest to stay completely present with ourselves in that moment. To not allow our minds to wander to our usual fantasy scenes or favourite sexual partners. That we commit to keeping it all about ourselves—connecting deeply to our very own sensuality and sexuality.

So, how do we do this? What is the best way to merge our meditation practice with masturbation?

Firstly, I made the decision that I was ready to reclaim my sexuality. And how could I do this if I didn’t fully connect with my own body—intimately discovering what pleases me, what brings me to ecstasy, and what makes my mind explode with images of sensual grandiosity. Discovering all of this without having an ounce of shame connected to it was my biggest challenge.
I come from a family that is open about sexuality. Contrary to most other families I grew up alongside, my siblings and I were permitted to watch movies that might have some sexual content to them, while we were forbidden to view any form of violent drama. I thank my mother for this social stance, as it helped me develop into a peaceful, openly sexual person.
At some point in my life though, a lot of shame around the topic of sex developed in my own being. Most likely from my experience of rape as a young teenager.
Over the last few years, I have become more and more aware of just how much shame around sexuality I carried with me. I became tired of having these feelings with me.
Creating a practice of meditative masturbation has certainly helped me to overcome this shame. It has brought me back to a place where I know I am in control of my own body, my desires and the way I get to express myself sexually in this world. Through being mindful during masturbation, I have been able to reclaim the power of my sexual nature.
And all it has is complete presence during the moments of self-pleasure. Complete and utter connection to my own body.
This sexual liberation has carried forth with me now and into my sexual experiences with other humans.  It’s been a magical journey so far. But it hasn’t been the easiest journey to be on, particularly in the beginning, because I definitely do like to indulge in sexual fantasy (which, by the way, I believe can still be quite healthy, especially if my fantasies are still honouring my body and soul.)
Often when it comes to masturbation, we take ourselves out of the moment by trailing off into imagined scenarios, past experiences or future possibilities. In turn, denying ourselves the true self love that we were initially embarking on.
This is where the practice of meditation comes in really handy (double pun not intended.).
If we can practice staying mindfully present in these moments, we are on the road to developing a healthy love relationship with ourselves.
As in any form of meditation, focusing on the breath is one of the best ways to stay present. Another way is to choose a mantra or an intention, and repeat it in your mind as you explore your own body. I like something simple, such as, “I love myself” or “I cherish my body.”
This is an open invitation to take a new approach to self-pleasure. To stay completely present to your own body, relishing in the unique splendour of all of your curves, soft supple sweet spots and perfectly gorgeous grooves, no matter the shape, size or tightness of each and every part of you. From my own experience with experimenting with meditative masturbation, this can be one of the most erotic affairs of your life.
I mean really, how can we expect our partner to know us deeply if we do not yet know ourselves fully on such an intimate level?
And like I mentioned, there are times and places for our imaginations to take us on a journey that our soul may be fantasizing about. There is definitely always more than one way to reach our destination; as they say, “there are many ways to the mall.” All that I am asking is that if you haven’t tried it yet, put yourself in the driver’s seat and don’t pick up any passengers along the way.
Author: Morgan Leigh Callison
Image: Hillary Boles/Flickr 
Editors: Sara Kärpänen; Toby Israel

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Five Tips for Teaching Mindfulness to At-Risk Teens

From day one, I knew that it was going to be a different kind of mindfulness class. But I was ready. I could handle this. I had years of teaching teens under my belt, a number of which were in inner-city schools. But I was an experienced-enough teacher to know that I was going to have to be on my toes—the whole time.
As a mindfulness and self-compassion researcher working with teens, my goal has been to help them navigate what is often a very difficult life stage. Now, I was interested in implementing a mindfulness program with a group of at-risk students because they had more obstacles than the average teen, including language barriers, economic challenges, and issues of acculturation. Not much research had been conducted on mindfulness with at-risk youth, and I wanted to know if it would work. Could learning awareness and acceptance actually help the teens who were struggling the most?
The school where we launched the mindfulness program andconducted a study was an alternative high school, a small public school for students who had not been successful at their traditional high school. Many had issues of substance abuse and behavioral challenges. Many had been involved in the legal system; a number were parents or pregnant. All had histories of academic failure.
The first class went alright, probably because students were a bit apprehensive of me and maybe a bit curious about this “mindfulness” stuff. But by class two, they were over it. This strange woman came in off the street to teach us about—what, paying attention to a raisin? Are you kidding?
Despite my admonition, one student took a phone call in the middle of class, saying it was her employer; a second student left to “use the bathroom” and never came back. In class three, it was all I could do to keep the students in the room. Oh, and theraisin activity? When I asked them to pretend they were aliens and roll the raisin around in their fingers and tell me what it felt like, one lanky, sweet-faced boy said “a nipple.” Things were rapidly deteriorating.
One of my research mentors told me I could call off the project, but I recalled what the principal of the school had said at our initial meeting, looking straight at my collaborator and me: “If you want to teach mindfulness here, fine. But you have to commit to finishing out the semester. You can’t give up and leave in the middle. These kids have experienced adults giving up on them too many times in their lives.” There was no question. I was in for the long haul.
I talked to the principal and social worker about my struggles in class, and both were extraordinarily supportive and understanding. They had seen all this before. The principal suggested that I come to school another day during the week to “hang out” with the students to build trust, so I agreed. The school nurse had some experience doing restorative yoga with the students and suggested doing it in class; I thought that would be fine. I figured I had nothing to lose.
Since class four began with a body scan, and we had no room to do this in the classroom where we were meeting, we opted to have class in a corner of the gym. Students lay down on yoga mats, cushioned with zafus under their heads and zabutons under their legs. Some had their coats draped over them for warmth. Not your traditional body scan, but this wasn’t your traditional mindfulness class, either. And so I began: “Notice the sensations in the toes on your left foot…”
And something shifted. It was subtle, but perceivable. The kids were calmer. More settled, and a bit quieter. From then on, we had every class in the gym, and every class began with either a body scan or a restorative yoga session led by the school nurse and accompanied by “gentle” music.
Throughout these weeks, I sought advice from the author of the curriculum we were using, Dr. Trish Broderick, who was wholeheartedly supportive of my adjusting the curriculum to meet the students’ needs. When I expressed concern that we might not get to parts of the curriculum if we continued to do the body scan in each class, she encouraged me to just go with what was working with these students. So body scan it was.
Through surveys taken after the second class, we found that students did not initially think that learning mindfulness would be all that effective, but grew to be more accepting of it over time. (In contrast, students who were in the “control” class, a substance abuse prevention program, initially had a greater belief in the effectiveness of their class, but became less sure of its usefulness as the semester wore on.) Also, while depression among students in the control group nearly doubled over the course of the semester, the mindfulness students decreased in depression by about 30 percent.
By the last class, students were able to share certain insights that elucidated what worked for them. Below are a collection of five suggestions that can help anyone trying to teach mindfulness to at-risk teens:

1. Choose the right space

The choice of physical space is paramount. These students were clearly uncomfortable—even distressed—with being in the classroom, which for them had associations with failure. As one student said, “If you’re in a classroom, you don’t really feel relaxed all the way…I wouldn’t be able to be completely chill in the classroom.” And another stated definitively, “We were going crazy in the classroom.” In contrast, the gym was where they “had fun and stuff.”

In the gym, they could relax and let down their guard; “you could take your shoes off, you know, and kick back,” one student said. The need for students to have a “safe place,” a place where they could relax and feel protected, was critical to the success of the mindfulness class. At one point, I recall looking out at the dozen or so adult-sized teens wrapped in coats, “tucked in” by the school nurse with meditation cushions and yoga bolsters, scented eye masks covering their eyes. Like baby birds in the safety of a nest, they seemed sheltered, secure, and at rest.

2. Involve people they know

When possible, utilize school personnel as assistants in the class, or have them at least be present.Research has shown that school programs tend to work better when they are implemented by school personnel, rather than outside experts. The reason is pretty clear—just remember how you (or your fellow students) used to treat substitute teachers. If school personnel can’t implement the program, having someone at least in the room will give it a sense of validity in the eyes of the students. 
As mentioned above, these students had a history of having adults give up on them. Understandably, then, they were often mistrusting of adults from the “outside.” In contrast, many had positive and trusting relationships with teachers and school staff, and they felt safe with them. Unlike me, the school nurse was an “insider,” and was able to help facilitate students’ slowly—very slowly—growing trust in me as well.

3. Build trust

It was important to spend time with students outside of class to help build trust. From the beginning, I stayed after class to have lunch with them. There is something about “breaking bread” that eases tension and equalizes people. It wasn’t always easy—naturally, the students preferred to chat with their friends than with me—but I persisted. The girls were patient with my halting Spanish, and they shared photos from their cell phones of their babies, while I shared photos of my grown daughters.
At the principal’s suggestion, I also came to the school on another day during the week when students had an elective class. Initially I thought the “sports and games” elective would be mostly board games, but it wasn’t; it was sports. I was WAY out of my comfort zone, but my stubbornness refused to let me give in to my insecurities. I was a goalie in soccer, and, well, stayed on the sidelines passing out equipment during football. But at least I was there.
It paid off—by the end of the semester, students began comments with “Now that you’re part of the school…”; one student suggested that I chaperone an upcoming field trip to Washington, D.C. My discomfort on the basketball court was worth it; I had moved from being an “outsider” to being an “insider.”

4. Give them freedom to choose

Teens need to be able to make the choice to participate in mindfulness activities and meditations. Developmentally, they’re at a stage when they feel they should be able to make decisions for themselves, and yet they often are not mature enough to make some of them. For this reason, it is important to provide teens with choices whenever possible.
The decision about whether or not to engage in mindfulness practices can be theirs. And let’s be honest: You can’t make them participate anyway. You can’t make someone meditate…and why would you want to? Being too heavy-handed with the program would only result in backlash. At the same time, it’s important to clarify that if they choose not to participate in meditations, they are not free to disturb others who might want to.
Instead of judging students for not participating, try to trust that they will participate when they are ready. When they finally do, they’ll be able to get something out of the program. As one student reflected, “I liked this class because it’s the only class where you actually have the time to relax and think about yourself and how you’re doing in your life, and I feel like your mind is calm for a few minutes.”

5. Be flexible with the curriculum—within reason

Most mindfulness activities are designed to get at the same thing: to bring awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance of present-moment experiences. The specific practices we use—whether we focus on the breath, physical sensations, or sound—are incidental.
For example, when engaging in restorative yoga, students listened to relaxing, “new age” music, and were invited to turn their attention toward the sounds. When their minds drifted, they were encouraged to bring their attention back to the tones of the music. When it became clear to me that the students had an affinity for more concrete practices such as restorative yoga and the body scan, I made the necessary modifications and started each class with one of these practices.
Luckily for me, I was able to get the “green light” from Dr. Trish Broderick, author of the Learning to BREATHE curriculum that we were using, to do so. But making those decisions requires that the teacher have a deep understanding and embodiment of both mindfulness itself and the way it is delivered through the curriculum being used. There are no shortcuts here; embodying mindfulness requires a depth of practice.
In the end, teaching mindfulness to at-risk teens is not very different from what good teachers do every day: tuning in to the needs of their students very directly and honestly, readily adjusting the curriculum to meet those needs, and then fine-tuning their efforts and re-calibrating their goals.
One of our students said, “I really appreciate this class. It gives you a chance to think and not have to worry about what’s going on around you.” And as a teacher of teens who live immersed in worry and chaos most of the time, this means a lot.

Friday, July 22, 2016

How often and how long should I meditate for?

To follow the spiritual life, you should meditate at least once a day. It is best to meditate early in the morning when the atmosphere is calm and peaceful.
In the beginning you should not even think about meditation. Just try to set aside a certain time of day when you will try to be calm and quiet, and feel that these five minutes belong to your inner being and to nobody else. Regularity is of paramount importance. What you need is regular practice at a regular time.


Creating a proper space

When you meditate at home, set aside a corner of your room which you can make absolutely pure and sanctified - a sacred place that you use only for meditation. For your daily meditation, it is best to meditate alone. Before beginning your meditation, it is helpful to take a shower or proper bath. It is also advisable to wear clean and light clothes.
It will help if you burn incense and candles and keep some flowers in front of you. The outer flower will remind you of the flower inside your heart. When you smell the scent of incense, you will gain inspiration and purification to add to your inner treasure. When you see the outer flame, immediately you will feel your inner flame climbing high, higher, highest.

(Audio: An invocation of peace - Sri Chinmoy sings an ancient Sanskrit prayer for peace, giving first the beautiful English translation. This is followed by chanting of the peace mantra Shanti, and one of Sri Chinmoy's own peace songs in English. 4)

Start with Concentration

For a beginner it is better to start with concentration. Otherwise, the moment you try to make your mind calm and vacant, millions of uncomely thoughts will enter into you and you will not be able to meditate even for one second. If you concentrate, at that time you challenge the wrong thoughts that are trying to enter you. So in the beginning just practise concentration for a few minutes. Then, after a few weeks or a few months, you can try meditation.
If you want to develop the power of concentration, then here is an exercise you can try. First wash your face and eyes properly with cold water. Then make a black dot on the wall at eye level. Stand facing the dot, about ten inches away, and concentrate on it. After a few minutes, try to feel that when you are breathing in, your breath is actually coming from the dot, and that the dot is also breathing in, getting its breath from you. Try to feel that there are two persons: you and the black dot. Your breath is coming from the dot and its breath is coming from you.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mindful Parenting May Keep Kids Out of Trouble

Mindfulness has been gaining traction as a way of improving individual well-being, from our health to our happiness and resilience. But according to critics, some mindfulness practitioners focus too much on self-improvement, to the point of becoming self-absorbed.
Now, two new research studies paint a different picture, suggesting that mindfulness may also help improve the well-being of others in our lives—in particular, our children—if we truly practice it.
In one study, researchers at the University of Vermont surveyed over 600 parents of children ages 3-17 to see how mindfulness related to their children’s well-being. Parents reported on their trait mindfulness (how mindful they are in everyday interactions), mindfulness in parenting (how attentive, non-judging, and non-reacting they are in interactions with their children), and positive versus negative parenting practices (for example, expressing unconditional love and setting limits versus using harsh physical punishments). They also reflected on their kid’s typical coping styles—if they tended to become anxious or depressed or act out in disruptive ways, like hitting or yelling during difficult situations.
Analyses showed that parents who reported more mindful parenting engaged in more positive and less negative parenting behavior, which was then linked to more positive behavior in their kids—meaning less anxiety, depression, and acting out.
“To bring mindful attention and awareness into your interactions with your child really seems to set the stage for you to be a good parent,” says Justin Parent, lead author of the study.
Interestingly, parents who simply had higher trait mindfulness did not see significantly better outcomes for their kids, suggesting that being mindful and being a mindful parent may be two different things. Parent suggests that working on a mindfulness practice may increase your mindfulness and reduce your stress, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can apply these skills in more charged settings.
“When you’ve developed ingrained patterns of behavior with your family, they can be very hard to change,” he says.
While Parent’s study suggests that positive mindful parenting is related to positive outcomes for kids, it’s hard to know why. In his view, it’s about noticing your own feelings when you’re in conflict with your child, learning to pause before responding in anger, and listening carefully to a child’s viewpoint even when disagreeing with it. These skills potentially help preserve the parent-child relationship, while also providing positive role modeling of how to handle difficult situations.
Caitlin Turpyn and Tara Chaplin of George Mason University tried to investigate this relationship directly in another recent study, by bringing parents and kids into the lab to look at their real-time interactions.
Here, parents who’d reported on their levels of mindful parenting were asked to engage in a conversation with their 12- to 14-year-old children concerning a difficult conflict in their relationship. This conversation was recorded and analyzed to reveal how much parents expressed positive emotion, negative emotion, and shared positive emotion with their child. Then, these results were compared to the adolescent’s reported sexual behavior and drug use.
In their analysis, the researchers found that parents higher in mindful parenting demonstrated less negative emotion and more shared positive emotion with their children in the conversations than those lower in mindful parenting. In turn, sharing more positive emotion was associated with decreased drug use for the children (though not decreased sexual behavior).

Interestingly, expressions of positive or negative emotion alone didn’t seem to make that much of a difference in adolescent sexual behavior or drug use, even though prior studies have linked a parent’s negativity to adolescent risk taking. Chaplin speculates that perhaps it’s more important for a parent to be emotionally attuned to their child than to be either positive or negative in their interactions.“Mindful parenting matters, even when you’re parenting a teen, and it matters for risk behaviors,” says Chaplin.
“Mindful parenting may be more about attunement or emotional congruency in the interaction—not just parents smiling a lot,” she says. Smiling during tense conversations might not actually be very constructive.
Taken together, these studies suggest that encouraging more mindful, responsive parenting—and less harsh punishments or yelling—may indirectly help kids to avoid some of the risks of adolescence, such as depression, anxiety, acting out, and drug use. Chaplin thinks that mindful parenting helps because it keeps parents connected to their parenting goals.
“Often parents want to do the right thing when parenting—they want to be warm, provide structure, and have rules and consequences, and those are all good things,” says Chaplin. “But sometimes they get tripped up in the moment, when their teenager angrily slams the door in their face. That’s where mindful parenting comes in.”
Both Chaplin’s and Parent’s studies are only preliminary and don’t necessarily prove that mindful parenting causes the measured effects. There could be other explanations for their findings. For example, mindful parenting may improve the parent’s relationship with their partner, which another study by Parent suggests, and that may account for positive coping in children. It could also be true that the relationship is reversed, meaning that problematic behavior from children impacts a parent’s ability to parent more mindfully.
Both researchers acknowledge this, and say more studies are needed. Parent wants to further delineate how mindful parenting impacts emotional regulation in children. Chaplin is busy planning a randomized controlled study comparing an eight-week mindful parenting course to a conventional parenting course and measuring how it affects parent-child interactions. They hope that their research will eventually show mindful parenting to be a useful tool for helping parents to help their kids.
“I don’t know that we know enough about it yet. But, if we show that our program increases parent mindfulness and that this decreases their teen’s risk behaviors, we’d be more confident that it’s the parenting driving this,” says Chaplin. “Then it could be something all parents learn to do.”

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Getting started with Meditation Part 1

excerpted from the writings of Sri Chinmoy

What happens during meditation?

When we meditate, we make the mind calm, quiet and still—without thoughts. At that time, we have to be fully aware of the arrival of thoughts and allow no idle thoughts to enter into the mind. The mind is vacant and tranquil, with neither good nor bad thoughts; nothing at all. Our whole existence becomes an empty vessel. When this vessel is absolutely empty, with our whole inner being we invoke infinite Peace, Light and Bliss so it will enter into the vessel and fill it. This is meditation.
Meditation is like going to the bottom of the sea, where everything is calm and tranquil. On the surface there may be a multitude of waves, but the sea is not affected below. In its deepest depths, the sea is all silence. When we start meditating, first we try to reach our own the inner existence, our true existence-that is to say, the on bottom of the sea. Then, when the waves come from the outside world, we are not affected. Fear, doubt, worry and all the earthly turmoil will just wash away, because inside us is solid peace. Thoughts cannot trouble us, because our mind is all peace, all silence, oneness. Like fish in the sea, they jump and swim but leave no mark. So when we are in our highest meditation we feel that we are the sea, and the animals in the sea cannot affect us. We feel that we are the sky, and all the birds flying past cannot affect us. Our mind is the sky and our heart is the infinite sea. This is meditation.
True inner joy is self-created
It does not depend on outer circumstances
A river is flowing in and through you carrying the message of joy.
This divine joy is the sole purpose of life. 1

What benefits do we get from meditation?

Everybody wants to be fulfilled, everybody wants happiness. Without happiness we cannot stay on earth. In spite of being a multimillionaire, a rich man is unhappy because his money is not giving him satisfaction or happiness. Without happiness he remains miserable. Why do we want to be happy? Because we want fulfilment.
Meditation has two things to offer us: self-mastery and self-transformation. These two go together. When we meditate, immediately we have the beginnings of self-mastery, and when we have self-mastery, we see that we cannot cherish ugly or undivine thoughts; we cannot remain inside ignorance anymore.

If we want any real peace, real joy, real love, then we have to meditate. The so-called peace we feel in our day-to-day lives is five minutes of peace after ten hours of anxiety, worry and frustration...We get divine peace through meditation. Even if we meditate for fifteen minutes and get peace for only one minute, that one minute of peace, if it is solid peace, will be able to permeate our whole day. If in the morning we have meditated at six o'clock, in the evening we will still feel inner peace, inner joy, inner light. 2
(Video: Sri Chinmoy answers the question 'What is meditation?' during an interview, followed by footage of Sri Chinmoy meditating. A podcast from the 'Meditation-Silence' series. 3)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

What Mindfulness Is Missing

Growing up, Jim Doty had many strikes against him: an alcoholic father, a mother with depression, a family living in poverty. But somehow—in a journey he recounts in his new book, Into the Magic Shop—he managed to overcome them.
Dr. Doty is now a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University. He founded and directs the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), where the Dalai Lama was a founding benefactor. As a philanthropist, he has given millions of dollars to support health care and educational charities around the world.
He attributes his success partly to a kind woman named Ruth, who took 12-year-old Doty under her wing. Over the course of a memorable summer, she taught him techniques of mindfulness, visualization, and compassion that would transform his life. Now, with his book and with CCARE, he is sharing those practices (and the new science behind them) with others—and hoping to help them avoid his mistakes.
“It can hurt to go through life with your heart open, but not as much as it does to go through life with your heart closed,” he writes.
I interviewed Doty about the importance of teaching compassion along with mindfulness, the crisis of compassion in health care, and what’s coming next in compassion research. 
Kira M. Newman: You believe that mindfulness without compassion—what you call in your book “opening the heart”—is problematic. Why is that?
Jim Doty: If one looks back on Buddhist philosophy, mindfulness without compassion can be hollow. In fact, the crux of Buddhist philosophy is the combination of these two practices, which together allow one to develop wisdom.
What happens for some people unfortunately is that it stops [with mindfulness]. For certain types of individuals—often Type-A, driven individuals—this is a wonderful technique to become more attentive and more focused. But the problem is that unless you incorporate the other techniques that Ruth taught me, that we now know are critically important, it can be detrimental and make a Type-A person a more competitive, ruthless individual.
The other thing I’ve noticed, especially here in Silicon Valley, is for the same Type-A people, it also creates a competitiveness about how mindful they are. Somebody in a conversation with me recently said, “You know, this is my third 10-day silent retreat.” [laughs]
Unfortunately, mindfulness is another way that people sometimes use to compete and compare, and of course this is the antithesis of this practice. If you go back to its origins, ultimately the goal here is to develop less ego, not to use this practice to support one’s ego.
KN: After focusing on mindfulness practice for many years, how did you come to realize the importance of compassion in your life?
JD: Coming from my background of poverty and a sense of emptiness, I believed initially that money and the acquisition of things were what gave me worth and value and, more importantly, control. As a child, I felt like a leaf being blown by an ill wind with no control. I thought that once you get control (and money is a way to get control), suddenly the clouds would part and the sun would shine and I would have a big smile on my face. Nothing could be further from the truth, but it took me a while to learn that.
Initially I did chase after these other goals that so many people chase after—and ultimately what I realized was at the peak of my “success,” I had never felt more empty and unhappy. It was only at that point that I actually went back and processed the time I spent with Ruth and went through every part of it again to understand the totality of the experience. That allowed me to orient myself from a hyper-competitive goal orientation towards money and “success,” to orienting who I was and what I believed in—what I openly recognized was actually important and gave meaning—toward being of service to others. And that’s how I’ve directed my life since.
What we now know through science is that caring and nurturing is not only necessary for survival but it’s necessary for thriving. When we are around others, when we support others, when we are kind to others, when the hard-wiring within us (which I would submit to you is our default mode) is engaged, the recognition of another’s suffering and the desire to alleviate that suffering switches us from engagement of our sympathetic nervous system to increased tone of the vagus nerve and stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. When that is stimulated, this gives one a sense of calmness, a desire to connect, it lowers your blood pressure, it brings to baseline those hormones associated with stress, it boosts your immune system, and ultimately it’s associated with an increase in longevity because your physiology is working at its best.
KN: How do we find a balance between feeling burned out by compassion and being detached from others’ pain?
JD: People who are markedly empathic and people who are attracted to the caring professions, like doctors and nurses, oftentimes do have difficulty with this. In some ways, there’s almost an overwhelming amount of suffering, and none of us has the capacity to alleviate all of that suffering. So the most important thing is to recognize that fact and also set realistic boundaries for yourself and reasonable goals in terms of your own capacity to give.
We’re now seeing an epidemic of compassion fatigue (although some people don’t like to use that term), of burnout among health care workers or those who are in caring jobs. We at CCARE as well as others have been working on techniques that are scalable that give people the resources to understand the reality of giving too much, and a toolbox that allows them to step back and gives them support and a variety of techniques that protect them as they continue on the job.
We know that each of us has a genetic potential, whether it’s for athleticism, whether it’s for intelligence, whether it’s for happiness, and the same is true for compassion. We’ve seen this in terms of (as an example) receptors associated with oxytocin, and this limits people’s ability to be compassionate or altruistic or kind or to connect. But in general most people have not maximized their ability to be compassionate.
KN: Does that include some health care workers? They haven’t maximized their ability to be compassionate, either? 
JD: Unfortunately, what’s happened to a number of physicians is because it is so emotionally draining—and frankly also takes time—they have disengaged themselves from actual interaction with patients in the sense of being really present for them. The interaction is sort of a non-emotional listing of what’s wrong with them and what is recommended and then walking out of the room.
Certainly that is not the way to practice medicine. I tell my residents that our success even in a highly technologically sophisticated speciality as neurosurgery is just as importantly affected by kindness and compassion as our technical and surgical skill, and I really believe that to be the case. When a patient comes to you, oftentimes what’s the case? They are anxious and scared, and this has stimulated the sympathetic nervous system, which depresses the immune system, raises their blood pressure, impairs cardiac function, and results in the release of these stress hormones.
When you present them with kindness and compassion, it immediately shifts from stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system to stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system—the same process I described before. Wound-healing is promoted, and when your immune system is promoted, it decreases the severity and length of disease. If you look at the research that was done on attachment, when somebody doesn’t feel that they’re connected with other people (as an example, the doctor-patient interaction), it has a negative effect on them physiologically.
KN: With CCARE, you’re on the cutting edge of research on compassion. What do you see as the biggest upcoming areas of study?
JD: They’re actually several that are quite fascinating. One is this understanding that there are genes that are affected when we act compassionately or not, and that many of these are associated with inflammation. And we know now (and are learning more every day) that inflammation has a huge effect on disease, whether it’s cardiac disease, peripheral vascular disease, and many others. The work of Steve Cole and others is giving us insights into how genes and epigenetic phenomena associated with being compassionate or not are so, so important.
The other area is how different types of mind training or contemplative practice or meditation focused on compassion can affect your health. In fact, some preliminary work indicates that these practices could be as beneficial to your health as being at your ideal body weight, exercise, or quitting smoking, so they’re very, very powerful.
As we head off into the reality of artificial intelligence and machine learning, controlling more and more of what is going on around us, compassion will have an ever-greater role in this domain.
It’s sort of interesting: We have computer science, which of course is very math-based, and oftentimes you would not necessarily consider those individuals to be the ones reading Shakespeare or engaged in the humanities or philosophical discourse.

But for artificial intelligence to work at its best, you have to imbue it with compassion. We know that as a species, we require connection and nurturing, and this will be ever more true as we become more connected to machine learning and artificial intelligence.