|The Compassionate Action Group
by Mitch Abblett and Maryjane Fellows
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh wrote that "when you touch one, you touch many, and when you touch many, you touch one." Within IMP, members have expressed an interest in going beyond their already busy and professional help-oriented lives by touching others through service. In response to this interest, IMP has formed a "Compassionate Action Committee" whose mission is to support the development and implementation of volunteer service opportunities for the IMP membership.
The Compassionate Action Committee (CAC) has organized a volunteer opportunity to serve at Rosie's Place, which provides meals and support for homeless women and their children. Rosie's Place is the first women's homeless shelter in the US, and provides a range of services to women who are currently in need. Rosie's Place cultivates respect of and camaraderie with these women, with the intent of fostering empowerment and growth both for the individual, and the larger community.
The first IMP volunteer serving group at Rosie's place took place this past May. While only a few IMP members were able to attend this first event, it was clear that the opportunity fostered the practice of generosity through giving of time and effort, with the intention of compassionate service. Rosie's Place staff were very helpful, directing many volunteers that were there individually, or within the context of a group, to provide necessary supports for the evening meal. This included putting chairs out, serving the meal, clearing tables, and cleaning dishes, and was not unlike work-as-practice common to retreat experiences. Participation also provided an opportunity to engage with and learn more about fellow IMP members, thus cultivating a greater sense of community and shared practice within the context of this professional Sangha.
Consideration was made to make it more feasible for a range of IMP members to engage in compassionate action, and so volunteering to serve at Rosie's Place does not require an on-going commitment. The service takes place during the weekend, and the time frame is three and one half hours. Free parking is available at Rosie's Place South End site. The next anticipated volunteer group will be in September; upcoming dates will be provided when available, and all are encouraged to volunteer!
In addition to this opportunity for service at Rosie's place, the Compassionate Action Committee has been exploring additional volunteering service options with an area prison. Committee members met with Ms. Jenny Phillips, the producer, writer and director of the documentary film "Dhamma Brothers" to discuss her work bringing mindfulness and meditation practices to the inmates within correctional facilities, and to discuss possible collaborative service work for IMP members. As a follow up to this initial meeting, IMP and CAC members Mitch Abblett and Nina Carmel met with the Superintendent of the Billerica House of Corrections (a low to medium security facility) to discuss possibilities. At present, there are initial plans for:
- A weekly, drop-in yoga and meditation class for inmates (co-facilitated by Nina Carmel and Jenny Phillips and likely to begin in either the Summer or Fall of 2013)
- A time-limited mindfulness-based coping skills group for inmates (co-facilitated by an IMP member and Jenny Phillips for the Fall of 2013 or Spring of 2014)
- A training workshop/seminar and perhaps a time-limited group for the correctional officers at the facility (facilitated by Mitch Abblett, time to be determined)
The hope is to begin some basic and ongoing mindfulness-based programming for inmates and officers alike in order to help improve the quality of life for all members of the prison community. This is a unique and potentially very rewarding opportunity for service considering the openness of the facilities administration, as well as the collaboration with Ms. Phillips. There will hopefully be opportunities for service for IMP members going forward that will fit peoples' varying interests and availability.
As IMP continues to develop its membership and refine its structures for supporting members' professional and personal practices, the CAC hopes to provide avenues for collegial support and connection, as well as meaningful service as a complement to our professional work lives. CAC welcomes ideas, feedback and, of course, offers to participate in these and perhaps other service options in the future. Please feel free to contact CAC Chair Mitch Abblett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Interview with Deidre Fay
by Barbara Van Zoeren
Deidre Fay is an LICSW in private practice in Arlington MA, and the founder of the "Becoming Safely Embodied" skills, now taught by her and others, both nationally and internationally. She has an extensive history with meditation, yoga and multiple therapeutic approaches.
Barbara: So, why mindfulness, why psychotherapy? What originally drew you to these two things together?
Deidre: There wasn't anything in particular. I started meditating in the 70's and I wasn't necessarily drawn to mindfulness in particular. I guess I was just always a "seeker". I was looking for something but didn't know what I was looking for. It was like my heart was guiding me. I was raised Catholic so at age 17-18 I found a "spiritual director". She was this extraordinary nun who introduced me to meditation.
Barbara: How did you know to find her?
Deidre: She was very well known and I just picked up the phone and called her. She essentially "brought me up".
So I kept seeking. I decided to go to Kripalu because they were practicing loving in a way that I wanted to learn how to love. During my time there everything got formalized, both my yoga practice and I was mediating at IMS in the 80's.
At the same time my own trauma history had come up so I was trying to figure out what was happening to me. I was able to do yoga and meditation for hours before and then when the trauma history came up I wasn't able to anymore. There was so little information at that time so I started to try to figure it out. The "Becoming Safely Embodied" skills were developed because I was trying to put my world back together again.
Barbara: Is that when you decided to become a psychotherapist?
Deidre: I left Kripalu and went to Smith and did my thesis on what happens to long- term meditators when their trauma histories come up? And I talked to 25-30 people who were meditators and asked what their experience was.
Barbara: And you became trained as a social worker..
Deidre: I got my MSW, and Bessell van der Kolk heard about the work I was doing and asked me to work at his trauma center. At that same time I was at McLeans, my last year of training. Someone who knew I had been at Kripalu invited me to do some yoga and meditation groups on the Dissociative Disorders unit. I started thinking about what was it like when someone was dissociating, and how do you use yoga and meditation to help these symptoms. How do you organize a disorganized mind using these incredible, sacred texts. The physical practices were difficult for people so I started to scale it down, to really what became the "Becoming Safely Embodied Skills."
Barbara: How do you introduce mindfulness to your clients?
Deidre: Well, I teach skills formally in a group but I don't explain a lot about mindfulness. I just ask clients to notice what happens in their minds and in their body. We talk about how change only happens in the moment and not if we're thinking about the future or past. Anything other than the moment is a construct and so, cannot be changed.
Barbara: So what's the most exciting thing you see happening now in the intersection of mindfulness and psychotherapy?
Deidre: I think what Chris Germer is doing with self -compassion is one of the most important things. Also the scientific understanding of compassion and what it's doing is also huge. I'm interested in how to take that work and help a person to organize their inner world.
Barbara: Are you writing on this subject?
Deidre: Norton Publishing asked me if I would write about what I'm doing with yoga, meditation and attachment theory so I'm starting to put that together a bit. But my next book will be on using the BSE skills to calm the nervous system, train the mind and open the heart especially when there's trauma and attachment issues.
Barbara: So would you like to see more of an emphasis on compassion?
Deidre: Well, I think there already is. Especially with people who are so wounded and think there is something wrong with them. The simple things that Chris teaches like just being kind, easy, no effort and uncomplicated and that you're completely liked and wanted and cared for is so important, especially for those who have suffered with self- hatred.
Barbara: What is the one message that you'd like people to take away from your book or your workshops?
Deidre: That they are loved and that it's safe to live from an open heart.
Barbara: Thank you for talking with me today Deidre.
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|"Thinking, Good Buddy"
by Laurie Rhoades LICSW
Several years ago, I heard the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron talking about the experience of a beginning meditation student who was becoming thoroughly frustrated with the wandering of his mind when he meditated. As instructed, he would simply label the experience "thinking," and then return to his breath. After awhile he found himself in a mighty struggle with his own experience, angry at himself for his perceived failure, and swept up in resistance and striving. He finally began to make some headway when he changed his label to "Thinking, good buddy."
The person Pema Chodron initially describes is everyone who has ever come in to my office. It is also me. When we get to the point of entering therapy, we're all in a mighty struggle with our own experience; we want to get rid of something, and we're often embarrassed and frustrated that we haven't been able to do so. Moreover, like the student in the story, we are easily caught up by the content of our thoughts, and only dimly aware of the thinking process itself.
As similar as we all may be in discovering the "unsatisfactoriness" of life, very few of my clients have ever entered therapy reporting that they're encountering the universal truth of suffering. The assumption is that their unhappiness is the result of some kind of mistake, which is the seed of the struggle to follow. Generally, their narrative takes center stage for a while. As any therapist would, I take care to hear their stories carefully, noticing the meaning with which they inflect their experience. Rather than consulting the DSM (a veritable catalog of meaning-making) I try to attend to the pain itself, and the ways in which the client engages with it. Or doesn't. In particular, I notice the ways the client gets identified with the pain, perhaps broadening it into self-concept, and the ways he or she resists it, perhaps defaulting to avoidant habits or taking refuge in compulsive self-improvement efforts.
Over the next weeks and months, this awakening of awareness is the uneasy territory of our work together: noticing again and again how quickly and spontaneously the mind goes to work trying to rectify unsatisfactoriness. Little by little, we explore its preferred themes, encounter its familiar arguments, discover its default strategies, anticipate its suggested remedies - in other words, we begin to recognize thinking.
As we all know, it's not so easy to reckon with the habits of the mind. This is particularly true when our thinking defaults to painful self-judgment and comparison. Like Pema Chodron's student, most of us could use a little warmth and friendliness at this point, a reminder that we're on a well-travelled road, and that our difficulties are merely proof of our common humanity. Early in my career, I might have traded in the sincere and sometimes excruciating compassion that is the ground floor of all good therapy for the safe distance of "professional warmth," but I've come to understand that my job, first and foremost, is to be a good buddy, supplying a matter-of-fact steadfastness in the face of all that my clients find unlikeable in themselves. Ultimately, of course, this is a job I'll transfer to my clients, but that may yet be months down the road, so in the meantime, I offer them a reliable loaner.
Generally, as our sessions proceed, I find that my clients' narratives become less necessary and less powerful, and the narrators themselves come more clearly into view - imperfect, occasionally misguided human beings, doing their best in a hard-edged and confusing world. Often, what used to give rise to shame now evokes a compassionate curiosity, and they find that this once reviled person appears largely understandable, forgivable - even endearing from time to time. As they become more friendly toward the narrator, the act of narrating is foregrounded as well; they're quicker to see the mind at work, and less likely to get stuck in habitual ruminative patterns. When they do, they're more likely to see the conditioned nature of their reactions and to forgive themselves their humanity. In other words, they're more likely to say, "Thinking, good buddy," and move forward from there.
Laurie Rhoades holds degrees from The University of California and The Ohio State University where she specialized in Mental Health and Women's Issues. She now maintains a private practice with offices in Arlington and Montague Center, where she sees individuals and couples, and facilitates mindfulness oriented therapy groups. Among her areas of expertise and interest are Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and other therapies rooted in the practices of mindfulness and self-compassion.
Early students of meditation often have many questions about the importance of the breath in their practice. How should I breathe? Should I count my breaths? Should I elongate my breath? Does it matter if my inhale matches my exhale? How does all this work anyway? I recently stumbled upon a short but very detailed book that answers many (and more!) of these precise questions. Science of breath: A practical guide written by Swami Rama, Rudolph Ballentine, MD, and Alan Hymes, MD breaks down the intricacies of breath work, including chapters delineating how breathing is linked to energy storage and formation, how the mechanics of breathing are accomplished, and how nasal breathing in particular can tap into greater states of relaxation and awareness. There are also chapters devoted to the various strategies one can use to both increase breathing capacity as well as channel and obtain better control of one's breathing. Written by a yogi, a psychiatrist, and a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, this book combines the technical details of breathing with the more mystical promises of sages from the past. And, although this book is primarily about breath work within the context of meditation and yoga practice, it effectively links the mind/body connection and practices described in the book could easily be transferred to the psychotherapeutic setting. As quoted by Swami Rama, "Controlling the breath is a prerequisite to controlling the mind and the body." Any mental health practitioner who has worked with individuals who have anxiety based disorders, for instance, can certainly attest to this statement!
Of particular interest is a breakdown of a popular breathing technique known as alternate nostril breathing (or nadi shodhanam, which means "channel purification"). This breath practice is usually performed in a seated position, although I suppose one could also accomplish this lying down. The basic premise is to alternate one's in and out-breath by blocking off either the right or left nostril in a specified sequence. To start, place the right thumb above the right nostril and the right ring finger above the left nostril. Blocking off the right nostril, exhale slowly and deliberately through the left nostril. Following the exhale, deeply inhale through the left nostril. Place the ring finger on the left nostril closing it off (releasing the right thumb from the right nostril) and exhale slowly and deliberately through the right nostril. Finally inhale through the right nostril. Repeat this series three times. This is one round of nadi shodhanam. The goal is to work up to three rounds, with a period of "normal" breathing in between each round. According to the authors, practicing this type of breathing sequence will help reduce stress and strain that leads to physical and psychosomatic illness, calm the nervous system, and relax the body. They also state, "The voice will grow sweeter, and the harsh lines of the face will be replaced by a soft glow." One could only hope! Regardless, this technique could easily be taught to clients in a therapeutic hour and could be practiced by clients in the home setting without a huge time commitment, complicated instructions or "buy in" factor. After all, it really is just another way to do what we do 17,280 times a day naturally. Happy reading!
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