Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy
 and Couch
Fall 2015
Top_of_pageWelcome to the Fall 2015 issue of Cushion and Couch, the journal for IMP members!

In this issue:

'Brahma Viharas and the Ugly Emotions' By Amanda Peacock

Brahma Viharas and the Ugly Emotions
By Amanda Peacock

Amanda Peacock is a clinical social worker and life coach in private practice in Watertown, MA.
Last summer, before Tricycle came out with the issue on envy, I did a ten day retreat on the subject. Not on purpose. The retreat was on loving-kindness. My retreat, however, was on jealousy and envy.*

Envy is the feeling of wanting what another person has:
I envy Sasha for her respected position in the community. I want that.
Jealousy is the feeling of threat that we might lose what we have:
I'm jealous of Paula and Ray being so close. I don't want Ray to choose Paula over me.

As I headed into the mountains of New Mexico, my partner at the time was headed to his high school reunion and looking a little too much forward to seeing a dear old friend, who happened to be recently single. Just to add to my entertainment, she was going to be staying at his house. My relationship with him had been rocky for some time so I was feeling pretty vulnerable to competition. As I took the precepts to be in silence for the next ten days, I felt my guts would burn through my insides before the first night was over.
A meditator for over 20 years now, I was thinking I had the hang of this riding the waves of experience while following the breath in and out for hour after hour. This retreat, however, was going to be different.
Some months prior, around the New Year, I had been at a gathering with my sister-in-law, the closest I'll ever get to having an actual sister. We're close. At the gathering she declared that she was going to go to Thailand for the winter to meditate. I was shocked. I felt my face grow red and my jaw clench as the thought, " I'm the Buddhist. Who does she think she is going to Thailand to meditate?" seethed in my head. I was blanketed in emotions I couldn't sort out, many of which seemed disgusting and shameful. How could I begrudge my dear sister-in-law a little happiness? After all, she'd survived breast cancer, major disk issues in her back, and a dreadful divorce from my brother. Surely she deserved a retreat in Thailand to reflect on her life. But part of me only wanted it for her if I could have it too. Part of me didn't want to be around her if I would have to hear about this retreat that I couldn't do but she could. That's when I realized, I must explore envy, jealousy and competition. I must learn to relate to these experiences differently. I could see that these emotions were blocking connection with other people and I felt powerless to stop them. I felt that if I didn't shift this, my circles of connection would get smaller and smaller as I would only be able to connect with people who in some way had what I had or less. I was appalled to see this in myself so clearly. Though I hid it all quite well, inside I felt ashamed. Shame further alienated me from those I envied.
So the universe, generously, gave me what I asked for: A whole retreat with envy, jealousy and competitive thoughts, in August in New Mexico. Seems like the perfect summer vacation, doesn't it?
I sat. The first day was pleasant with distraction. Sneaking peaks at who was there. Taking in the incredible New Mexico wilderness. Savoring each bite of delicious food. Treasuring the thunderous afternoon downpour that offered a promise of spiritual cleansing. But not for me. Not that day.
As night fell and I made my way to my bed, the darkness of memory moved in like a fog. My heart tightened. Breath thinned. There it was. Helplessness. Despair. The impulse in my arms to reach out. No one there.
The next morning at dawn I was relieved to join the other meditators in the hall for the morning sit. Though we were in silence, the company of others felt like rescue from the abyss of fear enclosing me at night.
Usually, retreat for me is refuge. Blessed refuge in silent community. But this retreat felt like bone scraping. Sitting with jealousy. Getting intimate with the one inside that told me even having the experience of jealousy is shameful. One of the retreat teachers referred to my experience as the suffering that ends all suffering. I could only hope.
Each morning I would see the large tree that overlooked the retreat lodge. I would name her Mama. I would go before morning meditation as the sun was lighting the sky and cry to her. This ritual became my daily crying meditation. Something was being washed out of me, though I didn't know what. It became clear that this sadness was much deeper than jealousy over my partner possibly being interested in someone else.
In meditation, I began to work with the Brahma Viharas (divine abodes) one at a time. These are said to be the best medicine in Vippassana Buddhism. The four Brahma Viharas are Lovingkindness (Metta); Compassion (Karuna); Empathetic joy (Mudita); and Equanimity (Upekka). Surely one of them would cure this poisonous craving, clinging, desperation.
I began with loving-kindness. Silently I said for my partner and his friend, "May you be happy. May you be safe. May you live in peace." That was unpleasant. I wasn't there yet. Then I tried it for myself. "May I be happy... May I live in peace." That brought some soothing. Slightly less obsessive rumination. And awareness of a knot of resentment that hung out in my jaw.
Brahma vihara practice is used to help counter the opposite states of mind. However, before they cool the toxins, they often shine a bright light on the coals of them. So, practicing loving-kindness for ourselves, ("May I be happy,") can make us painfully aware of how we feel anything but.
During a morning question and answer period on the fourth day, I summoned the courage to ask about the best way to work with jealousy and envy in my meditation practice. Even admitting to having jealousy felt like admitting a craving for a Fenway Frank during dinner at the International Convention of Vegans. ( We're Buddhists. We don't get jealous.)
The teacher referred me to mudita, or empathetic joy, the hardest of all divine abodes.  "Oh wow, I thought. I've taken on the Everest of karma. Why didn't I just go for a spa vacation in Santa Fe?"
In mudita practice you generate a sense of gratitude for the good fortune of others. It goes: "May you always enjoy good fortune and success." I thought, "my partner may be cheating on me with someone else this very moment and I'm supposed to wish them both eternal good fortune and happiness?"
See how the divine abodes shine a light on their opposite? Gratitude for their good fortune dropped me directly to a feeling of nausea. Dizziness even. And I sat. Belly heavy. Heart heavy. Head heavy. Arms wanting to reach out. For what? Breathing. Watching the rise and fall. Eventually, many hours later into the next day, the story dulls. The object of the pain blurs. What is left is longing.
I employed equanimity practice throughout the ten days. Each time the intensity of rage, despair, soul hunger began to feel like too much, I tried to invite equanimity, a sense of acceptance for things exactly as they are. Giving up striving, clinging, wanting something other than what is invites a deep letting go. And shines light on what feels impossible to relinquish. I would gently say to myself over and over again, "Things are as they are. Exhale. Things are as they are. Inhale."
At some point I switched to compassion practice for myself. As Chris Germer and Kristin Neff teach in working with self-compassion, I silently said, "This is a moment of suffering. I care about this suffering." Sensing jealousy, envy and competitive striving as suffering instead of something to get rid of, helped the shaming voice inside soften.
Finally a shift in awareness: This was longing. This was pain. It deserved my kindness, not spiritual surgery to remove it!
For a long time, I mentally rocked the part of me that was longing for what she didn't have, just feeling into the depth of the wish to be loved. Going daily to the Mama tree, letting her witness the longing. Taking comfort in leaning against her trunk. Sensing a greater world beyond this holding on to what can't be held. Knowing for the first time, the dreaded jealousy, envy, competitive grasp as a tender longing to connect, to be with -- to not be left behind. It wasn't that it had to be fulfilled. Only witnessed. Only accepted. Only cared about.
Opening my heart for the first time to these culturally shamed and exiled states -- sensing that they might just be an expression of an innate instinct to join with and remain included in the tribe -- helped me care for the tender part, to give it what it needed: Acknowledgment, kindness, and acceptance.
I have a new practice when I sense a pang of envy, jealousy, competitive clinging. I note: "longing." I place my hand on my heart and let it know: You want to belong. You want to be included. Of course you do. We all want to belong. And in gently residing with this wish for belonging, there is comfort, in remembering my connection with all beings, including this earth, and most especially Mama Tree.

interviewAn Interview with Chris Willard PsYD. 
By Barbara Van Zoeren LICSW
Christopher Willard is a clinical psychologist and educational consultant in the Boston area. He is the author of Child's Mind, The Mindfulness and Anxiety Workbook for Teens, and the editor, with Amy Salzman, of Mindfulness with Youth: From the Classroom to the Clinic. He lectures on the topic of mindfulness and meditation with young people in the US, Europe, and Asia, and holds teaching appointments at Lesley University and Harvard Medical School. 
Barbara: I'd like to start with some questions that will let the readers know a bit about you, the author and how you got to be in the place you are in your roles of author, speaker and consultant.
I read something about you and your father and what sounded like a very early experience with mindfulness. Can you speak about that?
Chris: I didn't learn mindfulness in any formal way when I was a kid but when I went on a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh in 1989 in College, I realized that when I looked back on my life, as many of us do, I had moments of mindfulness.
It's innate in us. We've all experienced it and what Buddha and people like Jon Kabat- Zinn teach is that we are re-learning our mindfulness.  They teach ways to access it again, to cultivate it.
We try to bring more of it into our lives on a regular basis. We have memories of being in the woods or like that story with my father about watching clouds that are inherently mindful.
All those things, that are inherently mindful in many ways, staying in the present moment, without judgment and with compassion.

Barbara: they talk about it as an uncovering.
Chris: Yes, the rediscovering.  I have an amazing opportunity when I work with kids to bring mindfulness back into childhood.
It's kind of sad that we don't have so many natural moments of mindfulness in kids lives or in our adult lives anymore.
I heard someone say at a conference recently say that we used to get more natural moments of mindfulness when we were hunter/gatherers.
We'd look at the sky, looking at the stars, be looking into the burning embers of a fire. And we'd get exercise by being in the fields, building shelters for the winter with more contact with the wonders of the nature.
We're at this place where we need to build it into our lives more but I think it's also about bringing some wonder back into our lives.

Barbara: That's so true and sad. It's heartening that we are interested in bringing it back a bit now.
So, on a bit more personal note, what brought you to be interested in psychotherapy?
Chris: My mom was a psychologist. I was always interested in people and their stories. It fit with my values of helping people and learning. Psychology and Psychotherapy is this opportunity to always be learning and helping people at the same time.  I like understanding stories and was an English major in college. Stories have a lot of power.
When I wrote my interest statement for graduate school I wrote that what I'd like to do is spend some time in an office, some time teaching and some time writing.
I haven't been in the field very long and I'm already doing a lot of what I've wanted. I thought I'd be doing this much later but it's been really fun to do all these things.

Barbara: You sure are.  That's fantastic.
Did you identify this as a real need with kids? I know this is fairly new in the schools.
Chris: Well, "Childs Mind" came out and then there was Susan Greenland's book and a few others in the past 10 years.
There's definitely a growing interest in it.
It's kind of fun to be straddling the psychotherapy world and the education world.
You know, as a psychotherapist that you can't get through graduate school or go to a conference or pick up a psychotherapy journal without reading something about mindfulness. It's similar in the education world.
Mindfulness is being brought to education through the classroom, after school programs.

Barbara: That's so great. So kids will have this at a much younger age.
Chris: Yes and it's a life-long skill that can be learned at any age. I learned at age 21 and I think I could have saved myself and my parents some heart ache if I had had these skills earlier.

Barbara: I can understand that wish. I learned in my 40s. How are schools bringing it in?
Chris: Different schools have different models. Some schools have meditation clubs, there are teen retreats now, family retreats. One school is having a "be kind" day.
I do in service training and still have my private practice in Cambridge and Wellsley.

Barbara: Can you tell us about what you're working on now?
Chris: I have an edited volume called "teaching mindfulness to Kids and Teens" and I have a manuscript coming out in March called "Growing up Mindful".

Barbara: Thank you so much for speaking with me Chris.
Chris: Thank you.

review Teaching Mindfulness Skills to Kids and Teens
Edited by Christopher Willard and Amy Saltzman
A book review by Laura Fisher PsyD
The art of teaching mindfulness has branched out across a multitude of settings as varied as prisons and juvenile detention centers to schools, higher education and beyond.  Business and thought leaders use mindfulness in seminars, trainings and as part of their approach to client acquisition.  It has been addressed within the context of world health forums and strategy about creating lasting peace in more turbulent times.  Here, Christopher Willard and Amy Saltzman tackle the universally necessary task of educating our children and teens about being mindful and how to apply mindfulness to their everyday lives.  Imagine the world we would live in if all of our children were versed in this wonderful gift of mindful reflection and implementation!
Teaching Mindfulness Skills to Kids and Teens is an edited book comprised of twenty-one different chapters addressing mindfulness in various settings and with varied populations of children and teens.  The book is broken down into three major themes: bringing mindfulness to youth; bringing mindfulness to life; and the science of mindfulness.  The authors are varied as well: long time meditation leaders, teachers in public school systems, psychotherapists, yoga professionals, and writers and songwriters.  Each brings a unique and distinct view of how to bring mindfulness to our youth and provides, at times, very concrete examples of how to implement techniques while working with kids.  Authors are generous in offering their personal experiences and resources.  Readers will find specific help addressing kids and teens with special needs, autism, substance abuse, at risk teens, and interacting with kids in culturally diverse settings.  Techniques and starting points for bring mindfulness to kids range as well.  Yoga, dance, sports, song, art and writing techniques are all addressed, making it easier to reach a wide variety of children and teens.  As any teacher in public schools will tell you- there are many ways to reach a child.  This book more than adequately addresses this need.  The book concludes with a sampling of solid research that is emerging in the field which is presented in a digestible format for readers from a variety of settings (aka you do not have to be a neuroscientist to understand it!). 
One of the greatest strengths of this book is how the authors use play and creativity to teach mindfulness skills to kids.  Most of the techniques shared in this book do not look like or even feel like "curriculum."  Rather, the steps outlined in the individual chapters seem "fun" and entertaining- definitely techniques that would hold a child's interest and foster his or her creative process.  The authors do assume a level of familiarity and knowledge about working with kids and teens in general so this book may not be a "first read" for someone who is just starting out working more closely with children.  Each chapter can and does stand alone, making the book readily accessible for readers who are looking for guidance in one area in particular.  This is a solid and necessary book for anyone who plans to or is currently dedicating their lives to educating our children, both today and in the future.  Happy reading!

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The Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy (IMP)  is a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and training of mental health professionals in the integration of mindfulness meditation and psychotherapy.