The Mindfulness Lectures
Reflections from the Salt Mines:
Dear Mindfulness Community,
God dwells in the details.
Nowhere is this more applicable than when we deal with the most complex object in the known universe, the brain, and the most challenging of all human experiences, one's own internal subjective world. Embarking on the journey of self-discovery through the most powerful tool at our disposal, the art of mindful awareness, will undoubtedly be the most difficult project you will ever take on.
Mindfulness meditation, the formal practice on this path, is therefore very challenging and not for the fainthearted. It takes many long years of training with experienced teachers to gain some confidence in navigating the treacherous landscape of limitless self-deception. Knowing how to meet the challenges of self-awareness requires precision. Detailed attention makes a huge difference in one's progress to greater integration, peace and harmony.
One of my Mindsight Intensive student I will call Susan has been practicing quite seriously for quite a few years. Her practice seemed relative steady and calm.
Recently we reviewed the technique of 'closing the doors of avoidance', which includes relinquishing control of the limbs. Q
uite generally in everyday life, but also during meditation practice, the brain uses movement of the limbs (scratching, shifting legs and feet, fidgeting with one's hands etc.) as a mechanism, by which it avoids reconnecting with deep repressed or dissociated emotional pain.
The moment Susan paid attention to that and made a conscious effort not to move her limbs, things became emotionally heated. She started to feel increasing unease in her chest and her throat, pointing to emotional activation. As she pursued her investigation, before long she was in tears, sobbing, and not knowing why. With the technique of COAL (curiosity, openness, attention and love - amounting to equanimity), she held the unfolding storm in awareness without distracting from it by moving her limbs. Eventually she discovered that this was a remnant of her grief following the death of her husband years ago.
Retrospectively, Susan realized that all along she had defended against the arising of such feelings through movements of her limbs during formal practice, which she was not aware of.
The motivation for the defense came from an unconscious, yet very real fear of being overwhelmed by an emotional storm and 'fall apart', whatever that meant to her. This prevented the real healing that occurs, when the MPC (medial prefrontal cortex) is given a chance to reconnect with such dissociated parts and make them again part of the whole of who you are. Segregated neurocircuits very literally reconnect with the whole brain instead of remaining dysfunctionally separated. The fear of falling apart is as real as the fear of the wizard of Oz. Once we face it directly, we realize that nothing falls apart (except for illusions maybe) and the mighty wizard reveals itself as no more than an emotional storm that comes and goes like the rain storm I am witnessing right now as I am writing these lines. The result is relief and a sense of peace independent of circumstance.
Movement is essential for development and life. But movement can also be a way of nervously externalizing a repressed energy flow that has lost connection with the whole organism. Only by consciously containing the movement and resting in stillness can these deeper disavowed layers of experience and subtle energy flows surface into consciousness and be reintegrated into the whole organism that we are. Only then can grater clarity, perspective and peace become a reality.
FOR THIS SATURDAY!
THE MINDFULNESS LECTURES
ENGAGING THE ENEMY OF STRESS
A 5-lecture series on mindfulness 101*:
Why and how to meditate
Over the course of 5 lectures we will explore the foundations and principles of mindfulness meditation. Why meditate? How do we best meditate? What is stress? How are meditation and stress related?
From lecture to lecture we will follow the gradual emergence of a new, invigorated approach to living, replacing our old, ingrained, rigid and stale patterns of suffering that have bogged down our lives, curtailed our creativity and undermined our passion and hope for life and the future.
Each lecture's journey begins with a short review of the previous lectures, followed by the exploration of one aspect of what and who we really are as living human organisms. Over the course of the lecture series we will gradually acquire a bird's eye view of how we are embodied, including how our brain is wired, and the relationship between body, mind and spirit. From this base we can then understand the tools we use to meditate, which we will learn to apply, one by one as we proceed from lecture to lecture.
* All lectures provide some common-sense directions about how to practice mindfulness.
Coming home to the vast peace of awareness
Saturday, June 6, 2015
3:00pm - 5:00pm
So far we have dealt with the contents of our awareness, with what our witness witnesses as its subjective experiences. But how about awareness itself, the witness itself? This is the most elusive, yet also the most central aspect of our journey, which will again challenge us to span the knowledge spectrum from brain to spirit, leading to the exploration of the fifth and last frontier in meditation, alignment with awareness itself and all its implications.
THE SALT MINES
There is such a thing as
Avoidance Yoga. Indeed I suspect most Yoga studios in North America offer Yoga as a workout routine, not a meditation, thus contributing to the strengthening of avoidance mechanisms. One of my students is a case in point.
During one of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Programs I introduced the first Yoga session by asking participants to step onto their mats as the metaphor for stepping into the present moment. The instruction was to then listen to the fine whispers of the body and let IT tell them how to move.
This particular participant I shall call Lucy was frozen and could not move, even though she had attended Yoga classes for 2 years prior to this session. As I invited her to tell us what was happening in her body and why she felt frozen, she reported feeling extremely anxious, embarrassed about her body, and that she 'did not want to go there'. "To go where?" I asked, to which she replied "to go where it hurts". Following the call of mindful attention I invited her to turn to exactly what she did not want to face, upon which she broke down into tears and sobbed. She told us how she has always hated her body, indeed herself (with a long childhood history of events explaining this state of affairs), and she always tried to avoid feeling this pain, which is deeply embedded in the implicit memories of her body. The Yoga she was involved in for 2 years that used movement as an avoidance was perfect to perpetuate her suffering under the disguise of helping her feel superficially better.
The brain uses movements of the limbs not only to act in the world, but also to avoid awareness of embedded emotional pain. Her 2 years of Yoga practice did just that - reinforcing her defenses against emotional pain by enlisting muscular movement. This occurs in typical Yoga classes where you are asked to imitate the teacher's postures. Once invited to approach movement in a different way, not as a mechanism of avoidance or as a thing to do to achieve a posture, but as an energetic process that wants to integrate those parts in us we have unconsciously dismissed as too painful to deal with, Yoga moves into an entirely different direction. It becomes what the word itself 'Yoga = yoking' originally meant: To yoke and reconnect our superficial conscious life with the deeper life of hidden truths we have long forgotten. Instead of working with our muscles, tendons and fascias, we work first and foremost with the brain.
I started thinking about this word as I woke up and started puttering through my usual routine. I kept reciting it over and over unconsciously. "Today I need to do some groceries, today I will cut my friend's hair, today seems like a good day for a raincoat, today is a seemingly calm stream with a strong undercurrent". It seemed to become some sort of mantra being repeated over and over, something that most of us do and rarely think about.
And so I started to test it, taste it, say it slowly, let the word roll around in my mouth before spitting the letters out one by one in order, or not. It slowly started to morph the word into a verb, like it was exclaiming itself to me, to go forth 'to the day'. Something to be approached with strength and courage, like some army charging into battle. It gave the word power and drive, but also laced with a sense of deep curiosity.
This word cannot be tamed, it seems to require a certain amount of flux to ride the waves, to let it breathe. It is not static, inanimate. It breathes and lives. How much energy we place into excruciatingly trying to control this word, without realizing how little control we really have over it. Today is the one who will create the paths we walk - we are merely the ones who choose the direction. But through this we become a tandem being, working as one to continue on, always moving forward.
PLEASE SHARE THIS NEWSLETTER WITH FRIENDS,
STUDENTS AND COLLEAGUES
Do you know someone who could benefit from this information?
Please forward this newsletter by clicking '
Forward email' at the bottom of this newsletter - they'll appreciate it!
I cannot express enough gratitude for being able to enjoy the privilege of working with so many talented, thoughtful, irreverent, creative and dedicated fellow travelers on this journey of inquiry, transformation and daily life application of what is most important for our human existence.
With kind regards,
are ongoing on Wednesday nights.