The Mindfulness Lectures
Reflections from the Salt Mines
From a Course Participant
Dear Mindfulness Community,
February was just three days too short to accommodate a newsletter. It was also the coldest and cruelest February in over 100 years.
For me this was a time of retreat and reflection. The icy layers of snow and the relentlessness of nature's frigid hand inspired deeper contemplation of what A.H. expresses so beautifully below (From a Course Participant): "My cape has been hung up, and I am feeling the emptiness of letting go of that false identity ... as well as many other false identities I carried."
Aren't we here to learn to be happy? If so, what is happiness? We can easily agree that happiness results from processes occurring in one's own body, not from external events. However, raised on a diet of slogans that tell us that what feels good is good, we come to believe that happiness is based on subjective experiences of pleasure or meaning. But this uniquely narcissistic view never works. Deeper contemplation reveals that with an untrained mind we need to be suspicious of our feelings and preferences. 'Know thyself' is an old call that echoes deeply through history, and that reminds us of the limitless human capacity for self-deception.
So if happiness has nothing to do with feeling good, what is it all about? It is about the understanding of the impermanent nature of everything, including our feelings. The hedonistic duality between feeling good and feeling bad is not where it is at. We are called to relinquish the pursuit of permanence when all we can find is impermanence, including impermanence of our feelings. The false identity A.H. talks about arises when we try to pursue the 'unpursuable', when we try to hold on to and define ourselves by what is eternally ephemeral, impermanent and fleeting - which is everything. The emptiness that dawns when we let go is 'horribile et fascinans', both horrible and fascinating at the same time. We have to feel all of heaven, hell and purgatory with curiosity and love, and the sense of happiness becomes a sense of peaceful and meaningful connectedness to the unfathomable context we are all a part of, a sense of love even when it hurts.
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.
EARTH AND WATER:
Penetrating the jungle of the body
Saturday, March 7, 2015
3:00pm - 5:00pm
This lecture will lead us into new topics on embodiment and the rich world of Interpersonal Neurobiology. We then move to the second frontier of meditation: Alignment with the body.
THE SALT MINES
In his book 'The Brain's Way of Healing', Norman Doidge writes about Michael Moskowitz, M.D., a psychiatrist who suffered chronic pain for 13 years. Even on medication, the average severity of pain was a 5/10, often as high as 8/10, on his best days 3/10. By using his mind to rewire the brain in an intense and focused fashion, within a year he became almost always pain free. Dr. Moskowitz formulated an acronym based on neuroplastic principles as a way of helping his patients stay focused on the arduous task of becoming pain free. Here is the acronym:
Motivation: To rewire the brain one must muster an active, not a passive attitude towards one's pain. Each pain attack is a motivator and an opportunity to apply the attentional technique.
Intention: It takes mental effort to change, and the practice focus should not be to get rid of pain, but to learn to focus the mind in order to change the brain.
Relentlessness: Only intense focus leads to altering neurocircuits and make new connections. Half-hearted attempts do not lead very far. Every possible moment needs to be used to practice the appropriate attention that gives the brain clear and unrelenting directions. Casual distractions must be resisted.
Reliability: It can be difficult to realize that one's brain is not the enemy, but that it can be relied upon to restore and maintain normal function. Pain is the brain's alarm system, not an enemy. When the alarm rings, one does not go and fight, or even try to get rid of the alarm system. One either fixes the alarm system if it is faulty, or goes to deal with the problem that set it off. However, the brain needs our guidance to rewire.
Opportunity: Each moment of pain is not a calamity, but an opportunity to deepen one's mastery of the tools, with which we can repair either the faulty alarm system, or what gave rise to the alarm in the first place.
Restoration: The goal of practice is not to mask or distract from pain, but to restore normal brain function.
Although Dr. Moskowitz formulated these MIRROR principles within the context of pain treatment, they equally apply to our practice of mindfulness in general. As Buddha said, one needs to want liberation more than a drowning person wants air. Are you ready?
FROM A COURSE PARTICIPANT
This is part of an email I recently received from a course participant, expressing the kind of deep thoughts and inquiries we engage in daily at the Mindfulness Centre. What touches a deep chord and we can all learn from is this person's ability to fully embrace pain as energy flow no different from pleasure. She expresses what mindfulness is at its core when she first describes a painful life experience and then writes: "......
but at the same time I feel this is where I need to be. Feeling all of it." This is presence at its best, when we can fully stand by the unbearable - the only path to
a sense of liberation independent of circumstance. Here is her email:
"Dr. Treyvaud, I found it interesting when you talked about the inborn traits that can only be softened or curbed but not completely changed. I would like your take on how to identify these inborn traits. I feel that I have been spending most of my life trying to change who I am, and would like to gain some more clarity on what these traits are for me, so I can become more gentle with myself.
Also coming to a realization of why I have been guided to this practice ...... I always knew something was missing for me, and could never feel completely comfortable with this role ... for many reasons, but when I became sick over the last 2 years and needed surgery, I realized I could not help others unless I could track my own energy and know what was happening within. Not knowing what was growing inside of me, completely destroyed my faith in myself and my ability to be of use to anyone (my all or nothing trait that needs to soften).
While practicing mindfulness, I continue to feel powerless, hopeless and often useless in my work and daily life, but at the same time I feel this is where I need to be. Feeling all of it.
I am struggling with seeing the world as neither black or white, and daily I have to remind myself, that what I am doing in my work helping others, is good enough for now. So hard when you want to be a super hero. My cape has been hung up, and I am feeling the emptiness of letting go of that false identity ... as well as many other false identities I carried.
I look forward to discovering and accepting who I really am.
Thank you for listening and for sharing your knowledge and wisdom."
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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.