‘Mindfulness’ grows in popularity—and profits

Julie Carr-Smyth, AP: In what’s become a daily ritual, Tim Ryan finds a quiet spot, closes his eyes, clears his mind and tries to tap into the eternal calm. In Ryan’s world, it’s a stretch for people to get this relaxed. He’s a member of Congress.

Increasingly, people in settings beyond the serene yoga studio or contemplative nature path are engaging in the practice of mindfulness, a mental technique that dwells on breathing, attention to areas of the body and periods of silence to concentrate on the present rather than the worries of yesterday and tomorrow.

Marines are doing it. Office workers are …

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Shortcuts to Inner Peace, by Ashley Davis Bush

Shortcuts to Inner Peace

In the interests of full disclosure I should say that Ashley Davis Bush, the author of Shortcuts to Inner Peace: 70 Simple Paths to Everyday Serenity, attends the same Buddhist center I teach at. I’ve bumped into her and her husband a literally a couple of times, but it’s a large center, we’re not by any stretch of the imagination friends, and I’m under no obligation, inner or outer, to say nice things about her book.

Now that that’s out of the way…

Shortcuts to Inner Peace grows out of the meeting of Bush’s practice as a psychotherapist, and her personal Buddhist practice. She knew that many of her clients would benefit from meditation, and yet it was also obvious that few, if any, of them would be able to set aside the time for a regular practice. And so began a project to “sneak” (my word) mindfulness into daily activities.

Title: Shortcuts to Inner Peace
Author: Ashley Davis Bush
Publisher: Berkley
ISBN: 978-0-425-24324-4
Available from: and Kindle Store, and and Kindle Store.

And here is where Bush reveals herself to be a master teacher. She is positively cunning at finding ways for people to practice more mindfulness.

Here are a few examples:

  • Go With the Flow: Whenever you’re at a sink and touch water, let the stream of warm liquid cue you to say, “Go with the flow” or “I trust the universe” or “Everything is as it should be.” This reminds you to let go and flow with the current of life. (p. 46)
  • Mirror, Mirror On the Wall: Look at your reflection and say simply, “I accept all of you.” For some people “I forgive you,” “I love you deeply and unconditionally,” or “You are doing the best you can and I admire you for that” also work well. If nothing else, give yourself a vote of encouragement with a “hang in there.” (p. 61)
  • Lend a Hand: When you’re feeling anxious or stressed. Place one hand on your upper chest and your other hand on your belly. Apply some light pressure, breathe deeply into your belly, and then as you exhale slowly, rub your hand in a circle on your upper chest. (p. 97)
  • Play It Again, Sam: When you find yourself grumbling over an unpleasant household chore … Sing a specific song or play special music when you’re engaged in that unwanted chore. Decide to let yourself have a positive experience and actually let it fill your body with good sensations. (p. 128)

There are almost 70 of these exercises in this quite substantial book. Most of the actual presentation is in short chapters or usually two page, with a brief précis of the exercise as I’ve given above, accompanied by a more expansive account of the background of the practice, with examples drawn from real life. Each practice chapter concludes with a summary of the deeper purpose of the exercise, so that it’s not just a “trick” you can pull in order to change your emotional state, but part of a total transformation of the way you relate to your life. There are also introductory chapters that “set the scene.”

See also:

The practice chapters are organized into different sections, covering ways to weave mindfulness into daily activities, into relationships, into our experience of the senses, as well as sections on ways to calm the body, quiet the mind, open the heart, and to connect with a sense of purpose. At the end of the book there is a cross-reference list of the exercises so that you can find techniques that address specific problems, such as being angry or tense. Shortcuts to Inner Peace is nothing if not thorough!

There have been several books out recently that have addressed how to bring greater mindfulness into daily life. I’ve recently reviewed How to Train a Wild Elephant, by Jan Chozen Bays, and One Minute Mindfulness, by Donald Altman. All three are excellent books. If I had to distinguish between them I’d say that:

  • How to Train a Wild Elephant is ideal for the experienced practitioner who wants to go deeper into mindfulness, or for the committed beginner who is already able to devote a reasonable amount of time and thought each week to mindfulness practice. The practices are deeply transformative, and come from two decades of monastic practice, although the lessons given are applicable to “normal” life.
  • One Minute Mindfulness is similar in presentation and content to Shortcuts. It’s a little less imaginative in approach, but still a very fine book.
  • Shortcuts to Inner Peace would be my highest recommendation to anyone beginning to explore mindfulness and meditation, and who is having problems “fitting practice in” to their lives. I would also highly recommend it for anyone who has problems with anger, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, or any of these manifold contemporary problems of finding emotional balance in life.
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On suicide and the Dharma (part two)

Awake in the World

The following essay is by psychotherapist, Buddhist teacher and Yoga teacher Michael Stone, and is the second of a two-part exploration of suicide, yoga, and Dharma. The essay is excerpted from “Awake in the World: Teachings from Yoga & Buddhism for Living an Engaged Life” by Michael Stone (Shambhala Publications, June 2011)

In ideas of suicide, beliefs become dangerously polarized. In fantasies of suicide, the world becomes “outside” and separate from “me.” The world shrinks to the small action of “me” and “my death.” This is a selfish importance that can only be healed through returning back to a lived body, a network of relations, a life filled with meaning that comes through embodied experience, not through more storytelling.

Title: Awake in the World: Teachings from Yoga & Buddhism for Living an Engaged Life
Author: Michael Stone
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1-59030-814-1
Available from: Shambhala, Kindle Store,, and Kindle Store.

The selfishness of suicide is, however, a small seed of selfhood. By processing the desire to die through staying close to what the patient feels in his or her body, we bring up insight into impermanence, showing us how what we feel is changing. What we desire in one moment becomes something entirely different in the next. The desire to jump gives way to a fantasy of wanting to find a husband, a better job, a more meaningful community. A seed must be closed tightly within itself in order to finally blossom. In this way the body of the therapist and the body of the patient enter despair together. The pain of the patient is fully felt by the therapist, and the patient is thus encouraged to face his or her overwhelming desire for the transcendent, the absolute, the eternal. Our deepest transformations occur when there is no hope, where nothing is left, not even the desire to live. Yet there is only this moment. A death in the future is not engagement with this actual experience now. It’s a projection into the future.

What’s disturbing about this is that the “I” maker” (ahaṅkāra) can be overwhelmed by the selves it has created. Those selves are real, as real as any story we tell. But can we truly listen to these selves in a way that they can express themselves and begin moving toward wholeness again? When we create space for free listening, we make room for free speech. We also make room for a wider spectrum of feelings. When we don’t play the same records over and over, we reroot our openness of body and heart, allowing feelings and thoughts to move through awareness with less clinging. In the chains of words and ideas that come forth when we can hold the space of listening without judgment, the person in pain often has a surprising discovery, a spontaneous new arrival of insight that can only happen in the creative space of held silence.

If we do not believe that the unconscious blocks that repress the expression of feeling can be supported by nonjudgmental listening, then we fall into the violent medical mentality that your symptoms are just functions of the brain. And if everything is a function of the brain, symptoms have no meaningful purpose. We need to rediscover our relation to the power of accompanied silence, of free listening, of self-expression. Again, the wish “to be dead” is a wish to attain peace and security at a time when one feels exactly the opposite. Every year, worldwide, an estimated three-quarters of a million people take their own life, making suicide and attempted suicide subjects we need to explore with much more creativity and interest.

Suicide is an attempt to resolve feelings of being overwhelmed by one’s own image of oneself, or part of oneself. Suicide is an attack on one’s own representation of one’s body as an object. It’s as if the death of the body can help one get rid of intolerable mental states and feelings. Suicide is a cry for help. Paying attention to this cry is practicing pain dharma, friendship dharma, and patience dharma. If we value the subjective experience of the person, can we let go of our fixed personal, cultural, and professional ideas about death and listen to the truth of the inner turmoil of that individual? Bearing witness requires that we put aside our fixed views. In this context bearing witness is experiencing the inner life of another, opening to our own feelings about what’s showing up, eventually leading to compassionate action. The action we take, our moment of authenticity, requires courage, and we may have to bear the results of our courage and action. From the Yoga perspective, as soon as we speak of action, we’re talking about ethics, because action always has a consequence both internally and externally. If the primary motivation for taking action is ahiṃsā—not having the intention to cause harm to body, speech, or mind—how is suicide reconciled as an action?

To acknowledge one’s intention is never simple. This is as true for the person feeling pain as it is for the one helping her. It requires willingness to take responsibility and recognize this ambivalence. I feel traditional therapy is misguided on so many fronts, not the least of which is knowing how to work with the mind. A therapist should not simply identify or recognize patterns but move from knowing about something to actually allowing it to simply be. Going back into the past often misses the functioning of the symptom in the present. The past is past. The past can only be experienced now. The past is what the mind is doing in present experience. A patient exploring suicide is exploring his or her pain in the present, and the past is encoded in the present. The hard work of the therapist is just to listen and explore what is present, not what is past. If it’s not present, it’s not here.As a caricature, psychoanalysis ceases to be a study of identity and becomes instead an exploration of traumatic memories—it becomes, absurdly, an exercise in “proving” causal links between particular traumatic experiences and particular symptoms. This, of course, gives rise to the famous problem of the analyst’s “suggesting” particular memories to the client.

Someone entertaining suicide is not only talking about future death. She is talking about present suffering. She is not describing historical trauma but rather current suffering. Suicide is not only a natural psychic reflex for surviving actual helplessness but is also an abstraction. We don’t know what death will be like, only that something must be able to lift us out of this present and persistent pain. We need theories and abstractions about death, partly because the feelings that come up around suicide are so painful. Our theories and abstractions make the pain more bearable to us. The effect of embracing death and feeling what lies below our fantasies of our own termination brings about, at a critical moment, a radical transformation. The experience of looking deeply into death is a requisite for an engaged life. This implies that the crisis of suicide is a necessary phase in the life of any of us. Suicide itself may be too quick a transformation. The job of Yoga technique is to meditate on what is going on in the felt body in order to slow a hasty charge toward death and anchor us back in life.

Suicide is yelling out: “Life must change; Something must shift; I can’t do this any longer. Having tried to change everything ‘out there,’ the only thing that can now change is inside me.” And so suicide is a quick termination of what is so painful inside. The body, however, can be called in at this crucial junction. Attentiveness to the body dissolves this false dichotomy between inner and outer, me and not me. When we tune in to the breath, we tune in to life here and now. Life here and now is changing, and so there is no fixed self anywhere to be seen. This opens us up to change, freedom, and flexibility. Suicide is an attempt to move from one place to another through force. But force is exactly what got us into this mess to begin with. To force the body, the world, or ourselves into one frame is a kind of violence. Opening to change, through the body, unfixes us and paradoxically grounds us in the flowing conditions of our lives. In the Yoga Vaśiśṭha, there is a wonderful moment during the dialogue between Vaśiśṭha and Rama concerning the way we cause suffering for ourselves where Vaśiśṭha declares: “The mind experiences
what it itself has projected out of itself. By that it is bound.”

A young man who was contemplating suicide came to see me. His sister, who was studying Yoga at our center, recommended that he visit. He was estranged from his family and had nobody to turn to. He showed up early for our first meeting, and his eyes never left mine. He sat forward in his chair and seemed eager to talk about what he was planning. I asked him how he was going to find the pills he needed. He was shocked that I was prepared to talk about death, as he described it,“all the way.”

“Yes,” I said, “I am with you all the way.”

“No,” he demanded, “you can’t be, because all the way is all the way and you won’t be there.”

“But I am here,” I said.

“But that’s not all the way.”

“It is, though, it is all the way,” I said, almost protesting.

“How is it all the way?”

“Well, I am here with you now. I can talk about this with you, plan it, listen to you. I understand. I have felt this pain.”

“You can’t feel what I feel.”

“No, I can’t. I can’t ever feel what you feel. But I know pain, and I know that pain changes. I know that pain is deadly. I know you know that, too.”

“Pain is not deadly, I am deadly.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Pain is pain. Deadly is me. I am dead.”

“If you are dead now, what have you got to lose?”

Suddenly, and out of nowhere, we both smiled. We had each other cornered. But we also had each other. In a way we were arguing about death. And the arguing made us both feel alive. In a sense I was asking him: who does this mad voice inside you belong to? But of course there is no way to answer that question. However, posing the question allowed us to investigate. This person did not take his own life. Six years later he is still in pain, still stressed, but working through his pain by making art and living with a wonderful woman. He wants to be a father. In this heated conversation, the person with whom I was speaking moved from wishing to control the outcome of his life to wishing to communicate with me. This is the real healing factor in any kind of helping work.

Psychiatrists and psychologists often “contract for safety” with suicidal patients; these patients avoid hospitalization based on their assurances that they will contact their clinicians if the inclination to commit suicide overwhelms them. Contracts for safety, or suicide prevention contracts, ask the patient to make a commitment, either verbally or in writing, to avoid self-destructive behavior and to keep the clinician informed of any such suicidal impulses. Such contracts don’t work. The real safety contract is in the quality of our ability to communicate and accept each other. Refusal to sign a no-suicide contract does not necessarily indicate that the patient is in imminent danger of suicide, just as agreement to a contract does not mean that the risk of suicide and self-destructive behavior is lessened. The mental state of a patient is not static. Patients may have inconsistent and complex motivations for agreeing to or refusing a contract.

Suicide moves from being one option to being the option when meaninglessness grows. Suicide is an attractive and logical solution when the pain and suffering that one is experiencing can’t be met in a way that offers relief. Internal hatred must be transfigured into love through communication. This is ahiṃsā in action. Likewise the Buddha said: “Hatred is never quelled by hatred in this world. It is quelled by love. This is an eternal truth.” Especially for the caregiver or friend, seated meditation with concentration on breathing is the primary way to remain centered in the midst of turbulence. Under some conditions we must accept suicide. Skillfully, like the Buddha, we take advantage of each context to wake up. After Channa takes his own life, the Buddha says: “Without reproach was the knife used by the brother Channa.”4 The Buddha is not condoning suicide. He is exonerating Channa. Can we do the same? Can we take each person’s story to heart, one by one by one? Can we hear the pain of our friend who is dying to die? What can we offer? What good is it to blame or introduce anything other than loving action?

The practice of ahiṃsā is not to kill another living creature. But we do this every time we eat or pick our vegetables. Through a longer chain of causality, we do it every time we buy petroleum. One of the ways we take life is by not listening, by shutting down, by imposing our expectation on others. Someone who is in pain needs to be heard. Someone who wants to take her own life and is telling you about it desperately wants to connect, desperately desires intimacy. And you are there, in that moment, as best you can, to offer it. To offer yourself. Sometimes we think we know what a cry means, and sometimes we can’t know. But we can put our bodies right there in the center of suffering and know it fully and mutually.

A therapist rooted in nonharming understands that when someone who wants to die is sitting face-to-face with you, that person is you. The first teachings around nonharm mean that we drop our expectations and favorite ways of doing things, we lay aside our viewpoint and professional obligation, and we serve someone exactly as he or she is. You can’t preset the rules for this. If someone is speaking to us as a therapist or friend or sibling, can we meet them exactly where they are? Can we continually check in with ourselves: what is going on now? If I am distracted, what is my most believed thought? Then we can return to our body and breath and then back to the person with whom we are working. We can’t forget that the fundamental lesson of this yogic path is that difficult and even painful feelings are our opportunity to wake up to a more genuine way of living. This is as true for the person in pain as it is for the clinician or friend. We can always love more and more deeply.

Yogic ethics rely heavily on awareness practice, because if we can’t return to this live moment, we are caught up in our theoretical understanding of the situation or in hope or fear. What is appropriate in one context may not be appropriate in another. Ethics are always a dialogue between our cultural background, our ability to open to present experience, and our individual ethical conscience. It’s amazing how our ethical conscience changes over time. Usually we can bring only a certain percentage of awareness to a situation, and then the unconscious ideals of the culture and our own past conditioning come in as a default position. One of the ways we can bring stable integrity and wisdom to our approach to someone in dire straits is to work with our fear of death. The more we fear death, the more we accrue our basic narcissism. If we are trying to keep someone alive who wants to die, we are closing down the possible expression of some major knot now coming to the surface in that person’s life (and by extension, in our own lives as well). A culture that hides, sanitizes, and represses death and dying is a culture afraid of its own mortality, thus setting up a world where heroic ambition, persona, and competitive self-interest are the most rewarded values. This is imbalanced. The greatest attachment we all have to work through, Patañjali reminds us again and again, is abiniveśa, the fear of letting go of our clinging to the life of I, me, and mine. Our attitude toward death is a central factor in the healing process because it influences the way we perceive life. With someone wanting to die, we don’t know how to talk about death because we don’t want to influence them one way or the other. But my experience is that time and time again, opening up the topic of death allows the person with whom we engaged to speak freely and openly, without expectation.

Chögyam Trungpa says that when we go as far as we can in imagining and talking about death, some real sanity develops.5 It is much healthier to explore the psyche’s ambivalent and twisted desires than it is to clean up the warehouse of the mind so it’s all sanitized and perfect. How we act is in every way influenced by the all-embracing awareness and tenderness we can bring to the unconscious habit energies and turbulence of mind and body. Suicide is not just death’s call. It’s a wake-up call. This is an entirely practical approach. What’s going on right now? What is this person saying? How am I listening? These questions are a matter of value: do we value our ideas that one should live and be healthy or do we most value what is occurring in this very moment?

When we give up our ideas about value, ironically, things become meaningful. In this way, there is no zone of comfort, but there is the marvelous flux of intimacy out of which healing is possible. When we begin to take these teachings seriously—when we look directly at the truth of impermanence, the movement of the gunas (qualities of nature), the stability of awareness, the emptiness of selfimage— we learn that the most practical tool of awakening is giving up the task of looking for certainty. When we place burdens and cultural expectations on others, especially those in need, we are setting a bar that nobody can or should ever live up to. Expectations are the roots of violence.

When we give up our desire to be helpful, to help others to live, even to want life to go on for a young person in need, we can drop right into the unfolding flow of life as it really is. Life as it really is contains both the transcendent and the imminent, both phases of joy and phases of discontent. The moral tragedy of the satifaction-dissatisfaction cycle is that it sometimes makes life feel impossible. When I recently learned that author David Foster Wallace hung himself in the suburban garage in which he wrote, I felt a kind of relief. A tension had been building in me while I explored his work. He struggled so much with a superior intellect and a creative and solipsistic mental life. For reasons we can never know, it became too much for him. He tried. He sought help. He changed his writing styles over and over again—he included lengthy footnotes to deal with his tangential thought process and endless elaborations. Who am I to judge his actions? I miss him here in the community of writers I admire. I also relate to his struggle.

The base or substance of life, like the substratum we call silence, is not a blank nothingness but an interwoven fullness, a brightness, a roaring murmur of activity. In the absence of so much chattering and knowing about this and that, there is no collapsing vacuum. Instead, we begin to see that solutions don’t come from isolating ourselves from the circumstances of our lives and our bodies. Life comes to feel precious not in an individualized way but as some inexplicable part of a larger whole. When we lose sight of how each moment of our lives is a resonant connection with all of life, regardless of whether it is pleasant or painful, we will continually yearn for something else, even finality.

The dharma, friendship, and trusting in the body and breath help free us from being overidentified with our symptoms. There is no security against death. We can imagine the moment of death as a rebirth into new form. Death is both a discontinuity and continuity. The one we love and know discontinues, yet the fluids and flesh return to earth again and begin a new life. At death we do not slip into nothingness—we slip into existence. The waves become the water once again.

For the person who wants to die, the horror is that his demons refuse to die. Madness would be an easier escape, but he is not wired to go mad, he is wired to bear his pain. The sheer weight of these inner demands needs attention, but sometimes the personality is not strong enough or not skilled in knowing how to listen. A third ear is needed: a companion, a mother. The world is the only reality of which we can be sure, but if the world is unbearable, if he can’t bear the pain alone, who are we to judge? Having made the decision to die, he lives his truth by refusing to live in the world. From the perspective of Yoga, his death is impossible. In describing his own suicidal fantasies, poet Jim Harrison writes with rare eloquence and poignancy:

“Beauty takes my courage away this cold autumn evening. My year-old daughter’s red robe hangs from the doorknob shouting Stop.”

This is an excerpt from “Awake in the World: Teachings from Yoga & Buddhism for Living an Engaged Life” by Michael Stone (Shambhala Publications, June 2011)

Michael Stone is a respected Buddhist teacher who draws on his background as a psychotherapist, yoga teacher, author and activist to bring the practice of mindfulness into conversation with contemporary culture. He developed the acclaimed Leading Edge Mindfulness for Clinicians Course in Toronto and has educated over one thousand medical professionals about the intersection of mindfulness and clinical practice. Michael has the distinction of being the youngest Buddhist teacher in Canada and maintains a busy travel schedule, teaching workshops and retreats throughout North America and Europe. He is the founder of Centre of Gravity: a thriving community of yoga and Buddhist practitioners exploring the convergence of traditional contemplative practices and modern urban life. He makes his home in downtown Toronto.

Michael Stone is a respected Buddhist teacher who draws on his background as a psychotherapist, yoga teacher, author and activist to bring the practice of mindfulness into conversation with contemporary culture. He developed the acclaimed Leading Edge Mindfulness for Clinicians Course in Toronto and has educated over one thousand medical professionals about the intersection of mindfulness and clinical practice. Michael d maintains a busy travel schedule, teaching workshops and retreats throughout North America and Europe. He is the founder of a thriving community of yoga and Buddhist practitioners exploring the convergence of traditional contemplative practices and modern urban life. He makes his home in downtown Toronto.

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On suicide and the Dharma (part one)

Awake in the World

The following essay is by psychotherapist, Buddhist teacher and Yoga teacher Michael Stone, and is the first of a two-part exploration of suicide, yoga, and Dharma. The essay is excerpted from “Awake in the World: Teachings from Yoga & Buddhism for Living an Engaged Life” by Michael Stone (Shambhala Publications, June 2011)

No one ever lacks a good reason for suicide.
—Cesare Pavese

Many of us who have suffered trauma, pain, or existential loneliness have struggled to find stories to make sense of our lives. We might think that we learn how the world works, because we take the time to observe and understand it. But every meditator with a busy mind knows that’s just not so. We just believe things, and then make our world fit our perceptions.

Title: Awake in the World: Teachings from Yoga & Buddhism for Living an Engaged Life
Author: Michael Stone
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1-59030-814-1
Available from: Shambhala, Kindle Store,, and Kindle Store.

After many years of Yoga study, practice, and teaching, many of the assumptions I’ve held in my work as a psychotherapist have been brought to the surface—often in unsettling ways—through my struggle to integrate Yoga and Western psychology. While Yoga philosophy and Western psychology have much to learn from each other, what interests me is where they don’t quite fit together smoothly. It’s in these gaps between systems that we find fertile ground for exploration. Yogic teachings on the fear of death (abiniveśa) have been very instructive in understanding the way we hold on to narratives about ourselves that reinforce and entrench feelings of alienation and suffering. While this is often readily apparent in others, it is also apparent in my view of others. Psychological diagnoses and pathology, while serving to help me recognize who and what I am working with, also serve to create separation in a space where intimacy is of paramount importance. Trying to be a good therapist or a helpful teacher can actually get in the way of healing. One of my first psychotherapy patients was referred by a friend. He was a young man who was suffering from tremendous physical pain when symptoms from an old car accident reappeared after many years. Around the same time, one of his former boyfriends took his own life. “The two of these situations together,” my colleague wrote to me, “have completely overwhelmed him. He wants to die.” My colleague made an appointment for him to see me because her own psychotherapy practice was full. “I’m not sure exactly what he needs,” my friend told me. “Maybe a combination of listening and some practical tools like meditation so he can learn to accept what he is going through. Or maybe some medication or hospitalization.”

The following Monday, at the time of our scheduled appointment, I waited for him and he never showed up. I left him a message and did not hear back. One month later, I received a call from my friend who had referred him. She told me the man had taken his life. When I got the call I was stunned. I was in my first year of practice, and though I had never met this young man, I had imagined his walk, his face, his hair, his life. A feeling of relief came over me. I tried to distract myself from this strange response, but it surprised me. In the midst of this news, I was imagining that this man had found some relief.

When I was ten years old, our neighbor took her life. All I could do in response to her suicide was to visit “her” bridge every day for a year. After school, I’d ride my bicycle to where I imagined she had jumped, trying to envision what she thought about before she had leaped into the ravine below. I wondered if she noticed the bulrushes and the vast sky, the amazing view of the city or the beauty of the old trestle bridge.

When I was thirteen, I’d sit under the bridge for hours, smoking cigarettes, studying the deteriorating cement columns and rust leaking from the rebar through the cement railing. Three years after her death I continued visiting her last place on earth, her final view, her place of death. I couldn’t let her go. It wasn’t the loss of our distant friendship, my young crush on her, or my desire to see her pink bedroom again. I wanted to know what pushed her into such a singular view. How did she cross from an inner world of pain to the railing of the bridge? What in me held back that desire? What kept me from climbing that same railing?

The American photographer Diane Arbus ingested barbiturates and then cut her wrists with her razor; French painter Jeanne Hébuterne leaped from a third-story window two days after her partner, Modigliani, died of tuberculosis. She was pregnant with their second child. Mark Rothko took his life among his paintings; Spalding Gray, in the circling waters of the Hudson; John Berryman, jumping off a bridge in Minnesota; Anne Sexton, after visiting a hospital; and Virginia Woolf, weighing her pockets with stones and walking into the river near her home. I found this touching passage from Virginia Woolf in a letter to Leonard Woolf:

“I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that—everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.”

No metaphor here, no sentimentality, no beating around the bush. She is desperately unhappy but, at the same time, straightforward in her desire to communicate. It’s ironic that the momentum present in our rush to die can also contain the urgency to communicate. It’s not that Woolf’s suicide can be reduced to a lack of interpersonal communication. Seen from the perspective of a whole body-mind matrix, we can instead suggest that the parts that make up the sum of the body-mind/self were not communicating, not intimate, not grounded, felt, and made into words. For someone pressed with visions and hearing voices, the key is using the frame of the body as an anchor to the present moment. Settling the mind not through using more narratives and thoughts but by turning to the body and breath is the key to the real feelings below the strategies of suicide. When we come right down to it, the core of what we feel is below the surface strategies of mind. In fact, the mind obsessed with death is not really that different from the compulsive mind most of us are working with every day. A mind spinning in its own solipsistic networks, cut off from the rhythm and feeling of body and breath, is self-identified with its pain and scars and perhaps even unwilling to part with them. We are easily attached to our misery by virtue of its being familiar. It’s an easy way to define ourselves.

There is a parallel text to every story. Though someone is plagued with pain, the desire to end one’s life is actually a counter-pull against the identification with suffering. Suicide is the imagining of an end to suffering—an end that is certainly needed. Seeing more metaphorically, the desire for death as an end to suffering is a desire to make life more possible. What are we really hearing when we listen to fantasies of death? This is the energy—indeed, the paradox—I’d like to explore.


Yoga and Buddhist Practices work in terms of complementary opposites. If you want to settle your inhalation, for example, you spend time getting your exhalation very smooth; if you want to find extension in the hamstring muscles, you refine the contraction of the front of the thigh; if you want to find happiness, you serve others. Inside a forward bend is the seed of a backbend; in the midst of anxiety, we look for the calmness of the breath—it’s always there.

Likewise, when we pay attention to the movement toward taking one’s life, we also find the desire to live. This desire to live is expressed in the desire to communicate. The trick is dropping our preconceptions sufficiently to recognize this instinct, this movement toward intimacy. Even as the old tree withers and dies, we can find small emblems of growth. Illness, both mental and physical, often separates the afflicted from the world. Yoga reawakens one’s connection with the whole body and mind and in so doing restores pathways of communication at an inner level that then begin to spread out into the interpersonal world as well. When we are safe in our own bodies, we have a ground from which to step out into the world.

Talking is a way of reaching something not clearly seen, verbally navigating through the fog of uncertainty. The problem with our Western perspective on suicide is that it’s hard to listen when our very deliberate focus is on trying to stop someone from taking his own life, stop the urge toward death, protect ourselves from the legal repercussions of not calling the police. Since we all walk this same winding road toward death, someone else’s desire to die brings up our own core ideas about death, dying, and what it means to live life fully. Suicide in the Judeo-Christian perspective is rejected as sinful. In the early teachings of the Buddha, there are many stories of people like Channa, Vakkali, and Godhika, who took their own lives and were not condemned for it. If there is a cultural view that sees life as continuous in one way or another, especially if there is no god that determines whether someone is born again or not, we have permission to reframe our conceptualization of suicide as sinful. Who are we to judge?

Suicide is an internal drama that needs expression for it to be resolved. Suicide and self-harm must be understood as having meaning within interpersonal and intrapsychic relationships that the person is involved in. Wanting to die means something. What wants to die? The problem with the “I”-making mechanism of the mind (ahaṅkāra) is that it creates stories (asmitā) that objectify itself. The “I” maker is constantly representing itself to itself, splitting the personality into a subject and object. This splits the ahaṅkāra into a storyteller that is telling itself a story by representing itself to itself. The core teachings of Yoga revolve around this case of mistaken identity. Any self-image is an objectification of the ahaṅkāra that serves to split the personality. If we understand the ahaṅkāra in this way, we can see that when one tells a story about oneself to oneself, one creates several selves. The ego can objectify itself. The task for the yogi is to pay attention to life in ways that continually undercut our craving to have a fixed point of view. All sorts of things happen in our lives, tragedies and miracles together. We lose what we love and are continually separated from what we want. This is the way life goes. But this careful attention to the way our lives truly happen does not always go along with the therapeutic intention to “help life go on,” “contract for safety,” or “provide ego support.”

A focus on the absurd, the messy, the tragic, and the shameful parts of us is what’s truly needed to open to our lives. With the help of a therapist, we can open to what we feel without fear. The key is being able to open to what we really feel, not just what we are allowed to feel either by our own internal judge or the unexamined assumptions in the medical stance of the clinician. Focusing on the body without searching for a way out can sometimes open up astonishing meaning within very old habits. We may even learn that the voice from the part of us that wants to die is exactly the same as the part of us that wants to come out into the world. The one who wants to die may really want to live after all. The “cry for help” is really a gesture to go through life with deep meaning and resolve. Wanting to die stands neither for life nor for death but for a deep experience of both of these opposites. To live is to allow for fixed views to die. To die is to be generous in our living.

Michael Stone is a respected Buddhist teacher who draws on his background as a psychotherapist, yoga teacher, author and activist to bring the practice of mindfulness into conversation with contemporary culture. He developed the acclaimed Leading Edge Mindfulness for Clinicians Course in Toronto and has educated over one thousand medical professionals about the intersection of mindfulness and clinical practice. Michael d maintains a busy travel schedule, teaching workshops and retreats throughout North America and Europe. He is the founder of Centre of Gravity: a thriving community of yoga and Buddhist practitioners exploring the convergence of traditional contemplative practices and modern urban life. He makes his home in downtown Toronto.

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Yoga class aims to heal trauma victims

wildmind meditation news

Matt Brennan, The Beacon-News: Medical studies show that trauma is carried by cells and tissue in the body. Physical activities such as yoga can help alleviate that trauma. A Geneva social worker and a yoga instructor are teaming up to offer a program helping those who suffer from PTSD to heal.

“There’s no other program out there combining the verbal and nonverbal like this,” according to Isie Brindley, a licensed clinical professional counselor practicing in Geneva.

Brindley is working with Green Leaf Yoga instructor Pam O’Brien to develop a program that incorporates the benefits of therapy with a type of yoga designed to help victims of trauma. The program they are looking to create is called Pathways to Empowerment.

They are trying to generate enough local interest to begin the class.

Sometimes someone with severe trauma has lost the connection between mind and body. Something simple such as a command to lift your left leg may not compute in the mind of a trauma victim, she said.

“It helps people come back to awareness and learning how to self regulate,” she said.

Yoga for trauma patients is different than traditional yoga in how it is taught. It involves a more sensitive approach.

“The intention is different,” she said. “With this, you never force and you never push. You’re just inviting the student to explore.”

O’Brien is a certified Trauma Sensitive Yoga Teacher through the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Mass. The class she is certified to teach is based on the research of Bessel van der Kolk, an expert on PTSD who is exploring the use of yoga to regain a physical mastery.

O’Brien is currently teaching an eight-week session of yoga geared toward trauma victims. For that class, there is a screening process to ensure that people are also seeking outside help.

With the program they are looking to create, O’Brien and Brindley will be able to more closely intertwine the yoga and therapy. Brindley said it would help to put someone in a place where they can process the information related to their PTSD without the trauma.

“It’s shifting the unconscious mind into the conscious memory,” Brindley said. “Rather than being victimized, they’re now in control.” The therapy also will help them to process the information related to the incident, she said.

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begin the class.

Sometimes someone with severe trauma has lost the connection between mind and body. Something simple such as a command to lift your left leg may not compute in the mind of a trauma victim, she said.

“It helps people come back to awareness and learning how to self regulate,” she said.

Yoga for trauma patients is different than traditional yoga in how it is taught. It involves a more sensitive approach.

“The intention is different,” she said. “With this, you never force and you never push. You’re just inviting the student to explore.”

O’Brien is a certified Trauma Sensitive Yoga Teacher through the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Mass. The class she is certified to teach is based on the research of Bessel van der Kolk, an expert on PTSD who is exploring the use of yoga to regain a physical mastery.

O’Brien is currently teaching an eight-week session of yoga geared toward trauma victims. For that class, there is a screening process to ensure that people are also seeking outside help.

With the program they are looking to create, O’Brien and Brindley will be able to more closely intertwine the yoga and therapy. Brindley said it would help to put someone in a place where they can process the information related to their PTSD without the trauma.

“It’s shifting the unconscious mind into the conscious memory,” Brindley said. “Rather than being victimized, they’re now in control.” The therapy also will help them to process the information related to the incident, she said.

For more information on yoga for trauma patients, visit or call 630-917-9171.

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Mindfulness therapy is no fad, experts say (LA Times)

There is solid evidence that mindfulness therapy, which combines elements of Buddhism and yoga, can relieve anxiety and improve mood.

Of all fields of medicine, psychology seems especially prone to fads. Freudian dream analysis, recovered memory therapy, eye movement desensitization for trauma — lots of once-hot psychological theories and treatments eventually fizzled.

Now along comes mindfulness therapy, a meditation-based treatment with foundations in Buddhism and yoga that’s taking off in private practices and university psychology departments across the country.

“Mindfulness has become a buzzword, especially with younger therapists,” said Stefan Hofmann, a professor of psychology at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders.

Mindfulness therapy encourages patients to focus on their breathing and their body, to notice but not judge their thoughts and to generally…

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live in the moment. It may sound a bit squishy and New Agey to some, but Hofmann and other experts say mindfulness has something that discredited theories of the past never had: solid evidence that it can help.

“I was skeptical at first.” Hofmann said. “I wondered, ‘Why on Earth should this work?’ But it seems to work quite well.”

Hofmann and colleagues burnished the scientific credentials of mindfulness therapy with a review article in the April issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. After combining results of 39 previous studies involving 1,140 patients, the researchers concluded that mindfulness therapy was effective for relieving anxiety and improving mood.

The treatment seemed to help ease the mental stress of people recovering from cancer and other serious illnesses, but it had the strongest benefits for people diagnosed with mood disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder and recurring depression.

Jordan Elliott, a 26-year-old marketer for a New York publishing company, said mindfulness training had helped pushed his once-disabling anxiety — about work, the weather, the meaning of life — into the background. “The anxiety is still there, but it’s not as bad as it was,” he said.

Elliott started getting one-on-one therapy four years ago at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York. It was hard at first, partly because he was skeptical of the technique and partly because he didn’t feel particularly mindful. “I was such a nervous wreck I could hardly sit still for three minutes,” he said.

Now he starts every day with a 10-minute meditation. He sits cross-legged in his apartment, TV and music off, and thinks about his breathing.

“When a negative thought pops off in my head, I say to myself, ‘There’s a thought. And feelings aren’t facts.’ ”

Elliott said he was taking Prozac before he started mindfulness therapy, but he no longer needed medication to keep his anxiety under control.

“It’s pretty clear that people can improve their health if they can encourage this practice in their lives,” said David Fresco, an associate professor of psychology at Kent State University in Ohio. “But we have to be careful not to move beyond the data too quickly.”

Fresco warns that mindfulness treatment is unlikely to help someone suffering from severe and ongoing depression. Those patients, he said, need a more active approach to recovery, perhaps including antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of counseling that encourages patients to question the validity of their negative thoughts.

Once recovery from depression begins, however, mindfulness therapy could provide a valuable defense against future episodes, said Zindel Segal, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto who was one of the pioneers behind mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or MBCT, a treatment that combines mindfulness with cognitive behavioral therapy.

In December, Segal and colleagues published a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry suggesting that the treatment was as effective as antidepressants for preventing relapses of depression.

The study involved 84 patients who had recovered from at least two bouts of major depression. The patients were broken up into three groups: One had eight weekly group sessions of the therapy, one took an antidepressant and one took a placebo. Over 18 months, about 70% of patients taking a placebo suffered at least one more episode of depression. By comparison, only about 30% of patients receiving therapy or taking an antidepressant had a setback.

Segal said mindfulness therapy could help patients avoid rumination, the process of endlessly chewing on incidents from the past. Rumination is a driving force behind depression, he said, and it just doesn’t mesh with mindful thinking. He also believes that by encouraging patients to focus on their current thoughts, mindfulness can discourage anxiety and worry — up to a point.

“If you’re having panic attacks in the mall, mindfulness therapy on its own isn’t going to be enough,” he said.

Segal adds that mindfulness treatment changes the relationship people have with their emotions, so much so that shifts in brain activity even show up in magnetic resonance imaging tests.

“When your mind has a thought, such as, ‘My colleague just insulted me at the office,’ you can explore the consequences of that thought,” he said. “Thoughts have a less intense grip because you are an observer.”

Hofmann said most patients could pick up mindfulness fairly easily, but it’s not for everyone.

“It takes quite a bit of intelligence,” he said. “It’s good for people who like intellectual stimulation.”

In addition, children, older people (who tend to be more set in their ways) and rigid thinkers may have trouble understanding or embracing the treatment, he said.

Hofmann hopes that the ongoing flood of mindfulness studies will help clarify the benefits and limitations of the approach and ultimately shape the way that the therapy is offered in the real world.

“Some therapists embrace these new and sexy treatments without a lot of critical thinking because they sound cool,” he said.

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Review – The Art and Science of Mindfulness

“Integrating Mindfulness into Psychology and the Helping Professions,”
by Susan Shapiro and Linda Carlson

Metapsychology Online Reviews: The integration and incorporation of mindfulness training into the mainstream of mental health may well turn out to be one of the most significant developments of the last ten or fifteen years. The literature has expanded exponentially and has moved in quite substantial ways from the use of Buddhist insights and techniques to a regular adjunct of CBT and especially DBT. This new text from Shapiro and Carlson takes us back to the origins of the concept, but also forward to the practical application of mindfulness in clinical settings. It is clearly and happily situated between the scientific paradigm of research evidence (and the authors show this) and the practical world of the individual experience.

The authors try to show the interweaving of Buddhist teachings that emphasize intentionality and focus on the knowable, and the scientific tradition that looks for evidence of efficacy and generalizability rather than particularity. It is clear from the outset that they want to consider what they call both the art and the science of mindfulness.

The authors detail three different ways in which mindfulness can be integrated into psychotherapy and how it can be applied to direct clinical work: the mindful therapist; mindfulness-informed therapy; and mindfulness-based psychotherapy. These different pathways, as the authors term them, show different ways to…

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integration of the basic precepts, and although there is a great deal of overlap, there are also distinct aspects. There may not, as the authors contend, be an awful lot of differences in the outcome, but the ways and directions of the approach bear some unpacking.

The mindful therapist emphasizes the skills of empathy and being present. The notion that these are skills is central for it assumes that techniques can be learnt and polished, that the doing is sometimes a separate question than the valuing. We may all agree that these qualities are good things, but how to show them in practice may be something else all together. The authors argue that mindfulness in the therapist can be taught and people can be trained, and they give a number of useful exercises that could be undertaken as n individual or as a group training program. Even if some of the reminders they scatter through the chapter, such as asking, “What is your intention? Why are you reading this book?”, could be used as handy prompts to even the most experienced therapist. What is your intention? Where is your attention? are questions that never go out of style and never lose their relevance.

Mindfulness-informed therapy is used to capture therapies that use insights from mindfulness and Buddhist teachings, but incorporate them into a more eclectic presentation rather than actually directly teaching meditation or other practices. This may well be the most influential aspect of the concept of mindfulness in current psychotherapy because although for many practitioners and many clients meditation may be difficult to access (both practically and conceptually), the informal practices refer to implementing and applying the ideas to everyday life and developing open, accepting and discerning attention, in a conscious and intentional manner can effect profound and lasting change.

Mindfulness-based psychotherapy is used to describe the explicit, perhaps pure application of principles to the therapeutic context. It is perhaps rarer and may even be, for some, pushing the argument a little too far. However, the explication of the techniques and programmes in the book are informative and thought-provoking.

There is a model of health that underpins the theorizing (as opposed to a model of ill-health). For the authors the intentional development of non-judgmental attention (focussing clearly on what is) leads, almost inevitably if applied clearly and rigorously, to self-awareness and self-regulation and equally inevitably to greater order and health — and all through internal loci of control rather than some external application of expertise. Mindfulness, in this way, is seen to promote self-efficacy alongside wellness.

It is a feature of the book that it reads as well from a therapist’s viewpoint as it does from a self-help position. Although it seems to have been written with practitioners in mind, it could easily be absorbed by anyone looking to understand themselves a little better. For some, it may appear to be too mystical or quasi-religious — there are certainly many references to Buddhist precepts and aphorisms, and there are meditation exercises which are not just thinking exercises — but for most the simple practices of reflection and action upon reflection may have a deep resonance.

It is a book that will appeal on many levels. It is approachable and not hard to digest. The authors should be congratulated for bringing out and explicating some of the most important and perhaps kindest trends in modern psychotherapy for the benefit of us all.

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What Rikers Island taught me about meditation

Prison can be a tough environment for those who work there as well as for inmates. Psychotherapist Steve Bell reflects on a few tough months spent in Rikers Island and realizes how much he learned.

I find myself on Rikers Island

For four months last year I worked with women detainees on Rikers Island in the Intense Treatment Unit, or ITU. Those four months were an adventure, but I won’t easily forget the trauma and abuse the women reported, and eventually the need to live a simpler life led me to give up working there.

The idea of the ITU was to try and apply the work of Marsha Linehan — who created Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) for people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) — to an incarcerated population. One of the core skill areas was mindfulness, and we began every skill group with a short meditation.

Some of the women were waiting for trial: there because they couldn’t pay the $500 bail before their trial for possession of drugs. A few were doing their sentences there or were detoxing before going upstate. If you’re sentenced to less than a year, you stay in Rikers instead of going upstate.

Most of the detainees on the intense treatment unit (ITU) did not initially buy into meditation and mindfulness. At times the women would mutter in frustration during meditation sessions as they tried to stay focuses in the face of the noises outside our group room. A few, more mentally disorganized, gave up, jiggled and sat there during the short meditation, not participating. Many initially thought meditation was weird but after a while took to it and could see the benefit.

Lovingkindness and mindfulness are one

I was there to teach mindfulness, but I learned a lot about mindfulness as well. The first thing I realized in teaching meditation was how important it is to bring metta, or loving-kindness, into the mindfulness of breathing practice. Usually I regard the practices as separate, and alternate them, but I came to see them as two sides of the same coin. When I made a suggestion like, “Kindly and gently bring yourself back to the breath,” I realized that lovingkindness had become integrated into my practice of the mindfulness of breathing meditation. One woman took this idea and used it to the maximum, seeing care and gentleness towards herself as an essential skill she’d never been taught. Kindness towards herself, at a very basic level, unlocked something within her. She came in to the program very upset, detoxing off drugs, and could not talk without crying. She left with more self-possession, more in control, more aware of herself, and with a new tool to fight her addictions.

Mindfulness and acceptance

Mindfulness isn’t “clearing thought” or “stopping distractions” but merely being aware what is going on, with whatever arises. If you’re patient and diligent, things settle and there will be more space, and you can become less distracted, more concentrated, and have more continuity of purpose; that is more long-term goal, the fruit of the practice.

The immediate goal in meditating is to just observe what arises as you try to follow the breath or connect with your metta. Afterwards you may feel more concentrated and mindful, but while meditating you might not. You might realize how distracted you are, and almost feel like meditation is making you more distracted. It’s not the meditation, though; that’s how you really are and you’re just not aware of it.

You may hope “distractions” go away when they are present, but that’s not always helpful. I worked to develop a curiosity about the contents of my mind, not being judgmental about what was going on in my experience. Seeing others’ frustration helped me to identify my own impatience and frustration.

Start where you are

When we watch our mind in meditation we can perhaps notice layers of judgment, impatience, and frustration about what is happening when we tune into ourselves. We can be mindful of that too. We have to know what is present before we look to change it. I heard someone say the essence of Pema Chödrön’s teaching is, “start where you really are,” and that expresses what I’m trying to describe. Only after we accept ourselves can we can begin to explore what tools we have for transforming ourselves, evaluate what works, and experiment with new ways of working with what is really going on. Learning that balance of acceptance and of exerting effort is a very important skill, not just in meditation.

If you see an express train coming, get out of the way

Another thing I had the privilege of learning while teaching female detainees is that it’s mettaful not to attempt the impossible in meditation. Sometimes I have thoughts that are like an express train; they have so much momentum that focusing on the breath isn’t even an option for a time. What’s the best thing you can do when an express train is coming through? Make sure you’re not standing on the tracks. Get out of the way. Let it go by. Don’t try to stop it. Watch it pass.

Meditation becomes less exhausting when I don’t try too hard, don’t try stop express trains, stop trying to do the impossible. There is a quality of metta in dropping the impossible project, accepting what you find, and opening up to new more subtle ways of working with your mind than unmindful and crude brute force.

You can even learn from your “distractions” – “Why am I having this daydream?” It’s important to not get too caught up in the investigation, but it’s also helpful to employ a sense of kindly curiosity.

“Metabolizing” distractions

Instead of doing something to get rid of difficult feelings, I observe them, honor and validate them, face and “metabolize” them. I met someone who thought doing that was masochistic, but I think distracting oneself, tuning out from your experience, can be masochistic because it’s more harmful in the long-term not to deal with difficult mental states.

The thing about accepting whatever arises is that often I’m not going to like what I find when I tune in. I might find a closet full of unwanted bric-a-brac: unwanted memories, racing thoughts, unpleasant emotions and memories, unresolved nagging questions I have avoided, etc. I stay with my experience, and watch how it evolves. Have you ever noticed that if you look at a cloud long enough it will subtly change shape?

I tune out for a reason. It’s a fundamental axiom of Dharma, and I think human nature, that we push away the unpleasant and pull towards us the pleasant. That includes the contents of our mind. There is a cost for denying our experience, a kind of violence towards ourselves.

In teaching meditation, I saw my own maneuvers to avoid my painful feeling reflected in what others were doing, and this helped me be aware of my own habitual tendencies. I worked to try and draw people out and put words to their experience, and listening to others’ accounts of meditation was fascinating and an opportunity to learn. I also saw the importance of articulating to others my experience.

Marsha Linehan points out that those who face their suffering mindfully learn from it. Being abused isn’t a predictor of how good a parent someone will be — it’s whether they have faced their traumas. Those who don’t look at the whole of their lives, even the unpleasant bits, do not learn from it. Meditation can be a way of facing our suffering and metabolizing it, making use of it. That’s the best thing you can do in a bad situation.

Suffering becomes a trigger for mindfulness

We can even make suffering into a trigger for mindfulness. Milarepa says a dog chases sticks that are thrown. The tiger turns and faces the stick thrower. I sometimes feel like that is what therapy and meditation have in common: Facing the stick thrower.

When people expressed what was really going on I saw the most spontaneous and genuine outpourings of support and empathy from others in the group — and these were tough women not prone to flights of spontaneous empathy. I found myself saying often, “I’d probably be dead if that happened to me,” when they recounted their traumas.

There’s something about talking simply and directly about the content of our minds that makes for a connection. It’s a model of communication, more accurate, less blaming, pure. Simply saying “I feel this way,” has the power of connection. When you say, “you did this,” someone can debate that. But our descriptions of our feelings isn’t really something to debate about.

And so by teaching meditation to these woman who were damaged and suffering, I saw more clearly how I try to avoid my experience, how I could work to start where I really am. I closed the distance between us, could see the circumstances that swept them into a more negative life, see myself not as so separate and not so different from them. By teaching others, I learned about myself; we learned together. I was proud to work to metabolize their suffering for a short time.

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Lotus therapy

New York Times: Mindfulness meditation, as it is called, is rooted in the teachings of a fifth-century B.C. Indian prince, Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha. It is catching the attention of talk therapists of all stripes, including academic researchers, Freudian analysts in private practice and skeptics who see all the hallmarks of another fad. For years, psychotherapists have worked to relieve suffering by reframing the content of patients’ thoughts, directly altering behavior or helping people gain insight into the subconscious sources of their despair and anxiety. The promise of mindfulness meditation is that it can help patients endure flash floods of emotion during the therapeutic process — and ultimately alter reactions to daily experience at a level that words cannot reach. Read more here.

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Buddhist meditation helps people quit drinking

A combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and Buddhist meditation can help people with drinking problems turn their backs on alcohol. Dr. Paramabandhu Groves, a consultant psychiatrist at the Alcohol Advisory Service in London, who has successfully run workshops with people with depression, has now turned his attention to using the techniques to help people with addictions. Dr. Groves has been ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order based at the London Buddhist Center in Bethnal Green, east London.

Dr. Groves unveiled results at the annual conference of a pilot study in which 15 people with alcohol problems undertook mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). Most found it helped them in their battle against alcohol and reported that it gave them the tools to challenge the negative thoughts that drove them to drink.

The technique comprises “mindfulness” which, through meditation, develops an awareness of emotions and physical feelings and then guides people to make creative choices about how to respond to them.

“It emphasizes critical awareness, rather than concentration,” said Dr Groves. “In meditation the mind keeps wandering off, so you note where the mind has gone and then you come back to the body sensation. When you do this, you begin to notice where the habitual patterns are and this gives you the ability to stay with negative thoughts. Once you stay with these negative thoughts, you can diffuse them and take the power out of them.” By doing this, said Dr. Groves, the vicious cycle of alcoholism can be broken. Negative thoughts, particularly linked to an external trigger, such a row with a partner, can trigger a relapse and lead to substance use. Mindfulness can break this link, Dr. Groves told delegates. Clients are taught how to recognize and resist negative thoughts by observing themselves non-judgmentally and learning to accept their emotions.

Each member was given a CD and asked to practice at home. One reported that it gave him a spiritual practice he found lacking in other recovery methods; others said it had given them a more immediate and conscious awareness of how they felt at a given moment.

The success of the program has not been a surprise to Dr. Groves: “I’ve have been doing the MBCT for depression since 2004 and that had been very popular,” he said.

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