MBSR Weeks 7 & 8: The Definition of Depth

mbsr-week-7-8Holy shit folks. It’s been a bit of an active couple of weeks. Like most of you (probably?), I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed, and its taken me until now to sort out what it is that I’m even feeling about my life, our lives, the collective. Let alone have something cohesive to say in a blog post?!

Six days after the election I had my final class (week 9) of MBSR. And pretty much since then, I’ve been feeling like a royal f#%* of emotions, thoughts, and whirling “what-do-I-DO-now?-let-alone-SAY-something-intelligent???,” thoughts and feelings.

On that ninth and final class, I was reminded  of what I believe in. (It seriously took me till the last class, on the last day to come full circle… this is why practice, and for me patience, never become irrelevant (As annoying as that concept is even to me. Not torch-passing-teacher-of-yoga me, but impatient-human-working-on-my-own-patterns me.) It may seem simple, but I hope at least not trite. (Although, let’s be real, shall we? I’m a white woman in the midwest, with white mid-western woman problems.) If there’s anything all these years of practice and study and travel have taught me – including my recent 9-week foray into Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and all its proven clinical studies – its that our simplest thoughts are often the most powerful, and what propel us into greater states of intellect by way of mind AND body consciousness…

It’s only in recent years – and in relatively small circles – that we’ve come to see the value of the wisdom of the body in addition to the mind. The more I learn about the idea of consciousness through yoga philosophy, the more I see that my body knows things that sometimes my mind is blind to, because I’ve spent the majority of my time each day shaping my mind a certain way…

So here is what I’ve come to, with an attempt to be clear, honest, and intelligent (fingers crossed, here we go):

  • I believe that life is about balance: Our selves in personal physical / emotional / mental / spiritual balance, in whatever ratios work for us individually. Our communities in economic / social / educational balance. Our states, our city – to – country relationships… all these things affect the greater balance of our nation. Though my leanings toward certain political beliefs are obvious to any who know me well, I aspire to be someone who is always more interested in the effort of balance, than the effort of, “I win.”
  • In this light, I understand that to believe and / or expect EVERYONE in the human race to be well, fed, loved, and mentally stable… well, kind of a farce-based notion that we do-gooders are having an awfully hard time letting go of. Does this mean I wish it were possible? Yes. Does it mean I wish harm on anyone? No. It means I understand that the very notion of balance (and ultimately the necessity for the dark and the light, shiva and shakti, to reference it to yoga) requires both sides of the equation. It is what makes us alive. It is what allows us to understand pain and suffering so that we can better appreciate health and abundance.

Now back to that bit about balance…

  • Our nation and culture has been changing a lot in the last ten years. And I believe there is a large portion of the population that has been left behind in recent years, leaving more imbalance than we’ve seen in half a generation.
  • I believe that the way out is NOT just through “love and kindness.” It IS about a LOT of that – and perhaps even shifting our focus to that — but it is also about learning how to live with tough decisions, about fighting and conceding… Especially for some of us who have had a “larger piece of the Comfort Pie,” it is about stepping outside of the comfort zone… or perhaps its about you pushing someone else’s comfort zone in order to push an idea forward.
  • Like yoga, it is about learning to deal with temporary discomfort in pursuit of something bigger, stronger, and more evolved than the current state.
  • It is about evolution.
  • Really, its the only thing Mother Nature / God / Buddah / Government / Allah / The Great Bambino-Bambina / the Magic Poobah has to offer us: a way forward.

That’s it folks. We have to move forward. The place where we now have choice is in weather or not we participate, and to what extent. Weather we act in motion or in sitting still, the clock will bring us forward no matter what.

 

That’s what I believe. That’s what I can stand behind. I believe in science to show us trends. And I believe in individuals to push the parameters, realities, and societal expectations of those trends. I do believe in acceptance of different types of people. I believe in listening. I believe in expectations. I believe what my therapist once told me that anger is evidence of a value being mis-met.

This is what I practice, this knowledge, so I can better see where I am, and where my fellow humans are, to understand how to move forward, and not leave others behind due to anger, or frustration, or fear, or greed. It doesn’t mean I won’t feel these things, or have to deal with those who feel these things… it means these feelings come from somewhere. And that somewhere is real, and it deserves some attention.

This is what I was reminded of in my last week of MBSR. And in reflecting on the election. And in hosting Thanksgiving for my family for the first time, with my partner’s family and my 94-year old grandfather who survived the great depression, WWII (including Normandy Beach on D-Day), raising children in the midwest on a mechanic’s salary, the red scare, the 60’s, the 70’s, 2001, 2008, breaking both hips, and losing his wife of 70 years. SEVENTY. The man has survivedHe has WORKED.

And we would all be well reminded of the work (dharma) we have to do. The universal element is that none of us are immune to the work of being human. None of us are immune to the charge of surviving of our own (rather entitled in this corner of the globe, yet not immune to suffering) lives. The practice of work – shaping and refining the way we work – the way we practice – the way we practice work… that’s what yoga has taught me.

 

That is what I got, my friends. This is what feels true, inclusive, and honest.

 

 

I hope to practice with you very, very soon. With love,

Calley

MBSR Mindfulness Weeks 5 & 6: TIME

mbsr56Hello readers! If you’re just jumping in, I’m taking a course this fall on mindfulness at The Marsh in Minnetonka, MN, and I’m dedicating my yoga blog to document and share my experience through the middle of November.

I had to miss the majority of class 5, due to a work obligation that was unavoidable. But since my last post, I’ve had class 6, and also the day-long (or 7-hour long) silent retreat. It’s been interesting to see how I’m finally settling into this class and what its lessons hold for me: first I was excited about the knowledge and tactics that I would be able to pass on to my clients and students. Then I started to get impatient. For me, the very methodical practices and tactics were tedious, and I just wanted to get back to my silent meditation, my self-led yoga practice. But in week 6’s class, I had a very interesting experience as the volunteer for a group exercise around reactions to anger. And during the silent retreat I finally saw how much I’d been missing before… and had the TIME to put it into practice.

Week 6:

insula-preso-55-728Reactions: When something happens in our lives – in our relationships, jobs, etc. and that something is unexpected, we tend to have a reactionary response. It’s at least partly due to a primal part of the brain, our Insula, where our visceral subjective emotion is processed.

During this session we did a simple exercise derived from Japanese Aikido (“The way of unifying life energy,”) to help reflect on four common reactions to the emotion of anger. I was asked to come at my instructor as if I was really angry at her. This was a particularly interesting challenge for me because I’m an actress, you would think this should be no problem for me. Except that I tend to struggle with anger. I don’t get angry very often, I tend to get very shaken up by anger when it is directed at me… in short, it was an uncomfortable challenge for me to try and be angry at my lovely, gentle instructor, and to admit that I should be better at putting my insecurities aside in light of an exercise in acting. But aside from my personal processing around this, the exercise was meant to point out four common reactions to anger:

  1. Fall down and cry.

  2. Become confused / freeze up / not do anything

  3. Fight back and also get angry

  4. Listen, and let the aggressor know that you are listening

Its a simplified explanation of MOST people’s common reactions to anger – and a helpful tool in assessing what are your normal reactions around anger. Once we understand that most of us fall in one of the first three categories (and – let’s give ourselves a break -because of primal instincts), it helps to step back from feeling like we’re being blamed for our reactions, and helps to put us – along with everyone else – on a spectrum. And to understand the power of attempting to integrate more of the 4th reaction (the Aikido-inspired reaction) into our lives.

In terms of yoga, I tie it back to this idea: work with your body, instead of against it. Sometimes we don’t even know when we’re fighting something, because we don’t see it as a choice – its just the way things are, its just what happens.

water_flow_bBut once you can observe what your reaction is, you can then start to see how much you are fighting to get what you want… (hint, hint Calley, enjoy the time of the silent retreat to let this info settle into your physicality!) instead of using the best resources in front you – where your body has strength, or flexibility, or where you CAN feel your breath move freely… it is a subtle but powerful shift in behavior, which not only

brings us to flexibility and strength quicker than if we were to fight or manipulate the process

but it is also a much MUCH more enjoyable W A Y to get there.

MBSR Mindfulness Week 4: Discipline

mbsr-week4This week’s class reminded me that even if you have been practicing yoga, mindfulness, breathing, meditation, etc. for a number of years, WOW if we don’t still have ingrained patterns. Mine? Issues with discipline…

Which also reminded me that the point of this stuff is not to “fix” something. (Which seems counter-intuitive, I know.) The point of this specific class, and these tools, is purely to bring awareness around that which already is. (MBSR is based on Vipassana Meditation which means to “see things as they are.”) Ok two soap boxes right off the bat —

  • #1) This is the reason I took this particular class, (MBSR) instead of any number of other workshops, classes, info-sandwhiches that I could have spent time and money on this fall. There has been a pervasive theme in my teaching and practice this year around OBSERVATION. The pure and simple act of not trying to change something, but just look at it. Spend time observing it, noticing it, assessing it. Which leads me to the second soap box.
  • #2) This is why practice never becomes something you don’t have to do anymore. OBSERVATION is not meant to deliver the win, the goal, the sudden “I’m all better.” Which is a very challenging concept for our minds that have been attuned to a culture of  “I want to achieve X,” and “I want to have Y,” and “if this, then that.” The point of this stuff is to expand what you know – what you are aware of – by observation. THEN you can make a more informed decision about how to act.

It’s a tricky little step that we like to skip over. We are so concerned with gettingif-this-then-that someplace the fastest way possible, that we forget the incredible value and learning potential of taking time to stand still and just watch what is already happening.

Amazingly, I’m four weeks into this course, three years into teaching this kind of thing, and thirteen years into practicing it…. and this week I was reminded that my old habit of trying to skip over and take the fast track has been winning my attention without me realizing it. What does this mean? It means, I tend to go with where I want to be, instead of practicing discipline to go through the steps that someone has laid out for me (with mountains of research to show that this process is important.) Here’s how this has played out for me:

I have a silent meditation practice that I very much enjoy. I get to take time to breathe, and bring breath and energy into the places of my body where I think I need it, when I feel that I need it within the time frame of sitting. MBSR asks the participant to listen to a 30-minute body scan every day. A voice slowly guides your attention to different parts of your body, feeling your breath, noticing this and that. Personally, I tend to find the recording distracting, and not nearly as pleasant as my silent meditation. And I have been justifying the prioritization of my silent meditation over the body scan because I strongly believe that we all need to do a better job of listening to our bodies, and I found it easier to listen to my body in silence……… ahem, and I’m also incredibly stubborn and struggle with focus and discipline.

I suddenly saw that my patterns – which I am theoretically aware of, due to former “yoga-piphanies” (realizations) during practice – were keeping me from fully engaging in THIS process… from choosing discipline which is required to try a new process, over what I know and am comfortable with. Gulp. Humility, you’re such a stubborn bitch sometimes.

Now does that mean my silent meditation practice is bad, and this other practice will be better for me? No. It means I became aware of a pattern of mine rearing its head again. Even when I was trying to be proactive, or thought I was being proactive. I am going to have patterns – we are all going to have patterns – and that is ok (and in fact good) because our patterns help us to have structure and be comfortable. On a very primal scale, our patterns help us to survive by defining when we are hungry, when we are in danger, when we need sleep, etc. But being aware of our patterns allows us to try on something different. It gives us options, and sometimes we find that our patterns are actually not serving us always, every time.

What is does mean is that we’re always going through life, so as long as we want to stay current, and have our greatest capability and potential to evolve and be present, we must must must must practice…

if-this-then-that-copy

We often think that when we have completed our study of one, we know all about two because two is one and one. We forget that we still have to make a study of “and.”

– Arthur Eddington, Astrophysicist

MBSR: Mindfulness Weeks #2 & 3

So, I live in a bubble. Actually, we all live in a bubble.

mbsrWe usually don’t like to THINK that we live in a bubble. It’s much nicer to our ego to assume that we are worldly and aware. Except that what we know from science, and what we know from practice, is that our reality is shaped by our experiences. You cannot know that which you have not experienced. Hence, innately, you have a limited perspective. It’s not your fault. It’s not my fault. It’s no one’s fault. Its just the way it is. #YoureOnlyHuman #GiveYourselfABreak

This is part of what mindfulness teaches us. It is also what the act and process of learning teaches us. (Thank – you Dad, the career educator who jammed all kinds of statistics about learning (10-year-old-Calley-eye-roll), and processes (double yen-year-old-Calley-eye-roll) into my young brain. I finally appreciate all that research information, and have accepted my own human-imperfect-state enough to say out loud, “YES, I LIVE IN A BUBBLE, AND MOST DAYS I’M NOT EVEN AWARE OF IT.” Until I am. Until we are. This is also why classes and groups are a great way to learn new things. Because while you are learning one thing, taking in information by understanding things as they relate to you, someone else is learning something entirely different, based on their experiences and way they take in information. You’re both in the same class, but your experience of the class is going to be different.

So here is what I learned about my buuble this week, by observing my experiences against the others in my MBSR class. And it was a good reminder of something I try to be very conscious of in my teaching, and to explore in my own mind, body, and breath: Practice is something that takes… well, PRACTICE. As someone who’s been practicing sports and dance and music since I was 5, and practicing yoga since I was 19, I have come to love my practices. Sometimes I do the imperfect human thing and have a little trouble making time every day for my current practices (yoga, meditation, singing, writing), but almost every time I practice, I love it.

But not everyone feels that way.

You mean, not everyone is just all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to get down to practicing!?

snow-white (,said Snow White…)

No… No.

Often, beginning a new practice is uncomfortable. Often it feels odd, and unsettling, and we loose a sense of “I know what I’m doing.” We all want to know what we’re doing. But that’s what learning and practice are about. They are about un-doing what you “know,” and exploring what you think you “understand.” And I remember that when I, myself, have been going through tough times, the actual process of a practice might not be entirely pleasant. We’re faced with fears, which we rarely like to admit. We’re faced with insecurities and negative beliefs about ourselves, and – gasp – weaknesses. We’re faced with the scars of our unpleasant life experiences. And we’re faced with stuff we didn’t even know we were dealing with, or hiding, or trying to get away from, or thought we had dealt with. So this whole practice thing takes a lot of work, and humility, and courage to go through – not around, or between, or skip onto the “fast track” stones, but THROUGH – all that stuff buried in your psyche.

But once you DO go through it… once you allow yourself to sit with it, and look at it, and just accept that its here. It’s in your lap. It’s covering you in something stanky… once you can just be there with it, and then get pulled away… and come back to it for a little more time… and then get pulled away… and come back, and get pulled away, and so on and so forth… there is something at the end that feels really really good. Like you figured something out. Like you worked hard. 

And so, after 3 weeks of my MBSR class with Terry Pearson at The Marsh, I am reminded that I have learned to enjoy the process of practice like an old good friend who will sit with you when you scrape your knee. Because they are a good friend, they’re sure-as-shit gonna pour something on that scrape that’ll hurt for a second, or maybe a minute. But its temporary, and then they’re gonna say, “hey, you can cry (scream / sweat / bleed / fart / etc.). It’s ok, you’re dealing with something, I’m here for you.” I have come to enjoy the benefit of that process, and focus on that benefit over the discomfort that the process sometimes brings.

But not everyone is there. And hey – I don’t know their experiences – maybe its way more painful for them than it is for me, I don’t know. I can’t know. And some days its not roses for me either. But I recognize that with so many years of practice under my belt, my mind is perfectly happy to be in a place of “practice.” Things do get easier with time, and I literally have thousands of hours of time in practice to my experience. But setting the foundation for a practice takes ….well, I bet you can finish my sentence…

practice

Which is why I freaking LOVE this video that simplifies and de-bunks common thought about meditation (from the perspective of those who have not developed a practice.):

 

MBSR: Mindfulness Week #1

mbsrWe all have a default mode.

Mine is definitely to keep moving. Keep thinking. Pour my mind and attention into what am I doing next? What do I need to work on next? I have a bit of work-a-holic-ism in me, and it often winds up (pun intended) as an overload of anxiety. I get burned out, my low back starts aching, and I can’t quite seem to focus on any ONE thing enough to get ANYthing done.

Classic burnout. Which is why activities like yoga and breathing exercises (and singing) have always been so helpful for me. They change my focus and attention into something physical, giving my brain a much-needed break.

MBSR, or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, has gotten some buzz in recent years. It’s been in our culture since 1979 with the writing of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, “Full Catastrophe Living,” With the increase of tension, stress, anxiety, depression, social media, yada, yada, yada… the use of MBSR is growing in recent years. And there is research upon research upon research that this stuff works in a very VERY universal way. It’s been used for people with chronic insomnia, depression, anxiety, organ-transplant recipients, care-takers of cancer and Alzheimers… the list kind of goes on forever.

So first a flashback:

Through my yoga practice over the years, I have dabbled with meditation plenty. It can be a challenge if the mind is still wandering… you’re stuck trying to lie still, and meanwhile your mind is racing through what you have to do, should do, should have done, don’t want to do, really want to do… the first time I did an extended sitting (30 minutes) I remember having waves of discomfort, then pain, sometimes numbness… and then I’d remember that while it was TOTALLY FINE TO BE FOCUSED ON MY DISCOMFORT, STOP FREAKING OUT… I was also allowed to gently say “oh well,” and return my focus to my breath… and every time I did that: relief. My pain would seem less intense. My discomfort would melt into this big cloud of air in my lungs… I remember being mesmerized by this whole process in realizing how much attention, how much power I was actually GIVING to the very things causing me pain and discomfort. And when I managed to send my attention toward my breath instead… more specifically to wherever my breath felt free, and full, and comfortable… a sense of power, and well-being followed. Stat. After years of being medicated for physical ailments of allergies, I felt better using this breathing stuff than any drug the doctor gave me…

MBSR gives gentle verbal reminders of where your attention could be. It allows for people to have something to wrap all that breath and attention around. And damned if it doesn’t feel GOOD to be that present with your breath. With the very thing giving you LIFE moment after moment.

imgres

Pardon the drama, but it kind of felt like this to me!

So, here I go, on a 9-week adventure into my own mind… We’ll see what comes up. So far, I’m just feeling grateful to be a part of this movement of wellness, mindfulness, and the study of how we all interact with ourselves, in order to better interact with the world around us…