Tag Archives: Mindfulness

Living Dialectically

Like everyone else I know, I’m tired of the pandemic.

Now that we’re at the one-year mark of the beginning of the first Ontario lockdown, it’s hard to avoid the commemorative pieces flooding the airwaves.  I’m ignoring them all.  I’ve lived through it.  I don’t need a reminder.

And yet, as someone who loves words, I’ve been thinking about the nouns, verbs and adjectives that have been created (or modified) to describe Covid 19.  We’ve been told to “shelter in place” in order to “flatten the curve“.  We talk about “airborne transmission” and “variants“.  Are we “asymptomatic“, while we watch the rates of “community transmission“?  We no longer live in families or have friends, but are part of a “bubble“.  Many of us are thankful for “CERB“.  Some of us can not only rhyme off the “Five Zones of Public Health Measures“, we know which ‘colour’ applies to the location of our loved ones.

With all the new words we’ve added to our vocabulary this year, I’ve decided to resurrect an old word, and use it in a new context.

My New Favourite Word–“Dialectical”

At its most basic level, dialectical means that two opposing things can be true at the same time.  For example:  when squirrels ate the sunflower seeds I planted last spring, I was angry that my dream of a sunflower hedge had been ‘digested’; while also feeling happy that the squirrels had found food.

Dialectics (or Dialectical Method) is as old as ancient Greece.  It was a method to hold a discussion between two or more people who held different points of view but wanted to figure out the truth by using logical argument.  Emotions weren’t involved.

Today, the idea of dialectics is best known as the basis for DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy). In DBT, a therapist and client work together to develop the client’s acceptance of their current situation, while at the same time, working on ways to change it.   Details about DBT can be found here.

But why is this my new theme word?

The Idea of Control

Our desire for control is the theme behind The Serenity Prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr (1872-1971).  It asks:

God, grant me the serenity to
accept the things I cannot change,

courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

No matter how you describe your religion or spirituality, one lesson over the past year is that there’s very little we can control.  Many of us have spent a lot of time and energy fighting against this truth–with little success.

The Serenity Prayer speaks to the dialectics of life–the things we can change versus those we can’t.  Pandemic time versus ‘a new normal’.  In other words, accepting today as it is while planning for the future.

Living Dialectically

A lot of articles are being written about how the authors are planning to live post-pandemic.  While they have no control over how long Covid will dictate a large part of their daily existence, they see themselves applying the lessons they have learned over the past year–less rushing around, less spending, more time with loved ones, lots more hugs…

They are living dialectically…accepting where they are today while working towards what they want in the future.

One way to do this is to create a “future” list.  However, the list doesn’t include just activities, but how we want to live–emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  Are there new things we need to learn to fulfill our vision? People we need to reconnect with?  Skills to develop?

As we move through this pandemic, we can choose to do so with hope.  As we create our individual lists, what do we hope for?  Emily Dickinson said:

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

As we keep living dialectically today, let’s keep leaving seeds out for the ‘thing with feathers’.

And now…an amazing video.  Enjoy!

Are You Being Mindful? A Primer on Mindfulness

Mindfulness doesn’t go out of style!? The following post is a popular one from the archives.? Enjoy!?

The word “mindfulness” has become very popular over the past few years. ?A quick Google keyword search finds about 58,400,000 sites–everything from how to learn mindfulness, business applications, links to books and exercises, organizations, professionals specializing in mindfulness…the list goes on.? ?Companies such as Google, General Mills and Target have created mindfulness meditation programs for their employees to help them deal with?stress and improve their health and productivity.

Advertisers have jumped on the bandwagon and are linking mindfulness practice to their clients’ products to encourage sales…and they can be subtle.

This two-minute commercial was made for and funded by a mindfulness app called Calm. ?While it appears to be a ‘non-commercial’ commercial–providing a relaxing break from usual advertising–it’s not. ?The Calm app, while free to download and try, costs $9.99 for a monthly subscription or $39.99 for a year. ?Mindfulness can be big business!

What is Mindfulness?

While the term “mindfulness” or “mindfulness meditation” may be everywhere in popular culture, what does it really mean? ?Mindfulness began as an ancient Buddhist practice that has been adapted for modern?use. ?Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book Mindfulness for Beginners: ?Reclaiming the Present Moment–and Your Life, describes mindfulness as “awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way: ?on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

There are different ways to practice mindfulness. ?Kabat-Zinn explains, “There are two complementary ways to [practice mindfulness]: ?formally and informally. ?Formal practice means engaging in making some time every day to practice–with tools such as guided meditations. ?Informal?practice involves letting the practice spill over into every aspect of your waking life in an uncontrived and natural way.”

In other words, being ‘mindful’ means taking?time to ‘be in the moment’ and notice what is happening. ?If you?are washing the dishes, then you’re washing dishes–take the time to see the wet dishes, feel the water on your hands, experience the weight of the bowl as you?place it on the drying rack.

It’s called “practice” because it is something that we commit to doing over and over again–and it’s impossible to do it?incorrectly. ?The benefit is in showing up!

Benefits of Mindfulness Practice

So what are the benefits of mindfulness practice? ?In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) clinic at the UMass Medical School. ?The program teaches Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness meditation techniques to individuals coping with a variety of physical and mental health challenges.

Over the past almost 40 years the program has been the subject of research by the Medical School to determine MBSR’s effectiveness. ?In short, the results have been amazing, as people meditating for as little as a few minutes per day have seen a decrease in their symptoms and an increase in the effectiveness of their medications. ?In some cases, patients have been able to lower and stop taking their medications. ?If you would like more information about the program and research, check out the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the UMass Medical School.

Personally, and in my work with clients, I have discovered the benefits of practice as a way to lower stress and anxiety levels. ?Clients have reported that they feel less reactive to difficult people and situations. ?When I teach the breathing exercises in sessions, clients report that they feel more relaxed and are willing to continue to do the exercises between our meetings.

A Mindfulness Exercise

Curious? ?Want to try? ?Here’s a mindfulness exercise that can give you a quick taste of the experience. ?It all starts with chocolate! ?To begin, have a small piece of chocolate (or your favourite treat) in front of you.

  • Stand (or sit) still and feel yourself breathing. Listen to the sounds around you.
  • Slowly pick up the piece of chocolate. Feel your hand as it makes contact with the candy.
  • Look at the?chocolate. Notice the colour, texture, size, shape.? Feel the weight.
  • Pay attention to?any thoughts that are arising about the chocolate.
  • Note?any feelings that you are experiencing.
  • If wrapped, slowly unwrap the piece of chocolate. Feel the texture of the wrapping.? Listen to any sounds that the wrapping makes.
  • Slowly put the chocolate in your mouth. Pay attention to the taste.? Feel the texture.
  • Hold the chocolate in your mouth. Enjoy the taste and the sensation of the chocolate.
  • When you are ready, swallow and feel the chocolate as it?slides down your throat.
  • Stand still and feel yourself breathing as you rest for a moment.

The idea of informal practice, is to bring the awareness you felt in this exercise to other activities in your life.

Formal Mindfulness Practice

Formal mindfulness practice involves discipline, and as already mentioned, the value is in showing up. ?As with any new activities, I recommend you give it a try for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference in how you feel and interact with others. ?Discover?if it lowers your stress levels.

If you would like to try a type of formal practice, here’s a link to a guided meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn. ?The meditation lasts approximately 20 minutes. ?Be aware that there are long stretches of silence during the 20 minutes while you are following the directions. ?Enjoy!