A final post on this blog- thank you to all

Dear friends

I will shortly be closing this site. I want to thank you all for your involvement as readers, commenters, emailers and supporters as I have sought to find my way through to a kind of mindfulness I can live with, in the world.

One of you said in any email the other day that in a sense I am speaking of a different ‘strand’ in mindfulness. I think this was an extremely insightful comment.

I started this blog 2.5 years ago and what a journey its been!

I am reminded of a quote of Rudolf Steiner’s that I love:

I want to show the biography of a soul that fights its way to freedom….. in my own entirely individual way. I scaled many cliffs and battled in my own unique manner through many thickets.

He says that Anthroposophy interests him only as experience of the individual person. I am a bit like that with mindfulness.

I am absolutely fascinated with what is coming out of my research, by asking the simple question ‘what happens when you close your eyes for a mindfulness mediation’. I am grateful to meditation teacher and researcher Lorin Roche for this question which he gave in a personal communication. It just seems to cut right through to the essence of the experience.

I began my research having ‘bracketed’ as they say is necessary in phenomenological research, my own views and perspectives as much as possible. I think conducting research in a foreign country helps with this actually as its a bit like being an anthropologist, hopefully not on Mars as in Oliver Sacks book of the same name! I was genuinely surprised with what came from the students and teachers I have met and then conducted email interviews with. Based on my findings I have gone to the literature to help me understand what they told me about their experience. It has been challenging and yet liberating journey through some fascinating literature from psychiatry, psychology, medicine, sociology, philosophy , Buddhism, spirituality, consciousness studies and religion as I have sought to understand the relationship between mindfulness meditation and trauma. There is a deep connection in my view and its something I am now focusing on for my research and in my post graduate teaching.

I feel I have come to something and no longer need this blog. The blog has been just wonderful, such a freeing way to explore ideas and get feedback, something different to a journal and different also from  academic writing or from teaching and supervision.

I feel I have come back to where I began as in the T S Eliot poem and there is a very new stability within  -not so much around the mindfulness itself which was there quite a lot of the time anyway until a recent disruption, painful and annoying but always heralding growth and development!

Its more about now knowing where I sit, my path and seeing, I really am a slow learner, that it comes back to my original work as regarding making suble changes to curriculum and pedagogy to accommodate learners of any age with trauma related vulnerabilities… and supporting their teachers.

Hence my newly developing work in ‘trauma sensitive mindfulness’. I will shortly be submitting a paper on this and this work in general will be available on my new trauma sensitive mindfulness website when I get some time to work on it.

I will keep the creating calmer classrooms blog going intermittently as it is a good support from my students and as they go out into the world of teaching.

This blog will be closed in the next week or two though as it has served its purpose- and amply so.

I wish you well in all your work and I perhaps will be less of a thorn in the side of some people as I ‘burrowed’ around trying to understand why there were aspects of the mindfulness work that concerned me, I now understand what that is all about and how I can creatively provide input into addressing the gaps so as to help ensure mindfulness is safe for our students and supported for our teachers.

Mindfulness is here to stay and how wonderful is that. Its not about throwing the baby out with the bathwater but doing some tinkering around the edges as we would do for students in any case hopefully – if they have mental health, emotional, learning issues that interfere with their capacity to access and engage meaningfully and safely with people activities in learning environments.

I can see that there are many safeguards alreadyembedded in many programs  and that when a teacher is deeply experienced and attuned many adaptions are made but they are not yet drawn out enough, at the very least its not yet demonstrated to my satisfaction that mindfulness needs to be invitational, grounded, supported, and that some activities may not be developmentally appropriate for all students, particularly those who have experienced trauma, and that more supports are needed for students and teachers.

As someone the other day said ‘I never realised what I was doing when I asked the students to close their eyes’ to meditate. I didn’t even think that that could leave some children feeling extremely vulnerable if they have been sexually abused for example.’

There’s lots of work ahead but its all good!

Thank you all and I have learnt so much from so many over you over these months!

love Leigh

‘Soles of the feet’ meditation audio guide

Dear friends

Just a quick post to let you know that I have created an audio guide for the ‘soles of the feet’ meditation for my Masters students. I have been asked to do this for a long time but I wasnt quite sure. As my Mindfulness and the Inner World of Teaching  topic is offered in both face to face and online modes I realised I needed to provide the audio which has only been available on the university’s topic website. Not only do students lose access to it when the topic is finished (unless they save it on their device) I have found it is too big to email people to have requested it. There is probably some way of sending it but I haven’t worked out how to do it. However I am prepared to post it on my other, closed ‘Creating Calmer Classrooms’  website:

http://leighburrows.net

Students have indicated it is very helpful and supportive. If would like the audio, go to this site, you will need to register though.

I have also registered a new domain name which will have some content up soon. This is going to be the main focus of my work into the future, based on my research here and in the US.

traumasensitivemindfulness.org

I think thats all, let me know if any difficulties accessing sites or audio.

love, Leigh

Mindfulness and ‘rushing women’s syndrome’

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Dear friends

I have just had a week off work –  well, almost, I did give feedback on a  couple of post graduate students’ research proposals and responded to a few emails but apart from that I caught up with friends and family in Victoria, had some beautiful bush walks in the misty mountains of Gariwerd (the Grampians) and was able to be pretty much in a state of being that did not need to draw on my intellect, even when we got on an express train that sailed through the station where we were to meet our friend.. I was concerned to mess her about- and I had forgotten to charge my phone-  but other than that it was an adventure!

I think a life in education can make us so ‘heady’ … I remember my dream of a bodiless head on our conference table at the university.. we need to be adept  at breaking things up, deconstructing, analysing –  but there is also a need to put things back together, to start from and  remember the whole, to be in the space of awareness  before and whilst making excursions in and out of the life of the mind as necessary, such as when providing feedback on a proposal!  Being on holiday and doing this task a couple of times and then not being on the computer for three days or so really highlighted this for me.. the mind/intellect is a good servant but a poor master as someone famous once said.

I had such a good rest, that mountain air was really restorative… while I was away and reading The Age on my IPad over a leisurely breakfast of fine pour over coffee and bio-dynamic yoghourt, fruit and lightly toasted almonds I came across an  article about ‘rushing woman syndrome’. Apparently there has been a book written about this conditiion and the article was making a link to mindfulness as an antidote.

Certainly I see plenty of women around me who are very busy, juggling family and careers.

According to Dr Libby Weaver, an Australian nutritional biochemist, many women suffer from ‘Rushing Women’s Syndrome’ and feel ‘tired yet wired’ due to their urgent approach to life (Weaver, 2012). This condition apparently  involves sympathetic nervous system dominance, which can be experienced by women who run themselves ragged with a never-ending list of tasks. Weaver says  these women:

  •  answer ‘stressed’ or ‘busy’ to friends’ questions about their welfare
  • find a trip to the dentist becomes the only opportunity to sit still and abstain from talking
  • experience coffee as  akin to religion
  • find sleep is hard to come by
  • are constantly multitasking
  • and constantly juggling smart phones and children while undertaking routine jobs and even playing in the park
  •  fulfilling multiple roles, such as working and assuming primary responsibility for child rearing and housework.

There’s a test you can take to see if you have ‘rushing women’s syndrome’!

http://www.morefm.co.nz/Do-You-Suffer-Fom-Rushing-Womans-Syndrome-Take-The-Test-Here/tabid/499/articleID/3122/Default.aspx

test1

I’m not sure whether its actually a ‘proven’ condition or not- I think I read that the Black Dog Institute has disputed its existence-  and I don’t think it has to do necessarily with being female but perhaps is more to do with the role of primary caregiver who often works as well.

It clearly does resonate with many women however – certainly I can see many women’s lives are becoming more and more busy, as they work in paid employment and still do the lion’s share of family caring with children and older parents. And of course many women work in caring roles such as nursing and teaching as well, so its no wonder some are rather burnt out!

I am working with some teachers and principals soon on mindfulness in education and I can see that the starting point is with them, for them to experience some spaciousness, a pause in their days, and to see how much this can benefit all those around them as well as themselves.

Anyhow Brisbane Girls Grammar (see link below) is referencing Weaver’s work and offering   ‘mindfulness’ written in quotation marks to refer to an indirect application via  craft activities such as knitting and colouring in.

I have recently become aware of the  proliferation of mindfulness colouring books and photocopied some sheets for students to colour in in my last mindfulness intensive at the university. Students mindfulness journals reveal significant stress levels, particularly for international students, so I hope they found the mindfulness activities we did useful!

https://www.bggs.qld.edu.au/2014/10/mindfulness-rushing-women/

As I was about to finish this post I remembered a comment made by our guide as we toured the now closed  Aradale Mental Hospital in Ararat yesterday (previously the Aradale Lunatic Asylum). We heard example and example of patients living past 100. One visitor asked the guide, a psychologist, why he thought that was the case. He said he thought it was because they were not stressed- that everything was done for them!

I wasn’t  quite so sure and was reminded of Rudolf Steiner’s notion that illnesses of the mind stemmed from physical illnesses and vice versa, but who knows, I have certainly benefitted from a break..

Leigh

Making mandalas… and pausing…. in class… more (Masters) student writing

Dear friends

I had some lovely responses via email and in person about the last post that included some student writing. People seem to have really responded to the idea that we don’t have to get mindfulness ‘right’ in our heads, that there is an element of mystery and I guess we have all had an experience of feeling like we are the only person in the room who doesn’t get something! It happens to me in some discussions around quantitative research!There are different avenues to mindfulness , and I have included some more fabulous student writing here  about the experience of preparing for and creating a mandala in our mindfulness intensive.

Mandala creation

I thought this was a beautiful activity that really incorporated the peacefulness that nature provides, and the space and function that our bodies and minds encourage. Often as an early childhood teacher I will go with my students into the natural environment and we will look for something that sparks our interest, whether it be a plant or animal, and it will open up a world of inquiry for these amazingly in-depth yet young minds. Through the Mandala activity it was inspiring to choose plants for my own sake, and not having to be aware what others might learn from something I chose- it was all about my own personal choice and learning. I was able to be present during my walk by placing thought into how every natural shape, colour, texture and smell would make me feel as I placed it around the spiral of my Mandala.

During my walk I felt a huge sense of being in the present moment, by really appreciating what the earth had to offer, I thanked the universe for the natural environment, as without it where would we be, and thanked the universe for my 5 senses as without it I wouldn’t be able to grasp onto the beauty our natural world has to offer. Just being outdoors with nature has a sense of freedom to me. I am a very grateful person but not usually one always in awe with the world around us, however, this activity helped me to acknowledge how much nature has shaped our lives, and everything it has to offer. During the Mandala creations I admired all the different styles of creativity. Our minds were all wired so differently yet each one incorporated immense thought and creativity into it, others even based there’s on a story or feeling. I do feel that the Soles of our Feet Meditation on day 1 of our intensive accentuated my ideas and thoughts for this activity, it gave me such an awareness of life, and I truly felt a part of what I was doing, I didn’t see it as a requirement, I didn’t dread having to head out to find stuff, it just was what it was and I was a part of the whole process, as it was a small part of the journey in my life. I got a lot from this activity as I felt it enforces what it means to be present in the moment (Intensive Workshop, 2015).

I thought this was not only beautifully written and so evocative, particularly the part about being able to do activity for herself ….. teachers can so easily lose themselves in their work, their care and their commitment to student learning and engagement.

I felt the mandala activity connected well to something I read the other day in a book PIlgrims to Openness by Shambhavi Sarasvati that there are three ways to approach a human life:

1. To be mostly engaged on the level of conduct such as the ritual gestures of life involving eating, sleeping,  working, relationships, health care bringing your life in line with nature so that life itself becomes a rhythm . In a way we gain our inner calm and wellbeing from arranging our outer life in a disciplined, formed and ritualistic manner. In some ways this is one of the more effective ways to bring mindfulness into the classroom, through form and rhythm, something the Steiner kindergarten achieves par excellence. It always seems to make a home full of children much calmer as well!  For me as an adult however it can be stifling and restrictive. The mandala is a good example of creating a very rhythmic and formed activity that settles, grounds, harmonises and integrates, without students needing to pay particular conscious attention to their inner state.

2. Or we can go the path of specific energy practices and activities and see our life as an inner discipline in which we transform ourselves thorugh inner methods that result in an experience of releasing tension, opening and discovering the wisdom within. This is starting to get into trickier territory with children and vulnerable adults in my view, as there a number of conditions such as trauma for which mindfulness is contradindicated (more of this in coming posts). There may also be an issue of development, in that perhaps this work should be undertaken consciously, my choice, as an adult, in a the context of a spiritual teaching or therapeutic process  rather than as a child, in the classroom.  This certainly has been my path in the past and having the guidance of  Western spiritual teacher was such a signficant element in that.

3. Or finally suggests  Sarasvati there is a third way, the direct realisation of the natural state which he says can be described as ‘instant presence’ or  flowing presence’, or for me, ‘pure, inclusive awareness’. Its a non conceptual state and sometimes involves opening oneself up to the shocks of life so that life may be encountered directly. Direct realisation ‘practice’ involves our entire life, or unbroken practice. It seems to be as I think I have written before that we have all had experiences of presence, however fleeting. To me the mindfulness work involves reminding us to reconnect with this spaciousness, even though we havent really ever lost it, its just that the mind has got in the way and taken over. Perhaps elements of path 1 and 2 are needed for 3. For me I would say certainly yes for path 2.

I have included some more of the same student’s writing below. I think it relates to aspects of 2 –  for of course the teacher needs do the inner work in order to be able to create that atmosphere of rhythm and presence in the room  and also 1 in that it helps to create such a supportive environment the students and they do not themselves have to do any practices. I remember when I my special education room began to take on a quality of presence because the three adults who worked in the room did their own inner work and the kind of activities we engaged in somehow transformed the atmosphere  over time.. I dont think it lasted too long  after we left though…it needs to be renewed daily for a long period of time, perhaps if it is long enough something stays, as in the atmosphere in old churches and temples.

Mindful wait time for increased engagement

 Slowing down is an important part of mindfulness and learning to be present. I’ve never thought to consciously take pauses throughout the day; it now makes so much sense. I know the reading was targeted at classrooms, but I feel it is important for us as educators to acknowledge and implement this pause within ourselves in order for it to be fully represented within our classrooms. And if it can improve the way we conduct ourselves, and process life and our thoughts as adults then I can only imagine the positive role this would play for children. Especially in the classroom, there are times were a simple pause can make all the difference to your reaction to a misbehaving child or a challenging situation. It’s funny how as a teacher I’ve never thought in detail how much a pause can change a situation, and help benefit the children at hand. I think back to how I learn, I take time to process, I can only imagine how daunting it would be for a child with a stressed teacher who is desperate to meet the deadline but hasn’t considered a pause for the sake of their own self balance and for the benefits of the child and their learning.

I admire how the article suggests you make the most of this pause by practicing mindfulness, being aware of your surroundings, the children, your emotions, the room- this is so powerful in all entirety, making the most of each and every moment given to us. Especially when you tune into how you are feeling, how you think your students are feeling and the how you think the lesson is going, I think this is so incredibly beneficial to creating a calm, warm atmosphere. I can now see how we are able to incorporate mindfulness into our classroom without having to do the meditation side of it, which we discussed in the intensive of trauma induce responses. Who would have thought being present not only affects us so greatly but the way we approach and respond to others, I’m hooked! I will most definitely implement a pause before getting the children to answer a question or move forward onto another activity, noting any differences I see. However I would be interested to see how this would pan out in an office or corporate area, where you may be dealing with more pronounced personalities and attitudes. Society as a whole could gain a new outlook on life if we all just took the time to be present in our surroundings, appreciate what is around us right here, right now, and how we could move forward in a gratifying manner (Jennings, Mindshift, 2015).

until next time..

Leigh

‘The second arrow’ .. masters student writings

Dear friends
I have been busy with my research lately and my masters topic in mindfulness. I thought it might be good timing to share some of that writing, with permission and under conditions of anoymity of course. I really admire students in my recent Masters intensive as  intensives, can be.. well.. intense. I think some students may have felt they would learn enough to go back and bring mindfulness to their own students, but just as I have heard from a well known mindfulness teacher to professionals in Adelaide, there is just no way this is advisable. We wouldn’t teach anything else we had only begun to learn ourselves… would we? If we think about literature, mathematics, music, art, sport.. any endeavour requires so many hours of practice, there is a popular saying about that, about how many hours are needed to achieve a level of expertise. I know we can have epiphanies and altered states and experiences of being at one with the universe, experiences that seem effortless and to have arrived as if by grace, they simply inspire us in my view to do the harder work that require some discipine, some fortitude to use a word inspired by the title of a recent television series!

I am privileged to be able to share some (lightly edited) student writing with you….

Leigh…

By the second day of the mindfulness intensive  I was feeling particularly overwhelmed , and so the internal dialog begun, “I don’t understand, why am I the only one in the class that doesn’t get this?” On and on it went, “why am I having adverse reactions to being centred? No one else in the class seems to be having a hard time about meditating?”

I felt my mind spinning out of control. I went for a walk outside and thought about all the things that I had learn about mindfulness, what could I grasp onto and operationalize in this difficult situation? What stood out was Young’s idea of the second arrow. I had an epiphany, “why am I shooting myself with the second arrow?” It was in this instance that I had made a conscious choice that I would view this situation without judgement. I said to myself ‘I’m finding this difficult’ and left myself to be in that moment of uncertainty. After I repeated this phrase several times to myself, I experienced a sense of calm through my mind and body. I was not uncomfortable in my ‘not knowing’ but empowered as I felt that I had treated myself with great sense of kindness and respect. For the first time (I think ever) I allowed myself to ‘just be’ in the moment, present without judgement.

I truly believe removing judgement from my thoughts allowed for space to be less reactive to the situation and to feel safe in the present moment and in the confusion I was experiencing. I now understand that creating space in my mind allows me to break free from past habitual reactions to stress. This gives me the confidence to use this mindfulness practice in other areas of my life when I am feeling anxious, overwhelmed or stressed.

Since practicing mindfulness I have noticed that I am experiencing emotions such as joy, happiness, gratitude and love with a greater intensity. Overall I feel like my feelings towards others are more compassionate and empathetic and I feel a genuine shift in my perspective toward stressful situations at work and with my family. I am feeling ‘light’ in my thoughts and through my body, my muscles are less achy at the end of a day and I am not feeling ‘weighed down’ by work and study commitments.

Although I have not been practicing mindfulness mediation for a long period of time, I feel I am becoming closer to being completely honest to myself and ‘at one’ with my own truths. Mediation, particularly the ‘soles of the feet’ exercise, has aided in my ability to be grounded and strong enough to face certain aspects of my life with truth, instead of fear. At the present moment I am seeing aspects of my life with a different perspective. I have experienced a sensation that I can only describe as a deep connection to the ‘universe’.

‘You can practice mindfulness because there is forgetfulness but you cannot practice awareness, because there is only awareness’…

Dear friends

I have had occasion this weekend to have another look at one of my favourite all time books ‘Grace and Grit’ by Treya Killam Wilber and  Integral Theorist Ken Wilber. It is a magnificent story of romance, healing, life and death. When I did a search on the book to see what had been written about it I learned that a film is in production, with Jennifer Aninston in the lead role. Apparently she and Brad Pitt used to read sections of it to each other. I am not sure who is playing the leading man though.

I also found a clip of Ken reading from the book, saying he hadn’t spoken publicly of her death since she died in 1989 and he apologized in advance for ending up a ‘blubbering mess’.

https://www.integrallife.com/video/grace-and-grit-tale-love-loss-and-liberation

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When I read the book previously – perhaps 3 times over the last 20 years or so I didn’t focus on her use of the word ‘mindfulness’, or how she used it because it wasn’t my focus then and it certainly wasn’t in the zeitgeist like it is now. I had had my own experience of loss around the first time I read it and I guess I was interested in how a real life story that wasn’t  blaming or victim-oriented or sentimental or New Agey.

What I always loved about this book was its honesty, its location of meditation within daily life with its joys and challenges and the focus on a woman’s voice and experience.  Just today I was researching something else and came across a slide show

http://www.slideshare.net/kguent/linkedin-mindfulness-presentation summarising the development of mindfulness, see slide 2 below.

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Who could deny their contribution? However surely we can do better than one out of six?These writers do include something from their personal lives but nothing like the rawness that is found in Grace and Grit!

I love the perspective brought by Treya and its in-depth exploration of her experience…its grounded in experience rather than theory.. I guess that makes you an expert on your own experience only, rather than others, but for me I find that reading about the experience of others is inspirational and paradoxically, deepens not only my understanding of others, but also, myself.

She writes, interestingly, how much advice people had for her, and how many opinions people had, many of which related to hurtful comments about the cause of her cancer being what she was holding on to, repressing, or her karma. She wrote an article for the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology called ‘Attitudes and Cancer, what really helps?’ http://www.atpweb.org/jtparchive/trps-20-88-01-049.pdf

in which she writes that:

I especially needed to be around people who loved me as I was,

not people who were trying to motivate me or change me or

convince me of their favorite idea or theory.

It seems hard to believe but apparently some people asked her:

“Why did you choose to give yourself cancer?

She wrote that:

When I talk to someone who’s been newly diagnosed with cancer or who had had a recurrence or who is growing tired after years of dealing with cancer, I remind myself that I don’t have to give concrete ideas or advice to be of help. Listening is helping. Listening is giving. I try to be emotionally accessible to them, to reach through my own fears and touch them, to maintain human contact. 

I try to use my own setbacks and weaknesses and illnesses to develop compassion for others and for myself, while remembering to not take serious things too seriously. I try to stay aware of the opportunities for psychological and spiritual healing all around me in the very real pain and suffering that ask for our compassion.

I guess this goes for a great many situations…

In the last year or so of her life she found two practices of great value: mindfulness, and surrender. Interestingly, she saw one of these as more Buddhist, and one more Christian. 

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                   http://integral-life-landing-pages.s3.amazonaws.com/KWfootnotes/KW_footnotes_vol2.html

She wrote:

You can practice mindfulness, because there is forgetfulness; but you cannot practice awareness, because there is only awareness. In mindfulness you pay attention to the present moment. You try to ‘be here now’. But pure awareness is the present state of awareness before you try to do anything about it. Trying to be here now requires a future moment in which you will then be mindfulness; but pure awareness is this moment before you try anything. You might not always already be mindful but you are always already enlightened.

She finds that surrender helps to connect with this, when she practices surrender

I suddenly let go of whatever was preoccupying me, my awareness opens and expands, and for a moment I suddenly see and feel the beauty and energy all around me, pouring into to me, extending out fo infnity, to all space and vastness and emptiness and power and completeness and everlastingness and fullness.

She writes beautifully of the change in her state of mind when she made decisions in her early days with cancer

the pressure, the fear, the frantic feeling, the confusion, the lack of knowledge- and I look back in wonder at how I motored ahead, being strong, but not taking the time to develop a relationship with my own inner wisdom and thus completely missing the sense of calm and peace that I feel now.

It’s a powerful and sad book and I was reminded of how much I admired her courage.  Treya refused morphine so she could be ‘mindful and aware and present’. One day she said ‘I’m going’ which reminded Ken of a line from Goethe:

All things ripe want to die.

Ken wrote later that he felt her life could be summarised by:

Grace and grit. Being and doing. Equanimity and passion. Surrender and will. Total acceptance and fierce determination. Those two sides of her soul, the two sides she had wrestled with all her life…

Maybe a few of us can relate to this!

Leigh

Wild geese….

HI again everyone

I am reading an article caled ‘Meditation, trauma and contemplative dissociation’ by Daivd Treleaven (Somatics, 2010). He did his PhD on this theme and begins this article with part of a famous poem by Mary Oliver ‘Wild Geese’

content

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on

your knees

For a hundred miles through

the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Treleavon says this poem ‘exposes a wound Western culture is just beginning to explore’, that while the invitation to ‘let the soft animal of your body love what it loves may appear simple at first, the act is sophisticated and complex’. Not for a cat perhaps but for us!

I first thought of how a participant in my current mindfulness study  Sean, who, when asked how he felt when he was enaging in a mindfulness meditation said that he felt good because he

I feel good knowing I’m doing something that’s good for me; I feel good knowing I have a routine that ensures consistency and it feels good to know I have made it a priority in my life.

Its a bit like Sophia in my last post saying she was ‘doing what I should’. I need to go back to my data but I think there are other similar references.

There are also so many comments about the amazing benefits and I will get to those, somehow what is taking my interest at present in the notion of dissociation. I am finding it very helpful to put this out there on the blog as people are commenting here, or via email or in person or in our mindfulness research group at the university and its all very helpful as I try to connect what people are saying with the literature.

This is reflected in a conversation I had  earlier today with a young woman  in the early stages of pregnancy, who has already pretty much decided she will be having, and will need an epidural when she is in labour. She is intelligent, educated, but didn’t want to be one of those women who scream in labour. Yet as a friend was saying just last night the sounds women make in labour can be an integral part of the process of birthing, bringing energy and focus, there’s something primordial about it for me.

I gently talked to her about how wonderful it is to have these things available through modern medicine but that all being well the body knows what to do if only we can let go into that.

I do find like Treleaven that here is something in the mindfulness research and practice that suggests people see mindfulness as being perhaps more aligned with the brain than the body, where some forms of meditation can lead to some people feeling disconnected from their thoughts, emotions,  perceptions and physical sensations. He calls this phenomenon ‘contemplative dissociation’.

He writes about how bringing our awareness to our inner life can mean we re-awaken old wounds, of course this can be such a wonderful healing process but for some people in some situations it may overwhelm the nervous system in the process. If we know what we are doing, have a therapeutic practitioner or guide we can calll on this may not present a problem.

If people don’t know what they are doing and as you know I am mainly concerned about vulnerable people including children who have already experienced trauma, they could be as he says ‘unknowingly hurting themselves during practice’. I like they way he puts this, there is such compassion and care in his words.

The literature about the benefits of mindfulness for those who have experienced trauma might be leading some people to think there are no risks. Remember when the popular idea around trauma was to debrief and relive it through words and how that was supposed to heal, until the research came out a few years later that told us this was not in fact the case. A bit like the idea of using a touniquet on a snake bite or putting a baby to sleep on his or her tummy, recommendations are often superseded in the light of experience and evidence over time.

I agree with Treleaven that these questions are arising as the field matures and can handle some strong debate, some rigour. He finds there is a ‘noticeable lack of exploration of the relationship  between trauma, dissocation and contemplative practice’. He comes out of his own experience in this regard, there was a point in his life when he thought his Buddhist mindfulness retreats might be making him worse rather than better.

Through his own exploration he has realised that was missing for him was the containment that is needed when we are releasing past trauma, we generally need a non judgmental and very aware loved one, or therapist/counsellor or spiritual teacher who provides a safe container for this release in just the same way as we do for a child, following the work of Winnicott and Bion. A child who has experienced  trauma and  I have seen this so often, lacks this container, has such a ‘thin skin’,  is so sensitive, psychic even, feels into the feelings of all around him or her, lacks groundedness, and can float away easily. I have been that child, adolescent, young adult to a degree and its completely different for me now, its quite extraordinary how different it is for  me now and it seems it has to do with embodiment and working with the senses, coming into the body, providing a container for myself really.

This greatly interests me, its only a part of the overall picture and it doesnt contradict all the positive findings around mindfulness. I feel it just provides more nuance especially in relation to those of us who are sensitive or were very sensitive children. It brings up very important questions around training, experience, capacity to handle situations that may arise if we find that a mindfulness activity catalyses traumatic energy. It could be difficult to tune into one child for example while working with a whole class and I am reminded of workshops I have attended over the years where there were always two faciliators in case someone needed one to one support when something came up.

This work  represents a wonderful enlightening alignment for me around previous research and teaching interests- autism, trauma, spirituality, multi dimensional (cognitive, emotional, embodied, social and spiritual) wellbeing, mindfulness. It helps explain why meditation retreats are suitable for some and not for others and may need to eventually be transcended if we to address some of our deeper human, social and relational needs. It provides much needed insight and information about how we can make our teaching and research more ethical, more safe.

As Trevleavan says ‘.. the continued integration of the wild instinctual body represents a profound step’ …

‘Mary Oliver is right: “The animal body must simply love what it loves. Humans simply need a safe container to do so’. The full poem is below…

love, Leigh

Wild Geese

by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from New & Selected Poems (Harcourt Brace).

To post.. or not to post, that is the question…

Dear friends

I have been having such a productive day reading and making notes for my mindfulness research… and at one point I wondered whether I would post something around this.. or not…

This cartoon perfectly expresses my dilemma!

I was not sure because I feel there is so much to write but it might not be the right time.. it needs to be digested, to be worked through, into a paper for publication, yet presenting on my research a little early, or writing about it in my blog a little early seems to be help me enormously, in terms of bringing it into the light, making what I am discovering real…bringing it to an audience in a safe kind of way, developmentally I guess…

I have begun to feel as if everything I have written on mindfulness previously has been a preparation for the work I am embarking upon now. As you know if you read my last post I have become increasingly concerned about the equation of mindfulness with ‘spacing out’ in some examples. Some of my participants in my study are quite young and so I feel I have an opportunity here to go a little deeper and explore this very much from the perspective of an educator/researcher with a duty of care and responsibility to share this knowledge and information to assist schools to make informed decisions about mindfulness, meditation and yoga. It feels as if I have no choice, as someone with a  strong background both in meditation/spirituality and in education at a whole range of levels and responsibilities.

I would like to share a comment  from one young woman in my study- ‘Sophia’ when I asked how she felt during a mindfulness activity engaged in for her course:

Lately I have been feeling anxiety when I meditate. I will begin my breathing and relaxing all of my body and I have noticed that right when I get to the sweet spot of doing what I should, not thinking of anything else but my breath, I have a rush of panic and the mediatation is off course. I cant explain it or understand it. I am probably feeling this way lately because I have had a lot of important assignments due and I am extremely anxious about my grades because I need to maintain honors in order to be considered for acceptance into the …. program at ….. I have no other ideas on why this happens to me. Most of the time I am feeling relaxed and free, but not lately.

I have encouraged her to speak with her college teacher and the course coordinator  and I will reflect on what else I might do in terms of providing some general feedback/comment about my findings so support can be provided.  I  can already see some things I will do differently in my next mindfulness study but that is the purpose for this work, to learn…

I won’t divulge any more now as it does need to get into a paper for publication!

II ended up writing much more than I intended but I seem to find myself ‘in the zone’ when I write in this blog.. thank you so much for your reading and attention!

love, Leigh

‘ Organic’ mindfulness research, what am I learning?

Dear friends, colleagues, students…

As you know I am presently conducting research into faculty and students’ experience of a mindfulness course in a community college on the East coast of the States. I am enjoying it so much! Using an ‘organic’ research methodology means I can ‘go with the flow’ which both very much suits my style but also complements a study into mindfulness rather well I feel. I am finding it is rather like the layers of an onion. When I first asked people about their experience of mindfulness I received account after account of a range of outcomes…how helpful it had been, how it had changed their lives, impacted positively on their stress levels, personal lives etc but I didn’t have a sense of their own unique experience. I realised I hadn’t quite asked the question correctly (I have met all the people but the research proper after an initial ‘interview’ is taking place via email)-  I had asked, in true academic style I guess!  in too abstract a manner.

(I am finding though that misunderstandings are leading to nuggets of gold as I receive answers to questions I never thought of asking!)

I often found that when I asked faculty about their experience of mindfulness they talked about them facilitating the mindfulness activity! This is fairly common I find, for teachers to feel much more comfortable talking about the other, than the self, something I am trying to redress in my teacher education courses!

Then  I became aware that just about everyone in the study had a different understanding of the word ‘mindfulness’ . I then realised that for many ‘mindfulness activity’ did not necessarily mean practising a mindfulness meditation so I then needed to ask again and  much more explicitly!

Eventually realised that if I wanted to understand how they – both faculty and students experienced  mindfulness – to go much deeper-  I would need to  ask how they felt when they were practising a mindfulness meditation.Lucky my participants are very patient with this researcher!

One young man in my study ‘James’ had taken the  mindfulness course a  year  ago and felt it had changed his life. He wrote that:

For about ten to fifteen minutes we had to think about a loved one, and had to tell them that we “love them, we forgive them, and we’re sorry”, or something very similar along those lines. I honestly forget the certain type of Meditation that it was, but when it had happened, a calling, a feeling, whatever it may be, rushed into my head and took out a chunk of the dark feeling I had felt from clinical depression.

I had not had any idea previously that he had been diagnosed with depression.  After checking that he had professional support and being reassured (to a degree) that he was under the care of a psychiatrist  I asked him  how he felt when he practised a mindfulness meditation. He replied:

It feels as though my world is being put on mute for a little while. I feel at bliss with myself, sitting on a beach, or going for a drive through the forest with my friends with wind blowing through my hair. I lose myself in thoughts of happiness so I can get away from the driven fear of sadness, or sorrowfulness. I come out of my body and see myself smiling, I feel the good vibes rushing in and the older, less important feelings dissipate. 

i found this concerning but also so valuable  as it gives so much more information about what James is experiencing on an inner level and how we can lead a meditation with a group and not only not know how they are experiencing it, which may be quite different from how we experience it, in addition we may not know if one of our students has been experiencing a period of depression or emotional difficulties. We may have no idea that they are dissociating to this degree….

James’ comment can be linked for me with the following child’s drawing and comment:

IMG_0066

The caption under the picture reads:

I felt calm during the activity. I felt like I was lying down on a cloud floating around in the sky with the sun beaming down on my head! I  felt as if I was peter pan floating around.

I am quite concerned that children could be experiencing such disembodiment at school, and young people, at college. The picture comes from  a paper on a  study of a  mindfulness intervention with children in a disadantaged school. There is no mention of trauma in their background but it is highly unlikely that some of the children in the study had not experienced trauma. Willoughby Brittain’s work with adults is indicating the need to tread very very carefully with people who have experienced trauma and some mindfulness courses actually require people to work through a checklist and indicate if they have had any periods of emotional difficulty or instability. With children it may not be known to teachers and while it becomes obvious to those who are experienced, the signs can be missed by those who don’t.

I was also concerned by the following comment in the same study:

I actually felt like I was losing my head, like I was in my dream when I was breathing in and breathing out, I felt like I wasn’t stressed.

(From the latest issue of the The International Journal of Emotional Education (IJEE):  An Exploratory Study of the Effects of Mindfulness on Perceived Levels of Stress among school-children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds by Elizabeth Costello and Margaret Lawler )

I come back to the ancient Greek word for mindfulness: ‘metis’… the kind of awareness you need if you are sailing a ship at night in a storm… feeling floaty wouldn’t be much use there.

While the meditations we bring to children and adults might be aimed at grounding (although some certainly aren’t, especially if they involve visualisation) I am certainly appreciating through this research that unless we ask about someone’s  experience, unless we are aware of its potential range and diversity  and a wonderful way to go with children is to ask them to draw it as in this study)  we are likely to imagine their experience is similar to ours, as in most things, we tend to generalise from our own experience.

While I am concerned about the findings of this study and about some aspects of the mindfulness intervention, I am very glad  it was researched  and published and the children’s voices and drawings are available to us to help guide us in our work.. I guess this is part of I why I conduct  research and publish as well and I feel there is a need for more information around the more challenging aspects of mindfulness in education.  Many studies do of course highlight children’s positive experiences but they also need to be interpreted carefully and not taken at face value only so educators are able access information from a range of perspectives and make an informed decision about interventions and their suitablility for their particular cohort.

Thank you all for your email , in person and direct comments about how much you enjoy the blog, that’s great, keeps me going with it everytime I think I might stop!

Leigh

Leigh