DISCUSSION & SUPPORT GROUP
SUMMARY OF MAR 13, 2018
The limitations of illness just change the game, they don’t stop it.
Metta (loving kindness) phrases revisited
For newer members here are the basic metta (or loving kindness) phrases that we use. These are like wishes or prayers. Wishing the best for ourselves and for others. For when people receive what they truly desire and need we tend to be happier, more compassionate and kind, wiser and present.
Here are the four basic phrases with some extras in brackets. However, you can make up whatever you want such as May I accept myself, May I forgive _____, May I feel calm in the interview this afternoon and so on.
May I be safe (free from inner and outer harm)
May I be happy (content, at peace)
May I be healthy
May I live with ease (accepting each moment with equanimity, etc.)
You can use these phrases in a formal meditation session and repeat them over and over for any length of time. You can also use them informally at any time of the day. Some of us in the group have found that saying these phrases does help us and give us some ease. You can also wish these things for someone else or for all beings. May you be safe, happy, etc. or May all beings be safe, happy, etc.
Accepting the present
Over the years in MDA support groups, and in this group this week, I have heard people express their pain about losing abilities they once had because of their mental illness. As if the illness had stolen something precious from them – and in a way it did. I see this state as part of a healing process. The moment that an illness occurs in us, is the moment we can begin a healing process. For me, that process starts with getting to know all about my illness – its symptoms and how it will limit my functioning in the world. I’m really asking how I can change and adapt to this new way of living.
Illness can take away a life that we had and that we were very attached to, and to lose it is extremely painful. I think if we can, first of all, take the time to grieve what is lost, we can eventually move on. It is totally appropriate to grieve for whatever we have lost. We don’t just need to grieve when someone dies. When we can enter into a grieving state for a while, and fully accept that this is what we are going through, I think eventually we can move on in the healing process. Grieving is about feeling sad and letting go of something that is no longer viable.
When we can let go of that past, then we can begin to focus on the present and what things look like now. What can I do? What can’t I do? What are my symptoms and how can I deal with them? What are my expectations of myself at this time and are they realistic given the limitations of my illness? How do I see myself now?
Accepting any limitations in life can be very difficult however, I think another door is open when we become ill. There is opportunity here for new thinking, new ideas, creative ways of living life now. Stephen Hawking (died March 14, 2018), renowned British scientist, lived with ALS a huge part of his life. At the end the only muscles he could move were in his face, yet he felt free to do whatever he wanted. And if he couldn’t do something, well he didn’t want to do it in the first place. He came to accept his physical condition and he didn’t see it as a barrier in his life at all. Talk about an inspiration. I think limitations that arise from illness just change the game, they don’t stop it.
Distraction vs Mindfulness
I am noticing my resistance to being mindful and specially to sitting and meditating for any period of time. So, I ask myself why? What is it that is so uncomfortable for me to sit with for 30 minutes, or even 10 minutes? Because I want to go and do things, like play on my computer or my tablet. Or my phone. Such wonderful distractions. Well, then I ask myself why do we humans love to be so distracted? After all, even while we’re driving, we can’t let go of those little screens. In the news the other day, the police put up a huge sign on the highway that told people to pay attention and put down those phones. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe they said that about 80 people drove by that sign and didn’t see it … because they were distracted on their phones. They all got ticketed.
Distraction vs mindfulness. I think most of us prefer distraction. We prefer to be distracted by our thoughts, by a screen (computer, phone, tv), by drugs and alcohol, by drama. Anything to not pay attention to what’s going on for us right now. I think many of us are filled with fear, anxiety, worry, anger and these are all very painful to us. When we are distracted, we are not thinking about those things. We probably aren’t thinking about ourselves. When I play video games I’m lost and it’s extremely pleasurable – up to a point. Then it gets boring.
I read something the other day about how we become ‘contracted’ in pain and I really like that term. When I am distracted too much, when I’m totally overstimulated and yet can’t seem to stop, I feel contracted in pain. I feel as if I’m scrunching up into a little ball or like a turtle trying to pull into its shell. The world feels more unsafe to me and I feel detached and disconnected – from myself and from everyone. I feel more impatient with my cat and irritated with anything that doesn’t go my way.
Well, I’m not going to stop playing my video games but I’m going to keep trying to find a balance and practice letting go. This is a challenge for me and I’m accepting it as such. I don’t want to turn it into a problem, a fight or a struggle. Just an opportunity for me to learn what makes me tick, what feeds me and how to balance all the things I’m doing and want to do. Wish me luck and anything else you can think of.
READING: THE ROLE OF MINDFULNESS from Mindful Compassion by Paul Gilbert, PhD and Choden
We need to say from the outset that mindfulness is not an area without controversy, and there are now important and fascinating debates in this area. We look at the practice of mindfulness in the next chapter but here we can briefly note that there are different definitions of mindfulness. In fact, the whole history of mindfulness over hundreds of years is itself not without debate and controversy. One of the Western world’s most renowned mindfulness teachers, Jon Kabat-Zinn, defines mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment-by-moment.” Another mindfulness teacher, Ronald Siegel, has a somewhat simpler definition of mindfulness as “awareness of present experience with acceptance,” while Rob Nairn says, “Mindfulness is knowing what is happening while it is happening no matter what it is.”
The theme of nonjudgment is important to all definitions because judging as good or bad can set us into loops between the old-brain and the new-brain processes .. – we start trying to push “that” thought or feeling away, or make “this” thought or feeling happen more. Mindfulness helps us cultivate a particular type of attention and awareness and to become a skillful observer of what’s going on in this tricky mind of ours. In this way we are less likely to get caught up in three types of problem: (1) attention hopping – where our mind wanders all over the place like a butterfly, alighting on whatever object of the sense it happens to find; (2) rumination and brooding – where our mind gets stuck in a loop, going round and round specific themes that are often negative and a source of depression and anxiety; (3) emotional avoidance – where we try to block out of conscious awareness the things that are very painful or don’t fit with how we see ourselves.
PRESENT MOMENT AWARENESS
People often get into mindfulness because they are trying to cope with some personal distress or even mental health difficulties; but importantly, Jon Kabat-Zinn tells us that mindfulness is not just a technique – it is a way of being. For this reason a key element of mindfulness is to remember to be mindful. It’s to remember to be fully present in our lives as we live them, as well as during a formal daily practice.
One of the Buddha’s great insights was that in becoming more aware of how our mind bobs about like a cork on a stormy sea, we can begin to settle it and learn to rest in present-moment awareness. We get a sense of how distracted our attention is when we start mindfulness practice. At first, holding our attention on the breath can seem as tricky as grasping for the soap in a bath. May of us will also be familiar with our lack of mindful attention to what we are actually doing because we have had experiences of driving home and not really remembering the drive because we were thinking about 101 other things.
However, reflect on this key issue: where do you actually exist? It can only be in this present moment. Although we only exist right here and right now (neither in the moment to come nor in the moment just gone), our attention and focus are seldom here. Most of the time our mind is off planning, anticipating, ruminating, problem-solving, regretting, hoping, or just daydreaming, that is, caught up in new-brain hustle and bustle!
Mindfulness brings us back to the present moment and to a simple awareness of our physical senses. At a deeper level it helps us begin to separate the mind that is “simply aware” from the contents of experience that are constantly flowing through it. In his lectures and at retreats Matthieu Ricard likes to say that consciousness is like water. It can contain a poison or medicine but it is not the poison or medicine; it is pure unto itself. A mirror can reflect many things but is not the things it reflects. Similarly, our mind can be filled with many different emotions and thoughts that pass through it moment by moment, but none of them affect the quality of this “right now and only now” awareness that remains changeless and pure. Many clouds pass across the sky but the sky itself remains constant. At its deepest level, mindfulness is a way of becoming more aware of the passing clouds and learning to rest in a sky-like awareness.
May you (and all beings) be safe
May you (and all beings) be happy
May you (and all beings) be healthy
May you (and all beings) live with ease