Sunday, November 30, 2014

FOUR MYTHS ABOUT MINDFULNESS

Despite all the information there is concerning mindfulness, many misconceptions remain concerning the 'thing' known as mindfulness. Let’s call these misconceptions myths, for that is what in truth they are.

Myth No. 1: Mindfulness is a religion

Incorrect. Mindfulness is not a religion. A religion ordinarily involves a system of beliefs or statement of doctrine, a code of conduct, prescribed forms of ritual or religious observances, and both ‘faith’ and’ worship.’ A religion is also ordinarily accompanied by a system of moral philosophy, particular doctrines of faith, and a religious community which supports the faith as well as its organization and practices. Mindfulness does not involve or require any faith at all---certainly no faith in a supernatural ‘Being,’ ‘Thing,’ or ‘Principle’---nor does mindfulness involve any worship or impose any system of beliefs or statement of doctrine, code of conduct or prescribed forms of ritual or religious observances. For more information on exactly what is a religion, or if you simply can't sleep at night, you may wish to read my doctoral thesis on the subject.


Myth No. 2: Mindfulness is Buddhist

Incorrect. Many people mistakenly believe that mindfulness is Buddhist. By the way, Buddhism is only a religion in some of its forms and manifestations. Now, true it is that the word ‘mindfulness’ can refer to a specific type or practice of meditation used as a psychological and educational tool in Theravāda Buddhism---a naturalistic form of Buddhism of which there are several schools---known as vipassanā (or insight) meditation. However, mindfulness is not restricted to Buddhism, Buddhists or Buddhist meditation. Indeed, there are several types or forms of Buddhist meditation, and Buddhists do not claim to ‘own’ or have a monopoly on mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. In short, any person can practise mindfulness, irrespective of their religion or lack of religion.

Myth No. 3: Mindfulness is a philosophy

Again, incorrect. Mindfulness is not a philosophy. A philosophy ordinarily consists of numerous teachings, ideas or principles which collectively provide an overall coherent view of the purpose or meaning of life. There certainly are certain teachings associated with the subject of mindfulness, but mindfulness as such does not seek to explain the purpose or meaning of life.


Myth No. 4: Mindfulness is a method and technique of meditation

Now, we must be careful here. Mindfulness is meditation but in a very special, indeed unique, sense. You see, mindfulness differs from all other types of meditation. Other forms of meditation involve the 'method' or ‘technique’---oh, how I hate those words---of concentration upon some image (be it physical or mental) or sound, and are designed primarily to calm the mind. As such, other forms of meditation provide little or no insight into the action of the present moment including one’s consciousness and external surroundings. Mindfulness does involve attention but not concentration as that word is ordinarily understood, although some amount of concentration in the form of a 'watchful' physical and psychological presence is certainly included in attention. Mindfulness is a means by which we can gain understanding and insight into ourselves and our behaviour. Mindfulness requires no 'method' or ‘technique’ as such, but is simply the direct, immediate, and unmediated experience of life as it unfolds from one moment to the next. Mindfulness is something which happens, all day long, as soon as we remove the barriers to its happening. Mindfulness has been described as a natural---naturalistic might be a better word---practice which ‘takes’ meditation and then applies it in a direct and most practical way to one’s whole day, indeed one’s entire life.



Whenever I mention that I'm into mindfulness some people immediately think of yellow robes, gurus, transcendental states of consciousness, mind-altering drugs, alternative medicine, alternative spirituality, out-of-body experiences, escapism, and just plain wackiness. Mindfulness is none of those things. Mindfulness is simply going about your daily, everyday life---with your eyes wide open and your mind open, curious and engaged. Got that? Then please never forget it---and pass the word around.

All you need to practise mindfulness is a purposively open mind---and, most importantly, a mind that is curious and receptive to whatever is happening in your moment-to-moment experience of daily life. And, after all, is it not self-evident that it helps to be purposefully alert, receptive, and attentive to what is going on in and about us?

So, what then is mindfulness? My short answer is this. Mindfulness is self-education. It's a school for life, where the learning is in the living.



The photos in this post were taken by the author on his
recent trip to France and are of various scenes in the city of Nantes.




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Friday, November 14, 2014

ALBERT CAMUS’ GOOD ADVICE ON LIVING FOR THIS PRESENT MOMENT

Ever since studying French in high school some 45 or more years ago I have loved the works of Albert Camus [pictured left] and, in particular, his novel L’Étranger (The Stranger/The Outsider).

There is a philosophical tension in Camus’ philosophy of life. On the one hand, life is absurd, irrational, futile, and manifestly unjust, but on the other hand we are rational beings—at least in potentiality—and therefore not absurd. Additionally, it is possible for us to be happy even in a world of tragedy, irrationality, manifest injustice, and suffering.

There is also a creative tension, both in Camus’ works and in life itself, between oppression, bondage and oblivion on the one hand and freedom and joy on the other. Each of us will die, and death is a process which begins the very moment that we are born. Still, we are ultimately free, and ever the more so if, paradoxically, we learn to live without hope. Yes, we must abandon hope but yet not despair.

The ‘hero’ of the book, Meursault, is condemned to death. He eventually comes to terms with his impending and inevitable death by realizing that life, indeed the entire universe, is benignly indifferent to our fate. Toward the end of the novel, just a short time before he is due to be executed, and after he has put that pesky priest in his place, Meursault soberly reflects ...

I’d passed my life in a certain way, and I might have passed it in a different way, if I’d felt like it. I’d acted thus, and I hadn’t acted otherwise; I hadn’t done x, whereas I had done y or z. And what did that mean? That, all the time, I’d been waiting for this present moment, for that dawn, tomorrow’s or another day’s, which was to justify me. Nothing, nothing had the least importance and I knew quite well why.

Now, do you have regrets about the past, perhaps about certain acts or omissions on your part? Well, let the past stay in the past. So, you could have lived that way, or this way, but what does it matter? You are here now … and that’s all that truly matters.

Do you have certain hopes and expectations for the future? What if those hopes and expectations are dashed and never fulfilled, which could well happen? Face it. You are here now … and that’s all that truly matters.

You are … herenow. Now is the only moment you truly have. Now is the portal through which we experience the present moment, indeed every moment … but only one moment at a time.

Do we have free will, or is everything a matter of fate and destiny? Or are both ideas true? Having studied philosophy deeply for many decades, I say this---we really don’t know. Those who think it is one or the other or both are really making what is only an assumption. The truth is, none of us knows for sure whether determinism is true or free will is true. But one thing we do know is this---life is short and death is inevitable and invincible.  In the words of Omar Khayyám:

Oh, threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain — This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

In other words, every thing passes, withers, and dies. And that includes us. Despite what some would have you believe, we cannot change that destiny, but we can, I assert, still choose how we will spend the present moment, and each and every one of the present moments between now and death. Yes, it is in the present moment that you are 'justified'.

So, here you are … right here … in this present moment of the eternal now. Why not live mindfully---that is, in and with full and choiceless awareness and appreciation of the present moment … and for the present moment ... and the one after that … and the one after that … and the one after that ... until you come to that day when all moments cease and you are engulfed by the fulness of the enormity of eternity.



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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

MINDFULNESS MAY HELP WITH MENOPAUSAL DEPRESSION

Psychotherapy and mindfulness techniques could help many women who experience depression during menopause, according to a review of existing research.
 
Too few studies have looked at whether cognitive therapies are good alternatives for women who can’t or don’t want to use pharmaceutical treatments to offset the symptoms of menopausal depression, but the handful that have done so have mostly shown positive results.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy helps patients change the way they think and feel to lead more productive lives. Behavioural therapy focuses more on modifying actions to stem self-destructive behaviour. Mindfulness meditation helps patients to better tolerate and deal with stress.
 
In 2013 Dr Sheryl M Green [pictured left], co-author of The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Menopause, and her colleagues searched 5,126 studies and found only two on the use of cognitive, cognitive-behavioural or mindfulness therapies for women with major depression during menopause. Both studies showed that women improved after cognitive-behavioural therapy. In the first study, half of the 169 menopausal women who had 16 sessions of individual therapy were much less depressed afterwards and 25 per cent were no longer depressed at all. Women were also much less depressed after 16 sessions of a two-hour, twice-weekly group therapy in a second study with 44 participants.
 
In 2014 Green’s team broadened its search, including studies that looked at depression as one of several menopausal symptoms and came up with 12 more.

Women tended to feel less depressed after therapy involving education, coping skills and muscle relaxation for menopausal symptoms in several of those studies. However, an educational seminar alone didn’t improve their moods. They also felt less depressed after mindfulness-based stress reduction and relaxation techniques, plus diaphragmatic breathing, according to studies on hot flashes and mood.

However, women didn’t always feel less depressed after cognitive therapies. In some cases, Green’s team writes, this might be because women need programs geared toward their specific physical issues, such as hot flashes or vaginal dryness, and feelings about going through the transition.

Some of the studies in the review were small, the authors caution, and did not include enough follow-up, didn’t have a comparison group or included only women who were mildly depressed. These limitations and the fact that there wasn’t much research to begin with mean more is needed, the authors say. 'Even though the literature is still in its infancy with establishing cognitive-behavioural therapy as an effective treatment for menopausal symptoms, and menopausal depression more specifically, cognitive-behavioural therapy has received empirical support and high acceptability for over three decades with many mental health and physical difficulties,' Dr Green says. 'With its low-risk nature, it is something that I continue to practise with menopausal patients who cannot or choose not to take medication---with suceess.'
 
 
Resource: Green SM, Key BL, and McCabe RE. ‘Cognitive-behavioral, behavioral, and mindfulness-based therapies for menopausal depression: A review.’ Maturitas. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2014.10.004
 
 
 

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Monday, November 3, 2014

THE LITTLE PRINCE LIVES MINDFULLY

My favourite book is Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry [pictured left]. The book, written ostensibly for children, but also for adults (who, in the view, of the author, understand very little), is a classic of 20th century literature.

Have you ever watched a child play with a toy or a game? A child ordinarily lives attentively and mindfully ... instinctively, naturally, and spontaneously. Only after conditioning sets in does this mindfulness dissipate. Before then a child lives mindfully. At times their attention span is very brief, but whatever be the focus of their attention at any given moment, the child attends to that moment ... attentively.

In order to be free of a ‘mind of attachment’, we must observe but don’t stay, look but don’t stop, be aware but don’t analyse, judge or condemn. The mind must never be detained in one place. The mind must remain unfettered, free to move from moment-to-moment. Why? Because life is constant movement. Unless we move freely with the unceasing movement of life we stagnate. Truth dies on us.

Truth---that is, life---is never static. The little prince visits a number of planets on his way to earth. Each of those planets is a miniature ‘theatre of the absurd,’ inhabited by some solitary, self-obsessed figure who is condemned to endlessly repeat some meaningless act. The little prince moves from plant to planet in order to learn, know, understand, and grow. He knows when to move on. What about us? So often we get stuck in some place, in some relationship, and do not know how to move on. More often than not we simply refuse to move on. We think it’s safer to stay where we are. The result? Unnecessary pain and suffering. Read Le Petit Prince and you will learn how to move on.

I've said it so many times before. We simply need to see things-as-they-realy-are, in their totality, in their actuality, without opinion, judgment, interpretation, or analysis. This requires complete but bare attention and choiceless awarenes.

We always have a choice---at any given moment. We can live mindfully---or mindlessly. The choice is ours. However, know this---as truth is dynamic and never static, we are denied the comfort of fixed and absolute truth. Truth can only be known from one moment to the next.
So, if someone tells you that this person or that person is or embodies truth, or that this path or religion is the way, and perhaps the only way, to truth, shun them, ignore them, dismiss them.
Truth is something that only we can 'discover' for ourselves. Actually, truth is 'no-thing,' for it does not consist of things, but paradoxically truth can only be known and understood in the moment-to-moment experience of the content of the passing things, whether internal or external, of each moment.

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