Mindfulness Doc



Michele is a practicing psychologist who extends to herself & others the 
same level of presence she gives to clients-- exploring the positive changes that are internalized through a daily practice. 

This blog offers resources, reflections, & her work with Salzburg's 28 day mindfulness challenge to realize true "Happiness".

Doc M has enjoyed studying with Dan Siegel, M.D., Chris Germer, Ph.D., Trudy Goodman, Jack Kornfield, & Tara Brach. Sustained silence is her best teacher each August during month-long retreats and hermitage in the wilderness of northern New Mexico. In 2013 Kornfield encouraged her to start a sitting group in her community. In 2019 she was certified by Jack & Tara Brach through UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center.  
Day One of 28- Day Challenge. Staying on the Cushion: 7 Minutes, 7 Hours, or 7 weeks? 

In comparison to east coast folks (who may now be starting the second day of their 28-day mindfulness challenge), for me at 11:15 pm in southern California on February 1, 2013, it is still day one of what I refer to as the official "Salzberg Challenge". 

I sat for 7 minutes this morning before leaving for the office. That's right, seven minutes. But, at the office I managed to comfortably sit for eight hours compassionately listening to my clients. My hope in making this 28-day commitment is to extend to myself what I so readily give to others. Compassionate presence to oneself through the simple act of sitting in silence and breathing. I want to be open to exploring where this exercise takes me. 

Guess I have a way to go in staying on the cushion. Yep, day one here, and I got bucked off way too soon. Metta to all who are joining with me in this online experience. And a big thanks to Sharon for her inspiring talk last Sunday in Santa Monica. Sharon, once I walked with you; now, I will sit with you. And, through this blog I'll invite others to join us. 
Week Four: Loving Kindness Meditation

In the vipassana mindfulness tradition there are various tools for concentration: 1) Mindfulness of the breath and or body sensation 2) Mindfulness of the sense doors or sensory cues in the body, 3) Mindfulness of thoughts and or emotions, 4) Metta practice. The metta or lovingkindness practice is the most structured or active other than a walking or eating meditation. I like it especially because this is the primary practice I hoped to experience in Salzberg's 28-day challenge--to return to myself the same level of compassion and unconditional warmth and acceptance I so willingly extend to others. 


For two weeks, on a daily basis, I have practiced the following phrase directed to others, to someone a stranger, to someone who has been a mentor or teacher to me, to someone with whom I might struggle, to someone I deeply love, and to myself:

May I be safe.
May I be free from internal and external harm. 
May I be happy.
May I be free.
May I be healthy and strong.
May I find joy in the joy of others.
May I live with ease. 
May I feel peace and hope.
And, may I love myself just the way I am. 

With this as my final entry, I thank Sharon Salzberg for inviting so many of us into this experience and for the invitation to be one of her bloggers and psychological consultants. 

May all be well!

Encouragment from Science & Business.

I often imagine this practice of mindfulness in the realm of the esoteric, new age, spiritual...and my scientific mind begins to deconstruct what I know to be true from years now of sitting on the cushion:


Mindfulness meditation changes the brain--stimulates synaptogenesis or neurogenesis, increases the neuroplasticity of the brain to create well being, ease, a sense of being at peace or less stressed. 

I KNOW this as a professional psychologist AND as a practitioner; but, it helps to be reminded again and again as new studies come out--or as new areas of application emerge. 

Here is an article in today's LA Times about how business execs are using mindfulness in the workplaqce:

Week 3. The Feel of Emotions

My delight feels like a morning breeze.

My anger feels hard.

My love feels soft.

My fear feels frenetic.

My tenderness like silk. 

Week 3. Thoughts & Emotions

In my sit this morning, it wasn't long before I was drawn away from the soothing anchor of my breath into strong emotions of anxiety. It was all about what I needed to get done on my personal "to do list" before I could even imagine beginning my full day of seeing clients. 


When I caught myself pretty far down the list, ruminating over each item, I noticed body sensations of restlessness and agitation. I was like a pre-schooler who was wiggling so much that I couldn't stay in my chair--or in this case on the cushion. I realized the agitation was simply fear--fear of not being able to get it all done, and then, fear of self-judgement around failing myself or others... and so on. 

Amazing how the stories we create through thinking mind, or planning mind, create such intense somatic states that lead to emotions strong enough to pull us from the cushion -- to pull us out of the present moment that could be so full of ease, even serenity, or at least equanimity. 


Week 2. Body Work.

Following Sharon's challenge as presented in her book, I used my body and physical sensations as an anchor in the second week. In our Monday night sitting group we had 90 minutes to practice -- first with the breath, then following sensations in the body as they arose. We also practiced a walking meditation together. Experiencing the rise and fall of each foot step on the ground... and the rhythm of the breath in the body. "This is how it feels to walk." Something as simple and natural as breathing... when we actually show up for it can be profound with so many layers of experience. 


I continued this practice on my own throughout the week. Noticed, again, however, that in the presence of others, the flow of mindfulness and awareness is more fluid. 

Mid-week, I took my walking meditation "on the road"-- out into the hills and onto the beach. Beach walking rocks: 

The feel of my heel touching the beach, 
the slow roll into the arch, 
supported by sand warmed from the sun, 
then moving onto the ball of my foot, off the toes... 
sand, gritty, wet, cool on first contact, now warming...
only distraction the sublime sound of waves brushing the shoreline. 
Again, awareness shifts from waves back to feet on sand, body erect along the edge. 
Different perspective. Being in the feet, on the sand, by the sea. 
Simple waves of sensation.  

Day 8. "If a tree falls in the forest...?"

My mind wandered down memory lane today toward last August when I was in the Hermitage in northern New Mexico. Alone, in nature, no people, no technology, no distraction but the inspiration and ease of the natural world. 


You know that old riddle, koan, "if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, will it make a noise?" My direct experience while living in the La Manga old growth forests is "yes". It does make quite a resounding, yet sublime sound. I miss that experience now while battered by sounds of a cityscape. It's like a John Cage performance in the concrete streets of my mind. 

Years ago, I asked TNH, "How do we, in a contemporary urban society integrate a consistent mindfulness practice into our daily lives?" 

So, here we are. 


Day 7. Nada

Nothingness practice.

That would be nada.
LOL. 

Day 6. Unexpected Time on the Cushion.

My sit came at an unexpected time today. I was waiting for a client tonight who called and said he couldn’t get through a police blockade on Pacific Coast Highway to make our session. Something about a gunman, SWAT team, and news helicopters. The way was blocked.

 

In that moment, my clinical office became a mindfulness meditation studio. I found an hour to meditate at the end of my workday, alone, in the quiet. The time on the cushion was sublime, sweet. Food for the soul.

Day 5. Just Do It

There's a guy in our town who's written a book, "Mindfulness Boot Camp". I imagine his first chapter's title is, "Just Do It". That was my experience today.

I managed to get in both lunch and a 10 minute sit between clients. Doesn't sound super spiritual. Does it? Yep, no heightened states of awareness or out of body experiences. I just did it.

Boot Camp

Day 4. Sounds of Morning.

I find when I meditate alone, without the support of sitting with a group, it feels the same as my attempts to work in a trip to the gym. I need to get to it first thing in the morning, or nada, it doesn't happen.

Monday's are a challenging workout for this mind of mine. I wake up and sit down before planning or imagining an entire week's events. I must have gotten here soon enough because I notice feeling relieved. I notice a soft smile, sounds of morning.

Then, some wrestling with my posture and the distraction of thinking mind begins: schedule my clients, get to the cleaners, make lunches, ad infinitum. Now, a reprieve and return to the anchor of my breath. 

I sink deep, like a stone, only to be pulled out by a cacophony of sound entering through open windows. I lean into the noise. Amazing, it's a darn chainsaw. Oh wait, in the foreground I hear a mockingbird singing to the morning. What energy in that song! 

I begin my week.

Day 3. Off the Couch, Onto the Cushion

Actually made it out of my spot on the couch this morning to sit on my cushion by the hearth. When I sit upright with a straight, relaxed spine, I'm definitely more awake in my practice. Still, without the support of sitting with others, I find it hard to even get to the cushion. 

 

Despite my determination to sit before starting my day, out of habit, I walk out to pick up the Sunday paper. I fill my fresh mind with headlines about war and guns and violence. Mistake. Then, I hit the cushion. Following my breath, I drop in for moments of stillness; soon interrupted by thinking mind: SuperBowl Sunday. Hum? Ravens or 49ers? Planning mind: Food for the day, the week. Worried mind: Will I finish my writing deadline? 

 

I'm frustrated with myself, my inability to settle down. But, I stay anyway, returning to the breath each time I notice and name a distraction. I imagine I'm in the gym of my mind, strengthening muscles and synaptic connections I don't exercise often enough. 

 

I use a loving-kindness practice to center myself, "May I be safe, may I be happy, free, joyful, may I love myself just the way I am. May all beings be safe, free, happy." Before I know it, I've dropped into a concentration practice. I lose track of time, I've been sitting for 40 minutes when I next open my eyes to greet the new day. I feel ease, even hopeful about meeting my writing deadline. It felt good to be "out of time".

 

2. Resistance. Winter Night, Heaven's Rain


Ah yes the resistance to change sets in. How is it that an entire day of chores crashes head long into my well-intentioned plans to pull off a decent morning sit?

 

I slowly wake up; arrange my mat and cushion in their place by the hearth, while my coffee is brewing, getting ready to meditate. It’s a cloudy Saturday morning. Perfect. I sit in my special spot on the couch. Sip my coffee all tucked in under the comfort of my grandmother’s quilt. I ease into waking up, because I can. The house is all mine. No one here. I’m blissfully alone. No intrusive noise. So quiet for an urban neighborhood. The silence is palpable. Perfect for a morning meditation.

 

I can see my meditation cushion waiting. So close, and yet so far away. It’s just so darn sweet right here. I decide to stay in this warm spot to begin my meditation session. I breathe, in and out. follow my breath. Yeah, this should work. And then the first item on my weekend “to do list” takes captive my prefrontal cortex. I followed the distraction. Executive functioning sunk. Gave right in to that resistance. Now, I’ve lost my window of opportunity.

 

Over 12 hours later, I try again. I sit. I follow my breath. In. Out. Ahhh, yes, starting to drop in now. But of course, sleepiness shows up as my new companion. Why not? And, I remember when Jack Kornfield referred to sleepiness as the lazy man’s way to enlightenment. It’s so familiar…this unique distraction to use the words from his teaching, "sloth", "torpor". I note again and again the point that my head begins to slowly drop backward, chin turning up, almost snoring. But, I’m easy with myself about this. It’s downright laughable. The honesty of fatigue at the end of a long day of chores & writing.

 

I note that sweet spot where I gently return to my breath after realizing that I’m about to drop into sleep. I pull this off by moving my head to rest upright again at the base of my spine. Alert now, awake again for a few more minutes until my head falls back to that place, almost snoring, chin up in the air, mouth falling open. It’s like a rhythmic dance of my head, choreographed by my somnambulant mind, backward and forward, left side to right. Again and again, I close my gaping mouth, lower my chin, laughing now at my humanity. Sleepy, Dopey, Pokey, Gumby. Maybe I’ll name each fall back toward sleep after one of the Seven Dwarfs.

 

Thinking mind reminds me that I’ll sleep well tonight. Now, back again to follow my breath. Finally, I drop in for quite some time. I guess it’s a decent bit of time, can’t know for sure, because now I’m in that timeless place that isn’t really a place -- the deep rest, peacefulness of this present moment. Then I hear it, barely audible, a soft rain falling on the roof, the tin cover of my chimney stack. I am here, now, breathing in a winter’s night, the rain of heaven.