For many years I disliked peonies; they are always covered with ants. As a child any insect was a bite waiting to happen, just looking at the unopened blossoms made my skin crawl. Why did these gross bugs have to ruin such beautiful flowers?! I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy them.
Some years later I learned that the ants and the flowers have a symbiotic relationship. The peony blossoms grow in a protective waxy shell, which they can’t break free of on their own, but this waxy nectar is exactly what the ants want to eat, at exactly the time the flowers are ready to open. Without the flowers, the ants would lack nourishment; without the ants the peonies would never flower.
They help each other, they need each other; this was a new story.
Now, I’m not opening an ant farm in my living room, but I am appreciating each open blossom and the relationship behind it. The story you tell yourself in any situation matters. These thoughts drive the way you interact with the world and have the power to shape your life for better or worse. Every interaction is an opportunity to practice the kind of thinking you want to cultivate in your life. Do you nurture love or fear?
If you pause to look for deeper understanding and find love everywhere you can, these things will continue to blossom for you, even in unexpected places.
Sometimes change, no matter how much you want it, can feel too big, too difficult, too overwhelming. Our lives are full of work, relationships and obligations that make it seem like there is never a good time to begin all the goals you’ve set (meditate more, eat healthier, make time for self care…). Setting aside an hour to exercise and meditate every evening just may not be practical in this moment of your life, but there are many opportunities to integrate mindfulness into your existing routine. You don't have to do everything to do something. Give yourself permission to start with just one thing, and watch the momentum start to build.
This blog by Rick Hanson has tons of bite sized pieces to begin the habit of deepening your awareness and practice of intentional living.
Take a breath, just begin, just one thing.
Humans are hard wired for connection, we are physically and emotionally nurtured by our bonds to other people. This afticle explores how and why we connect, how modern society has shifted our relationships, and how to combat loneliness.
The opposite of addiction is not suffering in sobriety, it's compassion and connection. Counseling is an opportunity to explore the underlying struggles and find better solutions.
Mindfulness practice can be an incredibly powerful tool for promoting growth and wellbeing. It can also be challenging to begin the practice and understand how to just "be" instead of "do" for a while. This article is a helpful starting point for people who may be interested in nurturing the present more in their lives. Be Well! ~ J
Karen Kissel Wegela Ph.D.
The Courage to Be Present
How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness is important; how do we develop it?
Posted Jan 19, 2010
Cultivating mindfulness is the key to overcoming suffering and recognizing natural wisdom: both our own and others'. How do we go about it? In the Buddhist tradition and in Contemplative Psychotherapy training, we nurture mindfulness through the practice of sitting meditation. There are many different kinds of meditation. For example, some are designed to help us relax; others are meant to produce altered states of consciousness.
Mindfulness meditation is unique in that it is not directed toward getting us to be different from how we already are. Instead, it helps us become aware of what is already true moment by moment. We could say that it teaches us how to be unconditionally present; that is, it helps us be present with whatever is happening, no matter what it is. You may wonder what good that is. After all, don't we want to suffer less? Aren't we interested in tuning in to this natural wisdom, this brilliant sanity, that we've heard about? Aren't those changes from how we already are? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, suffering less and being more aware of our inherent wakefulness would be changes from how we experience ourselves right now, or at least most of the time. On the other hand, though, the way to uncover brilliant sanity and to alleviate suffering is by going more deeply into the present moment and into ourselves as we already are, not by trying to change what is already going on.
The sitting practice of mindfulness meditation gives us exactly this opportunity to become more present with ourselves just as we are. This, in turn, shows us glimpses of our inherent wisdom and teaches us how to stop perpetuating the unnecessary suffering that results from trying to escape the discomfort, and even pain, we inevitably experience as a consequence of simply being alive. As we've seen in earlier blog postings, the man called the Buddha taught that the source of suffering is our attempt to escape from our direct experience. First, we cause ourselves suffering by trying to get away from pain and attempting to hang on to pleasure. Unfortunately, instead of quelling our suffering or perpetuating our happiness, this strategy has the opposite effect. Instead of making us happier, it causes us to suffer. Second, we cause suffering when we try to prop up a false identity usually known as ego. This, too, doesn't work and leads instead to suffering. (See earlier blog entries for more on these ideas.)
Mindfulness, paying precise, nonjudgmental attention to the details of our experience as it arises and subsides, doesn't reject anything. Instead of struggling to get away from experiences we find difficult, we practice being able to be with them. Equally, we bring mindfulness to pleasant experiences as well. Perhaps surprisingly, many times we have a hard time staying simply present with happiness. We turn it into something more familiar, like worrying that it won't last or trying to keep it from fading away. When we are mindful, we show up for our lives; we don't miss them in being distracted or in wishing for things to be different. Instead, if something needs to be changed we are present enough to understand what needs to be done. Being mindful is not a substitute for actually participating in our lives and taking care of our own and others' needs. In fact, the more mindful we are, the more skillful we can be in compassionate action.
So, how do we actually practice mindfulness meditation? Once again, there are many different basic techniques. If you are interested in pursuing mindfulness within a particular tradition, one of the Buddhist ones or another, you might at some point wish to connect with a meditation instructor or take a class at a meditation center. Still, I can provide one form of basic instructions here so that you can begin. There are three basic aspects worked with in this meditation technique: body, breath and thoughts.
First, we relate with the body. This includes how we set up the environment. Since we use meditation in preparing ourselves to work with others, we use an eyes-open practice. That makes what we have in front of us a factor in our practice. Very few people can dedicate a whole room to their meditation practice, so they choose a corner of a room or a spot in their home where they can set up a quiet space. If you like, you can make a small altar of some kind and decorate it with pictures or photos and sacred objects from your own tradition. You might want to light candles and incense as reminders of impermanence, but you can also have a plain wall in front of you. As long as you are not sitting in front of something distracting, like the TV or the desk where your computer lives, it doesn't matter too much what is in front of you.
Once you've picked your spot, you need to choose your seat. It's fine to sit either on a cushion on the floor or on a chair. If you choose a cushion you can use one designed for meditation practice like a zafu or gomden or you can use a folded up blanket or some other kind of cushion or low bench. The point is to have a seat that is stable and not wiggling around.
If you choose to sit on a chair, pick one that has a flat seat that doesn't tilt too much toward the back. If you are short, like me, you will want to put something on the floor for your feet to rest on, taking a little bit of weight. You don't want your legs dangling uncomfortably. If you are very tall, with long legs, make sure that your hips are higher than your knees-either on a chair or on a cushion. If you don't do that your back will start to hurt pretty quickly.
Okay, once you have your seat and your spot, go ahead and sit down. Take a posture that is upright but not rigid. The idea is to take a posture that reflects your inherent brilliant sanity, so one that is dignified but not stiff. The back is straight with the curve in the lower back that is naturally there. I was once told to imagine that my spine was a tree and to lean against it. It works for me; you can see if it works for you.
Sitting on a cushion, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. There's no need to contort yourself into an uncomfortable posture. Just simply cross your legs as you might have done as a child. Notice again that you want your hips higher than your knees. If necessary, add more height to your seat by folding up a blanket or towel. Hands rest on the thighs, facing down. The eyes are somewhat open and the gaze rests gently on the floor in front of you about four to six feet away. If you are closer to the wall than that, let your gaze rest on the wall wherever it lands as if you were looking that distance in front. The gaze is not tightly focused. The idea is that whatever is in front of you is what's in front of you. Don't stare or do anything special with your gaze; just let it rest where you've set it. Let your front be open and your back be strong. Begin by just sitting in this posture for a few minutes in this environment. If your attention wanders away, just gently bring it back to your body and the environment. The key word here is "gently." Your mind WILL wander; that's part of what you will notice with your mindfulness: minds wander. When you notice that yours has wandered, come back again to body and environment.
The second part of the practice is working with the breath. In this practice rest your attention lightly (yes, lightly) on the breath. Feel it as it comes into your body and as it goes out. There's no special way to breathe in this technique. Once again, we are interested in how we already are, not how we are if we manipulate our breath. If you find that you are, in fact, controlling your breath in some way, just let it be that way. It's a bit tricky to try to be natural on purpose, so don't get caught up in worrying about whether your breath is natural or not. Just let it be however it is. Again, sit for a few minutes with the posture and the environment and with your breath. In and out. In and out. Sometimes this is quantified as 25% of your attention on your breath. The idea isn't to get it "right," but instead to give you an idea that you're not channeling all of your attention tightly on to your breath. The rest of your attention will naturally be on your body and the environment.
Finally, the last part of the practice is working with thoughts. As you sit practicing, you will notice that thoughts arise. Sometimes there are a great many thoughts, overlapping one over the next: memories, plans for the future, fantasies, snatches of jingles from TV commercials. There may seem to be no gaps at all in which you can catch a glimpse of your breath. That's not uncommon, especially if you're new to meditation. Just notice what happens. When you notice that you have gotten so caught up in thoughts that you have forgotten that you're sitting in the room, just gently bring yourself back to the breath. You can mentally say "thinking" to yourself as a further reminder of what just happened. This labeling is not a judgment; it is a neutral observation: "Thinking has just occurred." I like to think of it as a kind of weather report: "Thinking has just been observed in the vicinity."
How long should you practice? If you are new to it, try to sit for 10 to 15 minutes and gradually increase to 20 or 30 minutes. Eventually, you could extend it to 45 minutes or an hour. If you want to sit longer, you might want to learn how to do walking meditation as a break. We'll get to that in a later posting. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, remember that mindfulness meditation is about practicing being mindful of whatever happens. It is NOT about getting ourselves to stop thinking. Repeat: it is not about getting ourselves to stop thinking. It is easy to fall into believing that that is the goal. Many people have a mistaken idea that becoming blank is the goal of meditation. Perhaps it is in some approaches, but it's not in mindfulness meditation. So once again: if you find you are thinking (and you will), include it in what you notice. Don't try to get rid of your thoughts. It won't work and it's the opposite of the spirit of the practice. We are trying to be with ourselves as we already are, not trying to change ourselves into some preconceived notion of how we ought to be instead.
Bert Klavens wrote this article which was featured in the Times Argus on May 16, 2016. It's a great summary of youth treatment for substance abuse and working with youth in general.
Demystifying Teen Substance Abuse Treatment:
Strategies for Successful Youth Counseling
Editor’s note: Current PrEvents is produced by the Central Vermont New Directions Coalition in collaboration with the Washington County Youth Service Bureau, as part of the Partnership for Success grant from the Vermont Department of Health.
BY BERT KLAVENS with Jeremy Vermilyea
Effective counseling is a collaboration between counselor and client. The counselor is not an enforcer, or a convincer. The counselor is a problem-solving partner. Treatment provides an opportunity to communicate confidence in the young person’s ability to make their own choices while also helping them to understand the consequences that go along with those choices.
When young people begin substance use treatment there is often an assumption that they are strongly motivated to make changes in their substance using behaviors. Counselors who press teens to make quick decisions to quit right away are often unsuccessful, as many youth entering substance use treatment believe they have a drug solution not a drug problem. They might experience substances as helping with problems like sleep, fitting in socially, or feelings of boredom, sadness and anxiety; therefore, at least in the short-term, they are often not very motivated to make changes. Youth who are mandated by parents, schools, or courts to attend counseling, sometimes simply want to “get it over with.” Developmental issues connected to autonomy can easily create additional barriers when talking to adults. The perception that adults are trying to take away their autonomy or control them can often lead young people to lie, disengage, or increase resistant behaviors.
The foundation of any good counseling intervention starts with the development of a strong therapeutic relationship. From a clinical point of view, the most valuable and pertinent information about a young person's substance use habit, and what he or she thinks about it, is going to come from that young person. What most effectively encourages honest communication between the counselor and the young person is the safety fostered by a therapeutic relationship based on trust and respect. For these reasons, therapists will often proceed slowly early in treatment, taking the time to develop the strong relationship and feeling of safety that will support the therapeutic change process going forward. At the same time, counselors use the opportunity provided by this “getting to know you” period to learn more about other areas of a young person’s life.
Substance use often presents as a secondary reaction to chronic stressors, such as depression, trauma, educational issues or family conflict. Gathering information about these areas allows the counselor to better understand co-occurring psychological and situational issues, as the context within which the behavior is occurring.
As mentioned earlier, external pressures to change substance use habits are also an important factor in treatment. Whether they are legal, academic or family-based, these pressures may be helpful in motivating youth to enter treatment, but are rarely enough on their own to motivate lasting behavioral change. Lasting change becomes more likely when it is connected to a person’s internally generated motivations and goals. As Dr. Robert Schwebel puts it, "From a holistic perspective, it is evident that drugs are used to satisfy or attempt to satisfy personal needs. They also cause personal problems. For individuals to make informed decisions about their drug use they must engage in a thoughtful and often complex decision-making process that involves comparing the benefits and harm." Counselors, therefore, while working with clients to address external pressures to change, bring even stronger focus to creating an opportunity for the youth to reflect on their substance using behavior and its impact on their lives.
Engaging clients about things in their lives that they are struggling with or might want to change allows treatment to focus on the person, not just the drug use. It demonstrates the counselor’s investment and commitment to helping the youth improve their lives in ways that make sense to them and can facilitate a discussion about alternative ways to satisfy needs and solve problems in ways that do not involve substances.
To sum up, here is another quote from Dr Schwebel:
“In other words, counselors create a safe accepting climate in which they listen to clients with empathy in order to understand them fully. After careful listening, they provide personal feedback, accurately reflecting back what they have heard to help youth gain clarity about their lives; offer encouragement and their own advice; and discuss a menu of options looking forward. Within this framework, clients find their own motivation to change. Instead of taking over and trying to control clients, counselors make it clear that youth are responsible for making their own choices and are capable of doing so. Counselors implicitly and sometimes explicitly deliver a message of confidence in their clients’ own ability to succeed.”
The two quotes in this article are from The Seven Challenges – Brief Manual – a brief intervention format developed by Robert Schwebel Ph.D. based on his Seven Challenges model.
Bert Klavens, M.A. LADC is the Director of the Healthy Youth Program (HYP) a service of the Washington County Youth Service Bureau in Montpelier, Vermont.HYP serves youth 12-26 with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health issues and utilizes a Positive Youth Development, strength based treatment approach. Bert is a licensed addictions counselor, who has worked with youth, adults and families in Central Vermont for over 20 years.
Stress management is essential for both mental and physical health, fortunately there are many resources available to support health and wellness.
Embrace change, with patience and kindness toward yourself.
Information is Power
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