Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

The Three C’s of Self-Forgiveness

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

4.1.1Imagine a situation where you “lose it.” You get angry, your blood boils, you may yell at the person who has occasioned this anger or you may throw something or swear in vain. This feeling is no stranger to me. Sometimes, a situation catches us off guard and we react instead of meeting it with equanimity.

At other times, the situation simply outstrips our ability to cope with whatever is happening. The storyline is too compelling and we react. We may be tired, irritable, or haven’t been spending enough time in meditation lately and this makes us more likely to react.

If you reading this blog, you are interested in mindfulness and interested, if not already committed, to living your life with less reactivity. This is a noble quest, one that most people don’t undertake.

Think back to the last time you got angry in a way that you regretted. How did you receive this behavior? Did you add rancor, recrimination, and revulsion? Chances are you did, since anger sometime gang tackles us. It’s one thing to do something unskillful by erupting in anger, it’s another thing on top of that to get angry at ourselves. The proverbial adding insult to injury.

Instead of beating yourself up, consider the three C’s of self-forgiveness: compassion, clemency, and credit.

Compassion: There is a reason why you reacted the way you did. The conditioning event or events may stretch all the way back into childhood and if you were omniscient you could figure out what all these conditionings were. Sufficient for now, it is important to know that these feelings don’t arise from weakness but from being wounded. They are a vestige of trauma one that has not been fully metabolized and is still active and vulnerable to trigger. If a friend or a child were afflicted like this, you wouldn’t chide them, you’d be compassionate. You can do the same thing for yoruself. It’s not letting yourself off the hook; it’s being realistic about your current capacities.

Clemency: Once a modicum of compassion can be offered to yourself (or at least stop beating yourself up), you can move on to clemency. In the most general sense, we are human beings and thereby fallible. We are not perfect, even though we may insist that we should be. Clemency is a recognition of this imperfection. Even under the best of circumstances when we are giving our best effort towards any goal, we are going to fall short at times. Here, too, clemency is not letting yourself off the hook. Rather, it is putting yourself in a broader context, one that is more based in reason than the idealization of perfection.

Credit: We are all subject to a negativity bias. This tendency to emphasize the negative and ignore the positive, may have been adaptive in the evolution of the species, but it can have a detrimental effect on our well being. If you are committed to a path of change, there are, no doubt, many examples that you can find where you have been successful containing your anger. These may go unnoticed. You may not be giving yourself credit for all the small victories on the path to change but very willing to demolish  yourself for one meltdown. Reflect on all of your successes. Write them down and keep a log handy. You may have to go out of your way to emphasize the positive. This has its own benefits beyond granting self-forgiveness.

The Three C’s of self-forgiveness work together to move us towards a softer treatment of our imperfections. It may not be enough to just emphasize compassion, because we may not feel worthy of that compassion. But when put in the context of our history, it may be easier to grant it. We are fallible both in general and specific ways. We each have our own collection of stories with countless conditionings, beliefs, and rules. It takes a long time and a lot of work to extricate ourselves from these and there will be “failures” along the way. When we can give ourselves credit for the successes, it is easier to see our progress along the path and also easier to generate compassion and clemency.

The next time you do something unskillful, see if you can limit the damage by not beating yourself up. Then, see if you can apply the Three C’s of Self-Forgiveness. By doing so, you can begin anew in the next moment with equanimity and even a modicum of love. You can, in the words of poet Sam Hamill in his poem “What the Water Knows”, realize, “There’s nothing I couldn’t forgive.”

 

 

 

Oliver Sacks Writes his Pre-Obituary

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

oliversacksThe neurologist and author Oliver Sacks recently wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times about his impending death and the light this news casts on his life. His reflections are the epitome of equanimity. What we hear from him is not anxiety, rancor, or regret but rather gratitude, love, and resolve.

 It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.

Of course, we don’t have to wait until we have a terminal diagnosis to embrace life richly, deeply, and productively. Of course again, we already have a terminal diagnosis–it was given to us the moment we were conceived. We are always in the process of dying. Each breath we take is one closer to our eventual demise. Still, an actual medical diagnosis can put a fine point on it.

 I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming

While there are always some things that we must do in our lives, we have vastly more discretionary power than we ever exercise. If we never examine the patterns of our lives, we can’t know what we are really committed to. Without asking questions, we can’t hope to change. Then, we must be willing to make the choices to set our lives in accordance with what is actually most important to us.

It’s a work in progress. It’s hard to know what our actual wanting is since there are many sources of interference–most notably the sense of what we should want or should do. We inherit and adhere to these senses of want from the culture, from growing up, and from the people close around us.

It often takes an act of courage and faith in ourselves to say no to a popular thing. With so little time left to live, Sacks is able to give himself permission to be self-full in this regard. His choice not to watch the news is a gift to himself.

Imagine that you had a year to live. What would you do differently? Imagine that year is now a month, what then? How do you want to spend that time? Only a week left; what now? Just a day?

The closer we get the less we want to collect things and experiences and the more we just want to experience being. Sacks puts it eloquently, when he concludes:

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

Getting Out of Our Own Way: Finding Liberation in the Moment

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

If you are like me, you spend more time than you would like caught up in imagined stories that don’t feel good and keep you stuck. How can you get out of your own way and stop beating yourself up with regrets. My mind can sometimes get stuck and I’d be in big trouble if I didn’t have a mindfulness practice that gives me the skills and wisdom to deal with it.

To free ourselves, it helps to have tools such as my Story Art method, perspectives like those provided by Buddhist psychology, and practices such as meditation and good self-care.

I’ve done a lot of work with perfectionism. I’ve come to the realization that perfection has appeal to us because it is a cheat against impermanence. If we can exert the control required to be perfect, perhaps we’ll be protected from the difficulties of life.

Due to my own struggles to find peace, I’ve come in deep contact with the teachings of the Buddha and have tasted the liberation from anguish that they offer when we embrace them.

My calling has been to write and teach about these discoveries and to convey what I’ve learned to others through my books and workshops.

The program I offer at Kripalu is focused on delivering the tools and perspectives that can help you to get unstuck and out of your own way, be more self-compassionate and forgiving of your imperfections, and let go of stories that keep you

If you have the time available, come join me at Kripalu for this five-day journey called Mindfulness A to Z: Liberating Regret, Stuckness, and Perfection. Kripalu is a wonderful place that I am happy to have as one of my spiritual homes. It’s beautiful, spacious, and friendly. The energy is buoyant. The food is healthful and delicious. Just being there is good for your heart, spirit, and body.

For more information and to register, click here >>

 

Living in the Present Moment of Clinical Work

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak


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There are a number of name brand mindfulness-based interventions for use in clinical work, starting with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in 1979. Since then, we’ve seen the emergence of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and a growing list of others. Basic mindfulness skills are integral to each of these interventions.

Clinical encounters are, by their very nature, matters of presence. When we can fully embody the moment that presence can promote healing, connection, and insight. Mindfulness can facilitate this presence and has a three-fold purpose: 1) enable clinical presence and other features of emotional intelligence such as compassion, emotional regulation, and acceptance; 2) mitigate stress and burnout; and 3) augment your your clinical repertoire of tools to offer clients and patients.

Based on my mindfulness-based psychotherapy work with patients and in my teaching clinicians, I have developed seven principles to guide the application of mindfulness in the clinical setting that touch on the three-fold purpose enumerated above. These are: Be Present; Be Still, Open Your Heart, Transmute Affect, Negotiate the Now, Teach What You can Own, Give What Can be Taken, and Make Yourself Vulnerable.

 Be Present, Be Still: Our first task as clinicians is to show up for the person sitting in front of us. To do this, we must be present and able to sit still in both body and mind. This skill of inner and outer quiet is one that is facilitated by our own meditation practice—a key feature of mindfulness-based interventions.

Open Your Heart: When we are able to be still and let go of self-preoccupation, it is easier to open our hearts with empathy, compassion, and even love. Indeed, being fully present is a rare act that conveys the depth of care that a psychotherapeutic relationship should embody.

Transmute Affect: Clinical work involves energy exchanges whether we are aware of them or not. The process is saturated with feelings and often very strong emotions. Grounded in mindfulness, we can open ourselves without losing boundaries and taking on burdensome affect. I have a saying that when we are present to the moment, we don’t receive unwanted presents of distressed patient emotions. Sustaining mindfulness in real-time as we work with people, helps us to be connected but not afflicted by the intensity of clinical work thereby reducing stress and the risk for burnout. Of course, this skill applies in any interpersonal situation, not just clinical ones.

The first three of these principles are privately held and are relevant whether you bring mindfulness explicitly into your clinical work. The next four are relevant when you introduce mindfulness concepts and practices into your clinical work.

Negotiate the Now: Is the process of bringing present-moment phenomenon into the fold of mindfulness. For instance, if the person you are working with is experiencing an intense emotion stemming from a distressing story, you redirect their attention from the narrative driving the feeling and behavior to the experience in the body. This helps people to become mindful of their emotional reactivity and is the gateway to being less reactive. It is also helpful in de-escalating situations in session.

Teach What You can Own: When Jon Kabat-Zinn started training instructors for MBSR, he decided not to make it a protocol driven approach. Instead, teachers would draw from their own practice experience to make the process their own. Teaching mindfulness cannot be an intellectual affair. The prerequisite, then as it is now, was a personal meditation practice. Kabat-Zinn recommended a daily practice and at least two long silent sitting retreats. The more you embody the practice, the more you can provide to others.

Give What Can be Taken: People span a range of openness to mindfulness practices. As the popularity of mindfulness grows, perhaps even to revolutionary proportions, more people are familiar with mindfulness. Some people, though, may have concerns about conflicts with their religion because mindfulness stems from and is associated with Buddhism. Others will be quite open to deeper wisdom traditions that inform mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness-based psychotherapy starts from a secular, psychological approach to mindfulness and can be scaled up into explicitly Buddhist psychology depending on the needs of each individual participant.

Make Yourself Vulnerable: This is, perhaps, the most counterintuitive of the seven principles. Patients and clients may readily idealize our mindfulness capacities and create a sense of separation. It is important for us to let people know that we have not perfected our practice and that we struggle to be mindful daily, just as they do.

These seven principles, the mindfulness practices they include, and the Buddhist wisdom traditions that inform them provide a radical approach towards the alleviation of suffering, both for ourselves and the people we treat. We can offer more than just helping patients and clients to have better tuned narrative selves, we can open them to a world of experience beyond this storied self that can change their relationship to the vicissitudes of life from one of resistance and anguish to one of acceptance and peace.

Arnie Kozak is a clinical assistant professor in psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. He will be leading a retreat, “Living in the Present Moment of Clinical Work: Mindfulness Skills for Mental Health Professionals,” March 13-15, 2015 at Copper Beech Institute, Connecticut’s premier retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice. For more details, visit: http://copperbeechinstitute.org/clinical-work/

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Previous Posts

The Three C's of Self-Forgiveness
Imagine a situation where you "lose it." You get angry, your blood boils, you may yell at the person who has occasioned this anger or you may throw something or swear in vain. This feeling is no stranger to me. Sometimes, a situation catches us off guard and we react instead of meeting it with equan

posted 4:23:27pm Feb. 27, 2015 | read full post »

Oliver Sacks Writes his Pre-Obituary
The neurologist and author Oliver Sacks recently wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times about his impending death and the light this news casts on his life. His reflections are the epitome of equanimity. What we hear from him is not anxiety, rancor, or regret but rather gratitude, love, and reso

posted 2:23:00pm Feb. 25, 2015 | read full post »

Getting Out of Our Own Way: Finding Liberation in the Moment
If you are like me, you spend more time than you would like caught up in imagined stories that don't feel good and keep you stuck. How can you get out of your own way and stop beating yourself up with regrets. My mind can sometimes get stuck and I'd be in big trouble if I didn't have a mindfulness p

posted 7:44:24pm Feb. 23, 2015 | read full post »

Living in the Present Moment of Clinical Work
There are a number of name brand mindfulness-based interventions for use in clinical work, starting with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in 1979. Since then, we’ve seen the emergence of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP), Acceptance an

posted 10:38:43am Feb. 18, 2015 | read full post »

Happy Nirvana Day
Yesterday was Valentine's Day; today is Nirvana Day or Parinirvana Day. It is the day that celebrates the Buddha's death or his release into the final state of nirvana. A few years ago, in a post about Nirvana Day, I commented on the assumption regarding rebirth that this description requires. Today

posted 10:24:27am Feb. 15, 2015 | read full post »


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