Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

The transformative power of mindfulness . . .

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

jackkornfieldAs I mentioned last week, there is a special learning opportunity upcoming with Jack Kornfield. I hope you got a chance to look at his videos. Registration is now open to take advantage of studying mindfulness with one of the most beloved American teachers.

When it comes to creating real, lasting change in your life, mindfulness practice is one of the most effective ways to do it (and it even takes less time than you might think).

But how can we wade through life’s challenges and obligations to make mindfulness a regular part of everyday life?

This is a unique opportunity to experience the power of mindfulness in a new and exciting way, and begin to open your heart to greater compassion, healing, and joy.

You’ll be part of the Mindful Learning Community, a group of people from all over the world who have come together to learn from one of the world’s most cherished mindfulness teachers.

So I hope you’ll take a moment to have a look and see what this extraordinary opportunity is all about.

Sincerely,

Arnie

PS If you’ve been looking for a way to create more balance and peace in your everyday life, this can help.

PPS Registration won’t be open for long, just a week, so just click here to take a look now.

7 Contemplations for Realizing the Spiritual Introvert Edge (for introverts AND extroverts)

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

NMYRSpirituality Defined

“Spiritual but not religious” is a popular designation. What does it mean to be spiritual? There may be as many definitions of spirituality as spiritual people. Everyone puts their unique imprint on what it is to be a spiritual person. These definitions range from religious without the ritual, super-natural, and mystical on one end of the continuum to humanistic, value-based, and practical on the other. I tend to prefer the latter—a spirituality defined as anything that transcends the individual narrative of self. It manifests in your values: what you consider to be most important in your life. It goes beyond selfish concerns to a compassionate engagement with self, others, and the planet-at-large. Spirituality opens us to realms of consciousness that are simply not available when we are self-preoccupied. Introverts and extroverts have equal access to spirit and will approach it from different angles.

Introversion and Extroversion Within All of Us

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about introverts and extroverts. We all have qualities of both, with most of us having a center of gravity that resides in one end of that continuum or the other. Our introvert tendencies have a preference for thinking over action, quiet time to boisterous socializing, and intense focus on one thing over a multiplicity of activities. An extroverted form of spirituality can be found in evangelical Christianity. Here, the spiritual action is social—converting people to the faith with less of an emphasis on quiet contemplation. An introverted form of spirituality can be found in the teachings of the Buddha, a quiet path of interior contemplation, meditation, and stillness.

The Interior Door to Spirit

The inner door to spirit requires a quiet place of solitude to be realized. It is found when the body is still and the mind stops its talking, commentary, and judgment. The interior will be more familiar, comfortable, and accessible for introverts. The interior is also accessible for extroverts when they develop an interest towards the internal world of imagination, concentration, and contemplation. Access to the interior is a learnable skill; you can practice it whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. This access will likely involve slowing things down so you can appreciate the subtleties of your senses and the mind. The interior can be a nuanced form of perception as well as an explosion of emotional intensity, creativity, and insight.

The Buddha was a Spiritual Introvert

Siddhartha Gotama, the Buddha to be, was most likely an introvert who was forced to behave like an extrovert during the earlier part of his life. He went from the extreme of 29 years of a princely life of indulgence, luxury and privilege to an austere life of deprivation in his six years of seeking a way beyond suffering in the forests of Northern India. His famous discovery of the Middle Way navigated between these extremes and was also a call for a balance to between our introverted and extroverted tendencies. On the verge of death from starvation, the Buddha remembered a day when he was eight-years-old and fell into a spontaneous meditation under a rose apple tree. This memory inspired him to seek the middle path and was a rare instant when he had some solitude in his early life. The Buddha’s spirituality advocated an introverted path of meditating alone with a community of like-minded others. He valued silence, stillness, and seclusion that was not lonely.

The Buddha’s Spirituality

The Buddha’s teachings were non-speculative and promoted a vision of humanity that was non-contingent. The Buddha deflected all metaphysical questions seeing them as a distraction from the pressing task at hand: how to relieve the sense of anguish that besets us in every moment. This is all he cared about: the causes and end of suffering. He compared speculation on the nature of the universe, soul, and rebirth to a man struck with a poison arrow who refuses medical treatment until he can know every possible detail of that arrow. If you are bleeding out, does it matter what kind of wood the arrow was made from? The Buddha also discovered that happiness does not depend on anything. It is non-contingent on conditions, internal or external. Life is a continual process and there is nothing that stands outside of this flow—not even our sense of self. When we can experience this never-ending process we can come to know great peace and relief from the relentless suffering that motivated his spiritual journey in the first place.

Introversion as Solitude, Quiet, and Focus

The introverted aspects of everyone’s nature emphasize solitude, quiet, and focus. Each of these is central to the Buddha’s spirituality. American society has become overly reliant on extrovert qualities such as talking frequently and loudly, doing more and more, and never slowing down or being disconnected from communications and information. This extrovert culture has squeezed out solitude, drowned out quiet, and dispersed attention. We have forgotten Thoreau’s lessons from Walden on the value of quiet, undisturbed contemplation. Life moves too fast to go deep with concentration. The pace of life is relentless with no room for quiet spirituality. Meditation is a vehicle for bringing these three introvert qualities back into the forefront of attention.

Mindfulness Gives You the Introvert Edge

Mindfulness is growing in popularity in part because we are starved for silence in our lives. Mindfulness nurtures that connection to the interior by training the mind to extricate itself from involvement with painful, difficult, or distracting stories and, instead, to pay attention to the ceaseless flow of life happening in this moment. Whether you are prone to be an introvert or an extrovert, mindfulness gives you the advantageous edge of introversion: looking within from solitude. Mindfulness meditation practice develops your ability to focus and to reclaim your attention from the fragmented, loud, and chaotic demands of everyday life. Mindfulness trains the mind to be spiritual by giving you access to that interior flow and releasing you from self-preoccupation. Join me in August for a 5-day workshop at the wonderfully spiritual, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. The Introvert Edge: Mindfulness Meditation for Finding Peace and Quiet in a Loud and Crazy World will run from August 3 to 8. Click here for more information and to Register Now.

Selling Water by the River: The Deceptive Simplicity of Learning Mindfulness

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

AA021036The proliferation of all things mindfulness is mind boggling (does that make one more or less mindful, I wonder?). Research, teachers, books, blogs, and applications continue to grow. It may be safe to say, mindfulness has become a fad. There could certainly be worse things to generate a bandwagon effect. I am certainly pleased to be a part of this movement and play my small role.

The title of this blog entry comes from a saying in the mindfulness teaching community. Teaching mindfulness is like selling water by the river. The students could just go down the river themselves and drink this water. Mindfulness is a native skill; why do you need a teacher? The reason is that while mindfulness is simple in concept it can be quite challenging to figure out how to insinuate it into your life. This is where a teacher becomes indispensable.

Unless you can be self-motivated, the structure of a class really helps. NICABM (National institute for the Application of Behavioral Medicine) offers online courses with prominent teachers. Recently, Tara Brach taught a program on relationships and now Jack Kornfield will be teaching a course on the power of mindfulness. You can watch some preview videos here.

Jack is one of the preeminent mindfulness teachers. He is the author of many books, including the spiritual favorite: After The Ecstasy, The Laundry.

I’ve had the pleasure of sitting with him once very briefly and I’ve read his books and listened to his talks. He is a gentle and intelligent soul that can bring mindfulness teachings to life.

Sometimes, when the stresses of life start to build, it’s easy to get frustrated and feel like there’s no way to slow down.

Jack will be teaching an online course through  Mindfulness can help us to slow down and bring presence to our busy days.

You can check out some course preview videos. Learn more here:

 

The Science of Mindfulness

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

BS16096A recent analysis of mindfulness research studies (known as a meta-analysis) was published by the Association for Health and Research Quality (AHRQ). This government agency does major reviews of various therapies.

The good news is that mindfulness has come of age to attract such a review. The bad news, if you will, is that the modest results appear to run counter to the current wild enthusiasm for mindfulness. How can we understand this apparent incongruity?

The main reason is methodology. AHRQ reviews only include studies that meet stringent criteria. The vast majority of mindfulness studies did not meet these criteria. In fact, only .2 percent were included. Not all of these excluded studies focused on mindfulness, many implemented transcendental meditation.

Peer review versus gold standard. Grant supported versus Many of the mindfulness studies published over the last thirty-five years have appeared in peer-reviewed journals. However, peer review is not the most stringent criteria. The AHRQ study concludes:

After reviewing 18 753 citations, we included 47 trials with 3515 participants. Mindfulness meditation programs had moderate evidence of improved anxiety (effect size, 0.38 at 8 weeks and 0.22  at 3-6 months), depression 0.30 at 8 weeks and 0.23 at 3-6 month, and pain (0.33) and low evidence of improved stress/distress and mental health–related quality of life. We found low evidence of no effect or insufficient evidence of any effect of meditation programs on positive mood, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, and weight. We found no evidence that meditation programs were better than any active treatment (ie, drugs, exercise, and other behavioral therapies).

Understanding this study is part understanding scientific literacy, part philosophy of science, and part epistemology.For more on research methodology read the interview with Willoughby Britton, a neuroscience researcher at Brown University Medical School.

The popular consumption of science contains much misunderstanding. If you read that something has been “proven” be careful. It is very difficult to prove anything. What science can do, with well constructed studies, is disprove things. This is the principle of falsifiability.

If a study gets a positive result that is evidence that supports the hypothesis that this treatment, let’s say, works better than chance. But you never know when future evidence may contradict what you’ve found. Accumulated evidence is good but it is not definitive. A study that finds a negative result may be more definitive if the methodology of the study is robust enough to support that claim. this is known as “power” in statistics and a study must have a sufficient number of subjects and other design characteristics before you conclude that the difference between the treatment group and the non-treatment group (placebo) were no different than chance variations. If scientists replicate such studies and consistently find a non-result, it is reasonable to conclude that the treatment offers nothing beyond a placebo response.

With mindfulness, we simply don’t know enough yet. There is much to encourage that with sufficient methodological rigor, mindfulness intervention studies will continue to demonstrate benefit. There are many other effective forms of treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapies. Mindfulness may not be superior to these other forms of treatment and this does not mean that it not effective, just not incrementally more effective. Studies study groups and the results of a study report group averages. Individual results will vary.

Efficacy is not the same as effectiveness and a placebo response is always part of a positive result. Studies attempt to remove sources of variability and create a controlled labaroatory envireonment. These conditions do not replicate real life. There is a difference between participating in a research study on stress and being referred by your physician to a mindfulness-based stress reduction group in the community.

The small mindfulness database does not mean that mindfulness does not work. It means that there is not enough rigorous scientific studies yet. It costs more to run a high level study. It requires more subjects and an active control group. this adds complexity and expense. Mindfulness studies are just now getting funded.

In the “real” world outside the laboratory, when people seek treatment, they bring with them a set of expectations for response. This is the power of the placebo response and it is active in almost every treatment, including drug treatments (and especially with drugs that treat anxiety and depression). The goal in clinical practice is not to eliminate the placebo effect. In fact, the opposite. What you don’t want is a treatment that works only via placebo. The results of the AHRQ study suggest this not the case for mindfulness, but more research needs to be done. When people undergo mindfulness-based interventions, they receive benefit.

Previous Posts

A Chilling View Inside the Quiet Room: Electric Shocks Preferred to Sitting Still
A study recently published in Science provides a window into the restless soul of Americans and a compelling case of why we need mindfulness. University of Virginia psychologist Timothy Wilson and colleagues conducted a series of experiments where subjects spent time alone in an unadorned room. We

posted 8:53:12am Aug. 29, 2014 | read full post »

Drive by Shooting: Mindfulness on NPR
It's not surprising when a feature on mindfulness appears in a major media outlet. Mindfulness is popular. This time it is a sub-four minute interview on NPR. Tamara Keith spoke with Sharon Salzberg, one of the co-

posted 6:25:54pm Jul. 22, 2014 | read full post »

No More Fooling Around: Changing the World Through Mindfulness
Today I will start a series of posts about how we can change the world through mindfulness and the wisdom of the Buddha's teachings. This transformation starts with individuals and progresses through groups, corporations, and then societies. Ultimately, a global movement is possible and will be acco

posted 10:47:16am Jul. 16, 2014 | read full post »

Mindfulness for Introverts
Mindfulness is a natural fit for introverts. The act of meditation itself is an introverted activity and at the same time equips introverts to navigate their interior without getting stuck in rumination. I recently wrote an essay for the Kripalu Thrive blog entitled Mindfulness for Introverts.

posted 3:26:51pm Jul. 08, 2014 | read full post »

The transformative power of mindfulness . . .
As I mentioned last week, there is a special learning opportunity upcoming with Jack Kornfield. I hope you got a chance to look at his videos. Registration is now open to take advantage of studying mindfulness with one of the most beloved American teachers. When it comes to creating real, lasting

posted 11:28:48am Jun. 17, 2014 | read full post »


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