From Contemplative Practice

Q and A from Finding Balance Through Mindfulness at Studio 614

I recently hosted session one of a four-part workshop series at Studio 614. Here is the Q and A from the exit tickets for “Finding Balance Through Mindfulness,” the first of the “Mindfulness for a Creative Life” workshop series.

How can I use the Wheel of Awareness practice in every day life?

The Wheel of Awareness practice is intended to help differentiate and then integrate the different streams of information (via sensation) that flow through our experiences.

Incorporating it into every day life is as easy as reminding yourself to pause and feel into your experiences.  You can ask yourself questions like:

  • How is it to hear right now?
  • How is it to see?
  • How is it to feel?
  • How is it to smell or to taste?

Just pause and be with whatever stimulus is available to you in the moment.  Notice what affect this has.

What is the best way to stick with a new habit?  

These are some tips I share in my workshops about starting a habit:

  1. Set a specific time and place for your practice each day.  Because habit is stronger than motivation, the easier and more consistent you make the practice the more likely you are to hold yourself to it later.  Create a space that is comfortable and welcoming (no need to go out and buy anything; your own bed will work).  Keep a notebook and a pencil in the space so that you have everything you need when you are ready.
  2. Let other people in your home know what you are doing.  Keeping others in the loop and letting them know why your practice is important to you will help them to respect the time and space you have set aside.  It has the added benefit of  holding you more accountable because you have shared your goals with other people.
  3. Mark your progress.  Research shows that we are more likely to do something if we see the positive results and feel like we are making progress toward our goals (duh, right?).  To this end, spend a few minutes journaling about your feelings and experiences after your formal mindfulness practice each day.  Note any progress or effects you have seen in your daily life.  Every week, quickly review what you have written and note the progress you have made.  This is fuel to keep going.
  4. Don’t set up false expectations about what your practice will be.  It’s not always going to be fun to sit in silence for ten minutes.  Let’s compare it to running.  I like to run maybe 20-50% of the time.  The other 50-80% of the time, I just do it because it is good for me.  If you tell yourself you “should” like it, you are setting up false expectations.  Just do it.  Even if it doesn’t feel good.  Like running, once you experience the results in your daily life because you are more fit, then you will be motivated to keep going.
  5. Take responsibility off of future self and place it with present self.  We all have a tendency to overestimate future self.  However, more likely than not, future self is not going to do anything present self isn’t willing to do.  Don’t project into the future about the person you will be.  Just be that person.  If you want to start a mindfulness practice, the time is always now.

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Mindfulness Practices for Testing Season: Managing Test Anxiety

In today’s educational environment, standardized testing is an inevitable reality for both educators and students. For many, it is also a source of stress and feelings of powerlessness.

As with many environmental factors, this circumstance is not likely to be changed by the individuals most affected any time soon (teachers and students), so it is a good place to explore the tools that we can change: our individual reaction to the circumstances faced.

Here are a few strategies that may be helpful during this testing season.  Ways to begin exploring what powerlessness over circumstances brings up for us, and how we can work with it in daily life.

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Mindfulness and Creativity: Q and A with the Columbus Museum of Art Teaching for Creativity Institute

What does mindfulness have to do with creativity?  So much.  Check out this Q and A with CMA‘s Teaching for Creativity Institute from an event I did on January 21 on mindfulness and self-care to find out more.

How does mindfulness assist in the creative process?  

Creativity is an inherent aspect of the human condition. However, our mindsets, beliefs and self-talk can create obstacles to accessing it.  Mindfulness cultivates ways of thinking and being that can counteract these obstacles.
To use an example, I facilitate an activity where I ask participants to make their brains out of Play-Doh in either an abstract or a figurative interpretation.  They are then asked to explain their brain in a small group discussion.  Afterward, each person reflects independently on the sensations, thoughts, and feelings experienced during the activity.
When we share our reflections, I most commonly hear people say things like:
•   “I was nervous because I didn’t know if I was doing it right.”
•   “I compared my brain to other people’s, and I felt like mine wasn’t as good.”
•   “I was worried about sharing my brain because I didn’t know if others were going to judge me.”
This type of limiting self-talk is automatic for many of us.  Feeling as if there is a right way to do things, comparing with others, and worrying about how we might be judged are all obstacles to our creativity. Mindfulness is a way to distance ourselves enough from these self-limiting beliefs to engage and share safely what is within.
For more on the connection between mindfulness and creativity, check out the Mindful Creativity page on my site.

Does it get easier to be mindful?  How will I know when I grow?  

It does get easier…  sometimes.  Our brains naturally wander, and formal mindfulness practice is one way to “train” our brains to not do this as often.  I have had my own mindfulness practice for a couple of years, and I have seen many very positive results in my life, but there are still times when I am triggered and engage in rumination, negative self-talk etc.  It just happens with less frequency.
There is no clear cut timeline for when and how each individual person will grow and how.  Many research-based programs are eight weeks of daily practice, and there are documented results that this will create some brain change.   At the same time, each person has their own disposition.  Some people are naturally more mindful than others, too.
On a personal note, I was not one of those “mindful” people before I started this journey.  My brain had a lot of stories, there was a lot of rumination, I often disappeared into my own world and noticed little around me.  Change may have happened slower for me because of this.  However, I also needed the practice a lot more, which gave me the impetus to continue.  There are negatives and positives to every situation.
You can know your own growth by keeping track of your day-to-day life.  When I first started my practice, I journaled after every sitting and noted how I was feeling in that moment, how that day had been for me emotionally, and times when I had experienced moments of mindfulness (or lack thereof).  This created a way for me to look back and see that, yes, I was in fact making progress.
Change research shows noting small successes can help us to continue.  They give us hope.  I think the journaling helped me with this.

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Mindful Activism: Q and A with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity

I spent a few hours getting to know the dedicated, passionate folks at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity this week as we talked about activism, mindfulness, and self-care.  Here is a Q and A from that event.

Are there any follow up studies on activists better managing stress?  

Per your request, I found the following study, “Relieving Burn-out and ‘Martyr Syndrome’ Among Social Justice Advocates: The Implications and Affects of Mindfulness.”  It is a good read.

Here are three ways that the 14 activists in the study who had experienced burnout and used mindfulness practice as a rejuvenation tool stated it had helped, “(1) helping them find balance between their activism and self-care without feeling guilty about doing so, (2) helping them slow down and see the ‘‘big picture,’’ letting go of the pressure to eliminate injustice instantaneously, and (3) helping them more effectively manage the stress and anxiety of their activism” (2015, p. 707).

In the introduction, however, Gorski states, “…  little heretofore has been done to evaluate the actual impact of specific strategies or sets of strategies for mitigating activist burnout and fostering activist sustainability” (Gorski, 2015, p. 697).  So there is work to be done, and this is an area for potential.

Additionally, if you would like to read the original study I shared, here is a link to “Burnout in Social Justice and Human Rights Activists: Symptoms, Causes and Implications.”

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“Where Does it Hurt?”: Ruby Sales Beautiful Question

From The SpiritHouse Project website where Ruby Sales is the founder and director, Sales is a “nationally-recognized human-rights activist, public theologian, and social critic, whose articles and work appear in many journals, online sites, and books.”  Sales came of age and took part in the Civil Rights movement and has continued her work since that time.

On Sept. 15, Krista Tippett had a conversation with Ruby Sales on On Being, Tippett’s podcast/radio show.  They discussed Sales beautiful question, “Where does it hurt?”

Sales points us to the realization that “you can’t talk about injustice without talking about suffering. But the reason why I want to have justice is because I love everybody in my heart. And if I didn’t have that feeling, that sense, then there would be no struggle.”  In this context, the question, “Where does it hurt?” brings us back to love.

On Being is continuing the conversation nationally by inviting people to answer the questions,

“What do you see in the way of generative relationships, of new openings and surprising connections, in your communities. Where does it hurt? And what gives you comfort? Where are you planting and finding hope and courage?”   

I asked myself this question while running along the Olentangy River this weekend. The tearful answer re-centered me.  I hope the practice is meaningful to you as well.

Photo taken of Anis Mojgani’s book of poetry and illustrations The Pocketknife Bible.

Q and A with Equality Ohio

This last week I facilitated a retreat experience for the folks at Equality Ohio.  I loved this opportunity to help build sustainable activism for a cause that is meaningful to me.  At the end of our time, the group submitted questions.  Here are my responses.

How can we balance acceptance through mindfulness with the activist’s desire to change the world?  

This is a deep and ever present question for many.  I will do my best.  First of all, there is a rich history of intermingling, to mutual benefit, contemplative practices that boost awareness and acceptance with social justice work.  The Civil Rights Movement in the United States and the work of Ghandi in India are both good examples of this rich history.

I think what acceptance did in those moments, and what it can do now, is to separate the act of doing from the result.

A mindful person is still an active and engaged, perhaps even more so because he or she is fully present in the moment.

There is also an awareness of the larger context outside of the self.  This is important.  It allows a person to see that they are not alone in the doing.  In addition, objectively, one person can’t take ownership of changing the world, but they can affect change in individual moments.  Acceptance provides a healthy mode of keeping us “right-sized.”  What I do matters, and its not the only thing that matters would be one way to think about this dichotomy.

What can we do as a team to support ritual and practice in our work as activists?  What other resources are available for this?  

Going back to a historical perspective, there are many good models for how ritual and practice can be paired with community work, the Civil Rights Movement being one.  In modern day, the Movement Strategy Center (here is a link to their blog, too) has some really interesting resources that might be worth checking out.  I recommend reading Love With Power: Practicing Transformation for Social Justice and Out of the Spiritual Closet: Organizers Transforming the Practice of Social Justice.

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“Is this Hell or Enlightenment?”: Ten Days of Silence in Pecatonica, Illinois Continued

The following will be my attempt to summarize my ten days of silence at the Vipassana Center in Illinois.  If you want to get the gist on what Vipassana is before you read it (which I would recommend), check out this post.  It has some of the rules, guidelines and a little about the ideology- all good background for what I experienced.

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In my program, I am required to take multiple courses on drugs and addictions. Last semester I took a chemical dependency course where I was required to write a paper about popular street drugs.  One drug I chose was Ayahuasca.  Why?  Because people I knew who didn’t use drugs were talking about this substance and seemed interested. This was strange.  Here is my opening paragraph from the paper:

“If there was a chance to experience [improved] healing and wholeness in the matter of twenty-four hours, but the path to reach that end goal was going through hell, would it be a temptation?  This is not [only] a figurative hell of bad emotional places, but a literal hell of demons battling and slithering serpents, a replaying the worst experiences of one’s life, a sweating, panting, heart pounding experience complete with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. For most people, this particular path would probably not be a temptation, which is why the drug Ayahuasca will probably never enter main stream society as anything other than a subversive and interesting sub-culture fad.  However, [according to some] for those who are willing to venture into the dangerous and terrifying possibilities inherent in using the drug, there is the possibility of a renewed self and an extended spiritual experience- a calculated risk not without serious dangers and consequences.” 

This drug was not, and is not, a temptation for me, so I want to make it clear that I do not advocate for the drug nor am I a user.  This being said, I had no idea that Vipassana would be, for me, the closest I could ever get to this experience without taking a mind-altering substance.

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