I'm really excited to be offering a workshop in Maple Bay and Nanaimo called "Mindfulness Meditation for Greater Freedom and Ease". What do I mean by freedom? What I mean is to increasingly be free from old patterns we may have inherited from a long line in our families and unconsciously be repeating, from acting compulsively when we are triggered or reactive, and from being contracted in our bodies and mind. Using cutting-edge tools from Western psychology and Eastern contemplative practices we can observe our minds and bodies, and slowly but surely move in the direction of living life with more ease and choice.
In life there are many directions in which we can steer our boat. Large waves, currents, and storms threaten to toss us this way and that (or other people's opinions, life challenges, and being really busy for example). Having a regular mindfulness meditation practice allows us to have a rudder through a regular and clear connection to what is most important to us. No one has lived your particular life with its set of circumstances, and as such no one knows the right course but you.
One of the clear lessons I’ve learned from my personal meditation practice as well as working with many people over about 9 years as a psychotherapist, is that each person has a well of wisdom contained within that can guide them towards wise decision-making, balance, and a fulfilling life. However, we have to pause from the busy-ness to hear it, as the communication is subtle and it’s difficult to hear when there is a lot of noise and distraction. I’ve been to several 6-7 day meditation retreats, and afterwards things get so internally quiet that I can directly ask myself a question I’ve been grappling with, and I will get an answer as clear as day. That's not my everyday experience of course, but meditating regularly helps me to connect with a place I know is there because I've experienced it.
Mindfulness meditation also allows us to observe the state of the mind and body in order to have the awareness of whether we should trust the the manner we are interpreting reality at any given moment. One of the freedoms that meditation offers us is that we can observe our thoughts and not necessarily believe them – it gives us that choice. When we’re in an angry or sad mood, our thoughts will be coloured by that mood, and it’s not a good idea to believe the interpretations our mind will make in those times. Better to wait for the mood to pass. Our meditation practice allows us the capacity to disengage from thoughts that don't serve us, as we are building our attentional muscle every time we let go of thinking and come back to the object of our focus in our formal practice.
Mindfulness practice also allows us the spaciousness to determine whether our urges to act come from reactivity or responsiveness. Viktor Frankl said “between stimulus and response there is a space, and in that space lies our freedom”. Rather than reenacting patterns of behaviour that have been conditioned through our life experiences, we can consciously decide how and when we wish to steer our course of action. That is freedom. And it is possible.
The main theme of this workshop is equanimity. Equanimity refers to the capacity of the heart and mind for balance, wisdom, and to touch into the quality of the calm in the eye of the storm – no matter the external chaos, to be able to find peace in the midst of the ups and downs. It doesn’t mean we are always perfectly in balance, but that we are aware of when we are out of balance or in a reactive place, and can more quickly come into balance. Mark Nunberg said “Equanimity gives us the space to feel, space to heal, and the balance to act.” There are specific meditation practices to build this capacity I will teach, and it is also a fruit of practice generally.
Equanimity is said to be the wisdom capacity of the heart. A near miss is to be indifferent, pretend we don't care or to be cold and detached from the emotional significance of a situation. This is more of a defense for fear of feeling. Rather equanimity seeks to find the middle place between on the one hand suppressing/numbing our feelings and on the other being overwhelmed by them. It is the middle place between mindless heart (a compassionate presence that has lost its discernment) and heartless mind (an overly rational stance that loses its connection to compassion).
Another theme of the workshop is self-compassion. Many the West have been conditioned to be hard on ourselves. As we seek out greater self-awareness, it is important to be patient with the process of changing certain patterns, and not use our increasing awareness to beat ourselves up.
Integration of Western Psychology and Eastern practices
My workshops are integrative – they combine practices from Eastern traditions with strategies from Western psychotherapy, derived from evidence-based research and understanding of neuroscience. My training in Western psychology includes a Master’s of Clinical Psychology that I undertook in Australia that allowed me to register as a Psychologist there. I also have a Master’s of Coaching Psychology. Here in BC I am a Registered Clinical Counsellor. Those who tend to prefer a practical, down-to-earth, research-informed approach tend to align with my offerings. I balance my analytical side with a healthy dose of openness, and am a lover of mystery, paradox, and of questions more than concrete answers.
As an example of integrating East and West, this notion of equanimity or balance found in Buddhist philosophy finds a parallel in neuroscience research. The work of Dr. Daniel Siegel suggests that the aim of meditation is to enhance integration in the brain between the left and right hemispheres (horizontal integration), as well as between the brain and the body (vertical integration). What he observed in his clinical practice as a psychiatrist as well as through his research is that people tend to have a right hemisphere dominance or a left hemisphere dominance. In the former case, emotions tend to flood and overwhelm a person. In the latter, there is a lack of connection to the emotions and an over reliance on logic, or a desert of emotional life.
He found that different meditation practices could be tailored for whether a person has right or left hemisphere dominance and lead to greater bilateral integration and wisdom. The definition of wisdom as being the overlap between rational mind and emotional mind is also contained in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, a highly effective therapy. In the workshop, I teach strategies for both right and left hemisphere dominance, have people reflect on which they might be, and then chose to practice the ones that will help them achieve greater integration and balance.
Why in a Group?
I’ve often noticed that many if not most people would benefit from learning ways to relate to their emotional worlds and the complexities of navigating a human life, but they might not be able to afford private psychotherapy or there might be beliefs around what it means to go to therapy that might preclude seeking it out. This workshop makes these helpful strategies more widely affordable and accessible.
So why the hands and the swirly circle?
You may have noticed the image used with this workshop are hands encircling a spiral coming to a center point. This is used to symbolize the stabilizing factor that meditating in a group can bring. Whereas at home we might struggle to meditate for 20 minutes, in a group we can persist much longer. Groups encourage one another to practice outside of session time as well, providing accountability. The learning that can occur when group members share their experience creates a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. When a group is structured with confidentiality and safety in mind, individuals often feel more courageous to examine deeper parts of themselves. As Anne Lamott said, “My mind is like a bad neighbourhood, I try not to go there alone”.
The deepening is represented in the circles coming to a still center point, which represents equanimity. The design of the workshop to be a group offering is also intentional in that a big part of people’s suffering can be the feeling that they are isolated with their pain, whereas to realize what we are going through others can relate to is deeply soothing.
The ultimate aim of the workshop is to carve space in busy schedules to listen inwardly to hear deeper wisdom and to make what is unconscious conscious in small, digestible chunks that allow for integration. As such it offers a depth of healing that is less possible in drop-in meditation sessions. As the trust in the group builds over the 6 sessions, people often find themselves going deeper and deeper into themselves.
The approach offered encourages personal experimentation. Because we are not all alike, it’s not a one-size-fits-all curriculum. I’ve gathered tools that my clients over the years have found most helpful and each week 1-2 meditation practices are taught as well as 1-2 psychological strategies. Participants are encouraged to go off into their lives, try them out and keep the ones that do work in their toolkit, and let go of the others. At the end of the workshop, each person has their own personalized set of tools that works for them. As such it’s deeply empowering as individuals are seen as the experts in their own lives, and the wisdom contained within. If you have questions or would like to register, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org