By Jenny Taitz, Psy.D.
Are you crawling into 2012 with a new juice fast or gym membership?
Often, around New Years, people will themselves to start yet another restrictive diet or rigorous fitness trend. The concept of starting anew feels meaningful and hopeful. I cheer loud and smile big when my patients’ feel excited about new potential methods of achieving the goals they choose.
When we set goals, we also need to accept both others and ourselves. Tara Parker-Pope recently wrote an illuminating article in the New York Times on the struggle people face in trying to lose weight (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/01/magazine/tara-parker-pope-fat-trap.html?_r=1). The research she describes explains compassionately weight loss is not just about willpower. Your body may resist weight loss despite your most valiant efforts. Ms. Parker-Pope courageously recounts her own battle against her biological predisposition and shares data on the ubiquity of weight loss resistance.
Just to be clear, I am not recommending you return your not-yet worn Lululemon outfit and spend the money on Michelin dining! You will improve your health by improving your habits. The matter to resolve is how you go about the process of moving toward your ambitions.
Do you judge yourself a failure if you don’t reach a certain weight or accomplish a particular objective? People often feel tempted to define success in all-or-nothing terms and similarly judge others according to certain assumptions. For instance, you may assume someone who struggles with obesity lacks willpower or someone who is thin is happy.
For a moment, consider, if you do engage in judgments, are they useful in helping you achieve your goals or connecting with others?
In the service of increasing peace with yourself, in addition to any goals you may set, you might consider committing to pursuing your resolutions with mindfulness.
3 ways to befriend rather than battle yourself in 2012:
1. Notice judgments. Do you wish the process were easy and dwell on how unfair it feels? Wishing things were easier actually makes life harder. If you find yourself engaging in judgmental thinking, noticing this process is the first step towards stopping.
2. Focus on this moment. Instead of harping on what you did wrong yesterday or what you’re hoping for tomorrow, attend to what may be possible now. Reviewing in full detail what you ate yesterday won’t remove calories or curb your appetite.
3. Appreciate now. There is more to notice than your battle. We can pay a lot of attention to the things that upset us or we can shift our perspective toward the reality we may feel grateful for.
Adopting a mindful stance towards our bodies may feel foreign and difficult. It also may feel like a weight has been instantly lifted--- I don’t know any other diet program that can promise that!
By Jenny Taitz, Psy.D.
Starting on January 29th, I'll be offering a 9-month series of workshops on parenting, mindfulness, Buddhism, and family life. The group was recently profiled on the popular blog, A Child Grows in Brooklyn. If you're interested, please visit the dedicated page of my website for more information: Parenting on the Path. Also, if you live elsewhere or find this link after the group has started, please feel free to reach out to me. I'm happy to be in touch.
Urban Mindfulness--the practice, organization, and website--was featured on Yoga City NYC this morning. I feel especially grateful to Gina De La Chesnaye who conducted the interview with me. Thanks Gina!
Also, if you're checking out our site for the first time, please take your time and browse around for a bit. We have free meditation handouts, YouTube videos (starring a great psychologist and bad actor--me!), and some great older posts. And, if you're already thinking about holiday presents, why not give the gift of inner peace this year? Urban Mindfulness--the book--is available on Amazon, B&N, and elsewhere.
Also, if you're in NYC, you might want to come to a public talk that I'll be giving at The Interdependence Project next Monday night. Here are the details: Insight, Mindfulness, & Psychotherapy.
Thanks so much for your interest and support!
By Jonathan S. Kaplan, Ph.D.
This month, I had an opportunity to conduct an e-mail interview with Dr. Miles Neale, a clinical psychologist and devoted Buddhist teacher. He has considerable expertise as a psychotherapist and meditation instructor, serving as a faculty member of the Tibet House, Lineage Mentor of The Interdependence Project, and consultant to many wellness programs throughout the country. To learn more about Dr. Neale, please visit his website, Buddhist Psychotherapy.
Also, Dr. Neale will be teaching an all-day workshop on mindful at Pure Yoga in NYC on Sunday, November 13th (Click here for details: Mindfulness Workshop). Given Dr. Neale's knowledge and experience, it promises to be very informative, helpful, and--dare I say--enlightening.
Later this month, we will be presenting a talk together on mindfulness, Buddhism, and psychotherapy. It will be held at The Interdependence Project in NYC on Monday, November 21, from 7 – 9 pm (Click here for details: Mindfulness and Insight). It should be a lively and interesting discussion: I’ll be talking about mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral therapy, while Dr. Neale will be discussing Buddhism and psychodynamic therapy. Hope to see you there!
How did you become involved in Buddhism?
When I was 20 years old I lived for five months in a Buddhist monastery in Bodh Gaya, India, the site of the Buddha's enlightenment. Having been brought up surrounded by affluence yet still feeling dissatisfied, I was looking for an alternative to consumerist culture. I found everything I had been searching for my whole life and more, and have never looked back.
Why did you become engaged with the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism specifically as opposed to other forms of Buddhism?
It wasn't by choice. I became affiliated with the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism through my mentor Dr. Joe Loizzo. At the time I was in need of direction and the teacher appeared, and with him came an authentic lineage. Joe's mentor happens to be Bob Thurman, and Bob's mentor is His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
What have you found to be the most helpful or nourishing aspect of your practice?
The most helpful would be the close mentoring, guidance and compassion shown to me by all my teachers. I couldn't have made it without them. The most nourishing would have to be spiritual friendships and sharing the Dharma with others.
What suggestions do you have for people who wish to practice mindfulness in the city?
In general, I advise people to conjoin their study of mindfulness meditation with the wisdom teachings of emptiness and the ethical teachings of causality (karma). Follow the complete scientific method of the Three Higher Trainings based on the Buddha's coherent psychology of the Four Noble Truths. That will ensure the result of lasting freedom and happiness. For those who live and practice in the city, I also recommend the mind-training teachings (lojong) of Tibetan Buddhism. Those are black belt level practices of converting challenging interpersonal interactions into spiritual opportunities.
The roles of Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist are distinct, yet related. What are your observations of the differences and similarities?
Ultimately, they serve the same function to help people out of suffering. Practically, there are certain important differences. For example, psychotherapists are trained to treat psychopathology and help restore or develop ego functioning. Buddhist teachers can sometimes have little training in severe mental disturbances, but may have the advantage in helping people who already possess stable and coherent egos to achieve exceptional levels of happiness and wellbeing that Western traditions have only just begun to understand. Also, I think psychotherapists know how to skillfully use the human relationship and interpersonal dynamics as a vehicle for therapeutic ends, whereas Buddhist teachers possess a plethora of meditative techniques that they dispense as direct antidotes for specific psychological issues. I think each tradition and role has a lot to offer and learn from the other.
Based on your years of experience teaching mindfulness and meditation, what has been the most significant challenge for you?
The biggest challenge has been presenting the teachings on causality (karma), the continuity of consciousness, and the Buddhist paradigm of infinite life. That worldview is essential because it is the basis for ethical living, and the development of bodhicitta or universal responsibility. It’s a tough sell in our culture where the pervasive scientific worldview secretly harbors nihilism. If we reduce consciousness to an epiphenomenon of the brain that vanishes at the time of death, then we are left without a coherent rationale for moral action on an individual basis and stewardship of the planet on a global basis.
Who do you typically see in your psychotherapy practice? How do you help them?
I mostly see people interested in Buddhism, yoga, and meditation, who face ordinary human challenges like anxiety, depression, work burnout and relationship issues. I use the Buddha's Four Noble Truths method combined with principals of interpersonal psychodynamic therapy. In my approach, therapy is a life-long re-educational process of learning how to live in accord with reality of how things are rather than a fantasy of how we want them to be. Therefore, I recommend that patients enroll in the ongoing courses we offer at the Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science and other places so that they can develop a sound knowledge base and support for meditative training. Then we are free to use individual psychotherapy sessions for coaching and to custom tailor contemplative methods to address their specific needs.
What will you be teaching at your upcoming workshop at Pure Yoga?
I'll be teaching mindfulness meditation to help people cultivate greater awareness and self-acceptance. Then I'll be discussing the specific mechanisms that make mindfulness effective in the treatment depression, anxiety, pain and medical conditions, and finally I'll contrast the clinical use of mindfulness with its traditional Buddhist application for spiritual liberation and lasting happiness. I'm delighted that mental health professionals can receive continuing educational credit for this workshop.
What will you be covering as part of your series on Buddhism and psychology at The Interdependence Project?
I organized the Buddhism and Psychology series of dialogues with the intention to facilitate spontaneous and intimate conversations between practitioners. I invited several of my colleagues with East/West backgrounds and encouraged them to speak openly about their personal practice and experiences to give the audience members a glimpse into the lives and minds of therapists and teachers on the contemplative path. I hope to take a second fiddle in each of the dialogues and enjoy what each of them has to say!
BTW, Dr. Neale was away in India during our correspondence. As such, I feel especially grateful for his willingness to talk with me, and allowing us the opportunity to learn more about mindfulness from a Buddhist perspective. Thanks again, Miles!
By Jonathan S. Kaplan, Ph.D.
Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of acclaimed book The Mindful Child, has been teaching mindfulness to children for over a decade. Originally working as a lawyer in New York City, she was introduced to mindfulness and meditation by her husband after he was diagnosed with a serious medical condition. Together with their daughter, they moved to upstate in order to help him recover (which he did). And later, Susan moved with her family (now including her second child) to Los Angeles, where she began teaching mindfulness to children more formally.
In 2000, she began developing the Inner Kids Foundation to offer mindfulness training to inner city schoolchildren. Together with researchers from UCLA (my alma mater!), she studied the effects of her program in a randomized, controlled trial of 2nd and 3rd graders. Results revealed improved executive functioning (e.g., emotional regulation, attention, etc.) in the children who demonstrated the most difficulties in these areas prior to participation in the study. This finding suggests that mindfulness training might be powerful intervention for children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD.
Susan is a gifted pioneer in teaching mindfulness to children and teens, and I highly recommend her book and her forthcoming workshop with Sharon Salzberg (another one of my favorite people!). On October 16th, Susan and Sharon are leading an all-day workshop on “Mindfulness with Children” in New York City. Fortunately, I had an opportunity to correspond with Susan recently, and I asked her some questions about her work.
JSK: What technique or approach is the best way for parents to introduce mindfulness to their children?
SKG: One thing we know for sure about this work is that there’s not a one-size-fits-all technique/approach that is best for every situation. But certainly the wisest thing for parents to do is to develop their own personal practice, and once that happens the rest will evolve naturally.
In your work with children, which approach or technique has emerged as the consistent favorite?
Shifting awareness away from an emotional upset to a sensory experience as a way to calm down when someone is upset.
What about with teens?
Breath and sensory awareness while lying down.
What has been one of the sillier moments involved in teaching mindfulness to kids?
I use the prompt in my Pre-K through elementary school classes “If you could have a sensory superpower what would you chose and how would you use it to help the world?” and have gotten some wonderfully crazy answers. If we could develop sensory superpowers, we would have a lot of creative child superheroes using their senses of taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing to fight crime, clean up pollution, and save the world in many original ways.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of teaching mindfulness to children?
Hard to say. Guess there are 2 areas that standout – the first is in connection with specific kids and seeing how quickly they are able to take simple mindful strategies and apply them/integrate them in to their daily lives to help during those times growing up where life can become complicated or difficult to navigate. And the second is more of a meta aspect of mindfulness and children, just watching the field expand as quickly as it has expanded and take-off the way it has taken off. What started a decade ago as a handful of people is now an authentic grassroots movement that is taking root worldwide. Those of us who have been in it from the beginning are happily watching this next group of teachers pick up the baton and run with and integrate our early work into their professional practice in ways that we couldn’t have imagined a decade ago.
Like anything that is looking to transform communities and systems, this work takes a village and right now there are many strong teachers and programs but they are spread out all over the place and exhausted by the pace and the demands of the work. There needs to be some big-picture thinker/funder to step into the sector and seed true field development with an eye toward building alliances and providing an incentive that encourages collaboration. There are some rumblings that this is starting to happen, and if it does in fact happen, and people begin to work together rather than separately, I think all of us will be pleasantly surprised by how quickly this work is integrated into the mainstream.
Increasingly, I’ve seen Buddhism implicitly reflected in the mindfulness programs and exercises offered to children, and I wonder about this phenomenon. Would you speak a little bit about the role of Buddhism when teaching mindfulness to kids?
I joke about how there’s a lot of fear about mentioning the “B” word, or Buddhism, in a secular context and there’s no reason to be afraid. In fact, I know from my old days as a law student and moot court that the best strategy if you’re arguing a position is to spend your greatest effort preparing your argument for what you view as your weakest position. The Buddhist foundations/applications of the secular mindfulness work can be a great strength rather than an Achilles heel if reframed as a well-established, evidence based training protocol shown to reduce stress, improve immune function, develop executive function and attention with measurable results when it comes to changes not just in the health and wellness of the individual but also in the likelihood of an individual who has undergone that training in engaging in social, compassionate action.
Many of my adult blog readers live and work in cities, and their lives as parents are incredibly busy and chaotic. What practice or insight have you found to be the most helpful for stressed-out, urban parents?
I have a colleague who has attended a number of trainings by Mingyur Rinpoche and she told me he often teaches “short-time, many-times” which I think may be one of the wisest teachings around for those of us leading hectic lives.
You’ll be teaching an all-day program with Sharon Salzberg at the New York Insight Center on October 16th. What can participants expect from the workshop?
In the morning Sharon is going to lead a half day of meditation touching briefly on concentration, mindfulness and compassion. In the afternoon I’ll take each of her points and offer an adaptation or two for children that track the classical practices in an age-appropriate and secular way.
If you have any interest in teaching mindfulness to children--your own kids or others--then I strongly encourage you to come to the workshop. I (JSK) will be there to learn more about developmentally appropriate teaching methods for mindfulness (please flag me down if you come!). Here is the website for registration: Mindfulness with Children. I really hope to see you there. If you’re unable to come, I encourage your to visit Susan’s website (complete with video demonstrations), blog, and/or the Inner Kids Foundation.