Urban Mindfulness--The Book!


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    Entries in change (5)


    The Valued Life

    By Jennifer Egert, Ph.D.

    Glad to be back on UrbanMindfulness after a break to “attend to life” for a bit. Lots has changed in the past few months. I left a full time job of 9 years, took a part-time job, began collaborating on different projects and expanded my work in private practice.

    I thought about doing something like this for a long time. Through the years, I played with the prospect of being more independent in my work, wanting to explore new professional interests and create time for doing art. But somehow, I ended up staying in the same life that I built almost 10 years ago based on passions and interests of that time even though those interests and values had changed through the years. Life seemed to continue on a prescribed path, like subway tracks, staying the course in the face of stops along the way with new ‘passengers’ boarding and disembarking.

    I am reminded of Newton’s laws of motion:

    A body at rest stays at rest…

    A body in motion tends to stay in motion…

    And things will generally continue along this way unless acted upon by an outside force…

    How often do we continue along a certain path in life when something inside has changed? Is our default programming to just continue on a path? Can mindfulness be a “force” that shakes things up and off the tracks?

    Mindfulness practice can help us to stop and see those moments when what we value inside seem to be different from how we live our lives. For example, if I value a healthy lifestyle but am not taking care of myself, that can be a source of a lot of tension. If my relationships are important to me and the demands of my life keep me away from friends and family, that can be emotionally distressing. If I have a passion for art, or athletics, or animals, or cooking… but haven’t “found” the time for it, there is a loss of an opportunity to be in one’s life in a valued way.

    Sure, we all have things we “have to do” to make it in city life, but sometimes we begin to think that these “requirements” are fixed, and there is no space for anything else. And the truth is, in the hyper-busy lives we lead, we won’t find the time… we have to make the time. In the same way we make time for meditation practice, or yoga, or going to the gym, we have to make the time for the things we value most in life. We don’t have to radically change anything, but rather, just look creatively at how we are living, and what places in our lives might benefit from some nurturing and greater attention.

    Questions for the week: Am I "a body at rest staying at rest" or "in motion staying in motion" without any say in the matter? What would moving life in a more valued direction look like for me?

    Some books that might help in this process come from people doing work in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an approach to change which integrates mindfulness, acceptance and active efforts towards behavior change in the direction of “valued living,” engaging in those activities and areas in life that are most important to us.

    · “The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living,” by Russ Harris and Steven Hayes

    · Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy,” by Steven C. Hayes and Spencer Smith

    Scared of Change?

    Submitted by Irene Javors, LMHC

    "The unknown takes us out of our comfort zone."

    From What About The Big Stuff?, Richard Carlson, Ph.D. Hyperion, 2002, p.20.

    Whatever change that either happens to us or we willingly undertake always has an element of fear. We love our habits of being. Even taking a shower at a different time of the day has the potential of upsetting our routinized life. Change wakes us up to living in the fullness of the moment. Staying mindful of how we enslave ourselves to old ways of being and doing is the challenge. Nothing stands still, no matter how we delude ourselves into thinking that we have the power to make it otherwise.

    Gentrification Mindfulness: The Challenge of Unwanted Change

    By Irene Javors, LMHC

    There is is restaurant/ bar in my Jackson Heights neighborhood that has been around for some 60 years. Everyone knows the place. The food isn't very good but the drinks are great and the bartender knows everyone by first name. When you walk into the place, you feel that you have entered a time warp and you are now in the 1950's. The juke box plays Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney and noone has heard of Lady GaGa or The Black Eyed Peas. On the weekends, the two televisions are tuned onto whatever is the sport of the moment and everyone cheers or boo's the team of choice.

    I have spent many days sipping a glass of wine and watching tennis or football with the guys, just hanging out and shooting the breeze.

    All of this will vanish after the airing of the Super Bowl on Sunday February 7. The landlord has raised the rent to an astronomical level and there is no way that the owners can pay. After over half a century, The Cavalier is closing due to gentrification. Four other stores and businesses are also closing on that block because of rising rents. These "mom and pop" venues are to be replaced with more "with it," commercial ventures.

    Long time residents are angry/sad and feeling helpless in the face of the changes that are taking place in their neighborhood. No one wants these businesses to go but a tsunami wave of change is happening without our consent. What makes all of this so difficult is that we don't know what's going to replace what is being taken away.

    From a mindfulness perspective, the passing of The Cavalier is a lesson in impermanence. Nothing is forever and the sooner we learn this reality, the better equipped we are to rise to the challenges of living. This doesn't mean that unwanted change feels good. It means that we learn to be mindful of the preciousness of each moment of our lives. We learn to take nothing for granted. My feelings are in conflict with my mindfulness practice- I cling to what is passing while knowing full well that life is change.

    When I was a child and very upset, my mother who knew nothing about Buddhism or mindfulness would say, "this too will pass," as a way to comfort me and direct my attention away from whatever it was that pained me. Indeed, in her intuitive wisdom, she simply stated a major truth, "everything passes."

    So, I salute The Cavalier. You have had 60 years of wonderful patrons and lots of love and laughs. Not a bad legacy!

    New Year's Resolutions? 8 Ways in Which Mindfulness Can Help You Realize Your Goals

    By Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.

    2009 is drawing to a close. Only a few more days left to realize those New Year's Resolutions. Oh, don't you remember? Those aspirations from earlier this year that you wanted to achieve? Well, fear not, regardless of whether or not you realized them (or can even remember what you wanted to do), we all have another opportunity to make or break, fulfill or forget, or propose or postpone a whole slew of resolutions for 2010.

    Generally speaking, these aspirational changes are quite helpful and healthy. They guide us to make substantive, meaningful change in our lives. We might decide to get in shape in order to feel better and (hopefully) be able to live longer to spend more time with our family. We might decide to get a new job in order to feel more satisfied at work. Whatever the desired change and motivation, New Year’s resolutions provide an opportunity to recognize important personal values and articulate related goals for fulfillment.

    So, what does mindfulness have to offer? Is an objective awareness of the present moment with its focus on acceptance applicable to the establishment and pursuit of life-changing actions? Put simply, “no.” Mindfulness with its emphasis on experiencing the present as it exists is not too keen on changing it. Unless one of your resolutions is to practice mindfulness or acceptance more regularly in 2010, then the emphasis on being present in the now won’t help you realize your goals. Think about it: is mindfulness going to get you to go to the gym or line-up a series of job interviews? Of course not. However, some of the essential qualities of mindfulness can be helpful for you.

    In his seminal book, Full Catastrophe Living, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn outlined what he described as the “attitudinal foundations of mindfulness.”

    Beginner’s Mind
    Letting Go

    In addition, I would add “Non-identification” as another aspect of mindfulness. Taken together and applied sensitively to your resolutions, these qualities will help you approach your desired changes in ways that are sensitive, respectful, and supportive of change.

    This perspective involves suspending our tendency to evaluate experiences. However, if you’ve made a resolution for 2010, then it’s too late: you’ve already made a judgment in deciding on something to change. Fortunately, we can adopt a non-judging approach to our resolutions subsequently. We can stop second-guessing our resolutions as good, bad, or “not enough,” for example.

    This one is probably obvious. Change typically doesn’t happen overnight, and we need to be patient as we try to bring about something new in our lives. Intellectually, we understand this fact, but it’s harder to appreciate through actual experience.

    Beginner’s Mind
    This principle refers to the ability to experience the present moment as if it were existing for the very first time, which—of course—it is. You haven’t been in this precise time and space until now. For the New Year, it means that these resolutions of ours are brand new. Even if they’re something that we’ve made in the past, we’ve never had the opportunity to make them in 2010. Thus, we need to approach these resolutions with an attitude of freshness and curiosity. Whatever happened previously is over. All we have is our resolutions manifest in the here-and-now.

    Trust refers to the ability to have faith in our intuitive wisdom as well as the present moment. For our resolutions, it means cultivating the ability to recognize that we’ll know how to best approach them. Even if we don’t know how to accomplish something, we can be confident in knowing when we don’t know, and perhaps seeking some advice or guidance.

    This one might seem a bit antithetical to having New Year’s resolutions. Aren’t they all about striving for something? Sure. However, we can embody our desire for change through gentle persistence as opposed to brute force. There’s no need to push hard for realization of our resolutions when a simple nudge or light pressure will suffice.

    Just as the present moment needs to be accepted as it exists, so does our relationship to whatever change we’re trying to make. We are here, regardless of where we want to be. Telling ourselves that we need or should be someplace else (physically, emotionally, occupationally, etc.) provides little motivation. More often than not, we feel miserable and discouraged as we work towards change. For example, if you’ve lost one pound, you’ve lost one pound. This is true regardless of the fact that you want to lose 20 pounds or that it’s Week #8 of your new diet and exercise regimen.

    Letting Go
    We need to abandon our desire for things to be different than how they are? Obviously, this is not relevant to resolutions in which we’re actively trying to be different. However, sometimes we hold on to fantasies about our past or future, which make it more difficult to engage the present. For example, reminiscing about how athletic you were in high school is not likely to help you much in getting in shape now. So, we often need to let go of these remembrances and desires in order to better address what’s happening for us now.

    Mindfulness encourages us to recognize the present moment without becoming too wrapped-up in it personally. Similarly, our self-worth is not dependent on whether or not we succeed or fail in realizing our New Year’s Resolutions. If you abandon or forget your resolution, it’s okay. You are not a better or worse person. And, if it truly troubles you, you can always try again in the next moment or even wait until next year.

    Finally, it’s important to recognize that your realization of your New Year’s resolutions likely will not happen in an instant. It’s not as if you suddenly will lose 20 pounds or instantly land a job. Rather, it will take a series of successive moments as you work towards the change that you seek. Hmm…successive present moments? What can we do with those?


    Hope for Change (or vice versa)

    By Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.

    In the wake of the historic inauguration of Barack Obama as our first Black President, it seems a little trite to write about how to meditate on the subway today. Pres. Obama has succeeded in inspiring hope and confidence in millions of people across the globe. Acknowledging the difficult road before us as a nation, he instills a sense of confidence that we can successfully overcome our challenges. Indeed, he was elected based significantly on his ability to inspire Americans in his (and our) ability to bring about change.

    While listening to his speeches, I often found myself thinking some cynical version of "We'll see about that." Perhaps I've been disappointed by too many of our political leaders in the past? Or perhaps I am defensively preparing myself for inevitable failures, compromises, and partial successes? Regardless, I resist being hopeful. It's a variation of the classic pessimist's argument: if I don't get my hopes up, then I'm not disappointed when things don't work out. Why risk falling when you can just hang out on the ground?

    From a mindfulness perspective, both pessimism and optimism are states of mind introduced into the present moment, but neither accurately describes what is happening now. They represent our expectations or predictions for what will happen in the future, which has yet to occur. In a way, they are both wrong. We don't know what's really going to happen (on Monday, did anyone predict that Caroline Kennedy would withdraw from consideration for the NY Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton?). And, whether we embrace optimism or pessimism, it says more about our personal past than what the future holds.

    Despite their inherent inaccuracy, these attitudes profoundly influence our experience in the present. If I am pessimistic, then I will give voice to the naysayer within and feel jaded. If I am optimistic, then I feel happy and hopeful. Psychological research has consistently demonstrated the inter-relationship between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. If I think that Pres. Obama will fail, then I will feel sad and give voice to the critic within. If I feel happy, then I am prone to think that he will succeed and I might even check-out his weekly Presidential Address on YouTube.

    So, what to do? Do I remain pessimistic and cynical in the present in order to prepare myself for some future disappointment? Or do I cultivate optimism and become inspired for future success?

    I think it's time for me to give in to hope.