Submitted by Jonathan S. Kaplan, Ph.D.
Starting 2 days ago, Drs. Jonathan Kaplan and Jenny Taitz began participating in a meditation challenge issued by Sharon Salzberg. As part of her wonderful book, Real Happiness, a community of meditation practitioners has convened in order to practice together...virtually. We've joined the group, and we're committed to meditating (and blogging) for 28 days...in a row! You can read about our meditation experiences on Sharon's blog here: UM & Real Happiness. For folks in NYC, you might want to check out one of the many meditation centers in the city. The "Reviews" section of this website provides details on the various centers, as experienced by one of our former interns. See you on the cushion!
Entries in Sharon Salzberg (5)
Submitted by Jonathan S. Kaplan, Ph.D.
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.
Last week, I went to one of Sharon Salzberg's talks here in NYC. I always enjoy learning from her, and I was particularly struck by a phrase that she used when discussing mindfulness:
"It's not about what happens, but rather our relationship to it."
So, in other words, it's not about the fact that the bus crowded, but rather how we relate to that reality (i.e., what judgments and critical statements might rattle around in our heads). Similarly, it's not about the fact that it's raining right now, but rather how we feel about the rain in that moment. Through the practice of mindfulness, we cultivate the ability to notice our reactions and judgments, which creates some emotional space. We find a way to feel better by giving-up on wanting it to be otherwise. It prompts us to accept an unchangeable reality or take some appropriate action. So, if it's crowded, I can decide to focus on listening to my music or meditate or observe something special about each person around me. If it's raining, I can decide to wait until it stops or take an umbrella or consider the rain in a different way. All of these other possibilities can be realized in the present moment, once we have the presence of mind to do so.
Recently, I had the distinct privilege of sitting down with Sharon Salzberg, one of the pioneers in introducing Buddhist practices to the West. Based on her experiences of teaching mindfulness and compassion (i.e., loving-kindness) around the world, I invited her to comment on introducing these practices to many of our common urban experiences. Personally, it was delightful and enlightening to meet with her, and I am very grateful for her insights and support. Over the past 10 years, I have often relied on her teachings for my own spiritual and personal growth.
For more information on Sharon--including her talks in Brooklyn and Manhattan this week!--please check out the details at the end of the interview.
Congestion and Aggravation
Jon: Thanks so much for meeting with me today. In the city, we encounter many unique difficulties and challenges to mindfulness practice. Given your expertise and teachings on loving-kindness, I wonder about your reflections of being in some of these situations. For example, it’s easy to get annoyed and frustrated by the congestion we experience, like when we’re riding a crowded subway train. In such circumstances, how can we practice compassion?
Sharon: Well, part of it is having compassion for ourselves and realizing that we're living like a sponge: we're just absorbing all of the difficulty and annoyance and irritants. Eventually, it will fill us and take over our consciousness. Alternatively, we can experience it genuinely, but with a lot more spaciousness by not taking these things to heart. Practicing compassion for oneself is being able to be fluid in these situations. You can feel the annoyance like a storm moving through you and just let it go. Motivated by curiosity and a sense of our own well-being, we also can decide that we’re going to experiment with a new way of engaging people. Today, I was riding an elevator and someone had a rambunctious dog. At every floor, the elevator stopped and more people got on, until it was very crowded. As more people came into the elevator, I could conduct an experiment. I could ask, “Am I going to relate to these people in a friendly manner or am I going to glare at them with an ‘It's crowded enough in here!’ stare?” We tell ourselves that we’re going to smile at the people in the elevator, ask the cab driver where he's from, whatever it might be. It changes the day.
Jon: Sometimes, we can get to the point of personalizing our anger or annoyance, like with a noisy neighbor or intractable people on the co-op board. How do you suggest that we approach these situations, in which we’ve personified our inability to have our desires met?
Sharon: In Tibetan Buddhism, they say that anger is the thing that we pick-up when we feel weak because we think it's going to make us feel strong. So, another aspect of this situation classically, is to investigate whether or not it really makes us feel strong. If so, how long does that last? We use mindfulness to look at the annoyance or anger and see whether or not this will really help me get what I want. Perhaps, there are more skillful ways of communicating in order to get our needs met. Some people think that if you're practicing mindfulness, then you're passive and don't object to the noisy neighbor or unjust treatment. But it does not mean that either. But hopefully, you come from a different place when you take action.
“That’s mine!” mentality
Jon: In the city, there can be a lot of emphasis on competition and possessiveness. We lay claim to things like taxis and parking spaces, which don’t really belong to us. How can we get better in touch with living together peacefully?
Sharon: Often, it’s just a question of beginning with mindfulness of how things actually feel. How does it feel to have a competitive mindset, even when you’re not in competition with anybody? Sometimes, I get off the elevator and look down the lane of apartment doors in my building, and think, “Oh my God, I hope that no one smokes in bed anymore.” Wouldn’t it be tragic if someone fell asleep and I burned to death? How horrible is that? I could walk in here, oblivious to everyone else on the floor. It doesn’t have to be a fearful thought, but a recognition that we’re counting on each other. We’re interdependent. I’m not going to have a very good year if you fall asleep smoking. It’s not sentimental—it’s just how things are.
END OF PART ONE—MORE COMING SOON!
Sharon Salzberg is cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts. She has been a student of Buddhism since 1971, guiding meditation retreats worldwide since 1974. Sharon's latest book is The Kindness Handbook, published by Sounds True. She is also the author of The Force of Kindness, published by Sounds True; Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience, published by Riverhead Books; and Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, published by Shambhala Publications. For more information about Sharon, please visit: http://www.SharonSalzberg.com.
Upcoming Workshops in New York City
Wednesday, May 5, 2010, 8 pm - 10 pm
Meditation Workshop: Tools for Awakening Courage, Faith, and Compassion
Jaya Yoga Center, 1626 8th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
Saturday, May 8, 2010, 1 pm - 4 pm
TRANSFORMATIVE JOY: Finding Joy on the Path
Yoga Works, Union Square, 138 Fifth Avenue (4th floor) New York, NY
"The key to our deepest happiness lies in changing our vision of where to find it."
Sharon Salzberg and Jon Kabat-Zinn. (2008). Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness. Shambhala Press.
All of us are prisoners of our fantasies and delusions of where happiness awaits us. We cling to what doesn't work and blind ourselves to the infinity of possibilites. We are guests at the buffet of life, the challenge is to remain mindful.