MBSR

Reflections on MBSR: Silent Retreat

MBSR alumni have discussed with great enthusiasm the silent retreat, which takes place during week six.   The retreat has taken on a mythical quality. Until one experiences the retreat, it remains an elusive and unknowable experience. There are many layers to this special time. It is such an amazing experience to just spend a day completely devoted to looking inward. No communication and minimal eye contact with others. The idea is to cultivate a space of self-awareness and non-judgment, not comparing or striving to emulate others.   By creating an external space of silence, we facilitate the ability to look inward.

With this sacred space created, we start the retreat with a short meditation. We set our intention for the day.   Our group transitions to yoga, which helps facilitate the mind-body connection. Thinking about participating in yoga has brought me the most anxiety, yet I am pleasantly surprised by how good each movement feels in connection with my breath. By savasana (corpse pose), I am completely relaxed. It would be fine if we just lay on our mats for the remainder of the day. That’s not on the agenda, though.

We gather into a circle and begin another short meditation, before participating in the walking meditation. The conference center where the retreat is being held has two labyrinths.   According to the Duncan Center’s website, the labyrinth “is a path and spiritual tool for growth, discernment, prayer and healing”.

We pace our starts and slowly start the winding way toward the center. Some walk somberly while others gently dance with the path. My own pace is slow. I find myself distracted by my other classmates. A large palmetto bug scurries across the path toward the middle. My instinct is to scream and run, but instead I continue walking toward the middle – symbolically walking toward my fear. I will later share this insight during our closing, attempting to turn the bug’s presence into something significant. (As an aside – most of us started from the wrong direction and did not end up making it to the center correctly. An excellent time to practice non-judgment!)

After the labyrinth, we have the option of either journaling or sitting quietly until lunch. I take that time to write down my reflections in my notebook. I don’t have any discomfort in not speaking with others. It is normal for me to keep to myself. What comes harder for me is giving up the niceties of daily living – offering someone a chair, blessing them when they sneeze, or using please and thank you in interactions.

It is those interactions that are most missed when we break for lunch. It is strange to splinter off from everyone else and eat lunch in silence. Even those sharing the dining room with our group sense our dedication to mindfulness. I choose a table that is tucked away in a corner. As instructed by Dr. Shutt, I really take a moment to observe the shape and color of the food before me. My inclination is to tear into the warm, buttered roll before me. Instead, I start with my salad. In between bites, I set my fork on my plate. I meditate on the softness of the chickpea, the fleshly qualities of my raisin, and the creaminess of blue cheese dressing. I honestly don’t think I could eat like this everyday; however, I vow to myself that I will try to eat at least three mindful meals per week.

After lunch, Dr. Shutt leads us through one of my very favorite meditation practices, metta (compassion) meditation. We start by extending compassionate thoughts to ourselves, expanding to those who we love, our friends, acquaintances, and eventually those we find challenging. I visualize my husband, my dog and cats, family members, the great people I call my coworkers, the kindness of random strangers, and that one cousin who really gets on my nerves. During the practice, I see the color purple surrounding everyone. Superficially, purple is my favorite color. It represents the women’s movement and I identify with it strongly. Purple also is the crown chakra color, and is symbolic of spirituality, reconciliation, and balance. Whatever the significance, my meditation is colored in various shades of violet.

Gathered in our circle, we finish the day by breaking silence and sharing our experiences. I really am sad for the day to end. I can easily see myself participating in a future ten-day retreat. I don’t want to misrepresent the experience as easy. Meditation and silence is extremely challenging and it forces you to sit with your inner turmoil. I have been on both sides, and I can tell you that I would rather sit in silence than react in fear. I am grateful to share this practice with such amazing people.

Reflections on MBSR: Week 5

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” – Exodus 20:8

Many balk at the idea of observing a biblical commandment. In fact, a recent Pew study showed that most Americans are becoming less religious, choosing not to affiliate themselves with any one particular faith.  While many have developed skepticism towards the Bible and monotheistic religions in general, I can’t help but view the Bible’s essence as spiritual – a spiritual expression of ancient peoples attempting to explain their world.

Viewing the Bible as a spiritual book rather than a doctrine allows us to incorporate its wisdom into our daily lives. One of the teachings that I often reflect upon is the separation between ordinary and holy, work and rest – doing versus being. Exodus 20:8-11 teaches us that we observe the Sabbath, “to keep it holy”, by refraining from work.   The definition of what constitutes work has resulted in volumes of biblical commentary. It isn’t so much the work aspect that is of any interest, nor a particular day of observance. Rather, in an increasingly hectic world, how do we define what is holy? How are we creating sacred spaces for ourselves?

Prior to discovering meditation, my own answer to the above question would have included occasionally going to synagogue, lighting Sabbath candles, or journaling. While all of these activities do create a sacred space, I never felt truly rested or separate from the activities of daily life. Going to synagogue or making a Sabbath dinner was always a mad dash from work to the next activity. My journaling always seemed to focus on what wasn’t working, lacking perspective for all of wondrous blessings of my life.

It is only through regular meditation and MBSR that I discovered my own interpretation of Exodus 20:8. If I interpret the text through my Jewish experience, I use the Sabbath to refrain from social media, news, comparisons, and other activities that do not promote mindfulness. Instead, I may begin the day with breathing and meditation. I can choose to read a spiritual satisfying text, create a piece of art, or savor the delicious flavors of a Shabbat meal. I may listen mindfully to my husband, friends, or family.

MBSR has also taught me that this holiness can be carried with me throughout my week. I can intentionally carve out a sacred space for each day. Through meditation and mindfulness practice, I am able to strengthen my own religious practice. I meditate, often reflecting on Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, Adonai, my strength and my Redeemer.” MBSR allows me the space to reflect on what is holy in my own life, and to live with gratitude.

 

 

 

Reflections on MBSR: Week 4

Our MBSR group is varied. Represented are retirees, professionals, a graduate student, and yours truly. Dr. Shutt encourages us to practice non-judgment with ourselves. Unlike other social situations, MBSR doesn’t focus on titles or achievements. In a world that is driven by seeking external approval, we are taught to go inward, truly feeling whatever comes up for ourselves.

At times, MBSR feels like a voyage to Shambhala. I can hear Three Dog Night playing in my mind and I think to myself, “Yes, this is it. I have found the answer.” Meditation sometimes makes me feel as light as a feather. I feel empowered to surrender, relax and go with life. Other moments come with greater difficulty. I go inward and see my character defects, my incessant striving, and disappointment with myself. I get trapped in the narrative of past failures, missed opportunities, and constant comparisons.

Four weeks into the class, I find myself comparing and striving during meditation and discussion. I feel inadequate. My shared thoughts feel so cumbersome in comparison to my classmates’ insights. I’m not in graduate school. I have neither produced children nor achieved any kind of success valued by our society. I have often felt like I am going nowhere in life.

As I began my descent into the darkest corners of my mind, one of my classmates brought me back to the present with a clever anagram. He shared that meditation refocuses you from nowhere to now here. Everyone stares ahead or looks behind; each generation strives for perfection. The thinking and wishing and regretting leads us nowhere. The solution is to settle the mind, connecting to the here and now.

How is success measured? Many have written books and dissertations on the subject. Although I may never measure up to what society has deemed as successful, on most days, I feel fairly confident that my greatest happiness will be obtained by learning how to live with great compassion and connection to the present moment. Antoine de Saint-Exupery writes in The Little Prince:

“Grown-ups love figures. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, ‘What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?’ Instead, they demand: ‘How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?’”

Mindfulness is teaching me how to look beyond the figures. The “essential matters” are the entirety of mindfulness – sounds, colors, feelings, sensations, etc. By anchoring ourselves to the present, we can learn how not to live as grown-ups, but truly grow up.

Reflections on MBSR: Week 3

Zombie Apocalypse

I am biting back laughter as I walk conscientiously down the stairs. If I were witnessing this spectacle, I would be taking pictures and texting my husband.

OMG. I just saw six people walking around outside. Just like ZOMBIES. Only in Florida.

Dr. Shutt has introduced us to walking meditation. Our practice consists of being mindful with each step. Each step is taken with care, noting the ground beneath our feet. While walking, we softened our gaze and focused on the ground. We start inside, taking slow steps back and forth on our yoga mats. It’s unusual, but who cares? We all signed up for MBSR. That’s all that matters. The yoga mat feels squishy. The pace is painfully slow and I soon realize slow walking is as frustrating as being caught behind a slow driver. A few more paces and we can get to the good stuff – sitting meditation.

Not quite, though. With mindfulness bells in hand, Dr. Shutt tells us that we will walk outside. We shouldn’t stray too far from the building. When we hear the bells, we are instructed to slowly make our way back. She magnanimously offers us the option to stay indoors. None of us take it. With orchestrated movements, we put on our shoes and file down the steps. My giggles begin.

There is something inherently ridiculous about walking at a snail’s pace with five other people. Really, what is this accomplishing? I feel my cheeks turn flush as I turn the sidewalk corner and see neighbors on the other side. I am trying to focus on my steps.   I admire one of the many delights of our tropical oasis, a pink hibiscus. Birds are chirping and I use their melodies as my meditation anchor. As I walk further away from my classmates, I begin to enjoy the experience. Just as I am prepared to walk further, I hear the bells in the distance. All of us meander upstairs. I notice my classmate’s muscles flex with each step. The wooden steps creak and bend as we make our ascent.

With levity, we agree that we did resemble zombies. Dr. Shutt is quick to draw the distinction between our zombie apocalypse and the mindfulness activity we have just completed. We are not undead and mindless, searching for delicious, human flesh. Walking meditation allows us to be fully present, focusing on our external surroundings. By pacing ourselves, we can actually begin to notice. It is another way to cultivate mindfulness and break free from whatever has the ability to make us zombie-like. Put down the phone. Turn off the music. Slow your roll. Breathe. Feel. See. Hear. Live.

New MBSR Dates

Free MBSR Introduction and Orientation

  • Wednesday, September 9th at 5:30 pm
  • Friday, September 11th at 1:00 pm
  • Tuesday, September 15th at 5:30 pm
  • Saturday, September 19th at 11:30 am
  • Wednesday, September 23rd at 5:30 pm

This FREE  Introduction and Orientation is required to participate in the 8-week workshop. Additional times may become available, please contact us for more details at (561) 278-6033 or info@sacredtreehouse.org.

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Reflections on MBSR: Week 2

Inviting the Uninvited

This week, Dr. Shutt asks us to meditate on Rumi’s “The Guest House”.   This poem illustrates the importance of inviting the uninvited. MBSR is teaching us to accept all of our experiences. Read and consider:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexepected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

Translation by Coleman Barks

My meditation on Rumi:

Control makes us miserable. We may be grasping for control without any awareness. Other times, control may give us a false sense of calm and comfort. We try so hard to control people, events and ourselves. How well has this worked? For myself, I have felt most out of control when I was trying too hard to predict outcomes, resist moods, or change others.

Mindfulness teaches us to be observers instead of interpreters. By constantly striving to interpret our experiences, we exhaust our greatest resource – the mind. Reacting, catastrophizing, personalizing – all of these thought patterns create a cloudy existence. Every pain could lead to death. Thoughtless, benign slights turn into grave offenses. How many times have we lashed out and overreacted?

Rumi challenges us to invite the uninvited. We are all vulnerable to sadness, pain, grief, and shame. We may choose to ruminate, getting lost in dark pathways of the mind. We cannot control what shows up, but we have an amazing power available to us through mindfulness practice. When we meditate, we allow ourselves enough space to process our experiences without judgment. When we extend an invitation to all of our experiences, we see with clarity our universal experience. When I sit with myself, I am honoring all parts of being. Today, I live with a grateful heart.

Reflections on MBSR: Week 1

“A mind that is fast is sick. A mind that is slow is sound. A mind that is still is divine.” – Meher Baba

A series of intuitive decisions and curious circumstances lead me to this Wednesday morning. This is the first of eight Wednesday mornings where six eager students will learn the ways of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR. Through collating documents, printing flyers, and snooping around on bookshelves, I learned that MBSR is a stress reduction program founded by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Dr. Kabat-Zinn elaborates on MBSR in Full Catastrophe Living – the MBSR equivalent to the Bible. Some core MBSR principles, as identified by Dr. Kabat-Zinn, include:

  • Non-Judging
  • Patience
  • Beginner’s Mind
  • Trust
  • Non-Striving
  • Acceptance
  • Letting Go

As a typically impatient, anxious, untrusting of life’s great processes type of person, I knew I had been divinely led to this opportunity. All of my personal progress within the last year and a half had endowed me with enough sense to actually see the opportunity. My own self-growth now included a meditation practice in its infant stages. I would sometimes lie down in silence, repeating affirmations and noting thoughts. Other times, I would go to YouTube for guided meditations that sounded more robotic than human (and usually accompanied by really awful sound effects). I was lucky if I made it through twenty minutes without falling asleep or thinking about some far-off event. My mind had gone from fast to slow-ish. How would it even be possible to experience that divine stillness?

The journey to this divine stillness begins with Dr. Shutt. We sit on our yoga mats, all of us resembling children, as she explains non-judgment and beginner’s mind. After gentle yoga stretches, we return seated onto our mats. We hold out our hands while she pours Craisins into our palms. We are instructed to approach our food with an unknowing mind. We smell, touch, taste, and chew slowly. In a slightly breathy and completely soothing voice, Dr. Shutt guides us through a body scan. Each bone, muscle and ligament is analyzed. Does it hurt? Is it warm? What feels good today?

We are instructed to go home and practice mindfulness through daily use of the body scan, mindful meals, and simply paying attention. I savor my yogurt. I listen to my internal dialogue. I complete Dr. Shutt’s recorded body scans daily. Along the way, I have small moments of realization. Why do I look for only negative sensations during the body scan? What does this say about how I filter all of my experiences? There were larger revelations too. This practice, although solitary, benefits from group learning and exposure. It was through discussion that I realized that we all fall asleep or wander off. Beginner’s struggles are not unique. We all come to this class for various reasons. We share judgments and anxieties, holding on to “stuff” for far too long. We rush and react our way through life.

Those of us who have gathered are seekers. We are hopeful that change is possible. I have read and heard that prayer is speaking to the Divine, while meditation is listening. Using all of our senses, we are now ready to turn inward and listen.