Mindfulness

Thomas Merton said, “Let us come alive to the splendor that is all around us, and see the beauty in ordinary things.” This sentiment on reflective and mindful living has come to drive my Capstone project and work at CLU.

Through the mindfulness coursework, I learned to approach my Capstone project with an open mind and heart. My Capstone aims to bring a sense of normalcy to people with disabilities by implementing a quality standard tool that would ensure the care people receive is unique and meets their individual needs. Part of the beauty of this tool is that it seeks to encourage people with disabilities to lead lives full of meaning which means they must accomplish very ordinary things like: tying their shoes, learning to drive and brushing their teeth.

Below you will find my final coursework reflection from my time in the Mindfulness class and a full list of objectives that the course offered.

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand mindfulness as a phenomenon and practice.

  2. Research the physiological and biological effects of mindful practice.

  3. Analyze the effects of the physical and social environment on mindful behavior.

  4. Develop strategies to identify personal stress-pattern responses and to overcome them.

  5. Apply a mindful practice in personal and professional settings.


Learning Objective Mastered

#1 – Understand mindfulness as a phenomenon and practice.

Artifacts: Week 2 Discussion A & Discussion B

Rationale

In these two discussion posts, I explore different examples and methodologies of mindfulness. Discussion A offers research on The Self-Realization Fellowship (SFR) and discussion B presents research on Gabrielle Bernstein. Both teachers are considered modernizers of mindfulness for their time.

Comparing the two different mindfulness practices and teachers was helpful for me. It allowed me to think more openly and broadly about mindfulness and the different interpretations and types of practices people use.

SRF helped me see mindfulness as an expansion of your spirituality and connection to God. SRF has contributed to mindfulness because, like vipassana meditation, it is a way of self-transformation. Both practices focus on breath and maintaining awareness while disconnecting from your worldly consciousness. SRF’s purpose, however, is to connect to God and have an opportunity for a direct assembly or communication of the highest spiritual kind. It is a mindful practice in that it is intentional and through regular practice allows you to bring a piece of God with you wherever you are. At the height of the SRF, this was a sensational practice and became very popular with people seeking another way to connect with God. However sensational it was at the time, this is a practice has withstood the test of time and communities can still be found practicing this form of mindfulness all over the world.

Gabrielle Bernstein’s work ‘May Cause Miracles’ is certainly the most modern interpretation of mindfulness I’ve come across. Her practice is incredibly millennial and speaks to a generation whose exposure to mindfulness is much different than other practitioners have experienced. I don’t think Bernstein is contributing anything new necessarily but rather presenting mindfulness in a new way and to a new generation of men and mostly women. Her website and books reflect popular culture and she has adopted practices across religions, cultures and spiritual ideas to make a very accessible form of mindfulness. She has created a vibrant online community, developed online teaching courses and even has the Oprah stamp of approval.

When I think about mindfulness as a phenomena and a practice I’m most interested in how people are impacted by it and I think regardless of who teaches you, how you practice, why you sought out mindfulness—you are ultimately looking for something deeper. And that’s what is so great about mindfulness, it allows you to be more present and aware of your human-ness and this very strange and beautiful experience of life.

I often wonder what mindfulness will look like in 20 years as it becomes more accessible and culturally normative. At first, I worried the practice would become watered down because it would be too commonplace—now I believe it will allow us to find compassion as a people and I look forward to seeing less stress, violence and suffering.

Change

Throughout this course I’ve been pushed to think of mindfulness in a different light. I have had a hard time with the Americanized version of mindfulness. At the beginning of class, I really saw it as an attack on the deeply personal practice I had come to know and understand.

I’ve struggled with the science of mindfulness and the presentation of mindfulness as a health activity.  I had a lack of awareness and assumed mindfulness was an activity people engaged in when they didn’t really ‘get’ meditation. I was wrong.

I’ve come to realize that mindfulness is a practice and way of life that lives and breathes with you—meditation whether for spiritual practice or for mental health is a technique you can use to employ mindfulness. Ultimately, I really benefited from practicing mindfulness in a non-spiritual way—I learned to focus inward and quiet my mind.

Moving forward I’ve chosen to continue to practice mindfulness for both mental health and spirituality. I’m hopeful that as my practice grows, I will no longer see two distinctions but instead I can live mindfully and with non-judgmental awareness while also staying in tune with my higher power and purpose. I no longer believe the two are mutually exclusive and have really benefited from modern mindfulness tools like the Headspace and Stop, Breathe, Think Apps.


Learning Objective Mastered

#2 – Research the physiological and biological effects of mindful practice.

Artifacts: Week 4 Discussion A and Discussion B

Rationale

These two discussion posts explore and present research on the physiological and biological effects of mindfulness—in all cases you see positive changes in the minds and health of the participants.

I believe these posts show mastering effective research on the physiological and biological effects of mindful practice because the examples shared in the posts address the changes in brain structure, stress levels or emotionality in those that participated in the studies. It was incredible to learn that people who practice mindfulness see increased neuroplasticity and have a greater ability to process emotions, triggers and changes in environment at faster rates than people who don’t practice mindfulness. It’s interesting to me that emotional pain was reduced so drastically. I notice many of the benefits of meditation help manage emotional IQ and to see that reduction after only four days is amazing. The MRI scans, in most cases, showed changes in the physical structure of the brain. What’s interesting about this is the actual ability to change the brain. It’s something you don’t cover in biology class and is probably why I find it so intriguing.

The interesting thing about the science of mindfulness is the proof and legitimacy it has provided to a practice that has been utilized by people for centuries.

Change

I asked, at the end of one of my posts, if the science of mindfulness really mattered. At the time, I was reeling from all the new information and this appropriation of a spiritual practice for the benefit of wellness. I couldn’t imagine that the science of mindfulness really mattered to me on a personal level. I figured my practice was my practice and the intention wasn’t to build a stronger brain or increase my neuroplasticity but to connect to something bigger than myself. Then I discovered a study focused on highly stressed adults. Not only can students of meditation and mindfulness see decreased levels of stress and improved cognitive function but it can also help protect from inflammatory disease and poor immunity. People who meditate can protect their health. The science of mindfulness does matter because our brains, cognitive function and physical well-being matter.

Moving forward I will think of my practice as an important way to take care of myself inside and out.


Learning Objective Mastered

#3 – Analyze the effects of the physical and social environment on mindful behavior.

Artifacts: Week 7 Discussion B

Rationale

In this discussion post I share a personal experience with mindfulness application and reflect on the physical and social environment that contributed to inability to stay calm.

I believe this post show mastery of the learning objective because I was able to clearly notice the effects of the physical and social environment on my ability to stay mindful. Everything about the morning I discuss in the post shows how sensitive we are to our environments and how difficult it can be to maintain a positive attitude when you are experiencing frustration or suffering. Often times when I feel out of control it is because the environment I am in is not ideal. Recognizing this was a major accomplishment. That morning I was able to shake it off. Mindfulness cleared space for me to let go and look at my environment differently. I’ve learned that these triggers are controllable even if I feel they are uncontrollable. It all has to do with how I choose to react.

The morning I discussion in my post, I couldn’t get through the Headspace meditation (full disclosure… I turned it off). I couldn’t find my car keys. I couldn’t focus on my breath… no matter how hard I tried. And most importantly, I didn’t want to sit in a 3 hour board meeting that I knew was ahead of me. I was cooked and the oven wasn’t even on.

I look at this post now and realize I was choosing to suffer, choosing to let the environment control me.

I also learned that we are sensitive to others and I believe had I not met the nice man at the coffee shop, who showed me kindness when he didn’t have to, I would have taken a lot longer to get out of the space I was in.

I was at the same Dutch Bros this week and the line was long. Instead of being frustrated, I enjoyed the weather, the people watching and bought a gift card to leave for the guy behind me. I could sense his frustration through his heavy sighs and near constant checking of his watch. I thought… “I’ve been there.” Hopefully his day was a little brighter and he could shake it off.

Change

I’ve learned that our emotional and stress triggers are hard to control and when we think about mindfulness as a state of being we often don’t recognize how hard it is to stay mindful or maintain that sense of non-judgmental awareness.

I also learned that mindfulness can help you overcome some of the challenges you might face in physical and social environments that trigger you.

I’ve learned very specifically that the environment during TEAMS meetings, at my office, really makes it difficult for me to be mindful. Because I’ve recognized this, I’ve been able to practice deep breathing when I feel myself losing patience or becoming disengaged. I’ve started to practice the manifestation of physical  boundaries and before a meeting I visualize a thin veil encircling me to help protect my energy and keep me from becoming too quickly emotionally and physically drained.

I’ve also been working hard to cultivate a sense of presence with my loved ones. My world has gotten exponentially busier. And people feel that from me. Even without being busy, I have a tendency to get lost in my own thoughts. My loved ones know when I’m not giving them my full attention. I’ve made it a habit to leave my phone in my purse, make eye contact and actively listen to the people I’m spending time with.

Moving forward, I’d like to continue to use my practice to help ease my emotional responses and hope I can continue to cultivate self-awareness.


Learning Objective Mastered

#4 – Develop strategies to identify personal stress-pattern responses and to overcome them.

Artifact: Assignment #2

Rationale

In this assignment I share honest and candid feedback on my own personal stress patterns and develop a plan to overcome these triggers and stress responses.

I believe this assignment gets close to mastery. While the paper provides plenty of strategies and recognition of personal stress patterns, I could have enhanced the paper by showing myself some grace. It was difficult to sit down and really think about my emotional triggers and my internal conflict was more than evident in the paper. Being able to detach (positively) and use less judgmental language would be beneficial—shifting things from negative to appreciative. At one point, I suggested that to get everything out of my head I should make a list so I just wouldn’t think about stuff all night—when my strategy should have been recognizing the good stuff or bringing gratitude to the table. I was so unsure of myself and how these techniques would work that there is a whole section of the paper that I disengage… shifting ownership from me to the universal you.

I make very bold and harsh reflections about myself and then don’t follow-up with explanation about where the feelings stem from.

The conclusion still resonates…

“Ultimately, I need to create the space to pause.” 

I have created space to pause but when I pause it isn’t a data dump of feelings or becoming so consumed with thoughts and moods that I don’t show myself any kindness. Instead, I work to make sure my pauses are still and non-judgmental. I let my thoughts pass instead of leaning too heavily into them.

Change

I’ve always had enough self-awareness to recognize my personal stress pattern. And I’ve been acutely aware of my self-punishing tendencies and unhealthy work ethic. So much of my self-worth was tied to accomplishment (which has always been accompanied by worry and tension). I’ve associated love and achievement with feelings of anxiety. It’s like this weird combo-order. I’m trying to separate love from accomplishment and accomplishment from crippling anxiety and it takes a lot of uncomfortable self-reflection.

It makes me question my motives (in a good way) and check-in with myself. Am I being genuine? Do I truly want to do this? What am I really feeling?   I was so attached to my suffering and stress that I wore it like a badge of courage. Now I know it is much more courageous to let go and show myself some kindness. It’s more courageous to say no. It’s better for me to be calm and create boundaries than to spin out of control trying to fix everything or perform perfectly.

I guess I’ve finally admitted my human-ness and I feel like a swirling mass of vulnerable goo.


Learning Objective Mastered

#5 – Apply a mindful practice in personal and professional settings.

Artifacts: Week 9 Discussion B

Rationale

In this discussion post I describe 6 attempts at applying mindfulness in my personal and professional life. While not always successful—my attempts show understanding and growth within my practice.

I believe the discussion post shows mastery because it applies varied techniques in both personal and professional situations I would not have been equipped to use before this course and enough self-awareness to use them or to see when my mindfulness practice was amiss.

Using mindfulness in my personal life has been so wonderful. Not only have I been able to ease my racing mind but I’ve been more open, present and vulnerable with the people in my life. I’m learning that people can feel my energy and they notice when I’m really present. In this post. I recount a time when I tried really hard to be present. In this situation, I listened intently and looked at pictures of my best friend’s baby (he’s heart exploding-ly cute). I thought I was doing a pretty good job and then she said “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have expected you to join us. You must have so much homework.” I said yes to the invite because it was something I wanted to do—it wasn’t pity attendance. But her response shows me that perhaps I wasn’t as mindful as I thought.

Since this encounter she and I have had lunch at my office where I think she felt my attention. When we talk on the phone, I turn off all other devices and go into a quiet room. And I’ve made plans with her to see a movie and have dinner but they don’t feel like an obligation; instead I’m looking forward to spending some one-on-one time with her. I’ve learned that half the battle with my mindfulness practice is balancing my need to please others and my tendency to seek applause by creating boundaries so I can give without feeling forced or guilt-ed.

Professionally, I’ve seen a lot more awareness of my emotions and triggers. I’ve learned that I need to take care of myself personally in order for me to be able to do my job well and not become resentful. I’m mindfully working less hours but still feel like I’m being productive. I’ve started to single task one day a week. I really focus on my to-do list and create white space on my calendar to catch-up. At one point I reflected on what this looked like, saying, that I didn’t check email, I put my phone on do not disturb and caught up on some admin stuff… one thing at a time. Before I left that afternoon to attend an event, I checked in with the email/voicemail and decided it was all stuff that could wait until Friday. Friday morning, before heading out of the office for an all-day class, I returned what I could and let it go.

In both my personal and professional worlds I’m feeling more self-aware. Despite all the vulnerability I’m feeling, I have a pretty good handle on my emotions and have been able to use mindfulness with little thought—it just happens. In fact, the moments when I’m not being mindful have become glaringly obvious. I’m not perfect but I’m trying to be more aware and give myself some grace. That’s a pretty huge accomplishment for me.

Change

I wasn’t entirely sure how mindfulness, as a wellness technique, would work in both my personal and professional life. I guarded my meditation practice with fierceness and practiced in private. It was a part of me I only took out when I was ready to connect spiritually or needed to feel something bigger than myself. It wasn’t so much an inward practice but one where I could give thanks to the universe for this place and time. It made me feel small in a good way.

I’ve since learned that mindfulness is a state of being and it is something that takes work. It calls you to be present and more in-tune with the world around you. Not to feel small but to be connected.

I remember early in the course reading about autopilot. And how a lot times people believe they are being mindful when in actuality they are being mindless. This is an important distinction and one I’ve thought about as I’ve journeyed through this class.

My aim moving forward is to be mindful not mindless. I practice this is small ways… I try to listen to the birds, focus on the colors I see and feel the breeze blowing against my face when I’m outside meditating.

And I practice it in bigger ways by creating boundaries, practicing self-love and showing others (and myself) compassion.

Recently, I was at work chatting with my boss and one of my peers. My peer suggested we open our monthly TEAMS meeting with a meditation. I was floored! She told me she saw me sitting in my office listening to something and she realized I was meditating. She thought I looked so calm. I asked her if she wanted to meditate right then and she said yes. So the three of us spent 6 minutes using a guided gratitude meditation from an app on my phone. It was wonderful and I could feel the energy shift in the room. They both had tears in their eyes. I couldn’t have imagined this collective experience 10 weeks ago but now I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with others.


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