The Mindful Life Program and Teacher Training

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Hi Everyone, I thought I’d take a moment to update you on my movements over the coming month. On Monday I am off to the U.S.A to run a series of Mindful Life Program course with my good friend and MLP Co- founder John Chopel Bruna. John and I will be conducting a MLP course together in Syracuse in New York State on the weekend of 21st and 22nd of June.

More details can be found about the program at The Mindful Life Program 

On the 24th of June we commence the MLP Teacher training program which runs for a year, mostly by distance education. We have a week with all the teacher training participants at a beautiful retreat centre called ” Light on the Hill” near Ithica in NY State. I am really looking forward to this time and I will look forward to sharing the experience with you when I return on July 7th.

See you then.

Mark

Introduction to Mindfulness

The Introduction to mindfulness (6 week) began yesterday evening . After a welcoming cuppa and some getting to know each other conversations, we embarked on getting a better understanding of what this “mindfulness” thing is all about. We began with a game of hide and seek. What is the mind and where does it live? After searching in a variety of places, we committed to keep looking over the next 6 evenings. What is our collective aim over the next 6 weeks?- to become more present in our day to day lives and being aware in the moment of what our minds and bodies are doing.
The group began practicing the relaxation and attentional focus of meditation and experimented with different postural setups for meditation. We used body awareness for grounding ourselves in the present moment and talked about how we can begin to practice mindfulness in our active lives.

 

Business Coaching when life shows up!

I was recently sitting in a business coaching session when life showed up in a powerful way. My client was relaying the story of a work colleague who had died recently from a malignant cancer.  Although they were not particularly close, the death had a ripple effect on many people. Often starting with “That could have been me- we were around the same age.” Leading on to trying to trying understand what is this all about? Is career that important? How might I live my life differently to make the most of my life and leave a legacy?

We hope that we are not impacted in our lives by sudden deaths at young ages, yet for some of us it happens. Understanding and accepting the life cycle and the impermanence of all things helps at one level to settle our hearts and minds.  The other strategy is to live each day as if it had a unique opportunity and importance all of its own. In that way we might be more purposeful in our days and focus on the things that really matter to us most.

Why is mindfulness so hard to achieve?

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I came across an interesting article by Gary Wenk that attempts to give the reader insight into why mindfulness meditation is so hard to achieve. His hypothesis is based on how our brains reward external stimulation by the production of Dopamine (a reward neuro-transmitter in our brains. If you would like to know more, please click on the link below to see the article.

Why Mindfulness is so hard to achieve?

 

Noticing How You Show Up

Having worked in the health and mental health arena for many years, I was greatly impressed by the scientific method and the desire of my colleagues to “fix others’ ailments” – a noble and honorable cause to say the least.  At one time in my professional career, I too looked to understand my clients and diligently undertook my responsibility to “fix them”.

After about 20 years of this practice, I began to notice two trends. Firstly, it could be very stressful carrying the burden and responsibility for fixing individual clients. While I had many successes, I’m not sure it was all due to my professional brilliance. In fact the more I thought about it, the more I came to conclude that it was more about what the client was doing and how they began to observe and respond to things in their lives differently.  My second observation was that many clients handed sole responsibility for their recovery to me. Even some of their family members came to pass the responsibility for fixing their stuff to me.  As Ivan Illich, author of the Medical Nemesis would have commented, “learned helplessness at its best”.

Illich put it this way;

“In a morbid society the belief prevails that defined and diagnosed ill-health is infinitely preferable to any other form of negative label or to no label at all. It is better than criminal or political deviance, better than laziness, better than self-chosen absence from work. More and more people subconsciously know that they are sick and tired of their jobs and of their leisure passivities, but they want to hear the lie that physical illness relieves them of social and political responsibilities” (Illich, 1976).

 The awakening for me really occurred after studying ontological coaching and being profoundly impacted by the notion of the human observer. This notion is based on the concept that as human beings we all live our lives in a perceptual reality that incorporates things we notice and many things we fail to notice. We engage in the world utilising a perceptual system of noticing that is habitually trained.  This is eloquently captured in the following formula:

O + A = R (Observations + Actions = Results)

While this point is not in the rocket science category, it emphasises the power of observations and how we can change our observational perspective to generate a broader range of actions and obtain different results.

 I often reflect on how our way of observing the interactions we have with health professionals impacts our actions and the results we get.  For many of my clients, I have noticed a habit where the client has stopped trying to observe what is happening for them in the internal world of their being and are more than happy to have the health professional define what is and what it means for them.  While definition and diagnosis is important, sometimes the process of defining and labeling can lead us to fix our observational perspective. For example:

Contrast the differing meanings of the words “disease” and “dis-ease”. “Disease” – a medical condition, a specific disorder and /or problem in society.  “Dis-ease” – a disturbed state of feeling. I often wonder which one comes first and which one we are likely to notice.  The words and labels we choose not only define meaning they lead to specific actions in the future.  If you change the words, often you change the meaning, the explanation and the action and outcome.  What happens to the word “disease” if we add the prefix “non” to it? We get “non-disease”. What does that mean? Well that’s where the British Medical Journal can help us. “Non-disease” means “a human process or problem that some have defined as a medical condition but where people may have better outcomes if the problem or process was not defined in that way.” (Smith, 2002)

Below you will find a table listing of the top 20 non-diseases as voted by the readers of the British Medical Journal in 2002:

Top 20 non-diseases in descending order of “non-diseaseness”

  1. Ageing
  2.  Work
  1.  Boredom
  1.  Bags under eyes
  1.  Ignorance
  1.  Baldness
  1.  Freckles
  1.  Big ears
  1.  Grey or white hair
  1.  Ugliness

 

  1.  Childbirth
  2.  Allergy to the 21st century
  3.  Jet lag
  1.  Unhappiness
  1.  Cellulite
  1.  Hangover
  1.  Anxiety about penis size/penis envy
  1.  Pregnancy
  1.  Road rage
  1.  Loneliness

 

 Interestingly enough, at the time of writing this article in 2010, many of the non-diseases are now routinely treated through a range of medical interventions. So now we have reached a point in our evolution where we are treating dis-ease as well as disease. In my mind, this approach fosters the growth of learned helplessness and decreases our human learning and adaptive capacity. Is it any wonder that by 2020 depression is predicted to impact 1 in 4 Australians and become our major health challenge?

So what is to be done? How can we become better observers of our health and well being (our way of being)?  The answer to this will largely depend on the observers we are. Can I invite you to observe yourself from a different perspective? How might a different perspective support a different explanation and response?

If we turn our focus 180 degrees – how can we focus on “learned helpfulness” (a state focusing our intention on ways of wellness and helpfulness)? Just imagine if every morning, during your morning shower, you asked yourself the question;

“In what ways will I practice learned helpfulness in my life today?”

References

Ivan Illich, Limits to medicine, Marion Boyers, London, 1976.

Richard Smith (editor), “In search of non disease” BMJ, 2002, April 13: 324 (7342) 883-885

When competition reduces performance. (A coaching reflection)

Yesterday I was part of a fascinating discussion with a coaching client who has recently become a fitness instructor. He asked me how he could help his clients who were impacted negatively by anxiety around competing and competition? Great question don’t you think!

Competition exists in some many areas of life, it is difficult to advise people to stay clear of it. Yet we know that some level of anxiety/ performance jitters/ stress can assist in the adrenaline build up for performance.Unfortunately too much can very quickly lead to a reduction in performance and set up a mental hurdle to get over next time you compete.

From personal and practice experience I know that breath practice and breath control can greatly assist in lowering and controlling the anxiety escalation cycle. Yet sometimes that may not be enough. Imagining rehearsal can also provide a valuable tool. Both of these strategies are valuable, but require repetitive practice.

The strategy that I think is by far the most beneficial is to set a performance improvement goal for yourself each time you practice. By doing this you focus your attention on the personal improvement before, during and shortly after practice.  With repetitive practice this personal improvement practice trains your brain to focus and concentrate on the improvement goal and what it takes to achieve it. You could expect to see gradual improvement with practice. When the day and time for competition comes around, you have had improved your performance steadily (which builds confidence) and you are practiced at focusing and concentrating on the goal for the session, not on the uncertainty of competition- hopefully decreasing the detrimental anxiety.  What’s your experience with performance and competition? Let us know what works for you?