Mindfulness

The first core course, Mindfulness, led me to reflect upon what I was witnessing in the world and how I responded to it. Applying mindful listening to my conversations with others, particularly about barriers to community resources, exposed a perceived lack of empathy by clients of their social service providers. I wish to help providers of in-home family education services use mindful exercises as one step toward enhancing their empathy skills to build better client relationships by offering exercises to help them identify their own triggers and biases as part of a half-day workshop. Throughout this process, when self-doubt arose I was reminded that the mindful practice of loving compassion embodies an active empathy for others, but begins with an embrace of the whole self- limitations and strengths. Being ever mindful of continuous change and growth gives me hope.

My reflections as written immediately following the Mindfulness course are below.

I believe the assignment, the only artifact I have attached, shows mastery of the following learning objectives:

  1. Understand mindfulness as a phenomenon and practice.
  • Creating a personal mindfulness plan included several mindfulness exercises and detailed expected results. The learning materials provided as well as the discussion boards were a wealth of additional information regarding mindfulness as a phenomenon, but I was able to give concrete examples of how mindfulness affects my own life.
  1. Research the physiological and biological effects of mindful practice.
  • Several sources were quoted and cited within the assignment attached, explaining which portions of the brain are affected by mindfulness.
  1. Analyze the effects of the physical and social environment on mindful behavior.
  • Concrete examples are demonstrated that show analysis of these effects.
  1. Develop strategies to identify personal stress-pattern responses and to overcome them.
  2. Although I believe this paper demonstrates my ability
  3. This paper lists ways to identify personal stress-pattern responses, includes examples of my own triggers and methods of management.
  4. To apply mindful practice in personal and professional settings,
  • I would have included more information about applying practices in the professional setting. I have also created a plan for my workplace, to prepare a mindfulness workshop that features a variety of mindful techniques such as meditation, mindful listening, mindful eating, guided meditation and appreciative inquiry. All of these techniques can be used as part of self-care, a needed component of daily life for social workers, who are susceptible to vicarious trauma.

 

CHANGE: Over this course, I have been practicing mindfulness as an assignment, but also for personal experience, to discover how I can best utilize my strengths to assist in bringing about this change. My vision to amplify empathy in the social services field in order to combat negative stereotyping of marginalized and vulnerable populations was recognized because of this transformative mindful experience over the last 10 weeks. My family has changed, becoming more in-tune with each other’s needs, and my own perspective has changed as well. I am able to be aware of thoughts and feelings without fixating, allowing me to investigate without attachment to outcome.

The assignment follows:

PROPOSED PLAN FOR MINDFULNESS PRACTICES

Michelle Romanek

MCC301: Mindfulness

Professor RJ Molligan

August 14, 2016

“Stress is difficult to define because each person experiences it differently,” but when people talk about stress, they are commonly referring to distress, which Hans Selye defines as “a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.”[1] A stressor, or stimulus, that results in a feeling of trauma is a trigger. “The term is used more loosely to refer to stimuli that trigger upsetting feelings or problematic behaviors,” such as guilt, shame, anger, fear, avoidance, withdrawal, and indulgence in addictives like food, sex, drugs or gambling.[2] These triggered feelings can manifest as physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and pain, too. Once triggers are recognized it is possible to manage them and respond in healthier ways through the use of mindfulness. Participating in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) plan can change the brain and even “ameliorate bodily ills as well.”[3] My own experience with personal and professional triggers as well as the eagerness to expose and manage them has led to the creation of a mindfulness based plan to “gain emotional freedom.”[4]

Since beginning basic mindful practices such as meditation, I have been made aware of some of my own triggers. There was a time in my past when it seemed that everything was out of my control. My husband was in a car accident which led to a chain of events that include job loss, vehicle loss, and loss of our home. Food was the only thing we felt like we could enjoy. Despite an improved situation, that habit has remained. Whenever life’s uncontrollable events become overwhelming, I eat- unhealthy portions and unhealthy choices. Then, upon realizing the negative effects those choices will have on my already overweight body, guilt and shame set in. Those feelings increase the desire to keep eating, overshadowing the desire to be healthy and fit.

Mindful eating was described by a classmate in a discussion board. After doing a bit more research on this type of mindful practice, I decided to try “Eating Meditation” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. This particular practice is an effective way to overcome both the triggers to overeat and the guilt and shame that follows and introduces new healthy habits to replace them. Thich Nhat Hanh offers seven practices for eating mindfully: honor the food, engage all six senses, serve in modest portions, savor small bits and chew thoroughly, eat slowly, don’t skip meals, and eat a plant based diet.[5] Honoring the food will inspire me to appreciate having food, and choices, appreciate the farmer’s labor, and my ability to share with others. By requiring engagement of all six senses, I am encouraged to not be distracted from eating by television or urges to multi-task. Being fully present and aware while eating, I hope to recognize feelings of satiety and make the conscious choice to stop eating. Serving modest portions and savoring small bits will further control the compulsion to overeat. According to Kelcey Stratton, “The cultivation of mindfulness precludes impulsive thought and behavior through the maintenance of attention on the present moment.”[6] Eating slowly will allow for further recognition of satiety, and being sure not to skip meals will reduce drops in blood sugar that can contribute to additional mood swings. Choosing to eat a plant-based diet increases my mindfulness of my body’s health, because I know that eating meat can increase the risk of cancer and heart disease. It also makes me mindful of my connection with others on this planet. Choosing plants does not contribute to the slaughter and inhumane treatment of animals nor does it necessarily negatively impact the environment, further eliminating triggers of guilt and shame. After only about two weeks of utilizing this practice, I can see and feel results. I have more energy, greater appreciation, and experience guilt and shame from eating far less frequently. Mindful eating will remain in my mindful routine improvement plan.

This plan also includes methods to further identify and cope with professional triggers. Because I have built empathetic relationships with the families I serve, when they are facing adversity, particularly those that cause tremendous pain like the domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, or even the loss of a child, I am susceptible to secondary or vicarious trauma. When I am not equipped with all of the tools to help, or if needed resources do not yet exist in my community, or if I am reminded of my own past trauma, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are triggered. Those triggers then lead to feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes this as adventitious suffering, “that causes the vast majority of the suffering we experience,” the kind that “we create for ourselves on top of what the outer circumstances bring us.”[7] Although suffering is not avoidable, it is possible to not allow triggers to make suffering worse. This requires prompt recognition of triggers.

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio asserts, “at any moment, your rate of breathing, blood flow, tension in your muscles and constriction in your gut represents a pattern you can identify as a feeling.”[8] Since “the mind does not have to make a great effort to find the breath,”[9] and it travels with us wherever we go, it seems logical to focus on breathing multiple times throughout the day, reflecting upon changes to the breath, noting feelings of tension and triggers as often as possible so they can be dealt with swiftly. Jon Kabat-Zinn explains that focus on breathing allows us to attend to what we perceive with greater stability. The relationship between self and the perceived become “one seamless, dynamical whole in awareness.”[10]

I plan to incorporate a combination of guided and unguided daily meditations, with breath as the focus object for a minimum of thirty minutes daily into my mindfulness plan. Kabat-Zinn reminds of the importance of having a non-striving attitudinal foundation, in order to appreciate “the timeless quality of the present moment we call now.”[11]Despite not striving for benefit by means of mindful meditation, benefits do exist. When “a team of scientists from the University of British Columbia and the Chemnitz University of Technology were able to pool data from more than 20 studies (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.,” it was determined that activity in the anterior cingulate cortex is higher in meditators, which supports self-regulation and “optimal decision-making…[which is] particularly important in the face of uncertain and fast-changing conditions.”[12] Researcher Adrienne Taren declares, “The picture we have is that mindfulness practice increases one’s ability to recruit higher order, pre-frontal cortex regions in order to down-regulate lower-order brain activity.”[13] All of these brain changes could increase my productivity in the workplace, as I learn to be aware of my own triggers and mindful even of the triggers of my clients. Being in the present moment will prevent me from allowing my own thoughts and emotions interfere with the task at hand.

Another trigger I notice in both personal and professional settings is defensiveness when I feel that someone has been unfairly judged. Working with a population that is often stereotyped and blamed for their own circumstances, my passion for promoting the removal stigma and advocacy for those in poverty typically begins as thoughtful, hopefully articulate rationale, but can evolve into defensive overtones, where I begin to feel as if I am being attacked by opposition, losing clarity and confidence. The negative spiral continues as I then begin to believe I am inadequate and ineffective. Ironically, I do not notice this trigger when judging myself harshly. In order to alleviate the effects of this particular trigger, I plan to cultivate and practice what Buddha describes as loving friendliness.

The mindful practice of loving friendliness, which is cultivated by vipassana meditation, could allow me to both stop being so hard on myself and be gentle and forgiving with my adversaries, those who are having difficulty understanding the culture of or the challenges faced by those in poverty. My plan will incorporate the advice given by Bhante Gunaratana:

Cultivate loving friendliness toward yourself first. Accept yourself just as you are. Make peace with your shortcomings. Embrace even your weaknesses. Be gentle with yourself as you are at this very moment. If thoughts arise as to how you should be such a way, let them go… Expend this feeling to your loved ones, to people you don’t know or feel neutrally about – and even to your adversaries.[14]

In doing so, my hope is to change my “habitual negative thought patterns and reinforce positive ones.”[15] By sharing this technique with others, perhaps a ripple effect of acceptance can form.

My beginner’s mind cannot yet fathom the full effects that mindfulness can accomplish. With patience, and helpful reminders from an alarm, I plan to keep practicing many new mindfulness techniques as I discover them, incorporating them into my daily life as often as possible. Journaling is another technique that I will continue in order to be better able to reflect on my triggers, and my progress. Various forms of meditation will be implemented as habits to cultivate loving friendliness and to reduce the effects of triggers, both personal and professional. Although mindfulness promises to “positively affect the way the brain processes difficult emotions under stress,” and “induce positive immune system changes that correlate with the brain changes,” “the transformative power of mindfulness lies in the” expanded possibilities for being, knowing, and doing.”[16]

Bibliography

Congleton, Hölzel, Lazar, “Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain.” Harvard Business Review. (2015), https://hbr.org/2015/01/mindfulness-can-literally-change-your-brainGood Therapy. “Trigger” GoodTherapy.org, accessed August 12, 2016,

Good Therapy. “Trigger” GoodTherapy.org, accessed August 12, 2016 http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/trigger

Gunaratna, Bhante, Mindfulness in Plain English. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2015.

Hanh, Thich Nhat, “Thich Nhat Hanh on 7 Ways to Eat Mindfully.” Zen Your Diet, accessed August 13, 2016, http://life.gaiam.com/article/zen-your-diet

Ireland, Tom, “What does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain?” Scientific American  (2014), http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/what-does-mindfulness-meditation-do-to-your-brain/

Jha, Amishi, “Being in the Now.” Scientific American (2013), http://www.themindcentre.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Scientific-American-article.pdf

Kabat-Zinn, Jon, Mindfulness for Beginners. Boulder, CO: Sounds True Publications, 2012.

Paul, Margaret, “What Are Emotional Triggers + Why You Need to Understand Them. MindBodyGreen, (2015), http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-18348/what-are-emotional-triggers-why-you-need-to-understand-them.html

Reynolds, Marcia, “5 Steps for Managing Your Emotional Triggers.” Psychology Today (2015), https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wander-woman/201507/5-steps-managing-your-emotional-triggers

Stratton, Kelcey, “Mindfulness Based Approaches to Impulsive Behaviors.” New Psychology Bulletin Vol. 4, No. 2, (2006) http://www.nspb.net/index.php/nspb/article/view/145

The American Institute of Stress. “What is Stress?” Stress.org, accessed August 13, 2016 http://www.stress.org/what-is-stress/

 

 

[1]. “What is Stress?” The American Institute of Stress, accessed August 13, 2016, http://www.stress.org/what-is-stress/

 

[2]. “Trigger,” Good Therapy, accessed August 12, 2016, http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/trigger

 

[3]. Amishi Jha, “Being in the Now.” Scientific American (2013), 30. http://www.themindcentre.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Scientific-American-article.pdf

 

[4]. Marcia Reynolds, “5 Steps for Managing Your Emotional Triggers,” Psychology Today (2015) https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wander-woman/201507/5-steps-managing-your-emotional-triggers

[5]. Thich Nhat Hanh, “Thich Naht Hanh on 7 Ways to Eat Mindfully.” Zen Your Diet, accessed August 13, 2016, http://life.gaiam.com/article/zen-your-diet

 

[6]. Kelcey Stratton, “Mindfulness Based Approaches to Impulsive Behaviors.” The New Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 4, No.2, (2006), http://www.nspb.net/index.php/nspb/article/view/145

[7]. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness for Beginners (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2012), 95.

 

[8]. Marcia Reynolds, “5 Steps for Managing Your Emotional Triggers,” Psychology Today (2015) https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wander-woman/201507/5-steps-managing-your-emotional-triggers

[9]. Bhante Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2015), 46.

 

[10]. Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness for Beginners, 12.

 

[11]. Ibid., 127.

[12]. Congleton, Holzel, Lazar, “Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain,” Harvard Business Review (2015), https://hbr.org/2015/01/mindfulness-can-literally-change-your-brain

[13]. Tom Ireland, “What does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain?” Scientific American (2014), http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/what-does-mindfulness-meditation-do-to-your-brain/

[14]. Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English, 180.

 

[15]. Ibid., 184.

 

[16]. Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness for Beginners, 19.

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