Our human nature is like a garden of myriad colors and blooms. Weeds pop up here and there and, with practice, we can mindfully tend to them. Like any garden ours requires light, nutrients, and water. A wakeful attention is the light that warms our growth. Self compassion, kindness and care are the fertilizer that feeds our blossoming. And regular meditation practice is what waters our garden, keeping it fresh and alive.
The many responsibilities and demands of day to day life can easily deplete our vitality and health. In a poorly tended garden, weeds grow, soil becomes depleted or dried up and our plants and flowers wither and become dis-eased.
Regular meditation practice is like digging a shallow trench to fill with water and irrigate our garden. Stress and busyness, multitasking and a lack of self care, can easily take us away from tending to ourselves. Our trench dries up, and we may feel a sense of longing and separation from who we are and what is important to us.
Meditation practice is always in dynamic relationship with the rest of our lives – a push and pull; a flow between resonance and dissonance. The many demands – work pressures, family dynamics, screens, media, blessings, challenges — can pull us away from this garden, even as we return time and again to our breath, to this moment, to our self. As any seasoned gardener knows, caring for a garden is a process of leaving and returning, gently working with nature to nurture life and creation in an intentional way.
Retreat is an opportunity to come home again to our true selves. At a meditation retreat we practice formal sitting and walking. We are more quiet and slowed. We eat mindfully and our attention is turned within as we explore and deepen our relationship with ourself. Retreat is not a moving away from, but is rather a returning to who we really are.
While daily meditation practice continues to fill our trench and irrigate our garden, retreat is akin to digging a deep well. On retreat we deepen our practice through a process of coming back, time again, to this breath, to this step and to this moment. We return to self with kindness and curiousity, and in this way, create a compassionate space for whatever is here – challenge, blessing or circumstance. On retreat we have the time and space to surrender into the practice and process of healing and insight. While this digging of the ‘well’ can be uncomfortable, physically and emotionally, it is also what allows us to reinvigorate ourselves and our practice. We often leave retreat feeling refreshed and filled. We dig the well during retreat, fill it with our dedicated practice, and this is what quenches our thirst and sustains our vitality and presence.
I recommend attending a teacher led retreat, if possible, at least once per year. This may be as little as a couple of days, or as long as a month or more. At Living This Moment, we offer regular retreats for physicians and other health care providers in order to deepen one’s experience of meditation practice and to nurture a sense of a mindful community. In addition please refer to the Resources section of the website for other retreat suggestions.
Making time for retreat in a life of competing priorities and busyness can be challenging. And yet it is also a radical act of self-love and of coming home. We tend to our garden, time and again, so that it can sustain us for a life that is lived with presence, love and insight.
In the bustle and busyness of daily life, it is easy to exist on autopilot. Our responsibilities, habits, consumptions and details unfold, moment to moment, without much consciousness of what we are doing, or how we feel about it. Undercurrents of angst, fear, sadness, or fatigue may simmer just beneath the surface of awareness as a general unease, yet we do not often take the time to explore its nature. When dis-ease does arise in the body or in the mind, we are not always aware of its source nor what we may need to take care of ourselves. We may try to seek out balance through self care – exercise, bodywork, psychotherapy, medicines..etc, with some relief. However these too can become ‘to-do’s’ on a never-ending hamster wheel that too commonly defines our existence.
Mindfulness and meditation are important tools to bring into our daily life in order to slow down, simplify, soften and to invite a clearer perspective of what is here. Developing a daily practice of meditation, and nurturing informal mindfulness, requires effort and a will to create something new in our lives. Books, blogposts, TED talks, Facebook posts and conversations are often our initial inspiration. These may lead us to a workshop or a course in meditation, and we begin to invite this practice into our days.
As we nurture a regular meditation practice in our life, we begin to glimpse our authentic self – the peace, joy, needs, and suffering – that exists often just beneath our day to day awareness. Visiting this practice with increasing regularity we awaken from the numb slumber of overbusyness and mindfulness spills into our lives in rich and surprising ways.
Creating a regular mindful practice can be fraught with challenges, however, as so many details pull on our time and resources, and as self care can easily fall lower and lower on our list of priorities. Maintaining a meditation practice requires creating a new habit in our life. In order to do this we must bring an awareness to the old habit of overbusyness and, in turn, invite a kind and purposeful effort towards creating something new. This can be difficult work, and it is common to see people practice their meditation regularly for a time, and then for it to fall off as the momentum, and the will, fades.
How do we develop and stick to a meditation practice? In a two part series of articles I will explore the importance of retreat and mindful community as two important and time tested tools that enable us to maintain a practice as well as the benefits that this practice brings to our moments and to our relationships.
Mindfulness is a practice of being alive. It is a state of intentional, non judgemental awareness of what is here and now. Mindfulness is as simple as noticing a breeze against your skin, your feet against the ground, or the movement of breath in the body. When we meet this moment, whatever it offers, with genuine acceptance, attention and self-compassion, then we are practicing mindfulness.
As with any skill, our capacity to be present and wakeful in our lives grows with practice. Meditation can be understood as a practice of formal mindfulness. As we learn to sit and follow our breath, our body sensations, or even the sounds around us, with kindness, focus, and non judgement, so we develop and strengthen this same capacity when relating to others, to ourselves, and to our moments, in all of their blessing and challenge.
At Living This Moment we are here to help you rediscover your own joy, meaning and resilience through an exploration and practice of mindfulness and meditation.
Please come in and explore how you can bring these tools into your own life in order to heal and to live more fully in a way that you value.
The practice of medicine involves unique challenges and blessings. The nature of our work is to help our patients to navigate and alleviate their own suffering. Our days are filled with clinics and hospital rounds; surgical slates and ER shifts; house calls and nursing home visits; meetings, rounds, teaching and paperwork. Amidst this busyness we face immense demands, from others and from ourselves, to fix, to support, to care and to heal. At times we navigate these demands with clear boundaries, balance and a deep compassion for others, and for ourselves. However it is also too easy for these challenges and expectations to lead to overbusyness, unhealthy stress and to burnout.
Over 60% of nurses and physicians describe their work life as ‘highly stressful’. In a November 2003 study on physician health, 47% of all Canadian physicians were found to be in the advanced stages of burnout. This burnout is, in turn, associated with a decreased quality of care, a lack of life and work satisfaction, a decreased sense of accomplishment, and increased rates of divorce, depression, addiction, and suicide.
In witnessing others’ suffering, we face our own pain, our own dis-ease, and our own mortality. As we summon all of our skill, compassion, experience and wisdom to each patient encounter, so we as well are challenged to face our own limitations and our own impotence.
And yet there is so much beauty as well. Our work offers daily glimpses into the heart of humanity — the courage, selflessness, vulnerability, compassion and sheer heroism our patients and their caregivers wield as they confront the challenges of dis-ease. We witness our own strength and caring, and that of our colleagues as we make every effort to help and to heal
Mindfulness in medicine invites us to arrive, moment by moment, in the midst of all of this. Can we learn — as physicians, nurses, social workers, therapists — to be awake to the blessings and challenges of the work we do? Can we accept and embrace our wisdom and skill as well as our imperfections and limitations? When we witness suffering — that of others as well as that of ourselves — with friendly presence and compassion, then we truly allow healing to take place.
Mindfulness is a skill. Like every other skill, it is learned through intention and practice. As we practice concentration, compassion, and acceptance so we are able to use these skills in real ways in our lives. Formal practice of mindfulness meditation foster these skills on the cushion or chair so that we are able to bring them into our daily lives. As we practice mindfulness amidst the demands and busyness of our personal and professional lives, so we nurture a sense of wellness, balance, and satisfaction.
A 2009 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that 1 year after an 8 week training in mindfulness primary care physicians had:
• decreased perceived stress,
• decreased burnout rates,
• improved stress coping
• Improved emotional stability,
• increased empathy
• Increased sense of wellbeing
A 2007 randomized controlled trial found that mental health providers who had had mindfulness training had improved mental health treatment outcomes in their patients.
There are several resources on this site and elsewhere that allow health care providers to learn and adopt these powerful tools to apply in their personal and professional lives. As we invite mindfulness into medicine so we clear the way for a future in health care that will serve the needs of both patient and healer.
Busyness seems a badge of honour so many of us wear these days. We celebrate our success and worth to ourselves and to others by the number of things we do, responsibilities we have, and accomplishments we make. “How are you?”…. “I’m busy!”
There is nothing inherently wrong or bad about all of these myriad responsiblities, accomplishments and doings. If they serve us by helping us to express our truth, be joyful, live our values and to walk skillfully and compassionately in the world, then these are worthwhile efforts. And yet, too often, we overfill our lives with ‘doings’ and ‘shoulds’ that do not serve us, or else are too numerous and simultaneous that they overwhelm our capacity to be present and well. At times this over-busyness carries an unconscious intention to numb or distract ourselves from our own inner suffering and our own fears. By not allowing spaces in our life to feel, to commune, and to nurture, this suffering only grows.
“Each moment we are focused on the future or the past is a temporary loss of this life”
Despite a modern world of technological convenience, we are busier than ever. Despite everpresent social media connections to hundreds of friends, we often feel so very alone. Anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, stress leave,and burnout are becoming epidemic public health issues that are bubbling over in our society, having significant social, economic and political repercussions. By 2020 the World Health Organization estimates that clinical depression will be the second largest cause of overall burden of disease worldwide.
Mindfulness is a practice of being alive. As Jon Kabat Zinn defines it, “mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally”. As we slow down a little, let go and simplify in ways that serve us; and offer kindness, care and compassion to ourselves and to others, we are better able to drop into this moment and to move skillfully with whatever is here. Mindfulness allows us to be awake to all of the challenges and blessings of our life. In essence it is a practice of living this moment.
At Living This Moment, my hope is to offer tools — to kids, to parents, to physicians and other health care providers, and to anyone who is challenged by this sense of overwhelm. Through education, dialogue, experiential workshops, courses and retreats, you will learn, practice and grow in your capacity to be alive, to be awake and to care for yourself, your community and the world.