Three “Mindful” Observations

Cal Robinson, Psy.D., MSCP, ABMP

For the past year, I have had the privilege of meeting weekly with people who have expressed interest in knowing more about mindfulness.  The program that I brought here from Canada (beginning in June 2016) is a branch slightly removed from the work of Jon Kabat Zinn, who was the inspiration behind Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). He then trained Jackie Gardner Nix MD, the physician behind Mindfulness Based Chronic Pain Management (MBCPM™).

I will begin my sixth group, learning the skill of MBCPM™, in September 2017.  Every thirteen weeks, a new group begins to comprehend the heart and skills of mindfulness meditation.  I have observed and learned much from getting this program integrated into my work. For many individuals, the program has offered hope, improved health and a greater awareness of learning and sharing compassion when addressing chronic pain and other challenges.  Every group has had approximately 15 participants.  Every week in class, a new topic is addressed that has significance, especially when learning to live with chronic pain.

Three particular areas of awareness have emerged for me – front and center, when learning mindfulness and meditative practice. They are:

1) It is essential to approach this skill from a non-judgmental perspective.  As with learning any new and important approach, it is helpful to respond to yourself in kind and gracious ways.  Those that reinforce your willingness to observe and “be” with whatever is present at the moment.  As we say in mindfulness, “the here and now.”  Responding to yourself in judgmental ways interferes with learning the skill and adds barriers which complicate your learning and practice.  Being non-judgmental in your practice of mindfulness also builds greater acceptance and willingness to be with the difficult realities of life.

2) Finding ways to run away, deny and avoid pain only intensifies the experience.  Practicing Mindfulness, with the emphasis on “falling awake”, encourages greater awareness in order to know more about chronic pain and its’ influence.  Stephen Hayes, PhD, one of the leading theorists behind the development of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, reminds us that the more we want something out of our lives, whether it be depression, chronic pain or anxiety, the more we have it.  With enhanced mindfulness skills, a greater awareness emerges, without fear, that leads to a sensitive, compassionate and accommodating outlook toward pain. This is learned as one makes space for the pain rather than struggling to get rid of it. Acceptance involves the active and aware embrace of the reality of your life…what is on your plate and part of your history, without futile attempts to change their frequency or form.  Yes, I have chronic pain-there it is.

3) Remaining in the “here and now” offers hope and possibility.  The concept of being in the “here and now” is a core concept in mindfulness.  Pain patients who have judged their pain and life experience quite harshly and who find the meaning of their lives has been compromised, can calmly face the complexity of their life and pain when the parameters of time focus just on the “now”.  It is amazing to see what is possible in the “now”!  An example is simply being able to sit and breathe, being united with one’s pain experience. By doing so, the many barriers that compound the pain experience become more workable, flexible, less complicated.  To be able to say to yourself “I can just sit here and breathe, even with my pain”, offers hope and possibility.

If these simple thoughts grab your curiosity or as in mindfulness lingo, “your minds-eye”…I hope you will consider joining us later in September for our program which teaches about mindfulness meditation, especially for chronic pain, sleep disorders, anxiety….or whatever part of your life it might benefit.