Mindful Healing

“Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change. Change the way you BE with things, and the things you BE with change.”

This quote has been floating around in my mind for the last few months, thanks to Dr. Paul Epstein, the teacher of the “Mindful Healing” course I took with the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. It has become a mantra of sorts, that has helped me to shift my perspective on so many things. It is also the perfect “resolution” for me on this New Year’s day.

winter snow forest sunlight 1920x1200 wallpaper_www.wallpaperfo.com_11

 

One of the reasons I took this course was to gain a deeper understanding on the connection between mind and body from a therapeutic standpoint. I was interested to learn about complementary therapies that took into account the “whole” person, and went beyond just physical symptom management of illness. I thought it would be interesting to see how meditation, yoga, and breath work were being used in clinical settings, and I hoped it would give me further resources to draw upon in my own teaching/coaching. Never did I imagine how much this course would teach me about myself…

The entire course was based on mindfulness – the practice of present-moment non-judgmental awareness. It’s something I practice on the meditation cushion by just sitting and breathing, being with thoughts and feelings and emotions, physical sensations, and outside distractions without reacting or judging or evaluating. Not easy…but I keep doing it over and over as part of the practice. Implementing this in day-to-day life is even harder; paying attention to what IS rather than what I want it to be means I must step back, see with “new eyes” and let go. In fact, drawing from the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkTC6jrtbfY), Dr. Epstein suggests that in the practice of mindfulness, we can cultivate seven qualities of BEING:

1. Non-judgment – an impartial observer, inquirer, investigator

2. Patience – not rushing or forcing or controlling the process; just letting BE in this moment

3. Beginner’s mind – seeing with curiosity and an open mind; seeing with “new eyes” and being open to several possibilities

4. Trust – welcome each experience like a “guest” or “visitor” who comes to teach us something

5. Non-striving – letting go of trying so hard; relinquishing the need to achieve results right away or to fix or to control; effortless “right effort”

6. Acceptance – being with things as they ARE in the moment; surrender

7. Letting go – if we hang on so tightly we inhibit the natural unfolding of what needs to BE; can we release our hold and just allow what IS to unfold?

At first I tried to come up with an acronym so I could remember these seven qualities (NPBTNAL? TABLPNN? PANNBLT?) but then I realized I was STRIVING too much! So in the spirit of non-striving, I let go of the NEED to remember them all and simply let the qualities develop naturally during meditation. While it’s helpful to refer back to the list from time to time, I am working on embodying these qualities more and more so they rise to the surface automatically. This is how I want to BE. This is how I already AM at the core.

Mindfulness allows us to see the truth of what is. This is where healing can happen – in the now. Over and over we were reminded in this course that the “body bears the burden” of all our experiences, and “symptoms” could be seen as signals to which we needed to give deeper and fuller attention. If we continued to bury, ignore, or deny our symptoms or pain (whether physical, emotional, mental, etc.), the burden would take its toll on the body in the form of “dis-EASE”. So we asked ourselves three questions: How did I come to be this way (what is my story in my own words)? Am I willing to listen with the “ears of my heart” to the other voices of my Self? Can I BE with my pain of mind, body, and spirit in a way that is compassionate, wise, and healing? As we worked with these questions, it reminded me of something I read in a translation of Patanjali’s yoga sutras: Not only must we learn to understand the truth, we must also be able to WITHSTAND the truth. The strength to withstand our own truth comes from those seven ways of being. Healing happens when we can be unconditionally present NOW, no matter what we are experiencing, without jumping ahead to the future and its illusive promise of “salvation” or holding on to grudges or regrets about past events which are long over.

In asking (and living) these questions with mindfulness, we were able to explore our own history through various guided meditations, imagery, and relaxation practices. In being with our own discomfort we often discovered connections between our emotions and our physical pain. We discovered how past negative experiences may have conditioned our thinking and behaviour throughout our lives and how we continue to repeat the same patterns over and over again to any perceived threat. As much as the brain has become wired to react in a certain way (neuroplasticity), with mindfulness we can create new neural pathways and re-train the brain to respond in more skillful ways. We learned about the harmful effects of prolonged untreated stress on our immune systems and how mind/body practices like meditation and relaxation can create positive changes even at the cellular level (http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2013/05/genes-altered-after-relaxation-practice). We discussed how treating the whole person involves looking at not only pathology and biology but also an individual’s personal experience of illness, one’s beliefs and attitudes, one’s behaviour, one’s character and personality, and one’s idea of their own purpose or meaning. We concluded that returning to “wholeness” of Self when illness is present isn’t just about “curing”; it is about “self-healing”, working with presence of mind, body, and spirit to transform suffering into awakening.

(http://drpaulepstein.com/sites/default/files/Illness%20as%20opportunity%20natural%20awakening%20pdf.pdf).

For me personally, there were many profound insights that allowed me to address old “wounds” and let them go. In doing so, places in my body where I had been holding pain seemed to open up and feel more spacious. Now more than ever I am understanding the mind-body connection in myself. I have…we ALL have…the ability to heal within. We just need to be willing to go deep into ourselves and pay attention to what we find in a compassionate, loving way. As Krishnamurti said, “When the mind is still, tranquil, not seeking any answer or solution, neither resisting nor avoiding – it is only then that there can be a regeneration, because then the mind is capable of perceiving what is true; and it is truth that liberates, not your effort to be free.”

If you are interested in understanding more about the mind-body connection, I highly recommend a documentary called “The Connection”. See the website where you can preview fifteen minutes of the film: https://www.theconnection.tv/

 

 

Advertisements