Improve Psychological Adjustment with Meditation

Improve Psychological Adjustment with Meditation

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Fine-tuning which type of mindfulness or meditation someone uses as a prescriptive to treat a specific need will most likely be the next big advance in the public health revolution of mindfulness and meditation.” – Christopher Bergland

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.

 

In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, and learns to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these thoughts and lets them arise and fall away without paying them any further attention. Loving Kindness Meditation is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being.

 

These techniques have common properties of restful attention on the present moment. They are also similar to many religious and spiritual practices. There are large differences between these practices that are likely to produce different effects on the practitioner. But what those differences are is not known. In today’s Research News article “Religiosity and Meditation Practice: Exploring Their Explanatory Power on Psychological Adjustment.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00630/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_951898_69_Psycho_20190404_arts_A), Montero-Marin and colleagues explore the different effects of these practices on the psychological well-being of practitioners.

 

They recruited adult participants online and had them complete measures of happiness, depression, positive and negative emotions, and negative psychological adjustment. They were also asked to indicate the amount of prayer, and the types and amounts of meditation practices engaged in, including open monitoring, focused, and compassion meditation types.

 

They found that positive psychological states were associated with the amount of the various meditation practices and not particularly with religiosity or prayer. They found that the amount of focused meditation practice was significantly related to all measures of psychological adjustment, including happiness, depression, positive and negative emotions, and negative psychological adjustment. On the other hand, open monitoring practice was significantly associated with self-regulation of negative emotions and compassion meditation was significantly related to positive emotions and happiness.

 

These are interesting results that are cross-sectional and correlative. So, care must be taken in concluding causation. Nevertheless, the results suggest that meditation practice has positive benefits for the psychological state of the practitioner that are superior to religious practices. It appears that focused meditation practice has the greatest benefits while compassion meditation may help increase happiness and open monitoring meditation may help with dealing with negative emotions. Previous research has indicated some additional benefits of religiosity, prayer, and focused, open monitoring, and compassion meditation techniques. It remains for future research to better clarify the advantages and disadvantages of each of these meditation types.

 

So, improve psychological adjustment with meditation.

 

”For someone who meditates, the practice offers a chance to improve physical wellbeing, as well as emotional health. However, there is no “right way” to meditate, meaning people can explore the different types until they find one that works for them.” – Zawn Villines

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Montero-Marin J, Perez-Yus MC, Cebolla A, Soler J, Demarzo M and Garcia-Campayo J (2019) Religiosity and Meditation Practice: Exploring Their Explanatory Power on Psychological Adjustment. Front. Psychol. 10:630. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00630

 

There has been increased interest in the relationships between religiosity, meditation practice and well-being, but there is lack of understanding as to how specific religious components and distinct meditation practices could influence different positive and negative psychological adjustment outcomes. The aim of this study was to assess the explanatory power of religious beliefs and the practice of prayer, focused attention (FA), open monitoring (OM), and compassion meditation (CM) on psychological adjustment, taking into consideration a number of practice-related variables such as session length, frequency of practice and lifetime practice. Psychological adjustment was assessed by means of happiness, positive affect, depression, negative affect, and emotional overproduction. A cross-sectional design was used, with a final sample comprising 210 Spanish participants who completed an online assessment protocol. Hierarchical regressions were performed, including age, sex and psychotropic medication use in the first step as possible confounders, with the addition of religious beliefs and the practice of prayer, FA, OM, and CM in the second step. FA session length was related to all psychological adjustment outcomes: happiness (ΔR2 = 0.09, p = 0.002; β = 0.25, p = 0.001), positive affect (ΔR2 = 0.09, p = 0.002; β = 0.18, p = 0.014), depression (ΔR2 = 0.07, p = 0.004; β = -0.27, p < 0.001), negative affect (ΔR2 = 0.08, p = 0.007; β = -0.27, p < 0.001) and emotional overproduction (ΔR2 = 0.07, p = 0.013; β = -0.23, p = 0.001). CM session length was related to positive affect (β = 0.18, p = 0.011). CM practice frequency was associated with happiness (ΔR2 = 0.06, p = 0.038; β = 0.16, p = 0.041). Lifetime practice of FA was related to happiness (ΔR2 = 0.08, p = 0.007; β = 0.21, p = 0.030) and OM to emotional overproduction (ΔR2 = 0.08, p = 0.037; β = -0.19, p = 0.047). Religious beliefs and prayer seemed to be less relevant than meditation practices such as FA, OM, and CM in explaining psychological adjustment. The distinct meditation practices might be differentially related to distinct psychological adjustment outcomes through different practice-related variables. However, research into other forms of institutional religiosity integrating social aspects of religion is required.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00630/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_951898_69_Psycho_20190404_arts_A

 

Promote Well-Being in Adolescents with Spirituality

Promote Well-Being in Adolescents with Spirituality

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Call it faith. Call it spirituality. Call it zealotry. Our consciousness creates the reality that reflects it. If we feel apart, other, afraid, and deadened, we will live in a world that reflects and perpetuates these energies.” – Kelly Brogan

 

Spirituality is defined as “one’s personal affirmation of and relationship to a higher power or to the sacred. ”Spirituality has been promulgated as a solution to the challenges of life both in a transcendent sense and in a practical sense. The transcendent claims are untestable with the scientific method. But the practical claims are amenable to scientific analysis. There have been a number of studies of the influence of spirituality on the physical and psychological well-being of practitioners mostly showing positive benefits, with spirituality encouraging personal growth and mental health.

 

Adolescence is a time of mental, physical, social, and emotional growth. It is during this time that higher levels of thinking, sometimes called executive function, develops. But adolescence can be a difficult time, fraught with challenges. During this time the child transitions to young adulthood; including the development of intellectual, psychological, physical, and social abilities and characteristics. There are so many changes occurring during this time that the child can feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with all that is required. Indeed, up to a quarter of adolescents suffer from depression or anxiety disorders, and an even larger proportion struggle with subclinical symptoms.

 

It makes sense, then, to investigate the influence of spirituality on the ability of youths to navigate this difficult time and develop positive qualities and better mental health. In today’s Research News article “A Longitudinal Study of Spirituality, Character Strengths, Subjective Well-Being, and Prosociality in Middle School Adolescents.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00377/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_925884_69_Psycho_20190305_arts_A ), Kor and colleagues recruited adolescents aged 13 to 17 years and had them complete scales at baseline and 3 and 14 months later measuring character strength, optimism, spirituality, religiosity, transcendence, devotion, positive and negative emotions, life satisfaction, and prosociality.

 

They found that spirituality in adolescents was composed of spirituality, religiosity, transcendence, and devotion and was relatively stable over the 14-month measurement period. They found that the higher the levels of spirituality, the greater the levels of character strength, life satisfaction, positive emotions, and prosocial behaviors over all three measurement time points.

 

These findings are interesting but correlational. So, conclusions regarding causation cannot be reached. But the findings suggest that, surprisingly, spirituality does not fluctuate greatly over time in adolescents. They also suggest that spirituality is associated with a relatively satisfying and happy life that is engaged positively with other people. Hence, spirituality would appear to be a positive factor that is helpful to youths in maintaining well-being over the turbulent time of adolescence.

 

So, promote well-being in adolescents with spirituality.

 

“Both religion and spirituality can have a positive impact on mental health. In some ways, they provide the same impact. For example: Both religion and spirituality can help a person tolerate stress by generating peace, purpose and forgiveness.” – Laura Greenstein

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Kor A, Pirutinsky S, Mikulincer M, Shoshani A and Miller L (2019) A Longitudinal Study of Spirituality, Character Strengths, Subjective Well-Being, and Prosociality in Middle School Adolescents. Front. Psychol. 10:377. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00377

 

Using data from 1,352 middle-school Israeli adolescents, the current study examines the interface of spirituality and character strengths and its longitudinal contribution to subjective well-being and prosociality. Participants were approached three times over a 14-months period and completed measures of character strengths, spirituality, subjective well-being (positive emotions, life satisfaction), and prosociality. Findings revealed a fourth-factor structure of character strengths that included the typical tripartite classification of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and intellectual strengths together with spirituality emerging as a statistically autonomous factor. Spirituality was stable over time and contributed to higher subjective well-being and prosociality both cross-sectionally and longitudinally. Discussion focuses on spirituality as a fundamental character strength and an important aspect of positive development.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00377/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_925884_69_Psycho_20190305_arts_A

 

Mindful Birthday

Mindful Birthday

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“I had always thought a birthday was a day for me, but I believe it’s a day for everyone that is around me. It is a day where everyone shows you love; it’s a day where people want to make you happy. It is a day where smiles and laughter are ubiquitous. My special day brings out the very best in others.” – Anand

 

Birthdays are a special time, one day a year set aside to celebrate the existence of a particular person. It is fairly arbitrary day other than the person was born on a day when the Earth was at the same point in its orbit of the sun. It’s also fairly arbitrary as it is a single point in an ongoing developmental sequence ranging from conception to death; the point of emergence from the mother’s womb. So, it should be seen simply as an annual remembrance and celebration of the individual’s life and growth. As such, it is a worthwhile yearly reflection on life’s continuous changes, as Thich Nhat Hahn likes to say “Happy Continuation Day.”

 

The celebration of a birthday can be special. It’s a time when the individual is recognized by other humans, particularly family and friends. Expressions of love and caring that may be unspoken the rest of the year come out into the open. It’s an opportunity to revel in this recognition, caring, and connection. It is best to do so mindfully; to be sensitive and aware of each present moment, to look deeply at the feelings of the moment, and to listen carefully to everyone involved, hearing not only what is said but the nonverbal expressions. These are usually positive but sometimes they’re negative, but regardless should simply be experienced mindfully without judgement.

 

It is important to be mindful to experience the joy and happiness of the day. It should be fully experienced looking mindfully at the internal feelings and sensations that constitute this joy. But, it needs to be recognized that this, like everything, is impermanent and will briefly arise and fall away. It should not be clung to and attempted to be held onto. That is a prescription for unsatisfactoriness and unhappiness. It should be simply enjoyed as it is when it is present, appreciating the gift of the moment and having no regrets when it vanishes. That is the truly mindful way, that leads to satisfaction with life as it is.

 

So, enjoy your special day. If you focus on appreciating and savoring, but not clinging to, the happy moments in life your entire life will become happier. Enjoying them fully, mindfully, reinforces and strengthens these feelings making them more likely to reappear in the future. Similarly, letting go of regret that the good feelings have gone away and any negative emotions occurring makes them less likely to reappear. It’s simply watering the seeds of happiness so they’ll grow and flourish and allowing negatives to wither. Birthdays are opportunities to do just that.

 

If we reflect, though, it will become apparent that we are constantly being reborn. In fact, every moment we a reborn anew, different than we were, physically, mentally, and spiritually. In fact, awakening in the morning each day is a daily reminder of rebirth. This rebirth is subtle, though, and hard to detect on a moment to moment basis. That is one reason that the birthday celebration is so important. A year passing produces highly detectable changes in our bodies, our minds, and our life situations, greatly emphasizing this continual rebirth. Looking at it mindfully and carefully we can see the impermanence of everything, including ourselves. Some things have gone away, some new things have entered, and the rest has changed to some degree or another. This can lead to and appreciation, wonder, and celebration of the ongoing, ever changing, experience of life. What a wonderful opportunity to see ourselves and life as it truly is.

 

Birthdays are also wonderful times for mindful deep reflections on what has happened to us over the year and what was responsible for it. If we look deeply, we can readily see how much has happened and how interconnected we are to others. Our experiences were not produced by ourselves alone but were contributed to in very fundamental ways by a vast array of people, people close to us and only remotely connected. The individual may have a significant achievement or event during the year; a graduation, a promotion, a marriage, a birth of a child. A little mindful reflection will show how this occurred as a result of the confluence of efforts by a large number of others, our teachers and support group, our coworkers and family, our spouse and their family, in fact, our entire society and those who have gone before. Mindfulness can reveal that nothing occurs in isolation, but rather is the result of an almost infinite matrix of interconnected people and phenomenon. The Birthday is an excellent opportunity to reflect upon and deeply understand this truth of the interdependence of our existences.

 

We can equally benefit from celebrating the birthdays of others. Mindfully reveling in, sensing, and appreciating the good feelings we have toward them is another chance to experience the joys in life. Sensing the love in ourselves toward another is best done mindfully, observing the internal feelings and sensations that constitute this love. Enjoying the feelings of love for another makes it more likely that we’ll express love toward others, increasing the love in the world and our own personal happiness. Seeing the changes in them over the years is another lesson in impermanence. We are not the only one constantly changing and being reborn. It’s happening to everyone. Seeing this helps us to understand in an unvarnished experiential way the true nature of existence.

 

Birthdays are an opportunity to grow, understand, and become happier. Take advantage of that opportunity. But, do so mindfully. Have a mindful Happy Birthday.

 

“You also were inside before you were outside. That means that before you were born, you already existed—inside your mother. The fact is that if something is already there, it does not need to be born. To be born means from nothing you become something. If you are already something, what is the use of being born? So, your so-called birthday is really your continuation day. The next time you celebrate, you can say, “Happy Continuation Day.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

Chogyam Trungpa always had everyone sing “Cheerful Birthday,” not “Happy Birthday,” saying that Happiness was a state of mind that had Sadness or Unhappiness on its flip side. Cheerfulness, he said, better described a fundamental way or attitude of being. So, growing up in the Buddhist tradition, we always sang Cheerful Birthday to you… .” –  Waylon Lewis

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

Quality of Life of Patients with Cardiovascular Disease is Higher with Spirituality

Quality of Life of Patients with Cardiovascular Disease is Higher with Spirituality

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Positive beliefs, comfort, and strength gained from religion, meditation, and prayer can contribute to well being. It may even promote healing. Improving your spiritual health may not cure an illness, but it may help you feel better. It also may prevent some health problems and help you cope better with illness, stress, or death.” – FamilyDoctor

 

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. “Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack.” (Centers for Disease Control). A myriad of treatments has been developed for heart disease including a variety of surgical procedures and medications. In addition, lifestyle changes have proved to be effective including quitting smoking, weight reduction, improved diet, physical activity, and reducing stresses. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, 60% of heart failure patients decline participation, making these patients at high risk for another attack.

 

Safe and effective alternative treatments for cardiovascular disease are contemplative practices, such as meditation, tai chi, and yoga, have also been shown to be helpful for heart health. These practices have also been shown to be helpful for producing the kinds of lifestyle changes needed to prevent heart disease such as smoking cessationweight reduction, and stress reduction. Indeed, yoga practice is both a mindfulness training technique and a physical exercise.

 

Spirituality is defined as “one’s personal affirmation of and relationship to a higher power or to the sacred.” Spirituality has been promulgated as a solution to the challenges of life both in a transcendent sense and in a practical sense. The transcendent claims are untestable with the scientific method. But the practical claims are amenable to scientific analysis. There have been a number of studies of the relationship of spirituality with the physical and psychological well-being of practitioners mostly showing positive benefits, with spirituality related to greater personal growth and mental health. So, it would make sense to review what is known regarding the relationship of spirituality and religiosity to the psychological state of patients with cardiovascular disease.

 

In today’s Research News article “Association of religiosity and spirituality with quality of life in patients with cardiovascular disease: a systematic review.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6196107/  ), Abu and colleagues review and summarize the published research literature on the relationship of spirituality and religiosity to the quality of life of patients with cardiovascular disease. They found and reviewed 15 published studies that assessed spirituality and/or religiosity and global, mental, physical, or disease-related quality of life. All studies were correlational in nature without any active manipulations. Eleven of the studies included patients with heart failure, 2 with acute myocardial infarction, 1 with congenital heart disease, and 1 with multiple diagnoses.

 

They report that 10 of the 15 reviewed studies reported significant positive associations between spirituality and/or religiosity and quality of life in patients with cardiovascular disease; the greater the levels of spirituality and/or religiosity, the higher the quality of life. These results are correlational and conclusions regarding causality cannot be confidently made. Even reverse causation is possible such that a higher quality of life with heart disease produces greater spirituality and/or religiosity. In addition, only 2/3 of the studies reported significant results suggesting that the relationships are not highly robust.

 

The findings, though, regardless of causality suggest that spirituality and/or religiosity is related to better quality of life in patients with cardiovascular disease. Spirituality and/or religiosity have been shown to be related to resilience and low levels of stress, greater mental health, and better adherence to pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic therapy. These relationships with spirituality and/or religiosity would tend to predict better outcomes and quality of life in the patients. It is also possible that the social relationships and support supplied by spiritual or religious communities are responsible for the relationship. Regardless, it would appear that spirituality and/or religiosity are associated with better quality of life in patients with cardiovascular disease.

 

There are more than 50 studies in which religious practices were found to be protective against cardiovascular disease, including death due to heart attacks and strokes as well as against numerous risk factors such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels.” – Michael Murray

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Hawa O. Abu, Christine Ulbricht, Eric Ding, Jeroan J. Allison, Elena Salmoirago-Blotcher, Robert J. Goldberg, Catarina I. Kiefe. Association of religiosity and spirituality with quality of life in patients with cardiovascular disease: a systematic review. Qual Life Res. 2018; 27(11): 2777–2797.

 

Abstract

Purpose

This review systematically identified and critically appraised the available literature that has examined the association between religiosity and/or spirituality (R/S) and quality of life (QOL) in patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Methods

We searched several electronic online databases (PubMed, SCOPUS, PsycINFO, and CINAHL) from database inception until October 2017. Included articles were peer-reviewed, published in English, and quantitatively examined the association between R/S and QOL. We assessed the methodological quality of each included study.

Results

The 15 articles included were published between 2002 and 2017. Most studies were conducted in the US and enrolled patients with heart failure. Sixteen dimensions of R/S were assessed with a variety of instruments. QOL domains examined were global, health-related, and disease-specific QOL. Ten studies reported a significant positive association between R/S and QOL, with higher spiritual well-being, intrinsic religiousness, and frequency of church attendance positively related with mental and emotional well-being. Approximately half of the included studies reported negative or null associations.

Conclusions

Our findings suggest that higher levels of R/S may be related to better QOL among patients with CVD, with varying associations depending on the R/S dimension and QOL domain assessed. Future longitudinal studies in large patient samples with different CVDs and designs are needed to better understand how R/S may influence QOL. More uniformity in assessing R/S would enhance the comparability of results across studies. Understanding the influence of R/S on QOL would promote a holistic approach in managing patients with CVD.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6196107/

 

Psychedelic Drugs Produce Mystical Spiritual Experiences

Psychedelic Drugs Produce Mystical Spiritual Experiences

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Mystical experiences can be deeply transforming and powerful tools of spiritual evolution. Traditionally considered to be restricted to religious-based epiphanies and available only to a small few who were deserving enough to be addressed by their god or gods, in these times of mass awakening, they are but a wholesome, intentional psychedelic experience away.” – Xavier Francuski

 

Psychedelic substances such as peyote, mescaline, LSD, Bufotoxin, ayahuasca and psilocybin have been used almost since the beginning of recorded history to alter consciousness and produce spiritually meaningful experiences. Psychedelics produce effects that are similar to those that are reported in spiritual awakenings. They report a loss of the personal self, a decentering. They experience what they used to refer to as the self as just a part of an integrated whole. They report feeling interconnected with everything else in a sense of oneness with all things. They experience a feeling of timelessness where time seems to stop and everything is taking place in a single present moment. They experience ineffability, being unable to express in words what they are experiencing and as a result sometimes producing paradoxical statements. And they experience a positive mood, with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

 

It is easy to see why people find these experiences so pleasant and eye opening. They often report that the experiences changed them forever. Even though the effects of psychedelic substances have been experienced and reported on for centuries, only very recently have these effects come under rigorous scientific scrutiny.

 

In today’s Research News article “Intensity of Mystical Experiences Occasioned by 5-MeO-DMT and Comparison With a Prior Psilocybin Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02459/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_847629_69_Psycho_20181211_arts_A ), Barsuglia and colleagues compare the investigate the ability of Bufotoxin (5-MeO-DMT) to produce spiritual experiences. They recruited participants in a psychospiritual retreat in Baha Mexico. The participants were administered 50 mg of vaporized bufotoxin, estimated to contain 5–7 mg of 5-MeO-DMT “The bufotoxin was obtained from wild toads in the Sonoran Desert, Mexico.” Four to six hours after the experience they were administered a questionnaire on mystical experiences.

 

They found that the 5-MeO-DMT produced mystical experience equivalent to those produced by high, but not moderate or low, doses of Psilocybin including unitive experiences, noetic quality, and sacredness, positive mood, transcendence of time/space, and ineffability. Hence, Bufotoxin containing 5-MeO-DMT appears to have the same psychospiritual benefits as Psilocybin but at lower doses. It also appears to have very low addictive qualities, suggesting that it may be an excellent agent when therapy with psychedelic substances is called for.

 

The use of psychedelic substances is extremely controversial and for the most part illegal. But the present findings suggest that at least under controlled circumstances, they may have positive effects on the individual and their spirituality. It is interesting that these substances produce experiences that are very similar to those reported in awakening (enlightenment) experiences. This raises the possibility that these experiences are triggered by changes produced in the brain’s chemistry induced by spiritual practices. Much more research is needed to examine this speculation.

 

“It is fairly common for people who were initially skeptical of religions and spirituality prior to working with psychedelics to report that psychedelic experiences have increased their openness toward spirituality, sometimes even leading them to a specific spiritual path or religion.” – David Wilder

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Barsuglia J, Davis AK, Palmer R, Lancelotta R, Windham-Herman A-M, Peterson K, Polanco M, Grant R and Griffiths RR (2018) Intensity of Mystical Experiences Occasioned by 5-MeO-DMT and Comparison With a Prior Psilocybin Study. Front. Psychol. 9:2459. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02459

 

5-MeO-DMT is a psychoactive substance found in high concentrations in the bufotoxin of the Colorado River Toad (Bufo alvarius). Emerging evidence suggests that vaporized 5-MeO-DMT may occasion mystical experiences of comparable intensity to those occasioned by more widely studied psychedelics such as psilocybin, but no empirical study has tested this hypothesis. Data was obtained from 20 individuals (Mage = 38.9, ± 10.7; male = 55%, Caucasian = 85%) who were administered 5-MeO-DMT as part of a psychospiritual retreat program in Mexico. All participants received 50 mg of inhaled vaporized toad bufotoxin which contains 5-MeO-DMT and completed the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ30) approximately 4–6 h after their session. Administration of 5-MeO-DMT occasioned strong mystical experiences (MEQ30 Overall Mintensity = 4.17, ± 0.64, range 0–5) and the majority (n = 15, 75%) had “a complete mystical experience” (≥60% on all MEQ30 subscales). Compared to a prior laboratory-based psilocybin study, there were no differences in the intensity of mystical effects between 5-MeO-DMT and a high dose (30 mg/70 kg) of psilocybin, but the intensity of mystical effects was significantly higher in the 5-MeO-DMT sample compared to moderate/high dose (20 mg/70 kg) of psilocybin (MEQ30 Total Score: p = 0.02, d = 0.81). Administration of vaporized 5-MeO-DMT reliably occasioned complete mystical experiences in 75% of individuals and was similar in intensity to high dose psilocybin administered in a laboratory setting. The short duration of action may be advantageous for clinical interventions and for studying mystical-type experiences.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02459/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_847629_69_Psycho_20181211_arts_A

 

Increase Pain Tolerance and Spirituality with a Brief Meditation

Increase Pain Tolerance and Spirituality with a Brief Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

“Bit by bit, as I sat noticing my breath and body sensations, I began to feel the deep knots of pain in my body start to untie themselves.” – Avi Craimer

We all have to deal with pain. It’s inevitable, but hopefully it’s mild and short lived. For a wide swath of humanity, however, pain is a constant in their lives. At least 100 million adult Americans have chronic pain conditions. The most common treatment for chronic pain is drugs. These include over-the-counter analgesics and opioids. But opioids are dangerous and highly addictive. Prescription opioid overdoses kill more than 14,000 people annually. So, there is a great need to find safe and effective ways to lower the psychological distress and improve the individual’s ability to cope with the pain.

 

Pain involves both physical and psychological issues. The stress, fear, and anxiety produced by pain tends to elicit responses that actually amplify the pain. So, reducing the emotional reactions to pain may be helpful in pain management. There is an accumulating volume of research findings to demonstrate that mind-body therapies have highly beneficial effects on the health and well-being of humans. Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve emotion regulation producing more adaptive and less maladaptive responses to emotions. Indeed, mindfulness practices are effective in treating pain in adults.

 

In today’s Research News article “Spirituality in pain medicine: A randomized experiment of pain perception, heart rate and religious spiritual well-being by using a single session meditation methodology.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6128533/ ), Sollgruber and colleagues recruited adults and randomly assigned them to receive either a 20-minute guided meditation or a 20-minute relaxation. They were measured before and after the brief meditation or relaxation for symptoms of psychological disorders and spirituality, including hope, immanent, forgiveness, experience of sense and meaning, hope transcendent, general religiosity and connectedness. They were measured for perception of cold and warmth and cold and warmth pain, their threshold for pain, and their heart rate. They were also asked to rate their subjective religious faith, dimension of religious faith, dimension of spirituality and attachment to an ecclesiastical community and also stress, pain, relaxation and spirituality.

 

They found that the meditation group reported a greater sense of spirituality as a result of the brief meditation while both groups reported increased relaxation. The meditation group in comparison to the relaxation group also showed a greater increase in pain tolerance and intensity of heat pain. and a significant increase in religious spiritual well-being including general religiosity, forgiveness, and connectedness. These effects were of moderate effect sizes.

 

These are relatively remarkable results that suggest that even a one-time, very brief meditation can significantly improve pain tolerance and increase spirituality. It has been previously demonstrated that much greater amounts of meditation training decrease pain perception and increase spirituality. But, the fact that a single 20-minute meditation is sufficient to produce these changes, at least on the very short-term, is quite impressive.

 

The results are also impressive as they were demonstrated in comparison to a comparable relaxation control condition which produced equivalent relaxation to meditation. This suggests that it was the meditation and not simple relaxation that was responsible for the effects. Further research is needed to see if these changes endure beyond the immediate aftermath of the meditation and are applicable to patients with chronic pain.

 

So, increase pain tolerance and spirituality with a brief meditation

 

“Mindful mediation is an appealing option for treating your pain because it has an unusual benefit; it places you in a position of control. Unlike pain medications or surgical procedures, meditation is not done to you—but rather it is something you do for yourself.” – Stephanie Burke

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Sollgruber, A., Bornemann-Cimenti, H., Szilagyi, I. S., & Sandner-Kiesling, A. (2018). Spirituality in pain medicine: A randomized experiment of pain perception, heart rate and religious spiritual well-being by using a single session meditation methodology. PloS one, 13(9), e0203336. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0203336

 

Abstract

The aim of this study is to investigate different effects on pain perception among randomly assigned volunteers practicing meditation compared to a relaxation condition. The study examines whether participants of the experimental conditions (meditation versus relaxation) differ in the change of pain perception and heart rate measurement and in religious and spiritual well-being after an intervention. Method: 147 volunteers (long-term practitioners and novices) were randomly assigned to the experimental conditions with a headphone guided 20-minute single session intervention. The change in their pre- and post-intervention pain perception was measured using Quantitative Sensory Testing and Cold Pressor Testing (CPTest), their stress-level was compared by monitoring heart rate, and their religious and spiritual well-being by using the Multidimensional Inventory for Religious/Spiritual Well-Being (MI-RSB48). Additionally, dimensions of the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) measured the psychological resilience of the participants; pain and stress experience, and the state of relaxation and spirituality experience were assessed. Five persons were excluded due to failure in measuring the heart rate and 29 participants had to be excluded because of high values on the BSI. Results: The meditation group showed an increase in their pain tolerance on the CPTest and a decrease in their pain intensity for heat after the experimental condition, in contrast to the relaxation group. Futhermore, the meditation group showed a higher level of religious spiritual well-being (MI-RSB48 Total score) as well as in the sub-dimensions General Religiosity, Forgiveness, and Connectedness after the experimental condition, compared to the relaxation group. Our data is consistent with the hypothesis that meditation increases pain tolerance and reduces pain intensity, however, further work is required to determine whether meditation contains similar implications for pain patients.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6128533/

 

Improve Eating Regulation and Emotions in the Obese with Mindfulness

Improve Eating Regulation and Emotions in the Obese with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Researchers are learning that teaching obese individuals mindful eating skills—like paying closer attention to their bodies’ hunger cues and learning to savor their food—can help them change unhealthy eating patterns and lose weight. And, unlike other forms of treatment, mindfulness may get at the underlying causes of overeating—like craving, stress, and emotional eating—which make it so hard to defeat.” – Jill Suttie

 

Obesity has become an epidemic in the industrialized world. In the U.S. the incidence of obesity, has more than doubled over the last 35 years to currently around 35% of the population, while two thirds of the population are considered overweight or obese (Body Mass Index; BMI > 25). Although the incidence rates have appeared to stabilize, the fact that over a third of the population is considered obese is very troubling. This is because of the health consequences of obesity. Obesity has been found to shorten life expectancy by eight years and extreme obesity by 14 years. This occurs because obesity is associated with cardiovascular problems such as coronary heart disease and hypertension, stroke, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and others.

 

Obviously, there is a need for effective treatments to prevent or treat obesity. But, despite copious research and a myriad of dietary and exercise programs, there still is no safe and effective treatment. Mindfulness is known to be associated with lower risk for obesityalter eating behavior and improve health in obesity. Mindfulness training is also known to increase spirituality. This suggests that mindfulness training may be an effective treatment for overeating, overweight, and obesity. The relationship of spirituality to mindfulness and eating has not been previously explored.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindful Eating: Connecting With the Wise Self, the Spiritual Self.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01271/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_755938_69_Psycho_20180904_arts_A ), Kristeller and colleagues recruited obese adults (BMI>35) and randomly assigned them to either receive Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-Eat) or to a wait-list control condition. Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-Eat) was delivered in 12, 2-hour sessions, once a week for 10 weeks and 2 monthly booster sessions. The participants were trained in meditation, including general mindfulness meditation, guided eating meditations, and “mini-meditations” used at meal time and throughout the day. They also received instructions on recognizing inner experiences related to hunger and food intake and also on nutritional and healthy eating. Participants were measured before, during and immediately after training and also at 1, 2, and 4 months later for eating and weight related issues, emotional regulation, state mindfulness, depression, anxiety, and spiritual well-being.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the wait-list group, the participants who received Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-Eat) had increased spiritual well-being particularly in the meaning/peace and faith factors that continued to grow all the way to the 2-month follow-up. They also found that the greater the increase in the meaning/peace and faith factors, the greater the decrease in depression, anxiety, and binge eating. Finally, they performed a mediation analysis that showed that increases in mindfulness were associated with decreases in both depression and binge eating directly and indirectly by being associated with increases in spiritual well-being meaning/peace which in turn was significantly related to decreases in both depression and binge eating.

 

These results suggest that obese individuals benefit from Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-Eat) training by developing mindfulness which helps develop spiritual well-being and these factors both contribute to an improved emotional state and less disordered eating. It appears that the effect of mindfulness on the benefits is in part mediated by spiritual well-being. Mindfulness training has been shown previously to improve eating behavior and reduce depression. This study, however, is the first to indicate that the effectiveness of mindfulness is in part due to its effects on the individual’s spirituality.

 

So, improve eating regulation and emotions in the obese with mindfulness.

 

 

“Some of the simplest, safest lessons to help adolescents combat obesity may be raising their awareness of what they are eating and whether they are even hungry.” – Phil Jones

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Kristeller JL and Jordan KD (2018) Mindful Eating: Connecting With the Wise Self, the Spiritual Self. Front. Psychol. 9:1271. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01271

 

In the Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training program (MB-EAT) (Kristeller and Wolever, 2014Kristeller and Woleverin press), mindfulness practice is taught, mindful eating is cultivated, and self-acceptance and spiritual well-being are enhanced. An integrative concept is the value of cultivating ‘wisdom’ in regard to creating a new and sustainable relationship to eating and food. ‘Wisdom’ refers to drawing on personal experience and understanding in a flexible, insightful manner, rather than strictly following external rules and guidelines. Several clinical trials involving variations of MB-EAT have documented substantive improvement in how people relate to their eating, including individuals with both binge eating disorder (BED) and subclinical eating issues. Based on the traditional value of contemplative practices for cultivating spiritual engagement, and on evidence from related research showing that spiritual well-being increases in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program and is related to other effects, we hypothesized that the MB-EAT program would also engage this aspect of experience, as assessed by the Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy – Spiritual Well-Being subscale (FACIT-Sp), and that increases in spiritual well-being would relate to other measures of adjustment such as emotional balance and improvement in disordered eating. Participants (N = 117) with moderate to morbid obesity, including 25.6% with BED, were randomly assigned to MB-EAT or a wait-list control, and assessed on the FACIT-Sp and other measures at baseline, immediate post (IP), and 2-month followup (F/Up). Both FACIT-Sp factors [Meaning/Peace (M/P) and Faith] increased significantly in the MB-EAT group and were stable/decreased in the control group. Increases in these factors related to improvement in emotional adjustment and eating regulation at IP and at F/Up, and to increases in aspects of mindfulness measured by the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ). Increases in M/P during treatment mediated effects of the FFMQ Observe factor on eating regulation and depression at IP. Results are discussed in terms of the role that mindfulness practice plays in cultivating ‘wise mind’ and the related value of spirituality. It is argued that the core elements of the MB-EAT program lead to meaningful spiritual engagement, which plays a role in people’s ability to improve and maintain overall self-regulation.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01271/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_755938_69_Psycho_20180904_arts_A

 

The Middle Way in Mindfulness Practice

The Middle Way in Mindfulness Practice

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Monks, these two extremes ought not to be practiced by one who has gone forth from the household life. (What are the two?) There is addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures, which is low, coarse, the way of ordinary people, unworthy, and unprofitable; and there is addiction to self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable. Avoiding both these extremes, the Tathagata (the Perfect One) has realized the Middle Path; it gives vision, gives knowledge, and leads to calm, to insight, to enlightenment and to Nibbana.”  – Siddhārtha  Gautama

 

I have a life-long habit of trying too hard. In American culture, that is not considered a fault, but in the contemplative life it often is. The Buddha taught the middle way as the proper approach. He tried the extremes from the excess in the life of a prince to the opposite excess in the life of an ascetic. He found after years of futile effort that neither worked in ending suffering. But, when he rejected both and compromised, exerting effort but not too much, he found success and attained enlightenment. So, he taught his followers the middle way.

 

The Buddha likened the spiritual path to a stringed musical instrument. If no effort is exerted the string is slack and does not produce music. If too much effort is exerted, the string is tightened too much and breaks. Only when the string is tightened moderately does it produce beautiful music. He taught this middle way of moderation in all things to achieve success in all phases of life but particularly in spiritual endeavors.

 

The modern sage Thich Nhat Hahn visited the San Francisco Zen Center; a center noted for its rigor. After his visit, he was asked by the leader how the Center could improve. He stated that first he would sleep later, and that they shouldn’t be so grim and dour, and should smile much more. What he was pointing to is the middle way; being less strict and rigorous and practicing with greater joy; keeping the body and spirit at a moderate level that allows for the practice to be relaxed and joyful.

 

I learned this lesson during this most recent retreat. It was a personal retreat with no one but myself setting the schedule of activities. The first couple of days it was raining hard, so I took the opportunity to meditate frequently and for extended periods; as it turns out too frequently and too long. After two days, I was physically and mentally exhausted. Meditation became painful and unproductive. I decided to take the afternoon and evening of the third day off. I simply rested, maintaining silence, but read a novel. Many teachers would reprimand me from breaking from the focus on silent meditation. But, as it turned out, it worked wonderfully. The next day I was refreshed, the pain was gone and my level of concentration was wonderful.

 

I scaled back on the frequency and duration of the meditation and rested more often and for longer times. There was no more novel reading or time off. I had learned the middle way as the way to practice in retreat. Previously on a formal retreat with scheduled meditations, I would scoff at participants who would skip a scheduled meditation or a dharma talk and believed that they were wasting a valuable opportunity. Now I see that I was being unfairly judgmental. I now realize that they were being wise, tailoring the retreat to their own level of energy and physical endurance. They were keeping the practice within the middle way.

 

Psychological research has demonstrated that there is an optimum level of motivation for any task and it is not at the extremes, but in the middle. The research has also demonstrated that what the optimum level is varies from person to person. For some, a low level works best, while for others only very high levels produce optimum results. For most, somewhere in the middle is best. It is up to each of us to find our own optimum level and practice accordingly. I found mine on this personal retreat and once I practiced at this level, the results were good. The Buddha taught to judge an activity, not by its nature, but by the results it produces. Clearly, following my own middle way had positive results for me.

 

Happiness is more likely to be found on the middle way. Studies of happiness have shown that people with very low incomes are generally unhappy. Surprising, those who are quite rich tend to be generally unhappy. It’s the people in the middle, with sufficient, but not excessive income, are generally the happiest. A surprising fact in this regard is that people who have one large amounts of money in the lottery afterward are much less happy than before. It is clear that the middle way with wealth leads to the greatest happiness.

 

Athletes have learned the benefits of the middle way. Trying too hard results in poorer performance and often times injury. Not working hard enough, being too lax, similarly leads to poor performance. Exerting the right amount of effort and relaxing, the middle way, leads to excellence in athletic achievement. Every yoga student knows that to improve flexibility muscles and tendons can’t be stretched too hard. The muscles will resist the stretch or could get injured. Similarly, too little stretch produces no benefits. On the other hand, moderate, middle way, stretching produces the best results.

 

Even something as simple as eating is best practiced on the middle way. We all know that we have to eat. Eating too little is damaging to health and eating too much leads to obesity and disease. During the evolutionary development of humans, the problem was a lack of consistency in the supply of food. Food was plentiful at times, but scarce at others. It was adaptive for humans to overeat during times of plenty in order to store the energy needed to withstand the times of scarcity. In modern times, though, where food can be plentiful at all times, the tendency to overeat doesn’t solve a problem, it creates one, obesity. Here, also, the middle way is best; eating sufficiently for health but not more than is needed. This is promoted by mindful eating. Eat carefully on the middle way.

 

Driving a car is a clear example of the need for a middle way. Driving too fast can lead to loss of control or inability to stop quickly in an emergency, which can be fatal. On the other hand, driving too slowly can also be dangerous as it can lead to being rear ended, prompt overly aggressive passing by other cars, or major back-ups in traffic. Driving too aggressively van be dangerous, while driving too passively can also be. It is best to be driving the middle way, not meaning down the center of the road, but with moderation with speed and assertiveness.

 

I spent many years as a teacher and observed students who were very highly motivated getting exhausted cramming and then were so nervous during exams that they performed poorly. It has been established that too high a level of motivation interferes with learning and memory. Similarly, students who were lackadaisical and don’t apply themselves also performed poorly. But those students who were moderately motivated so that they studied but who could relax, performed the best. Hence, in academics as in meditation, athletics, and work, the middle way is best.

 

In our live in general, overly stressing one aspect of life almost always leads to unhappiness. Balance, the middle way, is needed. Many people, particularly Americans, work excessively at their jobs, working long hours and rarely taking vacations. They may have successful careers, but be miserable. On the deathbed, people virtually never wish that they had spent more time or effort on developing their resumes, on working harder or being more successful. Rather, they most often decry the fact that they didn’t spend enough time and energy on family and friends. A palliative care nurse once recorded the top five regrets of the dying. They were

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

 

When I was younger and went to a new interesting place, I was determined to see all the sights. I got up early and ran from sight to sight till closing time. By evening, I and any companions were exhausted. I had seen many great things; what the place had to offer. But, upon reflection, I realized that I really didn’t enjoy or truly appreciate any of them. I’ve learned to take the middle way, to slow down, to relax, to see less, but enjoy and learn from it more. Spending the day ticking off as many items as possible from the to-do list is a recipe for unhappiness. Take the middle way in everything you do.

 

Raising children is best guided by the middle way. Young children must learn boundaries to their behavior in order to function at home and in society. They can’t have everything they want and they can’t do everything they want. If parenting is too lax the child will grow unruly and difficult and will have problems integrating into school and social groups. On the other hand, if parenting is too severe and intrusive the child will be fearful, the child will have a damaged self-concept, creativity will be stifled, and the child will avoid authority. At extreme levels the child may experience abuse and trauma that may haunt them for the rest of their lives. Mindful parenting takes the middle road, maintaining boundaries but doing so with love and understanding, valuing the child, and guiding development with unconditional positive regard. With this middle way, children grow and are socialized while maintaining creativity and a positive self-regard. They grow into psychologically health adults.

 

So, practice the middle way in mindfulness practice and in life in general, finding the level of effort what works for you. Don’t string yourself too loosely or too tightly, enjoy the symphony of life, and play beautiful spiritual music.

 

“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.” ― Jalaluddin Rumi

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

Democracy on the Eightfold Path

Democracy on the Eightfold Path

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“It is important to realize that a well-functioning democracy — a republic — depends not just on freedom from censorship, but also on a set of common experiences and on unsought, unanticipated, and even unwanted exposures to diverse topics, people, and ideas. A system of “gated communities” is as unhealthy for cyberspace as it is for the real world.” ~Scott Meyer

 

With the US midterm elections on the horizon, I thought that it would be a good time to reflect on what the teachings of the Buddha tell us about how we should approach voting and engaging in the democratic process in general. Right now, the political landscape is characterized by tremendous rancor and division. I believe that this situation results from not following these teachings. Perhaps looking at their application to engaging in the democratic process will help us in the future to begin to heal the deep wounds that have been opened and begin to engage in a more constructive and beneficial political process.

 

We often think of meditation or spiritual practice as occurring in quiet places removed from the hubbub of life. This is useful to develop skills and deep understanding. Unfortunately, most people do not have the luxury of withdrawing into solitary or monastic life. But it is possible to practice even in the midst of the chaos of everyday life. In fact, there are wonderful opportunities to practice presented to us all the time in the complexities of the modern world. I find that engagement in democracy is one of many wonderful contexts in which to practice the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, the Buddha’s prerequisites for the cessation of suffering; Right View, Right Intentions, Right Actions, Right Speech, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. Engaging in democracy on the eightfold path can not only help our spiritual practice but also help further peace, happiness, and harmony in our society.

 

Engagement in democracy is a wonderful opportunity to practice Right View. The impermanence of everything is on display. No matter how bad or good the political situation is we can be sure that it will change. This is especially true with democracy where the ability to change the current laws or leadership is its strength. If we don’t like it, we have a route to try to change it. By recognizing this we not only practice Right View but also relax and accept what is. Democracy is also a situation that reflects how interconnected everything is. Engagement in democracy is a cooperative social venture. Without everyone’s cooperation, there would be political chaos. Each of us has only one vote. The outcome of an election depends upon the votes of many. But beyond that democracy can only function if everyone cooperates and accepts the decision of the majority.

 

In the context of democracy, if we take a moment to look, it is easy to develop Right View. We can view the transitoriness of our thoughts and emotions as they arise and fall away in response to the election process and political debate. We may become very worked up about an issue, but see that these feelings are only temporary and will subside in a short time. We can see that our political identity as Democrat or Republican, as conservative or liberal, or any other label is never truly accurate and is subject to change. We can see that there is no permanent thing that is our political self and that is also true for others. This is a tremendous learning experience and laboratory to not only personally develop Right View, but to help develop Right View in our society.

 

Engagement in democracy allows us to observe our suffering, unsatisfactoriness, and its roots. We seem to want our system and its outcomes to be exactly as we want them to be and when they are not we suffer. We want other voters to think the way we do, for our candidates to always win, we want the laws passed to always match our world view and beliefs, we want the media to always present arguments in favor of our positions, etc. In other words, we can learn, if we are observant of what is happening during participation in democracy, that our suffering is caused by our lack of acceptance of how things are. So, political engagement constitutes a laboratory to practice Right View. We can learn to accept things as they are, to see things without judgment, to view the others just as they are, and to understand how we vote has consequences, affecting ourselves and others, in other words, we learn Right View.

 

We can quite readily practice Right Intentions while engaging in democracy and this can lead to Right Actions.  Right Intentions involves targeting what we do to increase peace, happiness, prosperity, and happiness in ourselves and throughout society. These intentions include the abandonment of unwholesome desires. If we engage in the democratic process with anger, impatience, selfishness, resentment we are likely to harm others and ourselves. The harm may not be major or direct, but indirect by affecting the other citizens in negative ways. Perhaps interrupting another while arguing their position produces anger in them that causes them suffering and elicits anger and aggression from them toward the positions of others. Perhaps, not simply listening to others ideas may unnecessarily cause them to suffer and induce impatience and an inability on their part to simply listen to others. But sometimes direct physical harm to others can be produced as in the case of violent political protests or confrontations with people with whom we strongly disagree. But if we practice Right Intentions with sincere intentions to create good and happiness, relieve suffering in ourselves and others, and not harm any living thing, we will act and interact with our fellow citizens with courtesy, with tolerance and understanding, with kindness and good will. When listen deeply to another’s position and try to understand it or react to an aggressive political post on social media with patience and tolerance, we may have prevented harm. Had the reaction be angry or judgmental it might provoke even more divisive or aggressive actions in response, creating an upward spiral of anger and frustration. It is good to reflect on the ripples of good that may have been created through Right Actions with unknown consequences extending broadly well into the future.

 

Intentions are a key. They become our moral compass. They tend to lead us in the right direction even though we may at times stumble.  It is often difficult or impossible to predict all of the consequences of our actions. It is also very difficult not to create some harm. Just the fact of taking positions and backing certain candidates can result in an ineffectual or even corrupt candidate being elected or damaging laws being passed. We need to try to not only have Right Intentions, but to discern and accept that even the best of intentions can sometime produce harmful outcomes. We have to sometimes balance the good we’re doing with the harm produced by the same actions. This requires Right Intentions. This is where engaging in politics can be such a great practice as we can learn what works and what doesn’t and become better at discerning what are the wholesome Right Actions from those that produce more harm than good. But, if we form Right Intentions and aspire to create good and happiness we’ll be better citizens and will produce more harmony and good will and more importantly will be moving ourselves along the eightfold path.

 

Verbal interactions are a fundamental process in a democracy, providing many opportunities to practice Right Speech. Political discussions, like any discussion include communicating ideas and feelings both verbally and also non-verbally. Non-verbal communications include facial expressions and body postures. I have a bad habit of often reacting with grimaces or looking away when someone presents a point I don’t agree with. This obvious non-verbal judgement of the others position can harden their position making it more difficult to truly discuss the issue. But, predominantly Right Speech is verbal. I have another bad habit of often getting very frustrated when in a discussion, someone presents, as true, a different set of facts than I believe to be true. It becomes impossible to have an honest discussion when the underlying facts differ. I often react reflexively with anger and frustration and blurt out something like “that’s not true.” This cuts off the possibility of listening deeply to the other’s ideas and short circuits the possibility of a reasoned discussion of the facts. This does no good and often aggravates others. Practicing Right Speech involves engaging in civil, respectful discourse. The facts, beliefs, and conclusions can be questioned and discussed but simply as a difference and not judged as good or bad, right or wrong, just simply a difference that can be investigated and resolved.  For me, this is a work in progress. I have a long way to go. But I can clearly feel the benefits for myself and for the quality of the interaction when I am mindful and engage in Right Speech.

 

Right Speech is non-violent and non-judgmental speech. So much political discourse involves trying to be right or to convince someone of your position. Right Speech, on the other hand, is directed to understanding and producing good feelings. Here, deep listening is a key. It is impossible to respond appropriately to another if you haven’t listened carefully to exactly what the other said. We, too often, spend our time while another is speaking composing our next speech for whenever they stop. This doesn’t allow deep listening and can poison a conversation. Political Right Speech involves listening as much as talking and what is said is directed to improving harmony and understanding. This is a lofty goal that few of us are able to achieve. But, striving in that direction will make us better citizens.

 

Being a politician can be itself Right Livelihood. It can be directed to creating good, helping people, keeping peace, and moving society forward in a positive direction. It is not ours to judge the “rightness” of politicians. This is a personal matter where intention matters, that must be reflected upon deeply. But representational democracy is a system that demands that members of the society make their living as the people’s representatives. This is important and can create great good for the society. If it is Right Livelihood and adheres to the seven other components of the eightfold path it helps the individual in their personal development and the development of the greater society.

 

Once again, engagement in democracy presents a fine context to practice Right Effort. It takes substantial effort to be an engaged citizen. If one simply assumes that their right without doing the hard work of learning the facts, there is little or no mindfulness and little or no effort. When we first engage politically we have to set the intention to act in such a way as to lessen suffering in ourselves and others. We need to interact with other people with kindness, compassion, patience, and courtesy, to drop fear, anger, hatred, and selfishness, and to bring to our political interactions with others the intention to promote well-being and happiness. This is hard and requires Right Effort.  But, we can try too hard. Right Effort involves acting according to the “Middle Way.” That is, not trying too hard and getting stressed about politics, but also not being lackadaisical, rather it involves relaxed effort. The “Middle Way” is where effort should be targeted. But, nonetheless effort is needed. Democracy cannot function without an informed electorate and in today’s information age it can be devilishly difficult work to discern the truth. Right Effort on the part of citizens is not only needed but essential to the successful operation of democracy.

 

Democracy requires an accurate understanding of the nature of the current situation in order to determine what political steps are needed to promote good, happiness, and harmony. Unfortunately, mindless political engagement is probably the norm. Rather than seeing things as they are, we tend to view society through a lens of how it was in the past, or how we believe it should be. But, this can be corrected by the practice of Right Mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” What better opportunity to practice this than in seeing what is present right in front of us right now in our society and with the people who compose it? Right Mindfulness makes us acutely aware of what is happening around us and how we’re feeling during every moment of our day; seeing the situation accurately, unclouded by beliefs or prejudgment. This allows us to better craft ideas and solutions to the ills of society. Seeing a welfare recipient, a homeless person, or a prisoner as a person and their situation as it actually is and not judging the individual based upon our political beliefs and social media memes, we can much better understand what is the truth and what can best be done to help. Right Mindfulness provides the data to engage politically. Right Mindfulness is not just part of the eightfold path it is a prerequisite for the practice of the seven other components of the path. So, being mindful is fundamental to all aspects of political engagement.

 

Right Concentration” is the practice of focusing the mind solely on one object or a specific unchanging set of objects. Mindfulness is paying attention to whatever arises, but concentration is paying attention to one thing to the exclusion of everything else. This is usually developed during contemplative practice such as meditation and is nearly impossible to practice in real life. But, improvement in attentional ability is a consequence of practicing Right Concentration. This can lead to improved political engagement. It can reduce the impact of distractions and mind wandering, making us better at focusing on the topic at hand and increasing the likelihood that we’ll discern the best course of action. In addition, Right Concentration requires Right Effort, Right Intention, and Right Mindfulness so these can be developed while applying Right Concentration to our political activities. In a political discourse, there is often a jumping around from topic to topic without every reaching a conclusion about any of them. Right Concentration can be the antidote, allowing for focus and hopefully resolution.

 

Engaging in democratic activity on the eightfold path is not easy. But, remember that it is a practice. Over time I have gotten better and better at it, but nowhere near perfect. Frequently the discursive mind takes over or my emotions get the better of me. But, by continuing the practice I’ve slowly progressed. I’ve become a better at discussing politics with others and I’ve become better at seeing what needs to be accomplished in our society. I’ve become better at seeing people with different ideas and beliefs not as the enemy but simply as worthy people who simply hold different opinions that I can learn from. I am learning to be relaxed with a smile on my face when I engage politically and enjoy being part of a democracy where diversity of people and ideas is not a problem but a strength.

 

Can we attain enlightenment through political engagement? Probably not! But we can practice the eightfold path that the Buddha taught leads there. The strength of engaging in democracy with the practices of the eightfold path is that it occurs in the real world of our everyday life. Quiet secluded practice is wonderful and perhaps mandatory for progress in spiritual development. But for most people it only can occur during a very limited window of time. By extending the practice directly into the mainstream of our lives we can greatly enhance its impact. I like to keep in mind the teaching that actions that lead to greater harmony and happiness should be practiced, while those that lead to unsatisfactoriness and unhappiness should be let go.  Without doubt, by practicing the eightfold path in our engagement in politics leads to greater harmony and happiness and as such should definitely be included in our spiritual practice.

 

“To engage in politics—the system through which we take care of one another—is to bring mindfulness outward. To participate, to speak out, is to address the complexities of our modern world.” ~Lisette Cheresson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

The Power of Retreat 6 – Darkness, Light, and Nothingness

The Power of Retreat 6 – Darkness, Light, and Nothingness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Silent retreats are a kind of crucible that reveal the workings of the mind in a unique and illuminating way.” James Baraz

 

This essay is the 6th of a continuing series of essays about the experience of silent meditation retreat. Click on the numbers to follow the links to the prior essays, titled “The Power of Retreat 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5”. This essay is written as we are about to embark on another 7-day silent retreat at one of our favorite retreat sites located in the beautiful smoky mountains in North Carolina. In a sense we’ll be on vacation as everything will be taken care of for us, beds made, towels and linens provided, all meals prepared for us, and our time will be dictated by a detailed schedule of meditations, talks, question and answer periods, and reflective time. All we have to do is show up, meditate, relax, contemplate and listen. We’re terribly spoiled!

 

That seeming ease, however, is deceptive. Retreat is actually quite difficult and challenging. It can be very tiring as it runs from 7:00 in the morning till 10:00 at night every day. It can also be physically challenging as engaging in sitting meditation repeatedly over the day is guaranteed to produce many aches and pains in the legs, back, and neck. But the real challenges are psychological, emotional, and spiritual. Retreat can be a real test.

 

Retreat isn’t all relaxation and fun. Far from it. The darkness can descend. During silent retreat deep emotional issues can emerge and may even overwhelm the individual. There are plenty of tissues available at the site as many will spontaneously burst out in tears. Others may become overwhelmed with fear and anxiety and break out in cold sweats, and still others are sleepless and tormented. How can this be, that something so seemingly peaceful as silent retreat can be so emotionally wrenching? The secret is that the situation removes the minds ability to hide and distract.

 

Humans have done a tremendous job of providing distractions for the mind including books, movies, magazines, music, television, sports, amusement parks, surfing the internet, tweeting, texting, etc. Any time troubling thoughts or memories of traumatic experiences begin to emerge in everyday life, we can easily change the subject by engaging in a distraction. So, we never have to truly confront the issues. But, in silent retreat there is no escape. Difficult issues emerge and there is no place to hide. They must be confronted and experienced. For some people this may be the first time in their entire life that they’ve had to directly face themselves and their darkest thoughts. It’s no wonder that retreat can be so wrenching.

 

So, why, you might ask, should someone put themselves into such a position? Simply put, you can’t address problems until you recognize them. Retreat is a safe place to do so. Many other people there, have gone through similar experiences and as a result, there’s a great deal of acceptance and compassion from others. It is, however, advised to not intervene but to let anyone in crisis simply work it through themselves. They’ll let you know if they really need help. In the warm and accepting environment of retreat it is actually possible to work on these issues that may have been impossible to address elsewhere. This can lead to substantial personal growth. This is the benefit, that individuals can begin to resolve the very issues that may have, unbeknownst to themselves, been holding them back for their entire life. This is very powerful, and confronting the darkness begins to let the light through.

 

There are much more positive and pleasant sides to silent retreat. One simple one is that many modern adults are overworked, stressed, and as a result sleep deprived. The opportunity to rest and sleep is priceless. Many people fall asleep during meditations and talks early in the retreat. This is not only OK, it’s desirable. If need be it is encouraged to skip sessions and take naps.

The positive benefits of retreat can only emerge when the individual is sufficiently rested to have the energy available to meditate deeply, to look inside, and to begin to remove the veil of delusion that blinds us all.

 

The opportunity to have repeated meditation sessions over prolonged periods of time in a quiet, accepting, and peaceful setting provides the ability to build from meditation to meditation. It allows for deep, repeated engagement into the inner realms, to begin to peel away the layers of awareness, and to begin to dissolve the delusions standing between the individual and their true nature. This progressive process can reveal the light, the positive and pleasant side of retreat. The individual begins to feel happier, more peaceful, and more mindful of themselves and their environment. They can even develop into deeply blissful states. Many people can go no further, but this is far enough. They emerge from retreat feeling peaceful, happy, insightful, having a better understanding of themselves, being better able to deal with their emotions, and with a sense of well-being. In fact, toward the end of retreat the most frequent question asked is how can this be held onto as the process of reintegration into everyday life unfolds.

 

Just going this far makes the retreat worthwhile, but there is a possibility for much deeper experiences and realizations. It is possible to enter the realm of nothingness. It seems like five to ten people in each retreat have some form of spiritual awakening. It is, however, not predictable who will this happen too. It sometimes occurs to long-time veterans of retreat and meditation practice, but it also often happens to complete novices on their first retreat. One has to always be open to the possibility. It is sometimes a nearly complete enlightenment, but sometimes a relatively shallow but real awakening. Again it is unpredictable. The teacher, Adyashanti, calls it falling into grace.

 

What is the nature of these experiences? They tend to have a common property of an experience of oneness, an experience that everything is singular, there is no distinction between subject and object, such that the sound and the listener, the sight and the seer, and the feeling and the feeler, are one and the same. These can be what are termed extrovertive awakening experiences wherein one experiences and observes the entire environment, sights, sound, smells, feelings, thoughts, etc. as simply an experience that all are one, with no distinction or separation. They can also be very deep experiences of nothingness that are termed introvertive awakenings. In these experiences everything dissolves into a void a nothingness, in which only pure awareness exists.

 

These are shattering experiences revealing a reality that was entirely unseen previously. People having had these experiences frequently state that death is not to be feared but rather seen as part of the fabric of existence, not an ending, but simply a change. These are frequently life changing experiences, forever altering the individual. They are never the same again. Needless to say, these are powerful spiritual experiences that many people previously believed were only open to special enlightened beings such as the Buddha. They are glimpses into our true nature and the workings of the universe.

 

There is no requirement that a retreat is necessary for these awakening experiences. Indeed, they occur spontaneously, quite frequently in everyday and even unlikely settings. But, retreat appears to greatly increase the probability that an awakening, a descent into the void, the nothingness, that is the basis for all existence, will happen. We have no expectations regarding what will happen on our upcoming retreat. We have enough experience to know that every retreat is different and to expect to repeat or build on an experience from a prior retreat is a fundamental error. Whatever, happens, if anything, can’t be predicted. On a previous retreat I went with great expectations only to get terribly sick and missed about half of the retreat sick in bed. You never know what will happen. But, know that whatever it is, it will move you in a positive direction.

 

So, go on retreat and feel its power, it’s power to fundamentally change you in mundane ways and sometimes in the most profound ways imaginable.

 

“One of the most powerful aspects of retreat in aiding the factor of determination is the collective energy of the community that is inherent to the retreat setting. When the bell rings and 150 people make their way into the meditation hall to sit, again and again, it becomes evident that this impulsion is like a powerful, gentle, loving force calling us back to remember again and again that we are loving, connected, resilient and forgiving. We, like so many others carry the responsibility of influencing the overall humanness of our totality.” – Scott Francis

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies