Improve Well-Being with Mandala Drawing

Improve Well-Being with Mandala Drawing

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Mandala means “sacred circle” in Sanskrit, which is a traditional concept employed in meditation and a ritual symbol that represents the universe in Hinduism and Buddism. Today, Mandala has evolved into a powerful art therapy exercise that allows the creator to enjoy some peace and quiet by simply crafting colourful geometric patterns within a circular shape. “ – Helen Yu

 

Mindfulness practices have been shown to have a large number of beneficial effects on the psychological, emotional, and physical health of the individual and is helpful in the treatment of mental and physical illness. They have also been shown to effect a large number of physiological and psychological processes, including emotion regulationattentionsensory awareness, decentering, and reappraisal. Mindfulness practices have been shown to be particularly effective in reducing anxiety.

 

Recently, adult coloring books have become popular as a mindfulness practice. It is thought that immersion in the creative yet structured and safe process of coloring will increase mindfulness and in turn produce the benefits of mindfulness. Mandala drawing is an ancient mindfulness practice. But the effects of mandala drawing on the well-being of participants has not been adequately tested scientifically.

 

In today’s Research News article “Cooperative and Individual Mandala Drawing Have Different Effects on Mindfulness, Spirituality, and Subjective Well-Being.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.564430/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1456740_69_Psycho_20201013_arts_A ) Liu and colleagues recruited healthy college students and randomly assigned them to mandala drawing either alone (individual) or in groups of 4 (cooperative). They met for 5 weekly, 90-minute sessions in which they received training and drew mandalas in provided blank circles. They were measured before and after practice for mindfulness, spirituality, subjective well-being, satisfaction with life, and positive and negative emotions.

 

They found that neither group had significant increases in mindfulness while both groups had significant increases in spirituality with the cooperative group showing significantly larger increases. They also found that the cooperative condition produced a significant increase in positive emotions and subjective well-being while the individual condition did not. Both groups had significant decreases in negative emotions. They also found that the higher the levels of positive emotions, the higher the levels of mindfulness, spirituality, satisfaction with life, and subjective well-being.

 

These results are interesting and demonstrate that mandala drawing is beneficial for the psychological health and spirituality of participants. It does not appear that mindfulness mediates these effects as there was no increase in mindfulness produced by either individual or cooperative mandala drawing.

 

The results show that mandala drawing in a cooperative, group, format produces superior benefits to those produced by individual mandala drawing, including more positive emotions and greater subjective well-being. Since participating in a group can be more fun it would be expected that positive emotions would increase further and the group socialization would reduce loneliness and produce greater subjective well-being. So, it would appear that mandala drawing is beneficial by itself but adding a social component increases the benefits.

 

So, improve well-being with mandala drawing.

 

Each person’s life is like a mandala – a vast limitless circle. We stand in the centre of our own circle, and everything we see, hear and think forms the mandala of our life… everything that shows up in your mandala is a vehicle for your awakening.” ―Pema Chödrön

 

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

 

Liu C, Chen H, Liu C-Y, Lin R-T and Chiou W-K (2020) Cooperative and Individual Mandala Drawing Have Different Effects on Mindfulness, Spirituality, and Subjective Well-Being. Front. Psychol. 11:564430. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.564430

 

Mandala drawing was first practiced by Tibetan buddhists and then developed by Carl Gustav Jung, who felt certain that mandala drawing has the function of integrating psychological division, enhancing psychological harmony, and preserving personality integrity. Previous studies on mandala drawing have mainly focused on alleviating people’s negative emotions, such as anxiety and depression. Therefore, this study explored the effect and mechanism of mandala drawing on the improvement of subjective well-being (SWB), mindfulness, and spirituality from positive psychology’s viewpoint and compared the different effects of cooperative mandala drawing (CMD) and individual mandala drawing (IMD) on mindfulness, spirituality, and SWB. A total of 76 students were recruited from Chang Gung University, and the aforementioned three main variables were measured before and after the coloring experiment. The results indicated that both CMD and IMD significantly enhanced the subjects’ spirituality. Compared with IMD, CMD has a more significant improvement and promotion effect on SWB of subjects by affecting PA, while IMD had no significant effect on PA, and the enhancement effect of SWB was weaker than that of CMD. Mindfulness, spirituality, and SWB all positively correlated with each other. This study highlights the mechanism of mandala drawing and the theoretical understanding of the relationship between mindfulness and SWB. Mandala drawing especially CMD has a positive effect on spirituality and SWB, which may provide individuals with a simple and easy method to improve their happiness.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.564430/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1456740_69_Psycho_20201013_arts_A

 

Characteristics of the Oneness Experience in Experienced Meditators

Characteristics of the Oneness Experience in Experienced Meditators

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Imagine there is no past or future, only now. Imagine there is no space or time, just an unbounded eternity. Imagine endless peace, harmony, and unconditional love. Imagine no fear and equality in all things. This is Oneness.” – Roger Gabriel

 

Millions of people worldwide seek out transcendent experiences by engaging in practices, such as meditation, yoga, and prayer. Others use drugs such as peyote, mescaline, LSD, ayahuasca and psilocybin to induce these experiences. Transcendent experiences have many characteristics which are unique to the experiencer, their religious context, and their present situation. But, the common, central feature of transcendence is a sense of oneness, that all things are contained in a single thing, a sense of union with the universe and/or God and everything in existence. This includes a loss of the personal self. What they used to refer to as the self is experienced as just a part of an integrated whole. People who have had these experiences report feeling interconnected with everything else in a sense of oneness with all things. Although transcendent experiences can vary widely, they all contain this experience of oneness.

 

Unfortunately, there is very little systematic research on the oneness experience. In today’s Research News article “Understanding the Nature of Oneness Experience in Meditators Using Collective Intelligence Methods.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.02092/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1437459_69_Psycho_20200922_arts_A ) Van Lente and colleagues recruited participants who had meditated for at least 5 years and who had experienced “oneness”. They met in groups on 5 occasions of about 3 hours each and discussed the nature of the “oneness” experience employing a structured technique called Interactive Management (IM).

 

The participants first individually generated ideas about the “oneness” experience. They then reviewed as a group the ideas generated and clarified and categorized the ideas. They then voted individually on the 5 best ideas of “oneness self-perceptions they believed most characterized their experience both during meditation and in their everyday experience in the world”. Finally, they investigated the relationships among the ideas regarding the “oneness” experience.

 

The participants generated 130 ideas about the “oneness” experience. These were analyzed and summarized into categories. From this analysis they concluded that “oneness” experiences involved perception, affect, cognition, motivation, action, and interpersonal relations. The most influential categories of oneness experience were unboundedness, identity–perception change, time–perception change, wholeness, and changes in action orientation.

 

Unboundedness referred to the perception that there were no boundaries between objects as they were seen as all together in a single entity. The idea of identity–perception change identified the self as also unbounded and not separate from everything else, but part of the whole. The idea of time–perception change was that there was only a timeless present moment. In the “oneness” experience there is no past or future, only now. The idea of wholeness involves seeing everything as part of a greater whole that is unbounded, integrated, and singular. Finally, the idea of changes in action orientation indicates a flow to experienced reality such that experiences flow seamlessly and all together. All of this led to the affective experience of total well-being.

 

These are interesting results produced by a structured process to determine the nature of “oneness” experiences that occurred in experienced meditators. In essence, in these experiences, they perceived a totality of experience occurring only in the present moment that involved everything integrated together, including the individuals themselves, and flowing seamlessly together. The ideas generated were very similar to ideas generated by individual anecdotes of “oneness” experiences or psychometric analysis.

 

It should be mentioned that the “oneness” experience is just that, an experience, and like all experiences cannot be adequately captured by words and concepts. The present analysis does the best it can at producing a conceptual analysis of the “oneness” experience. But inevitably it falls short of capturing the actual experiences of the individuals. In the literature on the “oneness” experience, it is referred to an ineffable, unable to be described adequately in words. To truly know the “oneness” experience it must be experienced.

 

Oneness is an experience that transcends the mind. When we experience oneness, we feel a connection with everything in existence on every level. In other words, we feel ‘at one’ with all things.” –  Mateo Sol

 

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

 

Van Lente E and Hogan MJ (2020) Understanding the Nature of Oneness Experience in Meditators Using Collective Intelligence Methods. Front. Psychol. 11:2092. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.02092

 

Research on meditation and mindfulness practice has flourished in recent years. While much of this research has focused on well-being outcomes associated with mindfulness practice, less research has focused on how perception of self may change as a result of mindfulness practice, or whether these changes in self-perception may be mechanisms of mindfulness in action. This is somewhat surprising given that mindfulness derives from traditions often described as guiding people to realize and experience the non-separation of self from the world or its “oneness” with the whole of reality. The current study used a collective intelligence methodology, Interactive Management (IM), to explore the nature of oneness experiences. Five IM sessions were conducted with five separate groups of experienced meditators. Participants generated, clarified, and selected oneness self-perceptions they believed most characterized their experience both during meditation and in their everyday experience in the world. Each group also developed structural models describing how highly ranked aspects of oneness self-perceptions are interrelated in a system. Consistent themes and categories of oneness experience appeared across the five IM sessions, with changes in the sense of space (unboundedness), time, identity, wholeness, and flow highlighted as most influential. Results are discussed in light of emerging theory and research on oneness self-perception and non-dual awareness.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.02092/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1437459_69_Psycho_20200922_arts_A

 

Spirituality is Associated with Better Psychological Health of Adolescents with Cancer

Spirituality is Associated with Better Psychological Health of Adolescents with Cancer

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Spirituality plays a significant role for adolescents with cancer as it contributes to increased comfort and calmness, and better coping mechanisms when confronted with the illness, which indirectly improves the adolescent’s quality of life.” – Sembiring Lina Mahayati

 

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer has a huge impact on most people. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and fear are very common and are normal responses to this life-changing and potentially life-ending experience. These feeling can result from changes in body image, changes to family and work roles, feelings of grief at these losses, and physical symptoms such as pain, nausea, or fatigue. People might also fear death, suffering, pain, or all the unknown things that lie ahead. So, coping with the emotions and stress of a cancer diagnosis is a challenge and there are no simple treatments for these psychological sequelae of cancer diagnosis. Adolescents with cancer are particularly vulnerable with high levels of anxiety, depression, fatigue, and pain interference.

 

Religion and spirituality become much more important to people when they’re diagnosed with cancer or when living with cancer. It is thought that people take comfort in the spiritual when facing mortality. Hence, spirituality and mindfulness may be useful tools for the survivors of cancer to cope with their illness. Thus, there is a need to study the relationships of spirituality on the ability of adolescent cancer survivors to positively adjust to their situation.

 

In today’s Research News article “.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7298609/ ) Grossoehme and colleagues recruited adolescents, aged 14 to 21 years, who were diagnosed with cancer. They had them complete measures of spirituality, feeling God’s presence; praying privately; attending religious services; identifying as religious; identifying as spiritual, emotional distress–anxiety; emotional distress–depressive symptoms; fatigue; and pain interference, health-related quality of life

 

They found that the higher the levels of feeling God’s presence and identifying as a very religious person the lower the levels of anxiety, depressive symptoms, and fatigue. Structural equation modelling revealed that the levels of feeling God’s presence and identifying as a very religious person also were indirectly associated with anxiety, depressive symptoms, and fatigue via a positive association with a sense of meaning and peace. That is, the greater the feelings God’s presence and religiosity the greater the feelings of peace and meaningfulness in life and these feelings were in turn negatively associated with negative emotional states.

 

These results are correlational and as such no conclusions about causation can be definitively made. But the results clearly show that there are relationships between being spiritual and religious and better emotional states in adolescent cancer victims. They also suggest that this relationship is mediated by feelings of meaningfulness and peace. It could be speculated that these relationships occur due to causal connections and interpreted that being spiritual produces a state of peacefulness and meaning in life that counteracts the negative emotions associated with cancer. It remains for future research to determine if increasing spirituality would lead to better emotional adjustments to a cancer diagnosis.

 

Hence, spirituality is associated with better psychological health of adolescents with cancer.

 

As is true with older cancer survivors, spirituality is related to many aspects of well-being for AYA survivors, but relations are more consistent for meaning/peace and struggle.” – Crystal Park

 

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

 

Grossoehme, D. H., Friebert, S., Baker, J. N., Tweddle, M., Needle, J., Chrastek, J., Thompkins, J., Wang, J., Cheng, Y. I., & Lyon, M. E. (2020). Association of Religious and Spiritual Factors With Patient-Reported Outcomes of Anxiety, Depressive Symptoms, Fatigue, and Pain Interference Among Adolescents and Young Adults With Cancer. JAMA network open, 3(6), e206696. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.6696

 

Key Points

Question

Among adolescents and young adults with cancer, is there an association between spirituality and patient-reported outcomes, and are these outcomes associated with a sense of meaning, peace, and comfort provided by faith?

Findings

In this cross-sectional study of 126 adolescents and young adults with cancer, structural equation modeling revealed that meaning and peace were associated with aspects of spirituality and religiousness as well as anxiety, depressive, and fatigue symptoms.

Meaning

In this study, participants’ sense of meaning and peace was associated with religiousness and with anxiety and depression, possibly representing an underappreciated intervention target.

Question

Among adolescents and young adults with cancer, is there an association between spirituality and patient-reported outcomes, and are these outcomes associated with a sense of meaning, peace, and comfort provided by faith?

Findings

In this cross-sectional study of 126 adolescents and young adults with cancer, structural equation modeling revealed that meaning and peace were associated with aspects of spirituality and religiousness as well as anxiety, depressive, and fatigue symptoms.

Meaning

In this study, participants’ sense of meaning and peace was associated with religiousness and with anxiety and depression, possibly representing an underappreciated intervention target.

Go to:

Abstract

Importance

The associations of spiritual and religious factors with patient-reported outcomes among adolescents with cancer are unknown.

Objective

To model the association of spiritual and religious constructs with patient-reported outcomes of anxiety, depressive symptoms, fatigue, and pain interference.

Design, Setting, and Participants

This cross-sectional study used baseline data, collected from 2016 to 2019, from an ongoing 5-year randomized clinical trial being conducted at 4 tertiary-referral pediatric medical centers in the US. A total of 366 adolescents were eligible for the clinical trial, and 126 were randomized; participants had to be aged 14 to 21 years at enrollment and be diagnosed with any form of cancer. Exclusion criteria included developmental delay, scoring greater than 26 on the Beck Depression Inventory II, non-English speaking, or unaware of cancer diagnosis.

Exposures

Spiritual experiences, values, and beliefs; religious practices; and overall self-ranking of spirituality’s importance.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Variables were taken from the Brief Multidimensional Measurement of Religiousness/Spirituality (ie, feeling God’s presence, daily prayer, religious service attendance, being very religious, and being very spiritual) and the spiritual well-being subscales of the Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy (meaning/peace and faith). Predefined outcome variables were anxiety, depressive symptoms, fatigue, and pain interference from Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System pediatric measures.

Results

A total of 126 individuals participated (72 [57.1%] female participants; 100 [79.4%] white participants; mean [SD] age, 16.9 [1.9] years). Structural equation modeling showed that meaning and peace were inversely associated with anxiety (β = –7.94; 95% CI, –12.88 to –4.12), depressive symptoms (β = –10.49; 95% CI, –15.92 to –6.50), and fatigue (β = –8.90; 95% CI, –15.34 to –3.61). Feeling God’s presence daily was indirectly associated with anxiety (β = –3.37; 95% CI, –6.82 to –0.95), depressive symptoms (β = –4.50; 95% CI, –8.51 to –1.40), and fatigue (β = –3.73; 95% CI, –8.03 to –0.90) through meaning and peace. Considering oneself very religious was indirectly associated with anxiety (β = –2.81; 95% CI, –6.06 to –0.45), depressive symptoms (β = −3.787; 95% CI, –7.68 to –0.61), and fatigue (β = –3.11, 95% CI, –7.31 to –0.40) through meaning and peace. Considering oneself very spiritual was indirectly associated with anxiety (β = 2.11; 95% CI, 0.05 to 4.95) and depression (β = 2.8, 95% CI, 0.07 to 6.29) through meaning and peace. No associations were found between spiritual scales and pain interference.

Conclusions and Relevance

In this study, multiple facets of spirituality and religiousness were associated with anxiety, depression, and fatigue, all of which were indirectly associated with the participant’s sense of meaning and peace, which is a modifiable process. Although these results do not establish a causal direction, they do suggest palliative interventions addressing meaning-making, possibly including a spiritual or religious dimension, as a novel focus for intervention development.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7298609/Importance

 

Spirituality but not Religious Affiliation is Associated with Well-Being in Heart Failure Patients

Spirituality but not Religious Affiliation is Associated with Well-Being in Heart Failure Patients

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Spirituality does help heart failure patients do better. . . The secret? Spirituality leads to gratitude.” – Paul Mills

 

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer. A myriad of treatments have 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 cardiovascular disease patients decline to alter these lifestyle factors, making these patients at high risk for another attack.

 

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a major type of cardiovascular disease. “CHF is a chronic progressive condition that affects the pumping power of your heart muscles. While often referred to simply as “heart failure,” CHF specifically refers to the stage in which fluid builds up around the heart and causes it to pump inefficiently” (Healthline). Heart failure is a very serious life-threatening condition. About 5.7 million adults in the United States have congestive heart failure. One in 9 deaths include heart failure as a contributing cause. The seriousness of heart failure is underscored by the fact that about half of people who develop heart failure die within 5 years of diagnosis. Hence, effective treatment is very important. Spirituality, a sense of inner peace and harmony, and religiosity are known to help with a wide range of physical and psychological problems. So, it would make sense to investigate the relationship of spirituality and religiosity to the symptoms of heart failure.

 

In today’s Research News article “Is Belonging to a Religious Organization Enough? Differences in Religious Affiliation Versus Self-ratings of Spirituality on Behavioral and Psychological Variables in Individuals with Heart Failure.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7349115/) Saiz and colleagues recruited heart failure patients who had the diagnosis for at least 3 months. They completed measures of religious affiliation, spirituality, anxiety, depression, positive and negative emotions, anger, satisfaction with life, physical symptoms, sleep, fatigue, and self-efficacy for people with heart disease.

 

They found that spirituality was associated with significantly lower anxiety, depression, negative emotions, anger, and fatigue, and higher levels of positive emotions, sleep quality, satisfaction with life, and self-efficacy. There were no significant differences on these measures between patients who were affiliated with a religion and those that were not.

 

The study was correlational and as such caution must be exercised in drawing causal conclusions. Nevertheless, the results clearly show that heart failure patients who are spiritual have significantly better psychological and physical well-being than those who were not spiritual. Interestingly, simply being religious did not make a difference. The important factor was spirituality.

 

For the present study spirituality is defined as “a complex and multidimensional part of the human experience-our inner belief system. It helps individuals search for the meaning and purpose of life, and it helps them experience hope, love, inner peace, comfort, and support, being the experiences of meaning in life and connectedness, spirituality’s central elements.” It would appear that providing meaning in life and connectedness are very important for heart failure patients. Heart failure can make one’s mortality very clear. Spirituality but not religiosity would appear to help in dealing with the psychosocial consequences of this realization.

 

So, spirituality but not religious affiliation is associated with well-being in heart failure patients.

 

The present qualitative research showed that spirituality is a key for patients with chronic heart failure to better cope with the disease and deal with their multiple problems.” – Parvin Mangolian Shahrbabaki

 

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

 

Saiz, J., Pung, M. A., Wilson, K. L., Pruitt, C., Rutledge, T., Redwine, L., Taub, P. R., Greenberg, B. H., & Mills, P. J. (2020). Is Belonging to a Religious Organization Enough? Differences in Religious Affiliation Versus Self-ratings of Spirituality on Behavioral and Psychological Variables in Individuals with Heart Failure. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), 8(2), 129. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare8020129

 

Abstract

In the United States, heart failure (HF) affects approximately 6.5 million adults. While studies show that individuals with HF often suffer from adverse symptoms such as depression and anxiety, studies also show that these symptoms can be at least partially offset by the presence of spiritual wellbeing. In a sample of 327 men and women with AHA/ACC classification Stage B HF, we found that more spirituality in patients was associated with better clinically-related symptoms such as depressed mood and anxiety, emotional variables (affect, anger), well-being (optimism, satisfaction with life), and physical health-related outcomes (fatigue, sleep quality). These patients also showed better self-efficacy to maintain cardiac function. Simply belonging to a religious organization independent of spiritualty, however, was not a reliable predictor of health-related benefits. In fact, we observed instances of belonging to a religious organization unaccompanied by parallel spiritual ratings, which appeared counterproductive.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7349115/

 

Yoga Improves Spirituality and Psychological Health Regardless of Instruction

Yoga Improves Spirituality and Psychological Health Regardless of Instruction

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“While in the Western world most people recognize the more physical practices of yoga – particularly the poses, or asana – it is a practice that’s about much more than just our physical bodies. In Sanskrit language, the word “yoga” literally means “union.” – Katie M.

 

Yoga developed in India millennia ago as a deep spiritual practice. It developed as a contemplative practice that unified body and mind. Yoga was known to have physical benefits, but the most important benefit was seen to be spiritual development. But as yoga emerged and was practiced in the west it was secularized. This was for good reason, as western society was not ready to accept an ancient eastern spiritual practice. As a result, to the vast majority of westerners, yoga is an exercise for physical fitness. It is a means to mold the body to look good, as a health promoting practice, and as a strategy to help lose weight.

 

One important factor for the development of spirituality might be the way that practitioners are instructed. If the yoga instruction is focused on spiritual development then it is possible that the spiritual focus elicited would tend to facilitate spiritual growth. On the other hand, if the instruction is focused on physical development, then spiritual development may be lessened.

Placebo and participant expectancy effects are well known to produce profound effects on the individual. So, instruction may be essential to whether physical or spiritual growth develops from yoga practice. This idea has not been well explored.

 

In today’s Research News article “Verbal Cuing Is Not the Path to Enlightenment. Psychological Effects of a 10-Session Hatha Yoga Practice.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7351526/) Csala and colleagues recruited female yoga naïve undergraduate students and randomly assigned them to receive either 10 weekly 1.5 hour yoga sessions with instructions focusing either on the spiritual aspects of yoga or on the physical benefits of yoga or to a no-treatment control condition. They were measured before and after training for mindfulness, body awareness, positive and negative emotions, and spiritual connections.

 

They found that there were no significant differences between the two yoga groups so they were merged for comparison to the control condition. The yoga groups in comparison to baseline and the control condition had significant increases in spiritual connections and decreases in negative emotions. Hence, practicing yoga by novice college females increased their spirituality and improved their emotional state.

 

 

These results are surprising in that the same increase in spirituality occurred in the yoga groups regardless of whether the spiritual aspects or the physical aspects of yoga were emphasized in the instructions provided. This suggests that yoga has spiritual benefits regardless of the instructions given. Not surprisingly, as observed in previous studies, yoga practice improves the practitioners emotional state. College is a difficult and stressful time and very negative emotions can be elicited interfering with the students’ adjustments to college and performance. The results suggest that yoga practice may be helpful.

 

So, yoga improves spirituality and psychological health regardless of instruction.

 

many people think of yoga as just physical exercises — the asanas or postures that have gained widespread popularity in recent decades — but these are actually only the most superficial aspects of this profound science of unfolding the infinite potential of the human mind and soul.” – Yogananda

 

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

 

Csala, B., Ferentzi, E., Tihanyi, B. T., Drew, R., & Köteles, F. (2020). Verbal Cuing Is Not the Path to Enlightenment. Psychological Effects of a 10-Session Hatha Yoga Practice. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 1375. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01375

 

Abstract

Verbal instructions provided during yoga classes can differ substantially. Yoga instructors might choose to focus on the physical aspects of yoga (e.g., by emphasizing the characteristics of the poses), or they might take a more spiritual approach (e.g., by mentioning energy flow and chakras). The present study investigated the effects of verbal cues during yoga practice on various psychological measures. Eighty-four female students (22.0 ± 3.80 years) participated in the study. Two groups attended a beginner level hatha yoga course in which physically identical exercise was accompanied by different verbal cues. The so-called “Sport group” (N = 27) received instructions referring primarily to the physical aspects of yoga practice, while the “Spiritual group” (N = 23) was additionally provided with philosophical and spiritual information. A control group (N = 34) did not receive any intervention. Mindfulness, body awareness, spirituality, and affect were assessed 1 week before and after the training. 2 × 3 mixed (time × intervention) ANOVAs did not show an interaction effect for any of the variables. However, when the two yoga groups were merged and compared to the control group, we found that spirituality increased, and negative affect decreased among yoga participants. In conclusion, yoga practice might influence psychological functioning through its physical components, independent of the style of verbal instructions provided.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7351526/

 

Increase Well-Being and Spirituality with Loving Kindness Meditation

Increase Well-Being and Spirituality with Loving Kindness Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Loving-kindness refers to a state of unconditional kindness and compassion for all beings.  . . Some studies suggest you can boost your empathy and feelings of connection and reduce your implicit bias, anger, depression and anxiety.” – Heart.org

 

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. One understudied meditation technique is Loving Kindness Meditation. It 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. Although Loving Kindness Meditation has been practiced for centuries, it has received very little scientific research attention.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Effect of Loving-Kindness Meditation on Flight Attendants’ Spirituality, Mindfulness and Subjective Well-Being.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7349275/) Liu and colleagues recruited flight attendants who were 21-40 years old, physically and psychologically healthy, and 78% female and randomly assigned them to either a wait-list control condition or to receive 5 90-minute sessions of  Loving Kindness Meditation training over 8 weeks. They were also encouraged to practice at home and at work. They were measured before and after training for mindfulness, spirituality including meaning, trust, acceptance, caring for others, connection with nature, transcendence, and spiritual activity, and subjective well-being which is a composite of scores on satisfaction with life, and positive and negative emotions.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the wait-list control group, the Loving Kindness Meditation produced a significantly higher level of spirituality and a large (30%) significant increase in subjective well-being. Hence, the Loving Kindness Meditation improves with psychological and spiritual well-being of the practitioners. It is interesting that this happened in young and psychologically healthy individuals. They would be expected to be relatively high in subjective well-being to start with. So, producing a further large increase is remarkable.

 

So, increase well-being and spirituality with Loving Kindness Meditation.

 

“To send loving-kindness does not mean that we approve or condone all actions, it means that we can see clearly actions that are incorrect or unskillful and still not lose the connection.” – Sharon Salzberg

 

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

 

Liu, C., Chen, H., Liu, C. Y., Lin, R. T., & Chiou, W. K. (2020). The Effect of Loving-Kindness Meditation on Flight Attendants’ Spirituality, Mindfulness and Subjective Well-Being. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), 8(2), 174. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare8020174

 

Abstract

Background: This study investigated: (1) the effects of the loving-kindness meditation (LKM) on mindfulness, subjective well-being (SWB), and spirituality and (2) the relationships between mindfulness, spirituality, and SWB. Methods: 98 flight attendants from Xiamen Airlines in China were recruited and randomly assigned to the LKM training group (n = 49) or the waiting control group (n = 49). The LKM training group underwent an 8-week LKM training intervention, and the control group did not undergo intervention. The three main variables (SWB, mindfulness, and spirituality) were measured both before (pre-test) and after (post-test) the LKM training intervention. Results: In the experimental group, SWB and spirituality increased significantly. In the control group, no significant differences were observed for the three variables between the pre-test and post-test. Conclusions: Our results indicated that LKM may help to improve SWB and spirituality. However, the mechanisms which underlie the effects of the LKM on mindfulness, spirituality, SWB, and other psychological constructs require further elucidation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7349275/

 

Yoga Practice Improves Mood and Spirituality Regardless of Physical or Spiritual Instruction

Yoga Practice Improves Mood and Spirituality Regardless of Physical or Spiritual Instruction

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

The word yoga means to join or unite, and yogis view this unison in different ways – the unison of body, mind and spirit, uniting all the aspects of yourself, or uniting with a higher power or spiritual force.” – DoYou

 

Yoga developed in India millennia ago as a deep spiritual practice. It developed as a contemplative practice that unified body and mind. Yoga was known to have physical benefits, but the most important benefit was seen to be spiritual development. But as yoga emerged and was practiced in the west it was secularized. This was for good reason, as western society was not ready to accept an ancient eastern spiritual practice.

 

There are many forms of yoga and many practitioners who are focused on the spiritual aspects of yoga. But, to the vast majority of westerner’s yoga is an exercise for physical fitness. It is a means to mold the body to look good, as a health promoting practice, and as a strategy to help lose weight. These are good and reasonable goals. But they have replaced the spiritual development originally promoted by yoga. As Jon Kabat-Zinn has remarked, ‘there is the potential for something priceless to be lost.’

 

It may be speculated that the instructions provided with yoga training may produce different effects on the physical and spiritual benefits. In today’s Research News article “Verbal Cuing Is Not the Path to Enlightenment. Psychological Effects of a 10-Session Hatha Yoga Practice.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01375/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1373328_69_Psycho_20200709_arts_A) Csala and colleagues recruited female college students with no previous experience with yoga and randomly assigned them to receive 10 weekly 1.5 hour training sessions in Hatha yoga designated either as “Sport” yoga or “Spiritual” yoga or to a no treatment control condition. The “Sport” yoga and “Spiritual” yoga  only differed in instructions. The “Sport” yoga group was instructed with an emphasis on the physical aspects of yoga (e.g., correct position, muscles involved). The “Spiritual” yoga group was instructed with an emphasis on the spiritual aspects of yoga (e.g. energetic body and blockages, chakras, meditations etc.). They were measured before and after training for body awareness, mindfulness, positive and negative emotions, and spiritual connections.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the no-treatment control condition the practice of either “Sport” or “Spiritual” yoga produced significant increases in spiritual connections and significant decreases in negative emotions. Hence, regardless of whether the instructions emphasized the physical or spiritual aspects of yoga practice, the same effects occurred of increased spirituality and mood.

 

Yoga practice has been repeatedly shown in prior research studies to improve mood. So, the observed mood enhancement effects were no surprise. But, the ability of yoga practice to increase spirituality even when the spiritual aspects of yoga were not talked about is surprising. Regardless of instruction Hatha yoga practice produced increased spirituality. This suggests that the western emphasis on the secular aspects of yoga may not interfere with the enhancement of spirituality produced by yoga practice.

 

Perhaps yoga practice makes the individual more aware of the physical limitations of the body and that by itself may put human existence into perspective, amplifying the importance of the non-physical, spiritual, aspects. Yoga practice has for centuries been practiced in the east enhancing spirituality. It is interesting to find that it has the same effects in the west even when there is no instruction on the spiritual side of yoga practice.

 

So, yoga practice improves mood and spirituality regardless of physical or spiritual instruction.

 

“yoga offers much more than just a way to exercise the body. The deeper meaning and gift of yoga is the path it offers into the timeless world of spirit.” – Chopra.com

 

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

 

Csala B, Ferentzi E, Tihanyi BT, Drew R and Köteles F (2020) Verbal Cuing Is Not the Path to Enlightenment. Psychological Effects of a 10-Session Hatha Yoga Practice. Front. Psychol. 11:1375. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01375

 

Verbal instructions provided during yoga classes can differ substantially. Yoga instructors might choose to focus on the physical aspects of yoga (e.g., by emphasizing the characteristics of the poses), or they might take a more spiritual approach (e.g., by mentioning energy flow and chakras). The present study investigated the effects of verbal cues during yoga practice on various psychological measures. Eighty-four female students (22.0 ± 3.80 years) participated in the study. Two groups attended a beginner level hatha yoga course in which physically identical exercise was accompanied by different verbal cues. The so-called “Sport group” (N = 27) received instructions referring primarily to the physical aspects of yoga practice, while the “Spiritual group” (N = 23) was additionally provided with philosophical and spiritual information. A control group (N = 34) did not receive any intervention. Mindfulness, body awareness, spirituality, and affect were assessed 1 week before and after the training. 2 × 3 mixed (time × intervention) ANOVAs did not show an interaction effect for any of the variables. However, when the two yoga groups were merged and compared to the control group, we found that spirituality increased, and negative affect decreased among yoga participants. In conclusion, yoga practice might influence psychological functioning through its physical components, independent of the style of verbal instructions provided.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01375/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_1373328_69_Psycho_20200709_arts_A

 

Religion/Spirituality Overall Increases HIV Prevention Behaviors

Religion/Spirituality Overall Increases HIV Prevention Behaviors

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“spirituality plays a critical role in the prognosis of HIV in many patients. The type of spiritual beliefs and practices determines whether spirituality is a protective or risk factor to the progression of HIV.” – Joni Utley

 

More than 35 million people worldwide and 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection. These include a significant number of children and adolescents. In 1996, the advent of the protease inhibitor and the so-called cocktail changed the prognosis for HIV. Since this development a 20-year-old infected with HIV can now expect to live on average to age 69. Even with these treatment advances it is still essential to prevent the transmission of HIV in the first place. There are a number of prevention techniques including drugs, condom use, HIV testing, reducing the number of sexual partners, and reducing intravenous drug use. But, in order for these activities to be effective, the individual must actively engage in them.

 

Spirituality is defined as “one’s personal affirmation of and relationship to a higher power or to the sacred. 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. Spirituality and religion, however, have a complex relationship with HIV prevention activities. It can be supportive in encouraging morals, norms, structures and institutions that can positively affect the individual’s behavior. On the other hand, religious strictures regarding sexuality can interfere with HIV prevention by discouraging behaviors such as condom use.

 

A number of research studies have been conducted on the effects of religion/spirituality on HIV prevention behaviors. So, it makes sense to step back and review what has been learned about the effects of religion/spirituality on the prevention of HIV transmission. In today’s Research News article “Religion, faith, and spirituality influences on HIV prevention activities: A scoping review.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7297313/) Vigliotti and colleagues review and summarize the published scientific research on the effects of religion/spirituality on HIV prevention. They identified 29 published peer-reviewed research studies.

 

They report that the majority of studies found that attendance at religious services, religiosity/spirituality, and religion were significantly associated with increased use of condoms and increased HIV testing except in the cases where their religious beliefs and values related to sex and sexuality were against it. Hence, the published research supports the contention that for the most part religion/spirituality improves the likelihood that the individual will engage in behaviors that contribute to the prevention of HIV transmission. This is tempered, however, with the facts that some forms of religion/spirituality incorporate norms and values regarding sexuality that tend to interfere with engaging in behaviors that reduce the prevention of HIV transmission.

 

These findings were correlative and as such no conclusions about causation can be reached. It is difficult to perform manipulative studies to determine causation so this correlative evidence may be the best available. In addition, many of the studies employed weak designs that included the possibility of confounding. As a result, care must be taken in reaching conclusions regarding the effects of religion/spirituality on HIV prevention.

 

So, religion/spirituality overall increases HIV prevention behaviors.

 

overcoming spiritual guilt” is a factor in helping HIV-positive people stay healthy, widespread stigma and condemnation may have ushered those people more quickly toward death.” – Emma Green

 

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

 

Vigliotti, V., Taggart, T., Walker, M., Kusmastuti, S., & Ransome, Y. (2020). Religion, faith, and spirituality influences on HIV prevention activities: A scoping review. PloS one, 15(6), e0234720. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234720

 

Abstract

Introduction

Strategies to increase uptake of next-generation biomedical prevention technologies (e.g., long-acting injectable pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)) can benefit from understanding associations between religion, faith, and spirituality (RFS) and current primary HIV prevention activities (e.g., condoms and oral PrEP) along with the mechanisms which underlie these associations.

Methods

We searched PubMed, Embase, Academic Search Premier, Web of Science, and Sociological Abstracts for empirical articles that investigated and quantified relationships between RFS and primary HIV prevention activities outlined by the United States (U.S.) Department of Health and Human Services: condom use, HIV and STI testing, number of sexual partners, injection drug use treatment, medical male circumcision, and PrEP. We included articles in English language published between 2000 and 2020. We coded and analyzed studies based on a conceptual model. We then developed summary tables to describe the relation between RFS variables and the HIV prevention activities and any underlying mechanisms. We used CiteNetExplorer to analyze citation patterns.

Results

We identified 2881 unique manuscripts and reviewed 29. The earliest eligible study was published in 2001, 41% were from Africa and 48% were from the U.S. RFS measures included attendance at religious services or interventions in religious settings; religious and/or spirituality scales, and measures that represent the influence of religion on behaviors. Twelve studies included multiple RFS measures. Twenty-one studies examined RFS in association with condom use, ten with HIV testing, nine with number of sexual partners, and one with PrEP. Fourteen (48%) documented a positive or protective association between all RFS factors examined and one or more HIV prevention activities. Among studies reporting a positive association, beliefs and values related to sexuality was the most frequently observed mechanism. Among studies reporting negative associations, behavioral norms, social influence, and beliefs and values related to sexuality were observed equally. Studies infrequently cited each other.

Conclusion

More than half of the studies in this review reported a positive/protective association between RFS and HIV prevention activities, with condom use being the most frequently studied, and all having some protective association with HIV testing behaviors. Beliefs and values related to sexuality are possible mechanisms that could underpin RFS-related HIV prevention interventions. More studies are needed on PrEP and spirituality/subjective religiosity.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7297313/

 

The Psychology of Ending Suffering

The Psychology of Ending Suffering

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” – anonymous

 

The Buddha taught that every one of us is already enlightened We simply need to remove those things that are preventing us from realizing our true nature, and those things are our sufferings. But suffering unsatisfactoriness is rampant in our daily lives. But these unsatisfactorinesses have causes and by eliminating the causes of unsatisfactoriness we can bring about equanimity and happiness. The Buddha and his followers have developed many methods for eliminating unsatisfactoriness and many of them are identical to the teachings of modern Psychology on how to eliminate unwanted behaviors.

 

The usual way most people tend to think about stopping a behavior is to punish it. This is the ubiquitous solution in our society, particularly exemplified by our treatment of criminal behavior. But we do it also at work. B. F. Skinner analyzed the work environment as dominated by punishers and the avoidance of punishers. He taught that the salary that is earned sets up a lifestyle and we become reliant upon the income to support it. Behavior at work is then controlled by threatening to withdraw this lifestyle, e.g. threat of firing or layoff, lack of raises or promotions, etc. But, psychological research has clearly shown that for the most part, punishment is ineffective in removing unwanted behaviors. Instead, it at best temporarily suppresses behaviors that can reemerge at any time or it leads to the individual avoiding the punisher, the supervisor, the police, or often parents and teachers.

 

The frequent use of punishment is apparent in our contemplative practice, where we frequently punish ourselves for not being or doing what we think we should be. We get angry at ourselves when we fail at quieting our mind in meditation. We get upset at ourselves when our mind wanders. We feel ashamed when we let our desires control our behavior. We feel bad when we see how we’re constantly wanting things in our lives to be different than they are. But, these punishers, like those in society are ineffective. Instead of improving our practice, they can lead to our avoiding or abandoning the practice.

 

But, the science of Psychology has a lot to offer in place of punishment in our quest to end unsatisfactoriness. Much has been learned through the years of research of how things are learned and unlearned and how to change behaviors. One of the key notions in Psychology is known as Thorndike’s Law of Effect. Simply stated it teaches that when we do things that lead to a pleasant state of affairs, we tend to repeat them while those that lead to an unpleasant state of affairs tend to become less likely to be repeated. This simple, seemingly obvious principle is actually quite powerful and suggests how we should proceed.

 

As we’ve discussed, applying unpleasant states, punishment, is not generally effective. Note, the Law of Effect states that we tend not to repeat behaviors that lead to an unpleasant state of affairs. So, if our contemplative or spiritual practice leads to self-punishments, it doesn’t lead to better practice, rather it leads to our becoming less likely to practice. This is the exact opposite of what we want to happen. So punishing ourselves for our failures in practice, instead of correcting them, leads to less practice.

 

All of this is also true in our everyday lives. Punishing our boss by getting angry at him or her is likely not going to change his or her behavior, except maybe to prompt the boss to punish us. Honking, making obscene gestures, or tailgating a driver who cuts us off is unlikely to make the driver stop cutting people off. Rather it’s likely to anger the driver and make for a more dangerous driving situation. Yelling at your life’s partner when he or she does something that we don’t approve of is more likely to sour our relationships than change our partners’ behavior. Telling people whose political opinions vary from our own that they’re stupid or ignorant, is not likely to change their opinions, but rather to cause them to avoid talking politics with us in the future. Getting upset at ourselves when we’re not as fast, adept, or as effective as we want to be in our exercises, is unlikely to make us faster or more adept or effective, but rather to make it less likely that we’ll engage in exercise in the future. In a nutshell, punishment doesn’t work to change behaviors in our lives. So, it is unlikely to work in helping us eliminate our unsatisfactorinesses and remove the obstacles toward spiritual realization. We need to find another way.

 

The Law of Effect, though, does provide a powerful prescription for changing behavior. If you want to change a behavior you need to remove what is reinforcing or supporting it. Discover the pleasant state of affairs that is produced by the behavior and eliminate it and the behavior will gradually go away. This is a process called extinction and it is very effective in eliminating unwanted behaviors. So, in our practice, if we want to reduce mind wandering, then we just simply watch it, not punishing it nor giving it any energy. Slowly mind wandering will go through extinction, becoming less frequent. It will sometimes happen so slowly that you won’t notice its changing, but it will inevitably slowly dissipate.

 

While driving a car, we may want to decrease our impatience with traffic and stop lights. We should first look at removing what’s supporting it and that means reflecting on the impatience to investigate why we feel that way. We may be able to see that it’s supported by the idea that getting somewhere else will make us happy. The thought of it reinforces the desire to get there quickly. But, we should remember that in the past whenever we got to that next place it didn’t make us happy. So, we again became impatient to get to another somewhere else where we feel we’ll really be happy. Hopefully, we can see our delusion that happiness is elsewhere is supporting our impatience. Recognizing this, each time we sense ourselves becoming impatient we bring this thought to mind that where we’re going will not necessarily make us happy, we can only be happy in the present moment. This can begin to extinguish the impatience. There’s no need to be impatient as it’s not going to get us what we want. So, impatience slowly lessens and becomes less frequent. We’ve eliminated a suffering by removing its cause. We’ve extinguished it.

 

There’s a problem with extinction that modern Psychology has discovered and that is over a period of time the lost behavior can reemerge. This is called spontaneous recovery. To overcome this the behavior must be extinguished again and if spontaneous recovery occurs again, it must be again extinguished. So, patience and persistence must be practiced. Eventually, the behavior will cease and no spontaneous recovery will happen again. So, if impatience while driving occurs again, we need to repeat our extinction process until we stop impatience completely and simply enjoy the present moment.

 

Psychology has also discovered that learning in one situation will generalize to other similar situations. This can be quite helpful as what we learn is not just effective in the exact circumstances in which we learned it. As a result, if we extinguish impatience while driving we’ll tend to have less impatience at work, with our life partner, with political discussions, and with exercise. Impatience will still be there in these other situations but the generalization from driving results in a lessening in its intensity. Impatience then becomes easier to extinguish in these other situations. If we go through the process we used with driving with our impatience with work and extinguish it, it will also generalize producing a further reduction in impatience with our life partner, with political discussions, and with exercise. Continuing this process will make us much more patient and happier people in virtually every circumstance.

 

Another method that Psychology has developed for eliminating an unwanted behavior is to replace it with an incompatible behavior. This is called counterconditioning. In this process positive reinforcement, reward, is used to build up a behavior that cannot coexist with the behavior we wish to eliminate. For example, to eliminate a phobia to spiders, a psychologist may attempt to have the patient relax in the face of thinking about spiders, replacing fear with relaxation. Similarly, a child that is hyperactive and engages in problematic behaviors in the schoolroom can be rewarded for paying attention. Since, paying attention cannot occur at the same time as disruptive behaviors, strengthening attention, reduces disruptive behaviors.

 

For example, we may feel unhappy because our life’s partners have a habit of not picking up after themselves. This feeling of unsatisfactoriness can build up and produce a nasty outburst and upset our partner. But, if when confronted with the mess, we simply remember a wonderful endearing characteristic of our partner, we can begin to replace the unsatisfactoriness with pleasant thoughts. The good feelings then begin to replace the irritation toward our partners. If we continue this practice we will slowly begin to react to the mess with loving feelings and can then confront the behavior with kindness and love, making it more likely to have a positive effect on our partners lack of tidiness. This is the process of eliminating our unsatisfactoriness through counterconditioning. Tangible rewards are not available, but pleasant memories are, and they can be used to reinforce the incompatible behavior.

 

Positive Psychology has clearly shown that we can replace unsatisfactoriness by strengthening satisfactory states, such as happiness, contentment, joy, and bliss. By simply working to amplify the positive the negative declines. Simple things such as putting a smile on our faces, can brighten our day. Smiling at other people when we pass them in the corridors and streets not only lifts their spirits but also our own and a return smile amplifies the contentment even more. We become so much happier and more content when we focus on the good things in life rather than the bad. When we do, unsatisfactoriness fades away.

 

The great sage Thich Nhat Hahn teaches us to focus on our non-toothaches. When we have a toothache we’re miserable and suffering and find this very unsatisfactory. We think, if we can just get over this painful condition then things will be good again. But, once it’s gone, we quickly forget and focus on something else that’s unsatisfactory. We need instead to be happy that our teeth are sound, without pain. Simply notice it and rejoice in it. It is a simple miracle that our bodies work so well that we can enjoy great oral health. Simply, occasionally, reflect on our good health and the miracle of being alive with most everything working well. What a beautiful state! What a joy! How can we find our lives unsatisfactory when we appreciate all that is right with our lives.

 

Psychology has found that positive reinforcement is extraordinarily powerful in changing behavior. So, we should reward ourselves for making strides in our practice and in our lives, rather than punishing ourselves for our failures. During contemplative practice when our minds wander, we shouldn’t get upset that we lost focus, rather celebrate the fact that we returned to focus. When we realize that our mind is wandering we punish ourselves by getting upset with ourselves, what we are effectively doing is punishing returning to focus. As we’ve seen, this leads to making it less likely that we’ll return to focus in the future. But, if we rejoice when we realize our minds are wandering and congratulate ourselves for returning to focus, we increase the likelihood that the next time our minds wander we’ll be more likely to detect it and get back to focusing on our practice. This is far more satisfactory

 

The other day I was riding my bicycle and got extremely tired before completing my scheduled ride. So, I stopped and rested even though I only had a couple of miles to go. Rather than getting angry and upset at myself for not pacing my ride properly, I congratulated myself for knowing my body and recognizing that a rest was necessary. So, I replaced an unsatisfactory state of self-anger with a satisfactory state. Rather than suffer about my failure, I celebrated my good sense. So, use positive reinforcement and reduce unsatisfactoriness, building happy and satisfying states.

 

It’s useful in this regard to contemplate happiness. Look carefully at when we’re happy, joyful, or content look carefully at exactly what we’re feeling in our bodies. This will help us at becoming better at recognizing these positive states when they are present. When they are there investigate what were the conditions that led up to these good feelings and thereby begin to learn what really makes us happy. We’ll probably be surprised that it is mostly not what we think will make us happy, but often something simple and everyday, particularly with family and friends. Recognize what truly makes us happy, we can learn how to increase our happiness. Doing so markedly reduces unsatisfactoriness. So eliminate suffering by building happiness, joy, and contentment.

 

Sometimes our suffering is too strong to simply replace it. Psychology also has a method to use in this case. It’s a process of slowly replacing similar but less intense unsatisfactoriness with counterconditioning and letting it generalize to more intense situations that can now be addressed. This is called systematic desensitization.

 

We might try this with political discussion where the issues produce so much anger that trying to replace them with good feelings is almost impossible, perhaps discussing abortion. Instead, look for issues of discussion that are contentious but less emotional, perhaps taxes. First practice relaxing by taking a deep breath and focusing on relaxing the facial muscles and smiling. Once, we’ve developed this ability to evoke relaxation and a smile at will we can begin to apply it to replacing anger. After all, it’s impossible to be relaxed and smiling and angry at the same time. Now, we should try this while discussing taxes, while the other people are presenting their viewpoints, produce the relax and smile response and as we’re presenting our viewpoint also produce the relax and smile response. Slowly, anger will be replaced with pleasant feelings so while discussing taxes we are no longer angry.

 

Next, we move to a more contentious subject, perhaps welfare. The previous counterconditioning for the taxes discussion generalizes to the welfare discussion making it substantially less emotion provoking, so it can be more easily addressed. Then repeat the process of conditioning relaxation and smiling while the other people are presenting their viewpoints on welfare and as we’re presenting our viewpoint. Slowly, anger will be replaced with pleasant feelings so while discussing welfare we are no longer angry. The final step, after these and perhaps more intermediary steps, will be to repeat the process with the most anger producing discussion, perhaps abortion. The previous counterconditionings will have generalized to this discussion and the level of anger may be reduced to the point where it is manageable. We then repeat the process of strengthening the relaxation and smiling response while discussing abortion. Eventually, we’ll be able to take on the worst of the worst and do it while relaxing and smiling. Our unsatisfactoriness will have been eliminated by replacing it with a pleasant state.

 

These are some of the methods that Psychology has developed that can help us to eliminate our sufferings, unsatisfactorinesses. Applying extinction, counterconditioning, and systematic desensitization to our unsatisfactorinesses can be an effective means of getting rid of them. As we’ve discussed this is fundamental to unmasking our true nature, our Buddha Nature. So, the principles of modern Psychology can be useful tools on our contemplative and spiritual development. We can use the skills developed by following the principles of Psychology to eliminate our unsatisfactorinesses leading to spiritual awakening.

 

‘if we look deeply into such ways of life as Buddhism, we do not find either philosophy or religion as these are understood in the West. We find something more nearly resembling psychotherapy’. – Alan Watts

 

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

Mindfulness Area Research: Negative Experiences with Mindfulness

Mindfulness Area Research: Negative Experiences with Mindfulness

 

People begin meditation with the misconception that meditation will help them escape from their problems. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, meditation does the exact opposite, forcing the meditator to confront their issues. In meditation, the practitioner tries to quiet the mind. But, in that relaxed quiet state, powerful, highly emotionally charged thoughts and memories are likely to emerge. The strength here is that meditation is a wonderful occasion to begin to deal with these issues. But often the thoughts or memories are overwhelming. At times, professional therapeutic intervention may be needed.

 

Many practitioners never experience these negative experiences or only experience very mild states. There are, however, few systematic studies of the extent of negative experiences. In general, the research has reported that unwanted (negative) experiences are quite common with meditators, but for the most part, are short-lived and mild. There is, however, a great need for more research into the nature of the experiences that occur during meditation.

 

Summaries of recent studies on negative experiences with mindfulness can be found at the Negative Experiences link http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/negative-experiences/  on the Contemplative Studies blog http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/ .

 

Links to the Research on Negative Experiences with Mindfulness

 

Mindfulness Training can Produce Harm but Much can be Avoided

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2019/10/08/mindfulness-training-can-produce-harm-but-much-can-be-avoided/

 

Yoga Injuries are Common but Most Can Be Avoided

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2019/10/01/yoga-injuries-are-common-but-most-can-be-avoided/

 

The Variety of Meditation Experiences

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2018/01/26/the-variety-of-meditation-experiences/

 

Meditation Can Produce Uncomfortable Effects

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2017/11/03/meditation-can-produce-uncomfortable-effects/

 

What’s Wrong with Meditation II – Improper Instruction

http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2017/03/05/whats-wrong-with-meditation-ii-improper-instruction/